Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of the Year or Beginning of the Year

Well isn’t this a philosophical question? A year has ‘passed’ like ‘मेरा सुन्दर सपना बीत गया’ and still there is no sadness in the air, no obituaries written…rather everyone seems to be pumped up to celebrate the ‘birth’ of the New Year. That’s life…new generation leads…while elders guide.

जो बीत गया सो बीत गया…. One always looks forward to the day...afresh… who wants to remember the night before…रात गई बात गई.

Is it possible to drive ahead by looking into the rear view mirror? In Olympics, do we have a race which runs backwards? There is an old saying that one should always look towards the rising sun. Rising Sun symbolizes hope, energy, vitality and positivism. That’s what the New Year has in store for us.

The year ahead is full of unknowns…yet people see it filled with opportunity, hope and boundless possibilities rather than fear. It is this attitude of humankind which is fascinating. If all of us could integrate this attitude in every sphere of life, we would be a bundle of joy.

The coming year will also pass by. It’s like the cycle of life and death, immortalized by a beautiful song of GolMaal.

आने वाला पल जाने वाला है...
थोड़ा सा हसाँ के..थोड़ा सा रूला के
पल ये भी जाने वाला है
आने वाला पल जाने वाला है…

वक्त जो बीत गया वो फिर आता नहीं…कोई लम्हा ख़ुद को दोहराता नहीं …It’s good to reflect at the year…to learn from history and mistakes… they serve as lighthouses in the journey beyond. Savour every moment that you spent …..

We still have lot of ground to cover as a nation.. we still are a developing country...We all look forward to the New Day…New Year with lot of expectation and hope...so aptly penned by Sahir Ludhyanvi...sung beautifully by Mukesh Sahab and AshaJi ( Music by Khyaam Sahab ) for the movie फिर सुबह होगी ( 1958 )....


वो सुबह कभी तो आयेगी,
इन काली सदियों के सर से, जब रात का आँचल ढलकेगा
जब दुःख के बादल पिघलेंगे, जब सुख का सागर छलकेगा
जब अंबर जूम के नाचेगा, जब धरती नगमी जायेगी
वो सुबह कभी तो आयेगी

जिस सुबह की खातिर जुग जुग से, हम सब मर मर कर जीते हैं
जिस सुबह के अमृत की खातिर, हम जहर के प्याले पीते हैं
इन भूखी प्यासी रूहों पर, एक दिन तो करम फरामायेगी
वो सुबह कभी तो आयेगी

माना के अभी तेरे मेरे अरमानों की कीमत कुछ भी नहीं
मिट्टी का भी हैं कुछ मोल मगर, इंसानों की कीमत कुछ भी नहीं
इंसानों की इज्जत जब जूठे सिक्कों में ना तोली जायेगी
वो सुबह कभी तो आयेगी

I am sure the journey to that day has begun...it will come and we all bring it together and its going to happen in our time.


Finally, to sum up the mood, a short poem by me…. hope you like it

हर रात के बाद सुबह आती है
जिंदगी फिर से मुस्कुराती है
जाओ जाके चूम लो..लूट लो जहाँ से खुशियाँ
नया दिन, नया साल, नई किरण, नए सपने, एक नई दुनिया बसाती है
जिंदगी फिर से मुस्कुराती है
हर रात के बाद सुबह आती है


Wishing everyone a cracking 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year

Is it End of 2008 or Beginning of 2009… As the year comes to an end…this question always comes to my mind. How should one look at it?

I think it’s good to do both…while the coming year holds lot of promise, the year gone by serves as a great teacher.

Rarely do we look back individually to analyze how did the year go, what were the lessons learnt, what we did right, where did we go wrong and what we could have done better. So let me put down my intellections on what I think about the year gone by and what plans I have for the New Year.

I am yet to come across a more intriguing year than the current one. The year experienced such a blend of events, each watershed in its own right, leaving my head tossed. Rarely do we see spectacular highs and worrisome lows within the same year for e.g. oil touched high of $150/barrel giving shock to world energy managers and low of $38/barrel, making it cheaper than a bottle of water. 2008 was a watershed year in many ways.

Let’s talk about our country first. There may be many, but I am picking up which has left impression on me. Starting with good occurrences; I begin with sports. Sports has been an absolute victor this year. Abhinav Bindra, Vijendar, Saina Nehwal, Vishwanathan Anand, Pankaj Advani, Jeev Milkha Singh, Gagan Narang, M.S. Dhoni leading the show in respective disciplines making India proud at Olympic and World events. Nothing to beat India’s first individual Olympic gold. It’s very important that we build up on this. For us to be counted as developed nation wealth is not the only criteria, it’s important to excel in all the other faculties and sports being foremost.

In the world of politics, signing of nuclear deal and people coming out in large nos. to exercise Universal Adult Franchise made the year significant. There has been a significant change in the process of elections. Delimitation has happened and therefore urban voters will get more say. Increasingly elections are being fought on developmental issues. Reelection of governments in Gujarat, Delhi and M.P. are testimony to this fact. It was also heartening to see record high J&K voter turnouts sending a clear signal that they need good governance and not divisive politicking.

We took defining steps towards becoming a formidable player in space technology with successful Chandrayaan mission. The mission besides launching a moon probe also launched the Indian flag on the moon and delivered ten satellites in the orbit - all this in half the cost of a typical American, European or Russian mission.

In world of business, with economy going great guns in first half of the year, Indian entrepreneurs proved venturous making audacious attempts at acquiring businesses throughout the globe. Most notably, Tatas took over Corus and British iconic automotive brands. Unfortunately the Indian stalwart was humbled at home turf by crass politics played by likes of Mamata and Left. Indian Inc. at home also shed inhibitions of keeping controlling stakes with themselves and did what made sense for company and in turn shareholders, notably the Ranbaxy-Daichi deal. PE funds made a beeline for India.

Judiciary took concrete steps to clean their house. They could have done more, but still not a bad beginning, unlike legislature and executive which show no signs of improving or taking corrective actions.

Each coin has two sides, so amongst the same categories there have been stains as well. Amongst the painful events – scourge of terrorism would top the list. Blasts all over and Mumbai carnage woke us up from complacency. The only blessing in disguise was that it brought the country together which otherwise was appearing to be a bit fractured.

Politicians came in for severe criticism post Mumbai attacks and were questioned for the first time by the people. Demand was unanimous in their call for greater accountability. Political landscape was disappointing with Parliament reaching new lows. Hardly any debates or the ones on which it did happen, the quality was so low that it’s hardly worth mentioning. Opposition parties mindlessly kept opposing and ruling alliances rarely made any effort to build consensus. The way ‘trust vote’ was won, even Manmohan sullied his clean image. ‘Cash’ landed at the well of the house and yet nobody has been found guilty. We saw fatuous politics played by Left and Mamta, votebank appeasement politics by the likes of Antulay and somewhat disruptive politics played by BJP. Ruling alliance was no better keeping themselves busy in saving the government at centre rather than effectively ruling the country. Cannot complete this without mentioning Mr Shivraj Patil, who redefined incompetency and ineffectiveness by taking it to Himalayan heights.

In business, 3 major events dominated the headlines. First, effect of globalization was at display, growth slowed down, sensex at 1/3rd of its highs and thousands losing their jobs. Second, Tatas moving the Nano plant to Gujarat, courtesy crass politics of Mamta and Left. Third one, causing considerable damage to Brand India, painstakingly built by India Inc., was the action by the Satyam board to merge with Maytas. I am still at loss to believe on how they could shoot themselves in foot. Such a blatant disregard and not one dissenting vote, still rubbing my eyes in disbelief. It was left to shareholders to teach a lesson.

Moving on, professionally and personally, I started this year on a very good note. Professionally, I moved on to a new role to build and kickstart couple of business lines with a dream to create multibillion dollar businesses out of them in coming years. The year held lot pf promise. The bouquet of verticals gave me opportunity to work on ‘Build’, ‘Turnaround’ ‘Sustain Success’ and ‘Ramp Up’ strategies thereby adding to my skills. Had the opportunity to work with the smartest minds in the trade – CEO extraordinaire and a fabulous team to support, all breathing passion. The objectives were clear and I had clear mental image of the outcome. Overall enthusiasm within the company was high, given our 2007 results and collectively we all wanted to make 2008 even bigger and erase the memories of the lows of 2005-6 forever. I took major strategic decisions to realign my portfolio towards growth and profitability. It was turning out to be great year, however events post October were shattering. Markets seized and we were not immune as well. We thrive of deals, meeting customers and drive the team and all that came to a standstill. But as I said earlier it has served as a great learning experience. We should not allow this to take over our minds. Weak minds will then lead to weak actions and then begins a vicious vortex leading to failure and collapse.

Personally, I was able to work on my fitness upping my fitness levels. I could rebuild stamina to run 5-7 Kms with ease. My golf got a serious push. The mantra in both the cases was to take a public pledge. Friendships remained intact and thrived. Read lot of books. Revived my interest in blogging, infact most of posts are of this year. So all in all, it had all the ingredients of a very satisfying year.

But all that got thunderous knock with the downturn and economic seizure pervading all around. With gloom all around, it became difficult to remain happy. But I have decided to stay positive.

Never have I have waited for the New Year with so much of eagerness and hope as is the case in this year. Not that I am expecting any miracle as a cure of all worries. So I plan to attack my worries head-on. Foremost by staying positive, which would come by continuing to build on what I started this year - Keep working on fitness, improve golf handicap, keep blogging and enjoy my work. Want to play to my imagination, which will come by practicing mental mastery and hence plan to add ‘dhyan’ in my routine. My dad, who practices ‘Vihangam Yog’ under aegis of Vihangam Yog Sansthan and current Parampara Sadguru Swami Swatantra Dev Maha Ji, is an ardent believer in the power of ‘Dhyan’. It teaches the yoga of soul, essentially Dhyan, which has the power to heal and liberate the soul. I want to try this, consciously, this year. Professionally, 2009 is going to be the toughest year. I want to keep challenging myself, take my fears and my weaknesses head-on and keep learning, to keep my professional journey exciting and rewarding.

