10 things I didn’t know till last week

Over the last few weeks, I have been taking an effort to learn about things I knew very little about, but have a lot of interest in.

This post is an effort to make a list of terms or ideas I learnt about, so anyone who reads it can pick it up in a few minutes, or I can look it up again to refresh my memory. I am not going to attempt to explain each in detail. I will leave that to your curiosity, these are just nudges. There are a lot of these terms, but wanted to stick to my 10 things format.

National Institute of Urban Affairs

The National Institute of Urban Affairs is an institute for research, capacity building and dissemination of knowledge for the urban sector in India. It conducts research on urbanization, urban policy and planning, municipal finance and governance, land economics, transit oriented development, urban livelihoods, environment & climate change and smart cities. It was established in 1976.

Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation

BIMSTEC is an international organisation of seven nations of South Asia and South East Asia. The BIMSTEC member states—Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan —are essentially the countries dependent on the Bay of Bengal, hence the name. It was established in 1997, it is 2019 and an FTA is still under negotiation.

Mekong-Ganga Cooperation

MGC is an initiative by six countries – India and five ASEAN countries, namely, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam for cooperation in tourism, culture, education, as well as transport and communications. It was launched in 2000. Both the Ganga and the Mekong are civilizational rivers, and the MGC initiative aims to facilitate closer contacts among the people inhabiting these two major river basins.

Generative Adversarial Network

GANs are a powerful class of neural networks that are used for unsupervised learning. It was developed and introduced by Ian J. Goodfellow in 2014. GANs are basically made up of a system of two competing neural network models which compete with each other and are able to analyze, capture and copy the variations within a dataset. A machine teaching a machine.

Members of Parliament Local Area Development Schemes

The Members of Parliament Local Area Development Division is entrusted with the responsibility of implementation of MPLADS. Under the scheme, each MP has the choice to suggest to the District Collector for works to the tune of Rs.5 Crores per annum to be taken up in his/her constituency. The Ministry has issued the guidelines on MPLADS Scheme including implementation and monitoring of the scheme. Every voter should go their website and see what their MP is spending that money for.

Public Enterprises Selection Board

The PESB under the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) is a body to advise the government on management and top level appointments of central Public Sector Enterprises. Users can get information on vacancies, functions of the organization, guidelines, etc. A group of senior administrators recruit, select and recommend hires for senior positions in PSUs.

Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010

The FCRA is an act of the Parliament of India, by the 42nd Act of 2010. Its scope is to regulate the acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution by certain individuals or associations or companies and to prohibit acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution for any activities detrimental to the national interest.

The Chicago Boys

The Chicago Boys were a group of Chilean economists prominent around the 1970s and 1980s, the majority of whom trained at the Department of Economics of the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger. Upon their return to Latin America they adopted positions in numerous South American governments including the military dictatorship of Chile (1973–1990). The Heritage Foundation credits them with transforming Chile into Latin America’s best performing economy and one of the world’s most business-friendly jurisdictions.

Rent Seeking Behaviour

When property rights are weakened and the ownership of someone’s wealth or goods is debatable, people can gain more by trying to appropriate that wealth than by producing wealth themselves. This behavior is called rent-seeking.

1000 Grains of Sand Approach

The “grains of sand” approach refers to the practice of accumulating information from various quarters till a clearer image appears. In addition to human intelligence (HUMINT), technology plays a significant role in China’s Thousand Grains of Sand strategy. The strategy also blurs the lines between military and non-military intelligence.


Flaky millennial

This is a conversation between a millennial son and his 62 year old father in the year 2019.


Son (entering his OTP): Uber prices have gone up so much these days

Father (scrolling through WhatsApp chats): You should stop using Uber

Son: Very few buses go to my office, and the local train station is quite far. And it is so hot these days

Father: Stop giving excuses, and I am not asking you to go by bus anyway

Son: How are these excuses? These are legitimate reasons. If not by bus, how else would I go?

Father: I think you should buy a car

Son: I can’t afford a car

Father: We did so much to serve the nation, you can’t buy a car?

Son: I am not sure how that is related?

Father: How many movies did you watch this month?

Son: None

Father: Let’s go and watch Joker and War, I heard they are good

Son: I don’t think you will like either of them

Father: That is not the point. Book 4 tickets, I want a seat to keep my popcorn

Son: You don’t even like popcorn!

