Thursday, 29 May 2008

Stock Markets and Bond Markets

Now here is some food for thought – “Stock markets are like women. Always demanding, mysterious, unpredictable and volatile. Need a lot of attention and even when given, behave strangely. Not to forget that both are chased by testosterone driven men”.

These are the views of two male friends of mine. Do I agree? Absolutely! However, about the stock markets bit my dear readers.

On the women front, well it is not all true, is it? Let us be fair. Women are only demanding when they want attention or when they are tired of it being easily accessible. Which is absolutely not always, is it? We are unpredictable only to be kind to our male friends. If we become predictable the thrill of the chase will not exist! And if we are volatile how can we be mysterious? All our emotions are expressed with the freedom that is our birth right. We are open books in that case. Are we not? We innocent creatures roaming this planet infested by the scary male species, how can we be any of the aforementioned? To add insult to injury, the stock market can collapse and squeeze every penny out of a man. We cannot even crash and avenge our hunters!

What I would like to say is – “Bond markets are like men. Not quite mysterious or volatile, but quite predictably demanding towards satisfying their yields. Need little attention at the right time and in the right fashion. Have no impact of a chase and like to be left free to follow their own curves.” ;-)

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Use and Abuse

I started my career in investment banking with a team that comprised of very intelligent and amicable professionals. The atmosphere was atypical to an investment bank – hard work and the will to succeed were complemented by camaraderie. Soon that changed. Reasons were varied. Discontent grew and I moved on. I landed in a place that propagated the philosophy of “eat what you kill”. The team lacked the very concept of “team work”. It was an eye opening experience and provoked me to consider the importance of principles and integrity at work. After a while I could not sustain working in a team where everyone was working in isolation, pretending to be someone while in reality they were someone else. I could not judge my self worth by the deals that I did or gloat about who I cut out of competition. Hence it was time once again to move on. I was made an offer by an organization which was led by someone who embodies ethics and human values. I did not think twice and grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

In the last couple of years my endeavor has been to help establish the business practice I set out to, to the best of my abilities. Managing expectations of the various stake holders involved has been challenging. Yet the one key lesson I have learnt is that integrity, honesty and hard work do bring results. It takes time but the results do come through. It is not just where my efforts are concerned, but I have seen that senior colleagues have earned success and fame because of their humility and dedication to hard work. However, at the same time I have encountered people who forge relationships because they have a motive. Some have been blatant enough to suggest that their only reason in being nice to professional partners is to accomplish a goal. Once their motive is attained, either they start to become complacent or begin to ignore the other faction. On the other hand, if their purpose is not realized, they drop the person concerned like a hot potato in absolutely no time.

So where do principles, integrity, honesty and professionalism stand in today’s corporate world? In the guise of strategy we often tend to compromise the underlying concepts of ethics and trust. Recently, I came across a deal that was very successfully concluded by a peer house. The client was elated that in the current market conditions they had been able to raise tens of millions of dollars. However, what is unknown to the jubilant corporate is that what they were made to believe as market feedback, was in reality their advisor’s strategy. Acknowledging that the client’s expectation on valuation was unrealistic, the broker went to investors with half the valuation. Investors were requested not to mention this valuation to the client and in return were assured that the deal would come to market at the reduced valuation. After the first round of marketing, the company was informed that there was significant investor interest albeit at a much lower valuation. The deal was then announced (read “leaked”) to the media by someone other than the corporate. That meant a face saving exercise had to be done. At a significantly lower valuation and a much higher dilution for the founders, the deal was closed. The shares listed and trading commenced. The fee has been earned and the client has the money. However, is this is the right approach?

There have been other instances that I have witnessed where no stone has been left unturned in trying to win business. Attempts have been made to woo clients with unrealistic terms which have later been reversed citing market conditions. Services have been offered which are not mentionable on a public platform. Box seats have been reserved at soccer world cup and cricket world cup. Back stabbing is not something that is a surprise element any more. Crossing Chinese walls without compliance consent has also become quite common in some places it seems. And yes, men have tried to court women just to grow their own P&L (if women have attempted the same I am unaware of it). We are soon beginning to use any means to achieve our capitalistic aims. It is almost as if the law of the jungle reigns supreme in the territory of intelligent human beings.

