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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Vol. 5 No. 33

LOUNGE SPECIAL ISSUE

THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE

One of the first steps towards enforcing electoral reforms in the 1990s was the voter’s photo­ID card. A woman posing for hers in 1995.

TALKING ’BOUT MY GENERATION >Page 21

THE MAKE­A­STASH PHILOSOPHY For the first time, we believed in money without shame, guilt or hypocrisy >Page 7

MORE THAN TECH SAVVY What started as a small ‘equal opportunity employer’ company set many new standards in the 1990s >Page 10

the

1990s

MUMBAI KA KING KAUN? The highest­ever Hindi film grosser was made in 1994, SRK emerged as the new ‘Hindustani’ hero, and the best Indian films were watched in the West >Page 19

DON’T MISS

in today’s edition of

WHEN WE LEAPFROGGED INTO AN OPEN ECONOMY AND SUDDENLY HAD A PLETHORA OF CHOICES. THE DECADE OF INFOSYS, MARS BARS, POKHRAN, SRK AND MTV DECODED PHOTO ESSAY

SNAKES IN THE WATER


LOUNGE 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 (EXECUTIVE EDITOR)

ANIL PADMANABHAN TAMAL BANDYOPADHYAY NABEEL MOHIDEEN MANAS CHAKRAVARTY MONIKA HALAN SHUCHI BANSAL SIDIN VADUKUT JASBIR LADI ©2011 HT Media Ltd All Rights Reserved

INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

the ‘open’decade ROBERT NICKELSBERG/TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES

F

reedom was invisible in 1990. Violence wasn’t. Thousands of students in Delhi were on the streets, not in classrooms and canteens. They went on a rampage and attempted selfimmolation. They were protesting against then prime minister V.P. Singh’s decision to revive the 10-year-old Mandal Commission report to enforce new government employment opportunities and reservation for backward Mobs for merit: Students protesting caste reservations in Delhi in 1990. classes. We want opportunities based on merit, they demanded. It was as if decade and the “free” globalized Indian thousands of years of our collective history became a reality. The arts reflected the as a nation, where caste oppression has dichotomies of a new Indian society, wedged been not only acceptable but validated, between tradition and modernity. became redundant. It was a violent case for It was a character-altering decade for individual merit by the nation’s young. independent India, and yet the most Two years later, Hindu goons unchronicled. Works of contemporary history congregated at Ayodhya, the mythical are scarce in our country. Ramachandra birthplace of the Hindu god Ram, and Guha’s India after Gandhi ends with the Emergency. Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India destroyed a mosque, claiming it was the predominantly traces late colonial and early seat of a Ram temple. On that spot, a post-independence Indian history. Gurcharan Muslim mosque had stood since the 16th Das’ India Unbound, on the other hand, is a century. A secular nation is bound to be one-sided narrative, an unequivocal paean to slurred forever after a day like this. liberalized India. As a nation, every aspect of our lives had So the 1990s remain largely unexamined. been under government control for decades Was economic freedom a panacea for all ills? before 1990. When, between these two How does an open capitalist economy retain momentous episodes in our history, prime the principles of a welfare state? minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and his finance It has been 20 years since globalization minister Manmohan Singh decided to liberate opened our horizons. In this special the Indian economy from overwhelming Independence Day issue of Lounge, we revisit government control, new kinds of freedom this momentous decade to understand its were upon us: freedom to earn money and merits, its chaos and what we could not see comfort, freedom for growth and power to then. Enjoy reading. define ourselves primarily as individuals and consumers. Ideological umbrellas began Sanjukta Sharma disappearing fast from our lives. Issue editor Economic reforms continued through the

FLASHBACK I SHREYA RAY THE PREMIER PADMINI, DOORDARSHAN’S DAZZLING CONTENT AND SRIDEVI’S IMPOSSIBLE ON­SCREEN FEATS

g

the 1980s list Globalization, thank you for malls, flyovers, McDonald’s and satellite television. But sometimes we get misty-eyed about the imperfect 1970s and 1980s. Here’s a list of what we miss:

Doordarshan

They probably didn’t intend it that way, but Doordarshan (DD) might just have saved an entire generation from the surge of obesity, juvenile diabetes and weak eyesight. With one children’s programme on Sundays, Chitrahaar twice a week and the Sunday movie, there was no way a child in the DD era could spend more than a couple of hours a week in front of the TV. The practice also of community TV-watching—albeit unwittingly—gave the country a collective consciousness. What could be a greater leveller than a message that would often bring the country to a standstill: an unmoving image of paper flowers, neatly arranged on a carpet, reading “Rukawat ke liye khed hai” (sorry for the interruption).

one scene, intrepid Hawa Hawai in another, Sridevi made us empathize with an anthropomorphic snake, a naagin, out to avenge her partner’s death, and she danced “Jumping Jack” Jeetendra out of breath in songs like Nainon mein sapna. What we miss is her comic timing—maybe the stressful postliberalization, size-zero diet does not allow women actors to be funny any more.

Radio The surfeit of TV channels also ended the dependence on radio. Unlike this year’s cricket World

Cup, the 1983 win is an audio memory for most Indians. Most middle-class India didn’t have TV sets. What we had was the radio and its antenna to cling to, for middle-of-the-night, scratchy commentary from the West Indies, for music with Ameen Sayani’s Binaca/Cibaca Geet Mala.

Premier Padmini The Premier Padmini—or Fiat, as it was called—was the perfect metaphor for the 1980s. The right balancing act on Indian roads between the lumbering-but-imperious Ambassador and the shiny-happy Maruti 800, it personified an age of austerity.

VCP and VCR One of the unspoken tenets of the age was that someone with a VCR, a VHS player that could also record, automatically ascended to the higher end of the social spectrum than someone with just a VHS player, or VCP.

Typewriters

Borrowing

With nationalized banks and other relic-loving institutions having long crossed over to the bright side, the typewriter’s time was up. Yet we got a little nostalgic a few months ago when the last typewriter company, Mumbai-based Godrej and Boyce, closed its factory. The rhythmic click-clack of the typewriter is not coming back.

This being the age of consumerism, we now believe in buying. India in the 1970s and 1980s was big on borrowing. A bowl of sugar from the neighbour, an hour’s television during a crucial match. These sugar bowls and snatches of TV time also became vehicles of camaraderie between neighbours and almoststrangers.

Sridevi Gambling Charlie Chaplin in

Sridevi: An icon of the 1980s.

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Pavitra Jayaraman’s “We have no branches”, 6 August, was enjoyable. The points she made, and the examples, were relevant. Though I’ve stayed in Mumbai most of my life, the line that caught my attention was the chief minister’s (R. Gundu Rao’s) response to ornithologist M.B. Krishna’s letter about the Lalbagh lake—Krishna is quoted as saying “my grievance had been sent to the director of horticulture, who met me, consulted with experts, and the whole idea was cancelled”. Keep up the good job. PUSHPENDRA PANDYA

Saturday, August 6, 2011

LOUNGE THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE

THE NEW OLD DELHI As New Delhi turns 100, Shahjahan’s Walled City is also embracing change. We visited a joint family and its neighbourhood to feel the new pulse >Pages 10­12

BUSINESS LOUNGE WITH ACUMEN FUND’S JACQUELINE NOVOGRATZ >Page 8

SMARTPHONE THINKING ON A DESKTOP

OS X Lion is a wily beast, but it recognizes that things have been wrong for too long with desktops >Page 7

‘JUST A WAY TO SHUT UP SOCIETY’ As experts debate their ‘marriage’, two women get protection from a Gurgaon court against prejudices and death threats >Page 9

MODERNITY AND MEGA CITIES

Architect Rahul Mehrotra on his new book, how ‘impatient capital’ shapes a city’s skyline, and the relevance of Gandhian ideas of space >Page 16

An old­style house at Chitli Qabar Chowk in Old Delhi.

LUXURY CULT

THE BEAUTY OF DRAVIDIAN CRICKET

Vol. 5 No. 32

RADHA CHADHA

MCQUEEN’S ART OF CONTRASTS

REPLY TO ALL

AAKAR PATEL

WE OWE THE ‘PAV BHAJI’ TO AMERICA

MY DAUGHTERS’ MUM

NATASHA BADHWAR

DON’T MISS

in today’s edition of

WHY YOU WILL LEARN ON THE JOB

I S W Was Rohit Brijnath’s “The beauty of waiting in Test cricket”, 30 July, the piece of cricket writing I had been WAITING to read? As I read his column, I realized that, indeed, this is the kind of cricket article I have always wanted to read—articles by a cricket writer with an understanding of a cricketer’s psyche and mindset. Brijnath’s piece showed an understanding of a man whose achievements, commitment and single­minded dedication have never really been celebrated. Rahul Dravid is as precious as any in world cricket today, but he doesn’t shine as much because he likes to keep away from the glare of publicity. He does not throw tantrums or indulge in antics that would be detrimental to the game, the spirit of which he holds sacrosanct, and which he embodies to the fullest. Sincere thanks to Brijnath and more power to his pen. SHIRISH WAGHMODE am not the only lady gaga over McQueen—there are thousands of people in the queue, waiting an average of 2 hours to enter the spectacular retrospective Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, which is in its last week at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York. Its 4 May opening pulled a crowd of 5,100, the highest first-day traffic the Met has had since the Vincent van Gogh show in 2005. Nearly half a million visitors have already seen... >Page 4

nack food represents a higher form of civilization. We can trace the ascent of man through his diet, from gulped mouthfuls to nibbled morsels. The peasant eats three meals, and often only two, lunch and an early supper. His day is structured around these sittings, and for him eating is purely for nourishment. Evidence of this is before me every day. My lunch is always thick bajra roti, one lightly cooked green, thin chhaas and a paste of garlic and red chillies. The food of my fathers. It is the trader who has introduced... >Page 5

hat do you know, they say to you. Wait till the pain starts. Wait till the baby wakes up, starts toddling, demands an iPad. Wait till the brat starts school, the angel turns 12. Wait till they fall in love…and then you’ll know. I don’t know what the grand truths are. I do know that everyday life with children needs to be constructed every day. Bruises kissed, roads crossed, stories narrated, albums uploaded, excuses made and work done. So how does one do it all? >Page 6

PHOTO ESSAY

FASTING, FEASTING

ON THE COVER: PHOTOGRAPHER: ROBERT NICKELSBERG/TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES

IN A SPECIAL EDITION OF THE

LOUNGE PODCAST Mint’s executive editor Niranjan Rajadhyaksha tells us why it takes “utter cussedness to deny the obvious achievements of greater economic freedom”. And in culture, Sanjukta Sharma picks five movies from the 1990s that changed Indian film history.

www.livemint.com/loungepodcast


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LOUNGE INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

PUBLIC EYE SUNIL KHILNANI

after 20 years, we can’t go it alone

j World view: India’s par­ ticipation at the World Economic Forum in Davos is a step towards exposing ourselves to the international economy.

“Jharkhand boy shakes the world” declared Indian headlines last week—and no, they were not referring to the captain of our pulverized cricket team, but to the Ranchi-born Deven Sharma, the giant-thumping head of Standard & Poor’s, which had just delivered its stinging assessment of the quality of America’s debt. Lines of causality were, of course, being jumbled a little here by excitable copywriters. The flap of the butterfly’s wing does not actually cause the tsunami. Still, there has been some reason for Indians to feel self-congratulatory in these topsy-turvy weeks. Topsy-turvy indeed: a moment when China scolds the US for its excessive social spending, and raises concerns about whether London is up to holding the Olympics; when the UK devolves into looting and riot; when debt crises send markets into panic; when the machinery of government is paralysed. The current situation in Europe and the US makes India look like stability itself. India may not be quite the Chinese scold to America’s woes, but it is hoping hard to stay insulated from the worst of the turmoil in the US and Europe. The country’s economic policy managers and spin doctors have been stressing that the Indian economy remains largely driven by internal factors, that India remains in a better position than most to manage the uncertainties ahead. Just 20 years ago, it was our own economy that was plunged into turmoil. It was India that seemed poised to default on its obligations—our government had to Fedex almost 50 tonnes of Reserve Bank of India gold out of the country to reassure creditors. We came out of that crisis smelling of roses—and set to work creating a mythology. In retrospect, we decided there was some special Indian magic which got us out of the special Indian mess we had created.

Certainly, Indian entrepreneurship and inventiveness, in combination with astute management of the economy, played a central part in the remarkable economic expansion since 1991. This succeeded in planting a necessary self-belief and optimism across Indian society—a vital, positive force in shaping the horizon of possibility. But the fact is that our own growth story over the past two decades coincided, until recently, with an unusually clement global climate. India was not the only success story of the 1990s. Globalization in general was working well, fostering a period of exceptional sustained growth in the global economy, driven by the US. We were among the main beneficiaries. But we weren’t alone among nations in assuming that such a mild, welcoming international economy would be a permanent climate—into which we had merely to transplant ourselves, and then watch ourselves grow. Our good fortune has nourished a kind of insouciance among both our business and political elites. Among the Indian business elites, a sense took hold that they would be able to manage, grow and expand, despite the mess of our politics. Because they could look and reach outwards, the domestic dysfunctions of India’s politics and institutions could be surmounted. Among the political elites, a different view spread: that they could continue to pursue their own partisan and personal interests, make their deals and double-cuts, and the economic goose would still continue to lay golden eggs. The outcome was a distinctive, divided attitude that has come to mark our public life. A deep cynicism about politics washes over everything, yet somehow it has managed not to corrode a happy confidence, even a bit of a

swagger, about economics. When it comes to economics, we’ve become, like our cricketers, a little Australian. Yet the unravelling of the 1990s global economic dispensation has underlined just how contingent it has been. We’ve told ourselves that we have managed our international exposure wisely. We comfort ourself that we’ve remained insulated from some of the more random currents that feed and confuse global flows of opinion and capital. And these are not false comforts. For there are indeed structural elements internal to our country— demography, savings and investment rates—that could enable India to sustain high levels of growth for some time to come. But if the subtext is that, 20 years after 1991, we can manage by going it alone, we’re bumping into the territory of Chekhov’s vital lie. We have to see our future squarely in relation to the world. Our growth will depend on more exposure to the international economy—on putting ourselves further and deeper into the world. For some foreseeable time—at least the next 20 years—that means positioning ourselves in a world and in a global economy that is likely to be steeped in uncertainty. Already wealthy states are likely to become increasingly defensive as their people age, their growth stutters and their payouts mount. And more and more, large, fast-growing states will feel entitled to ignore existing norms and to make up rules as they go along. This unruly global economy will have no particularly favourable dispensation towards us. Seen from this perspective, to think of economic reforms simply in domestic terms—as a taking forward of the internal economic reforms set in motion two decades ago—is far too limited. To sustain India’s economic growth will require working with a more ambitious and expansive

agenda. The reformist economic imagination will need to do more than encompass a wish-list of further domestic reforms, important as they undoubtedly are. It will also need to think about strategic engagement with the global economy, in all its tangled, causally elusive, confounding ways. It will need to embrace its structures, its primary actors, and its generalized uncertainty. While we will continue to feel the effects of global economic trends, it is also now the case that we are actors within it—and upon it. We’re no longer free-riders. Instead, we’ll have to figure out how we can help make the world economy more stable, and how we can turn its idiosyncrasies to our advantage. This will require us to think as much in political as in economic terms. Here, the deep, historically sanctioned split between our political and economic imaginations is a disabling handicap. Merchant and prince, financier and king, have always kept a proud imaginative distance from one another across the long sweep of our history—a segregation of wealth and power that marks us out from the societies of the West, as it does from those of China and Japan. Now, we shall have to find ways to bring these two classes closer in outlook, and in ways that are more constructive for our national project than the merely mutual corruption that now links them. Reconstituting our economy, making it fit for toughening global conditions, will need political leaders and market entrepreneurs to put their heads together: to devise a calculus of risk and opportunity for India as a whole. This sounds like a tall order, given the increasing fragmentation and particularization of our society, as all pursue self-defined interests with little connection to a national vision. But if we don’t

manage it, if we don’t see the economy in strategic as opposed to selfish terms, we’ll remain an underachieved nation. A more strategic conception of our reform agenda for the next 20 years would recognize several pressing matters. In the first instance, it’s apparent that the world’s rich economies will increasingly become defensive. It will be up to us to press for an open global order: open not only for the movement of capital and goods, but also of people—which in many ways is our richest resource (there are many, many more Jharkhand boys waiting to flutter their wings). A more strategic economic conception will mean figuring how to leverage our economic engagements so that they yield access to the technologies and investments that we need—and that presupposes that we have some coherent assessment of, and agreement about, what these needs might actually be. A more strategic conception will also require more determinate views about future global currency regimes and how to maximize our interests. And a more strategic conception would also mean working more actively to influence and shape the character of international financial organizations. These are tasks for government brains, no doubt; but, given today’s extremely complicated division of economic knowledge and expertise, private capital’s finest minds must work with policymakers. To negotiate a more complex economic future, old Indian dichotomies need to be put aside, for good. Sunil Khilnani is the author of The Idea of India. Write to lounge@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Sunil’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/sunil­khilnani TOMOHIRO OHSUMI/BLOOMBERG


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SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

GETTY IMAGES

Crowned: (from left) Leander Paes, Sergi Bruguera and Andre Agassi won bronze, silver and gold, respectively, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

GAME THEORY ROHIT BRIJNATH

leander, 1996, and the teary game

s

Sports writers don’t cry. Maybe cynicism clogs our tear ducts. We’re supposed to be hard-nosed, Damon Runyon-worshipping creatures, drinking cheap whisky and holding dying cigarettes to complete the cliché. Except, some days, sport turns you inside out, it takes a different grip on the throat and everything goes haywire. Goddam, Leander Paes, I say. Covering the sporting 1990s was often like a tired investigation into mediocrity. But I admired athletes because they fought hardship and handicap. I’d go to training grounds and listen to the music of athletes training for major games, the wrestlers with their grunting rap, the boxers with their grim percussion on bags. Then I’d see them touch official feet and grimace. Pictures invaded our home, of Pete Sampras’ barn-door shoulders and Ronaldo’s turbine-like thighs. Sport was too fast, professional, muscular for India, and you could smell fear on many Indian athletes. But Sachin Tendulkar didn’t have it, Viswanathan Anand didn’t feel it and Leander couldn’t spell it. But he should have felt inferior. He didn’t have Tendulkar’s concentrated technique nor Anand’s fertile mind. They were extraordinary players, Leander wasn’t. Average height. Average game, for volley aside, which was akin to a Marvin Hagler jab, his technique arrived from a defective tennis factory. But he was fast, twitching on court as if an invisible God was electrocuting him. And he owned this inner voice, which we couldn’t hear but whose primeval desire we could see in his play, a voice that convinced him he was a sort of tennis Rocky from a Calcutta bylane. But only when he played for India. He was naturally competitive and we’d play table tennis,

carom, golf and he wouldn’t give a bloody inch. It didn’t show enough on tour, but put him in a Davis Cup, an Asian Games, and his tap of adrenalin opened. It wasn’t simply patriotism, it was an answering to the theatrical hero within, he was a Las Vegas entertainer in search of a crowd. Give him one, he’ll give you a show. So there we are, the Atlanta Olympics. He’s 23. Never won a round in a Grand Slam singles event. Ranked No. 126 or thereabouts. I’m not even watching him. But, at different venues, the hockey, the athletics, news leaks in from the tennis centre. The kid won again. He beats Richey Reneberg, world No. 20, beats Nicolas Pereira, world No. 74, beats Thomas Enqvist, world No. 10. We know he thinks rankings are only to be disrespected, but this is ridiculous. I start making the trek to the tennis centre because it’s

beginning. The pressure. Forty-four years is how long India hasn’t won an individual Olympic medal, 44 years which everyone wants him to erase. Even Mahesh Bhupathi can feel it and stays on to help his friend. The friend beats Renzo Furlan, world No. 26, he forces world No. 6 Andre Agassi to a first-set tie-breaker in the semis but loses. Now he’s in the play-off for bronze against Fernando Meligeni, world No. 93. I know this kid, I lived 500 yards from him. I am at his house day after day, sitting with his father Vece and stepmother Julie as they search for funds, look for coaches, struggling bravely through this incredible stress of trying to forge an international tennis career from a Calcutta house. I see him make his Davis Cup debut, share a pizza with him on his birthday in London, watch him win junior Wimbledon. Then he loses the first set to

