In a Soup

Madhuri Dixit, a leading Bollywood actress of the nineties, is in a thick soup. Not an ordinary soup. A thick Maggi soup. 

It appears that a packet of Maggi, of which she is a brand ambassador, has been found to contain Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), a taste-enhancer, which is a restricted substance, without a declaration on the packing of the product. To add salt to Maggi, or insult to injury, the discovery has been made simultaneously in Barabanki and Muzaffarpur, remote towns deep in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, as well known across the nation for their rule of law and morally upright administration, as they are for the ethical, uncompromising stand on testing of food taken by the common man.

Such amateurish behaviour was not expected from an actress of her stature. It is learnt from reliable sources that she did not even rush to her private lab to check the ingredients under a microscope before signing on the dotted line. All she is reported to have done is seek confirmation from company officials regarding the quality of the product.

Such negligence deserves punishment.

The government, poor souls, have been forced to take this action against the brand ambassador, since they have no way of knowing that the product was manufactured by Nestle, one of the world’s leading packaged food manufacturers.

How can they?

Are they children who consume the product?

Or are they expected to read the printed matter on packets of the product?

Or are they expected to maintain records and governance information that could lead people to believe that they have some idea of what is going on in their jurisdiction?

Even if they did, how are they expected to know how to contact Nestle or how to serve a notice to them? So, as smart, reasonable government officials, they sent a notice to Madhuri Dixit.

The government is sending out a clear signal to the younger generation. It is just not enough to be a good, popular actor. You also need to have a private product testing lab.

Salman Khan, a popular Bollywood actor, who endorses a brand of cotton vests, is running scared. As is Aishwarya Rai, former Miss World, who is endorsing a commercial real estate development in Mumbai. With a fair and transparent government at work, there is no knowing which product MSG might surface in next.

Shopkeepers around the country who have stocked it are already under the scanner. Why did they not check the packets in their own labs before selling them, is a question baffling experts?

Sooner or later, it is bound to come back to the parents. What were they thinking? Don’t they even have labs at home where they can test the products they are feeding their children? Do they expect the government to do even that? When will they start taking responsibility?

The Information and Broadcasting Minister, having failed to detect the presence of MSG in the product, and allowed product ads to be aired on TV, in a principled stand, has resigned his position as Minister and become the governor of a state.

Realising that Madhuri Dixit started endorsing Maggi only recently, the government machinery is leaving no stone unturned to uncover the names of celebrities who have endorsed Maggi in the past so that blame can be placed where it belongs.

Following the lead given by the government, the courts are creating a precedent whereby responsibility for future indiscretions regarding a product can be clearly assigned.

If it is found that Fair and Handsome does not really make you any fairer or more handsome, who will the blame lie with? Of course Shahrukh Khan, another leading Bollywood actor, who endorses the product.

We don’t need to tell you whose responsibility it would be in case it is discovered, in Barabanki or Muzaffarpur, that Boost, the chocolate energy drink for children, does not really give any additional natural energy to children. Of course it will be Sachin Tendulkar’s responsibility. Everyone knows Sachin. And everyone should know why it is his responsibility.

The government and courts have also given a resounding endorsement of the decision-making capability of the common man. They possess such sound judgment, the government believes, that they are forced to buy all products endorsed by a celebrity, even though they have no use for them.

The product will be banned with retrospective effect, as has been so successfully done by some of our leaders.

But wait! Why should the product be banned? Is it the fault of the product? No way. It is the fault of Madhuri Dixit.

Driving Skills – 4; Traffic Signs

In Hindi movies, cops dutifully arrive after the hero has thrashed the villain black and blue and rescued the damsel in distress, basically to put the villain away and tie up the loose ends like towing away vehicles damaged in the car-chase at the end, apologising to the people wrongly charged earlier, and other key events in the narrative.

After much of the traffic rules have been rewritten (see Driving Skills – 2 and Driving Skills – 3) by yours truly, the Surface Transport Authority has gotten into the act and finally updated archaic traffic signs to reflect the current reality and ensure that their interpretation is aligned with the understanding people have of a particular sign or signal.

Well, better late than never, we say!

 

Drive at 50 Or under 50 Or over 50

Drive at 50
Or under 50
Or over 50

 

Free Parking

Free Parking

 

Short-cut to destination

Short-cut to destination

All vehicles prohibited Except yours

All vehicles prohibited
Except yours

Check for cop If not visible, GO If visible, STOP

Check for cop
If not visible, GO
If visible, STOP

 

Prepare to speed up and cross before the light turns red

Prepare to speed up and cross before the light turns red

 

Stop. Wait for cross-traffic to move on Red light.

