New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Chandigarh, Pune
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Vol. 4 No. 21
THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE
THE PHONE GOT SMARTER >Pages 1011
YOU CAN NOW WEAR WATERCOLOUR Behind fashion’s burst of intricate patterns is a new kind of printing facilitated by photographs taken on the iPhone and digital print technology >Page 14
The phone with a universal remote, the game that reimagines human history, the men in Hyderabad trying to outdo Apple, and the 25 virtual years that have shaped how we view the world >Pages 615 THE GOOD LIFE
THE TICKLED SCORER
THE CITY DECIDES T20: A POOR PROXY YOUR HAPPINESS FOR EXCELLENCE
ecently, I read a book called The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. The book came out two years ago but has only now made it to the top of my bottlenecked reading list. In it, Weiner, a radio correspondent who calls himself a world-class “grump”, visits about a dozen cities around the world to answer what, to him, is a fundamental question: Why are some places happier than others? Why, for example, do countries... >Page 4
OUR DAILY BREAD
wenty20 season’s done! It ended pretty well. A brilliant semi-final in St Lucia, a more brilliant pitch in Barbados, and the pleasure of Ian Chappell and Nasser Hussain commentating in tandem. The din of the Indian Premier League (IPL) had almost faded away...but the IPL, whether or not it will burn out, doesn’t fade away. No sooner did India crash out of the Cup than the nation’s most famous abbreviation reoccupied centre stage. Specifically, it was blamed for the World T20 defeats. >Page 5
THE BYTE OF THE NEW
Ever written to an artwork and watched it respond? A clutch of new artists are pushing technological boundaries for creative expression >Page 15
in today’s edition of
AN EVENING IN CATALUNYA
lorian Porsche marinated the leg of lamb in olive oil, rubbed some salt and popped it into his spacious oven, basting it generously with lime juice. That was it. Indian cooking only rarely tends towards minimalism. But I was in Catalunya in northern Spain, being reminded there is a lot to be said for fresh ingredients and simple food. Less than an hour later, Florian presented the leg of lamb—succulent and quite delicious—as part of... >Page 18
UNDER THE HAMMER
First published in February 2007 to serve as an unbiased and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian Dream. LOUNGE EDITOR
PRIYA RAMANI DEPUTY EDITORS
SEEMA CHOWDHRY SANJUKTA SHARMA MINT EDITORIAL LEADERSHIP TEAM
R. SUKUMAR (EDITOR)
NIRANJAN RAJADHYAKSHA (MANAGING EDITOR)
ANIL PADMANABHAN TAMAL BANDYOPADHYAY NABEEL MOHIDEEN MANAS CHAKRAVARTY MONIKA HALAN VENKATESHA BABU SHUCHI BANSAL SIDIN VADUKUT (MANAGING EDITOR, LIVEMINT)
FOUNDING EDITOR RAJU NARISETTI ©2010 HT Media Ltd All Rights Reserved
HOME PAGE L3
SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
LOUNGE REVIEW | EARLY LEARNING CENTRE, DLF PLACE MALL, SAKET
arly Learning Centre (ELC) promises to be a toy store with a difference—here, your child is likely to get toys that are supposed to help him or her learn and have fun at the same time. The store is divided into eight sections—Art and Creativity, Baby and Toddler, Making Music, Dressing Up, Sport and Outdoor, Let’s Pretend, Action and Adventure, and Puzzles and Games. Currently, ELC has three stores that are functional—at DLF Place Mall, Saket, M-Block Market, Greater Kailash-1, and DLF Promenade mall, Vasant Kunj. They are planning more stores in cities such as Kolkata, Bangalore, Chandigarh and Amritsar.
The good stuff Many of the items at the Saket store are from ELC’s Spring Summer 2010 international collection. It’s good to see that ELC India is getting what’s new and on the racks internationally. While you cannot look at the catalogue and place special orders, the store does promise that if it has the merchandise in stock, you can ask for larger numbers in case you want to give any these toys as return gift items. The really good stuff at ELC is not the working washing machine toy (it does get a few oohs and aahs),
the blue vacuum cleaner (yes, boys can use it too) or pop-up toaster toys, but quirkier things that are tough to come by in Indian toy stores. We liked a pair of binoculars with adjustable lenses, a s m a l l lace-up board that can help your child learn to tie laces, a steering wheel with a manual small car game attached to it and a saxophone (a break from the usual drums, keyboards and trumpets that Indian stores seem to favour). In the Art and Creativity section, there is much to choose from— packets of colourful feathers, puzzles, fashion kits, most of which are of much better quality than the cheap Chinese versions available everywhere. You will have a tough time controlling your child in this section. In the Baby section, Talking Ted is a huge draw. Each time any part of the teddy is touched, it sings and tells the child what it is about. Songs about its hand, feet, nose or tummy will keep your young one busy, and hopefully, help him or
Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org HEAVEN OR HELL?
her learn about the human body.
The notsogood On the first visit, I found the sales staff was not really equipped to answer questions about the toys, their suitability for different age groups, or even offer recommendations, but those were early days. Hopefully, ELC has a few more trained people at the store now. There is really no point in having sections if you cannot have a decent number of options. The Sport and Outdoor section was very bare. The Dress Up section is one that ELC needs to rethink for India. While it is fine to have gowns representative of fairy-tale characters such as Snow White, when it comes to uniforms such as those of policemen, we think children would identify and learn more from the khaki variety that our cops wear, rather than the blue uniform of British policemen.
Toy story: The binoculars (top) are per fect for a camping trip; and the saxo phone is a welcome break from drums.
LOUNGE LOVES | THE ADIDAS JABULANI REPLIQUE
Light to the foot Even a replica of the Jabulani, the official ball for the Fifa World Cup, makes every volley, kick and pass delightful
abulani means “to celebrate” in Zulu, one of the 11 official languages of South Africa—but taking the 2010 World Cup ball out for some kicking about in the middle of a Delhi summer day is the exact opposite of a celebration. To add to the misery, this wasn’t even the actual World Cup ball—just a replica sold by Adidas, which looks like the Jabulani. Adidas has been making the official World Cup ball since the 1970 World Cup. The 1970 ball was called the Telstar and featured the classic 32 hexagonal panels in alternating black and white. But this was no multi-panelled wonder (a normal football has 36 hexagonal panels, the Jabulani has eight), no raised grooves on the surface of the ball for added grip like the actual ball, and no claims of being the the most accurate ball ever made. But the moment we got our first touch of the ball, we forgot about everything else. If this is how the good replicas are these days, you don’t really need the original. It was light, but not as light as the 2002 World Cup ball (the Fevernova), which used to take off like a rocket at the slightest provocation. The weight of the Jabulani replique is perfectly balanced, so we didn’t have to waste any time trying to
adapt to it. We volleyed it, passed it along the ground, played long passes and short passes, took hard shots, and curving “banana kicks”—and each time the ball responded perfectly. It stayed on target (which means the shape of the ball is good), had just the right amount of lift off the ground, and covered the intended distances. Hit it in the right spot, and you can get a nice curved flight path too. On the feet, the ball has a great grip. Despite the absence of the grooved surface (the most radical change made in the original Jabulani), it was ridiculously easy to control, and while receiving a pass, you didn’t have to work too hard to keep it from bouncing off your foot. Considering this was just a replica, it’s obvious that the quality of even standard balls has gone through the roof. But there’s always a lot of hype before every World Cup about the advanced technologies used to make the balls for the tournament; and how they are getting better and better (hence Adidas’ claim that the Jabulani is the most accurate ball ever made). But Pele was at his peak in the 1950s and 1960s, and the world hasn’t seen a more accurate striker of the ball. Maradona’s ball control skills have not been matched since the 1980s. Beckham’s setpieces were as accurate in the early 1990s as they were in the 2002 World Cup. A player like Lionel Messi, who dazzles us every weekend for Barcelona with his ball skills, plays with a different ball in different tournaments, but still delivers the same goods. The Adidas Jabulani replique ball costs Rs1,499. Rudraneil Sengupta
The Talking Ted costs Rs1,230, the lace-up board Rs250, binoculars, Rs660 and the saxophone, Rs620. Prices of toys range from Rs50 to Rs7,990. Seema Chowdhry
In Aakar Patel’s “The complex origins of our favourite ‘gaalis’”, 22 May, he says Indians have no concept of hell. That is not true. Punishment and reward motivate people and all religions have used heaven and hell as extreme versions of the carrotandstick approach. Indian religions are no different. A better analysis of the difference between Indian and European abuses could be that in India the focus is more on hitting at a person’s character (you don’t follow social constructs), while in Europe they are more focused on the intelligence of a person (“retard”, “full of shit”). In India, heritage and legacy are also given a lot of importance, so abuses implying incest are an attack on the person’s entire family. Europeans/Americans are much more individualistic and meritocratic (or at least claim to be), so their abuses are more personal, though you will hear words such as “inbred”, which are a mixture of both. PRAMATH MALIK
STAR TALK “’The world is out to provoke you’”, 15 May, was a thoughtprovoking interview with Hrithik Roshan. The interview is freeflowing, with some shades of honesty. Hopefully, ‘Kites’ can give Hrithik’s career a new lease of life. SREEYA SEN
PEACEFUL READING Shoba Narayan’s “What do you think about while you swim?”, 22 May, was a really peaceful read. I’m a fan of her writing and hope she keeps writing. DHWANI TANDON ON THE COVER: PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES
Priya Ramani’s First Cut will be back in June. LISTEN TO THE PLAYCAST PODCAST This week on the rebooted Playcast 2.0, Mint’s tech podcast, we discuss the early days of the regional Web in India featured in this Tech issue of Lounge, the real cost of Google’s PacMan logo, and privacy, or the lack thereof, on Facebook and Twitter. www.livemint.com/playcast
L4 COLUMNS SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
SHOBA NARAYAN THE GOOD LIFE
Your city determines how grumpy you are
ecently, I read a book called The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. The book came out two years ago but has only now made it to the top of my bottlenecked reading list. In it, Weiner, a radio correspondent who calls
himself a world-class “grump”, visits about a dozen cities around the world to answer what, to him, is a fundamental question: Why are some places happier than others? Why, for example, do countries such as Puerto Rico, Switzerland and Denmark score higher on the “happiness scale” than African countries such as Burundi, Sierra Leone and Togo? Compiled by Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven, India scores a respectable 5.5 in this World Database of Happiness. So do Hungary, Lithuania and Kyrgyzstan. We score higher than the African countries which score around 2.5, but much lower than the “happiest” countries of the world that score at least 8. These include Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Canada. Iceland may have fallen off the list, thanks to an under-active economy and an overactive volcano. The fascinating thing about the World Database of Happiness is why some countries make the cut and others don’t. Money may have something to do with happiness but not always—the UK, UAE and the US all score in the 7s but Honduras and Guatemala, which are not necessarily rich countries, score higher than Asian tigers such as Korea and Japan. Pakistan scores 5.4, by the way, a tad lower than India’s 5.5. Are we a happy or unhappy nation? Hard to say, and as with many things, it depends on your point of view. Walk down Bangalore’s streets at 5.30pm on a weekday, and watch grim motorists
elbow out pedestrians who elbow out legless beggars. Their tight, worn, unsmiling faces and intense glares don’t look particularly happy. Take the same walk on Friday night near India Gate or Bengali Sweet House in New Delhi and the scene is different. Families balance chaat on their scooters, chatting and laughing. Relaxed women push away tendrils of hair that come undone by a playful wind. Happiness, in this case, has little to do with wealth—the scooter-owning family is just as, if not, happier than the one cocooned in the BMW. Nor is it an urban-versus-rural thing. Witness the bored village women who sit on their verandas with vacant, listless eyes. These same women transform into giggling teenagers when they go together for a bath in the river or during a break from the fields. It is all about time and place. Shakespeare’s “whining schoolboy, with his satchel and shiny morning face, creeping like snail unwilling to school” may apply to British schoolboys but bears no resemblance to the cheerful, fresh-faced, white-uniformed schoolkids who run up the slopes in Uttarakhand or Ooty. Several surveys show that a higher GDP can nudge nations towards higher happiness but not in statistically significant ways. Weiner says happy countries tend to have high scores in what he calls “trust” and culture. They trust each other and their governments; and because they do, their mind is freed up creatively. The Netherlands and Denmark, for
Content is king: Bhutan is the only country that records ‘gross national happiness’. instance, are hotbeds of creativity because the average citizen is not worried about evading taxes or getting that driver’s licence or bribing the government for a building permit. When life is smooth, the mind is free to create. That’s the underlying assumption anyway. As with most theories, it is easy to come up with a counter argument. I could argue that the reason senior citizens in Chennai do not succumb to Alzheimer’s relative to a similar sample in America is because Chennai denizens are constantly plotting about the water lorry and how to catch the milkman and where the maid has disappeared to. Their minds are hyperactive, compared with the aged in America who don’t think and plot about their daily lives. Does this mean that Indian senior citizens are unhappy? Yes and No. Happiness in India is a contradiction, says Weiner. The other factor that predisposes national happiness is culture, and that we have in spades. Folk traditions, art,