Meligeni. Some of us are asked to exit the press box because we’re cheering and really we shouldn’t, it’s unprofessional, but Leander makes tennis personal, he affects you, he demands your involvement, till you’re on your feet before you can stop. He wins the second set. By the third I keep slipping out, walking the perimeter of the stadium outside, drawing deeply on a Gold Flake, listening to the scores on the loudspeaker. I am too nervous to watch. It’s as if I still don’t believe this child from the neighbourhood, who used to sleep with his football boots—he played everything—is now on the verge of an Olympic medal. But he believes, he swallows his anxiety, he runs, he chases, he volleys, he exults, he wins, and what the hell else do you do at such a moment but quietly cry for this boy who refuses to go deaf to the voice within? My reaction has to do with India and all that accumulated

losing, but it’s also about the compelling beauty of struggle. I know this now because I will cry only once more in sport, in 2004, for an Algerian gazelle named Hicham El Guerrouj, who fails in the 1,500m in Atlanta 1996 and weeps himself, fails in Sydney 2000 and weeps, and then finally wins in Athens 2004. I meet him one day years later, I tell him I cried, and he, smiling, reaches out to grab my hand. I think about Leander now and then. He still plays Davis Cup at 38, but the athlete in him is dying and that raging voice is softer. But I hope I never forget that day in 1996. The day he dissolved an Indian cynicism, the day he produced such charismatic courage that he had the capacity to move, the day when that strangest of things happened. Athletes win for themselves first. But that day, he let us think he was winning for us. Rohit Brijnath is a senior correspondent with The Straits Times, Singapore. Write to Rohit at gametheory@livemint.com www.livemint.com Read Rohit’s previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/rohit­brijnath


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LOUNGE

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

ECONOMY

NIRANJAN RAJADHYAKSHA

INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

IT IS SILLY TO DENY THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF ECONOMIC REFORMS. BUT THE OPEN ECONOMY HASN’T HAD A SMOOTH SAIL, AND THE FUTURE WILL PRESENT A SET OF TOUGH CHALLENGES

a

open sesame

A dozen years after the end of World War II and near the high noon of European social democracy, British prime minister Harold Macmillan famously announced, “Let us be frank about it: most of our people have never had it so good.” Curiously, despite a wonderful opportunity to infuse some cheer into the dark national mood, our political leaders expressed no such optimism this July, exactly 20 years after the unlikely combination of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh finally liberated the Indian economy from overwhelming government control. A rotting edifice based on

Onward: Since the 1990s, school attendance rates have soared in India, a sign of new aspirations.

institutionalized scarcity, price controls, shoddy products, protectionism and endemic underperformance was swiftly demolished in 100 days of inspired action. It takes utter cussedness to deny the obvious achievements of greater economic freedom. Forget the bragging rights that come with being one of the most dynamic economies in the world or the hope of membership at the global high table as an emerging superpower. Ordinary lives have been changed beyond recognition thanks to the opportunities provided by economic reforms. Average real incomes have quadrupled since 1991,

providing ordinary Indians a rare opportunity to improve their lot. Ownership of consumer goods has spread. Most homes have access to electricity. School attendance rates have soared, a sign of new aspirations. India accounted for 25% of the world’s out-of-school population in 2001; that is now down to less than 10%. Indians are eating better, with consumption of fresh produce such as vegetables, eggs and fruit becoming more common. Higher consumption of meat and fish could also indicate that caste rules are weakening in many parts of the country. India has an appalling record on social indicators such as PRIYANKA PARASHAR/MINT

malnutrition or underweight children, but there is no doubt that the direction of change is right. Few realize that data from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) shows how human development accelerated in the past 10 years and that India is on course to meet most of the millennium development goals by 2015. UNDP said in its Human Development Report 2010 that India is sixth in the list of countries that have rapidly improved its human development indicators since 1980. Poverty rates, however measured, have dropped by at least 10 percentage points. Most Indians have never had it so good. To be sure, it has not been all smooth sailing. The 250 million people stagnating at the bottom fifth of the income pyramid continue to live in abject poverty. Inequality is rising, though there is too little public discussion about the reasons. Are millions being left behind because of social factors such as caste, or the fact that they do not have the capital and skills to participate in the more dynamic parts of the economy, or because they are trapped in regions that do not have adequate links to markets? Each reason demands a different response from policymakers. However, a complicated problem has been reduced to eloquent but vacuous sermons. Politics can be transformed as voters get the freedom to finally look beyond the daily struggle for survival and think about the future. “India is witness finally to what I have called the Revolution of Perceived Possibilities,” economist Jagdish Bhagwati told parliamentarians in December, when he delivered the third Hiren Mukherjee lecture. “Aroused economic aspirations for betterment have led to political demands for the politicians to deliver yet more. This suggests, as my Columbia University colleague Arvind Panagariya and I have hypothesized, that voters will look to vote for the politicians who can deliver growth, so that we would expect growth before the vote to be correlated with vote now.” Building on the gains of the past two decades and addressing the failures will require political imagination from various groups over the next decade. The Left needs to realize that the poor can move into higher-paying jobs in modern sectors and the government can fund an effective welfare state only if the Indian economy continues to grow at close to double-digit rates, which will require a further dose of economic reforms that the Left instinctively distrusts. One possible model is Brazil under Luiz Inácio Lula, a man of the Left and perhaps the most successful

political leader in the past 10 years, with a winning combination of free-market economics and a well-funded welfare state that has reduced poverty and inequality. The Right has its own sets of challenges. It hopes that India will be able to strut more confidently on the global stage but refuses to accept the multilateral compromises that go with being a global player, even on key issues such as extinguishing the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. The cultural conservatives will have to live with the fact that greater global trade and investment is needed for prosperity but that such linkages will naturally undercut many social arrangements. The conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott pointed out many years ago that change is always a threat to identity. The biggest challenge before the business class is to ensure that the current concerns about the rise of crony capitalism do not eventually lead to a full-blown legitimacy crisis for Indian capitalism. Engaging with the rest of society is essential. The angry response by influential businessmen, after some of their peers were arrested on corruption charges, reveals a shocking degree of myopia, almost on a par with the opposition of the Bombay Club to the 1991 reforms. Economic researchers have shown that liberal capitalism has little resonance in many countries because the vast majority believes that fortunes have been made through favours rather than hard work and innovation. The middle class faces its own set of paradoxes. It has done well since 1991 but has withdrawn into a shell as far as public participation goes. The very people who have gained from greater economic freedom have little faith in the institutions of political freedom, rarely even bothering to vote during elections and at other times either banking on charlatans or on single-issue movements that have no respect for the inherent trade-offs in politics and policy. In contrast, the poor, who have little economic freedom, are the backbone of our system of political freedom. More generally, the middle class has moved into the sanitized world of gated communities, private schools, private hospitals and air-conditioned cars. How each of these contradictions is resolved could play a big role in deciding which way India goes in the next 10 years—a million exasperated mutinies, a sclerotic oligarchic capitalism where competition and new ideas are shut out, a violent nationalism that is mistaken for patriotism, or a genuinely open economy and open society. niranjan.r@livemint.com


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MONEY

SAGARIKA GHOSE

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

IT WAS THE ‘GENIE’GENERATION WHEN LAKSHMI WAS SOCIETY’S MUSE AND WE FOR THE FIRST TIME BELIEVED IN MONEY WITHOUT SHAME, GUILT OR HYPOCRISY

the make­a­stash philosophy

i Holy cash: An artistic interpretation of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, by Atul Dodiya.

In the 1990s, as the era of the licence permit raj began to fade, so did the moral odour around the concept of money. Money became not only a legitimate aspiration, but for the first time in independent India, making money or openly aspiring to make money became morally acceptable. The khadi-clad freedom fighters of the 1940s marched for the tricolour and shunned foreign-made riches. The “bush shirt”-wearing Nehruvians of the 1950s and 1960s, busy with nation-building, scorned money-making as infra-dig. The kurta and chappal-clad Naxals and Angry Young Men of the 1970s and 1980s roared against an unfair establishment which monopolized immoral wealth. Money was still a dirty word then. But in the 1990s was born the materialist Indian, for whom the only revolutions were the revolution of expectation and the revolution of money-making. Lakshmi had been a shy goddess in the postindependence period. Khadi, charkha and satyagraha were the foundations of our newly acquired freedom. Socialist austerity and an elaborate hypocrisy about wealth underpinned an economy whose “commanding heights” were held firmly in the hands of the leviathan state. Bollywood traditionally depicted business and enterprise as sinister machinations of quasicriminals. Businessmen were invariably hairy medallion men in white shoes quaffing illicit bottles of Vat 69. But in the 1990s, Lakshmi leapt out of hiding and took centre stage as society’s new muse. As finance minister Manmohan Singh slashed at the tentacles of the licence raj, the shackles of the mind broke apart too. A study commissioned by Ogilvy and Mather (O&M) in 1997 discovered what O&M called the “Genie” generation or a generation who independently engaged in society. In the survey, 70% of metropolitan youth in the age group 18-28 said making money and being materialistic (not making revolutions or changing society) was their goal in life. In a 1998 Outlook-Mode survey of youth across major metros, a majority said their role model was Microsoft’s Bill Gates. Bollywood mirrored the change. The 1994 smash hit Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! was set against the backdrop of an extravagant, flamboyantly wealthy family wedding. Glittering saris and flashy jewellery, fabulously ornate interiors combined with the devotional rituals of a Hindu wedding to consolidate the

image of money as aesthetic as well as moral. The 1995 hit Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) was similarly set in an ostentatiously affluent yet traditional Indian household where characters were no longer middle class or rural but unapologetically and unabashedly wealthy. DDLJ marked the beginning of films that were no longer shot in the modest hills of Shimla but in flashy locales across Europe. On ski slopes, in tulip gardens and on fashionable high streets. Rich people were now good people. The hero was no longer a dock worker or coolie but a scion of a wealthy family. The heroine was often the daughter of an equally wealthy clan. Role models transformed completely. For the first time the Hindi film hero openly made money, often lived overseas and had a globalized lifestyle. The Wall Street dream had already gripped the Indian elite in the 1980s, but in 1994 when Kolkata boy and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) graduate Rajat Gupta was elected the first managing director of McKinsey born outside the US, he became the poster boy of the new culture of “honest” money-making. Gupta came from a middle-class Bengali background, his father was a freedom fighter and his mother a schoolteacher. His anointing as head honcho at McKinsey signalled a powerful change in the mentality of the Indian middle class. The open pursuit of wealth was no longer considered sinful. Instead it was a duty, almost a new phase of nation-building, to take the India story to newer heights and to shed past hypocrisy about wanting to be rich but keeping it a secret. For the first time, Indian millionaires began to feature in Forbes lists. The takeover of Silicon Valley by IIT-trained engineers continued apace and the setting up of the business process outsourcing (BPO) and software industry meant that being rich, middle class and Indian were no longer a contradiction in terms. The pursuit of wealth and success also brought a transformation in how Indians perceived their career goals. Cyrus Broacha went to acting school in New York, studied law for a year, worked in an ad agency before getting his big break as an MTV veejay. Becoming a VJ or RJ would have been unthinkable to professionals of the 1960s and 1970s. But in the 1990s they became legitimate and highly aspirational. The money they offered after all was the sole determinant of success. The 1990s was also the decade of the big advances in

publishing. Vikram Seth received a whopping £250,000 (around `1.8 crore now) for his book A Suitable Boy and Arundhati Roy sold the UK rights of The God Of Small Things for £150,000. The hype and glamour around these books was due in large part to the money they received and wannabe novelists across India dreamt of similar get-rich-quick novels. Roy quickly became a role model for aspiring writers, not just for the book she wrote, but primarily because of the money she earned. In the media too, the 1990s saw the advent of sales and marketing departments play an increasingly dominant role in journalism. Newspapers, pioneered by The Times of India, became money-making ventures, determined to boost profits and profitability. The

circulation of The Times of India is reported to have touched 1.6 million copies nationwide after it launched its colour supplements like Delhi Times. The circulation of Hindustan Times (published by HT Media Ltd, that also publishes Mint) grew by 50,000 copies in Delhi after the launch of HT City. “Page 3” was born. Rich, glamorous celebrities whose wedding anniversaries and parties were celebrated through glossy pictures in colour supplements were ambassadors of the new culture of money. After decades of dreary socialist tea parties, conspicuous consumption, lavish parties and beautiful clothes exploded on to our senses with neon-lit force, creating an alliance of beauty, success and power with unembarrassed

display of wealth. In the electronic media, the monopoly of Doordarshan faded and there was the rise of private satellite television. The money revolution on TV would reach its pinnacle in Kaun Banega Crorepati, launched at the end of the decade in 2000. The show became the culmination of the Indian middle-class’ forthright, publicly expressed aspiration for big money. “I believe in money,” said a character in the 1940s play The Queen and the Rebels by Ugo Betti. It was only in the 1990s that for the first time since independence, the Indian could say the same thing, without guilt or hypocrisy. Sagarika Ghose is deputy editor, CNN-IBN. Write to lounge@livemint.com COURTESY ATUL DODIYA

AND

CHEMOULD PRESCOTT ROAD


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INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

The numbers game: A cumulative result of economic reforms was the Sensex reaching 10,000 points for the first time within 20 years of its launch.

REFORMS

SALIL TRIPATHI

PV NARASIMHA RAO AND HIS FINANCE MINISTER UNCAGED A TIGER. THE ECONOMY’S DYNAMISM SHATTERED OLD RULES AND THE PECKING ORDER OF INDIA’S LEADING COMPANIES CHANGED

o

march of the elephant

On an unusually hot day in August 1990 in Al Ruweishid, I stood at the border crossing between Iraq and Jordan, where officials ignored trucks carrying goods to Iraq defying UN sanctions, paying close attention to the flow of poor Indians, Pakistanis, Palestinians and Egyptians entering Jordan. By law Jordan had to accept the men as refugees, but the officers were worried that these men would remain in Jordan, rather than return home. That was India’s fate then. Indians would consider any country—even Jordan, with its vast stretches where nothing grew. Mother India simply could not feed everyone or create jobs for everyone. The good life was accessible to those who were born in the right family, became babus and accepted corrupt ways, secured permits, licences and prevented others from getting there, or became professionals. India was not where you hoped to prosper, but which many chose to leave. Parents scoured matrimonial ads looking for green card-holding suitable boys and girls. Everything was scarce—jobs, gas connections, foreign exchange, and telephone lines. Shopping lists Indians gave to their relatives returning from abroad included Toblerone chocolates, Pampers, sanitary napkins, and Marks & Spencer’s lingerie. Businesses needed permission for everything and the state planned everything: how many safety pins can be made, who could make them, how large could that company grow, could it borrow, at what rate, and how many workers it could hire— firing them was out of question. Meanwhile, the world changed. The fall of the Berlin Wall meant the market India took for granted—the Soviet bloc—ceased to exist. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait led to a sudden increase in oil prices,

throwing India’s balance of payments in utter disarray. India had to pledge some of its gold reserves to the Bank of England to remain liquid. Such was the context in which Indian officials loosened controls and expanded economic freedoms. As a foreign correspondent in Singapore, I witnessed India’s sometimes charming, often clumsy, at times sincere, but also partly reluctant efforts to liberalize the economy. When elephants learn to dance, it isn’t always pretty; if it takes two to tango, in the early 1990s, investors wanted to know how sincere India was. In 1993, at the end of a reception for India’s original reformer, prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, at the home of the Indian high commissioner in Singapore, some of us reporters were talking to some of India’s leading businessmen. Between them, they ran large businesses in cement, tractors, shipping, power transmission lines, and financial services. But instead of getting to meet the heads of Singapore’s leading companies— Keppel, Sembawang or Temasek Holdings—they were introduced to prominent traders from the local Indian chamber of commerce, with local businesses like Scotts Holdings, which was at that time Indian-owned, hosting receptions (a dozen years later, in Davos, the story was different: I saw some of the same executives mingling with the heads of the world’s largest corporations, who were queueing up to shake hands with Palaniappan Chidambaram, then the finance minister). In 1992 in Singapore, the flavour of the month was Vietnam, whose reforms, called doi moi, had excited investors. Overseas Chinese businessmen put money in China, in spite of 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre. A leading Singaporean-Indian businessman even called himself

“a chocolate Chinaman”, lest he be mistaken for an Indophile. It was in such an environment that Indian businesses sought investors’ attention. India was unpredictable; it was stodgy and bureaucratic. N. Vittal, at that time India’s secretary in the department of electronics, told investors: “We used to tie you up with red tape; now we are rolling out the red carpet.” He encouraged Singaporean companies and Singapore-based multinationals to hire more Indians, saying: “Brain drain is better than brain in the drain.” Visiting Indian executives had to measure every penny before spending it. Once, two executives from a leading Indian company were forced to share a hotel room because unexpectedly they had to foot a steep bill for dinner with a client, and they ran short of foreign exchange, and their credit cards were valid only in India and Nepal. To that, add memories of Coca-Cola and IBM leaving India in 1977, Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s attacks on foreign investment (“India is a country, not a market”). Had India really changed? Was India a reluctant bride? But the reforms Rao and his finance minister Manmohan Singh initiated, uncaged the tiger. Unleashed, the economy’s dynamism changed old rules. The pecking order of India’s leading companies changed. In 1993, when I did a story on Indian companies in Bangalore to watch out for, I had mentioned Biocon and Infosys, neither of which was even a $10 million (around `44 crore now) company. Over that decade, Indians moved from being code maintainers, Y2K fixers, and phone conversationalists at outsourcing centres, to devising information technology strategy; executives at multinationals stepped up from being vice-presidents to chief executive officers. Jobs that never existed

opened up, like Indian teachers tutoring American children online, Indian medic assistants making medical transcripts. And Indian companies expanded abroad. Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley would observe that unlike in China, Indian malls had consumers, not gawkers, and the consumers were Indians, not foreigners. While that boom was real, what about the tribals in Chhattisgarh, and the Vidarbha farmers? Weren’t they being left behind? Indeed, many were—but it was not a consequence of reforms; reforms were bypassing them. Confusing coincidence, or correlation for causality, some critics said their real plight was because of liberalization. But India had always dispossessed and ignored tribals who were bullied by the state. Did inequality worsen? But it would: Simon Kuznets’ seminal curve shows how income inequality worsens initially as a country grows, but over time inequality decreases. Inequality is bad when it is the result of imbalances designed to deny opportunity to those who lack them. While the Gini coefficient, which measures inequality, worsened between 1993 and 2005, the difference—from 0.30 to 0.32 overall, and from 0.28 to 0.29 in rural India (from 0.34 to 0.37 in urban India)—suggests that the impact was less severe than what critics made out. The great development challenge is to extend the dynamism of liberalization to those denied access and equal opportunity. That does not make accounts of horrendous poverty suspect, nor does it make the suicides of farmers any less tragic. But think of this: In 1991, 35.8% of India’s 846 million people, or about 300 million people, lived on less than one dollar a day, the measure economists use to define absolute poverty. Ten years later,

the figure dropped to 27.5%. By 2006, with India’s population at 1.02 billion people, it meant there were 270 million people living in absolute poverty. In the intervening years, when India added 156 million people, those living in absolute poverty fell by 30 million. Had the poverty rate remained 35.8%, there would have been 365 million poor. The economy lifted 95 million people out of absolute poverty. Stocks rose higher. The Sensex reached 10,000 for the first time within 20 years of its launch—perhaps the fastest such growth for any major index worldwide. With exports, foreign reserves rose, making it easier for Indian businesses to borrow hard currency and acquire businesses abroad. Ranbaxy’s early investments were followed by Tata, Mahindra, and Bharti Airtel, and Tata’s British assets now include Tetley Tea, Jaguar Land Rover, and Corus Steel. Earlier this year, Ratan Tata shocked the delicate sensibilities of British establishment by complaining about the lazy work culture of British middle management. India’s rise will bother many. When Lakshmi Mittal wanted to buy Arcelor, its then chief executive Guy Dolle ridiculed Mittal’s aspiration, saying that Arcelor made perfume, but Mittal only offered cheap eau de cologne. A few weeks later Mittal owned Arcelor. As India tries to reclaim its erstwhile predominant position in the global economy, it has the opportunity to show that economic and political freedoms can go hand-in-hand; that to grow you don’t have to be authoritarian, and democracy doesn’t hinder wealth. That might sound false to those still in awe of China. But India is not China, and that’s worth celebrating. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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CAREER

PARAM ARUNACHALAM

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

IN 1995, PARAM ARUNACHALAM JOINED THE LITTLE­KNOWN INFOSYS TECHNOLOGIES. IT WAS A CAREER TRANSFORMATION THAT IS SYMBOLIC OF THE CHANGE OPEN MARKETS BROUGHT TO OUR OFFICES

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employee no. 2,482

Early bloomer: Arunachalam, who now runs a start­up, left Infosys in 2009.