So here I am, with mixed emotions. I want to thank GOD, my family, my friends, my colleagues, and everyone who connected with me and made 2008 great and memorable. In the same breath, I am also very excited, filled with lot of hope, anticipation and joy to welcome the New Year with open hands. Let 2009 bring lot of joy and happiness to everyone and peace to mankind.

Wishing everyone a very peaceful, healthy and joyous New Year.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Financial Meltdown – Origins, Participants and Why it was waiting to happen?

I have been having many a round of discussions with my friends, Aman and Nitin, on this topic. I, with finance background, end up having the task of explaining of what caused this. It’s those endless discussions, leaving our spouses frowning, which forced me to write this blog. Attempt has been to put together in a layman’s language on various aspects of this economic seizure or financial tsunami, popularly called these days. We will stray here and there to understand various concepts as it comes along.

Any economist worth his salt probably knew that recession was on its way. What probably they couldn’t figure out was the depth of malaise and consequent magnitude of seizure, leading to collapse of global economies. But what intrigues me is only very few had the guts to take a position and write about it convincingly, against the popular public opinion, while it was sunshine. History has it that public opinion is based on ‘expectations and euphoria’ and not on facts and it’s the duty of the academics ( in older days philosophers did it ) to pen truth based on insights through scientific research and data and not get swayed by popular opinion.

Majorities have disappointed, but some of them didn’t succumb to populist thoughts. The most notable of them is Mr. Paul Krugman, the popular New York Times columnist, Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and this year’s winner of The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences ( in memory of Alfred Nobel ), popularly known as the Nobel Prize. Though he won Nobel for his seminal work ‘analysis on trade patterns and locations of economic activity’, it’s his writings in NYT, which were sharp, incisive and blunt in his predictions about this impending collapse and consequences thereon which got him accolades within masses and peer group.

Publications like The Economist in their book, ‘Economics – Making sense of the Modern Economy’ by Simon Cox, also talks about the lopsided economy and detail the phoney nature of the bullishness seen around, why it would be short-lived and why the recession this time could be long, deep and painful.

Though all economic activities are interconnected and therefore roots of any economic cycle of boom and bust can be traced back in history as far as we want to go. No point going back to Great Depression of the 1920’s. Let me take the collapse of the US stock market in 2000-01 as the starting point.

The 2000-01 collapse was mainly led by ‘tech-bubble’. The US government and Fed responded by monetary and fiscal interventions cutting interest rates and slashing taxes respectively. Not surprising, because this is what everyone does or is expected to do. This is what we, in India, are currently doing. Rather all central banks and governments are doing. That did work in 2000-01. The recession was shallow and short-lived. By cutting interest rates and slashing taxes, extra money was made available, but this was not earned i.e. wealth was not created. People continued spending (or consuming) and economy did shore up. It’s important to remember that this spending was not on account of increased pay or increased saving but extra dollars made available by tax cuts and borrowings. An economy bouncing on these measures essentially postpones the problem, doesn’t solve it. So this recession was pushed forward. Obviously recessions do purge rottenness and increase efficiencies and productivity; this was not allowed to happen. Hence a nastier one had to happen – when, can’t be predicted exactly? One can always argue that it is easier to say this in hindsight, but it is tough to predict whether the recession would be shallow or deeper? So we have economists on both sides – one who are happy about interventions and applaud the steps and other who think that it’s better to have deep but short lived recession rather than no at all, as it brings things in order. An economy should be spending on savings. But US was saving less and less, people felt comfort in rising stock prices 1990s and resultant wealth generation.

Cut in interest rates and prolonged period of low interest rates resulted in increased credit availability to consumers (and industrialists). Increasingly debt also gained acceptance within consumers. More and more started availing it - credit cards, auto, personal loans, housing etc. . Cheap credit availability led to a borrowing-driven boom. Fundamentally boom should ride on the back of increased savings and not borrowings. Increased credit availability, leading to increased borrowings and increased spending resulted in increased demand which in turn resulted in asset prices going northwards. One such asset class was housing and other was stocks, which then had rebounded partially and were at their peaks. Housing prices started building up and together with high stock prices made people feel wealthier. That led higher spending and borrowings (and larger borrowings taking out cash from increased asset prices). The cycle started assuming alarming proportions. Everyone started owning increasingly expensive houses in relation to their income. Finance companies became laxer and structured ways to channelize credit flow to all – even the weakest in the credit chain. New ways to lend to sub-prime, NINJA, Alt A and other forms of adjustable-rate mortgages were devised. Credit checks, income verification, collateral verifications were done away with. Obviously they assumed rising housing prices to be the mitigant (underlying assumption). Bumper demand led to a rapid and steep rise in prices. Houses were now overvalued by 30%-45%. This was not the case of US alone; it was happening the world over – US, UK, ANZ, France etc. India too had seen sharp rise in housing prices. In places like Gurgaon houses over 75 Lacs to couple of Crores were coming up everywhere. So much so that The Times of India wrote an obituary of a Crore, an article written over demise of Rs 1 Crore. The housing price rise would have been even steeper had it not been Mr. Y V. Reddy’s (the then RBI Governor) timely intervention restricting flow of money to RE developers.

Obviously credit was available to industrialists as well. So expansion plans were put in place. M&As and Leveraged transactions (meaning lot of debt on back of small equity or cash flow) were back in vogue. Corporate borrowings increased, however they were still in check and better off than consumers. They did hold themselves back. It’s only the financial institutions (both banks and investment banks) which went berserk in terms of extending credit against housing, credit cards, and leveraged transactions.

As banks went on with their lending spree, especially consumer loans (imagine all sorts of loans – personal loans, auto loans, housing loans, credit cards, equipment leases, student loans etc.), two things started to happen; 1. Banks required more and more capital to lend and were strapped as deposit mobilization was not enough (infact it had slowed down from existing levels) to meet growth momentum and 2. they started running huge credit risks. That’s where exotic instruments came to play. Everyone has by now heard or read about Securitization, Collateral Debt Obligations (CDOs), Structured Investment Vehicles (SIVs), Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) etc. and their multiple variants depending on underlying collateral. They are all conceptually the same. Differences are minor; hence I will take you through the basic concept.

Well nature of securitization has undergone many changes due to ever changing laws. So I will talk about the nature of securitization prevailing then. In initial days originator (bank) used to keep a loan till maturity on books. Not any more. Now it pools the asset (lets pick up one asset class and then continually use it throughout, so let it be mortgages) and sells it to a freshly created Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). Sometimes it sells to a third party (another bank or financial institution, investment banks or even government institutions, for eg. Fannie Mae). These 3rd parties then sell it to an SPV . This helps both the originator and the investor as it creates a bankruptcy remote structure, meaning under event of default it’s the SPV which will bear the losses and not the 3rd party and in case originator goes bankrupt, investor's stream is protected. The SPV then issues securities (or bonds) backed by payment rights/receivable pool to investors (could be another bank, debt mutual funds, pension funds, hedge funds etc.). Since in this example the bonds are backed by stream of mortgage payments, they are called Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS), generically it can be called Asset Backed Securities ( ABS). This process of sale and creation of securities as described above is called securitization. A sample cash flow diagram of a sample CDO is shown ( courtesy : Credit Derivatives, George Chacko and others, Wharton School Publishing).

It doesn’t end here. Investors further bundle payment rights and issue securities and this continues over and over again. The final buyer may be 4 to 5 layers down. It doesn’t even end here. The big buyers of these securities then bundle many such securities (say many MBS’s), create a pool and securitize that. These securities or bonds, which in themselves are backed by bonds, are called collateralized debt obligations (CDO). If they are backed by bank loan receivables, it’s called collateral loan obligation (CLO) and so on. Many more complexities have been introduced but essence remains the same. They are all pass through. Structured Investment Vehicles (SIVs) are similar to CDOs, except that they even bundle CDOs and further issue securities, which generally are of shorter tenure (one form could be commercial paper). They try to make money on arbitrage of interest rates between short-term, highly rated paper, they issue and long term underlying paper. They are also referred as 'conduits', rightly so. They employ great amount of leverage and are sought of unregulated. Another feature of CDO is layering of securities i.e. while securitizing, various classes of securities are issued – broadly classified as super senior, senior and subordinated ( also called mezzanine or junior notes) and equity (unrated). Super senior (and sometimes senior) bonds are generally rated AAA and subordinated (and senior if there is a super senior) could be anywhere from AA to B and equity tranche is unrated. Yields vary according to the ratings, obviously lower the rating higher the yield. In bankruptcy, losses are allocated to lowermost class and moves up the line as it exhausts, last one being the seniormost bond. The total CDO market in 2008 was approx $2 trillion.

These securities were rated by credit rating agencies (S&P Moody’s etc.), which made it easier for investors as it met their investment requirements. Infact they were generated and tailored such. For originators, as most transactions were being done on non-recourse basis, these got offloaded from their (bank) balance sheets, thereby considerably reducing their risks. The offloading (sale to SPV or another buyer) resulted in upfront profit booking, which proved to be big incentive and tempted them to do more. Originators were able to raise money through this alternative route and showed impressive results as they went on booking profits, and kept impressing stock markets (and their stock prices) which got earned them more incentives. Remember those million dollar bonuses. They repeated the cycle of more origination (pushing more money to consumers), more securitization and more profits. The scale, in trillions of dollars if one adds up all types of collaterals. Later on, though the pools were not as robust, credit rating agencies, an equally big culprit in the game, still assigned high ratings to them, possibly in lure of hefty fees they made. Remember it is seller (who gets securities rated) who was footing the bill and not investor. Investors world over invested in these security receipts in greed of higher yields.

