Sunday, 3 May 2020

Musings from Doha: COVID MUSINGS...TOILET PAPER IS NOT ALWAYS WHITE!

Musings from Doha: COVID MUSINGS...TOILET PAPER IS NOT ALWAYS WHITE!: As the Corona virus attacked mercilessly, acute shortage of one product reported in US and elsewhere was that of toilet paper.Stores acros...

Friday, 1 May 2020

COVID MUSINGS...TOILET PAPER IS NOT ALWAYS WHITE!

As the Corona virus attacked mercilessly, acute shortage of one product reported in US and elsewhere was that of toilet paper.Stores across the country   were  sold out of toilet rolls within hours!! Some of the stores had to hire security guards to patrol customers.Photos and videos of empty shelves of stores in US in that respect were going on rounds on social media around the world!!It might have got more circulation  to  satisfy sadistic egos of many around the world to see the pitiable and helpless plight of a country on its knees which  always boasts of aplenty in everything.Those rolls with faces of Trump and Obama stamped on them, which I myself had noticed on the shelves a year back on my last visit to US- though I was not amused  - also must have vanished!

In a bid to face the shortage of toilet rolls-I don't know about US- but an Australian newspaper printed an eight page special lift out inside completed with handy cut lines for the use of  the reader as toilet paper!The marketing techniques along with the good intentions of the newspaper has to be appreciated.

Than finding the how and why of this shortage-could be panic buying, I was thinking tangentially.... of options left for an American in this matter.Then  I could find out that it is for the last two-three generations only that the Americans are using toilet rolls-since 1871 to be exact.Until then they were using hay, sticks,stones,wool etc but hardly water !!It is not my business to comment on what Americans want  to do but now toilet paper is big business in US.Musings on something being used everyday there but seldom dare to speak of......




Which is superior?
I used to get mildly embarrassed when I see  toilet rolls in the hotels in US with no other options.While in Europe I don't have that much problem since in many countries either bidet or water sprays are also provided.Being an Indian I am used to rinse with water,the way we have been serving the purpose for the last so many centuries like anyone from Middle East,South Asia, Far East or many other places.... albeit now making use of many new gadgets but all with rinse of water!Many of the Americans and westerners think theirs is the superior way while  Asians are using water only because they can't afford 'luxury' of paper is far from true!In fact it is the other way.Water is the cleanest option as far as I am concerned. If we all use water to clean our face,our teeth and body, why  should we settle the dirtiest part of the body with paper?But as long as Americans and others are happy with their own ways, I don't have any problem either!!

How toilet paper was invented?
It is recorded that China had invented the toilet paper as back as 6th century but hardly practiced.First commercial invention of toilet paper was in US done by JC Gayetty of New York. He commercially produced the toilet paper in 1857 with the purpose as medical tissue for hemorrhoids.He was so confident of the acceptance of the new product that each paper was water marked 'JC GAYETTY NY' which was advertised as 'the greatest necessity of the age'.But it was Seth Wheeler of Albany, US who officially patented perforated toilet paper rolls in 1891.Soon the Americans changed from the 'stone' age to 'new age of necessity' and never looked back.As the Americans loved it as a product with which  they can't live without, many Europeans followed suit but Asians shunned it at large.
      

A National Toilet Paper Day?
Yes, US has a national toilet paper day which falls on 26 August every year!They want to commemorate the day a toilet roll was sold in 1871 which changed their life style thereafter.US has again the distinction of the only single country to have such a national day! It seems Americans are very sensitive to toilet paper.In 1973 there was a shortage in the whole country after one of the jokes of comedian Johnny Carson was  taken seriously by the people.Within hours the shelves of supermarkets were sold out of toilet rolls and it took weeks to normalize the situation!!

An American uses 100 rolls in a year while US spends more than six billion dollars a year on toilet tissues. That's big business by any standards!!Americans  now love the toilet rolls in white color though colored rolls to match the bathroom decor were available until few years back.Other than colors, toilet rolls comes in various textures,scents,patterns and textures.


                                         WEDDING GOWN USING TOILET PAPER


During Desert Storm days, US army is reported to have used coloured toilet paper to camouflage the tanks!!In US, at least in New York, they run even competitions using toilet paper for wedding dress offering big prizes! All sponsored by- you guessed well- manufacturers of toilet rolls!!Toilet paper is big business in US!!




Toilegami....art of folding the toilet paper!
If one is yet to come across a word Toilegami, it is the art of folding toilet paper!  I have observed in a number of hotels world wide esp the edge of the  toilet roll folded like a triangle or V shaped.The hotels gives the message that the cleaning staff was already there after the last guest has left the room.Now that this art has moved to so many shapes from heart to butterfly, there are some Japanese automated machines helping in folding out such images!
Toilet roll is big business in US!!





Tailpiece...
It was in Tokyo that I came across the 'washlet' for the first time.I have seen the same in South Korea as well. Washlet is a most modern toilet with an auto rinse of water equipped with bidet and air blower to dry! It has a small control  panel on the side which takes commands like pressure of water, speed of blower, deodorizer etc. This also reminds me the fact that unless one is computer savvy he or she cannot use such a toilet!


