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  • 12/08/17--17:38: Bounce in his step
  • It may be from 20 years ago. But for many of us, the refreshingly new dance moves of Karisma Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit and Shah Rukh Khan in the film Dil To Pagal Hai still remain etched in mind. Dance choreographer Shiamak Davar made his entry into Bollywood with a splash that year and added the word contemporary to the staid world of film dance. And till today, he remains a favourite celebrity dance trainer, showcasing Indian contemporary dance on world forums, and also reaching out to underprivileged and disabled children through his therapeutic dance training.

    Twenty years, several films, and hundreds of stage shows, and thousands of students later (hes choreographed every single IIFA show!), hes the one every aspiring young dancer who wants to make it on their own looks up to. As his dance company gears up to start auditions for their year-long professional course, Shiamak chats with Sunday Herald about the secret to looking great at 56, and how each song tells him a story.

    You are 56, dancing great and looking good! How much of a role has dance played in that?

    Thank you for the compliment. Honestly, dance has everything to do with it. I think when you do something you love, you have something to look forward to every day and this motivation keeps you happy.

    What made you want to dance when you started off?

    I think it was always inside of me. Singing was my first love. I used to perform in musicals, so it was always something to do with the performing arts, and I knew that it was a stage where I felt a sense of belonging. Dance became a great platform to express myself.

    What role has Bollywood played in making people want to learn dance as an aspiration?

    Bollywood has a phenomenal reach. It is a part of our culture for over a hundred years. Also, music and dance are an integral part of our movies. So, in that sense, commercially, it has had an impact in making dance and movement reach people. Dance-based Bollywood songs always have a signature movement which becomes hugely popular.

    How did you develop your signature style?

    Over the years, I developed a style that was uniquely me. For me, each song says something different and it tells me a story through its rhythm. My choreography is an interpretation of that. Whether it was jazz when I started off, to my style of Bollywood jazz work, or my Indo-contemporary style today, people always come to me and say We want to learn Shiamak style, or We want to watch Shiamak style. I think it is the grace, finesse, technique and discipline that people see through the choreography that they like.

    What does your one-year professional course equip dancers with?

    The one-year dance certification programme (OYP) is a full-time course that helps potential dancers nurture their skills in a professional environment. The programme focuses on technique, training and knowledge in over 10 dance styles with specialised training in Shiamak style. I myself actively teach this programme and monitor the progress through the year. OYP is a part of my mission to help dance enthusiasts make their passion a profession. Each year, students with the most potential are inducted into my dance company, become a part of musical productions choreographed by me, teach classes as a part of my school dance education programme, amongst many other avenues. The response is phenomenal. Thousands of enquiries come in each year and we audition to select 80 to 100 students per year. The auditions for the next academic year for OYP are in December. The programme runs from April 2018 to March 2019.

    A lot of Indians regret that the current generation has moved far away from classical Indian dance to more Westernised dance forms. What is your response?

    I do feel sad the classical dance forms have taken a backseat. I always encourage my students to learn at least one classical form as it makes you a complete performer. Along with the grace, it teaches you a lot of discipline.

    Dance reality shows are dime a dozen in India. Has this sense of competition added to the betterment of dance?

    Dance-based reality shows definitely provide a great platform to dance enthusiasts from far away cities, smaller towns and remote areas to come and showcase their talent. It has given so many opportunities to people who are immensely talented to make their passion a profession. The only thing is that I wish there was more dancing and less of back stories on their life and that the focus was more on choreography than gymnastic-type stunts. Also, it is important for participants to take the reality show as a great starting point but know that training is important and focus on becoming better at the art, before going professional.

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  • 12/08/17--17:50: Death watcher
  • "We all see death before our eyes," Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski reportedly said at the opening of his exhibition at Warsaws Zacheta Gallery in 2002. "I am not an exception… Personally, I am more afraid of dying than death itself. This is not a fear of emptiness but of suffering, and this is what I am most afraid of."

    Three years later, on February 21, 2005, the 75-year-old surrealist painter known for his hellish landscapes and nightmarish figures was found dead at his flat in a prestigious Warsaw neighbourhood with multiple stab wounds in the head and chest.

    It was a clear case of murder, although there were no signs of forced entry or robbery.

    Shortly thereafter, two young men, Robert K, a 19-year-old secondary-school pupil, and his 16-year-old cousin Lukasz K were arrested. On questioning, Robert K, son of a long-time friend and aide of Beksinski confessed...

    On that fateful day, the two boys had gone to Beksinskis house to borrow money from him. Beksinski refused to give the loan and tried to call Robert Ks father instead. Angered by this, the teenager had stabbed the famed artist to death.
    On November 9, 2006, the Court of Warsaw condemned Robert K to 25 years in prison, and his accomplice, Lukasz K, to 5 years. The Appellate Court upheld the lower courts judgement in Robert Ks trial; it was, however, not convinced of Lukasz Ks guilt and a retrial was ordered in his case.

    Apocalyptic vision

    One of the best-known artists of Poland, Zdzislaw Beksinski (1929-2005) was born in Sanok near the Carpathians Mountains. He had no formal education in art. Trained as an architect at Krakows School of Technology, he took up photography toward the end of his studies in the Department of Architecture.

    In the 1950s, he was actively honing his photographic skills and marking his images with surrealistic-expressionist designs and sadomasochistic themes. Sadists Corset (1957), an important work of his, shows a nude female body bound tightly with a rope. He eventually gave up on photography in the early 60s and concentrated on intricately detailed drawings in which he portrayed haunting, mysterious and frightening scenes.

    His 1964-exhibition in Warsaw featuring mainly drawings was a major success with all the works being bought over.

    In the 80s and 90s, Beksinskis paintings got exhibited abroad and achieved significant popularity in France, the United States, and Japan.
    As one who was always fascinated with death, decay and darkness, Beksinski created numerous apocalyptic visions and abstract renditions of skulls and skeletons which stunned the critics as well as common viewers alike.

    According to Katarzyna Nowakowska-Sito, art historian and former curator of modern art at Warsaws National Museum, "Beksinski created a language, a climate of horror and secrecy in his paintings. He engaged peoples imagination and it was very convincing."

    Eschewing symbolism

    Historians point out two distinct periods of artistic activity in Beksinski s career. Between end-1960s and mid-80s, he was engaged with his fantastic series highlighting dreamlike but hellish landscapes; unearthly architecture; and lurid figures. After this successful period that made him a household name in Poland, Beksinski s style changed and entered a gothic era, when his art became more abstract and less dreamlike.

    Throughout his life, Beksinski avoided concrete analysis or metaphorical interpretation of his work, saying "I cannot conceive of a sensible statement on painting."

    He hated explaining the meaning of his images. "Meaning is meaningless to me. I do not care for symbolism and I paint what I paint without meditating on a story." All of his paintings remained untitled. He believed in the mystery of images rather than explicit definitions. "I react strongly to images that have no obvious answer to their mysteries. If there is a key to their construction, they are simply illustrations."

    Another notable feature was that Beksinski never painted directly from nature. "I abhor everything which is natural, everything which comes directly from the cow, as the Poles say. I drink instant coffee and milk powder, I eat powdered soups and only canned meat."

    His abhorrence for a neat and orderly state was obvious. "When I paint a wall, I want the roughcast to peel off; when I paint an interior I want it to be covered with spider webs, I want a floor strewn with waste, rags garbage and filth of all sorts. To my eyes, a nice body, a smooth wall, a row of straight windows, a clean interior, a shining floor are, and will remain, the synonyms of boredom."

    In 1977, Beksinski and his family shifted from Sanok to Warsaw. Before moving, he is said to have burned a selection of his works in his own backyard, without leaving any documentation about them. He explained that they were either "too personal" or "unsatisfactory," and in any case, he did not want people to see or know about them.

    Whats a trend?

    Beksinski paid little or no attention to prevailing trends in art. Nor was he interested in gaining approval and admiration of critics. He avoided being present at public events and almost never visited museums or exhibitions. Although his art was predominantly grim and gruesome, he himself was known to be a pleasant person with a keen sense of humour. He was modest and somewhat shy, but always ready for a good conversation.

    Beksinskis life was beset with tragedy in his final years. Death, which he had portrayed in so many chilling ways, began to stalk his family in the late 1990s. Beksinskis wife Zofia succumbed to cancer in 1998. A year later, their son Tomasz, a well-known translator and popular music journalist, committed suicide.

    "Beksinski will be remembered as a brilliant artist, and by those who knew him as a docile man with a profound wit and keen sense of the human condition," recalls James Cowan, president of Las Vegas-based Morpheus Fine Art. "What a remarkable man he was. A bit of Woody Allen, a dash of Oscar Wilde for spice, and brushes of Francisco Goya and William Turner."

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  • 12/08/17--17:58: Zero-gravity reality
  • What will the future of human space exploration look like in the 21st century? If Scott Kelly has any say on the matter, we shall go to Mars and beyond, with the discipline and determination that fill the pages of his memoir chronicling the extraordinary life hes lived on Earth and in space.

    No overachievers are born without influences, and Kelly is forthcoming about the early motivations that led him to his unique career path. As an unfocused, unremarkable young college student, he read Tom Wolfes The Right Stuff, a non-fiction classic on why anyone in his right mind would submit to the dangers of spaceflight. Wolfes portrayal of hotshot pilots was just one highlight of a star-studded career that would eventually take him beyond Earths atmosphere. Another noted inspiration is the book after which Kelly named his own, and which he carries with him on multiple voyages to the International Space Station: Endurance, by Alfred Lansing, about Ernest Shackletons historic expedition to the South Pole, during which his crew cheated death after their ship became trapped in a polar pack ice, overcoming 850 miles of heavy seas on small lifeboats. Both of these literary homages set up the structure of Kellys own Endurance.

    The books narrative is split between Kellys year in space - a zero-gravity journey of "unprecedented" duration - and his personal development from a child reading The Right Stuff into a decorated naval test pilot. One would think tales of space travel should overshadow any Earthbound life story, but in Endurance, Kellys humour and self-awareness when relating his experiences at home make them just as absorbing as those aboard the station.

