Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wasted in Transit - Really?

Over the past four days, both houses of the Indian Parliament have been debating the need to permit Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail.

One of the main arguments for FDI has been that it would bring down the "collosal wastage in transit" of perishable agricultural produce. According to the present government's estimates reported in the Parliament, this wastage is in the range of 30-40%, resulting in a net loss of Rs. 65,000 Crores (~ $13 billion).

Another wing of the the government, the Department of Industry Policy and Promotion (DIPP) the wastage stands at 25-30% for fruits & vegetables and 5-7% for foodgrains.

Yet another government body - perhaps the one directly concerned with this issue - the Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology (CIPHET) puts the wastage at 5.8% to 18% for fruits & vegetables, and 3.9% to 6% for cereals.

So, where does the truth lie?


* Rajya Sabha - verbatim debates - 6Dec12 -


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Farish Jenkin's Fauna

Farish Jenkins - paleontologist and polymath, died on Nov 1, aged 72.

While reading an obituary put up by the Economist for Jenkins I was struck by awe and envy in equal measure. I awed by the fact that a man whose primary vocation was that of a soldier could also transform himself into great teacher & scientist in a totally unrelated field - paleontology. And envy towards folks who are able create an environment where you can defy categorization into narrow specialism.

As US Marine Corps captain, Jenkins trained as an artillery officer.  As an academic “hybrid”, he was anatomist, zoologist and vertebrate paleontologist in equal measure.

It is said of him that "he had no time for academic squabbles and protocol, brushing off rebukes and bureaucratic constraints. Charm was his first weapon, obstinacy his second. It was not just his clothes and vocabulary that were old-fashioned. He prized thoroughness. Unusually for modern academia, he showered praise on colleagues and deprecated his own triumphs. But he was a mighty foe when roused. He could swear like a Marine, “without repeating myself” and helped oust the abrasive Larry Summers from the Harvard presidency".

Farish Jenkins also left behind some quirky, memorable names for the new life-forms he discovered -
  • Tiktaalik roseae (Tiktaalik = Inuit for a large freshwater fish) - a 375 million year olf fish with legs, a rudimentary ear and a snout for catching prey
  • Gerrothorax pulcherrimus ("the most beautiful wicker chest") - An animal that opens its mouth by lifting its upper jaw - crucial to discovering the world's earliest known frog. FJ called it the ugliest animal in the world.

The entire text of Economist's memorable obituary can be accessed here.


The Economist (17 Nov., 2012) on Farish Jenkins -

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Chasing Rainbows

What is the story behind this iconic photograph of the Patola palace in Tibet?

The photographer, Galen Rowell was leading a tour-group when it suddenly started raining. From his years of experience, he anticipated this frame and invited the rest of the group to join a one-mile-run to get the right vantage point for the perfect frame. They all preferred to stay back at camp and have dinner instead.


Rockwell, Ken (2011): RISK - You Have to be Willing to Lose to Win, url -

Galen Rowell -

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Jet Engines

According to industry specialists, China will spend $49 billion on jet engine development over the next two decades.

There is a clear economic logic behind his huge expenditure: Going by the present trends, engines for new aircraft delivered to China would be worth over $100 billion during the same period. There are only a handful of companies that manufacture these engines - General Electric (USA), Snecma (Safran, France), Rolls Royce Plc (UK), Pratt & Whitney (UTC, USA), and a few Russian agencies. As in any other hi-tech area, none of the established players want to part with their technology.

About a decade ago, China solved a similar problem in high-speed train technology by playing off the Kawasaki-Japan against their German competitors. It is a different story - and rather unfortunate - that China's "digestion" of this technology has been mired by frequent accidents and corruption in high places. The point here is that concerted effort is being made to dilute the stranglehold of a few companies.

Is India making similar efforts?

We do have something called the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE). This DRDO agency has been working on on jet engines since the 1960s, but there is precious little (GTX-Kaveri) to show for all the time and effort. We blame the American regime of technology restrictions, and then go on to sign numerous 'collaboration agreements' with Western companies, to continue the vicious cycle of path dependence.


* Lague, David and Charlie Zhu (2012): INSIGHT - UNABLE TO COPY IT, CHINA TRIES BUILDING OWN JET ENGINE, Reuters, 29Oct12, url -

* Wines, Michael and Keith Bradsher (2011): CHINA RAIL CHIEF'S FIRING HINTS AT TROUBLE, NYT, url -

* Reddy, C. Manmohan (2002): LCA ECONOMICS, The Hindu, url -

Thursday, November 01, 2012

'I did it for my kids'

What drives people to do something extraordinary?

For some folks, the challenge itself is the lure. When George Mallory, a famous mountaineer was asked in 1920's , "Why do you want to climb Mt. Everest?", his wan reply was, "Because it is there".

These days Indian's seem to be on a different trip...

Right now, a government official working with the Planning Commission is running across the length of India. Arun Bharadwaj started out from the Himalayan town of Kargil on 1st October, and has been keeping a steady pace of about 70 km of running everyday. He expects to complete the 3000+ km to the tip of the Indian peninsula, Kanyakumari, within two months. Why would somebody want to set aside a desk-job for something like this?

Bharadwaj's response - “I wanted my children to take up running and I thought what better way to motivate them than to do it myself.”

A few weeks ago, another bureaucrat, Harsh Mandar visited a CPR-PRS forum as an invited speaker. After giving details of his work among the poorest and marginalized communities in India, he clarified that he was no altruist. He was driven, he said, by selfishness. He wanted his daughter to live in a more humane world, where we are not callous and insensitive towards the plight of the poor.

And yesterday, it was the actor Irrfan Khan (of the Slumdog Millionaire fame). He announced that he acted in the movie "Life of Pi" for his kids.

Its interesting to see how motivations evolve as move from one stage of life to another...


* First Post (31Oct12): I DID 'LIFE OF PI' FOR MY KIDS: IRRFAN KHAN, url -
* Indian Express (28Oct12): Loneliness of an Ultra-Marathoner, url -
* Arun Bhardwaj - Brining Ultra-running to India -

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 2012: Interesting Articles & Links

Vashnav, Milan (2012): RESIZING THE STATE, The Caravan, 1 Oct 2012, url -
- As the economist Lant Pritchett has argued, India is not a failing state but a “flailing” one: it can conduct elections for over 750 million voters, but it can’t stop millions from going hungry every year by properly distributing surplus food stocks.
- public sector employment—across all levels of government—which nearly doubled between 1971 and 1991, hit its peak at 19.5 million workers in 1995; since then, the number has declined, to around 17.9 million in 2010.
- Last year, the Supreme Court reported that one-third of seats in the state courts and one-fifth of seats on the district and subordinate courts remain vacant. The court estimates that there are 32 million pending cases working their way through the clogged Indian justice system.
- The Indian Army is facing a serious shortage of officers—more than 12,000 in 2011 after recruiting fewer than 1,500 in 2010. Despite major internal security concerns like continuing Maoist violence, the Intelligence Bureau has more than 9,000 vacant posts.
- According to a 2011 study in The Lancet, India’s stock of allopathic doctors, nurses and midwives is roughly half the World Health Organization’s benchmark of 23 workers per 10,000 population, even factoring in the sizable private health system...research findings by Sudhir Anand and Victoria Fan suggest that only 43 percent of India’s allopathic doctors have a medical qualification. As many as 73 out of 593 districts lack even a single nurse with a medical qualification.