crafts, artisanal products and other creative endeavours are deeply satisfying to the Indian soul because they bring history alive through play and imagination. According to Weiner’s book, India unlike, say, Qatar, is culturally richer, thus engendering happiness in its citizens The third factor, and this is my own theory, is national resilience. It was Nietzsche (no slouch in the grouch department himself), I think, who said that the measure of a society is how it converts its pain and suffering into something meaningful and positive. Historically, periods of vibrant creativity usually came out of periods of suffering. Creativity is a societal coping mechanism. Which Indian city would make Nietzsche’s cut? Which Indian city can rightfully claim to convert its pain and suffering into something vibrant and positive? Chennai, my hometown, is a bastion of culture but is rooted in a classicism so deep that it fails to contemporize its pain. Kolkata is
similar. With its love of literature, music, textiles and art, Kolkata is a creative, imaginative city. But much of its creativity is a continuum that doesn’t discard the past. Kolkata doesn’t reinvent itself. Bangalore, where I live now, doesn’t have the depth of culture that Chennai and Kolkata do— the only areas where you can simulate this is south Bangalore (Basavanagudi and Jayanagar) and Malleswaram. Delhi has history and culture but somehow is unable to shake off the “Punjabi over-the-top, all-about-showing-off” stereotype. In the end, I concluded that India’s most functional city, when viewed through these parameters, is Mumbai. It is constantly reinventing itself. It is very good about taking the pain and suffering of urban living and converting this into something more meaningful and positive through street theatre, art festivals, music and dance. As film director Nagesh Kukunoor told me once, where else can you cram a zillion people with different, and sometimes, opposing agendas and not have them constantly kill each other. Unlike Delhi, there is very little road rage in Mumbai. Unlike Chennai, Mumbai is not judgemental. I could be wrong in calling Mumbai India’s most functional city. I am not a big fan of this coastal city. Like most people who haven’t lived or spent time in Mumbai, I am intimidated by, rather than attracted to, it. Yet, I have to concede: Mumbai works. Is it happy? As happy as an Indian city can be. Shoba Narayan wants to live in Mumbai, have chaat in Delhi, enjoy an adda in Kolkata, and wear jasmine in her hair in Chennai. She tries to simulate all of this in Bangalore. Write to her at email@example.com www.livemint.com Read Shoba’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/shobanarayan
SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
RAHUL BHATTACHARYA THE TICKLED SCORER
T20 cricket: a poor proxy for excellence INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP
Winner takes it all: (extreme left) The English team at a training session ahead of their first match at the 2010 Twenty20 World Cup; and the triumphant English captain Paul Collingwood.
wenty20 season’s done! It ended pretty well. A brilliant semi-final in St Lucia, a more brilliant pitch in Barbados, and the pleasure of Ian Chappell and Nasser Hussain commentating in tandem. The din of the
Indian Premier League (IPL) had almost faded away...but the IPL, whether or not it will burn out, doesn’t fade away. No sooner did India crash out of the Cup than the nation’s most famous abbreviation reoccupied centre stage. Specifically, it was blamed for the World T20 defeats. It was acquitted with equal ferocity by others, who blamed the cricketers instead, as though these points were in conflict. Now it is not my case that the IPL suction-ed general mobility out of our young stalwarts or deprogrammed their skills against the short ball. Nor that it accounts for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s puzzling tendency to take Ravindra Jadeja for Garfield Sobers. Yet, even donning my glitziest, IPL-loving robe, I cannot honestly see
the case of the defence. The defence posits that players from other countries too participated in the IPL. Factually this is a weak argument because only some did, and of those who did, barely a handful rode the treadmill the entire time like the Indians. That is one part of it. The other is this. There were 12 teams at the World T20. Eleven of them reached the West Indies in advance. They attempted to acclimatize to the time zone, the pitches, the light—the Caribbean morning glare so different from floodlit Indian nights. They played two warm-up games, tested combinations, and did whatever it is that teams do to gee themselves up before a big event. Do guess the missing side. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP
The end: Team India, after losing to the Aussies on 7 May in Bridgetown, Barbados.
The Indians were unavailable for this most elementary of pre-tournament disciplines because their entire team, as opposed to a few players, was in the IPL. It is one thing for Australia or England to absorb Cameron White or Kevin Pietersen into their set-ups, which work on in their absence, quite another for India, which cannot run at all. There was nothing unforeseen about this situation. Gary Kirsten, a good and sensible coach, raised these issues after the debacle of the last World T20. He was told to shut up. Nor were the World T20 dates a surprise. They were announced last July. The Indian board, learning from the last time, ought to have done everything in its power to free its cricketers a fortnight ahead. Four days they granted. It takes 24 hours to reach the West Indies. Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri claim that their remit on the IPL governing council is over cricketing matters, and yet they ratified a schedule like this. Shameless. No less hypocritical are the reactions of the commentators who are besides themselves when India fits in just the one first-class game on a tour to Australia. I worry for the longer run. It is not helpful to skirt the elephant. The administrators must understand what it does when it positions the IPL as the centrepiece of the calendar. The IPL relies not on excellence, but entertainment and equality. Equality it tries to ensure via salary caps for a level playing field, and the equalizing 20-over format. The equality is a frequent boast. When Lalit Modi tweets after a low-quality, tied game between Punjab and Chennai, “the most competitive cricket in the world without a doubt”, he understands this in a different way than proper cricket lovers do. He doesn’t mean calibre. Equality may make for a few nail-biting finishes but it cannot, ever, substitute excellence. And excellence, I’m afraid, is not going to be created by the IPL. It may only occasionally showcase it. The nursery is the first-class game, from where Rahul Dravid or Virender Sehwag have emerged. Yet the Indian board has now created a system that incentivizes Twenty20 cricket out of proportion. Ranji cricketers since 2005, and especially since 2007, when the threat of the rebel Indian Cricket League drove up match fees, have been earning a good living, between Rs15-20 lakh in the six months of the domestic season. This, however, seems like too much work when an IPL contract can fetch the same amount or in some instances far more for six weeks. In the Australian system, governed by annual contracts that include all formats, there isn’t such a skewed inducement. They are likely to produce the more robust cricketers. To young Indian players, previously
committed to building a game that could survive the scrutiny of long-form cricket, and so, one day, international cricket, the message is clear. The IPL money is fab, the parties are swell, the work is easier. Mediocre attacks on flat Indian pitches! Bye-bye all-round game, we don’t need you! Hello IPL, bring it on! Fat contracts can reward quality, not produce it. The job of administrators is to recognize this. They would do well to listen to Tiger Pataudi, the only member of the governing council with integrity enough to acknowledge dereliction of
duty, and condense the tournament. From a cricket point of view, it’s a no-brainer: Teams play each other once rather than twice. This will cut the number of matches to a still huge 49 (the World T20 was 27 matches; Australia’s Big Bash, played arguably at a higher standard than the IPL, currently 17). But no, we’re going to have 94 matches. Ninety-four! They’ll tell you the name of the game. They call it riding the gravy train. Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book, Pundits from Pakistan. He writes a monthly cricket column for Lounge. Write to Rahul at firstname.lastname@example.org www.livemint.com Read Rahul’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/rahulbhattacharya
SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
OUNGE HAS AN ISSUE DEVOTED TO TECHNOLOGY FOR THE FIRST TIME, AND IT HAD TO BE NOW. WE HAVE NEVER BEEN MORE TUNED TO THE WORLD THAN WE ARE NOW, THANKS TO THE PHONES WE’RE USING AND SITES WE ARE SURFING. DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY IS INSPIR ING ARTISTIC EXPRESSION, PHONES ARE GOING GREEN AND VIDEO GAMES ARE REIMAGINING HUMAN HISTORY. THIS IS ALSO THE YEAR THE INTERNET COMPLETES 25 YEARS. WE UPDATE YOU ON THE PEOPLE AND DEVICES THAT MAKE THE WIRED WORLD SO EXCITING
.Connect the dots AN OVERVIEW BY ARUN KATIYAR
here are moments that change life forever. Take Band-Aid (1921), the computer (1947), or the TV remote (1955). Consider high-yield rice (1966) or even perhaps man landing on the moon (1969). Think about The Beatles breaking up (1970), the waffle soles (1971) that gave birth to Nike, or the birth of Dolly (1996). Would sheep conjured in a lab from somatic cells make the grade? Who is to tell what shakes the ground, scoring new paths for us to take? But try beating .com—the “three letters and a punctuation mark” from 1985 that has made it past politics and wars, borders and cultures. Someone registered Symbolics.com on 15 March 1985 as the first .com. Today, 25 years later, the Internet is a $1.5 trillion (around Rs71.1 trillion) industry. That’s 15 followed by 11 zeros, mind it. It was a mystical, little understood, largely ignored phenomenon at the time. I mean, it was the mid-1980s and we were more concerned about Tina Turner rocking the Grammys, getting tickets to Back to the Future, figuring out why the US had a love-hate relationship with Pol Pot and what the Hezbollah would do next. Certainly, there were better things to think about even in terms of science and technology: The CD had arrived as a curiosity and those who owned shiny new Walkmans sneered at the abomination, AIDS was big and in our bedrooms, and some back-room boffins had discovered a curious hole in the Earth’s ozone layer. In comparison, what was a trifling .com? The matter was compounded by the fact that technology companies dominated the list of the first 100 to register as a .com: Raytheon or BBN Technologies, Xerox, HP, IBM, Sun, Intel and TI. Sabeer Bhatia was just 17 years old, completing his schooling in sleepy Bangalore—his idea of HoTMaiL (HTML, get it?) still 10 years and $300,000 away from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and 12 years away from Microsoft’s reported $400 million buyout of the email service. In 1985, no one could have foretold the future that was about to unfold, shaking the ground, compelling people to give up perfectly sane jobs and invest their futures into
shaping the most astonishing array of ideas into reality. A baffling tsunami was building up. Only, we didn’t know it. Could it be because we had no respect for the dweebs, geeks, hacks and barking moon bats who were crawling out of the woodwork? Nah, we were just plain ignorant. Who could have imagined information operating on such a vast scale that we could see structures and patterns emerge from human thought and action in an instant? Who could have imagined that the Internet, as it became commercialized with the .com seal, would dominate our thinking, our lives, the way we perceive the world, the products we crave for and the way we shop? Today, there are 85 million dot-com domains registered, with 54 billion lookups between them daily. Go figure the number of zeros involved. Or maybe you are already googling them? But think about this for a moment: The CD which wiped out the cassette tape by
In the 1980s, it baffled us. Now it has democratized as well as fragmented the world. But we’re yet to experience the dotcom’s biggest impact on mankind
the 1990s is itself just a few years away from being obsolete, thanks to commercial Internet. So we know the Internet is awesome. Because we get to see the balance of commerce itself change. We can compare prices of what we buy and bring sanity to our choices. We can shop 24x7. We can demand instant attention from the companies we interact with and patronize. We can crib 24x7. We can force them to create and deliver products they would never have done before. We can demand 24x7. We can auction our stuff, even our virginity, thanks to some .com somewhere. We can push the limits of trade 24x7. But the bigger changes that have sneaked into our lives, thanks to the insidiousness of dot-coms, are yet to be appreciated and their impact yet to be determined. I know from watching my children, both of whom have been weaned on dot-coms, that the burden of
traditional literacy has been reduced. They don’t really need to focus on an education that continues to deliver the tools and means to memorize facts and formulae. There is way too much information, anyway, out there—and it’s accessible on hand-helds that are getting increasingly smarter. The age of being dumb is coming to a universal close. What matters are the decisions you take based on the data you find. What matters is your notion of who an expert is. The subject matter expert is going to be, without doubt, in deep rigor mortis. It is the person who intelligently, perhaps even creatively, uses the data who is going to be the new expert. On the other side, once you have stopped being romanced by the deep and profound transformation that three alphabets and a punctuation have brought into our lives, you may want to think about this: All those dot-coms out there are fragmenting our attention and we are drifting into distraction. Could it be because we now have amateurs flogging creative work and their thoughts, thanks to the democratic nature of dot-coms which don’t really care about or understand great ideas? It’s like mental karate where we demolish ourselves because we are the cat’s whiskers and don’t know any better. But I’ll tell you what I really hate about this business of dot-coms—that I have been forced into becoming part of communities on Facebook that border on the fictional; that I have signed online petitions without really knowing why and only because it was simple to do so; that I have been tagged like I was courtroom evidence; I have been poked; and even bookmarked. As my mother would say, “Get a grip on reality.” Arun Katiyar is a content and communication consultant. He has been the COO of India Today’s online business, which he launched, and was the executive vice-president of Indya.com, where he was pink-slipped. He has co-authored Bombay: A Contemporary Account of Mumbai.