In recent years however law relating to securitization has undergone tremendous change. In India, profits cannot be booked upfront and needs to be amortized. Further credit enhancements need to be provided along with the pool. True sale requirements (sale to SPV) have been made stringent.

So armed with these concepts lets see what happened. Since the recovery was on the back of asset bubble, it collapsed. When the prices of houses took a knock, correcting by over 40%-70%, the sub-prime segments and other variants started defaulting. As a result, all the securities and CDOs started experiencing cash flow problems. All those bonds and CDOs lost value and organizations owning them (the SPVs, the investors, the banks or hedge funds themselves) started experiencing losses. S&P revealed that, under its new recovery assumptions, any class rated A or lower would likely suffer 100% losses and the losses on AA-rated slices would be 95%. The junior AAA-rated tranches expect to lose 65% and even the riskless super-senior AAA tranches will suffer losses of 40%. Hence securities which only had sub-prime (or it variants Alt-A and other adjustable rate mortgages) pools lost almost entire value and organizations owning them took severe losses and eventually collapsed starting with Bear Stearns. Since these securities are marked-to-market (MTM - in accounting for fair representation these assets are valued by their fair market value rather than book value), they led to huge accounting losses. Due to multiple packaging, questions arose on actual valuation of these CDOs, causing further loss of confidence and value erosion.

Investors world over have far taken losses running over $500BN and have led to collapse of investment banks like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Meryll Lynch, insurance giant AIG, largest US Banks like Wachovia and Washington Mutual, big consumer finance institutions like Countrywide, government backed FIs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (both nationalized). Surviving investment banks lost their identity and has been converted to full time banks with government pumping equity) and many structured investment vehicles evaporated overnight. Citibank was on its knees and was saved by last minute intervention. Rating agencies, S&P and Moody’s, reputation is blown to pieces. Conglomerates like GE are facing heat because of GE Capital. The story is no different in UK, Australia, France, Germany etc. Due to globalization and increased velocity, these securities found its place everywhere.

We have talked only about mortgages. We have credit cards and leveraged bank loans which again run into trillions of dollars. As unleveraging continues, the securitized papers will lose value (due to cash flows and MTM) and deepen the crisis.

All this has resulted in seizure of financial markets. Loss of trust confidence have sucked out liquidity from the system and brought the financial world to grinding halt. Stock markets world over have collapsed to 1/3rd of their highs. Economies have started contracting. Industrial output is falling. Exports are declining. Margins are going down. Losses are piling up. It has started hurting the real economy ( income, consumer spending, employment etc. ) and is only getting chilling with every passing day. One must remember while equity didn’t give them the upside, the debt needs to be serviced and stands at value. Wealth generated over last ten years has been lost. Millions have been shown pink slips.

Probably an attempt to save a milder recession in 2000-01 only postponed the problem leading to a deeper recession. The European economists were right. Joseph Schumpeter, in a 1942 article, argued that recessions are a process of creative destruction in which inefficient firms are weeded out. Only by allowing the “winds of creative destruction” to blow freely could capital be released from dying firms to new industries. Had this been allowed when it was milder, we may have saved ourselves from todays all-engulfing seizure.

Lot or learnings for everyone, especially for us as professionals. It will worsen before it gets any better. India is not immune either in this globalized economy. End of the day, philosphy reins in, making money is not bad, making obscenely is.

Acknowledgements : The Economist ( Simon Cox & Others), Chicago Fed (Richard Rosen) and Wharton School Publishing ( George Chacko & Others).

Monday, December 01, 2008

Mumbai Meri Jaan

Last week was one of the sad and disturbing weeks of my life. The dastardly terror attacks on Mumbai left all of us very shocked, angry and frustrated.

The scale and sophistication of attack was unprecedented. Different access routes, loads of ammunition to survive days of fighting, simultaneous attack on multiple locations - some of them iconic landmarks and aiming of diverse nationalities leading to brobdingnagian damage to life and property. Indiscriminate firing on innocents commuters at VT, guests at Taj and Oberoi and the Nariman House, a Jewish settlement, has left approx 200 dead and 300 plus injured. Infact the damage goes beyond those dead, it has left everyone alive, scared and vulnerable.

The battle was witnessed live for 3 days on TV bringing Mumbai massacre right into our homes. It collapsed the sense of distance and made everyone part of the city. It’s their city, which was burning. Everyone was a Mumbaikar.

Over weekend, we have been talking about this with friends. The more one talks more the frustration, as it leaves so many unanswered questions, which basically points to the callousness and criminal negligence on the part of political leadership across spectrum. It’s their failure, which is exploited by administrative leadership who take it easy. The ‘chalta hai’ attitude and with money changing hands, politicians and administrators collectively have become spineless craven retards.

This is not the first time that political leadership failed us. This whole year we have been haunted by terror with blasts happening at Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Bangalore, Delhi. Still nothing was done other than customary sound bytes around maintaining peace and praising resilience of masses. On our part, we never protested and pushed for accountability. We chose to go on with our life. A collective sterner response would have yielded different results. For the first time the public response has left the political leadership ducking for cover. We shouldn’t forget this tragedy and keep the heat on the politicians till they perform to our satisfaction.

Such terror attacks also have other collateral damage - Inbound tourism, investments, slowdown, negative sentiments, lost days, lost productivity, cancellation of events, hotel occupancy, travel – everything gets affected. Coming on top of economic slowdown, the affect could be devastating for us.

Couples of steps, which government must take:

1. Stepping up intelligence. RAW should be strengthened. Investments in intelligence infrastructure should go up. Co-ordination amongst various intelligence wings should be stepped up. Probably there should be a central authority that should command all intelligence wings. Mechanisms to increase co-ordination amongst state and central agencies should be put in place.

2. Police reforms should be carried out immediately. They need to be de-politicised and paid better. Politicians have been misusing them for too long.

3. National policy towards terrorism should be put in place. No negotiations should form part of that.

4. Response infrastructure for all the cities should be put in place. Tier 1 cities, major hubs and installations including industries should receive help within 60-90 mins.

5. Lawmakers should immediately pass tough anti-terror law. We have been procrastinating this for too long. State governments should enact similar legislations.

6. Post event trials should be swift. Need to visible with our actions. Afzal, who attacked the Parliament, has still not been hanged though SC has confirmed the sentence twice. No one should have authority to Pardon. What signals are we sending?

7. Cabinet Committee should have Leader of Opposition as one of the participants. Have to take everyone along.

We on our part should be prepared to shoulder increased cost of security and gracefully accept the inconveniences due to increased security measures.

The only silver lining in this dark cloud is that it has bonded the citizens. Anyone talking about religion, cast or regional partisanship is a treasonist. It’s all about being an Indian. Hopefully the sacrifice of our countrymen will not go waste and create a stronger and peaceful India.

Jai Hind.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Beat these nerve-wracking times - Pick up Golf - My Experiences

This downturn though very scary in terms of job security is resulting into some unexpected benefits. We have more time than usual in our hands. I have decided to stay positive by making most of this time to visit the gym in the morning and hone my golfing skills.

That said; let me talk on my current passion. I got inspired to pick up this game by couple of events. First and foremost reason happens to be my pal Rajiv Kapadia, who took me to the range and subsequently to the course, during one of my visits to his place in Detroit. Somehow I had this perception that it’s not affordable and very elitist. As I grew this notion weakened but finally gave it away when I played with Rajiv. Two days to the driving range and then to the course - this act was enough to bury my apprehensions of what people would think if I am unable to hit the ball, what happens if I take more shots than usual, what about etiquette, rules etc. He said, “just enjoy the game and that’s all that matters”. That was a short trip and back to India and nothing much progressed for almost a year. Here, unlike US, you have very few courses, and most of them very expensive and exclusive and rest of them far off. So that inhibition remained to some extent. Coming to my second and third reason that were almost simultaneous – I am regular reader of Rishi Narain’s weekly column in The Economic Times and one of the articles, a year back, was around whats the best time to start Golf, some starting tips, couple of weekends with discipline, why its not very expensive proposition and so on. Motivated with that I decided to pursue what I had left back in US. At around the same time, I used to talk about golf with Mano Chhabra, a colleague of mine at GE. One day we decided to visit the range of TERI Golf Course, where he was the member. And with that the final barrier was demolished. I followed it up by visits over couple of weekends and then on there was no looking back. I also want to thank Mano for his grace in picking up the first invoice at the range. Around the same time another close friend of mine, Rajneesh Verma, was picking up and honing his skills, who now is a low handicapper.

Though I am a great fan of Jyoti Randhawa, I was little surprised by his comments in his column in The Times of India where again he tries to reinforce and build the ‘very elitist’ image. I believe most of successful golfers should try to break this image and make it comfortable for people to get initiated. This may do more harm than good to the game.

Anyway, here am I using the ‘abundance’ of time to practice. Trying to bring my handicap from infinity to a writable number. Golfing like any other game needs lot of practice and coaching. Here I share some experiences.

The more one hits the range and the course the more one gets better at connecting the ball, realizes the errors, builds strategies to correct it, improves the short game, realizes the difference between hitting on astroturf and hitting on the grass (that too of different types, heights, blade angle, density), gets a feel of yardages, use of assemble of clubs, learns the rules etc. To top it, no two courses are same. Full of leadership lessons to be learnt – Different courses are like business situations. These are like start-ups, turnarounds, ramp ups (sustaining success) or closure/divestiture. And every situation needs different combination of strokes to come out successful. This one feature of different courses is very enjoyable and has given us some of very astonishing courses in the world (where we may never be able to play !).

