Saturday, November 25, 2017

Why no lullabies for girl children?

The wide eyes staring up at me from the crib resemble those perfectly shaped cashews floating in a bowl of pal payasam inviting you to taste them. But no, I'm not at all in a mood to enjoy and give a hi5 to my own self for this poetic comparison. 

All i need is some sleep. Atleast, a forty winks. And the elders at home suggest playing or singing a lullaby for the munchkin. Being trained at carnatic music since pre-teens I didnt find it hard to sing. But imagine doing this at 2 am!! Even an orthodox Brahmin household would not play suprabhatam at that hour.... Moreover, with half-shut eyes, dry as a bone tongue and a hazy mind, I'm not at all in a mood to sing at that time. So, the husband suggests singing during daytime and playing songs in the night at low volume. 

Ah yes, this sounds good and went on well for a few days. 

Until one fine day, when the elder champ, who loves to pamper his sister, asks me after i sing and put her to sleep: Mom, why do you sing jo jo rama/laali krishna for my 'sissy'? Are there no lullabies for girl child? 
That sets my grey cells to work and alas, no. And, I realise all these days I've been singing these songs addressing the male gods of Hindu pantheon and playing general lullabies like hush little baby or some random lullaby from old movies. 
But, aren't there any Nilambari for goddesses? Why no lullaby for the women gods who would also be tired after bestowing knowledge, wealth and valour and yearning for a tight sleep? Wont their lotus-eyes long for some rest? Wouldn't She feel tired after continuously pressing Her divine consort's feet? None of the saint-poets or dasarus has written any lullaby verse for Her? 
The feminist in me is so pissed off. The BP levels rise gradually how the sleep of a woman has been given a not-so-important tag? I remember how I revolted at my Tamizh class after the teacher read out a Bharathidasan's verse ... "pin thoongi mun ezhundhu...." eulogising women to go to sleep late and rise early in the day!! 
Seting aside all these thoughts, I answer a No to my son. Oh, he says in a pensive way and leaves the place. But comes back the next time and sings to his 'sissy': jo jo sita.... laali laali shri rakumayi (rukmani) .... and winks at me gleefully. 
Kids these days, i say ..... :-) 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Cau'war'y: The eternal water war

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Brexit: What does it mean for farm exporters, commodity exchanges?

The whole world is waiting with a bated breath for June 23 as to whether it is going to be a Brexit or Bremain. But for India and its trade arena, what sense does it make? Come, we will help you join the dots... 
On June 23, British citizens will vote: should the United Kingdom remain in the European Union, or leave? If its a Bremain, global markets will heave a sigh of relief and it will be business as usual. But if its a Brexit, it will trigger a dominos effect which may result in the realignment of Europe’s financial sector, property market, immigration, Free Trade Agreements, imports and exports.
Now, the background
The EU is a group of 28 countries that have agreed to abide by certain rules that supercede each nation's own rules and laws. This is mainly to facilitate trade and commerce in ways that make each signatory country better off. In principle, the EU supports four freedoms: the free flow of goods, services, workers and capital among all 28 countries. Mind you, the EU is different from the Euro Zone (a group of 18 countries that have adopted the euro as their currency). And here, the UK does not use the Euro, nor do other EU countries such as Sweden, Poland or Hungary. 
What will happen if its a Brexit?
As we said earlier, if its a Bremain, its business as usual for many secotrs and the stock markets could possibly see a rally. In case, it is a Brexit, what happens? Well, while an actual departure would take atleast 2 years with procedural hassles being worked out, the implications might well be immediate. The dollar would probably strengthen as many investors bought US securities as a hedge against this European parlour game. 
The UK, once it divorces itself from EU, would no longer benefit from the free-trade pacts among EU countries or with other nations governed by the EU deals. The UK could either negotiate trade deals with its European peers or do away with those deals. Being a global hub for finance and commodity exchanges (remember the bullion benchmarking taking place in London and the London Metals Exchange trading), there would be pressure on big banks or investors to move their operations and other activities out of the UK. and so, other trading hubs, especially New York stands to gain.
How does it affect India?
Brexit will increase global volatility thereby impacting capital flows and currency exchange. Indian businesses have substantial presence in both the UK & Europe. The Guardian says there are more than 800 Indian-owned businesses in the UK, with more than 110,000 employees. 
For long time, India has seen and used Britain as a trade gateway to the EU. So if Brexit happens, it may alter our trade equations with the entire EU. In case of a Brexit, we will have to re-negotiate our trade pacts which were being regulated by the EU. Indian investments made in the UK will be at a disadvantage because of correction in property prices (again, London property market is seen as a benchmark) and the probable changes in import tariffs.
The churn would add up to Indian exporters' compliance costs as we will have to adhere to two different standards. For instance, EU is the thrid largest importer of India's seafood. So, if Brexit happens marine exporters will suffer adhereing to separate sets of safety norms, quarantine measures and all. Also, the UK imports a major chunk from the Indian spices basket, while there are a separate set of EU regulations governing import of chilli and its products and nutmeg from India. 
Added to this is the possible depreciation of the euro/pound sterling which may hit these exporters. A sluggishness in exports mean there will be an oversupply of that particular produce in the domestic market. Falling exports is not a good indicator on a country's economic report card.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

