Saturday, August 27, 2011


One of the interesting aftereffects of an MBA (I will tell you about the hangover later) is that your brain’s appetite increases (sometimes exponentially). It’s good and bad. It makes boring times interesting but at the same time makes simple things complicated. So one of these days, in my little devil’s workshop (err.. my brain), I got this weird thought! What would happen if everyone in this world went up to their banks to withdraw all their deposited money? Well, the answer is obvious: The banks that are yet to be insolvent would also go down under!    

But, that lead me to another interesting question? How much money is there actually in this whole world? Now this looked like fun as I decided to dust my economics fundamentals before they diffuse out of my brain into oblivion. What was that term that made Phil Powell jump in the air. Ahhh.. Money Supply! Driven by curiosity and nostalgia, I decided to dig deeper into this line of thought and in the process discovered some cool facts and interesting resources in the web.

Let us start from scratch here. The economic term for readily available liquid currency is M0 Money Supply. That would be all the money in your wallet, shirt pocket or your wife’s purse. That would also be the money hidden under your pillow or secured carefully in your bank vault. It also includes deposits held by commercial banks with the Fed. Well, I was curious to know how much would that number come out to be? Obviously I was a little lazy. So I simplified things a little here by choosing the dollar as data is quite easily gettable. And in my quick and dirty search, I could find the 2009 numbers and guess what I got: $909 billion. Lot of money, eh! Not really.

The population numbers show a figure of 307 million Americans in 2009. Now if you do the math, you would get about $3000 per head. Now that looks extremely small, doesn’t it? But don’t worry too much. At any given time a lot of M0 US money is held overseas. Okay.. that is useful information. But what happened to my bank accounts again? Precisely! It is now time to move on to other money types. For lack of imagination, Fed tracks its funds under 3 different values: M1, M2 and M3 money supplies. Well, to be accurate, it does not track M3 anymore. Well, here is a summary of what they stand for!

M1 – All of currency in M0 money supply + Money held in checking accounts + Money in Traveler’s checks

M2 – M1 Money supply + Money held in Small Money Market Funds + Money in Savings Accounts + Money in small CDs

M3 -  M2 Money supply + Money held in large CDs + Institutional Money Market Funds

The table below indicates how much U.S dollars are floating around this world. Pretty cool right! So with all this knowledge, we can conclude that we can at least 10 Trillion US dollars (just using M2) in the world today.

Money Supply (Billions of Dollars)
As of
Currency, traveler's checks, demand deposits
July 2011
M1 plus savings and small CDs
July 2011
M2 plus large CDs
Not Tracked
Could be around $12 Trillion

But wait a minute: That is only US dollars. My question is still unanswered: “How much money is there in the world?” Now it gets murky! The US dollar is a currency that has been well established and is in demand (well let us say was until a few years ago). And the Fed does a good job of tracking how much US dollars exist in the world even though they cannot precisely determine where exactly they are! But not every nation has a well established central bank and hence it becomes exceedingly difficult to track other currencies at such a detailed level.

Hang on, that is not the only problem here. I am sure you would have heard about the Trillion Dollar note! Yes. Zimbabwe takes that honors. Plagued by hyper-inflation, the Government in an attempt to fight fire with fire, once printed a $100 Trillion Zimbabwean Dollar note! Whoaa.. And make a guess as to what its exchange rate value was: 30 US Dollars. Obviously the country’s currency was eventually abandoned and US dollar and South African Rand were adopted as official currencies. You may be wondering where I am going with this. My point here is that such Federal Government actions make tracking money even more difficult. Now how do you track those priceless (literally!) Trillion dollar bills now? It becomes very tricky in such situations and there are plenty of them on offer.

But yet, there are smart people who still don’t stop trying. As far as I could research, the closest estimate to how much money exists in the world was released in January 2009 by Mike Hewitt, editor of the economics blog Hewitt tracked the reporting of 73 currencies from central banks and financial ministries in 90 countries, which cover the money used by 84.1 percent of the world's population. The countries tracked represent 96.7 percent of the world GDP - the market value of the world's economies combined.