Racism Cartoon - -- "Of course the white zebra's with black stripes hated the black zebra's with white stripes just as much"


Muralidhar, S (2012): ALL YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE F1 CAR, BusinessLine 29Oct12, url -

HBR (18Oct12): 10 Reasons to Stay in a Job for Ten Years -

IGNOU - Learning with CNR Rao -

Panagariya, Arvind (2012): STARVED OF IDEAS: Expanding the leaky public distribution system won't deliver food security, Times of India, 19Oct2012, url -
- The contention that more than one-fifth of Indians suffer from hunger and malnutrition (FAO, WHO, WB)... is principally based on the steadily declining trend in calorie consumption in India during the last two decades
- If individuals are consuming less foodgrains despite rising incomes, making foodgrains available in larger quantity at lower prices will not change the outcome.

Kumbhojkar, Sraddha (2012): CONTESTING POWER, CONTESTING MEMORIES - The History of Keregaon Memorial, Economic and Political Weekly, 20 Oct., 2012.
- "Among the neo-Buddhists in western India, pilgrimage to the Koregaon memorial emerged as one of the invented cultural practices and thousands of them throng to the memorial every New Year day to commemorate the valour of the Mahars who helped to overthrow the unjust high-caste rule of the Peshwa. They also commemorate Ambedkar’s visit to the place on 1 January 1927."

Gunkan March - Youtube and Lyrics
- Lyrics -

A virus that kills cancer -
- Rabbit killing virus?? -

Thomas K Thomas (2012): WHY 900 MHZ BAND IS SUPERIOR THAN 1800 MHZ BAND, Business Line, 18Oct12, url -

AWAD - Micawber - An eternal optimist -

Mehta, Bhanu Pratap (2012): THESE POWERFUL VICTIMS, Indian Express, 17Oct12, url -


Friedman, Uri (2012): 8 CRAZY THINGS AMERICANS BELIEVE ABOUT FOREIGN POLICY, Foreign Policy, 16Oct12, url -

Gandhi, Aditi and Michael Walton (2012): WHERE DO INDIA'S BILLIONAIRES GET THEIR WEALTH? EPW 6 october 2012, pp 10-14, url -

Urfi, Abdul Jamil (2012): Birdwatchers, Middle Class and the 'Bharat-India' Divide - Perspectives from Recent Bird Writings, EPW, 20 October 2012, url -

Monbiot, George (2012): THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, The Guradian, 9Oct2012, url -
Monbiot, George (2005): HOW BRITAIN DENIES ITS HOLOCASTS, The Guardian, 27 Dec., 2005, url -

Chhibber, Varun and Vasundhara Sirnate (2012): CAPTURING THE KIRANA, Indian Express, 5Oct12, url -
- Regional political elites are refusing these (FDI) reforms for reasons that can be found in the local political economy of campaign finance and corruption.

Sharma, Mihir (2012): The problem with Page One: India's press is buying the UPA's promises of reform far too easily, Business Standard, 4Oct12, url -

Bhasin, Agrima (2012): WASHING OFF THIS STAIN WILL NEED MORE, The Hindu, 3Oct12 - url -

Shah, Tushaar (2012): REMEMBERING VERGHESE KURIEN, Economic & Political Weekly, 29 Sep., 2012, Vol XLVII No.29

* Moller, Orstrom (2012): HOW ASIA CAN SHAPE THE WORLD, LSEAS-Bookwell Publications
- Elimination of transport cost as a significant factor...Of a price for a shirt selling for US$ 25, ocean transport costs may amount to as little as 0.85%....the combination of container technology and ICT has revolutionised logistics..

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Burden of Biometrics

A few days ago, the Indian Prime Minister handed over the 210-million-th Unique Identification (UID aka Adhaar) card to Bali Devi of Purawar village in Rajasthan. He also promised that in two years' time, half of India will have such a card, and this, hopefully,  will enable each of them to have easier access government welfare schemes.

Most of the welfare schemes based on state subsidies to the "three Fs" (food-fuel-fertilizers), which now accounts for Rs. 2.16 trillion ($55 billion), or 2.5% of GDP. However, much of these subsidies 'leak' out of the system long before they reach the intendend benificiaries -- the poorest of poor in India, numbering about 400 million. The UID-Adhaar project aims to plug these leaks by directing cash-subsidies directly into registered bank accounts.

Results from pilot tests are quite mixed. In one town called Kotkasim the Fair Price Shops were selling their entire allotted stock of 84,000 litres of kerosene a month before the project started. They is now selling 22,000 litres — ample proof that subsidised kerosene was being diverted for other purposes, mainly to adulterate diesel. On the other hand, in Beelaheri, another village near Kotkasim, hundreds of bank accounts have been set up without referencing the UID database, as the government pushed ahead with the politically rewarding cash transfers before readying Aadhar to identify the correct beneficiaries.

This brings up the enormous complexities in the technical and administrative challanges of a project of this magnitude. Each individual record (iris-scans, fingerprints & face-scans) takes up about 5MB of space. Multiply that with 210 million and you already have UID servers in Bangalore/Delhi handling a million GB of data. In two years' this is expected to grow to 3 million GB, and, whenever the project is completed, it would hold a least 6 million GBs for 1.2 billion citizens of India.

Is there any other database of of this magnitude and complexity? With each additional 100 million enrollments, how does the system cross-check for duplications in a billion records within a few seconds?

Earlier this year, Mr. Nilakeni insisted that, "The UIDAI biometric system is processing over 100 trillion biometric person matches with a high degree of accuracy each day capable of issuing a million (10 Lakh) Aadhaars daily."

How do they achieve this? UIDAI does not venture to explain this in simple terms, except by stating that they would be using "mulit-modal ‘Fusion’ approach of biometrics" and that accuracy is maintained using "multi-ABIS  solution architecture".

This is where I lose the plot... :(


* Unique identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Home Page -

* Das, Krishna (2012): PDS GET SMART, Business Standard, 28Oct12, url -



* Mehta, Bhanu Pratap (2012): Laying a New Adhaar, Indian Express, 25Oct12, url -

* Kumar, Manoj (2012): India Risks Backlash Hurrying Through Adhaar Project, Reuters, 25Oct12, url -
- In 2010, a McKinsey report estimated such an electronic platform for government payments to households would save up to $18 billion annually - enough to wipe out one-sixth of a fiscal deficit that could hit 6 percent of GDP this fiscal year.
- The government is likely to spend over $55 billion this fiscal year ending in March on fuel, fertiliser and food subsidies, as well as a flagship scheme guaranteeing 100 days of work a year to rural labourers, and other welfare programmes.

