Foreign Funds in Insurance : A game changer?

March 14, 2015 Leave a comment
Insurance

Image Courtesy : Business Line

Indians always suspect investments from abroad. Why? The reason lies in our modern history. All exploiters came to India disguised as traders. Right from early European mercantilists, all foreign investors took over this resource rich country first economically and later politically. Eventually people here became paranoids. Today, we fear that FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) is akin to some evil, foreign power penetrating this country, making inroads in to our markets. Once its monopoly and hegemony is set, the evil will start influencing our political administration too.

The socialist policies pursued by successive governments of independent India must have reinforced this popular perception. Therefore, all initiatives for foreign investment in this country, even in the post liberalization period were looked upon with prejudice, suspicion and contempt. 

On the other hand, there used to be a general good will among the public about the credibility of public investment and enterprises in India, even when they were consistently under performing. Labour movements and trade unions that championed the cause of egalitarianism and social justice eulogized such romantic notions about state controlled enterprises. The Insurance sector was no exception.

Insurance – The Indian Picture:

At present, India’s insurance industry is not in any great form. Even though, in absolute terms, the last decade recorded consistent growth, the industry today face a severe sluggishness. Reasons for this sluggishness are manifold – India Inc. could not maintain its growth momentum in the past few years, costs have been rising, many an economic reform has been stalled during the second UPA (United Progressive Alliance) regime – thanks to the notorious policy paralysis, and the income distribution structure has been steadily worsening in the country.

Insurance Penetration

World over, performance of insurance business is assessed using two parameters – Penetration and Density. These two reflect the level of development of insurance sector of a country. Penetration is the value of premium (underwritten in a year) as a percentage of the GDP (Gross Domestic Produce). Where as Density is the per capita premium (i.e the ratio of premium to population)
Insurance Density
In India, during 2001 to 2010 insurance penetration has grown from 2.7% to 5.1%. Where as Density has seen a rise from $11.5 to $64.4 during the same period. It has stagnated since then due to various reasons. Insurance penetration as of 2013 is 3.96% whereas world average is 6.3% Considering the potential and scale of Indian market, this is a paltry figure. Insurance market is still dependent on government push, tax incentives and mandatory sales.  


FDI and Insurance in India:

Insurance is a Union Subject. Thus, only the Central Government is authorised to legislate on it. Before late 90s there were only two sets of players in the insurance industry in India – Life Insurers (LIC of India) and General Insurers (4 Companies – Oriental, New India, National and United India). It was during late 90s that private companies were allowed to set up insurance business. A minimum capital of Rs. 400 Crore was needed, by law, to set up an insurance company. A regulator for insurance business (IRDA – Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India) was formed in 1999. Later, foreign investment was allowed which was capped at 26% holding of Indian insurance companies.

Since 2008, raising the FDI cap in insurance sector has been pending. The then UPA government intended to hike the foreign holding in insurance joint ventures from 26% to 49%. As a consensus could not be achieved among major political parties, the idea was then indefinitely put on hold. Those days, BJP and left parties in the opposition benches, were completely against any rise in foreign cap.

However, BJP and its alliance NDA (National Democratic Alliance) recaptured power in 2014 general elections. In the run up to the elections the party had promised to bring big-ticket reforms in Indian economy. By its own words, reforms were necessary to reboot it. Now, the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill 2015 is considered a major step towards that rebooting. The Congress party, now in the opposition benches, did not block the bill on any partisan grounds. Thus, despite being a minority in the Upper House, the present NDA government is now able to get the bill passed in both houses of the Parliament. 

JAitley

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley                       Photo Courtesy : livemint.com


An estimated Rs. 20-25,000 Crore is likely to flow into Indian insurance market as foreign investment in the next few years. It must be noted that the new FDI limit is composite in nature. It includes FPI (Foreign Portfolio Investment), FII (Foreign Institutional Investment), QFI (Qualified Foreign Investment), Foreign Venture Capital Investment and Non-Resident Investment.

Noticeably, the new legislation allows global insurance companies to set up branches in India. Previously, they were merely allowed to invest in Indian partners and own branches were not allowed. It is also understood that provisions in the new bill give more powers to the industry watchdog (IRDA).

Benefits of increased FDI:

At present, Indian insurance sector has both private and public players. With more flow of FDI they would be collectively able to offer a wider range of insurance products at competitive prices to Indian customers. It facilitates newer companies to set business in our emerging market and helps entry-level players to break even faster. With higher FDI, more and more insurance companies are expected to get listed in the local market via IPOs (Initial Public Offerings). Existing promoter holdings in larger, older companies can be monetized earlier too.

Nachiket Mor

Dr. Nachiket M Mor, Member, RBI              Photo Courtesy: cgap.org

Insurance products are generally capital-intensive. But, with increased flow of funds, companies can aggressively expand their sales volumes. Obviously, this will bring people hitherto not covered under the insurance umbrella. In a way, it helps to achieve Nachiket Mor Committee’s recommendations towards financial inclusion. Increase in the overall insurance sector penetration helps in improving the country’s Human Development Index too.  

