Demonetisation Lessons from Brazil

An edited version of this article appeared in Financial Express today. Link: http://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/note-ban-lesson-from-brazil-best-way-to-demonetise-is-not-to-have-one/472432/

Public policies are best when a lot of reason goes into their formulation and passion into their implementation.Those looking for an effective recipe for formulation could learn a lot from Brazil. It has demonetised its currency 8 times since 1942 and thrice simply knocked off the last 3 digits of its currency overnight i.e. like a 10,000 Cruzeiro (then Brazilian currency) will be 10 Cruzeiro from next day morning.

Lessons from 1830s to 1942.

Even before from 1830s it has been compelled to experiment with its currency due to evolving politics. The early experiments are to do with metallic convertible bases like silver and gold, metallic copper coins, birth of parallel paper money,  etc.

In early 1830s in order to stabilise the external value of Mil-Reis (then currency), the centre starved supply of currencies reducing the circulation of copper coins in the provinces. The provinces responded by issuing their own notes to neutralise demonetisation. Promissory Notes issued by Commercial banks valid for 15 days by law began to be accepted far beyond their due dates. (Source: Page 39-43,  Monetary Statecraft in Brazil: 1808–2014, Kurt Mettenheim)

Some other time commercial banks were allowed to issue bank notes (like in Hong Kong where currencies were issued by Standard Chartered and HSBC till accession). This led to loss of control of central authority and dilution of monetary policies.

Brazil through its history has clearly proved that no one can ‘starve’ the people of currency for far too long.

1942-1994

This period was mostly about high government expenditure, unbridled fiscal gaps and high inflation. Brazil demonetised 8 times before the last one in 1994.

It has had to change its currency, the ultimate form of demonetization for every conceivable reason – to tackle black money (Indian objective), to tackle hyper inflation, tackle daily cumulating interest rates of 3% (which is nearly 50,000% p.a.), base erosion, commodity price volatilities especially in Copper or just to avoid confusion (if Brazil had retained its currency same as in 1942, it would be 1 US $ =  2750 followed by 18 zeros, a nightmare for the accountants). They have been far deeper than t he Indian type demonetisation – the entire spectrum was replaced and the currency itself renamed.

The last in 1994.

The most recent in 1994 seemed Quixotic. It was aimed more at breaking the psychology of inflation. With 100% inflation consistently for 14 preceding  years (in 4 years over 1000%), shops had to revise prices 3 times everyday. That is when the government decided to use two currencies simultaneously – one virtual for counting the real value of currency and another for payments and settlement – and every shop having to display its prices in both and revise it 3 times a day.

But unexpectedly, people started anchoring their values against the real value (which was set near 1 Real Value unit = 1 US$).  Within a quarter or so, it was clear people were not rushing any longer to shops to avoid their currency buying less than when they started from home. Inflation abated and the real value became the Real the official unit. It was perhaps one of its most successful experiments that has lasted till date.

Lessons from Brazil

People will seek ways to settle transactions in the most cost and effort efficient ways. For many transactions in much of India, using currencies across the counter is still the most efficient option. In 1970s and 80s, when there was a coin shortage of sorts,  Chintamani co-operative superstore in Coimbatore used to issue their own tokens. These slowly gained acceptance with public so much so that even government owned busses and offices used them.

The parallel systems will start issuing notes and IOUs which will be strictly ‘enforced’ amongst its members through extra legal authorities.

One thing Brazil has always got right (between 1942-1994) is to have the 1,2,5,10,20,50,100 note sequence – considered the most friendly from transaction settlement point of view.

Currencies are as much about psychology and convenience as values for accounting and transaction, as the 1994 experiment so decisively proved.

The best way to demonetise is not to have one – avoid inflation, avoid unjustifiable or un-implementable tax systems, and not to issue too much of it anyway. Brazil has about 3% as currency/GDP whereas India’s is11-12%. Government should have incentivised and reduced it by 1% every year rather than force it in one lump.

A parade of demonetisations has not exactly curbed either parallel economy or corruption in Brazil. Corruption and black money is so rampant, their President was recently impeached for corruption, their biggest real estate tycoon is behind bars and may have to spend the rest of life there if not politically rescued.

Why black money or parallel economy, there is a near parallel administration being run by the mafia through drugs, extortion, violent thefts (one murder every 10 minutes i.e 140 a day, down of course from 600 a day not so long ago), etc. none of which will be happening through tax paid cheque money transfers.

Conclusion

In summary Brazil offers 3 ground rules (perhaps not with successful examples as much as negative narratives):

  • the way to tame inflation is not periodic demonetisations but curb state populism,
  • the way to curb black money and illegal economy is not starving people of cash but well thought out tax policies and effective punishments, and
  • the way to protect free trade from causing domestic unemployment problems is to maintain the external value of the currency which in turn is achieved by restricting external capital inflows to just what is required for financing current account deficits. (Donald V Coes, Macro Economic Policies and Growth in Brazil, 1964-90)

One would definitely give credit to both the government and RBI for curbing state populism within FRBMs. But given the levels of corruption in tax collection systems itself, black money curbing through demonetisation seems an ill fitting solution. Unemployment is rampant and growing due perhaps to highly overvalued Rupee and extra terrestrial real interest rates.

The daily dose of RBI circulars does indicate that someone is extremely alert at the wheel but whether he knows the destination and if it will deliver enough gains for the pains people are experiencing, time alone will tell.

The writer is CFO and author of ‘Making Growth Happen in India’ (Sage Publications)

Cashless Crawford Market

Cashless Crawford Market

In between meetings got 40-45 minutes in Crawford Market (CM) (near VT station, =ent of Kotwal Chavdi and Moore Market of yore and Chawdi Bazaar of delhi).