* Half India will own Adhaar Card by 2014: PM Singh (NI Wire) -

* Singh, Sushant (2012): PDS reform using Aadhaar, the Kotkasim way, Mid-Day, 10 April 2012, url -
- At Kotkasim (Alwar, Rajasthan)20,000 ration card holders, who had to open zero-balance, no-frills bank accounts for getting the subsidy. Initial public resistance was overcome by the district administration by transferring three months of subsidy in advance to the bank accounts. Results of the project have shown that substantial economies in subsidy outgo can be achieved by use of Aadhaar platform. Kotkasim, which was was selling its entire allotted stock of 84,000 litres of kerosene a month before the project started, is now selling 22,000 litres — ample proof that subsidised kerosene was being diverted for other purposes, mainly to adulterate diesel.

* Malik, Aman (2012): Subsidy Bill Reduction Target 'Ambitious', WSJ-Mint, url -

* UID and the PDS System -



* UIDAI - Biometrics Soultion Provider Experience -

Sunday, October 28, 2012

China in the Mahabharata?

WikiMap of India during the 'Epics Period'

A passing reference caught my eye today. In an Indian Express op-ed article, a Chinese diplomat has graciously tried to counter the ongoing, angst-ridden analysis of the 1962 war by writing about the various interactions between India and China over the past 2000 years. One of his assertions was that the "famous Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata contain numerous references to China".


This was something completely new to me. In my limited understanding of history, I had always assumed that real cross-Himalayan interactions took place only after Buddhist monks started wandering with nomads and traders into Central Asia. The ostensible linkage between the epics and China  seemed so incredible...

Has there been any bonafide research on this subject? Google Scholar yeilded a few papers but they were for 'subscibers only'. Wikipedia has a page specifically on this topic with the stanzas that refer to China, but another page titled 'Chinas' is better referenced.


* Xijun, Deng (2012): TWO MILLENIA STRONG, Indian Express, 28Oct12, url -


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Rezang La, 1962

View Larger Map

Last week, the Indian Express carried a eulogy dedicated to the soldier's of the 13th Kumaon Regiment who defended parts of Ladakh during the 1962 India-China war. The focus of this piece was the "C" company led by a Major Shaitan Singh, which defended the outpost, almost down to the last man. And the sting in the tail was reserved for the then defense minister, Krishna Menon ('an obstinate, autocratic disaster').

This was one of the many introspective articles that have appeared to mark the 50th Anniversary of the war. Nearly all of them conclude that it was Nehru's smug arrogance that led to the war but what continues to surprise me is that we are still missing the woods for the trees. Fifty years ago, we went around with a hat in hand, asking the Americans, and then the Soviets for armaments, equipment and other assistance.

We continue to do that even today and, instead of developing our own R&D and manufacturing capacity, we have spawned an entire industry of Indian middlemen promoting foreign armament companies in India.


* Maxwell, Neville (): India's China War
* Singh, Amarinder (): Lest We Forget
* Chellaney, Brahma (2012): HOW CHINA FIGHTS - LESSONS FROM THE 1962 WAR, Newsweek, 29Oct12, url -

Sunday, October 21, 2012

'What is it to sleep hungry?'

What is it to sleep hungry?

This was a question Harsh Mandar asked an audience of university-educated, middle-class Indian youngsters. Since no answers were forthcoming, he went on to talk of his experiences with some of the poorest communities in the country.

Folks belonging to the Musahar ('Rat-eater') community in Eastern India, learnt the answer to this question quite early in life. During the lean seasons, when even rats are hard to come by, mother's apply a herb to their baby's thumb fingers which they suckle to sleep. Older children are taught more advanced survival skills -  picking edible food-grains and nuts from animal feces, raiding burrows for remnants of food and chewing on 'fake foods'.

The point being driven home was that it is unconscionable for citizens to go hungry in a country that is sitting on huge "buffer-stocks" of nearly 80 million tonnes of food grains. According to Dreze and Khera, never in history has so much under-nutrition co-existed with so much hoarding of food.

This simple assertion - or fact - forms the basis for the Food Security Bill currently being considered by the Parliament.

Critics of this Bill insist that it would become another law which just cannot be implemented. Food, along with Fuel and Fertilizer forms the 'subsidy triad' which is already a burden on our finances. Even though volume of food grains needed to implement food security schemes is just 8 million tonnes more than the 55 million tonnes being channeled down our leaky Public Distribution System,not everyone is sure whether the food will actually reach the intended beneficiaries living in remote rural areas.

One also wonders which is the greater evil -- feeding the rent-seekers already entrenched in the system, or creating a another form of 'state dependency'.



* Sharma, Vijay Paul (2012): FOOD SUBSIDY IN INDIA: TRENDS, CAUSES AND POLICY REFORM OPTIONS, IIMA Working Papers, Aug2012, url -
- trends in post-reform period 1991-92 to 2012-13
- Subsidy was Rs.72,283 Cr (2011-12) - 5% of Agricultural GDP -- it was just Rs.2,850 Cr in 1991-92...increased 25X in 21 years!
- bottom decile class of consumers (based on per monthly per capita consumer expenditure) spends about 65 per cent of total expenditure on food items in rural areas and about 62 per cent in urban areas.
- Minimum Support Price (MSP) for rice and wheat doubled between 2005-2012

* Patnaik, Banikinkar (2012): FOOD SECURITY BILL LIKELY IN NEXT SESSION, SAYS THOMAS, The Financial Express, 29Sep12, url -
- The proposed Bill aims to provide legal entitlement for subsidised grain to around 63.5% of the country’s population. Provisional estimates suggest the government needs as much as 63 million tonnes (mt) of grain to implement the Bill, nearly 8 mt higher than the current requirements. However, the Bill, once enacted, may drive up the government’s annual food subsidy bill to R1,19,000 crore, compared with R72,823 crore in 2011-12. (FT)

* Dreze, Jean and Ritika Khera (2012): A BILL THAT ASKS TOO MUCH OF THE POOR, The Hindu, 5Sep12, url -
- procurement has crossed 70 million tonnes per year, distribution is not keeping up, and excess stocks are growing. Never in history has so much undernutrition co-existed with so much hoarding of food. The government is desperately trying to export the surplus stocks, or simply allowing them to pile up unprotected. Reviving and revamping the Food Security Bill sounds like a better idea.

* Mander, Harsh (2012): Book Review - Big Talk at High Tide, Outlook, 16 July 2012, url -
* Mander, Harsh (2012): Dissent is a Virtue Too, The Hindu, 2 June 2012, url -
*Mander, Harsh (2012): Barefood - Their Discovery of India, The Hindu, 7 April 2012, url -
*Mander, Harsh (2008): Poverty the Eye Cannot See, Himal, October 2008, url -
. Poverty and its handmaiden, inequality, he says, “are everywhere for all those with eyes to see”, yet academics and policymakers “have an almost existential need to know how much of ‘it’ there is, and who ‘they’ are.” In fact, they are in “every landlord’s house, in each village, every five-star hotel is surrounded by them, every posh colony has its antithesis outside its gate, where the other half strives to survive … they greet you again on the pavements after a late night … you have a brush with them at traffic lights.”