Hike in insurance FDI would also be beneficial for the pension sector. The Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill ties the FDI limit in pension to that of the insurance sector. If the pension bill is also passed, then the FDI limit in Pension sector could be at 49%.

Other imminent benefits include employment generation, better operating practices and a healthy competition in a gargantuan market like India.

Criticism:

Even today, there is a significant section in our society who consider insurance to be a parasitic industry that thrives on human insecurity and fear for the future. Hence, any huge policy change that involve investment in insurance may not be perceived as favourably as in any other sectors like retail or production. Of course, with the advent of modernity and ever-increasing interdependence of global social life, these prejudices are bound to change. But it may take some more time in our society. Hence the general spirit of criticism against foreign investment in insurance has to be taken in the right perspective.

The first argument against foreign investment revolves around the same old public-private question. As of 2014, there are 24 companies that provide life insurance in India of which LIC is the only public one. Among the 21 companies in the non life segment, 4 are public. According to IRDA report (2014), all public companies in both the segments are profitable. At present LIC owns 70% insurance market in India. Those who oppose increased foreign cap argue that any tinkering with the current holding levels may tilt the existing healthy balance in favour of the private insurers. The public insurers’ powerful employee unions do maximum lobbying to avoid this situation. This had been a major obstacle for any foreign holding question in the past.

Generally, apart from bringing the much needed capital, FDI is seen as an area for technical, operational and managerial expertise too. However, FDI in insurance contributes very little in these areas. Moreover, insurance does not add anything to the physical infrastructure of the nation. Thus it has limited role in job creation and overall productivity.

Top_Insurance2014_1Indian private insurance industry is only 10-12 years old. Where as western insurance firms have a history of more than 100 years. They are well adapted to suit the changing needs and challenges of their markets in terms of mortality and geography. It is argued by some quarters that the Indian private insurance system, which is still in its infancy, may not be able to steer clear by itself, any global financial storms of the 2008 scale. Allowing more foreign partnerships can increase the risks of unsuspecting Indian customers.  

Accounting practices in Indian insurance industry is complicated. Profits in General Insurance (GI) and Life Insurance (LI) are calculated differently in India. In GI profit is booked annually on each policy where as in LI profit is booked only after maturity. But in western countries profits are booked annually for both GI and LI. When more foreign players flock our market they expect profits in similar lines.

This accounting catch may cause disappointment for foreign investors and they may try to skew their policies to extract profits in accordance with their accounting practices back home. This can have conflicts between Indian regulators and those players. Eventually, they may even leave the business out of frustration. This can lead to unfortunate collapse of a company or even the whole industry. Hence, any Indian government will have to carefully consider these aspects before hiking the FDI cap.  

Views of public insurers

Usha Sangwan

Ms. Usha Sangwan, MD, LIC      Photo Courtesy – litlive.in

While public insurance employee unions are tooth and nail against government’s move to raise the FDI limits, the top management of LIC is optimistic about their prospects – “Despite 14 years of competition, after entry of private insurance companies, we are holding fort. Whenever any industry opens up, market share of dominant player dips to 50-60 per cent. This has not happened in our case, rather we have benefited. We were challenged to innovate on products, bring in more technology, be more cost effective and so on. On all fronts, LIC has improved. So, we are geared for higher FDI coming into private sector” – said Ms. Usha Sangwan, Managing Director of LIC in her recent interview with Economic Times.

But the agitating employees criticize BJP for making a u-turn after assuming power. Since the  Parliamentary Standing Committee under BJP leader Yashwant Sinha had rejected the then UPA government’s FDI hike proposal in 2011, the employee unions believe that the present regime’s pushover of the legislation accounts to nothing but betrayal. They are of the opinion that government decision would affect the flow of funds from insurance sector to social and infrastructure sectors. 

Conclusion

With the hike in insurance FDI, free market proponents predict a fair, healthy and competitive insurance market for the future. They vouch that more foreign funds can give a face lift to the industry and be advantageous for the average insurance customer, in the long run. Where as, skeptics and employee unions foresee formal disappearance of state from public services to favour increased profit of the globally wealthy financial fat cats. Anyway, the bill has now been approved. Only history can testify who got it right.

Courtesy:

Akand Sitra, Nikhil Deshmukh, and the anonymous commenter in Quora.com who explained in a lucid manner the difference between Indian and American accounting procedures.

Categories: General

‘India’s Daughter’ – Shame on you, ostriches!

March 5, 2015 Leave a comment
Leslee Udwin

Leslee Udwin. Photo Courtesy – AP/The Guardian

I just watched the BBC Documentary – ‘India’s Daughters.’ For those who wish to watch it, please do it immediately. It may soon be censored out. You can watch it here. BBC’s official link says it can only be played from the UK! (Possibly, arm twisting from New Delhi).

