Thursday, January 1, 2009

Far From The Maddening Crisis

Published on Wed, Dec 31, 2008 at 18:48 , Updated at Wed, Dec 31, 2008 at 18:51
Source : CNBC-TV18

Elizabeth Flock, Forbes-Network18

With no end in sight to the current downturn, countries are being forced on the back foot, and their heads are talking bail-out deals. Down and out, people are beginning to wonder whether there are any places left which might provide them with a safe haven.

The good news is, yes, there are. We have cherry-picked six places which are relatively out of the danger zone. While the rest of the world might be going through a trough, these six hotspots offer a ray of hope.

1. Faroe Islands, Denmark

If you’ve heard of the Faroe Islands, it’s most likely because of the $52-million loan they made out to Iceland in October. A tiny Danish province, it is a self-governing group of 18 islands strung out between Iceland and Norway. The Faroe Islands haven’t always been so independent though. In the early 1990s, the autonomous region faced an economic crisis pushing it to the edge of bankruptcy, inducing many residents to move to the Danish mainland.

The 48,000 Faroese people left may now have it better than the rest of us. The economy of the Faroe Islands has rebounded in the last few years and in 2006, unemployment was at 3% in the province, one of the lowest rates in Europe.

While the region’s main revenues come from the fishing industry, petroleum recently found in the Faroese area has promised an alternate source of prosperity.

For newcomers to the Faroe Islands, copious jobs await. Because many young students move to Denmark after high school, leaving behind only the elderly, the Faroese have for the past few years been left with hundreds of job vacancies. Any takers?

2. Washington D.C., United States

Call it irony, but the country which got us into the mess, the US, offers a strong contender for the safe haven spot: Washington D.C.

With a hefty workforce of 600,000 residents and a daytime population that bulges to more than one million, the city would be vulnerable to the continuous hacking of American jobs, except for one thing: most of the city is fuelled by the US government.

The federal government accounts for 27% of the jobs in the district, which houses the centres of the executive, legislative, and judicial branch. That’s not counting 172 foreign embassies, and companies responsible for defense and homeland security. Add to that mix lawyers, lobbyists, accountants and journalists that are attached to the government.

As of May 2008, the Washington Metropolitan Area had an unemployment rate of 3.5% (close to that of the Faroese), which was the lowest rate among the 40 largest metro areas in the US, and lower than the national average unemployment rate during that period, which stood at 5.2%.

Some suggest that the crisis may even create a surfeit of jobs in the capital, as the Federal government hires Wall Street experts to help out. The virtually free District of Columbia Public School system plus the cheap Metrorail public transport system also makes the city more liveable than others in the US during the downturn.

If you still want to be a part of the global hysteria, while you’re there, you can always visit Recession’s Restaurant (L St, NW # 1, Washington, DC 20036, United States, +1 202-296-6686) for a quick dose. Then return to your stable government job and thank the stars for the arrival of your salary so you can pay for that big lunch you had.

3. Larsemann Hills, Antarctica

With the world’s blood already running cold, Antarctica with its record low temperatures of -89 degrees Celsius may not seem worthy of this list. But the place has its merits. There are 44 permanent research bases maintained by 18 countries here. Many of these are manned year-round and the number of people on the continent varies from approximately 5,000 in summer to 1,000 in winter. And like in Washington D.C., government jobs aren’t being cut.

India too maintains a permanent research base, Maitri, on the continent. A new research base was commissioned at Larsemann Hills in East Antarctica, to be installed by 2009. This will eventually replace Maitri.

Larsemann Hills area is also among the most inhabitable on the continent. It has favourable drinking water and topography for living conditions. And activities and research have not been affected by the slowdown.

Antarctica has no government of its own, and belongs to no country. The only recession the continent has ever seen is its West Antarctic glacier, which has been attributed to global warming. For now, it might be the best place to take refuge from the meltdown on the other six continents.

4. Non-Starbucks-Consuming Countries

Daniel Gross, an American journalist, offers a simple theory to identify which countries will be most affected by the economic downturn. His “Starbucks Theory of International Economics”, published on, states that more the number of Starbucks outlets a country has, more the likelihood of it being hit by the recession.

He argues that Starbucks personifies the crisis—triggered by the subprime and credit bubbles—because the coffee chain followed new housing developments to open new outlets, and became a meeting place for real estate brokers and clients. He calls the caffeinated giant, “fuel for the boom, the caffeine that enabled deal jockeys to stay up all hours offering papers for CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), and helping mortgage brokers work overtime processing dubious loan documents.”

