Thursday, 25 December 2008

AARU THE BARBER

My first visit to a barber, as far as I can remember, was around the age of 6 years. Not that I had my first haircut then, but because prior to that the barbers used to come to our home. Not our home really, but our ancestral home. Since all my cousins were scared of a haircut, they used to bawl out (I dont remember my being scared though) on the sight of a barber. The only person who could possibly create a conducive atmosphere in us for a haricut was our grand father. I dont know how he did it, but he inspired courage and confidence in us.
The barber was 'Aaru'. The name probabaly was a short form of the Tamil name Arumugam - Iam guessing I guess. Aaru would be pre-informed of our arrival at the ancestral house and he was sort of hijacked out of his road side saloon by my uncle, on our arrival. Some half cut heads and lathered up chins were left in the care of his assistants.
Aaru himself was a perfectly groomed guy. Not even a hint of stubble and a smiling face. He too considered the hijack a pleasurable one, for the free ride he got on my uncles scooter (A Lambretta which is still in running condition). The pay for the mass haircuts at our place was not bad either.
By the time Aaru and Uncle vroomed in, all arrangements would have been made. We would have been given a lovely briefing on the beauty of a haricut and we would almost be looking forward to having one. My uncle too enjoyed the scene. Either because he was slowly going bald and hence he had a sadistic pleasure in seeing people loosing hair or because he didnt like to be evicted from his room and looked upon our hair loss as a revenge.
Ah! thats another part. After sending him on the mission of trapping Aaru, grand father would immediately set himelf upon converting Uncle's room, overlooking the front garden, in to a saloon. Thus our hair growth was sort of a timer for Uncle's temporary loss of residence. Hence when ever he visited us, he casually guaged, the thickness and length of our hair by running his hand through our hair.
Aaru went snip snip snip, while we sat on grandfather's lap one by one, he himself being seated on his massive leather upholstered chair. The recitals of stories to us and the discussions on local happenings with Aaru went side by side. Uncle fidgetted a twenty feet away, while seemingly cleaning the spark plug of the lambretta.
With all heads cleaned and ready for a bath, Aaru wound up his work to start a sumptuous tiffin along with piping tea. Before he left he would have been secretly and handsomely rewarded for his neat job. The exact denomination of exchange though a secret, it brought pleasure on both faces, the giver and taker. Both the service provider and the customer were happy.
As I grew up, I lost touch with this 'captive form of hairstyling' and I lost my grand father too when I was around nine years. But Aaru is still around but with poor eye sight and a weather beaten appearance, somewhat like the relics of Mohenjodaro and Harappa. His lieutenants have fully taken over the saloon - a much refurbished one now and flanked by a Reliance fresh store. The remuneration is no longer a secret - people pay as per the tariff list and strictly no house visits. The road infront of his saloon has widened and the volvos, fords and Hyundais passing by are not few. Aaru's son manages the daily collection ,material supply and recruitment at the saloon along with the realty brokerage firm that he runs. I dont know if he knows hair styling but he certainly has inherited the smile and the stubble free perfect grooming.
As for Aaru he sits till early afternoon on the porch of his shop with a welcoming smile. A symbolic 'father of the shop' kind of a thing.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

