Thursday, August 31, 2006

IBSA seminar on 31 August 06 at New Delhi

In my talk, I took the audience beyond the markets and behind the statistics. I talked about the people, their colour and mindset and the synergies between their core competence and convergence of their aspirations.

IBSA is a "cafe -con- leite" ( coffee- with- milk ) alliance. The people of the three countries have the common coffee- with- milk skin color. some have more milk and others have less!. In Brasil, cafe and milk have mixed historically blending beautifully in a spectrum from blonde to dark. Brazil has more people of African origin than South Africa's 47 million population. In India it is premixed and cafe and milk is not available separately. In South Africa, it is still separately served. This opened up opportunity to tell some jokes...

The mindset of these three countries have undergone a paradigm shift in recent years. In India the bz mindset has changed from the "Fear of East India company" to the " Pride of Mittal steel". The Brazilians have become confident and assertive on the basis of their solid democracy and sound economy and regional leadership. South Africans have given pride and dignity to Africa. It is this new mindset of the three peoples which have lead to the IBSA partnership. This would not have been possible under the old mindset , even ten years ago.

The USP of India is IT and human resources. IT has empowered India and the Indians. It has ignited young Indians to nurture audacious ambitions to connect and compete with the world and even think of conquering. USP of Brasil is Agribusiness. With vast areas of fertile land and water resources Brazil is set to become an agri superpower. The USP of South Africa is mining. If there is one country which is most loved by Indian women.. it is south africa.. so much gold and diamonds!! Of course, the Indian men will vote for Brazil... some more jokes...oops can't be put here.

The seminar was chaired by Mr Arjun Sengupta. The other speakers included Dr Nagesh of RIS, Vishwanath of CII and Veena Jha of Unctad. It was organised by CII as a curtain raiser before the IBSA summit in Brasilia on 13 Sept 06.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Book on India by Patricia, the Brazilian journalist

Patricia Campos de Melo, journalist from Brazil is going to write a book on the emerging new India. She is visiting India from 27 August to 21 September to get a first-hand impression. She is visiting Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. She will interview Ministers, CEOs and interact with a cross section of the Indian society.

The book will be ready in December. This is going to be the first book about modern India in Portuguese language. The timing of the book project coincides with the growing interest in India among the Brazilian corporates and business leaders. It will provide food to the thoughts of Brazilian intellectuals and political leaders who are fascinated by the paradigm shift in India. Brazilian newspapers and magazines, including Playboy Brazil ( separate blog report on this ) have carried reports and analysis on this in recent times. A group of Brazilian economists visited India earlier this year to study the new economy.

Patricia has already written a book on China. She works as a journalist with Estado de Sao Paulo, the second largest newspaper of Brazil. Her reports on India will appear in the newspaper in the coming days.

India Brand Equity Foundation, under CEO Ajay Khanna, is sponsoring Patricia's trip. I hosted a lunch for her and introduced her to business and Indian media.

I cautioned Patricia to be prepared for the challenges of the third world part of India. Her reply
" Sorria... Voce esta na Bahia"- which means "Smile ... you are in bahia ( northeastern state of Brazil)". This is Brazilian culture, attitude and spirit! Smile at the bright side of things, have fun and enjoy.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Lost City - A film on Cuba

This Hollywood film is a kind of autobiographical film of Andy Garcia, who is the hero, producer and director.

In real life, Garcia was born in Cuba, emigrated to USA after the Bay of Pigs and started off life as dishwasher. That is what happens in the film also.

Fico ( Garcia) is the owner of the "Tropical" night club in Havana. One of his brothers join the conspiracy against Batista dictatorship and gets killed by the regime. The other brother joins the revolutionary group of Fidel Castro but after Fidel comes to power, gets disillusioned and commits suicide. The parents of Fico, who did not take the revolution seriously in the beginning, decide to stay put after the revolution but insist that Fico should get out of Cuba and go to USA. Fico falls in love with his sister-in-law after the death of his brother but she refuses to go with him to USA, dedicating herself to the cause of the revolution. This is the real life story of thousands of Cubans.

With the end of the Fidel Castro era nearing, the the film evokes a nostalgic and romantic part of the revolution while at the same time bringing out the other realities of the revolution impacting on the life of cubans. Which way will Cuba go after Castro? Will it implode like the Soviet union or open up gradually like Vietnam and China?

The film is enriched by the exuberant Cuban music and dance.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

La isla de la pasion- novel by Laura Restrepo

La isla de la pasion- "the isle of passion" is the work of the Colombian writer Laura Restrepo, one of my favourites. This novel is different from the four other works of her. Firstly this is a story based in Mexico. Her previous books were all on Colombia. Secondly in this book there is no magical realism. It is pure reality, based on history. All the characters, dates and most of the incidents are real. Laura has woven a poignant and moving story out of history.

