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Sambhar Mafia - Cooked To Kill!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The World of Thomas, James and Percy

During my recent vacation, I spent some time assembling the train table set of my 3-1/2 year old nephew. My knowledge of such toys is very limited and it was the first time I heard about Thomas and friends. After visiting few toyshops and some interactions with my nephew’s friends I realized the craze for this train set. Here are some snaps:

Is there a way in which I can rewind my life back to childhood so that I can enjoy these small pleasures?

Monday, January 30, 2006

RmKV boss is no more

At a time when RmKV Silks has been rising the ranks due to its successful launch of the 50,000 colour saree and other popular collections, we get to hear the news about the tragic death of the brainchild behind all these accomplishments.

MR K. Viswanathan (48), Partner, RmK Visvanatha Pillai & Sons, died in a road accident near Tirunelveli. His approach to marketing the traditional silk saris and the silk `pavadai'(long skirt) made RmKV a household name, not just in Chennai and Tirunelveli, where RmKV has stores, but in all places that silk saris are worn.

RmKV created a buzz around the traditional Kanchipuram sari by setting a Guinness Record for the longest silk sari in 2004. Last year, RmKV came out with another Guinness Record, a special check patterned sari with 50,000 colours woven into it.

Mr Viswanathan's branding of the traditional silk pavadai with fairy tale themes such as Cinderella and Snow White brought it back into fashion.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Double Standards

DS #1

DS #2

A Dating Site named after Laloo

Laloo will not mind as long as he gets all the publicity.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

MAXIMum Controversy

What better way to launch a magazine than a controversy surrounding it? I hadn’t heard about MAXIM till Khushboo came out with a statement objecting to some morphed pictures in MAXIM India’s inaugural issue. The curiosity factor generated out of this issue would have probably resulted in more people buying the mag.

The publishers of Indian Maxim have clearly calculated that 20-something men in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad are just as puerile and inane as their counterparts in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

More curiously, they believe they have identified a new demographic: the Indian Lad. So who do they have in mind?

Apparently, a call centre employee who is earning more in his mid-20s than his father was being paid in his mid-40s; a young man with small-town roots but big-city ambitions.

A social climber keen to sample the best food, wine, clothes, movies and machines; an image-conscious trend-follower with enough disposable income to afford the latest gizmos and gadgets; a guy with his finger closely on the pulse and the latest mobile phone in his palm.

It is the personification of the new, metro-centric India.

I hope the Western world doesn’t get an impression that India is a land full of snake charmers at one end and call center employees at the other end.

Superstar in animation film

ToI Reports:

South Indian screen icon Rajnikanth will be the star of a new full-length animation feature. Being produced by Anil Ambani's Adlabs in collaboration with the Chennai-based superstar's production house, Ocher Studios, the film will mark Adlabs' first foray into the world of animation.

With the way Dhanush’s career is progressing, it’s better he also gets himself involved in such animation films.

It was not DELLiberate.....

..........says Michael Dell

Friday, January 27, 2006

VoipStunt – Free call is just a click away

Sometime ago I tried a service called VoIP Buster, which offered free (first minute only)PC-to-landline calls to most of the developed world. Since one free minute is not much of an attraction, I gave up on VoIP Buster after trying it out once.

Recently I heard about VoIPStunt and the good thing is that this service offers unlimited free calls to landlines in US, UK, Singapore, Europe, ANZ and a host of other countries. I tried out VoIP Stunt and the call clarity is quite good. I obtained this info from the DesiPundit styled Tamil blog called Gilli.

Where does India stand?

All the free services have historically neglected the developing world (including India). Call rates from a foreign country to India have always been priced ridiculously high (when compared to rates to most other countries). All the long distance carriers seem to be making lot of money from homesick desis. After seeing the rates you get a feeling that you are being taken for a ride. Even the so-called new age services like Skype charge as much 0.12 Euros to Indian destinations. At this price, Skype will be much more expensive than the costliest calling card / service in the market. This is probably once reason why Skype calls to India have not really taken off.

It’s the same situation when you talk about airfares to India. Although airfares have come down a bit, the fares to comparable distances are much much cheaper. I sincerely hope that these anomalies vanish in the coming years. That will be the day when we can really say, “Now everyone can fly”.

