Deep Discounts or Deep Distress?

DeepDiscounts1

I am as usual caught in a conundrum when I read some stories. On the 15th of August National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) launched a logout campaign against the deep discount coupons that are offered by these five aggregators Zomato, EazyDinerNearbuyMagicPin and DineoutSince then, more than 2300 restaurants across the country de-listed themselves from these food apps claiming that “discount structure, terms and conditions, by the food tech companies are unjust and unsustainable.” The president of NRAI said that to stay competitive in the market, some aggregators give discount of buy one and get one free. Others have done the same thing differently; they have straight away offered a 50% discount, which means the same.  

The story does not end here. On particular Gold Card membership, such discounts are allowed on one itemBut our desi brain works interestingly. The people go to restaurant A and take starters- 50% discount. They go to another restaurant to take drinks- buy two get two free! Finally, they go to the third restaurant and order the main course- buy one get one free! Using this method, they get the whole meal at 50% discount which kills the business.   

The worst part of the whole thing is that the discounts are being borne by the restaurants and not the aggregators. The association wants these discounts to be removed so that customers get used to not getting high discounts. It is a sort of detox action that is essential, according to the association. It appears that both the sides have understood the problems created by deep discounts and they also know that it will take some time to reach normalcy and come out of the deep discount issue.  

You and I are naturally going to be unhappy with these changes. We have to now look for happy hours or special days to get good discounts. Now, these changes are going to take my outflow back to normal, which I do not like. But we should not forget that such gimmicks never work in the long term.  

I always felt as if I am an uneducated person, though I have run a small business for more than 35 years. Giant organisations like Amazon and Flipkart have been in the deep discount game for quite some time. The difference is that they give deep discounts from their pocket. For years, they offer deep discounts, give Prime memberships and so on. They keep on investing billions of dollars for years. Amazon has never made profits in the last twenty years. But they continue to invest in the business to get more and more customers all the time. Uber CEO has recently made a statement that Uber may never make profits. What is the business model of such companies? Jeff Bozos has become “poor” when he settled his divorce, and his wealth is at lowly US $ 65/ billions. He bought some time back Washington post for an all-cash deal of US $ 250/ million.  

Uneducated me does not understand the principles used in these businesses. Uber charges higher rates when demand is up. But I have seen that as a routine, they charge about 10 to 15 % more than an Auto Riksha in Pune. The price difference between an Auto Riksha and a car can be three lacs of rupees. Many Rikshas give mileage about 1.5 times more than the cars. 

On top of that, Uber takes 30% of the amount we pay to the driver. To me, the driver may break even, Uber’s figures show that they make losses. Other than making vehicles available quickly to us, are they running a charity organisation? Is it not similar to deep discounts offered by Zomato or Amazon?  Or for that matter, Oyo?

Venture capitalists, angel investors, put in their money in such companies. Venture capital is defined as capital invested in a project in which there is a substantial element of risk, typically a new or expanding business. I am sure that those who invest in such companies expect reasonable returns on their capital. By what I have described above, there are no returns, then why are the investments continued? Where is the source for such unlimited funds?  

There is no doubt that Amazon, Uber, Zomato are market disruptors. They have shown the world a new way of doing business, which even 25 years back did not exist. New methods, new ways of doing things make a lot of difference in day to day life. Consider AirbnbThe concept is so good that it is helping people all over the worldIt reduces the cost of travel and uses people’s assets which have been remaining idle.  

Amazon, WalmartJio are gamechanging companies which have made a big difference in our lives. But they are making these changes with their own money or at the cost of competitors. They are disrupting the market and making their competitors think; I am sure the competitors will come up with even newer ideas.  

But this deep discount business with own money or someone else’s money is not sustainable business model. I am not surprised that NRAI has revolted against it. I was talking to someone about these aggregators. It was felt that the aggregators probably sell the data of their customers to make money! When companies like Facebook have done it, what will stop the aggregators from selling data!  

Ultimately, market disruptors come with ideas and business models which were never seen before. But one thing will never changeSuch organisations have to make profits at some stage. Unless, of course, you are an Amazon or an Uber. But don’t forget that Amazon is the market leader in Cloud Computing business; so as a group, they make profitsBecoming Unicorn company (market value exceeding One Billion US $) is fine for publicity; it will help companies get more VC fundingBut if they don’t start making profits, such companies fall in the group of 95 % plus companies, which close down sometimes even without a whimper.  

 

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Recession or Cyclic downturn?

