Thursday, June 26, 2008

Economics and Whispers collide!

A lot happens by word of mouth in India. Real estate prices being one of them. A market that is totally controlled by touts and brokers. “Sir rates to double ho gaya!”. And they have taken prices not only beyond the ordinary Indian but beyond the ordinary American or European as well. I did a quick search on Magicbricks on residential properties in Mumbai which are more than a mere Rs. 5 crores in price. I got all of 79 pages of property listings. And this was substantially more than what I got for a search between Rs. 60 lacs and Rs. 1 crore. 

The fact that there is a substantial market at levels like these, and is being sustained, makes you question the most important choices you have made in your lifetime. (You mostly question your qualifications!) 

Haha, I happened to watch a program on Discovery Travel and Living. This was a program on high flying agents in Hollywood. They were the people who were looking for houses for Bill Gates, Madonna, Tom Cruise and the like. Now I was amazed to find some of the bargains on offer. (1 Million USD is roughly equal to 4 crores of Indian rupees) For as low as $ 5 – 6 Million you can get a 5 bedroom house with a Olympic size swimming pool and tennis court in Hollywood! And the agent will happily throw in John Travolta as your neighbor, all a part of the deal. You can even have barbeques with him. Cool. I did some slow mental maths. 25 crores, in Mumbai, maybe this guy could get a 2 bedroom apartment overlooking a dilapidated garden in Malabar Hills, with running water for 4 hours per day. The costliest houses in Hollywood were in the range of $15-20 Million USD. (Rs 60 Crores) The per-square-feet rates in Hollywood were slightly more than what they are in nondescript Chembur. Hollywood was getting close. Not yet Bollywood though. 

So our brokers have happily taken the wormhole to the next galaxy in prices. And all of this was done through an efficient network of brokers on mobile phones. “Sir rates to double ho gaya!”. We know the whisper-system works. Demand-supply is balderdash?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Murder of a Franchise!

No point for guessing this one, but this is a post on the adventures of Indiana-wrinkly-Jones (And I am not referring to his clothes only). Being a big fan of Indiana Jones trilogy of films, I was anticipating something which took you back to the glory days of the lost ark or the temple of doom.

* Spoiler warning: Read on if you don’t plan to watch the movie! 

Haha. It was not to be. Somehow the earlier movies could create a sense of suspense, thrill and an awe for the supernatural. It was believable. This however was not. This is because the themes in the movie have all been explored in various other movies and serials over the last 20 years. And somehow these disparate themes did not converge as Mr. Spielberg may have expected. 

Theme #1: Aliens. A theme that has been flogged to death and beyond by X-Files. 

Theme #2: The search for El-Dorado. This theme has expired and is decomposing. 

Now why would anyone want to connect these 2 themes? And when you add other elements like fights in the Amazon and Russian military agents, it simply cripples the movie. There is no saving this disaster. Harrison Ford is unfortunately too old for make-up to be of any help. Seeing a geriatric Harrison Ford huffing and puffing through action sequences is likely to be revolting to most people. Maybe grandpa will appreciate. The other members of the cast are equally wrinkled. What you get for your money is a wrinkle-fest. Imagine an old-age home on fire - that’s how most scenes in the movie are like. 

This movie could have been so much more. A single fresh theme was all that was needed. People would have even tolerated a well-past-its-prime cast had the story line been more taut and believable. Indiana Jones is still a trilogy for me. 

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A tale of Oil, Hypocrisy and Activism

With global oil prices reaching all time highs, fuelled by increasing demand from developing economies, a hike in the price of oil was inevitable. The official line was that the oil companies need to be back in the black. After all, a loss making oil PSU could destabilize the country’s economy.

Haha, All of a sudden the government is concerned about loss-making oil companies, when for a greater part of their existence they made losses out of the most lucrative business in the world. Let’s leave the oil PSU’s inefficiency and Jurassic technology out of the discussion. Let’s examine the Tax Structure of Oil. The taxes imposed on Oil are
  1. Customs duty on Crude oil imports ~ 5%
  2. Excise duty
  3. VAT ~25% (Which was supposed to have replaced the existing taxes!)
  4. State sales tax

All of these taxes contribute heavily to the government’s coffer. And some of it makes its way back to the oil companies in the form of oil bonds and subsidies. Rest goes towards black-cat commandoes and armor-plated Ambassadors. So with the ever increasing crude prices the government stands to collect a bigger and bigger chunk of tax revenues. Of the Rs 5 increase in prices of petrol, Rs 1.5 goes to the government of India. Makes you think about what we are paying for.

In connection to this price hike, a ‘pro-people’ party chose to call a ‘bandh’ in West Bengal in protest against their own administered price-hike. (They are part of the ruling Alliance!). And of course these ‘bandhs’ are for the common people to suffer. So when a minister in the West Bengal government, got stranded on a Train, he promptly arranged for his own transport to Kolkata. Car, police escort - the usual.

However, irate passengers on the train stopped the minister from doing what he does best – fleeing the scene. The argument being that the government who called this ‘bandh’ should get to know how helpless it feels. Though I wonder if they are really alien to day-long sessions of inactivity.

However, the impromptu political activism is definitely something to cheer about! It was poetry in protest!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Air India – Achieving Customer Nausea!

Customer Nausea is, as you might have guessed, at the other end of the spectrum from Customer Delight! Striving hard to achieve this major milestone is Air India. They have turned convention on it’s rear-end.

I was in Mumbai this weekend, to receive a relative of mine, flying in from Kolkata on an Air India flight.

Gosh, the flight was over 45 minutes late!

Funny, we think a 45-minute-late flight is not only pardonable but also a sign of improving things when it comes to the public sector airlines! Happy as I was, I started discussing the enormous changes that the Aviation Ministry was bringing in to modernize our airports. A rather boring conversation for my wife though.

Haha. Air India had another trick up its sleeve. It wouldn’t have given up so easily when it comes to inconveniencing its passengers. It just could not. We know it takes about 20 minutes for people to leave the airport once the flight has landed. But when that stretched to 30 minutes I attributed it to all the construction that was happening at the terminal.

The 30 minutes stretched to 1 hour. The official response was that the luggage was “Arriving in another 10-15 minutes”. We all know the 48-hour clock PSUs refer to when talking time. So we felt that by 30 minutes we should be happily on our way. Conversation had changed to how taxes are paying for lazy government officials. And my wife was participating.

After the end of an hour and 30 minutes, luggage still hadn’t arrived from the plane to the conveyor. Official response was still “Arriving in another 10-15 minutes”. The luggage did arrive but not before it took all of 2 hours. The flight from Kolkata to Mumbai was 2 hours 30 minutes, and the luggage took 2 hours to reach the conveyor from the plane. This must be a record of sorts in Customer Nausea!

I now want Laloo as the Minister for Civil Aviation.