I am not preaching here. I am all for strategizing and for healthy competition. In fact I thrive in an environment which reeks of pressure, stress and deadlines. I do like to bask in the glory of a deal well executed. I am questioning our measures and our ways. How far should we go in abusing our resources? How low can we stoop in using people’s trust and generosity? Will we able to sustain business with such means? I am not sure. They say what goes round comes round. So should we really not have the patience and give integrity, honesty, humility and professionalism a chance?

Monday, 26 May 2008

Tug of War

On my way back to London this afternoon, I was sitting on the train seeing the French country side pass by. The lush green fields and bright blue skies had me smiling through the journey. The pristine landscape had me day dreaming – what would it be like to sit in the fields, jot down the myriad thoughts in my mind and listen to soft music playing on a piano. At that moment, in all sincerity, I wanted to float on the clouds and see the world, have a camera and capture the beauty of nature’s creations, take a pen and describe every passing moment and save it all for posterity. The child in me wanted to spring out and run wild. Is it just me or does every one feel the same at some point or the other? If not as crazy as these, everyone must have some tugs and pulls for adventure? Or maybe there is only a fleeting thought, yet a thought, of trying something new, something different from the routine?

Maybe, maybe not. Personally, over the last twelve months there have been a few occasions when I have felt the urge to switch lanes. Maybe do a PhD in behavioral finance, take up guitar lessons or maybe even spend some time traveling over the world. However, I love what I do at work. I enjoy having the opportunity to establish a business practice in India and learn more about the Indian economy, capital markets and regulations. Now I have discovered that I enjoy writing. I might not be great at it, but I still like being able to communicate and in return train my mind to think through one issue at a time. (Otherwise my mind has the tendency to wander in ten different directions simultaneously!) As they say, so much to do and such little time. Life is too short and too fast. This does not seem fair! Does it?

However, is it really just the love of work that is binding me to my desk? No, and I am sure everyone is intelligent to guess the same. If I am being honest, it is also because I am used to a certain lifestyle. I am scared to give up the regular pay cheques that afford me my standard of living. It is this fear that curbs my temptations and pushes me towards achieving more professionally. While it is a blessing in disguise that my so called fear pushes me ahead professionally, I think in the long run it would do me good to sit down and take a stock of where I want to be and what I want to be doing. Without this clarity after a few years, I might find myself in an unhappy and unfulfilling situation. Hence I have decided that my next vacation will be dedicated to some introspection.

I am not going to bore you all with my introspection (I guess I already have to some extent so let me qualify the statement by adding “further” before the word introspection). What I would, however, like to share with you is a conversation that I had with Chandler a few nights ago (for those who do not know this absolutely adorable individual please read my post on Beer). After a few glasses of wine and some absolutely scrumptious dinner (cooked by the master Chef, Chandler, himself) Chandler was geared up to discuss “life and the choices we make in life”. In his view, every individual lives a life based on the choices he makes. From education to profession to relationships, at every turn of life, each individual makes a decision on the road he wishes to traverse. However, my contention is that in today’s fast paced life, not every individual sees the road forking at points where the choices present themselves. I think in some instances the realization of having an option does not even dawn upon people until much later. Or as it is my case, the realization of the existence of options might exist, there even might be the ability to take the road less traveled, but the fear of unknown can keep individuals away from trying out something new. So while we all might have choices I am not convinced that with our lives as they are, we acknowledge the presence of these choices.

Is it us, is it the pace of life, is it social pressures and expectations or is it just plain simple capitalism that is driving our generation? While I am trying to answer this question myself and analyze why we opt for the alternatives that we do, I would love some assistance and views. At the same time I would like to leave you with a poem, from one of my favourite poets, Robert Frost. Do let me know what you think.

