31 October 2011

Origins of Company Names - in Pics!

As the title of this post says, here are some pictorial stories behind company names. I have reproduced a few here; you can find the long list at Buzzfeed.

30 October 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Mad Dog

Muammar Gaddafi is dead and buried. For a man who ruled Libya with an iron fist for nearly 42 years, the end has rather been an ignominious one. From wallowing in his luxury tent to spending his last moments in a drain pipe, Gaddafi's life and death epitomise the adage that 'those who live by the sword die by the sword'.

Gaddafi was the uncontrolled master of everything he surveyed. He never occupied any post, yet styled himself 'The Leader'. He was 
a megalomaniac, one who loved unbridled power but with no accountability. A paranoid, he did not trust his own shadow.

Fear and repression were his twin weapons, especially against his own countrymen. A past-master at suppressing dissent, he crushed all opposition and 
brooked no criticism. 

From his hideout, he claimed that he would fight an all-out war, that he was not a woman to run away. This comes from a man who had an 
all-female bodyguard (Amazonian women guard) who formed the ring of bullet-takers around him. So much for his manhood; did someone say, male chauvinism?
He loved women, of course. It was an open secret in Libya that he had the hots for an Ukranian nurse, named Galina Kolotnitskaya. Most of the women guards and nurses would be raped and abused by Gaddafi and his sons and their cronies. 

Gaddafi is said to have stashed away U.S.$200 billion in overseas secret accounts and investments. This money was siphoned away from the proceeds generated from Libya's biggest export: petroleum. Incidentally, Libya has the world's tenth largest proven reserves of petroleum.

He supported terrorist acts against his enemies, especially against the West, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The 1988 Lockerbie Pan Am bombing is a case in point: Libyan intelligence agents blew up the London-New York Pan Am flight, killing all 269 passengers on board and 11 others in the village of Lockerbie where the plane debris fell.

A few weeks after the rebellion against his tyrannical rule started in the eastern city of Benghazi, he went on air to vent his threats to the rebels. He ranted that he would "how 
no mercy, no pity. We will come. House by house, room by room...vengeance awaits rats and dogs... It's over. The issue has been decided... We will find you in your closets." 

Unfortunately for Gaddafi, it was for him the issue had been decided. It was Gaddafi who took refuge in a rat-hole. He died a miserable death, a death of dishonour and shame - much like the way he killed thousands of his countrymen in his paranoid pursuit of power. 

The Mad Dog has been hunted and killed. 

Check out these two infographics from Reuters. (Links - for
first infographic; second infographic.)

27 October 2011

The Ugly Face of the Gandhis

he Indian National Congress is probably the most unique political party in the world. No, not because it is headed by a woman who holds a foreign passport (and not an Indian passport),  and certainly not because it is a party with a ruling dynasty.

The INC is unique because it has an unstated and unwritten rule that if the member aspires to a leadership role, at any level, (s)he has to be sycophant par excellence. Nothing that is critical of the Gandhi Family (with a Capital 'F') can ever be said; the party leader brooks no dissent against her dictatorial ways.

Without a nod from the Gandhis, none of the party's members, be they ministers or organisational workers, can dare open their mouths. The only time they can do so is to extol the greatness of Bharat Ratna Rajiv Gandhi, the incomparable sacrifice of Sonia Maino (said to be the name on her Italian passport) in giving up prime ministerial aspirations, and the dynamic leadership of their Rahul Baba.

If there is one reason why self-respecting Indians (except for the kow-towing Congress workers) have come to lose all respect for the Gandhis, it is Digvijay Singh. 

Digvijaya Singh is anything but a careless speaker: his remarks are tongue-in-cheek; his targets are people who are making life difficult for the Gandhis in particular and the INC in general. 

Diggy Raja's actions speak for his penchant for sycophancy of the Gandhis. To appease the Muslim community, the Congress' traditional vote bank, he went to Azamgarh, a village in Uttar Pradesh known as the nursery of radical Islamists. Speaking at the village mosque, he abused a brave Delhi policeman who was killed in a police encounter with Islamist terrorists. He claimed that the slain policeman was corrupt and was killed by a police bullet and not by the terrorists, so that his family could claim compensation from the government.

Ever since the India Against Corruption movement started, Diggy Raja has been digging out dirt and leveling allegations of corruption against Team Anna members. (I am not a fan of Anna Hazare; but I will save that story for some other day.) He has not been able to produce any evidence in support of his allegations.