The automotive sector in India is under significant stress. Sales are going down drastically in unprecedented numbers. It is a vast sector and has already started giving layoffs, having non-production days- a euphemism for plant closures. A large number of dealerships have cancelled their tie-ups as the business does not appear to be lucrative. On top of this, BS-VI norms will be starting from 1/4/2020, which will cause further stress as no BS-IV vehicle will be even registered from 1/4/2020.

More difficulties will come up during this year and maybe even next year. The reasons for this is that CAFÉ norms will come into the picture from 2022. There is already a discussion of auto companies going slow on investments, but statutory requirements are mandatory, and these companies cannot avoid them. BS-VI norms and CAFÉ norms will increase the prices of cars. One thing that never comes into the discussion is the sale of old vehicles. It is not that people are not buying cars. People suddenly don’t change their habits. But people become practical and smarter.

George Mathew

I will tell you what I mean. I read an article from Indian Express which was discussing the sales pattern in the industry in general. The data in the table is for two thousand plus companies. The table above shows the business figures for April-June quarter comparison of 2018 and 2019. Sales of AC’s are generally seasonal. But other items like TV’s, Microwaves have not shown any decline. Sales are almost normal and have only shown seasonal changes.

I want to write a disclaimer. I cannot “read” the financial data, and hence, I cannot analyse it too! But as a layman, I thought there is not much difference for these two years. The sales have gone up in 2019.  Operating margins have reduced slightly. Depreciation is quite high in 2019, indicating the investments done in the that year. Hence interest paid has gone up maybe due to investments in plant and machinery. Proportionately tax paid has gone down, and profit has gone down. These figures do not show any drastic changes happening in the market. Companies considered in this table exclude banking and finance companies.

Then why is the auto sector in distress? I have mentioned that people have become smarter and practical. In the last financial year, the total number of vehicles sold was large. But the sales of new cars have come down. There is a secondary market where people buy used cars. The total number of old vehicles sold was four lacs more than new cars. Why is this happening? Small cars like Alto are now sold more in three-tier towns. Young people in big cities want to buy bigger vehicles. I understand that a 3 to the 4-year-old big sedan is now available for the price of an Alto. The trend of buying used fancy cars is affecting the sale of new cars.

I am not arguing that there is no recession in the auto sector. But we should not forget that it is one of the most protected sectors in India. Customs duty on cars below US $ 40000/ is 60 % and above this value 100%. The used cars have a customs duty of 125%.  For various reasons, this sector has remained inefficient. After many international companies started coming to India and opened their factories in India, the auto sector had a tough time. Some Indian companies took 15 years to reach the quality levels of global companies. One company that followed a correct way of doing business is Bajaj Auto. They currently export 1.8 million motorcycles every year. It gives them a buffer when the local market sales dip!

Some of the reasons for the downturn could be that main barrier for transport vehicles like octroi has been removed. The action has speeded up the turnaround time of vehicles  substantially. The effect would be that the number of trucks needed to transport material would be less than those previously required. Another reason that is making rounds is that demonetisation effect causing the sales to drop. Is such a large industry dependent on cash? In the rural areas cash was being used to buy vehicles; even large SUV’s were bought using cash. If people had so much cash with them why did they not use bank instruments to pay? The answer is obvious. Not paying taxes honestly is a habit that does go away quickly.

What was the auto industry turnover 20 years back? How much has this industry grown? The auto industry has made decent profits all these years, so I am sure they have reserves. Pollution norms have been known to everybody, so no point in raising hue and cry about investments needed.

Any sector that is in stress always talks of alarming results of the recessionary trends in their business. Should the government give selective help to the stressed industry? Is such action fair to other sectors which are doing okay in their business? The financial stimulus can be a solution, but such money gets diverted from equally essential areas. We should not forget that high tariff on imported vehicles has helped the industry for a long time.

All the companies in the automotive sector are large organisations, and they have the wherewithal to overcome current tough times. Asking for a reduction in GST is a short-term major and is taking a myopic view of the situation. In the last couple of years, the government has been receiving feedback from business about GST. Government has already made changes for the benefit of both industry and the government. Making changes for a specific industry for a short duration is an incorrect way. The auto industry has been generating decent profit for the last few years. Some things have changed; some new variables have come into play. There are who experts can find a solution and suggest corrective actions. I am sure the industry will come out of it.

Raising the alarm, making statements like “It is the wake-up call for the Government of the day” does not solve issues. But the government help should be an exception but not a rule. There is an interesting story about General Motors and Chrysler. When they were in serious financial trouble, a decade ago, the senior executives of both companies were called to Washington DC for discussions. In the initial informal chat, they were asked if they reached Washington the previous night. The surprised executives said, “Oh, we landed only about 45 minutes back. We chartered a plane to come here.” The government official was aghast!