Stop. Wait for cross-traffic to move on Red light.

 

Stop, Wait or Idle

Stop, Wait or Idle

Stop. Do not cross at this point. Jaywalk on any other part of road.

Stop. Walk at your own risk.

 

Prevent pedestrians from crossing here

Prevent pedestrians from crossing here

Keep moving

Keep moving

 

In the unlikely event you took your hand off the horn…

In the unlikely event you forgot

Speed up and reach the narrow passage before the other vehicle

Speed up and reach the narrow passage before the other vehicle

Overtake from left Overtake from right

Overtake from left
Overtake from right

Expect other vehicles to give way to you

Take way here

This sign has been taken out of circulation

This sign has been moved to the museum

 

These are the signs of our times. Look forward to a smooth ride on Indian roads…

Driving Skills – 2

Stirred into action on seeing two accidents in a short ten kilometre stretch from home to my son’s school (click Driving Skills – 1 for full story), I have started compiling a list of easy-to-follow guidelines designed to bring equality and democracy to our roads. I am conscious that some of the guidelines set out below are more applicable to male drivers, and some to drivers in the Delhi/Gurgaon/NCR region, but that is more on account of a) more drivers being male and b) I have lived in the Delhi/Gurgaon/NCR area for over ten years, rather than a desire to give these two constituencies a competitive edge over others.

In order that benefit to society is neither delayed nor denied, I am not waiting to complete the document and, instead, will publish it, as I progress, in instalments. This is the first instalment. 

While going the wrong way on a one-way street (“is there any other way to go?” you might be tempted to ask if you live in Gurgaon), if oncoming traffic honks at you, flash your high beam. We all know the magical properties of the high beam. When aimed correctly, it should make the errant vehicle vanish. Especially in India, a generally hot country with long hours of bright sunshine, where, particularly in the daytime, the beam’s magical properties make it invisible to the naked eye.

If they don’t get out of the way when you flash the high beam which they could not see, roll down your window, make a tight fist and wave it randomly in the air. If the oncoming car still does not get the message, stop your car and get out. If you can’t go the wrong way, nobody goes nowhere mister. At this point roll up your shirt sleeve for the trading of punches which is likely to follow shortly.

If you need to turn right at an intersection, ensure you are in the left-most lane at the moment you need to begin the turn to the right. The right turn must be made in a graceful arc sweeping across the rushing vehicles in the centre and right lanes in a manner that brings them to a screeching halt mid-stride. This strategy is even more effective when you have to make a U-turn to the right. The simple beauty of this strategy can be judged by the fact that it is equally effective the other way round; while turning left from the right-most lane.

Never, ever, stop on the left side of the road where it is prohibited to either stop or wait. Stopping on the left side of the road, next to the kerb, will only cause a minor disruption. For maximum impact, stop right in the middle of the road. Purpose of stopping is irrelevant. It can be to let a pedestrian jaywalk across, or to ask the driver of the taxi next to you for directions. Experienced drivers will know that the second reason listed above has been found to be most effective for maximum disruption as two cars will be stopped in the middle of the road side by side while others try to navigate around them.

In any condition of stopping in the middle of the road, never forget to turn on the blinkers (the flashing lights that are meant to be a “caution” signal for others) to gain the moral high ground in any ensuing confrontation, should you encounter outraged fellow-travellers or even a rare cop trying to enforce rules.

If you see a traffic signal turning amber in the distance, what do you do? Even young children know the answer to this. It is obvious really. You must speed up in order to ensure that you are able to reach and cross the signal before the light turns to red. Distance to the signal is irrelevant. If you can see it, you can cross it.

A corollary of the above rule is that you should never, ever, be the first to stop at a traffic signal. Doing so is bound to lead to an immediate and irrevocable deterioration in your social status, if an acquaintance were to notice this act of weakness, especially if you happen to belong to Delhi or its surroundings. As we know, acquaintances of people living in Delhi hang around at traffic signals waiting to spot you being the first to stop at the signal.

The other outcome of this unnatural behaviour, should to choose to indulge in it, is that everyone behind you will need to stop. Can you imagine the chaos a moment’s irresponsibility on your part will create for the city? Choose to act in a responsible manner today. Never be the first to stop at a red light.

