Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A great nation

Random thoughts as I am forced to sit at home, watching non-stop squalling for the past 24 hours.

Buffeted by Cyclone Nilam in Chennai, I watch in wonder media images of 'Frankenstorm' Sandy. Hitting the coastline near New York, almost 180 degrees away on the globe, with so much fury and force. I also read President Obama's statement, cancelling his election campaign so that he can effectively monitor the state's response to the calamity. Contender Mitt Romney has also cancelled his campaign meetings, presumably because that is the right thing to do.

The right thing to do - this is a short phrase with so much power. So much short in supply in our country, but in such abundance in the United States of America. In Indian polity, there are no right things to do - only things that benefit individuals, often at the cost of the country. Sometimes I wonder, are we really so venal a people? Has all our goodness and decency really been stripped away? I see overwhelming evidence to support this unfortunate thought. In my youth, I used to think that this was because of our colonial history - scarcity and want had made us greedy. But I have been assured by various sensible people that public polity in much poorer nations is much better than in ours. Civic sense, politeness, honesty - one can find all of these in much greater proportions in some of the poorest countries in the world, but are so uncommon here.

But this is a post about the greatest nation on the planet.

Recent history is full of examples where the US has done things because they are the right things to do. Launching a war halfway across the globe in Afghanistan, because a menace to their country arose from there. Printing more dollars and debasing the currency, because that is the only thing going to help the unemployed in that country. Being at the forefront of innovation, be it Apple with the iPhone / iPad, Microsoft with its buggy operating systems, Intel with its chips or Facebook with its website. Samsung, Foxconn and all the others are just footnotes in the saga of American enterprise and innovation.

I do not have the least doubt that the economic crisis encircling the globe today will end with the re-emergence of the US as a moral, economic and cultural superpower, and the decimation of Europe, along with the decline of China. India? India will hobble along in mediocrity, an outcome destined by its citizens' pettiness and selfishness. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Narendra Modi for PM

I am just leaving Ahmedabad, having spent slightly less than 20 hours in the city on the business trip. What I saw of the city has impressed me quite significantly.

The city is very clean, with almost no garbage on the roads. The Sabarmati has been made pretty, apparently with water from the Narmada! The slums along the embankment have all been cleared out, and construction is on in full swing for a park and a promenade along the picturesque river. The airport is efficient, and personnel friendly. Almost everyone I spoke to praised Modi for his administrative acumen. The businessmen I had gone to meet claimed there was little / no corruption in their dealings with the govt.

Now, the guy may not be secular, and may have strange views on malnutrition among women. But is that enough to condemn him? He is a fantastic administrator, from whatever I can see. India needs someone like him, and not a dithering, inactive and geriatric prime minister.

My vote for PM goes to Narendra Modi!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I'm Feeling Lucky

I read this book, which, as the cover proudly proclaims, is written by Google's employee #59. Pretty interesting, and with a few insights into how Google thinks about user privacy and its key credo of "Don't be Evil". An entertaining read, overall (not least because it describes the romantic shenanigans between Marissa Mayer, Yahoo's new and very pregnant CEO, and Larry Page), and it all works out well for the author, who cleaned out (per my calculation) close to $200m in 4 years between joining Google and its IPO!

However, for all the talk about privacy, I was rudely shocked today. I usually use Chrome as my default browser. Today I was checking a few travel sites for flights between Ahmedabad and Chennai. Now, generally browsing some news site, I get an ad from Make My Trip served up on the page, saying something like "Now, fly from Ahd to Che only at INR abc".

This is spooky. Clearly, Google is tracking data of what I'm doing on the browser. More heinously, it is selling this info to random websites (or at least using it to serve up 'relevant' ads to me). I'm not sure if I appreciate this. This sounds very much like Big Brother to me.

I wonder what all Google knows about me. Pretty much everything - my bank account, my passwords, my bank balance, what i shop for, who i email, where i travel, what i do!! This is nuts!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Something new and nice!

In Bangalore for work, I am forced to stay overnight in the city. Working very hard and burning the midnight oil, I am reminded of my days as a McKinsey consultant, when I would stay in very nice hotels most of the time and keep working away at my computer till the wee hours. But this post is not about that. This one is related to my all time favourite topic - food :-)

I am a foodie. Not in the sense of gourmet, adventurous or even ravenous. It is just that what I like, I can eat and eat and eat. It need not be very tasty, need not be very fresh, need not even be hygenic. I just cannot say no to a samosa, or to chole bhature, or a plate of papdi chaat or aloo tikki. Ditto chicken kathi roll, ma ki dal, aloo paratha.... you get the drift.

It was with trepidation, therefore, that I set foot into this standalone restaurant near MG Road in Bangalore, called Caperberry (www.caperberry.in). Voted the Best Independent Restaurant in India by the Time Out Food Awards in 2011, this restaurant really blew my socks away.

I tried the vegetarian tasting menu, along with a glass of sangria. The sangria was the best I've ever had (and I have had lots at multiple places!), but the food was a revelation. Perhaps it was the fact that I am not accustomed to fine dining, or the fact that I was hungry (which I certainly was). But the 6 course meal, along with the tiramisu at the end was a meal fit for a king.

Beginning with a compressed watermelon with red cabbage gazpacho, moving on to mushroom parfait, then on to some kind of corn cornetto, then a sorbet, then finally the best course - an asparagus and filo stack, rounded off by something called .... I've forgotten the fancy name, but essentially it was some kind of jelly topped with olive tapenade. Finally a tiramisu which the guy actually makes at the table, rounded off with nice petit fours.

The chef came around generally asking how the food was, and I promised him that I would bring my wife to this fantastic place the next time around. The damage to my finances was substantial (approx 3.5k, all in); but an experience to remember!

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Things I like about Chennai (and things I dont)

Things I Like:
1) Short distances - point A to point B is usually no more than 30 mins. Office to home is 10 mins!
2) The beaches - although most of the city beaches are not really bathe-able, you get pretty seascapes about 45-60 mins out of town
3) Traffic policemen (and women) - ubiquitous, industrious and not too greedy
4) Nilgiri's department store - where we get our weekly fix of groceries. Beats Big Bazaar by many notches
5) Filter coffee - not the one found at Cafe Coffee Day

Things that I think could improve:
1) Eating out - the popular eating places seem to serve the same kind of non-tasty food. No Haldiram's!! No good Chole Bhature!! Thai, Mediterranean, Italian, North Indian, Greek - all uniformly expensive and uniformly mediocre
2) Buying good alcohol - cannot do!
3) Chilled out-ness - generally a good thing, but not if it means long queues at check out counters, lazy household help, shops closed on Sundays
4) Malls / cinemas - the one large mall is super crowded and teeming with humanity. Getting tickets for movies in a cinema hall is very difficult
5) Road tax on cars - cars are more expensive than Delhi by 30%+!!
6) The airport - honestly, think they can do much better than the current atrocity
7) Low on priority list for franchises - No TGIF! Starbucks not queueing up to open a store anytime soon

Have I been spoilt by Delhi's infrastructure and spending capacity??