Nano brings pride, but profit?

Monday was the debut of the long awaited Tata Nano, India’s answer to the Model T. Initial reviews are favorable, with reviewers impressed by how normal a car the Nano seems to be, given its small size, engine and cost (via anatha):

Even the green crowd seems accepting of the new vehicle. While Greenpeace protestors picketed the announcement of the car, Ratan Tata claims that the Nano is less poluting than many two wheel vehicles on the market and even UN Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary Yvo de Boer said,

“I am not concerned about it (the Tata Nano) because people in India have the same aspirational rights to own cars as people elsewhere in the world.” [link]

In addition, the Nano already gets 70mpg, and there are discussions of an electric model in the future.

So it’s a lot of car for the money and it’s green. What I don’t understand is the business side of the equation. Can Tata make money on this car? And if not, will the Nano and Tata motors survive?

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Maybe India should tie a rakhi on Israel

Because today is both Purim and Holi, here’s an amazing “Bollywood” video made by an Israeli arms company to promote Indian sales which they showed on large screens at a recent government sponsored military trade fair in India. What’s the connection to these holidays? Watch the clip and you’ll come away convinced that the people who made it were both drunk and stoned:

Every element of the promotional film is just plain wrong. The sari-clad, “Indian” dancers look all too ashkenaz and zaftig. The unshaven, hawk-nosed, leather-clad leading man appears to be a refugee from You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. Then of course, there’s the implication that the Indian military is somehow like a helpless woman who “need(s) to feel safe and sheltered.” [link]

The whole thing is amazingly crappy from start to finish, not mention the annoying chorus of “Dinga dinga, dinga dinga, dinga dinga, dinga dinga dee.” I don’t get why they couldn’t have hired a real Bolly composer, choreographer and item girls. It wouldn’t have cost them much.

Despite the cheapness of the video, this isn’t some small time company, and they’re not newcomers to the Indian market. It was Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ Barak SAM missile that was at the heart of the 2000 bribery scandal exposed by Tehelka. Two years ago, they signed a $330 million dollar deal to codevelop the Barak II, and just 6 months ago they became part of India’s biggest defense joint venture with a foreign company.

So why was this video, intended “to help build familiarity between India and Israel and Rafael” [link] both so cheap and so dreadful? My only guess is that they learned from the 2000 arms deal that while symbolic gestures are good, the only thing that really matters are gifts of cold hard cash.

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All of this has happened before …

This month, IBM announced Project Match, a program to help laid off workers move overseas with their outsourced jobs … provided of course, that that they’re willing to accept local wages:

“IBM has established Project Match to help you locate potential job opportunities in growth markets where your skills are in demand. Should you accept a position in one of these countries, IBM offers financial assistance to offset moving costs, provides immigration support, such as visa assistance, and other support to help ease the transition of an international move.” [link]

I can see it now, America’s best and brightest leave their homes and everything familiar to them to move overseas and start a new life, one fraught with cultural confusion. A new generation is born in India, one plagued by confusion and self-doubt.

Novelist Juniper L. Harry depicts the lives of these American Indians with a series of stories about Boston Brahmins in Bengal. In her most famous book, the protagonist Tolstoy Thudpucker struggles to figure out where he truly belongs, whether in India or America. His classmates cruelly mock him for his name and for not having an unfamiliar cultural background. Everybody in India is different, they say. But not poor Tolstoy, he’s got no culture of his own:

“What’s your language? American English? That’s like what we speak, but with an accent, right? What do they eat in America? Pepperoni Pizza? What’s that – like Chicken Tikka Pizza but with dried out slices of dead pig on top? Sounds bland and gross! How come we can breakdance better than you? Don’t you even have a dance of your own to teach us?”

Tolstoy suffers through a series of happy marriages and confusing name changes until he attains enlightenment by transcending worldly duality and learning to dance. The Bollywood version of his tale wins plaudits from reviewers across India, none more so than the bloggers over at the IBCA blog Boston Chai Party.

With apologies to Nabokov Ninnington.