I have not seen CM as deserted and lean crowded in peace time; the last I saw it like this must be 1992 and 1993 during times of frequent riots or shut downs when only the locals would dare to go there. The car park attendant was half way into the road trying to virtually garner cars into parking lots (see empty lots) – in normal times he won’t even look at you.

The first few – panwala, vermilion and turmeric vendor and dry fruit shop all mirrored what one has been hearing – yes it is difficult, acchaa kadam, and we are willing to bear the pain for the sake of nation, once sufficient new currency is out business will be back to normal.  Except the dry fruiter who has been using POS credit card instrument said that the usual transaction size is Rs 150 – 750 and try as he might he has not been to push the card based sales beyond 50%. Our customers collect cash from theirs and don’t want to deposit it in bank and draw against them – all involving waste of time. He would rather dispose it on us. The interest rate in their market is about 3% per month.

Then I bumped into Quereshi, the genius and his partner (he is the 1st one after about 25-30 people I have talked to who seemed to mirror my views on this subject… so he can afford to live with the insult of being called a genius. He switched over to decent and fluent English once he assessed my scholarship with Hindi).

He doubted if this would deliver anything concrete and was critical of ill prepared implementation. The fruit vendor gets his supplies mainly from Kashmir and Shimla and distributes locally with transaction size of 200-400 – 2-3 crates at a time. They must have put more 500 notes on the market (and even later Rs 500 and 1000 not 2000). Many of them give me Rs 2000 now and i don’t know how to conclude the sales… we don’t have change to give. Sales have gone done from about 60-70K per day to 12-13K per day now.

But the bigger problems are the banks. They are not clear – lot of indiscriminate questions which serve no purpose. We did not have a bank account here in the market only near home in the suburbs. But we opened one after the announcement to make sure that from our end upwards dealings are in cheque – we have no hope our customers will be able to give cards. We are trying to deposit 12-13 k per day each last 5-6 days and everyday they ask same and different questions and we are spending 2 hours in queues and questions. Not an encouraging welcome to the world of banking and credit.

I asked him why his customers can’t give cards and pay thru Paytm etc. We don’t want to take credit risks on our customers – tomorrow he will cancel payments claiming fruits were rotten, etc. (think they were confused with cheques) and we also hear that Paytm and Cards take 3-4% charges and pay after some 15-20 days. Kaai Ko Junjut? (it was my turn to look confused perhaps ignorant for i have no knowledge of how the merchant reimbursements from Paytm and Cards take place).

I asked him about the benefits of wiping out black money … desh ke bare mea koyi nahi sochtaa … modi yaa Rahul. The last genuine politician was Vajpayee. He was doing something… building roads. Creating jobs and there was progress. Now there is nothing happening … no jobs.

About terror funding … aap kya sochthey… inke pass 1-2 lac crores hai that we want to immobilise. Kya bakwas? Excuse. They must hardly be having 6 to7,000 crores, at best. Isko nikaalne ke liye itna natak? So many people having to run around for so many days wasting precious time? Most of the funds are there with politicians and a few rich people.

But one benefit … the rich were getting richer fast. This will stop it getting worse. But at the same time he opined that more and more rules and controls that the Government is putting is to facilitate the rich; why disturb routine of the poor? (seemingly contradictory).

These apples used to cost 2-3 at the farm gate 15-20 years back and cost another 1-2 rs to get it here. Nowadays it costs rs 10 at the farm gate but costs Rs 15 to get it here and foreign apples are continuously getting cheaper, so we are earning less and less. Imports should be banned outright and we should get it from Shimla for far less here. (Trump would readily agree with his trade theories).

But he was also dismissive that the cash will have any adverse long term effect on their business. 6-7 weeks. Maximum by 1st Jan, things will be back to normal. Not a big bother.

The following from the Fund Manager of the 2nd largest private sector mutual fund.

  • Workers in Maurvi which supplies much of the ceramics for the construction industry have started in droves to go back to their home town in Bihar, Orissa and J’Khand …lost hopes about construction industry’s immediate revival prospects … cash now and GST later in an industry where nearly all transactions are in cash.
  • We have no data for analysing the long term consequences … if it will last 2-3 qtrs or 2-3 years and permanently pull down growth rates by 2-3 %.
  • More than half of our GDP comes from unorganised sector. They give 70% jobs. They all dodge tax in varying degrees. If you impose 18% GST on them, they will all become uncompetitive and a majority will have to shut down. This will leave lots of people at the lower most level jobless. This can create a huge social issue.

 

If the exercise ends up trapping at least 3-4 lac crores, it could be deemed a success. If it ends up mopping up 1 lac cr or less, Modi might end up looking a modern day Quixote and Jaitley his able assistant  Sancho Panza.

 

 

New Zealand : Some Random Impressions

New Zealand: Some Random Impressions

While we were taxiing towards our bay in Auckland, the City of Sails, i saw 2 Airbus 380s and i was in the 3rd. I was wondering whats a small country to do with so much traffic. 2 NZ ladies in the flight with me from Delhi had told me that Christchurch (CC) or Dunedin would have been better choices, if I loved waters and sea. Lucky I wasn’t headed for CC. When they had a sniffer dog smell me in a evasive sort of way, my doubts doubled.

1 It appears that everything they want to talk about their land they want it in superlatives at some level – world, country, county, or city. When the guides said that NZ has the highest per capita Golf courses, fastest sail boats – believable. Then it comes to tallest city tower in the southern hemisphere. But then it stretched to Kane Williamson was their best bet to break all SRT’s records, the Rotarau’s geyser as the highest, endless list of Volcanic craters (most of them 50-100 sq yards big and height of 2 storied building: most Delhi’s waste heap would be taller), some cricket stadium of their’s being the best in the  World, Hamiltons park being the largest manicured garden, and a stranger answering me for directions said I will find the ANZ banks’ around the corner which does anything that one desires. It looked like eager parents’ verbal make up for their wards substandard performance. I don’t know if its fuelled by the Aussie’s big brother attitude from next door. I have only seen people with short supply of self esteem do it – excessive use of superlatives about themselves.

