Sunday, December 23, 2007

Things I hate about Indian film awards

Soon 2008 will dawn upon us. And the award season will start. Screen, Zee, Filmfare, Stardust and what-not film award functions will be held, all over Mumbai. All of them look the same, all seem biased to me. There was a time when I used to highjack my remote control for over 4-5 hours and patently see the entire function. Now, I hate them because they sound cliched amongst other things. Here are my reasons:

Variety entertainment
Award shows are less of awards and more of variety entertainment. They have now become, at least in the 20 years or so, a convenient platform to show off an actor's 'dancing' talent because 99% of the industry with all the famous directors, producers, etc are seated in the audience. So what better way to sell yourself to them than to show some of your so-called dancing "skills". Most of the dancing is horrendous with even the likes of salman khan doing some items there. It's a pain to watch them dance when they don't know the D of dancing.

The actual award ceremony does not take more than an hour and a half, but the show goes on for over four hours. The rest is obviously taken up by all these mindless performances.

Irritating emcees
Almost always, the emcees are irritating. Unlike the western award functions where hosts memorise their entire script and say it effortlessly, even when it comes to describing a certain film and its casts, details, etc to announcing nominees, complicated names, they say without peeping into cue cards, our hosts read out from the script much like a 3rd standard student reading out a para from their textbooks minus all the artificial drama and emotion. In my memory, the only capable hosts on India award functions have been the Siddhartha Basu and the combo of SRK-Saif; the latter put up a very entertaining skit some years back.

Further, if the hosts are a couple, they stage these stupid and artificial arguments or fights and try and be humorous and even witty. They end up looking miserable and don't amuse.

Biased jury and unfair winners
This is the one single reason why I hate all film award functions. Not that partiality doesn't happen in international awards, but our Indian awards have become quite biased in recent years.

All you need to be is a major production house, keep giving regular interviews to film magazines and bam, you've got an award! No wonder SRK has won so many film awards throughout his career that we've forgotten to keep track of. Yes, no one's interested anymore in any case, but still. Hrithik Roshan won the best actor award for his role in Krish as against some other better performers. It's like Tobey Maguire winning an Oscar for playing Spiderman. Gone are the days when credible performances, even by some of the elder actors, like Sanjeev Kumar, Naseerudin Shah, Shabana Azmi used to win awards for their mind-blowing performances.

The fault also lies in the voting system. Firstly, instead of a credible jury, the public is allowed to vote. Public is know to get swayed by emotion. Then again, how many would have seen a film called 'Dharm' or say' Blue Umbrella' and would nominate their lead actor Pankaj Kapoor who gave award winning performances in both these films? It's only when you are an SRK, Saif, Sanjay Dutt, Akshay Kumar and the likes that you get noticed and voted.

One final point. I have noticed that higher the movie's collections, better are its chances of winning awards or at least getting nominations across all categories.

Never-ending categories
In order to satisfy as many people and also to ensure that as many people as possible attend award functions, Indian award functions have numerous categories. So you have awards like the Best Villain, Best Comedian in addition to Best Supporting Actor. In 2001, Paresh Rawal got nominated in and won the Best Comedian award when in reality his was a lead role and should merited attention in the Best Actor category. In 2002 at the Zee awards, while Aamir Khan and Tabu won the best actor and best actress awards, respectively, for Lagaan and Chandni Bar, Suuny Deol and Kajol won the Best Outstanding Awards - Male and Female, respectively. What is the difference between Best Actor/Actress and Best Outstanding Performance, I fail to understand.

Chewing gum and ladies stroking their hair
Since most award functions are held outdoors, the attendees have to constantly tackle the wind. So all you see the actresses doing is stroking their long hair backwards and plugging their strands behind their ears, every minute or two, throughout the 4-hour extravaganza. Notice how they do it especially when the cameras are focusing on them. They look like rich housewives who are thoroughly bored and have nothing else to do.

If ladies have this irritating habit, could the male species be any far behind? What do they do? They chew gum. Chew, chew, chew and chew gum all the time. Chew gum when they enter, keep chewing it throughout, some chew with their mouths open and some chew even when they come up on stage to receive the awards! They think they look stylish. hmmm.

Adjectives in announcements

This is a copy of the British award system. Whenever any guest or a co-host or an emcee is called upon stage, the caller always uses an adjective. Just the name is not enough. It's always, 'The very beautiful Ms XXX' or 'The very talented Mr XXX' or 'The very gorgeous Ms XXX'. I find all this praise to be very artificial and so not-worth the time.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Touchy stars

If you ever want to know where to find the biggest egos - or at least amongst the bigger ones - in society, look no further than Bollywood. Recently Aamir Khan made a comment on the movie Black and mentioned in an interview that Black didn't work for him because it was insulting and humiliating to children. Beating a visually, hearing and speech impaired child to make her come out of her senses and learn the ways and walks of life is not his kind of cinema, he said. He also said that the performances of Black were over-the-top.

Now Amitabh Bachchan, considered by many as one of the best actors, got offended. He gave a rebuttal interview and said that maybe the performances went over Aamir's head.

Bollywood is full of ego personalities. They can't digest any criticism. Critics are retards they say because critics pan shit movies. Performances have gone over people's heads if people do not like the performances. Damm people, damm freedom of speech, if I am Amitabh Bachchan, how dare a fellow actor, especially one who is younger than me in several years, criticize my performances, especially when I have won a National award for that same performance! Who the hell is he?

So what if I did not support him when his movies were (unofficially and unconstitutionally) banned in a part of India because he exercised his rights as an Indian citizen and spoke out against what he thought was injustice. So what if I, Amitabh Bachchan, the most respected, honoured star of Bollowood and one who is looked up by peers and public alike, did not speak out in the honour of my own industry, one that has cherished and nurtured me and given everything what I have today, and was under threat by fundamentalists. Why? Obviously, because I am politically correct and then why should I dirty my hands in somebody else's problems? But hey, if a fellow actor criticizes my performances in Black, then GOD save him from me. Because for that, I have a right. waise ton rishte mein hum sabke baap lagte hain. Naam hain, Amitabh Bachchan.

Clearly, Amitabh needs a lesson in democracy. He may be one of the biggest stars, but he will never ever be beyond any criticism. Understand that very clearly. Every public figure is open for criticism. Everyone has a right to speak. Many members of the public and audience also criticised Black. I too found his performance in Black - and to some extent Ranis' - over the top. Alzheimer patients do not twitch and turn and behave the way he did. Credit for that should actually go to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, director of one of the worst films in 2007 (Saawariya) and one that i have ever seen. Does AB have the guts to then tell us, the audience, that his performance went over our heads? I don't think so. Overall, I liked Black, that I must admit. But I also respect Aamir's views and the fact that unlike his politically correct and cowardly Bollywood colleagues, at least he knows to speak his mind and do his own thing.

Taare Zameen Par

Striking the Right Cord

Barely missing the movie on one of my most hectic Saturdays in recent times, I am glad that I finally made it to Regal cinema and watched this masterpiece called 'Taare Zameen Par' (TZP). The movie takes a sympathetic look - or rather the way it should be looked - at dyslexia. Young Ishaan Awasthi (Darsheel Safary) cannot study like some of the other kids, he is poor in Maths, his language and vocabulary does not make sense nor can he make sense of it all, he does not show his red-inked report card to his parents, does not do homework and bunks classes. Fed up by his antics and his teacher's constant complaints, his parents, especially Daddy, banishes him to a boarding school, much against the little one's wishes.

Enter an angelic arts teacher Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan) who observes and identifies Ishaan's problems and mental agony. He takes it upon himself to set things right for the little one by creating a conducive atmosphere for the children and of course Ishaan, simultaneously educating Ishaan's ignorant parents, teachers and principal of the school. The little one slowly comes out of his shell and jells with the 'outside' world.

Neither TZP is a documentary on dyslexia nor it its pace documentarish like Swades'. Though I quite liked Swades and was disappointed it didn't work. But TZP is among the new breed of off-beat Hindi films told in a mainstream manner that unshackles us, raises a stir amongst us, and urges us to rise to the occasion, such as Rang De Basanti (RDB). For the record, I wasn't referring to the assassination in RDB, it was about making a difference in a positive manner despite one's stature and size. TZP's pace is entertaining, at the same time not deviating from the subject. It takes us right into the mind of the troubled Ishaan to show us his hidden brilliance on one hand, and agony on the other of, for instance, what goes in his mind when told to read a line from the textbook.

The movie does take certain liberties and is not without flaws. For instance, I felt the teachers on a whole have been portrayed in a poor light. Yes, some teachers are most certainly like the ones portrayed here, especially the knuckle-hitting nerd teacher (Saluja Singh of Physics and Pingle of Algebra were those teachers for me at my school Hindi Vidya Bhavan), but certainly all teachers can't be so insensitive. The boarding school hostel warden is also unnecessarily stern. I do not think anybody in his position would threaten a fresh boarder and remind him of how 'rowdy' children before him were tamed.

TZP captures many nuances of a typical aspirational family quite well. The constant comparison to the excelling elder sibling, parental pressure to perform, score high marks and forcing their ambitions of becoming a doctor, engineer, etc on their children and 'training' them like as if they were some assembly-line products, are just some of the incidents thrown at you. It reminds us of our own childhood to a large extent.