So where is the vendor conference this year? Italy, Las Vegas, Macau? How can you have the conference inside your factory? Cost cutting is for others. I have attended General Motors vendor conference once in Pune. It was at the Oxford club and there were at least six helicopters used by GM bosses to arrive at the venue! It is not a surprise that GM closed their shop in India.

Racism-the uncouth behaviour!

https://www.indiatoday.in/trending-news/story/conductor-asks-girl-to-get-off-train-in-new-zealand-for-abusing-indian-passenger-speaking-in-hindi-1580618-2019-08-14 

I read this disturbing news in India Today, the other day. A person of Indian origin was travelling on a train in New Zealand. He was speaking on his cell phone to someone in Hindi. A sixteen-year Caucasian girl did not like this and told him, “You go home to your country.” The incident was reported by another passenger to the lady train conductor. The lady reached that compartment. The girl was still ranting. There were arguments, but the conductor was very firm. She made the girl get down mid-way. She also said that the girl might be paying customer, but that does not give the girl a right to misbehave with other passengers. The train was held up for almost twenty minutes, but other passengers did not mind that.  

I had complex thoughts in mind. I was pleased with the approach of the conductor; at the same time, I was distraught with the behaviour of the sixteen-year. The young girl has hardly had any worldly experience, but what made her behave the way she did. In the modern world, we see a lot of immigration. People migrate for better opportunities, or for seeking political asylums. People get posted to different countries on projects for three to six years. But then I realised that there are various  “isms” in our lives since time immemorial. We have casteism; we have “colour” ism!  

The most famous incident of racism was when Mahatma Gandhi was asked to get down from the train in South Africa in 1893 from “whites only” compartment. The event made a remarkable influence on Gandhi’s thinking about racial discrimination. But it took another hundred years for apartheid to end in South Africa. The trouble with these changes is that they sometimes go to other extremes. Cricket team in South Africa must now have a certain percentage of people of colour. The result is that many white players in South Africa now retire at a young age when they see that they may never get to play for the nation and move to England to play county cricket. 

It is very similar to casteism issues in India. But all these isms are there from mythological days in Indian history. The origins of the caste system in India are shrouded, but it seems to have originated more than two thousand years ago. Under this system, which is associated with Hinduism, people were categorised by their occupations. Although originally caste depended upon a person’s work, it soon became hereditary.  

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All the points mentioned in the above slide are self-explanatory. But I was not aware of the Guild theory.  

The guild is an association of craftsmen or merchants formed for mutual aid and protection and the furtherance of their professional interests. Guilds flourished in Europe between the 11th and 16th centuries and formed an essential part of the economic and social fabric in that era. 

The details of evolutions explain to us how such practices came into existence, but the natural differentiation based on various things were used by some groups of people to their advantage. Some over a period decided that a particular group of people was better than some other groups. A specific trade was thought to be superior to other groups. You had fishmongers and ironsmiths. You had traders, and you had warriors. As time passed, some of these trades started appearing sexy! A warrior was always thought to be superior to most other people. They started looking down at other people. Many things and events were not understood by people due to lack of scientific knowledge. Some people who had better intellect started the concept of God to explain mysterious things in terms of God’s wrath. You had floods, the rain God was angry with you. You had significant fires; fire God must be appeased.  

This concept of God and religion was taken over by some smart people. They learned the written scripts and became priests. Religion and Priests created Brahmins who took the position at the top of the pecking order. They chanted hymns; they had an explanation for unexplained troubles. They were considered one rung below God. Such pecking orders became caste systems and depending on their importance,  the people earned respect 

At some stage, people also started understanding that nature has an evolutionary system. Theory of Darwin, The Survival of the Fittest, began to be recognised by humanity. In some cases, the humans became physically healthy, and in other cases, they became mentally superior.  

The classic definition of Brahmanism is the complex sacrificial religion that emerged in post-Vedic India (900 bc) under the influence of the dominant priesthood (Brahmans), an early stage in the development of Hinduism. 

But any group of people who had better intellect created progeny with even more superior humans as far as intelligence was concerned. It was well explained by Darwin’s theory. Families of warriors produced even better warriors. Families in trade had better traders in the next generation. The evolution continued.  