According to him, countries with more Starbucks outlets are better connected to the global economy. Such countries have seen businesspeople fritter away money on over-priced coffee, and are willing to adopt an American style of business over their own.

So, places that don’t have Starbucks are safe havens.

Gross cites Africa, with just three Starbucks, as a place where banks have not failed. Central America, which has zero Starbucks, has had few bailouts. Argentina, at long last a stalwart economy, has only one store. Italy, with zero Starbucks outlets, has a banking sector that isn't very operational globally, and has seen little disaster.

What about India? Gross doesn’t touch on that. While Starbucks was keen to enter India, it withdrew its application from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, which approves foreign investments into the country, because the chain wanted a majority holding structure (overseas brands in India can’t hold more than 51%).

But with the rise of a caffeinated middle class which meets at the Café Coffee Days and Baristas for a coffee 15 times more expensive than roadside tea, market experts say Starbucks can’t ignore India for long. With the recession deepening and lengthening, and Starbuck’s eye on India, perhaps it’s time to move to a remote village Starbucks won’t touch.

5. Nagorno Karabakh

In a recent speech in Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh encouraged banks to provide liquidity to ensure there were no disruptions in economic activity. This came just days after the Sensex fell below 10,000.

Contrast to Nagorno Karabakh, a remote enclave located in Azerbaijan near the Armenian border. Though the province is disputed by the two countries, it unilaterally declared itself an independent republic in 1991. In a recent speech, Nagorno Karabakh’s Prime Minister Arayik Harutyunyan said that despite the reduced cash flow from outside the enclave, the volume of bank deposits in the republic are actually growing.

Nagorno Karabakh may be unaffected because of its essentially isolated business sector, which is largely state-run. But Harutyunyan has a lot to be happy about. Not only has the volume of deposits in banks gone up 22.7 percent from January to October, but the volume of loans credited by commercial banks also went up by 55.6 percent during that period. While giant banks collapse around the world, from the US to Iceland, an Armenia-based AmeriaBank just opened its first affiliate in Karabakh early in November. The total capital of the bank is 17 billion Armenian dram ($56,650,000).

Retail sales are also up in the region: 7.7 percent in the first nine months of 2008 over the previous year’s indicator for the same time period. Compare this to November in the US, where retail chains saw the worst monthly sales in a decade.

Total income in Nagorno Karabakh from January to September of this year has grown 22.2 percent compared to the same time period in 2007, according to the National Statistic Service. GDP share per head has also grown.

At the opening ceremony of AmeriaBank, RA Central Bank Chairman Artur Javadyan said Armenia’s banking system is stable and overcapitalised. He also said: “As of today we have no problems at all.” Bold words, but reassuring ones for anyone looking for a safe place to hide.

6. Bhutan

If you don’t believe that any place is truly safe from the effects of the recession, you are probably right. The answer may be not to focus on measuring wealth. The Kingdom of Bhutan thinks so. Instead of measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the country lives by an index of Gross National Happiness (GNH).

The GNH index was created in 1972 by the then king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, after continued reports on Bhutan’s ramshackle economy. The country soon stopped measuring how productive its citizens were through GDP. Instead, the small Himalayan nation now lives only by the measure of how happy its citizens are.

The index is based on the idea that the true development of a country cannot be just material development, but spiritual development as well—an approach that befits Bhutan’s Buddhist culture.

There are four pillars of GNH: the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.

Bhutan is not a refuge from financial woes. The country has a very low GDP. In 2007, Bhutan had the second fastest growing economy in the world, with an annual economic growth rate of 22.4 percent. But most of this was due to the commission of the Tata Hydroelectricity project. The GNH, on the other hand, is succeeding in its ambition. According to Business Week in 2006, a global survey conducted by the University of Leicester rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth happiest country in the world. India ranks 125th. If you can’t beat the financial crisis, at least in Bhutan you can beat the recession blues.

Elizabeth Flock is an associate reporter with the new business magazine to be launched by Network18 in association with Forbes, USA.

What We Did Right In 2008

Published on Wed, Dec 31, 2008 at 19:01 , Updated at Thu, Jan 01, 2009 at 09:16
Source : Network18 business magazine

Elizabeth Flock, Forbes-Network18

Year 2008 was rough. It was a year where past excesses and lack of foresight led to perhaps the greatest recession in history; a year of reorganisation of world powers; and a year that ended in terrorist attacks on India that called into question the effectiveness and adequacy of our government, media, police and intelligence forces. The question stands—did we do anything right?