The good part is that TZP balances entertainment and education evenly and manages to strike the right cord in you. Performances are excellent. The kid Darsheel who plays Ishaan is a rare find. It is to TZP's director Aamir Khan and creative director Amol Gupte's credit that they zeroed in on Darsheel to play the part, out of thousands who had applied for the audition. His performance is flawless, he makes you laugh and cry all along the way, his mannerisms, his fear, his happiness, his confusion, his agony, his plight, he just takes you alongwith him, all along. His is one of the best performances I have seen in a long, long time. Aamir Khan is as usual brilliant and gives yet another winning performance, though gladly this time he takes a backseat and lets Darsheel paint the entire canvas on his own, taking charge.

TZP is a must-watch. It's one of the best movies I have seen in recent times.

Rating: * * * * *

Friday, December 21, 2007


Can diversified equity funds tilt heavily towards mid-caps?

What does diversification mean for a diversified equity fund? Does it mean it will diversify across sectors and scrips or does it mean it will diversify across market capitalisation stocks?

Outlook Money looked at equity funds to check out how little scheme objectives can tell you about their potential action. To keep things simple, we checked out only diversified equity funds. We omitted thematic, sectoral, dividend yield funds. We also left out closed-end funds and equity-linked savings schemes since they usually have a higher allocation towards mid-cap scrips on account of a lock-in. Then, we examined the portfolios of short-listed funds across five time periods since July 2005 when mid-cap scrips were the flavour of the market .

MF schemes that call themselves ‘diversified’ had an unusually high proportion of their assets in mid-cap scrips. In all of them (top five mid-cap exposure schemes), the average mid-cap exposure was 61 per cent.

Gunning for the flavour
As diversified equity funds have a mandate to go anywhere, some of them usually skew their portfolios towards scrips and sectors that are the flavour of the month. For instance, during the technology sector boom in 2000, many diversified equity funds had invested significant portions of their portfolios in technology sector scrips. Birla Advantage Fund had invested an average of 75 per cent of its portfolio in technology sector scrips between January and August 2000.

Unlike the 1999-2000 bull-run where only technology and related sectors were the flavour, the current run-up in equity markets has been more broad-based and encompassed several sectors. Additionally, small and medium-sized companies have revamped their operations, downsized and turned into profitable ventures. Since these companies have shown tremendous potential, they attracted foreign and local investors such as mutual funds that saw their share prices zoom. Since January 1, 2004, CNX Midcap index has returned 30 per cent on a compounded annualised basis, as against 28 per cent by the large-cap Nifty index. Returns between these two indices would not be comparable around a decade ago; now both are mentioned in the same breadth.

During the same time, 17 mid-cap funds were launched as compared to just five that were present prior. Additionally, diversified equity funds titled their portfolios towards mid-cap scrips to cash in on the boom.

Evolving markets and industry…
Things were different in earlier days when diversified equity funds were launched mainly as large-cap oriented funds, though they didn’t say so explicitly in their offer documents. Reason being, mid-cap scrips gained prominence only in the past four years when many of them restructured themselves. Years back, such companies were avoided by MFs as many of them were not highly profitable and suffered from low liquidity.

Only in the past four years, such companies have grown in stature and size, thanks also to a growing economy and acceptance of ‘Made-In-India’ products. Companies like Hero-Honda, Infosys, Bharti Airtel, etc. that were once mid-caps are today names to reckon with and are considered as large-cap, bluechip companies.

The investment universe for MFs has just gotten bigger. As regards to a modest size of companies available at the hands of your fund manager, say 10 years ago, today companies across market capitalisation, including established mid-caps, command as much attention from equity funds, as large-cap companies. Add to that to their growth potential – mid and small-cap scrips are generally not targeted by analysts and MFs in their initial years, but when discovered tend to register bigger gains than established companies – and it’s no wonder that even diversified equity funds want a pie of them, in addition to mid-cap funds.

…but stagnant definitions
Unfortunately, your diversified equity fund therefore still keeps harping on diversification that largely revolves around the number of scrips and sectors, but keeps mum on market capitalisation in its offer document. Technically, your fund is still said to be diversified even if it invests around 60-80 per cent of its corpus in mid-cap scrips, so long as it is has a sizeable number of scrips and sectors.

So are MFs wrong?
Theoretically, they are not. MFs are bound by their offer documents and can stretch their horizon as much as their offer documents allow them to. Most diversified equity funds phrase their objective in such a way that makes them mandatory to diversify across sectors and scrips, but rarely talks about market capitalisation of potential investments.

Most MFs don’t think that to be a problem. “Sebi mandates MFs to abide by their offer documents and treat them as the Bible. So as long as the offer document gives the leeway to the scheme, irrespective of whether the objective is loosely or tightly defined, it’s okay for schemes to skew their portfolios towards mid-caps”, says T. P. Raman, managing director, Sundaram BNP Paribas MF. Adds Krishnamurthy Vijayan, CEO, JP Morgan MF: “If a diversified equity fund goes heavy into mid-caps, you can’t fault him. In spirit though, it will not be advisable.” Industry sources say that if a fund manager has expertise in picking up stocks from a particular domain, his trustees may give him a larger leeway to play around in that domain, across all his funds, in one way or another.

Silent regulation
Sebi guidelines say that MFs must invest at least 65 per cent of its corpus in assets in tune with its objectives. This means an equity fund and a debt fund must invest at least 65 per cent of its assets in equities and debt, respectively. It is silent on other aspects in diversification. Internationally too, the US MF regulator Securities and Exchange Commission also doesn’t specify the market cap limit that diversified equity funds must work within. Further, says Sanjay Prakash, CEO HSBC MF: “One fund manager’s large-cap can be another manager’s mid-cap.” Prakash, though, feels that a standardised and flexible definition of various market caps would do well.

What should you do?
There isn’t a simple answer to this. As far as mid-cap funds are concerned, it’s easier look into the offer document as to what construes mid-cap scrips according to the fund. Or, say, a large-cap fund that explicitly says so, like Franklin India Bluechip and SBI Bluechip Funds. Or even some flexi-cap, multi-cap or ‘opportunity’ funds that at least claim in their offer documents to be go-anywhere schemes.

But if it’s a diversified equity fund, there’s little assurance that your fund manager would keep largely to large-caps and not sway into mid and small caps, especially in rising markets. It’s only when equity markets turn exceedingly volatile or start a downward trend that diversified equity funds titled heavily towards mid-caps would suffer. Stick with MFs that come with a long-term track record and watch out for consistent performance.

Playing the NFO game once again

MFs rush to launch multiple infrastructure funds with negligible differences

Can a mutual fund (MF) launch a new scheme with identical theme to an existing one? MFs say they can, provided one is open-ended and the other is closed-end. Despite its heavily-advertised and successfully existing open-ended UTI Infrastructure Fund (UIF), UTI MF has launched another infrastructure fund, UTI Infrastructure Advantage Fund – Series I (UIAF) that is closed-end, whose new fund offer (NFO) closes on 19th December.

Old wine in new bottle
Fund manager Sanjay Dongre told us that since UIAF is a closed-end scheme, it can invest significantly in mid-caps and remain invested, as closed-end funds do not see much redemption like open-ended ones. This is a frequently-used argument of MFs to launch closed-end schemes, but do closed-end funds deliver? UTI Equity Tax Savings Plan, an open-ended tax-savings fund but with a three-year lock-in, returned 39.5 per cent in the past three years underperforming the benchmark and category average by six and four percentage points, respectively. Additionally, it also underperformed the category average of open-ended diversified equity funds by eight percentage points.

Cashing in
As against 2.25 per cent entry load that open-ended funds charge, closed-end funds can spend more as they charge as much as six per cent as NFO expenses. To make matters worse, UIAF’s name suggests that it could well be a series of infrastructure funds.

Tata MF has jumped on the infrastructure bandwagon, too. Despite a successful existing infrastructure fund, it recently launched another infrastructure fund that would invest 65 per cent in Indian infrastructure equities and the rest abroad. And now it has filed a draft prospectus of yet another infrastructure fund; targeting emerging economies, including India.

AMFI Guideline in the Dustbin

An NOC is still required to change agents despite an Amfi guideline that says it is not

On the heels of a story published in Outlook Money that highlighted mutual fund (MF) investors’ plight in shifting agents, on account of a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) requirement from the original agent (‘Consolidate Your Fund Folios’; 15 August 2007), and investor complaints alike, the Association of Mutual Funds of India (Amfi) issued a circular to all MFs on 5th September advising them to avoid asking for NOCs. Unfortunately, quite a few MFs have chosen to ignore the advice and still insist on an NOC.

Sticky trail
At the root of the problem is the trail commission that agents get. Also known as loyalty commission, MFs pay around 0.35 to 0.50 per cent of the prevailing investment value to the agents - in addition to the 2.25 per cent entry load at the time of initial investment – for as long as the investor stays invested.

MF sources told us that as soon as Amfi issued this directive, few unscrupulous agents started luring away investors of other agents on the premise of giving them some cash incentives and gifts. Not only do these new agents stand to grow in size and strength by acquiring new assets, they also start earning trail commission on investments acquired by someone else.

This is similar to the incentives or pass-back commission that agents used to pay investors earlier to attract inflows; a practice banned by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi). Sources also told us that a Surat-based MF agent was at helm of this practice.

Alarmed by this misuse, other agents have reportedly threatened MFs to withdraw their investor-base, en-masse, if MFs allow agent-swapping without an NOC. Adds Debashish Mohanty, head-retail sales, UTI mutual fund and one of the MFs that still insist on an NOC: “Large and corporate agents with financial and operational muscle could stand to unfairly gain at the expense of the smaller agents.”