Father: Don’t argue! Why are you using cold water to take bath these days?

Son: I just said it is hot these days

Father: So? Bathe in hot water and then switch on the AC. We need to increase our electricity bill

Son: I am not sure I understand

Father: Also, don’t make any investments this year

Son: Are you ill or something?

Father: No point in putting money in PPF or FD, might as well pay more taxes

Son: Taxes?

Father: Yes. Also, sign these forms

Son: What are these? Loans? I don’t need loans

Father: You only said you can’t afford a car

Son: How can I afford a loan? And why are there so many forms? Personal loan? STUDENT loan?

Father: Yes, you are also replacing all our equipment and renovating the house for Diwali. New TV, washing machine, microwave and fridge. Can’t do this much also for your mother?

Son: But Mom didn’t tell me she wants any of these. And everything we have is barely 4 years old

Father: Not this mother

Son: I have another mother? What?

Father: We all have another mother. Don’t insult

Son: And student loan? Why do I need a student loan?

Father: You are forgetting your values. You should go study

Son: Study? Where? And what about my work?

Father: All that doesn’t matter. Just take admission somewhere

Son: Are you not getting enough sleep Dad?

Father: Yes, about sleeping, you will go and sleep in a hotel at least 1 night in a week, every week

Son: (slaps his forehead)

Father: Did you hurt yourself son? You should go to the doctor. Actually, go to the hospital, better that way, get an MRI done. Why take a risk no? Also, now that you are going to buy a car soon, you should start buying petrol, go, take this can and buy 5 liters and come

The house that Jack built

Back in the December of 2014, I finally caught the unicorn. Well, not literally. Our group of really close friends, finally managed to materialize an actual holiday – a trip – from a WhatsApp plan. *pauses for applause*

It was what we then called an ‘epic’ trip, I am not sure what the popular term now is, I am happy I don’t know. The trip was a culmination of everything we thought it would be, right from boarding the flight together, to road tripping through beautiful Kerala, to crazy amounts of laughter and a decent amount of alcohol. I reminisce this trip for a particular reason.

One evening, in Munnar, we found our poison, in one of the government controlled liquor store, in the form of Officer’s Choice XXX Rum. And in the gorgeous weather among the tea gardens, we had partaken enough to make the Officer proud. Amongst us, was a Juventus fan, and as it happened, there was a Juventus match being played which he was following on the football app on his phone. However, as the match progressed, in typical Italian fashion we did not hear any goal notification for what seemed like well over 2 hours, by when the Officer was already playing his delirious tunes in our heads. Suddenly, the phone pinged and my friend squealed as Juventus had apparently scored, evidently making the Officer in his head proud. Within a couple of minutes there was another ping and it seemed the opposition had already drawn level, he couldn’t believe it and slumped. As luck would have it, Juventus scored again within what seemed like just a minute and he literally screamed, incredulous. He exclaimed to everyone, who also followed football supporting various other clubs, ‘This has literally never happened in the history of football before!’ Just as he finished saying this, there was another ping and his eyes opened wider than the mouth of the only non-football fan amongst us, it was apparently 2-2. This seemed like the last straw and in the sheer faith that he could not have missed such a ridiculously exciting match, he wore his glasses and opened the app. Seconds later out came a stream of expletives declaring that we had been following was actually a penalty shootout, and not the actual match. But we will never forget the delirious excitement in his eyes for those 4 minutes, something even the cheap rum couldn’t match. To quote the great James Hetfield, ‘The higher you are, the farther you fall’, and eventually, my friend did literally fall on the floor, and stayed there till dawn.

2014 was the start of something similar for the entire nation, at a much larger scale. There were delirious celebrations, sky-high expectations, positivity that would put the most optimist person to shame and a sense of satisfaction that we were all a part of something that has never happened before. It is nearing the end of 2019, and we are seemingly on our way to the floor, what we don’t yet know is how far the floor is, or how hard it is.

Should the auto sector slowdown be our biggest concern?

The weeds of India’s economic slowdown have been growing pretty rapidly over the past 12 months. There have been various stories in news of varying levels of concerns over the systematic reduction in growth of different sectors and commodities. Probably the earliest indicator was the lack of job creation across the country, and this concern got a major boost thanks to the elections with every opposition party highlighting this. I did a simple Google Trends search on the term ‘jobs crisis’ and it has been searched pretty consistently over the last year. However, given the current state of our media, apart from the opposition’s concern leading up to the elections, the unemployed haven’t found solidarity from anyone since then.