    That is not to say his extraterrestrial anecdotes fail to entertain. Kelly takes on the task of fixing the stations toilet, one of the most crucial devices on board; against protocol, the Americans and Russians on board share garbage bags whose contents they then shoot into the atmosphere. (The descriptions of Kellys comradeship with his Russian colleagues are easily the most endearing parts of the book, and provide some hope in dire geopolitical times.) Other space chapters are gruelling and stressful, as the astronauts wait for resupply ships that keep malfunctioning and exploding, exposing just how easily things can go wrong after months of calm.

    Kellys sharp self-observation and narrative poignancy make for a fascinating tale of a life lived on Earth, too, and the value of the book is heightened by its glimpses beyond the astronauts veil. Behind the imposing spacesuit and perfect smile is a three-dimensional person, and Endurance offers brilliant insight into the human aspect of space travel by paying equal attention to the origin story as to its climax among the stars.

    It is Kellys stark honesty that lends the book its pathos. He holds nothing back when discussing his battle with prostate cancer, the grief he felt over the loss of his colleagues to the Columbia shuttle disaster, or the emotional strain his year in space creates between him and his romantic partner, Amiko. The professional recollections could stand alone just fine without these intimate details, but the humanity behind them underlines Kellys dedication to the project of writing a full portrait of his life. He doesnt hide behind the infinite achievements and fascinations he encountered in space; he readily acknowledges his failures, shortcomings and heartbreaks.

    The military discipline that led to Kellys career can at times stifle his prose, resulting in occasional awkward rigidity and overwriting. But such moments are sparse, and they are compensated for with descriptive passages so lyrical they could put a career writer to shame. "One of my favourite views of the Earth is of the Bahamas - a large archipelago with a stunning contrast from light to dark colours. The vibrant deep blue of the ocean mixes with a much brighter turquoise swirled with something almost like gold, where the sun bounces off the sandy shallows and reefs," Kelly muses. In such moments the rewards of the book are clear.

    "You have to go to the ends of the Earth in order to leave the Earth," begins the first chapter of Endurance. Though Kelly means this statement literally - to launch, todays American astronauts have to travel all the way to a spaceport in the deserts of Kazakhstan - it could also be the motto for the authors lifelong work. In this captivating, charming, if occasionally convoluted, memoir, Kelly generously takes the reader through a life of endless dedication that ultimately led to his groundbreaking 12 months in space. He pulls back the curtain separating the myth of the astronaut from its human realities. Just as Kelly brought with him the books that inspired him to become a man of space, it is easy to imagine future generations of explorers and daredevils harnessing the lessons and truths within the pages of Endurance as the blueprints for their own trips into the unknown.

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  • 12/08/17--18:06: Blood moon over Milan
  • When tales of truth are narrated as fiction, they turn out to be stranger than fiction. Mark Sullivans Beneath A Scarlet Sky deals with the jaded topic of World War II. When everything imaginable has already been said about it, here appears a story with a twist and the twist is - that it is true.

    The novel has the makings of a great war story - of a life lived on the edge of danger, of youth, daring, ardour and passionate love. The story focuses on the closing years of World War II in Italy, the perilous lives of the Italians, the desperation of the Germans, the fascist army of Black Shirts and the Partisans at each others throats, with the Allies waiting in the wings and the pivotal role of the Catholic church in this.

    Seventeen-year-old Pino Lella, interested in girls, music and food, is drawn into this war in a most unintentional way. Playing in the byways of life, he stumbles upon a great adventure and begins a heros journey. A journey that entails bravery and demands sacrifice.

    In a chance encounter, Pino meets Anna, "a tawny-blond woman," and like dry kindling, his willing heart catches fire.

    Its the summer of 43 and the Allies are bombing Milan, to weaken the German hold in Italy. When the bombings begin in earnest, Pino is sent to Casa Alpina, a school in the Alps, under the watchful eye of Father Re. Pinos destiny is set. This encourages a fortunate friendship with Alberto Ascari, a racing-car driver who promises to teach Pino driving. This skill would, in turn, be vital to Pinos life. At the Casa Alpina, Father Re puts him on a punishing schedule of exploring specific routes on the Alps.

    Weekends are taken up with driving lessons on treacherous mountain roads. It is with three visitors to Casa Alpina that Pinos future as a facilitator begins, helping persecuted Jews flee through the hazardous mountain pass into the neutral ground of Switzerland.

    Pino figures out that with authority and coaxing, he can get his group over the sheer face of the cliffs into Switzerland. As a guide, Pino becomes an expert, learning to fine-tune into emotions and fears, and plays with desire and memory to arouse their instinct for survival, as he leads the hapless people into safety. Although his mind is still of a 17-year-old, dreaming of girls and love, his body is a highly coordinated machine, flawless in what it has trained itself to do.

    As Pino reaches the eligibility age for being drafted, he is faced with a dilemma. To be drafted meant being sent to the Russian front as "cannon fodder."

    The only way to survive is to voluntarily enlist with the Germans. His youthful idealism rebels at the idea of working for the enemy, but his instinct for survival persists. Again, it is through sheer coincidence that Pino becomes General Leyerss personal driver. Pinos Nazi uniform allows him to move freely, but friends and family turn away in disgust from him.

    On his very first assignment to pick Leyers up, the door is answered by the maid Anna, the woman of his dreams. From there, their love story starts to pick up. As General Leyerss driver, he sees truckloads of Jews being unloaded, graded like animals, destined to life or deported to death. He sees men killing in cold blood. Like much in his life, he simply slips into the next stage into his role as a spy.

    As his love life gains momentum, so do his spying activities. He and Anna, with the foolhardiness of the young, trick the Nazis and spy on them under their very noses.

    Just when the tides of the war are turning, Pino is assaulted by an enormous tragedy. His beloved Anna is falsely suspected to be on the wrong side and must pay for it. Pino is left numb, with a crushing sense of guilt. Nothing in his young life has prepared him for this. Milan is bathed in blood. And once again, Pinos help is enlisted, but this time General Leyers is not a hated Nazi. General Leyers is travelling to safety with the protection of the Allies. And the world stops making sense to Pino.

    War has nothing to do with winning or losing. But has everything to do with how cleverly one falls on ones feet, at the end of it. The war has been won by the Allies, but Anna must die tragically, in the prime of her life. General Leyers, however, survives and lives to a ripe old age. At the end of the book, Pinos and our picture of the world hangs awry. Truth, they say, is stranger than fiction.

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  • 12/08/17--18:12: The playful tycoon
  • Theres a sort of ultimate ideal, popular in society, that is considered the end goal for every entrepreneur. This ideal involves winning at everything in life - at family, at business, at all sorts of physical endeavours, at charity, and most importantly, at marketing oneself as the cheeky winner. A large part of this ideal, I think, has been shaped by Richard Bransons life.

    In 1998, he wrote his autobiography, Losing my Virginity, in which he talked of how he rose from small business-ideas at school to the owner of Virgin Records, and later Virgin Airlines, all the while taking on awe-inspiring physical challenges such as circumnavigating the globe in a balloon.

    In his new book, Finding my Virginity, he continues the story from where he left off, talking of how he started up railway companies, multiple airlines, mobile carriers, a fitness centre chain, a spaceship company, and numerous others. In parallel, we hear of his death-defying athletic feats - not to mention death-defying marketing campaigns, and also about his interactions with various world leaders.

    One starts off reading this book somewhat bemused at what is essentially a long series of boasts - "I did this, I did that, etc." As one goes on, though, what sticks with the reader is Bransons readiness to take risks and the spirit of can-do that he exhibits.

    Most important here are the times when he actually tried and failed - there have been spacecraft crashes, train accidents, businesses going bust, deaths of friends, even celebrities who hated him. Branson is as open about these instances as he is about his successes. In-between these stories, Branson also talks about when not to take those risks hes famous for - an essential part of improving ones success rate.

    This is not a business-management course. Branson doesnt go too deep into what it takes to run the business itself - he focuses on his own experiences, and keeps in mind that the readers are likely to be interested in the funny details rather than in the mundane. Think of it as your dear uncle Richard, whom you come across in a Christmas party, telling you what hes been up to in the past year.

    The chapters of the book are focused either on the journeys of individual businesses or on specific people who feature in multiple stories. So, for example, we have one chapter about his father, another on his fitness clubs, then another (or two) on Nelson Mandela.

    Maybe the two most relevant chapters for a reader in 2017 are the ones on Donald Trump and Brexit. Trump, in Bransons telling, is every bit the kind of man that his popular image makes him out to be - but there is a huge element of surprise in the American establishment around his victory.

    No one expected him to actually win! On Brexit, Branson talks again of how no one expected it to actually happen, and he pulls no punches in talking of the lies that the British public was fed in the run-up to the vote.

    He talks of how hes tried to influence withdrawal of the decision but failed. Both these are refreshingly personal accounts of the news, by someone in the middle of things. The relatively positive interactions - with Obama, with Mandela, with David Cameron - also have that personal touch to them, and Bransons respect for them is clear.

    Interwoven with all these are the chapters about his family - his father, his children, his wife, and how they have helped shape his life. In later chapters, as the children grow up, they start getting involved in his business and physical ventures as well.

    Indeed, thats what you take away from the book - the feeling of being in the middle of dozens of things all at once, and enjoying it. Yes, Branson is insanely rich and lives on his own private island. But this isnt a one-off deal for him - hes working with that money, setting up new ventures and managing his existing ones continuously. According to him, starting up a business is almost the noblest thing a man can do with his life.

    Then theres, of course, his trademark brand of humour - poking David Cameron in the ribs, dressing up in drag to serve food on an Air Asia flight (because he lost a bet), sneaking a motor into his bicycle in order to win a race. Its all part of that same uncle Richard tells a story vibe.

    The relatively segregated chapter topics make this a good book to read in bits and pieces, even though its quite long. Go for it if the lifestyles of the rich and enthusiastic interest you. You might find yourself learning a few things, too.

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  • 12/08/17--18:48: Book Rack - Dec 10
  • Jasoda

    Kiran Nagarkar

    Harper Collins, 2017, Rs 599, pp 264

    Paar has been suffering from a decade-long drought. Jasoda leaves the place with her children and mother-in-law. Will Jasoda come back, or will she make the city her home? The author weaves a narrative of survival in the face of poverty and patriarchy.