Caught in the middle
But what if you are simply unhappy with your agent’s service standards and decide to switch agents? Should he then continue to earn on your investments despite you taking your business elsewhere? Mohanty, as well as a section of the industry, feels that investors have no right in deciding who gets the trail commission. “The trail commission is an agreement between the MF and the agent. Investors are never taken into confidence about it and are not even told upfront about it.”

Counters financial planner Lovaii Navlakhi: “If the agent-investor relationship involves the former servicing the latter like recommending and explaining schemes, help change the address/bank accounts when required, ensure direct credit of dividends, etc., then there is absolutely no justification for the previous agent to continue earning trail fee on the investment which was brought in by them, but which they have long forgotten to service. It is the investor's money after all, and how do the AMC and the distributor get to decide on a subject like this?”

It’s Amfi, not Sebi
The moot cause why the Amfi directive is not taken seriously is because it is merely an advice and not a law. On the contrary, Amfi chairman A.P. Kurian was in a denial mood. “Except for a handful few, all other MFs are following. The ones that aren’t, will need to explain their actions”. However, for it to become a law, Sebi needs to issue this directive that would make it binding on all MFs to follow it. An Amfi directive is not binding on MFs, as Amfi is not a regulator, but merely a trade body.

And in order to discourage illegal investor acquisition, perhaps Sebi could also bar MFs to pay the trail commission to the new agent on the acquired business, so that unscrupulous agents are stripped of any incentive to unfairly snatch their peers’ assets. This is one more reason why Sebi should expedite its investment advisor guidelines, make them more robust and ensure that best practices are adhered to by all parties.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

News Channels I like

I am not an avid reader, I do not bury my head in books for hours and hours like some people I know. Except Harry Potter, Busybee and some on financial topics, I do not read books. But I read lots of newspapers, magazines and watch a lot of news on TV.

I watch only English new channels. Mainly because there is only one Hindi news channel on Indian television, NDTV India. Other Hindi channels that call themselves news channels, are not news channels to me; they are variety entertainment channels during the day and adult entertainment channels after 9 pm. Nothing wrong about it, but I think it would do us all good if they stop calling themselves news channels instead of what they truly are. Especially Rajat Sharma, who time and again, asserts on India TV that this is what the public wants to see and so they're showing it. But this piece is not about what I do not like. It is about the channels I like and watch.

My favourite channel is CNN-IBN. Starting from its editor, Rajdeep Sardesai, who may times presents the 9.00 news, raring to go and concerned with all the news there is to be presented, head nodding, his right hand carefully placed over his left hand and eager to present even the minutest of news in a way as if it will shake up the entire nation. But then, that's his passion. He was earlier with NDTV with Prannoy Roy, but later drifted apart and started his own news channel. Son of a cricketer and retired sociology professor St. Xavier's college, Sardesai is one of my favourite anchors. He started 'The Big Fight' on NDTV and took it to dizzying heights when it was almost compulsory to watch it.

Three panelists would fight it out with the audience watching and Sardesai closely monitoring them, grilling, and many times fingering, them. But he would ask the most important questions and compel the panelists to come clean on a variety of issues. He was and still is the master of debates. He asks pertinent questions to the speakers, antagonises them, allows them to clarify without hijacking the debate and then goes shoots at the next person surprisingly without sounding rude. I do not like the current host Vikram Chandra. He is a better newsreader than a moderator. I feel he is too soft and does not 'attack' the panelists. As a fellow journalist, I feel we should always analyse issues and people, critically, not to be rude or insulting to them, but be ready and open to ask them tough questions. Because the reader / viewer needs answers. And answers, they must get. I do not watch 'The Big Fight' anymore.

Overall, CNN-IBN is a good news channel. Their coverage is good, their news-reporters are better than the rest and they are crisp and clear. More so, I like the fact that their 9 pm news stretches for an hour, despite a short sports and entertainment capsule thrown in. One good quality is also the consistent quality of all newsreaders.

If not CNN-IBN, I watch NDTV 24/7. Their coverage is good, newsreaders vary from good to average. Besides, they have strongly taken up causes as and when they and citizens have felt that injustice had been meted out, like the three murder cases of Jessica Lal, Priyadarshani Mattoo and Nitish Katara and also reservations in educational institutions for OBCs and the subsequent brutal crack-down on peaceful protests by innocent students. Through their persistent coverage, they put pressure on the authorities, got these cases re-opened and saw through the conviction of two of three murder cases. This is what the news channel should stand up for. These are rare and extremely potent powers that if mis-used could have disastrous consequences in a democracy, but if used well, like NDTV did, could make a big difference.

However, they have lost some charm ever since CNN-IBN came. NDTV's newsreaders I find them too soft. Sometimes they are so soft, I have to increase my TV volume. Except Barkha Dutt ("I'm calling from a bunker"). Prannoy Roy, head NDTV, is the best of the lot. Though I now feel Sardesai has overtaken him. But Roy is clearly one of the best English newsreaders Indian TV has ever seen. He reads out news to you as if he's talking to you. It's more of story-telling than news reading. When he reads news, you feel like he wants to tell you news and not someone who is just doing his job for a salary. His legendary 'The World This Week', every Friday night at 10 on DD was a must-must on our schedule. News and events from around the world were told in free-wheeling one hour that negated the need to have several world news channels of today. Though now I feel Roy has taken his style a bit far and isn't as magical as he used to be. Two programs on NDTV 24/7 that I still like are 'We The People' by Barkha Dutt and some car & bike show that I feel is still the best of the lot on TV.

I do not much watch Times Now, though I used to watch it when it started. And it showed a lot of promise at that time. Unfortunately, they couldn't hold my interest. Their editor Arnab Goswami is over-excited about everything. Times Now is loud and sounds unnecessarily excited about every little news item. Goswami tried to be tough in his weekly interview program called 'Frankly Speaking' like Tim Sebastian of BBC Hardtalk, but couldn't succeed. This is my personal opinion. Though he amused me initially when he used to grill several interviewees. "Look into my eye and tell me you didn't want to become a home minister", he once asked Mani Shankar Aiyar. Besides, Times Now is very inclined to sport, especially cricket. Their sports coverage is skewed towards cricket; this I don't like.

I do not watch foreign channels like CNN and BBC. All they report or like to report is of terrorism activities in third world countries like Kosovo, Iraq, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the works. There are hardly any positive developments they report. You would fall into depression and loose faith in mankind if you watch these channels for days and days. You don't watch them for news anymore, you watch them only to know the world's weather. Perhaps a bit of sports on CNN and occasionally Hardtalk on BBC.

I do not much watch business channels, because I deal with the kind of news daily at work, so I can't digest it anymore once I get home. But between NDTV Profit and CNBC, i prefer the latter. Like their general news channel. NDTV Profit is soft and dull.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Afternoon is back, but...

One of Bombay's oldest and most well-known newspapers, The Afternoon is back.

On September 26, 2007, the newspaper closed down in the midst of an ugly battle between Farzana Contractor, wife of the late founding editor Behram Contractor and the single largest shareholder Mr Kamal Morarka. I do not know exactly what happened though I feel bad for Farzana because she and her late husband, who was fondly called Busybee, started this paper, when Behram and 30 people quit Mid-Day where Behram was the editor at that time, to start a new newspaper. Some people say it's a real-estate play, i.e. the building 'The Afternoon House' is what some moneybags are after. But who knows the truth, except GOD.

The Afternoon was a very insipid newspaper, especially as compared to its more illustrious competitor, Mid-Day, ironically founded by Behram himself years ago. Not that Mid-Day's quality was inspiring, it was and still is a very gossipy newspaper, oops...sorry tabloid, whose one of the sole purposes is to titilate the readers. But then, that's what a tabloid is supposed to. I have not tracked and read the Afternoon for many years, but I used to occasionally pick up a copy here and there since 2005. Coincidentally, Behram had passed away in 2001, so I don't know whether the quality slipped after that.The paper quality was very bad, it looked dirty and the print would come off it and stick on your palms. The stories were not in-depth; infact there were very few stories to begin with. What made Afternoon still, a must-read newspaper? The 'Round and About' columns written by Behram. One of the longest-running columns in the world (I read somewhere it was supposed to have been submitted to the Guiness Book of World Records), Behram Contractor used to write on a variety of issues with gutso and passion, quite unlike anyone. It was unparalled chronicling of life and times in Bombay, amongst many other things. As Vinod Mehta, editor-in-chief, Outlook group of publications had once said, Behram was not a humorist of the the ha-ha-hee-hee variety. But he used his humour in devastating effect. Often people would laugh for five minutes after reading his pieces. Good humorists make you laugh; great humorists make you laugh and think. In his memory, every year since Behram passed away, Farzana released compilations of his columns year-wise. There are several books that have come out till now; save one I have all of them. I am a huge fan of Busybee and find inspiration in his writing, both as a journalist and a reader.

Few other columns in the Afternoon, notably by Mr Pramod Navalkar, were one of my favourites. I am happy to see the paper back again on the stands. The paper's masthead says that Morarka is the chairman of the Board of Directors and one A.K. Kanangi is the associate editor. I have never heard of Kanangi. There is no sign of a managing editor or the editor. An associate editor would come after the managing editor in the usual scheme of things, but then i do not what the rules are at the new Afternoon are. The new paper looks a bit better in quality, i notice more number of stories in the new version that the older versions. I will wait and see how the paper shapes up.

One other departure from the old Afternoon is the absence of the 'Round and About' column on the last page. Instead, a hackneyed interview of Shah Rukh Khan and an almost full-page phot with his six-pack. I hope there aren't any more six-pack SRK pictures that we have to put up with, now that Om Shanti Om is already released, seen, appreciated, criticized and, you know, basically, done away with. It's a shame. Even though Morarka fell out with Farzana, at least he should have kept (reproduced) the Busybee column on the last page, due to which the paper earned a lot of acceptance and respectibility.