Until next time, Auf Wiedersehen!

The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost (1920)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

Monday, 19 May 2008

Whose responsibility is it anyway?

The most recent edition of Economist has a very comprehensive coverage of the current credit crisis. In particular the view on bankers’ responsibility and accountability was most interesting. Not because I am one of the many in the world who make a living thus, but because I see myself agreeing to quite a bit of what was written. At some point I do think bankers need to take responsibility for their actions and look beyond the short term P&L and compensation. Difficult though it might be, some balance has to be struck.

Banking as an industry is ferocious. There is cut throat competition to reign supreme. Most bankers want to out do their peers by doing bigger and better deals, both in terms of money and glamour. In some ways the thrill of the chase and the pleasure of the kill keep the momentum up. In pursuit of this hunt many a times bankers start believing that it is their duty to “deliver what the client wants”. With this skewed perception when bankers take on deals, they are bound to be overtly aggressive and dig holes for themselves and many other innocent coworkers.

In line with this theory, it can be said that bankers have engineered the present situation. While the world speaks of sub-prime, in my view, the problem is that of credit markets in general. Banks have not been prudent even with corporate credit. In the hay days they dished out credit lines to small, unrated and non-profitable corporations at ludicrous levels. In many instances these facilities did not have any security or even financial covenants. Bankers who could monitor credit were too busy signing deals and investors who should have done due diligence were too busy trying to milk all available deals. So yes, to some extent the investor community is also a cause of what the world is facing. Does this absolve the corporates at all? Not in my opinion. Corporate clients have expectations which are far removed from reality. They push bankers and investors alike to meet their terms. While some say no there are other bankers who succumb. As deals are lost the one upmanship game amongst bankers starts. Corporate clients love to exploit this weakness of bankers without realizing that if markets shut down (as they have now) in future, their funding requirements will not be met down the line. So I guess it is collective responsibility.

A very interesting example of collective responsibility is the current derivatives crisis in India. Indian capital markets are still young and derivatives are still not main stream products. While larger corporations have the infrastructure and know how to use these instruments, the smaller guys are still novices. However, in an attempt to be “cool” a lot of the smaller fish signed derivative contracts. When the going was good no one complained. However, as the tide turned, CFOs started pointing fingers at bankers, claiming that the contracts they signed had not been clear. Bankers in turn pointed fingers at the regulatory authorities stating that regulations were weak and faulty.

Can there be something more ridiculous than this circus? Firstly, in my opinion, it is the responsibility of every CFO to understand the financial contracts he is risking his balance sheet to. All doubts should be cleared and the worst case scenario should be well thought of before any legally binding contract is signed. Secondly, bankers should be transparent in their dealings and explain the worst case scenario to the client. Now what if the poor banker does not understand the product herself? She should not be entrusted with the job. That is the responsibility of the line managers. Thirdly, the regulator (especially in India) needs to ensure that instead of drafting complex guidelines which are unnecessarily restrictive, they should consult bankers and CFOs (to understand the products and their use first) to structure rules which can minimize abuse of structured products.

I guess I am looking at things a little too simply and this might not be real. The bottom line, however, in my view remains that there has to be some amount of realism that needs to sink in at all levels. Banking community in particular should take note and prevent a similar crisis from surfacing another decade from now. After LTCM and sub-prime we should have learnt our lessons well enough. If we can be financial innovators and geniuses, I am sure we can quite easily learn from these two last disasters. The question that remains to be answered, however, is – do we want to learn?

Sunday, 18 May 2008

India, Infrastructure, Inflation - Impending Doom?

The entire city of Mumbai is dug up. Same is the case with New Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore. All the cities that I have visited in India are seeing a construction boom. Ranging from residential buildings to malls to flyovers there is construction and more construction all around. This is good, really good. India needs to improve or rather install infrastructure.