A LITTLE BLAH BLAH FROM ME TOO

With lots of celebrated column writers/reporters and the 'learned blah blah' emanating from them on the recent "Mumbai Siege" , my opinion does not matter. Still, I can use the current celebrity overcast sky to, add a few drops from my side too - unnoticed.
First and formost, lets get a clear picture of ouselves. We are Indians. We were sitting ducks. We are and we will be. Having got our basics right, let us not be in a hurry to put things right.
Nothing is going to change.
Our endeavour hence shall be to take a stroll along the "Mumbai Siege" , making some unhurried and leisurely observations, here and there, and to enjoy ourselves while we happen to be still alive.
TERRORISTS
Any well trained soldier/personnel ( eg:NSG Commandos) can do the things that the terrorists did. Infact You and I can do it with the right kind of engineering of our psyches (to turn us into psychos), the physique anyhow may not matter as we will be heavily armed and also since we will be dying eventually. Stealth, political /logistic backing, wickedness, irresponsibility, a head strong ideology (right or wrong) and a long list of the so called "bad things" in this world shall add to the armoury. With the "nothing to lose" and "aggrieved" feelings to boot, the modern terrorist is made . They had all these and more.
"Brave?"
"Yes in a way".
(Iam not in that band wagon who celebrate Chatrapathi Sivaji's violence and denounce that of the others. I also dont fall into that group which sings praises of Gandhiji's non-violence while wanting to attack Pakistan, though the second one rather appeals to me much. To sum it up, I dont know which group I fall into.)
Anyway, Yes they were brave - in a way. Brave in a blind way rather.
But they never wanted to opt(did they have an option?) out of the mission for all the biriyanis they might have been able eat if otherwise. The food, foreigners and freedom at the Leoplod cafe never swayed them. They never wanted to spent their time with their near and dear ones (may be they lost them) They never hesitated to give up their lives even after experiencing the 'goodie goodies' of our society. They were already free of the pleasures of life.
Their holding out to 200 or more NSG commandos for around 60 hours must certainly have given atleast some of us a feeling of awe. They also had the 'first mover' advantage and got the 'early bird prize' of taking many lives while giving up their own. They sacrificed their lives for a cause, though may be a wrong one.
I particulary like the 'sacrifice and freedom' part of their story. They were free men even before their death. Also, most importantly I appreciate all these because I was never a victim. (why "victim" only? - because, I could never have been a "hostage" as Taj and Trident are too far away from my society permitted style of living. Not that I will not go there if permitted and at CST all of them died ). My being far removed from being a hostage or a victim, allows me to take conceptual (arm chair philosophy) positions on the terrorist episode, the intellectaul that Iam.
We the Indians
We blundered as usual. But the blunder has not just burnt our asses but pierced our hearts. When the hundreds kept on being gunned down every now and then, it was just news for us about Kashmir. We along with our politicians washed our hands off by habitually condemning such incidents and then moving on to the latest test match scores. The local trains were waiting for us to take us to work and our family was there to recieve us back at home.
Bullets and death matter now afterall we may not reach our local trains at all in the evening. We may not be safe inside a posh south mumbai restaurant too. It matters now. Demonstrations and candle lights apart , we are truly 'shaken'(with a capital 'S').
What we could not achieve by way of countless dharnas, strikes or the different types of bandhs has been achieved. The entire administration is shaken up in a span of a few hours. We gained a lot but at an inconsolable loss.
Life can be quite deceiving. "200 gunned down in Rampur, UP" would have got less attention than "25 year old raped 5 times". But Taj, Oberoi (may not be CST) and the direct telecast kept our pulses racing. Why go for 20-20? The celebrated reporters working without sleep, probably were getting turned on secretly by the gory details of the unfolding story. Their husky - loud voices meant nothing else.
Two home ministers and a chief minister steps down. A few other ministers and dignitaries are in big time trouble. What with a few ministers resigning after every blast, you and I may get a chance - if we survive till then that is. But every place is not Mumbai. Not every man goes to the Taj.
Iam not grudging the attention Mumbai is getting. But I use it to emphasise the fact that we ignore a danger until it is right beside us. Had we taken an aggressive posture when J&K was attacked, the cancer would never have spread to Rajasthan and Bangalore. If we countered atleast then, the Taj and the Oberoi would still be standing in all their glory. All the good men,dead now, could still have been enjoying their life. We murdered all of them, right from Kashmir to Mumbai.
GOING FORWARD
I strongly still believe that we may not attack Pakistan in any manner i.e until they declare war officially and hence we have no other go. But lets examine the so called options.
Option1) We attack them now. Officially war. We lose a lot and they lose less as they are less developed. Nifty will go to 1000 levels. Economy plunges. Chidambaram may leave home ministry and come back to economics. Thats good or bad for the Nifty? I dont know. A lot many people / soldiers will die than when anti terrorist measures are initiated. Civilian Zardari may be eliminated and Zia type general may take over - bad for us. Also half way through, the war may have to be called off due to pressures and we may be left with several unfinished agenda. A lot of POK like problems and a seething- revenge seeking neighbour with an army dictator at the helm may be the result.
Option 2) We learn from the attacks, stregthen our defences. Keep growing economically. But how far can we protect when some one is bent upon destroying us and sends trained suicidal teams to ruin everything in sight? We keep trying no matter what happens.
Option 3) We not only strengthen our defences but keep needling Pakistan by covert operations to wipe out terrorist camps inside pakistan, strike at Dawood inside Pakistan, carry out other strikes on random targets deep inside Pakistan naming them as terrorist hide outs, start occassional border skirmishes to draw the pakistan army from the western front ot their eastern front thus allowing Taliban to infiltrate into pakistan and thus heightening chaos and ruining their country. The ways are many. We too give them economic losses and most importatly head aches.No full fledged war.Use international clout to avoid it. Our economic losses are limited, we keep progressing on the economic front. Human losses are limited.
Actively train willing Indian terrorists/ er.. volunteers rather, to go head hunting among Pakistani citizens - develop a sort of Indian fidayeen (at the expense of global opinion, but then we have to educate the globe). See, needling is very important as they should also wish for peace. Only then peace can occur. Now its only we who want peace.
Are there any more oprtions? I dont know. May be we could talk to South Korea who will inturn attack Northern Peru, which will lead to Chechen unrest and then the Mongols will march to Pakistan and pulverise them.
Unless it can be managed that way, Iam afraid, we may have to take some harsh measures and do some hard work. If we start now atleast, we may gift ourselves a position of all round victory later on and if not we may ultimately be left fighting a lost war.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

A SUBTLE INDIAN SUBPRIME?

