Plastic bags banned in Delhi ! Well done again Sheila Dixit

The state government in Mumbai had announced after the terrible floods caused mainly by the clogging of the drains by plastic bags, that they would ban plastic bags. But they had neither the will nor the guts to go through with the order. Now Sheila Dixit, the Chief Minister of Delhi has announced the same, and my bet it that despite all the court cases that will be thrown against her, the political pressures and the business lobbying – Sheila Dixit wil stand firm. She did the same when she turned all buses and other means of public transport to CNG gas. She stood firm through the strikes by bus operators, nd cases right upto supreme court. And today you can actually breathe in Delhi. There are lesser cases of asthama amongst children, and the levels of harmful pollutants in the air has come down,
I have seen the effects of not only plastic bags, but also plastic wrappers and empty plastic bottles on our environment in the hills. On a recent trip to Nainital and the surrounding hills, I saw streams, lakes, irrigation ditches all clogged with plastic – killing not only the environment but also causing flooding and killing off river fish.
Traveling in trains in India in my youth, hot milk and tea has very special taste. They were served in fragile earthenware pots. The tea and the milk took on the taste of the earth, and for me they have never tasted the same. Now even in the smallest towns tea is served in plastic cups that are not biodegradable and just go on to pollute our land.
Just one thing more m/s Dikshit – what about plastic wrapping that sell commercial products like Lays (terrible for the health of kids in any case) and pan masaala ? They represent almost 70% of the litter that pollutes our countryside

Israel declares cease fire in Gaza

After killing 1200 (or more) mostly civilian Palestinians, injuring seriously another 900, Israel has declared that its objectives have been achieved. I doubt it. If the idea was to destroy the Hamas leadership, then perhaps temporarily yes. But armed strength and invasion can kill people, not an idea. The idea is more freedom and less oppression for the Palestinian people. After the invasion, the idea will be far far stronger, with more converts to it. Perhaps Israel wanted to crush the Hamas leadership before President Obama took charge. They knew that Bush would support them, so they declared a cease fire on the day that Obama Presidency is being inaugurated !
This was a mistake that in the long term will create even more problems for the survival of the state of Israel. Those pictures of fathers and mothers in anguish over the bodies of their dead children, killed by the Israeli bombs, will stay etched in the minds of the people for years to come.

“Poverty is my art ….”

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In a village in the interiors of Gujarat this man’s family has followed the art of lacquer work on wood for many generations. Right from the making the thickness in castor oil, to the grinding and creation of earth colours, and finally applying it to wood to decorate anything from spoons, to furniture, to toys. His sons follow him, in what they feel is a dying art.
“Poverty is my art” He said ” for this art would not be kept alive if we were not poor”
Would that be true of any art ? Does wealth ultimately corrupt artistic endeavor ? Is the artist then confined to life long struggle to stay true to his art ?

Slum Dog Millionaire, time to celebrate

Lets get this right. Slumdog is an Indian film. So what if it the funds came from outside India. The funds for Bandit Queen came from the same source and it is considered an Indian film. The funds for Chandni Chowk to China came from Warner brothers, but it is considered an Indian film. So what if the Director is British, for his take on the film is completely Indian. Except for the Director, Screen Writer and one of the Producers, everyone else of the 100 odd people that make a complete film unit were Indian. The film is based on book by an Indian author.
It is easily the most successful Indian film ever. And it will get at least 3 Oscars ( but who cares about them anyway) and will ultimately go on the make $ 200 million in world wide box office and other rights. That is 10 times what has been achieved by any other Indian film, including the ones that are getting all the media hype now.
Danny and his team have done a terrific film and they deserve everything that is coming to them. It does not matter that no Indian director thought of the film. It is good that someone did and made a film. In India in any case it would have been almost impossible to find funding for this film ( $ 15 million), and keep the integrity of the story. But hopefully this film has paved the way for other Indian films that appeal internationally, and producers and financing companies will wake up to the opportunity. And buyers overseas will now be more open to films from India –
Well done Danny and his team and thank you for making this wonderful film.