Our ‘respected’ government has yet again decided to ban one more work of journalistic expression. This time a documentary, painstakingly stitched together by the BBC has been asked to buck. Ms. Lelslee Udwin took two years to explore the gruesome ‘Nirbhaya’ case for BBC’s Storyville. She interviewed victim’s parents, convicts, convicts’ parents, and their counsels, and some people from academia, judiciary and media. It plainly shows the shameless patriarchy in play in 21st centruy Indian society.

Jyothi Singh, a Pharmacy Student from Dwaraka (West Delhi) was brutally murdered when she boarded a bus on the evening of 16th December, 2012, in Delhi. She was returning home with a male friend after a movie. The male companion was beaten before she was repeatedly raped in turn, by six inebriated men, in that moving bus. The duo were abused, their clothes taken off, severely beaten and thrown out of the bus. Jyothi, who had fatally injured during the incident, succumbed to her wounds in a Singapore hospital, after a week.

The incident raised a huge outrage all over the country. The national capital witnessed unprecedented protests. Without any call from organised political outfits youth from university campuses broke prohibitory orders, rallied to government centres and demanded justice for the victim.

All the six rapists (including a juvenile) were soon nabbed by the Delhi Police. They were tried and the accused were found guilty. All except the juvenile were awarded capital punishment by the trial court, for their ‘rarest of rare’ crime. This was later upheld by the Appeal Court. Now the case is pending with the Supreme Court of India for final verdict. (One of the convicts later committed suicide inside the Tihar Jail premises).

India’s Daughters

Mukesh, one of the convicts, in an interview given to Udwin’s team from Delhi’s Tihar Jail, made precarious statements about the conduct of women in general and the victim in particular.Thus the BBC documentary became hot news. It was slated for telecast on March 8th, International Women’s day. Union Government somehow smelt a rat and banned the documentary altogether from airing. A Delhi court stayed the telecast. And Delhi Police went a step ahead. They filed an FIR against the British film maker!

In the FIR police said “the telecast might lead to widespread public outcry and serious law and order problem, as had happened after December 16, 2012” (the date when gang rape happened).

Address the real cause:

We Indians love superficial remedies. Even today, we absurdly believe that mobile apps, surveillance cameras or the presence of more security men can deter crime against women in our society. Our election manifestos and urban discourses revolve around promises and programs to “protect” our women. It reinforces men’s burden to “protect” their women. And our leaders make us believe that we are on an investment spree. While we invest heavily on physical infrastructure, typical Indian mindset remain predominantly feudal. Without addressing deep rooted feudal prejudices no crime in our society can be meaningfully resolved. Ms. Udwin’s documentary rightly demonstrates that. Recently, former Human Resource Minister and senior BJP leader Murali Manohar Joshi claimed that yoga helps to reduce crime against women. When the whole society is deeply entrenched in patriarchal biases these are naive, ostrich attitudes.

Convict has to be heard too:

Ms. Leslee Udwin, the director has repeatedly told that she has made the documentary to understand how the rapists think about their crime. Having been a victim of rape herself, Ms. Udwin has raised very valid questions about the convicts’ psyche. She has recently told this in an NDTV discussion about the whole objective of her documentary. What is wrong in understanding the mindset of the convict? What is the Indian state afraid of in that?

Mukesh, the convict, is a product of the values and cultural mores of the society that he lived in. It is the responsibility of the same society to understand the circumstances that led him to commit the crime. The same society is obliged to see if there is remorse in the victim after his few years spent in the jail. If he is still unrepentant and unashamed about the heinous act that he and his friends committed, society has to seriously introspect where the real problem is. Hastily sending him to gallows serve no purpose, whatsoever.

When the same society decides upon the laws that govern all of us and mediates the punishment for the convict, it has a liability to understand what goes on his mind too. India can’t escape from that basic task.

Ban is no solution:

When we have a problem, simply whisking away the one who points it out from public’s notice does not serve any real purpose. First of all, it makes us a laughing stock among the comity of nations. But more importantly, it brushes the same patriarchy that caused the atrocity to occur imprimis, under the carpet. Indian Government sees a global conspiracy to shame our nation. That is hilarious. This attitude of damning the truth sayer is more shameful than anything else. Unless we realize where the real problem lies there is no escape. As a civilization that claims tolerance and forbearance tracing many a millennium,  this attitude of denial is really silly and nauseating.

The statements:

Ramesh

Mukesh – One of the convicts speaking in the documentary. Photo Courtesy – TheHindu

In the documentary, this is what the convict, Mukesh told: “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy,” he said.

He went on: “The death penalty for the convicts will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, ‘Leave her, she won’t tell anyone.’ Now when they rape, especially the criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death.”

More chilling comment came from one of the defense counsels who said - “I would burn my own daughter alive, in front of the whole family, if she brought shame upon herself.” He also claimed that many sitting MPs had committed similar crimes, but had not yet faced trial. In order to change society, India’s leaders should “start with their own necks”, he said.

Now he is not any naive, illiterate, underprivileged slum dweller like the convicts. He is a practicing lawyers with fair enough exposure and understanding of women’s rights and entitlements. If he himself is of these opinions, imagine the extent of rot in our society. Does it not need serious address? Ms. Udwin’s documentary at least help us start asking such uneasy questions.

