Saturday, November 25, 2006

no jaan in 'umrao jaan'

after 'jaan-e-man',which was the last movie i saw,i decided to see 'umrao jaan' before leaving india on my business tour.the earlier one made in the 80s by muzaffar Ali was an outstanding was based on the urdu novel titled 'umrao jaan ada' written by mirza hadi ruswa. i am currently reading its english translation by david matthews.

to remake a box-office hit is always very risky.and jp dutta did exactly that.when one compares the new and hyped umrao with the old,i must say,it falls far short of expectations. rekha was outstanding in the earlier version.the images of dusky rekha keep coming to your mind. that of a beautiful courtesan and an accomplished but sad poet,and her mujras and ghazals still come forth in your mind's eye and ring in your ears.

aishwarya has acted brilliantly.aishwarya as umrao jaan is a tawaaif she is dressed in the most expensive clothes which could be the envy of begum sahibas! she holds her own and inspite of the heavy burden of rekha behind her she essays her part charmingly.aishwarya steals the show. she has been dressed extremely well and the makeup is flawless.she exhibits a wide range of emotions brilliantly and her dances are scintillating.take aishwarya out and the movie will collapse.everything else about the movie excepting the story and aishwarya is just average.abhishek's acting as the nawab besotted with the courtesan,the background music,the choreography,et al does not impress.the only redeeming features are aishwarya,shabani azmi as the kothewali and the costume designs.period.

director jp dutta in trying to put old wine in a new bottle has sadly failed.the earlier 'umrao jaan'was a musical masterpiece.brilliant soundtrack and unforgettable khayyam's music.the lyrics by sharyar and several hit songs by asha bhonsle were beautiful.the current umrao jaan has average cinematography and very average music by anu malik.there are just too many mujras and the movie is very very has emerged without a soul.a great disappointment indeed.

the movie starts with umrao jaan meeting her biographer and telling her sad and poignant story.her tragic and ironic life set in 19th century lucknow.we get a feel of the culture and ethos of that bygone period through many flashbacks.the lucknawi culture of sher-o-shayiri,ghazals,mujras.sponsored by rich nawabs.of happy childhood memories as amiran when she is the apple of her dear abba's eye,the games she played with her dear younger brother,the loss of a silver ring given by abba for which she was spanked by her ammi,her tragic kidnapping by her neighbour and father's enemy dilwar khan,her sale to a kothewali,her rechristening to umrao jaan,her life in the kotha where she was brought up with love and affection by her foster parents,the learning of dance,music and literature, her love affair with a young nawab,betrayal by him as he decides to marry a girl of his father's choice,her misplaced trust in a bandit king,her return to her birthplace faizabad for a performance and her eventual meeting with her mother and brother in their 'bangla',and who sadly reject her because she has brought dishonour to her family.she returns to the life that fate has destined for her.that of a courtesan.

if lucknow was the heart of avadh,umrao was the heartbeat.due to her proficiency in writing and composing poems umrao had ada as her signatory name.ada means coquetry.she was loved and respected.but then her's is a story of great angst and pathos. the avadhi vidaai song "agle janam mohe bitiya na kijo"("don't let me comeback as a daughter in my next birth") is heart-wrenching.

Friday, November 24, 2006

flying low cost- 2

with low cost carriers a dime a dozen,the traveller has truly become the king.referred to as udipi restaurants of the aviation industry by captain gopinath of air deccan,there is going to be a lot of dogfight up in the air.

civil avaition minster,praful patel, has recently said that domestic air passenger traffic will grow at 50% per annum and international travel at 25% per annum.indigo,a low cost carrier, had placed orders for 100 airbuses(A 320),during last year's aviation show in paris.these are phenomenal growth rates and massive investments will have to be made in the infrastructure to cope up with the increased air traffic.the good news is that more of our airports are getting upgraded,and private capital is being brought in to quickly and efficiently cater to this boom.the bad news is that with a scorching growth rate like this, it may just not be enough.number of tourists visiting india has also shown an increasing trend and it augurs well for the low cost airline industry.

