Saturday, December 31, 2005

Iron Curtain ??

In the course of a desultory conversation, an elderly neighbour of mine made a startling revelation. In the last 40 years that she had spent in the city of Bangalore, she had been to South Bangalore
(i.e the part of the city that lies to the south of Majestic Talkies) just once.

We live in the Ulsoor locality, a Tamil-dominated area in North-East Bangalore, one of the oldest suburbs in the city. In these parts, it is not uncommon to find quite a few long-time residents who've never gone past the Railway Station!! They've spent all their lives staying within a few kilometers of the Cantonment area.

The same observation can be made with respect to South Bangaloreans
as well. Many residents in the solidly middle-class Kannada-speaking
suburbs of the south have no idea of what Bangalore looks like, to the
north of Vidhana-Soudha. For many of them, Fraser Town is every bit as alien and unfamiliar as Brooklyn.

It's almost as though an Iron-Curtain of some kind lies somewhere
in between the GPO and Chickpet that prevents the unfettered
intercourse between Bangaloreans living on either side of it.

The Iron Curtain is in many ways symbolic of a distinct cultural
difference between the North and the South. The South is predominantly Kannada-speaking, with a pretty high median per-capita income.
The gap between the rich and the poor is not very evident in the

The North, in contrast, is dominated by the minority communities,
largely bacause of its relative proximity to the neighbouring states of
TN and AP. Most of the brick and mortar industries are based in the
north which accounts for the striking disparity between the haves and
the have-nots, the privileged and the under-privileged.

The South is considered by many to be the cultural nerve-center of
Old-Bangalore. Demographically, it is far more homogenous compared
to the North, with a very significant upper-caste presence. Politically,
the South is clearly right-of-centre, almost unfailingly electing a BJP
candidate to the Parliament. The North, on the other hand has always
been a bastion of the Congress Party, thanks in no small measure to
the sizeable working-class.

South bangalore, is a more settled and idyllic region. Some areas have
remained unchanged, demographically at least, for decades. The North
is forever in a state of flux, viewed scornfully by the Southerners,
for providing a haven to arriviste outsiders, who are unfairly blamed
for the sky-rocketing real-estate prices.

It is easy to take this divide for granted. But for me, this is
one of the prime reasons for the state of unrest in Bangalore today.
A somnolent town, which was once a 'Pensioner's Paradise' has been
caught unawares, so to speak. The inexorable tide of progress and
fortuitous circumstances have ensured the growth of the city to
proportions that were unimaginable a few decades ago, but yet this
very tide of progress has marginalised the locals, who find themselves
unequal to the changes that have been wrought on them.

It is the story of an Old city struggling to come to terms with the
New World.



Friday, December 30, 2005

Letters to the Editor

The section of the Newspaper that I revile the most, perhaps even more than the supplements bearing obscene pictures of revolting models, is the 'Letters to the Editor' box.
Most of the Letters are terse two-liners which state the obvious
without a modicum of original thought. One wonders why the poster
took the trouble to draft it. Perhaps to boost his/her fragile ego
by seeing his name in print.

Here are some samples from the Hindu Newspaper -

Sir, — Dr. Singh's attitude towards the Opposition leaves much to be desired. He refused to accept even a memorandum from the Opposition leaders. An experienced and confident leader could have easily avoided such a controversy.

Ashutosh Purushottam,

Gaya, Bihar

Mr.Vajpayee has shown the right way to all politicians who hanker after power. His career was studded with several noteworthy achievements.

K. Vasu

It is a pity that the retired Delhi IIT professor MC Puri who came to Bangalore for a seminar has fallen victim to an unknown assasin's bullet. It is also sad that adequate security cover was not provided at IISc.

Anirudh Sudarsan

They suck. It's a shame that such Letters get to see the light of day in one of India's premier newspapers. Indicative of the abominable quality of public discourse in this country.



Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Unintended Consequence of Bankruptcy Laws

....is the perpetuation of poverty.
The conclusion may not sound intuitive. So let me explain.

Let us at the outset understand the rationale behind Bankruptcy Laws and the problem supposedly being addressed by this legislative fiat.
Finance, in most countries, is beyond the reach of aspiring first-generation entrepreneurs without the backing of collateral. If the debtor does not have sufficient means, he often resorts to mortgaging the house in which he resides, which could well be his sole tangible asset. In the event of failure to repay the loan, he faces the grim prospect of being deprived of the only thing that he could lay claim upon.

To alleviate the distress of people facing such a predicament, Bankruptcy Laws are framed, wherein a substantial portion of household assets are exempted from seizure by creditors. The intent of this fiat is to prevent the borrower from being rendered destitute in case of a financial disaster.

At first sight, the law is seemingly beneficial. But the result is disastrous. The law deprives the talented entrepreneur without means of his only chance of gaining access to credit. The Bankruptcy exemption ensures that he is left with no assets that can be used as collateral. The probability of banks turning him down goes up considerably. This is how an entrepreneurial career is nipped in the bud, and enterprising businessmen are doomed to a mediocre existence.

The main beneficiaries in this system are the well-to-do established businessmen who will have enough assets left even after the exemptions that can be used as collateral. Such laws also insulate them from competition as new players will find it well-nigh impossible to finance their ventures.
Hence, a law that was framed with the intent of levelling the playing field has the opposite effect of widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Sad.

Do read this wonderful book for more on this.



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