You find one of these fellows in every engineering college everywhere. We also had a palmist in our batch. And some of us would go to him and ask him to do his predictions. He looked at mine and said that I would make much money and travel around the world. This was a different time. I had no idea I would be joining Infosys. I was a chemical engineering student from KREC Suratkal (now National Institute of Technology, or NITK). Chemical engineers didn’t travel around the world in those days. I thought, then, that his prediction was...unlikely to come true. After graduating I joined Kirloskar Group as a management trainee. The company was a big name in those days. I wouldn’t say it was a bad job. Management trainees were rotated between several departments. You got to travel a lot. For instance, I was once posted to a town in Rajahmundry district. I loved the Andhra food. But it was a one-horse kind of town. One post office, one hospital... but five cinema theatres. But at that time labour was cheap. You could do whatever you wanted with trainees. Or do nothing at all. One of my last assignments on rotation was to spend some time in Surat. This was when I was working in the pollution control department. There was a vendor in Surat who made water clarifiers for us. There were delays in shipping and the company sent me to figure out what was going on.

I sat in the vendor’s office from 9am to 6pm. Every hour or so I would get up and ask him for updates. That is all. Everyday. From morning to evening. I would get frequent reminders from my office. And then I would go and pester him even more. Then I rotated to Kirloskar’s Bangalore office. By this time most of the guys in my friends circle had started working in IT. There were maybe seven or eight of us. And six of them had already moved. So I began to wonder. One day, in 1995, I saw a job advertisement for Infosys. But I decided to attend an interview because of one more reason. The interviews were for the new Infosys Mangalore office. Mangalore is close to my engineering college. So I figured that it would be a good chance to drop in at the campus as well. I was employee No. 2,482 when I joined Infosys Ltd. The numbering in the company begins at 1,000. So I was among the first 1,500 employees. Today the Infosys training centre in Mysore handles 14,000 people at a time. My family was shocked. As far as my parents and grandparents were concerned, Kirloskar was a huge name. I was giving up all that to join an unknown little company. For years they were unhappy. Until 2001, when I used my stock options to buy a flat. You have no idea, when you work for a company like Kirloskar, what working for an Info-

sys is like. No idea. You don’t even know what to expect. What the work would be like. What the facilities are like. What the campus is like. Everything was a surprise. Though in the beginning the campus was still being built in Mangalore. So during training we sat in this huge hall with a blue curtain through the middle dividing it into two. One half was a classroom and the other half a computer lab. After each session, 25 of us used to pick up our chairs and walk through the curtain for the next one. At Kirloskar, there was a lot of paperwork. A lot of time was spent getting various people to sign and approve various things. So imagine how excited we all were about email. Email was huge and trainees didn’t get email. The biggest change for me, in terms of work culture, was the intensity. At Kirloskar, like I said before, labour was always considered a low-cost commodity. But at Infosys we were constantly working. Once, during a meeting with NRN (N.R. Narayana Murthy), we complained that Bangalore only worked for five days a week while Mangalore worked for six. He gave us a spiel about us being new and untrained. But then said that if he could, he would make Bangalore work six days as well. Five hours of sleep in a day was common. All of us kept tab of the longest time we spent with no sleep. Mine was 36 hours. I must have been a slacker because there were people who

did a lot more. Of course, if I had been at Kirloskar I would have slept a lot more. Monday and Tuesday were tie days (later changed to Monday only). We used to hate wearing ties in the sultry Mangalore weather. Over time though, it became a symbol of “we are different”. We would go to really seedy restaurants with ties on and enjoy watching people gaping at us. I began travelling. We worked hard on those trips as well. I once went to Paris for 45 days and managed to get just one day to do any sight-seeing. Then I came back and waited for my next chance. Once they kept sending other people abroad and I began to get frustrated. Meanwhile I had no option but to work harder and harder. Eventually I won a chairman’s award for performance. Which was a piece of paper with stock options. I had no idea what to do with it. Then in 2001, I decided to buy a house in Kochi. Suddenly, I realized how valuable that piece of paper was. I used the options to pay for the flat. Finally my family decided that Infosys had been a good decision after all. Yes, I suppose things would have been different indeed if I had stuck to Kirloskar. Sometimes I look at my batchmates who stuck to their industries and feel a certain grudging respect. Some of them perhaps didn’t make a lot of money. But...there is a certain respect. ANIRUDDHA CHOWDHURY/MINT

Would I have worked as hard in Kirloskar? I don’t think so. But there is no point in thinking like that. The problem with the IT industry, as a whole, I think, is that sometimes you lose track of the bigger picture. You are so obsessed with your work and the intensity, that you forgot what it is doing to you and your family. I think a lot of young people have that problem these days and not just in IT. Three things happened while I was living and working in the US that made me stop and think. First, I once fell asleep at the wheel of my car out of exhaustion. I think it was December 2005 in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb. We had pulled an allnighter. I rear-ended the car in front of me. Thankfully, no significant damage was done because the traffic was slow. Then once my wife left me with my child. It was a Saturday. We used to send our son to a day care but because he was sick and it was a holiday for me, we decided to let him stay home. My son was sleeping, so I said I was OK to get on a conference call. Midway through the call, right in the middle of what was my section of the call, my son woke up, walked in and wanted to be held. The call was “important”, so I went into another room and closed the door behind me. My son started crying but I kind of shut it out since I was focused on the call. When it was finally over, and I went to finally pick him up, my son was in terrible shape from crying. Then I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I had to take time off work and spend a lot of time at home. That gave me a lot of time to think. I left Infosys in 2009 and spent a year doing nothing. Now I work on a start-up. When I left the company, I drew up an excel sheet with all my assets and liabilities. I entered inflation estimates and cost of living estimates and all that. I figured that for a few years I could make do with the savings I had. So financially, yes, some of us from those early years did well for ourselves. When it comes to Infosys, I have many feelings about the way things are today. It is very different from those early days in a hall in Mangalore. When people criticize the company I get very defensive. I have had fights with my father over this. But with my friends from Infosys I sometimes admit to those same problems. Would life have been different if I’d never left Kirloskar? Who knows? I don’t really think about that all that much. Param Arunachalam is an IT professional and founder of technology start-up, Mavrix (www.mavrix.in). Mavrix is an early stage start-up with a vision to make it easy and fun for music lovers to discover new songs based on their tastes for music. As told to Sidin Vadukut. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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COURTESY INFOSYS

The pioneers: (from left) Four of the seven Infosys founders—K. Dinesh, Nandan Nilekani, N.S. Raghavan and N.R. Narayana Murthy.

INFOSYS

R. SUKUMAR

WHAT STARTED AS A SMALL ‘EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER’ COMPANY SET MANY NEW STANDARDS IN THE 1990s, INCLUDING IN CORPORATE PHILANTHROPY

more than tech savvy

i

In 1995, I was a staff writer at The Hindu Business Line in Chennai and had wrangled, for the paper’s management supplement, an interview with Hatim Tyabji, then CEO of VeriFone Inc., a company with progressive people policies. The interview was in Bangalore, a city I am always happy to travel to, and where my sister, a technical writer, was then based. The family subsequently gave her up to Uncle Sam, as is the norm for all TamBrahm families of a certain vintage with more than one child (as writer R.K. Narayan once remarked, Chennai is a city of parents). The interview went well; later that evening, a senior reporter at the Bangalore bureau of the paper asked me and my section editor whether we would like to accompany her to Electronics City for a press briefing by what she termed a-relatively-unknown-but-verypromising-company. My memory is a little hazy about why Infosys Technologies Ltd (now Infosys Ltd) had called a press conference, but I do remember almost everything else. We toured the campus, which back then comprised just one building, now called the Heritage Block. The company’s managing director, N.R. Narayana Murthy, proudly showed off the ramps at the building (for wheelchairs) and said Infosys would be an equal opportunity employer. He then delivered a stirring speech about how the company was already sharing its wealth through

employee stock option, or Esop, programmes and how it would create at least 200 millionaires by the end of the decade. I recall that a buzz went through the assembled journalists. Many of them, I later learnt, were new to business reporting. One, I discovered, had been a crime reporter—one of Bangalore’s best. I now realize that it was a combination of several things, all new and novel, and all related, that resulted in Infosys becoming the poster boy and pin-up girl of Indian industry and enterprise in the 1990s. One, although Infosys had been founded almost a decade ago, in 1981 (as Infosys Consulting), it was the economic crisis of 1991 and the country’s subsequent decision to accelerate the process of integrating the domestic economy with the global one that helped it become the force it is. One of these changes, the abolition of the so-called Controller of Capital Issues, allowed Infosys to raise money by selling shares to the public, although it didn’t have a “track record” of profits. Two, the opening up of the Indian economy resulted in the growth of business publications—some of them had been around, but many came around the same time economic reforms did; Business Today, for which I wrote several cover stories on Infosys, was founded in 1991; The Hindu Business Line in 1993. Until then, the prevailing sentiment among business journalists was that all companies were crooked and that all businessmen were crooks

(I may be overstating the case a bit here). After 1991, Indian reporters and readers started preferring a style of journalism perfected by Fortune magazine— the CEO as a rock star. That would change in the mid-2000s again, but that’s another story. Three, for eager business journalists (including this writer) looking to do such stories, Infosys provided ideal fodder. Some of its promoters had graduated from one of the handful of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), itself a middle-class dream; they seemed a decent bunch and talked of doing business the right way; the managing director spoke of sharing wealth; the company set new standards for corporate disclosure and financial transparency; and, maybe because of all this, its shares rose and rose. Some of these may seem trivial in 2011. The media is more clear-headed in its coverage now—Mint was there at the beginning of this trend in 2007—and Infosys itself is in the middle of a controversy over alleged visa violations in the US and is just recovering from some unseemly events surrounding succession to the top spot (which, to date, has gone firmly according to script, from promoter to promoter to promoter to promoter). And lest we forget, there was the popular backlash a few years ago against the company’s internal restructuring. In 1991, all this was in a future no one could see. Back then, knowledge of COBOL didn’t

make you a dinosaur—a grass-eating one—and was, instead, a desired attribute in employees and prospective sons-in-law. Back then, body shopping wasn’t infra-dig (and didn’t run afoul of visa regimes). Back then, it was a rare company that shared its wealth with employees and a rarer company that stuck to the straight and narrow. And the sheer chutzpah of six professionals (the seventh left in the late 1980s or early 1990s, depending on who you listen to) who set out to build a company the right way caught everyone’s imagination. Until then, India’s middle class hadn’t dared to entertain entrepreneurial dreams. Infosys changed that. It wasn’t the only change it rung in. As the company’s scrip soared, several of its employees who had been given stock options found themselves wealthy. Once, in the CEO’s secretariat at Infosys, the only place where you would find office boys, I was served coffee by a man who was worth several times what I was. He had just bought a house (for `39 lakh, and this was in 2000 or 2001). Others did far more evolved things with the money. Umesh Malhotra, one of Infosys’ early hires from IIT Madras, started a reading-and-learning centre for children in Bangalore called Hippocampus with money he got from selling Infosys shares. Another, who worked in the administration department and once accompanied then CFO Mohandas Pai and me on a

4-hour tour of Infosys’ new campus in 2000, has used some of the money he got by selling Infosys shares to start a hospital. Indeed, many of the employees who got Infosys stock—the company’s stock option programme was short-lived—did well by themselves and by the world around them. The promoters did so too. Murthy, the co-founder who started it all, has decided to use some of his money to fund entrepreneurs. Rohini Nilekani, the wife of another co-founder Nandan Nilekani, started asking the kind of questions about how to use the money well that others were asking in other parts of the world and has emerged not only as an expert on the subject but also one of the biggest individual givers in the country (full disclosure: she edited and anchored Mint’s series on philanthropy). Nandan himself has parlayed his innate intelligence and years spent in the corner room at Infosys into a position that effectively makes him the government’s chief technology officer, or, as the man himself likes to describe it, a “plumber”. In Bangalore and in the rest of India, these trends—of the new rich giving back, materially and otherwise—are well-established now, and not restricted to one company or even one industry. But it was Infosys that, at least in some ways, started it all. And it all came together in the 1990s. R. Sukumar is editor, Mint. sukumar.r@livemint.com


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URBAN CHANGE

SAMAR HALARNKAR

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

IF YOU LIVE IN AN INDIAN CITY, YOU LIVE WITH REBUILDING AND RENAMING. BUT BANGALORE, ONE OF THE WORLD’S FASTEST GROWING CITIES BETWEEN 1981 AND 2004, URGED YOU TO THINK BEYOND PHYSICAL CHANGE

how bangalore saw the big picture

l Green piece: Trees, such as the ones lining this road, are constantly under threat in Bangalore, facing an explosion of construction.

Let me tell you what this article will not talk about. It will not talk about the little things that defined Bangalore: the sun-shaded tunnels of green created by the arching canopies of grand, old rain trees; the peaked, wooden overhangs called “monkey tops”, which once graced every window on every sprawling bungalow; a climate so agreeable that no house was built with fans; a gentility that allowed migrant and local to live a life of calm reflection and commune with the great outdoors every day; an effortless multiculturalism that accommodated a variety of cultures and beliefs; and the light wind that blows almost incessantly through the city, the Bangalore breeze. Too many people in modern-day Bengaluru (do not expect me to use this name, for the synapses that control nomenclature in my brain resist rewiring) talk of these things and times gone by. Too many appear steeped in a past that will never return. One city tabloid has a daily column in which old timers reminisce of their Bangalore. Other newspapers reveal a similar, strange affinity for faded days and forgotten ways. For a city more globalized than any other in India, for a city that destroys its heritage so ruthlessly and efficiently, for a city that embodies the future like no other, Bangalore has a strange way of not letting go of the past. This could be because “the past” in Bangalore is, often, no more than 20 years away. If you live in an Indian city, you live with change—constant rebuilding, tearing down, renaming, and the acceptance of a metaphor that says, if you

want to enter a new life, you must die to another. In Bangalore, whatever passes, lives on as part of city’s great brains trust. In Bangalore, the future does not come—as the American cold-war statesman Dean Acheson put it—one day at a time. It comes many weeks or many months at once. Between 1981 and 2004, Bangalore gained the dubious honour of being one of the world’s fastest-growing cities. Its population doubled, from 3.1 million to more than 6 million, compressing what should have been a slow metamorphosis into an explosion of disruptive change. Between 1995 and 2005, more than five multinational companies streamed into the city every month. The Bangalore breeze is about the only thing from the old town that physically survives the transition to the 21st century (so, too, do a few tunnels of rain trees, but every day they suffer new assaults). Since its great acceleration into globalization during the 1990s, Bangalore has lost about 70% of its once endless sea of trees, the local forest department estimates. In a city once known for its cleanliness, only a third of the garbage is collected, as plastic bags spill their decomposing contents on street corners. A third of the city’s 8 million people live below the poverty line—1.5 million in slums—and less than a fifth are a part of the globalized elite. But if there is one thing Bangalore forces you to do, it is to look at the big picture, even if some brush strokes are smudged. Globalization brought unprecedented opportunity to the city that I, of no fixed address, consider my hometown.

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in a city that taught me the virtues of easy living, sang froid and deep thinking. Bangalore does that to you. It urges you to think beyond your boundaries. It helps you collaborate with new people and new ideas. It provides an atmosphere that lets you join the dots. “I was in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, when I realized the world was flat,” says writer Thomas Friedman in The World is Flat, his 2005 best-seller on globalization. By flat, Friedman means the connectedness born from new technologies as trade and political barriers fall, allowing anyone, anywhere to do business with anyone, anywhere in the world. For hundreds of companies and a few million people, the big picture started to emerge in Bangalore during the 1990s. It was during this decade that academic Bangalore—the city that India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru posited as the nation’s intellectual capital—sensed the opportunities offered by the opening of the Indian economy and the demand, primarily from the US, for cheap, intelligent labour for global technology markets. This was the formative decade for Infosys, Wipro and a handful of other Indian companies that were tapping global markets. In 1997, Karnataka became the first Indian state to announce an information technology policy (as we shall see later, that was the last look the government may have taken at the big picture). It was in the 1990s that some of the world’s biggest tech companies, such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Philips, Intel and Nortel,

entered Bangalore. Today, Bangalore contributes about 34% to India’s total outsourcing revenue of nearly $50 billion (around `2.25 trillion). This flat world created for the city a wildly diverse economy. The business of technology employs a little more than half a million people, but it provides employment to maybe five times that number in sectors that closely follow the rise of a young, globalized elite. From construction to taxi services to retail to education, the demand for blue-collar, white-collar and collarless professionals is ceaseless. More than half the population is from abroad or from other parts of India, says The Bangalore Story, a 2010 report by Tholons, a global strategic advisory company. A transformation so rapid, from small town to global metropolis, is obviously not easy on those who see change but are not a part of it. So, the 1990s saw the most visible, violent protests against change. This was the decade when farmers and Kannada chauvinists ransacked the first outlet of Kentucky Fried Chicken, picketed multinationals Cargill Seeds and Monsanto, and protested the Ms Universe contest. As the economy swelled to embrace more people, such protests quickly faded, as did Bangalore’s once-regular riots and confrontations—between Hindu and Muslim, Tamilians and Kannadigas, between congregations of various languages in Christian churches. The 1990s also revealed that while Bangalore’s citizens were going global with a speed rarely seen before in the world, its politicians and public services, which should have prepared for transformation, faltered badly.

“In the early 1990s, the quality of public service agencies in Bangalore was noticeably declining,” says German geographer Christoph Dittrich in a paper, Bangalore: Globalisation and Fragmentation in India’s High-Tech Capital. “Despite being the centre of India’s information technology boom, electricity, water and garbage disposal services were unreliable, if accessible at all, and providers lacked accountability.” The World Bank says half the middle-income population faces daily demands for bribes from public servants. Bangalore’s rise as one of the world’s hot tech cities often obscures, to those who run it, the primary source of its new wealth: global investors. There is scant regard for the fact that the city is more vulnerable than any other in India to a global recession, and there is little effort in retaining global confidence in Bangalore by transforming its infrastructure and offering more equality to its disregarded poor. There is one other thing that remains from the old city, something that isn’t threatened, yet. If you are in Bangalore and, if, after a profitable and/or pleasing day at work, you are vexed by the traffic, the pollution, the unruliness and the acquisitiveness of people, raise your head and watch the sky. The days tend to end in a blaze of glory. As you watch the spectacular, crimson slashes of a Bangalore sunset, you cannot fail to see the big picture. Samar Halarnkar is editor-at-large, Mint and Hindustan Times. Write to lounge@livemint.com ANIRUDDHA CHOWDHURY/MINT


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CHESS

VISWANATHAN ANAND

HIS RISE THROUGH THE 1990s NOT ONLY ESTABLISHED HIS GENIUS, BUT ALSO SPAWNED A GENERATION

star of the orient

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··························· Is this at gunpoint?” Viswanathan Anand wants to know when asked whether he has ever thought about his legacy. It’s a subject he would rather not talk about, for “your legacy should be written by others, preferably when you are gone,” he says. “I feel very much in the present.” That Anand, nearly 30 years since he was headlined the “Lightning Kid”, continues to be at the top of the game and talks of bringing into the sport millions of children through his collaboration with the NIIT Mind Champions venture, is part of the legacy he avoids speaking about. It’s a career that took off in the 1980s, but was consolidated over the next decade when Anand strode into the world of international chess, the only question being when, rather than if, he would be the world’s best player. The coronation took time, as the Soviet domination withered, the World Chess Federation (Fide) split, and Anand himself had a few strokes of poor luck. It fell awkwardly into place first in 2000 with the Fide world title and finally with his first unified one in 2007—a long journey during which the son of a former railway employee has remained one of India’s most admired sportspersons. His “present” is being the world’s second highest rated (2817) chess player, current and three-time world champion (2007, 2008, 2010), the country’s first Grand Master (GM) and the youngest Indian at 15 to become an International Master (IM). His future hinges on how long he can remain motivated to put his mind to the 64-square board. “The motivation is still as strong as before,” the 42-year-old says, “but it comes in phases. I can’t maintain it for long stretches.” The only two other individual sportsmen who can compete with him in defining the 1990s are cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and tennis player Leander Paes. All three men continue to occupy our consciousness in different ways. Tendulkar, just past his international debut at the ridiculous age of 16 in 1989, set about establishing himself as the world’s best batsman through the decade, challenged occasionally by partisan representatives of other countries who deemed their players to be better (remember Imran Khan calling Inzamam-ul-Haq more talented during the 1992 World Cup?). Paes’ Olympic bronze medal in Atlanta in 1996 signalled and promised so much more. His collection of Grand Slam doubles titles and the way he catalysed many Davis Cup victories with the national flag gleaming in his often tear-filled eyes, made him tennis’ best representative from this country for years. But neither Tendulkar nor Paes were firsts in their sport; both cricket and tennis have generations of high achievers. Chess had practically none, till the teenager from Chennai blitzed his way in. “In the 1980s, I used to search for Indian names at the bottom of ratings in chess magazines,” says Arvind Aaron, chess correspondent for The Hindu, explaining Anand’s influence. “Now, I look at the top.” The 1990s was the decade when Anand led India, till then

ART

SUBODH GUPTA

the damien hirst of delhi

y B Y A NINDITA G HOSE anindita.g@livemint.com

deprived of world beaters in individual sport, to believe that chess, indeed any sport, could be a career. “Anand was the driver,” says Aaron, “that brought sports into newspaper pages and improved infrastructure. The number of events increased, as did the number of entries due to the Anand wave.” “He proved to Indians that you could earn a living from it,” says another GM, Pravin Thipsay.