Are you ready for the big number? Here you go! Hewitt found that in October 2008, these countries had notes and coins equaling $3.94 trillion in U.S. dollars in circulation! Now that is just liquid money (M0)! Total money (hidden in every corner of this earth) goes as high as $60 trillion US dollars. That's indeed a lot of moolah! Now I am sure you are curious to know the gory details of this analysis. Well, for that, you will have to wait until next time!

But as a parting thought, I will leave you with a very interesting statistic about the current US debt: If you get enough dollar bills equal to the current US debt and lay them end to end, they would measure 1,760,216,577 km. This is apparently longer than the distance between Sun and Saturn! Well, truly the US debt is ASTRONOMICAL!

References: (It has some really interesting articles)

Monday, August 22, 2011


This weekend, I was in the mood for a lavish meal but somehow wasn’t in the mood to experiment. Quite uncharacteristic I know. I decided to go with the tried and tested Mutter Paneer. I have made this quite often and have refined my recipe over time by adding a few touches of my own. When you make it yourself, you will like the uniqueness of this recipe. Oookayy… Let’s get started!

v      Fresh Paneer (Cottage cheese) – 1 pack (approx 400 gms)
v      Green peas (boiled) – 1 cup
v      Onions - 2
v      Tomatoes – 3
v      Green chillies – 2
v      Garlic – 3 small pieces
v      Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
v      Fennel seeds – 1 tsp
v      Cinnamon – 1 stick
v      Cloves – 5
v      Cardamom – 3
v      Cashews – 10 to 15
v      Garam masala – 1-2 tsp
v      Chili powder – 1-2 tsp
v      Coriander powder – 1-2 tsp
v      Yogurt (Curd) – 1 cup
v      Oil and ghee
v      Salt as required

Paneer Preparation:
This is a very important step which I do a little differently from most other Paneer versions you would find. I feel that this gives Paneer a distinct flavor. So give it a try.

ü       Cut the paneer into small cubes.
ü       Heat oil in a pan and deep fry the paneer in a mild flame. Turn it around to ensure it gets fried on all surfaces.
ü       Take a bowl of curd and add a tsp of chili powder, garam masala and salt.
ü       Now soak the fried paneer in this mix for about half an hour. This gives a nice spice to the paneer.

Special Spicy Masala:
In addition to garam masala, I make a spicy masala that adds to the taste. So if you are in the mood for some finesse, go for this one. Grind the cumin seeds, fennel seeds, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves to a fine powder.

Gravy Paste:
This is the penultimate step in your cooking expedition. Hang on there!

ü       Heat oil in a pan and fry green chilies, garlic and cashews for half a minute and then keep them separately
ü       Now add the onions and fry them till they turn golden brown
ü       Finally add tomatoes and fry them for about 2-3 minutes
ü       Now let it cool for a while
ü       Then grind all of the above into a fine paste

The final Act:
You are almost there. Hold your taste buds (and of course your stomach) for a few more minutes.

ü       Heat a pan and add a small tsp of ghee.
ü       Now add the gravy paste and sauté it for a minute.
ü       Now add the ground spicy masala powder, chilli powder, coriander powder and salt and continue the sauté for another 2 minutes.
ü       Then add the paneer (soaked in curd) and boiled peas.
ü       Now cook for about 5 minutes in a mild flame until the flavor gets into the paneer.
ü       If you are very hungry you can sneak some paneer into your stomach while you are cooking (tasting is always a good excuse).
ü       That’s it. Mutter Paneer Masala is ready.
ü       Now garnish it with coriander and serve with hot rotis.

Enjoy spicy and tasty paneer. A good and relatively easy experiment to carry out on a weekend. Try it and you will be pleasantly surprised!

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Our notion of fantasy has mostly been restricted to movies like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings which transport us into a fantasy world and take us through a visual journey of adventures most often culminating in a battle between Good and Evil. But here is a movie that redefines fantasy for us by disguising a folk fairy tale in the form of a dark political fable in fascist Spain. Pan’s labyrinth creates a world where fantasy and reality seamlessly flow into each other through the yearning eyes of a troubled child who desperately tries to run away from her little miseries by shuttling between these 2 worlds only to encounter her worst fears in her journey.