besides the major trunk routes,the low cost airlines are having services between smaller towns e.g. coiambatore/madurai/trichy etc. air travel has become affordable which was hitherto unthinkable.

the low cost airlines are airlines which cut out the frills and ply their aeroplanes on a bare-bones basis with the objective of safely and economically carrying passengers from one destination to another.there are different business models for these carriers being practised.single passenger class(no business class),same type of aircraft(reduction of inventory of spares and maintenance costs),simple fare scheme(fare goes up as the aircraft fills up and nearer the day of travel),unreserved seating (encouraging air travellers to board the flight early),early morning and evening flights and quicker turnaround times(reduced airport landing and other charges),sale of tickets over the internet to reduce agency commission costs,employees performing multiroles as i saw on air deccan,paid for in-flight(food and drinks add to the revenue) and bold fuel-hedging programmes. most of our domestic low cost carriers build in in their business models most of the above cost reduction steps to keep a healthy bottomline.

inspite of many of these cost reduction measures, air deccan has racked up losses and lost about rs 6oo crores so far.and for sure other lc airlines are also bleeding.but then,if they have the right model and are able to gather critical mass interms of passenger load factor they have a pretty good chance of reducing the high cash-burn and lower yields.they then have a good chance of getting into the black and remaining there for long and reap the benefits. but then with new players jumping into the fray, the airline that will win will be one that has a reliable on-time performance,good and competent people at all levels,and one that uses modern technology across the board.

by making flying affordable for the common man,these airlines are developing the market.also with rising expendable income,lifestyle changes are taking place.travelling by train is time consuming.therefore there is a preference for air is no more a luxury but a necessity.more children,senior citizens and tourists are taking to the air.

some of the these airlines have started charter services,helicopter on demand and their own cargo tap the air cargo business.jet airways,kingfisher and goair have all announced their plans of starting their own cargo extensions.

surprisingly, there is a lowcost aircarrier which has turned the conventional business model upsidedown on its head.our low cost carriers can learn a few lessons from shaheed k abbasi of pakistan's what way is it different from other low cost airliners? it serves piping hot meals on all its flights,has dual class seating arrangements,sells tickets at 40% discount to full service carriers(fsc) and as the date of travel comes closer, the fare may have gone up 30% over the price charged by the fscs.airblue has zero debt on its books and all initial fleet expansion will be funded by internal has one third of the marketshare in pakistan in three years after commencement.abassi believes that "you need a happy customer and not just a price conscious one.people associate travelling with hot meals and we realised that serving food was necessary".abbassi has applied to fly to india. if the visa and other issues are sorted out,he sees scope for 20 flights a day between india and pakistan.

the fscs are not just sitting and sucking their thumbs.low cost carriers are a serious threat to their profitability and future viability.most of them have launched frequent flyer programmes,and other loyalty programmes to keep their customers in their flock.discounted fares are also available on these airlines as well.on some days on certain routes you might find them even cheaper than the low cost carriers.there is going to be a free for all among the lccs and the fscs.ultimately it is the customer who will be the king.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

flying low cost-1

gone are the days when indian airlines ruled the roost.and dominated the indian skies.there are a plethora of low-cost airlines operating in the country today.air deccan,spice jet,go air,paramount and many others.this has resulted in a drop in air-fares across the board.a bonanza for many who had never dreamt of travelling by air due to its prohibitive cost.the credit for this unique and pioneering effort must go to captain gopinath of air deccan.he is committed to bring the indian skies within the reach of the common man.

having heard a lot about these low-cost aircarriers,i decided last month to travel to chennai and back by air deccan.some of my friends advised me not to indulge in such bravado.i had indeed heard reports of the regular delay in air deccan flights and their sloppy groundlevel handling.yet,to get a feel of a lowcost airline, i decided to go against the common wisdom. of course i was getting a huge kick, as i was travelling on a cheap ticket.

