Spending wisely at supermarkets

Or how not to fall prey to hidden persuaders and fill your trolleys at supermarkets

Super market
An edited version of Photo by David Veksler on Unsplash

Diogenes, the cynic Greek philosopher who lived in a barrel, was having bread and lentils for supper when Aristippus, the hedonistic philosopher, saw him. A student of Socrates, Aristippus charted a different course, living comfortably as a courtier to King Dionysius singing his praises. He asked Diogenes to submit to the king to avoid having to survive on bread and lentils. Diogenes replied that only if Aristippus had learnt to live on bread and lentils, he would not have had to be subservient to the king. Continue reading “Spending wisely at supermarkets”

Vance Packard and The Hidden Persuaders

The continuing relevance of Vance Packard and his warnings against unbridled consumerism

Vance Packard's Hidden Persuaders has lessons for assessing supermarkets
Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

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To Tip or Not to Tip

The practice of tipping and its motivations, and how it might be promoting a culture of bribery and corruption

To Tip or Not to Tip

Around 1990, a colleague shared a real story of a bank branch manager in remote rural Punjab. A borrower wanted to give the manager a gift. It was expensive. New to the job, he resisted. But, the borrower rationalised that he was only sharing in the happiness of having become rich thanks to the loans the bank sanctioned his firm. The incident points to the progressively fine divide between gifts, donations, kickbacks, bribes, extortion, and so on. Tipping is a related, though socially accepted and frowned upon, practice of sharing a monetary equivalent of perceived excess of value over and above what you paid for. Continue reading “To Tip or Not to Tip”

The Official Language: Lessons from Europe

Whose official language is it anyway?

European Union
Flag of the European Union

On 23 March 2006, when French businessman, Ernest-Antoine Seillière, started speaking at the annual business summit of the European Union (EU), Jacques Chirac, the French President, walked out. As he gathered his papers and reached for the exit, Philippe Douste-Blazy, his foreign minister, and Thierry Breton, the finance minister, joined him. What provoked these gendarmes of political correctness was that Seillière spoke in English, an official language. Chirac could be mollified and brought back only after Jean-Claude Trichet, the French President of the European Central Bank, started speaking in French. Continue reading “The Official Language: Lessons from Europe”

Sundays with Shankar

The life, work, and times of Shankar, father of Indian cartooning

cartoonist shankar
Shankar in a pensive mood

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The Lions of Odesa

The lions of Odesa are a reminder of the ravages of war as it looms over Ukraine.

Odesa steps
Odesa Steps. Photograph: Dave Proffer

Odesa (single ‘s’ in Ukrainian) on the Black Sea shore of South-Western Ukraine is the country’s largest port city. About 300 km away, as I write this, the capital city of Kyiv (changed from the earlier Russian Kiev) is surrounded by Russian troops. It reminded me of the lions of Odesa in the classic montage sequence of Eisenstein’s 1925 film, Battleship Potemkin, one of the greatest ever made. Based on a real-life event of 1905, the crew of the battleship had staged a mutiny against their officers. The citizenry of Odesa was welcoming the ship and its crew with cheers and supplies sent on boats. Continue reading “The Lions of Odesa”

Who will be the next President?

Ramnath Kovind, 14th President of India
President Ramnath Kovind (presidentofindia.nic.in)

The attention of the political media is currently focused on the five states going to the polls during February/March. I am jumping ahead to speculate who will be the 15th President of India to succeed Ramnath Kovind whose term will expire on 24 July 2022. As we will see, the outcome of the five state elections will play a critical role in who the next President will be.

Those who are/were in high positions fall into two broad categories. At one end are those who are/were a decoration to their posts and continue to be so in public memory. At the other end, the designations are a decoration around their neck. Some such indicator would be required to remember who they were. In between are those whose positions rub off on them over time, and they grow to become distinguished personalities. Presidents of India are no exception. On the brighter side, barring a few, the rest have done the nation proud.

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The Benegal Brothers

Radhabai and Raghavendra Rao

The collective contribution of the four Benegal brothers, Sanjiva Rao, Narsing Rau, Rama Rau, and Shiva Rao, to the idea and making of India has few parallels. Sons of Radhabai and Dr. Raghavendra Rao, a medical doctor, they are a fine example of what being rooted in Indian tradition and values, but being open to modern and progressive ideas can achieve. Despite their conservative upbringing, two found their spouses from another country, and a third from another community. All could have achieved much more than what they did only if they had been ambitious, or compromised on their values or ideals. But, every one chose to serve the country in their own humble ways. In an era of credit grabbing and blame passing, the Benegal brothers remain relatively unknown and under appreciated. Continue reading “The Benegal Brothers”

Abdullah Yusuf Ali: Triumph and Tragedy

The year 2021-22 marks the sesquicentennial of Allama Abdullah Yusuf Ali. His remarkable life, caught between many worlds, was chaotic and turbulent, with its triumphs and tribulations, and a lasting legacy.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali (licensed from National Portrait Gallery, London)

In December 1953, six months after Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, London experienced another severe winter. The same time, previous year, the city had suffered the Great Smog. Wednesday, the 9th, was freezing cold. Movement was difficult. In the evening, in Trafalgar Square, Westminster, the police found an old man in tattered clothes, destitute and disoriented, on the steps of a house. He had a suitcase full of papers, but no money in his pockets. They admitted him to the Westminster Hospital, which discharged him the next day. A London City Council home for the elderly, in nearby Dovehouse Street, Chelsea, took him in. The same day he suffered a heart attack, and was rushed to the St Stephen’s Hospital. He died soon thereafter. Continue reading “Abdullah Yusuf Ali: Triumph and Tragedy”

Sidney Wadsworth: A Judge in Madras

Caroline Keen, A Judge in Madras: Sir Sidney Wadsworth and the Indian Civil Service, 1913-47, Harper Collins, 2021. Rs. 699.

Most British (and Indian) officers of the Indian Civil Service diligently maintained copious diaries filled with detailed accounts of their working life in India with the hope of turning them into one or more books after retirement. Only a few of them successfully sustained the habit throughout their service. Fewer still turned them into books. One of those who wrote a manuscript after retirement, but never published it, fearing lack of demand and publisher interest, was Sir Sidney Wadsworth. Born in 1888, Wadsworth joined the ICS in Madras in 1913. Also posted to Madras, from the same batch, was Benegal Rama Rau, later Governor, Reserve Bank of India. Sidney retired in 1947 to the Isle of Man, where his father in law, Sir Robert Clegg ICS, also of Madras, spent his last years. “A Judge in Madras” is based on the draft memoirs of Sir Sidney Wadsworth. Continue reading “Sidney Wadsworth: A Judge in Madras”

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