Write to email@example.com
Part of history: Kerala’s 110yearold news paper was the first to go online.
L8 BUSINESS LOUNGE SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
He can deliver the white goods Selling in a market with chronic power short age is the challenge for Samsung India’s head B Y V EENA V ENUGOPAL firstname.lastname@example.org
······················· manage to embarrass Samsung India’s deputy managing director, Ravinder Zutshi, with my first question. We are having lunch at Gurgaon’s Park Plaza Hotel and he sticks to vegetarian fare because it’s a Tuesday. It is then that I notice the Amitabh Bachchanlike series of gemstone rings on the 55-year-old’s fingers. “Why do you wear those?” I ask him. “It’s good to have these kind of things guarding you. In this world, you have to be a little superstitious and careful,” he laughs it off. This superstitious side of him is a bit of a surprise. When I spoke to some of his business associates and former colleagues before our meeting, the qualities I repeate d ly he a rd a bout him w ere “astute” and “aggressive”. I was expecting a hard-talking, forceful salesman; but Zutshi, I realize, is a blend of symbiotic contradictions. Like the kind of man who knows what he is capable of, but has no awkwardness about falling back on a sapphire stone in a “what harm can it do” kind of manner. Clearly, it is his ability to be leader and every-man that has aided his rise from a sales executive in Philips to deputy managing director at a $2.2 billion (around Rs10,274 crore) consumer durables firm. Zutshi responded to a job advertisement for Philips just as he graduated from Delhi University in 1978. “Jobs were not easy to come by in those days. And it was even more difficult with a multinational because everyone wants to work for a company like Philips. Somehow, I got selected. I joined in their lighting division and after a couple of years moved to the audio-
Cautious does it: A mix of aggression and caution took Zutshi from a humble sales executive’s job to the deputy MD’s chair at a big con sumer durables firm.
video division. There was no video in India then,” he says. He worked there for a decade. About that time, a small company from Maharashtra was starting up and trying to establish its brand of televisions. “That was Videocon and I was called for a meeting with Venugopal Dhoot,” he says. Videocon was trying to establish its presence in north India. Zutshi had worked in most north Indian states and Dhoot was keen on having him spearhead Videocon’s expansion plans. They had repeated meetings, but nothing really materialized. “Dhoot kept telling me that we are a small company now but one day we will be a big name,” Zutshi says. A year after their first meeting, Dhoot asked Zutshi again and this time he decided to take the plunge. “People who knew me told me that it was a blunder of a lifetime to leave a company like Philips and join Videocon,” he says. But Zutshi felt the challenges of selling the product of a new brand would be a better learning experience. “This was in 1988. After the 1982 Asian Games, the TV market in India was about to explode. So I took this chance and said yes and joined as regional manager for north. I thought it would somehow work out. And Videocon just became a huge success story—bigger and
Technology matters, and we incorporate it into all our products —whether it is basic or premium.
Zutshi plays squash and golf. “I used to play badminton too until a few years ago. Now, I play golf at least once a week,” he says. But his real passion is movies. He used to be a firstday, firstshow kind of person. Now, with a long commute between work and home, he has relegated moviegoing to Saturday evenings. “‘Sangam’ is a movie that I loved,” he says. Rajesh Khanna was his favourite actor for a long time and he loved him in ‘Aradhana’ and ‘Kati Patang’. “I also like Yash Chopra’s later movies—‘Lamhe’, ‘Chandni’,” he says. But he can’t remember the plots of modern movies. “You watch ‘Kaminey’ and then 3 hours later you don’t remember what it is about,” he says.
better than our plans. We had to face national brands like BPL and Onida and lots of homegrown brands in each region. Videocon just pitched somewhere in between. But Dhoot had a clear plan and he himself is a very aggressive guy and he personally knew the market thoroughly,” he says. Then came more change. The liberalization of the Indian economy began and Videocon started looking for a foreign partner. “Dhoot told me later that he was looking around for a long time. Finally, he found a brand called Samsung, which none of us had heard of. It was a small Korean company with a bad legacy,” Zutshi recalls. In 1982, some local manufacturers had got some Samsung TV kits from Korea, under the Asian Games policy scheme. But the kits didn’t work properly and Samsung’s reputation in India took a hit. Dhoot put Zutshi in charge of taking the Korean representatives around the country. “I travelled everywhere with them, they were keen to see the market. Sony had just started its operations in 1994 and Panasonic was coming in. In 1995, Videocon finally signed the JV with Samsung. Dhoot trusted me and said I must have my man there,” Zutshi says. He resigned from Videocon and formally joined as an employee of the joint venture. In 2002, Samsung bought out Videocon’s stake and became an independent subsidiary in India. At the time, Zutshi was vice-president, sales, with the company. Zutshi’s focus for Samsung in India has been in understanding the unique needs of the Indian customer and using technology to create new products and categories. “Technology matters, and we incorporate it into all our products—whether it is basic or premium. In washing machines, for example, we introduced a starch function. People were washing their saris in the washing machine and then starching it separately. We added a function where you can starch the sari during the wash. In refrigerators, we are the first company that looked at the customer profile. People would buy a refrigerator and then a stabilizer. We asked why should they do this? So we designed a new compressor that can take spikes in voltage. Now, this year, we are extending this to air conditioners too,” he says. Zutshi is optimistic about India. Despite the crowds at electronic stores across the country, he feels the surface has not even been scratched when it comes to the Indian customer’s capacity to buy new gizmos. The only deterrent is the power infrastructure. “There are people in Bihar who have mobiles but don’t have electricity supply to charge their phones. So this guy comes to the city, buys huge batteries (such as the ones used in cars) and he charges Rs15 for people to charge their mobiles. So we have 3G phones now in India, but don’t have the infrastructure to charge them,” he says as he finishes his clear vegetable soup. Our lunch is served. Zutshi had specifically asked for a thin crust pizza and is served one with a really thick base. He sends it back. The famed aggression is clearly visible. The waiter comes back and says the pizza conforms to the hotel’s standard of thin crust. Zutshi shrugs and jokes, “Well, I only have to eat half of it then.” The reports were right, he does know how to make the best of a bad situation.
SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
Packing a punch: The Adam runs on the powerful Nvidia Tegra processor.
A young Hyderabad company is developing a cheaper, faster—and, it claims, a more advanced—answer to the iPad. We met the men behind the Adam
B Y P RIYANKA P ULLA email@example.com
···························· n paper, Notion Ink’s upcoming tablet computer, called Adam, beats Apple Inc.’s iPad by a mile. Among its many lofty ambitions, the Hyderabad-based company’s 10-inch screen prototype boasts a revolutionary “transflective” display developed by US-based company Pixel Qi. Unlike most LCD screens, which become useless in bright sunlight, a transflective display can switch, with a flick of a button, between bright LCD colour and a black and white reflective display like those in e-book readers such as Amazon’s Kindle. In January, when Notion Ink demonstrated the device at consumer electronics expo CES 2010 in Las Vegas, popular technology blog Gizmodo called it “one of the most exciting devices” at the show. Attempting to beat Apple at its own game is quite a feat for a three-year-old company managed by seven 24- to 26-yearolds. But these upstarts and the 60 or so trainees working with them have pulled off a string of impressive coding, hardware engineering, legal and marketing feats to get this far. Founder and director, creatives, Rohan Shravan, the man who conceptualized Adam, talks with starry-eyed idealism that seems to have remained intact from 2007, when he first began tinkering with the idea of a tablet PC. “I was inspired by the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project that aimed to build a $100 (around Rs4,740) laptop. The project hit roadblocks because they were aiming for universal usage with an expensive device,” he says. “I wanted to build something cheaper and more univer-
s a l l y accessible than a laptop.”
One tablet to rule them all In its current form, the Adam is 12.9mm thick, is capable of highdefinition video playback, has a special “swivel” camera that can swing 180 degrees, and a touch pad at the back. It runs Google’s Android operating system, and is working towards Flash compatibility, which the iPad rejects completely. The operational details of the device are still closely guarded, so it’s impossible to say if Notion Ink will deliver on all its promises. But why a tablet, when there are no commercially successful precursors before the iPad? Shravan says he was always positive it had to be a mobile device. “Mobile broadband speeds are getting better and technology is getting cheaper. Plus, nothing is more convenient than a tablet. I was also convinced that the mode of interaction with computers had to change. We cannot stay restricted to keyboards any more.” Shravan was keen that Adam not be influenced by any one of its competitors, especially the iPad. “I knew the iPad was in development because I follow patents very closely. And I was hoping it did not release while we were developing Adam, just so our creativity didn’t get stilted,” says Shravan. The iPad is now a household buzzword, but Notion Ink says Adam is more like the Microsoft Courier than an Apple device. The Courier was a Microsoft prototype with two touch screens fitted together like an open book. The device was rumoured to have used advanced handwriting recognition, but the company said in April that the product was only a
Big fish: (from left) Rohit Rathi, Rohan Shravan and Sachin Ralhan are the brains behind Adam.
prototype and never meant for a commercial launch. That’s a warning sign, says Diptarup Chakraborti, principal analyst at market research firm Gartner. “Think about the iPod competitors that were once launched by Sony, Microsoft and Creative. They were far superior to the iPod and yet they didn’t take off purely because they couldn’t match Apple’s brand and marketing,” he says. “The iPhone is far more expensive than its competitors, yet it is successful. It isn’t about features or price alone.” He cites the example of the Simputer, a low-cost, hand-held computer developed in India in 1999 which never met its sales goal because it wasn’t marketed right. “Notion Ink’s best bet is to piggyback on a known brand like Sony. That way, even if they are the original design manufacturers in the beginning, they can go on to develop more products with the initial success,” says Chakraborti. Chakraborti says Notion Ink isn’t known well enough, despite the media splash. “If I were to stick my neck out and venture an opinion, I’d say they are not ready to take on an iPad.”