    Arun Bhatnagar

    Konark Publishers, 2017, Rs 650, pp 264

    A comprehensive analysis of Indian historical events after the Partition, it talks about the border questions and conflict, gender violence, and the emergence of the Hindu right wing, thereby tracing the journey to the formation of independent India.

    Scary Stories Flipped

    Various authors

    Harper Collins, 2017, Rs 225, pp 200

    It comprises scary and funny stories and can be flipped over. It is a compilation of many authors such as Adithi Rao, Shabnam Minwalla, Sowmya Rajendran, Jane De Souza, Sampurna Chatterjee, et al. The reader gets to choose from which side to read.

    The Journey Within

    Radhanath Swami

    Harper Collins, 2017, Rs 399, pp 300

    The sequel to The Journey Home, it hopes to guide readers through the essential teachings of bhakti-yoga. The author draws from his personal experiences to demystify the ancient devotional path of bhakti, capturing its essence and explaining its simple principles for balancing our lives.

    Charlie Next Door

    Debashish Irengbam

    Harper Collins, 2017, Rs 350, pp 326

    Anupama is 42, struggling every day with the
    memory of her late husband. It has been two years, and its time that she moves on. While her friends try to hook her up, she meets Charlie, her new neighbour, 24, single, attractive and commitment-phobic.

    The Leopards Tale

    Jonathan and Angela Scott

    Speaking Tiger, 2017, Rs 350, pp 228

    This book is an account of a solitary mother leopard and how she provides for herself and her offspring. Chui was the first of a generation of leopards that Jonathan Scott watched and photographed in Kenyas Maasai Mara Game Reserve in the 1970s and the 1980s.

    The Wickerman Chronicles

    Giri Kurichiyath

    Lifi Publications, 2017, Rs 225, pp 168

    The author uses a grungy and a modern-day reimagination of the classic tales and humour to tell stories. In Vikram-Vetal, Vikram is a washed-up bounty hunter who is given the task of capturing a ghoul named Vetal. While in El Murcielago, he is an undefeated bullfighter at the Jallikattu, who may have met his match.

    What a Life!

    Rajinder Puri, Partha Chatterjee & Arvinder Singh

    Niyogi Books, 2017, Rs 495, pp 148

    These are some of the best political cartoons since Independence by Rajinder Puri. Used as a vehicle for spreading public awareness on the burning issues of the day, these cartoons give us a glimpse of his virtuosity as a columnist, writer and an activist.

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  • 12/08/17--18:54: Battling zeros in Bali
  • Indians, or an Indian, might have invented the zero, but Indonesia is making full use of this numerical symbol. When you go shopping, youll know how zero rules the roost in Bali, part of the island nation. The five days I spent there exposed me to the value of zero. The smallest currency one finds here is 500 Indonesian rupiah! Not that the place is expensive, but the rupiah is cheap.

    Welcome to Indonesia, where you can flaunt your Indian rupee as a vibrant currency, demonetisation or otherwise. While planning the Bali trip, I glanced at the exchange rates over the net and wondered how to carry wads of currency after the exchange. Because our single rupee fetched over 200 rupiah! Will my purse overflow?

    My niece Sanjana intervened, and asked: "Kaka, imagine the plight of an American or a European who carries dollars or euros." She had a point. Just calculate how much each dollar or euro will fetch in rupiah. Would they carry a sack instead of the purse? After all, a dollar is worth 66 rupees and a euro, 88 rupees. Multiply that by 200. Youll realise the plight of the white tourist.

    The Indonesian government has realised this and has printed the 500 IDR note as the smallest currency, which, of course, will not fetch you anything in Bali. A water bottle costs a minimum of 2,000 rupiah. A cheap white T-shirt with Bali logo will cost 20,000 rupiah. Good-quality T-shirts cost up to 75,000 rupiahs. Sunglasses 20,000-25,000; DVD 10,000; leather belt 15,000; cushion covers 15,000, cigarettes 70,000-80,000 a carton… zeros keep haunting you.

    And more zeros will haunt you if you go for luxuries like ornaments, statues, silver bowls etc. A necklace is priced at 2,50,000 rupiah. But dont lose heart, because, after conversion, the prices appear to be within our reach.

    Salesgirls are aware of this, so are armed with calculators to tell you the price in dollars, euros or pounds, and sometimes in Indian rupees.

    But my brother came out with a simple formula to calculate the price in rupees: knock off the last two zeros and divide the remainder by two. So now, 20,000 rupiah means 200 divided by 2, which equals 100 rupees. The cost of a water bottle is now just 10 rupees.

    Bargaining has its moments of fun and exasperation. Language is the barrier, so you have to use the sign language, or mark your offer price on the palm and strike a bargain with the hawkers. If you are good at haggling, you will be the winner.

    But the catch is... you pay in any foreign currency, the change you get back is always in rupiahs, even in supermarkets. I have brought home a 1,000-rupiah coin. You can buy it from me for just five rupees. Its worth just that. Dont belittle zero. Not in Bali at least.

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  • 12/08/17--19:02: What to stare at...
  • Often, life and I do not spar mathematically. No, not because Im crummy adding, multiplying or subtracting numbers. I let Life - and my years - live. The way they want to. But in St Petersburg, I was urgently setting aside 10 years of my life. Every minute of those 10 years, without eating, drinking or sleeping. Not for a sole noble purpose. Nothing exalted. Instead, 10 years for staring. Yes, only staring.

    In the city named after St Peter, I had more work on hand: prep myself to walk 20 kilometres. With a duff pair of lungs and stolid pair of feet, 20 kilometres seemed like walking to the moon. But on that cold, frosty day in St Petersburg, I was ready to stare.

    Beauty in numbers

    Wait, do not put me in the pillory. In The Hermitage Museum, perhaps the worlds largest museum, staring is the norm. Everyone stares. How else do you soak in the beauty - and history - of three million objects displayed in nearly 400 rooms spread over six interlinked historical buildings? Now you understand my 10 years and 20 kilometres thought. If one were to stare at every artefact in The Hermitage for only 30 seconds each, it would take 10 years and 20 kilometres of walking.

    I was still juggling 10/20 numbers when the bus screeched in front of the Winter Palace, undoubtedly the most famous building of imperial St Petersburg built by the 18th-century baroque genius Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli and restored extravagantly to his designs after the fire of 1837.

    "In The Hermitage, the biggest aim is not to catch a glimpse of the original Leonardo da Vinci painting or find the Rembrandts. The aim is not to get lost. Also, remember not to smile at the babushkas in the museum. No one smiles in Russia. So, do not smile." Alexsey, the guide, spewed warnings as I clipped the audio guide on the tweed lapel. So large is The Hermitage that there are how-not-to-get-lost-in-The Hermitage manuals.

    In the Winter Palace, I found beauty even before stepping on to the Jordanian white marble staircase. Its opulent baroque facade, stretching 200 metres and laden with pilasters, bays and statuary is dazzling.

    Inside, I first noticed the babushkas -women manning the turnstiles with the rictus of angst on their cragged faces - and then naked marble men in the corridors. A few with wreaths on their head and fig leaves for their modesty. I walked up the red carpet thinking of Catherine the Great, Russias first ambitious art collector who bumped off her husband for the gilded throne. She commissioned artists, bought contemporary art from France and England, purchased Rembrandts The Return of the Prodigal Son and The Descent from the Cross, Tintorettos Birth of St John the Baptist and Giorgiones Judith.

    Building a dynasty

    She commissioned Jean-Antoine Houdons statue of Voltaire, invited Diderot to St Petersburg, bought his library and paid him as its curator. She even built the Large Hermitage to house her art collection.

    Much of The Hermitages art collection can be attributed directly to Catherine, her lovers, and her agents.

    Housed in the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Great (Old) Hermitage, the New Hermitage, the Hermitage Theatre and the General Staff Building, the museum has a rich collection of Italian Renaissance and French Impressionist paintings, Greek and Roman antiquities, Siberian and Central Asian art, Egyptian mummies, Knights Hall, Portraits Gallery, to name a few. Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Peter Paul Rubens, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse - they are all framed in the museum.

    I ignored the Egyptian mummies; I chose Rembrandt (the Hermitage has the worlds largest collection of Rembrandts) and his monumental The Return of the Prodigal Son (1669).

    The ragged garment of the bald and repentant son, the old mans ochre sleeves tinged with golden olive, the sinner leaning against his fathers breast and the old father holding him in mercy. Such deft strokes in oil on the canvas.

    Not too far in Room 214, there was a mother affectionately holding a child in her arms, their hands entwined around a four-petalled flower - Madonna and Child with Flowers was painted around 1478 by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), and is one of the 10 surviving paintings by the master. It was in front of the cherubic child that da Vinci had painted 539 years ago that I forgot all about mathematics.

    Ten years, 20 kilometres. And the three million artefacts. The childs beatific smile turned all numbers inessential. I could stare at him for 10 years. Without eating, sleeping or drinking.

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    In Philadelphia, the Independence National Historical Park (INHP) is home to sites where seminal events carried the US through its founding as a global leader of democratic ideals.The INHP welcomes more than 3.5 million visitors every year. Know more about some of Phillys historical stars...

    Independence Hall

    Independence Hall was the birthplace of America as a nation. This historical site was originally built as the Pennsylvania State House. The UNESCO World Heritage Centre changed the world when fathers of the nation debated and adopted both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution here.

    The Liberty Bell

    One of the most-visited locations inside the park, the Liberty Bell was moved to its current location from Independence Hall in 2003. It was originally cast in Great Britain and recast in 1753 in Philadelphia to adorn the State House.

    Used to call the Pennsylvania Assembly to meetings, it was soon adopted by abolitionists, suffragists, civil rights advocates, Native Americans, immigrants, war protesters and others as their symbol.

    The 44-pound clapper caused the bells crack on its first use, and though the bell has been recast twice, the imperfection remains today.

    National Constitution Center

    The National Constitution Center, an interactive museum, is dedicated to the document on which the nation was founded, and the impact different interpretations of the documents have had on the nation and world since it was adopted in 1789.