2 You can see people walk on Red if there is no vehicular threat, cars dodge signals if there are no others on sight, Cars nudge or even bully you into yielding ways… pedestrians dont always manage the priority, … but then people are largely sensitive to others. All of them are helpful. Highly secure streets and little signs of crime. On the streets great feeling of security. It is a great compromise of convenience over rules and conditions. I didn’t see a single policeman through the trip. The sniffer dog seems to be an aberration.

3 One doesn’t see many BMWs, Audis and Mercedes on the road – in fact not many luxury cars not anywhere on the scale one sees in Delhi. I gathered that NZ imports a lot of used cars from Japan, uses them and crushes when they are done and re-exports the steel back to Japan. Very sensible approach.  Its geography almost looks like Japan but demography – 4.5 million population against 125 million for almost similar area but far more cosmopolitan.

4 Patriotism at Peril: Most taxi is with Indians – Punjabis and so are the trucks i am told. I must have spoken to may be 25  South Asians – students, professionals who have arrived recently, professionals, etc. on how often they visit their home country. Just three said they have gone back after coming here or are regular visitors. Most of them hemmed and hawed and said that they will be visiting this season or the next. The Srilankan businessman driver has not gone back in 15 yrs, a lone Bangladeshi claimed he does not make enough money but visits once in two years, a Jalandhar driver said that he goes back on an average 4-5 years for wedding, there is not much point going because after 28 years there is no place where I can stay. The fellow is stuck with more than 40,000 Modi Indian notes and does not know what to do with them.

I thought people will miss their home country and patriotic feelings will make them want to go back often. Either NZ is too much of a magnet or Patriotism is even more shallow than ‘out of site out of mind’. If the emigrant does reasonably well or settles down, I guess patriotism goes out of the window.   So any excessive reliance on emigrants for fostering economic development at home is highly misplaced, it appears.

5 I have not seen a more cosmopolitan, ethnically diverse, mutli-racial, multi-cultural place than Auckland. The native Maoris (the same race found in Hawaii , Samoa and New Zealand) are the original Polynesian inhabitants. They claim numerical superiority, followed by the English. The highest for immigrants is South Africans.  In Auckland’s 15 lacs, 1.3 lacs is Chinese, 0.9 is India’s, Koreans in between, and Japanese come with 15K. Almost every country seems to have representation here. AND THEY  HAVE ALL MINGLED VERY WELL.

6 NZ is not as English as Australia where the white immigrants still dominate. Its more like independent but still under the Crown  The Maoris (natives) constitute 30-40% of population, and their language is the first language. They have not been subjugated like the Aborigines in Australia. Most street names in Cities and Town and Village names are in the native language. The most famous Maoris are Stephen Fleming and Mr Daniel Vettori. (Both tenacious cricketers one must admit). One can get away with either language and a Indian tourist like me can feel completely at home with Bangra dance, Punjabi food, Kebabs and Indians to guide anywhere, since they make a lot of sales counter staff.

7 Conclusion: When I was taxiing out I was still wondering about the 380s and the reasons. NZ is not as scenic as  Swiss or many other western countries, does not have heritage like India, Egypt, or Cambodia (its Rotarau, its main and earliest tourist attraction, and surroundings could be packed within just south Delhi Qutab area, it has no art like Paris or its clones Saigon, modernity or business like Shanghai or Singapore but yet so much traffic. It ceased to be a F1 destination 2 decades back, its cricket is to a restricted world.

I had asked the NZ ladies what they liked about India during their tour to Rajasthan. “People. They are so patient. Such a chaotic traffic, yet people are patient, not frustrated and quarrel at all. What extraordinary people!’. Something I keep criticising daily – is a source of positive wonder and admiration for visitors. So… one never knows.

NZ offers plenty to water sports people and is a leader in Dairy Industry (which their people are now beginning to believe leads to too much of environmental problems especially the soil run off and they feel they should switch over to industrial hemps instead). It has 3 weathers for every hour which I liked as an introductory offer, but I don’t know if its a long term positive or negative. May be as the Ladies said Christchurch and Dunedin have far better stuff to offer like skying, mountain sports, rafting and sailing.

But I must admit that Auckland breaths down my neck the least of all cities I have visited. I felt very much at home; its homeliness had grown on me with just my first morning walk. People are nice in an endearing sort of way, not the cultured artificial way that Swiss comes off at times. Its not a place with an imposing discipline; it is not a place where everything is so well manicured that you feel diffident in enjoying them. Its humane in its little little imperfections everywhere.

India can certainly take a lot of hope to promote tourism. May be the soft infra  – better sense of cleanliness, security, avoidance of leering lewd looks, and reception to visitors – have a lot more significance than we care to recognise. India has perhaps most hard infrastructure. If it works it can significantly boost tourist arrivals.

India’s Culture Boast tries to hide serious shortcomings

 

This is rather bashful and may sound offensive to some of you; so please exercise discretion to read or reject. But pl feel free to be copious in criticism , in case you read it:  I will know if my line of thought is directionally correct or i need to relook.  Thanks.

From time to time there are whatsapp waves or internet deluges claiming or implying India’s Culture is the Best and that it can teach so much to the West but India has itself nothing much to learn from the rest. (if You don’t agree? – you can trawl internet. Or give up reading further). Sure any ancient civilization like India’s must be having something great to give others. The things cited in favour are the family values, mohella culture, way we come to others’ rescue during crises, our everlasting marriages, and of course West’s flippant marriages and divorce rates of 43%, 67%, 97% whichever way the tongue twists[1] and as soon as this trump card is dealt … if you are sensible you are supposed to concede defeat and shut up.

