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Friday, April 20, 2018

A Semicolon

Among all the little symbols, I find the semicolon the most confusing punctuation mark in English language. It is supposed to be a punctuation mark that separates major sentence elements like clauses. Yet, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities starts like this -

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.....

See, there is no semicolon there. I think, he should have started like this - "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times....". The Oxford dictionary says the main task of semicolon is to mark a break that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop.

University of Sussex allots only one major use for the semicolon - it is used to join two complete sentences into a single sentence subject to three preconditions - (1) the two sentences are felt to be too closely related to be separated by a full stop; (2) there is no connecting word which would require a comma such as 'and' or 'but' and (3) the special conditions requiring a colon are absent.

What I understand now is that a writer puts a semicolon when a sentence actually ends, but he decides not to end it, and want to continue with the sentence. If he wanted he could have put a full stop. But, he decided, for whatever may be the reason or compulsion, to continue the sentence.

Life has many commas, they are momentary stops; the journey continues relatively smooth even after a comma. The semicolon is much stronger than a comma. If you encounter a semicolon, your life has actually come to a full stop. Deciding not to put a full stop and put a semicolon instead, depends on the desire to continue life. The semicolon can be justified if the "two sentences are felt to be too closely related" still. Otherwise, use a connecting word like 'and' or put a full stop. 


Sunday, June 11, 2017

My People - My Concern : One

This news appeared on Friday, 9 June in Kolkata edition of Business Standard. I have waited till today to see if any of the 16 Guwahati-based newspapers that I have access to on a regular basis picks up the news. They did not.

The Context:
Any news on Hydroelectricity is of concern to me as I have been reading for last 20 years that Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and other northeastern states together has potential for production of more than 60,000 MW of electricity through hydel projects - either run of the river or on dams. Realisation of this potential can make India power surplus nation, experts kept on telling.

The irony of it lies in the fact that, almost none of 133 projects in Arunachal Pradesh, out of which 125 were allotted to private companies during the UPA rule, have so far been commissioned because of various issues. The annual report for 2011-12 of the Ministry of Power had proposed that 57,672 MW of power be generated in the Northeast, of which 46,977 MW are to be generated in Arunachal Pradesh alone. It is also very interesting to note that whoever gets political power, becomes aware of the benefit of hydroelectric power. The big thrust to hydroelectric projects was given by Congress during 2000-2010. BJP had then consistently opposed it. When BJP came to power in centre in 2014 they started to realise importance of hydel projects.

Similarly in Assam, a major project - the 2000 MW lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Project at Gerukamukh - being executed by NHPC is stalled since December 2011 because of protest by various political parties and groups. The project has been a staple for media and political parties for almost six years now. In October 2013, Congress Chief Minister in the State Tarun Gogoi appealed to protesters to stop stalling the work of the project.

During the 2014 Parliamentary election, BJP and AGP (Asom Gana Parisad) along with All Assam Students Union and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) had opposed the construction of the dam for the project. However, when these two parties came to power in the State, their opposition has weaned and the Union Power Minister Shri Piyush Goel has recently (April 2017) thanked Assam Chief Minister for lending support for the project. ASSU has become silent on the issue and KMSS has become weak with its leader Akhil Gogoi being arrested and put in jail for close to six months soon after BJP came to power in Assam in May 2016.

The lone resistance to the project now remains in the form of a case in NGT. Abhijit Sharma of Assam Public Works petitioned the National Green Tribunal against the dam and the hearing on the case ended on 27 May 2017. Initial project cost was Rs. 6285 crore, but an estimate in August 2016 by NHPC CMD K.M. Singh pegged the cost estimate at Rs. 17,000 crore. The project was to start generating from 2014.

The News in Business Standard:
A large number of hydro-power plants are stranded in the country. The total power that can be generated by the hydro-power plants that are being constructed in the country is 11,639 MW. The projects that are stalled has a capacity to produce 6,429 MW. Out of this, 1411 MW is in private sector, 2171 MW in Central sector and 2847 MW is in state sector.
Stalling of the projects results in cost overrun and increase in price of per unit power when the projects become operational. The current tariff of hydropower is about Rs. 3 - 3.15 per unit. The rate for stalled projects would be Rs. 6 - 7 per unit.
The installed capacity of hydropower projects in India is about 40,000 MW at present and the sector has recorded 28% growth in last 10 years. Whereas, renewable energy sector (Wind & Solar) has recorded a growth of 89% in the same period, 20% of the growth coming in last 3 years. 

So, the Ministry of Power has proposed "Revival of Hydro Sector" with a central fund of Rs. 16,000 crore called the Hydro power Development Fund. Under the proposal, a 4% interest subvention for 10 years (7 years during construction, 3 year after commissioning) would be provided to all projects above 25 MW capacity including private ones.  Currently, a hydro project with installed capacity of less than 25 MW is considered under renewable energy and falls under administrative purview of Ministry of New & Renewable Energy. Projects with more than 25 MW installed capacity fall under Ministry of Power and the largest hydro-power company NHPC. 