The movie is set in dark times during the Spanish Civil war in the early stages of the Europe’s fascist nightmare. Ofelia is a dreamy child whose mother is remarried to an evil officer in General Franco’s army. She has to accompany her expecting mother to join her new husband in the war zone in a dark forest surrounded by guerrilla warriors.  She hates her new father and finds it difficult to see the pain of her ailing mother. So she retreats herself into a fantasy world of mythical creatures, magic quests and breath taking sceneries. But she eventually finds out that this new world is as brutal as the one she so badly wanted to forget.

Ofelia eagerly reads stories about fairies, princesses and magic lands, longing to believe that what she reads is real. This takes her into a grotesque, enchanted netherworld in which she is thought to be the long lost princess. Now she has to complete 3 tasks to earn her rightful place as the King’s daughter. What ensues is an intriguing mix of fantasy and tragedy that leads to 2 different endings for Ofelia, one in reality and the other in her netherworld. And the beauty is that you cannot tell one from the other. And yet, this fantasy world may only exist in the realm of Ofelia’s imagination. Or may be not! You will never know. In the end you are left with two ever lasting images that tease you to create your own fairy tale version.

There is sheer originality and brutal simplicity in Pan’s fantasy world. Be it the giant like faun with unique features, the ghastly child eating pale man whose eyes are in the palms of his hand or the ugly looking giant toad among many other curious creatures, they provide the little girl with dangerous adventures which seem to be her only escape from her fascist step-father. All these creatures are nothing you have seen before in other fantasy movies. They invoke fear, they terrify us, they make us squirm and squeak but they would be hard to erase from your memory. Magic here is not about flying objects and casting spells. It is as simple as drawing a door with a chalk and walking through it.

The film has some outstanding performances especially by the exceptionally talented Ivana Baquero who plays the beautiful Ofelia with a brilliant vulnerability. The scene where she tells her brother (who still is inside her mother’s womb) that he has hurt her mother enough and pleads him not to hurt her when he comes out will drench your heart. And in the scene where she pleads the faun to forgive her mistake and give her one more chance, she exquisitely portrays her desperation and makes us long for her to transcend to the fantasy world.  

The biggest strength of Pan’s labyrinth is its multilayered complex narrative which weaves the reality of power, corruption and resistance of a fascist fable inside a fairly tale created by the feverish imagination of a vulnerable child. You would not want to miss this one as fantasy has never been so real.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Mahatma Gandhi was not the commander of huge forces, yet he was a very powerful man. He was thin and lanky but yet he could make many a bigger man go weak on his knees. He had the most simple yet utterly powerful weapon: the inherent goodness in his opponent. When you take every blow he dishes out with a smile on your face, no man is cruel enough to go on. Eventually he will be forced to stop and change his ways. This was his ideology which created a bloodless revolution to free an entire nation. Using this powerful weapon, he fought many evils and conquered most of them. He managed to unite the Indians, eradicate untouchability and most importantly he forced the British to leave. The only thing he could not avoid was the partition of India and Pakistan.  Till date, he is the national and international symbol of free India!

Well, people know enough about Gandhi and I am not here to educate you about the Mahatma. But the question I am trying to find an answer to is: “What has happened to Gandhi?” The sad truth is that though we remember Gandhi (primarily in our currency and on his birthday), his principles and ideals have long been forgotten. If we analyze a step further, not many people today agree with his principles. You may be shocked to hear this but I can assure you that not many people today believe that non violence, non cooperation or “satygraha” can win battles for you. They would say that it will not work in this age and you will get crushed by people who have the money and power to do anything. I assure you, most of the people in Gandhi’s time would also have thought the exact same way. Try to believe my last statement for a second. Then you will realize the true greatness of the man who led by example and mobilized an entire country to do something they would have never dared to do!

As we celebrate another year of independence, we cannot ignore a striking similarity between the India today and the India before Independence. There is a Gandhian movement that has been gaining a huge momentum for about a year now. But this time we are faced a much bigger enemy than the British: “Corruption”. Yes. By now, you would know that I am talking of Anna Hazare. I am sure a year ago corruption was just an afterthought. We would have dismissed it as being so prevalent and common-place.

