Saturday, September 15, 2018

Deathbed: A Short film

Circled around the Deathbed
They weep and moan
Sullen looks, swollen eyes, measured sighs
Magic Makeover tailored for the occasion

All in anticipation of the breaking news
and pray if it doesn't seem forthcoming
They fret and fume within,
drained by the 'performance'

How long? they wonder,
for the politically correct broadcast
across media: social and anti-social,
of heartrending obituaries
and touching tributes
proofed, edited, revised and rehearsed
All in readiness

Fun to watch,
this short film
On the futility of life,
featuring the departing soul
in a culminating cameo,
Ironically on the Deathbed.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

My Father - A stream-of-consciousness tribute

When people outside the so-called family cherish your values, and of those residing in your hearts and minds for life, you feel blessed. It was a great thought session today with some new friends from Pune. Recounting the life and times of my dad for their benefit, in what proved a sweet tangent to the moot point, was an experience beyond words. I reproduce my two-penny tribute to mark this day, a very special one indeed, spent at a coffee shop bang opposite the iconic Bhandarkar Institute.

Thanks to an unimaginably difficult childhood and countless instances of injustice inflicted by mean, insular and insensitive superiors throughout his rich and varied employment tenure - whether as an academician, school teacher, professor, research officer or director, not to mention scores of odd, one-off jobs he did for a living - the real worth of his timeless work was never recognized in full measure. And he never believed in promoting his cause despite winning the admiration of and endorsement from renowned scholars like A L Basham of the University of London (and later Head of Department of Oriental Civilization at The Australian National University), Robert Bosc, S.J of the Institut Cath-olique de Paris, Institut d’Etudes Sociales, Action Populaire, France, Dr. J M Mehta, Vice-Chancellor, M S University Baroda, legendary geographer O H K Spate, eminent historians R N Mehta, D C Sircar and Professor Herbert J Wood and noted scholar A D Pusalker. His chart on the Dynamics of Indian History showing the operation of the Centripetal and Centrifugal forces in political history won critical appreciation from the world over.

These accolades did little to boost his official status in government, semi-government and private organizations alike. To make matters worse was his inherent inability to converse with the people at large. Many among them proactively came closer on the pretext of knowing him better. This often made him an hapless victim of hidden agendas and ulterior motives. The media and publishing tribe was no exception, drawing rich insights from him but force-fitting them in frameworks of their conceited and constricted minds, and, creative and counterproductive machinations. Somewhere the wounds of these experiences had left him scarred deep within. The most tragic fallout of this quandary was that he was neither able to spell out the Utopian independence he craved for all his life, nor could he ever measure his own greatness, often reaching out to the wrong people, trading instinct for intellect and vice versa in forging suspect relationships, largely ignoring the security checks to validate the trustworthiness of the staged affinities extended from the other side.

Add to that the long list of his manufactured eccentricities, more the result of sheer dejection than any inherent tendency, that forced him to develop a coconut-like disposition. Those who cared to see through, and look beyond, the hard shell were generously blessed with the sweet nectar of his pioneering thoughts - insightful observations on matters of life and death and a remarkably detached, holistic scholarship that knew no bounds of academic or professional disciplines. As his children, we did manage to make a few inroads in several 24 carat moments of togetherness but there's no denying the fact that we largely failed to look at things from his perspective, ridiculously consumed by our circumstantial preoccupations all along. Such learnings, rooted in unconditional acknowledgment, unfortunately happen only in hindsight.

And yet, something extraordinary happened during the last three days: when he was sapped of energy in a seemingly rapid onset of sodium loss as the doctors suspect in a convenient conjecture. He became exceptionally soft and mild mannered and we saw glimpses of my mom in his gestures and utterances. It's our good fortune that the three days had us wrapped together in a celestial bond of a lifetime that can only be experienced, never described. Towards the evening of the third day on 11th November, he was hospitalized for what looked like a case of chest congestion. Looking at his condition, we had given up all hopes but he came back in a miraculous recovery which we could sense was short-lived. Nevertheless, throughout 12th and 13th, as he went through scores of ups and downs, we had rich, fulfilling conversations that were amiss all this while.

