Friday, August 28, 2009

Assorted poetry..

You can take one out of poetry, but you can't take poetry out of one.. here, then, is the incorrigible return to poetry Don't recollect the names of poets, except where indicated..

गीता हूँ कुरान हूँ मैं,
मुझ को पढ़ इंसान हूँ मैं॥

मुझ को थकने नही देता ये ज़रूरत का पहाड़,
मेरे बच्चे, मुझे बूढा नही होने देते॥

मेरी आँखें लगी हैं आसमानों पर
सूना हैं आसमानों पर खुदा हैं।

मुझ को यकीन हैं, सच कहती थी, जो भी अम्मी कहती थी,
जब मेरे बचपन के दिन थे, चाँद पे परियां रहती थी॥ (जावेद अख्तर)

And my fave piece:

मुलायम गर्म समझौते की चादर,
ये चादर मैंने बरसों में बुनी हैं
कहीं भी सच के गुल बूटां नही हैं,
कहीं भी झूठ का टांका नही हैं॥

इसी से मैं भी तन ढाक लूंगी अपना
इसी से तुम भी मुतमईन रहोगे
ना खुश रहोगे, ना उदास रहोगे॥

इसी को तान कर बन जाएगा घर
बिछा लेंगे तो खिल उठेगा आँगन॥

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When you hear something good, its time to share..

What amazes me is the sheer amount of good work going on around us – like the river Saraswati.. quiet, underground, relentless..

This post is about Aavishkaar..

Here it is in their own words:
The firm provides micro-equity funding (Rs. 10 lacs to Rs. 2 Crore), approximately USD $20 thousand to USD $500 thousand) and operational and strategic support to commercially viable companies increasing income in or providing goods and services to rural or semi-urban India.

Here are the key words: (aka, why i loved the concept)

Equity : This is important. This means that the enterprise being invested in, is not put under the strain of an interest burden. This also means that the entrepreneur gets access to money without being bound to a payout schedule. When working capital is marginal, this can be an important feature.

Operational and Strategic Support: This part, me likes best. Micro entrepreneurs have the feel of the ground, but not enough support in terms of operational efficiency or Strategy formulation. In these areas, a support at the right time can mean the difference between a creature surviving from day to day, and an organisation planning its growth deliberately, firmly, surely.

Income: Anything that generates income at the micro level, in the rural and semi urban areas, is good. Simply because it creates livelihood without displacement.

Read more on their website :

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Punjab before Partition - III

Before starting this post, I have to thank you for commenting on the previous post to say that there was social contact among the 3 communities. That was very heartening. I used to always wonder how people could live in the same village, and not have social contact with each other!
Continuing from the previous post, the other things that come to mind about that period:
  • It was considered an insult to the other party if you asked for a contract to be put in writing, or counted your change or money after receiving it from someone. "Zubaan" was so important that anything that could mean not trusting the person was taken as an insult. Till date, my grandparents do not count their change as they leave the counter.
  • At least in Sikh homes, the "gaddi" passed from the husband to the wife, not to the son. Perhaps only in some families... i am not so sure of this one, but all my grandparents were adamant about this.
  • Though alcohol was a common vice, the use of tobacco was frowned upon big time. In my house, even paan and supaari are forbidden.
  • Khuaaon jawaaiaan vangoo, te koho kasaiyaan vangoo: (Feed them like they are your sons in law, and make them work like a bull) Everyone, including women and children, were expected to participate in the tough physical labour, irrespective of the size of their land holding. If you cannot go to the field, you can always thresh grain in the courtyard, milk the cows and prepare their hay for them...
  • Daughters did not do any of the following: Wash dishes, sweep, touch anyone's feet. Daughters were exempt. Sons, on the other hand, were expected to twist their back into a "pairi pauna" at every sighting of an elder.. :-) What's more, on some auspicious days, all the male relatives were supposed to touch their daughters' feet.
  • "Dheeyaan sabdiyaan saanjhiyaan" : Your son is your son, but a daughter is everyone's daughter. Everyone was expected to protect the daughter. At a girl's wedding, everyone from the village was expected to contribute. A daughter's wedding was the village's wedding.
  • Eve teasing was not allowed: I know this sounds incredible in this day and age, but the average Punjabi was angered a lot by a man trying to "insult" a dhee-behan (daughter or sister). It was considered perfectly ok to physically hurt boys who were indulging in eve teasing, to drag them to their house and to make their parents apologise for making such ill mannered boys. There was a huge sense of community based protection of girls. This crime came right next to lying, which was the most heinous crime.
  • Wealth, in general, was not to be "showed off". If anything, it must be concealed. The motive was simple - one did not want to be conspicuous to the thieves through obvious consumption. My family on both sides, would get gold jewelry made and then, once a patila (a sort of cooking vessel) was filled, it would be buried under the floor. Having kachcha floors helped a lot. They were instructed to wear simple clothes, and the houses were not made elaborate either. Sounds very "un" punjabi? To me, all the showing off feels the same way.. :-)

Will wait for a lot more comments.. Please keep them coming..