This gets me to the other end of the spectrum of attention, the slowdown in the auto sector. Again, looking at the Google Trends data, the term ‘auto sector crisis’ really started being searched from July 2019, peaking in late August and September at the time of writing this post. While any sector that is facing tough times deserves air time and attention (especially one which is facing its worst crisis in 19 years), this still is a fly in the ointment for me. India is largely a poor country with over 21% living below the national poverty line in 2011 – this is approximately 280 million people (that is over 10 times Australia’s population). The GDP per capita in India is about INR 182,500, which is a pretty misleading statistic for a country which has the number of poor people India does. Is there a more relevant measure we can look at?

Every year, Credit Suisse publishes a Global Wealth Report which analyses the household wealth of 5 billion people across the globe. I do believe wealth is a much more important metric to look at as opposed to income. For a simple comparison, wealth is the net worth of a person, which takes a large amount of time to acquire, while income is amount earned by a person for a transaction and is often immediate. When one looks at a sizeable investment in an asset like a car or a house, wealth I believe is a better measure than income. As per the 2018 Global Wealth Report, the mean wealth per adult in India is $7,024 which is approximately INR 512,752. However, this again is misleading. India has an adult population of about 850 million, and as per the report, 90.8% of the adult population has wealth below $10,000 or INR 730,000 and we still have managed to rank sixth in the world for the number of people with wealth above $50 million. Given this kind of absurd gap in wealth, median wealth would be a much better indicator than mean. As per the report, the median wealth per adult in India is $1,289 or INR 94,097. To simplify, there are approximately 425 million adults with wealth less than INR 94,097. The average Indian cannot even think of affording a car (also read this, maybe another post to discuss it later). With this in mind, should slowdown in auto sales be the concern that needs to be given so much attention to?

I do understand that the auto sector generates a lot of employment in India and propping it up would also help us boost availability of jobs. I also understand that they are large borrowers, and those defaulting would hit our already limping lending sector with a blow so hard it might be difficult for the lenders to recover. However, the jobs crisis and the lending crisis preceded the auto crisis, so the latter is not the cause of the former. In fact, this is exactly why the auto sector should have seen this slowdown coming given all the indicators, and gradually reduced their production avoiding the excess inventory problem. Now they stand in line with others in front of the GST Panel demanding a tax cut. The government meanwhile even announced a policy to replace existing government cars with new ones just to clear the auto companies’ inventories. I am not even going to mention their months of ranting over the BS VI norms and impending electric vehicle boom which is still years away for India. I do not understand why we can’t just allow them to fail, that should be the cost of doing any business, after all isn’t that what we do to small businesses when we allow more FDI in any sector?

Going back to the search trends, it is interesting to compare the two above mentioned search terms, which you can see here. As is visible, the peak for auto sector crisis is higher than that of the jobs crisis, which is what is irksome. I do understand this is a very crude way of looking at media coverage or public awareness, but I do believe it can be used as a rough trend to understand where our priorities lie generally. In this case, the backing the auto sector has received for its slowdown is much higher than that received by the unemployed millions in the country. That, I believe, is our biggest crisis.

No La Liga Broadcast on Indian TV in 2019

Back in 2009, I wrote this post, which eventually became one of my most commented on and viewed post. In the days of nascent social media, it connected me to a lot of fellow Spanish football fans most of who I am still in touch with. That was 9 years ago.

2009 was also the season when Cristiano came to La Liga, for the club I follow – Real Madrid. Since then, Real Madrid has won 2 league titles, 2 Spanish Cups, 2 Spanish Super Cups, 4 Champions League titles, 2 UEFA Super Cups and 3 Club World Cups. He finally moved out of Real Madrid, going to Juventus this season. Apart from all these trophies and awards, his stay at Madrid has been bookended by Indian broadcasters not doing the fans any favour.

Back in 2009 we had to make do with YouTube highlights (what is 1080p?), patchy live streams with 2009 internet in India. This year, won’t be as bad because Facebook has bought the official broadcast rights, so it won’t be completely absent. But given that most of India still doesn’t have streamable internet speeds and the fact that Facebook is evil, we lose again.