Update: I stand corrected; VoIPStunt is not an unlimited free service. There is a cap on the number of free calls. You need to pay 10 Euros to enjoy free unlimited calls.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Guess Who?

Even a bad guess would have helped you in spotting this dangerous star.

Identical but not same

If you don’t refer to the singer list in the CD, there is a high likelihood that you’ll confuse between Vijay Yesudas and Madhu Balakrishnan. Both aspire to fill the void left over by Yesudas (given the legend’s absence in the film music space). Vijay Yesudas belongs to Yuvan Shankar Raja camp and sings mostly for movies composed by YSR and Ilayaraja. Madhu Balakrishnan belongs to the Vidyasagar camp and is not usually seen in movies composed by other music directors (except for a few Ilayaraja movies).

Both Vijay and Madhu have been making a mark in the Tamil music scene. Recent songs like Tajmahal Oviyakaadhal (Kalvanin Kaadhali) and Dhavani Potta Deepavali (Sandai Kozhi) prove that Vijay Yesudas is here to stay. Vijay’s Naanaga Naanirundhen (Gambheeram) and Enakku Piditha Paadal (Julie Ganapathy) remain my all time favourites.

Madhu Balakrishnan shot to fame with Parthiban Kanavu. In terms of sheer numbers, he has not sung that many songs to get noticed. Madhu Balakrishnan’s Oru Kili and Thangakkili (both from Paramasivan) are definitely worth a try.

With very little to differentiate between them, there is a possibility that one of them will lose out in the long run.

Vidyasagar gets inspired by Mudhalvan

Inspiration is not new to the music industry. Vidyasagar might not be as bad as Deva but he doesn’t have a clean slate either. He had directly lifted a piece from the string quartet Bond for a song in the movie Parthiban Kanavu. His recent release Thambi is not devoid of such inspirations. The song Sudum Nilavu seems to be strongly influenced by ARR’s Azhagaana Ratchasiye (Mudhalvan).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Vidya Shankar resurfaces

People in Singapore would definitely remember Vidya Shankar Aiyar and his high profile case, which attracted lot of media attention back in December 2003. He continues to be in the news as he happens to be a newscaster.

SUN TV sings local tune

Just realized that SUN TV has changed the time of its programs (for S’pore viewers) to suit Singapore timings. Sometime in April 2005, I had cribbed about the lack of separate feeds for different geographies in Asia (ANZ, South East Asia and Middle East). Looks like people don’t need to stay up till midnight to watch their favourite (?!) mega serial.

Spotted at Seoul Incheon Airport

On my way back to Singapore, I met up with the Tring Tring Boy in NY on Friday. I was scared that he would give me some of this, but he decided to spare me.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Time is running out for watches

There was a time when watches were regarded as a fashion accessory. Sometime in the late 80’s / early 90’s Titan had introduced a watch with straps in various colours and people used to decide on the colour of the strap depending on the colour of their attire. This watch (can’t recollect the brand name now) was a huge hit at that time. Times have changed and people have now started picking the colours for the casing of their MP3 players so that it matches their attire.

Talking about watches, I should mention the two sets of extremes that I have come across. The first category of people consider the watch as an ornament and flaunt their status by donning the most expensive Swiss watches. The second category of people don’t wear watches as they feel that they can anyway see the time from their mobile phones / handhelds / PDA’s etc. Although portable devices tell the time, they might never equal the look and feel of a real watch. Marketers are now concerned because the second category of people are on the rise.

Watchmakers today are worrying that their time has passed and they are scrambling to do something about it. Who would have thought, even a decade ago, that could happen?

But according to the Wall Street Journal teens and young adults are fast abandoning watches as too low tech and too limited.

In the not so distant past no one — not teens, young adults or the middle aged — would have left home without a watch.

So, will a watch run out of fashion?

Only time will tell.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Celebrities and Personal Finance

Every popular magazine has a column where a celebrity talks about how he/she manages personal finance (investments, savings and expenditure). Although they have lots of money, time and again they have proved that they know nothing about personal finance. All that the celebrities say is that the investments are taken care of by their parents or their financial advisors. The only thing which celebrities talk is about their spending pattern and it is usually CD’s, cars and tech gadgets for actors and jewellery, costumes and perfumes for actresses.