Bottomup With the device still in the prototype stage, the question becomes: How will Notion Ink manage to pack in so many features into a 1.7-pound book—a 3.2-megapixel swivel camera, Pixel Qi screen that works equally well in sunlight, a 16-hour battery life, accelerometer (a device to detect the rotation of the tablet so the screen can be adjusted), Wi-Fi, 3G and Bluetooth? Shravan says they started bottom-up, with usecases as a starting point. “We first focused on the functionality in Adam, unlike device manufacturers who decide on the technical components first. In their case, the features of the device depend on what the components can support”. That’s how the swivel camera found its place on the Adam. Shravan knew the Adam needed a scanning device, as well as a camera that could capture presentations and the user in a video conference. This led to the genesis of a swivel camera that can rotate 180 degrees. “The touch pad on the back got thrown in
because we didn’t want the screen getting smudged by fingerprints,” he says. Designing a feature-rich product has turned out to be a complex job—a multidisciplinary one not meant just for code-hacks and hardware engineers. It needed inputs from automobile, aerospace, metallurgical engineering, and so on. For example, the internal airflow mechanism in a tablet and the temperature to which the outside cover can potentially heat up had to be studied thoroughly. “While this is done by the manufacturer (a Taiwan company whose name Shravan doesn’t want to disclose), it helped that I am a mechanical engineer, while my team comes from electrical and computer science disciplines,” says Shravan. Yet it wasn’t all smooth sailing. An attempt to collaborate with the National Institute of Design on the Adam’s user interface proved to be a disaster, says Shravan. While the students there were brilliant, they lacked guidance and this meant no one really even grasped what Notion Ink was working on. After repeated aborted starts, Notion Ink quit the collaboration and is still working on the user interface. Meanwhile, applications had to be developed, and quickly, on Google’s Android operating system to compete with Apple’s cutting-edge app store for iPad. This was tough because India does not have many Android developers. Notion Ink found an innovative way out. “We approached Hyderabad’s BV Raju Institute of Technology (BVRIT) and struck a deal,” says Shravan. “In return for infrastructure, Notion Ink, along with friends from companies like Oracle and Google, offered to train their students.” The training meant not attending college, yet two of BVRIT’s colleges agreed to the deal. Today, Notion has 35 students who are experts with Android on Nvidia’s Tegra and Java. “In Las Vegas, while demonstrating one of our apps to the Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, I was asked to create a new gesture for the e-book reader. I called my team in
Hyderabad and they pulled it off in minutes,” says Shravan. All this functionality needs patenting, of course, but “India has no concept of a software patent”, rues the young engineer. So the Notion Ink team had to work its way around legalities to patent features such as the backtrack pad. “It was primarily a software innovation, but we had (to) rework it on the driver level so it became patentable under Indian law,” says Shravan. The critical patents have to be registered in the US and Taiwan; Notion Ink is in the process of filing these. Currently, Notion Ink is working with telecom operators in the US and India for 3G certification and interoperability testing, among others. This is a major exercise in itself. “One of the tests involves the telecom company putting the Adam in a car and test-driving it cross-country to see if it works seamlessly,” says Shravan. Ask for a sneak peek of some of the latest apps Notion Ink has developed for Adam, and Shravan reacts with a new-found reticence. “I can’t say much,” he says, “but we have an email application that can do some pretty fancy things, like pulling back an email from the inbox of the recipient. Then there is the magazine-user interface which I believe will (be) the future of UI (user interface)”. This hyberbole, unfortunately, has always gone hand-in-hand with the Adam. It promises a battery life three times that of the iPad, and “beautiful results” with gestures and heavy graphical applications. These are features bigger firms have struggled with for years. The Adam, enveloped in a heavy dose of scepticism, was originally scheduled to launch in June. But it will now be out later this year, around the festival season, in India and the US, at a price point between $400-800 against the $499 of the iPad. As a footnote, Shravan brings up three films that kindled his enthusiasm—October Sky, a 1999 flick based on the true story of Homer Hickam, a Nasa scientist who was inspired as a teenager in a coal-miners’ town by the sight of the Sputnik launch; Big Fish—a whimsical 2003 Tim Burton film; and, strangely, Pan’s Labyrinth—a dark Spanish fantasy film released in 2006. Shravan is quick to explain his odd choices. “Pan’s Labyrinth is about dreaming about something so strongly that it becomes real,” he elaborates. “And Big Fish taught me that just as the success of any story depends on how it is narrated, the success of a product depends on how it is built.”
SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
Symbian’s last stand The gauntlet has finally been thrown. Nokia’s sleek new smartphone, due later this year, is Exhibit A for Symbian^3—the latest revision of the mobile operating system that brings it up to speed with Google’s Android and the iPhone. Underneath its shiny exterior, the N8 promises to be blazing fast, and comes loaded with a 12megapixel Carl Zeiss lens (with flash).
Motorola Milestone Rs32,990.
Dawn of the Droid
Launching OctDec, €370 (around Rs21,530).
Great Xpectations Here’s the score so far. Sony Ericsson: 4, Competition: very confused. The mobile manufacturer’s tally of smartphones continues to grow bewilderingly. After the Aino and Satio, we get the Vivaz and Xperia X10. Desperate times for a company that’s been left behind in the smartphone race, or a smart, thoughtful gamble? Happily, the Androidpowered X10 is a gorgeous device, and minor foibles aside, among the best Android phones available on the market. The Vivaz sports a nice camera (12 MP Cybershot) and a pretty design, but is otherwise doomed to the graveyard of inadequate smartphones.
We miss Motorola. The company made radically zany devices with sometimes dodgy software and dubious functionality for the longest time ever. Then it disappeared off the face of the earth. But the Droid (called “Milestone” here) is the company’s second wind—its attempt to rise, phoenixlike, from the ashes of its past. The effort shows. The Milestone is a solid Android phone with a slideout keypad. Its brisk sales in the US (250,000 units in its first week of release in November) have rejuvenated Motorola’s ailing mobile phones division, and some of that radical zaniness just might be coming back to the company.
SOME ARE GOING GREEN, SOME HAVE SPROUTED KEYBOARDS; ONE DOUBLES AS A UNIVERSAL REMOTE, ONE SPORTS A DESIGNER LABEL—WE SCOURED THE MARKET FOR THE BEST NEW AND YETTOBELAUNCHED MOBILE PHONES B Y K RISH R AGHAV firstname.lastname@example.org
Launching Jul Sep, price to be decided.
Giorgio of the jungle
Xperia X10 Mini
A match almost made in heaven. A shiny Armani touch to a plainJane smartphone design, some slick wallpapers and themes bundled onboard, and a beautiful leather case to hold it all in. Samsung’s Giorgio Armani phone almost gets the “premium phone” right. It’s absolutely gorgeous to behold and the keyboard is excellent. The weak link is the ageing Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system that slows to a crawl even with simple tasks, and the iffy touch screen that behaves like a stubborn child. The flaws aren’t dealkillers, but at a price of Rs40,000, they loom unnervingly larger than usual.
Launching June, price to be decided.
Launching JulSep, price to be decided.
Giorgio Armani from Samsung Rs40,000.
Xperia X10 Rs35,795.
Tree can play this game
Digestive biscuits LG’s Cookie Pep, along with Samsung’s Corby, brought the touch screen to new lows. Pricewise, that is. The day we see a Rs5,000 touchscreen phone may not be far, according to LG’s Sudhin Mathur, the business head of the mobile communications division. “We hope to hit that price point by the end of 2010,” he says. LG’s Cookie Pep, priced at Rs7,799, was a full featured touchscreen phone. Heading downwards on the mobile food chain are two variants of the Pep, priced between Rs6,000 and Rs8,000. The Fresh is swanky, inexpensive and sports a 2megapixel camera. The Plus has a cartoonstyle interface, comes in 10 colours and has social networking features.
LG Cookie Fresh/LG Cookie Plus
Launching June, Rs6,0008,000.
It’s a habit with Sony Ericsson. Every time the company pushes engineering boundaries, challenges tradition and unveils something exciting, it also seems to get cold feet and retreats head first into the familiar. Case in point, the Elm. It looks like any other Ericsson phone—candybar form with a 320x240 screen and a modest features list with music and Internet. What sets the Elm apart, however, is that it’s one of Sony Ericsson’s “GreenHeart” phones—it’s made with recycled plastics, features a noise shield that shuts out ambient sounds and consumes much less power than an ordinary dumbphone. Why every phone can’t have these features as default, we don’t quite know.
Launching JulSep, price to be decided.
State your name Welcome to Nokia’s new naming convention. With its latest set of launches, the Finnish mobile giant is discarding its usual plethora of fourdigit numbers (goodbye, 3315) in favour of four letters—N, C, X and E. Are you among the “youth” and crave constant “social connectivity”? The XSeries is where you should be looking. Do you dress in spiffy business clothes and send terse emails? Nokia deems you an Eseries person. If you’re none of the above, the C3 and C6 might be just what you need—not too fancy, not too cheap. Functional. With frills.
Launching June, price to be decided.
Sony Ericsson Elm Rs12,350.
Excessorize Dear HTC, we like your phones. Really. But you guys iterate more often than Norton AntiVirus and it’s really difficult to keep up. So among your “exciting new phones” already out, we have the Incredible (called the “Droid Incredible”), Dream, Hero (confusingly, the “Droid Eris”), Legend, Magic, Tattoo, HD Mini, Smart and the highprofile Google Nexus One. Now, there’s the Wildfire and the EVO. And the Desire, which is coming to India in a week’s time. On the inside, it seems eerily similar to the Nexus One. On the outside, it looks like a streamlined Hero. Help us make up our mind, please.
The new upstarts of India’s mobile phone market have outlandish designs, bizarre features and ridiculously low price points. The Zen Mobile Z77 is a fullfledged BlackBerry clone at onefourth the price. The Lava A9 is a budget “multimedia” phone. The Micromax X235 doubles up as a universal remote—albeit one that works dodgily. All the phones are also dualsim.
Lava Mobile A9 Rs5,999.
Zen Mobile Z77 Rs3,999.
Micromax X235 Rs3,945.
SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
CHANGING THE WORLD Historian Niall Ferguson and a game developer reimagine the very idea of human history B Y K RISH R AGHAV email@example.com
··················································· uthor Niall Ferguson is a strange sort of historian. He’s interested in what didn’t happen in the past just as much as what did. In 1999, he edited a book Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, which posed a series of historical thought experiments: What if Russia had won the Cold War? What if Hitler had invaded Britain? More than just playing around with history, Ferguson argued that it contributed to a deeper sense of the time—a more structural understanding of the underlying factors that caused events to unfold in a certain manner. A decade later, Ferguson is working with game developer Muzzy Lane Software to develop a series of video games that seek to do just that. “I have felt for some years that authors need to be able to operate in multiple media,” he told Lounge over email. “We’re working on some serious history games aimed at both the commercial and educational markets.” The game, Making History: War of the World (also called Making History II), goes live in June and Ferguson is planning a series of expansions and content in games to “accompany my next project, a history of Western civilization”. We spoke to Chris Parsons, product manager at Muzzy Lane Software, to find out more about Making History. Edited excerpts:
A Sociopathic rabbits, counterfactual histories and a man who loves pies—the five indie games you need to play this summer B Y K RISH R AGHAV firstname.lastname@example.org
SAM AND MAX SEASON 3: THE DEVIL’S PLAYHOUSE The Freelance Police are back! After thwarting psychic Hugh Bliss’ attempt to hypnotize the planet and confronting Satan’s corporate makeover of Hell to retrieve a friend’s lost soul, the duo are back for a third “season” of five episodes. If the first episode is any indicator of quality, there’s plenty of surreal humour, bad punning and random acts of violence to look forward to in the coming months. Set of five games, available for PC, PlayStation 3 and iPad for $34.99 (around Rs1,645), www.telltalegames.com/samandmax
Could you tell us a little bit about the concept of ‘Making History’? The very first version of Making History was developed as a teaching tool for students. The idea was to create a simulation of the pre-war era and let students play the leader of one of the major nations. Rather than have them replay an exact repeat of historical events, we simply placed them in the situation those leaders were in and asked them to see if they could do better! We found that students loved playing it, and one teacher’s evaluation showed using the game gave students a deeper understanding of both history and geography—and better motivation and interest in learning history.