View of Parliamentarians:

While discussing the issue in Indian Parliament, on Wednesday (4th February), women members cutting across party lines called for a change in society’s mindset. BJP’s Kirron Kher said - “people need to understand that the right to give consent to their bodies is that of the woman’s and cannot be abrogated to someone else.” Nominated member Anu Aga said “men in India do not respect women and let us not pretend that all is well.”

Why BBC?

‘Why not BBC?’ They took necessary permissions from the Indian establishment, found a suitable, favourable media partner (NDTV), did fantastic research and made a documentary. While a product is being made for the visual media, the makers will try to bring out maximum impact. BBC with their sophisticated techniques has just done that – maximum impact. We can only eat it now.

There should not be any doubt that, with this documentary, India has been put in a very poor light and it is a shame on our people, administration and culture, in general. So what? Please, for heaven’s sake, don’t bring any such outlandish theories of white man’s (or woman’s) voyeuristic pleasure for his long lost colony. All Indian men, I’m sure do not share Mukesh’s or his lawyers’ views on female rights. Still, today, we rightly deserve, to be ashamed. Our government has just put us down.

Delhi – The rape capital?

A common argument for those who wish to play down the unequal status of Indian women in our society is that fewer cases of rape are ‘reported’ in our country compared to any developed industrial nation. It may be true that fewer cases are ‘reported’ annually in India. However, given the labyrinth of legal procedures and unimaginable mental trauma associated with the society’s prejudices towards a rape victim, in most cases victims and their kin try to cover up instances of sexual violence. They silently bear the brunt and move on. And in paper, we are all fine.

In contrast, in more developed societies, any violation of female rights are reported, documented and due legal remedies sought for. This is the only reason why less number of cases are ‘reported’ in India. India’s daughters, irrespective of their social standing, silently bear the patriarchy and live in gloom and shame. How long does this be allowed? Delhi may not be the rape capital. But we shall acknowledge the fact that our capital city is still one of the worst when it comes to women’s safety, by any modern standards.

Legal issues:

Had the documentary been temporarily kept on hold by the Government (as the case is still subjudice for fear of prejudicing the outcome of the apex court verdict), these arguments against the documentary would have been slightly balanced. Instead, a Delhi court simply stopped its broadcast and Union Government warned the broadcasters. Still, questions remain – as to why did the authorities provide permission for the BBC team to meet, interact and record the statements of the convict, if the government knows that this will dig out uneasy aspects of our so called culture? Have they become completely reactionary?

It is reported that, a Joint Secretary level official in the Home Ministry gave Ms. Udwin the permission to interview the convict (Mukesh) in Tihar Jail. The Secretary had informed the Jail Director General that the Ministry had no objection to Ms. Udwin’s request, provided the written consent was obtained from the convicts. Accordingly, the filmmakers were given permission to use the film for purely social and non commercial purposes. Now that Channel 4 and NDTV plans to air the film on International Women’s Day (subsequently, BBC has advanced its plans and already telecast the documentary on Wednesday, 4th February evening itself). As Senior Lawyer Indira Jaising told, “at present, the defendant’s appeal against conviction and death sentence is pending before the Supreme Court; therefore, airing the documentary would amount to gross contempt of court”

Responding to the court’s injunction to stop airing its documentary, BBC said that, the documentary complies with all the editorial guidelines. The statement was issued after Rajnath Singh stated that the government will not only stop the film from being shown in India but would try to prevent from being telecast in other countries. Ah, Mr. Singh, your reign just ends within the territory of this country. You can’t touch a bit of information in servers kept outside!

BBC said that the documentary made with the full support and co-operation of the victim’s parents, provides insights into the crime. After watching without any prejudice, the whole 56 minutes of it, I do feel the same.

The outcome?

A ban on any news or journalistic creation cannot stand in an internet world. What would have otherwise largely gone unnoticed except for a tiny academic circle in criminal psychology or women studies, now the whole world will watch and discuss ‘India’s Daughters.’ A ban on telecast is simply untenable, a temporary stay can only be made. In final judgements such bans will be held void. ‘India’s Daughter’ has already been marketed as a film Incredible India! does not wish to see ever.

There is nothing we can do about the documentary now. Government cannot stop peer to peer sharing of any information in this amazingly connected world. Anyway, this whole episode brings double shame on this country – first India let her daughters down, and now she is silencing the one who points out where the real rot is. The documentary is offending us because it is an outsider (a white woman) who is pointing this to us, truth from outside is unpalatable. 

Is this documentary a justification for rapists?

NO
It can be a common misconception. Documentary does just the opposite of that. Even when it gives a platform for the rapist to open up his mind, it is not any justification for his deeds or thoughts. Any right thinking person is free to think and decide for himself or herself where the real problem is. And the way the whole film has been made, it clearly shows what the priority is and where the film maker’s heart lies.