    The National Constitution Center dramatically tells the story of the Constitution from the revolutionary time to the present through more than 100 interactive multimedia exhibits, films, photograph, text and artefacts. The center also features a powerful, award-winning theatrical performance, Freedom Rising.

    Presidents House

    The Presidents House, where both George Washington and John Adams spent most of their time in power before the White House was built in Washington D C, commemorates the history of the original executive mansion of Washington and Adams, including the obscured story of enslaved Africans in the house during Washingtons presidency.

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  • 12/08/17--19:10: Love gets through...
  • The young man was belting out instructions: "a little left... no, no, lift your chin… now look to your right," and his newly-wed wife was complying without complaint. Finally, she was made to stand with her arms stretched wide, and yes, chin up. It was another matter that she was standing precariously at the edge of a watchtower, looking out into the great expanse of the Arabian Sea.

    It was farcical and funny. Till the rain came, grey and tender, and somehow, the boy and the girl became a poignant new love story.

    Monsoons at Bekal inspires all sorts of Bollywood. Not the least because a drenched and moony Arvind Swamy waited breathlessly on a rain-lashed cliff for his Shaila, who was with a blue trailing dupatta, to run into his arms in Mani Ratnams 1995 film Bombay. The iconic song sequence shot near the Bekal Fort nudged this hidden gem on the Malabar Coast into tourist itineraries (and many budding love stories).

    And yet, Bekal remains quaint and terribly green, forever rain-kissed, the kind that makes even rotting ferns look emerald-laden. A hamlet in the northern district of Kasaragod in Kerala, Bekal has many secrets to tell you, only if you care to listen.

    The secrets

    The imposing 17th-century fort is undoubtedly its biggest attraction. Originally built by the Chirakkal Rajas around 1650, and later taken over by Keladi Shivappa Nayaka of Malenadus Nayaka dynasty, it is apparently Keralas largest fort.

    Its red laterite walls are moss-covered and puckered with age, but remain thick and nearly intact. A grand gateway leads to what is now a fairly neat landscaped garden. We strolled inside and found a dark stepwell that was wide and deep enough to imagine being able to step down into nothingness.

    Next to it was a huge ramp that led to the majestic observation tower said to be built by Tipu Sultan during his Malabar conquests in the late 1700s.

    The tower boasts of expansive views of the countryside and the Arabian Sea. On a good day, you can see the entire glorious coastline like we did. When we first climbed up, huffing and puffing, and looked out: the sea was azure and sparkly, dotted with fishing boats. Nearly half an hour later, when we were ready to walk along the ramparts, it had turned slate grey and angry, helping us better envision the bloody battles that would have been fought here.

    But Bekal is not just about the fort. The Kappil Beach at the base of the fort is ideal for evening walks. Children especially might enjoy its many chipped and colourful seashells to collect and enough sand for many castles.

    Shivappa Nayaka also built the Chandragiri Fort nearby, which is in ruins. It still offers spectacular views, though. But we had had enough of forts. The tummy was calling out and we were in for a surprise.

    A mesh of influences

    We were eager to try all the Malabari specialities we had heard so much about. Malabari cuisine is a delicious melting pot of influences. From Arab traders who came centuries ago in search of the regions famed spices to the Dutch, the Portuguese and the French traders who came here later, every culture seems to have infused its essence into the largely meat-based cuisine, creating a unique set of dishes prepared with whole spices and different varieties of rice. Little wonder, then, that food from the Malabar, especially Moplah cuisine, has caught on everywhere else.

    Even in our broken Malayalam-Kannada conversations with the townspeople, it was obvious that food was a passionate topic. At a small restaurant we went to, we were instructed knowledgeably about which dishes we ought to try.

    The Thalassery Dum Biryani, a local speciality made of a shorter variety of rice, is its most famous. It could include either fish, mutton or chicken. Spice-heavy but light on the tummy, a perfect accompaniment could be the kallumakkaya roast (mussels stir-fry) made with fresh mussels and green chillies. Kunjurottis coated with spicy chicken (or beef) was our favourite, as was the tongue-on-fire mutton pepper fry. Too full to do anything else, we went back to our hotel on the banks of River Kappil. The river wound around the beautiful property quietly and unobtrusively. We sat on its banks. It was the hush after the rains, the night had just begun, and the crickets had strangely gone mute.

    There were no stars, and yet, it was lit. It felt like another love story; this time, a tranquil, solid one.

    Bekal is a love story; it is.

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  • 12/08/17--19:16: Danish confluence
  • Its the kind of day when the wind turns lusty and starts flirting with you. The dark clouds cloak the sun as I sit on a stone bench in the charming Old Town of Roskilde, attempting to fit into the shoes of the legendary fairy tale author, Hans Christian Andersen.

    A pair of massive metal galoshes is placed on the cobbled street below the bench. There is a story behind the sculpture; its believed to be an interpretation of the fairy tale The Galoshes of Fortune penned by Andersen. According to the lore, a group of men want to escape to the medieval era and travel back in time by wearing these galoshes. However, I do not feel the need to fly into a land of fantasy as Im in one right now, steeped in Viking lore.

    Located on the island of Zealand near Copenhagen, Roskilde is one of the oldest capitals of Denmark. The railway station here is believed to be the oldest in the country, as the first train from Copenhagen chugged into the platform here in 1847. Stepping out of the portals of the station, my eyes feast on three towering jars standing tall at 16 feet. Referred to as Roskilde Jars, they commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the town, representing life, birth and death, and were created by Danish sculptor Peter Brandes.

    From here springs the name

    Pottering around the main square, Stændertorvet, the town seems more like a fairy-tale land carved out of Andersens pages than a land ruled by the Vikings. But it takes its name from a Viking ruler named Roar as it was called Ros spring. Kilde in Norse referred to a fountain.

    Every stone of Roskilde has a story to tell, but all roads lead to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 13th century Roskilde Cathedral, the first Gothic Brick Cathedral to be built in Europe. Buried in this massive cathedral are 39 Danish kings. But Im interested in just one of them â€" Harald Bluetooth Gormsson. It was Bluetooth who made Roskilde the capital of Denmark and apparently built a wooden church, which is where the cathedral stands today.

    Bluetooth owed his nickname to a dead tooth that looked blue, but he is known today for lending his name to the Bluetooth technology. According to my guide, he was one of the few Viking rulers who brought the warring factions together and hence became the inspiration for the technology that connected devices.

    Standing beside the Roskilde Cathedral is the palace built in baroque style, painted in the characteristic Danish yellow colour. The palace is now a Museum of Contemporary Art.

    Its not enough for me to step into the shoes of Andersen alone. Wearing a life jacket and struggling to hold an oar in my arm, I attempt to set sail into the wild seas like the Vikings.

    We are sitting in a wooden boat that has been recreated in Roskilde, and it looks straight out of the Viking era. As we start sailing, the winds howl and growl as the sails come down. We are tossed around as the oceans turn choppy. It starts raining heavily. "I can handle thunderstorms, but this is something else," says Dylan, our instructor who has braved these oceans and sailed from Denmark to Ireland.

    An hour later, we are back on the shore at the Viking Ship Museum where 1,000-year-old ships discovered during the Viking era are showcased. These ships, called the Skuldelev, were found on the Roskilde fjord during an excavation, stacked on top of each other.

    The stacked ships choked the fjord and defended the capital from any possible assault from the seas. Walking around, I see a small boatyard where similar ships are recreated for sailing expeditions with the same tools, ropes and axes used by the Vikings. Some tourists assemble their own little ships and carry home a souvenir.

    After the rain-wash

    The rain abates a bit as the town shines in a fresh coat of paint. The streets are suddenly full of life as we head back towards the Old Town, stopping by Roskilde Museum. I see a small park with a colourful mural that talks about naughty nuns in a medieval convent.

    Sitting in a quaint café and sipping a cup of hot chocolate, Im lost in a time warp. Roskilde has an ageless spirit to it even though the town is over a 1,000 years old. And it beats to the rhythm of pulsating rock music as it hosts one of Europes largest music festival every year - The Roskilde Festival. There is an energy here which is rather inexplicable. Perhaps it has something to do with the fairy-tale charm of Andersen and the adventurous spirit of the Vikings blended here.

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  • 12/08/17--19:26: The stars are calling...
  • By 2020, the average Indian will be just 29 years old, making India the worlds youngest country. Over 64% of Indias population will be in the working age group, while the population of western countries, Japan and China grows older and less active. This would unleash a workforce with immense potential and give Indias economy a massive boost.

    On the other hand, this could become a demographic disaster if enough jobs are not generated and infrastructure does not gear up to adequately support the growth potential. Will our youth get a chance to test their wings and build a better India and world? Will our current leaders and policymakers be able to provide them quality education and training to prepare them to face tomorrows challenges? Or, will Indias youth be bogged down by lack of healthcare and social security, and cut-throat competition, to get and retain jobs?

    India is already set to overtake China as the worlds most populous country. In the coming years, New Delhi is likely to become the worlds largest city, beating Tokyo. And India could, in a matter of decades, overtake USA and China to become the worlds largest economy. India, as we know it, will be dramatically changing in the near future. What areas do our leaders and policymakers need to work on to make India the best she can be?

    Are they prepared?

    How do todays young Indians foresee this brave new future and their role in it? Lets talk to some bright youngsters from namma Bengaluru and find out. Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Shashikanth V S, software engineer Anusha Sridharan, childrens author and PhD scholar Shalini Srinivasan, software engineer Swateek Jena, Jindal Global Law School student Paushi Sridhar, and software engineer Mohan Sriram Nayaka are insightful and cautiously optimistic. They offer their views tempered with humanitarian concerns, enlivened with dashes of humour.

    The youth of the future cannot give their best to the world unless they are adequately educated and versed in skills needed to become productive contributors to society. There are expected to be 600 million Indians below 25 years by 2030. Are Indias countless and opening-every-minute institutions for higher education prepared for the challenges ahead? Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just announced an assistance of a whopping Rs 10,000 crore to 10 private universities and an equal number of government ones for a period of five years.

