A LIFE LESS BEAUTIFUL , India Poised

A LIFE LESS BEAUTIFUL

At the same time, we can ill-afford to turn a blind eye to the grim reality that lies beneath the glitter and gloss of an India poised for glory and greatness. Some of us would like to believe the twain shall never meet, that we can continue to live our parallel lives without ever having to confront the other, less shiny India—the India that is routinely devastated by floods, droughts and terrorism. But the serial blasts in the first-class compartments of Mumbai’s suburban trains have served as a terrible reminder that life is not as neatly compartmentalised as we might like it to be.

We can also either choose to dismiss the recent display of Dalit fury as a random, isolated incident, or treat it as a symptom of a greater problem. There is enough evidence to suggest that communal and social ferment can set a country back.

Another big source of worry is the collapse of governance and the erosion of our institutions. Corruption is at a high, faith in the ability and inclination of our politicians and bureaucrats to run an efficient, honest and just administration is at a low. The months-long crisis over illegal constructions and sealings in Delhi is but a case in point. The judiciary has had to fill the breach on almost every major issue of the day, largely because the executive and the legislature have abdicated their responsibilities. Not that the judiciary doesn’t have its own problems; the pile-up of cases and the time taken to dispose of even petty disputes makes for depressing reading.

As a paper, we have advocated that government’s role in business should be minimal. We have favoured disinvestment, opposed over-regulation. We have said that instead of running businesses, government should channel its time and money into ensuring efficient delivery of education, healthcare and infrastructure. Sadly, that has not happened.

Our state-run schools and hospitals are in a shambles, and infrastructure has become a bottleneck. The well-heeled—who constitute TOI’s readership—can afford private schools and hospitals, and we can gloat about foreigners flocking to India for everything from botox to heart transplants, and about Indian educational institutes setting up campuses abroad. But vast swathes of our population do not have access to the most basic needs (and rights)—civic amenities and a decent education. Quite apart from the fact that it’s the right thing to do, even selfishly, it’s good for the economy, especially if we are to work our billion-plus population to our advantage.

As it is, we are seeing the beginnings of a big talent crunch. As the role of intangible assets—skilled workforce and intellectual capital—grows in the economy, so will the demand for trained manpower. In a world where talent’s become the most sought-after asset—a big venture capitalist recently told us, “money’s at a discount, talent’s at a premium’’—India was seen as an inexhaustible source of both high and low-end labour. But the inside story is somewhat different. There’s a desperate stampede for skilled people. It’s great news for employees, but the fear is that the looming talent deficit could act as an impediment to growth. Hole-in-the-wall teaching centres are mushrooming to cash in on the soaring demand for professional degrees and diplomas, but the quality of education is, for the most part, abysmal. Government and the private sector need to figure out ways to fix as well as expand our education system. And please, let’s cut out the anti-English rhetoric. It’s our English language education, together with institutes such as the IITs and IIMs, that has helped give us a global competitive advantage. Let’s not allow any short-sighted, self-righteous politician to blow it.

THE RISE OF CIVIL SOCIETY

Increasingly, there’s a sense that India’s ticking in spite of its babus and political leaders. Indeed, the role of public opinion in bringing Jessica Lall’s killer to justice holds out hope that civil society can make an enormous difference when it chooses to. Also, we now have a powerful instrument in the form of RTI (Right to Information); we need to leverage it to the fullest (even as we try to protect it from babudom’s attempts to dilute it).

Starting today and continuing through the month, The Times of India will seek to highlight areas of hope and despair. We will bring you the big picture, as well as reports from the street and field on inspiring stories of men and women who have looked adversity in the eye and made the world around us a better place. Along the way, we hope that with your feedback we can put together a few transformational ideas and solutions for an India whose only real obstacle to progress is itself.

It is a matter of great pride that India has produced such people as Amartya Sen, Indra Nooyi and Zubin Mehta. But deep down, we know that we haven’t tapped even a fraction of our potential. It will be the modest endeavour of this paper to help realise that potential.

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India poised, Make 2007 the year of India

India poised Make 2007 the year of India

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/NEWS/India/India_poised_Make_2007_the_year_of_India/articleshow/msid-1002923,curpg-2.cms

Many of us grew up being told by our elders that if we didn’t shut our eyes and go to sleep within five minutes, Wee Willie Winkie would come through the grilled window and spirit us away. It’s politically unfashionable these days to instill such fear in children; child psychologists warn parents that their apparently harmless stories could leave young, impressionable minds scarred for life.

It’s ironic that the West, from where these treat-kids-with-kid gloves notions originated, is now trying to scare their children and grown-ups with stories of the near-mythical Indian (in the US, Indian now pretty much means us, not Red/Native/American Indian; and to some Americans, we probably look a lot scarier than the Apaches and Mohawks in Westerns).