The skeletons from the cupboard marked “ sub-prime “ are tumbling out thick and fast. How many are still left is a question, to which even Barrack Obama would prefer to remain silent. Every morning brings with it the crunch faced by a Bank, Insurance Company or a Fund. The crunch some how, with sickening regularity, converts in to a write down before a bankruptcy filing. The “BIG” the “SMALL” are all the same. After all whats in a name? The only thing that seems to matter is a bail out which itself now has become selective and difficult to come by.

It all seems to have begun with the, ‘madness-on-hindsight-multi-layered leveraging’ created out of the housing mortgage market in the US, which at that time was booming. Ultimately as the housing collapse occurred the defaults at different levels made us aware that it was a bubble that had existed then and that it has given us busted feeling now.

The Global Sub-Prime and India

The first waves of sub-prime hit us in the form of FII withdrawal from the Indian equity markets with the simultaneous mad rush for the USD. The whispers about US banking failures appeared distant. We brushed the concern away with our belief in the resilience of the Indian economy and waited for the FIIs to return back, and aggressively too. Infact we still are hopeful of the ‘pull back’ as evident from the fact that the RBI in its policy review in October 2008 has only marginally lowered our GDP growth rate from 8% to between 7.5% to 8.00%.

As the sub-prime keeps unfolding we need to examine and estimate the impact it might have, on our banking and financial systems and the economy, on a continuous basis. Keeping in mind that it was a housing slow down that had triggered the sub-prime crisis it might be interesting and worthwhile to visualize possible heightened default scenario in the Indian housing finance market as well.

The Indian Housing Finance Market

The Indian Housing finance has had a phenomenal growth during the 21st century. From being around 3.5% of the GDP in 2001 it has grown to almost 8.5% to 9.00% of the GDP in 2007. The fact that the GDP itself has grown through these years accentuates the housing finance growth.

The aggressive lending of the Banks in the housing sector is evident from the quantum jump between 2001 and 2005 . A dissection of the retail portfolio of banks also helps in clarifying the position further.
As on 24th November 2008 (as quoted from RBI publications) the advances of scheduled commercial banks stood at around 26.15 lac crores.
Assuming a slightly higher proportion of 15% in 2008 (higher than 12.18% as in 2005) of housing loans in the total advances, the housing loans outstanding in the system accounts for around 4.00 lac crores currently, all repayments etc put together and adjusted for.

The subtle bubble

The housing loan outstanding has grown by around 300% from 1.35 lac crores in 2005 to reach an outstanding figure of 4.00 lac crores (as estimated above) in 2008. It may also be safe to assume that the real estate prices across the country and across different segments have appreciated by around 40% to 50% between the periods of 2005 to 2008.

With the boom going bust now, it may be expected that the real estate prices across the country are likely to correct downwards by around 25%-40% in the course of time. Of the 4.00 lac crores advanced by banks for housing loans, the margins may vary between 10% to 25% across banks and schemes. A margin of 15% can be assumed on an average.

It means that when the property prices corrects by around, say 30%, the original margins on the loans will shrink, not withstanding the fact that a part of the loan might already have been repaid. There might be cases, and may be a majority of them, wherein over financing can emerge.
Literally banks might end up having financed more than what the property actually costs now. Especially so in case where ballooning repayments have been sanctioned. Though the accounts are not technically classified as NPA as the repayments may happen regularly, on closer examination it may be seen that the shrinking value of the property in fact substitutes the effects of faulty repayment. This again gives rise to the fact that the dip in realty prices will give rise to unrecognized risks in the balance sheet for which provisions have not been made. A recognition of the same may result in a higher NPA. These are over and above the actual defaults in repayments, which might occur due to the melt down in the economy. These effects are perceived even currently, as an under current, as is evident for the fact that banks are demanding higher margins as also insisting that the only 45-50% of the take home pay can be considered for repayment currently as against 60-70% earlier. However the realty melt down crisis is not yet recognized at a policy level especially with regard to loans already disbursed where the effect are in a more subtle way.

What ought the banks be doing?

Banks are required to do periodical valuation of the mortgaged properties to ensure that proper security is available for the advances granted. Different banks may have different norms and different frequency of inspection and valuation. Considering the sudden melt down in the property prices it might be advisable for the bankers to do more frequent valuations of the property so as to realistically reflect the market prices on their appraisal forms.