The early years At the lower level of Anand’s duplex apartment in RA Puram in Chennai, there are no visible symbols of his sporting resume. The cabinet is not filled with trophies and the walls do not adorn his pictures. There is just one exotic-looking chessboard in the living room. The sign outside on the common apartment wall merely says Vishy Anand. There is no army of staff buzzing about; it’s just a quiet household in late June attending to the new addition to the family—Anand and wife Aruna’s son, Akhil. The centre of Anand’s attention, the reason why, in stretches from April, he has not been able to even think about chess, is too young to realize his lineage. Had this been England, betting com-

MILESTONES

1990

Wins Asian Open Chess Championship in Manila; gold medal at the Asian Zonal Championship

1993

First with Michael Adams at the PCA Interzonal tournament in Groningen; qualifies for the Fide Candidates cycle

1995

Beats Gata Kamsky in the Candidates final to qualify for the world title match; loses to Garry Kasparov

1997­98

Qualifies to challenge Fide world champion Anatoly Karpov; loses to Karpov 0­2 in a rapid play­off after drawing the regular match 3­3

2000

Beats Alexei Shirov in Tehran to become the Fide world chess champion

pany Ladbrokes would have offered heavy odds on the child becoming a world-beater by the time he turns 12. “The odds are pretty good,” says Anand. “He is going to have a lot of chances to learn the game. I don’t know how far he will take it.” The “lightning” sobriquet appears justified even now—though Anand admits he is much more measured when he plays—in the manner he speaks. His responses to questions come quickly, as he digs into memories that are over 20 years old. The names of opponents he has faced and periods of reference are stacked neatly in the mind that has dominated a challenging cerebral sport. Anand’s well-documented rise to becoming a chess wizard began when he was 6; as a 14-year-old, he won the national sub-junior title, then the Asian Junior Championship (under 19) in 1985, the World Juniors two years later. The same year, he became India’s first GM. He says winning the Asian junior and the GM title came at critical junctures, after classes 10 and 12, respectively, when he could have faced career decisions. “I was incredibly lucky; at the best moments, I didn’t have to worry,” he says. In the 1980s, sports was not a career, it was a supplement to a career, often a ticket to a job in the public sector. Though Anand completed his BCom, he knew all along that he would never become an accountant. By the time he finished his final degree exam, he was ninth in the world. He narrates an incident during a train journey to Kerala in the late 1980s, when an elderly passenger probed him on his career. When Anand insisted he played chess for a living, the passenger asked if Anand’s father had a business that could sustain the sportsman’s ambitions. No, I just play chess, Anand repeated. The gentleman, who did not recognize his fellow traveller, retorted that only Viswanathan Anand could play chess for a career. “Now there are (career) options. If I had told my dad then that I wanted to be a disc jockey, he would not have been approving,” he says, grinning.

A new world The GM title opened several doors for him, Anand recollects. The pre-liberalization restrictions in getting visas, foreign exchange and direct flights out of Chennai now seem strange but India is less bureaucratic in several prac-

Grand master: Anand says if he had grown up in the Soviet Union, he would have had access to better training but would have had to compete for attention. tical ways, he says. Then there was the dominance of the Soviet Union, with its bulk produce of players who ruled the sport when this “exotic man from the Orient”, which Thipsay says was how Anand was perceived, started making dents. Those were days of ambiguity, fed by American maverick Bobby Fischer’s own conspiracy theories. “It was a mysterious world for outsiders,” remembers Anand of the Soviet Union. “You went there with the fuzziest of notions. Thanks to the Fischer-Boris Spassky ruckus, you believed every room was bugged. The KGB surely had better things to do than us!” Anand’s quest for the world title had begun in the early 1990s, though in 1993 it became more complicated with Garry Kasparov’s split from the Fide. After losing to Kasparov in 1995, he lost controversially to the concurrent Fide champion Anatoly Karpov, after the latter was placed directly into the final. In 2000, Anand beat Alexey Shirov in Tehran, Iran, to finally become the Fide world chess champion. “The two world champions concept is an oxymoron; you cannot have that. You may say that I won the only title available and that’s a perfectly valid argument, but there is something unsatisfactory about the whole thing,” he says. It was seven years later that Anand got the unified title he wanted, but the movement he flagged off continues. Three Indians, K. Sasikiran (world No. 59), P. Harikrishna (76) and Sandipan Chanda (92), are among the top 100, while D. Harika became the 25th Indian GM in July. Anand himself will play Boris Gelfand, a rare older opponent, in May 2012 in Moscow, Russia, to defend his title. This time Anand will have more to play for than his reputation. “There is a sense already that I have to do well, though Akhil is too young, but you feel he might be watching.”

HE MADE MIDDLE­ CLASS INDIA AN ART STATEMENT AND BECAME INDIAN ART’S GLOBAL FACE

···························· You probably think Subodh Gupta has been around for longer than he actually has. It hasn’t even been 15 years since India’s most well-known contemporary artist had his first international solo exhibition. It was in 1997 in Bose Pacia in New York. He had arrived seven years before that, a penniless art school graduate from Patna, in New Delhi. The free market euphoria was nascent, but a certain free-spiritedness was already evident in Indian art. In an orchestrated Brownian motion, art was moving to a fourth dimension with “performance” and “installation”. Artists were travelling abroad for art residencies and shows. Most significantly, a viable market for Indian art was created when Sotheby’s held its first dedicated auction of Indian art in 1995. In many ways, Gupta, 47, epitomizes the best and the worst that liberalization brought about for Indian art. In 2008, he was the first

to break the $1 million (around `4.4 crore now) barrier for contemporary Indian art. Though far apart in scale, his sales records pegged him the subcontinental Damien Hirst, the British artist whose diamond-studded skull had been valued at $100 million, and taken the discourse from art to mart. When we meet at Gupta’s sprawling studio-workshop in Gurgaon, he is the master of his two-storeyed enterprise. Fibreglass casts of his iconic installation Gandhi’s Three Monkeys frame the front lawn; inside, scale models of older works take up corners. Gupta has designed the avant-garde exposed concrete and glass exterior of the building himself. Inside, it gives way to wood-panelled luxury and statement furniture. All those years ago, Gupta had come to New Delhi to seek admission in a master’s programme at Delhi’s College of Art. “Being in art school would mean that I had a place to work,” he says. He was denied admission but stayed on with a `1,000 scholarship from the Lalit Kala Akademi. The youngest of six children from Khagaul in Bihar, he was expected to support himself, but not the family. “I had a place to sleep, dal, chawal, art supplies…what else did I need?” he says. Urdu activist Kamna Prasad,

POLITICS

YASHWANT SINHA

who runs the annual Jashn-e-Bahar festival and hails from Patna as well, showed Gupta the ropes. She recalls an early episode when she had introduced Gupta to M.F. Husain. The senior artist had graciously gone through his work. Impressed, he’d offered him a job. Gupta could board with him and help around with odd jobs while working on his art. He would be given a stipend and a scooter. Gupta had politely declined. “Husain saab told me later, ‘I’m going to follow this boy’,” Prasad recalls. The two artists would cross paths several times after that, either at Prasad’s soirées or at art events. In 1996, in an early distinction, Gupta received the first prize at an all-India painting exhibition held at the Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi. It was judged by Husain. Things started changing in the mid-1990s when Gupta and a small coterie of artists—including his artist wife Bharti Kher, who’d just moved from London to New Delhi—began to talk about forming an artist’s association; a space where they could work without the trappings of the market. In 1997, Gupta and Kher, along with artists Ajay Desai, Sheila Makhijani, Shukla Sawant and gallerist Pooja Sood, formed the Khoj International Artists’ Association. And it was under the aegis of Khoj that Gupta produced some of his

Steely determination: Gupta at his studio­workshop in Gurgaon. most exciting work. Pure (1999), a performance that had him lying caked in cow dung in an open field, referenced India’s obsession with ritual purity. A year later, there was Vilas, for which Gupta posed nude and greased with Vaseline, confronting the camera and the long sordid history of marketing the Kamasutra. In comparison with those risque pursuits, Gupta now toes a more defined creative line—borrowing shiny stainless steel utensils and other articles of daily use in middle-class India to make his signature installations, like This Side is the Other Side, with milk cans slung on either side of a Priya scooter, signalling the old and the new India. Critics have quietly snubbed these in recent years as being formulaic. I ask if he was worried when he started about whether he’d be liked, whether he’d be famous. Gupta responds

in a way that seems to confirm this. “The beauty of being a young and struggling artist is that even if you go wrong, nobody tells you anything,” he says. Last year, Gupta collaborated as scenographer for a ballet staged at Moscow’s prestigious Bolshoi Theatre. “I do many things but my detractors only focus on what they know,” he says, arms crossed across his chest. “Think about any artist whose work you remember. You remember them because they created a bold style and believed in it completely,” says Gupta. “It took me years to find my ‘formula’. Why should I abandon it?” Gupta is quick to confess that he didn’t really study in art school. His only other training in the arts had been during his adolescent years, when he travelled with Hindi language theatre groups, both as actor and set designer. “In five years (in Patna) they taught us

a

B Y A NIL P ADMANABHAN

AJAY AGGARWAL/HINDUSTAN TIMES

Key role: Yashwant Sinha had three stints as finance minister.

country, the market became his bouncing board, and he liked what it reflected. When we meet, he is working on a forthcoming show for London’s Hauser & Wirth Gallery. It will open “when he’s ready”. For Peter Nagy, director, Nature Morte, what makes Gupta one of the country’s most important artists is how he straddles rural and urban contexts with élan and naivete, bridging the local and the global for an international context. The milestones of Gupta’s blazing success may lie in the new millennium, but the foundations were laid in the 1990s. The irony is that while Gupta’s art comments on the country’s economic growth and its newfound materialism, he was a beneficiary of the boom himself. In its critical depiction of deficit and excess, his art tells his own story of a young boy who went from Khagaul to the globe.

HE WAS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE IDEA OF ECONOMIC REFORM AND ITS EXECUTION

the reformer anil.p@livemint.com

what they teach in art preparatory schools in Europe,” he says. But awareness of this handicap affected the way the young Subodh would navigate the world of contemporary art. “When people spoke of art history, I had no idea what was going on,” he admits. Gupta rose to where he is today by creating art which was more visceral; an art born out of everyday motifs. Yet he was building upon questions raised by artists around the world, such as Marcel Duchamp and the Viennese actionists. In 1997, Gupta was awarded the Gasworks residency in London. An emerging artist award by Bose Pacia Modern, New York, came soon after. There were residencies and exhibitions in Japan, France, Australia and South Korea in quick succession. It’s been a blur since. In the absence of a valid critical mechanism for art in the

··························· Arjun Sengupta, economist and former member of Parliament, famously dubbed Yashwant Sinha the “original reformer”. It is a tag that would baffle most, especially those fed on the steady chorus of self-appointed cheerleaders of Manmohan Singh, who delivered the epoch budget of 1991. The Congress, under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi, had withdrawn support for the minority regime headed by prime minister Chandra Shekhar, forcing the government to opt for an interim budget in March 1991. Though constrained, Sinha, then Union finance minister, had provided glimpses of the far-reaching reforms being considered by the establishment to deal with what was a full-blown economic crisis in the making. The key man, Singh, was an adviser in the prime minister’s office at the time and had a bird’s-eye view of what was unravelling. It laid down the principles—the need for fiscal discipline, including targeting and cutting subsidies, introducing the concept of fiscal deficit as the metric to measure fiscal disci-

pline and divestment of up to 25% of equity from select public sector undertakings—which formed the basis of the benchmark budget presented later in July by Singh. Popular history, especially the first draft recorded by the media, has somehow glossed over this fact; just as it has made the assumption that reforms were jump-started in 1991. So untrue. They had been in the making since 1980 when India, under prime minister Indira Gandhi and Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, took the country’s first structural adjustment loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Throughout the 1970s, the efficacy of industrial licensing had been questioned; it finally started to give way in bits and pieces—or what is referred to as reforms by stealth—from the early 1980s, when the IMF loan kicked in. Viewed thus, it is also evident that Sinha was the vital missing link that helps us understand that the transformation from a controlled economy was gradual, over 30 years, and not abrupt. This slight has always irked Sinha, and has been articulated in a tell-all biography of his years at the helm in North Block (Con-

fessions of a Swadeshi Reformer, published in 2007). Understandable for someone who made it in the murky world of Indian politics without any established pedigree or familial connections, and went on to be the first nonCongress finance minister to present five Union budgets.

The accidental FM Sinha had come close to quitting the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) seven years after he joined the service in 1960. This was after a run-in the young district collector had with the then chief minister of Bihar, M.P. Sinha. He approached Jayaprakash Narayan, the social reformer and his idol, for counselling. Convinced that it was too early in his career, Narayan advised Sinha against joining politics. However, 17 years later, he took the plunge and quit the IAS, 12 years prematurely. Mentored by Chandra Shekhar, he joined the Janata Dal headed by V.P. Singh. This relationship did not last and Sinha moved out of the party to form another faction of the Janata Dal with his mentor. Chandra Shekhar became the prime minister in November 1990 with outside support from

the Congress. Sinha’s preferred choice was the external affairs portfolio. The PM felt otherwise: enter India’s new finance minister. He would have three stints in the finance ministry, including one in 1998 and another for three years from 1999. They all had a common theme: crisis.

The crisis man In 1991, the country’s balance of payments crisis worsened so dramatically that it was at risk of a sovereign default. To avoid a default, it was decided to mortgage 20 tonnes of gold with the Bank of England to raise $400 million (around `1,800 crore now). It was a politically tough decision: akin to mortgaging the family silver. Sinha says this decision haunted him for the next 10 years, with political opposition always targeting him for the deed. “It was my most important achievement to prevent India from defaulting on its foreign loan commitments,” he recalls. His next stint, in 1998, was as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Not only was India recovering from the currency meltdown in South-East Asia in September 1997, its decision to go in for nuclear tests invited global economic sanctions. Once again, the country’s foreign currency reserves were under siege, provoking Sinha to launch the

Resurgent India Bonds in August 1998—they raised $4.3 billion. A year later, with the NDA facing a fresh election challenge after losing a vote of confidence in Parliament, the country was caught up in another conflict with Pakistan in Kargil. Sinha’s third stint in office happened against this backdrop; and, then, the crisis involving the Unit Trust of India. “Not one (budget) year was a normal year,” Sinha says.

The EMI revolution If there is one thing the middle class has loved about economic reforms it is the unbridled access to consumer goods—at least till resurgent inflation started eating

MILESTONES

1990

Joined Janata Dal (Samajwadi) after the split in the Janata Dal

1990­91 1998­99 Union finance minister

Union finance minister; member, Parliamentary Pay Committee

1999­02 Re­elected to the 13th Lok Sabha (second term); Union finance minister; Union external affairs minister

into this dream over the last two years. This was made possible by Sinha’s politically bold decision to reduce administered interest rates—read this as those guaranteed on Provident Fund investments and small savings. Between January 1999 and March 2002, this rate was reduced from 14.5% to 10.5%; this was reduced further to 9.5% by Jaswant Singh, who succeeded Sinha. This led to the softening of the interest rate regime and created the basis for the consumer credit revolution that was to follow in the new millennium. Alongside, Sinha introduced tax breaks on loans for housing. These two measures triggered an unprecedented investment boom in the real estate sector. Overnight the investor profile turned youthful, stoking aspirations. As Sinha puts it, “There was a mindset change from saving and buying (an asset) to buying and saving.”

Institutional reforms By the time Sinha returned to North Block in 1998, the economy was recovering from the crisis. The difference from 1991 was that this reform was not happening due to desperation; it was through a modicum of consensus. The effort to dismantle the stodgy tax structures began in 1991, but was accelerated in the mid-1990s. A logical next step was introduction of the value added tax (VAT). Since the participation of states was critical, Sinha set up an empowered group of finance ministers that has endured and is now playing another pivotal

MILESTONES

1996

Wins first prize in an all­India painting exhibition at the Vadehra Art Gallery, judged by M.F. Husain

1997

Awarded the Unesco­Aschberg residency at Gasworks, London; wins Emerging Artist Award, Bose Pacia Modern, New York. Has his first international solo exhibition in New York

1999

Works exhibited at the First Fuku­ oka Asian Art Triennale, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan

role in preparing the country for the final stage of indirect tax reforms—introduction of a single goods and services tax. Sinha also set up the National Statistical Commission under the chairmanship of former RBI governor C. Rangarajan; eventually, this led to the creation of an independent statistical authority. The decision to bring the country’s regulatory system up to speed with the rest of the world through a new competition policy was also initiated by him. Eventually, the Competition Act was notified in January 2003 and the Competition Commission in October of the same year.

