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I've never had a great history with traveling to Mumbai. This time doesn't seem to be different. I'm sitting at a friend's place in Byculla, relatively isolated from the incidents of yesterday and today, but tense nevertheless.

The standoff has not progressed much. The army and NSG still surround the Trident and Oberoi. We're getting conflicting reports on Taj. 24/7 media is beginning to wear on me; I can't pull my eyes away and yet, the repeating images and obnoxious reporters are straining my nerves.

Worried about the long-term repurcussions. We are a soft nation. One of the liabilities of being an open society. But, we could do better with our security measures. And yet, we cannot do much about the underlying problems. Surrounded as we are by basketcases, we neither want to take on the cauldron of problems that is Pakistan nor can we ignore it.

I believe this won't be like the last times. Many more Indians are vested in Mumbai than in the past. Yet, I can't help feeling we are culturally flawed as well. We are too complacent. Too exhausted. Too weared down by something.

I was in the Atrium mall in Worli the other day. The guards asked me to open my bag; I opened the central pocket and the guard waved me inside. Never mind the metal detector had gone off. Never mind my bag had more than one pocket.

Sab chalega has traded places with kuche nahi chalega. When are we going to learn?

"At a moment of obvious peril, America decided to place its fate in the hands of a man who had been born to an idealistic white teenage mother and the charismatic African grad student who abandoned them — a man who grew up without money, talked his way into good schools, worked his way up through the pitiless world of Chicago politics to the U.S. Senate and now the White House in a stunningly short period. That achievement, compared with those of the Bushes or the Kennedys or the Roosevelts or the Adamses or any of the other American princes who were born into power or bred to it, represents such a radical departure from the norm that it finally brings meaning to the promise taught from kindergarten: "Anyone can grow up to be President." Time Magazine

There is some unearthly talent there. And we're unlikely to see something so historic in the U.S. in our lifetime again.

...and he is elected President. A lot sooner than I expected and by a wide margin in electoral votes. Amazing night tonight. I wish I had bought tickets to the rally in Chicago. Over a million are expected to turn up.

I wonder what is going through Obama's mind right now. And McCain's. I doubt if the former is going to have much time to celebrate. I wonder what lessons the latter will take away.

This election has brought a lot of upsets, but that reflects the times. Financial institutions, once considered the bastion of America's economic strength, have disappeared overnight. Others are adopting more conservative business models. The economy is delevering. Consumption is falling and a recession is inevitable, if it has not begun already. Have we learnt anything new about how the world works with this crisis? Not much. We've seen "irrational exuberance" before. Bubbles come and go. Investors invest irresponsibly. People consume irresponsibly.

I see Reverend Jackson cry. He ran for President himself once. This must be a vindication of some sort for him.

McCain is talking about the historic nature of this election. I think he is surprised by the turnout among blacks. I don't like his pigeonholing Obama's victory as a victory for African-Americans. His voice is visibly shaken. In another time, I would have voted for him. He is certainly a man of integrity in a way Bush could never hope to be. And the crowd appreciates it too. "We love John", they chant. There is no doubt though that his party didn't stand a chance at this election without him. He reached across party lines; his appeal to the independents went a long way to balance the lemming path Bush, Rove and co. have set his party on.

I also wonder what Bush will do tomorrow, knowing that his era is over. We cry over Fuld walking away with millions in severance. Isn't it ironic that we reelected a man responsible for trillions wasted in an escalation of committment? A democracy is much like a public financial institution these days. Ownership is diluted, responsibility is thin, and accountability is non-existent. Here's hoping to a more educated and activist democracy. I have to go - Obama is speaking.

The Wall Street Journal examines the effectiveness of the UN carbon-trading scheme today in an article debating the pros and cons of funding coal and natural gas projects in India and China. Critics of the funding claim that financing is being diverted to these projects from renewable energy projects. The trading scheme has also been accused of financing power plants and cleaner coal-burning technology that would have been constructed otherwise.

Both criticisms miss the point. If the carbon-trading scheme is a free market, renewable energy projects would find themselves being financed on their own merit. For example, current market prices, according to the WSJ article, are ~$13 per ton of carbon emissions. If solar projects can be financed and replace carbon emissions at cheaper rates, participating companies would buy them naturally.

The key is whether or not the UN scheme is a free market. Do projects of all colors and sources receive equal consideration? How good are disclosures and monitoring on these projects? When developed and developing countries get together to formulate such global markets, the quality and access to information will be key to good buyer-seller outcomes, and for us, a cleaner world.