Photos:courtesy google images.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

COVID MUSINGS......MOUNT EVEREST STANDS HIGHEST,MAJESTIC AND ENIGMATIC....

As the world today remains stunned and frozen over the unprecedented,unexampled,bizarre... attack of Corona virus I was in doubt whether I should skip publishing an article on first day of this month  which has been the practice for the last eight years but decided against it.I am also intentionally skipping any topic related to this virus, the net result of which can be summed up in just three words-we are humbled!Instead I am coming out with a success story of an Indian which is not known to most of us....a name which has to be sung to the world!

Mount Everest stands majestic at 8848 meters.All of us know that the mount got the name after George Everest who was the Surveyor General of colonial British India.Mount Everest was so discovered to be the highest not by George Everest but exclusively by an Indian mathematician and surveyor named Radhanath Sikdar. Kanchenjunga of the same Himalayas range was considered to be the highest peak till then.That was in 1852.

The finding of Sikdar is a fact well chronicled by the British but did not give much publicity for obvious reasons.Read about how the Great Trigonometrical Survey(GTS) was conducted by the British along the length and breadth of India between 1802 and 1871 .And how Sagarmatha (Napalese) Chomolungma(Tibetean) and  Zhumulangma(Chinese) which were the local names of the mount, while the British called it Peak XV,   was named to be Mount Everest....


Professional surveys...professional looting....
By 1799 with the defeat and death of Tippu Sultan,The East India Company knew that they were going to stay and rule India for more centuries, if not for ever.They devised better and scientific methods for collection of revenue, military dominion and systematic loot of the resources of the country. That is how they decided to go for surveys and cartography.They decided to venture into various surveys-Topographical,Geological,Trigonometrical,Marine and Revenue-of the lands they ruled in India.

I think it would be appropriate if I cite an example of professional looting of Indian resources by the British from my own experience.I was a Gazetted engineer in Govt service of Kerala -Public works Department while first posting was at Nilambur in 1975, a small town on the fringes of natural forest full of teak. I was surprised myself seeing good roads and excellent steel lattice girder bridges in the middle of the forests, while Nilambur was well connected by a broad gauge railway in early nineteens.Later only I came to know that the British colonists were regularly stealing the teak wood in bulk and taken to London and other ports as logs!This they had done for many decades.But for the various surveys conducted  which were executed in a professional way, all these loots would not have been possible.

Great Trigonometrical Survey(GTS)
Looking back now, GTS no doubt was a scientific and technical feat which the British could accomplish in India.It would be not fair if I hold the fact that successive Governments of India since independence have benefited from all these surveys conducted by the British, GTS being the most difficult to accomplish for any country, esp as large and complex as India!Many perished during that time due to Malaria and Tigers!


Conceived and led by Col. William Lambton who later became first Surveyor General of India, the East India Company had set only a target of 5 years for completion of this mammoth project which was commenced  at Chennai(Madras) in 1802.Actually it took another 70 years, well past the company rule itself in India which was taken over by British Govt in 1857. Lambton died due to Tuberculosis in 1822 while in active service. His position was taken over by George Everest who had joined the team of Lambton few years earlier.

George Everest and his team could successfully measure the meridian arc from Kanyakumari (Cape Camorin),South India to Dehradun in the north,a distance of 2400 kms!It was during the time of George Everest as Surveyor General that Radhanath Sikdhar joined the team.When Everest retired from service it was Col.Andrew Scott Waugh who succeeded him during the tenure of which Mount Everest was discovered to be the highest on this earth.

"Sir,I have discovered the highest mountain in the world"....Role of Radhanath Sikdar...


During the tenure of George Everest as Surveyor General of India, he was looking for someone who was proficient in Spherical Trigonometry capable to do complex computations of the data collected. Sikdar was a student of 19 at Presidency college(Hindu college),Kolkatta  when he was highly recommended by his  British Maths professor.He joined the great Trigonometrical team in 1831.After 20 years of his service while Col Waugh was the Surveyor General, he  started measuring snow capped mountains near Darjeeling in the capacity as chief computer.In 1852 after compiling the data from six different observations,Sikdar came to the conclusion that Peak XV is the highest in the world and not Kanchenjunga as believed.It has to be noted that Sikdar measured the height of the mount without climbing on it.He did  these surveys  in fact about 100 kms away! He was 39 then.

After reporting the same to Col Waugh about the finding, he did not disclose it to public.It took another 4 years for Col.Waugh to convince himself about the finding and announce it to the world.It was Col. Waugh who named the peak as Everest in honour of George Everest, his earlier boss but who had done a lot for the successful Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.

Both Everest and Col.Waugh used to appreciate the high quality of works carried out by Sikdar.'Mathematician of rare genius' was opinion of George Everest about him but in spite of all this consideration, his bosses did not give the position he really deserved.  India released a postal stamp in honour of Sikdar in 2004.Than keeping his name among the list of those Indians who are unsung and forgotten for the great works done in the past, I am of the opinion that his name is to be sung to the world!! Than blaming the good old colonial masters even now, it is the duty of each Indian to work in this direction.

courtesy photos:google images.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

JACQUES JAUJARD........THE NAME WORLD SHOULD NOT HAVE FORGOTTEN!

