• The Recession of Trust

    Trust me.

    These two words run the world of money. Finance is a complicated beast, too difficult for most of us to fully understand. So when you invest, you trust the financial pundits or institutions around you, hoping that things will turn out well and that you will get your money back -- and then some.

    But these days it seems that your trust may be misplaced.

    Advisors offer you ULIPs, omitting the tiny point that 65% of your money might go straight into someone else's pockets. Real estate advertisements hard-sell homes for just 20 lakhs -- but the parking is extra, the paint is extra and the cement is not exactly included.

    Buy a house, you might hear; why pay rent? Unless you consider that what you pay the bank as interest is just another form of rent, a much larger figure. The concept only makes mathematical sense if house prices only go up. And they only go up. Right?

    It's fascinating how the wizards of the financial world can take something simple and make it utterly confusing and

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  • The national vote

    It's unusual to inaugurate a column disagreeing with the man who commissioned you in the first place. Yet, every good editorial page - and Yahoo's opinion section must rank as the online equivalent of a good editorial page in a newspaper - is, in its essence, shaped by a million arguments between those who contribute to it.

    On April 30, Amit Varma set the "frames of reference" of this section by emphasising the "hazards of writing a column". Many of the points Amit made were unexceptionable, and reflected commonsensical positions that I wouldn't dream of opposing. Yet, one of his sub-heads ("One: We will not simplify needlessly") caught my attention because it cited as an example a political theme, provoking me to respond if for no other reason than the fact that my column is supposed to focus on Indian politics.

    Indian politics can of course be expanded to cover just about anything - from cricket to cinema - and that is an indulgence this column will happily exploit. Yet,

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  • Memories and Memorials

    The bronze statue at the martyrs' memorial in South Mumbai stands on a peculiar, somewhat cone-shaped pedestal. Perhaps the designer's intention was to mimic the form of a torch, with the pedestal as its handle and the statue as the flame. That's the only explanation I've been able to dream up, having given the matter considerable thought.

    The pedestal could be overlooked, if the sculpture itself made a powerful impact. The composition consists of a loin-cloth-clad farmer fused to a kurta-wearing city dweller. The two jointly hold a mashaal that resembles a fly whisk. While the farmer is comfortable in his pose, his partner looks distraught, perhaps because he is being nudged off balance and risks toppling from his perch. It must be particularly galling for him to be in that position because, after all, few loin-cloth-wearing farmers lost their lives in the push for the creation of Maharashtra. It was people in urban areas who suffered, particularly citizens of Bombay (as it was then

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  • Everyone knows that we Indians invented the zero. Without zero and the decimal number system, writing and calculating really large numbers would be very difficult.

    This would be awful for people in the financial industry, whose work depends on having really big salaries. Fortunately Brahmagupta came to their rescue.

    Another thing which is crucial to the financial services industry is the concept of being too big to fail, which has been put to good use by Citigroup, Bear Stearns, and Goldman Sachs over the past few years in sucking money from American taxpayers. This beautiful concept was also invented by an Indian - Vishnu Sharma, the author of the Panchatantra, in the story of the Weaver and the Chariot Maker.

    The story of the weaver and chariot maker is one of the Panchatantra stories that usually doesn't make it to primary school textbooks or Amar Chitra Katha, mostly because it's full of sex, war, and moral hazard. Since you probably haven't read it, here's a quick summary.


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  • Welcome to Viewfinder. This is my new weekly column on Yahoo! India, one of ten columns that will start appearing on Yahoo! from this week. In this piece, I shall tell you a bit about these columns, and what we hope to do differently. Let me begin, however, by telling you about a common problem that all columnists face, which we will also have to deal with: the problem of arrogance.

    The act of writing for an audience is an act of hubris. When you set out to fill an empty page, you assume that the words you write will have some value, that your thoughts will move readers from one paragraph to the next, and keep them turning the pages (or scrolling down). How presumptuous is this? What leads me to imagine that my thoughts are worth your time?

    Reporters who write for the news pages can plausibly claim that their writing has value because they are setting out, as is often said, the first draft of history. The facts that they report are the essential raw material from which we manufacture

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