Always drive with your child, preferably an infant, in your lap. Borrow one if you don’t have one of your own. In order to create the right environment it should be done without the child wearing a seat-belt. In any run-in, either with infuriated fellow-commuters, or with the law, blame the other guy for not being sensitive to the child. An unintended benefit will be that the child will imbibe these driving habits early.

Please understand that the law asking you to wear a seat-belt while driving has been introduced for the safety of the cops trying to enforce it. Never, ever, wear a seat-belt while driving. Make sincere efforts to avoid detection by holding the buckle end of the belt and stretching it as far as the point where it could be buckled, without actually doing so. Not only will this permit you to cock a snook at the efforts of the traffic policemen to become safe by getting you to wear a seat-belt, you will also be able to engage one hand with the belt buckle, leaving only one hand to drive, shift gears, etc. The situation, as you can guess, is pregnant with possibilities.

In order that you are not overloaded, we will stop this instalment here. We hope you will find these guidelines useful in bringing order to our increasingly chaotic roads.

Driving Skills – 1

I drove my son to school today morning because he had to reach earlier than the regular school time.

Almost as soon as we had started we heard the siren of an ambulance behind us. We gave way. A few hundred metres down we found the ambulance waiting by the side of the road, with its staff trying to evacuate an injured person, lying on the side of the road, with a damaged two-wheeler lying flat on the road, and a car standing near it, facing the wrong direction (opposite to the direction in which traffic is supposed to flow). It appeared to be a case of a car, travelling in the wrong direction on a one-way street, having hit a two-wheeler travelling in the right direction. The one-way street I am referring to, if you are familiar with Gurgaon, is the one that stretches from Fortis hospital and ends at the intersection with the Golf Course Road. Thank God for the alert common man. Many cases of hit-and-run become hit-and-be forced to stay, thanks to his alertness and willingness to get involved.

A few kilometres further, on a road that has been cut through the Aravali hills in the last few years, and on the side of the DLF Golf Course, at the only intersection on that road, we found two big, expensive cars, lying upside down in various stages of damage. It appeared to be a fairly recent event from the shards of glass lying all over the road and the road still wet from the various bodily juices that may have oozed out from the two vehicles. It might have happened in the wee hours as we did not see any bodies. Even the alert common man crowd had thinned out. James Bond would have struggled to engineer a more spectacular crash. A few beggars who perhaps ply their trade on that intersection were seen telling interested passers-by of what, according to them, had happened. If I can say it without sounding judgmental, it seemed to be a case of, plain and simple, rash and negligent driving fuelled by an assumption that I (the driver) can do no wrong and since everyone else is a sissy and will drive carefully, I can get my way on the road. Apparently, in this case, there were two such un-sissies, who probably ended up in a tie at that intersection. And, this is one of those cases of a tie in which both combatants lose.

If you are familiar with Gurgaon in particular and the Delhi / NCR area in general, you can be excused for saying “so?”.

But some of the more vigilant readers might notice something amiss. “You are not telling us the full story” they would say. “Only two accidents? On almost ten kilometres of road? And you expect us to believe that?” is what they will confront you with.

They have nailed it, as usual. On a good day one might see three fist-fights in parking lots, a couple of traffic jams on account of illegal obstruction caused by triple-parked vehicles, a two-wheeler mowed down by a speeding car, a couple of trucks in a no-truck zone, and a couple of fatal accidents, all on the same ten kilometre stretch. There could also be some bad days. Like the one I had today and that I described earlier.

The world keeps changing all the time. Cities have changed. Cars have changed. Drivers have changed. Driving habits have changed. “Courtesy”, “caution” and ”yield” are some of the words that have been deleted from the modern driver’s lexicon.

Unfortunately, our traffic rules and their meanings have failed to keep pace with the changing times. An unfortunate outcome is that some people still insist on following traffic rules. Some people still express anguish at the chaos on the roads.

Perhaps today morning’s drive was the last straw. Instead of merely complaining at the turn of events, and with a view to doing my bit at conditioning the modern driver to feel at ease in today’s conditions, I have taken upon myself the task of compiling an updated set of traffic guidelines and recommendations which I will be sharing in the next few days.

Here’s to equality on the road and effective and stress-free driving for all.

 

What do you think?

“What do you think of the verdict?”, the old gentleman in the changing room asked me.

We were in the changing-room of a gym I occasionally visit in my losing battle against creeping unfitness. He had been watching the news on the TV in the changing-room, shaking his head all the while. This was in the early part of last week.