Two things that disturbs me. Firstly, Farzana's name does not appear anywhere on the masthead, so I gather she is not a part of the Afternoon anymore. What a pity. And secondly, they have shifted to a new address at Janmabhoomi Bhavan at Janmabhoomi Marg. The Afternoon house does not find a mention, which looks fishy and one wonders whether there was any truth behind the rumours that had caused the spat in the newspaper, in the first place.

Witness for a witness!

In order to submit an acknowledgement to receive LIC pension every year, the pensioner must fill a form - an undertaking, that he is alive and therefore eligible to receive the pension. So for the pension to be received in, say 2008, the pensioner is supposed to sign an undertaking any one of these days (end of 2007).

On the form, the pensioner is supposed to sign that he has received the amount for the coming year (strangely, this amount will come to him only next year after he submits this form, duly filled). A witness signature is required to support the pensioner's claim of receipt of the money. Then, a witness is supposed to sign and verify that the pensionner is indeed alive.

You wouldn't believe what comes next. This witness signature's must be attested by another witness, to ensure that the first witness is genuine. It has been 60 years since India gained independance, but our administration's obsession about papers, witnesses, signatures and the works has not gone down. I can make my peace with one witness signature. But why do we need a second witness to verify the first witness? Where does it stop?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Udwada and Navsari - Day 2; November 26, 2007

Mornings in Gujarat are cold these early winter days, as also late evenings and nights. So it was difficult to wake up at 6.30 am, yet schedule is sacrosanct. An early bath after having the morning cup of tea, set us up for a breakfast. This was the only minus point at Jamshed Baug. It's breakfast is very inadequate; no sev, rava, bread butter toast and jam. Only eggs (fried, scrambled or omelette, the choice is yours) and a cup of tea. That is not enough. Unfortunately, I was hungry after eating two fried eggs and tea. But the stay otherwise was very pleasant and the place was very clean and comfortable, so I do not hold anything against Jamshed Baug. Yes, I would stay here again.

Soon, we checked out and were in the rickshaw winding through the narrow and dusty streets of Navsari, on our way to Navsari Atash Behram. Navsari still looks the same as it did 20 years back. I feel it will look the same after 100 years too. I have spent many a childhood vacation here as my grandparents spent 25 years here, after they migrated to India from East Africa. May, Diwali and Christmas vacations during school days were spent in Navsari.
The city, though inhabited by Gujurati millionaires, paints a sorry picture. It looks like the development of the state of Gujarat decided to skip Navsari.

The place is still very dusty, narrow and dirty roads that are used by ever-increasing two-wheelers and cars, as also equally by cattle, goats and dogs. It must be a nigthmare driving through Navsari. Despite being a large city with a population of roughly 1,34,009, as far as I am concerned there is only one main road that runs through the city. All other roads would be lanes and bylanes. Except from new buildings that have come up across the city and beyond, there is no development that can be seen. Most of the buildings in the main city are built in very haphazard way and look ugly. Quite a lot of them do not even have proper paint on them; you can see only bricks.

Lines and lines of wires hang in mid-air, everywhere. Roads have uneven widths; sometimes broad, then suddenly becoming narrow. No traffic discipline; I did not spot a traffic signal, let alone a working one. Exactly as it was during my childhood days and exactly the way it will remain in my children's childhood also. Public transport is a mess with only rickshaws present. Infact with the number of cars and 2-wheelers gone up and with no road-widening happening or even possible or even flyovers, the government decided to withdraw the intra-city bus service (like Bombay's BEST and Delhi's Blueline buses). So, instead of taking step forward, the city I'm afraid, has taken two steps backwards.

What a pity. Because Navsari used to be my second home. I have so many fond memories that if I were a photographer, I'd have albums and albums chronicling the wonderful days of childhood spent here. Laskariwad, Tarota Bajar, Lunsikui, Rachna Apartments, Chaar pool, Dudhia Talao, Tower, E.F. kolah's gaajar-mewa pickle, Kolah's yummy ice-cream and lemom and soda, my granny Jalamai and grandpa Jalejar, Tehmi massi, Pila massi, Macca mami, Behram mama, Armaity, Nargis peck-peck, and much more.

The place was one of the early destinations of Parsi - Zoroastrian settlement in India and Gujarat. The 'Grand Old Man of India', Dadabhai Naoroji and Jamshetji Tata, founder of the Tata group of companies were born here. Hutoxi's husband Kerman told me that today there are around 2,000 Parsis left in Navsari, more than the number (around 1,500) in Surat. Still, Navsari has held, still holds and will always hold a very special place in my heart. I wish nothing but the best for the place.

So we land up at the Navsari Atash-Behram, an awesome building that captivates you as soon as you are in front of it. The beautiful garden in its compound, unfortunately, wasn't well-kept unlike olden days. But the temple was under renovation. I prayed there for around 45 minutes, then visited the small Agiary opposite. After that, I took a small sentimental stroll in the neighbourhood where my grand-parents' home was there. That house is still there though the walls seemed to have been done up. Saw Dina-Shirin's deserted mansion also, as also some other houses and the Mohalla, all of which bore an eery silence, quite unlike its heydays when the place was buzzing with hyper-activity, children playing cricket, the ice-cream-stall-on-wheels that used to pass by every evening and when I used to beg mom to buy me a chocolate ice-cream, thrice a week.

So after a hectic schedule, I was back at the Navsari station to catch the Gujarat Express. As my train left and picked up speed, I thought I had left behind a small piece of my heart. If only I could turn my clock behind - 20 years approximately - and play a game cricket with my friends of those days of that place, outside granny's house at Laskariwad....

(Seen in pictures: Navsari Atash Behram)

Udwada and Navsari - Day 1; November 25, 2007

A trip to Udwada and Navsari Atash Behram (there are eight such places of worship in Zorastrian religion; the highest in the hierarchy of Zorastrian Fire Temples) is always looked forward to, so when the Divine call comes, I pack my suitcase and rush to Bombay Central in time to catch the Gujarat Express at 6.45 am, like I did today, with Mamu (my neighbour Pheroze Bhathena, 79). The train was on time and by 10.00 or so we checked into a hotel there.

A sumptuous and delicious breakfast greeted us. Besides the magnificent Atash Behram, Udwada is also known for good food. The food, though, in most of the hotels is quite good. Unfortunately, the two most popular Parsi breakfast items Rava (better known as Sheera or Rava Kesari and made with Suji, milk and sugar) and Sev (fried vermicelli cooked in sugar syrup and sprinkled with raisins and lot of almond slivers) were not there at the place we went. But fried eggs, bread butter and jam, and hot tea were served. Stomach worship done, it was time for GOD's worship.

The Atash Behram is getting renovated, so I prayed in the adjoining building, home of the smaller of two Fires. The place was as serene and beautiful as ever (which place of worship isn't!), though crowded than usual as it was a Sunday. One good thing that Mamu, I and my cousins who we later met that day in Navsari, were discussing that these days we are seeing a lot of young crowd coming back to the Fire-temples, especially in Bombay. This is a reversal of trend of happening when the last decade was seeing most youngsters drifting away. Not that that was wrong, so long as you practice Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds - also, the tenets of Zorastrian religion. But it sure is nice to see so many young boys and girls praying diligently in the Temples.

Soon, it was lunch time. After a heavy breakfast, I thought I would not be ready for an early lunch - since we had to catch the afternoon train to proceed to Navsari - but the aroma of Dhansakh being cooked in the hotel's kitchen changed my mind. I had the fried mullet fish - Parsis call it Boi, Chicken with gravy and mutton dhansakh; no mutton, only chicken for me. To say it was tasty would be an understatement. I felt like I could just take a nap there after lunch. It's always a pleasure to have food in Udwada; i think partly it tastes much better than in Bombay, because in Udwada they cook food on charcoal stoves instead of cooking gas.

Udwada is also famous for toddy - fermented juice taken out from palm trees. (Alcohol is banned in Gujarat.) The juice taken out is fermented in the sun to get the intoxicating quality. This, when you drink, gives you a kick like alcohol. It is also supposed to be healthy when pure and original. After you drink, you either vomit the whole thing or pass it off as loose motions; it cleanses your inside system. I find this disgusting, and I also do not like its smell, so I do not drink toddy. Those very close to me would know that right from childhood, the food's aroma or its presentability would decide whether I like the dish or not. Unlike others who first taste and then ascertain, I go by the aroma and the looks of the dish. Sounds stupid, but everyone is allowed to have some stupid thing; more so if you are Parsi. This is mine.

I am teetotaller. Actually, I am not; I just like this word and like being associated with it. But I am not a social drinker either. I do not drink at all social occasions, but do so only when I am in the mood. At Parsi weddings and navjotes, as soon as the bar opens, there's a long queue. My cousins/relatives sitting next to me, would ask me, "Kayezad, what will you drink?" "Nothing", I say immediately. "Have something ne, wine or beer perhaps", he/she would insist. "No".
"Take, take. Don't feel shy. Once you get a glass, soon you will also get a girl". "No", I would persist, refusing much like the brave king who succeeded in guarding his fortress from enemies, whilst others guarding thiers', fell by the wayside like falling pins. But I do occasionally have wine or beer. My problem is that due to a rare drink here or there, my capacity is very low. I feel high after just a half a glass of beer, and I fear about embarrassing myself in front of others. My office colleagues can gulp down bottles and bottles of beer like I can have water after coming home from hot sun. Rajesh Gajra at Starters & More, anyone?