Satyam, the tip of the iceberg ? What is being hidden by the banks

The long tentacles of the huge Satyam fraud will ultimately engulf not only the the auditors (Price Waterhouse) but also the banks where the cash deposits were claimed to have been kept. The answers are just not good enough, and the lies will soon engulf the banks. I trained as a chartered accountant, and in those days was part of many audit teams. One of the first things that is mandatory is for the auditor is to independently confirm the cash balances as shown in the balance sheet directly with the banks, and not through the company being audited. If such a certificate was obtained by the auditors, as is mandatory, then it is possible that some one in the bank had been bribed to send the falsified statement to the auditors. But it is virtually impossible that just one person could do so at a bank. The computerized internal audit systems at the bank would show up the discrepancy almost immedietly. Even assuming that there was a group of people at the banks perpetuating this fraud, the cash reserves of a public limited company are public knowledge and are detailed in schedules to the published balance sheet.
Satyam was such a highly regarded and traded stock, that it is virtually impossible that the banks like HSBC and HDFC, all of who run their own wealth management funds for their clients would not be completely aware of the details of Satayam’s balance sheet. Someone would gave got up and said ” Hey ! these cash balances stated in our bank just do not exist !”
Yet no one blew the whistle ? For seven years ? Either the banks and their fund managers are completely stupid, or were just willing to go along with the fraud. The accountants and the banks, both of which have a fiduciary and legal responsibility, have much to answer for. And perhaps the reason the the investigators are not going after the banks is that it would create a loss of faith in our banking systems. That would panic the entire financial system and might even led to a run on the banks.
Corporate India has a lot to answer for. It was these people that would go on and on about the corruption in the government, which incidentally they themselves would encourage on a much higher level. But now it is evident that even at its core, Corporate India sees itself as a private club that is free to dupe the middle class investor and depositor for its own gains.
Satyam is India’s sub prime crisis, and the effects will be long and painful as the corruption in the system is unraveled. It will reach the highest echelons of our corporate world, for Raju could not have perpetrated this fraud at this level and for so long, alone. It needed the collusion of the banks, the accountants, and the government. And I would bet that he knows that he will be let off lightly as the investigations will be somehow stopped before it engulfs the whole system.

Madrid, Jordi Molla and El Greco

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No, not at the zoo, but the show window of a fish restaurant inviting you to a gourmet dinner !
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A view of Madrid from my hotel room
I am in Madrid to talk about a movie (tell u about that one later) but also to see my friend Jordi Molla, who played King Phillip in Golden Age. We have been great friends since, and despite being a big star in Spain, Jordi is one of the humblest persons I have ever met. We keep promising to do a film together again and even a short film would be great. Something we could shoot in Barcelona maybe, in about 20 days. Madrid is a vibrant cultural city. Cinema, art, Theatre and Opera. And then there is the food. Oh my God, by the time you have finished lunch people are already discussing dinner. Have to get away before I become a balloon.
I have been to Madrid before but every time I come, I have to go to the Prado Museum. It has some of the best works of Rubens, Goya, Rembrandt, Rafael and others. But mainly I come to see the paintings of El Greco. Yu cannot stand in front of some of his paintings and not be moved by the emotional turmoil contained in them. The only other artist that has that effect on me is Van Gough. The Prado has the largest collection of El Greco in the world. I find Greco fascinating and even at a time where expressionism in religious art could put you squarely in prison, El Greco was painting dark fantasies (he apparently went through a very dark period himself) using religious iconism. And some of his art where he broke free of the strictures of religious iconism, is amongst the most beautiful of expressionistic work I have seen even in the great modern artists.
“Art is not submission and rules, but a demon which smashes the moulds”

Two last images of Innsbruck as I left

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Frozen stream
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The church behind my hotel

Innsbruck : room with a view

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Love the mountains and feel spiritually lifted when I come back to them And I breathe easy out of the claustrophobia of the city. Innsbruck is particularly beautiful. Right now is the skiing season so I am told the town is full, but I am a few miles away in a place called Wattens where t is really quite and peaceful.

What is the identity that is India ?

Sitting in a coffee shop at Vienna airport waiting for my flight to Innsbruck. , using fast free internet (why cant we have that all over India ?). The airport is full of Indians. Going to Milan and Frankfurt mostly. This is the time of the textile fairs, so its wonderful to meet all the young entrepreneurs from all over India.
The question that plagues many of us is, what is the force that binds India ? Before independence it was always empires that fought and brought this sprawling diverse continent under one leadership. But there was so many divisive factions, cultures, languages, political and social systems that the umpires ultimately broke apart not only through foreign conquests, but mostly because the internal divisions always helped the new conqueror. We say that the British were great at the ‘divide and rule’ policy – but in saying that we actually hide truth. We Indians are so divisive that it is easy to divide and rule us. Not the other way round. Is internal divisiveness our fundamental nature, and Indian nature ? I don’t think so. I believe it is that we are such a disparate people that divisions are easy to come by. India is always threatening to break at the seams, politically, or through religion, or through cast or race, or even language. Should India hold together (as I think it should), then what would/could hold it together ? Remember taht divisions in India can never just be resolved through geographical separation into states. For example the rise of the political power of the lower caste through Mayawati is not a geographical, issue. Caste politics are spread through our nation, or we would have to divide our nation once again through the upheavals that happened in partition.
So what is the idea that is India ?

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Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol: Whats common amongst them ?

and Helmet Newton, Marc Chagal, Brian Eno, Alexandra McQueen ? They have all done installations or sculpture/art pieces for the Swarovski museum in Wattens near Innsbruck in Austria. It is now the second most visited place in all of Austria. And now I have been asked to do an intstallation there. It is not only an honour, but also promises to be a very humbling experience. The installation is based on a short film called “Paasage” (which used to be called 3 Graces) that I just completed, and which I wrote about when I went to film in Argentina. Swarovski funded that film.
I am doing this in collaboration with my good friend David Adjaye, who is one of the most innovative and celebrated young modern architects in the world. Pray for me, that through humility I may access a universal creativity that would allow me to do something worthy of being there.
http://kristallwelten.swarovski.com/Content.Node/kuenstler/kuenstler1.php