But when shameless corruption seeps down to the lowest rung from the highest quarter, such an eventuality was just waiting to happen. All it need was the right man to take up the fight. Anna Hazare’s movement comes at a time when the all-pervasive nature of global capital and every man’s greed of power have created an ambience of corruption all over the world, laying bare the skeleton of a decaying system. And most importantly, it is the same forgotten and disregarded principle of the Mahatma, reinvented by Anna Hazare that has again united thousands of Indians against corruption.

So what is Anna fighting for? He is pioneering the Jan Lokpal Bill, an anti-corruption bill drawn up by prominent civil society activists seeking the appointment of a completely transparent Jan Lokpal, an independent body that would investigate corruption cases and provide justice within 1 year. You can call it one kind of instant justice system (only seen till now in movies) where a corrupt person found guilty would go to jail within two years of the complaint and his ill-gotten wealth would be confiscated. But most importantly, it seeks to create an autonomous all-powerful body that could prosecute politicians and bureaucrats without Government permission or intervention. Now all this and especially the last clause spels ominous signs to politicians.

Anna’s fast-unto-death made them yield some ground and a joint committee was formed to draft the bill. But that benevolence from the Government’s side did not last long. Differences arose, and both sides went ahead and drafted their versions of the Bill. The Government has introduced its side of the Bill in Parliament. And Anna planned to go on another fast-unto-death yesterday condemning the Government’s “Joke”-Pal Bill. The Government, clueless, confused and terrified, had him arrested and ironically put in the same jail as that of Suresh Kalmadi who is facing severe charges of corruption. No wonder the nation is at its boiling point!

The Government’s reactions to Hazare are no different than how British struggled to handle Gandhi. Today’s arrest of Anna is another victory to him and his followers in the battle against corruption. But unfortunately the similarities end there. Gandhi’s battle had a desirable and acceptable alternative to the British – a free country and an Indian rule. Anna’s fight doesn’t have that luxury. Sadly in today’s India, a fight against corruption is a fight against the Government. And we have an opposition which doesn’t even offer vocal support to Anna’s movement. They only use it as leverage against the ruling Government to score brownie points for the next election.

But still, that doesn’t undermine the success of Anna’s movement in any way. It has achieved 2 very important objectives. The people of the country are united against corruption and the Government is in utter panic. I strongly believe that this is a great start and that a time will come when manipulation of the masses will no longer be possible. I am sure we will soon see the demolition of the spectacle of corruption as part of a bigger political movement. And I am sure Anna will hang in there till then. And by doing so, he would have done something only one man has succeeded to do before!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Ramu and Avanti grew up together. Ramu knew nothing about his parents. Avanti’s father Krishna had brought Ramu home when he was very young. Since then, Avanti and her father were Ramu’s only family. Ramu was extremely fond of Avanti. Avanti liked him too but probably not in the same way. But nevertheless they shared the best times together. At times, they would just forget the world in each other’s company!

Avanti was an avid and aspiring writer. She wanted to be a Page 3 columnist. She loved Bollywood and wanted to write about her favorite celebrities. And more than that, she loved fashion. So here she was, in Mumbai, the city of dreams where everyday thousands of people come in search of their ambitions only to get lost in the crowd of their predecessors. But Avanti was confident and adamant. She had forced her retired father and jobless Ramu to come along with her to this land of lost dreams and broken hearts. She believed her fate would be different from others. And indeed it was!

She took up a part time job in a start up evening paper where she started writing about fashion trends in business and elite circles of Mumbai. Her dream was to become the Page 3 editor of Enigma – Mumbai’s most trendy entertainment magazine. So she made it a point to visit their office once in 2 weeks with a new write-up of something fashionable and niche. And everyday on her way back, she would sit in the train and dream about interviewing Shah Rukh Khan on his upcoming movie after discussing the latest fashion trends with Manish Malhotra. She loved the Mumbai trains. They let her forget about time and get lost in her thoughts. She hated when Andheri station came. It was time to wake up to reality. But Ramu loved it. He along with Avanti’s dad would come there every evening at 6 to pick her up. That was the best part of Ramu’s otherwise mediocre day.