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Satyam: The “Truth” Will Out

By now, most people have probably heard about the huge Satyam scandal, where the company’s founder and chairman, Ramalinga Raju, has taken responsibility for massive fraud in reporting the company’s earnings, profits, and cash balance. Satyam, one of India’s largest consulting and IT companies, has admitted it claimed $1 billion in assets that simply did not exist for just one three month period in 2008. The company is now facing the abyss, as its share prices are evaporating, and clients are starting to defect to rivals (including IBM and Accenture). Satyam currently employs 53,000 people.

As background, Reuters has an informative story on the status of Ramalinga Raju as a symbol of Hyderabad as a new IT hub (“Cyberabad”) and the whole, now deeply tarnished “India Shining” mythology.

And that’s not all. Two American legal firms are filing lawsuits against Satyam, claiming fraud. Distressingly, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, the accounting firm that signed off on Satyam’s accounting practices for years, never detected the fraud.

What went wrong? Salil Tripathi has a provocative Op-Ed at the Wall Street Journal, where he addresses the aspects of Indian business culture that enabled this to happen. For Tripathi, one of the key factors in Satyam’s case is the clan-like structure of Satyam’s upper management and Board of Directors, which are heavily populated by relatives and close friends of the chairman: Continue reading

Does the credit crisis affect “us?”

Late last week we received our usual dose of hate mail. It read as follows:

Question: Why aren’t you guys covering this emerging economic crisis?. Each time I eagerly come on this site to check out the latest blog, I get disappointed to see it’s about fluff…

This is a huge enough story that I know you can find some ways of relating it to the Indian or Indian-American diaspora.

Even hate-mailers need love from time to time so I thought I would oblige with a bit of an omnibus economic meltdown post that was shaded with a tinge of brown. First up, wanna-be gangsta Sudhir Venkatesh wonders, “with Wall Street tanking, who will think of the prostitutes?”

There are some people who might just benefit from the current turmoil in the financial markets. One probably won’t surprise: lawyers. The other might: sex workers…

I came across these women when I began studying New York’s sex industry at the end of the 1990s. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in an effort to clean up Manhattan’s neighborhoods, forced sex off the streets of Times Square and other Midtown neighborhoods. In the process, his administration created a new economic sector. I’ve been following the lives of more than 300 sex workers–in New York and Chicago, in high and low ends of the income spectrum since 1999…

One thing I’ve learned is that economic downturns can be boom times for high-end sex workers. Sex workers of the past waited on street corners, outside bars, and around parks, and their transactions were fleeting and usually for a few dollars. Today’s high-end sex workers see themselves as therapists, part of a vast metropolitan wellness industry that includes private chefs and yoga teachers. Many have regular clients who visit them several times per month, paying them not only for sex but also for comfort and affirmation.

That’s probably not all Jean did for her clients. But, as I reported in Slate a few months ago, about 40 percent of high-end sex transactions do not involve a sexual service. It’s not difficult to imagine that a man’s need for positive reinforcement is amplified when a pink slip lands on his desk.[Link]

And speaking of pink slips landing on desks, along with doctors, lawyers, and engineers, the hottest desi profession in the U.S. right now is what I like to generically term: “finance guy/girl.” Many of these finance guys/girls can’t really describe to you what it is they do without using the words “hedge, asset, or capital,” and by that time you are already half asleep. In truth, they may not even know what they really do (but the little bastards make three times my salary with one third the education ). In all seriousness though, I think a disproportionate number of our community in the “white collar end” of this turmoil is an example of how the current credit crisis will affect South Asian Americans (but please stay away from the prostitutes!). What about the blue collar South Asian American?

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Punjabi Parmigiana

Riffing off of Sugi’s post concerning Naan Fromage in France, and I just learned [via Camille] that the Italian dairy industry in Lombardy that produces Parmigian cheese relies on desis for 90% of their work force. That’s right, we can do more than just paneer. No more Amul for you, baby, from now on it’s only the finest Italian cheeses. We are milkmen to the world!