I distinctively remember having seen an English movie titled 'The Train' during early seventies at Kochi. It was a fantastic one which I keep close to heart even after almost 50 years because of a nice theme and acting talents of Burt Lancaster.The film is made around French resistance fighters trying to stop the Nazis taking a train load of paintings and art treasures to Germany.It was a box office hit.But I never gave a serious thought to such thefts of art works albeit a number of films with similar stories I have seen .....

When I could visit the Louvre at Paris many years later,I was impressed by the museum, one of the best of its kind in the world. But then also for some reason it didn't register in my mind that those valuable art treasures exhibited were kept  hidden from plundering of Nazis only because of the forethought and determination of one man....

Jacques Jaujard....It is most likely that you haven't heard this name before.Neither did I until recently.To introduce him in one sentence -he is the man who successfully masterminded and executed safe evacuation of thousands of art objects from the Louvre and other parts of France -Mona Lisa included-just 10 days before second world war broke out!What he and his aides did was an unprecedented adventure of extreme secrecy which will outshine any thriller story.

Jacques Jaujard...the man who saved the Mona Lisa and the Louvre!...the name world should not have forgotten!!



The Louvre....mostly plundered or loot but exhibited majestically!                                                                                 
The Louvre stands majestic at Paris.With the iconic glass pyramid-designed by American Chinese architect Leoh Ming Pei- at the entrance,who also designed Islamic Museum at Doha later,the museum is home to more than 35000 most famous art objects of the world.From 1973 to this day millions of visitors-six million people each year as of now- have been visiting the place where Mona Lisa, Venus De Milo and Grand Sphinx of Tans are exhibited among thousands of others.I think more than by donations or buy outs, most of these art objects are collected by plundering and loot, right from days of Napoleon's army!Being an Indian I am not surprised.Many most valuable art objects exhibited in British museums are thus taken from India,the most adorable adornment on British Royal crown- Kohinoor jewel included!!

France falls to Nazis....
Paris fell to Nazis in 1940.One of the earliest decisions Adolf Hitler took soon after was to dispatch his man in charge of art objects,Count Franz Wolff Metternich to The Louvre to repossess invaluable collections of the museum.As he entered the museum he could see only empty walls and halls, all the art objects-paintings, sculptures gone...Contrary to expectations-Jaujard had noted in his diary-Count Franz looked relieved than angry or perplexed to see that the art objects had been taken care of not to fall into the hands of Nazis.Count Franz, a German aristocrat,happened to be a true art lover above  his love for Nazism!


Fuhrer museum...uncompleted dream of Hitler!
Hitler had plans to build a massive and the biggest museum to be named as Fuhrer museum at Linz,Austria where he was born.He sincerely believed that the finest art belonged to Germany which were looted by Napoleon and during the first world war.He had made the blue prints ready by leading architects.One of the objects of the occupations of German forces was the collection of world renowned art objects.

Empty galleries!!

How Jaujard did it....
As second world war was getting imminent, Jaujard was more concerned about the safety of the art objects of France including those at The Louvre.At that time he was Director of French National Museums who silently but meticulously was planning a mass evacuation of those art objects in case France falls to Nazis. Interestingly nobody asked him to do that.And after all he was just an Govt employee.But in spite of these shortcomings he decided to put his secret plans to action with the help of hundreds of his loyal employees of the museum.

Jaujard categorized the art objects in order of importance. Yellow, green and red labels were allocated to them- yellow for major works,green for very valuable art pieces and red for world treasures.Mona Lisa was decided to be marked with three red circles!! He closed the museum for three days officially 'for repairs'.That was on 25 Aug 1939.Three days and nights Jaujard and his team masterfully packed up thousands of pieces of art.He had arranged a convoy of trucks, cars even ambulances to whisk these art objects to safe homes, mostly chateaux which were located in the French countryside which would escape damage of bombing.Though some of those locations where these art objects were hidden were revealed after the war,Jacques Jaujard kept the whole information to himself until his death!! 

Mona Lisa....
It was recorded that Learnado Da Vinci's Mono Lisa, was moved five times during the war time till it was returned back. Jaujard didn't want to take any chances.After the war, a new Louvre was opened to public with all of the museum's major masterpieces returned to safety. Miraculously not even one piece of art was damaged during the whole operation.


Jacques Jaujard was awarded with accolades by the French Govt.Main entrance of the Ecole du Louvre, an institution of higher learning in archaeology, art history, was named after him.He died of an unexpected heart attack in 1967.He had written a book of his philosophy titled 'Feuilles' which was posthumously published in 1974.

And Rose Valland.....
When I write about Jaujard, I cant but mention of Rose Valland as well.Jeu de Paume is a museum in Paris.There the Nazis stored the stolen art objects from private collections esp from Jews or Jewish collectors during the occupation period. In fact it was a transit point to send the art objects to Germany.It so happened that Rose Valland was the curator of the museum.She was a member of the French resistance which the Nazis never knew.She made a complete record of incoming art objects and made detailed notes of their destination points in Germany.Years later once France was freed, with the help of those records, most of the stolen art objects were recovered and handed over to real owners.She too had written a book named"Le Front de L 'Art' based on which the great movie of all time 'The Train' was based.
photos:courtesy google.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

VIETNAM....WHAT MGR COULD NOT DO IS BEING DONE BY KFC!!!