It was early July of 2006. Krishna along with Ramu had gone to his village to see his extended family. Ramu did not want to leave Avanti but Krishna thought that people in the village would be excited to see Ramu again. Avanti was enjoying her solitude as it meant more time and space to dream and write. It was Tuesday evening and her new article was ready. It was a refreshing take on the emergence of realistic cinema in India. She was confident that this time Enigma cannot ignore her. It was time to head to their office again, this time to announce that she was here to stay.

Evening after work, she boarded the train to Bandra. Her heart was filled with excitement. She was anxious, nervous, happy, restless. She felt a plethora of emotions all at the same time. She thought that the world around her was going to explode. And explode it did! A series of 7 bomb blasts in as many trains took place in 11 minutes and claimed 209 lives. And what will not go into the records are the innumerable dreams including that of Avanti that were crushed by this hideous act of terror. A great writer was lost before she was born!

Krishna and Ramu had immediately rushed back to Mumbai. Krishna was shattered by the news. He had lost the only reason to live. Why couldn’t have God taken his life instead of his daughter’s? “She had her whole life in front of her”, he cried out loud at his daughter’s last rites. Ramu on the other hand refused to believe that Avanti was no more. He did not go to her last rites. Instead he went to the railway station and sat there awaiting her return from office. Nothing has happened to her. She will be home soon. He waited and waited and waited.

Four years had passed by. Krishna had made peace with her daughter’s death. He was a fighter. He managed to gather all of Avanti’s articles and successfully convinced Enigma to publish some of them. They loved her last one and it appeared in their Page 3. Krishna was proud of his daughter. But every once in a while he will break down completely and cry for hours. Ramu never cried. In the last 4 years, every day, he would go to the railway station and sit there waiting for Avanti to return. Krishna would come to take him back home. He did not know how he could convince Ramu that Avanti will never come back. Ramu would not understand his language. He had only 5 senses. He cannot rationalize things as humans could. He would not know what a bomb was and he probably would not understand what death meant. But Krishna knew that it would in no way undermine Ramu’s love for his daughter. Krishna was indeed jealous how a dog could love his daughter more than any human could ever do! All he could do was let Ramu wait for his daughter to come back from work! Every day and forever!
- A short story by Raj.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Well, I am sure you all are very respectful and law abiding citizens. You may curse the Government every once in a while for raising the taxes, but come April 18th, you will all be busy filing your tax returns. And if you are unlike me, then you might get it done a couple of days earlier. And I am sure you know the various nitty-gritties of optimizing your tax returns and maximizing your savings even if you are spending the same amount on a tax consultant who will probably spend 2 weeks in a year earning as much as you did in a whole year!

So, I am not here to give you any tax saving tips as I am probably less informed than you are.  And since I am a law abiding citizen too, I will not give you any tax evading tips either. But have you ever wondered where all your tax money goes? I am sure you have. Over the weekend, jobless as I was, I did some research to quench my curiosity and I came across some very creative and intriguing work done by some brilliant minds. So I thought it would be nice to bring such cool stuff to your attention.

Okay. Let me start with a basic question. how many hours do you think you worked (or slogged) for your employer today? 8? I hear some workaholics correct me! 9 is it? May be 10? Well.. not quite right! Here is why! Assume for a minute that you are making $100,000 a year and you are single. Cool assumptions, eh! That, in taxonomic terms would mean that you would pay $29,397 a year in federal taxes which is about $113 a day. Whoa!! Now if you do the math (which you probably should if you are getting paid that much), you are actually spending 2 hours and 27 minutes working for the US Government every day and funding its various departments. Well… we are all very unique Government employees. We work for the Government and pay it in return for that privilege. Okay… A minute is over by the way. Get back to reality!

Now all that math, that is certainly not my handiwork! It is derived from a brilliant TAX CLOCK designed by Fred Chasen. It has a lot more cool features. Check it out:

Okay.. now you know how much tax you pay each day. But do you know where does all the money go to? Who ends up getting the lion’s share of your hard earned money? I am not quite sure you will like what you find! Did you know that 16% of it went to your Social Security, 16% went to Medicare and 17% went to National Defense? And more importantly did you know that 10% went towards just the interest of the nation’s debt and only 3% went towards education? No wonder the debt situation is so bad!