The proposal also entails declaring all hydro projects as renewable energy. And as is applicable for all renewable energy, the states will have to mandatorily purchase hydel power under "Hydropower Purchase Obligation" (HPO).

The fund for this bail out will come from either Coal Cess, or from the National Clean Energy Fund or the non-lapsable pool for the Development of North Eastern Region (DONER). Both private and state projects would receive funds.

Between the lines and the concern:
(1) The government has committed in Paris Climate Change Summit-2016 to build 40% of its total energy generation from renewable sources. Reclassifying all hydropower projects as renewable energy and kickstarting the stalled projects, the government wants to meet its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). That's also why we have suddenly woke up to solar energy even if the companies supplying solar panels are Chinese.

(2) The interest subvention is proposed for not only the ongoing and stalled projects. The proposal says it will be applicable to any project that would be commissioned within five years from the date of notification of the policy. That means, any new project which is completed within five years will get the benefit for the period of construction and three years after commissioning. This is intended at benefitting private players at the expense of government money.

(3) Why the Rs. 16,000 crore from non-lapsable fund of DONER? After all one of the major projects (Lower Subansiri) has been opposed because of concern related to possible disaster from the dam, adverse effect to ecology and doubt over the benefit of the project. Now, you are trying to compensate the project with our money?

(4) Why this arm-twisting of the states with HPO? The states will have to buy power at higher rates from these projects even if cheaper power is available. When UPA Power Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia had proposed HPO, the BJP-ruled states made a huge noise.  

(5) If the government is planning to fund the bail out with taxpayers' money, aren't they also stakeholder in the proposal. Why is not made public yet?

(6) Why media in Assam is quite? Is it ignorance? Or is it something more sinister than that? After all the media in Assam have so far been the greatest supporter of Akhil Gogoi when he came to prominence with his opposition against big dam. The Congress has always supported big dam, but BJP opposed it before election. Now they have become even bigger supporter of big dams. So, the Parivartan was actually acceleration of the Congress policy.

You can read a nice piece on Dams by Ramchandra Guha here.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"You cannot buy peace" ....... but they can buy you.

The next piece (2nd lead in editorial page) just below Arup Dutta's writing in Assam Tribune (on meter gauge heritage railway line in Assam and what authorities need to do to preserve it, you can follow the link to read it) is by M Venkaiah Naidu, titled "Let us not politicise farmers' issues". Mr Naidu is currently the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting. The same article was published as lead article in editorial page of Times of India across all editions.

Now read what Arun Shourie has to say about Mr. Naidu. While referring how newspapers and media people want to buy peace by providing politicians space. Shourie said, "Never delude yourself into believing that a little concession will buy you peace". He was speaking in front of an array of veteran journalists at the Press Club of India in New Delhi. The event was to protest the CBI raid on the founders of NDTV, Pranoy Roy and Radhika Roy. Mr Shourie added, "Many of you think that if you give prominence to some of the articles of these ministers or if you give them air-time, they will help you in a crisis."
"Give Venkaiah Naidu that small third-standard notebook, and ask him to fill one page coherently on any random topic. But you keep printing his articles, when you know very well that he cannot write. Because you think that by giving him that space, that much airtime to these fellows, you are buying peace. No, in fact, when the assault comes to you none of them will help." [The Telegraph, Page 1, Saturday, 10 June, Guwahati edition]

Asomiya Pratidin
P.S.  The meet at Press Club of India on Friday, June 9 to protested CBI raid in NDTV offices on trivial ground and the veteran journalists felt it was an attack on freedom of press. Here is how newspapers in Assam, which otherwise are very sensitive about freedom of press, treated the news -

(1) The Telegraph - page 1
(2) Assam Tribune - not covered
(3) Times of India, Guwahati - not covered.
(4) Asomiya Pratidin - Page 9 with smallest headline in the page.
(5) Dainik Agradoot - Not covered
(6) Asomiya Khabor - not covered
(7) Dainik Janambhumi, Guwahati edition - not covered
(8) Dainik Asom - Page -10
Dainik Janasadharan
(9) Janasadharan - page -1 (2nd lead)The newspaper is owned by Congress
politician Rakibul Hussain.
(10) Dainandin Varta - not covered
(11) Amar Asom - not covered.(They carried it in front page on Sunday, 11 June)
(12) Dainik Gana Adhikar - not covered.
(13) Ami Asomor Janagan - not covered.

Now let us have a look at the display advertisement received from government by these newspapers on Saturday, June 10. Classified like tenders etc. is not counted.