My mom, although timid by nature all her life, won over her cancer when she called me and held my hand before she breathed her last. So we were more than sure something similar was planned for dad. And we were not disappointed. We have no reason to complain - for we were blessed with eleven wholesome years with him post my mother's demise knowing fully well that he was prepared to leave this world long before her exit.

Doctors could never confirm the exact cause of his demise but we know he timed his death in a manner befitting his sterling character. All his life, he played with words in a world of his own and the Jacques Derridas, Edward Saids, Bertrand Russells, Karl Poppers, Narhar Kurundkars, N C Kelkars and Dharmanand and Damodar Kosambis would have surely come to his rescue as he was going through the motions of the final act. No wonder, he was fully alert and mindful of everything till the very last.

To borrow his own words:

आता सरसावून पुढे जायचे नाही
केव्हा सरेल वाट ठाऊक नाही
पण चरैवेति चरैवेति
शिकायचंय अजून बरच काही...

No more putting my
best foot forward
for the dead-end lurks
around the corner
But I keep going,
keep going
for there's much yet to
learn and garner

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Archetypes & Stereotypes

Gist of a series of fruitful discussions with actor, activist and psychiatrist Dr. Mohan Agashe

For the better part of the twentieth century, literacy was measured in terms of the ability to read and write, not by the facility to watch and listen.

As a result,

The last word was etched in print

Key for Learning was instruction, not instinct

Sounds, images, gestures were blurred in the maze of words

Those who knew how to read and write exploited those who did not.

While the innovators and activists of film and television media actively took up social awareness and awakening issues, the ‘news channels’ made news entertaining by including elements of drama and intrigue in news bytes.

Cultural aberration

Although the need for audio visual literacy was universally marginalized, region-specific cultural sensitivities made a huge difference in the manner in which such information was received by end users. Unlike the West, Asian and Indian populace is more rooted in sensory perception.The conduit for receiving communication in this part of the word in invariably emotional.It naturally helped makers and broadcasters of media smartly reconstruct their versions of truths in line with their respective agendas.

Makers & Takers

Makers of Audio Visual media in India: Vested interests found it easier to promote their own twisted ideologies and causes

Takers of Audio Visual media in India: Vulnerable viewing consumed messages without interpretation and introspection

Gender in films

Gender is an inevitable component of any filmic plot and characterization.

Love stories necessarily highlight gender issues on celluloid but very few films explore gender realities in the specific context of social expectations and constraints governing gender roles and relationships.

Most Indian films portray gender issues as stories of:

Oppression & Suffering (problem is the key word)

Resilience & Triumph (solution is the key word)

Personal fulfilment amidst social obligations & expectations (strife is the keyword)

The three principal themes give birth to sub themes which are often a fusion of the three in varying proportions:

Emblematic gender relationships that define boundaries, expectations, aspiration and compromise in marital and family life or in choosing a life partner

Vulnerability of women: gender-related challenges of overcoming adversity, either individually or collectively

Nurturing role of a Woman : as the source of strength, within families as also in unconventional settings

The Rebellious woman: who wields power in political and other settings, typically challenging expectations and surmounting limitations of gender stereotypes

In each of these themes and sub-themes, cultural aspects of vulnerability are depicted vis-à-vis opportunities for resilience, independence and power.

As with any social issue rooted in controversy, the filmmaker may:

either pander to expectations of the status quo, or question the status quo citing alternatives, thereby stimulating reflection, discussion and debate about how things are and how they should be. Region-specific cultural sensitivities made a huge difference in the manner in which cinematic information is consumed

Mainstream Films often tend to promote:

Social/cultural/religious beliefs rooted in tradition

Archetypes and Stereotypes based on gender and sexuality

Vision and mission of the establishment

Commercial objectives of business & industry stakeholders

Pet media Stereotypes: Timelessly Hypocritical

A lady is either hailed as a goddess or condemned as a vamp, strictly a binary characterization.