Given that the disposable incomes are increasing rapidly, its high time the magazines and newspapers write about some serious personal finance stuff rather than interviewing some celebrity who has become rich overnight.

Marketing to TAM Land: The Pulli Raja way

A literal translation of a national ad may not necessarily work in the Tamilnadu market. Ramanujam Sridhar writes about how ads need to be customized to suit the TN market. Some excerpts:

Many of my friends and contemporaries grew up in an environment where Hindi was an alien language. Thanks to the politicians who had been behind the `anti-Hindi' agitations, many of us could not read or write Hindi, including myself. Our understanding and appreciation of the language was limited, to say the least.

In the '80s and '90s, commercials used to be conceptualised in English and posed several problems in translation, but today they seem to be primarily conceived with the Hindi belt in mind.

Translations turn out stilted and are almost laughable in their execution. Some of the situations too are completely alien to the average Tamilian - the Chevrolet Optra ad featuring Karva Chauth, which is a way of life in the rest of India, means very little to Chennai notwithstanding the Dilwale Dulhania Lejayenges of this world.

I think where advertisers and advertising agencies come to grief in translation is where the creative thought is essentially Hindi — Chinta Mani — or has a clever turn of phrase, like "Cheetah Bhi Peeta Hai" for Mountain Dew. The challenge for agencies is to create advertising that is not dependant on a clever turn of phrase but on the power of an idea that cuts across languages and cultures.

Tamil Nadu is an important market with its own characteristics. And yet it is changing, perceptibly and imperceptibly. It is not made up of the "Hindi down down!" consumers of the '70s though it is not entirely comfortable with Hindi concepts. The average Tamilian is not a diehard conservative as the Khushboo bashers would like us to believe. Advertising agencies must try to "push the envelope."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Bold Move....

....from a Single South Indian man.

The countdown to 100,000 hits

As the hit counter marches towards 100,000 hits, I’m not going to make promises like a prize for the 100,000th visitor. What began as an experiment more than 10 months ago has turned out to be a full time activity occupying a large chunk of my daily time. When I started this blog I never even dreamt of notching up a Bloglines subscriber base of more than 100. I wonder how many of them are really active. Although this blog attracts a steady stream of daily visitors, the comments have not kept up pace with the growth in the hits. This could probably be attributed to my laziness to comment in other blogs.

My initial goal was to make atleast one post per day. I think I have outgrown that target and now try to make as many posts as possible. My Bloglines addiction has grown tremendously and the number of feeds that I’m subscribed to is a shade under 1000. If there is a script which one can run to eliminate feeds that have not been updated for more than 2 months, I would be more than happy to do that as that would help me in pruning my Bloglines list.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hungry Oracle

Who would it be this time? Is it going to be Polaris or Patni or somebody else? This comes at a time when IBM is trying to inch a deal with Satyam.

The Real ICICI

As we all know, ICICI has been expanding aggressively overseas and such efforts have been getting lot of good press in the Indian media. The bank seems to be offering higher than market rates for its deposits in UK and Canada.

The situation on the ground (in UK) seems to be slightly different. Hiring Shah Rukh as the brand ambassador is definitely not the solution to such problems. Let’s hope that they get their act in order.

But ICICI bank has recently come to the notice of many UK savers with the launch of its flagship HiSave account, which offers the generous rate of 5.4%, and guarantees to stay 0.25% above the base rate (currently 4.5%) until December 2007.

Despite the attractive rate, however, not all customers are happy. Bryan Goldstein and his wife opened an account, transferring £14,350 to take advantage of the high rate of interest in mid-August.

The money took ten days to arrive and the interest, which was supposed to be paid on the first day of the month, did not appear on his statement. Mr Goldstein called the bank and emailed the accounts manager every day for more than a week, but no reply was forthcoming. So he withdrew his money. As it turns out, the interest was accruing, but it does not appear on ICICI statements until the money has been in an account for a full month. Unfortunately this is not stated in the account's terms and conditions.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Cho backs Amma

The Hindu has more:

Cho acknowledged the seven-party opposition Democratic Progressive Alliance as an arithmetically strong combination but expressed doubts about its ability to remain united for the coming elections.