Napalm bomb and napalm girl are the symbols synonymous of  Vietnam war  for me.Images of both which were embedded in my mind in early seventies are still live.When I look back now,Americans fought more of an 'industrialized' war with B52 bombers, heavy artillery, helicopters,Agent Orange and Napalm in the Vietnam war-they call it American war in Vietnam!

400000 tonnes of napalm bombs were used mercilessly between 1963 and 1973 alone, while the war was waged between 1954 and 1975.Americans brought a new controversial ruling in its military which is named as Mere Gook Rule(MGR), to aid its military personnel to get away with killings of Vietnamese civilians!Many massacres including the notorious 'Mai La massacre' unleashed in Vietnam which the world came to know much later only.Over a million died in the war...nobody has the correct estimates.But in spite of all these offensive acts, America had to leave the country ingloriously in 1975 when the south and north joined together to form a new single communist country as Vietnam.

I don't think that there is any other nation which has forgiven atrocities inflicted on them quickly as Vietnam.Although it remains as one of the five existing communist countries in the world, Vietnam is full of American goods and ideas now.America is influencing Vietnam and its people - slow but steadily- to achieve the primary intentions other than political!Americans seem to be more than welcome in Vietnam now if the number of American visitors coming to the country these days is any indication.KFC( Kentucky Fried Chicken) is performing much better than MGR.... 

Musings on Vietnam as I could visit the country few days back....



Napalm bomb-invented at Harvard, manufactured by Dow Chemicals and launched by Boeing!
Napalm means any petrochemical like petrol added with chemicals.Napalms burn hotter than just petrol and the wounds caused are unbearably  painful and too deep to heal!!I came to know of napalm bombs only in early seventies in the Vietnam war but it was there very much since second world war.Americans were the first to use them in 1944 at Berlin.They also used the same but in many folds more over Tokyo in 1945 using B52 bombers.B stands for the manufacturer's name-Boeing!In Vietnam the same type of bomb was used extensively and lavishly from all sorts of launchers including B52 bombers used for large pay load and long range, that it became the symbol of the war!!Though the intention was to flush out hiding military/armed personnel from bunkers and buildings, civilian causalities were more than expectations.

The napalm bomb was invented by two bright professors in chemistry of Harvard University in 1942, which was commercially produced by Dow Chemicals.When I see those brand names-Boeing,Harvard,Dow Chemicals- which I respect for their quality of end products and reputation, for their connections with napalm bombs, I am not comfortable for no reason.But we have the consolation that now people know of Alfred Nobel for the international prizes given than he was the man who invented the atomic bomb!! 

Mere Gook Rule...MGR
I am sure that most of you might not have heard about this rule which was formulated by US forces. 'gooks' is a derogatory term used by US forces  for people in Korea or Vietnam. MGR which was first successfully used by US military in Korea.Under MGR American soldiers would be prosecuted- if at all- mildly and very leniently for harming or killing civilians(gooks)!The law became controversial because many thought it was a green signal for killing innocents.The same rule MGR was brought and applied in Vietnam also.Nobody knows how many innocent 'gooks' perished in the war- even US forces!!

Napalm girl...Photo clicked at Trang Bang....
A photo clicked by Nick Ut,an AP photojournalist caught the attention of the world.It was published on June 8, 1972. A naked young girl named Kim Phuc runs screaming aloud for help after a napalm bomb burnt her village- Trang Bang- inhabited only by civilians by the Pro American South Vietnamese army.She was nine years old and the bomb had damaged her clothes and skin.I will reproduce the photo below for those who haven't seen it yet.



The photo within no time acted as a catalyst to turn US public sentiment against the war in Vietnam.Not only the photo won a Pulitzer prize but turned to be a iconic photo of the war which is considered to be one of the most memorable images of 20th century! The claim by Nick that this photograph was real reason for US to end the war is debatable but the fact remains that in the same year America's involvement in the war ended!

Tail Piece....
It is equally interesting to find out the current whereabouts of those or what I have mentioned above.

Vietnamese communist Govt used to make the famed picture for their political propaganda, while Kim was invited to meet important dignitaries visiting the country.In 1986 Kim was given permission to study a course in pharmacy in Cuba where she met another Vietnamese student to whom she got married.In 1992 after their honeymoon in Moscow, on their way back they got off the plane at Newfoundland and asked for political asylum!!Eventually they became Canadian citizens where they are now.Kim became  UN goodwill ambassador while she also runs a Foundation to help heal the wounds suffered by innocent victims of war.

Nick Ut had many other important assignments as an AP photographer in which he became equally famous.He lives in Los Angeles,US now.


Vietnam continues to be a communist country albeit the fact that such countries have really slimmed down to  five in the world now.There too it seems the authorities have watered down some of the core principles of communism to state led capitalism and now moving towards some sort of free market economy!Many American brands like GE,CAT,Honeywell,NIKE...... have manufacturing plants in Vietnam.KFC,McDonald's,Starbucks..are all over  in cities where the youngsters throng.Apple,FB,Dell products.... are all being bought or used.The best and costly western auto plants of Rolls Royce,Porsche,Mercedes,BMW...are established there , I understand. US Dollar is more than welcome!!