It’s such a humbling game and keeps your spiritual quotient intact and if you are not you will definitely become one. Hitting a stationary ball never proved to be so tough.You’re your ego will go for a toss. You are good one day and other day turns out to be nasty and forces you to improve. I was reading todays paper which talks about the Hong Kong Open. Jeev, who won Singapore’s flagship tournament humbling Ernie El and Padraig Harrington, was struggling at Hong Kong Open ranking 73 on the opening day. Hence it’s very important to keep the motivation going irrespective of how you fare one particular day. It’s an endeavor to continuously excel and better the game.

Playing full 18 holes is not easy, especially if you are walking the whole course. I have developed enormous respect for Pro’s who play 18 holes every day in a 3-4 day tournament, week after week. Its quite tiring - but isn’t it healthy as one ends up burning hundreds of calories.

However the best of all benefits, it’s a great stress buster. That’s true with any sport, but definitely so with golf. You get so immersed into it and come out thoroughly refreshed. A super tonic in such nerve-racking stressful times.

The only caveat, all the above holds true only if your wife buys into all the arguments put forth. So time it well. The initial capital expenses could be high – the set, the shoes, balls and coaching – so time it with buying something for her and it should be a little more expensive than your set. By the time she comes out of the good feeling, you would have picked up the game!

Hail Golf.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The 44th President of United States of America

We recently witnessed one of the historic events of the century - Barack’s win and election as the 44th President of United States of America.

With Barack Obama getting elected as the 44th President, it tells many things about the American society. The society has now truly become ‘Americanized’. I think this was very important to the spirit called America. Though no one admitted openly…it was still a white dominated polity. But things have changed, people’s views have changed and they have backed ‘change’. Barack’s election has changed the landscape forever. The society revisited the ideals around which America was built by its great founding fathers thereby keeping their dream alive.

It revived my memories of the Rosa Park bus displayed at the Henry Ford museum at Detroit. Few years back I had visited this museum and learned about the 'freedom and equality' movement. Rosa Park happened to be heading back home on the Montgomery bus and was seated just behind the seats (first ten seats) reserved for the whites. It was packed and suddenly white gentlemen stepped in. She was asked to move back/step down and she refused. She was arrested, charged and convicted. She challenged the conviction and the very legality of segregation laws, eventually leading to Supreme Court terming segregation laws as illegal. The series of events after that - the protest, the boycott - laid the foundation of a non-violent civil rights movement that changed the face of America. This struggle also gave birth to another leader - Martin Luther King, who had led the boycott protests.

Between that day and today - the society has demonstrated that it can adapt to changing times and take radical decisions in national interest defying their age old convictions or beliefs. It’s the same very society that has chosen to elect Barack, an African-American as their President more so in these unprecedented turbulent times. Its real tribute to the people of America who have shown courage and took this historic decision and to begin a new era in openness and equality.

The question is when will the Indian society reach those heights ?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Loss of Moral Values in Downturns

Downturn is bringing along with it other forms of casualty besides losing trillions of dollars. It is witnessing steep erosion of moral values. The moral fabric of companies and managers running has weakened. As they get jitterier, they tend to break away from promises made and don’t fight back within the respective hierarchy with the same ebullience as they would in good times.

The concept of morality and justice implies that commitments made in advance must be acknowledged even if it’s to one’s own disadvantage. To one’s own disadvantage is something we are not prepared to live. Why is our moral fiber built so tenuous that a simple sudden tension snaps it? Why do we people start tending to take decisions by popular demand than by principle?

Managers try to postpone or run away from the existing promises by blaming the ‘change in circumstances’? Changing times as a reason comes in handy in business like situation and everyone’s exploits that to cover his or her shortcomings in morality? We try looking for loopholes and escape routes for our commitments?

One of the reasons I have heard is ‘for the larger good’ we are doing this or have done this. We have started calling managers ‘smart’ based on who don’t follow these themes but what suits them.

Its in bad times that character gets tested and most may not come out in flying colors. Managers have always been preaching of how performance under stress is an important facet of leadership, but when it comes to crunch those very people in charge of leading it give away.

How devastating it can be for teams below, teams who carry an image of superiors as men and women of justice and integrity and companies as a place to practice that art? Image that’s built over years of professional careers comes crashing down with their contradictory acts. With the dark side let loose, it leads to breach in confidence and trust people have placed in the individual and the company.

Concept like trust, justice, fairness and morality, once lost is lost forever. It’s this emotion, which is fuelling the crisis. Liquidity and Solvency, yes, but the main reason is loss of trust leading to panic. Without trust, hell breaks loose and that’s what is happening.

This crisis will not go away soon and does that mean that ‘civil’ society will become increasingly ‘uncivil’. Doesn’t matter how much money you inject, how much surplus you create. None of it substitutes primordial emotions of trust and confidence.

This is the first downturn for majority of young professionals and the nastiest for the seasoned. The impression youngsters get or form on how their ‘seasoned’ bosses manage this crisis and whether decisions have elements of morality, justice and fairness will have a profound effect in shaping them up as future leaders in their corporate career.

Are only people to be blamed or is the state responsible for it as well? Unfortunate part is there is no state support structure in India for the society to lean upon, to survive such downturns. Will government give loans or aid to the parents so that their kids education doesn’t suffer? Absence of such support structure forces you to be selfish in your assessments and decisions. But still in the land of Rama and Raja Harishchandra who gave up everything for the sake of morality – morality at individual level is deteriorating everyday as the crisis deepens?

We all abhor corruption. But what about the ‘moral corruptness’ gripping us? What is the remedy? Leaders of every sphere will have to participate in according primacy to morality. Plato had proposed the creation of an educational system that focuses on the molding of character, with the ultimate goal of the educator being not just imparting knowledge, but also the ability “to turn the mind's eye to the light so that it can see for itself.”

We probably would have escaped this crisis with right philosophical foundations. Now with the damage done, it will be some time that confidence and trust gets restored. The recovery will hinge on how much we practice what we preach and we come out as better ‘cleaned’ individuals, holding our head high on moral grounds.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Astronomical Nos...Economical Nos...Infant Nos...

Came across a very relevant quote in todays context from Richard Feynman while reading one of his books/articles. He was a brilliant, leading post war theoretical physicist, a Nobel Laureate, a great teacher, terrific original thinker and writer. I quote :

"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It is less than the national deficit ! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers. - Richard Feynman, physicist, Nobel Laureate ( 1918-1988)"
When seen in todays context of financial crisis which runs in trillions of dollars, this number looks even smaller. Next generation will probably start counting from $1BN, $2BN, $3BN....$100 BN. Had he been alive...he may have called them "Infant Numbers".

What do you say ? Or Can you propose some other name !

Monday, October 13, 2008

Leadership in Crisis

Yesterday Sensex lost 800 points and has been on the losing streak throughout the week. Same has been the case of Dow, Nasdaq, Nikkei, Hang Seng and all the other bourses across the world. On the other side Rupee is on a continuous decline since the crisis intensified.

Are we seeing worst of times? As finance professional the events are overwhelming. How deep this shit is? How long will it continue? How many participants will it gulp? What does it take to get the confidence of players back? Since nobody has clear answers it’s leading to fear. And fear has no rationality. Further it has dented the trust levels and trust has not substitute. Majority of the business is transacted on trust. Even at work, we deal with our colleagues on trust. If one were to have everything in writing, it would be nightmarish to work. But once you lose trust on someone, then the team cracks. That’s what is happening in the financial markets. With trust taking a knock no amount of reassurance is working. It’s driving the stock markets throughout the world southwards. Every index has been shedding throughout last week leading to massive erosion of wealth and savings besides severe damage to investor confidence. Survival is becoming a big issue for most companies. But where is the Leadership in India to address these issues ?

I wrote sometime back that it appears a crisis of liquidity and not much of solvency. But slowly solvency concerns are catching up making it even worse. Rumours are running thick and fast. Slowdown is imminent. We need to accept it. Its first cycle for majority of the young Indians and they are finding it tough to digest. We are only 4-5 months into this turbulence and its already giving churns – what happens if this continues for another 1-2 yrs ? But how are pilots of this plane behaving ?

Central bankers have been making concerted moves but it seems they misjudged the extent and hence every move appears insufficient and poorly thought of. Indian situation is even more peculiar as just days back we were sucking liquidity from the system. Now it’s the other way round. Depreciating Rupee and inflation is not helping us either.

What is disappointing is the lukewarm and half-hearted response from the Indian authorities. It has been stale and reactionary. Further if we nurture ambitions of global leadership, then we need to lead from the front and provide visionary leadership. Most crises precede with signals and leaders pick that up early start acting. In this crisis signals were visible since 2007, unfortunately till recently we were not even acknowledging this issue, shrugging this off as a ‘rich country’ issue. We live in an interconnected and interdependent globalized world – then how could we believe that this crisis wouldn’t wound us.

This crisis had provided a unique opportunity to India to stand up and get counted and we let it go. Leaders are born and their characters get tested in crisis. We on our part chose not to even participate - that’s not leadership, especially when aspirations are high to play at a world stage. One needs to share the risk and rewards of being a world leader. Though we missed acting in crucial moments, its never too late. Next two weeks will be crucial. We need to be courageous in approach and action if we want to see Indian flag amidst US and European ones and replace someone in G-7 or may be form A-3 or 4 ( Group of Asian Tigers ).

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Gandhi Jayanti

Oct 2nd, birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more popularly known as Bapu or Gandhiji, is celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti in India and International Non Violence Day, the world over.