Multiplex Mania Continues

The Telegraph reports on the Multiplex boom. It's good to see the trend expanding to smaller cities. As Anand mentioned in one of of my earlier posts, it would be better if the quality of movies matches up with the quality of the movie halls.

.......Besides these, regional players like Sathyam Cinemas, which has two multiplexes in Chennai and was the first theatre in the country to deploy Hollywood-standard digital cinema, are also expanding. Sathyam will add 18 more screens (three multiplexes) across Chennai and Cochin with an investment of Rs 30 crore in 2008. The company is also scouting for four-five more sites in Chennai besides venturing into cities like Madurai, Coimbatore, Trichy and Calicut.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

It’s much more than a personal diary

Deccan Herald’s Sunday edition has a comprehensive article on Blogs in the Indian context. The article is quite balanced and gives lot of information to people who are not familiar with the Indian Blogosphere.

It’s a whole new world out there. A parallel existence. Just log on and you will see. They are real people leading real lives, writing about real events. That book exhibition you went to and forgot all about, that movie you watched and so badly wanted to dissect every frame, la affaire Ganguly, the newest restaurant in town, you name it and you get it. I could easily be talking about the local newspaper here. But, no, it’s the world of the blogs. Stumble into one and I’m sure you will be hooked. Hopping from blog to blog, you realize that it’s a tight-knit community out there. They argue, discuss, rave and rant about almost everything under the sun.

Also, here there are no deadlines, no sub-editors wielding their scissors, you work at your own pace (ah! Tell me about it!) To paraphrase, here is freedom. Of expression.

So, are blogs just personal diaries where you pour your heart out or vent your angst? They have long evolved from personal diaries to much serious stuff, though it would be fair to say there are all kinds. Just check out blogs like indiauncut.blogspot.com, or indianwriting.blogspot.com, or caferati.blogspot.com. Or check out desipundit.com, which tracks the blog world and you will know.

Today, blogs have everything that you can look for in a newspaper. Sometimes, even more. Sometimes, with a personal touch, up close. They break news, they analyse events, they even take up causes with greater gusto than MSM (mainstream media, in blog land).

Rs. 500 per day….

……is all you get for being a phirang extra in a Bollywood movie.

FM No. 1

P Chidambaram gets top billing among Asia’s Finance Ministers. PC is someone whom I hold in high regard and am eagerly looking forward to his trademark Thirukural usage in the forthcoming budget.

All that glitters

Be it Akshaya Trithiyai or a normal day, the common man’s (should it be woman’s?) craze for gold ceases to amaze me. TIME has more:

The shop floor of NAC Jewellers, a store in the South Indian city of Madras, is full of exquisitely wrought necklaces in gold and silver, but the prize possession of the owners is a photograph that hangs upstairs in a small office. It shows a tall crown studded with 4,000 diamonds and made from seven kilograms of gold. Four craftsmen from NAC Jewellers spent six months making the crown, at a cost of about $700,000. It now rests on a statue of the goddess Padmavathi Devi at the Tiruchanur Shrine in South India. Anantha Padmanaban, a partner of NAC Jewellers, proudly shows off a photo album full of snapshots of the work his shop has done for other Hindu shrines: a gold-plated archway for the temple at Guruvayur, a silver crown for the god Kubera at Badrinath, and gold and silver ornamentation for numerous other temples. All through India, Padmanaban says, famous temples are replacing the silver plating on their idols with gold, and smaller shrines are replacing copper deities with silver ones. "People in India have more money now," Padmanaban says, "and the result is that our temples are being covered in gold and silver."

In many ways, gold lust is a relic of the bad old India—an India of weak investor rights and shaky financial systems, where people distrusted banks and the stock market and preferred to store their wealth in tangible assets, chiefly gold and property. The recent economic boom has given Indians a range of sophisticated and relatively secure financial instruments: mutual funds, stocks, bonds, even abstract art. Richer Indians are, indeed, diversifying their investments. "At the top end of society, yes, [gold] consumption is beginning to decrease," says K. Shivram, a vice president of the World Gold Council in Madras. The current surge in demand is being driven by the middle class and even by the poor—evidence of an economic revolution taking place at the lower levels of Indian society.