However, where are we going to fund this infrastructure growth from? Currently, the domestic economy is in a very vulnerable position. A net oil importer, India needs to buy oil at the current prices of USD 128 per barrel to keep moving. The fuel subsidy is digging a hole in the government coffers (most oil companies and refiners are state owned). In a desperate attempt to control losses, the oil companies have stopped issuing new connections for cooking fuel and are even rationing LPG supplied to existing customers.

Foreign exchange reserves are limited and only depleting. Rupee is fast depreciating and becoming less valuable. FII coming into the country is minimal and with the stock markets and rupee being shaky there is little hope of FII flow increasing. FDI is the only source from where we can get some relief. However, why will someone put in money as FDI given the state of the capital account, inflation and the lack of initiative to increase interest rates?

With financial regulators being inflexible and not willing to listen to reason, policies made are stifling SMEs. There is no corporate debt market in India. Whatever little exists, exists as a private placement market. There is no efficient price finding mechanism for borrowers. Local interest rates are very high and offshore borrowing is no longer permitted. Funding via equity can only be limited. Local bank syndications are probably the only borrowing source or the infrastructure funds being raised by the varied financial institutions. But can these institutions put together fund c. USD 350bn (70% of the total USD 500m required in the next 4.5 years)?

These are critical problems facing the economy and the country. With the current prime minister being the leader of economic reform in India, one would have expected better management of the situation. However, it seems that political ambitions and party dictate seem to have superseded the general welfare of the nation. Can India come out of this impending crisis? Is the India shining story still true? Will we lead the world as we believe we are on the way to? Only time will tell, and let us hope that time is kind to the future of India, to our future and to our dreams.

Finding the balance

After a long and treacherous week which spanned all possible occurrences ranging from falling quite ill, to squabbling with friends, to trying to solicit deals, to hearing not so positive news at work; I needed a relaxing Saturday night out with friends. It was an attempt to forget the miserable gone week and hope that the coming weeks would bring along more cheer. So when Mr. Time Sheet called to suggest a late night movie or drinks after dinner, I was quite excited. I mean now this is one intelligent gentleman (unlike the men mentioned in my last post) who knows how to have a laugh.

Initially Mr. Time Sheet was certain that we could meet for pre-dinner drinks. I was not hopeful. He had spent the night before last at work, left post nine last night (and was happy to be out “early”) and was back to work this morning (a Saturday!). Now given this track record I safely assumed that we would be able to meet only post dinner. So I made alternate dinner plans and was lounging at home when Mr. Time Sheet called. Apparently, it would take him longer than expected. He suggested that Mr. Builder picks me up and we meet at about 11:00 pm somewhere close to his work place. I gave myself a pat on the back (I knew he would never make it before 10:30 pm) and decided that when Mr. Builder would come and pick me up, instead of calling Time Sheet we would just land up at his office. It would ensure that the poor guy would get out and take a well deserved break.

We reached the offices of this premier organization at 11:40 pm and called up our dear friend. No answer on his mobile. So we dialed the land line. A sleepy sounding attendant answered and confirmed that our friend was around. He was alive and kicking and just this information was comforting! (Ok I am exaggerating!). Time Sheet slowly walked out of the office. He looked kaput! I insisted that we wait while he wrapped up his work. So we were invited to come into the office and wait at the reception rather than stand outside on the deserted street. This is where the fun starts.

All of us have worked all night longs and put in 28 hour days at some point or the other. However, none of us would have worked like my dear friend did. The office was undergoing pest control. Along with the germ laden air conditioned air there was a heavy dose of pesticide in the office environment. And this is what greeted us into the office that Mr. Time Sheet had been confined to the whole long day. Interesting! As we walk in I also see that the elevator is under refurbishment and there are some repair works going on. So my friend toils on the documents as the laborers toil on the bricks and mortar, all subjected to some additional pollution of dust and lime maybe. Now Time Sheet goes into work leaving me, Mr Builder and some dust covered sofas with the attendant. Out of curiosity, I ask the attendant how many people are there in the office. He goes for a quick round, comes back and says three. Just three? Just three people working all these hours while the others are sleeping in the comforts of their homes? Just three when the revenues earned would support the thirty others in the team? Just three when it could have been five sharing the work and ensuring everyone went home on time? Not fair!