(1) The Telegraph - Nil, except a Railway function advt released by Eastern & South Eastern Railway for Kolkata edition, which is carried by default in Guwahati edition.
(2) Assam Tribune - two half page advt from Social Welfare Department, one half page from Assam Minorities Development Board, 1/4 th page from National health Mission, Assam
(3) Times of India, Guwahati - Same railway advt released to Telegraph, again to Kolkata edition but printed in Guwahati by default.
(4) Asomiya Pratidin - one half page from Assam Minorities Development Board, 3/4 page from National Commission on Women & Social Welfare Deptt,
(5) Dainik Agradoot - one half page from Social Welfare Department, one half page from Assam Minorities Development Board.
(6) Asomiya Khabor - one half page from Social Welfare Department, one half page from Assam Minorities Development Board, one half page from Central Board of Direct Taxes, 1/4 page from Central Excise Board, one half page from National Commission for Women.
(7) Dainik Janambhumi - two half page, one from Social Welfare Deptt. the other from Assam Minorities Development Board, 1/4 th page from National health Mission, Assam, another half page from National Commission on Women.
(8) Dainik Asom - None
(9) Janasadharan -None
(10) Dainandin Varta - one half page from Social Welfare Department, one half page from Central Board of Direct Taxes, one half page from National Commission on Women.
(11) Amar Asom -  two half page, one from Social Welfare Deptt. the other from Assam Minorities Development Board, another half page from National Commission on Women.
(12) Dainik Gana Adhikar - two half page, one from Social Welfare Deptt. the other from Assam Minorities Development Board.
(13) Ami Asomor Janagan - two half page, one from Social Welfare Deptt. the other from Assam Minorities Development Board, another half page from National Commission on Women.

I am not asking you to draw any correlation from above, and I will come back at a later date to record the revenue collected by these newspapers for these advertisements.
(Reports on 11 June 2017, in the newspapers which received the Assam Minorities Welfare Board's half-page advertisement on Chief Minister attending Iftar, said the government spent close to Rs. 24 lakh on this advt) 

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Shadow of the Glory

Scandals involving betting and fixing in the game of cricket are international phenomenon. So far at least five cricket betting scandals have been reported. With the arrest of Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan in mid-2013, the spot-fixing scandal in cricket hit India. Judicial intervention in the form of an inquiry under Justice (retired) Mukul Mudgal started in October 2013. Later, Supreme Court set up a committee of three retired Supreme Court Judge headed by former Chief Justice R. M. Lodha. The committee submitted a report - now popularly known as the Lodha Committee Report - advising radical changes in the governance of BCCI - a club synonymous with cricket in India.
The Supreme Court instructed BCCI to implement Lodha Committee report by end-October 2016, but BCCI kept on delaying it on the pretext of one or other. When the BCCI failed to meet the deadline, the SC fired BCCI president Anurag Thakur - a rich politician with hardly any cricket in him - and secretary Ajay Shirke. Exasperated, the SC on 30th January 2017 appointed a Committee of Administrators (CoA) to oversee implementation of Lodha Committee recommendations in BCCI. The members of the CoA were former CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) Vinod Rai, Vikram Limaye - the CEO and managing director of IDFC Ltd (holding company of IDFC Bank), Diana Edulji - former captain of Indian Women Cricket team and Ramchandra Guha - a sports historian.
Four months into working - Ramchandra Guha resigned from CoA on 28th May. In a letter to the chairman of CoA Vinod Rai Mr. Guha cited several 'conflict of interest' in BCCI which CoA ignored.
On June 3, Shekhar Gupta wrote for Weekend Business Standard pointing out 'conflict of interest' of CoA chairman himself. Gupta wrote, "Mr. Rai, who heads the central government's all-powerful Banks Board Bureau (BBB),reforming and restructuring public sector banks, is also the chairman of IDFC which promotes IDFC Bank, a private competitor of government banks. Then he chooses his own CEO Mr Limaye as a member of the CoA to assist him". Mr Gupta also writes about possible conflict of interest for Mr Limaye flagged by SEBI - the financial market regulator who refused to clear appointment of Mr Limaye as CEO of National Stock Exchange (NSE) unless he relinquishes the membership of CoA. As it happens, many IPL franchise has either been listed or are in the process of being listed for trading. So, can Limaye be both in BCCI and NSE?
At least two years before all these broke out, I had written how we swarm left-right-front and behind glorious people just to busk in reflected glory and why I do not like BCCI. As I am writing this piece, Pakistan dropped Virat Kohli in ICC World Cup match between India - Pakistan at the fag-end of indian batting. Kohli was short of his fifty and It was an easy catch. Soon he completed his fifty and was seen in an explosive display of sixes and fours. Immediately it came to my mind - was it fixed. With many details of BCCI affairs coming out in last few years - it has becomes difficult to enjoy the game unbiased. A lingering doubt remains after each game - was it staged like any other show? It seems we are now living in the shadow of glory.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Public Relations in Governance