But worst of the thinking in evolution remained based on colour. The Gods shown in pictures always had fair skin; demons had dark skin. Male Gods were cleanshaven, but the demons had big moustaches! Scientifically, the colour of the skin was explained by the areas where humans lived. Where the Sun was harsher, the more Melanin was present under the human skin. The people living in cold climate had less Melanin as the Sun was rarely harsh. So we have Goras and KalasOn top of this, the white race became meat eaters because of the weather conditions and other circumstances. The eating habits lead to the white race becoming bigger and stronger. The white people because their colour and healthy physique were looked at as a superior race. Let us not forget that the discrimination based on colour is followed everywhere. The Dilliwalas call people from Southern states in India as “Madrasis”, as people from old Madras have been traditionally dark in colour. Ratna Rajaiah, my favourite blogger, who lives in Mysore, has written a funny take on how South Indian ladies use talcum powder to look fairer, called “Ode to Talcum”!  

https://ratnarajaiahblogs.blogspot.com/search?q=let+us+talc 

Will these “isms” ever go away? I don’t think so. After a couple of hundred years after the abolition of slavery in the USA, do you think that thinking about darkskinned people changed in the Southern States of America? In northern states in India, especially in Bihar and Bengal do you think feudalism is dead? No way! You need to go 30 km from major cities, and you would know that things have hardly changed. The hierarchies will continue based on Caste, Colour, Occupation and Religious hierarchy. Mind you, some things never change.  

I will share a story with you. Jaya had led a team of engineers more than 30 years back to the USA. There was one smart engineer who was from the state of Bihar. During training class, he would have his coffee with a loud slurping soundAfter a couple of days, at the hotel, Jaya brought this out in discussion and explained to the gentleman to avoid the noise. He immediately agreed. He said, “Madam, you know that I come from Bihar and nobody ever told us about public manners. But now that you have explained, I will immediately change. For me, coming to Pune for the job itself was like coming to the US! Now in the US, for me, it is like arriving on the Moon. How much can a person change? But I will try my best!”  

But my blog cannot be an ode, but it shows the bad aspects of our beautiful world! 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do I blog?

 

blogI will tell you why I am writing this blog. But let me start with what is a blog. A blog is a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style. 

The subject of my blog writing came up recently when we batchmates from COEP met for lunch. The current blog is my 474th blog. A friend asked me, “Hey, Pramod! What is your target for writing blogs? 500 or a thousand or what?” I told him, “Look, I never started writing the blogs with any thoughts. I started fiddling around in 2011. In the first 3 to 4 years, maybe I wrote about fifty blogs. Later on, when I was recuperating from my cancer treatment in 2014, I had time on hand. I was in retrospection mode. I realised that I had started enjoying blog writing. I have written blogs to put together thoughts that come to mind. The idea was never to have any target for the number of blogs I wanted to write. At that time, I would have been most pleased if I had reached a figure of 150.

I started getting more and more time as my professional work tapered off, and now that I am almost retired, blogging keeps me busy and interested. I discuss a subject with someone, I read somewhere, and there you are. I realised that there is a blog lurking behind any event that is happening in our beautiful, and sometimes not so beautiful world. Sometimes, it is personal; at other times, it is general. Sometimes it is about something of national or global nature. But there is no dearth of subjects. I am also lucky that I had Mr Mayekar as my English teacher in school. I have done my education till 11th grade in Marathi medium, but I started learning English from 7th grade. Mayekar sir’s encouragement made me comfortable in English. I am sure he would have been happy to read a few of my blogs. He would always say, “Written words become interesting if you put your heart in your writing.” Blogging is now my passion.  

Now the title, why do I blog? There is a reason why this question has come up. A friend from our WhatsApp group seems to be having some issues with my sharing of the blog on the group. Honestly, I do not have any problem with this, but since he is my batchmate, and known to me, I am a little worried about his questioning. I get a feeling that he has some health issues which creates his reactions that look awkward on the group. Now, some other friends from the group have been writing comments on my writing, but I feel that this friend needs to understand what a blog is and why people write a blog.  

First and foremostblogs are written for commercial purpose to make money, but many people, like me, blog for non-monetary considerations. There are many such reasons. One of them is passion. In India, the blogging culture is yet to spread as it has spread in western countries.  

At its core, writing is a form of communication. It is about recording thoughts on paper and making others think, argue and sometimes even agree with the writing. To that end, writing (just like every other form of communication that has ever existed) improves with practice. Blogging will not force you to become a better writer; it’ll just happen as you do it. And becoming a better writer holds significant benefits for the rest of your life—whether you are creating a book, a presentation, a résumé, or an anniversary card for your spouse. 

You’ll become a better thinker. Because the process of writing includes recording thoughts on paper, the blogging process encourages you to stop and think deeper. You will delve deeper into the matters of your life and the worldview that shapes them. Unfortunately, at this point, many will choose not to blog (or write at all) based on the faulty reasoning that they “have nothing to say.” But to that line of thinking, I always respond the same way, maybe you just haven’t discovered yet what you have to say. 