Although India's current economic boom has been criticized for unevenly benefiting the rich, new wealth is percolating down in many parts of the country to newly empowered members of the working class such as Padma Kondababu, a 40-year-old maid in Madras. The first woman in her family to work outside the home, Kondababu makes $85 a month, a good salary by Indian standards. Whatever she can save, she says, she uses to buy gold, sometimes even in $12 installments—enough for tiny stud earrings. "It's a matter of pride for people like me to buy gold," she says. "Gold used to be a few hundred rupees for a sovereign [a measure of eight grams] in the time of our parents, and yet they couldn't dream of buying it. Now it's six thousand rupees for a sovereign, and still we have the money to buy gold."

King Khan on Newsweek

Newsweek interviews Shah Rukh in its latest issue:

Even your serious films feature songs, a la Bollywood.

You can't have Hindi films without songs—it's like having American films without special effects. You need to have songs, you need to have dances. There has to be escapism. You can't tell [audiences] about the drudgery of everyday life, you need to tell them about fantastic things. And one of the simple fantasies of Indians is that we can sing and dance when we feel like it.

Bollywood has become increasingly popular outside of India in recent years. Is it ready for center stage?

In Europe, I could say that. In Germany, Poland, Russia, England. In America we have only just begun to make inroads.

As Bollywood becomes globalized, will the formula change at all?

The crux of the films won't change, but we will have to make them a bit shorter. I think that songs and dances will remain an inherent quality. [But] I think the brevity of expression will have to be learned from the West.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The lure of listing abroad

Few years ago the buzz was to list on NYSE and NASDAQ. Lot of Indian IT, Banking and Pharma companies took the route during that period. Much before the craze for US listing, there was a craze to list companies on LSE. After tighter regulations and the enforcement of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), even companies listed on the US exchanges are thinking of delisting from the markets and taking their companies private. This move has been prompted because the cost of complying to SOX requirements was considered to be much higher than the benefits derived out of such a listing. Nowadays, we hardly hear about companies going for overseas listing. TCS is mulling an overseas (US) listing and this move comes as a surprise to me.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Saravana Bhavan thinks big

......hotel and multiplex in the offing.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Charging customers for Internet banking

It looks like banks are targetting all and sundry with a No-frills savings account. Some of the charges are exorbitant and I would be surprised if this becomes a success. These customers might be better off sticking to public sector banks.

Technology is expected to bring down costs, but ICICI Bank is charging an annual fee of Rs. 100 for usage of Internet Banking / Mobile Banking. Few years ago, a Malaysian bank (can’t recollect the name now) proposed an access fee for Internet banking transactions and this move received flak from the customers. The bank had to withdraw it’s proposed pricing for Internet transactions.


After having grown tired of seeing him from behind, I finally got to see how the real Anti looks like. We kept blogging related topics to the minimum. Although we had grand plans for dinner, we ended up doing a take-away of our dinner, as my headache was too difficult to bear.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Reader's Editor for The Hindu

The Hindu has indicated that it will be appointing an independent person to a newly created position called the Reader's Editor. This has been hailed as a novelty in the Indian context. I hope this issue is top on the agenda of the Reader's Editor.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Problems galore in Bangalore

It’s now common to see atleast one Bangalore related article in international media every week. No prizes for guessing the theme of the latest piece in Information Week:

Within a few hours in Bangalore, you can go from wending your way down a dirt road outside a 17th-Century mosque lined with trinket-sellers, barefoot urchins, and men herding sheep in the street, to drinking beer in the walled-off gardens of the old British Bangalore Club, where Winston Churchill used sup. It's not that other cities don't abut rich and poor, extravagant and destitute. But here they're in high relief. And quite literally, nearly crashing into each other.

For entry one in a week-long blog I'll keep of a reporting trip to India: 24 hours on duty and off. I arrived at my hotel at nearly 3 a.m. Sunday after negotiating the chaos of the baggage claim at Bangalore International a misnomer, really, since the crumbling former industrial airport owned by military plane maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. has been pressed into service as an international port of call to accommodate the city's booming technology business. It takes 20 hours to get here from San Francisco, and I've been assured that's the short way. It also means that day's night and night day, which led to breakfast at 3 p.m. They do make a strong pot of coffee here though.