We caught the afternoon train to Navsari. Though we went by First Class, it was crowded with people, especially ladies and children holding second class tickets. No ticket checkers throughout the journey. Discipline is a rarity in Gujarat whether you travel by road or rail. We had difficulty in getting down at Navsari, especially Mamu since he is old and has a stick, thanks to one stupid woman who just wouldn't let people to alight first.

Anyways, 10 minutes and Rs 25 later, we were at Jamshed Baug - a rest house or dharamshala at Char Pool (literally translated as four lakes, though there's none nearby) for Parsi travellers. The place was done-up three years back and it now looks like a 3-star hotel. Spotless clean, large and spacious rooms and well-lit up and very airy, Jamshed Baug was very welcoming. Much better than all Udwada hotels and apart from the Delhi Dharamshala, this is the best parsi Dharamshala that I've been to, so far. Thanks also to its very efficient and ever-smiling manager, Ms Niloufer Mandviwala and her hard-working staff.

Later in the evening, we went to my cousin Hutoxi's house. Hutoxi is Kashmira's sister. Like Kashmira, Hutu's cooking is great. Both sisters are teachers and do a great job at managing their hectic and demanding jobs, students, as well as their home and family affairs. GOD bless them. Boi fish yet again, but gladly, and potato & chicken with paper chapattis you can't keep a track of when eating, rounded off with yummy cornflower dessert was served with lots of good hospitality. I can't ask for a better dinner when away from home. Now I am told Hutu's younger son Hanosh who is studying catering at the Taj Aurungabad institute is also doing well and is well on his way to becoming a great chef. He prepares yummy chocolate mousse. For those of you who do not know, if you want to seduce me, give me chocolate mousse!

End of a tiring, yet very profitable day. Nothing compares to a visit to the Udwada Atash-Behram. Yatha Ahu Vairyo!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Toy bus by BEST

I welcome any legal and legible competition to the black and yellow (BY) taxis of Mumbai. Though there are honest and sincere taxi-drivers still left in this profession, I'm afraid they are now dwarfed by those who are corrupt, rude and insist on ferrying only long-distance passengers. The BY taxis that stand at Nariman Point are a classic example. They do not mind standing in the queue for hours, but would not take any passengers before Worli, on an average.

Enter the mini-bus from BEST. This is the latest innovation from BEST. These mini buses have been popular so far in suburbs around crowded station areas otherwise inhospitable for regular BEST buses to turn and maneuver. But now BEST is keen to bring them to downtown; they recently started one such service (route No 100) between Nariman Point and Churchgate. Thanks to all illegal encroachments like food stalls and BY taxis that are parked throughout the day there in numbers exceeding the permissible limit, only mini BEST buses can go there.

Historically, this turf was monopolised by the BY share-a-taxis that ply between these two areas ferrying hundreds of working professionals from Churchgate railway station and the business district of Nariman Point. This is a very good and useful service and I have used it several times.

You get inside the taxi, four passengers per a Fiat Padmini that is such bad condition that you literally sink in the cab the moment you are in, the lady passenger always sits in the front especially if there is one lady passenger and others are gentlemen, you don't talk to the driver and he doesn't talk to you, you are always in a hurry to handover your fare (Rs 4.50) that you can't even wait till you arrive at your destination - you just stretch out your hand with the money in your palm whenever the taxi slows down or stops at the signal, on reaching Churchgate you quickly get off, slam the taxi door and rush to the station to catch the 6.57 back home.

There's only one problem. The drivers are very rash. The taxis may look to be in poor condition, but they are made to run like a Ferrari. That is why the BEST mini bus is a welcome change. The bus comes from Churchgate onto FPJ marg, goes all the way to the end then takes a U-Turn and goes back to Churchgate.

The best part is that, in Nariman Point, it stops at anywhere someone stops it and wishes to get in. The conductor calls out to potential passengers; "Churchgate", "Churchgate". Like how Delhi bus conductors who yell and call out to people at the bus stops, even those who are walking past the bus-stop who do not remotely look like they want to catch a bus, to hop on! The BY share-a-cabs start only at the starting point. Though they drop you wherever you like, provided your destination falls in their path.

The mini bus looks like a toy. Actually, it looks like a child. It looks like the father double-decker bus and the mother single-decker bus gave birth to a child bus. On account of the same height and small size, the ride is a little bumpy because of the aerodynamics. The child bus seems to be taking its first steps out of its home!

Another benefit of this bus is the lower and standardised fare of Rs 4, as against the BY share-a-taxi that charges Rs 4.50 from nariman point to churchgate and Rs 5.50 from churchgate to nariman point. I am happy to see BEST innovating. As they say, Mumbai's transport system compares to the best in the world.

I Knew An Angel called Burjor Gae

Professor Burjor Gae, one of my most favourite teachers and human beings, passed away on November 23, 2007, at approximately 8.00 am. He was 98 years old and was born on 14th June. He was one of the finest souls that have inherited Mother Earth. He passed away quietly at his residence and I am glad for him that he did not suffer at this age. An excellent mathematics teacher, he taught me Maths (algebra/mathematics/geometry/probability and the entire works) in 1994 when I was in and then later in 1998 when I was preparing for my MBA entrance exam.

He was damm good at his job. So brilliant was he that despite having a very weak eyesight (he must've been 88 years at that time), he used to excel. He could not write much as he could not see properly. So he used to close his eyes, work out the entire equation in his mind and dictate me, step-by-step systematically, the entire solution. If a train of 100 metres was travelling at a speed of 120 kms per hour and if another train of 138 metres long cruising at 200 kms per hour were to overtake the first train, how long would it take the second train to overtake the first train?

He would close eyes, crunch the numbers in his mind, then after 15 seconds open his eyes and just look at me. That was his signal of job done. I would immediately start writing the solution down in my notebook. Words would start flowing, he would dictate the problem with such ease as if he was reading it word-by-word from an invisible notebook in front of him that only he could see! Not one mistake in his dictation. I have never known such a brilliant man. He coached me for almost eight months like this, before I got admission in my MBA school. Now seven years into my job, I look back and can't thank him enough for his contribution.

Burjor uncle was a very humble and simple man. This, I must tell you that he gave a lot of tuitions throughout his long and illustrious life, apart from being a college professor, but NEVER charged a single penny from any of his students. He studied and later became a professor at St Xavier's college, Bombay. He taught there for many, many years. Infact the Matriculation board paper (in those times, the tenth standard or SSC was known as Matriculation or Metric) of Maths in 1925 was set by him and till today is considered by many academicians as one of the toughest Maths papers for such an exam. He was man of simple means, devoid of all the vices that we humans are can be so full of. Although i believe that GOD resides in all of us (though many of us also choose to ignore Him), to many of us he was the GOD himself. Mother Earth and all of us were blessed with his presence.

Thank you Burjor uncle for being a part of my life and being my teacher. It was a rare honour and privilege to have known you and to be coached by you. I will be extremely grateful to you, something that I doubt will ever be able to repay you. I will always remember you. May your soul rest in peace.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Selective frisking at airports?

As per a recent report on CNN IBN news channel, a select list of 24 people that the Central Government thinks as VVIPs, are exempted from being frisked at Indian airports. The peculiar aspect of this list - and something that has irked many citizens of India - is that the chiefs of the three defence forces, i.e. navy, army and air-force, are EXCLUDED. In simple words, the three chiefs, who are primarily responsible for the security of our country and citizens, will continue to be frisked at the airport. The list of 24 people, as per the news report, include the President, Vice-President Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and Mr. Robert Vadera, Congress chief Ms Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law.

One wonders what the son-in-law has done for the country that has apparently earned a rare privilege, and therefore more respect, that those that have shed their own blood to protect the country from terror. And the cabinet ministers whose background, the Government thinks, is so pure enough to earn this privilege than even those who have fought enemies and GOD knows what else, on battlefields on treacherous and punishing terrains.

The report quotes a government official claiming that if the privilege is extended to the chiefs of the three defence forces, similar requests can come from other quarters. Well, I too am an honest and a sincere citizen of this country. Why am I not given this privilege? And I am sure there are thousands of Indian citizens that do not pose a security threat. Sounds bizarre, doesn't it?

Ideally, everyone except the President of this country, should be frisked. I am not saying that others on that 24-people list pose a security threat. But it is an unnecessary privilege that gives rise to injustice. I do not think that the chiefs of defence forces pose a security threat either. Rather, it's the opposite. In the need of the hour, our defence forces are the first ones to sacrifice their lives to protect us. On the other hand, I too do not pose a security threat, but am still subject to frisking. So where does all this stop?

The simple solution is to eradicate this privilege. Except the President, subject each and every passenger at the airport, irrespective of who he or she is, to security checks. Not for any other reason, but to accord equal status to all and one.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Lotus MF launches India’s first quant mutual fund scheme

If you do not trust the abilities of a fund manager to consistently pick winning stocks, perhaps you would trust a computer to do the same. That’s what quantitative – or quant funds worldwide do – instead of allowing their fund managers to do stock-picking, they pick stocks based on a quantitative analysis by computer-based models. This is one of the growing breed of mutual funds (MF); in the US, the assets under management of quant funds are at $1.9 billion in 2007, up from $0.2 billion in 2003. Expect quant funds to slowly reach Indian shores as Lotus India MF has launched India’s first quant fund, called Lotus India Agile Fund (LIAF).

The formula
LIAF is an equity fund that will be passively managed and run purely on the basis of a mathematical formula devised by the fund house. For starters, it will consider only those scrips with a market capitalisation and floating stock equivalent to or more than the least market capitalisation and floating stock of Nifty index, respectively. Further, scrips must have a price history of at least one year and should belong to a sector whose scrips are present in Nifty.