A fiscal cushion

The lack of foresight across the board—among economics experts down to the common man—is perhaps one of the most startling aspects of the global financial crisis. But taking a closer look at the Indian economy and the fiscal policies of the past year, it seems not everything was done in error or without prescience.

Ajit Ranade, Chief Economist with the Aditya Birla group, says the expansionary budget unveiled by then Finance
Minister P. Chidambaram in February was a measure that helped stave off some of the crisis.

When Chidambaram announced the budget, it was called ‘populist’ and the BJP said it was a ‘recipe for long term economic disaster’. The budget increased expenditure targets on rural development and education, cancelled loans made to farmers, and offered tax relief to low-income groups.

But Ranade says the criticisms were off-target. “The expansionary fiscal spending had impact on rural purchasing power. No one anticipated what was coming, but in hindsight this looks like it helped us with the slowdown,” he says.

Chidambaram’s budget increased banks’ target loan disbursals to the agricultural sector by Rs. 2.8 trillion ($70.52 billion), and Rs. 160 billion were allocated for employment in rural areas. The health sector allowance increased by 15 percent to Rs. 165.34 billion.

The budget also raised taxes on short-term investments and brought the mutual fund industry under the tax service net. At the time, this hurt market sentiment.

However, looking back, the budget provided a fiscal cushion, says Ranade. “While there was a slowdown in global markets, domestic markets kept up some momentum. We have seen our second quarter GDP show 7.6 percent growth, which was higher than expected. The budget might have mitigated some of the effects and allowed for this growth.”

The realty bubble predicted

While much of the world seems caught by surprise by the popping of the real estate bubble, Ranade says the monetary policy and stance of the RBI proved to be in the right direction in terms of the real estate market.

In December 2007, RBI Deputy Governor, Rakesh Mohan, warned against the real estate bubble in his address at Yale University on India’s financial sector reforms. Mohan said that the elevated realty prices along with non-transparency in the real estate sector might lead to an “asset bubble” and pose risks to the banking system.

He also said that the backlog in housing, growing income, and more urbanisation meant a continued demand for housing and pressure on real estate prices over the next year. “Such developments can easily generate bubbles in the real estate market because of problems in the elasticity of supply and information asymmetries,” he warned.

Mohan didn’t just talk; the RBI did something about it.

Ranade says that the RBI started tightening their policies much earlier than other parts of the world. “The RBI warned against the real estate bubble two years by starting to increase the risk rate on commercial real estate loans. They also put a cap on excessive lending to real estate.”

The policies of the RBI may have also prevented the subprime crisis in India, says Ranade, which is a minimal category in this country compared to the US.

Shift towards a multi-polar world

At a time when the global community is critical of US’ excesses in Wall Street and there is talk of the dollar ceasing to be the dominant world currency, a radical reorganising of world power seems more likely.

This unexpected result of the meltdown may be something else 2008 did right. The G-20 summit in Washington in November to discuss the global financial crisis put India and China centre stage and gave the BRIC countries more of a say as the world powers recognised the need for a global coordinated response to the crisis. The multi-polar world America has dreaded since the end of the Cold War (Vice President Dick Cheney and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz have repeatedly sworn to prevent it at all costs) seems to be in the not-too-distant future.

The United States National Intelligence Community survey of the world of 2025 in its report, “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World”, confirms this. The survey found that the US was losing dominance, and China and India were lining up to fill its shoes.

In addition to the G-20 summit and other achievements such as the nuclear deal, India has proved itself in 2008 by breaking records. In April India sent 10 satellites into orbit in a single launch, setting the new world record. And at the Olympics in Beijing it received its first gold medal.

With the collapse of established financial systems and the approaching departure of President Bush, records may not be India’s primary expression of clout. As the inflexibility and egotism of larger countries like the US tempers, India’s global role may continue to expand rapidly as it did at the G-20.

Yes we can

The election of Barack Obama may be crucial to the way world powers reorganise themselves. Countries the world over are not unhappy about it. In an Economist magazine survey of an imaginary global electoral ballot, Obama got the world vote 9115 to 203.