Well life can be unfair! Look at this. The attendant informed us that there were 12 attendants in all, working different shifts. So he has 11 replacements! And here Time Sheet has not even been given one! Anyway, Builder and I query what were to happen if all 12 were to fall ill simultaneously? The attendant just laughed and said “how can that happen?” My question is what will happen if Time Sheet who has no replacement falls ill? Then who will take over and fill in? There has to be a balance! A balance between work and life. A balance between delegation and supervision. A balance between staying up late and sleeping. A balance between moving ahead in a career and burning out too quickly. Hopefully Time Sheet will find the balance soon and not burn out. He is an asset to his firm as very emphatically stated by his senior who later accompanied us to a nice session of drinks and a very late night dinner. I hope his firm realizes the asset he is and compensates him with a commensurate bonus. At least then I can go out and claim a treat ;-)! Until then let us all plug along and find that balance!

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Equality or Sexuality?

For some time now I have been struggling to figure out what is the perception that today’s society (read “men”) holds of a modern woman. Are we really deemed to be equals, have the freedom and respect we seek and can we really expect to be judged based on our abilities and capabilities? Might not be a simple answer but I believe it is worth exploring.

This entire thought process was agitated by a speech made by the Italian premier, Mr. Berlusconi. In an election campaign he emphasized that the opposition had poor taste and what he could not tolerate was that this poor taste extended to their women politicians. Is that really the first port of call to judge a woman! The entire speech degraded women and I think the only member of the fairer sex that was spared was his mother. I wonder what gold dust is she powdered with! And how could the Italians re-elect a man with such shallow thoughts!

However, I need not go far. My own city of London has innumerable examples where women have been faced with unfair treatment and those responsible are still in their positions of power. Numerous studies conducted over the years have illustrated that in general women bankers tend to be lower paid than their male counterparts. Sexual harassment cases filed by women in the city are not on a decline by any stretch of imagination. Career post motherhood is not whole heartedly supported by some employers. And this is in a city which is supposed to be a congregation of some of the more educated, cultured and well aware professionals globally!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not an activist for feminine rights. In fact I think that there are certain laws and regulations that support women unjustifiably. Take the 30% reservation for women in India. This ranges from places being reserved in engineering colleges to politics to public sector jobs. In my view this reservation is unfair to men. If women want to study and build a career for themselves then they should have confidence in themselves. They should fight their battles and attain their goals on merit, not because of gender discrimination and not at the cost of another more deserving candidate.

While I might say this the sad reality is that even if women want to be recognized for their mettle, men thrive in the drive of their hormones. I have been faced with situations in my professional life where men have made absolutely unwarranted advances. On most occasions these have been clients and hence I have maintained my dignity and not said anything in public. However, in one instance I had to report the incident to my employer. A client asked for my mobile number on the pretext of setting up a subsequent meeting. As soon as I left his office, I had a text message asking me out to dinner. I politely declined. However, I was pushed to the extent of being asked if I was free “later tonight”? This message did not get a response from me. So it was followed by 6 phone calls. And please note that the man in question is a married man. If you want to pay a compliment say it graciously. If you want to fish be subtle. However, men seem to think that they need not act with caution as they can get away with anything, in some cases even sexually abusing girls who are not even adults!

Are women really just eye candies and sex objects? Is that all men think of and need? Do they never think of women as individuals? Are women not living beings with feelings and emotions that need affection? Can men not see that women take all this crap from their species and still are loving mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, girl friends etc?