The outsider Despite these accomplishments, Sinha never got his due. He was shunted out midway through his third stint in North Block—a moment he recalls with disappointment: “As Mr (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee told me, you have done good work in finance. But the perception does not match.” It is not surprising that in a party with an overt Hindutva tilt, Sinha, with his socialist roots, would have been out of place. It only hurts that much more—the party’s subtle rejection rankled and popular history has ignored Sinha’s legacy. Looking back, would he rather have gone the populist route and avoided unpleasant decisions? “Will I make that same mistake again? No!” www.livemint.com To read the extended versions of the profiles, visit www.livemint.com/profile.htm


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CHESS

VISWANATHAN ANAND

HIS RISE THROUGH THE 1990s NOT ONLY ESTABLISHED HIS GENIUS, BUT ALSO SPAWNED A GENERATION

star of the orient

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B Y A RUN J ANARDHAN

i

arun.j@livemint.com

··························· Is this at gunpoint?” Viswanathan Anand wants to know when asked whether he has ever thought about his legacy. It’s a subject he would rather not talk about, for “your legacy should be written by others, preferably when you are gone,” he says. “I feel very much in the present.” That Anand, nearly 30 years since he was headlined the “Lightning Kid”, continues to be at the top of the game and talks of bringing into the sport millions of children through his collaboration with the NIIT Mind Champions venture, is part of the legacy he avoids speaking about. It’s a career that took off in the 1980s, but was consolidated over the next decade when Anand strode into the world of international chess, the only question being when, rather than if, he would be the world’s best player. The coronation took time, as the Soviet domination withered, the World Chess Federation (Fide) split, and Anand himself had a few strokes of poor luck. It fell awkwardly into place first in 2000 with the Fide world title and finally with his first unified one in 2007—a long journey during which the son of a former railway employee has remained one of India’s most admired sportspersons. His “present” is being the world’s second highest rated (2817) chess player, current and three-time world champion (2007, 2008, 2010), the country’s first Grand Master (GM) and the youngest Indian at 15 to become an International Master (IM). His future hinges on how long he can remain motivated to put his mind to the 64-square board. “The motivation is still as strong as before,” the 42-year-old says, “but it comes in phases. I can’t maintain it for long stretches.” The only two other individual sportsmen who can compete with him in defining the 1990s are cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and tennis player Leander Paes. All three men continue to occupy our consciousness in different ways. Tendulkar, just past his international debut at the ridiculous age of 16 in 1989, set about establishing himself as the world’s best batsman through the decade, challenged occasionally by partisan representatives of other countries who deemed their players to be better (remember Imran Khan calling Inzamam-ul-Haq more talented during the 1992 World Cup?). Paes’ Olympic bronze medal in Atlanta in 1996 signalled and promised so much more. His collection of Grand Slam doubles titles and the way he catalysed many Davis Cup victories with the national flag gleaming in his often tear-filled eyes, made him tennis’ best representative from this country for years. But neither Tendulkar nor Paes were firsts in their sport; both cricket and tennis have generations of high achievers. Chess had practically none, till the teenager from Chennai blitzed his way in. “In the 1980s, I used to search for Indian names at the bottom of ratings in chess magazines,” says Arvind Aaron, chess correspondent for The Hindu, explaining Anand’s influence. “Now, I look at the top.” The 1990s was the decade when Anand led India, till then

ART

SUBODH GUPTA

the damien hirst of delhi

y B Y A NINDITA G HOSE anindita.g@livemint.com

deprived of world beaters in individual sport, to believe that chess, indeed any sport, could be a career. “Anand was the driver,” says Aaron, “that brought sports into newspaper pages and improved infrastructure. The number of events increased, as did the number of entries due to the Anand wave.” “He proved to Indians that you could earn a living from it,” says another GM, Pravin Thipsay.

The early years At the lower level of Anand’s duplex apartment in RA Puram in Chennai, there are no visible symbols of his sporting resume. The cabinet is not filled with trophies and the walls do not adorn his pictures. There is just one exotic-looking chessboard in the living room. The sign outside on the common apartment wall merely says Vishy Anand. There is no army of staff buzzing about; it’s just a quiet household in late June attending to the new addition to the family—Anand and wife Aruna’s son, Akhil. The centre of Anand’s attention, the reason why, in stretches from April, he has not been able to even think about chess, is too young to realize his lineage. Had this been England, betting com-

MILESTONES

1990

Wins Asian Open Chess Championship in Manila; gold medal at the Asian Zonal Championship

1993

First with Michael Adams at the PCA Interzonal tournament in Groningen; qualifies for the Fide Candidates cycle

1995

Beats Gata Kamsky in the Candidates final to qualify for the world title match; loses to Garry Kasparov

1997­98

Qualifies to challenge Fide world champion Anatoly Karpov; loses to Karpov 0­2 in a rapid play­off after drawing the regular match 3­3

2000

Beats Alexei Shirov in Tehran to become the Fide world chess champion

pany Ladbrokes would have offered heavy odds on the child becoming a world-beater by the time he turns 12. “The odds are pretty good,” says Anand. “He is going to have a lot of chances to learn the game. I don’t know how far he will take it.” The “lightning” sobriquet appears justified even now—though Anand admits he is much more measured when he plays—in the manner he speaks. His responses to questions come quickly, as he digs into memories that are over 20 years old. The names of opponents he has faced and periods of reference are stacked neatly in the mind that has dominated a challenging cerebral sport. Anand’s well-documented rise to becoming a chess wizard began when he was 6; as a 14-year-old, he won the national sub-junior title, then the Asian Junior Championship (under 19) in 1985, the World Juniors two years later. The same year, he became India’s first GM. He says winning the Asian junior and the GM title came at critical junctures, after classes 10 and 12, respectively, when he could have faced career decisions. “I was incredibly lucky; at the best moments, I didn’t have to worry,” he says. In the 1980s, sports was not a career, it was a supplement to a career, often a ticket to a job in the public sector. Though Anand completed his BCom, he knew all along that he would never become an accountant. By the time he finished his final degree exam, he was ninth in the world. He narrates an incident during a train journey to Kerala in the late 1980s, when an elderly passenger probed him on his career. When Anand insisted he played chess for a living, the passenger asked if Anand’s father had a business that could sustain the sportsman’s ambitions. No, I just play chess, Anand repeated. The gentleman, who did not recognize his fellow traveller, retorted that only Viswanathan Anand could play chess for a career. “Now there are (career) options. If I had told my dad then that I wanted to be a disc jockey, he would not have been approving,” he says, grinning.

A new world The GM title opened several doors for him, Anand recollects. The pre-liberalization restrictions in getting visas, foreign exchange and direct flights out of Chennai now seem strange but India is less bureaucratic in several prac-

Grand master: Anand says if he had grown up in the Soviet Union, he would have had access to better training but would have had to compete for attention. tical ways, he says. Then there was the dominance of the Soviet Union, with its bulk produce of players who ruled the sport when this “exotic man from the Orient”, which Thipsay says was how Anand was perceived, started making dents. Those were days of ambiguity, fed by American maverick Bobby Fischer’s own conspiracy theories. “It was a mysterious world for outsiders,” remembers Anand of the Soviet Union. “You went there with the fuzziest of notions. Thanks to the Fischer-Boris Spassky ruckus, you believed every room was bugged. The KGB surely had better things to do than us!” Anand’s quest for the world title had begun in the early 1990s, though in 1993 it became more complicated with Garry Kasparov’s split from the Fide. After losing to Kasparov in 1995, he lost controversially to the concurrent Fide champion Anatoly Karpov, after the latter was placed directly into the final. In 2000, Anand beat Alexey Shirov in Tehran, Iran, to finally become the Fide world chess champion. “The two world champions concept is an oxymoron; you cannot have that. You may say that I won the only title available and that’s a perfectly valid argument, but there is something unsatisfactory about the whole thing,” he says. It was seven years later that Anand got the unified title he wanted, but the movement he flagged off continues. Three Indians, K. Sasikiran (world No. 59), P. Harikrishna (76) and Sandipan Chanda (92), are among the top 100, while D. Harika became the 25th Indian GM in July. Anand himself will play Boris Gelfand, a rare older opponent, in May 2012 in Moscow, Russia, to defend his title. This time Anand will have more to play for than his reputation. “There is a sense already that I have to do well, though Akhil is too young, but you feel he might be watching.”

HE MADE MIDDLE­ CLASS INDIA AN ART STATEMENT AND BECAME INDIAN ART’S GLOBAL FACE

···························· You probably think Subodh Gupta has been around for longer than he actually has. It hasn’t even been 15 years since India’s most well-known contemporary artist had his first international solo exhibition. It was in 1997 in Bose Pacia in New York. He had arrived seven years before that, a penniless art school graduate from Patna, in New Delhi. The free market euphoria was nascent, but a certain free-spiritedness was already evident in Indian art. In an orchestrated Brownian motion, art was moving to a fourth dimension with “performance” and “installation”. Artists were travelling abroad for art residencies and shows. Most significantly, a viable market for Indian art was created when Sotheby’s held its first dedicated auction of Indian art in 1995. In many ways, Gupta, 47, epitomizes the best and the worst that liberalization brought about for Indian art. In 2008, he was the first

to break the $1 million (around `4.4 crore now) barrier for contemporary Indian art. Though far apart in scale, his sales records pegged him the subcontinental Damien Hirst, the British artist whose diamond-studded skull had been valued at $100 million, and taken the discourse from art to mart. When we meet at Gupta’s sprawling studio-workshop in Gurgaon, he is the master of his two-storeyed enterprise. Fibreglass casts of his iconic installation Gandhi’s Three Monkeys frame the front lawn; inside, scale models of older works take up corners. Gupta has designed the avant-garde exposed concrete and glass exterior of the building himself. Inside, it gives way to wood-panelled luxury and statement furniture. All those years ago, Gupta had come to New Delhi to seek admission in a master’s programme at Delhi’s College of Art. “Being in art school would mean that I had a place to work,” he says. He was denied admission but stayed on with a `1,000 scholarship from the Lalit Kala Akademi. The youngest of six children from Khagaul in Bihar, he was expected to support himself, but not the family. “I had a place to sleep, dal, chawal, art supplies…what else did I need?” he says. Urdu activist Kamna Prasad,

POLITICS

YASHWANT SINHA

who runs the annual Jashn-e-Bahar festival and hails from Patna as well, showed Gupta the ropes. She recalls an early episode when she had introduced Gupta to M.F. Husain. The senior artist had graciously gone through his work. Impressed, he’d offered him a job. Gupta could board with him and help around with odd jobs while working on his art. He would be given a stipend and a scooter. Gupta had politely declined. “Husain saab told me later, ‘I’m going to follow this boy’,” Prasad recalls. The two artists would cross paths several times after that, either at Prasad’s soirées or at art events. In 1996, in an early distinction, Gupta received the first prize at an all-India painting exhibition held at the Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi. It was judged by Husain. Things started changing in the mid-1990s when Gupta and a small coterie of artists—including his artist wife Bharti Kher, who’d just moved from London to New Delhi—began to talk about forming an artist’s association; a space where they could work without the trappings of the market. In 1997, Gupta and Kher, along with artists Ajay Desai, Sheila Makhijani, Shukla Sawant and gallerist Pooja Sood, formed the Khoj International Artists’ Association. And it was under the aegis of Khoj that Gupta produced some of his

Steely determination: Gupta at his studio­workshop in Gurgaon. most exciting work. Pure (1999), a performance that had him lying caked in cow dung in an open field, referenced India’s obsession with ritual purity. A year later, there was Vilas, for which Gupta posed nude and greased with Vaseline, confronting the camera and the long sordid history of marketing the Kamasutra. In comparison with those risque pursuits, Gupta now toes a more defined creative line—borrowing shiny stainless steel utensils and other articles of daily use in middle-class India to make his signature installations, like This Side is the Other Side, with milk cans slung on either side of a Priya scooter, signalling the old and the new India. Critics have quietly snubbed these in recent years as being formulaic. I ask if he was worried when he started about whether he’d be liked, whether he’d be famous. Gupta responds

in a way that seems to confirm this. “The beauty of being a young and struggling artist is that even if you go wrong, nobody tells you anything,” he says. Last year, Gupta collaborated as scenographer for a ballet staged at Moscow’s prestigious Bolshoi Theatre. “I do many things but my detractors only focus on what they know,” he says, arms crossed across his chest. “Think about any artist whose work you remember. You remember them because they created a bold style and believed in it completely,” says Gupta. “It took me years to find my ‘formula’. Why should I abandon it?” Gupta is quick to confess that he didn’t really study in art school. His only other training in the arts had been during his adolescent years, when he travelled with Hindi language theatre groups, both as actor and set designer. “In five years (in Patna) they taught us

a

B Y A NIL P ADMANABHAN

AJAY AGGARWAL/HINDUSTAN TIMES

Key role: Yashwant Sinha had three stints as finance minister.

country, the market became his bouncing board, and he liked what it reflected. When we meet, he is working on a forthcoming show for London’s Hauser & Wirth Gallery. It will open “when he’s ready”. For Peter Nagy, director, Nature Morte, what makes Gupta one of the country’s most important artists is how he straddles rural and urban contexts with élan and naivete, bridging the local and the global for an international context. The milestones of Gupta’s blazing success may lie in the new millennium, but the foundations were laid in the 1990s. The irony is that while Gupta’s art comments on the country’s economic growth and its newfound materialism, he was a beneficiary of the boom himself. In its critical depiction of deficit and excess, his art tells his own story of a young boy who went from Khagaul to the globe.

HE WAS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE IDEA OF ECONOMIC REFORM AND ITS EXECUTION

the reformer anil.p@livemint.com

what they teach in art preparatory schools in Europe,” he says. But awareness of this handicap affected the way the young Subodh would navigate the world of contemporary art. “When people spoke of art history, I had no idea what was going on,” he admits. Gupta rose to where he is today by creating art which was more visceral; an art born out of everyday motifs. Yet he was building upon questions raised by artists around the world, such as Marcel Duchamp and the Viennese actionists. In 1997, Gupta was awarded the Gasworks residency in London. An emerging artist award by Bose Pacia Modern, New York, came soon after. There were residencies and exhibitions in Japan, France, Australia and South Korea in quick succession. It’s been a blur since. In the absence of a valid critical mechanism for art in the

··························· Arjun Sengupta, economist and former member of Parliament, famously dubbed Yashwant Sinha the “original reformer”. It is a tag that would baffle most, especially those fed on the steady chorus of self-appointed cheerleaders of Manmohan Singh, who delivered the epoch budget of 1991. The Congress, under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi, had withdrawn support for the minority regime headed by prime minister Chandra Shekhar, forcing the government to opt for an interim budget in March 1991. Though constrained, Sinha, then Union finance minister, had provided glimpses of the far-reaching reforms being considered by the establishment to deal with what was a full-blown economic crisis in the making. The key man, Singh, was an adviser in the prime minister’s office at the time and had a bird’s-eye view of what was unravelling. It laid down the principles—the need for fiscal discipline, including targeting and cutting subsidies, introducing the concept of fiscal deficit as the metric to measure fiscal disci-

pline and divestment of up to 25% of equity from select public sector undertakings—which formed the basis of the benchmark budget presented later in July by Singh. Popular history, especially the first draft recorded by the media, has somehow glossed over this fact; just as it has made the assumption that reforms were jump-started in 1991. So untrue. They had been in the making since 1980 when India, under prime minister Indira Gandhi and Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, took the country’s first structural adjustment loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Throughout the 1970s, the efficacy of industrial licensing had been questioned; it finally started to give way in bits and pieces—or what is referred to as reforms by stealth—from the early 1980s, when the IMF loan kicked in. Viewed thus, it is also evident that Sinha was the vital missing link that helps us understand that the transformation from a controlled economy was gradual, over 30 years, and not abrupt. This slight has always irked Sinha, and has been articulated in a tell-all biography of his years at the helm in North Block (Con-

fessions of a Swadeshi Reformer, published in 2007). Understandable for someone who made it in the murky world of Indian politics without any established pedigree or familial connections, and went on to be the first nonCongress finance minister to present five Union budgets.

The accidental FM Sinha had come close to quitting the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) seven years after he joined the service in 1960. This was after a run-in the young district collector had with the then chief minister of Bihar, M.P. Sinha. He approached Jayaprakash Narayan, the social reformer and his idol, for counselling. Convinced that it was too early in his career, Narayan advised Sinha against joining politics. However, 17 years later, he took the plunge and quit the IAS, 12 years prematurely. Mentored by Chandra Shekhar, he joined the Janata Dal headed by V.P. Singh. This relationship did not last and Sinha moved out of the party to form another faction of the Janata Dal with his mentor. Chandra Shekhar became the prime minister in November 1990 with outside support from

the Congress. Sinha’s preferred choice was the external affairs portfolio. The PM felt otherwise: enter India’s new finance minister. He would have three stints in the finance ministry, including one in 1998 and another for three years from 1999. They all had a common theme: crisis.

The crisis man In 1991, the country’s balance of payments crisis worsened so dramatically that it was at risk of a sovereign default. To avoid a default, it was decided to mortgage 20 tonnes of gold with the Bank of England to raise $400 million (around `1,800 crore now). It was a politically tough decision: akin to mortgaging the family silver. Sinha says this decision haunted him for the next 10 years, with political opposition always targeting him for the deed. “It was my most important achievement to prevent India from defaulting on its foreign loan commitments,” he recalls. His next stint, in 1998, was as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Not only was India recovering from the currency meltdown in South-East Asia in September 1997, its decision to go in for nuclear tests invited global economic sanctions. Once again, the country’s foreign currency reserves were under siege, provoking Sinha to launch the

Resurgent India Bonds in August 1998—they raised $4.3 billion. A year later, with the NDA facing a fresh election challenge after losing a vote of confidence in Parliament, the country was caught up in another conflict with Pakistan in Kargil. Sinha’s third stint in office happened against this backdrop; and, then, the crisis involving the Unit Trust of India. “Not one (budget) year was a normal year,” Sinha says.

The EMI revolution If there is one thing the middle class has loved about economic reforms it is the unbridled access to consumer goods—at least till resurgent inflation started eating

MILESTONES

1990

Joined Janata Dal (Samajwadi) after the split in the Janata Dal

1990­91 1998­99 Union finance minister

Union finance minister; member, Parliamentary Pay Committee

1999­02 Re­elected to the 13th Lok Sabha (second term); Union finance minister; Union external affairs minister

into this dream over the last two years. This was made possible by Sinha’s politically bold decision to reduce administered interest rates—read this as those guaranteed on Provident Fund investments and small savings. Between January 1999 and March 2002, this rate was reduced from 14.5% to 10.5%; this was reduced further to 9.5% by Jaswant Singh, who succeeded Sinha. This led to the softening of the interest rate regime and created the basis for the consumer credit revolution that was to follow in the new millennium. Alongside, Sinha introduced tax breaks on loans for housing. These two measures triggered an unprecedented investment boom in the real estate sector. Overnight the investor profile turned youthful, stoking aspirations. As Sinha puts it, “There was a mindset change from saving and buying (an asset) to buying and saving.”

Institutional reforms By the time Sinha returned to North Block in 1998, the economy was recovering from the crisis. The difference from 1991 was that this reform was not happening due to desperation; it was through a modicum of consensus. The effort to dismantle the stodgy tax structures began in 1991, but was accelerated in the mid-1990s. A logical next step was introduction of the value added tax (VAT). Since the participation of states was critical, Sinha set up an empowered group of finance ministers that has endured and is now playing another pivotal

MILESTONES

1996

Wins first prize in an all­India painting exhibition at the Vadehra Art Gallery, judged by M.F. Husain

1997

Awarded the Unesco­Aschberg residency at Gasworks, London; wins Emerging Artist Award, Bose Pacia Modern, New York. Has his first international solo exhibition in New York

1999

Works exhibited at the First Fuku­ oka Asian Art Triennale, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan

role in preparing the country for the final stage of indirect tax reforms—introduction of a single goods and services tax. Sinha also set up the National Statistical Commission under the chairmanship of former RBI governor C. Rangarajan; eventually, this led to the creation of an independent statistical authority. The decision to bring the country’s regulatory system up to speed with the rest of the world through a new competition policy was also initiated by him. Eventually, the Competition Act was notified in January 2003 and the Competition Commission in October of the same year.

The outsider Despite these accomplishments, Sinha never got his due. He was shunted out midway through his third stint in North Block—a moment he recalls with disappointment: “As Mr (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee told me, you have done good work in finance. But the perception does not match.” It is not surprising that in a party with an overt Hindutva tilt, Sinha, with his socialist roots, would have been out of place. It only hurts that much more—the party’s subtle rejection rankled and popular history has ignored Sinha’s legacy. Looking back, would he rather have gone the populist route and avoided unpleasant decisions? “Will I make that same mistake again? No!” www.livemint.com To read the extended versions of the profiles, visit www.livemint.com/profile.htm


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INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

HOMOSEXUALITY

MAYANK AUSTEN SOOFI

the start of a revolution MAYANK AUSTEN SOOFI/MINT

THE INDIAN GAY COMMUNITY FOUND SPACE IN MUMBAI’S VOODOO PUB AND DELHI’S PEGS N PINTS, ‘BOMBAY DOST’ WAS BORN AND PENGUIN PUBLISHED A GAY ANTHOLOGY

l Such a long journey: (top) Participants at Delhi’s second gay pride parade in 2009; and A. Husain (left) with his boyfriend.