That doesn't mean that communism is going to fall there too soon.That problem comes when people want freedom of thought and expressions !!It can wait as of now!!
Photos:courtesy google

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

LUXURY BRAND WARS....BEYOND VEBLEN EFFECT !

Few months back, world renowned cathedral of Notre-Dame, Paris was severely damaged due to fire.I was a bit  concerned because I had been there twice and thoroughly enjoyed the masterpiece of art and architecture!President of France announced immediately, even before the the fire was put out if I remember right, that the cathedral will be restored while launching a campaign to raise money for the same.Within a week donations over Euro 1 billion had been pledged!Euro 880 million was pledged in less than a day!!

Out of curiosity I wanted to find out who were the prominent donors in the list.Among them Euro 200 million each was donated by families of Arnault and Battencort while Francois Pinault donated Euro 100 million who topped the first three in the list.If these names are unfamiliar to you,I am sure you will be familiar with their products!Definitely it was a surprise for me to see that they are the owners of the famous luxury brands of Louis Vuitton,L'Oreal and Gucci respectively!!This also prompted me to learn more on the subject since I know that  they are at loggerheads at each other not only in business but even in personal life.Brands they own are at war but all make money!!

Coming from a professional corporate background of heavy engineering construction industry where huge investments in money, manpower and technology are required, I know first hand that one is not assured of a profit.On the contrary if one is not professionally careful it can run to heavy losses.But it seems luxury brand industry is making huge profits.....



Luxury branded goods....
Consumers world over have become brand conscious now that huge amounts and efforts are spent to make them so.Seems no limit to such a scenario as of now,since corporate invest heavily in advertisement gimmicks.Now a consumer buy a brand first and ready to settle with the product later!It is no more stiff competition among competing brands as earlier but it is a war.A brand war!

I am not trying to to elaborate on new techniques in the marketing such as ambush marketing,viral marketing or bandwagon effect but trying to whip up your interest in products in which many of us are not aware that such a battle rages.We all know that brand wars are there among certain products in  automobiles,soft drinks,FMCG,computer software and hardware or courier services.

But more than any other fields I would say severest brand war exist in luxury brands- fashion,cosmetics,watches,leather goods......Just to have those brands which we think or falsely made to think will enhance our personality, we spent through the nose!No wonder most counterfeited brands in the world falls under this category!!Such companies spent a lot in advertising expenditure, nobody will reveal the truth but could be not less than 25% of sales revenue.The quality and design of  their perfume bottles which they market are always catchy and the best which makes any customer very difficult to throw away even the finished bottles.

Paris is famous for quite a few things.And luxury brand  perfumes and cosmetics are one among them.The feud between two brands- Louis Vuitton and Gucci and  their owners are well known more than common love for art objects.

LOUIS VUITTON(LV)....synonymous with luxury
LVMH(Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) is the largest producer of the luxury goods in the world- over 70 brands.Some of them are equally popular as LV-Dior, Givenchy,Fendi,Hennessy....I am told that after every seasonal sales,the products branded are LV are sent back to their factories in France.Such products are then burnt in order to 'to maintain the products' value' though people like me will never understand the logic behind such negative action.I feel that whatever be the compulsions fairness should be there in business as well. LV deals with wines and spirits also.Having headquarter at Paris LV has 3950 own exclusive showrooms around the world.LV will open its own Museum of Arts in Paris in 2020 costing $ 166 millon!!

The founder of the House of Louis Vuitton is himself in 1854. He initially started his business making wooden boxes covered with fancy canvas!How he started his business may outshine most of the Aesop's tales!Hailing from a poor background with a strict step mother,at the age of 13 he decided to leave his village in France for Paris which is 292 miles away.He didn't have any money to have a decent transport, he decided to walk all the way!!It took 2 years for Vuitton to reach Paris with many stops on the way to carry out odd jobs available to support himself. Reaching Paris he could get an apprentice job at a successful box making workshop where he learnt the skill of box making.Vuitton's stars started shining when he was appointed as the personal box maker of Empress of France, none other than the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte!

GUCCI....unique designs
Guccio Gucci hailed from Florence,Italy.His father had a small shop which made leather saddles for horses.He too did not go to school for long but left for Paris and London in search of a job.At London he was the lift boy at the famous Hotel Savoy.As I understand this episode in his life gave him a chance first hand to study on luggage and clothing of the rich customers of the hotel. This inspired him to start his own business based on his observations.

Once he returned to Italy he continued working with father for some time but started his own shop making leather bags and saddles in 1921 at Florence, which happens to be the fist venture of Gucci.The unique designs and excellent quality he maintained got got him certain class of loyal customers.Towards sixties and seventies Gucci expanded to Paris and all places known for  luxury fashion goods. In fact now Gucci is owned by an international luxury group in Paris named as Kering SA which also owns equally famous brands  such as Yves Saint Laurent,Boucheron,Ulysse Nardin........