No game this... Brazil may go bankrupt

As much as I love watching the Olympics (the grand opening ceremonies, marathons, discussing the day's sports with the closer ones, savouring the host country's scenic beauty that the TV cameras show), the cost factor has always been there in the back of my mind. I've always wondered how much it would take for the host country to spend and bost infrastructure as soon as they become the chosen one to host the games? But a news report that I read today just made me cringe at the risky financial details involved.

With Rio declaring a 'public calamity' over a major budget crisis ahead of the Olympics, it seems more turmoil is in store for Brazil, the South American country we all remember for its colour, splendor and carnivals.
Rio state authorities have declared a 'state of public calamity' to release emergency funds to finance the Olympic Games that are to begin in August.
The August Olympics and September Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro will be the first to be held in South America.
But hosting the game has always proved to be a risky financial proposition. Traditionally, when a country successfully bids for the Olympics, it is expected to make huge investments in improving infrastructure such as building massive hotels, expand its road/rail/air connectivity, build arenas/stadia to host the games. All these might put a burden on the country's Budgetary reserves.
But on the positive side, hosting the game may boost tourism boom by showcasing the country to the entire world. Will Brazil pull this off without going bankrupt in the process?
Back in 2010, when Rio succesfully bid for the Olympics, everything about Brazil was sparkling: it had a stable economy and political condition, a stable currency, peaceful democratic goivernment, vast oil was discovered off Rio's coasts... So much positives were there. But in the recent years, Brazil's economy is in doldrums - the country is mired in a recession that is worst in 2 decades (25 years to be precise), its GDP has been shrinking every year and it has just an "above junk" rating, fall in global oil prices, delayed paychecks for government servants, population taking to streets to impeach the Prez, corruption in real estate, a rising unemployment rate.. And, what not?
Amnesty International has expressed concern at the cuts to social services, which could affect the training of security agents to work in crime-ridden slums. The decision to cut services and security ahead of the Olympic Games may lead to a collapse in public safety, health and environmental standards.

Rio’s state budget shows a $5.6 billion shortfall for 2016. Royalties from oil, the main revenue-earner, are projected to collapse from $3.5 billion in 2014 to $1 billion this year.
After much pleading, Rio received nearly $300 million from the federal coffers to extend its metro network. That  the federal budget itself is in no better shape is another matter of concern. Brazil's fiscal deficit is pegged at around $47 billion. And yes, they have double- digit inflation and a record 11% unemployment.

Being a believer, i can only hope Christ the Redeemer will save the nation from breaking the bank.....

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Where are the teachers?

Why is teaching not revered any more?

It’s that time of the year when students pass out with flying colours and all the toppers parrot the same ambition — to become a doctor or engineer and serve the public. But what about teaching? Why don’t we hear of young people wanting to become teachers? Has the profession lost the respect it once enjoyed?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes. This is because teachers are still not paid well. Their remuneration is not at all commensurate with the hikes in student fees. Also, they have several ‘targets’ to achieve: complete this much of the syllabus in one trimester; conduct a prescribed amount of practicals/projects; make proper assessments to judge a student’s learning curve, analyse the data — and all these sans any professional development!