Housewives are necessarily shown as ‘nagging’ and the prime reason why husbands ‘look’ elsewhere.

A fair complexion is still sought after, and dark skinned people are yet an object of ridicule (The recent anti-fairness cream wave - though more of an advertising ploy than a social movement - is heartening, given that it helps debunk fairness-related myths and prejudices)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The refreshing fruit juice

Like any other city dweller, the regular hustle-bustle on the pavement hardly distracts me. On the contrary, there’s something quite reassuring about its inimitable rhythm. Precisely why the goings-on around me never prompt me to stop and take notice, even for a moment.

So here I was, pacing through the street, feeling important and privileged for no good reason. Just as I took the turn in the mundane direction of my office building, a particular sight broke my habituated trance.I saw a frail, bubbly kid, around five, walking alongside his mother in perfect harmony. Merrily cruising along with the customary innocence of a kid, he stopped all of a sudden, his gleaming eyes stuck on a roadside Fruit Juice Stall.

The gaudy signboard above and the flowing gutter below were hardly an encouragement for a quick respite with fruits. But this was how I measured the proposition. The kid thought otherwise. His enquiring glance at his mother said it all. The lady seemed tense; a disapproving grimace already spanning her grim face in meek defense. But her son’s pleading gesture was overpowering, she soon realized, looking lost for a moment. The quandary was unmistakably working class, one that grappled with an unplanned and ill-timed expenditure that threatened to upset the forced equilibrium of her day-to-day existence. But the heart finally reigned supreme as she forced her way towards the shabby, over smiling vendor.

The menu was displayed in cheap red paint on the right corner of the wooden stall. After a moment of reckoning, she finally settled on Chikoo Milk Shake. Her kid nodded his instant approval. As the liquid slowly turned the glass brown all the way to the rim, the boy waited for his moment of splendour with bated breath. And finally, there it was, overflowing with the magic potion of everlasting bliss. The mother removed a tiny purse from the corner of her faded blouse and deprived it of 12 rupees...all crumpled notes.

The joy ride lasted for a second or two and then came the final moment – the glass resting upright on his lips as the last sip noisily sailed through. Having quenched his thirst at the windfall oasis, the lad now willingly succumbed to the desert of his life. Within a moment, the mother-son duo was out of sight. How I wish this bliss was eternal, just as the kid had just concluded for himself.

Watching the whole scene from the adjacent bookshop mocking an arduous waiting-for-someone act to prove my sanity – one look at the pavement followed by another at my wristwatch – was tough no doubt but worth all the while.

As I reclaimed myself to face the grind, like a mesmerized audience leaving a cinema hall at the end of a gripping movie, a warm sensation gushed out of my navel to fill me throughout. Much like the juice in the glass that the kid relished a while ago. The sultry sirens and handsome hunks of Bollywood seemed to stare at me from the glossy magazines behind me, dangling in disbelief.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Heartfelt Haiku

Meeting your true self
After forty eight long years
Reunion for life!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Pet care at its best

“The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.” – Charles De Gaulle

Tete-a-tete with Derek Demitrius, Founder of Pune Pet Park

For long, Lohegaon was better known for the Pune International Airport as also for 2 wing, one of India's oldest Air Force bases. Now the place is best known for Pune Pet Park, co-incidentally the brainchild of an ex-Air force maverick, a safe haven for pets that we discovered in the course of trying to do our bit for the wonder dog Ricky from our society premises.