Any argument otherwise will be made only by those who did not watch the film completely. As it happens with most such cases, there would be a lot of them who only make noise without knowing any substance of the case, arguments in this case too can be lost in the din – the strength of our noisy democracy!

Nirbhaya’s case has been well debated and documented than any rape case in India, thanks to the stupendous protests it suddenly generated and a watchful media across the country. But, today, this documentary needs to be shown far and wide because it shows some disturbing truths about our patriarchal mindsets.

It is high time we admitted this truth — As a society, we were and still are anti women; any claims otherwise are simply hypocritical..!

EDIT :
1 Government of India has already served legal notice to BBC for airing the documentary.

2 The documentary disappeared from the Youtube link mentioned above – bravo GoI!

Categories: General

Manik Sarkar – the last of his tribe?

March 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Image
Indian media is now singing paeans to the newly elected Tripura CM. Main stream media, till date busy with Delhi rape and cricket, noticed him when he filed his nomination for state assembly polls. Our’s is a country where almost half the national legislators are crorepatis and when Sarkar filed his nomination he declared few thousands of cash in hand and nothing else. It was surprising for many. Jaws dropped in awe and this was a shock for the new Indian middle class – a Chief Minister without a bank account? Is it true?

As per reports, Manik Sarkar lives on his wife’s (an ex Central Govt. employee) pension and does not own a house or a car. In line with the CPI-M policy, Sarkar gives his MLA salary to the party, which pays him Rs.5,000 per month, as subsistence allowance.

No wonder, he has guarded the last red bastion with ease. Finally, when results were out (few days back) Communists won 50 out of 60 seats, a feat not achieved by any other leader than late Nripen Chakraborty. This is the fourth consecutive term for Sarkar in this tiny North East state which shares more with Bangladesh than India. Of course, frugality from a Communist leader is not a rarity, but what surprises today’s burgeoning middle class (else where in the country) is that he takes oath not in the romantic post independence decades but in 2013. Yes this is remarkable.

Media called him the poorest CM. This is quite expected of a nation where luxury and lucre make news more often than not. In 2013 we get to see star political performers only in the likes of Jayalalithas and Mayavathis. They compete with each other to amass personal wealth during their tenures. Yet they prevail and walk away unaccountable, term after term. In the last two decades corruption cases involving politicians and their cronies sky rocketed and the frustrated citizenry numbly settled down to take these things for granted, as fate. They tacitly equated political power as loot and graft. That is why Mr. Sarkar, the son of a tailor who washes his own clothes even today, despite being the chief executive of an Indian state, becomes a wonder for them.

Communist Party never had any dearth of leaders like Manik Sarkar. Early communists were more Gandhians in their lifestyle than Mohandas Gandhi. Of course they were Gandhians with a Marxist ideology. However, today Sarkar represents a fast dwindling tribe of politicians who vouch by simplicity in public life. They are a minority among Communists too. True to the clichéd Acton quote – ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ – cutting across hierarchy, today’s Communist cadre has become corrupt, nepotist and haughty. This is true for those states where left front governments held power for too long, a fact quite evident in present day Kerala and Bengal. In both the states, the intellectual chasm between different generations of leaders is a matter of dismay.

From revolutionary idealists who proudly renounce personal gains for common good, today’s leaders have metamorphosed into efficient entrepreneurs and shrewd managers. Of course, much can be blamed on the globalised world economy, bankruptcy of ideology and poor understanding of Communist principles within party’s young rank and file. They are witness to the concocted lores of unstoppable yet all encompassing free markets and are the silent benefactors of it. They easily yield to make some quick silver.

The first democratically elected Communist Government sworn into power (in 1957, Kerala) was under EMS Namboothirippad, the landlord turned politician who willingly parted with his vast inherited property. Later, Namboothirippad himself legislated for the redistribution of land among peasant masses of Kerala, a true social revolution of the time. Those generations of Communists were dotted with idealism and it was true of 1960’s India.

Communists’ mass mobilisation through social awakening impressed people’s psyche during those days. It was so powerful that even the later non left governments could not completely forgo the principles of democratic socialism in their political functioning. But, the neo-liberal era eulogized a capitalist cult which emerged as a panacea for all the ills of our multicultural democracy. And communist leadership both in Kerala and Bengal fell prey to its finance capital bandwagon, though they never admit to it publicly.

Leadership struggled to ‘explain’ and ‘theorize’ the tenets of 21st century Communism so as to accommodate the changing patterns of ownership and economic relations. There always used to be an older generation of leaders who could not ideologically compromise. And Manik Sarkar’s tribe, both in Kerala and Bengal, falls into this. They either protested, howsoever feeble their voice be, led stellar examples in lives and simply vanished into oblivion. By and large party discipline’s iron fist silenced them. Their idealism suffered and they finally kept quiet before the will of a new generation leadership.

This makes Sarkar and his simple ways a ray of hope. He still stick on to his idealism and preserves the sanctity of his principles. For those who consider Tripura as a distant fairy land, this might sound melodramatic or unbelievable. But this is quite genuine. The likes of Sarkar must be existing in all the political parties, insignificant and disillusioned, to a great extend though. It is the duty of new generation Indian voters to discover them amidst the mess of our political system.

