Sunday, December 27, 2009

Of Rivalries

A happy conjunction of conjunctibles is able to giving rise to this post on rivalries.

I. Cambridge v. Cambridge

Paul Samuelson died. The world lost a great textbook author. Apparently he was also a great economist. RIP.

[Aside: As Abi has pointed out, Subramanian Swamy wrote a tribute to his guide and mentor. Curiously, the Rediff version has a few choice not-so-nice things to say about certain "Left triumvirate" including a certain other Nobel laureate. Pretty much the same tribute, minus the not-so-nice is in the Hindu. Either some editor has wielded the selective scissor of Hindu-style political correctness, or Swamy himself, for all his brashness, went easy on the masala.]

[Aside': This is a first derivative aside. Aside to the above aside. Heh heh. Some lovely lectures happening at IISc over the next few days. Damn.]

Enough asiding. Onto the rivalry. Our good economics professor friend and lurker on this blog who goes by the epithet That Man Keynes And His Homosexual Intrigues told us about a Samuelson rivalry that possibly only economists know or care about.

The Cambridge Capital Controversy is a debate from the 1960s that pitted Samuelson and Robert Solow from Cambridge, MA against Joan Robinson and Piero Sraffa from Cambridge, not-MA.

Apparently, the debate was
...concerning the nature and role of capital goods (or means of production) and the critique of the dominant neoclassical vision of aggregate production and distribution.
Whatever. It seems that the debate was in many senses inconsequential. Wikipedia says:
Despite the highly technical nature of most of the discussion, in many cases it generated more heat than light.
Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen says:
Sadly I must characterize the Cambridge capital debates as a fruitless diversion.

Like all highly technical questions in most subjects, the details need not concern us ;) The consensus is that the culmination of the debates was a more or less hands down (if inconsequential, as noted) win for the Poms. I remember That Man Keynes... saying that Samuelson had the good grace to admit as much in writing, and pretty much capitulated in front of Robinson, at least as far as this issue went. He must've been a great man.

[Aside: Joan Robinson was arguably one of the greatest economists of her generation, and sadly (? post-Obama and Kissinger) never won the Nobel. That Man Keynes..., the source of so much of the economics tidbits claims that the Nobel Committee pretty much waited for her to cop it, before awarding the Nobel to one of her rivals. Details will follow, if I can find them.]

II. Krishna v. Srinivasan

The Hindu carried a piece last Sunday by the vocalist T.M.Krishna in which he (pretty unambiguously) criticized the use of certain instruments in Carnatic music, because they cannot render all the notes and microtones needed to make a raagam what it is. Violins and mandolins can apparently be successfully re-incarnated in south Indian avatars (ugh!), but saxophones and pianos cannot. This was the opening salvo.

Today's Hindu Sunday edition has a riposite from (my friend!) noted pianist Anil Srinivasan. Anil, while agreeing in part with Krishna, argues against being "...autoregressive when discussing the preservation or conservation of a tradition. Trapping it in a time capsule and not allowing it to breathe or acquire newer characteristics is antithetical to the very notion of an intergenerational transfer."

By this time, the issues are abstruse enough that people like me whose aesthetic sense was last seen headed in north-northeasterly direction across the Siberian tundra have only a vague notion of what both sides are talking about.

Surprisingly, today's Hindu also contains a re-rejoinder from Krishna, who says that Anil misses his (Krishna's) point entirely. The show goes on. One wishes it didn't end here and moved into blogosphere. Rahul Siddharthan is doing his bit to make this happen!

III. Sibling v. Sibling

Vijay Nagaswami eschews the customary "end of year" ramble for his column and writes quite sensibly about relationshipsbetween siblings. Very readable, my brethren and cistern.

Here endeth the year. Blogging will possibly be more prolific in 2010. By the way, we must take this opportunity to announce that alack! the Filter Coffee will no longer be served in the new year. But every silver lining has a cloud, in the form of more enthu and content for the choultry.

Take care, y'all.

Friday, December 25, 2009

And so it ends...

This was in the mail today.

Dear customer,

On December 31, 2009, the WorldSpace satellite radio broadcast service will be terminated for all customers serviced from India.

This action is an outgrowth of the financial difficulties facing WorldSpace India’s parent company, WorldSpace, Inc., which has been under bankruptcy protection since October 2008. The potential buyer of much of WorldSpace’s global assets has decided not to buy the WorldSpace assets relating to and supporting WorldSpace’s subscription business in India. As a consequence, WorldSpace, Inc. must discontinue its subscriber business in India. Your subscription contract is with WorldSpace, Inc., a US company that is in a bankruptcy proceeding in the United States. The company recognizes that you may have paid for services to be rendered beyond the termination date, but is not in a position to offer a refund for any unused portion of your subscription.