Without perfecting the art of Match making, to expect marriage that last a life time seems rather naive to me. This threat to quit I think is essential for both sides … for the men folks to defend excessive hen pecking and domineering and for the women folk against abuse and philandering by their men. Otherwise it will become like a football match where the referee has no powers of yellow or Red cards. I am within striking distance of kissing death with my first marriage intact … so i can say this without guilt of justification.

First the West, then the East

A few years back, I was escorting the CEO of the 2nd largest paper company in Europe after a day long discussions in our office. The first thing he  told me on entering the lift was that he had a 21 year daughter and that his concerns regarding her were she does not take to wrong husband or go lesbo since that seemed to be the  fashion. “i am sure she is not into drugs or other addiction”. I naively asked him if she was his daughter. “why you ask? This is my only marriage and only daughter”.

At another time the chief of Business Development of the largest European player, while on a drive to their plant, started lamenting that his daughter of 19 was not coming with them for vacations, participating in family get togethers etc. ‘We have even told her to take her separate room and otherwise offered incentives … but then you know we are clueless’. I have had a middle aged German PhD telling me once over phone on a holiday (i dialled without knowing it) that he was busy cutting trees in his father in laws farm since his FIL was too old to handle it and that he would dial once done.

I have not often come across those who are into 2nd and 3rd marriage.  I don’t go about doing a survey and hence it will be foolish of me to be conclusive. So I would rather reserve my judgement. The images I carried till i started interacting with them closely and frequently is vastly at variance with I have heard from others.

When the Vietnam Cabinet had come to India, since we were pursuing some project there we were asked to see them. We were seated and the person from their delegation who was to be seated opposite me came in and even while pulling the chair and trying to sit, shot straight as an arrow …”how many children you have”. My neighbour who was more in tune with their culture whispered ‘its normal for them’.  He enquired what my daughter was doing and i said engineering. He shared his sons plans and said ‘he is Ok, I have discussed and let him have his choice but my daughter i am confused and i will suggest engineering  to her after your daughter’.  All these even without shaking hands or introduction. I later came to know he was their Industries Minister.

So howsoever high may you be, concern for the family and sons and daughters run deep even in permissive societies.

So much for my boast about high profile meetings…now some show off about my rub with other cultures.

Whether it is our cultural shortcoming  or otherwise, we have a lot to learn where it concerns treatment of women, children and the old and underprivileged … in public and in private, collectively and individually. Without substantive correctives on this, we would continue to be a Banana republic reporting and reading daily doses of gruesome acts of murders, rapes, ragging deaths, bullying, eve teasing, lewd looks and violative abuses.

The kind of eve teasing or unsavoury remarks (even if the target of comments is out of earshot) i see on the Indian roads is aweful. A feudal mindset …as if God has created their targets for the exclusive comfort of the commentator. The same thing is the base for rampant ragging on campuses (you accept my/our superiority and we will take you under our wings). Lewd looks and cheapness of comments is something unique to India – at least the market share it enjoys in this is far disproportionate to its population. As a society and more as Individuals we show the least sensitivity to others rights, conveniences, and dignity.

Our Hindi movies peddle eve teasing and molestations as Romance. The more bizarre the Gender abuse, the better the justification for concocted heroism and chances of coffers hitting high numbers. Tell me the last time we evaluated any cinema by the social changes that they helped bring  about? But minute to minute updates on the amount grossed by each cinema are available on the internet. They have a decisive negative influence on our next generation and are my prime suspects for the increasing crimes against women.The worst of photo journalism in recent years is the wordrobe malfunction.

Give up wants and expectations and embrace Happiness

I don’t subscribe to the Western notions of women’s rights and gender equality. The fight for right itself recognises someone else’ superiority. True equality will be achieved only when people don’t even have to think about it. That I would say has been achieved in some East Asian Buddhist societies. In Vietnam, Bhutan and Myanmar there is such a high degree of respect for each other that its almost like there is only one sex where both recognise that they are designed to perform different biological functions and there is nothing more to it. I haven’t read or heard of any rapes or molestations in their societies, don’t see people teasing girls or women. During formal or informal dinners and sit ins, I see them cut even crasser jokes (enough to make me blush profusely) but its both ways. They get very explicit (like a girl about 27 years who i had known hardly for 90 secs till then once informed me that although she has a secure job and wealth she didn’t have assets in the right place and hence not able to get married). But its never with any sense of deriving cheap feudal satisfaction at being able to impose abuse and or inflict insult on the unfortunate recipients – present on the scene or otherwise: can’t be called ridicule by any stretch of imagination.

If I have to be born a woman, my top choice will be one of the Buddhist countries except perhaps Thailand if I should heed the advice of a friend who has lived there.

“Give up wants and expectations and embrace Happiness” seems to be the signature line of Buddhism. It settles a lot of modern distress including inter-gender friction, inter-age friction, and breeds responsible child care and public behaviour.

Our Epics

Probably our cultural fault lines as far as shoddy treatment of women is reflected in our great epics. One leading Epic (MB) starts with shaming a women. What is even more demeaning is that the very group we worship today put her as the bait for their bets. The other (R) is about a hijacked women. Again after all the trauma his wife goes through, the man finds it necessary to defend personal honour above her travails – honour before responsibility of providing life along expected lines. I refrain from further elaboration due to fear of hurting religious sentiments. I am aware that these Epics have a great lot of lessons to teach. I am aware that the Epics may not be actual (but there are too many evidences at various places in India to indicate otherwise) but a mere metaphor. Even if it is, the authors could have chosen a more sensitive story line.  Sure even Greek Epics have Helen and Eurydice as the lead characters in their storyline. But as much as I have read it there is nothing crass or abusive about them.