After the poll results Mr. Sarkar deliberately played down his role as an individual in his party’s victory, rather he gave credits to the team work. From his words – “There is a role of person in history, but the collective movement of people is the main driving force. We work together and take decision collectively, so I am a share holder of this success like others. I have no separate role.” Compare this to the ‘Modi Mania’ that sweeps our national capital in the past few days. We should not, as a nation, get our priorities wrong.

In his moment of glory, I wish Manik Sarkar all the success as Chief Minister of Tripura. No wonder Tripura is free from sectarian strifes quite common to its North Eastern sisters. I wish his puritan ways inspire more of political class to embrace idealism in their social lives.

Photo – Courtesy : tripura4u.com

Categories: General

When you touched me, my dry branches turned out to be green

December 8, 2011 1 comment

Most likely ‘Dil hoom hoom kare’ would be the only Bhupen song I listened to before his death. It was truly a gentle composition and the song incredibly touched me – its haunting tone and the apparent ease of rendering stuck my thoughts, almost five years back on a pleasing winter evening at Shilparamam, Hyderabad – when I listened to it for the first time.

It was a typical concert at an open air setting and the singer there sung it reasonably well, I remember. Back home I listened to Bhupen’s original. I was never good at Hindi and the chaste words of Gulzar were almost impregnable for the novice in me. Later, it took years for me to finally get, to some extend though, into those intoxicating lines.

Who was Bhupen for me? Frankly, yet another celebrity name from the North East, one of those ostensible legends of the Hindi speaking world in a large general context, whom south Indians never really bothered to listen or follow seriously.

Nevertheless music surpasses regional precincts and this Bhupen song too did, in class. Just a single listening – even my unsophisticated heart beat for him and I become his fan, the old man’s crunchy voice seized my awe, instantly!

On that day, that bard named Bhupen Hazarika who lived, loved and laboured for the glory of music and to the delight of his fans all across the world was totally new to me. I wasn’t aware that this song was from ‘Rudaali’. I didn’t know that the movie was directed by his soul mate and companion of 40 odd years Kalpana Lajmi, and most notably I didn’t know that the music was composed by Bhupen himself. But I knew one thing – deep stillness of meditation and a splendid energy of action merged in this classic composition.

Afterwards, as and when I listen to this four minute song, even for my naive ears his voice and music roars like a shower, springing agonizing loss, muted sorrow and a tenderness that was as moving as it was burning.

Agony stems when we lose some thing and not when we gain. Doesn’t it?

Why agony at the root of this song? Perhaps agony is fundamental to all human emotions – agony of avoidance, agony of abandonment, agony of defeat, agony of dejection, agony of hopelessness, agony of neglect, agony of every thing – every innate loss in life.

The agony of a heart that gasps in fear, that is afraid of the thundering clouds; the untold agony in tear drops that leave the eye – the very first stanza itself sets an immaculate tone for this tender melody.

And we always loved melancholy in music, I believe. Life’s lust for darkness is not simple desire for bottomless shadow; in fact it is the craving for the faintest ray of light within. In these agonizing lines one seeks a ray of light, a lustrous ray of tiny yet dazzling spark of hope.

But the root of the song lurks when the singer gloomily renders in a base pitch –
‘when I undo your bag parched leaves fell, (Teri jhori daaron, sab sukhe paat jo aaye)
but when you touch me my dry branches became green
(Tera chhua lage, meri sukhi daar hariyaaye).

And now I should keep this body (jis tan ko chua toone, us tan ko chupaaon)
(touched by you) away from every thing else,

(perhaps to keep the sanctity, that would probably be possible)
but whom am I going to show my mind that you saw’? (jis man ko laage naina, vo jisko dikhaaon)

Why? – Why do life’s wishes reach us at unexpected of the moments, in the most capricious manner? Why not in our way when we truly seek them? – when I reached out you were detached and bleak, oozing mere coldness and apathy, but in time when you touched me I turned out to be fertile and prolific. This stands true for any feat in material life. When we actually acquire the hard fought goal the feat sadly becomes, some how meaningless or redundant.

Language has the power to take one’s soul out into the night, make it soar to the stars, and then rip it apart and send it crashing right down to earth! A muted pain stirs right through the words of this song and it is this very tacit pain that haunts us long after the song.

Bhupen’s aged voice gently flows –
oh moon you are up and high
and are divinely showering light and brightness
but your light only burns me, (o more chandra ma, teri chaandni ang jalaaye)
how am I to reach you, you are well high over the balcony
and that I have shed my wings!(teri oonchi ataari maine pankh liye katwaaye)

It leaves an untold soreness in our hearts.

Do we not silently chorus – ’and my heart fills with fear and gasping!!’ (dil hoom hoom kare ghabraaye)– when he finally concludes? We do. Not to mention, this composition is tough to sing, but he made it look so effortless with grace.