Dear Mr. Munawwar Hasan,

You claim to represent millions of Muslims. Quite a bold claim. But not quite as reckless as your claim that:

"America is against the interests of Muslims. Muslims hate Americans. If this [India-US nuclear] deal goes through, then Americans will make a lot of money."

The logical extension of your argument would be that all kinds of trade should be prohibited with the U.S. because free trade makes money for both parties. I would like to submit the following data for your review:

U.S. Exports by Destination (2007 - in millions)
Afghanistan - $495.3
Saudi Arabia - $10,396
Indonesia - $4,235
Qatar - $2,757
Pakistan - $2,035
Iran - $145

Even countries with Muslim majorities with mostly democratic regimes (Indonesia and Afghanistan) import goods and services from the U.S. and in your words, help the "Americans make a lot of money." Iran imports from the U.S. despite their leader publicly describing the latter as their enemy.

I could include data on imports to the U.S. from these countries because Americans benefit from imports, but frankly speaking, I would need to explain consumer surplus and how goods and services are produced, which would be more than sufficient to ask you the following:

Do Muslims really hate Americans and American products?

My two cents.
1st cent: Pens don't kill; guns do.
2nd cent: If you don't have a pen, you can't write with a pen.

I had a Gogol moment yesterday.

New Guy: Hi, I'm John Doe.
I: Hi, I'm Abhishek Nair.
New Guy: Sorry, could you said that again?
I: Abbheeshake Nair.
New Guy: You're kidding me??

I fit in. That's all I have to say. I did have to suppress an intense feeling to knock him to the floor. Suddenly, his self-deprecating humor meant nothing. No humility, nothing. It was just a show. His incredulity betrayed him. A child of the world. Misfit in our times.

I support Barrack Obama and his campaign. I do not agree with all of his policies but I admire his clarity of thought. And I believe that he will bring much-needed leadership to a country wandering in the wrong direction.

Yet, given Obama's diverse background and atypical, but not abnormal, views, he has become the target of baseless rumours and smear campaigns. So, as a small measure of support to his campaign, I reproduce here:

One of my favourites:

The Smear:
Barack Obama Won't Say The Pledge of Allegiance/Won't Put His Hand Over His Heart
LIE: Barack Obama won't say the pledge
LIE: Barack Obama won't put his hand over this heart during the pledge of allegiance

The Truth:

I rarely find good news in these challenging times, but had to pull this quote out of the Washington Post's piece on the Jaipur blasts:

"Hindus and Muslims have lived in such close quarters in Jaipur," said Narendra Sharma, 52, a government servant who lives next to the Hanuman Hindu temple, where one of the blasts occurred. "We have to remember that it's a terrorist issue. It's not our brothers and sisters."

India exists today because of the wisdom of millions of overlooked Narendra Sharmas... The common Indian, if there is such a thing, is under-rated. We just have to give him back his voice.

Dear Sandeep,

A Desipundit link took me to your argument against the court ruling dismissing a petition against M.F. Husain's art depicting Hindu goddesses in the nude.

After quoting the judge's ruling and weighing Hindu "symbolism" against the judge's "aesthetics", you conclude:

"Hussain's "art" needs to be challenged by a deep scholarship of the Indian tradition of art, and sufficiently made public. In my readings, Hussain's "art" is bought merely as investment. In true free market style, if enough is done to show that these are worthless investments, we would need to stop worrying about Hussain's "art." The learned judge is merely looking at the symptom not the disease."

Sigh...where do I start.

First, why the appeal to the judge?
The courts have no place with why Husain's paintings would be considered aesthetical. Unless you believe that aesthetics and beauty are standards to be left to the judicial system. In which case, please tell me how India became a theocratic state overnight.

I for one, can judge for myself, what I would consider aesthetically pleasing. If you seek to impose your standards of beauty on me through the courts, you patronize me to say the least. Husain's art may offend, please or do nothing for me, but I will defend my right to judge that for myself. I will also defend Husain's right to paint whatever he pleases.

Also, please define "worthless investments". Is there a hurdle IRR (internal rate of return) you demand as a learned investor of the arts? If that's so, let's play an experiment:

You quote a price for the painting and let me tell you if that's acceptable to Husain.
Here's a hint: you have to pay him what he thinks his painting is worth having destroyed. I have a feeling you are not going to hang it up in your living room.