Derek grew up in the cosy, reassuring company of dogs. His canine love became more pronounced when he joined the Indian Air Force in 1984 when he relished every opportunity to interact with and look after the dog squads. In 1995, he was released from the Air Force (not retired, as it was his own request to call it a day). A father of two sons, he eventually moved to Pune for good after spending a few years in New Delhi as a family man.

Derek did some crash courses and ended up becoming a merchandiser, and had brief stints as Country Manager for a couple of reputed companies. He eventually formed his own venture in the UK, a company called Black Scorpion Limited trading in interior accents like clocks, vases, furniture and the like. It were the Black Scorpion proceeds that went into the making of the Pet park project. When the financial needs of the park were beyond Black Scorpion's capacity, Derek dissolved the company and placed all faith in his inherent skills and competencies to get his pet project moving. He knew everything about developing a value chain of vendors and getting other things in place, but he lacked construction experience. So he spent time on research and soon found out that construction was no rocket science. With the right labour, you can achieve what seems impossible otherwise. Thus began an elaborate search on the internet: for designs, electrical fittings, plumbing, and drainage systems. Derek commenced construction on the site in March 2016 and completed the design, layout, electrification and plumbing of the entire park all by himself.

Today, Pune Pet Park has an Aviary, a walk-in Bird Cage approximately the size of one and half times of a 20 foot container, 12000 square feet of space for dogs to run around freely, a 600 foot cage-free, closed air conditioned kennel with another 2000 square feet play area around the kennel. Above all, the Pet park is also equipped with a crematorium and would soon incorporate an Incinerator, prayer Room and memory Room, probably the first for pets in India. Right now we are managing cremations with wood but would eventually move to gas.

The under-construction structures include a small cafeteria, a 4 feet deep, 2000 square feet swimming pool (one of the largest in India) complete with a filtration plant, a Dog Spa and a grooming parlour, Cattery to accommodate 14 cats at a time with individual suites, a rooster for Rabbits hamster and guinea Pigs, an emergency clinic to cater to vaccinations and small surgeries, a Pet store for sale of food and accessories. The entire facility should be full operational end of June next year.

Excerpts from the conversation with Derek:

On the inception of Pune Pet Park...

During 2006-7, Pune witnessed a remarkable inward migration, when co-habitation suddenly became an insurmountable problem. Before people realized, housing societies ceased to be 'co-operative', though the statutory nomenclature continued to suggest the contrary. These imposing residential structures now became an unabashed show of power, money, influence and lifestyle for most inhabitants. During this painful transition, a pet in the house proved a big solace for many emotionally drained individuals who had been suffering the wrath of their callous counterparts for long. Lonely and depressed, all they had for company was their pet dog or cat. The dog especially was now a family member who roamed about freely doing things he took for granted; among other things peeing and pooping at will. The owners had no qualms about this indulgence either.

This was the trigger point for people not used to what they believed were nasty things: doggy smell, poop pee et al. On the other hand, the pet owner likened the odour to the incense offered in a temple. This glaring divide between pet owners vs. non pet owners invited regular altercations between society dwellers. Pet owners hardly acknowledged the need to bathe their pets, clean up their litter while the non pet-owners were in no mood to relent either. What ensued was a huge squabble that has now been conveniently included under the generic term of "Animal Cruelty".

This dichotomy sparked the idea of incepting a Park dedicated to Pets, where people could let their pets poo and pee without causing civic disruption, and also learn more about their responsibilities as pet owners. Thus was born Pune Pet Park and the rest is history.

On the milestones of the Pet Park evolution...

In 2007, we (me and a close friend) used to meet every night at a place opposite Koregaon Park police station. Of the eleven dogs, three belonged to her and eight belonged to me, those that I had adopted or rescued. All dogs were basically pedigree, and the heartthrobs of many: one St Bernard, one Belgian Shepherd, one Labrador, two Pugs, one Havanese, one Corgi, one Mongrel and three Lhasas. These were lovely, harmless dogs who loved the outing and the freedom granted to them. In about a month's time, these 11 grew to almost 40 as others joined the rendezvous. The timing was perfect as, after a hard day at work, people found it refreshing to bring their pet out for a half an hour stroll.

