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Showing posts from November, 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 o…

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 go…

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…

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…

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…

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 F.Y.B.com 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 o…

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 thi…

NOW, COMPUTER IS YOUR FUND MANAGER

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 capitalisat…

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…

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, www.irctc.co.in, 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 t…

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 …

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 &…

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 ben…

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 acce…

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 pr…

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 responsibl…

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 instit…

Advertisements that should be banned

Despite Indian advertising being one of the best in the world, every now & then it keeps throwing up some trash. The two-most disturbing advertisements on Indian television - one of them has been running for decades - are FAIR & LOVELY and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, are some examples. They should be banned.

Products that claim that being fair is being beautiful, propagate racial discrimination. As against outright racial discrimination between "blacks" and "whites" being played out in western countries, Fair & Lovely plays it subtly.

However, I do not see a difference between the two. The message in the ads is simple: If you are dark skinned and do not get opportunities because of that, don't worry. Get rid of your dark colour, apply fair & lovely, become fair because only being fair is being beautiful and not otherwise. Success will SURELY come to you then, because all our airlines and their management are idiots; they just want you to be fair to off…

Jashan and Pulav Dalal at Kashmira Commerce Classes

Early today morning on a Sunday, when I would normally wake up at 9.00, I landed up at Kashmira Commerce Classes in Mulund because Kashmira, my cousin, had organised a jashan ceremony. After an hour of sitting through a good puja session, and gulping down an averagely-made malido - a popular sweet treat in Parsis served on auspicious occassions but very calorie unconciousness-like - thereafter, we headed for Perin Fui's house for lunch in Thane. A glass of beer and yummy chicken pulav-dal mixed with Godi's koyla (and yet extremely well-said that makes them 10 times funnier that they were intended to be) jokes was served. Kashmira makes the second best pulav-dal in the world. My mom holds the No. 1 position at that, a position she holds in several other areas, as well!

All in all, a well-spent Sunday. And yes, Kashmira's commerce classes will invoke the blessings of GOD and would continue to prosper. Not because of the jashan ceremony today, but because she is one enterpris…

Martina Hingis - end of an era

In probably the lowest point in tennis so far in 2007, Martina Hingis retired on the backdrop of the accusation levied upon her very recently, that she had tested positive cocaine at Wimbledon, soon after losing to Laura Granville of US, in the third round. Much to everyone's surprise she has chosen to retire from tennis - the second time she did in her career; the first time she retired was in 2002 only to make a comeback in 2006.

I have never been a staunch Hingis-fan. I only came to support her during her second run as a tennis player since last year! Perhaps because she was the next to take the mantle of No. 1 (her mid-90s run) after my all-time favourite Graf. But i admired her play and her sheer tenacity on court. She was like a chess-player, carefully plotting her moves and and then hitting a winner or forcing an error out of an opponent's racket. She did not have the power like the other girls such as Williams sisters. Her biggest strength was her mind. She used the pow…

Train ride on Harbour line

Today morning, i went to Belapur in Navi Mumbai. In Mumbai, as some of you would know, there are 3 railway lines; Western, Central & harbour. Belapur falls on the harbour line that takes you through the eastern coast of Mumbai. It's a very enjoyable journey and quite unique. I caught the 10.10 slow local from VT station, now called CST station. In Mumbai, local trains are known by their timings, such as 7.55, 9.43, 11.15, and so on. Anyways, I always like train journeys, not in peak hours, but when I can get a decent place to sit, even if on a seat of 3 we have to accommodate the 4th one.

Traveling on harbour line takes you through a part of Mumbai that you feel existed ages ago. It's like this side of Mumbai has caught itself in a time warp and refuses to come out. It’s a good thing. Besides, you get to see various sides of Mumbai - the rich, the poor, the fisher folks - also the original residents of Mumbai (old Bombay and new Mumbai) - all throughout the harbour line. Yo…