Thursday, August 14, 2008

Olympic gold medal: Abhinav's medal or India's medal?

India finally got an individual Olympic gold medal after 108 years! Kudos to Abhinav Bindra for his splendid effort in Beijing and bringing happiness to a billion Indians.
The coverage given by global media to the dismal state of Indian sports is incredible. On the day Bindra won his gold, WSJ had 2 half page articles on 2 topics: "India being missed at Olympic hockey" and "First individual medal for India". My friend told me that CNN had a news item on "Why a billion Indians only have 57 member squad?" on the opening day of the Olympics. I still remember 1992 when India did not win a single medal at Barcelona (now I know that it had happened in 1984, 88 also). There was some usual hue and cry (some media reports, IOC comments, and finally, an "enquiry committee" to end all those war cries). But now, with increasing focus on India due to its economic growth has made world media more worried about Indian hockey than Indian media (I haven't read any article on hockey in Indian press for the last 10-15 days).
I am just wondering whether this medal gives us a hope for medals in future also. In management, we learn "building internal competencies which enable you to maintain a sustainable competitive advantage". In sports, India has not done so. Many of these performances are individual efforts (with personal money) and not really, an output of a well-placed system. I don't see a stream of new players coming up in these sports in future. We are struggling to find replacements for Paes and Bhupathi; Bindra trained on personal money in Germany (as per media reports), shooters still complain of lack on facilities; no comments on hockey; women weightlifting seems to be dying out now after Karnam Malleshwari won an Olympic bronze. Only in badminton, Padukone Academy seems to be producing players at regular intervals (Saina just reached quarters).
With this gold medal, some corporate money might pour into shooting or other Olympic sports. But the fact of the matter is, we can't say that there will be a medal for India in the next Olympics. We don't have any system or infrastructure built for it. It will depend on few individuals who can put in effort and money on their own.
Let's face the reality: India is not a sporting nation. From childhood, we have been told "Kheloge kudoge to banoge kharaab, Padhoge likhoge to banoge nawaab". Rise of a nation in sporting arena has historically been a mix of its economic power and associated national pride. Eastern European countries always fared better than western Europe during cold war times. China has also made special focused efforts to rise as a sporting powerhouse (I don't know how many of those efforts can be applied in a democratic India!). Will it happen for India?
May be it's time for us to not to make a huge issue out of our failures at international sports, and just enjoy individual glories as and when those come.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

"Sing is Kiing"- A good skit

With all the hype created around it and the fact that it was being released in Brussels, we could not afford to miss "Sing is Kiing". To give you a summary of the movie, it's a "machau" movie, with college skit level fattas, illogical script (as expected), and a large screen presence of new name of dependability, Akki.
As we entered the cinema hall, we were awed by the number of Indians. I can bet that it was the only packed hall in the multiplex. Indians are everywhere now! Sound system was horrible and seats worse than my small multiplex in Kota.
There is only one purpose of the movie- to make money. The fact that title of the movie came before the script itself (as told by Akki in his interviews) speaks a lot. It has its moments of laughter, the enactment of one of the classic Hindi dialogues "Mera khoon khaul raha hai", treatment given to the 'real' king and Javed Jaffrey's acts. But make sure you don't miss these, otherwise rest of the movie can be quite irritating at times.
Katrina with her stupid NRI accent is simply irritating. Remember, how British actors spoke Hindi in a historical movie of 70-80s. Akki seems to be enjoying his new stature, he does some amazing stunts and carries the movie on his shoulders (it proved to be quite heavy for him too). Javed Jaffrey, as a blind and deaf goon is hilarious. Watch out for his small dancing act. Neha Dhupia shows off her talent pretty well ;-)
Did I forget the plot of the movie? Which plot, which script, which logic? I have found a new respect for our IIT skit script writers. They should perhaps try out in bollywood, they might earn a lot more than Engineering or management jobs.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Indians and visas

One of the biggest frustrations of holding an Indian passport is the difficulty to use it. Damn, Indians need visa everywhere. I am working out of Brussels when my whole team is in London because my UK visa expired. Indians can't go anywhere without visas. Now, even Nepal is considering visas for Indians! (I mean where you would want to go. To find the list of countries where Indians can travel without a visa, visit: )
Now why does that happen?
I think the biggest reason is that everybody else in the world require an Indian visa to visit India. These agreements are bilateral and for some reasons, India has not entered into any such agreements.
This treatment is always mutual. Usually Indian embassies in Europe issue short term visas, and Indians end up getting the same 3- month single entry Schengen visas. I don't know who started this. With the increasing terror around terrorism, situation is not expected to get better. Till then Indian tourism industry continues to be hit, and we continue to stand in long lines, filling forms and apply for all the visas in the world.