Barely three month had passed when disaster struck. People began complaining against us, and soon they had people shouting more than dogs barking. Pune Mirror seized the opportunity and devoted a whole page report which completely threw things out of gear. The PI from the police station was very helpful as he was aware of our noble intentions. He gave us an alternate place but that didn't work out either. We then hired the Don Bosco Basket Ball court in Koregaon Park and restricted the socializing to weekends.

But that was not what I had planned for, so I began hunting for dedicated land for this purpose. In parallel, I conducted dog training and rehabilitation programs. I was time and again approached by PFA to handle some of their dogs. I was handed over the entire pack of Beagles from Lupin for acclimatization and rehabilitation. Although I was helping PFA, they didn't pay even for basics like dog food. I badly needed a place that would sustain itself, I he could no longer manage with his resources. I had to do something and I to do it fast.

We then changed our policies of adoption and made people bring in food or pay for vaccines if they wanted to adopt a pet. I thankfully realized this was a truly effective filter as we stopped getting calls from people that wanted a pet but did not want to pay to look after it. Thereafter, we were flooded only with genuine inquiries, from people who were really concerned about adopting a dog, willing to spend on it and treat it like a member of the family. This change was encouraging and I started scouting for places with fresh resolve. But most places were either too expensive or far-off from the city.

Then one day, I came across this awesome piece of land in Lohegaon. Since the prices were still high, I was initially looking only for 10000 square feet, but one look at the land, and my dreams got bigger. We measured 20,000 square feet to accommodate a pool and a kennel but something was still not right. It would be nothing compared to the kennels I had seen in the UK or on the net. So, we finally bought a whole corner of 34000 square feet on lease for 11 years, renewable for another 11 years.

On key challenges...

The foremost daunting challenge is Finance. In this country, entrepreneurs don't have many avenues for financing their dream projects, with sweet exceptions like those from the IT sector. Securing private investors for a project like this is very difficult but I have been persistent. We are almost 60% complete in construction terms. If we find a committed investor, we may be able to complete the entire construction year-end, else it will take another year to have this proof-of-concept fully ready.

On the appeal to the world at large...

In general, there are no Dog haters, unlike what the media loves to project. We do have one-off incidents that are not surprisingly blown out of proportion by the media for their own benefit. If you look after your dog well and make sure you clean up behind you, I am sure nobody would ever mind you having a dog. To the people conducting these so-called adoption camps, I have a humble plea: force each volunteer of yours to take a dog home, and you would never have any dog on the street. Stop being hypocrites and pass on a dog to someone with genuine love for pets!

On proposed expansion/diversification plans...

All said and done, Pune Pet Park is merely a proof of concept. I am yearning to see this project duplicated (not franchised) in Pune and other cities as well. I wish this projects grows into an industry by itself, and thankfully, I see lot of scope and potential for that to happen.

So that's Derek for you, a thought leader-practitioner, solitary reaper, dreamer and yet a pragmatist..

To the Venture capital/Private Equity fraternity out there, here's one project vying for your attention and money. Like there's sport beyond cricket, there are viable projects even beyond software setups, food delivery apps and e-commerce stores. Do a thorough due diligence of this project and if you are convinced, please help it grow to a size and scale it deserves. For more details visit

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Volte-face on the Volcker Rule

Courtesy: My thought piece in IIFL Wealth Global Newsletter

While industry lobbyists in the US have obviously different takes on the
Federal filing of proposed changes to the Volcker Rule regulations, it’s the
feasibility of rule’s stated objective, of keeping speculation largely out of
the bank’s sight if not mind, that merits a closer look all over again.