Here is a very cool demystification of the federal taxes and Government spending which was designed by the Anil Kandangath which won the award for the best tax app in the Google Data Viz Challenge. Here.. go ahead and play with it. You will get a lot of insightful information here which will give you more perspective.

Finally if you are bored and want to have some real fun, I would recommend this one: You can get the Government drunk (if it is not already drunk with power) by filing your tax returns in beer cans. Or you can wake the Government up from its slumber by filing your tax returns in cups of Starbucks coffee. Well.. one suggestion: Don’t feed it with burgers though! It is obese enough already!

I hope that was useful. Well.. you don't have to thank me for making you a tax expert! ;) 

Saturday, August 6, 2011


On a lazy Thursday afternoon, Srinivasan was sitting in his easy chair in his beautiful house that overlooked the beautiful Cauvery river. He was reading a book written by the man that inspired him the most: Scientist and President Abdul Kalam. His wife had an appointment with Lord Vishnu in the temple 4 blocks away. Six months had gone by since his retirement, but he had no complaints of life slowing down. He had just been visited by his elder daughter from the US after 5 years. Before that, he had the time of his life with his younger daughter and her little bundle of joy, Maya. Now, he was ready to live life in slow motion in his serene hometown with his ever lovely wife.

Srinivasan had lived a fulfilling life. He was a successful man, a respectful son, a loving husband and a doting father. Reading a book often takes you into a reflective mood. Srinivasan’s thoughts took him back in time. He watched the movie of his life through the camera of his mind and the projection of his eyes. A wave of nostalgia swept him over. He got up suddenly and went to his study. He opened a big cupboard and took out an old dusted carton. It was the stuff from his college. He pulled out an old slam book which was a parting souvenir from his “Rockers” gang. He started reading all the silly and funny comments made by his friends and wondered how none of them knew anything about separation. Had they known that they might not even see each other again, they might have written a lot more. He felt really sad for not being in touch with many of his friends anymore. "Wish I had more time to catch up", he thought.

He sat there reminiscing for a while and finally when he was about to restore it, he saw a small letter hiding in the last page of the slam book. His hands went cold for a moment as he saw it was unopened. It was from one of his good friends in college, Hemant. It was dated 5 months after graduation which was about the time they had their last phone conversation. Emails went on for another year or two and that was it. Life took them to different worlds whose orbits never intersected.

His hands shivered as he opened the letter. How could he have missed it?

“Dear Srini.. How are you? Been a while, I am sorry for not writing to you before. With the job scene, I have been a little stressed out lately. Wish I was a stud like you daa. Anyways.. how is your job? Have you already started making semiconductor chips? Please name one of them “Uncle” chips for my sake daa. How many patents have you filed till now? Kidding man.. anyways.. how are you liking it?

Thank you so much for the lovely birthday card and that inspiring letter. You know what.. I saw it yesterday morning just before my interview with CTS. And you know what. You are my lucky charm man. Here’s the big one my friend: Today I got a call from them.. and guess what: CTS is one damn lucky company man.. Yes daa. I am unemployed no more. And thank you so much man.. I couldn’t tell you this before. But you have been a wonderful inspiration for me throughout. You don’t know what a difference you made to me in college. So.. thank you. Okay.. won’t bore you more. Say my regards to your parents. Take care.. Hemant.

P.S: Call me if you want to hear the latest gossip about our college!”

A sense of awe and grief gripped Srinivasan as droplets started accumulating in his eyes. In the mini battle that ensued, gravity emerged the winner as Srinivasan burst into tears. How many times he had thought of mailing Hemant and had postponed it to another day which never came. He had never felt so naked before. But now it was too late. He read the letter again and again and felt more miserable. He wanted to!