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Famine of 1877

When an El Nino drought destituted the farmers of the Deccan plateau in 1876 there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the viceroy, Lord Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent its export to England. In 1877 and 1878, at height of the famine, grain merchants exported a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat. As the peasants began to starve, government officials were ordered “to discourage relief works in every possible way”...the resulting famines killed between 12 and 29 million Indians.

This paragraph from George Monbiot's article brought my own ignorance into sharp focus. I had known about the role of the British government in the Great Bengal Famine of 1945, an event that was to form the foundations of Amartya Sen's work. In this famine 1.5 to 4 million people are estimated to have died of starvation, malnutrition and disease.

However, a minimum of 12 million famine deaths in 1877 is a shocker. Given that a hundredweight is around 50kgs, the total wheat exported during that year comes to about 3.2 million tonnes.

How much was the total production of food grains in 1877? What was the total population of India in 1877? Since the staple diet in the Deccan region is rice it would be useful to know some more details to put this disaster in perspective...



Monbiot, George (2012): THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, The Guardian, 9 Oct., 2012, article url -

Monbiot, George (2005): HOW BRITAIN DENIES IT HOLOCAUSTS, The Guardian

Davis, Mike (2001): LATE VICTORIAN HOLOCAUSTS - El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World

Sunday, October 07, 2012


Its now the Navratri festival season and a great time for shopkeepers stocking on dry fruits. For a nine-day period, millions of North Indians will substitute their normal carb-diet of wheat (and a bit of rice), and instead, consume lots of eatables that fall in under the category of fruits & nuts.

One of the popular dry-fruits is something called "Makhana". It looks like pop-corn that decided to 'pop' in perfect rounds and ovals, but costs much more - about Rs.600 a kilogram.

So what really is Makhana?

Surprisingly, it turns out to be seeds of a plant that belongs to the water-lily family: Euryale ferox.

Apparently it is called Makhana because most of it comes from Makhan - another name for the Mithila region of Bihar. The state accounts for 80 percent of Makhana production, of which about 40 percent of production goes to the start industry while the rest is consumed as food, mainly during 'socio-religions' occasions.

According to a newspaper report, Makhana has 'an annual average production of 50,000 tonnes and an estimated market of Rs. 500 crore ($ 1 billion) per annum, India exports Makhana to West Asia, the United States and some European countries. It is an excellent organic food with great medicinal value. It's seed is analgesic with aphrodisiac properties. In the northeast , unripe Makhana fruit is used as a vegetable'.



* Parsai, Gargi (2012): NOW YOU CAN GROW MAKHANA IN LOW FARMLAND, The Hindu, 23 Jan., 2012, url -

* ToI (2004): MAKHANA ON WAY TO EUROPE, Times of Indi, url -

Sunday, September 30, 2012

September 2012 - Interesting Links

* Srivathsan, A (2012): SMALL IS BIG FOR INDIA'S BOOMING RETAILS SECTOR, The Hindu, 30 Sep 2012 -

* Madhukar, CV (2012): MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE PARLIAMENT, Manushi, 20Sep12 - URL -

* 'Micchami Dukkadam' (18 Sep. 2012, Tata MF)

-On the final day of Paryushan is Samvastsari Pratikraman (ritual for washing away sins). Jains seek forgiveness from all the creatures whom they may have harmed knowingly or unknowingly by uttering the phrase— Micchami Dukkadam. It means "If I have caused you offence in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word or deed, then I seek your forgiveness". No private quarrel or dispute may be carried beyond Samvatsari, and traditionally, letters have been sent and telephone calls made to friends and relatives asking their forgiveness.

* Raghavan, BS (2012): No Point in Picking on Denmark, BL 19Sep12 -
- Denmark ranks 19th among foreign investors in India, with a direct investment during 2010 of $231 million. India’s own commodity exports to Denmark totalled $992 million in 2011.
-  it has 80 companies already operating in India, with 20 or more in Tamil Nadu alone, although Kerala, Maharashtra and Rajasthan are the preferred destinations.

* Shourie, Arun (2012): ‘For 15-20 years now, we have been attending the elongated funeral rites of the parliamentary system’, Indian Express, 18Sep12 -

* Obe, Mitsuru (2012): THIRST FOR ENERGY SHAPES JAPAN’S TIES, WSJ, 4Sep12, url -
- LNG from Qatar, Malaysia, Australia
- Imports 90% of its crude; 25% of LNG

* Anand, Geeta (2012): A WOMAN’S UNTREATABLE TB ECHOS GLOBALLY, WSJ, 8Sep12, url -

* Hoshi, Takeo and Anil Kashyap (2012): A PLAN TO REVIVE JAPAN, WSJ 11Sep12, url -
- National Institute of Research Advancement (NIRA)
- Inefficiencies...postal addressing system...a confusing algorithm ensures that adjacent buildings in cities do not have consecutive addresses

* Krishnakumar R (2012): REPLACEMENT MIGRATION, Frontline, 21Sep12, url -
- Kerala emigrants - 2.28m abroad; 1.5m returned; 3.43m non-resident-Keralites; 9.31m Keralite in other states
- Average wage of unskilled laborer in Gulf - Rs.11,484;
- Daily wage in Kerala - Rs.450

* Hampaiah, Ralladoddi (2012): EVERYONE IS STEALING GERMPLASM, Down to Earth, 1-15Sep12, pp23, url -
- Bt Cotton germplasm comes from ARAU, Hyderabad’s “Narasimha” breed - taken from Mahanandi village in Kurnool dist. by Monsanto
- Ongole bull

* Suchitra, M (2012): STENCH IN MY BACKYARD, Down to Earth, 1-15Sep12
- Garbage disposal and protests from Vilappilshala village near Trivandrum

* Economist (2012): Obituary - ROGER FISHER, Economist 15Sep12, url -
- lawyer, teacher, peace-maker
-  In any negotiation, he wrote—even with terrorists—it was vital to separate the people from the problem; to focus on the underlying interests of both sides, rather than stake out unwavering positions; and to explore all possible options before making a decision. The parties should try to build a rapport, check each other out, even just by shaking hands or eating together. Each should “listen actively”, as he always did, to what the other was saying. They should recognise the emotions on either side, from a longing for security to a craving for status. And they should try to get inside each other’s heads.
- For those who found his principles too idealistic, he could point to age-old haggling tricks he also recommended: pretending not to be interested, refusing to react to pressure, being prepared to walk away.

* Nagral, Sanjay (2012): DOCTORS IN ENTREPRENEURIAL GOWNS, EPW 8Sep12, url -

* Ito, Joichi (2012): MIT MEDIA LAB - Program on NHK, url - //

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Who was Kihota Hollohan?

At the core of numerous 'landmark judgments' passed by the Supreme Court of India, are individuals who stood up against the system and ended up re-defining the Indian Constitution.