Monday, January 09, 2006


Saturday, January 07, 2006

Prognosis for 2006

Australia’s The Age mentions Call-centre backpacking in its prognosis for 2006:

Next time you get a call from Bangalore, it might be someone you know - British, American and Australian graduates are following their jobs offshore to India and working in call centres. Between 20,000 and 30,000 expats work in Indian IT already.

There simply aren't enough Indian graduates to keep up with the outsourced boom - a recent report estimates that outsourcing needs 120,000 extra English-speaking professionals over the next five years.

Companies such as Launch Offshore recruit staff from Britain, signing graduates up for a year on Indian wages (as little as $350 a month, but the cost of living is low).

Many jump at the chance: 10 months of 40-hour weeks, followed by two months of paid holiday to travel the country.

Friday, January 06, 2006

STD Booth or Booth to prevent STD?

Pic Courtesy : Flickr

New Indian Express captures the confusion in the minds of the Chennai public:

Condom vending machines installed at various spots in the city have been drawing inquisitive looks as many people are not aware of their usage. Many mistake the machines for telephone booths. And those who identify the machines feel shy to use them.

Crunch time for commies

Randeep Ramesh writes in Guardian about the reform process in West Bengal. I don't understand the statement about the impact of Metro in Kolkata. The CM's statements mentions that Metro would only cater to 5 Star hotels and restaurants. Wouldn't Metro sell to other wholesalers as well? Is Metro going to sell only food products in Kolkata?

West Bengal's increasingly warm embrace of foreign capital has paid off. The state has just sold 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of agricultural land to an Indonesian group in a $10bn deal for a software park and industrial zone building motorbikes, across the river from Calcutta. The state says investors from Singapore are keen to fund and build a new airport. Last year West Bengal signed a $235m contract with P&O to build India's first private port.

Strikes are banned although trade unions did disrupt IT workers last September with street demonstrations. Buddha was furious. "We are totally discouraging to this type of agitation. It's dogmatic and sectarian," he said.

Mr Bhattacharjee bridles at such claims. "I met with Wal-Mart. They wanted to set up a big shopping mall here in Calcutta but I said that we have farmers, fishermen, consumers and lots of small vegetable markets in the city. All would be out of business if Wal-Mart came in." Instead the state will allow the German company Metro to set up shop to provide wholesale produce to five-star hotels and haute cuisine restaurants. "We are not categorically against retail investment but we need to build up a market mechanism. We have to be selective."

A costly lesson

How not to entertain business guests

Language Proficiency

I was just browsing through some sites and had to fill up some forms. One of the categories was related to language proficiency and instead of just asking for English proficiency, the site requests us to state the proficiency in one of the following categories:

English – US
English – UK
English – Hong Kong
English – India
English – Other Asia
English – Singapore
English – Australia
English – Canada

I don’t know what is the internal pecking order for the various categories. I wonder what difference it makes if one states as English - India or English - Singapore.

Tamil proficiency was classified under 2 categories:

Tamil – India
Tamil - Srilanka

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Chennai Open – The show must go on

Chennai has been hosting the Annual ATP Tennis event for the last 8 years and if corporates are reluctant to show support, the event might lose its appeal. Although the event has a glorious past it’s current form is not what the tennis enthusiasts would really adore.

Back in the days when tobacco firms were allowed to advertise, ITC came in as the sponsor and the event was called the Gold Flake Open. ITC’s Y C Deveshwar made it a point to be part of the proceedings during this period. Tata Group acted as the sponsor from 2002 to 2004 and the event was called TATA Open. Big corporates backed out from 2005 and hence the event was rechristened as Chennai Open. Tennis might not have the same fan following as cricket, but it does have some appeal. Designer labels, European fashion houses and Swiss watches are advertising heavily in some of the lifestyle and business magazines in India. It might be a good platform for these brands to be associated with the Chennai Open (as the title sponsor). Chennai is the auto hub of India and one of the biggies like Ford or Hyundai might be an ideal sponsor.

Paradorn Srichaphan posing during the photo shoot of Chennai Open 2005

I have been a spectator in two of the earlier editions of the tournament and I can definitely say that the atmosphere at the Nungambakkam stadium was quite electric. I understand that the current event has lost its sheen. The two prominent reasons being the lack of top-notch sponsors and the lack of top-notch players. Chennai Open clashes with Adelaide and Doha ATP tournaments, which offer attractive prize money. One should congratulate the TN State government and the Tamilnadu Tennis Association for putting up a brave effort in ensuring that Chennai plays host to this prestigious event every year. The authorities have somehow roped in a group of sponsors till the year 2009. The group consists of PSU banks and some Chennai-based family managed business houses. My only wish is that the authorities and the tennis enthusiasts should work together to revive this event so that it can regain atleast some of the past glory.