Friday, August 21, 2009

Punjab Before Partition - II

In the last post, one wrote about things learnt from grandparents, and thank you to all of you who contributed your own.

This part deals with things one knows about the socio economic strucure of the time. The source is again, family and literature of the period. Some of these snippets may be true only for some regions.. like the last time, please do add whatever u know.. without thinking too much. Am hoping that someday, there will be another curious child who will google to find out what Punjab was like before partition.. and will get some information..this is to help that searcher.. and me.
  • Saanjha Chulha: This was a reality. There was a common tandoor where the women went to make "rotis" - especially for dinner. Tandoors were typically not made inside the house.

  • Silver jewelry, bright colors and salma sitaare: Were all for the Muslims. Hindu girls did not wear any of this. Sequins were called "Salmaa sitaare" - and were absolutely forbidden on the dresses of Hindu-Sikh girls. As was any form of gold -silver embellishment. This group wore Phulkari, Crochet work, and , at most, kinaari(a sort of golden border) for festive occasions. Unmarried girls were not allowed to wear any makeup or good clothes. The Sindhis wore diamond jewelry.

  • Religion based segregation: There was the Hindu-Sikh part of the village and the Muslim part of the village. The segregation was complete - there was a separate well, separate lands, separate parts of the village. Usually, even the occupations were different. They did not share food or water . Not much social contact either. However, the "caste" based panchayats are a novelty. Because of the preponderance of Sikhs , the caste system was not too pronounced. (The Sikhs, theoretically, do not believe in caste)

  • The Sindhis were the traditional money lenders in this part of the world. Because they were into moneylending and the Punjabis were into borrowing, there was little love lost between these 2 communities. however, they could do without each other and thus was born a generation of jokes about the other community.

  • Marriage with the family: It was considered scandalous to ask to see the girl before marriage. The marriages were fixed by the respective elders (always male) and were solemnised before the groom(or anyone on the groom's side) ever set eyes on the bride. As for the groom, if the elders of the house, when they go to finalise the alliance, happen to meet the boy, it is fine. There was never any demand to see the boy.

  • Multan, Jhang and Punjab: Few of us know that Multan, Jhang, Punjab and Sindh were closely related provinces, each with its own dialect. Jhangi and Multani were separate dialects, albeit related to Punjabi.

  • The Eastern Punjabis: were considered not as good looking, lazy and manipulative. It was said that Ambarsar (Amritsar) onwards, only cunning ruled, not the sweat on the brow.. and that one must not trust the "zubaan" as much.. how can one fight perceptions!! In hindsight, they appear so ridiculous, yet i wonder about our perpetually judgemental perceptions today.

  • Hard Work was revered. One who works hard, tells the truth, and does not flash his/her wealth, was considered "good."

What do you remember? Please post comments.. Thank you!

वो एक बात , जो थी फ़क्त आप ही के लिए,
वो एक बात कह ना सके आप ही से हम!

बात कहने की हमेशा भूले,
लाख अंगुश्त पर धागा बांधा॥

Oh, to be 16, and in love..

Note: I don't know the names of either poet. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Punjab before Partition

I grew up with my grandparents.. who were from Western Punjab.. the values i grew up with are very different from the Punjabis that one sees around today.. for a long time now, i have been wondering.. searched the history and anthropology books, and literature about the era.. to get an idea of the social structure at the time.. relied heavily on inputs from both sets of grandparents.. and came up with not much.
This, then, is an attempt to chronicle what the Punjab was like before Partition.. what was the socio-economic structure, and how was the value system different. Please, please add to this list if you can.. and i will be very grateful.

Part 1: Within the family learning that is incompatible with our society today

Chaaude to vadda doonga: The deep one is better than the wide one.. my grandmother used to say this every time she saw someone show off. She always maintained that wealth and jewelry should be kept under wraps and one must appear as simple as possible to all outward appearences. Makeup was absolutely forbidden for unmarried girls. Synthetic clothes, clothes with silver or golden decorations were all considered "Miraasi" - not worthy of a person from a noble family. "Clothes maketh the man" was not taken to mean "Good Clothes" :-)

Man neeva te matt uchhi: We thought, as kids, that we were super intelligent. Some of the adults agreed too. But at home, we were taught to never speak unless spoken to, to never show off our knowledge or intellect, to always remember that someone is wiser than us, and therefore to be humble at all times.