While President Bush may have been more pro-India than any president in US history, most notably with the passage of the nuclear deal and his policies on outsourcing, Obama may prove just as favourable. While there were initial concerns about his views on outsourcing and his promise to intervene in Jammu and Kashmir, he has since toned down those pledges.

Shanthie Mariet D’Souza, Associate Fellow at the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, acknowledges that there have been problem areas, but says that with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, there will be better understanding of these issues.

D’Souza also thinks there will not be a drastic change from the previous administration. “We feel that the new Obama administration will understand the strategic issue in South Asia well because Obama is interested in balance of power. He talks of change from a unilateral policy to a multilateral one, including the stand on Iran and negotiation in Afghanistan, and we think he will work to achieve that.”

Obama’s foreign policy advisor, Wendy Sherman, has stressed the future president’s plans for an overhaul in the interface between the US and the rest of the world. “He is going to engage with the world…with smart diplomacy, strong alliances and really bring America’s moral authority back into the world,” she says.

D’Souza says that despite Bush’s pro-India policies, the Obama administration is a welcome change because of a badly-managed Bush administration. “Because Obama is open to different opinions, with intellectual curiosity to absorb different things, we think he can make real change. It’s both his team and vision he has.”

2009 will show whether Obama’s policies will be beneficial to India, and whether his pledges are bonafide. But judging the overwhelming global consensus in his favour, Obama’s victory may prove to be something America did right this year.

A mature reaction to cross-border terror

More than the election of a new American president, or the reports from intelligence agencies indicating a reorganization of global power, the recent terrorist attacks on Mumbai have shaken up the world. The attacks, which battered Indian nationals and Western visitors, have forced the West to take more than a cursory look at India.

Visits by Condoleeza Rice, and officials from the CIA, FBI and NYPD in response to the attacks illustrate the US’ understanding that a closer relationship with Pakistan than India may need to change.

But what has the Indian government done right in light of these attacks? Ashok K. Behuria, Research Fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, says the policy-makers have reacted in the best way they could.

While many Mumbaikars are angry about the government’s inaction thus far, Behuria says they have been right in advocating restraint. “The government is not doing nothing. They are discussing a lot of options right now: more coordination among security forces, and the possibility of a homeland security agency. Paranoia has set in, but the people at the policy making level have their heads in the right place.”

Devyani Srivastava, Research Officer at the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), agrees. “The diplomatic reaction of the government displays a sort of maturity. They have been able to separate the terrorism issue with other aspects of the relationship of Pakistan and India, which is difficult.”

Many would take issue with this notion, but the next few weeks will prove if the government can present a coherent, effective response to the situation.

The nuclear deal: New-found power

However the policy-makers react to the attacks, one thing they have already achieved in 2008 is the passage of the US-India nuclear deal.

The bilateral agreement for nuclear cooperation between the two countries, exchanging the separation of civil and nuclear facilities in India for full civil nuclear cooperation from the US, was a landmark accord for India after years of being ostracized for not having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The waiver by the Nuclear Supplier’s Group that followed, allowing India to access civilian nuclear technology, was crucial.

Dr. S. Chandrasekharan, Director of the South Asia Analysis Group, says, “We had hardly done 3,000 megawatts and now by 2020 we may achieve the 20,000 megawatts goal. As our economy grows at 8 or 9 percent, this added power is essential. We had the money and expertise, all we needed was the power from countries willing to give it to us, and now we have it.”

The benefits of the deal extend to newly shared facilities of commercial aircraft manufacture, ship building, factories for power plants, steel making plants, mining and drilling hardware, petroleum and petrochemical plant building facilities. The deal also means availability of the latest technology for nuclear power generation, as well as offshoot benefits for markets which are related to nuclear commerce. New business worth $100 billion for companies at home and abroad over the next decade has been estimated as a result of the deal.

Srivastava of the IPCS says the geopolitical effects of the deal have also been big. She cites the greatest benefit to be the confidence the deal generated about Indian diplomacy and its ability for negotiation.

Chandrasekharan says India has joined the international mainstream as a result of the deal. Experts say India will be less isolated, with a new voice in forums like the UN, WTO, and world monetary lending institutions. India may become a member of G-8. And there will be more frequent inter-government exchanges on matters of mutual interest.

But Chandrasekharan warns against being too optimistic. “It’s too early to say how this will change things. Nuclear power doesn’t come in a day. Of course the general economy will improve because it will sustain economic development. Now we are getting some of the energy needed but this doesn’t completely fill the need. We have to look into other sources of energy.”