Governance and Government:
According to UNESCAP (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific), Governance is "the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented or not implemented". Simply put, governance is what the government does. On the other hand, Good Governance means the processes implemented by organization or institution to produce favorable results to meet the needs of its stakeholders, while making the best use of resources – human, technological, financial, natural and environmental – at its disposal.
The basic purpose of governance are – maintaining order in the society, ensuring prosperity for the people, avoiding conflicts among or with the people and managing crisis or disaster. While accountability is key tenet of Good Governance; the major elements of good governance are transparency, consensus, people’s participation and responsiveness. Consensus is also important for avoiding conflicts and waste of resources.
Thus, two preconditions for Good Governance are that people must participate in government’s activities and accept its decisions. However, people’s opinions often and generally remain divided on any major government decisions without the much-needed consensus. Therefore, favorable opinion formation plays crucial role in governance. Romans even said that the voice of people is the voice of God (vox populi, vox dei). In our modern participatory democracy too, people or citizens, in fact, play the central role. 
Public Relations for public:
The later part of Industrial Revolution in the West had seen increasing need for market exploitation. Mobilization of people’s opinion for political or religious causes, influencing people’s minds for selling product and such other needs saw growth of a creed called the Publicists.
There had been innumerous attempts to define Public Relations since Ivy Ledbetter Lee, an American publicity expert, first coined the term in 1897. Lee, who started his career as a Publicity Manager in 1903, later worked for the Rockefeller family and the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1905, he established a public relations firm – Parker & Lee - mainly catering to publicity needs. The public relations that Lee practiced was honest communication based on the Publicity Model. Lee believed - good public relations was not possible without good performance. For him, Public Relations is a communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationship between organization and their publics (the target audience).
According to Lee, a PR practitioner essentially was a liaison man between the organization and its publics. While the PR man will try to build goodwill for the organization, the organization in turn would continuously reinvent itself and adopt better ethical and humane practices. The theoretical essence of all government PR even today is the same – that the government will act for the benefit of the citizen and the PR man will ensure generation of enough goodwill so that the citizen would support the government. 
Public Relations for propaganda:
However, Edward Luis James Barneys added a new twist to the concept of PR in the 1920s when he said that PR is the attempt by information, persuasion and adjustment to engineer public support for an activity, cause, movement or institution. Ethics and honesty in communication took a backseat for Barneys, who was an Austrian – American and is widely regarded as “the father of Public Relations”. The definition of Public Relations given by Barney in his book “Crystallizing Public Opinion” was published in 1923.
Unlike Lee, Barneys was a crafty propagandist well versed in media handling who believed that people’s opinion can and need be influenced for generating goodwill. Legends goes that Barneys convinced Thomas Masaryk, the founder of modern Czechoslovakia, to delay announcement of the country’s independence by a day for better press coverage. He would go to any length to influence people’s opinion favorably for the organization. When the American Tobacco Company asked him to promote smoking among women to increase sale of its Lucky Strike brand, he readily agreed and staged a series of events to make American women believe that smoking in public was symbolic to freedom for women. In one such event called “Light Up, America”, he arranged for many famous women to publicly light up a Lucky Strike all across America at the same time. In another event, he made some women light up cigarettes in New York’s Easter Sunday parade making the cigarettes their “Torches of Freedom”.
We find parallels of Barneys PR in modern day governments and politics, when events are staged to catch public attention. Easy-to-remember slogans like “Parivartan” (Change), “Make America Great Again” etc. are coined to create stereotype and thus crystalize public opinion.      
Why do government need Public Relations?
We can find many examples of Governments communicating with people throughout the history of mankind.  The people holding power by virtue of being in the government needs people’s participation and support for continuation in power. Even governments enjoying absolute majority last for only five years in our country and would need people’s goodwill to return to power. On the other hand, the importance of people’s participation was aptly exemplified by the less than partial success of the First Five-year plan when the large number of government schemes for boosting agricultural production found no takers. The polio-eradication plan of the government would have been a failure without people’s participation.
Government also needs to build up consensus on vexed issues for smooth implementation of necessary but unpopular decisions. The introduction of Goods and Service Tax (GST) in place of a plethora of State and Central Taxes would not have been possible without a consensus. Government also needs to avoid conflicts. Doing away with government subsidy for domestic LPG or recent de-monetization would not have been possible without communication efforts for avoiding conflicts. Building Big Dams for hydroelectricity is currently testing government’s communication efforts in avoiding conflicts. The communication skills of PR professional can immensely help government to achieve these objectives.   
How Public Relations is practiced in government?
Starting with Lee and Barneys, PR practices had remained more or less same through the two World Wars till 1990s.  Since then, however, PR has developed immensely to become a major profession and academic discipline.  The government has limited need for specialized communication skills, as the purpose of PR in government is limited to getting publicity, running propaganda and occasional consensus building. Politicians who head governments are already adept in such communications inherent in political campaigns. These politicians, when they head governments, become the government spokespersons and set the basic goal for government public relations to keep the public sphere favourable. The government PR thus, serves the need of the political masters.
To achieve this most PR people in government do publicity – both earned and paid for (i.e. advertising). The mainstay of earned publicity campaign for government still is the press releases and press conferences. Occasionally, media professional are coerced or motivated to carry government publicity materials. Events, exhibition, rally etc. serve the purpose of government propaganda. The tools employed by government for consensus building are workshops, conferences, round-table discussions, negotiations etc.
While using these tools of public relations in government, tradition plays the most important role. Majority of government PR people who head the public relations department are on the job learners. For them public relations is what they practice. Precedents and common sense are two most prevalent guides for these PR practitioners. Media personnel are heavily dependent on government PR people for information. A fact amplified by relative lack of news on Saturdays and Sundays when government departments remain close. These media people provide the much-needed earned publicity and hence are great friends of government PR professionals. Moreover, government is the single big revenue provider for the media industry in our country.