“Looking for chubby bottoms.” “Looking for good-looking, straight-acting guys.” “Looking for discreet friendship and fun.” “Looking for a real and honest man.” “Looking for sex with hairy men.” On a recent Sunday morning, these were the status messages of five of the 131 people in Delhi who were cruising for men on the international gay dating website Guys4men.com, popularly called PlanetRomeo. Started in Germany in 2002, PlanetRomeo’s impact on the lives of homosexual men in India’s big cities has been more lasting than the Delhi high court verdict in 2009 that legalized gay sex among consenting adults. The website has given people access to other homosexuals without compromising their identity or safety and has 73,000 members in India. “Whether you are in Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore, PlanetRomeo is the place to be at,” says a Mumbai-based investment banker who writes a blog called Johnny Gaydar (Johnnygaydar.blogspot.com) under the name Rajeev. In his late 20s, Rajeev says the Internet has changed the lives of gay people. “I see 18- to 19-year-olds confidently putting up their photos and listing their preferences,” he says. “While growing up in the 1990s, I was confused and ashamed. There was no way to find like-minded people.” The 1990s was the decade of quiet consolidation of the gay community networks, and the action began in Mumbai. “Those were the years when Indian middle-class gay men started to find spaces where they could feel safe from the harassment by the police and goonda elements, since sodomy was a criminal offence,” says Ashok Row Kavi, co-founder of Bombay Dost, India’s first gay magazine. Today there are sites and blogs dedicated to discussing Indian

male nudity. YouTube has channels devoted to similar videos, with some people posting their own nude and semi-nude videos freely. The Internet tells only a part of the story in the coming-of-age of gay life in India. In Delhi, the PlanetRomeo website has 9,000 members, followed by Mumbai with 7,000 men. The much smaller city of Lucknow has 600 members, and Gorakhpur, deep in the Hindi heartland, has 46. A face in these statistics, 27-year-old A. Husain, a PhD student at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), has lived through the changes that have partially transformed the lives of gay men, at least in metropolitan India. A native of Mauritius, he moved to the Capital seven years ago. “I’m not an Indian,” he says, “but I grew up here intellectually and emotionally, and my life’s most important relationship was formed with a Sikh man from Punjab.” Husain chose to study in Delhi because of his Indian boyfriend whom he first met through Yahoo Messenger. It was 2004, the year Facebook was launched. The friends had no access to photo-processing software, so no pictures were exchanged. “I only knew that being a Sikh, he had long hair and a beard and so I moved to India,” says Husain. He joined Delhi University’s Khalsa College as a graduate student. The boyfriend was a medical student in Amritsar, a city 450km north of Delhi. The online interactions were infrequent and depended on the availability of empty terminals in Internet cafés; the lovers wrote letters and chatted on landline phones. Then, as in the 1990s, the gay social life in cities like Delhi and Mumbai was limited to private parties and cruising in seedier sections of public parks. In

Mumbai, the club where men could hang out together was Voodoo pub in Colaba on Saturday nights. In Delhi, it was Tuesday nights at Pegs N Pints (recently renamed Peppers), Chanakyapuri. Every evening a few of Delhi’s gay people—diplomats, designers, doctors, students—gathered in Nehru Park, near the Prime Minister’s bungalow. In Mumbai, the popular cruising area was “The Wall”, the waterfront avenue that runs parallel to the Taj Mahal Hotel. The beaches at Juhu and Chowpatty were also popular with cruisers. In Amritsar, it was as

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Public acceptance: (clockwise from above, left) A scene from the gay pride event held in Bangalore last year to celebrate the first anniversary of the Delhi high court verdict that decriminalized gay sex; the verdict being celebrated at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, in 2009; the website PlanetRomeo; and the park above Palika Bazar parking in Connaught Place, New Delhi, which teems every evening with gay men.

if gay people did not exist. Every month Husain took the Shatabdi Express to Amritsar to spend a weekend with his boyfriend. They would book a hotel room. Later they would go to the Golden Temple, sit by the holy pond, and listen to Gurbani, the Sikh devotional hymns. By 10pm, the boyfriend had returned home to his parents and Husain spent the night alone in the hotel room. Next morning the boyfriend would return. They would check out of the hotel and before catching the Shatabdi back to Delhi, Husain and his lover dined at Pizza Hut on Lawrence Road. The sexual love between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, is not a Western import to India. “While researching for our book,” says Saleem Kidwai, the co-author of Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, “we discovered that attraction between two people of the same gender had been discussed for thousands of years in dozens of Indian languages.” But the concept of a discrete identity and lifestyle was initially embraced more in the West. As Kavi says, “The social identity as a homosexual based around same sex desires was an idea from the West and it started crystallizing in India during the 1970s in Mumbai.” In 1990, Kavi and three of his friends started Bombay Dost as a registered newsletter with no clue on how to distribute it. The first copy was priced at `50 and had 16 pages. The cover had a “vision statement” that called the community to unite. Six hundred copies were printed. The first copies are now rare, with three in the US Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The magazine was sold through gay groups in Mumbai and other bigger cities, and was distributed out of a one-room office on the mezzanine floor of a “businesses

centre” run by a Sindhi entrepreneur and his two Catholic secretaries in Bandra West’s Veena Beena shopping centre. “The magazine’s second issue had the first article on what Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code meant for gay men. It was by criminal lawyer Shrikant Bhat. The first issue had the first article on how HIV was a health hazard for the community,” says Kavi. In April 1994, the magazine’s three-man editorial board registered a NGO for gay men’s health called The Humsafar Trust in Mumbai. Kavi asked the municipal corporation of Greater Bombay to give him a space in a bazaar to run a helpline and counselling centre for gay men and others. Situated in the suburban Vakola Market, the trust started paying rent to the city’s local government then ruled by the right-wing party Shiv Sena. In the early 1990s, the HIV epidemic, which was first detected in the US in the 1980s, started raising its head in India, though the first case was reported in 1989 in Mumbai. As in the US, three of the most vulnerable groups were men who had sex with men (MSM), IV (intravenous therapy) users and female sex workers. In 1994, Humsafar Trust convened the first conference of gay men on the campus of Mumbai’s SNDT Women’s University to discuss why gay men in India might be more susceptible to AIDS. It was inaugurated by Subhash Salunkhe, the director general of health services in Maharashtra. Nearly a hundred men attended. During the press conference, many delegates were crying as they recounted their lives in the closet, describing harassment by family, the police and criminal elements. In 1995-96, Humsafar gathered data, in collaboration with the Pune-based National Institute of Virology, which

showed that HIV was already in the community. It caused alarm. The community members started street counselling in Mumbai, giving information on HIV and AIDS and where to go for testing. In 1996, condoms started being distributed in the city’s gay parties. In the 1970s, Mumbai’s first gay parties took place in the bungalows of globe-trolling rich men in upper-crust neighbourhoods like Malabar Hill, Juhu, Peddar Road and Colaba. Mostly businessmen, corporate executives and expats, these privileged people invited men only from their social set. By the 1980s, the party scene became democratized. “Some of us who had access to the private parties wondered why a few people should have control over who should attend such bashes, especially since poorer gay men were turned away by snooty rich gay guys,” says Kavi, who was then a journalist in Mumbai. The city’s first ticketed gay party—open to anyone who could pay `80—took place in 1984 on the rooftop of Hotel Meghdoot in middle-class Ghatkopar. Since section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalized homosexual sex, there was always a fear of the police arresting the party crowd. The bashes were therefore publicized as “special parties” or “stags”. Sometimes there would be a cake. If the police arrived, it was shown as evidence of an innocent birthday bash. While at Khalsa College, Husain kept his sexual identity a secret. “People joked about gay men. They still do but it’s less,” he says, sitting at a café in Delhi’s Green Park Market. Husain is dressed in blue skin-tight T-shirt and black body-fit jeans. His eyebrows are threaded and his nails are manicured. He is carrying a large brown handbag. “Now, being gay is more acceptable. It’s almost

fashionable. Sometimes we are passed off as frivolous because most of us are so careful about our grooming, unlike straight men.” Husain occasionally went on Tuesday nights to Pegs N Pints, then the only place in Delhi for gay men to dance together. “Off and on, there would be farmhouse parties in south Delhi or Gurgaon,” he says, “but there was no Metro then, the autorickshaw would not go to Gurgaon and cabs were too pricey.” The Tuesday nights have now lost their exclusivity. After the high court verdict, more restaurants, pubs and clubs in Delhi have started offering gay special nights. Among these are Cibo in Hotel Janpath, Ai in MGF Metropolitan Mall, and Baci in Sundar Nagar. Delhi’s premier cultural spaces, such as India Habitat Centre near Lodhi Garden and Attic in Regal Building, regularly host gay-themed film festivals and book readings. The Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore editions of Time Out magazine have a page devoted to the listings of gay and lesbian events. In 2007, Husain began attending JNU. “I’m a minority in the campus,” he says. “I live in a hostel and people do talk about me. Why am I so colourfully dressed? Why am I so sissy? But largely people let you be. No one tosses the swear word chhakka at me.” In 1993, Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy carried a fleeting scene of gay love. In 1999, Penguin India published Yaarana: Gay Writings from South Asia. It carried pieces by playwright Mahesh Dattani, poet R. Raj Rao, including Seth and Kavi. Following literature, in the 2000s, Bollywood made homosexuality playful, albeit with stereotypes, and a part of mainstream films. In 2001, the NGO Naz Foundation filed a lawsuit in the

Delhi high court asking for the legalization of homosexual intercourse between consenting adults. In 2008, New Delhi’s first gay pride parade took place on Tolstoy Marg. Less than a thousand people came. The following year, the second parade had more than 3,000 people. Drag queens danced to dandiya songs; masked homosexuals flaunted their orientation but not their identity; and many others who could be straight, gay or bisexual walked with them. Curious onlookers watched from bikes, autorickshaws, cars and buses. Three days later, at 10.35am on 2 July, in the jam-packed Chamber 1 of Delhi high court, a bench comprising chief justice A.P. Shah and justice S. Muralidhar held that the law making gay sex a criminal offence violated fundamental rights. People present in the court started crying, jumping, and calling their lovers, friends and families. Later that day they gathered at the Jantar Mantar, the popular place for holding demonstrations, to commemorate the “victory”. Husain was also there. “For the first time in my life, I felt free,” he says. The new liberation hasn’t affected his love life. It’s still in the closet. “Once I took my boyfriend to my home in Mauritius for the holidays and my aunt spotted me combing his hair. My father, a pious Muslim, was told but even now he refuses to believe that I’m gay. Meanwhile, my friend is not out to his parents in Amritsar. His mother calls me his younger brother. It’s sweet of her but it fills me with frustration. I’m his lover.”

The Internet has made it easier to hook up for sex or love, but there are still many with no access to the Net. The cruising areas remain crowded. The era when a man would enter a park, have quick anonymous sex with another man and go back to his family is not over. In Delhi, the park above Palika Bazaar parking teems every evening with gay men, office-goers of all ages, married and unmarried. After 11pm, certain spots in the city—like the bus stand outside Hyatt Hotel, the urinal at gate No. 3 of New Delhi railway station, the Moolchand flyover—come alive with lonely men looking for a few minutes of sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex. The old prejudices aren’t dead. In July, the Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “The disease of men having sex with men is unnatural and not good for Indian society.” In February, a news channel in Hyderabad did a homophobic sting operation on men listed in the Hyderbad room of PlanetRomeo and publicly “outed” them. Next year, Husain intends to complete his thesis in English and cultural studies. His boyfriend has graduated as a doctor. “We might move to the UK,” says Husain. “There’s no future for our relationship in India.” Meanwhile, the first issue of 2011 of Bombay Dost, published twice a year, will carry a famous Bollywood actor on its cover with his interview on being a gay icon in India. mayank.s@livemint.com


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LOUNGE

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

SOCIETY

RASHMI VASUDEVA

INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

AS BANGALORE TRANSFORMED FROM A BOULEVARD­DOTTED ‘GARDEN CITY’ TO A GLITZY TORCHBEARER OF CHANGE, THE CITY’S GREAT EXODUS TO THE US WAS A SYMBOL OF LIBERATION

a

the ‘States’fixation

The American dream: For Bangaloreans, the US was the land of liberty and opportunities in the 1990s.

At the departure lounge of the HAL airport in Bangalore that night of September in 1997, my friend from school Kavitha R.N. looked thoroughly weighed down. RN, as we fondly called her, had three unwieldy bags to take care of and a brand new “softie” husband who was taking her to Santa Clara, US. To her great consternation, an extended family of 25-odd people had come to the airport to bid her goodbye. One of them had even written a poem about how happy he was about her going to the “States”, which he thrust unceremoniously into her already busy hands. Another put a marigold garland around her neck while a young boy gave her a bouquet. Her aunt made her swallow some sugar. The buzz around her was electric, to say the least, and the conversation was all about which cousin of hers was next in line to marry and which were the best hunting grounds to find suitable US grooms. To me, her discomfort was obvious, as was her state of mind. She was muttering about how embarrassed and annoyed she was but her eyes told a different story. They had already spotted freedom. Nothing brought out this sense of “journey to liberation” into sharp relief as much as Bangalore’s great exodus to the “States” in the 1990s did. A successful Kannada movie released in 1995 and set in San Francisco poignantly depicted how the American dream could corrode minds and distance hearts. The movie’s title, America! America!!, said it all. But such cultural depictions of ground realities were rare. People hardly fathomed the possible perils of this ambitious voyage—the goodies they were discovering on the way were too blinding. As often happens with change, what led to it and what came out of it was discovered much later, mostly in hindsight. The country was liberated economically, politically and socially in the 1990s, but freedom blossomed most inside minds. This was most visible in Bangalore, which itself transformed without ceremony from a boulevard-dotted “garden city” to the glitzy torchbearer of this change. It is hard to determine whether it was the youngsters who were glowing in the reflected glory of a city thrust into global limelight that was suddenly in the spotlight, or it was the city that was preening because of its youth, who literally led the charge into the new millennium. It was

TL RAMASWAMY

Sleepy city: Bangalore’s glamorous MG Road, pictured in the early 2000s here, was a hub of IT­created nouveau riche. perhaps possibly both. What was palpable, though, was the change in body language and thought processes not just of an entire post-reform generation, but also of their parents, aunts and uncles, soaked and dyed for years in pre-reform tight-fistedness and conservatism. Several things happened simultaneously that culminated in 1990s’ Bangalore making the American dream its own. Cable television, the Internet and the opening up of the markets led to a giddy consumption craze that was both fed by and mirrored in the decade’s movies, music, television and advertising. Whole classrooms of students about to complete class XII in school felt liberated enough to chant “yes, we can”. Silicon Valley triumph tales were sliding off tongues that were unused to uttering names such as San Jose and Santa Clara. People who had resigned themselves to spending lifetimes in rented houses and travelling by autorickshaws became the dreaded nouveau riche, deliriously smug in their spanking new Marutis and Cielos, not to mention declarations in “Kanglish” of plans to buy a “flat-u”. For young Bangaloreans, IT was the magic word that turned stone walls into doors; for their parents and extended family, it was the road map to deliverance—the best way to notch up social status. All they needed was an offspring whose life story could be narrated at weddings and family functions as “Computers madthaiddane” (he is “doing” computers). Most were happy to be described as such and more than

willing to undertake this journey. If the odd soul or two did demur, they would have to have a core of steel to ward off the intense peer and family pressure. Thus, somebody like me, who detested physics and mugged up integration sums to pass my class XII board exams, nonchalantly took up tutorials for the Common Entrance Test (CET), with grand plans of studying engineering (electronics or computer science…the others were infra dig) and somebody like my friend, Seshadri, limerick king and impromptu Kannada poet who dreamt of writing “one suspense novel every year”, ended up in Sunnyvale, US, with an MS, two children and a house. The majority believed that this three-point formula—study engineering, get a “software” job, and then go to the US either on work or to study—would not just take their family into the software hall of fame, but also grant them individual liberties, both cultural and economic. And indeed, it did. These were the subliminal trips, the mental journeys that were both the result and the cause of the actual physical voyage to the US. The narrative though was thoroughly unlike that of the Swinging Sixties. If the flower children were all about rebellion and celebratory capriciousness, the yuppies were about being practical and ambitious. The world wasn’t a marijuanainduced “mayanagar”, but a gritty, real place where money should be chased. As far as the yuppies were concerned, this climb up the social ladder was both desirable and legitimate. So it was that at the heart of it all, “States” actually spelt m-o-n-e-y.

Whether they recognized it or not, the older generation fully supported this enterprise, sometimes visibly, sometimes silently. And you couldn’t blame them. For families that hadn’t seen any wealth for generations, these were heady times. The youngsters though were clever in various other ways. They didn’t let go of their tradition but they were self-assured enough to work around it and if need be, underneath it. The most striking example is that of drinking alcohol. In conservative middle-class homes of Bangalore (from where came the majority of the “softies”), drinking was not exactly in vogue and in many cases, even strictly prohibited. But drink beer you did (and pronounced it to rhyme with “heer” as b-e-e-r), and boozing was really the surest way to arrive. Of course, you never got so drunk so that you couldn’t get home at a decent hour (after gobbling up fistfuls of mints). The flower child might have stood up to his dad and demanded to know why he was against alcohol, but the yuppie never crowed about it, nor did he question his parents. It was vital that they be on his side. The young men and women would give their parents the slip and go on dates, but would not say no to an arranged marriage a few years later. The “boy” would work in the Bay Area but he would gladly take leave and come home to take a Kannadiga bride from his sub-caste. Of course, there were exceptions—and there will always be. This was also why for many girls, the journey was much

shorter. All they had to do was marry a US “softie” to arrive. For many of my friends, it was the ultimate liberation—you could live away from in-laws, wear what you wanted and booze! For the girls’ parents, it was an achievement to marry their daughter to a “softie” and pack her off to the US, complete with the kind of farewell that my friend got and carefully packed saarina pudis (rasam powder) and thokkus (tamarind pickle). While the 1990s’ children undertook many such journeys, physical and otherwise, their parents were on a trip of their own. They were living vicariously through their children and often making up for their own lack of spending opportunities by overindulging. What’s more, soon it would be time to actually take that flight to the US, pose for pictures in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, patently uncomfortable in “Punjabi dresses” (as salwar-kameezes were then called), sneakers, and baseball caps, not to mention the triumphant return journey bearing Mars bars, Hershey’s Kisses, some colourful umbrellas, “scent” bottles and teddy bears. The American voyage became their identity, and so powerful was this identity for many from the pre-reform generation in Bangalore that it continues to hold sway even in 2011. Which is why at a wedding recently, a distant aunt was introduced to me as the one “who is going to the States this September”. Some journeys never end. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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LOUNGE INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

NUCLEAR TESTS

JACOB P KOSHY

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

AFTER 1947, INDIAN SCIENCE WAS ROOTED IN THE ETHOS OF SOCIALISM, UNTIL NATIONALISTIC AND MILITARY MOTIVATIONS GUIDED THE POKHRAN EXPLOSIONS IN 1998 TEKEE TANWAR/AFP

The beginning: The 1998 nuclear test in Pokhran village, Rajasthan, was a symbol of India’s emergence as an Asian military power.