Not sure what La Liga is doing here though. The second largest population in the world, with slow internet, and EPL still being the most popular football property in the country, they should ideally have insisted on TV broadcast. Especially after losing one of the two most marketable footballer on the planet, you should be pushing it even more. You need more people watching Valencia, Villareal and the super entertaining Real Betis to make La Liga more popular and not give people an option to choose only what they want, which in most cases will only be the big 2 (maybe 3).

The league officially begins in 6 days, and Sony has confirmed they don’t have the rights. Inspite of consuming a lot of streamable content, I still do all of it on TV. Also, I have deactivated my Facebook account for over a year now, not sure if I can bear to go back to it. So unless one of the TV sports channels does something drastic, I might be stuck with minimum football again this year, especially after watching one of the best World Cups ever.

India’s La Decima

I am a big sports fan. A big football fan. And a huge Real Madrid fan.

Last year, Real Madrid won the tenth European Championship for clubs. An undeniably massive feat. It was an absolute pleasure to watch the match where they won it all with fellow fans. Ecstatic. Delirious. Are some of the words that can describe the night. And also emotional.

The tenth trophy has been hyped up and blown up by every fan and follower of the team. It is the mythical number no team has ever reached. It didn’t matter that no team has ever reached 9 either. It is something about the tenth, or La Decima. Players and fans have been praying for years for La Decima. And once they won it, you could see players cutting their beloved long locks and colouring their beard blonde in an apparent display of their resolutions being successful.

A couple of weeks back, I got the chance to visit the practice sessions of the Jai Jawan Mandal thanks to my friend Radhika and her MPhil thesis. The Jai Jawan Mandal is one of the many associations of young men and very few women in Mumbai who wait for an entire year for one day. The day of Gokulashtami. The birthday of Lord Krishna.

This is a festival, celebrated by mimicking the God’s famed liking to homemade butter. His mother would tie the pot of butter to the roof to keep it away from little Krishna, but he would find ways to break the pot for his butter. Today, we celebrate by building human towers to reach a pot of butter tied high up. As with anything involving men and a crowd gathering, it took the form of a competitive sport where the higher your tower, the better you are. Meanwhile, in Spain they build human towers too, just for sport.

This brings me back to the Jai Jawan Mandal. They have taken this street play and perfected it. For them this is more than a festival. More than a game, more than a sport. It is their life. Sounds familiar?

Constitution Day

I am not on Facebook anymore. It was getting quite asinine looking at memes and people arguing about who supports Modi and who hates him. I realise I still need an outlet to express what I think is asinine that actually does affect our nation. These are my opinions and as per our genuinely great Constitution, I can express it, on my blog, even if only one person reads it.

Happy Constitution Day.

  1. A 24 year old married woman has been kidnapped by her father, her marriage annulled by the High Court and she has to prove to the Supreme Court that she converted to Islam out of her own volition.
  2. People associated with an unseen and unreleased movie are being given death threats on live television.
  3. The Parliament is not in session because the Prime Minister’s home state is going for election next month.
  4. A defaulting Anil Ambani was given a defence contract no one wants to talk about.
  5. No one wants to talk about the death of Judge Loya who was presiding over the case in which Amit Shah was the chief accused.
  6. A government health minister says you get cancer because of your sins.
  7. The health ministry says pollution never killed anyone and hence not hazardous.
  8. Farmers are protesting naked in the winter and no media cares.
  9. The transport minister and railway minister are moving towards electric transport while the oil minister in the same government is increasing nation’s oil refinery capacity by 3 times.
  10. People are still watching Navika and Arnab.

26th November

I just wanted to name a post 26th November to tell everyone that I’ve not forgotten and will never forget that day and the lives lost.


Ford Airbags ad – hate it!

I hate most ads these days. The execution especially have become woefully bad. What might have seemed like a decent idea even till the storyboard stage, look disastrous post execution.