Today Diggy Raja tweeted his ABC theory: “Plan A - Baba Ramdev. Crashed. Plan B- Anna. ? Plan C - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar soon to start his campaign.”

Diggy Raja said that "the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was trying to bring in Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in their campaign against the government, while urging the spiritual guru not to get involved in this... The RSS had earlier brought in yoga guru Baba Ramdev and social activist Anna Hazare in the campaign... The RSS is doing this to divert the country's attention from its terror activities." 

And how has the yoga guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar responded to Digvijay’s ‘ABC plan’ tweet? The yoga guru said that Diggy Raja's comment is not worth responding too and that he doesn’t fear any one and will continue to raise his voice against the malice of corruption. In fact, he has advised Diggy Raja to enroll for the ‘Art of Living’ course.

Do you think a senior leader like Digvijay Singh can dare level such bizarre allegations against highly-respected citizens without Sonia Gandhi’s permission? 

Sonia is firing salvos against people who are trying to bring in a positive change in our corruption-riddled polity and society. And she is firing these salvos from the shoulders of one of her most trusted sycophants: Diggy Raja. 

Diggy Raja represents the worst in our political system: opportunistic, corrupt, spineless, and No.1 vote bank appeaser. 

Diggy Raja is just the mask on the ugly faces of the Gandhis. 


Click on the video below to see Diggy Raja addressing OBL as "Osamaji". 

25 October 2011

10 Things You Should Know - Episode I

Every week, I will share with you a list of 10 things I believe you should know. These will feature varied issues, including that anything tickles my curiosity. So here we go with the first such post. 

  1. France is often referred to as l’Hexagone (‘The Hexagon’) because of the geometric shape of its territory.
  1. Germany, with 81.8 million inhabitants, is the most populous member state in the European Union.
  1. Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America and the first black-led republic in the world when it gained independence as part of a successful slave revolution in 1804.
  1. China is the world’s largest consumer of energy. In 2010, its share in global energy consumption was 20.3%, thus surpassing the United States.
  1. Brendan Eich is the creator of the JavaScript programming language. He is the Chief Technology Officer at the Mozilla Corporation. JavaScript was originally called Mocha, then called LiveScript.
  1. FIAT stands for Fabbrica Italiano Automobili Torino. 
  1. Commander James Bond is an intelligence officer of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS; commonly known as MI6). He was created in January 1952 by British journalist Ian Fleming while on holiday at his Jamaican estate, Goldeneye. The hero was named after the American ornithologist James Bond, a Caribbean bird expert and author of the definitive field guide book Birds of the West Indies. Fleming, a keen birdwatcher, had a copy of Bond's field guide at Goldeneye. Of the name, Fleming once said in a Reader's Digest interview, "I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, 'James Bond' was much better than something more interesting, like 'Peregrine Carruthers.' Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure — an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department."  
  1. Ladakh, with an area of 86904 sq km, is India’s largest district. Ladakh means ‘land of high passes’.
  1. Gujarat has the longest coastline of 1600 km, with Andhra Pradesh in the second place with 972 km.
  1. Amitabh Bachchan is the most-nominated performer in any major acting category at Filmfare, with 36 nominations overall. He has won four National Awards and 14 Filmfare Awards.

    24 October 2011

    Nations with Highest FDI in 2011

    Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) refers to the capital invested by a foreign company in an existing or new company. If the foreign company directly acquires a 'stake' (by contributing to capital) in an existing or new domestic business, it becomes a shareholder. 

    For example, when Prudential, a British company, invested in ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, by way of capital, such investment is termed FDI.

    (Read The Explainer:
    Foreign Direct Investment)

    A foreign partner (the one who brings in FDI) may bring better technology, technology transfer, expertise in executing large and complex projects (like airports), global reputation, financial leverage, access to markets elsewhere, etc.

    The global economy is once again showing signs of a slowdown; if the down slide continues, then FDI inflows and outflows will also get impacted. 

    Chartsbin.com has an interesting interactive graphic on global FDI movements. Please use the drop down menu to visualise data on a select parameter.

    Click on the graphic for a larger view.

    16 October 2011

    Lies, Distorted Truths, & The Hindu

    An independent press is one of the four pillars of democracy, a genuine one at that. The press in India is free, well largely, of government control. But is it free from prejudice? 

    The New Indian Express is largely anti-establishment while The Times of India is pro-whatever helps generate bottom-line. 