You’ll develop an eye for meaningful things. By necessity, blogging requires a filter. It’s simply not possible to write about every event, every thought, and every happening in your life. Instead, blogging is a never-ending process of choosing to articulate the most meaningful events and the most critical ideas; but this a personal perspectiveThe process of selecting a subject helps you develop an eye for important things. And remember that sometimes the most useful things appear to be most mundane—but you’ll see what I mean once you get started. 

Blog writing is either convergent or divergent. By convergent, it means that the subject is vast to start with, but in the end, the discussion narrows down to a tiny part of the issueBy divergent, it means that one starts with a small event like a sentence we read somewhere, and end up writing about a broad subject. A few times, you know what you are going to write in a particular blog, but many times you start writing, and vistas open up as you write!   

What are the positives of blog writing? It allows one to express the passion for one’s thinking. I have written a few blogs about how I handled my cancer treatment. If these blogs have helped to make a difference in the life of a few people, I will be delighted. My blogs bring me in touch with new people and old friends. Many times, there is an intellectual interaction. I can share my knowledge; I have had all my career in the Automotive field. I can share my experience and explain what is expected in future in the automotive field, with others. I come in touch with like-minded people. Consistent blogging helps me improve my writing skills. An essential aspect of blogging is it improves my knowledge. In my recent blog about article 370, my knowledge on the subject was not much. I researched and understood a lot of things on the subject. 

There are many commercial advantages of blogging like an improved business, networking etc. But for me, it is of no use as I don’t blog for those reasons.  

Last but not least, blogging has now become a passion for me. It is an addiction; it is my alcohol, and it is my cigarette. I never look for any subject or topic for writing a blog. But when I read books, or newspapers something clicks within. When I watch TV, some words or sentences hit me, and my mind starts whirring. It settles down only when I put my thoughts on paper! Somehow, I can find time even during my travels, but work-wise now I am pretty much relaxed. 

My friends, I am not looking for numbers, nor have I any target! I will keep on writing until I enjoy it. Famous cartoonist R K Laxman used to publish a cartoon every day in times of India, “You Said It”! He was once asked, “How can you do this day in and day out for so many years?” He said, “There is no dearth of “cartoons” in this world, so it is quite simple.” In the same vein for me, there are so many things happening the world over; my problem sometimes is that some blogs remain pending for days together, like this blog!  

 

 

A friend in Need!

friendship4

A friend in need is a friend, indeed! If I have friends like you, I don’t need enemies are some of the famous sayings about friends. But you will be surprised to know that in the hierarchy of our life, friends are low down! Don’t be surprised; let me explain. Romantic partners, parents and children come before friends. It is a fact of life.  

Friendships are unique relationships because unlike family relationships, we choose to enter into them. And unlike other voluntary bonds, like marriages and romantic relationships, they lack a formal structure. You wouldn’t go months without speaking to or seeing your significant other (longdistance relationships are rarely successful), but you might go that long without contacting a friend. 

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What are friends for in life? Somebody to talk to, somebody to depend on and somebody to enjoy togetherThe expectations of friends remain throughout life. 

The voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life’s whims in a way, a more formal relationship isn’t. In adulthood, as people grow up and go away, friendships are the relationships most likely to take a hit. You’re stuck with your family, and you’ll prioritise your spouse. But where once you could run over to your friend’s house at a moment’s notice and see if he could come out to play badminton, now you have to ask him if he has a couple of hours for a cup of coffee. Life changes, friends get lesser priority. The most important thing about friendship is you can get into and get out of it too! You become friends because you want to become friends. Your family, you cannot choose!  

We start making friends right from our childhood! But at that age, your world is so limited, your friends are chosen from the small group of kids around you where you live, where you go to school or where you are taken to a swimming lesson. If you are lucky, you might keep in touch with them throughout your life. I am fortunate that I am in contact with three of them, on and off! I got in touch with a friend again 45 years after graduation. God is great!  

As you go to high school and college, you become a bit mature and sometimes even wiser. You become more selective about who your friends should be.  

But, in adolescence, people are more mouldableYou will hide your favourite Tshirt at the bottom of the drawer because your friend said that it is not hip enough. The world may never know. By young adulthood, people are usually a little more secure in themselves, more likely to seek out friends who share their values on the important things and yes don’t hide that T-shirt because the friend said so! 