The news was about a verdict announced just a short while earlier, pronouncing a doctor couple guilty of killing their only daughter and a domestic help. This was a case that had received a lot of attention a few years back when the event happened. The accused were not someone living on the margins of society. They were, as doctors mostly are, a well-respected doctor couple, and likely to have been part of the affluent set of society.

Caught off-guard by a stranger, I paused before replying, “I do not consider myself competent to say whether the verdict is right or wrong. But what I do feel is happy that there are processes in the country that permit cases to be taken to their logical conclusion; even when there is no individual who has an interest in pursuing the case to its logical conclusion. In the case of a teenage girl, it would be her parents who would have the most interest in bringing the guilty to book. Here, the parents were the accused.”

He was silent for a while. Then he spoke again, “This verdict is incorrect. I know these people. They have come to my charitable school. They are a very pious couple…” and his voice trailed off.

“Pious? What has that gotta do with it?” I thought, but said, “I don’t know on what grounds that can happen? I assume due process of law has been followed and the accused provided reasonable opportunity to present their case.”

Just then the attendant came to talk to him and he got distracted. In the meantime, I went on into the shower.

In the shower, my mind was full of the event and the brief conversation I had just had.

“What has pious got to do with it?” I wondered.

Another case that has been in the public eye came to my mind. Of a sage (or self-styled godman as he is called in the media), who apparently had a following in the hundreds of thousands, accused of raping a girl in his ‘ashram’.

“Would he not have been considered a pious man?”, I again wondered.

So what happened to him?

Once the matter came to light, he was apprehended. Apparently a prima facie case has been found against him and he has been incarcerated. To stand trial as per the law of the land. He will, equally, have the right to defend himself. With the help of the wealth he has seemingly accumulated on account of his pious activities, he can certainly afford to hire the best and the brightest. And I am sure he will not be denied that right. I am also sure he will not be tried by a kangaroo court. He will have the right to appeal at various levels should initial verdicts be inimical.

So what is the point?

The point I am making is that in case of the doctor couple also, while their supporters would no doubt be aggrieved at the verdict pronouncing them guilty, I have confidence that the law of the land has been applied.

In my view, a verdict which does not either have an admission of guilt or video evidence will always have scope for doubt. Should such cases be abandoned? Supporters of a person at the receiving end will never find such a verdict fair.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying they are guilty. All I am saying is that I have reasonable confidence that over the last few years this case has been going on, due processes have been followed. And there are multiple agencies involved. Not a single gun-toting marshal in a lawless western frontier town of yore who “is the law”.

I can only say that I grieve for them and sympathise with their supporters. I wonder what nature of provocation can lead one human being to kill another. I also hope that no-one has to go through an experience like this.

The point I am making is that while we find reason to complain about the smallest things, and I have no doubt there are many irritants, we do not bother to appreciate the privileges we possess.

We could be living under a despotic regime claiming to be benevolent while amassing wealth and power.

We could be living in a nation where decisions pertaining to someone’s life and death are taken based on the whims of whoever is in power.

We could be living in a state where clerics have arrogated to themselves the right to decide how others should behave and what scripture should be applied to what situation.

We could be living in a place where the path to justice passes through the barrel of a gun.

We could be living in an environment where any sort of dissent is treated as treason.

We could be living in a society where public servants blindly toe the party-line and have neither the courage or vision to make sensible decisions based on law and their own conscience.

We do not appreciate enough living in a free country. We do not appreciate enough living in a place where generally there is rule of law. We do not appreciate living in a place where the common man can raise his voice when the need arises and the powerful are brought down when the situation demands.

This is what I wish to do through this post.

Human battles will continue. We now have the case of the managing editor of a leading publication who has been accused by a young journalist of rape. Again, he apparently has the resources to buy whatever kind of help he wants. At the same time, I am confident that we have the institutions to handle the case on its merit.

We also have the case of a charismatic Chief Minister, feted by leading business schools of the world for the apparent turnaround implemented in his State, who is now in jail for a scam. Again, I am confident justice will be done.

What do you think?

No country for young women

“We even painted a few autos pink”.

(Note: “auto”, for the uninitiated, is like a small taxi, carries, or is supposed to carry, a maximum of two passengers at a time, and is a popular means of public transportation in most cities. In some countries in the region, variants of the “auto” are called “tuk-tuk”s.)

Silence descended on the group. Surely nothing could beat that.

It was the aftermath of another gruesome incident of rape. This time in a western metropolis. The high-level committee formed to address the issue and implement an action-plan to prevent a recurrence of such incidents was meeting. They had invited their counterparts from the capital, who had recent experience of implementing an action-plan after an even more gruesome incident had taken place there late last year, to participate.