p.s. Perhaps the Indian passport is the thickest in the world. All the EU/US/Canada passports are wafer thin :-)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Why you would hate living in Europe

It is almost 1 year in Brussels for me. Coming to Europe is always a dream sequence for people all over the world, and especially in India. Indians always flocked in Switzerland to spend their holidays (and to spend their black money!), but since Kajol ran into SRK in the backdrop of swiss alps, grassland, and Swiss cows, things have taken off!
Now, situation changes a lot when you look at Indians living actually in Europe (I exclude UK from Europe, its not Europe, its a colony of the US across the Atlantic). From my experience here, living in Europe can be a real pain at times. Please note that I have just shifted my house and really frustrated, so all my views have extreme negative connotations (but close to reality).

So, why can you hate living in Europe:
  1. All shops remain closed on Sundays. Markets close down at 7 during weekdays and at 5 on Saturday. You even can't get bread on Sunday. This is European definition of customer focus! Mindset of a shopkeeper is "You came here because you want something, not because I want to sell something."
  2. All restaurants close down at 9 30-1000.
  3. You need to take appointment from everybody, from government officers to a cleaner (!). Appointment from a cleaning company- can you imagine that! First an "inspector" comes to visit your house and he gives you a quotation. I got a quotation of 350 Euros, bloody hell! Then he sends over 2 persons after 2 weeks. All services are damn expensive!
  4. Landlords rule here. You shell out a huge sum to leave the apartment. So-called expert charges you for everything from a small scratch on floor to cleaning of the apartment. You may end up paying 3 months of rent while leaving the apartment.
  5. You receive all your bills in french/dutch, you ignore and 6 months after, they send you a bill in English with a penalty 3 times the amount on bill.
  6. All government processes are extremely slow and bureaucratic. I got my commune card after 2 months of repeated visits.
  7. Don't be lured by the EU passport, tax rates can kill you. It can be up to 70%, all for your social security when you get you will have to live your whole life in Europe as you would have nothing to save!
  8. You will get nasty looks if you ask for ketch up for pizza. The heavenly cuisine prepared by the Godly chef should not be disturbed at any cost.
Some added by Kunal:
  1. It takes 1.5 Euros a minute to call India. Almost equal to the amount you would pay when you bring your Indian cell phone to Europe on international roaming. Even the local calls and roaming within Europe are max expensive.
  2. Appointment for a plumber takes 3 months. So if your flush stops working, well... Good luck!
  3. Normal shops close at 7:30 and night shops close at midnight. Aren't they supposed to be "night shops"?
More to follow I am sure as I have more time to go in Europe....

Vancouver- best city after retirement- I

I set my foot in North America when I landed in Vancouver, Canada. I stayed there for about 3 weeks. My first impression of Canada was a relaxed country with lots of open spaces and few people. I got out of the airport and even before I could see few locals, I saw all the Desi taxi drivers. I boarded a taxi and we were off to downtown. Soon I was in a conversation with the Desi driver. First of all, he was now a Canadian citizen, he got rid of his Indian passport 5 years ago (that's a very sensible thing to do given the number of visas required for Indians!). "Ab koi airport par sawaal nahi poochta" was his candid admission. Fair enough!
First experience with a local was with the hotel receptionist who taught me a few lessons of hard core selling. He tried to sell an upgrade to his best, but then he could not get over my strong Desi "never say yes" attitude, and I got rewarded for it too. He gave me a top floor room without any extra charges. I ran to the nearest shopping mall to buy some clothes for next day's meeting. Why? Didn't I tell you that Lufthansa forgot my baggage at Frankfurt! It was so good to see some shops open on Sunday after a long time. Europe really needs to learn customer focus.
First day at work was a complete disaster with meetings on technical details of mining. I did not know even a single detail and was trying to write notes to look intelligent. By 4 PM, things got worse as I was struck by jet lag. That night's dinner with the client was the longest one ever for me.....
People in Canada are amazingly lifestyle oriented. Work hours start usually early, more important reason being avoiding early morning traffic. People usually commute 1-2 hours daily. But by 5, everybody was gone! Simply amazing! I met a guy who used to run 10 kms daily during lunch hours. And he was not alone. There were several groups of 10-20 running during afternoon hours in Vancouver.
Meetings after meetings, and week was over (anyways you live for weekends in a job). Finally on Saturday morning, I got to enjoy the view from my room. It was fascinating with mountains (peaks were still snow clad), port and the river. With sun coming out, it was the right time for a stroll. So like a true tourist, I picked up a map and off I went.