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There is a vast difference in your friends from your school time and your friends from your professional college days. School friends come from a varied background, but those from professional college have more homogeneous intellect. In this phase, our approach becomes more refined, and we make new friendships or continue with old ones based on specific criteria. Yes, you may have learned to smoke and take your alcohol with them. But you also tend to cut off with a few with friends who indulge in too much of binging. In our younger days, Jaya and I were the first to get married in our group, and Sachin was the first kid born in our group. Our priorities naturally started changing, and we ended up getting away from a group of very close friends who indulged in late-night alcoholinduced chats. The status has not much changed because certain closeness snapped during that period.  

In today’s time of WA and FB, we are all lucky to meet old longlost friends. But it so happens that after the first few meetings with school time friends, you realise that you do not have many things common now! But in case of your friends from Professional course, you find common things experienced by all during their careers. When Jaya started meeting her school friends, she was heading Nvidia operations in Pune. These friends wanted to meet for lunch on a particular day. One of them called her at 11 am and asked Jaya to join for lunch. Jaya was in a meeting but took the call as the friend was a dear one. She regretted the invite and told the friend that she would call later. When they met face to face, sometime later, her friends asked Jaya why she did not put in an application for a half a day of leave. Jaya smiled and said, “I did put an application (to herself )  but the leave was not sanctioned!”  

Friendships continue for people who attend colleges, but those who don’t go college have other responsibilities to tackle and are less available. The friendship saga continues till you complete education, but the scenario changes as people start moving out to different cities, states and nations for their jobs. Even if the friends are in the same townthe meeting of friends becomes difficult as time is at a premium. Weekends automatically become busy for day to day chores, which could not be handled during the week.  

When you get married, the friends group is a significant group during the festivities. But this closeness tapers off very fast after marriage; many don’t know what hit them. Family and spouse take precedence over everything else.  

As people enter middle age, they tend to have more demands on their time, many of them more pressing than friendship. After all, it’s easier to put off catching up with a friend than it is to skip your kid’s play or an important business trip. The concept of people’s expectations for friendship is always in tension with the reality of their lives. 

The time is spentmainly, into jobs and families. Not everyone gets married or has kids, of course, but even those who stay single are likely to see their friendships affected by others’ couplings. It is funny that people do not realise that the wedding is the last real get-together with friends. After that, time available goes down the hill 

As people move through life, they make and keep friends in different ways. Some are independent; they make friends wherever they go and may have more friendly acquaintances than deep friendships. Others are discerning, meaning they have a few best friends they stay close with over the years, but the deep investment means that the loss of one of those friends would be devastating. The most flexible are the acquisitive—people who stay in touch with old friends but continue to make new ones as they move through the world. 

That my friends is life, but for my generation, it is a bit too late to make any changesWe can always look back and see how we took the journey of friendship throughout our life! Just pick up the phone and call that friend whom you have not contacted for a long, long time!  

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While we were in hostels, there was a word मिठी! Friends would hug and say this word, which means the Hug! So, a BIIIIIIIG मिठी to all my friends!  

What are friends for in life? I have already said this above – Somebody to talk to, somebody to depend on and somebody to enjoy together. Let me add something. Yes, somebody to shed tear on his or her shoulder when needed!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article 370! Common Man’s View!

On 5th August 2019, President Ram Nath Kovind issued a constitutional order revoking the 1954 order, and making all the provisions of the Indian constitution applicable to Jammu and Kashmir void. Following the resolutions passed in both the Houses of Parliament, he issued a further order on 6th  August declaring all the clauses of Article 370 to be inoperative.  

To me, as a layman, 15th August 1947, 26th January 1950 and 5th August 2019 are the dates of equal importance. My thoughts are without any political views and prejudices. Who did it? Which party took the decision, to me is immaterial. I have been reading about the situation in Kashmir since childhood. As the world in my youth, the people who were involved in the issue were naïve. The naivety kept the problems below the boiling point most of the times. Except for a few serious incidents, nothing major happened, till 1989. The situation started changing after the 1971 war with Pakistan. Ninety thousand plus Pakistani soldiers surrendered to the Indian army in Bangla Desh 

It was the first golden opportunity for a strong leader Indira Gandhi to repeal article 370. She could have done this change in exchange for the return of POW’s. But in those days, India’s finances were not very strong. India’s stature in the global arena was not very high. It is said that Nehru followed the doctrine of NAM (non-alignment movement) by remaining out of groups formed by the USA or Russia. The analysts of those times said that this was done to win Nobel Prize for peace! But post-1965 and 1971 wars, India realised the folly of NAM and joined hands with Russia. The fall of the Russian Empire later led to India slowly switching over to the American group. The last twenty years has made India economically powerful. Adding to this, India got a strong leadership in the form of Mr Modi.  

