• Kids These Days

    My fellow columnist Deepak Shenoy is a cheap guy. He's supposed to write a finance column - sober, straightforward, and professional - but he is funny when he does this. This is outrageous. The humour is supposed to be left to me and Anand Ramachandran. As Majikthise and Vroomfondel put it, "Demarcation, that's the problem!"

    To show Deepak that he can't just walk into rigidly defined areas of humour without facing the consequences, I am retaliating with a column about finance. Specifically, I am going to rant about the worst thing about insurance today.

    The worst thing about insurance is not that the regulator is mildly clueless. It's not even that insurance companies insist on selling you ULIPs where you don't see your money again for ten years. It isn't even the compulsory medical test (with twelve hours fasting!) that you have to endure to get life insurance.

    It's the advertising.

    In the good old days, insurance ads used to play on your insecurities. They used to tell you that even

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  • I used to think that being a naturally funny writer was an impediment to being a good reviewer (wouldn't one constantly be tempted to sacrifice the measured assessment at the altar of a reader-pleasing witticism?), but the work of David Thomson is a counterpoint to this idea. Thomson is one of the most perceptive and nuanced critics around, but also the sort of writer who validates the use of the blurb cliché "he's incapable of producing a boring sentence".

    davidthomsonHis excellent book Have You Seen…? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films makes a strong case for the well-written "short review". Most of the pieces here are only between 400 and 700 words long, but Thomson packs a lot into a few terse sentences, and despite the space constraints there is always room for the complex thought — the defiance of the human tendency to seek patterns and divide things into neat categories.

    "It is too much to ask a film to be perfect, or even good, most of the time," he writes at one point. "The process is

    Read More »from The banal and the beautiful: Great scenes in average films
  • How To Manipulate Stocks

    Dear Upcoming Stock Manipulator,

    You have heard from all sources that stocks are manipulated, which is why you want a piece of the action. While we cannot hope to enumerate all the methods by which you can steal money from the pockets of retail investors, we can provide you with a few starting points.

    Insider Decider

    In the large number of stocks available in the country, the real information is available only to the management of companies. Before results are announced, results are already known. All you have to do is to find that inner circle of people that are aware of such details, or tap into the auditing or consulting agency and find "impressionable" people who are responsible for drafting such results. Or find the investment banker responsible for a merger or acquisition. Or get information about a private placement to a large institution from its employees. You might think it is only the young or the less-well-heeled that can be bought with money, but that is the thinking of a

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  • Double trouble

    Last month I described how a distinct military-jihadi complex has captured the Pakistani state and how it uses its nuclear arsenal as a shield to pursue its interests through the use of militancy and terrorism. While Pakistan's use of Islamist militancy as an instrument of policy towards India dates back to 1947 (see Praveen Swami's excellent account of this "secret jihad") the military-jihadi complex's ascent to power can be traced back to the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan.

    You should read George Crile's Charlie Wilson's War or perhaps watch the Hollywood adaptation of the book. Realpolitik brought US resources, Saudi money, Afghan guerillas, radical Islamists from around the world and a wily Pakistani military establishment together against their respective enemies. The US got the Soviets out, the Saudis pre-empted the spread of the Shia revolution, Afghan factions ousted their rivals from Kabul, the Islamists triumphed over unbelievers and the Pakistani military establishment got

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  • Red Riddance

    Kolkata's decline began when the Naxals raised the red flag in rural West Bengal. 34 years of Communist party rule hollowed out the commercial status of the city. For any one born in the last 3 decades, it is difficult to conceive that Kolkata was once a major hub of Indian business activity, second only to Mumbai. Since then, it has been eclipsed, not just by Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad, but by erstwhile retirement towns like Bangalore and Pune, and cities that didn't exist then - Gurgaon and the bureaucratic acronym, NOIDA.

    I find it fitting that the death-knell for the communist party was rung over the issue of property; the deeply human need to own ran counter to party ideology; the right to expropriate came naturally to those in power, and the clashes in Singur and Nandigram exposed the untenability of a party that spoke of land reform but practiced land grab. George Orwell had it right.

    On our south-western coast, the Kerala reds surprised poll pundits by their resilience,

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  • From when we are quite young, we are introduced to the concept of 'inner beauty'.

    This is done by our elders with the lofty ideal of teaching us that physical attractiveness in human beings is not important - as long as the human beings referred to are not in our family. So we continue to cheerfully buy and use products such as 'Fair and Lovely' and place matrimonial ads that need only be answered by "good looking" prospective brides and grooms - while simultaneously pontificating on how "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and why we shouldn't " judge a book by its cover". This essentially means that, while other people are permitted to walk around looking like the offspring of all those decidedly unattractive people such as plumbers, carpenters and school principals, we ourselves must take utmost efforts to resemble Hrithik Roshan or Deepika Padukone.  A charming school of thought.

    Although this Olympic-standard hypocrisy is perhaps morally abhorrent, it is not without its lessons.

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