Mr. Inder Golak Nath protested against the Punjab government for delaring his land 'surplus', and fit to be taken over by the state. His legal battle went on for years until the Supreme Court not only ruled in his favor but also decided on 27 Feb., 1967, that the Parliament's power to amend the Constitution could not be used to curtail fundamental rights.

Another landmark case was filed in 1970 by Swami Keshavananda Bharati, head of a monastry (muth) in Kerala. He was objecting against attmempts by the Kerala state government (under land reform acts) to restrict control over the monasty's property. This case too went on to address the much grander issue of the Parliament's power to amend the Constitution. It marked the beginning of something that has been called the "basic structure" of the Constitution which cannot be altered by any government, under any circumstances.

Now we come to Kihota Hollohan. A legal battle between this gentleman and Mr. Zanchillu also resulted in a Supreme Court judgement (1992) that not only has a bearing on how elected representatives behave in the Parliament and Legislative Assemblies, it unwittingly also prevents prevents the legislature from performing one of its principle functions: scrutiny of the executive. It does this through an anti-defection law which rests on the assumption that  'elections are won by political parties rather than persons'.

Whatever be the pros and cons of the anti-defection law, one curious thing about Kihota Hollohan is that there is hardly any information about him or about his opponent, Zanchillu, in the legal tomes that rest in cyberspace. Nothing in Manupatra; nothing in .

So far, the only bit of information I could find is that Mr. Hollohan was the Nagaland state minister for social security and welfare, in 2003.

Wonder what was it that Zanchillu did to so upset him...


North East Enquirer (7 July 2003) -,%2003/oh17.htm

Supreme Court of India: Shri Kihota Hollohon vs Mr. Zachilhu And Others on 18 February, 1992 - URL -

Scribd: A Case Analysis on Kihota Hollohon -

Khanna, Kartik and Dhvani Shah (2012): ANTI-DEFECTION LAW: A DEATH KNELL FOR PARLIAMENTARY DISSENT? NUJS Law Review 2012; URL -

Sunday, September 09, 2012

A Doraemon Ektara

An Ektara is a single-sting intrument that has numerous variations in India. One that is commonly seen in rural North India is fashioned out of bamboo-sticks , a clay pot and some paper and is played like a violin.

One of the proponents of this Ektara, has been a permanent fixture at Dilli Haat for the past eight years, filling shopping arcades with melodies from the latest Indi-pop, and selling his wares out of a wicker basket. Yesterday, for the first time, I got a chance to listen to the man and the efforts of his family to make a living out of street-music.

Ram Bhaj Singh comes from a family of musicians from rural Panipat in Haryana. It was his uncle, an elderly gentleman frequently seen in a white turban and kurta-pyjama, who first ventured towards Dilli Haat and positioned himself outside the gates, amongst the vendors who cannot afford to pay a 'tax' to the local authorities. According to Singh, it was one of officials within Dilli Haat, a manager named Sridhar, who first gave him the opportunity to step within the gated complex.

The deal was simple and straightforward. For a payment of Rs.150 per day, he could sell his wares to the tourists and foodies who stepped into the Haat all day. Since he free to set differential pricing for foreign tourists and Indian customers, the word soon got around that he was making a killing. The sale of just one ektara to a foreigner was enough to pay the day's rent. The entire community of musicians then turned up at the Singh household in Panipat to negotiate a division of spoils.

A deal was negotiated. Eight musicians from the community would take turns to sell their wares throughout the day for the same daily rent. It continued to be an excellent arrangement for many years until 2010 when there was a change of guard at Dilli Haat and Sridhar's replacement decided to maximize revenue by increasing the rent from roving musicians from Rs.150 to Rs.350 per day.

Unwilling to shell out nearly Rs.50 per head, the community first stayed off the Haat for two months. When the new manager refused to relent, the entire community turned up at the residence of Shiela Dixit, the Chief Minister of Delhi. About twenty of them would wait for days with their ektara baskets until the CM's office relented and a telephone call went out to the Haat office. The old daily rent was to continue but, in exchange, the Singhs agreed to forego the differencial pricing strategy. Prices were fixed- Rs.50 for the small ektara and Rs. 100 for a bigger one.

So as to make up for the loss of foreign-tourist revenue, the Singhs now try to increase the sale-volumes by bringing in better designs; pitching in bits of of English and by brining in more contemporary designs aimed at the kids.

Topping this list of new designs was the current favorite on children's TV, Doraemon, and tune that topped the charts - Kolaveri Di.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

CAG on Railways: Death by a Thousand Cuts

 Today is the last day of one of the most unproductive sessions of the Indian Parliament.

Over the last three weeks, the Indian Parliament has been paralyzed over the CAG Audit report findings. The opposition - mainly the BJP - has been stridently demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Their focus has been on the CAG report on allocation of coal blocks. This, unfortunately, also served to divert public attention from other equally scathing CAG reports on the Delhi Airport (DIAL), Nuclear Energy (AERB), Power (UMPP under SPVs) and the Indian Railways.

The CAG report on railways (2010-11) appears, at first glance, one that is least glamorous but I found it particularly interesting.  It gives you a glimpse into the kind of routine mismanagement behind the losses being reported by IR every year. Here are some examples --

* Container Operations (p11): Haulage rates fixed by railways for CONCOR and other private players has been below their operational costs. For instance, the haulage rates fixed for 40-feet containers was only 27 tonnes as compared to 21.5 tonnes for 20-feet containers. Total revnue loss - Rs. 1,175 Crores  (p11)

* Manipulation of Computerised Reservation System (p34): Just as we suspected, the audit finds numerous instances of "Tatkal" tickets being issued before the stipulated start-time of 8AM. Also, at precisely 8AM on the day of the 'advance reservation period', not less than 363,700 passengers were booked on the system!

* Incomplte Lines (p77): Indian Railways committed resources of Rs. 8,549 crore on 50 incomplete new lines for an indefenite period with no certainty of the objectives being realised.

* Stoppage of work due to planning lapse (p 103): A new bridge was planned next to a protected national mornument, the Red Fort, without informing ASI. Loss - Rs. 33 Crores.

* Contract Mismanagement (p107): CAG notes that frequent extensions were granted to contractors, ignoring the target period for completion. Loss in anticipated savings - Rs.19.44 Cr

* Awarding contracts without site-surveys (p121): For doubling the track between Cheppad and Kayankulam in 2005, a new bridge was needed. Only after the award of contract did the authorities inspect the site of work and discover that the use of pre-set concrete slab and girder would result in a level difference of 1.6 meters!  The contracter then backed out and the project was stalled for six years!

* Excessive delay in maintenace of locomotives (p128): 99% of maintenance work on diesel locomotives has been delayed by North Western Railways. Loss - Rs. 92.89 Cr.

* Loss due to non-procurement of critical parts which were (p129): Rs.85 Cr.

This seems like a classic case of  'death by a thousand cuts'...