    Even regional newspapers have their own axe to grind. Take for example, the Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle which is pro-Congress while the vernacular daily, Eenadu, is pro-TDP and vehemently anti-Congress. 

    Not that I care about these newspapers. Newspapers tell us what they want to tell us. 

    When it comes to reflecting bias and a deep prejudice, one newspaper, which calls itself India’s only national newspaper, takes the cake. No marks for guessing the name of the newspaper. Yes, I am referring to The Hindu.

    The Hindu is owned, managed, and edited by hardcore communists. Run like a family enterprise, The Hindu is unabashedly pro-Communism, pro-China, anti-Hinduism, anti-BJP, anti-U.S., and anti-Capitalism.

    Never mind, the ‘liberal and secular’ media would have us believe otherwise. 

    Let me cite a couple of examples. The Hindu advocated a tough line against the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal. It said that the government should not go ahead with the deal as it was loaded in favour of the U.S., the epitome of imperialism. It also said that the deal impinged on our national sovereignty.

    However, The Hindu maintained (and still maintains) an eerie silence on China’s nuclear deal with the U.S.. To get the deal, China agreed to all terms dictated by the U.S. To propel its fast-growing economy, China needs energy. So it got the deal, whatever be the conditions.

    So what about India? Well, The Hindu preaches that India should rely on indigenous technology to get energy and also import such resources from untrustworthy nations like Iran. China should progress, India should not. Why? Because China is communist!

    Look at what’s happening in Tibet. While the current unrest and self-immolations by Buddhist monks against Chinese tyrannical rule have been widely reported in world media and by most Indian newspapers, The Hindu didn’t carry any major news story on the explosive situation. The commie mouthpiece simply toed the Chinese government’s line, copied reports from the Chinese official media agency and published them in its pages.

    The Hindu’s utter fascination with China has blinded it to the atrocities committed by Beijing against the unarmed Buddhist monks, protesting against the wanton destruction of their great cultural heritage by China.

    If you think this is my rant, then you should read the letter written by N. Murali, one of the biggest pillars of The Hindu, to the staff of the newspaper a couple of days before he left the company. 

    Here are some excerpts from N. Murali’s letter:

    The Editorial side is run like a 'banana republic' with cronyism and vested interests ruling the roost and finding space in the editorial columns. 

    'Murdochism' with some of its most undesirable and sinister features has taken firm hold of the newspaper. 

    Quite apart from the blatantly pro-CPI(M) and pro-China tilt in coverage, Ram's abuse of his position in The Hindu and influence peddling has been unrestrained by any ideology. 

    Two recent events have brought this to the fore. 

    The first is the coverage or non coverage of the 2G scam and turning The Hindu into a mouthpiece of accused A Raja, going out of the way to organize an interview with him and publishing it on the day of his resignation. 

    The second and most recent incident has been brought out by the Gujarat police officer Sanjeev Bhatt in his affidavit filed in the Supreme Court which shows Ram as being the recipient of an email on a matter as sensitive and serious as the investigation and related matters of post Godhra 2002 riots in Gujarat. 

    Sanjeev Bhatt has annexed an email to his affidavit which is very revealing. In that email that S Gurumurthy sent to Ram on February 17, 2010, he had annexed a note on the investigations into the Gujarat riots case. “Here is the note, I would like you to go through it that you understand the issues before you talk to the person concerned,” goes the email. We all know who the “person concerned” that Ram was supposed to talk to is. 
    The periodic and extensive friendly interviews of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksha done by N Ram and carried in full op-ed pages served only as a smokescreen to hide the alleged war crimes that the UN committee indicted the Srilankan government on. 

    In my book, the two major blots on the journalistic record of The Hindu over the last forty years relate to its stand on the Emergency that was in force between June 1975 and March 1977 and on the largest scam in the history of independent India, the 2G scam. 

    Under its then editor, G.Kasturi, The Hindu disgracefully extended tacit support to and even collaborated with the Emergency regime. On the 2G scam, under the Editor-in-Chief N. Ram, The Hindu shamefully acted as an apologist and mouthpiece of the prime accused A Raja. It had only muted coverage of the 2G scam. 

    While The Hindu editorially asked for the resignations of Ashok Chavan, Suresh Kalmadi and BS Yeddyyurappa, there was not even a whisper about A Raja's resignation. 