    While such steps make a few elite institutions of learning accessible to a minuscule number of students, the vast majority make do with universities which are below par or mediocre at best. India boasts of over 750 universities and 36,000 colleges and other institutions of higher education. Questions arise about the quality of education and the academic culture they provide. In 1931, C V Raman won the Nobel Prize for his research done in an Indian university. Since then, not a single Indian working in an Indian university has earned this honour. Dr Amartya Sen, Dr Har Gobind Khorana and other Indian Nobel laureates migrated to foreign universities mainly because Indian academic institutions could not provide them with an atmosphere adequately geared towards high-level research.

    What about building foundations for primary and secondary education? If the roots are weak, can the tree grow strong from the top? We frequently come across news reports of dysfunctional government schools in various parts of India, which lack basic facilities such as proper buildings and trained teachers.
    "There could be a back-to-the-roots movement, based on how the present generation educates their children," Anusha Sridharan says. "I foresee many young parents sending their kids to gurukul-type of institutions." She feels that they would want to be the ideal parents who do not want their kids to suffer the mindless rote learning and academic pressures they suffered.

    Lack of suitable employment and sustainable income for Indias youth is another burning concern. A vast majority of Indians live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Their income is tenuous, and farmers suicides are daily news. This uncertainty forces large numbers of rural Indian youth to migrate to urban areas. With poor quality education and vocational skills, they end up in urban slums where they live in inhuman conditions and eke out a precarious subsistence. Recent agitations demanding reservations in jobs by certain communities, and related violent incidents, are symptoms of a greater problem. In the Global Hunger Index 2017, India ranks 100 among 119 nations. This indicates the yawning gap between Indias haves and have-nots.

    Meanwhile, the privileged urban youth often amass higher qualifications to delay entry into the workforce. When an engineering degree no longer guarantees a job, they get MBAs or go abroad to study further. With many engineering and management seats going vacant in recent years, and not even all the many IIMs securing 100% campus placements, it would seem that more academic qualifications do not necessarily translate into suitable employment.

    The hire-and-fire culture appears to be here to stay. Job security is likely to become increasingly rare as more young people join the workforce. Employers are likely to cut costs by offering fewer benefits and retrenching senior workers only to replace them with younger and less-experienced but cheaper workers. With the supply of labour even more rapidly outstripping employment opportunities, the prevailing insecurity is likely to increase.

    "Our parents in private jobs are working harder, for longer hours, and with more competition and less job security than our grandparents who held government jobs," Paushi Sridhar observes. "India is likely to become more privatised in future. Jobs will not be guaranteed without the effort. The competition will be stiffer and more challenging than it is now."

    "I think that the direction the youth take us in depends on how fearful they are about their future," says Mohan Nayaka. "I see a direct correlation between economic and cultural/social insecurity and an inclination towards authoritarianism. Ive seen people in their 20s frantically seeking safe government jobs. Isnt that the age to go out on adventures? Theres insecurity because of the hire and fire culture. One looks for safety when the risk seems too high. If one is confident about oneself and the environment, fear will reduce and productivity will increase greatly."

    Dr Shashikanth goes a step further. "Youth can show their talent only when given an opportunity to serve the country. Highly talented and dedicated people should be in Indian Government and not in the US or some MNC. This itself will help improve the system when the right people occupy appropriate positions. A person who has got a suitable job in the right way will do full justice to the job. When you go to work in a government office, it is often the people who irritate you more than the system itself. "Things can change only if the job selection process is further streamlined. We often see less-deserving and less-motivated people in top positions where they dont fit in. Though we, young people, want to sacrifice high-paying jobs to help people, bribes, influence and reservations frustrate you to the core and prevent you from applying for the job.

    "Good architects can plan better cities, good police can ensure safety, and good doctors can improve the health system. A relatively simple step like entrance exams after the Std 12th level to IITs, AIIMS and other leading educational institutions has given equal opportunity to all. Similarly, more scientific entrances to all jobs at state and local as well as central level would ensure higher quality and transparency.

    "We need better planning for future, especially infrastructure. Every day new road construction happens. Freshly laid roads are dug up within months to lay water and sewage pipes. These mistakes are happening in every department of the government. You may pass as many bills as you wish, but skilled and motivated personnel are a must for effective implementation. There should be stricter quality checks and immediate action should be taken if standards are not maintained," Dr Shashikanth concludes.

    Lack of access to affordable and quality healthcare continues to be another major concern for Indians. The Centre recently cleared the long-awaited National Health Policy 2017, which promises to increase public health spending to 2.5% of GDP in a time-bound manner and guarantees health care services to all Indian citizens, particularly the underprivileged. Will 2.5% of GDP be adequate for something as vital as healthcare? Opening more medical colleges and producing more doctors alone will not solve the problem. Sending doctors to rural areas without building adequate infrastructure will be a waste of talent. Can a highly qualified specialist, for example, who has spent over a decade to acquire skills, benefit needy patients in a run-down health centre with little or no equipment, trained support staff, or even basic medicines?

    Todays youngsters foresee great changes in society. "The future definitely lies with us and our thinking," says Anusha Sridharan. "But it will take time for change to take effect. The political verse should get out of the hereditary lane. Family and relationships will become more superficial as more young people join the rat race for money and career. You wouldnt know whom to trust any longer. Arranged dating will gradually replace arranged marriages. The concept of marriage may get a new edge.

    "Religion and spirituality will still be there, but secularism would cast itself better. Young people will not reject our spiritual heritage without trying to understand its intricacies. But they will take a more scientific approach, and superstitions will be less binding. Mythological fiction will create more interest where authors put creative twists while reinforcing ancient principles. Some of us will stick to our good old principles and beliefs after exploring the world of ideas," Anusha concludes.

    "Hopefully, gender disparity will reduce," notes Paushi Sridhar. "We may see better-empowered women in the corporate world. We also need more women in public life and policymaking."

    "Lack of sustainable development scares us all. This growth may continue at the cost of the environment. In a broad sense, our standard of living should be on a par with developed countries. Younger people would probably have more general awareness because of better education and exposure.

    "As a student of law, I hope laws such as Section 377 can be decriminalised. As we move forward, Big Data is crucial and handling anything with respect to this is easier for youth raised with technology around them.

    "Artificial intelligence seems to be the future. There will be more advances in technology, but how it impacts society remains to be seen. This will require more hardware, which will further exhaust natural resources over time. Already India is producing unmanageable amounts of garbage. Most of my fears for the future are environment related. We have only one chance with nature. India seems to be going the way of the Western world, and it may be a long time before people realise the consequences of exhausting nature," Paushi Sridhar adds.

    "Were in for interesting times," quips Mohan Nayaka in a lighter vein. "Let robots do all the work. We will drink coconut water served by robot butlers on the beach and live happily ever after. Why not dream of self-sustaining energy, safe nuclear power, or renewable power sources? Dont worry. Elon Musk is on it, and hes far more brilliant and enterprising than any of us."

    Swateek Jena sees the need for a change in our collective attitudes. "Patience, something uncommon these days, can change many things. Getting pizza within half an hour and noodles in two minutes has subconsciously changed our expectations. We dont think of or wait for the long-term effects of any solution; we need quick changes. We need to go back to the books, form an opinion over incidents and issues before providing judgements based on someone elses opinions. We need to learn and grow, help others grow; build the nation by starting with ourselves and then moving to change one person at a time.

    "We understand that we are a young country, that we have more power to change things than ever before. But power is known to corrupt. We squabble among ourselves, go out of our way to prove a point, label people for their political ideology. Such pointless pursuits move our focus away from our goal of building a nation that will be better than ever before. If only we could get our focus and priorities right."

    Shalini Srinivasans optimism is uplifting and infectious. "I meet Indias future youth every time I write a new book and go to schools for readings. Invariably, these turn into energetic conversations. Children are hopeful and open, animated by empathy, curiosity, compassion. Imagination and a deep concern with fairness thrive in them. And every time I hope they keep these things close, so we can look forward to a kinder, and possibly stranger, future."

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  • 12/09/17--02:32: Time for introspection
  • On Tuesday, less than 10 weeks before the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, we finally got a glimpse of what it takes to push the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to the edge of its cushy armchair and force it to stand up for the integrity of sport.

    It wasnt bribery of a potential host city winning the Games through lining pockets. It wasnt a host country passing an anti-gay law or allowing censorship of the internet or a city breaking its promise to create an Olympic legacy by cleaning up its polluted skies or harbor.

    And it wasnt a realisation that countries like Brazil or Greece shouldnt be pressured into building insanely expensive venues, when those buildings are often left to rot after the Games.

    This time, the IOC was stuck with a scandal that it could not sneak out of. The Russians were caught doping their athletes and hiding positive drug tests, and they did it in such a bold, subversive way that it could be fodder for a le Carré spy novel.

    The Russians compromised the IOCs product, wrecking the concept of a level playing field, and that, finally, made the IOC take notice.

    <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The International Olympic Committee has suspended Russia with immediate effect, but will allow select Russian athletes to compete at <a href="">@pyeongchang2018</a> under the Olympic flag. Read here...<br> <a href=""></a></p>— Naveen Peter (@peterspeaking) <a href="">December 5, 2017</a></blockquote>
    <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

    The Olympics could be a money grab flooded with lies and political favors and dominated by countries using their wealth and sporting prowess to show off their power. Sure, the IOC could tolerate that.

    But competition itself cannot be considered a joke. The results cant be fiction. Sponsors wouldnt go for that. Viewers might not tune in.

    So, in came the long-lost integrity police. And out went the Russians. They are barred from the 2018 Games for what IOC President Thomas Bach called an unprecedented attack on the Olympic Games and sport, though some to-be-determined number of Russian athletes will get to participate if they can prove some to-be-determined degree of performance enhancing drug-free living.

    It took Bach a year of investigators nitpicking through details and documents before he pretty much decided that, well, yes, that initial report was true.

    To that, clean athletes everywhere should say, well, finally.

    "Its a good step for clean athletes," said Lowell Bailey, an American biathlete and current world champion who has been outspoken about doping. "But its a dark day for Olympic sport. I think most athletes who compete clean would say that they want the broadest field of competition at the Olympics because thats just the spirit of competitiveness. No one wants to show up and have a weak field."