The first immigrants came 20 years ago to (according to the documentary clip) work as animal handlers in the circus, now the town of Novellara has 600 Sikh immigrants and the second largest Gurdwara in Europe. The Po Valley has 60,000 desis working there and couldn’t function without them. Here’s the news clip:

My favorite part is when the guy explains that he likes to hire Indians because they are patient, methodical, and extremely reliable, with a natural gift for working with animals. Clearly he’s never been to India.

p.s. can I use the fact that Sikhs run the dairies of Parma as credentials for a government sinecure?

Related news: African Lumberjacks in Canada

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Panthers guard desi-owned businesses

Things in the Houston area are only partly starting to get back to normal in the wake of Ike’s destruction. Still only about 50% of the people here have their power back (I was luckily in the top 35%) and tensions are running high, especially as you get closer towards Galveston. Taz tipped me off yesterday that some nearby gas stations (specifically the ones with a small co-located convenience store) have been hiring Black Panther party members to secure the premises and prevent potential looting:

The Black Panther Party says it deployed 17 of its members to area gasoline station convenience stores to protect them from theft in the hours before and after Hurricane Ike makes landfall.

Owners asked the group to provide private security for their property, said Major Kenyha Shabazz, chairman of Peoples Party No. 3, the Houston affiliate of the Black Panther Party.

“These are the places that service our communities with food, water and fuel,” Shabazz said. “We don’t want these places torn up.”… [Link]

As you can imagine, many of these gas station/convenience stores are desi owned. I find this to be a rather interesting (and perhaps symbiotic) relationship. A party once thought of as extremist in the 60s is now being hired by South Asian business owners (not necessarily known for racial integration into the communities in which they reside). In return, the Panthers are given a new legitimacy and may even help improve race relations since the areas they are protecting also include large hispanic populations.

Once these owners and the community residents the Panthers sought to defend might have seen each other as adversaries, partners in a relationship filled with racial tension. The Panthers’ defense of these corner stores is a nice reminder of how times have changed to the benefit of the whole community.

“We hired these Black Panther people to take care of our two stores, one here on Dowling and the other one on Elgin,” said Nabi Chowdhury, manager of a Mobil station on Dowling Street.

“We have confidence in them because for a long time we have known them, and their attitude and everything, we like,” Chowdhury said. [Link]

Taz suggested I go conduct some interviews at one of these gas stations. However, I don’t want to get shot as a potential looter (I kind of have the avaricious eyes of one).

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Class and Compassion are not in Vogue in India

fendi bib and a bad attitude.jpg

I saw it myself and then a few of you blew up the tip line (thanks, Taara), my twitter and my skypager; on Sunday, the Grey Lady featured an article about Vogue India’s…interesting choice of models, for one of their recent editorial shoots. The “creative” (and by creative, I mean not at all) direction the magazine (which I still can’t procure in DC) stumbled through raised your threaded-eyebrows as well as some of your hackles, and rightly so.

Giving impoverished people $10,000 bags, Burberry bumbershoots and Fendi bibs for their children reeks of an appalling level of arrogance, an utterly clueless infatuation with “edginess”, and a heartless disregard for those for whom India does not yet shine. But let me tell you how I really feel, as I fisk the NYT article freely:

NEW DELHI — An old woman missing her upper front teeth holds a child in rumpled clothes — who is wearing a Fendi bib (retail price, about $100).
A family of three squeezes onto a motorbike for their daily commute, the mother riding without a helmet and sidesaddle in the traditional Indian way — except that she has a Hermès Birkin bag (usually more than $10,000, if you can find one) prominently displayed on her wrist.
Elsewhere, a toothless barefoot man holds a Burberry umbrella (about $200).
Welcome to the new India — at least as Vogue sees it.

Way to keep it classy, VI. Also, just so you know, the text on that picture says, “Baby’s Day Out: It’s never too early to start living in style.” Continue reading

Someone Named Dan Cox Chokes on his Foot

…instead of having the humility and decency to remove it. He must really like the taste of toe jam (or not have anyone around who can administer the Heimlich). To each their ignorant own (thanks, anonymous tipster).