Actually, given that this game could quickly become expensive, let's lower the stakes a little and shift the risk. After all, I should put my money where my mouth is, right? Let's bet $1,000 right here, right now that Husain will not part with his painting to you for any sum of money. You don't have to buy into this bet, it won't cost you a penny to accept or lose. You just have to get incontrovertible evidence that would hold up in any Indian court that Husain would sell his painting to you for some sum of money. But until you can furnish such proof, your words are as "worthless" as the object of your hate.

Lastly, not a day passes by without someone anointing himself or herself spokesperson for the myriad beliefs held by millions of Hindus. I am sorry, Sandeep, but I have to revoke your license to represent me for you stole it while I wasn't looking, let alone without asking me.

The Mid-Day quotes Karnataka's youngest MLA candidate, Hemashree, who also happens to be a TV host:

“My TV appearances made me famous and gave me the confidence to contest,” Hemashree told MiD DAY.In Seeregondu Saval, Hemashree asks women to call in and guess the price of a sari, and hands it over to the caller who gets closest to its marked price. “People in the villages treat me like their daughter. I think women will stand by me,” she said.

I am not surprised. Sarees have become the standard gift in elections. It was only appropriate that they get the host of a TV show selling sarees to buy votes at election time.

How do I know she is not going to be an exception to the rule? Because she said this too:

“Women can’t think of entering politics if they do not have a godfather and money. If you have to contest an election, you need to have money. Spend money and think that you will never get it back. You should have influence too to get a ticket...If not for my father, I would never have been here. Women can enter politics only if their family is into it.”

Supporters of the women's reservation bill may be disappointed, but I am not. Artificial representation has always been a clever distraction from the million mutinies India really needs. Reservations may force political parties to look at new candidates within their ranks and outside, but most likely, as Hemashree unashamedly admits, the nominees are going to be the ones with godfathers and money. At best, there is not going to be any change in the quality of the candidates. At worst, candidates with merit could get sidelined if they happen to be male.

Halfway across the world, Hillary is facing issues with the historic nature of her own candidacy for the White House. Unlike Obama, Hillary has no stirring speech on women's issues. They are non-existent in this election where she faces off two male candidates. In all likelihood, a Hillary withdrawal would not disappoint female voters, because if she were to drop out now, it would have less to do with the idea of a woman in power than her ability to rally voters around the issues of the day. Hemashree will learn just as Hillary has, even in politics, inspiring voters has nothing to do with your sex or sarees.

You know you have arrived at an intellectual when she believes in defeating cliches with...hold your breath, cliches!

"I find India very attractive, enticing and seductive. But we have also moved away from just the exotic imaging of India being beautiful and coulourful and all the cliches the West likes to associate with India, like snake-charmers and tigers, the Taj Mahal, our beautiful women... I think we've quantum-leaped beyond something so quaint. We've proved our mettle in business and technology. We've become an economic powerhouse. So why don't we focus equally on our brainpower?"

So, it is important that we have gotten past cliches...well, Shobhaa De was just answering an equally meaningless question by the equally thoughtless folks at Rediff.:

"How do you want the world to look at India?"

On another note, I've always wondered why there's an extra "a" at the end of her name. Is it "extra" because I accept the more common "Shobha" as conventional? What does that say about me? Or was it a indulgence in numerology by her parents? In any case, it has made me think, which is something new for anything associated with her in writing.

While reading Marrying across Somalia's caste lines over at BBC, I was drawing comparisons between the forbidden love of this couple and inter-caste marriages in India. But the lady at the heart of this story surprised me further with this additional tidbit:

"Finally, he was mine and I was his. Sometimes life is indeed like a Bollywood movie," she said, smiling.

I visited my local Indian grocery store in Philly and unearthed this interesting fact about Bollywood movies. More than a third of the renters are from Africa! Among their favorites, Disco Dancer.

While we berate and moan the lack of attention to detail, histrionic acting and formulaic song and dance routines that form the staple in our film industry, Bollywood movies have a considerable following in parts of Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not coincidentally, these also happen to be some of the poorest places in the world. In the end, no amount of investment or diplomats have been able to achieve that kind of empathy. Quality aside, there is something to be said for spinning dreams and creating hope for the deprived.