    He added: "Im glad that the IOC has taken these measures, but I do hope that this stands as really a turning point for the defense of clean sport."

    The IOC appears to be taking this rules-breaking seriously for a change, and it shows in the way they are handling Russian athletes who want to prove their innocence and compete in Pyeongchang. An independent task force will determine which Russian athletes will be invited to, lets say, try out for the games, which will be held in February.

    The panel of experts will scrutinise the athletes drug-testing records to look for any suspicious results. The key is that the officials wont be those from international federations, which are the global governing bodies of sports. Because when it comes to those federation officials, unbiased they are not. Those organisations are in charge of their sports rules, marketing and membership, and are ultimately responsible for the sports success and growth. So making their sports look good is their job.

    Before the 2016 Games, the IOC made such international federations responsible for vetting Russian athletes to see which ones would compete in Rio. It didnt go well.

    The international swimming federation charged an eight-person panel with devising a plan on how to screen its athletes for the Games. The panel came up with strict standards to determine which swimmers should be barred from the Games, based on criteria like previous drug positives or suspicious blood profiles. The federation looked at the suggestions, considered the suggestions - and then, without any explanation, tossed the suggestions.

    Three officials on that panel, including the chairman, quit in protest because the swimming federation ignored their advice. In the end, the Russians dove into the pool in Rio, just like everybody else - as if their country followed the rules, just like (most) everybody else.

    "Keeping the federations involved is like the fox watching the henhouse," Travis Tygart, chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency, said.

    The IOC threw Russia some bones. Their athletes who compete in Pyeongchang will be identified as Olympic Athlete from Russia, giving them the snappy acronym OAR, and those OARs may be able to march as Russians during the closing ceremony. But Russias jig is up. Its Olympic committee has to reimburse the IOC for the costs of the investigation and pay a $15 million fine, which isnt that much given that the Russians spent more than $50 billion to host the Sochi Games.

    Some Russians are wearing T-shirts that say, "No Russia. No Games," hinting that some of the populace is calling for a boycott of the Olympics, meaning that the clean Russian athletes who would have the opportunity to compete still wouldnt participate in the Games.

    But athletes dont want that. The American Lowell Bailey doesnt want that.

    Bailey started cross-country skiing in preschool. He transitioned to biathlon when he was 15, and his podium dream had time to percolate. It took him until his 30s to finally make a World Cup podium, in 2014. He finished third, while a Russian biathlete was second. In time, Lowell moved up to second when the Russian was caught for having doped.

    "I tell people now that I finished second, and that feels good and I have that on paper, in writing, but it doesnt hold a lot of weight in terms of emotional value," he said.

    So many athletes have suffered at the hands of Russian athletes and coaches and sports administrators - so far 11 Russian medalists from Sochi have been sanctioned and were stripped of those medals.

    The sheer brasenness of the operation served as a wake-up call for the IOC, one that finally made the organisation take on Russia, when it couldve just backed down.

    But it didnt. For a change.

    Its important. Lets see if the IOC will follow through. Bach may just do it because his organisations future is at stake. The whole idea of the Olympics might be at stake.

    "I think the most important thing that hangs in the balance is that kids all over the world, future Olympians, are watching this," Bailey said. "I hope the IOC knows that we cannot lose the integrity of the Olympic movement. Its just too valuable."

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    From the highs of winning an Olympic gold medal in 1984 to being dropped from the 7-Eleven Tour de France cycling team due to his volatile nature and to admitting steroid usage in 2008, it is safe to say Alexi Grewal has had a tumultuous journey.

    The now 58-year-old rose to prominence when he edged Canadian Steve Bauer to win the gold medal in the mens individual road race in Los Angeles in a dramatic final-lap showdown. He became the first rider from the US to win the Olympic road race. Grewals victory opened the doors for two decades of American domination in international cycling even though doping tainted many of the wins, achieved by Lance Armstrong.

    Grewal emerged as a cyclist following in the footsteps of his father Jasjit Singh Grewal, a Sikh from Punjab, who moved to the United States in search of greener pastures and settled down in Colorado. The younger Grewals big moment came at Los Angeles and he still savours that triumph.

    "That race is obviously what I am famous for but I did a lot of races. That race was a gift to me. I was winning only one race in my lifetime, I am happy it was that one," says Grewal, who almost didnt make it to the quadrennial event when he tested positive for a banned substance Phenylethylamine at a stage during the Coors Classic. He was given a thirty-day suspension by the US Cycling Federation. Grewal appealed and saw his ban overturned.

    Following his triumph, Grewal turned professional but he never lived up to the promise of his win in Los Angeles and his stint in Europe was marred by controversy. He struggled and the low point came when he spat at the camera when it got too close to him as he was pedalling during the TDF. The gesture was televised around the world and cost the American his place in the team.

    "I have many regrets. That is one of them," said Grewal, who was in Bengaluru to promote the Tour of Nilgiris cycle race. "Yes, I had a temper. I was young and immature. I spat on the camera. It wasnt good for my career in cycling but at the same time, those failures taught me a lot. You cant go back and change them. Its unfortunate."

    Grewal left his home at the age of 17 to pursue his goals. And the continuous travels kept him aloof from his sisters and parents, who are divorced, for a long time.

    "My sister passed away recently, I didnt spend much time with her as a young person because I was pursuing sport. I travelled till I was in my mid-30s. I am reading the diary of a person I never knew. So thats my deepest regret."

    Grewal made a big revelation when he admitted to doping in an essay written by him in 2008. A lot has happened since then and Grewal, aware of his deeds, believes he has changed for good.

    "I am different now. Maybe five-time fiercer but 10000-times more compassionate. I have changed a lot. I am not a competitive person but I am a fierce person. If I make up my mind to do something, I do it. As a young athlete, I made a lot of mistakes."

    After retirement, he took up carpentry as a profession. The Olympic gold-medallist suffered a major accident at the start itself but that incident didnt deter his spirits.

    "When I came out of cycling I had no experience, I had never worked with my hands. I cut off two fingers with a table-saw just when I was starting my carpentry career. I guess that was my initiation... I can use my hands but its not quite the same but that was many years ago. It was a shock. I wrapped my hands with a cloth and drove to the nearest hospital which was 20 kilometres away."

    The American has also tried his hand in politics, having run for the post of mayor of Loveland in Colorado twice. He lost the race both the times.

    "I have run for political office twice. Its one of the races that I enter and have a chance to win. It is a type of a competition for sure. Other than being a titan in business, where you can do good things, its one of the places where you can affect positive change. I have my ambition. I ran for the post of a mayor but didnt win but the experience was the best thing I have done for myself personally," he said.

    Grewal is looking forward to starting a new life. He struck a friendship with Manjeet, a native of Madhya Pradesh, on Facebook. The couple is slated to tie the knot in Jabalpur on January 9, 2018.

    "I am getting married in a few weeks. She won my heart. Manjeet. She lives in Jabalpur. We met three-four years ago on Facebook," said the man eager to keep going in the race of life.

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    Honeywell India, part of the US-based technology firm Honeywell International, is on the path of reinventing itself as part of new Chief Executive Officer Darius Adamczyks mission to make the company more profitable and focus on those business units supported by the digital demands of customers.

    The company, which is part of Fortune 100 companies, has four strategic business units â€" Honeywell Aerospace, Home and Building Technologies (HBT), Safety and Productivity Solutions (SPS), and Honeywell Performance Materials and Technologies.

    Honeywell, known for its industrial products in aerospace, automobile and process industries, which includes oil and gas, refining, petrochemicals, fertilisers, minerals, metals, mining, pulp and paper, energy and power, has established seven manufacturing and five global technology and development centres spread across two million sq feet.

    Honeywell India President Vikas Chadha said the company is moving from pure physical products to a world of digital and physical products put together. "Therefore, we call it an industrial software company. Honeywell has already built a platform called Sentience to build various applications on top of it," he says.

    Honeywell Technology Solutions (HTS), established to support the development of Honeywells Aerospace and Automation and Control Solutions businesses, has locations in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Madurai, and Gurugram, in India.

    Chadha said Honeywell has a significant Make in India footprint in the country. "Today, we are among the most deeply invested multinationals in India, with more than 3,000 technology products, solutions, and innovative applications being engineered in India, for India, and for the rest of the world," he says.

    "Our cutting-edge technologies manufactured in India contribute to aerospace and automotive products and services; control technologies for buildings, homes, and industry; and performance materials globally. Not only are we driving localisation and local innovation unique to India for our domestic customers via our East-for-East (E4E) strategy, but using our global scale and reach to take that innovation to the rest of the world, for our global customers through our east-to-rest strategy as well," he says.

    Besides, Honeywell Transportation Systems to manufacture turbochargers at Pune in 2005, the company has Honeywells Automation and Control Solutions business has manufacturing plants in Chennai and Dehradun.

    "Today, our transportation systems manufacturing facility in Pune, with 1.5 million turbochargers annual production capacity, has already put more than 1 million vehicles on Indian roads, reducing emissions, and improving fuel efficiency," he says.

    As part of the companys expansion plan, this year Honeywell invested close to $200 million in a new facility in Bengaluru that houses around 5,000 employees. "Last year, we inaugurated a state-of-the-art Electro Magnetic Interference and Electro Magnetic Compatibility (EMI-EMC) lab at Honeywell Technology Solutions, Hyderabad. In 2012, Performance Materials and Technologies launched the Honeywell India Technology Center (HITC) as fifth technology development center in India with $45 million in investment, the first and only such technology centre outside the US," he said.

    Transformational journey

    Honeywell is focusing on transformation from an industrial player to a software industrial player with a primary aim of enhancing customer experience. All of these connected themes are heavily built on the software backbone. HTS is expected to provide about 60% of Honeywells growth over the next five years.

    Honeywell Automation India (HAIL), a listed company with revenues in excess of $350 million, is leader in providing integrated automation and software solutions, including process solutions and building solutions. It has presence in Pune, Vadodara, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Chennai, Gurugram, Kolkata, and Jamshedpur.