Finally he put it back. He head the door open. His wife was back from the temple. Time to get back to life! His wife Krithika came to him with a smile on her face and prasadam in her hand. You missed the puja today. Was so peaceful. Srinivasan didn’t say anything. “By the way, who is Hemant”, she asked. Srinivasan was taken aback. “How do you know him?”

“You just got a letter from him” she said. Srinivasan just pulled it from her hand and ripped it open. Krithika had never seen him so excited in a long time.  

“Dear Srini.. I might be a little too late in writing to this letter. But you are to blame and you know that. Anyways. I sincerely hope you are still at this address. Can’t believe 25 years have passed by. And just after college, I had thought that I cannot spend a day without all you guys. Life is cruel man. At least, I was reading about your patents in the internet!

It was exactly this day 25 years ago I wrote you a letter when I joined. And today was my last day at CTS and I just had to write to you. Wish I had done that earlier. Anyways.. I am still in Calcutta. You should come up here. You owe me a chai, remember. Take care and my regards to your family.- Hemant.

P.S: Saala.. you designed 365 chips. Not one of them was named “Uncle” chip! You cheat.”

Srinivasan hadn’t believed in second chances till that very moment. And he had never been to Calcutta either. He read the letter once again. He noticed the broken alphabet “T” in every place in the letter. Hemant had still not gotten rid of his old Remington. He laughed. He then realized life’s biggest paradox: People don’t change but yet the world around them does!

- A short story by Raj.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Mr.Warren Buffett had never been in such a unique situation before. Well, he was not called “The Oracle of Omaha” for playing it safe. So staying true to his reputation, he had invested in 2 companies who had absolutely nothing in common. One of them was a booming corporation which almost enjoyed a monopoly and continued to woo consumers through its innovation and superlative leadership. The other was a dying business which did not have many takers but Buffett saw tremendous potential and a strong brand name. New leadership at the helm breathed renewed vigor to the company through a promise of hope and change.

You should have guessed it by now. Buffett had put his faith and money on Hell Inc run by none other than Steve Jobs and his hope and (alas!) money on Heaven Corp’s potential resurrection envisioned by the new CEO Barack Obama. A year had gone by and Buffett had mixed emotions ahead of his meeting with the 2 numero unos. Hell Inc has been raising money like “hell” while Heaven Corp was still recovering from its eternal depression.

Buffett: Well, Mr. Obama. Heaven seems pretty deserted. No takers, eh? There has been no “change” in your company’s balance sheet!

Obama: I don’t see why people on earth do not want to come to heaven. It is the best place that could ever be! Perhaps we need to market ourselves better! Hell seems to be getting a better “Word of mouth”. Almost everyone tells the other person to “go to hell” nowadays.

Buffett: Hmm… I am not so sure you can change that. Heaven seems so out of fashion these days. Plus you have very strict immigration laws. People find it so hard to get in. Have you considered relaxing them? You know, Jobs immediately processes “red” cards for hell immigrants!

Why do you even need immigration laws? No one wants to get in there even “legally”! A confident voice interrupts them.

Buffett: Ah… Welcome Mr.Jobs. All seems to be well in hell. I am dying to ask you this. What is it that makes hell so attractive? I heard people are making reservations for their grand children already!

Jobs: Oh.. the underlying idea is so simple. In these troubled times, who does not like to watch another person suffer?

Buffett: What do you mean? I don’t get it.

Jobs: Well.. we run a 1 year free trial offer. During that year, every customer gets to see different types of torture inflicted on our existing “loyal” customers. It is like a long movie or even better.. a reality show. They seem to really enjoy it and after a year, they willingly sign up for our lifetime plan. And then they become subjects of torture for our “future” customers, trapped forever in the realm of hell.

Buffett: What a brilliant idea to build the customer base. Only you can come up with this, Jobs!

Jobs: What a sick idea! You are more dangerous than Bin Laden.

Buffett: Come on! He is a genius. By the way, what plans have you got for improving your business? If you don’t turn it around, people will think that Soros is better than me!

Obama: Don’t worry. We have new revamped entertainment resorts all set for occupation. We have live concerts, talk shows to impart knowledge, celebrity guests et all. Oprah and Brangelina are among the many who will make surprise appearances and enthrall our customers. Through our free Netflix subscriptions, our customers can watch unlimited movies!