* * *

The actions of the finance minister and the RBI, the G-20 summit and the election of a new American president, the response of the Indian government to terrorist attacks and the passage of an agreement for nuclear power—2008 may not have been all pandemonium and crisis. We may have done some things right, as a country, and as a world. But like the nuclear deal, it may be too early to tell.

Elizabeth Flock is an associate reporter with the new business magazine to be launched by Network 18 in association with Forbes, USA.

Tough Love: Downers That Get You Up

Published on Wed, Dec 31, 2008 at 19:05 , Updated at Wed, Dec 31, 2008 at 19:12
Source : Network18 business magazine

Elizabeth Flock, Forbes-Network18

Experts have never been able to figure out why people seek out art they know will be painful. They have never been able to really explain why that sad love song feels so good, or why we enjoy a really good horror flick.

Some attribute it to the ‘paradox of tragedy’, the philosophical discussion on why human beings derive pleasure from unpleasant emotions. David Hume addressed the paradox in his treatise ‘On Tragedy’. He argued that tragedy is pleasurable because the impulse of negative emotions is overpowered and converted into pleasure through the eloquence used to depict works of art.

The theories are multitude, but accepting Hume’s theory, let us say that the works of art below succeeded in their eloquence, such that these tragic works are in fact pleasurable. These works of art appear to be downers but really they make you feel good.

And as the world, your job, or your bank account teeters on the edge of collapse, you might just need them.


Anupam Sud

Perhaps the finest printmaker alive in India today, Sud focuses on the tragic tensions between men and women. Yet in her unabashed representation of the nude body, there is an undeniable loveliness. As art critic Gayatri Sinha says, the bodies in Sud’s prints are “the only certainty in this shiftless world”.

Sud is a feminist without the pretensions of being one: displaying the male-female relationship as it really is, complete with exploitation, anguish and desire. It’s refreshing, actually. Sud conquers a physically demanding medium and we can all be gratified by the unabashed lines that etch bodies much like our own.

Best piece of art: “Cupid Playing”

Anupam Sud is on display at the Palette Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Modern Arts in New Delhi.


Works of art from the nearly anonymous British graffiti artist have shown up in zoos, museums, building walls, and theme parks from London to New York to the Israeli West Bank. While Banksy does not hold exhibitions in commercial galleries, you can be sure to find him popping up where you least expect it.

Banksy is sometimes controversial, usually satirical, and always sticking it to the man.

He gives you a bit of an uneasy feeling when he subverts the corporate machine by sneaking his work into galleries (In 2004, Banksy hung a picture in the Louvre, Paris, that he had painted of the Mona Lisa with a yellow smiley face on it).

Yet then you remember that having a print of his recent graffiti work “One Nation Under CCTV” from Westminster, London, still makes you feel countercultural and avant-garde and cool.

Best piece of art: Nine images Banksy painted on the Israeli West Bank barrier in 2005 (including a painting of children digging a hole through the wall).

Banksy is on display wherever you least expect him.


Why do the Blues—a style of music not only named for its use of blue notes, but also the phrase of dejection—feel so good? Below are some of the masters of melancholy, who for years have also provided the utmost listening pleasure.

B.B. King

No Blues list is complete without the ‘King of Blues’ himself, B.B. King. The American guitarist and singer-songwriter defined the genre with his penchant for improvisation, complex string blends and left hand vibrato.

The name of King’s guitar, Lucille, comes from near-tragedy-cum-pleasure. In the mid-50s, King was performing at a show in Arkansas when a fight broke out, spilling over a kerosene lamp and starting a fire. King realised his $30 guitar was inside and rushed back into save it, narrowly escaping with his life. When he found out the fight was started by a girl named Lucille, he named his guitar after her, and played the guitar for the greater part of his career.

King’s career was indeed long. In 1956 alone, B.B. and his band played 342 one-night stands. Total, King has played 15,000 performances. And he is still performing today.

Best album: “The Thrill is Gone”

Best song: “Everyday I have the blues”

Lyrics excerpt:

Everyday, everyday I have the blues

Oh nobody loves me, nobody seems to care
Yes nobody loves me, nobody seems to care
Speaking of bad luck and trouble
Well you know I had my share

John Mayall

John Mayall, the skinny English counterpart to the black American blues performers, grew up listening to his father’s jazz collection and was drawn to the Blues—even its melancholy sound gave him great satisfaction.