Today, multi-tasking is everything. In days past, teachers could teach basic grammar and arithmetic besides moral values. But today’s environment demands that a teacher play more roles — he or she has to be a role model, a counsellor, a parent figure, a judge, and all of these in a friendly way. Who would want to do all this for a minimal pay?

Worldwide, there is a shortage of well-trained teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), to achieve universal primary education by 2030, the demand for teachers is expected to rise to 25.8 million; India alone needs 3 million. In a rush to fill this gap, many developing countries, including ours, are lowering standards, often leaving new teachers with little or no training. As such, the talent pool in this noble profession seems to be of low quality.

Have you seen any coaching institutes for B.Ed or D.Ed aspirants? Most of those who take up teaching do so only because they haven’t been able to land other suitable, high-paying jobs. So, mediocrity seems to be ok, and this is all too evident if you were to visit a rural school.
 Though policy guidelines such as the National Curriculum Framework 2005, NCF for Teacher Education 2009, Right to Education Act 2009, and the HR Ministry's revised Centrally-Sponsored Scheme for Teacher Education (launched in 2012 with an outlay of Rs 63 billion) paint a commendable vision of transforming the elementary education system, no system can rise above the quality of its teachers.

While considerable energy has been channelled into bringing about some of these changes through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, mission-mode efforts alone are not enough. Major structural changes must be brought about in the teacher education system. The alarming state of teacher training in the country is reflected in the fact that the majority of graduates who appear for the Central Teacher Eligibility Test fail to demonstrate even the most basic knowledge expected from a teacher.

Notwithstanding these, there is poor parental support. Instead of being a tad strict with their children, parents often blame teachers. Raise your voice and get yourself stabbed or shot dead by the student as it happened a while back in one of the Chennai schools.

So many governments have come and gone, yet precious little has been done for education reform. Serious steps should be taken to make teaching a sought-after profession, and to improve the hiring process. There should be an eligibility test for teachers and a continuous evaluation system besides performance-based incentives and hikes. Only if these are implemented properly, with the right rigour, can we usher in achche din among the younger minds.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Jackfruit jamboree

Jackfruit jamboree .... Love for the gigantic, tropical fruit

While mango undoubtedly is everyone's favourite during summer, the arrival of wondrous jackfruit too is equally awaited in our household.
"Here, Eat as many lobes as you want..." that is how my paternal aunt used to tell and me and my cousin would pounce on the plate like greedy, hungry cheetahs. 
Though our neighbouring State of Kerala makes the ubiquitous chips and ada, Karnataka cuisine too is peppered with a plethora of jackfruit-based dishes such as the South Canarese Chakko ghassi (jackfruit gravy with a dash of kokum), khotte kadubu (idlis steamed in jackfruit leaves that lends them a distinct aroma and flavour). 
While the rest of the family prefers the ubiquitious 'phodi' or chips like savoury to go with their coffee/tea, me being the sweet-toothed giant prefer Panas poli (flatbread made of jackfruit pulp) - the preparation of which is a daunting task for mom and aunt but they do it to satisfy the 'jihva' bhootham in my tongue. And being the frugal lady she is when it comes to kichen affairs, my maternal grandmother would not waste the jackfruit seeds and add them in kootu after sundrying them and peeling the delicate outer cover. After all, it is she who guards those hanging wonders carefully by wrapping them with a plastic sheet. 

And, I'm sure there are memories associated with summer and fruits for everyone. The way ajja (grandpa) used to feed me half-ripe jackfruit slices dipped in honey/palm sugar.... Mannah from the Heaven, it is! The love for jackfruit continued even to the music classes and no words to describe my ecstasy when I got a palamarathu veenai (veenai made of jackfruit wood).