Thus, it is smooth sailing for government PR so far. While public relations as a profession and as an academic discipline is developing tremendously throughout the world, government PR in India is still confined to the above mentioned few functions. However, given the potential of PR, it could play a very significant role in good governance, which unfortunately is being denied to it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why have we suddenly woke up to celebrate women behind the scene?

The story of three women working behind the scene at ISRO was first broke by BBC on 12 December, three weeks before the USA release of Hidden Figures. The BBC story spoke about only Ritu Karidhal, Anuradha TK and Nandini Harinath. Later, on 15 February 2017, when ISRO's PSLV - C37 rocket successfully placed 104 small satellites into orbit, Internet news sites started writing about 8 women in ISRO. The BBC list was now expanded to include - Maumita Dutta, Kirti Faujdhar, N Valarmathi, Mrinal Sampath and Tessy Thomas. Soon, social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook etc become agog with stories of these women and their relentless selfless work behind the scene for making the country proud.

Nobody, however, pointed out that some of these women have been working in ISRO for more than 20 years now. Anuradha TK has been working at ISRO for 34 years! It was somehow too much time that India needed to eventually recognize them. And there were no mention that it was a BBC journalist Geeta Pandey who had traveled to Bangalore following a two year old lead and broke the story to challenge the perceived notion that space science is a male bastion.

Hidden Figures is a 2016 Hollywood drama film about three African-American women working behind the scene at NASA who had played vital roles during the early years of Us space research programme. The film has won 26 awards and nominated for 60 more including 3 Oscars this year. The film was released in US on 6 January and in India on 17 February this year. The film is produced by 3 companies including Hollywood biggie Fox 2000 Pictures, and distributed by 10 compnaies worldwide. Made with an estimated $25,000,000 budget, the film has grossed estimated $ 142,591,830 till 17 February 2017 when it was released in India. By the time it was released in India, the enthusiasm associated with the film has ebbed. New York Daily News reported - "Hidden Figures is an earnest movie, but not a very exciting one. The screenplay feels as engineered as a Gemini rocket launch, with every scene and line carefully calculated". The popularity of the movie was on the decline. No doubt, it needed some boost for its India release where about 45 million people watch movies. Consider this - only 25 million people watched 3 Idiots to make it a big hit. India is a big market for Hollywood films and producers with almost 500 million people below the age of 20 . Hollywood producers have started producing Hindi films now. 

I am self -confessed skeptic as long as I am dealing with media. I need to be. My early life as journalist had trained me to be so. Here, I am bit intrigued by the timing of BBC waiting a full two years to write about women working along with men in ISRO and India's space research programme. Two years ago when India put a spaceship on Mar's orbit, a photo went viral in social media.
The message accompanying the photo described the women as scientists in ISRO and challenged the stereotype that space science in India is a male dominated area. ISRO later clarified that the women in the photo were administrative staff, but also added that there are many women scientists working in ISRO. After that, two years went by and BBC decided only in December 2016 to write about these women, just three weeks before the release of Hidden Figures. This may be a the work of a brilliant news editor with very sensitive nose for news. But, this also may be a marketing ploy for the movie. With India parallel in ISRO, you find it easier to connect with the story of Hidden Figures and thus help it gross more in India. As I am writing this Hidden Figures have completed five days in India and have got 4 star review from Times of India.

Read about Hidden Figures' sucess here.     

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Every year in December they say car prices will increase in January, Why?