It was Aldo Gucci, one of Gucci's three sons who designed the iconic logo inspired by his father's Guccio Gucci initials.Gucci will have its own art museum ready in 2020 costing $170 million in Paris.

The logic behind success of luxury goods...beyond Veblen effect!
House of Tatas, one of the richest but the best among Indian business corporate owns now Jaguar and Range Rover of UK. Tatas produces a range of class automobiles and trucks in India. Ratan Tata who owns the corporate had a pet dream fulfilled for poor/lower middle class in India a decade back.He introduced the car Tata Nano in 2009 at the cost of $2500! Incredible but true, he presented a small family car affordable to anyone in India using the latest technology.It was aimed to hit the Indian market with a bang!It did not.

After few years also when the sales didn't pick up for the Nano, the corporate made a survey to find out the reason.Their finding is that the company emphatically used the word 'cheap' in the marketing campaigns.Nobody wanted to buy a cheap car and look poor in front of others! To put it in other way,since the car was identified to be with 'cheap and poor', nobody wanted to be identified with it!!Even the poor!!!Though company tried to apply another marketing strategy realizing this, the sales went on decline until the production  is forced to stop.I think the logic of buying luxury brands by millions of middle class and upper middle class all over the world is the same but in the opposite direction.Ready to spend money to get identified with the brands of the rich!To satisfy or bolster self ego than the quality!!

American economist Thorstein Veblen is the first to identify 'conspicuous consumption' as a mode of status seeking in 1899-some people think that higher the prices means higher the quality!!






Sunday, 1 December 2019

BEYOND THE BLUE SKY AND GOLDEN HILLS OF CALIFORNIA....

All of us know the good old story of Sir Issac Newton and the fallen apple which given us ultimately the Theory of Gravity.In the same way one Frank McNamara was hosting a dinner with his business clients in a restaurant in New York.He felt embarrassed when he realized at the end of the dinner that he had forgotten his wallet to make the payment. McNamara who was the Co Founder of Diners Club thought of a multi purpose charge card to avoid similar situations in future. Thats how the first credit card was rolled out in the world.That was in New York in 1950!

I never thought a small informal chat recently with Reeba, a young family friend of ours in Doha will land me up in trail of evolution of credit cards which we all use all the time.When she said that she is currently undergoing some sort of a specialization course on credit cards conducted by a British Institution,she has aroused my enthusiasm to learn more on the subject.

Back to McNamara of Diners club.His first card- charge card- which was introduced to cover 17 restaurants in New York grew in number... met with initial success.In spite of this he sincerely thought credit cards were just a fad!In 1952 he sold his share in Diners club just for $200000!! Unfortunately for McNamara credit card was not a fad.Around the world now there are more than 10000 credit card transactions made every second!!Join me to the the world of credit cards....it is not drab as it looks ...it is more than interesting.



Idea of a novelist...
Credit card is something you get from your bank with your request or even without it these days.Bank's keenness  in issue of such a card is understandable since credit cards are one of the most profitable sectors of the banking industry.It is so easy that you need not sign on their agreements -instead you automatically agree to their terms on first use of the card which runs to several pages-new card is delivered at the earliest!The competition among the banks in this matter is so stiff that some banks issue such cards on the same time a new account is opened with a new bank!!Actually the issuing companies of the credit cards want to limit the use of the cards with an expiry date but compelled to have one in order to accommodate the fact that the magnetic strip on the card has only a life of 3-4 years.

US has contributed the most in creation of credit cards which we use today, than all other countries put together! So also now it is the first country it is mostly used followed by Sweden,Canada and UK!! Interestingly, the term 'credit card' is first used in this world not by a banker or an economist but a writer.Edward Bellamy in his Utopian novel named 'Looking backward 2000-1887' has used the word credit card many times albeit  for spending than borrowing in 1888.

Having said about Diners Club,I have to mention about John Briggs, a banker from New York also who successfully introduced a charge card in 1946 which was known as 'Charge-it'.The user had to have an account with his bank while the bill had to be cleared at the end of the month.

Creator of VISA card lost his job?
To best of my  knowledge on the subject,American Express and BankAmericard have introduced their first credit cards in the same year 1958.The name of later was changed to VISA in 1976 which stands for Visa International Service Association.I am sure only very few may be aware that the blue and gold colors in the first VISA logo represents the blue sky and golden hills of California where Bank of America is born!

It was the brainchild- or at least he was instrumental- of an employee of the bank named Joseph P Williams that Bank of America produced their first credit card BankAmericard. He was Senior Vice President of the bank who was in charge of products and approaches at that time and the card was the first credit card in the real sense of it. Within a year or so, frauds related to credit card caused many problems for the bank which initially lost$8.8 million.And Williams who had launched the idea of credit card had to resign on his own or situation around him forced to leave the bank!!Being a corporate man myself I can fully fathom that unfortunate situation albeit it looks odd and unfair when someone makes a postmortem of the whole scenario.Thankfully his career after the incident was not that bad. He formed  Uni Serve corporation in 1962 buying credit card operations of Chase Manhattan Bank which he could sell to American Express in 1965!New York Times announced his death in 2003 as "JP Williams, 88 Bank card creator, Dies"

The most popular...expensive...glamorous cards around the world
Visa seems to be the clear winner in popularity in the world which is leading in 123 countries.MasterCard and American Express follow suit internationally while the later is the most popular in US.There are quite a number of other cards- all American- like Discover,Citi,Capital One,Bank of America,Chase.....