This is a reprint of my article at the Save Kerala blog -

Latha looked at her watch. She was going to be late to work. Gritting her teeth at the thought of another long night at the office, she grabbed her iPod and stuffed it into her bag. As she ran out, Latha grabbed the tiffin box located strategically on the dining table and yelled in the kitchen's direction,

"Amma…njaan erangunu." (Mother, I'm leaving)
Pat came her mother's advice, "Poyitte varette paraaa, molle." (Say you'll return after leaving)

At the bus stand, Latha did not have to wait for long. A SAFE bus rolled in, its engine purring to a halt. The driver extended its wheelchair lift to let out a disabled lady and her companion granddaughter. The rest of the passengers petered out of the bus before Latha stepped into its cool interior. This particular bus was operated by Safe and Friendly Environment Lines, the brainchild of Abdul Majeeb, a recently returned Kerala expat. Latha had read all about him in a splashy feature story in "Dusky" - a hugely successful periodical in Kerala.

Six years ago, Majeeb had traveled to Masdar to embark on a venture manufacturing luxury boats and yachts for the city's wealthy businessmen and had amassed significant wealth for himself in the process. Yet, as he traveled between Kerala and Masdar, he was continually reminded of the world of difference between his place of birth and place of work. And nothing irked him more than the harassment women received in urban Kerala. At times, he suspected that beneath a largely literate society, lay a seething, frustrated, unemployed body of men who had nothing better to do than harass women on the streets and in every imaginable public place. Majeeb got so obsessed with the problem that whenever he met a fellow Keralite, he steered the conversation in this direction. Yet everyone, men and women, friends and family alike, just shrugged their shoulders and walked away. Then last year, the problem hit home when his sister was pinched and groped on a private bus. Shortly after that incident, he bought her a can of mace and then isolated himself in his office to apply his entrepreneurial instincts to the problem.

For decades, private and public bus lines were unable to provide safe and secure means of transportation for women and children. Surveys revealed the shocking extent of women who had some experience fending off physical advances while traveling. The numbers were lower, but still disturbingly bad for children, primarily because child molestation went largely unreported. It was a problem that left women and children scarred, and in many cases, families reluctant to let their vulnerable members venture outside for work. On the rare occasions that a woman or child complained, retribution was often swift, but the reaction too little too late. Years of building boats and arranging security for celebrity clients at his yacht exhibitions had given Majeeb considerable experience in the tourism and security industries. In his mind, the problems presented by public travel in Kerala were no different. And that is why Majeeb introduced a private protection bus service catering to men, women and children.

Ten kilometers from Latha's bus stand, Majeeb sat in his office with his legs stretched on his desk, a liberty he took on Fridays when the week winded down to a crawl. Flipping the pages of his investment book, he ran through the calculations for his proposed fleet expansion. SAFE had created a tidy profit for him within two years of its launch; now he was going to expand beyond Kochi into Kozhikode and Kollam. Yet, he knew making his figures public to attract investors, was also going to open the gates to copy-cats once competing bus lines learnt just how well he was doing. But then, Majeeb was no stranger to competition. He thrived on devising innovative services and products to differentiate his business.

Majeeb reminisced about his neighbors in Kerala ridiculing him (not to his face, because that would have been impolite) when he told them about his new bus service and his ticket prices which were twice the prevailing rate. Indians, let alone Malayalees, are driven by cost, they said. Charge twice as much, get twice as less passengers, they warned him. Majeeb shrugged his shoulders just as they had shrugged theirs. If there was anything he had learnt about business, it was that you never learn without trying. So he went ahead with his plans to recruit bus "marshals" - able plainclothesmen who accompanied his buses.

In the first month after the inauguration of the bus service, Majeeb did worry. Attendance was poor, and his advertisements attracted just a trickle of passengers, mostly businessmen. Then as word of mouth spread about Majeeb's guard service, he started seeing more housewives and working women among the passengers. Pretty soon, the inaugural bus were running at full capacity and bringing in enough money for Majeeb to justify buying a second, a third, a fourth and even a fifth bus.

In the beginning, there was a security guard on every ride. As expectations rose, he dispersed the guards among his buses. With his higher ticket prices, he was able to add more buses to the same routes and restrict the amount of passengers on each ride. Majeeb had long ago reasoned that the shortest distance from point A to point B in Kerala was not just a straight line. It was a line with bells and whistles. He was not interested in selling a commodity. He was not selling space. He was selling a service. He was selling comfort of a watchful pair of eyes. Not the kind of eyes that women were seeking to avoid. But the protective kind his meticulously-selected and screened guards offered.