Who is Dan Cox, you are surely muttering? He’s the writer and producer of a documentary on the Governator, but no one here at the bunker cares about that– what’s more mutinous is his eyebrow-raising post over at Mediabistro’s “Fishbowl LA” blog, which one of you was sharp enough to catch and release our way. The title of his post is “Spielberg wants Bollywood“, and its relevant text is below:

Steven Spielberg, ever the iconoclast, is just saying NO to the studios these days. As has been reported over and over, he’s doing a deal with India’s Reliance ADA Group.
The India contingent is putting up a billion bucks to give Spielberg carte blanche (or however that translates to Indian) to make and distribute whatever he wants.


Regardless, Speilberg’s looking and the majors are all considering (but not relying on, ho ho) his Reliance cash, but invariably it’s likely that Spielberg will be back in bed with Universal, where all of his filmic links have been in the past, whether DreamWorks SKG or Amblin.

No, it is not to be made fun of, you asshole

The India Reliance deal is supposed to be completed this week. We’ll see if Spielberg starts wearing a Sari or has a red dot implanted on his forehead. [link to stupidity]

Classy. Now I’m no big-shot, one documentary-creatin’ Hollywood insider, but I do understand “American” words loud and clear; I mean…the American language surely exists, because such a successful person would only conjure a tongue called “Indian” if it were true, no? He wouldn’t be THAT lazy or willfully ignorant? Oh, wait…

I’m not going to back down from anything I posted.There was nothing negative intentionally spoken or implied about Indian or Pakistani of Hindi or Bengalese culture. There was simply an amusing look at why and how Steven Spielberg is more interested in $1 billion from an Indian contingent than he is in finding it on Wall Street or from the studios or from his backyard. [link to stupidity]

THAT is from a comment he posted, in response to outraged readers who called him out for his inexcusable kundi-holery. He says his piece was “simply an amusing look at…”, I say “you know exactly what you were doing and for that, YOU SUCK”. Tomato, thekkalikya.


Now, maybe it wasn’t all that amusing.Maybe I come off as a club-footed xenophobe. [link to stupidity]

Remove two “maybes” from that quote and lo! It’s suddenly, magically accurate.

But hello India, what I wrote also wasn’t a diatribe about the sub-continent.
I’m fully aware that a sari is a female garment as well as the fact that a red dot on the forehead is not there to be made fun of. It may have cultural or religious relevance. But what should be made fun of is the fact that Spielberg is taking his money from whichever provider that he can find, whether his head is adorned with pink polka dots. [link to stupidity]

Oh, honey…I’m so sorry to break this news, but…India ain’t reading you. India (unlike me) has better things to do with her time, than read you. Also, if you are fully aware of who wears saris and what red dots might signify, then Dan, you have no excuse for what you wrote. Continue reading

Big Man, Big Job

Given the interest in Vikram Pandit taking the helm at Citi almost a year ago, I thought Mutineers might also be interested in the news of another DBD CEO appointed to save a troubled American company.

Motorola’s 70 Million Dollar Man

The problems facing Motorola’s handset division have provided fodder for business and tech rags for quite a while now. The core problem is that several years have now passed since the groundbreaking, nearly iconic Moto Razr was released, and the company has had a helluva time coming up with worthy successors. The result is that the firm that literally invented the mobile phone, withered the 80s/90s East Asian Invasion, and launched a celebrated comeback now finds itself slipping fast in a brutally competitive, global market –

Shares in the [Motorola] have fallen by more than 60 per cent since October 2006, when investors began to become disillusioned with the company’s falling sales. Its global market share has fallen to 9.5 per cent from 24 per cent two years ago, taking it from second to third place behind Nokia and Samsung.

The ailing handset division has been a drag on Motorola’s overall fortunes and several strategic options have been explored to save the group. The current front runner option is to bring in a new CEO for the group and spin out handsets as a separate company. On Monday, Motorola announced that Sanjay Jha would be tapped to lead this massive turnaround.

Due to my work in wireless systems & Sanjay’s former role as COO of Qualcomm, I’ve spent a lot of time within his sphere of influence (although I’ve never met the guy personally). Jha rose to the COO from the VLSI engineering ranks at Qualcomm CDMA Technologies (QCT) – the dominant business unit at the company and the one responsible for the bulk of QCOM’s $3B / year in profit.

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