The story takes place in Clipperton Island, a tiny and isolated and uninhabited piece of island, off the Pacific coast of Mexico. The only inhabitants are crabs moving on mounds of bird droppings. The island is surrounded by corals and sharks. The heat of the sun, the noise of the waves and the stink of the bird droppings make the island uninhabitable. There is no shade, shelter or plants or animals.

Capt Arnaud, an indisciplined military officer is sent to the island as governor. He lands with his wife Alicia and a dozen soldiers and their families. The only other inhabitant is Schultz, a half- German, managing collection and shipment of bird droppings for use as fertiliser. Even this stops after more profitable sources are found elsewhere.

Capt Arnaud and his people start life from a scratch in the island like Robinson Crusoe. Initially it is adventurous. But when the supply ship does not come, they run out of food and water. The fight for survival starts. The hurricane and tidal waves wipe away the hutments and stored materials. The hunger and misery turns people into animals. Diseases makes people ugly and unbearable. Deprivation leads to delirium. Even Capt Arnauld goes mad and perishes while chasing an imaginary ship.

Amidst the misery, there springs love and romance. Arnaud and Alicia discover each other. Heroism and pride takes over hearts and minds even when there is utter hopelessness. When an American ship offers rescue, capt Arnaud and his people refuse to go, abandoning their patriotic duty to protect the Mexican territory. But the Mexican military and administration is caught in a turmoil and forget the little useless island and the wretched inhabitants. Through all the adversity Alicia maintains her dignity, balance and wedding dress. At the end, only the fittest survive. Who were the fittest? Of course the women. Five of them survive while all men perish. Ang there is one more survivor... a black man. But he is killed by the women when he starts tormenting them.

A remarkable story, which stirs the soul.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

un dia sin sexo - a Peruvian film

Un Dia sin Sexo ( one day without sex ) is the first Peruvian film I have seen. I bought the DVD in Lima... taken in by the title. The theme of sex in Latin America is fascinating and different from the rest of the world. The film has lived upto my expectations. It explores the connect between sex, love and relationship. The theme is old but the Latin American approach is refreshingly different.

The film is about the sex lives of four pairs of different ages. There is the teenage girl who drags her boyfriend to a motel, anxious to lose virginity. Two twenty five-plus singles come together after having gone through their own separate pursuits for the perfect mate unsuccessfully. The ego of the girl takes over in the encounter and sex is discarded to the disappointment of the poor guy who has tried every trick. The third pair in the late thirties end up fighting at every opportunity. The wife nags and nags... You dont talk... You dont care.... nagging and fighting overtakes sex. The last couple are over fifty. The man does not feel like. The wife wont give up. She drags him to try viagra. But the guy would not get down from the car to walk to the pharmacy. No problem.. the wife walks boldly and asks the pharmacist for the best variety. But at the height of action, the man collapses with a heart attack.

It is a hilarious comedy. But it is the reality and typical approach to sex and relationship in Latin America.

The movie, produced in 2005 is directed by Frank Perez Garland. This is his first feature film. Story and script are his own. This is the second film for producer Fabrizio Aguillar. Main actress is Vanessa Saba and actor Paul Vega.

Peruvian cinema industry is still young, having started in the late seventies. Francisco Lombardi and Chicho Duran are the other promising directors.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Dinner with Evo Morales

I was taken aback when Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, invited me for dinner at his residence, at the end of our meeting in his office on 10 August 2006. I was aware of his unconventional and informal style and casual dressing. Still, I was surprised by his hosting a dinner in my honour at short notice, on the same evening after our meeting.

He had invited his Vice President and a Minister also for the dinner besides our Ambassador Warjiri, who has established a personal rapport with him. The food was simple, as was his personality. His dress was casual in office and at home. His striped red colour sweater has become a trade mark and is a best seller in the market. Sparks appeared in his face whenever football was mentioned. He plays even now and had broken his nose last week during a game.

Evo Morales is keen to learn and adopt to the contemporary affairs. He is not fanatic or extremist as portrayed in the western media. His agenda is basically domestic. As the first native Indian to be elected as the President, he is sincere and commited to his historic responsibilty to uplift the lives of the Indians, who form sixty five percent of the population. This is true of many of his cabinet colleagues and party members. They have formed a new constituent assembly to draw up a new constituition to protect the rights and dignity of Indians. The president of the Assembly, Sylvia Lazarte, whom i met in Santa Cruz is a crusader for the rights of the indigenous population. She wants to study the Indian constituition and learn from our affirmative action.

As an Indian himself, Evo Morales claimed that India was his second fatherland. He expressed admiration for India and invited Indian companies to enter the Bolivian market which offers opportunities in oil and gas and mining. He has just awarded a 2.3 billion dollar project to Jindal Group for iron ore mining and steel project. El Mutun, the iron ore mine, is one of the largest in the world with a reserve of 40 billion tons. The Bolivians are keen to import from India products such as tractors, mining equipments, agro machinery, defence equipments, helicopters, pharmaceuticals and consumer and industrial products.