Based on the stocks that the above filer will throw up, LIAF will pick up the top 11 stocks after running a formula. It will invest nine per cent in all these 11 scrips, in equal proportion, and the remaining one per cent in cash. In other words, LIAF will have only 11 scrips. As LIAF is an open-ended fund, any subsequent inflows will be equally distributed into these 11 stocks. LIAF will run the formula at the end of every month and rebalance its portfolio subsequently.

If the formula run in a particular month throws up a fresh list of stocks, different from the ones LIAF presently folds, LIAF will exit all its existing holdings and invest in the fresh list so generated. Lotus MF did not reveal the formula that would help pick these 11 stocks. “Revealing the formula would give away the scheme’s way of management, and that any other fund house could easily duplicate the scheme”, says Rajiv Shastri, Head-business development and strategic initiatives, Lotus MF.

Should you invest?
Unlike diversified equity funds, quant funds are passive. However, they are more active than index funds and try and generate returns in access of market returns by means of devising a smart formula that the fund hopes would work across market conditions. And therein lays the trick. Note that although the formulae are computer-based, they are devised by the fund management team and therefore do not completely eliminate the human element.

So, how do you analyse a quant scheme’s worth when it does not have a track record? Lotus back-tested this formula and ran a simulated scheme (based on the same selection criteria) from 1998 up to date. LIAF returned 26.31 per cent one-year rolling returns over a period of six years, as against Nifty’s 11.09 per cent, for the period ending September 30. It replicated its success over Nifty during the 2000 stock market crash and the subsequent lean period as well.

Having tasted success for the past 10 years gives us confidence that LIAF should do well over a long time. Invest.

Need to Do More

Sebi investment advisor guidelines are a necessary first step but inadequate

After suggesting a no-load option for direct mutual fund (MF) applications, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) issued a draft set of guidelines, in October, to govern investment advisors (IA). Mis-selling of financial products happens globally, but on account of a lack of the last mile guidelines in India, perhaps here it happens on a wider scale.

Outlook Money reader, C Rajay Kumar from Baroda and an MF investor for the past 20 years, wrote in to us saying that on a recent trip to a bank to submit his MF application form, the bank introduced him to one IA who Kumar claims knew nothing on existing schemes. Instead, she was hell-bent on “pushing” NFOs on flimsy grounds. Imagine if ill-informed advisers are present in droves in banks, what must be the quality of some 20,000 active Association of Mutual Funds of India (Amfi) qualified MF agents. Letters complaining about ill-informed advice reach us AT OUTLOOK MONEY almost daily.

The start…
Investors like these may have a ray of hope as Sebi has set on a long and tiring, yet important, journey of regulating investment advisors. For starters, it has defined an IA as someone who is engaged in the business of advising others on securities, either directly or through publications, writings, emails in return of a consideration, either cash or non-cash.

Media has been excluded, so any advice that you read in these pages or even on TV channels would be exempted. IAs should also disclose all the commissions and rewards that they will receive for selling a product. They should be a part of a Self-Regulatory Organisation (SRO) and can practice only if the IA has a certificate of registration that can be procured after applying to Sebi.

…is not enough
Although the guideline is just a first step, they are clearly insufficient and inadequate to efficiently govern agents. Like Sebi has exempted advice that appears in the media but falls short of differentiating people who dole them out – in-house or outside experts.

Does that mean that the scores of analysts we see on TV channels, recommending stocks, will be exempt? In 2006, Sebi had pulled up a technical analyst for giving recommendations that were inconsistent to his personal trading pattern. Currently, Sebi’s draft regulations might be misinterpreted and give a back-door entry to such unscrupulous analysts who might hide behind the garb of passing recommendations through the media.

Multiple products and regulators
The second issue is that of an SRO. Although the investment advisor is supposed to register under an SRO, currently there are no SROs in India, except the Bombay stock exchange and the national stock exchange. So, except stock brokers, no other form of investment advisors today - those that recommend other investment avenues like MFs, insurance, deposits, etc., make the cut. The Financial Planning Standards Board (FPSB) – the governing body of Certified Financial Planners – submitted its application to become an SRO a few weeks back. But non-CFP agents do not come under FPSB. Amongst these, the ones that sell MFs are registered with AMFI. But AMFI is merely a trade body - an association of MFs, it does not have the wherewithal to govern MFs or their agents. So, which SRO will govern them?

Further, although IAs employed in banks are required to AMFI and IRDA compliant when selling MFs and insurance, respectively; banks are regulated by the Reserve Bank of India.

Finally, who will govern insurance agents – currently the most notorious of the lot that lure investors to buy unit-linked insurance plans and then pocket the high commission of 30, sometimes 40 per cent as against 2.25 per cent that a MF earns them. Not only the definition of a “security” as specified under the Sebi Act - and to which the Sebi IA guidelines refer to - absolves insurance products, insurance advisors are governed by a separate regulator – Insurance Regulatory Authority of India (IRDA). Hence, Sebi IA guidelines currently do not cover insurance advisors.

Sebi would need to go back to the drawing board if it wants to walk the talk. Ultimately, all the three regulators must come together to tighten the laws and ensure that whichever product you buy from whatever type of agent, you are sold the right one.

A choppy ride

Online railway reservation's website down most of the times

What started out as one of the most promising and widely appreciated ventures by the Indian Railways, has turned out to be a damp squib. The website that facilitates passengers to book their tickets online,, does not work most of the times. Although the home page and a few other pages come up fast, I, invariably, get stuck at the page where I have to enter the station name and extract its relevant code, just before I proceed to select the chosen train I want to travel on and other relevant details. This has happened at several times and it's been a long time since I have seamlessly been able to book a ticket.

The Indian railways may have the intention to match the budget airlines and providing benefits of technological advances, to its passengers. But if the website does not function most of the times, what's the point in even trying? Don't the Indian railways know how many people use trains to travel from one point to another. An increasing fraction of this is bound to want to book its tickets on the internet. With internet slowly catching up, the internet traffic is bound to increase. Plus, the Indian railways started e-tickets last year. With a useless and a badly maintained website, its internet venture is already giving out red signals. Sad!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Teachers at Hindi Vidya Bhavan

Being a huge fan of the late Behram Contrator, the founding editor of Afternoon, I have read many of his legendary column, 'Round & About'. In one of them, he makes a poignant irony: that although teachers are our torch-bearers throughout our school and college days, give us education and make us capable of facing and surviving in this world, they would always remain in that one place, while their students would go places in thier lives. Like a teacher would still be at the bus-stop waiting for the bus, all throughout thier lives, while the child will grow in status and stuture and pass by in car. I found that to be very true, so I look back - the least I can do, and appreciate the teachers who have taught me and have a hand to make me who I am today. And while I am at it, let me also tell you about some of them who, unfortunately, I did not like.

I did my schooling (SSC)from Hindi Vidya Bhavan (HVB), Marine Drive, Mumbai. I passed out my school in 1992, so this post will be of teachers who have taught me.

On top of my list is Alzira D'Costa, my 4th std class teacher. In my school, teachers up to 4th std would teach us all subjects, while from 5th std onwards, they would teach thier specialised subjects across various classes. So D'Costa taught me all subjects in her class. She was an angel. Even though she used to shout at times to keep us in control, she had a heart. You could tell. Never the one to raise her hand on anyone. Just her voice was enough. The most striking part about her was that she was most systematic. She always had the right amount of chalks - a complete set of 10 coloured ones to differentiate various words that needed special attention from the rest of the notes she'd written on the board, was never out of a duster (some teachers used to make us run to fetch them dusters) and was very well organised. I like systematic people and those who are neatly organised. She used to engage everyone when she used to teach. Nobody had any incentive to not to pay attention to her. And even though D'Costa used to fill the entire black-board in our class, from one corner to another - and black-board at school were very wide, strecthing from one wall to another - you could still easily make sense out of everything she had written, and never get lot. Such was her system.

Zarine Patel is another favourite. In my 12 years at HVB (10+ 2 kindergarten years), she has not taught me a single subject. You'd wonder why she is on my list then? Because she was one of the most gentle of them all. All students, junior and seniors alike, used to call her "mummy". She was the one that came closest to our mothers; caring, always smiling, never the one who gets angry or hit us (well, mothers do, but they don't mean any harm) and always sympethetic to us. No teacher at HVB commanded that much respect, like she did. Even the notorious of all students would be on thier best behavior in front of her; such was her aura. Teachers like Patel do not come into our lives everyday; it was our priviledge to have known her in this life. I hear she is living with her sister in Jogeshwari, Mumbai and is now well into her retirement years, like most of the teachers of my time. I would like to meet her and D'Costa someday.

Mrs Raghavan, my chemistry teacher, I fondly remember. She passed away around a year or two back. I have the fondest memories of her and the very thought of her brings a smile on my face, even today. Actually my bad habit of not being able to control me laughter in her class, landed my in trouble one too many times with her. In terms of teaching, Raghavan was the worst. I never understood a word of chemistry she taught; perhaps this is the reason why Chemistry is one of the two worst subjects I feel I have ever studied. But she was very funny (strictly unintentionally). Her pronounciciation was damm hilarious and her 'T' was always silent. Her favourite word was "stupid" which she used to promounce as "tupid" ('S' silent). I used to try to control my laughing, she used to catch me and used to get me very angry. She used to make us maintain two books; classwork (CW) and homework (HW) books. Strangely, she used to make us take her notes in class in HW book, and make us do our homework in CW books. Why? Because she felt that when we are at home, we tend to open our HW books, so that way we would open her notes, when at home, and study!