Sudhir Raikar

Born out of former Fed Chair Paul Volcker’s firm belief that speculation by
banks played a key role in the financial debacle post 2007, the Volcker Rule
bans proprietary trading by mega commercial banks, given that it inherently
puts tax-payer insured bank deposits at great risk. The rule disallows banks
certain investments on their own accounts, as also constricts their deals with
covered funds, primarily hedge funds and PE funds.
Part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of the
Obama era, (which US President Donald Trump terms a ‘disaster’ with
characteristic disdain) this rule stirred up a hornet’s nest before its July 2015
implementation that was hence preceded by several revisions, exceptions and
even a lawsuit by community banks. Post the rollout, the ensuing ripples kept
the rule in the eye of the storm. Among others, many Wall Street banks were
forced to overhaul their trading operations and forego many big-ticket
investment vehicles. Another notable fallout, many experts claimed, was the
liquidity squeeze in fixed income markets. Revered trading pundits from top-
notch banks quit their jobs to fulfil their hedging aspirations elsewhere. While
many blamed the government for the brain drain, Volcker rule proponents
argued this exodus was in fact a good thing since it ushered in what they
believed was a new era of responsible banking.
Now in the Trump regime, responding to long-held grievances, federal
regulators are revisiting the Volcker Rule to simplify it and tailor compliance in
line with the exact need, i.e. more regulation of firms doing substantial trading
and fewer norms for firms with modest trades.
There’s a faction that believes this proposed amendment is a master plan
hatched in a friendlier political regime. They claim the big banks have teamed
up to denigrate the Volcker Rule under lame excuses like it affects their ability
to serve customer needs or would spell economic doom and invite recession
sooner or later. They claim the big fish among banks are keen to resume their
casino adventures and wish to minimise the number of watchdogs over them by
pushing for Fed to be the sole authority for the Volcker rule enforcement.

And then there are detractors on the other side who demand complete
elimination of the rule, which they say, overlooks the inherent perils of a
commercial bank loan, of placing customary risky bets on the borrower’s
credibility on depositor money that are more harmful than the hazards of
security trading. The Volcker rule, they hold, make banks even more vulnerable
in extending commercial loans and shoddy mortgage loans, in trying to make up
for the missed hedging opportunities. The 2008 crisis, they reason, had more to
do with Lehman and AIG debacles, not with the trade wings of banking biggies.
There’s obviously some merit in the claims on either side, but the crux of the
matter is the subjectivity of the subject matter – how does one distinguish
between a proprietary trade and a market making activity. And is it possible to
distinguish a hedge as either genuine or forbidden? In a typical banking
scenario, a banker can always make a strong case for risk mitigation when he
may actually be speculating on some event happening or not happening like for
instance a rise or fall in a currency bet. Would the new provisions counter that
sticky challenge, or would status quo prevail?

Agreed, making an all-encompassing regulation is never easy. The UK Vickers
draft reforms, that were supposed to be an answer to the Volcker rule, have been
scrapped by the EU, as it was grappling with the enormity of the criteria used to
force banks to split off trading activities, that many believed would create
instability and hinder investments. So, Britain would now go solo on Vickers in
forcing UK banks to ring-fence their retail deposits in a separately capitalised
subsidiary. The ring-fence sounds fine in theory - one bank with two
subsidiaries, retail and investment, almost separate but somewhat together - but
would it work in practice is anybody’s guess.

The ideal situation requires the bank to furnish a detailed explanation of how
specific hedges have been made against specific exposures. Which means the
regulator should be asking for crystal clear hedge-exposure linkages from every
bank. This gives hedging freedom to the bank but holds it accountable in the
same breath.

But reportedly, under the proposed revision, banks would be free to establish
their own risk limits for trades and determine the compliance of such trades
without the need to demonstrate before the regulators. The regulators would in
turn ensure that the banks’ risk limits are in line with customer demand.

Whether banks and regulators would play their parts as they should, or would
the minimal regulation inspire banks to unleash their risk-taking cravings, only
time would tell.