THE WHISPERED WORLD The Whispered World tells a moving, existential story of a 12-year-old clown called Sadwick who will bring about the end of the world, and treads on emotional territory few games dare approach. There is a painterly feel to the visuals, lovingly handcrafted and underscored by a melancholy beauty that makes the world look unlike any other video game out there. This is a title that needs a leap of faith from the player. If you’re willing to look past a few technical and design flaws, this is a deeply moving, wonderfully constructed game world, and a highly recommended game. Available for PCs for $29.99, www.the-whispered-world.com/
THE MISADVENTURES OF PB WINTERBOTTOM P.B. Winterbottom is in a spot of bother. He loves pies, you see, and the elusive Chronoberry pie has been eluding him for far too long. So it’s up to you now to help this gentlemen tread through a dark Victorian world straight out of a silent movie, and bend space and time for the cause of a pie. Expect whimsy, intense platforming action and lots of baked yummies. Available for Xbox Live and PC for $4.99, www.winterbottomgame.com
SLEEP IS DEATH Sleep is Death is the new game from the mind of art-game auteur Jason Rohrer, famous for his moving memento-mori artefact Passage (playable for free at his website). The game is a two-player storytelling tool, in which one player plays the characters of a story that the other player controls, like a puppet master. It’s a fascinating experiment that has already produced hundreds of scenarios and user-generated episodes. The best part? You pay what you think it’s worth, a la Radiohead. Available for PC for whatever amount you choose (minimum $1.75), www.sleepisdeath.net
War and peace: The game allows you to rewrite the past. In what way was Niall Ferguson involved with the project? Niall Ferguson has always been extremely interested in “counterfactual history”, the idea that if key events had unfolded differently, the war might have had an extremely different, yet equally plausible outcome. Our first game let him actually play out some of those questions for the first time, and the results changed some of his assumptions, so he was very interested in collaborating with us again. When we began, Niall had just published his extraordinary book The War of the World. Our game takes its name from the book, and shares the concept that economic and ethnic instability play key roles in creating and sustaining major conflicts, and planning grand strategy should include those elements, not only military planning. Also, Ferguson’s book redefines the second world war not as an isolated incident, but a part of a much longer struggle that began prior to the first world war and whose repercussions continued long after WW II. Our first scenario starts in 1933 and deals with the people and global economy of the entire era; not just the war itself. This offers the chance to create even more counterfactual history. What sort of historical detail has gone into its development? Although MHII (Making History II) is developed for entertainment first, it still required massive amounts of research to make the game truly credible. MHII adds the dimension of demographics: nationality, culture, ethnicity, and religion for over 1,500 regions in the game. India is an excellent example. Although controlled by the British in 1933, its nationality is Indian, and the nation contains many regional ethnicities: Punjabi, Telugu, Tamil, etc. In the game, anyone trying to conquer an area must look at these elements and decide what to do. They can do everything from offer(ing) full independence to creating a colony or puppet state, or complete annexation. Do you see educational potential in the title? We’ve created an asymmetrical multiplayer service that lets players come in, take a turn and leave—in contrast to games that take place in real time. Getting a group together consistently to play a strategy game can prove quite difficult due to the extreme length of play sessions. Ironically, that same service removes one of the logistical roadblocks teachers have to deal with. They could assign the game as homework and have the students log on and take their turns anytime prior to class, then when actually in the classroom, observe their actions and discuss the reasoning behind them. I’m sure creative teachers could come up with all sorts of effective uses that we haven’t even considered.
SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM PHOTOGRAPHS
We visited Nokia’s only manufacturing plant in India to watch what really makes your handset work
The “engines” from the first stage are taken to the shop floor where the “Supply Operations” take place. Materials such as chargers, user manuals, front and back covers, stickers and batteries, stored in a separate area, are transported in batches, with stocks replaced continuously. Printed sheets are passed through a machine that shapes them into the boxes and lining material used to pack the phones.
B Y V IDHYA S IVARAMAKRISHNAN To assemble the phone’s keypads, the shop-floor workers rely on what they call “Keymat”, where a circular chart points out different countries and their languages. Based on where the phones have to be shipped, the hands on the chart point to the characters of that particular language.
···························· innish manufacturer Nokia Corp.’s handsets continue to rule the Indian market, despite the recent explosion of new brands in the lucrative mobile phone market. Nokia was the first manufacturer to enter the country, and a visit to its only manufacturing plant here (one among nine worldwide)—in Sriperumbudur, around 45km from Chennai—takes you to a bustling special economic zone, with the firm’s over 8,000 employees walking in for their shifts in white and blue coats. Most of them have joined after finishing school or are diploma holders, and they are responsible for the plant having produced roughly 350 million mobiles from January 2006 to April 2010. There are two separate stages for assembling a Nokia phone—the “Engine Operations” come first, where the “engines” of the phone are produced using a printed circuit board (PCB), creating the foundation on which the other components can be mounted. These are then sent to the “Supply Operations” side of the facility, where the mobile phone is assembled, packed and shipped for sale. In the first stage, an area out of bounds for photography, the PCBs are loaded in groups of four on to a “printed wiring board” loader and various components, such as resistors, capacitors and
vibrators, are embedded in the PCB with the help of a viscous paste. At this stage, around 90% of the components required are embedded in a phone. This is followed by an inspection process where the 200-odd components (a figure that varies from phone to phone) are checked. After this, they are subjected to a specific temperature to solder the components firmly on to the board. Then, in a step that was performed manually until last year but has now been completely automated, the phone’s liquid crystal displays (LCD) are fixed. The four boards are separated and the thin layer of cover found between the front and back shells of the cellphone is fixed. Finally, the basic user interface is tested. If any problems are identified, it is worked on again. It takes around half an hour to produce one “engine”, depending on the model. Thereafter, the “Supply Operations” commence, described here with the aid of photos.
At this lab, toys are burnt, dissected, scraped and torn apart—all for a good cause B Y K RISH R AGHAV email@example.com
····································· or Sanjay Sarada and the other researchers at the SGS toy testing laboratory in Gurgaon, the throat of a threeyear-old child may be the most dangerous thing in the world. It’s a receptacle for everything hazardous, and so central to their work that they have a metal, mechanical cylinder that simulates it. SGS SA is a Geneva-headquartered company that provides testing and certification services for a number of consumer and industrial products. The SGS Gurgaon lab tests toys from around the world on a number of parameters, from chemical constitution and flammability to their suitability for younger age groups. Understandably, it’s the “0-3 years” category that presents the most problems. “We have to take into account a young child’s tendency to throw, to chew, to swallow everything it gets in its hand,” Sarada says. On a table in the centre of the lab, the toys awaiting testing include a blue striped dinosaur, a “Happy Phone” toy mobile phone, a large rubber Zebra, a plastic “Police Patrol Boat” (“Pull back and Go!”) and a box of jigsaw puzzles. In the next half-hour, as Sarada takes us through the different stages of testing, these toys will be burnt, scraped, pulled, torn apart, dissected and put through a machine. “There are many dangerous toys wrongly labelled for children,” he says, holding up a shiny yellow model car. “We have to make sure these labels are questioned.” Here’s how they do it.
Employees load Nokia-specific software on to the “engines” passed on from the first stage. This is followed by the assigning of an International Mobile Equipment Identity (Imei) number to each unit. The number is unique to each phone and helps track the mobile phone if it’s stolen or misplaced.
Once the phones are ready and packed in their boxes, they are weighed to ensure that none of the accessories are missing. Eight mobile phones are taken randomly for testing from each box. The phones are then dropped 100 times from a height of 1m and subjected to temperatures between –30 and 60 degrees Celsius at 100% humidity. The keys are pressed 10,000 times. If they clear the tests, the boxes are sent to the shipping area to be transported.
Other tools of the trade include a device to test if a toy shatters on being subjected to highpitched sound, a device to measure the amount of noise, in decibels, that rattles and shakers make, an “accessibility probe” that measures how far inside a toy a child’s hand can reach, and a special sellotape that simulates a child’s skin to determine sharp edges.
The pink floral-patterned teddy bear is held by a firm clamp at the back of its head. Running across its face where the eyes should be is a thin, white cord. Poised menacingly in front of it is a nozzle of flame hooked to a large cylinder. The cord is the “end point”—a fixed distance decided to determine how long it takes to burn a soft toy, and consequently how fast the flames spread. The nozzle is moved slowly towards the toy, and rests on it for 3 full seconds. If the toy doesn’t catch fire, it passes. If it does, a stopwatch measures the spread of the flame till it reaches the white cord.
A surgical blade is used to scrape surface paint flakes off a toy, which is then “digested” (processed) before putting it through a machine that provides a chemical breakdown of its contents. International standards describe permissible quantities of eight elements—arsenic, mercury, selenium, chromium, antimony, cadmium, lead and bromine. If the toy exceeds the mentioned amount, usually measured in milligram per kg, it fails the test.
For a “torque” and “tension” test, the researchers use a device that looks like a robot claw grafted on a screwdriver. The idea is to apply force on any part of a toy that looks detachable. If it comes off on the application of a prescribed amount of force, it constitutes what is called a “small part”. If these fit inside the metal cylinder that simulates a three-year-old child’s throat, the toy immediately fails classification for that particular age group (0-3 years). “We’re very strict about this—a lot of toys, for example, have easily accessible battery compartments and use button cells. These are extremely dangerous for children below 3,” Sarada says.