Once, she was correcting our home-work notebooks. One smart-ass mate of mine wrote in my book on the front page "Elle est a grand fille" or something like that. That's french for "She is a fat woman". When she saw that and got it interpreted, she was ballistic and flung the book (in the most clumsiest of fashion that I can still close my eyes and play the scene exactly as it unfolded) at me and blasted me! May GOD bless her soul and I am glad that I knew her in this lifetime.

Mrs Freny Panthaki, my English and classteacher of Xth standard was the best English teacher I've come across. Although she was middle-aged at that time, she was very tall, had a well-maintained figure and had the grace and poise that would put even a Miss India to shame. She was also the head of Tagore house to which I belonged. The house started to do much better when she took charge of it. I will always look back at the times I spent with her, with fond memories.

From the best English teacher to the best Marathi teacher - Mrs Asha Wate. Surprisingly, I was better at my marathi than Hindi. And i think the credit should go to Wate. She was a passionate teacher, always teaching from the heart. Very clear and consise in teaching, even an idiot would understand what she taught; she was that good. I was one of her favourite students and she was my class-teacher in 6th standard, i think. Or was that 8th? Her assistent teacher, Mrs Namboori, taught me Maths briefly in 5th and 6th standards, and she was also very good.

The Dhage couple: One of the senior most teachers at HVB, they joined in 1964, a year after HVB started. Mr Dhage taught me Elocution while his wife Mrs Dhage taught me history, Civics and Geography. I am glad to say that I am still in touch with them. They came from humble beginnings and they still have not lost the simple way of life. They always took care of thier students, and like Wate, taught us from thier heart. Never the one to raise a finger on us and that is why ex-students like me still remember them with fond memories. Ditto for Mrs Singh (French), Mrs Baijal (our late Hindi teacher who had 11 fingers), Mr & Mrs Desai, Mr (late) Rane, Mr Venkatraman, Mrs Daruwala (Principal), Mrs Rajan, Mr Mishra.

So much for teachers that were kind. There was some unpleasent teachers also. Let me dwell into them.
My physics professor comes topmost on my mind. In all fairness, he was not at all great as a teacher. Infact he was a very ordinary one. Since he was the only Physics teacher at HVB in my times, there was no escaping him. He beleieved in capital punishment. He hit his students very hard, slapping and pinching them at will. Very disorganised, he used to command us to fetch him all sorts of things like chalks, dusters, etc. If those things were not on his table when he arrived, he would randomly pick students sitting on the front benches, like me, and start slapping them indiscriminately. I always hated this part, it was very scary sitting in his class, you never knew when he would hit you. I thought it gave him sadistic pleasure. He used to feel very happy when parents of some my colleguyes used to give him petty gifts like table-calenders, diaries, etc. In return, he was very kind to those students. In 1993, he was caught accepting a bribe and was thrown out of the school. Good riddance to heaped rubbish. I never respected him, I never will.

Another teacher who never earned the students' respect was a very senior ex-vice principal who taught me Geography. I am not saying this because she was strict. Even D'Costa and Mrs Dhage were strict. But what separated this smiling terminator from them, was that her strictness was very disrecpectful of students. She was unjust and biased in framing opinions against students - me included - without any justification. She often wore an artificial smile and when i saw Harry Potter-V, reminded me of her in Dolorius Umbridge of Hogwarts! Her teaching never rose beyond the ordinary, so students got no excuse to like her on account of her significant attitude problem.

The other two teachers who I would vaguely and hesitantly put in this list would be Miss Sharma and Mrs Chowdhary. Both these teachers were very good at thier subjects. They knew how to teach and put thier teachings across in a manner that the most duffer student would understand. Chowdhary was a Phd - I presume in Hindi since that was her subject- but I could be wrong about the subject. And Sharma was also very good at History and Geography. Their only fault, especially Sharmas', was that they used to spank a lot. We used to terrified of Sharma. Even thier appearances made them out to be stern. Sharma had a heavy built and looked menacing when angry; no wonder her slap used to terrorise even the most notorious of students, Chowdhary looked like a wicked saas in Ekta Kapoor's serials. Thankfully TV was not taken over by her in those days, but I can draw references now.

Anyways, no matter how good you are as a teacher, I object to capital punishment and believe that you would never figure at the top of your students list in years to come.

All in all, I am glad that I passed out from HVB. In hindsight, I would not have liked things to be any different. The best part of life is that the good as well as the not-so-good things teach you a lot and are responsible in shaping you. I will always be grateful to my teachers.

One-on-ones OR press conferences for all?

Press conferences repeatedly hijacked by TV channels

This is a question I find myself asking time and again when I land up at press conferences (PC) of mutual fund (MF) houses. Let me explain.

MFs usually invite media people from newspapers, magazines as well as TV for their PCs when they launch a new product or make an announcement. The usual practice is that the PC opens with a welcome note, big talks about their MF being one of the best, smartest, and how they do not launch many NFOs unlike everyone else (what bull!), etc etc. Then follows a presentation. After the PC, there is a brief Q&A session lasting about 10 minutes, followed by either lunch, dinner or high-tea, depending on the time of the PC.

I usually wait for the Q&A to get over and then go over to them to ask them questions. I prefer exclusivity of the answers to my questions. However, MFs have a bad habit. In an attempt to get that extra publicity, they go in for a series of one-on-one interviews, AFTER the PC & Q&A are over, with various TV channels present there. The TV channel cordons off the area surrounding the MF official and the interviewer so that press journalists cannot go there. As many TV channels are present there, that many MF officials get cornered. As a result, print journalists, like me, end up twiddling our thumbs starring at walls and large banquet rooms or worse, speaking to the PR people who wouldn't have much idea about the product (though that's not their fault).

I attended three PCs - two today (Franklin Templeton launching thier Asia equity fund, ICICI Prudential MF launching their real estate securities fund, and one yesterday (Sundaram BNP Paribas launching thier Energy thematic equity fund). Almost all prominent business channels had come too. Now, in Sundaram's PC, there were three fund officials who represented the MF; Ramkumar K, Debasish Chatterjee, and S Krishnakumar. Soon after the PC got over and the formality of exchanges visiting cards had just begun, when two of the above three were hijacked by TV channels. Even in Templeton's PC, their ever-reclusive fund manager R. Sukumar, who by the way NEVER speaks to the print journalists over telephone, was also unavailable to print journalists soon after the PC got over, but was all over the TV channels. He didn't even exchange his own visiting cards, he had his public relations person do that with us because apparently a TV channel was waiting for him to get ready.

I object to this practice. Agreed that sometimes TV channels have a slot in a show that is going to be telecasted minutes after that PC gets over, hence the need to go LIVE. MFs take this opportunity as they get to go LIVE on TV, as soon as the PC is over and the new product gets officially unveiled. But, if they are interested in going LIVE on TV, why call print journalists to the PC at all in the first place? Don't we have a right to seek answers from fund managers and the company? Are PCs meant only for TV channels? Pretty ladies from business TV channels walk up right to the CEO or fund manager at the dais, soon after the PC gets over and the informal interaction between MFs and media gets underway, and shamelessly seduce and lure them away to desolate corners of the banquet rooms to interview them on TV, while print journalists keep looking on.

It is high time that MFs stop this nonsense. Either call all journalists (print and TV) for a PC THAT IS OPEN TO ALL, or have just individual meetings with each publication if you want magazines and newspapers to cover your products. Please do not call everyone at your PCs and then choose to talk selectively. It's a waste of our time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mobile number portability is finally here

If you have felt let down or under-serviced by your mobile phone operator but haven't switched to a new one because you could loose your mobile number, help will soon come to you. The Department of Telecommunications has mandated number portability among mobile phone operators in India, to be first introduced in the four metros, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, by fourth quarter of 2008. In simple words, you will now be able to change your mobile operator and at the same time retain your old mobile phone number. No more contacting all your friends, family, relations, business / work associates to inform them about your new phone number.

As expected, the move was delayed on account of the opposition coming from GSM players. Popular GSM players in India are Vodafone and Airtel, among many others. They fear losing lakhs of subscribers to new and upcoming players, especially CDMA players like Reliance. However, justice seems to be prevailed and the customer will finally start to benefit.

Of late, thousands of users like me have observed a drop in service quality of few of these GSM players. I have been using Vodafone (erstwhile Hutch) for over six years. Of late, connectivity and even its quality is a major problem. I get inside buildings and the connectivity reduces; i can't hear the other person talking. Airtel was fined in January in 2007 because of unsolicited calls. My neighbour uses Airtel and he too is unhappy with its service. It keeps sending him spam messages.

Number portability would force errant mobile phone operators to pull up their socks and ensure that they do not take their customers for granted.

I only wish that number portability should eventually enable customers to not only switch between mobile operators, but also among fixed line services and between fixed and mobile phone operators.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Om Shanti Om - entertaining

Amongst the two most over-hyped films of the year so far (Saawariya & OSO), at least OSO delivers. After watching Saawariya yesterday and left thoroughly disgusted by the experience, I didn't expect much from OSO. But despite having to wait outside the cinema hall for half hour and finally got extra tickets (not black tickets; extra tickets are bought by genuine patrons who happen to have extra tickets because of no-show or last minute cancellations by their friends/relatives, etc), it was worth the wait.