(An earlier post emanating from that incident: https://darkofficehumour.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/emancipation-of-women/).

The invited team was sharing their experiences. They had seen how civil society’s collective conscience had finally been jolted into action. Both public and private agencies had left no stone unturned, it seems, in their quest to uplift the lot of women and ensure their safety.

A big company had taken early lead in the drive for emancipation of women by bringing out a women-only washing powder that will wash clothes clean only when used by a woman. It took the market by storm and left competitors wringing their clothes hands in despair.

A Mutual Fund company, boldly going where no man, or woman, had gone before, had launched a financial advisory service only for women, even encouraging them to invest money in their own poorly-performing financial products, for enhancing their feeling of security.

In his usual forthright and meaningless manner, the Finance Minister, joining the fray, had sent out a strong message for the emancipation of women in the country by announcing the launch of a women-only bank.

At each idea that was put forward, there was shock writ large on faces of members of the committee at the severity of measures taken. “No wonder that no further incidents had been reported from the capital. Once you introduce a women-only washing powder, a financial consultancy to advise women to invest in their own schemes and a women-only bank, surely nothing more would need to be done for the emancipation and security of women”, each one thought privately.

The shock turned to total disbelief when they were told that they had not stopped at that. They had even painted a few autos pink! Though they knew that such actions were the need of the hour, they were all silently wondering if they would ever be able to match the boldness of the team from the capital and implement them.

They also realised that the hard work of dreaming up meaningless solutions in the face of a gruesome crime had already been done. They did not have scope to pretend to come up with measures to address the situation in the interest of the people. All they had to do was implement. The reputation and careers they had built over years of trying to solve people’s problems through actions that were bound to fail from the outset, were at stake.

The invited team was justifiably proud of their efforts; in the face of huge odds a number of severe measures had been implemented without causing an iota of discomfort to the male population. They had managed to implement several measures requiring women to change their habits. For their own good, it must be clarified.

Meanwhile, in other normal events around the country:

  • A woman (a foreign tourist) camping in MP, got gangraped by a group of local men while she was camping in a jungle.
  • A woman managed to avoid getting raped in a moving car by jumping out of the car and sustaining grievous injuries in the process.
  • A British tourist (woman, who else!) jumped off a balcony in Agra to avoid getting molested by the owner of the hotel she was staying in.
  • Robbers gangrape a policewoman in Jharkhand. The woman, apparently, was taking her dead younger sister’s body to their hometown for cremation.

In view of several instances of foreign tourists being targeted, the government is considering banning all female tourists from entering the country in order to protect the country’s rich culture and heritage from being sullied by unjustified speculation overseas.

The government is also considering legislation to address the situation. One proposal being considered is to make it mandatory for crimes against women to be committed only by women.

A government spokesman has also said that these incidents should be a lesson for all. Calls from different sections of the population for a statehood here, greater autonomy there, stand exposed as politically motivated machinations of divisive elements. These incidents conclusively prove that be it Mumbai or Delhi, Madhya Pradesh or Agra, Jharkhand or anywhere else, we are united in our thinking and behaviour. We are one country.

Cat among pigeons

They thought it was theirs by right. The leadership position that some countries, kingdoms rather, in the middle of the world and leaning towards the direction in which the sun rises, have historically held, in the oppression of women, has come under threat.

The unlikely source of this threat is the “khap panchayat”, that motley union of a few villages, mainly in the northern part of a country not too far away, who come together for attending to the common good of the villages. Good as defined by them.

With a resurgent and creative leadership team, drawing heavily from best-practices implemented by the most successful corporations operating in the country, “khap panchayats” have come up with innovative ideas like blaming women themselves for violent crimes committed against them and banning mobile-phone usage for them, in a bid to wrest supremacy from the kingdoms mentioned earlier. In a demonstration of the vision and far-sightedness of their leadership team, they are hiring the best and brightest from leading business schools in the country, in order to ensure continued progress in the area.

The “khap panchayats” have flourished under successive benevolent, democratic regimes and now seem poised to usurp the position of primary oppressors of women, for long occupied by the kingdoms mentioned earlier.

The leaders of these kingdoms are bristling with anger at this threat and are looking for ways to retain their historical pre-eminence in this area. Apart from a naturally occurring substance drilled from deep inside the earth, oppression of women is one of the few areas where the rest of the world has looked towards them for leadership. They obviously don’t want to give up this leadership position in a hurry.