Couldn’t have been timelier with bloodbath all around. Lets see whats happening around the country. India has been rocked by a series of deadly explosions starting Jaipur, followed by Bangalore, Ahmedabad, (failed ones in) Surat, Delhi and recently North-East leading to heavy casualties of life and property leaving trust and confidence in tatters. It has managed to instill fear in the minds of innocent citizens and has shattered peace. The whole intelligence and security apparatus has failed, rather failed miserably.

Yesterday Ratan Tata announced pull out from Singur. He cited violence, agitation and lack of cogenial atmosphere as the key reason. We can blame Mamta Bannerjee but this what Left has practiced for ages and getting taste of their own medicine. Rule-of-Law has been thrown to garbage bin.

Orissa and Karnataka are witnessing violence against Christians of worst kind. Both sides are to be blamed. Christian missionaries, flush with funds from foreign shores, for luring conversions in poor tribal belts and Hindus for retaliating with violence. In a civil society one has no business to retaliate by raping and killing people.

Parts of Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar are hit by Naxal violence with parallel government running there.

I need not recount the J&K story. It has been worst hit by terrorism and every party has tried make most of the divide between Jammu and Kashmir and within Kashmir - within India and Pakistan. Month long Amarnath violence just got over, leaving even more bitterness.

North East under seize from local extremists.

Can it go worse than this? The entire country seems to be in grip of violence.

Don’t know how Gandhi must have felt, if he were alive, witnessing so many innocents getting killed in this mindlessness. One who couldn't even tolerate killing of oppresors -the 22 policeman at Chauri-Chaura - leading to him taking fast-unto-death to drive the non-violence discipline, would have taken to ‘samadhi’ for sure.

The causes remain the same what were prevalent in 1947. What our great leaders then worked to eliminate, political class of today have played it for narrow political gains. Anti-social elements have gained upper hand. Fractured conscience of our political class has given them legitimacy. Couldn’t believe that Manmohan Singh allowed every criminal to come out of jail, treated them as VIPs and allowed them to vote in the parliament to save his government. Why would they be afraid of law? Why would they fear an honest officer. Rather it will be the other way round. All those who sacrificed cushiness by not succumbing to corruption, worked honestly and tirelessly putting themselves and family to risk over years to get the criminal elements behind bars saw their efforts evaporating in seconds. Other parties fare no better. Nobody walks the talk citing political compulsions rather we are termed impractical. All of them are spineless. Their commitment to non-violence is over by releasing full page advertisements on this day and customary visits to Rajghat and wearing Khadi.

It comes handy to politicians and other leaders who want to hide their incompetence. We haven’t built a world class infrastructure, so ask people to refrain from road rage violence. We cannot take care of our internal security so we keep asking to citizens remain peaceful after every blast. We cannot eliminate corruption so we ask them to internalize.

Gandhism as a religion and philosophy is more relevant today than it was ever and needs to be celebrated. So how do we celebrate - by forcing shut-down of every single establishment? No entertainment complexes, no shopping complexes nothing is open? Why do we make it so dull? Urban families have no clue on what to do. Instead of enjoying the day, they start cursing as the day gets boring and stressful. Isn’t it violence of a kind – violence of authority? We need to make it lively; it’s a national holiday, and isn’t it a birthday after all. Birthdays are meant to be enjoyed with families and friends with pomp. That’s one way of spreading his philosophy. Munnabhai series has shown the way on how Gandhi’s ideology of truth and non-violence needs to innovatively presented to the current generation. Happiness and Joy go hand in hand with truth.

Hopefully next Gandhi Jayanti will be an enjoyable affair.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bloodbath Continues

Last week has been a watershed week in many ways. So overwhelming have been the events that all of us have been taken in by surprise and shock. This will definitely serve as turning point in the history of finance.

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have been converted to banks, WaMu seized, Wachovia disappeared, Money market funds at below par and the saviour $700BN package getting rejected by senate. It’s tough to digest so much so quickly. Haven’t added the European seizures. For sure it will get real nasty before it gets any better.

The crisis is not only the crisis of credit and liquidity, but of trust and confidence as well.

Corporates and Individuals both are in bad shape. Corporates are not getting money to run their day-to-day operations, forget long term, where borrowing costs are touching the sky. Return hurdles for lenders have gone up. One wants to lend very very safe. Individuals are in bad shape, with retirement savings, education savings and health savings gone. Shares are worth pennies, dividends being cut drastically, Mutual funds way below par, what does one do with the money? Where does one invest or rather keep?

How long with this mayhem continue? How deep and nasty would this massacre be? Till then one is subjected to daily torture and the grind of washing machine.

The land of opportunities no more looks attractive rather looks vulnerable? Their external relations screwed up, their internal situation mussy. I think it will require the leadership of the likes of early US presidents to pull them out of this mess. The greats who have built America will guide as guardian angels and help them come out of this state of confusion and disorderliness.

Suddenly it looks so much better to be in Asia.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bull Lynched


There are some events which happen once in a lifetime. They leave their mark for ever. This week saw one such event in the world of finance - the stunning collapse of Lehmann Brothers and Meryll Lynch and AIG teethering and can drown anytime unless Fed steps in. Wall St, never had it so bad and raging bull in front of it, watching it helplessly.

The decline started with collapse and fire sale of Bear Stearns. The tsunami of sub-prime has swept away everyone on its way. The top five investment banks have been reduced to two and who knows how long will even they survive. Goldman Sachs, which looked stronger till recently, suddenly looks vulnerable. Rumours are that even Morgan Stanley is not safe and may merge with GS. These firms were mecca of high finance and every MBA worth his salt dreamt to work there.

The collapse has sent the world markets into tizzy. Every country has been affected. Markets opened with trepidation and fear. Central banks of all nations are having sleepless nights and are working in a co-ordinated fashion to prevent the contagion and save the world from plunging into a major financial crisis. That its happening in front of eyes is unbelievable.

Thousands of jobs are at stake. Banks who have exposures on these entities, firms who have taken big punts based on commitments from these firms...all are at risk. Catastrophy of this magnitude and the speed of collapse is spectacular or should I spectacularly shocking.

Markets are squeezed dry. No one wants to lend...money market has evaporated..no one believes the other, trust gone..faith gone...back to treasury bonds. Isn't this scary. No liquidity has further aggravated the problem and will acclerate the (in)solvency.

What next - how bad can it go, has it bottomed out ? Is it at 50%, or worst - is it still tip of iceberg ? AIG has just been bailed out by Fed, by pumping in $85BN ( 50% of India's budget ) for 80% stake. America, the land of capitalism is in tatters, pride gone, standing with head down in shame, reputation tarnished, probably paying for reckless greed, primarily driven by few names. Makes me feel sad. I love that country. It shouldn't have happened. It probably could have been managed better. How come land of intellectuals and nobel laurettes let it happen. What went wrong ? In some way, was it greed, that was responsible. Appears everything was overlooked or justified in the name of big money.... companies showing bulgy bottomlines and executives fatter paychecks.

Wasn't it common sense...then why was it allowed to go unchecked, unabated...to allow the entire economy to be put at risk...their own taxpayers money to be used to bail out greedy investors and shareholders. If it is sub-prime, it had to go wrong...some day...trees don't grow up to the skies. In the name of financial innovation..basics were overlooked...derivatives, covenant lites ( I find this funny as well ) were the tools used to wreak this havoc and were rightly called weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Well rumour mill is on...it is being said that that some more US banks are in line - Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual,Countrywide gone, Alt-A, credit card, European banks -UBS etc, currency derivatives, yen carry trade. Sheer thought leaves me in shudders.

Well I hope there are lessons learnt and we avoid repeating same mistakes. Let the bull rage again, let wealth be created. Let the fear go, let the smiles be back on faces of employees, families and investors. Long live the free market.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Run for Fitness


Exercise is a great addiction – and this one, I am sure we don’t mind getting hooked to. These days, in addition to gym routine – treadmill, cross trainer, 4 station, abs machine and bench, I have take a liking to running.

Me and my pal Aman recently participated in community running. This was organized by ‘running and living ’, a group which promotes running. I somehow managed to complete the 5 Km run leaving my muscles stretched and cramped.

To our surprise couple of days later, we found ourselves splashed in an Indian Express article on ‘running for fitness’ in living section of the daily. I was quite surprised but liked it. That we appeared in the newspaper, we had to clear the ‘newspaper test’.

A month of preparation, I felt extremely proud yesterday when I ran full 5 Kms, non-stop in 30 mins. What an experience and the elation of achieving it.

It reinforces my belief that it’s all about setting up a goal and working towards it. It’s achievable. This one took just 20 days of preparation and it was possible. Of course I had the gym routine to back as well. So different from the school days when I used to shirk running. And here I was running after ‘running’ and enjoying it. Obviously other benefits include burning calories, toned up body and a good heart.

Do want to pen my appreciation for Rahul Verghese for selflessly promoting running for fun. You could visit www.runningandliving.com to understand nuances of running.

So, run for fitness.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Barkha Bahar Aayi

Its monsoon time and in todays melee we have somewhere forgotten the beauty and richness of this season. Have we ever celebrated monsoon in recent times ? Atleast I don't remember. The world has been too technical around monsoon. For urbanites it brings the dreadful memories of water logging and the resultant jams and chaos it brings along.

However their is very beautiful and poetic side this season. The months of July-August, sounds more poetic, when its called Barkha (Varsha Ritu or Rainy Season), per Hindu solar, or Saawan ( Shravan ) per Lunar. For some its more romantic....and for some more pious. Each of these emotions have been captured by our literary and musical greats in various forms.