as expected,the flight to chennai was delayed by 2 hours.and it was a latenight flight.and the whole situation was badly managed by the air deccan announcements.and with hardly any air deccan staff on the ground it was chaos.and when they did announce the boarding, all hell broke air deccan flights there are no reserved get them on first come first serve basis.there was a mad stampede when the gate was opened and when the bus arrived to take the passengers to the aircraft.thankfully,after the passengers settled down,there was some peace.

the onboard announcement by the steward was clear and informative.the aircraft was a new leased aircraft but more seats than a normal airbus.hence very little the passenger load factor was less you invariably had an empty seat next to you.what you don't get longitudinally you get laterally.less legroom and more elbowroom.also there is no food service on air deccan flights.though you could buy sandwiches and drinks as in low cost american in international flights you can shop on board.the onboard staff conduct an auction of some imported items like watches,sunglasses,cufflinks,belts&purse et etc.there is a fixed minimum price and the target price is also can bid for your selected article at a price starting from the minimum price.i bid for the minimum price for the shades and belt purse set.and got them.

on the whole,it was not an unpleasant experience.though the delay did upset me as it was a late-night flight.would i recommend air deccan to my friends? yes,if you want to save some money and are prepared to put up with delays and the pushing and jostling.but if your family is accompanying you, you would do well to keep away from air deccan till they improve their groundlevel passenger handling and servicing.

like someone said when the yelling and pushing was going on before we boarded the flight,"after all you get what you pay".

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

painting on the peshwas

shravan gopal gurav of pune exhibited his paintings at the leela during the end of last month.the paintings depicted the lives of the peshwas who ruled in the western region after the death of shivaji's son shambaji. the peshwas were well educated and deeply religious. they managed the maratha empire(1674-1818) which extended from the north of india right upto the karnataka and tamil regions extremely well and thwarted many attempts of the mughals to make inroads into southern india..

after shambaji's murder in the hands of the mughals,the peshwas who were playing an advisory role to the king started playing a dominant role.bajirao(1721-1740) was one of the first peshwas to rule over the empire.he was responsible for many social reforms during his 1818 the peshwas surrendered to the british and the curtain came down on the rule of the peshwas. in 1828 there was an inexplicable fire in the palace fort in shanivar wada which was built by bajirao peshwa in 1730.

four generations of peshwas resided in the luxurious stately mansions in shanivar wada that was built by was also the place where romance,intrigue, plotting and politics played a big part in causing the downfall of the peshwas.however,the peshwa rule was a glorious chapter in the annals of indian history.

peshwas belonged to the brahmin community and genetically unequipped to take over the reigns of a combination of circumstances they were literally left with no choice. how was their rule? were they benevolent rulers? were they fair in their dealings.did they do a good job of consolidation and expansion of their kingdom or did they like many other kings fritter away their territories to the capricious enemies by forgetting their main task and indulging in sports,games, music and sex? all this should make interesting reading for those who are fond of history.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

can you bank on them?

our bank staff are a privileged lot.they earn fat salaries.and numerous perks. we don't grudge it.but when it comes to work they shirk.they are absolutely unconcerned of the difficulties that their customers would have to face when they strike work or take too many continuous holidays; official and personal.the personal preceding the official holidays and the strike following the official is a long continnum.nobody cares that they have not participated in the rally.neither they nor their unions who give such irrresponsible october the public sector banking staff enjoyed 13 holidays in all,the maximum being the continuous holidays during diwali.

oct1 mahanavami,oct2 gandhi jayanti as well as dussera,oct6 lakshmi puja,oct7 valmiki jayanti,oct8 sunday,oct15 sunday,oct20 naraka chathurthi,oct21 deepavali,oct22 sunday,oct24 bhai bij,oct25 ramzan,oct27 all india strike,oct29 sunday.