    HAILs seventh manufacturing facility at Pune is into integrated factory testing, quality control and advanced manufacturing engineering for Honeywells automation business in India. It also gives full suite of process solutions. Its key products include shifters, pressure switches, limit switches, position sensors, speed sensors, and hour meters.

    HAIL Managing Director Ashish Gaikwad says, about 10 years ago, Honeywell hired engineers with electrical, mechanical, civil, and chemical degrees. "But today, we have roughly about 50,000 engineers world over. About 50% of those are software engineers, which is a big shift for a company like Honeywell. About 8,000 are actually based in Bengaluru, Madurai, and Hyderabad," he said.

    "We want to look at how do we make sure that this software and the combination of the physical equipment and the software side, how it is going to solve some of the unsolved problems which were otherwise not possible," says Gaikwad.

    The whole intent is to look at the data that gets generated every minute, every second, there is huge amount of data. "In the past, people just used to collect it and ignore it. It used to be there for historical analysis purpose so that the company can do a lot of corelation between different sets of data. The company is developing connected plant where it is assured that each of these equipment are functioning at their right efficiency," he says.

    Realising the need for special expertise and requirement of very different skills the company has invested in creating what we call as cyber security labs. "We have three labs globally to serve the entire set of Honeywell customers," he said.

    Role of Bengaluru

    Bengaluru plays a pivotal role in Honeywells industrial software transformation as the company has today roughly about 50,000 engineers worldwide, and about 50% of those are software engineers who are located in Bengaluru, along with other centres in Madurai and Hyderabad.

    Bengaluru is driving a lot of innovation that Honeywell wants to do in cyber industrial space/software industrial space. The company is driving many initiatives in robotics and drone space also.

    Honeywell developed a software platform called Sentience to take on the new challenges. It is different from GEs Predix platform, where others will come and join, and then something will happen automatically.

    "Honeywells approach is very different that we have the infrastructure that has component to store data, to do analytics, visualisations and transmit the data," he said.

    Here the company is taking specific industry problems that are haunting the industry right now but are unable to solve them due to certain limitations. "Now how do we leverage the power of connected and how do we then bring more insights to the experts and then solve it before the problem occurs. The company started working on it two years ago.
    Sentience is a common platform for connected plant, connected aircraft, connected homes, connected buildings, connected workers. He also mentioned that analytics is also an important component of this initiative.

    To further boost its journey to become a cyber industrial company, the company organised technology summit known as India Technology Summit last year. "It used to be just Honeywell, now it is Power of Connected. The reason behind that is, in all the industries that we play, we want to bring in a strong software connectivity angle," he said. Besides aerospace, home automation and process industries business, the company handles drones, robotics and AR & VR technologies from Bengaluru.

    New gameplan

    Last month, the company announced portfolio changes globally, including intention to spin off the Homes portfolio and ADI global distribution business, as well as the Transportation Systems business, into two standalone, publicly-traded companies by the end of 2018.

    According to analysts, the decision is part of the companys drive to go for sustained organic growth and create strong operational and technology synergies in the markets. The changes will take place by the end of next year.

    CEO Darius Adamczyk said, "I absolutely want the premium multiple, but I also want to continue to expand EPS and grow faster than the market," said Adamczyk.

    Honeywell has been in India for eight decades. The company has been Making in India for decades, and engineering in India as well. "India will play a major role in Honeywells global ambitions. Macro trends like rapid urbanisation, rise of the mid-segment, growth in infrastructure, civil aviation, defence, and demand for energy, safety, security, and productivity across industries will continue to drive growth for Honeywell in India," said Chadda.

    HAIL registered a growth of 17% in its profit at Rs 169.45 crore during the fiscal 2017 compared with Rs 142.19 crore in the same period in the last fiscal.

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    Yet another monetary policy of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has come and gone raising hopes and despair in a large section of society. This time the policy was majorly on expected lines. It did not change much from the last one, handed out no surprises and therefore many called it a non-event.

    And the policy discussions immediately shifted to the nuanced tone of the future guidance by the central bank which left a lot of scope for interpretation. The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), which arrived at a decision to maintain a status quo on policy repo rate at 6% and consequently a reverse repo at 5.75%, said that it maintained a neutral stance and would watch the incoming macroeconomic data carefully to arrive at any decision on whether to give a rate cut or hold on to the current situation for more time.

    The neutral stance was interpreted differently by different stakeholders. The government interpreted it to suit its own definition, the industry and other economists and analysts gave a different viewpoint. In fact, the idea of the RBI in choosing the nuanced neutral stance appeared to leave the guessing game on till it came up with the next policy review.

    The Finance Ministry, immediately after the monetary policy, issued a statement saying that the government had taken a note of the MPC recognising inflation remains firmly under control, retaining its inflation projection for the second half of FY2018 and assessing that the risks to this projection are evenly balanced.

    For that reason, it has maintained a neutral policy stance. Others interpreted the policy as one which came on the back of a high inflation, and estimated that going forward, inflation was going to be stickier, and hence, the neutral stance gave the RBI enough freedom to hold on rates even in the near future.

    But the fact that the RBI has increased its baseline projection of inflation from 4% to up to 4.7% clearly suggests that it does not believe either on inflation being firmly under control or it softening anytime in the near future.

    In the last policy in October too, the statement projected inflation to rise in the range between 4.2% and 4.6%. In fact, the structural reforms that the government has undertaken in the past one year could be disruptive on the growth side in the near future and fan inflation, a fact that the government may try to disown, but the central bank is well aware, and hence, the neutral

    The oil prices have been on the rise since the last policy review in October, inflation has inched so close to the RBIs original projection of 4% that it had to revise the baseline upward. The fiscal position of the government is not all that sound there are pointers which suggest towards a slippage this year.

    Amid all that the central bank may not have wished the markets to send disruptive signals and investors to withdraw, and hence, it maintained a stance which neither says yes nor says no. The RBI has, however, said that it will carefully monitor a few key indicators before deciding on the next course of action.

    First, food and fuel inflation, that have edged up in November. Inflation expectations of households surveyed by the Reserve Bank have already firmed up and any increase in food and fuel prices may further harden these expectations. Second, rising input cost conditions as reflected in various surveys point towards higher risk of pass-through to retail prices in the near term. Third, implementation of farm loan waivers by select states, partial rollback of excise duty and VAT in the case of petroleum products, and decrease in revenue on account of reduction in GST rates for several goods and services may result in fiscal slippage with attendant
    implications for inflation.

    The caution is worth taking note of. In fact, quite contrary to the governments expectations, the whole narrative on future interest rates trajectory may change and the entire 2018 may see a hold on rates if the BJP loses Gujarat elections. The chances of that are dim, but if it happens, the whole policy stance of the government is expected to change its course and tilt towards a populist one in the run-up to 2019 General Elections. That will lead to more fiscal slippage and of course be inflationary.

    The RBI has already sounded a cautious note on farm loan waivers impacting the Central and state governments revenues. A possible rise in global crude oil prices is another risk to Indias inflation and therefore its growth. The RBI would watch these factors too before arriving at a decision on its future course of action. The Central bank may not have cut the economic growth forecast this time, but if the above become real, it may revise the GDP forecast downward too.

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    As a landmark year for the real estate industry draws to a close, its time to review the major events of 2017 for Indian real estate and look at some upcoming trends in 2018. For the real estate industry, 2017 was a watershed year, with the rollout of game-changing policies such as GST and RERA. Demonetisations impact started to taper off slightly, while real estate investment trusts (REITs) did not take off this year as expected. Affordable housing came out of the shadows and affordably-priced units have been selling like hot cakes in most cities.

    REITs are set to provide investment opportunities to smaller investors next year. Indias real estate markets are poised for growth in the medium-to-long term on the back of higher transparency and further consolidation. Indias Tier-I cities are expected to move up from their current 36th rank in JLLs 2018 Global Real Estate Transparency Index (GRETI) on the back of continued improvements in structural reforms, implementation of RERA and GST aimed at making India a modern economy.

    Lets revisit the top trends in real estate in 2017 and examine what can transpire in 2018.

    Office asset class

    Vacancy levels remained largely unchanged through 2017, hovering at around 14% pan-India. Select markets saw lower vacancy levels and are expected to see a further decline in 2018. Overall vacancy levels will likely hover around 15% during 2018. Very low vacancy rate and continued demand in the prominent office corridors of Bengaluru, Gurugram, Hyderabad and Pune will help better rental appreciation in 2018.

    Rents in these markets are expected to rise faster into the range of 6-8% (year-on-year), while select sub-markets such as suburbs of Mumbai, NH-8 in NCR and the SBDs of Chennai will also see similar rental movement. Attractive rents and healthy demand will positively influence rental appreciation in these markets. Pune and Chennai crossed their historic rental peaks in 2017 - and, given its market dynamics, Hyderabad will cross it in 2018.

    The net office space absorption for 2017 will be at around 32 million sq feet if all supply expected to come in this year actually enters the market. In 2018-19, Bengaluru is likely to see highest absorption of office space, followed by NCR, Mumbai and Hyderabad. The future supply is expected to be higher in 2018-19 in NCR and healthy in Hyderabad and Mumbai, while it will be lower than expected in Chennai and Kolkata.

    At a pan-India level, total office stock across the seven major cities is forecast to reach around 600 million sq feet by the end of 2019. In alternate office (or co-working) spaces, around 1.2 million sq feet got absorbed across major Indian cities in 2017.

    Coworking involves various individuals or startups sharing a common workplace environment. Companies can save as much as 15-20% by working in a coworking space, which provides an ultra-modern workplace along with plug-and-play amenities at par with those at Grade A offices.

    Retail asset class

    New retail space of 6.4 million sq feet got completed in 2017 â€" making this year the second-best after 2011 in terms of net absorption (i.e. after withdrawal of 4.7 million square feet from failed malls). Shopping mall stock is projected to grow strongly in next 3-4 years in these seven cities, as around 20 million sq feet of supply is expected to come up by the end of 2019. Out of this, around 11 million sq feet of supply is expected in 2018.