Countries world over started looking at India as a stable country (though it was accepted reluctantly by some countries). While these changes were happening, our friends Pakistan went in reverse gear. Their leadership had only one agenda that is how to trouble India. They started with supporting the Khalistan movement. India handled the situation assiduously. International relations with other countries were handled with great aplomb. The world supported India in handling the Khalistan issue. Under the leadership of Director General K P S Gill India crushed the Khalistan movement in Punjab. 

Whenever the infiltrations happened or terrorists attackedit was being discussed until 4th August, as terrorists attacked so and so place in Jammu and Kashmir. (Some even wrote Indian occupied Kashmir) The narration always talked of Kashmir. But friends, from 5th August the narrative will be terrorists attacked so and so place in the Indian state of Kashmir! Now the attack will be on India and not on disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. The article 370 helped some nations to always refer to the region “disputed region of Kashmir”. The narrative has now changed for good; incidents, if any, will be in the Indian state of Kashmir! The events of 5th August are game-changing events. 

There could be different views about the Indian government’s action on article 370.  Some people feel that the procedures followed were incorrect.  Others think that the move may not stand the legalities in the court of law. Some are discussing the illegality of the action itself. In today’s world, anything and everything is challenged by differing opinions and views. It is because each individual, each organisation or each country needs to decide what is right for them. Perspectives in the international arena are many a time diagonally opposite to each other’s views. Why India delayed this decision for 70  years is anybody’s guess. But I felt that India needed leader with total clarity about world affairs to take such a bold decision. The resounding victory in recently held elections helped the matter for the current government. Though there was no majority in Rajya Sabha, the bill was first introduced there. Modi-Shah had absolute clarity that this step would be supported by even opposition parties, barring a few. 

There is an attack on freedom of the press, and people’s voices are muzzled; opinion of people of Jammu and Kashmir was not taken on the matter. These comments are genuine if taken out context. The context is when 5th August dawned, the people making such comments had forgotten the previous 70 years. What had the article 370 achieved for Kashmiris?

Three main achievements of article 370 were that it helped Pakistan to create vicious separatist atmosphere and continuously send terrorists in India. It created a situation where religious cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits was done systematically. It forced India to keep a large number of armed forces permanently, leading to some coercive actions from them. From 5th August onward, point 1 and 2 will change for better  but 3 might become worse before tapering off.

It was used more cunningly by Pakistan by continuing with proxy war when they could. Another issue with the Kashmir problem is hyphenation. It was always said to be Jammu-Kashmir issue. But the issue was more about four or five districts in Kashmir valley rather than in Jammu or other parts of Kashmir. Another point was Ladakh also came to be dragged because of the geography of that area.  

The central government was transferring a huge sums to Jammu-Kashmir area every year. Kashmir always got the lion’s share because it cried loudly. People from Jammu had to fight for the development money but managed to get it as their population was substantial. Area of Ladakh is enormous, but since it has a small population, it always lost on funds. Ladakh’s MP Namgyal put this point succinctly during his recent speech in Lok Sabha when the discussion on article 370 took place. Declaring Ladakh as a separate Union Territory was well thought of act.  

All said and done, will this be a smooth ride? No, it will not be a smooth ride. How people will react to this action only time can tell. The Indian government was managing the issue for 70 years within certain limitations. Now it can use the carrot and stick policy which could be under more control. There are such regions all over the world. The Kashmir issue was born due to the actions taken by the British rulers when they were forced to leave India. When something did not work for seventy years, it was time to at least try something different. I am sure the concerned people have come up with a well thought of policy. There must be plan B and plan C if plan A fails. But these will be under controlled conditions unless Pakistan opts for a nuclear option in desperation.  

I have some thoughts about experts on these issues. For such an important issue, why some of them grind their axe with the current government? Why do they discuss such issues with prejudice? If they are totally against the action of the government, it is perfectly okay. They can write the reasons and argue why they are against this. There is no need for rhetoric and diatribe. India is a democracy, and all of us can write our views. Is such rhetorical reporting going to help anyone other than Pakistan? What Pakistan does is, from such speeches and articles, they pick up some parts out of context and try to show the world that even Indian media is against the action. 

I saw one video where NSA Mr Ajit Doval is asking a young Kashmiri boy, “Are people in Kashmir happy?” Next to him was an old man who says, “Is anyone happy in Kashmir?” The irony of this video is that Mr Doval is protected by Z level security! One thing it proves is that this is not a doctored video! Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh are work in progress! How long? Only time and God can tell.  

 

 

The mind games!

We all talk of mind, but I was thinking about what the mind isThe mind is the element of a person that enables him to be aware of the world and the experiences, to remember, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought. The word mind, however, can be used in many ways. First is let me mind my own business. My husband will mind the children while I go to the parlour. Oh! He has a keen mind! That writer’s name slips my mind. He was one of the greatest minds of his time. I expect all the students to put their mind on the project they are handling. I don’t mind saying that I have some apprehension.  