People say women do not know what they want. In my opinion we know what we want. We want to be respected. To be genuinely treated as equals. To be applauded for our achievements and loved for who we are. The day that “society” achieves this, the status of the modern woman will truly be uplifted. That is when women will truly become free!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Mergers and De-Mergers

In a startling and awe inspiring move, Tata Sons of India has made yet another marquee acquisition and embossed its name on the global corporate map in almost what is gold dust. Almost, because the integration of Corus with Tata Steel, Land Rover and Jaguar with Tata Motors and various other global acquisitions with varied group companies will determine how successful has the most professionally managed Indian conglomerate really been. While Indians globally are proud of these achievements and Indian media cannot stop gloating, global banks are falling backwards to finance these acquisitions. This is a new era for the country where the world is now finally seeing the being ruled as the rulers. India has come a long way!

While Tata Sons needs to prove its mettle with the successful integration of the multiple group wide acquisitions, other Indian firms have already done so albeit at a smaller scale. Numerous companies have made smaller acquisitions in the west and very efficiently brought about the realizable synergies. Then be it All Cargo Global Logistics, Crompton Greaves, Wockhardt, Wipro or Mastek; sectors and geographies have not constrained Indian corporates. Not only have we managed to synergize operations but have also adapted to the working cultures of the new geographies. Quick learners, we have ensured that no stone is left unturned in our efforts to make the most of the time, effort, energy and money spent on buying these organizations in the developed world.

It is thus a little surprising when I see that while we are excelling at establishing, forging and building professional relationships, we are today, struggling to maintain the sanctity of personal relationships. Why is it that a society such as ours, whose foundation lies in the spirit of family values, today battling with keeping human relationships together? In every sphere of life there is a constant game of ego and one upmanship. The same tolerance and perseverance that we are exhibiting in the corporate arena is missing from our living rooms and bedrooms.

To some this might seem like a gross generalization and to others this might seem a little too regressive. I mean should we all not have the freedom to live our lives the way we would like to and not be burdened with relationships that are stifling to personal growth? Absolutely! Every individual must have the opportunity to grow and flourish. However, the pursuit of personal growth should not lead us away from those who could and will matter in life.

I take the simple example of a parent child relationship. There is little time that today’s children spend with their parents. Excuse is lack of time due to the stiff competition at the work place and the burning desire to move ahead and buy that bigger car. What happened to parents’ needs when they sacrificed their wishes to provide their children with the opportunities that have brought them to a certain level today? I am not sure they thought in a similar fashion. Moreover, what memories are we creating that we can take forward to our old age? I am not preaching, I am asking for your view point as I do not see what we are trying to achieve by neglecting our parents (if this can be called neglecting that is).

Urban India is seeing an increasing rate of divorce. In some ways, the fact that divorce is no longer a social stigma, is a great boon to those who were subjected to physically and mentally abusive marriages. However, at the same time, divorce today has also become an escape route. When individuality and ego want to be supreme, the willingness to compromise reduces. There is little merit seen is making adjustments. In the recent times, I have been hearing of a number of incidents where the reason of divorce was stated to be irreconcilable differences. However, on giving it some thought, a few couples did realize that in the rat race of daily life they had failed to see the bigger picture and were resorting to the most accessible (not the easiest though) way out. Those who had the sense to spend some time, even though it was towards the end, could find a cause, effect and solution to the situation and regain harmony. However, the proportion of such couples to the others just wanting out is small. That to me is saddening. Man is a social animal and cannot live in isolation. So why put oneself through such pain over and over again? Why not think through a decision thoroughly? I am by no means belittling the pain of divorce or the torture of an unhealthy relationship. I am merely questioning our ability to tolerate and foresightedness and whether all such decisions are made in the right frame of mind. Once again I am only soliciting views here as I am of the opinion that as long as there is mutual respect and affection and there is a desire to make adjustments for your partner, then no marriage is unworkable (unless yes of course in the traditional Indian way one got married to a completely unknown individual, only to realize later on that there was absolutely nothing in common between the couple).