Visual of any splendid, snow clad peak refuses to cease from our memory, for ever. In our mind it waits further exploration and stays alive in bliss. So does this eternal Bhupen song.

Yes – We keep listening, oh no humming along with Bhupen da…- ‘dil hoom hoom kare’
(Photo: Courtesy – bhupenhazarika.com)

Categories: Music Tags:

I wish Pakistan could win this cup….!!

March 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Oh it’s really raining cricket these days!

The knock out stage of game’s extravaganza evolves to its fascinating end. Cricketing feelings every where – news room discussions, expert analysis, sentiments from the street – now electronic media here in India is speculating over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assertion to attend the World Cup Semi finals at Mohali, Chandigarh between India and Pakistan, slated for next Wednesday. He has sent his invite (it seems) to his counter part in Pakistan and to their President too, if the initial reports can be trusted. At a time when Secretary level talks and occasional political meetings on summits’ sidelines don’t bear much fruit is it the turn for cricket diplomacy?

I’m quite passionate about cricket; slightly to the puritan’s side I do adore both forms of the game – ODIs and test cricket. I simply love watching men in blue playing premier edition of the game’s most prestigious event, perhaps the last in the careers of elderly greats Sachin and Sehwag. When a match is on, in those moments of anxiety, just to have that sheer pleasure of watching them live taking guard, against best of the bowlers in the business, pondering each and every ball, I always used to be in a pensive mood in those afternoons when India plays – with all my compassion for team India’s cause.

But this time – just this time, I honestly wish Pakistan could formidably sail past our men all the way at PCA Stadium, Mohali and could march to the legendary Wankhade to play the grand final on the 4th of next month. I wish they could jubilantly lift that prized trophy too. I wish Afridi’s green army could collect the coveted cup from our PM or ICC head or who ever it may be – and burst into euphoria in front of a packed house at our own Mumbai, I wish a strife torn nation, our own twin could forget her pains and indulge in gala celebration for a while, I wish….

Am I anti Indian, disloyal, treacherous? Will you call me seditious?
I sure hope not.

Yes, I really want Pakistan to win this cup, the same ‘cup that matters’, as our media famously calls it these days. If it happens, Afridi will not just lift a gold and silver plated 11kg cup, but he will lift the spirit and fortitude of an entire nation, a nation which is now filled with conflict and despair and riot and gloom.

Set backs every where – devastating natural calamities, alarmingly rising religious fundamentalism in all walks of life, a crippling economy, ever weakening government institutions, dwindling authority of state which fails to provide minimum living space to its normal citizen, tightening grip of a transcendental army, liberty and free speech increasingly fading from the corridors of societal life, a sorry picture indeed.When panic, gloom, misfortune and despair fill the streets of Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and else where, a whole nation need some thing to cheer about, some thing to keep their heads high, for a while at least, among the comity of nations.

And a world cup win can exactly do that.

We have nothing to lose, we are a comparatively better off nation, with different other means to lift our national spirit and pride, lot many things to feel good about, thriving economy (inequitable gains though), noisy yet stable democracy with better institutional mechanisms, bigger venues to display the grandeur, opulence and influence, louder voice and greater clout in the international arena with a confident outlook altogether.

Pakistan’s has been a wonderful cricketing team throughout this tournament – a bunch of street smart, massively gifted, spirited cricketers. If the Mumbai crowd can full heartedly cheer that Pakistani squad in the truest of the spirits for their cricketing prowess and for nothing else at a world cup final, that would erase the bloody images of fanatic young men indiscriminately firing at innocents inside the CST and Taj, and the psychological scars there of – for ever.

That spoilt young man at the Arthur road jail waiting further trial and eventual execution should not be remembered as the face of Pakistani at Mumbai any more; rather it should be a jubilant Afridi or Umar Gul shaking hands with Indians on a spectacular arena. It can send an incredible political point across the border much louder than any ‘track – II’ diplomacy – that we treat you with dignity, respect and love provided you play by the rules and reciprocate – true to the spirit and tradition of this land.

Last time India played Pakistan in a world cup match in 2003 at Johannesburg, S. Africa. The situation was electrifying, eventually India chased Pakistan down thanks to that superb knock from little maestro – Tendulkar; however the game wasn’t played at the highest levels of sporting spirit. Passions flew amidst players, animosity, hatred, sledge and acrimony filled the air. I hope this time Pakistani team will be given true warmth, respect and support on and off the field when they step down to play here.

A win at the 10th edition of this tournament is not a solution for all those ails of present day Pakistan – still it matters a lot. Some achievement, a feel of success,accomplishment, how much ever cosmetic it is, a cricket crazy society will get a boost for sure if their men can triumph at a major event in some sport and that win will be sweeter if that happens in India and that too passing past the hosts.

Let Pakistan have that victory. After all we are the same brethren unfortunately forced to exist on two sides of a dividing line agonizingly drawn in the course of a distressing history of 65 odd years.

I wish Afridi and his men all the success!