it wasn’t just rocket science

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Politicians and scientists share a curious relationship in India. Unlike the US, where governments don’t flinch from cutting funds for research, scientists in India rarely complain of diminished budgetary support. However, no politician really dreams of a “minister, science and technology” epaulette on his CV because there’s little he can do in the decision machinery of these organizations. In a record of sorts, the UPA government, assailed by corruption charges, has shuffled three ministers in the past two years. But in May 1998, every politician wanted to share the same stage as scientists. On 13 May, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced that India had successfully tested five nuclear devices at Pokhran, a village in Rajasthan. In doing so, he supervised India’s transition from nuclear tyro to Asian military power and international pariah. Pokhran-II, as the media christened the events, consisted of three explosions on the first day, including a thermonuclear device, and two on the second. Then Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the man at the ground along with principal scientific adviser and then Atomic Energy Commission chairman R. Chidambaram, signalled the go-ahead. The tests, conducted within milliseconds of each other, showed up as a single explosion on the Global Seismic Network, a bellwether network crafted for detecting natural earthquakes. While the most tangible aftershock of India’s insouciance was the lay, “we-did-it” euphoria of national pride, the real jolts—so entrenched as to have passed by almost unmentioned in journalistic literature—were felt indirectly by scattered Indian scientists who had to rapidly adjust to a period of limited cutting-edge equipment,

know-how and funds. After independence, Indian science, which was rooted in the political ethos of socialism, focused its budding scientific thrust on developing its nuclear and space capabilities, even as Watson and Crick’s new ideas of the structure of DNA and William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain’s invention of the transistor were playing midwife to modern biotechnology as well as the electronics industry. As Kalam, who went on to become president, has recounted several times, even as our first rockets were being ferried on the backs of bicycles, there came up a group of bright, motivated youngsters—spurred by nationalistic pride—who were joining these defence and space establishments and building up know-how to create nuclear reactors, missiles and a scientific reputation. By the late 1980s, the world was changing. The USSR was dead and the Internet was born. Swadeshi was passé and the World Trade Organization (WTO) and globalization were the buzzwords. Countries such as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea were becoming hothouses of electronic manufacturing. Competitive science was no longer possible without international collaboration and partnerships. The rapid obsolescence that began to characterize products of semiconductor technology such as faster and cheaper computers was due in no small measure to the philosophy of outsourcing. Nuclear technology continued to be largely developed in Cold War silos even as space science began to break out of these constraints. Just when Indian space scientists were beginning to perfect the science of launching small- and medium-sized satellites, to the extent that they could confidently begin pitching India’s capabilities

as a cheap, reliable purveyor of satellites on commercial markets, Pokhran-II happened. India’s defiance of the existing superpowers, who were trying to direct and regulate the pace of its nuclear missile development capabilities by getting the subcontinent to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, meant that the UN Security Council condemned India’s action and gave a kind of moral sanction to the US to impose a variety of sanctions against India. A telling editorial, that appeared in the 10 May 1999 issue of Current Science, a widely read science journal published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, said: “….the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai is almost exclusively devoted to ‘blue sky’ research, but is funded directly by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)…This relationship has been a very fruitful one, with the TIFR budgets being insulated from the many uncertainties faced by institutions outside the DAE umbrella. Unfortunately, connection with the DAE now means that even scientists doing basic biology, chemistry or physics (mathematicians are apparently immune to the effects of sanctions) face great difficulties in getting chemicals and equipment from several overseas sources.” Because of that a slew of high-end technology products, such as blitzing highperformance computing machines, or “supercomputers”, critical components for the Light Combat Aircraft—India’s flagship attempt at making its own aircraft engines—and other such paraphernalia, which were all part of a list called “dual use technologies”, were hard to procure. This led to the deceleration of top-end science. The reason this didn’t evoke sufficient consternation here was because in monetary terms, the

bottom line economic loss to India was piddling—a few hundred million dollars—as most of the critical aspects of trade with the US, such as agriculture assistance, military equipment, etc., were left untouched. Scientists involved in civilian research programmes recount several stories of how simple tasks, such as importing computers of particular specifications or procuring certain chemicals and rare components, became bureaucratic nightmares. Several times, devices would have to be separated into components, shipped to neighbouring countries—where such barriers didn’t exist—imported and then reassembled. This didn’t put India into technology quarantine. In fact, it’s often argued that had it not been for this isolation, India woudn’t have institutions such as the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, which made our first supercomputers. This period, however, also marked the ascension of China as a major scientific powerhouse. Till the early 1990s, scientific publications by Indian scientists outnumbered Chinese output; the tables turned and remain that way. While India became the hot spot for the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, it continued to lose on opportunities for basic science researchers. Most of the brightest, went to the IITs, did management from the IIMs and joined consulting outfits and multinational banks, instead of pursuing Phds, becoming inventors, heading technology start-ups and strengthening India’s manufacturing prowess. The sanctions weren’t the only reason for this state of affairs, but remain one of those big “what-ifs”. What if there hadn’t been sanctions? Would we have more nuclear-powered electricity today? Wouldn’t we have less

carbon emissions and thus greater leverage at international climate change negotiations? Wouldn’t the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) be launching far heavier satellites and be slightly better prepared for its proposed manned space flight mission? The government has now woken up to the paucity of quality institutions to train undergraduates for science, but wouldn’t institutes—the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, undergraduate courses at the Indian Institute of Science, the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology—have bloomed earlier? It is no coincidence that since former US president George Bush’s visit to India in 2006 and the subsequent signing of the nuclear deal between the two countries, there has been an increase in international conference travel, greater funding and more research collaboration between the two countries, as well as more venture funding opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs. Political and military motivations guided the Pokhran explosions in 1998. Reports were doing the rounds that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme was in an advanced stage and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), fresh from an election victory, had to act on election promises of “reviewing India’s nuclear security”. Earlier this year, India seriously began a push to develop solar energy technologies, and add 20 GW by 2020. Given that there is now another global scramble to harness the energy of the sun in an affordable, scalable manner, international cooperation is the order of the day. Winning that race may prompt politicians to once again joust for the reflected glory of India’s scientists. jacob.k@livemint.com


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LOUNGE

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

LITERATURE THERE WAS GLAMOUR IN THE WORLD OF SUPRIYA NAIR

INDIAN WRITING IN ENGLISH. WRITERS PRODUCED A GLOBAL LITERATURE AND AT HOME, THEY BECAME CULTURAL EXPLAINERS AND CELEBRITIES

the internationalists

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I remember a story from 1994 that I now suspect may have been apocryphal. On winning the WH Smith Literary Award for his tour de force published the previous year, A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth was heard remarking that he was very pleased, especially since he had never heard of the Smith Literary Award before. I read this, not in The Times of India or the handful of other news publications to which my household subscribed, but in a small, Delhi-based children’s publication called Newsjoy, to which I frequently contributed poems and brief political commentary. I was 10 years old. I recount this to demonstrate how ubiquitous, in 1994, the celebrity of Seth was. A year previously, he had been a poet, the author of a Tibetan travelogue and a Pushkin-inspired novel in verse—not exactly the stuff of which Indian idols are made. Now, he was drawing comparisons with Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy for his 1,500-page family drama. Almost more interestingly, he appeared to be making a lot of money from writing. It seems inaccurate to say that the literary 1990s in India were marked by a consuming interest in wealth, because money is always interesting to everybody. But we can say with certainty that riches and fame converged on literature to a degree previously undreamt of. In an essay published earlier this year, writer and editor Urvashi Butalia pointed out that the 1990s were witness to our first real explosion in trade publishing, in a market that until then had been dominated by educational material. Unlike the 2000s, in which Indian-language publishing has come to dominate two-thirds of the market, in the 1990s English publishing made up almost half the Indian market. And foreign publishers, allowed in for the first time thanks to economic reforms, paid unprecedented attention to Indian writers in English. Seth received an advance of £250,000 (around `1.8 crore now) for A Suitable Boy; this, like the overwhelming size of the book (1,350 pages in Penguin India’s paperback edition), became its mark of recognition for many, and generated vast excitement in the national media, whose own state of growth may remind us of what Martin Amis acidly remarked of Britain in the

1980s, when the newspapers, “running out of adulterous golfers and alcoholic movie stars and rapist boxers to write about, discovered that they were reduced to writing about writers.” It may have escaped broader notice that more people than ever were also talking about Seth’s work. Seth would go on to produce only one more novel during the 1990s (An Equal Music; 400 pages, advance: £500,000), but it was the decade when he, and Indian English fiction, earned a reputation—a critical reputation—by whose measure they continue to be judged, at home and in the world. None of the writers Seth joined in the higher altitudes of Indian English writing had sprung fully formed into the decade. Amitav Ghosh and Rohinton Mistry (1991 Booker Prize-winner for Such A Long Journey) had both produced acclaimed books in the 1980s, and Salman Rushdie and Anita Desai’s literary gifts, it could be argued, had achieved their fullness by 1990. In the following years, these writers became representatives of a perhaps monolithic “Indian” literature in English abroad, as well as participants in a global literature—also in English. At home, they became cultural explainers, keepers of public memory, inspirational figures—and celebrities. In spite of the vacuousness of some of the attention they received (one of the highlights of 1999’s literary coverage, even in

Newsjoy, was the “Rushdie versus Seth” showdown, manufactured because they both published novels about music that year), it was remarkable how broad their collective scope was. Perhaps the only experience all these writers had in common, was that they had all lived and worked outside India; each, in his and her uniquely elegant way, was an internationalist, as comfortable in India as he or she was in Egypt or London or North America. This quality also created a conversation, and I’m afraid an echo chamber, about diaspora and globalization in Indian writing; one of the era’s anxieties was the feeling that great writing, talked-about writing in Indian English, was only happening elsewhere. But “Why not have two mother tongues, or if possible, 11 mother tongues?” the bilingual, mercurial Kiran Nagarkar asked in an interview. Nagarkar had written an attention-grabbing first novel as far back as 1973—the Marathi Saat Sakkam Trechalis (Seven Sixes are Forty-Three). 1994’s electrifying Ravan & Eddie, his first—and at the time, severely underrated—English novel, remains as great a depiction of Mumbai life as ever committed to the page in English. Nagarkar’s reputation was really to flower at the start of the following decade, when his acclaimed novel Cuckold created such a sensation that it made news even of its Sahitya Akademi

award—not typically the most publicized of literature’s baubles. Unlike the others, he was no internationalist. The register of his voice, even in his unexceptionable, non-chutneyfied English, was resonantly, and solely, Indian. The dilemmas that writers like him addressed, of writing in both an oppressive language and a unifying one, remained central. My professors and I would still be worrying over these questions in English class, years into the next decade. So if not Nagarkar and his peers, who were the new figures added to the highbrow oligopoly of the 1990s? This, the decade of India’s international beauty pageant glory and superhit films about bhangra-dancing non-resident Indians, also brought us a memorable handful of prize winners, future prize winners, prize nominees and prizes which, like Seth, we had never heard of. No one personified, and publicly detested the consequences of this marriage of art and glamour more than Arundhati Roy. In the years following a brilliant literary debut (The God of Small Things, 1997) and the plaudits it received, Roy, now a political essayist with an extreme disinclination for the frivolities of the novel-reading classes, stated on record—several times—that she was only too happy to quash the Indian bourgeoisie’s dreams of her as a poster girl for their kind, a “pretty girl who wrote a book”. VIRENDRA SINGH/HINDUSTAN TIMES

Path­breaking: Arund­ hati Roy won the Booker Prize in 1997.

Published at an opportune moment in the country’s public life, the novel and her Booker Prize also established an inconvenient relationship between Roy and the people who would go on to become her readers. I can personally vouch for the country’s coterminous awakening to anarchocapitalism; my much-read copy of The God of Small Things, bought in 1998, is still the pirated paperback a hawker smuggled to me at a traffic signal. We might argue that Roy, like Pankaj Mishra, who published his first book (the travelogue Butter Chicken in Ludhiana) in 1992, still writes against that decade, when new problems began to require a new social criticism. Other debutants became major voices which would grow, change and produce important fiction well into the new century: Amit Chaudhuri wrote A Strange and Sublime Address in 1991; Anita Desai’s daughter, Kiran, would publish Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard in 1998; and 1994’s Red Earth and Pouring Rain still competes with Vikram Chandra’s own later work for the status of his best novel. These writers, two decades later, still console the ambitious parents of Indians determined to take literature degrees. Their children may lack worldliness, but like Roy, who now refuses to write for their class, they might give them the pleasure of both a book and a Booker. As with software engineers, it grows less and less important for writers to migrate in order to find work. But here, I may be getting ahead of the story. The efflorescence of the 2000s now lends the 1990s the retrospective glamour of the film industry in the era of big studios: We can worship their product without finding it desirable to go back to their methods of production. The template of fame has altered and expanded to accommodate, among other things, more women writers, more translations, more non-traditional media, and more publishing houses. (The riches, it is reported, have also made their way to one or two). Calendars are so unrelentingly full these days that it seems simultaneously impossible, and totally probable, that a writer, on accepting a lucrative award, confesses that she has never heard of it before. supriya.n@livemint.com


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LOUNGE INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

CINEMA

SANJUKTA SHARMA

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

THE HIGHEST­EVER HINDI FILM GROSSER WAS MADE IN 1994, SRK EMERGED AS THE NEW ‘HINDUSTANI’ HERO, AND THE BEST INDIAN FILMS WERE WATCHED IN THE WEST

o

mumbai ka king kaun?

Made for each other: Raj and Simran, the Bollywood poster couple of the 1990s, represented a generation at ease with modernity and tradition.

On a Monday morning, Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir, a 42-year-old movie theatre, understandably looks forsaken. The ticket counter looks closed from the outside, but is accessible from inside. A balcony ticket for the morning show of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) is `20. The dull, grainy print on the enormous screen just about lights up the spacious theatre, with a capacity of about 1,000. At least 100 people jeer every time a song begins. Otherwise, there’s pin-drop silence. Why do a young Shah Rukh Khan in baggy pants, a Harley-Davidson jacket, and facial contortions of simian proportions, and a young Kajol, at ease with a short red dress as well as a white salwar-kameez and bandhni dupatta, in the Eurorail still arouse loud applause? In 2010, the show completed 800 weeks—and is still on. Now, it is a piece of history. DDLJ, produced by Yash Raj Films, Bombay’s romance foundry since the 1980s, and directed by its then 23-year-old scion Aditya Chopra, released in Indian theatres and in about 20 theatres in diaspora pockets of the UK and US in 1995. It was the pinnacle of Khan’s already ascending status as a not-so-angry and charmingly gawky boy-hero—the hero who spends his father’s money, drinks Stroh’s beer, woos a quasi-liberated Punjabi girl in Zurich and pursues her to a village blooming with mustard fields. SRK became the face of a new, globalized India which prized money. But he also offered us the solace that all is not lost. Just like Raj Kapoor, Raj Malhotra’s dil was Hindustani. That the Everyman at Maratha Mandir that Monday morning still gets him says something about what movies of the 1990s did to us. They comforted us; DDLJ still comforts us. Anupama Chopra writes in her engaging biography of the superstar, King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan,

which examines him as an icon of globalized India, “Shah Rukh Khan personified the new millennium Indian who combines a global perspective with local values and is at home in the world.” Every 1990s’ baby understands this tension. MTV was cool, aspirational; arranged marriage and having babies were too. Spending money on foreign brands was liberating; so was buying one’s own home. Migrating from a small town for higher studies or a well-paying job was easy; being 30 and single or gay was not. Cinema reflected this middle ground through sanitized stories about urban India. The common man and the village disappeared. Producers wanted to conquer the diaspora market—which, in the next decade, would culminate in the puerile idea that Bollywood is India’s “cultural ambassador”. The arts did not muster any robust reaction to the new economic order. The idea of open dialogue inherent in the idea of a globalized society did not affect mainstream Hindi cinema; instead there was homage to symbols of globalization such as expensive cars, foreign brands and extravagant weddings. A sense of easy euphoria related to spending money infected milieus in film stories. In contrast, a large slice of Japan’s transitional generation of the mid-1990s, left out of the country’s economic boom, chose cultural anarchy. It used money to rebel against cultural norms and produced manga, the Harajuku girls, the motorcycle gangs (speed tribes), underground films and punk musicians. A cultural underground is only beginning to brew in Indian films, with works such as Gandu by Bengali film-maker Kaushik Mukherjee. The only interesting, if not revolutionary, experiments in cinema were facilitated by the opening up of the distribution system, leading to the “multiplex film” or the “crossover” film in the next decade—defined, not by aesthetic or idea, but by the

audience they were tailor-made for. The first revolution in distribution was because of one film. Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (HAHK) was released in a few select theatres in 1994, including Regal, Eros and Liberty in Mumbai, with the producer Rajshri Productions’ promise that if smaller theatres were spruced up, they would distribute it there too. HAHK, about two families mired in endless ritualistic revelry and song-and-dance routines, had a spectacular opening at the box office and many theatres instantly renovated and improved infrastructure. Ticket prices increased and family audiences went back to theatres. Madhuri Dixit, then in the prime of her stardom, hosted a long, grandiose Marwari wedding on screen, and India’s business class and aspiring middle class flocked to theatres. HAHK remains the highest-grossing Hindi film of all time and its gross profit (adjusted to inflation) is `309.26 crore, followed by DDLJ (`267.77 crore). Barjatya facilitated the beginning of a distribution revolution in the mid-1990s which was to culminate in the opening of India’s first multiplex theatre, Delhi’s PVR Anupam, in 1997. A year before DDLJ released, metro audiences warmed up to Dev Benegal’s English August, the first English film set in an Indian milieu, to release in Indian theatres—a precursor to the “multiplex film”, and a far cry from the late 1980s, when going to the theatres to watch a film was unfashionable. Like everything else in the 1980s, film production and distribution were in a slump. The National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC) was almost bankrupt, a mere content provider for Doordarshan. The arthouse or parallel cinema movement was history in the country’s film capital and Amitabh Bachchan’s career was at a low ebb. Ajay Bijli, chairman and managing director of PVR Cinemas, said in an interview to Lounge in 2010, “Scale matters, but I would rather be the best

than the biggest.” This was a mantra that gained momentum in the movie business through the decade. By the 1990s, in the US and Europe, the home video market had exploded, films had been scaled down to suit small screens, close-ups became de-rigueur and the New York independent film industry was a formidable establishment. Here, with PVR Anupam and subsequently many other multiplexes, the experience of watching a film changed. While going to a multiplex was luxury, the number of smaller films suited to niche city audiences grew. Through most of the decade, heroes and heroines were soaked in consumerist gloss—with Yash Raj Films ruling the roost with films such as Dil To Pagal Hai and Dharma Productions’ Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Commercially successful Hindi cinema either projected the pretty urban confines of society or looked back on 1980s staples such as patriotism (1942: A Love Story, 1993; Border, 1997) and forbidden love (Dil, 1990; Beta, 1992; Raja Hindustani, 1996). The socialist hangover of the 1970s and 1980s found crass expression in films such as Raja Hindustani. The films which combined intellectual rigour and commitment to cinematic craft were being made in the south, especially Kerala, and appreciated in festivals outside India. The films of Shaji Karun and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, both graduates from Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), in this decade contained the opposite of society’s euphoria—which great art of any age often does. Karun’s most memorable film, Vanaprastham (1999), is about a Kathakali dancer, played by Mohanlal, who is shunned by his family and lover. He is the master of his art, and in the film’s dazzling climax he uses it to rage against his own sorrow. Gopalakrishnan’s Vidheyan (1993, about a Christian migrant worker’s conflict with his master, played

by Mammootty), Kathapurushan (1995, about a man’s struggles after embracing Marxist ideas), and Mathilukal (1990, a love story of two prisoners who can’t see each other) are important films of the decade. So are some works of Kannada director Girish Kasaravalli (Mane, 1990; Kraurya, 1996), who explored women’s heroic struggles in conservative rural societies in the 1990s. Other than National Film Awards ceremonies, these films were not part of our cultural map. The Tamil director Mani Ratnam, a master of the grand canvas and the visually potent moment, first bridged the regional-national gap with Roja, a political drama, which was dubbed and released in Hindi in 1992. Ratnam’s Bombay (1995) reached a wider India. In Mumbai, Satya, in 1999, was the new road. It was the birth of what critics have called Mumbai Noir. The setting, Mumbai’s underworld, was not new. What the writers of the film (Anurag Kashyap and Saurabh Shukla) and the director shattered were sentimental “Bollywood” ideas of poetic justice and virtue. It was, aesthetically and on paper, a lean film but it was also commercially viable. Bhiku Mhatre, one of its leading men, and indeed the film’s most powerful voice, played by Manoj Bajpai, redefined the petty gangster. Drunk with power, but ultimately powerless, Mhatre was a figure possible only in the 1990s’ dystopic Mumbai, ravaged by underworld terror, and weakened by an indifferent political establishment. Ram Gopal Varma’s language was backed by extremely competent sound design and editing. In the 2000s, the water was no longer still. You could get away with a Munnabhai as well as a bratty Devdas from Chandigarh as long as they were new on the eyes and ears, and had a grain of truth. Box-office figures courtesy Boxofficeindia.com. sanjukta.s@livemint.com


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TELEVISION

NALIN MEHTA

INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

IT WAS A DECADE THAT ESTABLISHED TV AT THE EPICENTRE OF INDIAN CAPITALISM. BUT IT WAS ALSO THE DEATH OF THOUGHTFUL, CRITICAL PROGRAMMING

the daily theatre in our lives

f Shining star: Satel­ lite television in the 1990s became the show window of economic reforms.