the unions are against mergers,privatisation,manpower rationalisation and introduction of modern technology which will reduce costs and make the banks more efficient.they are not customer or service oriented.they want more salaries and perks.last year the government was pressurised by these same tactics to agree for pension for a large number of state bank of india employees.thus putting the extra financial burden on the exchequer.where will all this money come from? obviously you and me.

even though there is now competition from foreign banks and independent domestic banks the public sector bank employees are just not bothered.

at the same time the private banks have also not shown the zeal to reduce service charges and be more customer focussed.they are constantly looking at their bottomlines.they are quite impersonal while dealing with their accountholders.

perhaps this is a manifestation of the culture all round the world.banks and insurance companies do not seem to have a friendly face.banks are fair weather friends.when you or your company is in trouble your bank will not come to your rescue. and when you have taken out a medical claims policy and need your medical expenses to be reimbursed by the insurance company you will find them giving you 100 reasons why the money cannot be paid.

as you grow older you need a friendly bank and a friendly insurance companies try to remain away from the older people as they do not want to take a hit so soon.if you have not been wise to take insurance policies when you were young and started earning,you are likely to get no help at all in the form of insurance cover when you are 50+.the moral of the story is that you should choose your bank judiciously and take the right insurance policies at the right time.that is possibly the best that you could do.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

chhat puja and cattle worship ("boolatrie")

on the sixth day after divali,'chhat puja' is performed mostly by the people of west is worship of the sun god in the morning and in the evening.standing waist deep in the ganges river,the lifeline of bihar, or any big waterbody,arghya(water) is offered to the sungod thanking him for the good harvest and consequent prosperity that he has bestowed. 'chhathi maiya' is invoked and also worshipped along with surya bhagavan.the people of bihar do this puja with great devotion and fervour. the 'chhat puja' has spread to other states as well like up,assam,west bengal and orissa and even to nepal. and for the last few years it is being performed at mumbai as well on the juhu beach. with a large immigrant population of biharis,'bhayyas' as they are called, the popularity of the 'chatt puja' has been increasing every year.

sanjay nirupam,the congress leader,has been the primemover of the mumbai 'chhat puja'. the 'keep juhu beach clean' ngo had obtained a high court order restraining the public from erecting any permanent structure on the beach and to keep the noise level within certain decibels .and also to ensure that the garbage that gets accumulated is removed and not left behind.the court's order was complied with excepting that a huge platform was erected when the permission was for erecting only a 14 feet * 10 feet platform. this year an estimated 5 lakhs of people assembled at the juhu beach on 30th october for the puja.

worship of the sun has been prevalent in different cultures from time immmeorial .the sun was made the hub by our ancestors around which religion revolved. the sun was treated like a living person to whom the people could say prayers and make offerings and pray that their lives and destinies are well directed. the chhat puja has a pious and sombre character about it. the observance of the four day long fasts and the offering of 'arghya' at dawn and dusk and the chanting of mantras and folksongs make the ambience breathtaking amd awesome.strict purificatory procedures in the kitchen are followed by the 'parvaitin' (the lady who performs the puja) before preparing prasad for the puja. 'thekuwas' is the traditional wheatcake made on the occasion and the 'piece de resistance'.

on the final day the puja ends with a crescendo.the chanting of the gayathri mantra."om,bhur,bhuvah: suvah:, tat savitur varenyam, bhargo devasya dheemahi, dhiyo yo na: prachodayat". may we meditate upon that effulgent form of the supreme,who is the very essence of aumkara,who stimulates our intellect and who is the creator of all.

it is a bull run for the cattle in bihar in the following days.the farmers worship the animals which have contributed to the success of their harvest. the harvest festival 'sohrai' is the time when the cattle get their choicest food to eat and even a week's rest. they are first thoroughly washed and then their horns and bodies painted with different colours.they are garlanded,decorated and worshipped. the goats are fed and worshipped too.and then a bull fight is is only symbolic as actually no bulls are is a tradition being followed for hundreds of years.