They have made an effort to discredit the “khap” leadership by questioning their motives. “Historically, all the draconian steps we have taken for oppressing women have been for their own good. What altruistic motives do the “khaps” have?” they have posed openly and asked them to come clean.

Having said that, some of their leaders have, in private, acknowledged the very real threat posed by “khap panchayats” with their creative and disruptive thinking, and have expressed doubts if the world order will ever be restored to its pre-“khap” emergence state. “We may have banned driving for women, we may have not granted them voting rights, we may marry them off at a young age to lecherous men thrice their age, we may prescribe lashes for so much as a sinful thought about unrelated men, but these “khap panchayats” have taken the game to an entirely different level. Their logical reasoning in turning the heat on women and blaming them for violent crimes against themselves indicate the intellectual animal we are up against. And their effective use of modern technology in their efforts at oppression definitely give them an edge. We could never have imagined banning mobile-phone usage”, is a common refrain.

There is total confusion in their ranks.

In a desperate attempt to retain their leadership position, a large country in the area has decided to take the challenge of the khap panchayats head-on. They have decided to turn the wheel full circle in a bid to throw the khaps panchayats off balance.

In a recent development, the country has appointed women to the previously all-male Consultative Council, marking a historic first. The decree gives women a twenty percent quota in the Council, a body appointed by the king to advise him on policy and legislation.

In view of the importance of these positions, the women will be carefully selected. Care will be taken to ensure that they have no history of having expressed, or even held, any form of an opinion, political or otherwise, in all their years. Consent of a male member of their family will be obtained prior to their induction. If an adult male is not available, a male child’s consent would do.

It has been also stipulated that men and women will be segregated inside the Council, with a special area designated for females who will enter through a separate door so as not to mix with their male colleagues. These women will be chaperoned by a male relative whose consent they will seek before giving their view on any bill.

The entire cabinet, which included both the left and right side of the king’s brain, was divided over this proposal.

Rapid change is expected in this country after the introduction of this bill. Women may soon be permitted to brush their teeth of their own free will.

The ruling elite has also been stung by criticism about the unfair and partial treatment meted out to subjects. Recognising the damage it could do to their power, and in a bid to clean-up their image in the eyes of their target population, they have resorted to the use of social media in order to project themselves as a fair and just oppressor. They do not discriminate between young and old, educated or uneducated, slim or fat, short or tall. Their oppressive policies are aimed at all segments of the women population equally are the messages they have been sending out. This campaign has helped in allaying the fears of a large part of the population – the male part.

After centuries of confusion over their rightful place amongst living beings; where between camels, asses and dogs should they be slotted in order of superiority, a debate has also been initiated on the important issue of whether women should be considered as a life-form at all.

The “khap panchayats” are understood to be watching these developments closely before they make their next move. Competition in any sport generally leads to raising of standards. Standards of oppression can be expected to rise. All for the good of women, even though they don’t know it.

National Service

Amid the din of rising disenchantment about the government’s inability to tackle the economic woes besetting the country, the cabinet met in secret today to approve the new policy for tackling the economic situation.

In a master-stroke, and through a simple declaration, the government has elevated shopping to the level of “national sport”, ahead of cricket, and hockey, which of course nobody knows about. The doors to the riches that only a few successful sportspersons, particularly of the cricketing variety, could hitherto aspire to, have now been unlocked for the common man. A democratic policy, if ever there was one.

This stroke of genius has taken the opposition by surprise. Everyone may not be able to play cricket, but everyone can shop. The opposition has not been able to call the policy discriminatory and one that panders only to the interests of particular group of society, and not society at large. The only criticism they have been able to come up with, so far, is that the government is blindly aping the West without heed to our culture, where, in many countries, shopping is already the national sport.

The logic is simple. The more shopping you do, the more the economic situation will improve. At least for the seller, if not the buyer. This way, even if half the country benefits, the government would have reduced the economic situation critics to half, from 100% of the population to only 50%. Merely through the act of a declaration.

And, even for the buyer, there is hope. The more he buys, the more he will need to borrow. The more he borrows the more he will contribute as interest income to the banks and financial institutions that are essential services in a modern economy and must be made and kept prosperous at all costs. If not, the government may have to resort to using taxpayer money to prop up these noble institutions. The stronger these institutions are, the more people will be able to borrow from them. Hence, buyers should consider this to be equivalent to a patriotic duty.