The story starts somewhere in the 60s or 70s where Shantipriya (Deepika Padukone) was a leading Bollywood actress and Om (SRK) was an extra working on the sets. Om falls in love in Shanti, and tries to express his feelings, but no one knows that Shanti is actually secretly married to her producer Mukesh (Arjun Rampal). Mukesh, however, has no plans of settling down with her and on being confronted with this fact and the fear that a married and pregnant actress will not be accepted by the audience, bumps her off in what is made to look like an accident. Om tries to save her but also gets killed in an accident.

Om is re-born, and, cut to present times, Om or Om Kapoor or O.K. becomes a superstar. What else can you expect SRK to be in a film directed by his closest buddies - either he is a superstar or a savior who sacrifices his life for everyone on this planet. But this piece is not about all that. Anyways, OK's past comes to haunt him and he starts to get visions of his past life. And therein starts a tale of revenge and karmic payoffs.

OSO, in many ways, is a tribute to Bollywood. Farah does well in dwelling a bit into the lives of extras and seeing things from thier point of view. Several Bollywood cliches are thrown at you in very good humour like SRK's impersonation of southern stars, Aamir Khan, amidst film award functions and not to forget the much-publicized 31-star studded song. Add to that the ultimate bollywood age-old story of re-birth.

SRK gives a fine performance and his comic timing shines out. Tall and lissome, Deepika Padukone looks amazing and doesn't have to act or say much in this movie. Shreyas Talpade is one of the best rising actors in Bollywood and turns in another fine performance. Kiron Kher is one of my favourite as she plays the role of mommy dearest and an ex-film extra, from her heart. Her scene where she scares Mukesh from entering the burnt down film set is hilarious.

All in all, OSO was entertaining time-pass. Go watch it.

KRate: * * * *

Friday, November 9, 2007

Saawariya - Boring to the Core

I came out of the cinema hall a couple of hours back after watching a three-hour torture called Sawariya. Coming from one of India's well-known film-makers, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, I expected much more that what I saw. No wait, I expected a movie, and all I was bombarded with, were songs, once every 10 minutes or so. Despite being a musical, a movie must still have a story. Else, it's akin to watching Channel [V] or MTV.

Boy meets girl, falls in love, girl loves someone else, boy dances, sings, prances around dreaming about her and trying to woo her with nothing but his smile, songs and dances. This is the movie's story.

Shot on a grand scale, thanks to the larger-than-life sets of a fairy-tale town, reminiscent of Moulin Rouge, the movie traces the "story" of a boy and his encounter and subsequent wooing of this girl that he first spots in a lonely street on a windy night. What transpires eventually, I can't tell you, purely out of ethics. Although you would probably thank me if I tell you and spare you the trauma of enduring this loony tale.

Saawariya has no story; the main reason behind its pathetic execution. Newcomers, Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kaoor hold promise, especially Ranbir. Sonam, despite having a good screen presence, was quite average. Her laughter was one of the most artificial I've heard in recent times. So was Ranbir's enthusiasm. While Salman Khan has a very small role to play, it is Rani Mukherji who gets on to your nerves. One of her worst performances in recent times, she should not put Saawariya on her resume. The only bright spot of the movie is the title song.

Media reports estimate that Saawriya was made at a cost of Rs 400 million. What a colossal waste of money. Saawariya is strictly avoidable as I found it to be the worst Hindi film I have watched in years. I wasted Rs 60 on the movie ticket. Lucky I didn't go watch it in a multiplex! Bhansali, the next time you think of making a musical, perhaps you should watch 'Chicago'. That is what I call a hit musical, with good music, a great story, and awesome performances. Now will you please refund my Rs 60, Bhansali?

KRate: *

Thursday, November 8, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Hindi news channels - waste of time

The worst thing to have happened to Indian television, after saas-bahu sagas, are some of the Hindi news channels. These channels are not interested in telecasting news and events from around India, let alone the world. All they seem to be interested in is titilation and garnering maximum eye-balls, HOOK OR BY CROOK. The result: Hindi TV news channels have increased thier "fan following" by leaps and bounds.

The pits
The worst of the lot, in my opinion, is India TV. You can hardly call it a news channel as the only thing it is interested in doing is spreading superstition and sleaze. From telecasting a half-hour program on a wedding of a dog with a bitch, in Ahmedabad, India, and moderating a debate between a warring husband and a wife undergoing a painful divorce for the entire nation to watch when actually the two parties should be doing this in the privacy of thier own homes, to telecasting numerous shows on ghosts and spirits, India TV has done everything that a responsible news channel shouldn't. And all this, when its Editor-in-Chief, Rajat Sharma proclaims that thier viewers would want to know about all of that. I had a lot of respect for Sharma once, as I used to watch his series 'Junta Ki Adalat' or whatever it was called. I no longer relate to his kind of journalism.

One regional news channel had even conducted a fake sting operation where the reputation of a school teacher was permanently scared because of what some media reports alledged a personl dispute between her and the reporter who carried out the fake sting.

The other two news notorious Hindi news channels, Zee News and Aaj Tak are no less. Crime shows are a regular at these channels and they just seem to go on and on and on. In one crime show - I think that comes on India TV - the host wears a police uniform and the program's name is ACP Arjun! The anchor of Zee News' crime show is full of drama and talks as if a horror film director is narrating his up-coming script to a potential actress, full of 'passion', 'emotion', 'drama' and horror written all over his face, nothing of which is convincing and instead makes the anchor look like a clown. There is a program called 'Breaking News' on one of these channels. Surely Breaking news can happen at any time, why have a fixed program at a fixed time for it. Speaking of which, some Hindi news channels show breaking news after every 1/2 hour. There can't be so many breaking news throughout the day, 365 days a year!

Star News, I am also told, thrives a lot on gossip. I do not watch any of the above news channels, but on flipping channels once long back, I landed up on Star News when coincidentally Aishwarya Rai was injured on the sets of the movie 'Khakhee' and was bring chartered to Mumbai when the newsreader on this channel alledgely asked the reporter present at the airport whether Vivek Oberoi had a bouquet of flowers in hands for his damsel who was about to land! You would know that at that time, the two were reportedly a couple.

Ban their licences?
My ex-cable operator had told me once that according to the Government of India (GOI) norms, all cable TV operators must cumpulsorily show all news channels, in national interest. They can be selective about entertainment channels depending upon the aggreement between them and the channels. I do not know if this is true. But if it is, then the GOI must review its policies and perhaps selectively revoke the licences of a few of such news channels that actually are entertainment channels, disguising themseleves as news channels. News channels, especially some Hindi ones, must pull up thier socks and start telecasting news of national interest, rather than their own.

Ultimately, the remote control is with us, the viewer. Nobody forces us to watch anything on TV. The choice is ours. As responsibile citizens of this country, we must encourage good journalism and throw bad journalism out of the window. I am not saying there is no place for entertainment or sports or such items in a news capsule. But a 30-minute news capsule that devotes 20 minutes or more to items such as Bipasha Basu's kiss with the football star, for instance, is no news and only entertainment. How much of entertainment should be contained in a 30-minute news capsule, must be responsibly ascertained by their editors

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Are they teachers or monsters?

Teachers beating students is old news. But of late, disturbing reports of brutality committed by teachers in some parts of India (this may be elsewhere in the world but since i live in India, I get to hear only Indian news on this subject) have started to come to light like here, here and here, and many more such instances.

These developments are very discouraging and shocking. What is wrong with our teachers? Teachers, our gurus, who are supposed to impart education to children, to teach the m to distinguish between good and bad, and to help them with the necessary tools to make it 'big' in life, are today assuming the role of monsters and harming them more than doing good. It makes me wonder whether the teachers who mercilessly beat young and innocent children are themselves good and capable teachers or do they commit atrocities merely to make up for the lack of their skills.

Something more disturbing in this is the attitude of the authorities of the school or education institutions where these atrocities happen. The school or education authorities turn a blind eye. I have come across a few instances in the media where it's shown that the principal of schools protect these monsters and make lame excuses like "it was best for the child". And those that promise to take any action, i really wonder whether they really do. Why aren't they punished?

I did my schooling from Hindi Vidya Bhavan school. Although most of my teachers were very nice and sweet, there were some teachers who used to hit their students very hard and unjustifiably so. Their names were Mr Saluja Singh, Mrs Surabhi Sharma, Mr Telore, Mrs Chowdhary, Mrs Gupta. There may have been other names, but the ones above used to be the worst in this matter, especially Singh, who used to think no end to himself. The rest, though used to smash students very hard, were - and I hate to admit this - quite good at their subjects. Singh, with all due respect, wasn't. Very average.

If you are a parent and are reading this blog, I urge you to not to take your child's complaint likely if he/she tells you that a teacher hit him hard. What could be a once-in-a-while smack on the face may become a habit and before you know it, might get out of hand. Stop this menace at once and confront the monsters to teach and not to hit.

If you are a school authority, take action against teachers, or at least earnestly investigate the matter and take some action. Children, who leave their homes to come to study in your school, are your responsibility till the time they are in the premises. And they pay you fees to study.

If you are teacher who likes to hit your students, get back on track and start teaching for a change. If you feel students are getting out hand, hitting is not the answer. There are alternatives. Moreover you have been trained on how to tackle students; use some of your own learnings. If you want your students to respect you even afetr they've graduated and moved on with your lives, start teaching them in the right fashion and stop hammering them. If you believe in karma, then your hitting spree will come to haunt you, whether in this or your next life. No matter what, you shall sow what you reap.

Meher Mahino, Ava Mahino and Adar Mahino: The holy trinity of Zoroastrian calender

Zoroastrians- or better knows as Parsis and Iranis of India- have a separate calendar. We look at the English calendar of course, but we al...