News like to one above is published by all newspapers across India in the month of December every year. Car prices are likely to increase - why do I need to know that? So that I can buy the car now in December before the price is hiked in January. Simple! Car companies are indeed doing a great social service by telling everyone in advance about the imminent hike in prices and thereby helping us to save a few thousand rupees.
But, does it make any business sense? I mean telling everybody that "input costs have gone up and we were so far absorbing them. But from January, we are going to pass in on to you, keeping our profit intact". And then, why such news appear every year invariably during December, not any other time?
Moreover, why do I read about a lot of incentives, discounts and other freebies on car sale during December? Such announcements are understandable during festive seasons as many people like to buy cars on auspicious occasions. December does not have any festivals.
To understand this, we need to consider a few facts. First, the depreciation in value of a car is in the range of 6-10% every year. So, a car bought today will have 24-40% less value after four years. Second, car registration in India is on calendar year basis. That means a car registered in December 2016 is one year older than a car registered in January 2017 even though the registration is only one month apart. So, a car bought in December 2016 will become four years older in January 2020. But, a car bought in January 2017 will become only three year old in January 2020.
Therefore, if you want to sell your car in future you will get less value if you had bought it in December. It makes sense not to buy a car in December if you want to sell it later.
Now, let us come back to the apparent news. What will be the likely consequences of the news? It is basically aimed at enticing you to buy the car in December. That makes it advertising, not news. There are other reasons why car makers want to sell all stocked up inventory in December. The total number of a cars sold up to December gives the car fancy title like "Car of the Year" "People's Choice of the Year" etc. No wonder, they want to clear all their stock in December. For this reason most car maker postpone new launch till January. Tata motors have postponed its launch of Hexa till January next year.
To help calculate benefit or loss of buying a car in December, I am listing the price of a few Tata Motors' vehicles here (as on today, price is approximate only as it varies from states to states). Find out in January (with simple arithmetic) whether the news above is actually a news to help you or an advertisement to entice you.

Tata Tiago – Rs. 3.32 to 5.85 lakh
Tata Zest – Rs. 5.28 to 8.73 lakh
Tata Nano – Rs. 2.33 to 3.31 lakh
Tata Bolt – Rs. 4.73 to 7.42 lakh
Tata Safati – Rs. 9.72 to 10.95 lakh
Tata Indica eV2 – Rs. 4.89 to 5.60 lakh
Tata Indigo sCS – Rs. 5.12 to 6.54 lakh
Tata Safari STORME – Rs. 10.50 to 15.48 lakh
Tata Nano GenX – Rs. 2.33 to 3.31 lahk
Tata Hexa – to be launched in Jan 17 (exp 15 Lakh)
Tata Kite – to be launched in July 17 (exp 4 lakh)
Tata Nexon – to be launched in Dec 16 (exp 8 lakh)
Tata Aria – Rs. 12.15 to 17.46 lakh
Tata Sumo Gold – Rs. 6.82 to 8.64 lakh

Tata Xenon XT – Rs. 10.14 to 11.19 lakh

Friday, July 24, 2015


When the eldest of my Mamas (maternal uncles) suddenly died in 2004, the extended family had an impromptu conference discussing a seemingly serious matter as to who all had cried, how much, with how wild frolics and who had NOT. I was not witness to it, but someone told me about it later. Apparently all the family members unanimously concluded that those who failed to shed tear or show antics at the obvious sad incident were less human, loved Mama less and needed overwhelmed condemnation. And those who did shed tears abundantly are better human, loved Mama more and should be praised wholeheartedly. Ironically, the widow had fallen in the first category.  
Those were the time when Facebook had not become the universal vulgar, perverted platform of vindication and show off. Social gatherings like death, birth, religious ceremonies and the occasional visit to the house of friends and relatives were the arena where we tried to outperform each other. Your grief was my secret happiness even then. And boasting of achievements used to take shape of a new piece of jewelry or cloth that you wear to the occasion to show off, and small talks limited to topic like the marks your children had scored, the college that he/she secured a place in etc. Parent felt unhappy if their children were not as smart as those of others. Wives felt unhappy if their husbands were not making as much money as the husbands of others. But, on the face of it everybody showed perfect happiness at the achievement of others.    
Shedding tears or crying is possibly the first emotional outburst that human being register after being born. As they grow, learn the ticks of life and acquire the so-called civilized norms of social behaviour; they learn to control this emotion. We teach our children how to control tears. Not because, we hate to see tears rolling down their cheek, but because we want them to be strong – at least emotionally. We were taught males do not cry; at least not in public. There are also people who are structurally incapable of showing this raw emotion in public. Yet, not being able to show your raw emotions becomes a yardstick for measuring your social status, your upbringing, and your character.
The widow had more practical issues, more pressing worries, and more immediate priorities – like how to raise the sixteen-year-old son alone. She possibly could not afford the luxury of giving vent to the raw emotions at that time. And who knows how much did she cry in private? Even if you cried out loud once the dust - created by the storm of sudden and untimely death of someone who had ever been the fulcrum of your life - have settled; does it make any difference?
Twelve years down the lane, the scene has not changed much. Only that the social gathering has been replaced by Facebook. So, you do not have to cry in public, just click a photo of you crying at your own leisurely time and post it. If someone had died in the family, just take a selfie at the crematorium and post it with a comment like – Me, at cremation of my uncle, feeling sad. Social etiquette of Facebook says you ought to comment on the photo of me with my wife in Singapore with line like – oh! sooo cute. Although, something inside you would continue smoldering in jealousy until you can you post a photo of your being in Las Vegas.
Your grief will always remain my secret happiness, my vindictiveness will always catch you peeking at the photos of my being able to savour better material comfort then you can muster. Just, do not hesitate to call up your friend and relatives to tell how much you cried. And of course, do not forget Facebook.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