Back here at my own home post-marriage, the love and legacy continues... The better half was so amazed to know my love for the fruit that the first ever gift I got was a grocery item - Halsinakayi Happala (jackfruit papad) which he hunted from the Ambika appalam stores in Mylapore!! Needless to say, he started loving it too after a lot of apprehension. And the annual L'Ɓffaire has only grown strong over the years (Halsina huchchu or jackfruit mad, as my mom puts it)  as I drool for the thorny yellow wonder when I see them in Mylapore Vidya Mandir where I leave my son for his karate classes. Carefully wrapped around in transparent plastic sheets, they invite me near but I can just heave a sigh and pester the better half to get me the fruit lobes from the nearby market.
And in my recent conversation with her, vayini (sis-in-law) tells me of the zillion dishes we prepare out of this fruit, she takes the pulp, grinds it along with jaggery, rava and coconut milk and bakes them and relishes!!!
So, how do you relish your jackfruit - as a fruit or as a vegetable or as an everything in between? ;-) 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Weather, Currency & Make in India

The headline may suggest nothing at all for a beginner. But for an expert or someone who watches the atmosphere keenly it all makes sense... Ok we'll join the dots as we read this piece.
After making people keeping their fingers crossed, 'it' has finally arrived. It, El Nino, The Child's arrival is for sure. So how is a common man going to get affected by this change in weather pattern other than remembering to take my umbrella, you ask? Wait pal, there is more to this child.
Weather forecasting agencies across the globe have predicted an imminent El Nino. The India Met Dept has said that there are 33% chances that rainfall will be deficient this monsoon, i.e. below 90%. It also forecast a 70% probability of El Nino this year. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has declared that we are heading into a major El Nino event. 

Since Indian agriculture is largely dependent on monsoon for its water requirements, higher probability of El Nino spells a sparse/deficient rainfall.
El Nino occurs when the surface waters warm up. It takes place in the entire equatorial zone of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. It affects wind pattern and triggers droughts and floods which typically lasts for about a year.

But why India should be worried and what will be this El Nino's impacts on markets and all that?
Ours is basically a farm economy that contributes almost 18% to the country's GDP. And we are already battered by unseasonal showers resulting in crop damage and lower output. El Nino lowers the production of crops such as rice, sugarcane, palm oil, corn, cotton and oilseeds. With El Nino coming, which usually results in drought and parched climatic conditions, inflation cannot be ruled out and we should brace ourselves to shell out more for food. And if food inflation surges, the central bank may pitch in to hike rates, manufacturing sector will suffer, and companies will be nimble-footed in making investments slamming the brakes on growth rate and the blue-eyed Make in India project.

So, is El Nino all about a bad omen?
No, not exactly. Only the Pacific Rim economies such as India, Japan, Australia, S-E Asian nations suffer while the Western Hemisphere enjoys a bountiful harvest and conducive agri-economy climate. El Nino may trigger social unrest in commodity-dependent countries that rely on imported food. 
El Nino results in both winners and losers. Countries in the western hemisphere such as the US, Canada, LatAm nations and the UK will stand to benefit as they wil receive a wet weather. This is a good news to the parched California. Also, the positive US data leads to a spillover effect on China. IMF says that China is less susceptible than other Oriental nations, policymakers might consider that any rise in the yuan due to increased trade with the US during the period might help suppress imported inflation.  Stronger yuan might have some attractions in an El Nino environment for China but for many economies, El Nino surely spells trouble.

Around the world
For Australia and New Zealand, El Nino brings hot, dry summers and accompanying drought. This leads to razed down wheat production and exports and dry dairies. In Indonesia, which, of late, is emerging as the cocoa basket, crops such as coffee, oil palm and cocoa will suffer and earlier time when El Nino struck the country in 1997-98, it not only triggered poor harvests and crop cycles but also economic unrest and financial crisis.

El Nino and Currency market
Ok, agreed it affects investments, India inc all that. But then how can a weather condition value/devalue a nation's currency unit? 
Yes, it can. In fact, to a larger extent than most of us think. If El Nino's effects can push dollar-denominated food and energy import prices, Asian economies such as India might prefer to have a stronger rupee to counter the threat of imported inflation. Also, China too may prefer to have a stronger yuan for its trade ties with the US - a nation that will surely be benefited by this climatic condition.
In short, agri-commodity exporting nations may benefit from higher prices but lose out from lower crop and industrial output.