ATP has launched some player blog to create some buzz about the tournament. Ivan Ljubicic blogs about his experiences in Chennai. Some excerpts from his blog:

We had the opening ceremony at 4 pm. I was there with Moya, Stepanek and Srichaphan. There was a little bit of rain but it didn’t interrupt us.

Then I did some long, long interviews until 6. 15 pm with lots of newspapers and TV. Everyone was interested in my past season and my goals for the next month. India is a huge country with a lot of people and media, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised with all the questions. I’ve never done so many interviews at one time, but there were lots of interesting questions, so it was fine.

One thing I hadn’t thought of in India is the need to avoid putting ice in your drinks. People have said to me that you never know what type of water was used to make the ice and it could carry some health risks.

Tomorrow my wife will get out and see some of the city. The hotel is really beautiful but it’s not the real Chennai. She wants to see what everyday life in Chennai is like. I hope to be able to take a look around on Wednesday.

Driving from the Chennai airport to the hotel, one of the first things to strike you is just how chaotic the traffic is. While it’s similar to what you find in China and Croatia when you’re off the main highways, I said to my wife ‘I wonder what Americans would make of this?’ It’s hard to comprehend the volume of traffic on the road and the chaotic way people drive. Most of the time there aren’t any traffic lights or lines on the road. People just weave in and out I’m amazed there aren't more accidents.

And, picture this: It’s common to see a man driving a humble motorbike with his wife sitting sidesaddle on the back, holding an infant (or two!) in her arms. No-one is wearing a helmet!

Private education rules supreme in India

Marginal Revolution links to a NYT article (free registration required) which talks about the trend towards private schooling in India:

The schools, founded by former teachers, landowners, entrepreneurs and others, and often of uneven quality, have capitalized on parental dismay over the even poorer quality of government schools. Parents say private education, particularly when English is the language of instruction, is their children's only hope for upward mobility.

Such hopes reflect a larger social change in India: a new certainty among many poor parents that if they provide the right education, neither caste nor class will be a barrier to their children's rise.

In another education related article, Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby narrates his experiences after his visit to the Vellore Institute of Technology in TN. Mallaby also mentions the increasing trend of people opting for private engineering colleges in India.

Vellore is a small town in southern India, poor enough for some of its buildings to have thatched roofs rather than the rain-proof metal sort. Until a few years ago Vellore was notable only for its large Christian medical center, erected with the help of foreign money. But now it has sprouted this 9,000-student technical college, complete with a sports stadium, an incubator for start-up high-tech businesses and a bio-separation lab. Everywhere you look, fresh buildings are under construction: over here a new laboratory complex, over there a gleaming student hostel with its own swimming pool.

The college started out in 1984 with just 180 students, and its extraordinary growth is a symbol of the modern India as much as forts and palaces symbolize the India of old. Its success is part of the explosion of technical schools all across this country, which in turn is part of India's technology-fueled economic miracle. In 2005 India produced 200,000 engineering graduates, about three times as many as the United States and twice as many as all of Europe. But the really astonishing statistic is this: In 2005 India enrolled fully 450,000 students in four-year engineering courses, meaning that its output of engineers will more than double by 2009.

Of course, India's progress isn't simple. The best engineers get snapped up by industry, so it's hard to find decent teachers to staff Vellore and other engineering schools. As a result, many of the new colleges teach kids little of value, and some science graduates end up unemployed. But the story of Vellore points to an important lesson. Apparently unconnected development policies -- cuts in tariffs and oppressive business regulation, or projects to build roads and power grids -- can sometimes stimulate new educational enrollment at least as much as direct investments in colleges or schools.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Jetstar Asia to connect Singapore and Bangalore

Budget carrier Jetstar Asia plans to expand its Indian presence with the introduction of a new flight from Bangalore to Singapore (via). The airline already operates a flight between Kolkata and Singapore. The introductory one-way fare is Rs. 2999 (excluding taxes and charges). I hope Jetstar Asia will expand to more Indian cities in the near future.