It reminds me of 'Meghdoot' a masterpiece by great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, who asked Megh ( the clouds ) to be his doot ( the messenger ) and convey his love to his beloved ( post his separation using monsoon as metaphor ). Its one of the most romantic renderings I have read. How romantic can it be, well let me take you through the first chapter : The Plea

Quote

For failing to perform his duty, the Yaksha was banished for a year by his boss, Kubera to Ramagiri (Ramtek near Nagpur in India), where the trees are green and the waters holy. At the end of the summer, after having languished for months away from his Love and losing much weight, he saw a large cloud nuzzling a mountain peak in the sky. That sight reminded him how he wanted to hold her close to his heart. Her. Who was not there. He held his tears back and stood there quietly. The monsoons were approaching. "May be the cloud can take my message to her", he thought and he decided to suck up to the cloud. How a cloud, which is nothing but water vapor, can carry a message? But when you are heartbroken and sick with desire, you will try anything. "Great Cloud. Please help me. I am away from my beloved and miss her very much. Please go to the city called Alaka where my beloved lives in our moonlit house. Lonely women brush their hair away from their eyes and look up to greet you. Because you bring cool rain. And with the rains return their loved ones. Who wouldn't rather be with their Loves in this romantic season except the unfortunate ones like me who just cannot be there? Swift winds will blow you in the right direction. When they see you come the chataka birds will sing and the cranes will get all excited about the onset of the mating season. When you reach my place you will see my girl counting days till she sees me again. The stem of hope holds the flower of her heart, which is sure to wither without that hope. The swans, with lotus shoots in their beaks, heading for the Manas sarovar will keep you company all the way to Mount Kailas. The tall peaks that have known you year after year will greet you with warm tears of happiness.

Unquote

Had it not been for rainy season, the clouds ! If you go thru the rest of the poetry - the journey, description of Alaka,the place, his home, his girl, finally delivery of his message and final thoughts. Its an awesome piece of work. His another work, Abhigyan Shakuntalam is equally marvellous. But I have more fondness for 'Meghdoot'.

Musical geniuses have brought about the richness of this season with so many ragas and compositions. In Hindustani classical music, ragas are not only associated with a particular time of day, but also with seasons. Summer is regarded as the corresponding season for Raga Dipak, Monsoon for Raga Megh/Raga Malhar, Autumn for Raga Bhairav, Winter for Raga Malkauns, and the Spring for Raga Hindol. In particular, ragas of the season are associated with spring or Basant and the rainy season or monsoons. The Malhars ( that which washes away the dirt ) and its variants - Raag Megh, Megh Malhar, Desh Malhar, Shudh Malhar, Gaud Mahar, Nat Malhar, Mirabai ki Malhar etc which epitomises this season and have been entralling generations. They make us go ecstasic. Couple this with rich emotions - excitement, peace contentment, longing, anticipation, anxiety, romance and joy - all the rasas i.e. Veer, Karuna, Sringar and Viraha. Hear Ustad Amir Khan in Raga Megh.



Had it not for Megh Malhar, Tansen would have burnt himself singing Raag Deepak. Another popular classical form sung ( generally folk in nature ) in monsoon is Raag Kajari. It is derived from Kajara or Kajal ( Kohl ), which symbolises black monsoon clouds. This form of music has two facets - some exult the happiness of union and some depict pangs of separation. The latter is generally takes the more popular form. If you hear Shobha Gurtu singing Kajari, its no less than union with GOD. Hear this Kajari by Pt Ajoy Chakraborty. This recital was given by him on BBC while BBC was commemorating 50 years of Indian Independence. ( I have don't have permission from BBC, but I am sure they would forgive me )



This season also celebrates the birthday of Lord Krisna, who is also called GhanShyam (Ghan : clouds, Shyam :dark colored, which basically means monsoon clouds ). A popular composition reads, 'Ghan Aaye GhanShyam Na Aaye' ( Clouds have arrived but not my lover/husband. Painters have depicted Krisna in joyous moods the famous Raag Megh Raagmala paintings.

Well so enamoured are we, that youngsters these days create 'rain' for a rain dance and pay quite a hefty sum for such a experience in the 5 stars.

Bollywood has been one of best mediums to capture the beauty of monsoon. They have captured every emotion. I am picking some of the best numbers. Probably the best is Raj Kapoor's 'Pyar Hua Ikraar Hua' ( Shri 420 ) with Nargis, both standing together in an umbrella...looking so cool. How can you forget a wet Madhubala in 'Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi Si' ( Chalti ka Naam Gadi ) or Amitabh and Mousmi with clasped hands on Marine Drive in 'Rim Zhim Gire Saawan, Sulag Sulag Jaye Man' ( Manzil ). Neither can we forget Zeenat redefining sensuality in 'Hai Hai Ye Majburi..Tere Do Takiyon Ki Naukari mein mere laakhon ka Saawan jaye' nor fresh fresh Manisha in 'Rim Zhim Rum Zhum' ( 1942 Ek Love Story ). For sheer beauty of lyrics, hear out, 'Umad Ghumad ke Aayi Re Ghata' ( Do Aakhen Barah Haath ). Some of my favorites are - 'Saawan Ka Mahina, Pawan Kare Sor' ( Milan ),'Allah Megh De Pani De' ( Guide ), 'Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi' ( Chori Chori ), 'Hariyala Sawaan Dhol Machata Aaya' ( Do Bigha Zameen ). In recent times, the theme of Lagaan was around monsoon where farmers sing, 'Ghanan Ghanan Ghir Aaye Badra'. Finally the song which has the title on this article..'O Sajna Barkha Bahar Aayi, Ras Ki Phuhar Layi' ( Parakh ) beautifully sung by Lata Tai.

Don't feel like making this article very technical, but still. When I ask students why it rains...I don't find a convincing answer...almost everyone ends up describing the water cycle.

Finally the furious side of monsoon. Some of our states are perpetually flooded because of poor management. As I write this blog, Kosi has wreaked havoc and devastated large parts of Bihar.

Still no emotions can match the longingness of the first drop on the parched land after months of dry hot summer, leaving the intoxicating smell of earth.

Enjoy the Season.

Some More Olympics

After many many years did I watch a boxing match live. You would have guessed it - it was our Vijendar fighting it out. Adrenalin was rushing with every punch...felt like wearing gloves and hitting it out at the Cuban. Our man lost...but no worries he will get home bronze, a great achievement. This olympics...for India will remembered for Abhinav and shooters...Vijendar and boxers ....Sushil Kumar and wrestlers...Saina and shuttlers. Not bad...isn't it. We would come home with 3 medals - 1G and 2B. My heartiest congratulations to Sushil and Vijendar. India never had it so good and thank you for making us proud.

Friday, August 15, 2008

61st Independence Day - August 15, 2008

Today, on August 15, 2008, we are commemorating our 61st Independence Day. Here, where I stay, Regency Park 2 at Gurgaon, the residents welfare association made the day more memorable by the fabulous arrangements at our community park, to celebrate the occasion. Family and friends made it to the occasion. It started with flag hoisting ceremony followed by the National Anthem. We hardly see occasions where we get to sing our National Anthem these days. It is such a nice feeling to sing Jana Gana Mana. Then came the spirited performance by kids and fancy dress by toddlers, looking really cute as Gandhi Ji, Subhash Chandra Bose and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. There was a quiz related to events leading to our Independence and to my surprise no questions went unanswered, which is truly amazing. You want to try ? Some of the questions were - When was Battle of Buxar held ? Which event led to the end of Non Co-operation movement ? Which year was Dandi March held ? Who accompanied Bhagat Singh in the assembly bombing and so on? Finally, the last leg was games for kids and adults - run for luck and musical chairs respectively. I will try to post some photographs of the event. Family and friends made it to the occasion making the celebrations sweeter.

Well we had some funny moments as well. While a gentlemen was making a speech that Swami Vivekananda said it in 1897 that it will take 50 years for India to get Freedom and another 50 years to be on growth path, power went off, and we felt saying another 50 years to be self-sufficient in power and stable supply. Another gentlement was shouting 'जब तक सूरज चाँद रहेगा, तब तक भारत तेरा नाम रहेगा' and a friend shouted 'Belvedre Park पानी में डूबा रहेगा'. A downpour of an hour or so had led to waist deep water logging, potholed roads leading to chaos, jams and choked roads, throughout the city. For some it took 2.5 hrs to cover a 5-7 Km distance. Isn't it shameful ? All this tells us that its miles to go, before we sleep. I hope when we celebrate the 100th Independence Day, we may be done from these embarassments.

I am not that pessimistic either and certainly don't want to end in that note. We have made susbstantial progress on all the fronts, wealth has grown ( though it could have been a bit more inclusive but still better that not having it at all ), barring few states most of exploited the changed economic scenario and liberalised policies to the advantage of their people, we are a nuclear nation, we have successfully sent rockets in space, we are slowly getting recognised as economic powerhouse, we have become donors and its upto us how we make most of this momentum. Long Live India and Long Live Indians.

007 The Man With The Golden Gun


Aug 11, as the news rushed in our office that Abhinav won Gold at Beijing - our chest swelled with pride, what a ecstasic moment. It appeared as everyone had won Gold. He won the first individual Gold for India in 108 years. Event - 10m air rifle and score 104.5 . Metaphorically, it was like rains on the years of parched earth. A country of billion people had to wait for so long for this feat. Probably its a comment on us, system and administration on how we treat sports and sportsmen. Even though he is 25, he probably deserves Bharat Ratna for this stands out as a greatest sporting feat for this country in the modern era. Even Kapil said, this betters the India's '83 world cup win in cricket. The is far more 'global' and far more prestigious. Olympics is for the toughest, ohysically and mentally fittest, with best of the best taking part. Hence unless we get the Olympics right, we will never be a sporting nation. I have written earlier also on sports and sporting facilities in our country. The government infrastructure is so pathetic and the private so expensive that someone like Abhinav deserve kudos for the perseverence, determination and confidence with which he pursued his passion. More so, when he has been victim of criticism whether he was rewarded too early with Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and others post his International wins. Going by his style, he never made his displeasure public. Rather what a way to silence them for ever. He is now the World champion and the Olympic champion. I admire his calm and composure upon his win, which is what a shooter should be made of. He is the man of iron muscles and nerves of steel, our 007, our Abhinav James Bond Bindra, our Arjun. Many congratulations to him.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Go Kiss The World

I happened to be in Landmark - the bookstore at Gurgaon, this Friday. To my surprise I met Subroto Bagchi, present there to launch his book by the name "Go Kiss The World - Life Lessons for Young Professional". It was truly a well spent hour. He read out the excerpts from his book wherein he took us through his journey of life. It was journey in time, struggle his family had to go through, rural Orissa, his experiences with Aziz Premji and finally where he is - Gardener, author and father. Its great experience to hear the author reading his own book.