American kids are routinely warned by their teachers that if they don’t take their science and math seriously, the Indians and the Chinese will beat them to the best colleges and jobs in America. (Recently, a bunch of students from an Ivy League college visited TOI, and one of the students freely admitted that her mother, a high school teacher, was using such scare tactics.) And it’s not just American kids who are being beaten with the Indian lathi—their fathers are being quietly bullied by employers into putting in extra hours without a murmur: either that or their jobs will move to India.

But honestly, while these stories help boost our egos, they’re part of a continuing storyline—just that with every telling, they gain momentum.

The real story of 2006 is that we’ve gone from thinking small to thinking big. At home, businessmen like the Ambanis have dreamed big, and backed it up with great execution. Also, individually, Indians have made a significant impact abroad. But collectively, we’ve been reticent about making a splash on the global stage.

Indian businessmen, notably providers of software and BPO services, built their reputation among cost-conscious American companies as suppliers of cheap and reasonably reliable labour. They undercut American competitors by squeezing out a dollar here, shaving off a few cents there. Once they had their chappal in the door, they began to upsell, offering greater width and depth of service.

But through all of this, the nature of the relationship between India and the West remained that of supplier and buyer. Then, about three years ago, Indian businessmen began to break the mould by venturing overseas to acquire companies. By 2005, the trickle had swollen into a spate. Still, deal sizes remained mostly modest: a hundred million dollars here, a couple of hundred there.

We’d like to believe we were prescient when we titled our front-page editorial on January 1, 2006 and our special 22-page pullout the same day ‘A Leap Year For India’. India and Indians have finally made that leap—of faith and finance. Lakshmi Mittal’s dramatic acquisition of Arcelor in the face of every possible odd, and his unquestioned dominance of world steel, is one more milestone in the rise of India as a global power—it doesn’t matter that he built his empire in foreign lands. Regardless of whether he considers himself 25%, 50% or 100% Indian, the one thing he has done is give Indian businessmen a large dollop of can-do confidence.

Ratan Tata may or may not have drawn inspiration from Mittal in boldly bidding for Anglo-Dutch steel giant Corus, but what is indisputable is that it underlines a dramatic shift not only in the Indian psyche but in the way the world views India. (A century ago, Jamsetji Tata’s steel aspirations were met with scorn, most famously by one Sir Frederick Upcourt, who pronounced, “Do you mean to say that Tatas propose to make steel rails to British specifications? I will undertake to eat every pound of rail that they make, if they do that.” Wonder if old man Upcourt ate steel or humble pie.) Even before the Mittals and Tatas, a growing number of Indian companies had begun acquiring entire blocks of transnational corporations with bids of $500m-to-$1.5bn.

Raising money is no longer a problem for Indian companies—the world’s top investment banks and private equity firms are lining up to give them billions of dollars. Across the globe, there’s acknowledgement that in addition to being smart, clever and hard-working, Indians also make brilliant entrepreneurs and managers, capable of running not just small and medium businesses, but the biggest of corporations in the toughest of conditions.

BIG ISN’T LARGE ENOUGH

We are at an inflection point: Suddenly, Indians are no longer scared to think big, act big. Our sense is that this just the beginning. You are likely to see more multibillion dollar bids out of India. There was a time when businessmen here would say, the Indian market is big enough, why do we need to go abroad? Suddenly, even the world is not big enough for Indian ambition.

There’s possibly a deeper, more subtle message in all of this: Indians appear to be becoming less risk-averse. Many of them are shedding their middle-class mindset and are becoming more adventurous—from the size of their home and car loans, to their choice of jobs, to the way they live their lives. Consider (a not entirely representative case): the Ruias of Essar are in a mouth-watering situation where they can sell their 33% stake in Hutch Essar and make some $6 bn in cash (about Rs 30,000 crore); yet they are prepared to turn their backs on that kind of crazy money and instead buy out their foreign partner Hutchison’s 67% in the belief that they’ll make even greater money later. Some might say they’re being foolhardy, even greedy, but you can’t deny that it takes a risk-taker’s mentality to play such a hand in a game where the stakes are heart-poundingly high.

It’s not just Indian businessmen, large and medium, who are flexing their recently pumped-up muscles. The BSE sensex has soared from 9500-odd points at the beginning of 2006 to 14000; multicrore salaries have become so common that they’ve ceased to be news; real-estate prices across the country are going through the roof; the Indian telecom market is the fastest growing in the world; our so-called B-cities are snapping up Mercs and churning out crorepatis faster than Delhi and Mumbai; and our GDP is expanding at a scorching 9% plus. If the optimists are to be believed, the economy could turn in double or near-double digit growth rates for the next decade. The logic is simple: conditions here are ripe for sustained explosive growth; it’s happened in China; why can’t it happen here? There are huge, huge differences between India and China, but a little bravado never hurt.