In short, in the last couple of weeks I have felt that while we might be moving ahead in the professional space, in the personal space we are losing out. While the means to an easy life have increased, the opportunity to live a life has decreased. We are all busy chasing dreams which will probably not stand us in good stead when we need a friend, a confidant or a shoulder. And hence my final question – should the same perseverance, dedication and effort not be lent to personal relationships as we have been extending to expanding our global brand awareness? Or should I ask if we are indeed differentiating in our efforts in the two arenas at all?

Monday, 5 May 2008


I have been thinking about (or rather rethinking) mercy killing since someone left a comment on one of my posts. What triggered the conclusion of how I feel about it is a recent documentary that I saw (more about it in a bit). Before we reach the conclusion let me start at the very beginning.

My very first debate on the topic was while I was in college. It was not a discussion with a group of friends, but a serious competition. I was being judged by one of the most formidable debating legends of college and had to make an impression. So to over dramatize the entire situation, I opened my speech with the following statement (yes, I do remember it to this day and you will understand why) – “Think about an old woman whose body is covered with bed sores, lying on a bed unable to move, drenched in her own blood and pus. Add to this the fact that she has no control over her bladder or bowel movement. She is lying their asking for mercy and the right to a life of dignity. Can we deny her her dignity?”

Such melodrama! Now if I think of it, there are solutions to all the above problems. Does the person suffer pain, yes; however, the treatments ensure that the patient’s dignity is maintained. Do we have the right to allow the person to end their own life? No, once again I say no. We do not have the right to take what we cannot return. My argument is not just moral it is also about the practicable application of what we would deem to be “mercy”.

While I argued for euthanasia , I put forth most arguments that were related to the suffering of the person. However, at some point I did not stop to think that the suffering can be alleviated, maybe not completely but at least to some extent. To some extent, there is hope that can be reinstated in the person with a will to live. Life is precious and someone who has lost that perspective can restart to have that vision with the help of fellow human beings.

So why do I feel that the lack of a will to live is the most important attitude lapse amongst mercy killing beggars? That is where this documentary comes in. In 1912, there was a race between two groups of people to reach the South Pole. The first group was being led by a Norwegian (Amundsun) and the second by an Englishman (Scott – that was his name and he was not Scottish). Amundsun’s team won the race and returned to the safety of their homes. Scott’s team lost and on their way back from the pole all four members of the team perished under the white blanket of snow.

Recently, a television channel sponsored a similar race between two groups to ascertain what led to the unfortunate end of Scott and his team. The two groups were made to wear 1912 gear, given the same rations as the original teams, they followed the exact routines that Admundson and Scott had and even used the same modes of transportation. Once again, the Amundson team won and the Scott team lost. However, the key discovery that the Scott team leader made was that the defeat had not disheartened them. They were never supposed to win anyway. Scott’s journal on the other hand has a very melancholic tone to it. Photographs taken show a broken man. There is a terrifying grey dullness about the team members’ accounts of their return. While both teams were equally physically battered (the original and the contemporary Scott teams that is) there was a difference, and huge one at that, in the morale. That in the opinion of most researchers led to the deaths of the four courageous and talented men.

Has this one documentary shaped my views entirely? No, it has merely helped me crystalise my thoughts. While I have illustrated why I feel that lack of a will to live can push an individual to take her own life, I am still to comment on the practical issues surrounding euthanasia.

In the materialistic and capitalistic world that we live in, money governs most of our enterprises and actions. Hospitals are no different. The shortage of beds in a lot of cases could potentially lead to doctors unjustifiably certifying that a patient is in sound mental health to take the decision of ending her life. Property and money has not stopped siblings from shooting one another, so mercy killing can definitely be used as a valid means. Legal systems world over are already overloaded and cannot be entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing fair “executions” of euthanasia. I am not sure that a bullet proof method does exist to administer this lethal injection and take away the most awe inspiring creation of God – human life!