Mayall has been around for 50 years and collaborated with a plethora of famous instrumentalists, including Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, and Mick Fleetwood. On Mayall’s 1967 album “A Hard Road”, he is assisted by future Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green, who lends aching guitar solos and raw vocals. Mayall is at his best, using a glut of instruments to give you just that feeling.

Best album: “A Hard Road”.

Best songs: "Someday After a While (You'll Be Sorry)," "It’s Over”

Lyrics excerpt (“It’s Over”):

The way it came about it was a lonely night,
She’d been drinking, wasn’t treating me right
I went outside and I took her for a walk
Things fell through when we started to talk.

Janis Joplin

The girl personifies the Blues. Her struggles with heroin and depression were lifelong. In 1969, while she was with the Kozmic Blues band, she was allegedly shooting $200 worth of heroin per day. On the album released that year, “I Got Dem ’Ol Kozmic Blues Again, Mama”, you can hear her drugs induced more-throaty-than-usual vocals.

When she played with the band at Madison Square Garden that year, she was so drugged up people doubted she would make it. But make it she did and the CD went gold.

Best album: “I Got Dem ’Ol Kozmic Blues Again, Mama”

Best song: “Kozmic Blues”

Lyrics excerpt:

Time keeps movin' on
Friends they turn away
I keep movin' on
But I never found out why
I keep pushing so hard the dream
I keep tryin' to make it right
Through another lonely day, Whoaa


Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita is perverse, it is scandalous, and it is sometimes disgusting. But that doesn’t stop it from being delightful.

The story of an affair between sexual pervert Humbert Humbert and a 12-year-old Dolores Haze has never stopped being controversial from the time it hit the presses. The storyline appals you, and yet you cannot help revelling in Nabokov’s expert parodic style and his celebration of the absurd. The hero’s actions toward young Lolita are repulsive and yet you can’t look away. Perhaps some delight comes in knowing that in comparison at least you are normal. Or that this is only a story. Either way, Lolita will abhor and amuse for decades to come.

Best line: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

Catch-22 is a bitter novel. It traces the horror of war through one man, Yossarian’s, plight, as the carnage of his crew members and friends pile up, and as fear of his own death begins to consume him. Yet Heller’s dexterity of language makes this perhaps one of the most hilarious books ever written, using hyperbole to reveal the absurdity of war.

Heller’s eloquence was such that he coined a new phrase in the English language. A Catch-22, or artificial quandary where no real choice or solution exists, was played out many times throughout the book, most famously in the number of missions the soldiers must fly, ensuring they will never return home.

Readers will despair over Yossarian and the other men’s predicaments, yet delight in the outrageousness of situations. (For example, Yossarian’s late-night attempt to move the enemy line, demarcated by a string on a map, so as not to have to fly more missions).

Heller is at his best in Catch-22, exposing the bitterness of the war and the world, and then exaggerating it to make us laugh at it.

Best quote: There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle."
"That's some catch, that catch-22," he observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Directed by Milos Forman, from the book by Ken Kesey

The psychiatric hospital setting of the film, with most of the patients based on real-life mental patients Kesey had met when he worked in a hospital, gives great fodder for humour. But Forman’s realistic portrayal of insanity also gives you the chills.

The rebel McMurphy, played by Jack Nicholson, may be one of the most memorable in film history. Like all rebels, he is fights oppression and gathers a host of followers—here, his fellow patients. His desperate attempts to subvert Nurse Ratched, the tyrant of the hospital, and the reactions of the fellow patients become increasingly catastrophic and bizarre as the film progresses. But while McMurphy’s demise at the end of the film is tragic, it is not without first inspiring us all.

Best scene: McMurphy’s hilarious attempts to convince Nurse Ratched to rearrange the schedule so that the patients can watch the opener of the 1963 World Series Baseball game on TV.

Taxi Driver

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Taxi Driver was not the first in the cinema of loneliness, but it is one of the grittiest. Disillusioned New York City taxi driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is disturbing and yet the audience identifies with him. He is presented as a common man, a Vietnam vet plagued by insomnia, and we can all understand his disenchantment with the political machine and the city’s crime, as well as his inability to ably connect with other human beings.

As Bickle becomes increasingly more violent, you find yourself further in the coils of Scorsese’s story. At the end, it leaves you feeling bloodied, but you are glad for it.

Best scene: Travis Bickle practicing a threatening speech at home, saying into the mirror “You talkin’ to me?”