L14 CULTURE SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
ETHAN MILLER/ACMA/GETTY IMAGES
Behind fashion’s burst of intricate patterns is a new kind of printing facilitated by photographs taken on the iPhone and digital print technology
B Y C HRISTINA B RINKLEY ···························· resenting high fashion—now brought to you by inkjet printer. The stores and runways this spring are full of clothes with intricate prints—not just flowers but unique, often enigmatic designs resembling artwork. Behind this profusion of patterns is a familiar piece of technology: a printer not unlike the one sitting on your desk. High-end design’s embrace of this technology is adding a new dimension to couture. Designers for brands such as Helmut Lang, Akris, Zac Posen and Valentino can create custom fabrics more easily. A series of dresses and tops in the current Helmut Lang collection uses photographs shot by the brand’s designers, Nicole and Michael Colovos, some of them with an iPhone. The designers shoot photos of peeling paint, subway walls and other sights that inspire them, and then scan the pictures into a computer, creating collages that may look nothing like the individual photos. One dress print based on a collage looks like X-rays of vertebrae. Another seems to be pebbles in a stream. New prints such as these are not the sort of repetitive patterns we’re accustomed to—stripes, dots or flowers repeated across the fabric. They’re abstractions, and they make you stand back, then look close, the way you would in a museum. For top designers, printing images directly on to fabric is a big shift. Until recently, textile patterns that weren’t woven into fabric were commonly made with screen-printing. In that more costly and labour-intensive process, mesh screens must be engraved by skilled artisans with the designs that will be printed. Dyes are then squeegeed through the screens on to fabric, one colour at a time. A single order can take days or weeks. Digital printing—which lays down a whole image on fabric, as on paper—has been used for
years to put photographs on T-shirts and shopper bags. But there have long been quality problems—the inks tended to run, and edges printed fuzzily. Gradually, however, inks and printers improved to create more enduring, crisper-looking prints. Digital printing is often cheaper than screen-printing—and it’s faster, in an age when speed to market is everything. On Akris’ runway in Paris in March, designer Albert Kriemler used a photograph of a mountain’s reflection in a still glassy lake. The original photograph came from a newspaper, but Kriemler turned it sideways and altered the colours, creating something so different that one viewer swore it was the Shroud of Turin. “I wanted to be mysterious,” says the Swiss designer. In another case, Kriemler made a dress fabric from part of a painting by the late artist Ian Hamilton Finlay, a friend of his. Where necessary, he says, his office obtains copyright permission. The new technique has emerged on the runways in force in the past year or two. It comes just as fashion could use a shot in the arm. Recently, designers have plumbed and replumbed the most common silhouettes for clothing. We’ve gone from floorlength dresses to minis. Menswear has been skinny and broad. Futurists such as Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto have experimented with lumps, bumps, holes and asymmetrical looks. Textiles—new weaves, new materials and new prints—offer rich creative possibilities. Digital prints, says Helmut Lang’s Nicole, are “a new breakthrough”. When I saw the Helmut Lang prints in the showroom, I felt compelled to grab the fabric to get a closer look. Yet with anything new, something old suffers. For decades, screen-printing has supported legions of artists. Michele (pronounced Micaylay) Binda and his family now have four digital printers at their plant in Como, Italy, where for three generations
they have produced fabrics for fashion houses such as Pucci, Versace, and Oscar de la Renta. But he views the digital method as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, his new machines and skills are helping him compete with textile producers in China. Because less manual labour is required in digital printing, low-labour-cost nations such as China have less of a cost advantage. But, he says, “these machines are in a way killing the old screen-printing technique”. Not all designers embrace digital prints. They don’t attain the deep, clear hues of screen prints because the ink doesn’t soak into the fabric as thoroughly. And designers need technicians who understand the software. It used to be that a great print designer “needed to have a great hand”, says Kriemler. “Now, you have to have a great hand with the computer.” “I want the hand of the artist,” says designer Catherine Malandrino. She employs two artists in New York to draw and paint her prints, which are screen-printed in layers of as many as 12 colours. “I think I will never go to digital.” But the technology is improving season by season. Designer Sara Rotman recently moved production of her silk Loquita label scarves from screen-printing in China to digital printing in Italy. She says the quality improvements in Italy’s digital printing are “blowing my mind in a beautiful way”. Now, she says, “I’m getting crisp, sharp edges that I can’t get in screen-print”. Digital technology allowed Theia designer Don O’Neill to get a job he would otherwise have lost. He was given three weeks to create a pastel floral print gown for singer Carrie Underwood’s appearance at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas last month. The designer grabbed a painting of red poppies that he’d purchased from a Milan print producer years ago and shipped it to Binda in Como (he had previously purchased the rights to use it as a print). Binda scanned it, enhanced the colours and shipped back yards of silk organza imprinted with the poppies. Underwood had her dress—custom fabric and all—within what would have otherwise been an impossible deadline. “Digital printing,” says O’Neill, “is awesome”. Flower power: Carrie Underwood wore this pastel floral print gown while performing at an awards function.
This musical futurist’s garage studio is a laboratory of wild instrumental fusion B Y W ILL F RIEDWALD The Wall Street Journal
···························· hat planet did this guy come from?” That was how Benny Goodman reacted when he heard the legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke for the first time. Trumpeter Randy Sandke has been known to use the same line to introduce the multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson. Although Beiderbecke’s music has a certain futuristic quality to it, Robinson is even more aptly compared with an other-worldly visitor. There’s no one else doing anything close to what Robinson
is doing: playing every style that exists in the jazz world on almost every horn known to man and even some rhythm instruments. He is the only musician I have encountered who is equally likely to play clarinet in a recreation of the music of Sidney Bechet on a Monday, and then turn up on Tuesday playing tenor saxophone with a swing-era big band. At his home in Teaneck, New Jersey, Robinson recently told me, “I’ve had so many comfortable years being everybody’s sideman, in every style, and I’m still going to keep doing that.” But after playing on around 200 albums, mostly for other people, he now wants to devote more time to pursuing his own musical visions. “I think of music as a big world that you can go into and never come back out of. It’s endless, and it’s filled with endless rooms and
funny doors and branches that go off like caves.” Robinson has released four highly eclectic albums for Arbors Jazz and was determined to start his own label, ScienSonic Laboratories, by the time he turned 50; the label launch occurred earlier this year, a few weeks before his 51st birthday. “My home base,” he insists, “is the tenor sax, which is a whole musical universe unto itself.” The same can be said of Robinson’s “laboratory”, a converted garage behind his house, where he stores his working instruments; thousands of additional parts and incomplete horns are stashed in his basement. Lanky, bearded and bespectacled, Robinson plays up the idea of looking and acting like a mad scientist of jazz; he has a custom lab coat that he wears to his own gigs, and hands out specially made test
tubes as souvenirs. The centerpiece of Robinson’s collection is the contrabass saxophone, one of only 16 or so believed to exist, a 7ft monster of a horn. Robinson discovered it in a second-hand furniture store in Rome about 15 years ago, and it took around two years to convince the owner to part with it. The contra produces a beautiful roar that might be likened to the love dance of a pair of happy hippopotami but is like nothing else in the human world. Wildest of all is the slide saxophone, in which the pitches are controlled by a slide instead of keys and pads. Along with the giant saxophone, Robinson has stuffed his garage with what looks like King
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Kong’s rhythm section: a bass marimba (the very same one used by Sun Ra in his famous Heliocentric Worlds album) that you have to climb a ladder to play; and what looks like a 9ft conga from the Philippines. Only a handful of these implements are brought to bear on the first ScienSonic release, Live at Space Farm, a facility that is a unique hybrid of zoo and museum in Sussex, New Jersey (whose exhibitions include a stuffed bear, big enough to play the contrabass). Meanwhile, a firm in Brazil is building Robinson the world’s first sub-contrabass saxophone, which promises to be the biggest and lowest sax in history. The saxophonist also looks with a mischievous glint in his eye at his slide soprano: “If only I could get one of these on a bass sax,” he says. Write to email@example.com
SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
THE BURAK’S INNARDS
Artist Vishal Rawlley’s ‘Burak’ uses VVVV—a software that employs graphical programming language to media installations. It is a cuttingedge piece of open source technology being used by artists, designers, DJs and VJs across the world. The circuit is switched on via a cellphone. The voice input from the phone goes to the software, which detects the decibel level and accordingly switches on a pin on the parallel port of the computer. This port receives the input and sends it via a radio frequency (RF) wireless transmitter to a receiver on the ‘Burak’. And the lights (Chinese waterproof LED strips) come on.
New circuits: (top, left) The Burak floats in the Hauz iShamsi; and Ab hinav’s Bhatka Bhatka shoes.
Ever written to an artwork and watched it respond? A clutch of new artists are pushing technological boundaries for creative expression B Y A NINDITA G HOSE firstname.lastname@example.org
························· Burak—a winged horse with a woman’s face, the mythical creature on which Prophet Mohammed is said to have ridden to heaven—now floats in the 800-yearold water reservoir known as Hauz-i-Shamsi in Delhi’s historic Mehrauli area. But this imitation tin avatar isn’t simply a passive representation of the myth. Visitors can communicate with the Burak from the vicinity of the pond by calling a phone line. They can say “hello” and watch it light up. One can also connect to the floating installation remotely via Skype (Skype name: hauz-ishamsi) and track it on a webcam. Thirty-five-year-old artist Vishal Rawlley’s in-
stallation is part of an ongoing project called Beam Me Up organized by the Swiss-based Xcult.org that curates Internetbased art. Artists and writers were asked to ruminate on the concept of real and virtual space. The brief said that while terms such as “Cyberspace”, “Globalization” and “World Wide Web” had been concretized in the digital world, the new-age world allowed for audio-visual transportation that lets users conquer new spaces and redefine these terms. The other Indian artist who was part of this project, Abhishek Hazra, worked on a live Twitter performance. The fact that it isn’t available any more is an important point of departure for Gitanjali Dang, curator for the Indian leg of Beam Me Up. “The performance existed in the form of Tweets but we can’t find it any more—the hash tags have disappeared. That’s poignant when one thinks of what space that art really occupied; what’s real, what’s virtual,” says Dang.
Light bug: Docile Bodies, a digital print by Vishal Dar, featured in the show By George, curated by Gitanjali Dang.
BITTEN BY THE BUG Vishal Dar has been making digital art for almost a decade and loves the possibilities the medium has opened up
rranged neatly atop a table in Vishal Dar’s studio is a set of male and female human—and humanoid—figures, each about 10 inches tall. They look decidedly pre-digital, until Dar explains what they are—models for the characters of a graphic novel he is working on, the artwork for which is being done entirely in the digital medium—that is, on a computer, with the aid of computer software. Dar explains that making a physical model initially helps conceptualize and flesh out a character, underscoring how the material and digital worlds are intertwined. A trained architect, Dar obtained a master’s degree in new media arts from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in 2002, and has been making
digital artworks ever since. They fall in three broad categories—video, interactive (where a viewer can manipulate the digital image, just as in a video game), and illustrative (digital prints). Dar proceeds to show Cutter, a striking, minute-long work of video art, on his PC, in which a Rs500 “Gandhi” note comes alive in startling ways—the note serves as a screen of sorts on which, at one point, a comic-book-style pistol appears and shoots at the word “fake” which emerges from the mouth of the Gandhi portrait and floats across; the “fake” disappears with a “bang”, which has been rendered in classic bold-red, comic-style legend. Various other things happen at different times—Gandhi’s glasses abruptly shoot out searchlight beams; the top of his head splits open to reveal an eye floating in the darkness within. In a playful manner, the
Artists are also using technology to turn its very connotations upside down. Twenty-eightyear-old Prayas Abhinav has used global positioning system (GPS) technology, that helps users navigate spaces, to create shoes that allow one to get lost. The Bhatka Bhatka shoes use a Java code, an LED and a vibrator. They have a button for the wearer to store familiar locations—while walking, these guide him towards locations that might possibly be unknown: The LED in the shoe blinks red when in a known location, blue in a known neighbourhood and green in an unknown area. The shoes, priced at Rs75,000, were part of a group show Continuum Transfunctioner at Gallery Exhibit 320, Delhi, in February. Young artists such as Abhinav are moving beyond merely incorporating the hi-tech into their artworks. Technology is now being used to examine its very role in our daily lives. It not only plays the role of a canvas, but of paint and brush as well. Abhinav is a 2009 graduate of
silent video touches on our ambiguous relationship with the Father of the Nation and his legacy. Dar calls attention to how the technical soundness of the video makes for “seamless” viewing. “I like (a work to be) technically resolved to a tee,” he says. He is not bragging; only making the point that the “experimental” nature of digital art is no excuse for shoddy execution. Dar’s other grouse is that new media artists hardly use the technology to its full potential. “Video as a medium can be tiny as a stamp and as large as a building,” he says. “Allow it to become what it can. It is not traditional media.” An example of the transition from traditional to digital medium is his work with car lights. At the India Art Summit in New Delhi last year, his installation of car lights and windshield wipers, titled Khatmal, resembled a bloated bedbug. Dar then transferred the concept to the digital realm and seems to be revelling in the artistic possibilities that digital images of car lights have opened up.