for a change for the bulls it is no work and all play.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Divali in Nasdaq

the seven storeyed tower in new york's famed times square was swathed in triranga on the occasion of divali.unprecedented.yes? so was the sensex in mumbai that came close to the 13k mark.and in tandem the dow sailed passed 12000.for the first time in history.decline in oil prices and corporate earnings set both the bourses on fire.the latest news is that the sensex has crossed 13k and now it is set to achieve greater heights in 2007.maybe about 15k in another six months' time.if the economy does well,the half-yearly results are likely to be better,and if there are no external factors like oil prices,war etc., to dampen the sensex spirits.

it is a distinct possibility.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


after dhanteras on the first day of this festival,comes choti divali(small divali).or naraka chaturdashi as it is called in the south.this day is celebrated to commemorate the killing of king narakasura who ruled in the northeastern region of bharathavarsha and who oppressed thousands of inhabitants.lord krishna killed the asura(demon) in a battle and freed the people from the tyranny of naraka.fewer lights are lit and less of cracker bursting than the main divali day.pooja to goddess laksmi and also to lord rama is done on this day.tiny footprints mark the main rangolis made on this day.on this day in bihar,fireballs made of bamboo and other firewood and oils are burnt and carried around the house with the belief that it would chase away the evil spirits and make sure of a prosperous forthcoming year. in maharashtra lamps are lit and placed facing is the mythological direction where yama resides.

the third day of the festival is the day when lakshmi pooja is performed in a big scale.also ganesa,sarswati,kali,durga and kubera are worshipped.though it is the night of amavasya and there is darkness around,the streets are full of lights.inumerable diyas are lit by the people to guide goddess laksmi to their homes.she is lord vishnu's consort.whenever lord vishnu takes an avatar on earth he is accompanied by an avatar of lakshmi. according to hindu mythology.afterall vishnu requires wealth(shri) to protect and maintain the universe! lakshmi means lakshya or goal or aim and she brings good luck.she is always depicted with four hands wearing red and gold clothes and seated on a lotus.often there are two or four elephants associated with the goddess spraying water out of golden signifies that only with efforts can one attain the epitome of grace and beauty she is venerated and worshipped particularly during navarathri and north india,it is customary to gamble on deepavali night.mother parvati is supposed to have played dice with lord shiva on this day.also lord krishna gave up his mortal form on this day.and jains celebrate this day because bhagavan mahavira attained nirvana on this day. he was the last of the 24 tirthankaras of the jains.also,the sixth guru hargobind singh was released from captivity by emperor jehangir who had jailed him at gwalior for many years.the guru returned to amritsar on divali day. he was given a warm and colourful welcome at the golden temple by his followers.

on this day the farmers pray that wealth and prosperity may be showered on them.good harvest and prosperity go villages,divali is also regarded as a harvest festival,marking the end of the kharif season and it is thanksgiving time for the farmers to goddess lakshmi for blessing them with a good crop.the sowing of winter crops(rabi) start around this time.

the fourth day is celebrated as bali padayami.on this day lord vishnu took the avatara of a dwarf(vamana),tricked mahabali who was giving a lot of grief to the other gods and crushed him under his feet.he was pushed to the nether world.mahabali's grandson prahalada,a devotee of lord vishnu, requested the lord for pardon.lord vishnu made mahabali the king of the nether world.mahabali was transformed and lived many years to rule the kingdom given by lord vishnu.

newly married daughters and their husbands are invited to the girl's home for a special feast.called 'thalai deepawali' in tamil nadu, it coincides with the main deepawali day.brothers call on their married sisters and bring them over to their home for this very important day.goddess lakshmi is seen as devi annapurna who blesses the food on deepavali day. a recuperative medicine called 'lehiyam' also called 'marundu' in tamil for simplcity is prepared on this day.using jaggery from sugarcane.and other ingredients are ajwain,jeera,black pepper,dry ginger and ghee.