Job-seeking Indian doctors going through tough times in UK

The Independent reports about the struggles of overseas job-seeking doctors (majority Indians) in Britain:

Standing in the courtyard of the Sri Mahalakshmi Hindu temple in east London, a dozen jobless doctors are eating dhal, rice and potatoes off paper plates.

Wrapped against the cold in anoraks and sweaters, they come here each evening when the temple serves free food. They eat in the gloom before slipping away to damp, squalid lodgings where many sleep three to a room.

They are among thousands of overseas doctors who have flocked to Britain in the past five years in response to the NHS's global appeal for more staff. But instead of finding hospitals ready to welcome them, they face unemployment, poverty and discrimination.

A growing army of unemployed doctors, most from the Indian subcontinent, are living on the breadline in east London and other British cities while depriving their own countries of their desperately needed skills.

Education: East Vs West

In his Newsweek column, editor Fareed Zakaria presents some aspects about Eastern and Western education. He also presents some views putforth by Singapore’s education minister.

Movies movies everywhere!

Chennai’s Sathyam Cineplex has unveiled its plans to open 20 new movie halls in Chennai. The new halls will come up in Kilpauk and Vadapalani. What’s also surprising is Sathyam’s decision to convert the existing the flagship Sathyam theatre into smaller movie halls.

Increased competition could normally result in better service and pricing pressures, but this multiplex boom is only pushing ticket prices upwards. How else can you explain the Rs. 500 price tag for a VIP ticket in PVR Cinema in Bangalore?

The situation few years ago was totally different. Single screen movie halls were closing down and paving way for marriage halls and shopping malls. The current interest in retail and entertainment is spiralling the boom in the multiplex industry. Few years ago, there was another boom in the theme park industry. Although lots of theme parks have sprung up near the metros, I don’t think they are doing all that well. A classic example is Chennai’s Kishkintha, which went through a rough patch sometime ago. Initial indications are that the multiplex boom is for real and will last longer than the boom witnessed by the theme park industry.

Winding up 2005

Receiving a ticket for parking in a no-parking zone might not be a great way to wind up 2005, but the fireworks at Philly’s Penn’s Landing more than made up for it. The Mummer’s parade on New Year’s Day was the icing on the cake.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Wage disparity hits H-1B professionals

A recent study has revealed that H-1B professionals earned significantly lower than their US counterparts. Are companies using the H-1B quotas to undercut wages?

The report revealed that wages for H-1B workers in computer programming occupations were overwhelmingly concentrated at the bottom of the US pay scale and that wages on Labour Condition Applications (LCAs) for 85 per cent of them were for less than the median US wage in the same occupations and state.

It also claimed that applications for 47 per cent of H-1B workers were for wages even below the prevailing wages claimed by their employers. "Very few H-1B workers earned high wages by US standards. Applications for only four per cent of H-1B workers were among the top 25 per cent of wages for US workers in the same state and occupation," it said.

A pill in the making…

….for the junk-food junkies.

How to ‘arrange’ a Page 3 Party?

DNA has all the dope:

Throwing a party, and need a celebrity to make it happening? Such dreams are now within reach, though you may have no personal connection with glitz and glamour.Many event management companies are working overtime to make your fantasy party a reality. While the guests get to shake hands and pose for pictures with the celebrity, the latter walks away with a tidy sum in appearance money. As the trend of ‘hiring’ celebrities for private parties catches on, Bollywood and television actors are making hay.

Women celebrities like Mallika Sherawat, Malaika Arora Khan, Yana Gupta, Rakhi Sawant and Isha Koppikar are more sought after than their male counterparts like John Abraham and Akshay Kumar. Traditional families are keen on the presence of TV stars.

The hosts cannot set the date for such parties. Setting the party date depends on the availability of the celebrities. Many want Page 3 celebrities to attend their dos. It costs an estimated Rs5 lakh for the attendance of 15 to 20 Page 3 celebrities and the media, excluding the cost of food, liquor and the venue. The clients are, however, instructed that photographs of such events can only be used for editorial purposes and not for advertising.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year Wishes

Sambhar Mafia wishes everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year.
(Pic Courtesy: BBC)