I was cautioned about the altitude sickness in La Paz which is 14000 feet above sea level. I had heard stories of a golfer who fell dead in the tenth hole of the Golf course and an Indian Ambassador who collapsed while trying to walk briskly after getting down from the plane. The advice given to me was;

Come poquito, bebe poquito y duerme solito
Which means
Eat less. drink less and sleep alone.

Now I know why I did not see smile in the faces of the men in La Paz!!. I survived with a dozen cups of mate de coca ( coca leaf tea ) every day. I guess I would not have passed if there was a doping test. Another advice i had to follow was to walk slowly and avoid any sudden movement.

Ooops.. I had survived to enjoy the Santa Cruz city of Bolivia which is a contrast to La Paz. The advice there was to do more of everything which was denied in La Paz. I was there during the weekend which was buzzing with revellers in the bars and night clubs. Santa Cruz is the commercial and entertainment capital.

I played nine holes at the Las Palmas Golf club. I had lost four balls to the strong wind, which carried them over to houses and water. I dared not go near the water which has two meter-long crocodiles.

Arvind Sharma our Honorary Consul General in Santa Cruz is one of the most active in economic diplomacy. He has extensive contacts at all political and commercial levels and promotes Indian business. He was one of the five hundred Indians who had gone there around 1990 and bought land for agriculture. While a few are still holding land, others have shifted to business or come back to India after not succeding in the agri venture.

Machu Pichu - a trip to the serenity of the soul

My visit to this Inca monument on 6 August 2006, was as inspiring and impressive as I had read and imagined. Built in the fifteenth century, it stands majestic at a height of 8000 feet, surrounded by other mountain peaks around. The serpentine river Urubamba around the base of Machu Pichu is a spectacular view from the monument. The monument consists of temples, terraces, astronomical structures and residences for about 400 inhabitants who were mostly priests and the nobility of the Inca empire. The duality, trinity, worship of sun and moon and a lingam-like structure at the centre of the sanctorum are similar to some of the beliefs and temples of India. But the lingam of the Inca is rectangular unlike the cylindrical one of India.

The emotions evoked by this Inca monument has been aptly described by Pablo Neruda in his poem "Alturas de Machu Pichu",

Machu Pichu es un viaje a la serenidad del alma,
a la eterna fusion con el cosmos
un reposar del mariposas en el epicentro del gran circulo de la vida
allĂ­ sentimos nuestra fragilidad.


Machu Pichu is a trip to the serenity of the soul,
to eternal fusion with the cosmos
a resting place of butterflies at the epicentre of the great circle of life
there we feel our own fragility.

The tour package organized from Cusco, the nearest city about 120 kms from Macu Pichu took me by surprise. It is one of the most efficient and pleasant in terms of organization. Cusco city was earlier the Inca capital. The train journey of three hours and forty minutes through mountains, valleys and along the river Urubamba is scenic. The Cusco- Machu Pichu train is a luxury train with glass even on the ceiling to see the steep mountain peaks on both sides of the rail road. The train service is punctual and the service includes entertainment too. There is a fashion show with a female and a male model displaying typical Peruvian dress and the famous Alpaca woolens with modern designs. The costumes are sold thereafter. The passengers are entertained by a local folk dancer. The train stops at the valley below Machu Pichu and there are luxury buses every few minutes shuttling between the valley and the monument. Next to the Machu Pichu station there are over hundred handicraft shops offering colourful and varied pieces, similiar to the Rajasthani ones. One can buy sweaters and shawls made from the wool of Alpaca, the typical mountain goat of Andes. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes to taste the Peruvian delicacies like Ceviche ( raw fish marinated in lime juice ), Pisco Sour the local drink and "Inca Cola" a yellow colour drink which competes with Coca Cola.

From Cusco there is a 200 $ package tour to Machu Pichu. This includes pick up from hotel, train ticket, shuttle bus from tain station to machu Pichu, guide and lunch. value for money !

In Lima I played golf at the Lima Golf Club with Kitri, the son of our Ambassador. He is a champion- material and is going to do Golf management studies in a North Carolina University.

The city of Lima is historic,modern, safe and pleasant to live. I met Viswanathan, the Ranbaxy executive, living there since the last four years. Indian pharma companies do a business of about 15 million dollars per year. The pharma market turnover is about 450 million dollars in the private sector and 200 million of government purchases. Registration of products takes a maximum of three months and cost per product is under 1000 dollars.

The Peru- India Chamber of Commerce, under the guidance of Mr Kishore Gupta, is active in promotion of bz. They plan to bring a delegation to India in November.

The peruvian economy is doing well. There is scope for Indian cos to invest in Petroleum and mining besides exports.

Readers are welcome to visit my album for fotos of Machu Pichu