Most expensive credit card in the world is recorded as Sberbank Visa Infinite Gold card from Kazakhstan!The card is made of pure gold,diamonds and mother pearls costing $100000!!


                                     Most expensive credit card 

Among the glamorous- millionaires- credit cards could be Chase Sapphire Reserve,Ink Business Preferred credit card, American Express Centurion card,JP Morgan Chase Palladium Visa,Dubai First Royale Master card,Coutls Silk ....the names can be more but all based on American brands.Most of these cards extend the membership by invitation only based on high net worth.

The field of credit card is all American with little room for others including European ones, basically because living on credits is not a popular idea elsewhere than US.China came to the field in early 2000. UnionPay card is the most popular in China but is said to be ahead of Visa and Mastercard based on total value of payments transactions in the world.Japan has JCB while South Korea has Bc card.

Rupay cards....
India which aspires to be a five trillion economy not far, entered the world of credit cards very late as in 2014.Rupay card which is product of NPCI-National Payments Corporation of India has already made a headway with 30% market share over Visa and MasterCard  in India which currently heading for a fair share in the international market.   

Parameters of the cards.....
I was also trying to research further  on the size whether it is so determined to fit into a wallet or purse or anything similar like the modern rail road track width derives from a Roman chariot.It is not.

Size and shape of any credit card- credit, debit,ATM or other payment cards inclusive- is the same as we all have noticed. 85.60mm*53.98mm to be precise with rounded corners.Even radius for those curved corners are specified, so also thickness!Then who specifies those physical parameters including details of magnetic stripe and computer chip of this plastic money?It is ISO/IEC.ISO stands for International Standard Organisation while IEC stands for International Electrotechnical Commission. In fact all such cards have to comply ISO/IEC 7810.2003.

Credit cards numbers conform to the Luhn algorithm, which is named after its creator Hans Peter Luhn who was an IBM scientist.

Tailpiece...
A common clause in the terms and conditions is that the cardholders waive their right to sue the credit card company! Many cards operate on zero liability policy!!And the card holder automatically agrees to all these clauses with the first use of the issued card without signing on any paper!!!

I am sure that millions of card holders while they enjoy the credit cards  are not aware of the these hidden clauses...or even if they come to know, they might ignore for the convenience and instant personal credit they are offered in the modern world.

Photos/data:courtesy goggle

 

Friday, 1 November 2019

UNTIL LIONS HAVE THEIR HISTORIANS......TALES OF THE HUNT ALWAYS GLORIFY THE HUNTERS !!

It is very rare in the history of the world that an Asian power has defeated an European force anytime.Barring defeat of Russia by Japan in 1905 which stunned the world,I was not aware of similar episodes.But one of the recent  whats app forwards I had received gave me a hint on Battle of Colachel in which forces of an Asian king defeated none other than the Dutch forces!I do not know why, but it boosted my own morale a lot to know that it happened right here in India, that too around present capital of Kerala State!!

In 1741 the Dutch maritime forces, the most dominant colonial power of that time was defeated by forces of Marthanda Varma, ruler of the Kingdom of Travancore. Height of the irony of the episode is that the Dutch naval commander  De Lannoy who was caught live as a prisoner, served the kingdom of Travancore as a trainer of the forces who later became trusted commander-in- chief of kingdom for 37 years during which many annexations were carried out!

This unparalleled leaf of history is obviously little known in Dutch or European historical chronicles. I am afraid that even in historical texts of India basically carved out by erstwhile British colonialists hardly this is mentioned or very briefly covered.It is sad that Indians are still depending on 'Macaulayite' curriculum which was designed to  pump into our veins  the wrong notion  that Europeans are superior!This reminds me of an African proverb which says that 'until lions have  own historians,tales of hunt always glorify the hunters'.Now it has become the turn of lions in India.....


 

                   Painting depicting surrender of commander of V.O.C.forces at Colachel   /Plaque o.f V.O.C 

What motivated colonists to come to India...
We all know that it was for pepper, the 'black gold', that European powers wanted to find a sea route to India and Indies in the 14th century.They wanted to 'out smart' the Arab traders who were doing the intermediary role of trading spices  through Indian ocean between India and Egypt (Alexandria) without announcing India is the source of origin.

By that period,royal powers of Portugal,Spain,The Netherlands, France and Britain were encouraging professional seafarers and colonists.They were ready to accept the dictated terms of professional colonists citing risks, to find a sea route to India/ Indies.Countries such as Germany,Sweden,Belgium,Italy,Denmark also entered in the list of colonists later.If one thinks that the intention of the royal powers was  restricted to find a sea route  only to trade with the East decently, it is far from truth.They always had three aims mainly: by trade or not, to fetch the wealth of unknown lands, take the natives as slaves to their countries if possible, or keep them as slaves in own country and export their religion.The poor,rich or royal but cultured Indian could have never comprehended these malicious intentions those days.They always welcomed visitors wholeheartedly, while preferred not to venture out of the country for religious restrictions.In short, a vast, rich and resourceful India with hundreds of kingdoms within who were fighting each other, was a sitting duck for the colonists to plunder!