The bogies about the Middle east

Much against prevailing wisdom, I would say that the next lesson in respectful treatment of women, children or underprivileged should be from the middle east Islamic countries. I know its not popular going by the image or false illusions that have been created by the media.

Four 4 marriages is the prime reason or target of attack as if that is where abuse starts and ends. Triple Talaks are the next reason, as if the Divorces these days take any longer in the West – just the decision on % share of spoils takes time in Courts but the physicality is as immediate as the time it takes to say Talaks in the Middle East. So who are we fooling? When the ratio of women to men develops as 4 : 1 due to internecine war between various nomadic societies or as in Vietnam when men were reduced to 65% of women due to the American War, social changes and marriage customs are bound to shape suitably. “1: 1 and let the rest go to hell” cannot be a responsible social answer. But whether such a ratio should be hard coded into religion or left to evolve with times may be a matter of debate.

Oman which has been rated as the Paradise on Earth by the Spice Jet in house travel magazine is exactly that. Although there is a slant of protection towards women there -be it in workplace or streets or I would reckon at home. But who is complaining? There is also a lot more sensitivity to treating their poor almost on socialistic lines than reliance on Fate or Karma have allowed our society. The serene face of women does not reveal any fault lines between gender or age.

Looking at some Syrian women and men and their serene faces can be an exercise in meditation by itself. Such serenity could only come out of inner beauty and happiness and peace with the World around, stability of relations, feeling of security around life. That this is my observation from my only trip there which was when the country was deeply in ‘Civil’ war should speak volumes. ( as I had cheekily written in one of my earlier posts, I would any day prefer Syrian type ‘Civil’ War to the ‘Uncivil’ violations against women in Delhi streets everyday and the mindless manner in which the Press tries to milk it).

The stories that my friends tell  about the courtesies at home (much of the hosting of business courtesy lunches and Dinners take place at home, I am told) about Iran and Iraq makes me believe that women are treated like Queens within; only they have to wear their Hijabs outside their house. The patience of Indonesia is awesome.

Whether these countries alone are representative of muslim world may be questionable. But why do we have to bother with their religion? If there is something to learn, why not?

I wouldn’t want to mix up with the debates in India/South Asia.

Repeating myself I don’t subscribe to the Western notions of women’s rights and gender equality. The fight for right itself recognises someone else’ superiority. But if we were given that scale of Income and social realities where both spouses work, stability of jobs is not a reality and there is need for frequent job switches across cities or even countries, I am sure basic instincts will overpower our values and Culture and make us behave much the same way. With our lack of respect for rules and regulations and irreverent mindset, we might even evolve rather crudely. Future alone can tell.

I don’t think our Culture and Values alone will overcome human instincts.

Lets both teach and learn

It is not just biological differences, but several things else – race, colour, income, caste, etc … we let them become permanent handicaps right through one’s life term from birth rather than be accidental co-ordinates at birth after which one is free to develop on equal terms.

I know there are a zillion other things that make upthe Culture than just the way we treat Children, a great lot of society (not all) look at women, spit on the road, defecate, jump queues even ahead of elders, break road rules, jump signals, ask for bribes and accept them, confer favours on the undeserving or have no qualms in seeking them. I am sure India can be great on all those other things … but on these things we smell foul and are way below qualifying marks.

I reckon India should market its Yoga, Ayurveda, Epics, or other aspects of its culture more aggressively for its own benefit.

In substance and summary, the boasts about our culture seems a surrogate swagger or justification for our inability to progress, a failing attempt to hide our shortcomings. (I think so). People who are at the top and truly belong there don’t go about proclaiming that they are the best. (unlike Tyson or Md Ali). If we have something great to offer others will sure learn it from us given the ways of internet. If we find nothing great about the West, we don’t have to learn from them but there are others out there who can offer lessons. But even if we consider we are 80% perfect, lets learn the balance from the rest.

(PS: God has been kind to provide lots of travel opportunities to me but also appears to have imposed the responsibility to find out more about many who are not in any way connected the underlying business purpose. Pl pardon the offshoot boasts).

[1][1] As per official reports Netherlands and Czech republic (or is it just Amsterdam and Prague) have the highest divorce rate of 52%; the highest for the balance is 1/3rd. That is in 2012 or 13. May be we have made perverse progress by leaps and bounds since then.

Modi’s 500/1000 move may have sent him to stratosphere; but he has to be more convincing

 

I have a slightly negative view on the likely impact of demonetisation more especially the proportion of people who have to undergo the pain for catching a few (may be less than 1%) errants. In many cases the Govt may also know who those politicians/individuals are. So spoke to several people (besides several corporate types during the course of meetings) to gauge the mood; lucky I have not gotten beaten up yet.

First a Kaamwali (she wasn’t all that specific except that mentioned that she has just got Diwali bonus), a Receptionist in Mumbai at one the largest cement firms (she was inconvenienced but said that she supported Modi since it is required for the nation), an Old and frail Tamilian lady who needed some help with Kiosk check in, and my driver for the day. He with a bit of glee and satisfaction said “I had only Rs 3000 which I will exchange”. “Is it required? Do you support it?”. “Yes He has fixed all those **** (reference to some community). They have been asking for it, crooks. They were hoarding so much black money”.

A slightly serious looking Security staff who frisks you at Airport at CS in Mumbai.  When I opened the topic he was cross with me and put his finger on his lips to ask me to shut up. I trailed off with Modi’s name. His outlook took an about turn and asked in utter curiousness ‘Kya Kya Kya?’

I said Rs 500/1000. … he: yes yes. Me : Do u support it. Him: Yes sir.