    As of now, the majority of stock is concentrated in Delhi NCR, Mumbai and Bengaluru. However, the percentage share of other cities is expected to rise in the next few years. The supply-side analysis is critical for retail real estate investment, as it ensures that there is a pool of properties that can be considered for expanding portfolios, and also apprises about the prospective competitors in the long run.

    Delhi-NCR saw eight malls being withdrawn in 2017 after 2016 when negative supply was first recorded in the history of Indian retail real estate. Prominent high-street locations across India have limited availability of space, similar to premium malls. Fast fashion, F&B and entertainment operators again dominated leasing, with premium malls, the main target for space.

    Residential asset class

    If anything, 2017 will go down in history as one of the most difficult years for residential real estate developers, who faced several challenges ranging from realigning their businesses to comply with the GST rollout to changing business models in the wake of RERA - and then, post-demonetisation, investors disappearing from the market. Though demand in end-user-driven markets was not affected as much, the more speculative markets saw buying activity reduce to a trickle â€" more so in the luxury segment.

    GST applicable to the purchase of homes in under-construction projects caused home buyers to either buy into completed projects or hold onto their purchase decisions. Also, developers halted sales in projects not registered under RERA across major cities. These combined factors led a quarterly sales decline in five of the top seven cities to an all-time low of 4.8% in 3Q17. This led to developers offering higher discounts to genuine buyers.

    In 2017, capital values in cities such as Pune, Kolkata and Hyderabad grew at a comparatively faster rate, thanks to their lower price base compared to the Tier-I cities. New launches were slower in 2017, and are likely maintain the slow pace as developers assess market sentiment in the RERA-era. Prices are expected to remain stable in 2018 too.

    The residential asset class cornered a large share of the total investments (a combination of debt and equity) through most of 2017, thanks to the growing confidence in this asset class. Implementation of major reforms such as RERA, GST, the Benami Property Act and demonetisation promise to make Indian residential real estate more transparent than ever before. Steady investments will continue to be seen in this asset class in 2018.

    Warehousing and industrial asset class

    The warehousing and industrial asset class, which has been seeing big-ticket investments in India, had also seen the biggest-ever investment deal in the countrys logistics space in 2017. With JLL India as transaction partner, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) acquired a majority stake in IndoSpace, the warehousing and logistics real estate arm of Everstone Group. As part of the $500 million deal, CPPIB will acquire 13 industrial and logistics parks totaling 14 million sq feet.

    It is pertinent to note here that even though CPPIB is the biggest deal in this space so far, investors from other nations - especially Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea - have shown considerable interest in developing industrial projects in India. In the GST era, warehousing is emerging as an attractive asset class for investors and private equity players. The stock of modern and better-managed warehouses is increasing, and the trend is set to continue in 2018 as well.

    (The writer is CEO and Country Head of JLL India)

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    Investors put their capital at risk to generate returns that can meet their goals. However, many investors are now choosing to make investments that also satisfy their personal moral code. They are increasingly investing in companies and assets that make a positive difference or do good or maybe just abstain from doing bad. Does this mean that to invest ethically one needs to compromise on returns? The short answer to that is NO!

    So what exactly is ethical investing?

    Ethical investing gratifies an individuals moral needs and basically involves making socially responsible investment decisions. It can broadly be classified into:

    ESG Investing: This involves investing in companies that satisfy values related to Environmental, Social and Governance related causes. Investors looking to do ESG investing would invest in companies that adhere to certain standards related to environment protection, consumer protection, religious beliefs and human rights.

    Shareholder advocacy: Investors can choose to exercise their rights as shareholders and proactively influence corporate decisions that are likely to have a meaningful impact on business practices and society.

    Community investing: There is a considerable part of the population that is underserved by large financial institutions. Through community investing, capital is channelised to segments of the society that have the need for but do not have the access to, low-interest loans.

    How can we invest ethically?

    The first step is to examine the causes that you are most passionate about and then choose from the available investment options. Investors can apply positive, negative or restricted screens in order to filter these options further. A negative screen involves actively avoiding certain kind of companies.

    This could be because of the sector that they operate in, example tobacco, or for any other moral reason. A positive screen on the other hand involves seeking out companies that promote or are actively involved in causes that you as an investor support. A restricted screen usually helps filter large, diversified corporations that are involved in multiple businesses, some of which might meet your ethical investing requirements and some might not. The last step before making the investment is to ensure that the investments align with your long-term financial plan.

    Avenues available for ethical investing

    Intuitively, the best way to invest ethically would be to filter out companies that meet your moral requirements and support the causes that are important to you. However, this can be time consuming and requires in-depth research. A great alternative is to invest in indices or funds that invest in such companies. Environmentally conscious investors can choose to invest in the S&P BSE Greenex or the S&P BSE Carbonex. While the former comprises companies that follow energy efficient practices the latter selects companies based on how well they deal with risks arising from climate change.

    The S&P BSE Greenex has generated YTD returns of 12.88% and yielded 5.09% in the last 3 years. The S&P BSE Carbonex on the other hand has generated YTD returns of 22.92% and yielded 9.86% in the last 3 years.

    Another form of ethical investing that is catching on is Shariah-compliant investing which filters companies based on Islamic law. While it precludes companies that both earn or pay interest, it also excludes companies involved in advertising and media, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, among others. The S&P BSE 500 Shariah has generated YTD returns of 15.63% and yielded 8.30% in the last three years.

    Investors are becoming increasingly conscious about the type of companies that they invest in and numbers indicate that they can choose to follow ethical investing without having to compromise on returns.

    (The writer is the Chief Executive
    Officer of Edelweiss Asset Management Limited)

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    Three central banks, meeting on both sides of the Atlantic, will highlight the diverging fortunes of the worlds biggest economies as they head into 2018 after an exceptionally tranquil year.

    While the growth cycle in the United States may be close to peaking, the euro zone is just getting comfortable with its economic run and Britain is weighed down by Brexit uncertainty, suggesting that their monetary policies will be out of sync for years to come.

    Indeed, the US Federal Reserve is all but certain to raise rates on Wednesday, likely predicting three more hikes for next year, even as the European Central Bank pledges on Thursday to maintain super-low borrowing costs and the Bank of England promises only very gradual increases over the coming years.

    The US economy will start the new year in the perfect spot but that would suggest that the only way is down, and a range of issues from uncertainty over tax cuts to midterm elections and high turnover atop the Fed, cloud the outlook.

    "The music will keep playing for another year or so, but be wary of what is next," BNP Paribas said. "In 2018, we think the US economy will see its best year in terms of economic activity since 2005 with the unemployment rate dropping to its lowest level since 1969."

    "The turn of the cycle is in sight," it added. "We see the recovery as long in the tooth and believe that cycles do die of old age."

    Indeed, the economy is likely to face capacity constraints as the labour market tightens, pushing core inflation to the Feds target and raising prospects of overheating if a tax proposal, now in Congress, substantially increases deficit spending. A big tax cut under discussion would - potentially - boost growth, and likely push the Fed to tighten more quickly.

    "Better growth would increase downward pressure on the unemployment rate and upward pressure on inflation," Bank of America Merrill Lynch said. "Hence the Fed would respond with a modestly steeper path of monetary policy." The euro zone economy is in a similarly sweet spot but the growth cycle is still relatively young and only now beginning to broaden out so the ECB will remain reluctant to give up support. "The ECB faces the best of the possible outlooks in years: the moderate expansion phase is set to continue in 2018 and 2019, with limited risks of a setback, absent signs of excesses in demand wages dynamics and in leverage," Intesa Sanpaolo said in a research note.

    The ECB is not in a hurry to alter communication both on asset purchases and interest rates," it added. Indeed, after an October stimulus cut that actually loosened rather than tightened financial conditions, the ECB will likely say it is content with the reaction, suggesting it will not revisit its stance for some time. It will also unveil initial 2020 inflation projections, which will likely show price growth at or just below target, rising only gradually over the coming three years, another argument not to take support away just yet.

    Meanwhile, the Bank of England will have to tread a fine line between sounding like more rate hikes are coming and not squashing growth that economists think may slow to around 1.3% next year from 1.5% in 2017.

    Uncertainty over Brexit, low wage growth and weak productivity are weighing on the economy but the BoE is not keen to see the pound weaken and add to an inflation rate that is expected to exceed its 2% target over the next three years. Although Britain appears to have cleared a key hurdle in Brexit talks and focus can now move to a discussion of a trade agreement, slow progress so far suggest that uncertainty will remain high and even if an eventual deal is likely, its terms will not be clear for some time.

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    Didi Chuxing, Chinas ride-hailing behemoth, plans to expand into Mexico next year, intensifying its global rivalry with Uber, according to two sources familiar with the plans.

    Didi has spoken before of global ambitions, but has not formally announced where or when it would expand. The Chinese company is the second-most highly valued, venture-backed private firm in the world, after Uber Technologies Inc. Didi has no cars outside China, meaning Mexico could be its first international operation. Didi, whose brand is ubiquitous in China but little-known in the West, will launch a smartphone app in Mexico and recruit local drivers to the platform, according to the sources, who declined to be named.

    It is unclear which cities Didi will target, although one of the sources said the company was aiming to launch in the first quarter of next year. The company has already begun trying to recruit corporate talent in the sector, the source added.

    A spokesman for Didi declined to comment. About a month ago, Didi met with ProMexico, a government trade and investment body, to discuss opportunities in the country, according to a Mexican official, who declined to provide further details.

    The company has made no secret of its desire to expand beyond China, particularly in light of the growing number of Chinese customers who travel overseas. In April, Didi raised $5.5 billion from investors, in part to fund global expansion.

    But until now, its plans have been limited to financial commitments to ride-hailing companies in other countries and a research lab in Silicon Valley that opened earlier this year.

    Didi has invested in Uber rivals around the world, including US-based Lyft, Brazil-based 99, Indias Ola, Singapore-headquartered Grab, Estonias Taxify and Careem in the Middle East.

    The company acquired Ubers China business last year after Uber lost roughly $2 billion trying to compete. After ceding its China business, Uber doubled down on Latin America, where Didi is now encroaching. Uber has established a stronghold in Mexico, with seven million users across 45 cities. Mexico City is Ubers third-biggest market in the world by rides, after the Brazilian cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

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