There is no such thing as a small lie: In my house, you could kill and be forgiven. But you could not lie and hope to be forgiven. There was no such thing as a small lie. Lies were detested in the family and still is the BIGGEST crime.. being a family with roots in farming and trading, we were always told that the "zubaan" is very important, and if a person cannot trust you for a small thing, fat chance that they will trust you for a big thing.

Can you remember anything from that era? Anything at all that will help us understand the people who lived in those times.. the people who survived the partition and lived to thrive in an alien country that was far from kind to them.. they were very special people.. i am always amazed at what the refugees could achieve post partition..

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Review of LUCK- the movie

There is a spelling mistake in the name of the film. The "L" should be replaced by a "Y".
In addition to which, the movie is SICK. But afterwards, i was thinking.. like the film shows fictitious mutilation of the physical body, reality shows today show mutilation of personal lives and breaking up of real families.. so which one is more yuck - a fictitious murdering, or massacre of the personal lives of real people.. ?

Friday, August 07, 2009

An I Told You So post...

About an year or so ago, I did a post and saved it to drafts. That is where it stayed. It never saw the light of day because I am not an economist.

The post said something like this: (it was about farmer suicides)
At this point, unless the government intervenes with long term, root level reforms in the agricultural sector in general and in the agricultural marketing channels in particular, one of the following two will happen:

1. Farmers will be forced to increase the prices of the produce to a point where common food items are beyond the reach of the poor, exposing them to malnutrition in addition to poor sanitation and even more poor medical care. This will inevitably result in an epidemic of some sort. It will only be a matter of time before disease spreads from the poor to the not so poor. In effect, we are looking at a volcano of disease and malnutrition.

2. More and more farmers will commit suicide or sell their lands for commercial development, or convert to cash crops. This will lead to a real and artificially created scarcity of basic foodstuff. That means an unmanageable increase in the prices of basic food stuff. If the government considers a Band Aid treatment at that time, we will be forced to import (and pay high prices for) basic food items. These will be placed out of the reach of the common man, leading to the same malnutrition induced disease epidemic as in Option 1.
Why did I not post this then? Because I m not an economist. I am just a lowly blogger. If I can foresee this, then surely the wise policy makers at the Central Secretariat can see this too. Surely they will not let this happen.

And why is this being posted now? Because we are at Step1 of that epidemic. It’s a chance in a million, but someone might google for increase in price of food items. And land here.

What is my proposed solution?

It’s a four pronged approach –
1. Reducing the Cost of Production:

High Yield seeds have to be made available for less. We cannot allow the Monsantos of the world to make profit while we stop the next step in the chain – the farmer, from making more profit.

Cost of Labour has to go down – NREGS has ensured that the cost and availability of farm labour is impacted. The same scheme can be converted – each farmer may be given “Coupons” of labour units. He gives these coupons to the NREGS beneficiaries in return for farm labour. But that means 2 contact points with the government and twice the corruption. So an ideal situation would be to release some labour from NREGS towards farm labour. Meaning, if a person is eligible for and employable as farm labour, he must not be covered under NREGS. Let NREGS be for people who cannot otherwise obtain employment. Not for displacement of labour. And definitely not for displacement that is detrimental to the core agricultural sector.

Consolidation of Assets: During the Nehru era, some work was done in this direction and one read about with great pride and wonder. Now, the same idea must be implemented, but using the social entrepreneurs and the social structures of the agrarian society. Joint farming, sharing of equipment..

2. Improving the Marketing Channels: The produce has to be out of the farmer’s hands as soon as possible. A quick turnaround time on the capital invested means a shorter debt cycle for the farmer, and also more crops per year. If the farmer’s energy is wasted wondering when someone will buy that produce, he will not be preparing the field for the next crop for that long.

But that does not have to mean that the farmer is forced to sell his produce cheap, just because he cannot afford to hold on to it. The Marketing channels have to be driven by business, and the government has to regulate it tightly. Though the co-operative marketing and the regulated markets are in place, they are means of exploitation because the buyer’s cartel fixes a price in the morning and forces the farmers to sell at that price or hold, knowing fully well that the farmers cannot hold.

Obviously, a prime requisite for this to work, is the creation of cold storage and pest proof warehouses where the farmers can stock their produce if required. Once farmers get the power to hold, the need to hold will vanish.

Also, a portal where the farmers can see the prices at other places and sell their produce online is an idea whose time has come. In the past, this was attempted but we did not have enough internet penetration to get the volumes. Now, with e-choupals, we can achieve the penetration required.

3. The Supply Chain : Both the supply chain to the farmers and from the farmers. In Punjab, this summer, there was a government order indicating that sarkari offices will close early so that the power can be diverted to the fields. Never mind that the state still did not have enough power to save its crops. The same goes for water. We should think of canals more than borewells. Borewells need power.