The question however remains as to what to be done in case over valuations are identified. Do we raise the installments thus heightening the probability of default? Or do we reschedule by extending the period of repayment?

Also most importantly, should the banks be asked to recognize the uncovered portion of the housing loans and be asked to make a blanket provision for the excess financing in the housing sector? Remember even a 5% provision on the 4.00 lac crore outstanding will be Rs.20000 crore which is enough to wipe out the combined profits of many an Indian bank put together. Or are they to give the over-financing part a miss, thus allowing the over valued properties to continue in their balance sheets until they are bust by a bubble?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Their SARAH and our SORRY state

It was the craning neck of my co-passenger, as usual, that drew my attention to it. He had started leaning heavily against me, wanting to have a glimpse of that tactically placed titillating photo . I glanced up from the news columns at the bottom, trying to trace his line of vision.

"Strip show on Sarah palin" the news paper said.

The adjoining photo ensured a fair amount of eye ball time, as proven by my neighbours eyes still clinging onto it unblinkingly.

After making sure I missed nothing that was visible, and after the 'automated-imagery-based-expose-whats-covered' method, I moved on to the text part.

A strip club called "Club paradise" in Las Vegas, which was just across the seeminlgy hugely popular joint "Hard rock", was hosting a "Sarah Palin look alike contest" - the news paper said. The steamy photo alongside showed some scantily clad models lined up. The winner of the contest was also promised a $10000 package including a trip to Washington D.C for the January 2009 inauguration of the next presidential tenure.

Though certainly a good 'warm-up' reading on an early morning train ride, somehow it took me on a different train of thought.
The winner of the contest.

Sarah, an American Vice- presidential candidate who belongs to one of the two major political schools, on one side. A little known, sleazy, strip club in a particular state in the country, on the other.
I scoured the news papers carefully as also the internet for the next few days for any semblence of protest or a clamp down on the strip club by the authorities. None came forth. The strip club went ahead with their contest and declared the winner. Whats more, there were plenty of contestants willing to sex-up the election mood.
Surely the Republicans were not waiting outside the strip club to gang-rape the participants. Nor did they gather in mobs to burn down instruments of public transport.
The Alaskans (of which state Sarah palin is the Governor) never threatend to step down from the present government nor did they employ the currently hugely popular method - 'threaten to withdraw but maintain outside support'. The Alaskan regionalistic passions were never whipped up in an attempt to protect their daughter's dignity- or whatever. The political mileage theorem was never applied.
No cultural values were infringed nor were the traditions thrown to the winds. Whatever the strip club was trying to do, it remained a strip club. It never made an explosive entry into the corridors of American legislative power houses. The senators brains there were not clouded over by their libidos unlike in our place where the cultural values and ethos mostly revolve around the groin.
Macain was not ashamed, nor was Palin's modesty outraged. They went about their jobs of campaigning for the American presidential elections with the same intensity. No apologies were demanded , neither from the contestants of the strip show nor from the club. There was never a mention of any defamation suit.
The women's lib movements, normally very vigilant - remained silent. The 'Medha patkars and Arundhati Roys' of America probabaly saw the seriousness of the American election and chose to look away from the strip show , focussing at more important issues. The Obsessive - Compulsive Disorder (OCD) of 'protest at everything' , was conspicuously absent.
The liberty equality and freedom enshrined in our constitution, remain in those yellowish crumbling moth eaten pages of our constitution- rightly put to rest by us to make that constitutional "Rajghat" enabling our high profile, big mouthed and hollow rituals.
The Americans probably are at fault for keeping the liberty envisioned in their constituion, truly instilled in the hearts of the population rather than being inscribed in some tomes lying in those dusty corners. They are at fault surely, for we are culturally and traditionally much ahead of them.
As an after thought I wonder - How many Sarah palins, look alike or not, would have got raped? How many of our brothren would have been murdered?
Thank God. For he knows well, what contests to be held where.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

THE PHARAONIC TRIP

Easiness or simply my laziness in firing my imagination, prompts me to attempt a travelogue now.
The latest of my trips, of any significance, was to The Land of Pharoas - Egypt
After a few hours of stop over at Muscat I was scheduled to reach Cairo. The break fast menu, on board the airline,being nothing extraordinary, I just gobbled it up and initiated the standard procedures for catching up on my sleep.

OMAN AIR
By around 10 a.m I was in Muscat the Omani Capital. A stroll through the arrival and a climb up the stairs (or escalators - choice available) brought me to the small waiting lounge for the passengers. Traffic was thin, probably being early morning. The overall feel was of a small hotel with its mosaic, glazed tiles, glittering lights and all. Early in the path of human material progression, I should say.