Elizabeth Flock is an associate reporter with the new business magazine to be launched by Network18 in association with Forbes, USA.

The Ant And The Grasshopper: A Modern Winter's Tale

Published on Wed, Dec 31, 2008 at 19:22 , Updated at Wed, Dec 31, 2008 at 19:29
Source : Network18 business magazine

Elizabeth Flock, Forbes-Network18

How the ant learnt to save

When I enter Hotel Shashikant in Andheri East, it is lunchtime. A solitary patron is digging into his hot meal. Four employees hover around ready to take orders, but there are few takers for the modestly-priced South Indian or Chinese cuisine.

Started by his father in 1975, the restaurant is now managed by Shashikant Shetty who is only 35. The restaurant ambience is modest, and there is a lot that could be done to fix it. Even in the A/C section, the paint is peeling and the sofa covers need to be changed.

Shetty explains that he stopped doing the regular monthly maintenance on the restaurant about a year and a half ago for a reason. “I saw that I needed to tighten my belt, so I have put these things off and just concentrated on giving proper service.”

The restaurant-owner saw the bubble growing in the economy and knew he needed to take measures to deal with the situation when it popped. He attributes his foresight to the kids that frequented his bar in the evenings with big rolls of money and huge limits on their credit cards. “They would say they were going out to an expensive nightclub, three nights in a row, spending 4,000 rupees each night. They were only 18, 21, and they would have their own bike. They were just going totally crazy with uncontrolled spending. And they had no savings.”

Shetty knew the importance of saving. Growing up in a middle class family, he says he was taught to save from an early age. His family was always conservative with money, he explains.

“Watching my parents and seeing how they acted, I learned to save. I kept telling my mom, we can indulge ourselves a little. But her credo was, if not necessary, then why do it?”

It hasn’t been easy for Shetty to run the business, even before the downturn, and perhaps that is why he learned to be frugal early on. Shetty says there are a lot of hardships in the restaurant industry. First, the growing popularity of street food—and not just snacks, but full meals—has been a huge source of competition. Restaurants cannot compete with food that is so cheaply made.

“Restaurants also have the lowest margins, but the highest cost prices,” says Shetty. “I am always asking myself why all of us [restaurant owners] are selling food so dirt cheap. But the roadside vendors force us to.”

Second, the last year, and especially the past few months, has seen his costs rise exponentially. The electricity bill has jumped from Rs. 40,000 to Rs. 80,000 a month since last May. Shetty says he was expecting the climb because the bill had been rising since last year.

“I tried to prepare by doing a lot of changes in electrical systems, rewiring them and changing tubes to curb costs. And it did help for a couple of months. But when the cost has gone from three to13 rupees per unit at night, what do you do?”

Other costs have also been spiralling. Gas has gone up 300 percent in the last six months, says Shetty. Raw materials have gone up 45-60 percent. Grains have gone up 100 percent and livestock 30-40 percent.

“I can understand that the fuel crisis meant oil and petrol went up. That means transport costs went up, and so did our veggies and raw materials. But the vat excise duty keeps changing every three months. There is no relief from the government in this industry.”

The 20% increase in the VAT excise duty in the past months has meant drinks are too expensive to order in a bar, and instead people are buying their drinks at wine shops, explains Shetty. (A beer at a wine shop is Rs. 70, while at Shashikant it is Rs. 100). He has tried to accept this reality and offset it by pushing his home delivery business.

Even so, sales are dropping. In the past few months, Shetty says Shashikant has seen a 20-22 percent drop in sales. Shetty has been forced to respond by raising the prices on the menu. Drinks went up first because 60% of Shashikant’s business is the bar, and there was a 30% increase in the food menu as well.

Shetty has also made a loan application in the last few months for Hotel Shashikant.

“I wanted to take a bit of an overdraft to run the business in a better manner. I was going to renovate. I also thought then I could buy in bulk and save money that way.”

But Shetty has been unable to get a loan, even from his bank with which he has had a relationship for three years.

“Restaurants and hotels are high risk so the bank doesn’t lend to us,” Shetty explains. “For the last six months, I have no liabilities except a car loan and have been trying to get a loan from all the reputed banks. But they tell me my profile doesn’t fit. They don’t mind taking my money, but they won’t give.”

So Shetty has continued to do what he knows how to do best: save. He says when shopping for groceries, he used to get specialty items but now he won’t. He has also reduced eating out and other outings. The last vacation he took was in January, and there won’t be another one soon.