Yet, Majeeb took pains to draw the fine line between regulating and liberating interaction between strangers. He had no desire to run a police state aboard his buses. He wanted men and women to converse and act decently towards each other. He didn't want to segregate the two sexes as some clerics and priests in his home town would have liked. Was he in the business of teaching decency? No, he believed such behaviours could not be forced, just internalized.

And what of the criticism leveled at him by a major daily that his rates were beyond the ordinary person's reach? He wrote an emphatic letter to the editor quoting first hand evidence that his bus was actually more affordable. Despite his relatively expensive bus fare, many of SAFE's passengers were switching from more expensive means of transportation including two-wheelers. In the cases of women who were confined to their homes, the opportunity cost was much higher. Majeeb's most cherished possession was a letter from a young lady named Latha, who had written to his office to express her appreciation for his bus lines. Latha was frequently called upon to work for long hours at her office. As such instances grew more frequent, her parents despaired and called upon the daughter to quit. Latha knew she could not heed their warning, which while well-meaning, ignored the hard facts of their circumstances. Her father was confined to the bed after a paralyzing stroke; between his medicines and her mother's care, she was the sole breadwinner in the family. Any other job would force them to live from hand to mouth. It was in the midst of this crisis, Latha wrote to Majeeb, that SAFE "rolled into her life".

Majeeb liked to think that SAFE was a social experiment, but he knew that it was a business like any other. It existed to satisfy an unresolved need like any other successful firm. Only time could tell what long-term changes his entrepreneurial abilities could shape. For now though, he would be happy just to provide law and order in the void that was Kerala's traveling experience.

A knock on the door pierced Majeeb's thoughts and he sat up. His assistant came into his office and said, "It's Minister Balakrishnan."
Majeeb raised his brow, "what does he want?"
"Something about booking a bus for his son's wedding in June." After some hesitation, she said, "Oh and Bhaskaran is on the other line."
Majeeb asked, "Bhaskaran who?"
"Union Bhaskaran…the one who's in the papers about getting you to sign an agreement for your security staff."

Majeeb took in a deep breath and weighed which call was worse.


Sexual harassment is a widespread problem in Kerala. Volumes have been written here and elsewhere on the hellish experiences women face while they travel and work in our state. According to the 2007 Kerala Economic Review report released last month, atrocities against women have increased three-fold over the past 15 years. 2,078 cases were recorded against women in 1992. In 2006, this figure had risen to 9,110 cases. Despite greater public awareness, little has been achieved as tangible results. Successive governments have failed to provide us with better law enforcement agencies. But blaming the government for everything from the lack of standards in our civic life to our economic problems is becoming more and more a convenient cop-out.

Latha's experience and Majeeb's story need not be relegated to the dusty confines of Indian science-fiction. These are very practical applications of existing business models. A little private initiative and lots of common sense can resolve many of Kerala's modern social and economic problems without resorting to charitable or publicly-funded institutions including governments. We have all seen how the latter have fared. I'll let Milton Friedman explain the power of open markets more eloquently, "The great virtue of free enterprise is that it forces existing businesses to meet the test of the market continuously, to produce products that meet consumer demands at lowest cost, or else be driven from the market. It is a profit-and-loss system."

Note: All characters in this article are fictitious. Any similarities that these characters may have to any person living or dead are unintentional.

If my mother is Maharashtrian,
my father is Bihari,
my mother is Muslim,
my father is Christian,
my office is in Mumbai,
my wife and kids are in Delhi,
my mother tongue is Hindi,
my fluency is in Marathi,
my mother is an SC/ST,
my father is casteless,

Can you tell me
which half must be circumsized,
which half must be baptized,
which half may live in this city without fear,
which half must return to penury,
which half must apply for reservation,
which half must resent the other half?

I have only one mind, one body, one soul,
tear me apart for I belong
to a hundred places, identities and castes.
Or let me live as an Indian.

42-speaker sound system
2 16-inch TVs
42-inch plasma TV
Four computers
and to boot...
a train horn.

Ford is where it is today because at some point, it stopped building cars and started building mobile homes.

Cost of an average RV:$100K.
Cost of a Ford Alton F-650 XUV (yes, it's a mouthful):$200K.


The height of irony: an artist greets an anti-artist.

My two cents to Amitabh: embrace the vice police at your risk, lest you try to express your creativity.

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