You may have a potential remedy under the U.S. bankruptcy law. You may file a claim under the claims procedure that is intended to protect creditors of the bankrupt company. Sometime early next year, a claim servicing company will send notice to all creditors listed by the company. In order to ensure that you receive timely notice, we would request that you send the following information by mail or email to Rakesh Raghavan at WorldSpace, Inc. headquarters in the United States.

1. Name

2. Address

3. Email

4. Subscription Account Number

5. Date of Subscription

6. Length of Subscription

7. Amount paid for your current subscription

Send this information to: By email -- or by regular mail – Rakesh Raghavan, WorldSpace, Inc. 8515 Georgia AV, Silver Spring, MD 20910 USA.

Our sincere apologies for this circumstance.

s/ Robert Schmitz
Chief Restructuring Officer
WorldSpace, Inc.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Beach Abbai

A muchly shortened, much more tourist friendly, and much less mawkish version of this ramble appeared in this month's Outlook Traveler. Thanks due, per usual, to the Vyas (Sr.)

About 15 years ago, a news magazine carried a cover story on the 'Tier 2' cities of India that they thought were poised to break into the big league and become the metros of the 21st century. Poona became Pune and more or less lived up to its promise and is today a teeming hub of industry, education and technology. Cochin bloomed into Kochi, fuelled by oil money from the Middle East and the tourism boom, and is now a name that travellers around the world recognize. Coimbatore transformed into Kovai, and even if it didn't become a Pune or Kochi, at least the textile barons of Tiruppur made it the town in India with the maximum density of millionaires per square kilometre and (sadly) communal tensions and bomb blasts made it a household name in India.

The fourth name seems to have faded from the scene. Here were no great increases in employment opportunities, no IT or biotech explosions, the public sector presence had grown as large as it ever would; there were not even good reasons to indulge in nomenclature shenanigans.

While the powers that be lavished their attention on the state capital, Vizag sank back into the somnolence that we who grew up there were intimately acquainted with. The occasional news report made great predictions, auguries that sent frissons of excitement down the backs of faithful Vizagites. "Fastest growing city in Asia!" they proclaimed; "New international airport!" they prophesied. And we would dutifully point these out to each other, trying to believe that finally everything that our beautiful hometown deserved was coming to pass.

As the rest of the republic (at least the India Shining bits) hurtled into a future glittering with the lights of a thousand shopping malls, riding the liberalization-globalisation wave, we waited. Of course, there was "growth". The population went up, the numbers of visiting tourists in winter spiked, but nothing fundamental in the character of the place really changed.

Almost the only reason the rest of Andhra Pradesh knew Vizag was because of the "world famous in North Coastal Andhra" beach. (The rest of the country had never even heard of this town, even today almost everyone spells the full name Visakhapatnam wrong.) The beach has always been the town's USP, synonymous with it, Visakhapatnamu beechi, in chaste Telugu. In the Vizagite's mind and life, it occupies the same place as the bank of the Sarayu seems to have in the psyche of the Malgudi resident. It is a source of pride and joy, never more than a short ride from where we live, unfailingly shown to and shared with visitors from out of town, the place where Vizag kicked off its Bata Sandak chappals at the end of the day let the Bay of Bengal tickle its toes.

Back in the sixties, when my newlywed parents moved to town, the beach was a just a deserted stretch of sand and shingle, fringed by a thin strip of black top. People looked askance at you if you said you were going to the beach and you could expect the odd jackal for company. The Ramakrishna Mission had set up shop at one end of the road; close to a rocky outcrop that was mysteriously known as "Scandal Point" (Perhaps a man and a woman had been seen there together once, maybe.) That is how the beach acquired a name and became RK Beach. If you really felt like painting the town red, you could treat yourself to ice cream at the Kwality restaurant, and that was pretty much it.

This tranquil state of affairs continued more or less into the early eighties, after which individual houses starting appearing off the beach road in desultory fashion. There still wasn't much by way of "action", the Juhu-Chowpattys and Marinas of the world were a universe away. The municipality built and maintained a couple of parks with concrete trains, elephants, slides and the like. The highlight of the month when we were kids was a walk to the beach, followed by a few hours of getting wet and gritty, clambering over rock and concrete, rounded off with cutlets at the Fish Canteen.