He started with the story of a lady who was working in Taj, where he was put up in Delhi, who happened to be from his state. Here she was from a small town, working in Taj at Delhi and tomorrow could be working in Taj's newest acquired property in NY. He said, its the professionals who are defining history and there was never such a time.

We also got an opportunity to interact with him and ask questions. On time management, he said, forget most of those management fundas. Find the "cause" and time will find you. Majority of the time we are not sure about the cause, not convinced and we will never find time for it. Finding the cause the key. He shared many examples. I couldn't agree more. If you want to including reading in your routine, you need to be convinced and you will find time to read. Thats is true with hobbies as well. If you approach it frivolously, you will never find time.

He also shared some other beautiful facts of life. I liked his insights on displacement. He shared that displacement generally leads to growth. That is true with a student changing schools with changes in fathers posting, professionals moving from places to places, communities moving from country to country etc. It causes unrest, dislocation but ultimately makes you comfortable and leads to growth and finally wealth generation. Sharing an excerpt from his book.

Quote
"But it is important to know that quite often displacement is the key to progress, and we need to develop comfort with it. My early life experiences helped me build a high degree of comfort with displacement. Water in a pool is stagnant; only when it flows is it energized. The entire universe is in constant motion; even a moment of motionlessness is inconceivable in the cosmic state of things. Many professional shudder at the thought of physical displacement, yet crave rapid mobility and growth in the career.

When you are continuously displaced, you make friends easily. You have low expectations from the unfamiliar; hence you are more pleasantly surprised than frustrated when faced with life’s many ups and downs.

You explore everything, develop curiosity- new lands, customs, food, and ways of doing things begin to draw you in.
You learn to survive on the strengths of who you are, just for this day, today.
You build ingenuity in order to survive.
You trust strangers and, hence, strangers trust you.
You build intuitive capability to sniff trouble – which can tell you when to leave a bar!
You become an interesting person, because you have lots of stories to tell.
Finally, you learn to move on."

Unquote

This book is inspiring and is about young professionals and professional life. Most of the young professionals like us have grown along with the India growth story. I can connect with his comments on mid-life crisis so to say where some tough decisions need to be made. ( I think tough decisions need to be made everyday but still ! ). It helped me reinforce some of my decisions and I stand more convinced. I haven't read others but I will catch up with them fast.

My liking for Subroto comes from his column 'Times of Mind' he used to write for Times of India. Each article is worth reading and soul stirring. The one which I remember is the 'The Fallen Tomato Cart'. I have attached the link of his 'Times of Mind' series of articles for the enthusiasts. He shouldn't have stopped writing this column.

http://www.mindtree.com/subrotobagchi/times-of-mind

Subroto is man of very high integrity, a virtue tough to find these days commonly. And that what connects me with him the most. However I do have questions on issues you face in your professional life and may be he could mentor me on this.

Other thing what connects me with him is GE. I work for GE Capital and he worked for GE Medical as a professional and as a member of board for some time. So we are both GE,ites :-)

So finally the session ended. I took his autograph on the book. I again selfishly asked him to address it in my name to which replied - Do have a spouse ? I said, yes, her name is Anu and she will be delighted. So he writes " Dear Ajit and Anu" and says "What would we be, without our spouses". How true ! I wish I get to spend one-on-one time with him some day.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

O Lal Meri Pat - Dama Dam Mast Qalandar

This has been one of my favorite nos. I have been humming this for years now. It has been a hot favorite with all singers, notably qawwals and these days the reality show contestants. Some of the known names who have lent their voice to this - Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Madam Noor Jehan, Wadali Brothers, Reshma, Sabri Brothers, Jagjit Singh, Runa Laila, Lata Mangeshkar, bands like Junoon and this list endlessly goes on. Many college bands have attempted this giving a rock flavour. That, one song could be so popular amongst so many, I wondered, what this song is all about, what's its true meaning. This and last week I spent looking for all the versions and answers to my questions. What a fascinating and satisfying journey it has been.

This song is in the honor of Sufi mystic 'Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar'. Every word of his name has a meaning - he was known as Hazrat ( prophet of GOD ), Lal ( he wore red robes or mothers fondly call their kids as Lal ), Shahbaz ( Shah - King and Baz - Falcon, king of falcons and an Iranian GOD who led them to victory, a divine spirit ), and finally Qalandar ( a qalandari - a sufi saint, poet, mystic, noble man ). He settled in Serwan ( Sindh, now in Pak ) and tried bringing peace between Hindus and Muslims. Hindus regard him as GOD and reincarnate as well. You can hear many Punjabi singers, singing in his praise. He is also fondly called as Jhulelal.

So the song goes like this :

O laal meri pat rakhio bala jhoole laalan, Sindri da Sehvan da, sakhi Shabaaz kalandar, Dama dam mast kalandar, Ali dam dam de andar

(O the red robed, May I always have your benign protection, Jhulelal (as he was affectionately called ). O, the lord,the friend and the Sire of Sindh and Sehwan ( or Serwan ),The red robed God-intoxicated Qalandar, The lord in every breath of mine, glory unto to you)

Chaar charaag tere baran hamesha, Panjwa mein baaran aayi bala jhoole laalan
O panjwa mein baaran, O panjwa mein baaran aayi bala jhoole laalan, Sindri da Sehvan da, sakhi Shabaaz Qalandar, Dama dam mast Qalandar, Ali dam dam de andar

(Your shrine is always lighted with four lamps, And here I come to light a fifth lamp in your honor )

Hind Sind ( some also sing Ghanan ghanan ) peera teri naubat vaaje, Naal vaje ghadiyaal bala jhoole laalan, O naal vaje, O naal vaje ghadiyaal bala jhoole laalan
Sindri da Sehvan da sakhi Shabaaz Qalandar, Dama dam mast kalandar, ali dam dam de andar, Dama dam mast Qalandar.

(Let your heroic name ring out in Hind & Sindh ( or lets the gongs bell loud ), Let the gong ring loud for your glory day and night by the people ( ghariyal - watchman, symbolism of night )

Har dam peera teri khair hove, Naam-e-ali beda paar laga jhoole laalan, O naam-e-ali, O naam-e-ali beda paar laga jhoole laalan, Sindri da sehvan da sakhi Shabaaz Qalandar, Dama dam mast Qalandar, Ali dam dam de andar

( O Lord, may you prevail everytime, everywhere, I pray of oyur well being, In the name of Ali, I pray to you to help my boat cross (the river of life) in safety)

After learning the meaning, the fondness for this song has grown multifold. I have attached clippings of various singers. You will thouroughly enjoy all the renderings. I have a special mention for the one from Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from his young days and the young Abida Parveen.
------------

Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – see music breaking religious barriers – See the Sikhs getting intoxicated with this music



Madam Noor Jehan – See the class



Reshma – See the simplicity



Abida Parveen - See the divinity



Abida Parveen – In her younger days - truly majestic



Band Junoon – See the contemporary



College of Wooster students – popular amongst students – hear the band wow



Shrine of Saint himself - Lal Shahbaz Qalandar



Sabri Brothers - favorite of qawwals



See this – awesome – Janice Miller an American singing for Jagjit singh – see even Jagjit singh dancing - what a video



Lord belongs to everyone - Sindhi dhamal gathering - lighter note



Qalandari Dhamal – Gulbahar Bano, Saraiki

Sports and Physical Fitness

A lot depends on what kind of facilities are available where you are. As a kid and upto class 12, I had both.

Sainik School Balachadi had a huge campus. We had many football, hockey, basketball, volleyball and cricket grounds. I used to play all of them except for Cricket. I enjoyed watching it but never could ball or bat well. Invariably ended up fielding and started losing interest. The outdoor sports, mostly being team sports, were solid fun. Other activities included a morning routine of 3km and 7km runs around two famous temples. Overall,I think Sainik Schools do a good job of creating a culture of physical fitness.

From a sports/physical fitness perspective, probably my engineering years were the worst. Did nothing.

First one and a half years into my job, I stayed at Tata townships. Good part of living at Townships is extremely affordable sports facilities. At Jamshedpur, I learned to play billiards and snooker. I had a choice between this and golf and don't know why I went for Billiards. Probably because some of my friends went for it and we could drink and have snacks while playing. Pune, luckily we had a govt swimming pool nearby, and I was a regular.

After Pune, I had to move to cities and began my 2nd bad phase. Indore, Bhopal, Ahmedabad didn't have multiple govt. facilties or may were very far off. There were clubs, which housed these facilities, and were too expensive.

Luckily at Chennai, I was staying near IIT and they have a fabulous championship swimming pool. I made full use of it. At the time of transfer to Gurgaon, I was doing 40-50 lengths of an olympic size swimming pool.

At Ggn, back to club culture and most of them expensive.