The Ford airbags ad is one such (sorry, I couldn’t find it on YouTube). There are two versions of this. One in which a 7 year old girl sitting in the backseat of an Ecosport makes a sad face and says “Papa, our car has airbags in the front, but I’m sitting in the back”. To start with, the casting of the kid is really bad. Neither does she look cute, nor does she look approachable and cuddle worthy (sorry little girl). Which is what you need to pull off the ridiculous question she just asked her dad. The little devil basically assumed her dad is a jackass of a driver and going to plunge them to their eventual deaths, and then went ahead and deduced that he is somehow okay with killing her and that’s why he chose to make her sit all by herself at the back. And no, she didn’t ask this in an adorable and sassy way a 3 year old asks these kind of questions. Because she is a freaking 7 year old. I know it looks like I’m hating on the messenger, but I’m actually hating the entire messaging system. The next thing that happens is of course the dad says our Ford car has 6 airbags and you’re safe, which is the point of this whole disaster of an ad. How he does not start weeping in absolute agony over the realisation that his daughter thinks he wants to murder her is beyond me. The voiceover calms everything down by asking you to check the number of airbags in a car before you buy one. Acceptable.

There is another shorter version of this ad, in which the girl is shown in closeup and she smirks and asks my Ford car has 6 airbags, how many do you have? That’s it. However, in these 10 second the character, whose only claim to existence is that she was born in a house which could afford a fully loaded version of a car, essentially shows you the birdie and laughs at your poor ass for not being able to afford a better car. Your kid surely deserves to die.

Bad form Ford, bad form.

Future News: RBI eases withdrawal norms

MUMBAI: On Monday a senior RBI official announced new measures which he said he hopes would potentially and probably ease the suffering suffered by the suffering common sufferer. The new measures came as a huge relief for 7 Indian citizens. This journalist was able to speak with over 50% of these benefited citizens and all of them praised the foresight and compassion shown by the bank and the government, both of whom ironically are called central.

Among others, some of the measures announced were:

  1. All citizens who don’t have bank accounts will be allowed to open new bank accounts in 3 minutes under the ‘Please bank on us’ scheme and will be immediately allowed to withdraw unlimited amounts of money from any ATM in the country. There will however be a limit on their deposits which is set at ₹100 every 17 seconds.
  2. All unmarried people who have kids are allowed to withdraw ₹2 lakhs per kid per day provided they can furnish DNA evidence proving they are the parents of the said kid. This resulted in a lot quick Facebook ‘Relationship Status’ updates, however their children have been depressed ever since they were made aware that they will never be allowed to get a passport or any other government identification which requires both Father’s and Mother’s name, until the time the parents marry each other.
  3. All petrol pumps selling air turbine fuel will accept old and fake notes till 31st March 2019. This is said to be a major relief for all the common men who own cars which work on jet fuel.
  4. All those holding a salary account with any bank and earning a net income of less than ₹10,000 will be outside all withdrawals limit set till date, provided they have a minimum account balance of ₹2 lakhs and own at least 2 credit cards. This is seen as a direct reward for all in the lower and middle income group who have wholeheartedly embraced digital and electronic banking.
  5. Anyone living more than 15 kilometers away from the nearest bank branch are allowed to withdraw any amount they desire if their journey to the bank branch was on foot and they can tender such proof.
  6. All previous announcements made by RBI during ‘Rahu Kaalam’ have been revoked. All citizens benefited by these announcements will be investigated on once the auspicious time for all such investigations are announced by the relevant experts.
  7. All citizens who are suffering from serious withdrawal symptoms post the exit of Arnab Goswami from Times Now are allowed withdraw any amount of cash required to cope with their depression. A qualified dentist’s certificate would be necessary.
  8. All those who take an oath to stop honking while driving are allowed to withdraw ₹25,000 a day and they will be gifted this amount if they uninstall horns from all their vehicles. Bank managers will check the vehicles personally in these cases.

All through Monday there were violent protests by all rich tax payers as they see this as an invasive attack on their evasive practices.

It seemed like stress had taken a toll on Mr. Das as his usually impeccable spectacles looked heavily smudged and his tea-stained tie looked befittingly unfitting. When questioned on the absence of his boss at all public announcements, he said Mr. Patel has been busy signing all the new notes by hand to curb out counterfeiting and honour our soldiers. He then spontaneously started singing the national anthem, visibly moved by the patriotism displayed and sacrifice made by the Governor. Two journalists at the press conference suffered minor injuries. They later disclosed that they were surprised by hearing the national anthem and fearing public displeasure stood up too fast, the movement causing whiplash in their neck and back. They’ve been prescribed painkillers and balm but they said they don’t have cash to pay for the medicine.