Saturday, September 01, 2012

A Grasshopper Couple

Which is this strikingly beautiful grasshopper couple, perched in a Papri tree?

Answer from Shaku, 10 Sep., 2012:

Ak grasshopper/Painted grasshopper (Poekilocerus pictus).


Friday, August 31, 2012

August 2012: Interesting Links

* Mehta, Bhanu Pratap (2012): THE QUICKSAND OF CASTE, Indian Express, 28Aug12, URL -
- Reservation was no longer about justice; it was about political claims masquerading as claims about justice.
- The anxiety over slivers of representation has made it difficult to produce a larger politics of accountability.
- Division creates a politics of fear that our political class uses to disguise its own failures.
- (looking for) creative ways of getting us out of this Procrustean bed, where both freedom and justice are now hostage to a politics of identity and suspicion.

* China Today: Calligraphy Then and Now, URL -

* O'Brien, Derek (2012): THE O'BRIENS OF INDIA AND PAKISTAN, Blogpost -


* Iyer, Ramaswamy R (2012): SETTING HOUNDS ON THE WATCHDOG, The Hindu, 30Aug12, URL -

* Mehta, Bhanu Pratap (2012): GREAT CLEANSING ACT, Indian Express, 20Aug12, URL -

* Mukhopadhyay, Amitabh (2012): CAG HAS A POINT ON COAL, Mail Today, 30Mar12, URL -

* Schuman/Kiyuku, Michael (2012); BLIND FAITH, Time, Aug12, URL -
- Story of Kenyan paraolympic, Henry Wanyoike

* Arackaparambil, Rosemary, Manoj Kumar (2012): NEW LAND LAW IS BALANCING ACT FOR INDIA, IHT, 29Aug12, URL -
- 118-year-old legislation

* Kazmin, Amin (2012): INDIA WRESTLES WITH COMPETING LAND NEEDS, Financial Times, 27Aug12

- He refers to an account 100 years ago by a frustrated European engineer in Japan named Kattendyke who wrote about supplies not arriving on time, workers showing up once and never returning, and a pervasive lack of punctuality

Blog: - Art of Returning to India and Staying Put


Chandan, Pav-Bhaji and the Government, The Sleepwalker's Diary (Blog), URL -

Happy Birthday Colors -

Pilling, David (2012): JAPAN, CHINA AND THE LEGACY OF THEIR 'HISTORY PROBLEM'; Financial Times, London, 23AUG12, URL -
- In 1885, an anonymous newspaper editorial  - supposedly by Yukichi Fukuzawa of the Y10,000 fame - titled "Leaving Asia"...and its impact

Allison, Graham (2012): THUCYDIDE'S TRAP HAS BEEN SPRUNG IN THE PACIFIC, Financial Times, 22Aug12, URL -
- "It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable" - Thucydides
- A historian's metaphor reminds us of the dangers two parties face when a rising power rivals a ruling power... Athens 5BC; Germany 19 CE, and now China 21 CE
- In a generation,  nation whose gross GDP was smaller that Spain's has become the se ond largest economy inthe world.

Twitter - @MajorlyProfound - acidic Pakistani blocked?

Harris, Shane (2012): GIVING IN TO THE SURVEILLANCE STATE, IHT, 24 Aug12
- NSA, Pentagon and Total Information Analysis (TIA)

Moldova, Gyorgy (2012): BALLPOINT, New Europe
- Hungarian inventor, Lazsto Biro (1899-1985) and the story of the ballpoint pen

Coleman, John (2012): FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO LEAD, READ; 15Aug12 HBR, URL -

Sanyal, Kaushiki (2012): SPEAKING WITHOUT FEAR, Indian Express, 24Aug12, URL -

Indian Government appointed committee gives recommendations to increase medal tally in 2016 Olympics (UnReal Times, 21Aug12) - URL -

Innovation (Economist Quotes) -

Cartoon - The Hindu - Support Prices -


Sengupta, Shombit (2012): McJEANS INDIA? Indian Express, 12Aug12
- Denim fabric was crafted in Nimes, France, in the 17th century; originally called Serge de Nimes. The contemporary term jeans comes from Genes, the French word for Genoa (Italy) sailors who wore denim workpants.

An Open Letter to Arnab Goswami -

Why the U.S. Fracking Industry Worries About the Weather in India (Time, Jul 2012) -

Dance of the Starlings
Murmuration (a group of starlings) - http://vimeo. com/31158841
starlings being attacked by a peregrine falcon - com/watch? v=b8eZJnbDHIg
explanation - http://beheco. oxfordjournals. org/content/ 21/6/1349. full

* TED -- Shashi Tharoor: Why nations should pursue "soft" power ---

* TED - Margaret Heffernan: Dare to Disagree

* Sabastien, PT (2012): OLD DIET, NEW RECIPE, Business Today, 5Aug12, URL -

* Nike Advt - Find Your Greatness - "...greatness is no more unique to us than breathing...we're all capable it it...all of us. URL -

* Khera, Reetika (2012): PUTTING KERALA TO WORK, The Hindu, 1Aug12, URL -

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Asian Voices in the Colonial Tide

A few days ago, when I requested the librarian at CPR for a copy of Pankaj Mishra's recently released book, "From the Ruins of Empire", I didn't really expect it bring back memories of Prof. Liang Pan's remarkable course at the University of Tsukuba.

Mishra's book goes well beyond the scope of Prof. Pan's sessions which were mostly centered on the dynamics of Meiji Restoration and the consequent transformation of Japan. It explores how the contemporaries of the Meji aristocrats in 19th century Turkey, Egypt, India, China and the Philippines responded to the challenges coming from Western missionaries, traders, soldiers and diplomats.

It follows the life and times of some remarkable individuals: Jamal al-Din Afghani, Liang Qichao, Fukuzawa Yukichi (of the Yen 10,000 note fame) and Rabindranath Tagore. As the drama unfolds, many others make a cameo appearance but play roles that anything but marginal, and these include Qichao's mentor, Kang Youwei; A traditionalist philosopher, Tan Sitong who famously discarded a chance to escape by saying that China would never renew itself until men were prepared to die for it.

Also rather revealing is the role of Japanese intellectuals who sharpened the contradiction between the nation's 'imperative to expand and dominate...and the pan-Asianist desire to express solidarity with other Asian countries.

One of them, Okuwa Shumei, 'Japan's leading scholar of Indian and Islamic cultures' was said to have converted to pan-Asianism after reading a book India's dire state under the British....which book was this?


* Mishra, Pankaj (2012): FROM THE RUINS OF EMPIRE, Allan Lane  Penguin, London, 2012

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 2012 - Links of the Month

Interesting articles & links from July 2012...