Jobs: Oops.. their price increase is going to drive your income statement further south!

Buffett: Mr.Obama, these are all brilliant schemes. But I only see expenses; I need some revenues to offset them too. You see.. there is something called “Profit”!

Jobs: Oh btw.. I forgot to tell you. We will be launching iPain 5 this year. The test group just loved it. We are expecting a big surge in our revenues which will directly flow through to our bottom line.

Buffett: You are my man. Hey.. tell you what! you should try to help Mr.Obama here to shore up his business. It is about time!

Obama: I am always ready for some good old bi-partisan talks!

Jobs: Don’t know about that. But I like to talk. Well, here is the deal. Our Customer satisfaction ratings have come down and we are short of new innovations. Too much torture is affecting their performance. So I propose “Hell”care. Every year, we can introduce a vacation package for our customers wherein they fly free to heaven. This way, we can tap heaven’s unexplored potential and at the same time leverage hell’s huge customer base. I am sure you can strike a sweet deal with the airline companies. They are bleeding to death anyways. Our customers will be more than willing to spend their hard earned money in your La La Land!

Obama: What about our customers? They would want to visit hell too.

Jobs: You still have customers! Kidding! Sure, why not! First 100 customers get free iPains.

Obama: Fantastic. I got my new ad campaign motto: “Welcome to Heaven - A gateway to Hell”.

Buffett: Now you are talking baby!

Monday, August 1, 2011


Movies are meant to be entertaining. We watch them, enjoy them and in course of time we forget about them. But there are some movies that leave us gasping for air. They suffocate us, make us cringe and leave us wasted. But they stay green in our memory for a long time. They do so because they tell us things that we hate to hear and show us visuals we would rather not see. And in my opinion, those are the movies you should not miss!

"The Lives of Others," set in East Germany not long before the fall of the Berlin Wall is one such spectacular tale and a piece of complicated art. Writer Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck elegantly penetrates the Berlin wall before it actually came down and lays bare the brutal absurdity of the GDR and its cruel psychology of socialism which created a society poisoned by secrecy, fear and abuse of power.

Here is some history to give you some perspective. Post World War, Germany was divided in two and shared amongst the victors. France, Britain and USA got the western half and Russia got the eastern half. Towns, cities and countryside that were once ruled by Socialist Germany, were now ruled by Communist Russia. Democratic Republic of Germany (GDR) was a brutal totalitarian state run by a government that spied on all its citizens and demanded that the citizens also spy on each other.

“The Lives of Others” is a riveting tale of two good men at that time and how watching one’s life changes the other. There is a poetic symmetry between the 2 protagonists: Renowned playwriter Georg Dreyman whose writing creates new lives on screen and Stasi police investigator Capt. Gerd Wielser whose writing has to secretly capture the life of Dreyman in order to help a minister’s own cause.

The standout feature of the film is the characterization of Gerd Wiesler. The transformation that he undergoes is tremendously complicated yet simply elegant. He starts out as a firm believer in the Republic’s ideals and looks at every man with a pair of binoculars, sometimes literally. The scene in the elevator with a small boy who says that his father believes that Stasi are bad people is a subtle genius. You can feel the awkwardness in the air when he ends up asking the name of the boy’s "foot ball" unable to hide his “Stasi”ness! How much does it take to change your faith? Watching the life of Georg Dreyman and his girlfriend actress Christa Maria Sieland, he is forced to confront his own beliefs and question the very ideals he has so vehemently observed for his whole life. The director exquisitely illuminates Gerd Wiesler’s moral no man’s land! It is the sheer vulnerability of the characters that makes the movie so compellingly unpredictable.

The film is generously sprinkled with such brilliant scenes. If the scene where Maria comes home disgusted after having sex unwillingly with the minister and asks Dreyman to just hold her is touching, then you will find the scene where Dreyman plays a piano to mourn the death of his best friend and wonders how someone who hears such music could be a bad person to be poetic.  But beyond all that, the film just poses a very simple question: What could a good man do other than being good? I am sure the movie might give you a sleepless night, but I would recommend you give it a try!

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