In a corner was the money changer , manned by a tough looking guy who I guess would not have minded bashing you up, incase you happened to pay a lower exchange by mistake. Strangely even after spending some 2-3 hours in the lounge I couldnt find anyone exchanging any currency there. The Omani Riyal I noticed was quoating some where around Rs.110/-.

Not in a mood to exchange any currency, I strolled in to the duty free. They had an assortment of things right from kids toys and chocolates to clothes and other home gadgets. But the major emphasis I felt was on liquor, cigarretes and pefumes - the goods in demand by the immigrant Indian population , returning home on holidays.

The familiar site of the traditional "Mundu" , paying for his purchases at the cash counter, caught my attention. I was thrilled to see the free flowing mundu in an alien land - commendable
ofcourse. As I glanced at up at the departure announcements, the flight to Chennai had initiated check in -probably the reason for the "Mundu" to rush off in a hurry. Intrigued I strolled up to the cashier and asked if he accepted Indian rupees, since that and the USD were the two curriencies I was carrying. He assured me that both were accepted at the duty free, as also in most places in Muscat . No wonder our currency exchanger was swatting flies.

I strolled across to the large french windows that lined the hall. I gazed through them, over the wide expanse of sand and the quiet runway and hangars. SomehowI got the feeling of a country, laid back, easy going - a country, recent in origin, short on history and long on money.

Talking of heritage, I did see some of the artefacts of the early Omani culture, i.e. the original tribal inhabitants of Oman. These were exhibited in the "Art & Crafts shop"in the lobby. "Expensive" was the single all important word missing from the shops name plate. Pure cotton clothes - the gaudy coloured rags, were selling for thousands of Rupees. That was really a cultural shock, I should say.

The onward flight to Cairo was uneventful , except for the "thug-ess" of a stewardess who distictly gave the "dont mess with me " signal , especially to those passengers who were trying to give off a "I ve seen a lot of these" - attitude, when asked to put on the seat belts. Some of those who wished to use the wash room when the seat belt sign was on , were given a training on "libidinal control" by her and strapped on to their seats.


LAND OF PHAROAS
The smell of pyramids and an ancient culture were evident, even as I landed at Cairo International. Unlike in Oman the feel was entirely of a natural civilisation that had evolved over a period of time. The placed smelt of "HISTORY". Being winter , the chill was in the air. But the cold was pleasurable rather than being a harsh one. The Cairo International was in the process of further development/renovation as construction activity was going on. Though smaller than Mumbai International, it was colourfully painted on the outside, an attractive shade of wine red . The marble and granite in place of mosaic and glaze tiles were heartening to note.

The luxurious buses arranged by the tour operator took us through the deserts. We had to go across the city crossing the river Nile to reach our hotels where we were booked in for the trip.


As we left the airport area and entered the suburbs of the city the roads started getting congested with traffic. The slight drizzle, that had started, made the place look dirty. What really brought down my heightened holiday expectations were the innumerable unplastered, moss walled, houses and the apartment like honey comb structures, again unplastered and moss walled, that were seen at the side of the roads. I gazed in dismay, at those unfinished houses in large numbers, with muddy, sloshy lanes separating them. "Under developed", "fourth world", "slums" etc were some of the word that floated around in my mind during that melancholic feeling. Those houses had a different story to tell later.

The ride took us across the Nile in to the deserts once again, with the wide expanse of the white sand lifting up my spirits . The arrival at the hotel was the most welcome thing that could've happened to me then. Though not exactly a jet lag, slight home sickness could be felt, I have to admit. Hence after a strong tea, powered with snacks, I sank in to the fluffy double matress and under the warm blanket. The drizzle continued outside.


Lined up were the light and sound show of Pyraminds in the evening and the tent dinner at the foot hills of the pyramids.

THE TENT DINNER
The siesta continued in the bus ride to the Pyramids, until I was woken up roughly by the suddden revelry that broke out on our arrival there. The revelry was pre-arranged to welcome us, and none of the heroics that we never did , caused it. The tent was a beautiful red and quite in contrast to the white and grey sand.

As Egyptian music flowed, so did the wine and on stage was an Egyptian dance drama. The music was very rythmic and matched our Arabian thoughts. As the grand finale of the programme, was the famed Belly dance. Though show of skin does titillate, its not simply that. The dancers are rigourously groomed as in any other art form , I was told.

As I ventured a bit further in to the darkness shrouded desert, away from the tent, the dark expanse of sand in front did give an eerie thrill. The wind was very strong and cold was biting. The moon came out after a while. Still the dips in the desert were quite invisible even from a few feet away, anyone could hide there- it was trechearous. Some local arabs stopped me from going further out in to the desert, they said "distances are deceptive in the desert", which I realised after I had to walk for almost 25 minutes to reach back, trying to keep the tent in view. Iwas told that the temperature outside was around 2.0 degree centigrade.The tent was a world of warmth.













THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA

We rode up the hills , up and away from the valley. Metal detectors and a little careless frisking after, I stood beside those massive structures - the Pyramids of Giza. Three in the vicinity of one another. The Wonder -built by king "Cheops", a similar one built by his son and a much smaller one beside that. But in a few kilometers radius in the same desert , I was told that there are more than a thousand pyramids, big and small all put togather.

(The second largest on in the photo is the actual wonder and the bigger pyramid. The visibly largest is smaller and built ona higher ground.)
2,00,000 stones were used to built the Pyramid, the stones at the top weighing around 2.0 tonnes and those at the bottom weighing aound 15.0 tonnes. The stones were brought from the valley. Pulling up the stones to those heights is unimaginable just for one thing - the pulleys were yet to be invented. Sticking them togather was another issue - no cement , no concrete. Walking around the structures took me around 35 minutes. Roughly 3 kms - the base? The Pyramid was built over a period of 30 years. Not that it takes so long. Its because, the common people were involved in building it and not just the slaves. The Nile valley used to be flooded for 3 months in ayear , during which time the people of Egypt came up to built their beoved Pharoah a beautiful abode in heavens - The Pyramid. After the floods they went back to the valley, to their farms.

The pharoahs were buried, along with their treasures and things for their daily use in the after world . But the desert robbers who came later, I was told, did manage to clean up the place leaving just the structures, bereft of the treasures, for the tourists.
Intrigued by the absence of any desendants to the Pharoahs I enquired about the same.

"We are the descendants" - my guide said. Seeing the expression of disbelief on my face he ventured further- "The Pharoahs had more than hundred wives, i.e. publically acknowledged. What to say of the others. So you see..."
"I myself have 3 wives" - he said grinning. He sounded as if he is about to close the deal for acquiring one more.








The Sphinx
I dont know what makes it an awesome figure. There is something about it that draws u towards it. A sort of fearlessness, standing alone there towering above us. Folklores and stories apart - its simply magnificient. Also probabaly its the only real thing which has the face of a Pharoah. Simply put its induces a feeling of power and fear too.












The City
Taxis are all black. The city is full of vehicles but the traffic, though with jams, was more or less orderly. Around 5 million people enter Cairo every day to leave in the evening. Driving all the way into and out of the city. Petrol is aorund 1 Egytpian Pund i.e. INR 8/- around i.e around 1/5 of a US $. At the heart of the city, is the Anwar Sadat memorial - a fitting tribute to one of their modern day presidents whom the people revere.



















A place worth a special mention is the Khan-el-Khalili market which has all that Egypt has to offer to a shopping tourist. Its bustling with activity 24 x 7. All the paraphernalia, from an ancient Pharoanic civilisation - to the modern Egypt are avilable there. Right from the pharoahs war weapons to the belly dancers revealing clothes. Since Iam neither a war hero nor a belly dancer I left the market with a few 'papyrus paintings'. These are beautiful and colourful paintings on Papyrus . Again since Iam not an expert, either on papyrus nor on paintings, my judgements on the quality were based on the looks of the shops and shop keepers. Graver the face of the shop keeper- the more serious the shop keeper and hence more genuine the material. Also the richer the ambience of the shop, the better the quality.

The Nile Cruise

Nile , the longest river in the world and mother to one of the earliest civilisations in the world, supports the Egyptians even now - like a true mother. By feeding them through the tourism revenue . The Egytpians, atleast in Cairo, have constructed some palatial boats to carry the tourists along the river. The cruise lasts a few hours long, with food, drinks, and entertainment provided inhouse. Its certainly worth a ride, if not for the river, then for the lively entertainment.

The music an earthy arabian one , with the Egyptian folk art including belly dancing on display. Food quality though questionable, its an entertainment packed lively trip otherwise.

Though lively for me, the ride must have been monotonous for the artists, for day in and day out 365 days a year they do the same. But , as true proffessionals,the smile never left their face while they performed.

Back to the Pavilion
I once again lay back on the fluffy mattress at my hotel, ruminating over the past few days , gazing out the window through the smoke rising from my cigarette.

A few things came back strongly to me again and again, the Pyramids, the air thick with historical mystery and the heavy scent of tourism in their economy.

As I paid for a few things at the duty free at the airport, I enquired about some other items on the display.

After a brief look at me the man at the counter enquired - " Tourist"?

"Yes" I said

He came around the counter and in all politeness , carefully, showed me the antique pieces one by one which I had enquired about.

He , as all modern Egyptians , or atleast Cairoites, seem to have successfully turned into true tourism proffessionals.