    On the other hand, two obliging interviews of A Raja were specially arranged to be done, not by the correspondent covering telecom, but shockingly by RK Radhakrishnan who used to cover matters relating to DMK. After A Raja's resignation and arrest, a change in stance reflecting a shameless and seamless U-turn is all too obvious even for a school kid to miss. 

    When media is used as a means to achieve private ends it undoubtedly becomes a calamity. 

    Primacy of editorial on which The Hindu has always prided itself has been sacrificed at the altar of vested interests and crass commercialism pushed by some directors who have scant regard for the legacy and larger calling and ideals of The Hindu. 

    Any claim of professionalisation in the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan as Editor of The Hindu is a sham as professionally qualified and experienced family members on the editorial side - N Ravi, editor, Malini Parthasarathy, executive editor and Nirmala Lakshman, joint editor - have been selectively targeted for removal. 

    Double standards of the worst kind are at play. 

    For several years now, I have saying these precise facts about The Hindu in my interactions with folks around, especially the student community.

    Let me conclude with one simple observation: Its obsession with the bankrupt ideology of communism has coloured the way The Hindu reports the truth.

    14 October 2011

    World's Best MBA Programs

    Every year The Economist published the 'Which MBA?' rankings of the world's best MBA programmes. This year's list is out! 

    Here's what The Economist has to say on the latest rankings:
    Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business takes first place in The Economist’s ninth annual ranking of full-time MBA programmes, up from second position last year. Virtually all of its students found work within three months of graduating. Its MBAs could expect a basic salary of $107,000, a 65% increase on their pre-degree earnings. Tuck students also graded the quality of their alumni the best in the world—an important consideration given the often-repeated claim that who you meet is just as important as what you learn. Chicago drops to second, having come top last year, while the world’s most famous school, Harvard, also drops a place to fifth. Europe’s top programme is IMD, a Swiss school, which ranks third. Though INSEAD has campuses in both France and Singapore, no purely Asian school makes our top 20. Hong Kong University, at 36th, is the highest-placed.
    The Economist asks students about why they decided to take an MBA. Our ranking weights data according to what students say is important. The four categories covered are: opening new career opportunities (35%); personal development/educational experience (35%); increasing salary (20%); and the potential to network (10%). The figures we collate are a mixture of hard data and the subjective marks given by the school’s students, such as a rating of their school’s facilities. 

    I suggest that you check out the full rankings page (see below). Click on the name of the school, which will lead you to a veritable treasure trove of information on business schools. For your information, the highest ranked Indian school is the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad(IIMA), coming in at 78.

    Source: The Economist; For the full Which MBA? rankings, click here.

    12 October 2011

    Disruptive Companies & Innovation

    What is the similarity between Apple, Tata Motor, and Google? 

    They are all disruptive companies. They innovate not just to create a new product but also help create a need in the market for a new product segment. They often come up with game-changing products, including technology.

    I stumbled on this infographic on Disruptive Companies & their Innovations. As this note on the infographic says, 'disruptive companies don't have to rule the market, they just have to change the market and force others to follow suit. The goal of disruptive companies is to challenge the conventional market and create a new one'.

    From Focus via Ritholtz. Click on the image (some browsers may require double click) for larger view.

    09 October 2011

    The Path to Happiness

    The pursuit of happiness is probably the most important goal of life. Here's a Sunday infographic that tells us about the path to happiness, in a very simple way. I found it at Visual.ly and Typcut.

    08 October 2011

    My Blogroll - Second Installment

    In My Blogroll - First Installment, I brought to you the names of five of my favourite Web sites / blogs. 

    This Second installment carries the names of another set of five of my favourite Web sites / blogs. 

    This is the first Web site I visit every morning! FP carries the single best collection of articles on international issues, politics, economics, and conflict zones. FP and I share one common attribute: both of us are contrarian in our world view.
    One of the best science and technology magazines. Wired focuses on both today's and tomorrow's technology and its impact on our lives and the world around us.
    This is easily, along with The Big Picture (featured in My Blogroll's first Installment), one of the best financial and economics blog on the Web. It brings to life seemingly difficult economics stuff to life in a language that is at once simple and lucid. I particularly like its tagline: 'On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.'
    If you are looking for expert views and data on a diverse range of global issues, then the World Economic Forum's (WEF) blog is a good stop.
    We all Google (noun and verb). Google enables us to find information including images. But I am sure you must have wondered about some kind of Image Search Web site, like let's say, you have an image and you wish to locate its source. If that's the case, then Tin Eye is the Reverse Image Search Web site you are looking for, as it locates the source (like Web sites) for most images. Check it out!
    I hope you like this short blogroll. 