When we were old enough to venture out alone, we were allowed to go "jogging" during the "winter" vacations. Off we went at the crack of dawn, pretending like we wanted to exercise. The jogging, a pell-mell run at flat out speed lasted for as long as our lungs cooperated (under 5 minutes), before we gleefully ran onto the sand to pick up shells. If you got there early enough, you could find cowries and the halves of dead clams before the slum children got to them. Innocents that we were, we didn't know they made a living selling shells to visitors.

One summer, a strange building started emerging from the sand near the Panduranga Temple. The day we found it we were pretty convinced that this was the spectacular ruin of some ancient civilisation that we were destined to discover, inevitably (a certain quantity of pulp fiction and a certain fecundity of imagination can work wonders on a 14 year olds sense of self-importance). Like the hominids from "2001: A Space Odyssey", we gathered around our own "monolith" and paid homage every evening, not understanding what it was, but quite carried away by the drama that the tides and the sands were playing out.

Alas, like all good fantasies, this one came crashing down when my annoyingly well-informed father told us that it was a concrete pillbox, a gun emplacement that the Americans who used Vizag as a hospital base during the World War II had built, to be used in the event of an amphibious Japanese invasion of Vizag. This, by the way, is not as fanciful as it sounds. The port was bombed by aircraft during the war, and a Japanese carrier fleet was running amok in the Bay of Bengal. Anything could have happened! In any case, we made the best of the situation and "occupied the position" in the evenings, after our brains had been thoroughly addled through a surfeit of Alistair MacLean novels and Commando comics. The pillbox disappeared after a few months, but reappears occasionally to this day, thrilling whole new generations.

The beach was rarely crowded, even on Sundays. The occasional movie shoot (Ek Duje Ke Liye, for example) would cause a temporary hubbub, which subsided with the pack-up. Once a year on Navy Day, the Navy would take over and put up a fine show – marching bands, sailors in crisp uniforms, weaponry, floats, the works. It was as though we had our own private Raj Path and Republic Day festivities. When darkness fell, a small armada of warships anchored off the shore lit up simultaneously, while an audible gasp went through the waiting crowd on the beach road, an annual moment of roasted corn-on-the-cob and shared magic.

Sometime during the nineties, RK Beach like the rest of the city did start becoming a busier place. A forest of apartment buildings came up on the road. The tourism department and Municipal Corporation saw it fit to try and lure more winter visitors to the city. Lawns and parks were laid out; the road was widened and lit up; a fairly ordinary aquarium and a more interesting museum were established. The Navy lopped off the conning tower of one of its early submarines and planted it on the beach, adding a touch of history (even if it was slightly incongruous) to the scene. Industrial quantities of tackiness in the forms of concrete sculptures of dinosaurs, mermaids, elephants, fishes, and boats painted in the most fantastic "marine" colours were introduced and lie scattered about the place even now.

Today, the beach is a shared space, an arena where over the course of a day, many worlds co-exist and sometimes collide. The mornings are dominated by the health nuts, mostly of the retired variety, vigorously pounding up and down the pavement, interspersed with the odd sportsperson, tourist and expat. In the evenings, it is a madder, crazier place, a truer representative of the urban middle class India of today. An entire city, starved of greenery and open spaces descends on the esplanade; there to commingle with each other, throw a ball around, eat some muri mixture (a puffed-rice, onion, tomato, chilli powder concoction that is sometimes heavenly), peer into the innards of a submarine, visit a temple, steal a few moments alone with a significant other in the secure anonymity provided by the throng, and to just watch the world pass by. While the crowd and the mess do occasionally evoke shades of the Juhus and Marinas of the world, it is still relatively cleaner, quieter and less crowded, particularly in the "off season" (March-November). It is still the sort of place where a teenager is nervous about lighting a cigarette, someone who knows the family might be taking their evening constitutional!

And between these two crepuscular peaks of commotion, in the middle of the day, RK Beach throws on an invisibility cloak, gets into a time machine, and goes back to being what it was like in less frenetic times. There is a fresh breeze, but hardly a soul to be seen in the hurtful glare reflected off the water and the sand. The occasional non-mechanized fishing boat traces large lazy arcs from point to point on the shore, all taut muscles and tauter lines, while the womenfolk wait somewhat nervously to see what the catch brings. A White-bellied Sea Eagle occasionally wings its way over the shoreline. And a lonesome hack who grew up not too far from the water digs his toes into the warm sand and ever so often uncovers a happy memory.