the Center for Experimental Media Arts (Cema) at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, which encourages projects such as this. He was selected as a TED (short for Technology, Entertainment, Design) India Fellow for 2009-2010, another sign that artists are increasingly blurring the boundaries between art, science and fundamental research. His most recent project, created two months ago at the Art + Public workshop organized by Lalit Kala Akademi and Periferry in Guwahati, is a digitized version of the “message in a bottle”. He is in the process of installing a giant screen on the banks of the Brahmaputra in Guwahati. Those traversing the river can text-message the screen and leave a message. This will then possibly be picked up and answered by another traveller. Manoj Magoo has been an electronics hobbyist for the last two decades. In 1987, he set up a small workshop, Melody Projects, in Janakpuri, Delhi. The idea was to help students with college electronics projects. But in the last two years Magoo has seen a large influx of artists com-
One work comprises a series of lights configured to resemble insects, arranged neatly in rows and columns as if in a biology book illustration. “The physical installation comes with its own paraphernalia, its own mechanics, its own maintenance,” he says. “If I go digital, I can do what I want with it—I can resize, reconfigure and re-engineer the image. The image becomes the pigment.” Just like steel pots and pans are the building blocks of Subodh Gupta’s sculptures? “Subodh is a great artist,” Dar replies. “But he belongs to the last century.” Dar is vocal in his love for technology and the possibilities it offers. He calls the personal computer his artistic “collaborator”. “I feel a mystical connection with the machine. It is not just a tool,” he says, and then continues, now addressing the machine in the second person: “You are exciting my intelligence; you are pushing me to think, to evolve.” Himanshu Bhagat email@example.com
ing for technical assistance. Projects vary from creating elite sound-synthesizing circuits to circuit boards for projects such as Rawlley’s Burak (see box, The Burak’s Innards). “Young artists don’t feel that technological components are an impediment in their work. They are either adept at creating their back-end themselves or they seek the help of experts such as me,” he says. So far, a majority of these projects have found support through NGOs such as Khoj or funding bodies such as Pro Helvetia—Swiss Arts Council, which funded Beam Me Up. But as a curator Dang believes that the market is opening up to these sort of experimental works. In the last two years, she has curated three shows focused on the digital world: third_life at the Bombay Art Gallery in 2008, Godown at The Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai, in 2009, and Caturday is Cleaning Day at The Loft, Mumbai, also in 2009. Rawlley says one way to monetize these projects is to present them as media—books, CDs or films—that can be consumed. He thinks it is possible to develop an economic model which can perpetuate the existence of such works beyond the support from art and cultural institutions. For a start, there’s a Burak song that has been written and sung by Rawlley’s wife, Abhinandita Mathur. It’s called the Lament of Shamsi Talab (Hai re Shamsi Talab in Hindi) and he hopes that he can sell it as a ringtone to local cellphone service providers. If the Burak’s lament works, it might just pave the way for other electronic voices.
SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010
Travel COURTESY NAIADE RESORTS
Green island: Legends, a Feng Shuithemed luxury resort; (clockwise from below) walk with lions at the Casela Nature Park; Chamarel, a hillock of volcanic origin; and Hindi film posters at a market in Flacq town. COURTESY CASELA NATURE PARK
The united colours ANINDITA GHOSE/MINT
Honeymooners’ paradise, easyadventure getaway or a miniature India? Welcome to the other rainbow nation B Y A NINDITA G HOSE firstname.lastname@example.org
···························· o head, no head! Pat on back,” our safari guide Stephan, a handsome Creole man, instructs a motley group of 11 tourists who are walking with lions at the Casela Nature Park on the west coast of Mauritius. Instructions are necessary: None of us have done this before. The two lion cubs we are walking with—each one-and-a-halfyears-old—are a temperamental duo. One of them, Lundy, parks herself on the grass barely 5 minutes after we have started. Stephan tells us that the walk can last for anything between 20 minutes and an hour. “It all depends on her,” he says, as he plays with Lundy, holding up a piece of meat to distract her from pouncing on a bird. As crestfallen as this bit of news makes us, we are happy to learn
that we are observing these animals as they would be in the wild and that they aren’t drugged (as they are in several “hug a big cat” shows around the world). What made my first big cat experience even more exciting was that it was happening in Mauritius, an island I had put down as “lazy honeymoon fare” for schmaltzy couples. Without doubt, its luxury resorts, associations with French finesse and its sheer indolence-encouraging beauty, do make it an ideal getaway for the newly-wed. But the sense of impending doom that the Air Mauritius flight from Delhi had instilled in me—sandwiched as I was between three sets of honeymooners—was fast vanishing. We had already quadbiked through a section of the reserve, spotting zebras and ostriches along the way. Now, I was being photographed with a
lion, while composing smug Facebook captions in my head. And this was just our first day. Up next, some relatively quiet sightseeing in Chamarel, which translates to “coloured soil” in Mauritian Creole, the Frenchbased Creole that is the lingua franca of Mauritius. A hillock of seven-coloured soil of volcanic origin, it is a potent metaphor for the “rainbow” nation where Hindus and Muslims of Indian origin and the French, African and Chinese coexist in a unique fashion. Almost 60% of the population is of Indian origin, descendants of indentured labourers who started arriving in the 1850s to work on sugar-cane plantations owned by the French and English. Going out of our way, we visit the Aapravasi Ghat near the capital city of Port Louis, a historical immigration port declared a Unesco world heritage site in 2006. The island’s other world heritage site is Le Morne mountain, which was used as a shelter by runaway African slaves through the 18th century, when slavery was still prevalent on the island. One would think that 150 years in a country with a population less than 1.2 million would prompt ethnic intermingling. But not only is intermarriage among different ethnic groups still taboo, Mauritians continue to abide by Hindu caste distinctions. Ganga Talao, a namesake of the Ganga, is
crowded at all times. In the local markets, one overhears snatches of Bhojpuri and Tamil. Curries and tikkas—often bearing no resemblance to what we in India know as curries and tikkas—are ubiquitous on restaurant menus. The country is strictly striated across ethno-class boundaries. The service sector, for instance, seems to be the prerogative of the large population of Indian origin. The Franco-Mauritians and the small Chinese population (less than 3%) control all the businesses. This is a point of departure for local politics: The general election is held while we are there, and we are amused to learn that the leading political coalitions—L’Alliance de l’Avenir and L’Alliance du Coeur—are divided along conservative Hindu and secular lines.
Culinary paradise: Sugar cane, pineapple and vanilla beans are produced on the island.
But even that isn’t enough of an indication of how much of a miniIndia this rum-drinking, Frenchspeaking island nation is. One day, we take a steamboat to Ile aux Cerf, a beautiful lagoonrich island 20 minutes from the mainland. The attendant who comes up to charge us for the sunbeds is Dev Anand, named after the Hindi film hero. On learning that we are Indians from India (Mauritius has a huge influx of South African tourists who’re often of Indian origin), Anand gives us a little discount. Like the many other Mauritians of Indian origin, he has never been to India and probably never will. But he watches every new Bollywood release and can rattle off the names of every Miss India over the last 10 years. To him, India is the hypothetical motherland. All this makes Mauritius a holiday richly mired in history, social dynamics and yes, culinary fusion. While we are surrounded by Creole boatsmen and Indian vendors during the day, our evenings are sunk in gastronomic concoctions of strawberry gazpacho, lobster bisques and the high-nosed Sot-l’y-laisse, a dish made with chicken “oysters” (the juicy nugget on top of the bird’s thigh). In French, the dish literally means “only the fool would throw”, refer-
ring to the rest of the world, which junks this portion. We also have an exotic signature dish peculiar to Mauritius called the palm-heart salad, made with shavings of the palm heart found in six- to eight-year-old trees. Each tree yields three salads, but the dish loses its appeal when I learn later that the entire tree has to be hacked to extract this culinary gem. There isn’t much one can carry back from Mauritius other than bottles of spiced agricultural rum, a souvenir of the island’s sprawling sugar-cane fields. I do bring back saffron, vanilla and herbed sea salts. Now, I often stare at the bottles on my kitchen shelf, hoping they will help me recreate the wonderful week again. At least on my dinner plate. The writer visited Mauritius on a familiarization trip organized by the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority for journalists from across the globe. CHILDFRIENDLY RATING
Very young children will not be able to participate in water sports and safari adventures. On the flip side, most highend resorts have allday childcare.
SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010
Books ECONOMIC HISTORY
Ten years that shook the world
THE GRAPHIC CITY
T ROBERT CAPLIN/BLOOMBERG
Memory lane: The street outside the New York Stock Exchange, where investors lost trillions in 2008.
Two leading Wall Street reporters decode what led to the crisis, but are limited by the subject’s scope
B Y A BHEEK B HATTACHARYA email@example.com
···························· ichael Lewis and Roger Lowenstein are masters at decoding and interpreting. The two writers are without parallel when it comes to decoding the most arcane concepts of modern finance for the lay reader. Just ask any college student applying to investment banks what he’s reading. Their signature works have also managed to best interpret the financial ethos—rather, the hubris—of two earlier Western eras. Liar’s Poker (1989), Lewis’ account of his time at Salomon Brothers (the Goldman Sachs of its day), pinpointed the vanities of the 1980s—large bonuses, wanton risk-taking—that, temporarily at least, went up in flames. Lowenstein, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, took a more academic approach to the excesses of the 1990s—faith in financial engineering, lax regulators—in his When Genius Failed (2000). In detailing the rise and fall of Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund that imperiled the entire financial system, he presciently noted the excesses that would come to haunt us in the 2000s. It’s this last decade’s excesses and the ethos behind them that both Lewis and Lowenstein now try to decode and interpret. Lewis, the personal storyteller, narrates in The Big Short how, against the wisdom of the best and brightest on Wall Street, a few maintained a different world view. Nearly all of Wall Street bought mortgages and securities based upon these mortgages,
investing in the conceit that US housing prices would keep rising. Not Lewis’ protagonists. Because they didn’t believe any part of this conceit, they decided to “short”, or bet against, mortgage securities whose market value was predicated on this conceit. Eccentric in degrees— one character can’t help but be rude and impulsive, another suddenly realizes he suffers from Asperger’s syndrome— they preferred to swim against the tide. Lowenstein, the consummate reporter, writes The End of Wall Street as a history, a rise and fall, of this conceit. He methodically explains how many factors conspired to boost US housing prices: The central bank kept interest rates low, the US government subsidized home ownership and emerging markets pooled in their savings into the US. This confluence fed into Wall Street’s machine: Lenders extended loans without proper documentation, and bankers sliced and diced these loans and spread them across the system, credit rating agencies blessing every step of the way. Where Lewis’ tale is personalitydriven, Lowenstein’s is anchored in detail. Yet, reading both works together helps get a better sense of the combination of characters and events that comprised last decade’s ethos. Particularly, in sections of their books that almost seem to build on one another, both writers lucidly decode one device at the heart of the hubris: a
The Big Short: By Michael Lewis, Allen Lane, 288 pages, Rs599.
The End of Wall Street: By Roger Lowenstein, The Penguin Press, 368 pages, $27.95 (around Rs1,325). complex derivative called a collateralized debt obligation (CDO), a pool of bonds based on mortgages. Everyone loved this product, because they made billions off it. Save for the few who saw it as a weapon of financial destruction. Lewis’ short sellers, for instance, realized that a loss in home value would multiply across the system to sink these CDOs, bleeding banks red. So they shorted these derivatives. Both writers are partial to the few who saw through this conceit, because they too wish to expose it. No doubt, it took unusual clarity and courage in the mid-2000s to rebel against the accepted order. However, it becomes too simple to celebrate these rebels. Lewis, for instance, gives his protagonists a righteous halo: They feel “morbid” that their bets succeed, that they benefit, while the economy is in free fall. Yes, the short sellers were right in their predictions, but not so righteous that Lewis ignore or stay unaware of their complicity in Wall Street’s racket. Consider that to short a security, you have to find someone to go “long”, or bet in its favour. So a bet on one side actually generated demand for the other side: More bets against CDOs meant more CDOs. But when one protagonist, Steve Eisman, realizes that “Wall Street needs his bets in order to synthesize more”, what does he do? He’s so angry he shorts more.