Me: Why? Aren’t you inconvenienced?’

Him: ‘Yes sir. But that’s little’.

Me: So you can bear it.

Him: There is Hope sir now. I will bear it. His mouth was quivering. I was expecting an English response I was not prepared for an emotional response. I just patted him and said “great man Keep it up” and moved on.

 

2 jet pilots flying off duty. “Sir I can hope to buy a house now. They used to be asking so much cash… where will i go for that kind of cash. We support it”.

My next victim was a 5th std Master Kavya studying  in Singapore Public School in Dahisar seated next to me. Slightly on the studious side but very eloquent and fluent for his age. I took his mothers permission to talk to him for a few minutes.

He would have liked Clinton to come back, since she would have succeeded Obama who is a great friend of Modi. He likes Modi because he is the one to start Swatch Bharat which will clean up India.  They debated the effect of Rs500/1000 in the school.  The teacher briefed them on what ‘black money’ is. They had concluded that black money is not a fair system that some people bear and some people go free, it is cheating. He said that his parents would be greatly inconvenienced but still he supported Modi wholeheartedly.  ‘Its required for the Nation’. Views were erudite but he made his point in a manner befitting his age.

 

I was zipping thru most of Delhi and India Gate at 9.45 which was deserted like someone had announced that a nuclear bomb is going to be dropped there in an hour’s time. ‘Aaj Kya hai?’ I asked the Mega cab driver. ‘Logoan ke pass paise nahi hai’ he refrained. I thought I had at last found an ally and started a conversation. But he was more than a fan of Modi; he almost looked an appendage to him. Next 15 minutes he gave me a lecture on how Modi is good and how what he does is good and how it will benefit in the long run. I had no choice as his captive audience.

 

With 6 -7 others also, Modi seem to have scored a perfect 10 with this move – somewhat surprising for a debative society…he has managed to whip up a frenzy to ecstasy in support of his action. ‘Sock those Black Money B***ds’ seems to be the mood.

 

I did not expect such a one sided view from lower /middle income people.  So when I write this piece i know I’m in a minority. But still i present my sour grapes.

 

And Now the Sour Grape

Someone asked Deng Xio Ping the architect of Chinese reforms, on the 200th anniversary of French Revolution as to what its impact on Democracy was? He replied, ‘Too Early to Tell’. My instinctive reaction is to reserve my judgment on this recent chest thumping by Modi fans on his recent salvo (Mandatory Disclosure : I am a Modi fan myself, except i want to temporarily suspend that status on this issue till i get convinced on the benefits of his recent action).

What has been done is bold, no doubt. His speech was more patriotic, but it needed to be convincing more than being patriotic is my opinion. He could have told the nation on how much Black money he thinks is in circulation, how much the Government aims to garner thru this action, how much Taxes the Govt hopes to get as a one-time measure and how much on a running long term basis,  how much additional growth its going to create.

Most of all how am I as an individual going to benefit for the pains imposed on me – at least in qualitative terms. I have not earned a penny with tax dodge – rather I am yet to get so many I Tax  refunds (petty though) from the Govt since 1995-96. This is a pure compliance measure; so to impute any sense of patriotism is unwarranted, i reckon.

Half way into Modi’s term, i am far less convinced about his (or rather his cabinet’s) ability to deliver on the one most important thing – growth and with it employment for the rural, youth, newly graduating. I don’t think there is even a plot or story line leave alone a convincing plan. So i am not willing to be mesmerised by side shows, however impressive. If MMS was lack of action, Modi’s cabinet seems to be lack of ideas. Growth seems to be in an anaesthetic state. Just excessive focus on a few things  alone is not enough to run the country. And he hasn’t addressed the core issues causing black money – unreasonable stamp duties and Capital gains taxes alongwith election funding… in that sense the monster will sure take rebirth and start from zero again

When some Isreali said that even they would have been proud of India’s surgical strike, sure my chest went up 560 inches. Sure he is doing a great job of whatever he is doing; but then is he doing what all needs to be done?

While resolving strictly to comply with the rules, i am tempted to suggest the following actions:

Devalue our currency also – to may be around Rs 76/$ which is its true value. Impose a 30% tax on Chinese imports citing national security interests (their actions on Brahmaputra and POK).

It will create all the jobs that our youth and country needs.

To give a sense of balance, sure Demon’n will ease inflation and hence interest rates. It will make real estate more affordable and not prone to periodic price spirals and so people may not invest in them out of desperation but only when needed and look for better alternative investments. May reduce fees and prices of sectors thriving on black money like doctors and lawyers and some professional classes. It will motivate me more to pay taxes…but that alone may not convince the 99% abiding citizens to strain themselves (i thought so… but quick survey exposed my hollowness) to facilitate the government to catch the errant few.

With some serious disgust i should also mention that balanced debate seems impossible on this subject. Modi baiters throw all kinds of silly bile  … it won’t work, too draconian; what happens to A, AA, MA, BA,him, etc., will not succeed using anything from vile adjectives to heavy invectives. On the other hand Modi fans are rather obsessed – they talk as if this is the best thing that could have happened to the country since independence, this act required stature of Go… or such terms. You utter your reservations, abuse is not far away in time.

I am sorry. I am a big Modi fan myself. But i refuse to back him wholesale. I retain my right to be critical on certain issues or as in this case certain aspects of proposed action. To surrender this right of mine is an assault on reasoned debates and a vacuum of balance.

When we were descending I asked Kavya as to how he would like to be told by the teacher on any issue (i) Just be told by the teacher what to do in a stern way or (ii) she explains the matter, tells him about the risks and benefits and recommends that he acts. He didn’t hesitate to vote for 2nd option.

At last some consolation for me. Modi could have taken the convincing route than the prescriptive school teacher approach.