Economist (July 2012) - Antique Cabinets -


* Sampath, G (2012): Can India Inc. face the truth about the Manesar violence? DNA, 29Jul12, URL -
* Warnock, elanor, Yoshio Takahashi (2012): JAPAN INC., FUCUSES ON SUZUKI AFTER RIOT, WSJT 25 Jul 2012, p19
- Unstable cocktail of rising contract worker numbers, quickening inflation and low wages

Salughter, Anne Mary (2012): Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, The Atlantic, July 2012, URL -

PaisaBoltaHai - Know your currency notes -

Babu, Venkatesha (2008): Rajeev Chandrasekhar | Not the settling type, WSJ-Mint 31May08, URL -
- Rs127.86 trillion worth of derivatives on the books of Indian banks as on March 2008 (how much is it now?)
- 127,860,000,000,000.00 INR = 2,326,055,238,809.07 USD

Sanal Edamaruku and Rationalist International -

Swami, Praveen (2012): India's god laws fail the test of reason, The Hindu, 7 May 2012

Kreider, Tim (2012): The ‘Busy’ Trap, June 30, 2012, NYT Opinion Pages, URL -
- “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.

Books -

Poems to Remember - Shakti Aur Kshama (Ramdhari Singh Dinkar) -

BMW M5 Bullet Promo -

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Legalism for Latecomers

In ancient China there was only one punishment for reporting late for government work - death.

This, and various other interesting facts tumbled out a book I've been reading: Paul S. Ropp's "China in World History".

During the Warring States Period (403-221BCE), the Qin 'First Emporer' of China and his brilliant minister Li Sim instituted what was to be the first built on iron-clad Rule of Law and the promotion of meritocracy over feudal aristocracy. As in the case of late reporting for work,  strict laws and punishment were based on the theory that harsher the punishment, the less it would have to be used.

This was statecraft based on a philosphy called Legalism.

The state of Qin was also the first to abolish serfdom and hand over land to the farmers. It also promoted soldiers and officials purely on merit.

Perhaps this is something to think about when one drives around central New Delhi, and sees hundreds of government officials lolling about on the lawns, chatting and sipping chai during working hours..



Ropp, Paul S (2010): CHINA IN WORLD HISTORY, Oxford University Press 2010

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Revisiting Corbett

The word Corbett immediately brings back to mind visits to the tiger sanctuary that is closest to Delhi.   Memories of thickly forested hills and deep, disconcerting silences that accentuate the tiniest sounds of insects, birds and animals.

Last week I revisited my notions about Corbett. While walking down the main road in Nainital, I picked a book from Narain's Book Shop - Jim Corbett's 'certifiable classic', Man-Eater's of Kumaon. While packing the book, the shopkeeper proudly mentioned that during his grandfather's time, Corbett used to drop by to the very same shop to buy his books and periodicals.

What strikes me when I read the book after a gap of three decades or so, is not only the man's deep respect for nature; his iron will to do better than his peers in the art of hunting, but also his matter-of-fact references to the cowardice of local villagers. In almost all stories, there are references to locals who
run away; making no attempt - despite having the advantage of numbers - to go after a man-eater which has attacked and carried away one of their own.

There are only three exceptions - the story of the girl who ran after a tiger that attacked and carried away her sister, screaming, "Take me instead of her!" (The Champawat Man-eater); A young mother is given for dead after being mauled, recovers after first aid (The Chowgadh maneaters); and one old villager, an ex-soldier of the Royal Garhwal Rifles and veteran of WW-I, who spends a whole night searching for his son. The old man who 'did not ask anyone to accompany him and none offered to do so', came within ten feet of where the tiger was lying eating his son but could not find him in the dark (The Kanda Maneater).

The tales make you wonder: To what extent were the Shikar stories, a deliberate PR tool for a colonial government? The villagers were nowhere as well armed as the sahibs. Their Buckshot's  are not a patch on the high powered rifles. The most they can do is tremble and create a racket so as to drive the tigers from thickets into the gun-sights of sahibs perched on treetops...


Interesting Terms and Assorted Curiosities:

- Ghooral (Himalayan Thar)
- Strobilanthes
- Karphal trees, 'found at an elevation of 6000 ft, produces a sweet berry fancied both by humans and bears'?
- Where exactly is the Kala Agar Ridge which is 'forty miles in length, rising to a height of 8500ft and is thickly wooded along the crest'? (The Chowgadh Maneaters)
- And a place called Dalkhania...a valley starting from the watershed of three rivers Ladhya, Nandhour and Eastern Goula
- Who is Atrophos, who snips  the thread of life?
- What do Ringals (dense patches) look like?

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Dunking Insects

Immediately after the first monsoon rains a birdbath on the terrace was caked with flies. Which are these insects that dunk and drown themselves? What could be the evolutionary advantage of such a mass suicide?

Sunday, July 01, 2012

South Indian Iconography

At 5AM today morning, I found myself standing next to a strange yet familiar creature at the Uttara Guruvayur Temple in Delhi. Next to the Madhya-Haara or Vilakumattam, was a cement & paint rendition an architectural element quite common in South Indian temples: a gargoyle with the head & claws of a tiger, the trunk of an elephant and legs of a horse.

As if to balance out the ferocity of its bulging, glaring eyes it has a full election, and right below it, a rather comical looking elephant holding on to dear life.

What is this creature called? When did it first make an appearance in South Indian temples?
What could be the iconography behind this South Indian imagery which is conspicuously absent in the Northern temples?

June 2012: Links of the Month

Pittie, Aasheesh (2012): Indian Courser - My Kind of Birding, Blog post 21Jun12 -

Pal, Anuvab (2012): An Ode to Arnab Goswami, News Laundry 22Jun12, URL -

Shoji Kaori (2012): The Truth About Japanese Love - We just Don't get along, The Japan Times, 18Jun12, URL -

Obituary - Andrew Huxley, Neurophysiologist, The Economist, 16Jun12, URL -
- solved one of the most important biological mysteries of all—how nerve cells work, and thus, at bottom, how brains do

Dujarric, robert (2012): Japan's younger generation shuns the world stage, The Japan Times, 14June12, URL -

An American in Delhi - Jeanne Heydecker -

Trees in the Ramayana:
- Lodhra: Simplocos racemosa - URLs -
- Padmaka: Himalayan Wild Cherry (Prunus cerasoides  D.Don.) - URL -
- Deodar: Himalayan Cedar (Cedrus deodara) - URL -

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan (2012): India is not a global power, The Hindu 9Jun12, URL -

Amir Khusro -

Rowana, Jenny (2012): The 'dirt' in The Dirty Picture: Caste, Gender and Silk Smitha, Round Table India, 17Jun12, URL -

Vishwanathan, Vidya (2012): IN PRAISE OF PERFORMANCE, The Hindu Businessline, 11 Jun 12, URL -
- Eagle flasks & longevity

* Joseph, Manu 92012): WHY ARE THE SUITS CRYING? The Open magazine 16Jun12, URL -
- Daniel Nocera - Artificial Leaf Project

* Gulati, Ashok and Jyoti Gujral (2011): Food Security Bill: Can we afford Rs 6 lakh cr food subsidy in 3 years?, ET 11Dec11, URL -

Sharma, Mihir, S (2012): Austerity abuse: Government is not supposed to be poor, it is supposed to work for those of us who are, BS 9Jun12,