During this time, I was introduced to Golf by Rajiv Kapadia, a very dear friend, while visiting him at Detroit. He took me to the range for 2 days and then to the course for next 5 days. Truly enjoyed the game. Liking turned over to passion and back here Mano Chhabra took me to TERI driving range. From then on I am hooked to it. Today I took some definitive steps towards commiting even further to this game. Bought a 'Dunlop' Golf Set and subscribed to the membership of TERI Golf Course. Over years I will try to introduce this game to Navaangi and Aadi, and hope that they will take liking to it. I can now afford to take membership of a local city club, which has some of the other facilities. I wished that some of my close friends picked it up, it would have been so much more easier for all of us to play as a group. Wives would have had known company. I have also started gymming.

But most of this happened so late. Due to accesibility and affordability issues and partly to attitude as well.

Local govts. need to assume more proactive role in maintaining public health. They need to create multiple facilities and make sports affordable and accesible and not leave it to private clubs. Benefit includes a physically fit and mentally active. It also brings in discipline. This does so good to the society and results in reduction of health costs. This is also showing up in our standing most international sports, including Olympics. But since this does't translate into votes, they do a shoddy job of it. Oh ! I am sorry...no job of it. Hope we have good days ahead.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Thought for the day

Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Fermats Last Theorem

I finished reading Simon Singh's 'Fermat's Enigma' and had earlier read his 'Fermats Last Theorem ( FLT )'. I am yet to come across a problem which a ten year old can understand, appears deceptively simple and yet has been one of the toughest problems in mathematics and and took over 300 years to prove. Simon obviously makes it an interesting read, a racy thriller so to say.

This is going to be a long one. I want to talk about certain things in detail, which I liked, though I will keep it simple.


Let me start with, what is FLT and why its called so ? We all know whats Pythagoras Theorem. One of the most fundamental theorems which everyone has to learn irrespective of which stream they study. Its says for a right angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse equals sum of the square of the two other sides. Mathematically presented


x^2 + y^2 = z^2 where

The above equation in a general form would look like


x^n + y^n = z^n [ has no whole no. solutions for n>2 ]


Fermat, born on Aug 20 ( I am Aug 19 ! ), 1601, proposed that there are no whole no solutions to the above equation for n>2 !!! and said he has the proof !! So the only form its true is the Pythagoras Equation. Fermat had studied all the theorems written in Diophantus's 'Arithmatica' and had solved them. This particular one he didn't write the proof, citing that there was not enough space. Of all his theorem's, this remain unresolved, it came to be called as FLT. He was the architect of Calculus though popularly its known more with with Newton ( even I thought so till I read this ! ).


Andrew Wiles, Professor of Mathematics at Princeton Univ proved it in 1993 after seven years of isolated laborius research ( there were certain gaps which were corrected by 1994 ). The proof takes us through the myriad journey of various forms of mathematics.


It starts with the concept of proof - and how mathematical proof differs with scientific proof. In science one can carry experiments and if results are consistent, it can taken as true. Doesn't work in mathematics. Every theorem has to be proven beyond doubt. Its built of infallible logic. It may be true for trillion observations and may be proven wrong for trillion plus one. And since most proofs incorporate other proofs, all the cards could collapse, which would be disastrous.


This theorem was attempted mainly by number theorists. These guys are always on the look for relationships. So we had whole nos to start with, moved to rational nos. to take care of fractions, then irrational nos ( most famous being pi ), invented negative nos and lastly 'imaginary' nos. These were important discoveries from the perspective of 'philosophy of completeness'. For eg. 5 - 3 = 2, but what happens if its 3 - 2 ( and this happens in debt transactions ), hence negative nos were invented/introduced. It was a similar situation for Bombelli, who was working on square root of 1. Let me use the symbol _/ for square roots.


_/1 = 1, because 1*1 = 1, but a lesser thought answer is -1, because -1*-1 = 1, as well. Moving on, so then what is the _/-1 ? Thats when imaginary nos were invented : _/-1 = i. But if there is a an i, there has to be 2i, 3i...., i/2 etc. The problem was where do they fit on the no. line and hence a vertical axis was created in the no. line. This actually solved most of the problems of mathematics.

On the way, number theorists, found some interesting relationships. One of them was the 'perfect nos' - divisors of the no. add up to the no. itself. For eg. lets take 6, divisors of 6 are 1,2 and 3, which add up to 6. So is the case with 28 ( 1,2,4,7,14 ). Check for others ? I will give you next four - 496; 8,128; 33,550,336; 8,589,869,056.


Other one being friendly nos ( again by Fermat ). They are pairs of nos such that each no. is sum of the divisors of the other no. For eg. 220 ( 1,2,4,5,10,11,20,22,44,55,110 ) and 284 ( 1,2,4,71,142 ). Couple of interesting things, I learnt on these amicable nos. Talismans in those ages inscribed these nos as they were considered to promote love. Lovers used to inscribe these on fruits and eat it as 'mathematical aphrodisiac'. I love this piece !! Some of the other pairs are 1,184 - 1,210 ; 17,296 - 18,416 ; 9,363,584 - 9,437,056.


The journey also included various methods of proving a theorem. Some of them pioneered by Euclid. In his, 'The Elements', he talks about 'Reductio ad Absurdum' ( proof by contradiction). If you want to prove a theorem to be true, start by assuming it to be false ( bizzare !! isnt it, but works ) and then go on solving it, till it reaches a point of absurdity, hence the original assumption is wrong, hence the theorem is proved to be true.


Another good one is 'Proof by Induction'. Prove it for the first piece of the equation and one ends up collapsing all the cards i.e. ends up proving for all the cases, if true for one. The most popular eg. being proof of :


Sum of 'n' nos = 1/2 *n ( n+1 ) [ you guys can check this out, if you need, write to me separately and I will send it across ]


Another piece which had a devatating effect on FLT was Godel's assertion on undecidability. He put across two theorems of undecidability; first, If axiomatic set theory is consistent, there exists theorem's that can neither be proved nor disproved !! and the second, There is no constructive procedure that will prove axiomatic theory to be consistent. This piece was generally devastating for mathematics. In simple words, it says that no matter what set of axioms are used, there would be questions which mathematics could not answer, so you will never achieve completeness ( remember I spoke about this philosophy in the earlier para ) and second one is even worst - consistency could never be proved - you meaning mathematicians can never be sure that there axioms would not lead to contradiction. Mathematicians started thinking may be FLT could never be proved.


What I liked more was the way above statements have been explained to laymen like us. Its the 'Liars Paradox' invented by Epimenides. Examine the statement said by Ajit:


' I am a Liar'


Lets see whether this statement is 'true' or 'false'. Assume its 'true'. So it implies that Ajit is a liar. But we assumed that Ajit made a true statement and therefore Ajit is not a liar. And we have an inconsistency. Lets assume that the statement is 'false'. This implies that Ajit is not a liar, but we assumed that he made a false statement, and hence Ajit is a liar - we have another inconsistency. So whether we assume the statement to be 'true' or 'false', we end up having inconsistency and therefore the statement is neither 'true' nor 'false. Hence this statement doesn't have any proof.


So lets move on to parts of mathematics which finally shaped the proof of Fermats Last Theorem. The study of elliptic curves ( equations ), modular forms and mathematics of 'symmetry' and hyperbolic space ( 4 dimensional space). These are bizzare and wonderful concepts, which even I don't fully understand hence will not talk in detail. Except for in layman terms, I can say that symmetry could be in many forms - reflectional ( you and yourself in mirror ), rotational ( square as seen fro axis ), translational ( this is tough one ! ) etc. Modular forms show inordinate level of symmetry, hence were intensely studied ( Penrose mad it even more famous ).


Taniyama and Shimura, two mathematicians from Japan, who were studying primarily modular forms, were able to link Elliptic Equations ( E series ) and the modular forms ( M series ) and proposed a conjecture popularly known as Taniyama-Shimura ( T-S ) conjecture. It stated that every elliptic equation is associated with a modular form. It was extraordinary and revolutionised the number theory. This was in line with the grand unification of mathematics as thought earlier, linking various mathematics. Modular Forms and Elliptic equations are two entirely different forms of mathematics, without linkages and here someone found one. So what does it do, if one is not able to solve a problem thru the elliptic equation route, he could pursue solution on modular route and convert it and vice-versa. This is like electricity and magnetism - two entirely different phenomena, linked by physicists ( one can produce electricity by magnetism and vice-versa ). Links are like Rosetta stone which helped us understand hieroglyphics by providing the right links between different languages.


Another mathematician attempted to link number theory and geometry and attempted to solve the FLT.


Meanwhile, Gerhard Frey, linked the elliptic equation and T-S conjecture with the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. With deft maneovre's , he rearranged the equation

x^n + y^n = z^n ; to


y^2 = x^3 + ( A^N - B^N ) * x^2 - A^N * B^N, which is a elliptic equation.


He proved that this equation was 'weird' ( in mathematical terms ) and did not have a modular equivalent. But T-S conjecture said that every elliptical equation has a modular equivalent. The logic was built like this : If T-S conjecture is true - then every elliptic equation has a modular equivalent - so, then this eqn doesn't exist - if this doesn't exist, then there is no solution of Fermats Last Theorem - hence the theorem is 'true' or else T-S conjecture is 'false'. Hence if someone proved the T-S conjecture, he would have proved FLT.


Andrew Wiles worked on this and eventually proved the T-S conjecture, which led to the prove of FLT. He made this historic annoucement on June 23, 1993 at Newton Institute at Cambridge. As with any proof , its is rigorosly checked before being accepted. His proof was found to have some gaps, which is he worked on for a year and eventually plugged it.


He pursued his childhood dream, made it his passion. Hear it from the genius himself





What is still intriguing the mathematicians is that all this mathematics were invented in 20th century whereas Fermat wrote that he has a proof, in 17th century and that he did not have enough space in books margins... for sure it would have been based on 1th century mathematics...so what was the proof ? Go hunt it !!!