Can Air India and Jet Airways reclaim the No 1 spot in the World of Airlines for India

When someone told me 20 years back that Air India was World’s No 1 14523280_815323121942891_6822069468196573064_nrated Airline, I chuckled half in derision and fully in disbelief. But if today if anyone asked me, from Tarmac to Tarmac up in the sky, I would rate Jet Airways, Air India and Latam Air as the best in customer care and customer comfort.

For most Western airlines and many East Asian airlines it seems always “is it included in the price”. If not, dodge, turn a deaf ear, show them the rule book or sometimes raise voice to avoid requested service, with some possible exceptions like Vietnam Air and Cathay. But for AI, JA and Latam it seems what best can we do for our captive guests to ensure best of courtesies and comfort.

If the requested food is not available maybe AI is the only one where its staff might turn around and say ‘It is not available, Sir. But we carry some food for our flight attendants (FA), which might meet your requirements. Want to go for it?’ For their pilot a Motor may be an unsophisticated mofussil Motaaarrr but I feel the safest in their custody up there in the sky. Their beds in the dream liner is the finest and is the only time I (who normally can’t sleep in flights) have had a dream.

The problem for them is that their 5% delayed flights earn them 50% of dissatisfaction. And when it occurs they go into a communication freeze. They should perhaps outsource or seek external help to resolve this. Is they have stoically borne long years or corruption and bureaucratic meddling and yet given the best of care and courtesy, they are capable of bouncing back to be the very best.

They can perhaps teach their FAs to smile a lot more. I don’t really care what age the smile is. Let it truly reflect the depth of their courtesy and care.

Jet’s staff was sagging in energy about 4-5 years back. But my recent 4-leg trip to Toronto convinces me that their in-flight service is back to its very best. Most of them are energetic and young (they have to retire by 40 I was told) and reflect a great sense of courtesy and care. For me its how the economy class passengers are treated that should be basis of rating not the business or first class and i would reckon there Eco class service itself can match any class in most airlines. You hardly get ‘it’s not me. Someone else will serve you. Pl wait’ as an answer. And the attendant – male or female – make up for AI’s smiles. And their Herring Bone seats ensure 1st Class privacy and wonderful sleep and work space.

I have only 5 flight experience with Latam. I don’t know why they keep changing the gates right till you board. In 4 out of 5x they changed the gates and once twice after check in. But their flight attendants exude warmth like they have known you for years. Energetic and well trained they reflect the SA’s soft and easy culture and friendliness. Their external beauty seems to be more than matched by something internal and the friendly effervescent smiles itself comforts you for miles in the sky.   ‘To hell with anything that stands in the way of the customer getting the best’ may be the unstated motto.

Almost every other airline can learn from the way South African Pilots communicate. They are there whenever the slightest anxious movement creeps into me … with their re-assuring voice. On the ground they will not let a 5 minute wait or delay go unexplained. Most of them could easily have been football commentators … but you never feel alone and desperate in their care.

I would love to see the day when Air India and Jet Airways reclaim the No 1 spot for India. I know it will happen within my lifetime.

Brazi-Logue

landscape

I had great hopes of doing what I like best –talk to people, during my recent trip to Brazil. When I asked the receptionist on the first day morning which way I should walk from the hotel and what I should hope to see, she (of Taiwanese origin) sternly told me that I may not come back with my purse, passport or even person intact. I turned towards a co-host who had also flown in from Europe but extremely familiar with the location about what she was saying. ‘If you don’t know Portuguese and the ways of Sap Paulo, better not to venture out’. The goons know to spot the victims all too easily. I had hopes to talk about the yo-yo economy, evolving political situation, boisterous people, onslaught from Olympics, Samba dancers, may be even a petty thief to understand what drives them. My spirits stood punctured by their cautionary and sagely advice.
What follows is based on conversations with the car drivers, guest house keepers, hosts, hotel assistants, tourist guide in Rio and a few others. Unverified and you may believe it at your own risk and peril.

1          The road discipline is great. The BRT bus lanes are not barricaded or divided with dividers like in Indian cities – just a white line marker. Taxis with passengers and Ambulances also use the lane. But no others – pedestrian or vehicles get into those lanes. When the cars are crawling at an inch a minute speed, these busses whizz past at 60-70 kms. They know the risk I guess – if you get into it, the bus driver will have no choice but to hit you. He has no way of turning left (he is on the leftmost lane already) nor against the wall of vehicles on the other side. He has to hit them and drag along till the next signal since stopping will mean he himself will get hit by the buses behind.
Even on highways where there is 3 mile long queues there is no horn honking and they stand in one file. Just no one slips into the overtaking lane or side kerb. Extraordinary discipline one should say.
2        Portuguese gave Brazil (its original native name is Pindorama) its name after a tree which has the red/saffron colour of burning charcoal. Red dyes for cloths used to be manufactured out of it. Red colored cloths were very expensive in the 1800s in Europe and had to be ultimately banned. Nowadays the finest violin base is made from that tree.

The world’s largest football stadium is Maracana in Rio which was the venue of the recent Olympics opening ceremony. It’s the name of a bird like parrot which makes sound like the percussion instrument. At the main entrance is the statue of Bellini the captain of their team in 1958 and 62.

3         Brazil is the largest exporter of Cocoa, Beef (there is one ox for every Brazilian I was told), Coffee (largest producer for 150 years), Leather, Chicken, Pork, Orange, Sugar, Tobacco, Cashews, Pulp, Bikinis and as my guide cheekily remarked Football players.

Cashews (Cajus) come from Brazil. They gave it to India via Goa and took Mango and Jack from India. Jack is under attack now since some environmentalists believe it’s in quarrel with local species. There is Caju tree (single) in North East which covers an area of 8 Ha. (Wiki confirms this).