    06 October 2011

    The Insanely Great Thoughts of Steve Jobs

    Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

    Steve Jobs, the iconic co-founder of Apple, died today. Few people in history have had such profound impact on technology as Steve did. His vision and more importantly, the sheer ability to translate that vision into the reality of insanely great communication devices, has transformed the way the world communicates. 
    In this space, I have captured a few of the Jobs' profound thoughts on life, technology, and his work.
    ‘Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.’
    ‘Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.’
    ‘My job is to not be easy on people. My job is to make them better.’
    ‘We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.’
    ‘You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.’
    ‘Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’
    ‘Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.’
    ‘Recruiting is hard. It’s just finding the needles in the haystack. You can’t know enough in a one-hour interview. So, in the end, it’s ultimately based on your gut. How do I feel about this person? What are they like when they’re challenged? I ask everybody that: ‘Why are you here?’ The answers themselves are not what you’re looking for. It’s the meta-data.’
    ‘We’ve had one of these before, when the dot-com bubble burst. What I told our company was that we were just going to invest our way through the downturn, that we weren’t going to lay off people, that we’d taken a tremendous amount of effort to get them into Apple in the first place – the last thing we were going to do is lay them off.’
    ‘I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.’
    ‘I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.’
    ‘People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.’
    ‘We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and everyone should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.’
    ‘Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.’
    ‘Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.’
    ‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.’
    ‘I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.’
    ‘Insanely Great!’  

    05 October 2011

    20 Timeless Money Rules

    Money makes the world go round, or so it seems. We find that (most of) our elders are careful money managers. However, this does not hold true for, barring a few, most young people today. 

    Young people swear by expensive gadgets, like iPhone and BlackBerry, and branded clothes. Not that the possession of such stuff is bad; its just that our elders advocate moderation while fancy for such stuff does not exactly fit in the idea of moderation.

    I reproduce here 20 Timeless Money Rules from my old blog; they were first published on CNN Money.

    1. Be humble
    When you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it - this is knowledge
    . (Confucius)

    2. Take calculated risks
    He that is overcautious will accomplish little
    . (Friedrich von Schiller)

    3. Have an emergency fund
    For age and want, save while you may; no morning sun lasts a whole day. (Benjamin Franklin)

    4. Mix it up
    It is the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow and not to venture all his eggs in one basket.
    (Miguel de Cervantes)

    5. It's the portfolio, stupid
    Asset allocation...is the overwhelmingly dominant contributor to total return. (Gary Brinson)

    6. Average is the new best
    The best way to own common stocks is through an index fund. (Warren Buffett)

    7. Practice patience
    It never was my thinking that made the big money for me. It was always my sitting. Got that? My sitting tight! (Edwin Lefevre)

    8. Don't time the market
    The real key to making money in stocks is not to get scared out of them. (Peter Lynch)

    9. Be a cheapskate
    Performance comes and goes, but costs roll on forever. (Jack Bogle)

    10. Don't follow the crowd
    Fashion is made to become unfashionable. (Coco Chanel)

    11. Buy low
    If a business is worth a dollar and I can buy it for 40 cents, something good may happen to me. (Warren Buffett)

    12. Invest abroad
    The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. (St. Augustine)

    13. Keep perspective
    There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know. (Harry Truman)

    14. Just do it
    It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.
    (Eleanor Roosevelt)

    15. Borrow responsibly
    As life closes in on someone who has borrowed far too much money on the strength of far too little income, there are no fire escapes. (John K. Galbraith)

    16. Talk to your spouse
    In every house of marriage there's room for an interpreter.
    (Stanley Kunitz)

    17. Exit gracefully
    Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone. (Pablo Picasso)

    18. Pay only your share
    The avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that carries any reward. (John M. Keynes)

    19. Give wisely
    The time is always right to do the right thing. (Martin Luther King Jr.)

    20. Keep money in its place
    A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart.
    (Jonathan Swift)
    Do you wish to add your own wisdom to this list? Go ahead and post your wisdom in the comments section.

    04 October 2011

    My 100th Post: Afghanistan's Opium Brides

    One of my major interests is to read and write on international affairs. (I write for my company publication.) Societies especially those that promote violence elsewhere have always sustained my interest for a good two decades now. As a logical corollary, I am equally interested in societies that are at the receiving end of such exported, often proxy, violence.