“I am saving because I expect sales to fall further—this is only the beginning. December, the biggest month, will be especially lousy for everyone. I’m not badly affected by the recession yet. I have notches in my belt to tighten. Even now, I could afford to take an expensive holiday or travel first class. But I won’t.”

Perhaps it is in the Shetty’s blood to save. Or perhaps survival instinct is guiding him.

“If this restaurant shuts down, I have nothing. It is my life and soul,” he says.

The grasshopper who still flies high

Franz Almeida’s got style. There’s no denying that. As he swaggers down in his Giorgio Armani three-piece suit, you can’t help but notice the panache of a New York model. His cordovan skin is an exotic shade that suggests an amalgam of ancestors from Lisbon to Mumbai.

This half-Portuguese, half-Indian Mumbaikar gave up having his face in print for something far more exciting: flight school. A former street fighter, Almedia hasn’t lost the instincts that taught him to survive fist fights.

“Sometimes you gain, sometimes you lose,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders. A captain with Jet Airways, Almeida traverses the world treating himself to the best that countries across the planet have to offer. And here comes the cherry: his company subsidized his excesses.

Jet Airways, Almeida’s boss since 2001, liked to put their long-haul pilots in 5 star hotels and give them $100 a day to spend on frothy beer in Brussels and Peking Duck in Hong Kong. Jet lag was alleviated by downy pillows and yielding mattresses. His lifestyle as ‘Captain’ meant flying to New York for a juicy steak and falling asleep after a nightcap of room service champagne.

But Almeida’s luxurious routine burst open like all the other bubbles in the past months.

He wasn’t on the firing line of 1900 yellow-jacketed, tear-streaked Jet employees in October. But his daily bonus has been halved, and he now sleeps on stiffer mattresses in 3-star hotels. No more chocolates on pillows. No more nearly unlimited dim sum.

A salary cut on the horizon rubs salt in the wound from “father”, as some Jet-ers call founder chairman Naresh Goyal. Not to mention the oceans Almeida lost in the US stock market when it plunged.

You would think that the slowdown in the airline industry would have impacted his lifestyle. Fat chance.

The man is still spending like Dick Fuld, without the fall. He continues to nosh at chic brunches in South Mumbai. He still sips a martini, or a few, at the members-only Prive night club. And he shows this reporter the rare Portuguese tiles he plans to install in his bathroom.

The lion’s share of his salary goes (and will continue to go) to feed the appetite of his lifestyle. “I spend my money on the way I live, where I go, what I eat, and what I wear. Oh, and the vacations I take.” His next vacation may be to Rio De Janeiro for the Carnival festival, where the women are sirens, he tells this reporter with a grin.

Almeida knew he wanted to live the beautiful life ever since he was a kid. Growing up in Mumbai in a well-heeled family, Almeida dug the socialites and Bollywood-types around him, observing where they went, what they ate, what they liked. In the city of dreams, he too had one: to own a chain of plush, luxury hotels or a restaurant like Indigo, the swanky restaurant and bar behind the Taj Mahal Hotel in South Mumbai.

He hasn’t done that, but his lifestyle approximates it. Almeida hangs out in only the trendiest joints. His apartment on Carter Road in Bandra is a stone’s throw from the sea. He’s got a Rolex that rivals James Bond’s.

Like Bond, Almeida also needed adventure with style. He started flying because he loved the thrill of it. Conveniently, flying was also good for extravagance.

Almeida, on the last Sunday I meet him, is finally casual. A T-shirt reads: ‘Will fly for food.’ His startlingly Obama-like looks are attracting a gaggle of girls sipping lattes outside Café Coffee Day. But Almeida doesn’t stop for coffee. He already runs on two things: extravagance and flight.

Flying, Almeida says, is his life. Without meaning conceit, he tells me that he wanted to be a pilot because, “I wanted to live on a fine line between naïve solitude and instant death.”

Ever the prodigal son, his spending will keep treading that fine line too. Like the grasshopper, he will lavish his funds until winter comes and they run out.

Maybe winter hasn’t come yet for the tough ex-street fighter with arresting model-good looks. Maybe the captain won’t ever meet his fall. Because if he does, the Armani suit will have to be retired, and as for his T-shirt—Almeida really might be flying for food.

Elizabeth Flock is an associate reporter with the new business magazine to be launched by Network18 in association with Forbes, USA.