The examples could go on and on, but let me put my mind to do what I am trying to do in the first place.  

When I wanted to write on this subject, I started pondering and was thinking carefully. Wherefrom do the thoughts come? How does the three-pound mass of grey matter that is my brain give rise to the felt experience of sensations and thoughts? It sometimes seems virtually inconceivable that the simple thought processes could give rise to the valuable thoughts of consciousness.  It can be called the MindBody problem. 

If we can separate the mind from consciousness, we can get a better perspective. What is the relationship between mind and consciousness?  To see how we can consider the separation of the information from the actual nervous system itself, think of a book. The book’s mass, its temperature, and other physical dimensions can be considered as roughly akin to the brain. Then think about the information content (i.e., the story the book tells or claims it makes). The consciousness is the information created in and processed by the nervous system. 

To me, if you want to understand something, you need to build it your self for example, the book. You can create, print and bind the book. But can you not create print and build information in the book! No, you can’t!  

Consider RSS as an organisation. Forget about its political affiliations. The organisation has been existing for several decades and works with utmost discipline. Whenever there is calamity anywhere in India, their volunteers rush to that location, leaving aside whatever they are doing in their routine life. RSS supports them on logistics aspects, but these volunteers always put their mind above everything else and just travel where their help is needed. These people are like you and me. But they have trained themselves, or their organisation has taught them to overcome the day to day hurdles for supporting people in distress. Their mind and body are very similar to all others, but the mind processes their consciousness differently. 

Today we had our half-yearly get-together of COEP batch mates. I have observed over the period that people’s thinking changes, maybe with age. We have this lunch and annual get-together every year. July/ August half-yearly and Jan/Feb yearly get-together. Since we are all in the seventies, I can understand the difficulties faced by friends during night driving. Hence, we usually have lunch. Whenever we fix the venue, there is a discussion! Oh, it’s so far! My question is so far from what? For annual function, people living in foreign countries try to adjust their travels in such a way that they can attend. Others travel from Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai. People come from Nasik and Goa. But sometimes those in  Pune are unhappy with the distance of the venue. People’s enthusiasm reduces with time due to ill health or many times as their mind behaves in such a way that they don’t feel the urge to meet old friends.  

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Two of them, Ravi and Nitin, showed exceptional urge and keenness to join the festivities yesterday. They had prior commitments in Mumbai and Pune. But at the last moment, both realised that they were getting free of their obligations. Both immediately called me and said, “Hey, Pramod! I am telling you at the last moment, but I hope it is ok if I join!” I said, “Buddy, of course, you are welcome!” They both had the urge to meet old friends. They made it, and all of us were very happyFrom the “Oh! It’s so far gang”, one of them lived only a couple of km from the venue. I reminded him a couple of times. He said that he would confirm and did not make it.  He had never talked about prior commitments.

At this stage in life, nobody is seriously busy. Why people refrain from attending such functions is a big mystery to meIn a strange incident, last year, a friend did not join the annual function but came to pick up another friend at the end of the function! I know what he was doing before on that day. To memeeting with friends always overrides any other social commitmentBut that probably is life!  

Is it that the more evolved human brain plays part in mind games? Other species with the less developed brain may not make different decisions for the same situation, at different times, depending on the state of mind at that juncture. The state of mind, at any stage, could be a function of current circumstances, recent experiences, which could include health or family circumstances.  

Let me share with you my personal experience. At the end of 2013, I had undergone treatment for cancer. It included immunotherapy and 34 sittings of radiations. I am lucky to be the way I am made. Carcinoma did not put me in a negative frame of mind. Not that I was enjoying the treatment, but my mind had accepted it as a fact of life, and I moved on. Since my treatment was in the throat area, I had restrictions on speaking. In those days, when friends came to meet me, they would pull my leg by saying that finally, something made Pramod stop talking all the time. I could laugh with them on the joke. The councillor at the Ruby Hall clinic told me during the discussion that I may not need any counselling as I was in a positive frame of mind. Why was my mind positive? I do not know.  

I was talking of extremcircumstances like cancer treatment. But why do people have negativity in routine life? Why people avoid meeting friends? Some friends live right opposite restaurants where we meet for our monthly breakfast. But these people do not come and join the fun in spite of repeated requests. 

Friends do you have any suggestion on how to encourage such people? Not everybody is expected to attend every meeting, but why not attend once in six months?  I don’t know; I don’t have an answer. When we have no answer, blame it on DNA!