on the last day of the divali festival, sisters perform pooja for the safety and welfare of their brothers.they make a paste of saffron and rice and place a tikka on their brother's forehead to ward off maharashtra, women prepare poha on this day and offer it to goddess lakshmi.according to legend,yamaraj's sister put an auspicious mark on his forehead when he called on her on this day. the brothers in return give their sisters gifts as their token of love.

all the five days are days and nights of great rejoicing and bonhomie.brothers forget their quarrels and makeup.and so do other family members and friends who develop some misunderstandings use this as an opportunity to patch up and reunite.depending on the region and ancestral practices there is an overlap of functions performed on these five days.the fact however remains that goddess lakshmi is the focus.she is worshipped so that she may bestow dhanam,dhanyam,bahuputralabham and deerghamayu:. riches,grains,progeny and long life.

it is not all over yet as chhat puja and puja for animals are performed though they are not part of the divali festival.i will cover this in my next posting.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Diwali Is A Five-Day Affair

Deepavali or Diwali means a row of lights.It is considered to be one of the oldest of all Hindu festivals.When Rama returned to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile,with Sita and Lakshmana in tow,the populace went ecstatic. The people lit diyas all over the city.It was Amavasya or nomoon night,on the night of Rama's arrival.The lights were meant to guide them in the pitch darkness outside.On this day, Goddess Laksmi,the Goddess of wealth and prosperity is revered.For the business community,in the West of India, it has special significance because it also heralds in the New Year. Businessmen and traders worship their books of accounts in the evening and this function is called "chopdi(books) pooja".Some transactions must be made because the moment is auspicious.

One of our dealers is a Gujerati Jain.Jains and Sikhs also celebrate Diwali.He meets me every year and does a transaction.Buy some steel from me and sell some raw material to me.I quote the maximum price for my steel and drive a hard bargain for the purchase.Because I know he does not want to go back emptyhanded.It is a win-win situation for me.In the share market,on this day,there is one hour of trading called 'muhurat' trading.It is an auspicious time and people hope to make lots of money in the coming year in the bourse.Quite likely, if they wisely invest.The Sensex has crossed 13,000 already.It is likely to go up to 15,000 by next Diwali.

The first day of the Diwali festival is called "Dhanteras".Dhan means wealth and teras refers to the thirteenth day of the month of 'ashwini'.It is supposed to be an auspicious day for buying silver and gold(new dhan) as a mark of good fortune.Many ladies buy cooking utensils on this day.This year many of the banks have geared up to facilitate the sale of gold.Though I have never done this before,this year I too bought some gold.The prices were at a low.And the Swiss biscuits were indeed very tempting.

There are many legends associated with this day.Once upon a time there was a King Hima,17 years old, who was destined to die by snakebite on the fourth day of his marriage.His wife laid all her ornaments and lots of gold and silver coins in a heap in front of her home and lit diyas everywhere possible.She did not allow her husband to go to sleep and sang continuously.Lord Yama,who entered in the guise of a serpent was so dazzled by the gold that he could not enter the prince's room.Dhanteras is also referred to as "Yamadeepdaan".Throughout the night the lamps are kept burning.Lord Yama had promised that those who observed this day would be spared of an untimely death.

When a girl child is born on dhanteras day she is supposed to bring loads of luck from Goddess Lakshmi.When she gets married and leaves her parents' home,her footprints are taken on kumkum and preserved so that the luck which she brought remains and does not go away.

It is also believed that during the great 'samudramanthan',Dhanvantari(the physician of Gods),emerged on this day with a jar containing the elixir 'amrit'.

Then the next day is Choti Diwali,followed by Lakshmi Pooja on the main Diwali day and then Padwa and last but not the least Bhai Duj.I will cover the remaining four days in the next four postings.