That Eisman doesn’t have the prudence to stop feeding the CDO machine suggests it’s either moral zeal or raw profiteering that guides this gang. If we believe Lewis, it’s the former: These characters have a heightened sense of good and evil; they only want to prove the other guy—meaning, the whole ethos—wrong. It’s difficult to assess the counterfactual, but if Eisman & co. hadn’t placed their bets—by 2006, big banks had started imitating their bets too— the system could have held fewer toxic assets. We may have had a more contained bloodbath. But Lewis doesn’t care for such a counterfactual. His protagonists’ attitude resonates with his own rebellion against the 1980s zeitgeist: His personal experiences, in fact, frame the book. Perhaps he has his own moral crusade. Lowenstein too appears to have some moral axe to grind. He is repulsed every time bankers get paid too much, every time there is a “moral disconnect” between Wall Street and Main Street. He can’t forgive one banker for ordering a $350 (around Rs16,590) bottle of wine just to sample one glass of it, not realizing that all kinds of rich people do so. Lowenstein has so many axes to grind—a lot of his targets, such as rating agencies, deserve his criticism, of course—that, by the end of it, the book becomes a truncated composition of many different books. He wants to both explain the ethos of an entire decade and narrate the hour-by-hour drama of the few September 2008 days that shook the world, all within 368 pages. This is where the worst financial crisis in 80 years proves too much for the writers. In the nearly two years since Lehman Brothers collapsed, robust press and academic coverage has enabled us to decode and interpret many different viewpoints for ourselves. So where Lewis and Lowenstein may have served brilliantly as decoders and interpreters for past financial mayhem, their tales now seem limited. This time, indeed, is different. IN SIX WORDS When simple becomes a little simplistic
here’s something very visual about architecture and city planning. The structure and symmetry (or asymmetry) of buildings, the layout of roads, and the underlying history behind buildings and cities—these are as compelling as the stories and histories of people who live in them. The visual nature of the medium combined with the interpretative ability of illustrations and the sheer power of words makes graphic novels about cities especially attractive. Even when they dwell but fleetingly on cities, comics do so far better than books, photographs, even cinema. One of my favourite passages in Alan Moore’s From Hell is the architectural journey of London Sir William Gull takes along with his coachman Netley, traversing the path of a pentacle between vertices that are popular London buildings with St Paul’s at the centre. Sir William, we know, is mad (and also Jack the Ripper) but his map is accurate. His London exists and is real—a fearsome city whose very silence is menacing (is it any surprise the movie failed?). Then there is the graphic novel version of Paul Auster’s City of Glass. “New York was a labyrinth of endless steps, and no matter how far he walked, it always left him with the feeling of being lost. Each time he took a walk, he felt he was leaving himself behind…,” Auster writes. The words are potent but mixed with the illustrations of David Mazzucchelli (who has finally announced his arrival on the big stage with one of the finest comic books that will ever be written, Asterios Polyp), they become downright totemic. The city is at the core of both From Hell and City of Glass, but Jason Lutes’ Berlin trilogy (I have the first two books and can’t find the third) is about the city itself. Sparse on text and rich in detail, Lutes’ history of Berlin between the wars (I am assuming the third book is set after World War II) is among the finest chronicles of the death of the Weimar republic, the rise of the Nazis, and the humbling of a once proud city. There are countless comics about cities, from G. Willow Wilson’s Cairo to several books by Joe Sacco, but there are two comics about cities, living, breathing, dreaming cities that will haunt me forever, the way only a good book or piece of music can. The first is Mike Mignola’s retelling of Ray Bradbury’s The City, a story of a City that wreaks vengeance on Earthmen who killed its original habitants. The second is a story from Neil Gaiman’s World’s End (part of the Sandman series) about an unprepossessing young man who falls asleep on a train and finds himself in a city’s dreams. I wonder what New Delhi dreams of. R. Sukumar is editor, Mint. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cityscape: The Berlin trilogy on the fall of a great city is rich in detail.
FREE VERSE | SRIDALA SWAMI
Daybreak It is not so much the blade of day that slices the morning’s eye open as that it begins anyway uncoerced and softly-spoken breathing in the yeasty rising breeze; and warms its fingers on the rose-glow of clouds steepstacked and neat-racked by the sun’s balusters; begins despite the clamour and the war cry of the blown conch, the dawn prayer the challenge of javelin voices that vie to fling their chants through the air. Morning comes like a man used to lying awake waiting for tomorrow. Sridala Swami is the author of the book of poems A Reluctant Survivor (Sahitya Akademi, 2007). Write to email@example.com
L18 FLAVOURS SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2010 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
OUR DAILY BREAD
SAMAR HALARNKAR PHOTOGRAPHS
GITANJALI MEHTA ANAND
An evening in Catalunya Mouthful: (clockwise from above) The Cal Ruget farm house; let the fish speak for itself; and spices have their place, as in this seafood paella.
The writer learns to value the natural flavour of fish in crisp, cool Spain; then tries it out in broiling Delhi
lorian Porsche marinated the leg of lamb in olive oil, rubbed some salt and popped it into his spacious oven, basting it generously with lime juice. That was it. Indian cooking only rarely tends towards minimalism. But I was in Catalunya in northern Spain, being reminded there is a lot to be said for fresh ingredients and simple food. Less than an hour later, Florian presented the leg of lamb—succulent and quite delicious—as part of a four-course dinner. I spent two days at a country home called Cal Ruget where Florian, his wife Veronica and beagle brothers Unox and Urox host guests and treat them to food that marries the couple’s 20 years of diverse international
hospitality experience with the traditional meats, sausages, cheeses and vegetables of Catalunya, a Spanish region with French influences, open skies and rolling acres of vineyards. Unsurprisingly, my 15-day trip to Spain involved a lot of wine. From humblest tavern to railway station to park kiosk, a decent bottle is available for less than Rs200. Since it is so deeply ingrained in Spanish culture, wine is used liberally in food and, of course, with food. Florian, a genial German, did all the cooking, and Vernonica, a precise, fastidious Catalan, served most meals, apart from keeping a house where guests are encouraged to feel at home, borrow music or books, swim in their pool, ramble through their vegetable patch or walk down
Jam session Preserve fruits without using any chemical—as butter, conserve and syrup
the mostly empty country roads. With the dogs curled up in a corner of the kitchen, Florian explained to me how he sets out every morning to get his meat from local suppliers. My trip to Catalunya taught me how you cannot overestimate the quality of meat and fish. Let me admit that I prefer the way we make our fish in the Konkan—bursting with spice and
Fish with cognac and saffron sauce Serves 1 Ingredients 1 thick fillet of fish, preferably white and flaky with skin intact, 150-200g (I used tilapia,
For the sauce 3 tbsp cognac (I used Hennessey, to my wife’s horror) or wine 2 tsp olive oil 6-7 saffron threads, soaked in 2 tbsp warm milk 2 large garlic pods with skin, cleaved in half 1 green chilli split 2 tbsp fish stock Method Pat dry fillet of fish. Rub salt all over. Poach the fish, or fry in a little olive oil, removing just before it is fully done. Reserve liquid, or, if frying, use fish stock (boil some fish heads in water). Heat olive oil gently in a saucepan. Fry garlic for a minute or two. Add fish stock, stir. Keep heat at minimum. Add cognac, stir for 30 seconds. Add milk with saffron. When the sauce starts to bubble, gently add the fillet. Spoon sauce over fish. Turn and repeat till done. Remove fish and set on plate. Pour the sauce over. This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread, at Htblogs.com. He is editor-at-large, Hindustan Times. Write to Samar at firstname.lastname@example.org www.livemint.com Read Samar’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/ourdailybread
or on tarts. We got recipes of fruit preserves that don’t use any artificial preservatives and are easy to make at home.
a grinder to form a paste. Cut the pears into wedges and poach them in the sugar syrup. When the pears are tender, keep them aside to cool. Now, add mustard to the mix and stir. Pour the mix and the pears into a glass jar, add star anise and cinnamon.
Pears in mustard syrup
Ingredients 1kg fresh pears 400g sugar 100g mustard grain 60ml red wine or white wine vinegar 2 pieces star anise 1 stick cinnamon A sprig of rosemary (optional)
Ingredients 100g soft butter 2 tbsp icing sugar 50g fresh strawberries
Chef Jaydeep Mukherjee, Indigo Deli, Mumbai
obvious flavours. Still, I ate a lot of ultra-fresh fish in Spain (apart from rabbit, oxtail and lamb) and was inspired on my return to attempt their minimalist style. In the West, they always say top-quality meat reveals its own flavour; you don’t need spices, sauces and curries. Over the years, my spice-addled taste buds have partially succeeded in adopting this philosophy. One
meal of roasted rabbit—spiced with nothing more than salt and olive oil—in Catalunya was particularly memorable. The Spaniards do use a reasonable amount of spices though. Nowhere was this more evident than in the paellas: seafood pulaos really, with fish, squid, clams cooked together with the rice, spices and saffron. In Cal Ruget, a 40-minute train ride from Barcelona to the town of Villafranca and a 20-minute taxi ride from there into the country, I enjoyed watching Florian craft his food every day. One crisp evening (day temperatures were around 17 degrees Celsius; nights were 5 degrees Celsius), he let me help a bit. I chopped onions and made a salad dressing, drops in the ocean of food he turned out. Back in broiling Delhi, I headed eagerly to the market to buy fresh fish and try in earnest my renewed appreciation of natural flavours. The result is below. How did it turn out? Well, after sweating it out at 45 degrees Celsius that day, it was all a sweaty blur. If you try it, let me know.
but I don’t recommend it; you can try kingfish, or surmai, sole and pomfret)
the sugar and 250ml of water, bring to boil and cook for 10 minutes. Add the figs and lemon slice to the syrup in a bowl and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally. When it cools, transfer the mix into a glass bottle and refrigerate.
Organic apricots in syrup infused with vanilla
Chef Pooja Dhingra, Le 15 Patisserie
Ayesha Grewal, The Altitude Store, New Delhi
B Y R ACHANA N AKRA email@example.com
···························· angoes in October, figs in February and strawberries in May—you can have your favourite seasonal fruits and eat them too all year round by making preserves out of them. “Fruits have natural jellifying agents like pectin and are acidic, because of which they can be preserved. If you have sterilized the bottle, you can store the preserves for three-six months,” says chef Pooja Dhingra of Le 15 Patisserie, Mumbai. Chef Prabhakar Pagadala of Courtyard by Marriott, Mumbai, suggests refrigerating the preserves at 5-6 degrees Celsius. “The sugar prevents bacteria,” he adds. Use conserves, syrups, jams, marmalade and fruit butter in different ways. Have them as bread spreads, along with croissants or cakes, chopped fruits with fresh cream or ice cream, as topping for milkshakes
Method Peel the pears and immerse them in water, with some lemon juice added to prevent oxidization, and keep aside. Put sugar in a pan, add an equal quantity of water and cook on slow flame. Stir the sugar and regularly skim the surface for any impurities that float to the top. Add a wedge of lime to the pan while cooking the syrup. When the mixture reaches syrup consistency, take it off the flame and keep aside to cool. Broil the mustard, then place in a bowl, add vinegar and soak for half an hour. Then run it in
Method Wash, hull and chop the strawberries. Purée them in a mixer and keep aside. In a small bowl, beat together the butter, icing sugar and strawberry purée until soft and creamy. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
Chef Prabhakar Pagadala, Courtyard by Marriott Ingredients 800g fresh figs
Ingredients 12 organic apricots 250g sugar 250ml water 1 vanilla bean 1 tbsp lemon juice 1 tsp baking soda (optional) 450g caster sugar 250ml water K piece of lemon Method In a large cooking utensil, place the figs and sprinkle baking soda to prevent the fruit from turning dark in colour. Pour boiling PRADEEP GAUR/MINT water over the figs and soak for an hour. Now, For keeps: (top) Pears in mustard drain the figs and rinse syrup; and organic apricots in thoroughly with cold water. In a vanillainfused syrup. large cooking utensil, combine
Method Wash the apricots and pat them dry. Cut them in half and remove the seed and place the cut fruit in a jar. Add water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the vanilla bean, slit lengthwise and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice. Pour the syrup over the apricot halves in the jar, leaving Ninch of free space. Close the lid and place the jar in a water bath (a bowl of lukewarm water in which the jar is immersed) for 25 minutes. Remove and refrigerate after the bottle has cooled.