When ethics went for a toss

A baby was born to a pair of parents after the mother went through a series of miscarriages. The parents were happy and grateful to the doctor who helped in the process. A private hospital in Guwahati was also involved in the whole exercise.
At a personal level, apparently it is a happy news; may even be exceptional. I hope nobody would doubt that. Having a baby, by all counts, is a personal experience to be shared with friends and relatives. It, however, hardly qualifies as news unless you are a Princess or a celebrity. Nobody would perhaps be interested in Nomal kai becoming a father. Would you like to read it on first person from Nomal in a newspaper that one has to buy paying money?
The first cardinal rule for a something to be news is that it has to be new. Newspapers are deluded with news everyday and all newspapers has a policy (either declared or undeclared) of selecting news. One of the widely accepted thumb rule is that the news has to have relevance to the public. The unwritten ethics in newspapers tell all editor to be on guard against advertisements passing as news. When it happens, we call them paid news.
Now, read this piece in The Assam Tribune under the headline "A New Lease of Life". (I am also placing a downloadable image of the piece at the bottom, in case the internet link becomes inaccessible). The parent was all ga ga abut the private hospital and the doctor involved. He wanted to share it with readers of the newspaper and the newspaper gave him space to do so. Apparently nothing wrong in that; except the fact that para 6.1.1 of the Guidelines of the Medical Council of India says - "A physician shall not make use of him / her (or his / her name) as subject of any form or manner of advertising or publicity through any mode either alone or in conjunction with others...". It also says that the doctor shall not permit the publication of any report to boast of cases, operations, cure or remedies through any mode. If anybody cares to complain, the good doctor may lose her license for being a part of the publicity.
The other issue here is finding "point of public interest" in the piece. The page on which the item appeared also carries 'Obituary'. One can understand the logic of carrying Obituary as a homage to the departed. But, what was so extraordinary in the birth that warranted it to be a news and not an advertisement can best be deciphered by my esteemed readers. Or was it so that an advertisement has actually been passed as a news? If it actually happened in a newspaper like The Assam Tribune, its time to become concerned.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Given a Chance

Vinod Mehta is one of the Editors whom I find largely unpretentious. I was reading the second part of his autobiography called Editor Unplugged and came across one chapter titled What I would do Differently. The title jolted me to sit back and think – yes, given a chance what would I do differently?

Mehta writes that he finds “people who boast they have no regrets in life”, people who would do nothing differently given a chance to live their life all again, rather ‘phoney’ and ‘hypocritical’. I could not agree less. Life is actually a trial and error experiment – one occasionally makes a wrong move and ought to learn from the mistakes. And, one should be ready and candid enough to live life differently, if at all given a chance.

I would turn forty-eight next May, and I think forty-seven is good enough an age to think and write what would I do differently given a chance to live life all over again. There are regrets, and realization of mistakes; there are heartburn and occasional taming of ego. But life, as it is, been generous in all its ups and downs.

So, what would I do differently given a chance? The first in my agenda would be not to take life too seriously by not trying to be a perfectionist. I do not remember who imbibed in me the need to constantly try to improve until perfection. It must be somebody from my childhood. Whoever it was, I realize, he or she was wrong. You need to aim at the sun so that your arrow flies high, but the world it not going to tumble if you do not hit the sun.

A sixteen-year-old girl in my neighborhood, whom I never met, and who was healthy and bubbling with life by all account, died last evening. The only thing she could tell her mother before she died was that she could not feel her body - there was a tingling sensation all over her body and it was over in a matter of few minutes. Given a chance, how would her parents live life differently?

Thursday, November 08, 2012

A parallel everywhere

A mail was waiting in my inbox this morning that announced that Sonia Gandhi had distributed appointment letters to 14 persons at Lalganj in Rae Bareli yesterday while inaugurating a railway coach building factory there. These were the people who sold their land to the Indian Railways for setting up the coach building factory; now they are employed in the factory. That reminded me of the ironic story of Surya Bahadur Subba of Lataguri in Garumara National Park.

It was a leisurely drive from the Coronation Bridge at Sevoke to Chalsa on an excellent stretch of the National Highway No. 31 and then through the dense forest of Garumara to Lataguri on a lonely road in that October evening. As I was trying to negotiate my Scorpio at the rather narrow gate of the resort at Lataguri, Subba came to my assistance helping me to reverse my vehicle. He was in his seventies with lines of deep creases on his face, perhaps more pronounced that evening by the golden light from the setting sun. Subba was the night chowkidar at the resort.

Once I parked my vehicle and my wife and son retired to their room, I sat down to have a chat with Subba. It was just evening and there was at least two hours before Subba would take his post. The resort was almost in the middle of a tea garden and one can smell the fresh tea leaves from the windows of the rooms.
Everywhere I go, I make it a point to try and taste the local brew and visit some home of local inhabitants. There is no philosophy behind this, it's just that I find these to be the easiest way of getting a feel of the place and so far this have invariably proved to be helpful.