    One such society is Afghanistan. A God-forsaken place (the Taliban would kill me for this blasphemy!), Afghanistan is one of the world's most lawless states wracked by ethnic, sectarian, and political violence. Almost all violence is perpetrated by the Taliban (the word comes from Talib, meaning 'student'), created and nurtured by Pakistan.

    Pakistan promoted the Taliban and helped it capture Kabul in 1996, in the process ousting a pro-India regime. One major objective behind this Pakistani move was to secure the Durand Line (the boundary line between Afghanistan and Pakistan).


    Well, Pakistan strategised that if the western border could be secured by putting in place a pro-Pak regime in Kabul, then it could move its military forces away from the Durand Line to the eastern border with India, especially in Kashmir. (In the light of these facts, i.e. hindsight, we can well appreciate the rise in infiltration and terrorist activity in J&K, all culminating in the Kargil misadventure by the Pak army.)

    When the Taliban captured power, it became the first terrorist organisation in the world to run a state. The Taliban government was, as expected, recognised by three states only - Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

    The Taliban imposed a very strict and ultra-orthodox variety of Islam on the multi-ethnic society of Afghanistan. Men had to grow beards; women had to sit at home and could venture out only if accompanied by a male member of the family. All forms of entertainment - TV, cinema, music - were banned on grounds of being unIslamic.

    Afghanistan under the Taliban resembled a medievel state with terrorism and opium being its major exports. It was from here that Osama bin Laden planned the 9/11 attacks. In hindsight, the spectacular attack on the twin towers also brought about the terrorist regime's downfall.

    The U.S. issued an ultimatum to Pakistan: 'Either you are with us, or against us'. Pakistan, faced with a Hobson's choice and afraid of dire consequences, preferred to sleep with the Taliban's enemy. The War on Terror had begun when the Pakis threw out their baby (read Taliban) with the hot water.

    Backed by the U.S.-led coalition forces and India, the Northern Alliance, a ragtag alliance of desperate warlords all united by their fear and hatred of the Taliban, captured power. Ever since, the Taliban, now covertly supported by the Pak military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has been trying, albeit in vain, to recapture Kabul.

    Where do the Taliban get money to fund their military strikes against the U.S. & NATO peace-keeping forces? The zealots extract ransom from opium farmers. While Islam forbids the cultivation of such crops, it is a matter of convenience for the Taliban. Faith in religion has always been a matter of convenience.

    Today Afghanistan contributes 91 per cent of all opium produced in the world. Most of it is grown in the south, especially in the Helmand province controlled by the Taliban.

    The Hamid Karzai administration, under pressure from the U.S., has systematically destroyed thousands of acres of opium farms. While the move appears positive, it has brought in its wake massive suffering to those whose farmlands have been destroyed.


    In a land where the State, if we look at the welfare function of it, is absent, eking out the simplest form of existence often becomes a matter of life and death. No irrigation, no organised credit, no seed bank, and no help of any kind from the State have pushed even the unwilling farmer into producing opium.

    A dangerous consequence of the destruction of the opium farms has been the growth in the number of opium brides. 

    What's this?

    Let me explain this social tragedy. When an opium farmer borrows money from a drug trafficker, who's hand-in-glove with the Taliban and corrupt government officials, to raise a crop, he promises to pay the trafficker a particular quantity of the opium crop.

    The razing of thousands of acres of standing crop by the government has driven the opium farmer to the edge. The ruthless drug trafficker, as is his wont, presents a stark choice to the opium farmer: face death or give the daughter in marriage.

    More than the fear of death, it is for his love of the whole family, the farmer is forced to 'sell' his daughter to the drug trafficker. The girl, in most cases, is under 14; the drug trafficker is generally not below 40. Girls married off in this fashion are called opium brides.

    Such opium brides live a life worse than death. They are not allowed to commit suicide, for death would be an escape, escape from the clutches of hell.

    The young Opium Bride works like a slave, from the crack of the dawn to the end of the day. She can't leave the house without being accompanied by a male member of the family; can't talk to anyone deemed a stranger; can't attend school or educate herself, and is covered from head to toe in a burqa.

    For all practical purposes, she remains the trafficker's sex slave, to be sexually and physical assaulted by him. All this would happen to someone who is below 14.