Spending more is also expected to have a salubrious impact on the work ethic in the country. The more you spend the more you will borrow. The more you borrow the more rich you will feel. The more rich you feel the more you will borrow to maintain a rich lifestyle. The more you keep borrowing the more interest costs you will need to service. The more interest you service, the harder you will need to keep working, well beyond your normal retirement years. The harder you work the more the work-ethic of the nation improves.

In order to give a further fillip to shopping, the government has also introduced a national reward scheme which is based on incentive points for the amount of shopping done. Weightages have been assigned to various product categories normally shopped for, based on how essential the products bought are to the normal person. All essential items like food will have a NIL weightage. Items like jewellery, fourth car, second house, racehorses, yachts, etc. will be in the highest weightage category. Other items like refrigerators, washing machines, clothes, school textbooks are somewhere in between.

In a rare moment of enlightenment, displaying their complete grasp of the situation and the reality of the modern day shopper, the privileges accorded to shoppers in the national reward scheme will be available even for shopping done online.

The reward scheme will be funded through a new tax that will be levied on shopping done henceforth (the committee disagreed on taxing past shopping), and almost seven percent of the money collected through this tax will be paid back in the form of rewards, after paying for the expenses of the bureaucrats and ministers engaged in administering this scheme, and after purchasing new SUVs for them and their teams, to enable them to smoothly handle this added responsibility.

The opposition has finally been able to find fault with the scheme. They have criticised the government for ignoring the interest of the armed forces, engaged in securing the boundaries of the nation. They have said that the armed forces will not have an equal opportunity of participating in this patriotic programme and contributing to the development of the nation, as they are placed in remote areas. This amounts to discrimination. They have asked that this scheme be placed on par with military service in terms of a patriotism index which they have suggested the government set-up. They have also suggested that all members of the armed forces be given a choice whether they wish to serve the country through risking life and limb in armed combat or doing shopping.

Back to the Future

Our honourable and beloved Finance Minister, in his usual, insightful manner, has opened up a world of possibilities for Big Business, with the retrospective change in law in the latest Finance Bill. The proposal amends the Income Tax Act to assert the government’s right to levy tax on merger and acquisition (M&A) deals involving overseas companies with business assets in India and is an enabling provision to protect the fiscal interests of the country and avert the chances of a crisis.

This has been done by changing policy with retrospective effect. Effective 1962. It is believed that this move will yield several billion dollars to the state’s coffers, mostly from a large Telecom company.

This one stroke of genius of the Finance minister has, however, revitalised failed and failing businesses the world over.

Kodak

Kodak, which lost a significant part of its value as a result of not moving to digital in time, has passed a Board Resolution to introduce digital technology, which it claims to have invented, with retrospective effect. This change is dated back to 1981, the year Sony introduced Mavica, a camera without a traditional film. Kodak has also retrospectively introduced workshops for senior management to shake them out of their belief that film will last forever and will continue to be hugely profitable.

As a result, Kodak is the most visible name in digital cameras today. Canon, Sony, HP and others trail Kodak by a mile.

Decca Records

Decca Records executives in charge of evaluating new talent, after travelling to Liverpool to watch a local band perform, inviting them to audition at their studio in London on New Year’s Day 1962 and deciding not to sign them, have, with retrospective effect, changed the decision they took in early 1962 to not contract the new band and, instead, have offered a lifetime contract to the band.

The band, of course, is The Beatles.

As a result of this retrospective signing, EMI, who had, then, signed up The Beatles, could not sign them up. They have continued to play on the fringes of mainstream music ever since while Decca Records went on to become the biggest name in music today, riding on the success of The Beatles.

Ford

In 1908, when Model T was first marketed, for its unique combination of price and quality, it revolutionised American culture and gave Ford an over 50% market share of the automobile market in the US. The Model T was also said to be the making of Henry Ford, lifting him from being any other Detroit automobile maker to becoming car maker to the world, and yielded him untold riches and power and pleasure. He was convinced of its capability and believed it would last forever.

Alas, that was not to be. Competitors kept innovating and soon the market responded. Chevrolet soon overtook Ford.

Ford has retrospectively replaced Ford as the Chairman, opting for an independent professional, Ford continuing in an advisory capacity. They soon introduced a new model to take over from Model T and it was even more successful.

Ford is the leading car-maker in the world today. Chevrolet, after briefly being in contention for the top slot, faded into oblivion. The automobile industry in Japan never took off because Ford, on account of its size and reach, was able to produce cars cheaply in Japan. The world never knew cars by the name of Toyota and Honda.