So, there I was, talking to Subba in an attempt to find out where would  the poison be available. It took me a bit of explaining before Subba's face light up - "ohh! Roxy you want?" Apparently, the name for the local variety of the drink made from jaggery was Roxy. Subba said it would be available in the coolie line in the tea garden but nobody would sell it to me. So, I requested him to accompany me and he agreed. It was about one-and-a-half or so kilometer inside the tea garden where the coolie line was situated and we decided to take my vehicle instead of walking. Roxy was available and waiting to entertain me for rupees twenty a bottle. I wanted to take two - one for me and the other for Subba - but he refused saying he would have to start his night shift soon.

As I was gulping away Roxy on our way back Subba opened up. He was a native of Gangtok, Sikkim. During the Indo-China war in 1962, at the age of seventeen he came to Dooars to work with the Indian Army as a coolie. The War ended but Subba decided to stay back marrying the daughter of a tea garden labourer. For almost three decades after the war, Subba build up his home and a fortune doing odd jobs and supplying materials to the Indian Army who have a strong presence in the area. He bought about five acres of land and brought up two sons and a daughter. The daughter is married off and the wife died a few years ago. Subbas fortune dwindled during the last one decade as age caught  up with him and he lost the physical ability to work. The two sons proved to be more of liabilities than assets, could not do well for themselves and now stays with him; one working at the resort as a helper.

He used to cultivate rice and some cash crops in the five acres of land till the end of the last century or till his body had that capability. The two sons lacking interest in agriculture had decided to try their hands in some odd business only to lose money. In the meantime the sons got married and the five acres of land could no longer support the family which had grown to seven by then. With the rediscovery of Dooars and Gorumara as tourist destinations, resorts started to sprang up in the region creating demand for land. It was then that Subba decided to sell major part of his land to a businessman from Maynaguri who wanted to set up a resort.

The more or less monologue of Subba was disturbed as we reached the resort and he had to get down to help me reverse my vehicle. By this time Roxy had taken over me completely and I was feeling euphoric. Before saying goodnight to Subba I wanted to know where does he live. He pointed to the small thatched house next to the resort. The resort I was staying actually stands on the plot of land that Subba had sold to the businessman from Mayanguri! I think all the Roxy in the world could not have prevented my euphoria from vanishing in realisation that the man had been relegated to a night chowkidar of the resort that sprung up on the land he once owned.

The story in Rae Bareli sound familiar. You can always find a parallel everywhere!

Thursday, August 30, 2012


We initially named him 'Saikat' - meaning seashore in Assamese. To be honest, I insisted on the name, his mother was not very sure. Someone said, he was born under the sign Libra and his name should start with a 'S'. I wanted his name to be unique, representing part of me and capable of reflecting the moment of his birth - as long as I live or he lives. I felt a deep relief, found a purpose like a ship reaching a shore. I think all first-time father feel more or less the same. So, he was my Saikat.

His mother was not exactly happy with the name and we decided to give him a new name. She suggested 'Kabir' and I found nothing to object because 'Kabir' also adequately reflected my values. His first day at pre-school, the moronic head-mistress exclaimed that she got a Muslim scent in the name. A Muslim name for a Brahmin boy! She had no locus standi and did not go further. I also did not found it necessary to enlighten that outright stupid that Kabir, the 15th Century philosopher was the first true secular preacher who might have rolled in his grave that moment. Since then, I have faced curious glance from many people at the mention of his name several time till today but preferred to ignore them.

For seven years Kabir is growing with lots of love in his heart. He do not have a best friend - the whole class is his best friends. We have consciously made efforts never to asked him a very common but uncomfortable question for any child as to whom does he love more - me or his mother. He has grown up to be a happy child who loves daydreaming. When his first puppy died of ailments within 11 days of bringing it home, we took great pain not to put him face-to-face with death. Instead we told him that the puppy had been shifted to a dog hospital. He had doubt and kept on asking about the puppy for three months until I found another almost identical one and lied to him that it was the first one that have come back from hospital recovered. For seven years, we have shielded him from hatred until I had to teach him last week.

His school was collecting relief materials for the people in the camps in Kokrajhar districts. He came home excited with lot of unanswered questions. Why people do not have houses, why they do not have food to eat, why people are fighting, why people killed other people. And then he sprang the bolt from the blue and asked me what does "mein tumse badla lunga" means. It was one of those conversations in Hindi that he did not understood but picked up to ask me for meaning. I tried to explain what 'badla' means but could not quite make him understand. He did not pressed, and I was relieved. Someday he will learn, as you will teach him. But, I hope he will grow up as Kabir.

(People calling for banning Jism2 should think about fanatics. For both are capable of corrupting young minds)