4. Easy and reasonable credit /micro credit and Crop Insurance : Small farmers can do very well with micro credit. Medium and Big farmers need access to reliable credit on easy terms. This credit and its terms means the difference between a farmer who is alive and one who has committed suicide. Also, the availability of crop insurance is a must if we have to prevent farmer suicides. The only way to ensure crop insurance is to make it a mandatory requirement for all life and non life insurers to have a certain percentage of their portfolio as crop insurance. I believe that the micro credit and credit instituations should get this insurance to cover their loans. That will reduce their NPAs(Non Performing Assets) and also prevent farmer suicides in the event of a crop failure.

It is still not too late. The government should at least wake up now and start root level reforms and start them on a warfooting. Unless, of course, the vote bankers want that malnutrition induced mass epidemic.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

How to be a Service Consumer

Its not easy being a service provider. It is even more difficult being a service consumer. You can prove a thing not working right. How do you prove service deficiency in a largely nebulous world of service? How do you fight arbit charges, rules that make no sense.. and levies that should not be there in the first place?

This is a brief guide to being a service consumer.
  • A small pencil is better than a long memory.

Write, write, write. Do NOT accept verbal "assurances" from your service provider. Do not sign anything that is contrary to what is being orally promised to you. Assert your right to not sign. Assert your right to have an offering in writing. Do not pay up unless that concession, or provision, is given to you in writing. Please also check for the wonderful rider "This is not a legally binding document."

This tip is most handy when we are talking abt services like banking, shares brokerage, property, medicine, tourism et al.

  • Complain to the highest possible authority.

If things are not working out, do not just switch. You do yourself and others a favor when you complain. The entire banking industry con happens because people do not complain. The day service consumers start complaining, the quality of services will have to come up. Please lodge formal complaints. Most service providers dread the word "Formal Complaint". BUT, complain ONLY to the highest possible authority at that level. In a store, that would be the store manager. At a call center, that would be the shift supervisor. In banking, that would be the head of the division. In a hospital, the CEO. Do NOT, talk to anyone in the middle. This ensures that people talk to you with an open mind, without being primmed by their juniors with half baked information.

  • Corollary : Laud good work

The natural corollary to being a cribber is to be a praiser as well. When you encounter good work, make sure you put it down in writing, and send it to the highest possible authority. Ask the service provider who it should go to, to help their appraisals. Then send it to that person and to the highest possible authority.

  • Do not believe that you are dumb.

A lot of "knowledge" industries are based on convincing the client that s/he is dumb and is incapable of doing the job without "expert" help. A lot of that selling is BS. Financial Planning is not rocket science. Law is not rocket science. Even rocket science is easy. The first thing you should do with a service provider who is trying to scare you, is get rid of them.

Let's take an example. My son was not well. The doctor prescribed him an antibiotic. 2 hours after the antibiotic, his condition had worsened. He had rashes all over his body and his mouth was full of mouth ulcers and inflammation. I told the doctor rightaway that this is an allergic reaction to the medicine and we need to change the antibiotic. The doctor convinced me that that is not the case. 3 days later, with absolute deterioration in Ishaan's condition, the doctor changed the antibiotic, started an anti allergy medication. In the process, my son developed an allergy to one of the best, most used anti biotics, and went through pain that one cannot describe. His ped is a good doctor. He usually does not make mistakes. But he did not know much better than the person going through this.

  • Corollary: Ask questions and speak up.

If you are not as dumb as the other person would like you to believe, it is obvious that you should ask all the "dumb" questions and speak up your opinion. This is especially true of services where the person is empowered to take a decision on your behalf - your doctor, lawyer, property dealer, financial planner et al. Do not let them bully you into a decision that you are not convinced about.

Here is an example of "questions" - this is to a hot shot financial planner:

WA(wealth advisor) : Madam, SIP is the best way to invest in mutual funds.

me: Why?

WA: Because madam, you are only committing a fixed amount to the SIP, so if the NAV goes up, u end up buying fewer units and if the price goes down, you end up buying more units, which is the way it should be.

me: If i dont use SIP, all i have to do is compare each month and put the money in a good investment instrument (not ncessarily a MF) that is available at that time. If ur fund is performing well,sure i can put the money there every month. But if you are not, i have the flexibility to take that money elsewhere. If you take that flexibility away from me, and still sell to me only on market price, with no bonus units, no other benfits, how is that good for the customer? The only person for whom this is good, is the fund manager, who is assured of a certain infusion every month, irrespective of his performance. Where is the customer's benefit in this?

WA: Silent.

What are your strategies for getting good service.. ?