Atari

Atari has retrospectively agreed to make computers for Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and overturned an informal decision they took to not have anything to do with them when they apparently asked for funding and even agreed to let them work only for a salary in return for making their computers. Atari is sitting on a market capitalisation of over US$400 billion today.

Apple continues to be best known as a fruit.

Western Union

Western Union, which, then, had a monopoly on the telegraph, the world’s most advanced communication technology at that time, has retrospectively retracted the note which its President William Orton wrote to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, which said: “Mr. Bell, after careful consideration of your invention, while it is a very interesting novelty, we have come to the conclusion that it has no commercial possibilities… What use could this company make of an electrical toy?”

And replaced it with: “Mr. Bell, after careful consideration of your invention, we are pleased to offer you $100,000, as asked for, to own the patent for this new electrical toy?”

The electrical toy, of course, was the telephone.

Rejected by Western Union, Alexander Graham Bell kept the patent and started his own company. In a few decades his telephone company, “renamed American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T), had become the largest corporation in America … The Bell patent – offered to Orton for a measly $100,000 – became the single most valuable patent in history.”

However, as a result of this wise retrospective decision of Western Union, Alexander Graham Bell could never realise the wealth his invention created for others, most particularly Western Union.

Lehman Brothers, Enron, et al

Lehman Brothers have retrospectively changed the decision they took at a Board Meeting in 2002 to actively participate in the housing market through acquisition of mortgage lenders, particularly ones engaged in subprime lending, like Alt-A Loans. The Board, instead, decided to “stick to the knitting” and continue with their core businesses (though there was dispute as to what their core business, or even their business, like any Investment Bank, was). It was a hotly debated and acrimonious battle as this retrospective decision would mean that the staggering profits made between 2004 and 2007 and, more importantly, the stratospheric executive compensation and bonuses of this period, would be wiped out.

However, reason eventually won and Lehman decided to stay away from mortgage lending. Its leverage – the ratio of total assets to shareholders equity, stayed under the historical 21:1 (which had gone up to 31:1 during the subprime crisis). It continues to be a storied Investment Bank and the dream job for every aspiring Investment Banker. As a result of this retrospective strategy change, the largest bankruptcy title remains with Enron.

It is believed that their liquidators of Enron are considering retrospectively changing the accounting practices at Enron which may help them stave off the tag of the largest bankruptcy in business.

Drake

Edwin Laurentine Drake has retrospectively patented the drill he invented alongwith his blacksmith uncle, in 1859. Till then, oil drilling relied on shovels and picks. Subsequent versions of the drill have been used by many others to drill for oil and become millionaires.

And Drake, with this wise retrospective patent, avoided dying in poverty. As a result of his retrospective patenting, Drake’s descendants are now the richest family in the world. And Drake Drilling the most valuable company.

Individuals

Not only big business, even small individuals have been so impressed by this move of the Finance Minister that they are taking individual steps to improve their prospects.

A Senior Manager I know who was made redundant as a result of his department closing down, has applied for a change of role with retrospective effect to a department that did not shut down.

An old friend of mine, who is a successful medical practitioner, has retrospectively decided to forego medical education and become a property broker, in view of the immense amount of wealth that real estate has created in the last two decades.

Yet another person I know well, who went to business school with me, is retrospectively changing his consulting profile to “energy consulting” in order that he could work for Enron, the collapsed Energy major, make his pile, and get out before the collapse.

The possibilities are mind-boggling.

Other unrelated developments

Steven Spielberg’s imagination has been fired by the immense possibilities that exist. He is said to be actively considering extending the Back to the Future franchise from the paltry two sequels to a more meaningful twenty four. The Finance Minister has been appointed the creative advisor for the new series.

Coming, as it does, after a Supreme Court decision against a government tax claim on the large Telecom company, it has raised the hackles of the judiciary who see it as government effort at undermining the independence of the judiciary. The judiciary in the democratic countries of the world have joined issue with the Indian judiciary, as this could become a trailblazer for governments in other democratic countries, who may seek to reverse the impact of unfavourable court decisions by making retrospective changes in law, thereby curtailing the power of the judiciary. Judiciary and people in the judicial system, in countries where the rulers also rule the judiciary, have not joined forces with the judiciary of the democratic countries. They do not see this as government effort to curtail their power. They have none.

The Telecom company most impacted has sought opinion on whether they can back out of the deal with retrospective effect so that they can avoid paying the tax they may need to once the retrospective law change goes through.