Brazil gets 3 crops of mangoes per annum. When during the pre flowering period the mango crop needs water the most, I understand they starve it and the starved tree starts flowering faster. When it does, they water it copiously and get a good crop. (need to understand this better). This way they induce 3 crops per annum. Apparently Brazilian mangoes are a craze in Japan to whom they export by Air. A solitary piece can cost as much as $ 50 in Japan, I was told.

4        Brazilians believe it’s not Wright Brothers but Santos Dumont of brazil who invented Airplanes. He did not register the patent or publicise it. WB used a catapult to get it up and glided down whereas SD used the engine to propel it up is their version. He is also billed as the inventor of wrist watches.

5       The largest contingent of Japanese outside Japan lives in Brazil. They started coming from 1901 and is a sizable community is Sao Paulo. There are more Lebanese in Brazil than in Lebanon. There is no quintessential or typical Brazilian. They come in all shapes and sizes, colours and textures. Only their skin tones, bone structures and facial features all look great and is one of the most beautiful people … all easy going and boisterous, irrespective of what… as good as the Greeks, Cyprus, Lebanese, Syria and middle east races.

6 Brazil
a.      In many prisons there are stationery bi-cycles which the inmates can cycle for health. They are connected to electrical generators and the electricity is sold and the proceeds are shared with the cyclers.

b.      Many (the guide said most) companies/offices in Brazil have made Yoga compulsory for 5-10 minutes at the start. They believe that it reduces work place tensions, stress and to lesser conflicts. Brazil has had to change its currency 10 times since 1942. Due to high inflation. Twice they had to knock off the last 3 digits of their currency. Looks like their inflation is as high spirited as their outlook towards life.

c.      It produces nearly 70% of its electricity from hydro sources and most of these are from dams in the plains.

d.      Divorce was legalised only in 1972. And the current rate as people felt would be 20-30%. But even middle class people are shying away from marriage due to financial reasons. They live as friends but feel raising children as very expensive and unaffordable due to rentals and costs of education etc. Sad to see even people in 40s say it.

e.      Sao Paulo can easily be rated the Graffiti capital of the world. Most of them are elaborate, colourful and cover the entire wall in a single theme. Must be taking 2-3 people a week to do them.

f.      Voting is compulsory is Brazil. Between 16-18 it is optional but from 18 its compulsory. If you don’t vote you can’t get your passport renewed or apply for any Visa or get social security. But i believe the fines are a paltry $ 5 (=ent). But you have to run from pillar to post in the Registrar’s office and waste the better part of the day besides the traffic time in reaching their office… that in itself seems to be a deterrent.
g. Earth’s magnetic potency is solely waning in Brazil, i was told. (this seems to be confirmed by Internet).

7      Rio De Janeiro (River of January) is one of the finest urban living places. It has 49 km of fine white sand beaches, a forest (botanical garden of 38 sq km) right in the middle of the city, rocky hills, and a beautiful lagoon. The small strip of land between the lagoon and sea is one of the costliest places on earth to own your residence.
Ipanema, Copacabana, and Prainha are some of the most crowded sun bathing spaces. Fine white sand but not as wide as the Marina or Elliots in Chennai – just may be 1/10th to 1/5th the width and goes into the seas fairly steeply except in small stretches in Copacabana and at one end of Ipanema. But that does not deflate the spirits of the revellers, who play beach volleyball, and other sports with gay abandon. It seems as crowded as the VT station (some exaggeration there).
The city airport is a risky affair. (see the photo taken while approaching it – I am at right angles at a distance of 3-4 kms from landing). It’s in a narrow triangle of sorts jutting out into the sea. Not even space for fencing at either end. At one end is the Sugar Loaf rock some 750 meters tall with the seas hardly 3-4 km separating it from the take off point. And at the other end are hills and the 14 km long bridge over the sea running right across – again hardly 4-5 kms away. The aircrafts can only approach it at right angles and take a steep turn at such a short distance and land knowing full well that there is very little margin for error. On takeoff he is turning almost at right angles even before vertically out of airstrip.
Even the other airports don’t seem to be fenced like in India. There is a football ground very close to the main runway in their Guarulhos International airport. A good kicker can easily kick it over the 4-5 ft high fence right into the main runway. The city airport in Sao is on a raised table and if one misses take off can straight plunge into the thick residential colony. But then their Pilots seem as confident as their football forwards.

8      Crime
A gram (or whatever) of cocaine costs $ 265 in Australia i was told but just $ 9 in Sao Paulo. Most crimes are drug related or young people trying to finance their habits. In my trip to Rio raised the topic re crime with the Guide. He outright dismissed it blaming it on the media. Crime is always there in cities. He did take us out for the first time on the base of Christ Statue, Maracana and then again in Copacabana where we took some pictures. We had earlier been advised… ‘if you want to get out at the beach make sure you don’t wear watches, don’t carry your camera or cell phone. They hunt in packs … one to engage you, another to distract your attention and they are experts in identifying their victims and quickly sizing them’. We did nothing of these when we got down 3-4 times but lucky the Guides words weren’t belied.
My driver from Sao Paulo city centre on the way back opined that the crime is largely prevalent in poorer sections and areas and controlled by mafia. In business and office areas the influence is less to non-existent but 30-40% of the area is under their control. But in Rio it is they who rule. They just don’t carry knives, pistols or revolvers but Rifles. Bullet proof cars are no protection.
People under 18 can’t be put in prison in Brazil. The drug mafia uses delinquent children as fronts and establish their control. He opined unless this is changed, controlling crime may be a pipe dream.

It was nice to see everyone from the door keeper to the driver, car driver to the chairman, flight and hotel attendants, exhibit self dignity and more importantly respect others for whatever function others were performing.