EPILOGUE

The Pharoahs might have have flogged thousands of slaves to death while making the Pyramids. Many of his so called present day desendents and those of the slaves too, have a lot to thank those deeds of the Pharoahs for the bread they break daily.

video

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Saturday, 5 April 2008

Mad for us, Mother for him

Clothes so ragged, eyes so sullen,
Hollowed cheeks say it all,
Unkempt , the soiled hair;
Not for her, anyone to care.

Homeless, a roaming gypsy
A shame for all and to see.
Diseased and worse
The dogs life, of hers

Pass by do I, so do many;
A glance even, not from many.
Pity profuse and sympathy,
From me the man so busy.

The self and proclaimed decency;
The Righteous souls of the society.
Me and others, my fellow beings,
Not for her a place amongt us.

The pavement seat and the filth;
Hands groping, hunger or by habit ?
That tin pot and morsels of food,
Left overs from us, the kindly souls.

Smirk did my lips,
"Mad women", muttered with hiss.
"Burden" said the society,
Not for her any anxiety.

From that dark corner;
Behind the rubbish heap
Crawling and in smiles
The little one.

Rush to her, he did,
As fast as he could.
Sublime and unsupressed,
Joyous and elated.

Ragged but rich;
Filthy but loving.
Mad for us,
But mother for him.

[Bless them O'lord, where ever they are. For those two whom I saw really need that help]

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

STRANGE STATISTICS

IRAQ WAR
>Estimated deployment of 30000 troops and $30bn.
>Actual deployment of 150000 troops and approx $600 bn till now.
>The most liberals estimates of the subprime crisis expect write downs of only $300 - 400 bn.

1907 - 2008
J.Pierpont Morgan rallied the Bankers and Trust institutions in 1907 to withstand the onslaught of recession. The write downs amounted to around $18bn. By coincidence it was J.P.Morgan,the bank, that bailed out Bear stearns in 2008 March.
After a series of rescue measures in 1907 , The Federal Reserve was formed, most prudently, in 1913 as a regulator. Will we see the establishment of another, equally far reaching, institution now. A Federal Mortgage Crisis Emergency Reserve perhaps ?

Thursday, 20 March 2008

SUB PRIME MANAGEMENT

Its interesting to follow the concerted moves by the US Federal Reserve using different measures, monetary as well as the policy measures to combat the spreading sub prime problem. Its a gripping battle. Though I dont understand much of it , its gripping all the same to read about the battle thats on.

When first Ben Bernanke cut the the overnight window rate in last September (2007) it almost went unnoticed, except for the huge upswings in the Indian equity markets and some mumblings in the background about recession , slow down etc, largely it was accepted as a matter of routine monetary policy. Then followed a series of aggressive rate cuts finally resulting in a total of 3% cut in just under 6 months, which is phenomenal by any monetary policy standards.

Even till recently the desperation in the rate cuts were not understood properly, not only by the world but in the US too. This is evident from the statement by President Bush that one (read FED) should not over react.

That was before Bear Stearns caved in.

Until then subprime was yet another new topic of financial management. Reaction and over reaction was a matter of opinion.

The overnight caving in and the subsequent Fed orchestrated (and $30bn guarantee too) buy out , albeit at dirt cheap price, of Bear Stearns by JP Morgan heightened the public sensitivity to the subprime issue. Dramatically instead of cautioning against over reaction, the clamour for aggressive rate cuts was more audible. The sub prime "problem" in the public opinion had become "crisis".
The quick , clean and crisp handling of Bear Stearns issue brought to highlight the maturity of the US financial system a well as the preparedness of the US FED.

The FED was not stopping at that. They had an action plan. A plan for an onslaught on the demon of subprime crisis and also simultaneaously to spur the economy out of a possible recession. It came out with a $168 bn action plan , with a multi pronged approach and not just monetary policy measures, a part of which was used for the JP Morgan take over of Bear Stearns.
One of the recent measures the FED came up with was the capital reduction of the govt. sponsored housing companies, Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, from $30 bn to $20bn. The measure is expected to inject an additional $200bn in to the US housing loan market. The plan will assist new home buyers to take up loan (read decrease in non-saleability of US home loan foreclosure auctions) and existing home loan owners to refinance using cheaper motgagaes (read better repayment leading to better saleability of Mortgage Backed Securities).
A few other measures have been initiated as part of the package deal in combating the subprime crisis. The temporary cap on mortgages the company (Fannie & Freddie) can purchase or guaratee in high cost markets have been increased from around $0.42 mn to around $0.75 mn. Also the combined cap on mortgages for both the companies put togather which was at $1.5 trillion has been lifted.
The FED by these measures is trying to induce liquidity in the US housing loan market which has almost but dried up. The measures are not a day early, and as for the US financial institutions we all hope it may be just enough to help them start their climb back to the edge of the subprime pit.
As for the present US FED and Ben Bernanke , the evidence is out that they have emerged from the shadows of the Greenspan era and cut a path for themselves in the books of financial history.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

BEARISH STEARN?