The nuclear deal with the US has only reconfirmed India’s status as an emerging superpower. The fact that Bush pushed so very hard for it, and that it sailed through the Senate without a debate and the House of Representatives with a landslide margin is a clear sign that America’s need to have India as an ally overrides bipartisan politics.

Combine our new-found economic and political clout with our increasingly influential diaspora and our status as a global soft power or superwower (from Bollywood and Indian art to yoga and spirituality), and Brand India is on a roll like never before.

Yes, 2007 could well be the Year of India.

Extracted from an Article in Times of India

Sufi Teaching , Faces of Greed

There was once a mystic who had great powers of asceticism. He lived as an ordinary fisherman and everyday he would go out in his boat and catch many fish. He would distribute his catch amongst the poor and only save one fish head for himself. One day he called one of his trusted disciples and said “It appears that my spiritual development is held up by something and I have not been able to fathom out what it is. I want you to go and visit a great Sufi mystic who lives some way away. I want you to ask him for the solution to my problem. He is one of those much loved by God.”

Accordingly the disciple traveled for many weeks until he reached the town of the great Sufi. He inquired as to the direction to his cave but was shown instead the path to a great mansion, a veritable palace situated on the top of a hill. He checked again and all agreed that this was where the mystic lived.

As he walked up the hill his mind was filled with amazement and doubt – how could a great Sufi live in such luxury? ‘Perhaps he lives in a cave nearby’, he thought. At the entrance to the palace he became even more amazed when he saw the opulence of the building. There were semiprecious stones set in the outer walls and a huge solid gold door confronted him. One nervous knock was enough to have them swung open by handsome and attentive slaves who were clad in finery the like of which he had not dreamed of. This is surely the palace of some great worldly king he thought. Amazement gave way to amazement as he beheld the magnificent columns covered in diamonds and rubies. The richest and rarest lapis lazuli covered the walls and examples of the most precious and rare art works were displayed everywhere. Cushions of the rarest silks lay scattered around. Seductively beautiful women passed by and it required all his training not gaze on their beautiful forms or catch their dark lustrous eyes which seemed to silently invite any passerby to leap into them and drown, as into a dark inviting pool.

He was finally shown to the presence of the illustrious saint – whose magnificent bejeweled robes would have put the sultan of Turkey and the emperor of India to shame. Dishes of the rarest delicacy were brought in by beautiful young men and women and he was served with food whose exquisite taste passed beyond the disciples imagination.

How many a time has a disciple been saved from himself by obedience to his spiritual guide? It was this alone that enabled him to convey respectfully the message of his master to the emminent Shaikh- rather than run out in disgust, fear and protest at such shows of pomp and majesty.

He gave reverential salaams and the message that his master had requested him to deliver. The great Shaikh paused a moment and said.

“Convey likewise my salaams to your master, and tell him that the answer to his question is – that he suffers from greed.”

The disciple almost reeled at the answer and would have exploded but for the duty he he owed to his master.

During the whole journey back his mind was in a turmoil but finally he reached the humble cave of his guide. He was greeted with delight and eagerness. “Come, come,” said his guide, “tell me,what was the message.”

The disciple kissed the hand of his guide and paused.

“Come!” said his master, “tell me every word he said, and do not leave out a syllable.”

Thus prompted the disciple said, “He asked me to convey his salaams, and to tell you that the problem you suffered from was….. greed!”

The masters eyes widened and an expression betokening a great sense of relief, happiness, and delight passed over his face.

The disciple could no longer hold in his thoughts and he burst out – “Oh master! He is such a man who lives in such opulence and decadence that a worldly king could not aspire to. He is surrounded by every worldly luxury – how could he say such a thing to you who practice such asceticism and live in such poverty!

The guide calmed him with a penetrating look and said. “He is right. He is right. He lives surrounded by such things for which he cares not a jot – but I, whenever I eat the head of the fish I cannot help but wish for another”.

India Impressions,It Is Faith That Keeps Us All Going

Extracts from
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/OPINION/Editorial/THE_SPEAKING_TREE

In India, I found a race of mortals living upon the Earth, but not adhering to it, inhabiting cities, but not being fixed to them, possessing everything, but possessed by nothing.
Apollonius Tyanaeus

India was the motherland of our race and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages. India was the mother of our philosophy, of much of our mathematics, of the ideals embodied in Christianity… of self-government and democracy. In many ways, Mother India is the mother of us all.
Will Durant

India has left a deeper mark upon the history, philosophy and religions of mankind than any other terrestrial unity in the universe.
Lord Curzon

If there is one place on the face of the earth where all the dreams of living man have found a home from the very earliest days of man’s existence on earth, it is India.
Romain Rolland

We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.
Albert Einstein

>>>>>>>It Is Faith That Keeps Us All Going