Rajan, Raghuram (2012): What Happened to India?, 8Jun12, URL -

Tharoor, Sashi (2012): The Indian Miracle Lives, 11Jun12, URL -

Das, Alokparna (2012): The Depths of History, IE 10Jun12, URL -

Chellany, Brahma (2012): The Resistable Rise of China, URL -

Bajaj, Vikas (2012): As Grain Piles Up, India’s Poor Still Go Hungry, NYT 7 June 2012,

The Best Job in the World - P&G Advt -

Worst Place to be a Woman (Foreign Policy) -

NHK Online -
Japanese girls in Gurgaon -

Smith (2012): Philosophy’s Western Bias, NYT 3June2012 -

BBC: What the Ancients Did for Us - The Indians: What The Ancient Indians Did For The World -

(Viji in FB 3Jun12)

(Sherzod FB, 3JUn12)
* Economist- Schumpeter: In praise of misfits
-Why business needs people with Asperger’s syndrome, attention-deficit disorder and dyslexia (Economist)

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Mau-Tam Puzzle

Facts of the case seem fairly straightforward. Every 50 years or so a bamboo species widespread in Mizoram suddenly blooms and dies. In its wake it leaves millions of seeds which trigger a population explosion of rats. Once the rats are through with the bamboo seeds, they devour crops and empty out granaries, leading - over a period of three years - to widespread famine and death by starvation.

Mizo's call this phenomenon 'Mau Tam'.

The Mau-Tam of 1959 is also noted as one of the triggers for the insurgency that gripped the hill-state, leading, at its peak, to the first and only case of the Indian Air Force bombing its own citizens (Aizwal, 1966).

An EPW paper of 1978 goes into this subject in some detail:

According to the Mizos, there are two death cycles of different in character. ..The first, the Mao Tam, is a sudden disaster - voile katha (?). The second, the Thing 'Tam, comes to wreak slowlv. The Mao Tak and Raw Thing (Melocanna Rambueoides and Bambose Hamiltonii) are the most widespread in Mizoram and the distress is very severe. But the bamboo flowers almost simultaneously and the famine passes in a year. The Thing Tam that follows begins its flowering in the eighteenth year and continues for about there years after: The three species that flower during the period are the Rawthing (Bambusa Tulda), the Rawnal (Dendrocalanus Longgispathus) and Rawngal (Caphalostachyum Capitatum). The flowering comes in batches. The distress is slow, long drawn. The invasion of the rats comes to its peak during the third or fouth year, a series of crop disasters which a peasant economy can hardly stand.

Now the puzzling this is that 2009 was supposed to mark the 50th year, and the time for the next Mau-Tam. What happened? Was there actually a disaster which was averted by human intervention?

Since there was nothing about it in the papers, I guess some reliable, first-hand info from a Mizo or a Manipuri would be required...



Rangasami, Amritha (1978): Tragedy of Our Own Making, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 13, No. 15 (Apr. 15, 1978), pp. 653-662

Bhaumik, Subir (2012): Indian army's new enemy is rats, BBC World, 3Jun2006, URL -

Mautam - The Bamboo Death -

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Forest Fires in Kumaon

Dry river beds dotted with murky pools, smoke rising from the hill slopes... The Himalayan foothills in Kumaon District presented a sad, depressing picture this summer. 
The locals complain of water shortages after most of the natural, roadside springs ran dry. The number of tourists has dwindled  - after all, why would anybody want to come to Kumaon if the hills are just as hot as the plains?

Puzzled by the large numbers of forest fires, all along the road to Ranikhet, I asked some villagers if they were caused by careless tourists tossing cigarette butts into the forests. "Its not so simple", they said, "the tourists are the least of our problems!". Then came a counter-question- "Did you see anybody doing anything to prevent the fires from spreading?". No, I didn't.

There are two sets of people who have an interest in keeping the fires burning. The first set are the nomadic herders. Hill slopes that are carpeted with pine-leaves (Pirol) prevent the grass from coming up. So the herders set fire to the resinous pine leaves, clearing the way for fresh grass, that are due to come up after the rains.

The second set, according to the villagers, are the officials from the Forest Department. These officials have annual afforestation targets and forest fires are a very handy for folks  looking for an excuse. In an area marked for afforestation, they simply set fire to entire hill-sides and claim that all the saplings got charred. The money is shared by the contractors and the state government officials who now have a vested interest in keeping the fires burning. 

The more you destroy, the more you can pilfer from the state coffers!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sweet & Sour, Heavy & Light

One has heard of tea-tasters but it is hard to believe that at one time, there were also professional crude-oil tasters.

In the 19th century workers in the fledgeling oil industry used their sense of taste and smell to classify petroleum into four categories - sweet, sour, heavy and light. These days the same classification is used to determine the cost of the petrol or diesel that goes into our motor vehicles.

Any crude with more than 2.5% sulphur is called sour. Most of it comes from the Middle East. Sweet crude, on the other hand, is what is exported out of Africa, Europe (North Seas) and also supplied by the oil wells in India. Light crudes yield the more valuable gasoline, naphtha and kerosene while heavy ones give more diesel, fuel oil and residue. So in the crude-oil business, sweet & light is anyday better than heavy & sour.

One point, however, remains unclear: Is there any such thing as heavy & sweet oil?



* Choudhury, Ranabir Ray (2006): The balancing act with trade parity oil prices, BL 09Jan06, URL -

* Types of Crude Oil -,41,538,2035,5196,5197,5199

* Description of the MC 252 Crude Oil -

* Ranjan, Amitav (2012): HOW PRICES ARE FIXED, BARREL BY BARREL, IE 07Jun12, URL -
- Sweet vs. Sour - any crude with more than 2.5% sulphur is sour
- Heavy vs. Light - Light crudes yield more gasoline, naphtha and kerosene while heavy ones give more diesel, fuel oil and residue.
- Though indigenous crudes from Assam and Mumbai High are sweet, they accounts for only 17 per cent of the total processed.
- Indian imports comprise nearly 80 per cent of sour crudes of which 82 per cent are from the Middle East. Of the 20 per cent imports that are sweet, Africa sends 99 per cent.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bi-colored Ant at the Banyan Tree

The Banyan Tree, Okhla Bird Park

"6 AM at the Banyan tree..."

For folks on DelhiBird this simply indicates a well known meeting-point at the Okhla Bird Park on the banks of Yamuna river.

during the hot season the river looks more like an open drain with black, frothy effluent gushing down the slats. This Sunday, there were not too many birds on the Yamuna flood plains. At the banyan though there was an interesting looking ant scurrying through its folds and crevices.

Unlike any I had seen before in Kerala, this one had multiple nodes on the thorax and abdomen, almost making it look like an dandy ant trying to pass off for a mini-millipede!

Turns out that this was the Arboreal Bi-colored Ant (Tetraponera rufonigra). It seems they sting so badly that even some spiders try to mimic them to escape predators!

Arboreal Bicolored Ant (Tetraponera rufonigra)