As the story of the global subprime crisis unfolded, last week we yet again found another name to scare us. Bear Stearns the US investment Bank was the latest one to hit the head lines with it facing a sudden cash crunch due to the piling up of unsaleable mortagage backed securities. Fearing the massive possible repercussions in the US finanacial markets especially , a federal Reserve orchestrated move saw JP Morgan, Bear Stearns rival, lend cash to Bear Stearns for 28 days on a secured basis. Has it been bailed out? Is the issue put to rest once and for all?

Probabaly no. The unsaleable papers do not transform to saleable ones in a months time. Hence follow up action can be almost certain from the Fed and JP Morgan is likely to lend a helping hand yet again.

In all probability we may witness a take over of Bear Stearns by JP Morgan. Atleast it seems to be a strong possibility as the heated weekend meetings suggest between Bear Stearns, JP Morgan & JC Flowers , another US bank which may make a bid for parts of the Bear Stearns business as it does not have the where withal to take over the entire business of BS unlike JP Morgan which can.

Its attractive looking from JP Morgan side too. Bear Stearns which was trading at $160 per share last April is at $36 now. In all probability JP Morgan is likely to offer a price not more than $15 per share. What helps them further is that S&P recently down graded BS to "BBB" from "A" ,which is now just above the junk bonds. The down grading further ensured that the market may not touch BS even witha a barging pole making its operations difficult, for a while atleast. Also JP Morgan may not lend much credence to the BS book value of $80 per share. The icing on the cake might probabaly be the swanky BS buliding in New York, much liked by the JP Morgan CEO Jamie Damon, as compared to the austere surroundings at the JP Morgan building around the corner.

Probabaly those who had the hardest bump of all were the BS employees. Not that they will face retrenchment. Infact many of them will be inevitable if JP Morgan is to run the show. The bump is hard simply because they own 25% of BS and most of them have their net worths already eroded significantly. Each one of them must surely be ruing the failure to cash in on time and take early retirement and instead are sprucing up for more hard work ahead.

Yet another set of losers may be in the New york Metro area, where the Highly paid , High Net worth BS employees, including BS CEO Allan Schwartz, will be found with tighter purse strings.

Monday, 10 March 2008

NEW IS GOLD?

The price of crude having held on to its long term support of $88 per barrel, except for a brief period recently, it resumed its move toward its eventual target of $125 per barrel. Tracking the strengthening crude and a weakening USD globally (against all major currencies) gold shot into limelight and crossing $965 an ounce. Not having retraced from there it is still remaining strong.

Crude continues its march, and Ben Bernanke in all likely hood is ready for another round of rate cuts to fuel his economy, which is in the grips of a probabale stagflation.

Is it time we got out of the equity markets and entered gold atleast now? A few indicators may help us make a decision albeit a speculative one at that.

1. To insulate their economies against a dipping dollar some of the Asian countries, the Russians & other petro dollar countries converted some of their reserves into Euro. The Euro Zone saw an inflow of around 200 billion Euros in the first half of 2007.

2. Vladimir Putin has advised the Russian Central Bank to increase gold reserve portion by 10% and other countries may follow.

3. The Asian economies and Petro $ countries are sitting on $6.6 trillion of reserves. A small shift from them in to gold will have telling effect. Will the shift happen?

4. The strengthening rupee in the previous year increased the domestic demand for gold by 72% and India is the largest market for gold. Will the demand be sustained?

5. Demand from Gold ETF are on the rise, as also the demand from Middle East and China too.

6. The supply side of Gold is shrinking as also the demand, as the price rises. The Indian demand for gold fell by around 62% in the 4th quarter of 2007.

7. The global supply is also shrinking due to power problems in China & South Africa and also because the mines are yielding less.

8. Gold is unique in that, almost 90% of the mined gold is still in existence, so they can always be shifted as per the regional demands.

Will the gold move towards the eventual technical targets that some analysts are forecasting i.e from 1200 per gram to almost 4800 per gram on the back of further weakening of USD and rising crude? Or will the US economy start picking up causing strenghtening of the USD thus taking the sheen off Gold prices? Do I sell what I have and make a killing on a right sell call? OR do I accumulate further and make an almost 400% return on again a right call but on the buy side. Do i follow the herd and buy into gold or does it ring alarm bells in me that yet another crash is on its way - this time in gold markets.

Its not my wish to make decisions for u but to remind u that the decisions and also the P/L are entirely yours.