With a shaky moral and practical base, I am not convinced how I can support euthanasia. What would I do, if I were to come to an old age such as the one I described, well I do hope that as always, I find a friend who helps me move on.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Technology, Media and Content

It is so ironic. I was lamenting about human beings becoming slaves to technology night before last and yesterday I forgot my phone at home. The realization came only after I had reached office and so yes, I came back home, picked up my phone and then went back to work. I actually spent an hour in the morning just being a slave to “technology”! That does show that I cannot live without my gadgets, does it not!

Technology, however, also has its positives. Bloomberg, for example, has started pooling all news headlines from leading newspapers of a country onto one single page. You can keep scrolling and get top news of the day all in one go. No more having to surf varied web sites and having to wonder if you have missed anything. It is all so easy.

The India page, however, can be full of gossip quite often. For example, the first news that I read this morning was “Hrithik (a leading Bollywood actor) becomes a father for a second time”. Now I am not sure how that piece of trivia actually impacts my life, or for that matter the life of any other ordinary Indian. In a population of a billion people, I am sure we have more important things to discuss and publish. Probably not! I mean one of the leading dailies carried this news item so probably it is important. The next item was “Gwyneth and her new found miracle diet”. Seriously, why would I want to read that first thing in the morning?

Coming to think of it, Indian media has become a tabloid in itself. On my trips to Mumbai I have stopped reading the morning newspapers (except two business dailies) because most often all I read about is some petty crime, some robbery, rape or celebrity news. I am not saying that crime should not be discussed, but not all on the front page! Celebrity talk is becoming all consuming in India. Think about last year when Abhishek Bachhan and Aishwarya Rai got married. Indian media (ranging from TV channels, to FM stations, to newspapers) had nothing else to talk about during the preceding and following four months. Even now, Star News seems to be suffering from a severe hang over. The "news channel" apparently spent (I was informed by a few disgusted friends who chanced upon this) quite a few days trying to decipher if Aishwarya Rai was pregnant. Now, a slight pointer to the esteemed Star News team – people if she is pregnant, we will find out. Remember pregnancy shows!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wake up people. Remember India is the world’s largest democracy! Remember we have elections coming up next year! Remember we have a very silly quota system being imposed upon us! Can we please talk about some of the issues affecting the country and have an open forum? It would be nice to see news in the newspapers and not gossip! We have a lot of kitty party aunties for that. As the “generation next”, can we be a little more, only a little more progressive please!

Give this some thought over the weekend while I give my blog a little rest. Ciao!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Technology and Us

It is almost midnight. I am sitting at my computer working away, trying to ensure that all mails are answered so that the deal goes on smoothly. As I take a break and look down from the window, I see rain drops falling on the pavement. City folk who have been working late (or have been partying) are on their way back home. Most are in a hurry to get inside their warm and cozy homes; however, there is one gentleman who I can see is in no rush. He is typing fervently on his blackberry, oblivious of the rain and the wind. Suddenly I realize, this is who we have become – slaves to technology.

I said slaves, did I not? I take that back. To rephrase my statement, I think we have become accustomed to technology and tend to take it for granted. I take myself for example. Every morning I walk into work and as I take the first sip of my café latte, I log on to Bloomberg. Without checking the market movements, the news and the incoming messages, I cannot seem to start my day. From there I move to checking the trade flows for the previous day on the internal systems. Having ensured I am up to speed on that, I move on to the more routine stuff of emails and voice mails. Coming to think of it, the first thirty minutes of my day, the minutes that set the tone of the day, are dependent on technology.

If I was not to have Bloomberg access, I think I would feel different (cannot think what that would be like!). I do know that last time when I did not carry my laptop on a business trip, I was restless as I could not check the systems daily for price and flow movements. Well, without emails and a phone I do not think I could function. So in some ways, I am thinking once again, are we not slaves to technology! The finance world did function twenty years ago without Bloomberg. Deals were done thirty years ago without email. And people did travel by ship fifty years ago without real time connectivity. How did that world exist? If it means living without my tools and gadgets, I am not very keen to find out. If someone can enlighten me in simple words, then I am all game.