For television, the 1990s began with a worried bureaucrat in the ministry of information and broadcasting submitting a file to his minister on how to stop what was then still called the “satellite invasion”. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s 1945 vision of a satellite in geosynchronous orbit solving the global broadcast distribution problem suddenly seemed realizable with Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-Shing’s decision to invest in AsiaSat-1. It was the first commercially available satellite that could simultaneously broadcast to television audiences from Turkey to Japan and his newly launched Star TV intended to target the wealthiest 5% of Asian elites in the 38 countries where its signal reached. V.P. Singh was still in power and his information minister P. Upendra presciently commented on the file, “You cannot stop the sun by holding an umbrella. The more you try, the more you encourage people to watch.” Television was still a jealously guarded Doordarshan monopoly, accruing from the colonial 1885 Indian Telegraph Act, and these two trends—that of a protectionist state deploying a worthless umbrella, and that of satellite television as a resplendent idea whose time had come—encapsulated the story of the decade. The outdated umbrella attitude was best articulated by then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao who, two years after the fall of the Babri Masjid,

abruptly cancelled the launch of DD3, designed as an upmarket current affairs channel with independently produced news bulletins to counter the BBCs and CNNs of the world. It is difficult to imagine now in the cacophony of the more than 80 news channels that animate India today but his reasoning was revealing: “We cannot have live broadcasts. It is too dangerous.” Used to seeing Doordarshan as a continuous rolling advertisement for the ruling party, Rao found it difficult to envisage live news where anyone could say anything against the government without fear of censorship. Satellite TV didn’t come to India in a vacuum. Through the 1980s, Doordarshan had built up a mass audience. TV-watching families in India increased from just 2 million at the time of the 1982 Asiad to 34 million by the time of the Gulf War in 1991. Programmes like Hum Log had not only established the potential of the soap opera, they had also shown the magic of television as a vital cog in the Indian consumer economy—as a “selling medium”, to quote CBS founder William Paley. Apart from family planning messaging couched as entertainment, Hum Log also simultaneously launched the career of Maggi noodles in India, its prime sponsor, and ensured that advertisers flocked to sponsor programmes like Buniyaad, Nukkad and Khandaan. Ramayan and Mahabharat changed the

meaning of Sunday mornings and by the time Star arrived, India was a TV market ripe for the picking. Upendra’s successor as information minister, Ajit Panja, rhetorically raised the spectre of a new cultural colonialism, publicly musing if India would “succumb exactly as we did 250 years ago to gunpowder”; the man who followed him, K.P. Singh Deo, railed against a “diabolical invasion from the sky”; but the genie was out of the bottle. Within six months of its launch, Star announced that India had turned into its largest market. In political and economic terms, satellite TV, an illegal medium till the mid-1990s, virtually became the show window of the economic reforms. Foreign investors in the early 1990s were still not sure about the government’s intentions, initial foreign investments till mid-1992 were very low and any serious attempt to clamp down on the channels would have been too risky. As a cultural product then, satellite TV worked as an ideal marketing tool for India’s liberalization. Typical of the jugaad nature of Indian reform, sections of the state, like the ministry of information and broadcasting, fought it tooth and nail, while others, like VSNL, embraced it wholeheartedly. The 70,000 or so cable operators—“splendid pirates”, as Rupert Murdoch called them—that sprang up across the country symbolized the AFP

entrepreneurial energies at the bottom end of the new TV ecosystem that emerged, just as people like Subhash Chandra, formerly a rice trader, typified its top end. At a time when traditional media houses were too hidebound to see the new opportunity, Chandra took his Zee TV to the stock market. It became the first major Indian media firm to be listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange in 1993. Before the Supreme Court finally ended the state’s legal monopoly over the airwaves in 1995, Zee and numerous channels that came up in the regional languages had to contend in the early 1990s with the legal restrictions against private broadcasting in India. A typical example is the Malayalam Asianet which used to broadcast into India from the US military base at Subic Bay in the Philippines by flying a courier daily from Kerala to Manila with recorded programme tapes for the next day. From Manila, the courier took a helicopter ride every day to the Subic Bay TV centre, for onward transmission of the tapes back into India. The 1990s also shaped the major facets that define Indian TV today—localization, Bollywood, cricket and news. Each of these had major social consequences. Star had been the catalyst but once the initial novelty wore off, its English-only diet of Oprah and The Bold and the Beautiful could only take it that far. The music channels, MTV and V, quickly indigenized with Hinglish and predominantly Hindi music videos, but Star’s next big industry-defining move of Kaun Banega Crorepati and the “saas-bahu” serials wouldn’t come till the early 2000s. For most of the 1990s, Zee controlled the market. Language wasn’t the only reason. Zee officials spoke openly about how they consciously strove to keep misery off their channel, in contrast to the developmental images that predominated on Doordarshan. A new generation of soap operas like Tara drove its early success but it also packaged itself as an unabashed mass entertainment channel, relying heavily on the popular culture of Bollywood. One of Murdoch’s innovations in global TV has been the use of sport as a battering ram to capture markets. News Corp.’s decision to choose cricket as the lynchpin of its strategy in India was to change the face of the global game itself when ESPN announced its entry in 1993 with $30 million (around `132 crore now) for cricket rights. The discovery of cricket as one of the prime markers of Indian-ness subsequently combined with the burgeoning muscle of Indian capital to turn India into the spiritual and financial

superpower of the game. So intertwined has cricket been with the TV story that even the historic 1995 Supreme Court decision that finally freed the airwaves from government control was the result of a dispute over cricket rights between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and Doordarshan for a tour by the West Indies. In 1988, when Prannoy Roy started The World this Week on Doordarshan, he was not allowed to even touch domestic political news. In the old command economy of the times, this was seen as too sensitive. Yet, exactly a decade later, satellite technology allowed him to start the first 24-hour news channel. Star News (then run by NDTV) was initially turned into a 24-hour channel for only three months in 1998 to cover the general election but its success meant that it continued. The real expansion in TV news was to come in the 2000s but the innovations of the 1990s showed what was possible. In 1990, TV had accounted for only 16% of the total ad spend in India. By 2000, its share was up to 37% even as the advertising pie itself increased more than sevenfold. Capitalized billings in the advertising industry grew from `9.3 billion in 1990-91 to `68.3 billion by 1999-2000. It was a decade that established TV at the epicentre of Indian capitalism. It was also a decade that set the trend for the limitations of the ratings economy that bind Indian TV. Among the great might-have-beens of TV in the 1990s was the death of thoughtful, critical programming like, for instance, Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s Ek Aur Mahabharat. Its alternative retelling of the epic as essentially an earthy tribal tale was pulled off the air because it didn’t prove too hot on the TRP meters. Despite its limitations, Doordarshan had still managed to produce some epic programming. There is much that is wrong with Indian satellite TV today yet there is no doubt that it has brought a new and revolutionary theatre to the daily life of India. People discovered new ways to think about themselves and to participate in the life of the nation that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. The revolution has made possible new ways of imagining identities and engaging with the state and none of this would have been possible without the 1990s. Nalin Mehta is the founding joint editor of the journal South Asian History and Culture and author of India on Television. Write to lounge@livemint.com


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LOUNGE INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

FIRST PERSON SANJAY RAY CHAUDHURI

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

WHEN CAMERA ATTENDANTS BECAME CAMERAMEN, MACHINE OPERATORS BECAME EDITORS— AN INSIDER’S VIEW OF WHAT MADE TV18 ONE OF THE DECADE’S BIGGEST SUCCESS STORIES

talking ’bout my generation

f

Flashback. A white lace doily is gently taken off a large Weston TV set that looks like a wooden cabinet. Colour bars in black and white. The sad DD signature tune (so well evoked by Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara). Krishi Darshan. The news read by that impassive woman with a flower in her hair whom I had a crush on. Secrets of the Sea by Jacques Cousteau. Chitrahaar. The Sunday movie. Hum Log, Buniyaad, Ramayan. The eerily deserted backlanes of Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar on a Sunday morning when Mahabharat was on—from every window, the same soundtrack. It was the single highest watched TV show on the planet at that time. It was 1989. I had just graduated from film school. My first job was a freelance assignment for a gentleman who called himself the “Father of Indian Television”. He operated from a garage in Greater Kailash. I was to write and direct a documentary for Doordarshan on the Cleaning of the Ganga project in Varanasi. It took me two months of hard labour, for which I was paid `5,000. It was a great business model—for him. Since nobody cared for quality and I needed the cash, I was churning out two, even three documentaries in a month. Who commissioned them, why, and when, if ever, they aired, remains a mystery. My other option was to work in a “video magazine”. In a censored, controlled environment, where the “news” on DD was little more than a government press release, Newstrack (from the India Today Group) broke new ground. Every month, they would do hard-hitting stories and circulate them on video cassettes which you could subscribe to, or borrow from the lending library. Here are the stories Newstrack covered in its April 1989 issue (90 minutes): Afghanistan: On the spot report from Kabul on Soviet pullout aftermath; Ram Jethmalani: Ace criminal lawyer cross-examined; Haji Mastan: reveals the mechanics of the underworld; Child Labour: Children burdened with premature adulthood; Zoonie: Muzaffar Ali’s multi-crore film starring Dimple. The more things change, the more they remain the same. In late 1990, I met Raghav Bahl, who was then co-anchoring Newstrack with Madhu Trehan. He had started Delhi’s first studio using Betacam—the latest video technology at that time. I could work on the new equipment if I got in the business. I would go door to door to small shops and businesses all over Delhi and make my pitch. The deal was, for a mere fraction of what it would cost them to make an ad for national TV, we would not only write, produce, direct and edit the ad, but also put it on Newstrack. We called it

“Classified Video”. Miraculously, we made enough to survive. Next, we started BITV with a mandate to make a Business-News Video Magazine. We made a terrific pilot episode and just as we were about to launch, Rajiv Gandhi was tragically assassinated in May 1991 and the project was shelved. There followed a frustrating time when we were drawing salaries and doing no work. We were young, hungry, ambitious, impatient and at the prime of our working lives. The Gulf War had already shown us the future. The satellite revolution was at our doorstep. In sheer desperation we put our life savings into two pilot episodes—India Business Report (a weekly business show), which we sent to the BBC, and The India Show (an entertainment and lifestyle features show), which we sent to Star Plus. Then we sat back, crossed our fingers and prayed very hard. God was kind. Both were selected from among hundreds of contenders—many of them print media giants. Two little fellows from Delhi were suddenly making India’s first indigenously produced content for satellite television. We were in the game. The new company was named TV18. It was 1993. The timing couldn’t have been better. The wave of liberalization set off by then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and the good Doctor transformed our lives—as it did many others of our generation. The television scene had opened up like a long dammed river. There was an explosion of channels, shows and formats. Star Plus, BBC, MTV. Baywatch, Beverly Hills, 90210, Wonder Years on Star Plus. Game shows, talk shows, world-class news from CNN and BBC. It was manna falling from the heavens—literally. Sales of TV sets boomed. Cable lines criss-crossed the country, looping across trees and over walls, snaking their way into every living room from Ghatkopar to Guwahati. A newly awakened India was awash with new images, new aspirations. Zee TV, launched by Subhash Chandra in 1992, provided Hindi content. With production values far cheaper than the American and British shows, Zee nevertheless gained the enormous advantage of language—and broke even in the first year of operations. Of the early Zee shows, I remember Saap Seedi, India’s first “reality game show”. Soaps like Banegi Apni Baat and Tara became household names. Daily soaps like Shanti were just starting. In 1994, MTV parted ways with Star TV and Channel V was born. Quirky, outrageous, and speaking an entirely new language, it quickly defined the youth culture

of the age in a way that the “imported” MTV never could. Quick Gun Murugun and Mind It! became a cult. Pepsi’s Yeh dil maange more campaign was a huge catalyst. Bollywood followed. And soon enough, emerging India’s language of choice became Hinglish. It was an enduring change—and we owe it entirely to television. Meanwhile, as premium programme producers for a content-hungry industry, we were on a roll. We shifted offices every year. At one point we had a sign in our lobby that said “Trespassers will be Recruited!” We went from two people to 200 in less than three years. We had shows on every channel in every conceivable genre. We discovered Cyrus Broacha and launched him on a show called MTV-U. We did India’s first glamorous talk show Nikki Tonight. We did India’s first music countdown show, Public Demand. We did Bhanwar—a highly acclaimed docu-drama series. We did good shows and bad shows. We were on a treadmill. We had to run just to stay where we were. Camera attendants became cameramen in less than a year. Anybody who could handle a machine became an editor. Scripts were written and rewritten in one hour. There was always a queue for edit machines

and shooting units and there were many sleepless nights as an army of youngsters competed against each other to meet impossible deadlines and internal quality controls. While all this sounded good, the reality was a little different. Channels held up payments for six months and more. As a capital- and cash-hungry business we were feeling the pinch. Intense competition was driving down prices. Good people were hard to find, and harder to keep. We were producing shows that earned us a small margin—and we did not own the rights to any of our shows. We had to change the business model. The transformation from a content producer to a broadcaster is as painful and rewarding as the metamorphosis from a caterpillar to a butterfly. We were tiny cogs only dimly aware of the massive global mergers and acquisitions that affected our fate. Our long and fruitful relationship with the BBC got us a contract for a daily show with Asia Business News (ABN) with whom we founded a joint venture but which was soon

taken over by CNBC. Once again, our lives hung on a fine thread. Once again, the gods were kind and we got the contract. CNBC-TV18 was launched from a makeshift studio in a hired auditorium where “runners” on beaten-up Bajaj scooters would ferry tapes every half-hour to the nearby VSNL headquarters for uplink—to give the appearance of it being “live”. In 2000 we did a hugely successful IPO that gave us wings. It was a fitting finale to a momentous decade. So what was the enduring contribution of TV in the 1990s? It gave India new dreams and aspirations. It gave us a new language. And it created a whole new industry. Between then and now TV has become overhyped, clichéd, regressive, aggressive, protectionist, progressive, investigative, escapist. It corrupts, corrodes and deifies. It enables, enlightens and entertains. It reflects who we are and what we are becoming. Sanjay Ray Chaudhuri (or RayC as he is popularly known) is co-founder and executive director of Network18. He is currently working on his first feature film. Write to lounge@livemint.com

Trendsetters: The quirky character from Channel V, Quick Gun Murugun, made his way into a movie in 2009.


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SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2011 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

MUSIC WITH REMO FERNANDES, PENTAGRAM,

UDAY BENEGAL

ROCK MACHINE AND OTHERS, INDIE MUSIC GOT A SHOT IN THE ARM FROM SATELLITE TV BUT THEN LOST ITS WAY. BUT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL NEVER DIED

i want my MTV

f Tuning in: Parikrama has been performing regularly at the Independence Rock concerts in Mumbai.

For India’s non-Bollywood music scene, the early 1990s were little more than an extension of the closing notes of the 1980s. The new decade may have promised a freshness of purpose and offered a vestige of hope for the straggling rock and pop movement (if one could accord it any motion at all), but the truth was, not much was really happening. Sure, there were the usual college gigs, occasional rock festivals and the like—but in terms of any serious growth in the prospects of existing bands, popular or less known, and incentive for aspiring bands and solo artistes, it was pretty bleak. Then a bolt shot through the ether. The ray of light for makers and lovers of sounds not created by Bappi Lahiri, Anu Malik and their kitschy kin arrived in the form of Star TV’s expansive satellite footprint. The channel’s singular incursion was closely followed by its bouquet of affiliates. But the affiliate that mattered most to those indie music makers and lovers was, of course, MTV. First glance wasn’t half bad either (except perhaps the short-lived Yo! MTV Raps). Although a considerable chunk of airtime was given to sugar-loaded Cantopop ballads emerging from Taiwan and Hong Kong, and big-maned grunge outfits from Indonesia and Malaysia, the bulk of the channel’s programming featured bands we sought and loved: Van Halen, Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, REM, Def Leppard. And some we didn’t: Milli Vanilli, Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer (okay I admit it, You Can’t Touch This was cool, billowing harem pants notwithstanding).

But the real shot in the arm came when MTV trained its sights on India as not just a mass market to squeeze, but a creative catchment area to draw from. And the reservoir was itching to blow its banks. My band, Rock Machine, was fortunate to feature as India’s first act to hit the hallowed portal. After our video Top of the Rock first aired, a flood ensued. Everyone scrambled to get a video together. Beleaguered bands tried to scrape together pennies, pretty solo singers sought out benefactors, the less attractive ones tried to convince reluctant record companies to insert music video clauses into their contracts. We were luckier than a lot—and maybe a little smarter than a few. Rather than heading down the futile road of record label sponsorship, we opted for corporate sponsorship instead. We proposed tie-ups that went off-screen. The sponsor would fund our music video; we, in turn, would offer exposure to the sponsor through alternative avenues: interviews with the media, their logo on our merchandise, doing a free concert (or two), displaying banners at our gigs featuring said sponsor’s logo, maybe even producing a jingle or two on the house. But there was one thing that we were firm about: no product placement in the video. It helped that MTV’s broadcast policy disallowed it—and they were unflinching. This exciting new medium attracted film-makers eager to go beyond the 30-second commercials they were producing and explore the open canvas of interpretive art via

4-minute music videos, no holds barred. We were lucky to be able to ally with some brilliant directors whose vision made an indelible imprint on the airwaves. India was now very much on the map as a fount of sonic and visual talent. The “scene” had officially begun. We finally had a credible platform for non-Bollywood music. The medium crossed languages, inevitably. To begin with there were the English-language acts: the socially conscious and always entertaining Remo Fernandes, feisty Mumbai gal Jasmine Bharucha, Bangalore metalheads Millennium and Delhi band Parikrama, to name a few. Mumbai’s Colourblind came and went in a blink but left a significant mark in their slickly produced, self-titled album. The Hindi movement was more prolific, however—there was money in the national language. Suneeta Rao had a bunch of videos, most notably the evocative Pari. Alisha Chinai channelled Biddu’s cheesed-up compositions, Daler Mehndi convinced south Indians to go Punjabi, Baba Sehgal melded gibberish with some form of rap and Raageshwari liberally flashed her pearly whites while singing a song that her daddy wrote for a video that her bhaiya directed. Lucky Ali permeated the airwaves with some of the most refreshing songs and sounds we’d heard in a long time. And Colonial Cousins mashed classical idiom with pop sensibilities delivered in easy morsels. Channel V, meanwhile, had edged its way into the music broadcast spectrum and was

giving the unseated-andrelaunched American music television giant a run for its pixels. By this time, however, broadcasting principles had suffered something of a setback. Raageshwari’s video seemed like a barely veiled commercial for a cola behemoth. Just a few years earlier both music channels would have sent the beta videotape right back to the sender. Not so any more. They seemed quite comfortable with the cola company’s ubiquitous red-and-white logo screaming out from behind the prancing Raageshwari. That, right there, heralded a change in philosophy. The second half of the 1990s saw the beginning of the end of music TV as we had briefly known it. Hindi pop soon saw its demise along with the record companies that tried to inflict upon people a slew of half-baked semi-talents. But rock ‘n’ roll never dies. The decade continued to see more and more indie music emerge from bedrooms and hostels. Whether boasting a video or not, bands were playing across the country. Kerala’s 13AD—with the virtuosic Eloy on guitar— crossed paths with my band (now called Indus Creed, renamed around the time we released our video Pretty Child) in different parts of the country more than a few times. Kolkata’s Shiva worked their way through the cover band circuit of the east and north-east. Other Kolkata bands, such as New Horizon and Krosswindz, saw line-ups alter and morph…but they plodded on. Some artistes found their way

to Bollywood. Remo’s voice was first imprinted on A.R. Rahman’s Humma Humma to great success. He managed to milk that opportunity without subverting his own independence, a rare feat to achieve when the lure of lucre is so high. Other indie music aspirants crossed the fence, totally and without remorse: KK took his soaring voice and used it well in Bollywood, briefly interjecting his flourishing career with a couple of non-filmi pop albums. Mohit Chauhan, a current Bollywood fave, found his way to playback after the end of Silk Route, the Hindi folk-rock act he sang for. Vishal Dadlani, of the Bollywood power-pair Vishal-Shekhar, spent his early music years as the founder and frontman of Pentagram, the industrial-rock band that was born in the ashes of the decade. Pentagram still exists, Remo still plays, we relaunched Indus Creed last year after a 12-year hiatus, and there is frequent talk of Lucky Ali returning with new material. The 1990s were a period of unceasing change, much of it turbulent. It saw the rapid rise of a wildly fertile scene, and its equally quick decline. But the milestones set then still poke their heads above the potholed path. Independent, non-Bollywood music is seeing an unprecedented fecundity these days. Whether that’s despite or because of the 1990s will remain moot. Uday Benegal is a musician and writer, and the frontman of the band Indus Creed. Write to lounge@livemint.com AKSHAYRAJ UCHIL


Lounge for 13 Aug 2011  

Lounge for 13 Aug 2011

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