(Photo Courtesy : thehindu.com)

Categories: General

Meeting the Maestro

May 24, 2009 7 comments

We set out for our trip to Stratford on a rainy Saturday. We had to take three trains, to get there from Birmingham, because few direct routes were being renovated. Stratford, in the Warwickshire County was a drowsy tiny town, much smaller than what I expected and it took two hours from the Midlands area (where I stay) to reach there. Stratford upon Avon, as the town is called, is a little but well kept train station; no sooner did we reach there than showers started pouring outside. Town seemed like a shaky portrait with a hue of light colours in the back ground, almost empty streets and limited traffic. It filled a nervous breath of chilly breeze in the air; December for no reason is a good choice to voyage in Britain, length of day time is awfully less with recurring mist and uneasy snow fall.

It did not take much time for us to locate the ancestor house of the bard; it was quite close to the town centre. A 16th century wooden house which recreates the family life of the times of the poet was a small two storeyed cottage. It had a painting gallery near the portico. The solid yet serene pathway from the gallery took us through the garden to the un-usually large wooden door at the entrance of the house. I was happy to spot a Tagore statue inside the compound. It was an utterly different world for me when the old lady, apparently the guide there, invited us inside and led to the interiors. Semi polished stones paved the floor, its air and ambiance was nothing but perfect for a sheep trader’s home (as it was in my mind) and a flood of memories engulfed me.

My high school class, now I’m sitting in one of the middle rows and Krishnan Nair (the Principal of our school) narrating the legend of Julius Caesar; panicking Brutus, their patriotism, friendship and tribute to each other and the grace of all other Shakespearean characters. The whole class is silent and now, I listen to Mark Antony’s speech, Krishnan Master shouting at the peak of his pitch:

”Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him; The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones, So let it be with Caesar … The noble Brutus Hath told you Caesar was ambitious: If it were so, it was a grievous fault.”*

It was appearing in front of me, my eyes following the artistic moves of Krishnan Master, his imposing acting skills flaunted, and I’m marveled to glimpse the celebrated characters right in front. Our respected teacher, a famed ‘Kathakali’ artist and a strict disciplinarian, is an English scholar and a Shakespeare enthusiast. He used to memorise major plots from Shakespeare’s plays and perform them for us during the class. In those ‘one-act’ plays we gleefully watched Macbeth and King Lear, Viola and Orsino and all the major figures from Shakespeare.

Krishnan Nair was a blessed actor. In the class room, he was able to shower on us the essence of those plays, the very essence which was fresh and alive within me when I stood inside poet’s birth place. Yes, only a hand’s breadth from me is the birth bed of my teacher’s dearest poet. The old guide there, dressed in the traditional British robes of olden times, in her charming voice, explained to us the history of bard’s family, in the most interesting tone. I deeply wished my passionate master (now an octogenarian) were with me. We roamed around the house for few great hours, captured the scent and scene of that historic home with few stills. Later in the afternoon set out in search of other major Shakespeare attractions in the town.

Stratford was hazily snowing by our side.

We walked down the town to the Holy Trinity cathedral where the poet was buried. England’s most visited parish church, under that roof the wizard of Stratford called William Shakespeare was baptised and there he does his final sleep. Dimly lit candles from the side stands were quiet as if they were frozen in time. An incense like fragrance was blended there and it seemed like a deep smell from the past that filled the air. Very few visitors braved the chilly December day to the church, in fact they were less than twenty. We sat there on the carved wooden seats of the big altar and few empty minutes withered by. On the cathedral’s top glass window there was a giant triptych which portrayed Jesus’ resurrection. Fine threads of silken sun rays oozing out from them coloured the dark shades inside the chapel.

Again, under one of those shades, I could sense Krishnan Master there. I felt like watching him, without myself being watched – this time he was speaking as Othello (and Desdemona as a far back ground voice). His eyes were sparking wild.

“Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men.
Put out the light, and then put out the light:”
”Who’s there, Othello?”
”Ay, Desdemona.”
“Will you come to bed, my lord?”
“Have you pray’d to-night, Desdemona?”
“Ay, my lord.”

“If you bethink yourself of any crime”
“Unreconcil’d as yet to heaven and grace,
Solicit for it straight.”
“Alack, my lord, what may you mean by that?”
“Well, do it, and be brief; I will walk by.
I would not kill thy unprepared spirit;
No, — heaven forfend! — I would not kill thy soul.”
“Talk you of killing?”
“Ay, I do.” **

Love, passion, revenge and obsession, every thing was there in his eyes. Suddenly, it was all there in my eyes too. Few minutes later, I was awakened by the whispering call of my friend.

Just outside the cathedral, river Avon was flowing; as it would have always been, silent and steady.

 * Mark Antony’s speech from ‘Julius Ceaser’
**  Final conversation between Othello and Desdemona from ‘Othello’
(In the photo: Krishnan Master)
Categories: General

Solitary Reaper

December 7, 2008 1 comment

A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard
In spring-time from the cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.Will no one tell me what she sings? –
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago;

Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

~ Solitary Reaper : Wordsworth ~

Categories: General
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.