• It was both ironic and poignant when, a few days ago, Anna Hazare remarked that his crusade for the Lokpal Bill was akin to a second freedom struggle for India. Hazare is fighting against the right things in the wrong way: as I wrote a few weeks ago, corruption arises from an excess of government power; creating an alternate center of power, as the Lokpal Bill attempts to do, which is neither accountable nor democratically elected, solves nothing. That said, Hazare's rhetoric, borrowed from the likes of C Rajagopalachari from decades past, was correct: India does need a second freedom struggle.

    Every nation is a work in progress, but India is more so because our independence was a job half finished. In 1947, we gained freedom from the British -- but not from oppression. As the country heaved a long sigh of relief at gaining political independence, a new set of brown sahibs took over from the white ones. The great hope of this new democracy was that it would lead to a government that

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  • “Draw down the revolvers”

    It was what they needed to do, they all agreed. But what ended up dying wasn't a human — it was a company.

    In Enron's dying days, the company started to see problems with their debt. It had issued billions of dollars in short term commercial paper, a form of debt where it would borrow for short maturities and when the time came to pay back, simply borrow again to pay back the initial investors. Repayment was a "rollover" — you never actually had to pay any money back. Towards the end though, everyone in the market realized that Enron was in serious trouble, and wouldn't lend them money for too long; after all, who wants to be left holding the bag?

    In Conspiracy of Fools, Kurt Eichenwald goes through the horror of the last few days at Enron, with commercial paper shutting Enron out. First they couldn't "place" 30-day maturity paper, but there were some buyers for two-week debt. Within a few days, no one wanted anything to do with even multiple day debt — Enron would only get money for

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  • What explains the sudden chorus demanding Rahul Gandhi take over the leadership of the Congress and become prime minister? Is it only an annual ritual, coinciding with the MP from Amethi's birthday? Is it a trial balloon being floated by sections of Rahul Gandhi's — and his mother Sonia Gandhi's — confidants to test the response?

    There are no clear answers. Nevertheless what is obvious is there is a growing trust deficit between the Congress organisation and the UPA government. On the issue of corruption and the specific matter of negotiations with Baba Ramdev, party functionaries have severely criticised the government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been a target but so has Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

    Mukherjee was reprimanded by Digvijay Singh, the Congress general secretary considered Rahul Gandhi's sounding board, for travelling to Delhi airport to meet Ramdev. On his part, Law Minister Veerappa Moily wrote to Mukherjee seeking a white paper on black money. He could as

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  • Is Turkey the Key?

    Of the countries I've visited, my favourites happen to share important features. They are all large but not intimidating in size, with proportionate populations. They have a varied landscape, a mostly temperate climate, and enough fertile land not only to feed themselves, but to have evolved exceptional cuisines. They are old civilisations possessed of the cultural self-confidence that comes from having been centres of empires, without the hubris or smugness of perpetual victors. I'm thinking of Spain, France, Turkey and Iran, and would have added Italy to the group, had its citizens been less loud, rude and vain. Turkey, despite all its gifts, and a convenient location straddling Asia and Europe, went off the world's radar for decades. The Orient Express stopped running, and was replaced in the popular imagination by Midnight Express. Indians, who now flock to Istanbul and Cappadocia in the thousands, had little connection with Turkey between the collapse of the Khilafat movement and Read More »from Is Turkey the Key?

  • Doctors are Terrifying

    There are many stressful things in life - Bangalore's traffic, Mumbai's real estate prices, and Chennai's weather (it gets bitterly cold in the winters - even dropping below twenty degrees Celsius. Shiver.). In the past month, I have discovered a new source of stress that trumps even these: hospital visits.

    For about two weeks now, I have been going regularly to hospitals in Chennai. This is a remarkably harrowing experience. For starters, there's the simple fact of their geographical expansion. Starting with four or five general hospitals in Nungambakkam, they have since then colonised the neighbourhood. They have put up a heart health centre in Greams Road, a gym and yoga centre in Wallace Garden, a pediatric hospital in Rutland Gate, and parking and pharmacies throughout Nungambakkam. You get the feeling that you're dealing with the medical equivalent of the Borg: everything encountered will be assimilated. Or to use a real world example, hospitals are to downtown Chennai what water

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  • Heard a good story?

    In an interview recently, I was asked the sort of question that makes my toes curl in terror — something about "the nature and purpose of cinema". Cornered, I reluctantly mumbled something like: "A really good film is one where form and content come together in the best possible way — irrespective of whether the subject matter is escapist or grounded in hard realities."

    Since then I've received some feedback by readers who felt I was short-selling the importance of plot. Isn't the story — or the content — the most important thing, with everything else following?

    This is a commonly expressed idea. Viewers emerge from movie halls and sagely tell the TV-channel reporter standing outside with a microphone, "film bakwaas hai, story original nahin hai". The condescending phrase "all style, no substance" is often used to describe just about any film that is visually daring (therefore "flashy") and tries to tell a story in cinematic language rather than by relying on "pictures of people

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