    If a farmer says no, i.e. not 'sell' his daughter, then he meets death in a ghastly manner. Wish to know how?

    First, the farmer's hands and legs are bound. Next, he is thrown into a windowless room with a smouldering fire. The farmer slowly chokes to a painful death.

    I strongly believe that violence is endemic to societies which lack respect for basic human freedoms. The Taliban's atrocities have only reinforced my belief. 

    I published this article about a couple of years back on one of my old blogs; however, the reality of Afghanistan's Opium Brides has not changed. Misery is life personified.

    Incidentally, this is my 100th post on this blog. Thank you for your visit!

    03 October 2011

    10 Things I Found Out Today!

    Ever wondered why gay means homosexual or what's 'the crapper'? Or why spam has come to mean 'junk message'? Today I stumbled on a wonderful infographic on 10 interesting words and phrases that has answers to these questions and more. 

    I found it at Today I Found Out, no pun intended!

    A note of caution: the stuff below is strictly for those who are seriously interested in the English language. 

    02 October 2011

    How to learn the smart way

    About a month ago, I wrote BJ's 15-Minute Learning Rule. It evoked pretty positive response from readers. Last night, I came across this cool poster on the idea of smart learning. I found it at the Poster Street.

    And with the CAT 2011 just around the corner, your test prep should pick up steam. Things may be tough; but remember you have it in you to rough it out. Bear in mind the inspirational words of Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts:

    If you wish to share these two posters, please acknowledge this blog. Thank you!

    01 October 2011

    The Explainer: GDP

    After many weeks, I am writing The Explainer. This week's The Explainer will focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and related terms. I will try to keep it as simple as possible. 

    What are the three major sectors of an economy?
    The major sectors of an economy are: agriculture, industry, and services. 

    Agriculture includes allied activities too, like horticulture and animal husbandry. 
    Industry relates to manufacturing while Services sectors comprises invisibles like banking, insurance and education. 

    What is GDP?
    Gross Domestic Product (GDP) relates to the total money value of all goods and services produced in one country's domestic territory in one fiscal (financial) year. 

    Here, India's domestic territory includes land within the country's political boundary, territorial waters (which extend up to 200 nautical miles into the sea), commercial ships and aircraft that ply between India and nations abroad, oil rigs and fishing vessels (generating 
    sea-based economic activity), military bases abroad (India has only one - Aini in Tajikistan), and our embassies around the world.

    So, to calculate GDP, we take the money value of all goods (like books and motorcycles) and services (like banking and legal). 

    What is Fiscal Year?
    Any 12-month period taken for accounting purposes is called fiscal year, which is also called financial year. 

    A lot of countries, like China, follow the calendar year as the fiscal year.

    India and Canada start the fiscal year on April 1 while ending it on March 31 of the following year.

    The United States' fiscal year starts on October 1 and ends on September 30 of the following year. 

    How is GDP growth represented?
    GDP growth is represented in terms of percentage change over the previous period (it could be a quarter or a half-year or a year). 

    For example, India's GDP in 2010-11 is expected to be Rs7877947 crore. This is projected to increase to Rs8980860 crore in 2011-12 (as per Budget 2011-12 document). In this case, India's GDP will increase by 14% in one year. Please note that these are not final GDP figures; the final figures for the last financial year will not be out till the end of this fiscal  year.

    In 2010-11, India's GDP grew by 8.5%, which means that the country added that much percentage of the absolute money value of total goods and services produced in 2010-11.

    Name the world's ten largest economies by GDP.
    The United States is the world's largest economy by GDP. Find below the 2010 GDP figures for the planet's ten largest economies. The data have been taken from the IMF.

    Rank            Country            2010 GDP in Trillion U.S.$ 
      1                 U.S.                              14.52
      2                 China                              5.87
      3                 Japan                              5.45
      4                 Germany                         3.28
      5                 France                            2.56
      6                 UK                                  2.25
      7                 Brazil                              2.09
      8                 Italy                                2.05
      9                 India                              1.63
     10                Canada                            1.57  

    Which sector contributes most to India's GDP?
    Services sector contributes most to India's GDP. It employs nearly 35% of India's total labour force but contributes about 56% of India's GDP. 

    Manufacturing contributes about 27% of the country's GDP while employing about 14% of the labour force.

    Agriculture, often called the bedrock of the Indian economy, contributes a meager 17% to the nation's GDP while sustaining the more than half of the labour force.