Emergence of VOC.
Ever since Vasco da Gama became successful in finding such a route in 1497 the Portuguese had the upper hand in  procurement of pepper and other spices from Asia. Initially they were managing the trade by Casa Da India, the royal trading house founded in 1500.By 1600 East India Company (EIC) was formed by a group of merchants in London which was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I in competition to Portuguese and Spanish interests.Soon in 1602 Dutch East India Company was formed by The Netherlands, named as VOC in short in Dutch, the full name is a bit difficult to read-Vereenigde Oostindisclye Comapagnie.It is considered to be the earliest successful international corporation in the world and first formally listed public company. With the back up of a fleet of 100 naval vessels and  forces, the Dutch VOC wanted to monopolize spices trade along with other products like silk,tea,rice,soybean, sugarcane etc. and establish colonies.They were empowered to build forts in foreign colonies, keep armies,  wage wars and negotiate with local rulers. VOC flourished from day one of formation.Investors in the company made a fortune.So also The Netherlands. VOC was a state within state.

VOC gets consolidated in Indonesian archipelago, enters India but...
Once VOC got established in Indonesia and Ceylon with trading posts in Japan,China, Bengal in India and elsewhere,they wanted to take their share of controls for procurement of pepper from coasts of Malabar.But some of the kingdoms of Malabar coast were already in trade with Portuguese or British. Once Kingdoms of Cochin and Calicut had fallen online,Dutch Governor Gustaff Willem Van Imhoff who was stationed at Ceylon wanted Kingdom Travancore too their way to monopolize the trade of pepper and other spices.Marthanda Varma who was on throne did not heed to Dutch requests initially which turned to be commands later.The king wanted to continue to do spice trade with the British(EIC).To make matters worse Marthanda Varma overran some of the principality like Kayamkulam with whom the Dutch had trading relations!

The VOC decided to use military pressure on the king to subdue him to dictated terms.In spite of such a warning also the King of Travancore stood his stand.

Battle of Colachel....
In August 1741 under command of Eustachius De Lannoy forces of VOC reached Colachel, few kilometers away from the capital of Kingdom of Travancore. Though VOC had superior artillery firearms power, tactical decisions of the King who directly commanded the war along with his Prime Minister Ramayyana Dalawa    with the back up of the well trained Calvary had beaten the VOC forces.Commander De Lannoy along with other 24 Dutch officers were taken as prisoners.

De Lannoy becomes trainer and later Commander- in-Chief of Travancore.. 

Even though De Lannoy was taken a prisoner, the king was impressed with war tactics he had performed.In turn as days went by, De Lannoy also started admiring the ways of the king and the land.That could be the reason when the king offered the position of trainer of his army, De Lannoy readily agreed.

Over the years,De Lannoy reorganized the Travancore forces on European lines, introduced gun power and fire arms to the forces.He was made as commander-in-chief who masterminded and built many forts at strategic positions which proved very helpful in the following years. De Lannoy annexed a number of local principalities to the kingdom.King Marthanda Varma died in 1758 but De Lannoy continued to serve the kingdom until his death in 1777.



Tombs of De Lannoy along with that of his wife and son can be seen at the church attached to Udaygiri fort even now.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

YOU STAY...I GO !

Elvis Presley,Chuck Norris and Jimmy Hendrix are well known American celebrities for me from my adolescent age but I never knew that they were descendants of native Americans until recently.Native American is the official and polite version of 'red Indian', the tag Christopher Columbus gave to natives when he landed in the Americas for the first time centuries back,the story is too well known to be repeated here.There are only few more such class of celebrities US ever had in any field, definitely not comparing to the vast population of native Americans US had or  over 5 millions of them as of now.

While I have all the appreciations for the Americans who built their magnificent country to the levels of what it is now in relatively a small span of time- around 300 years- I also wanted to know what has happened to the native Americans, who were original inhabitants of the land for at least 10000 years prior to new settlers, all these years. That's how I landed to Ishi, who is considered to be the last aboriginal native American in US.He passed away  in 1916 quietly in the protection and care of fellow Americans.But unfortunately that was never the typical relationship Americans had with natives!



Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci...                                         
Columbus never landed in the main land of north America in any of the four voyages he made.Under the sponsorship of Spanish monarchs Columbus, the Italian explorer and colonist, made his first exploratory trip and landed at Bahamas,Cuba and Hispaniola in 1492.He landed in Lesser Antilles in another trip next year while in 1498 he discovered Trinidad and north coast of South America.During his final trip he landed in central America- the strip of land between north and south Americas at present- in 1502.Columbus sincerely thought that the lands which he had found out were the Indies and named the indigenous people he met Indios (Indians).

Amerigo Vespucci was another Italian navigator and explorer who actually identified by his trips sponsored by Spanish king that the new world, Columbus discovered was not a part of Indies but a separate land mass.The name America is believed to have made after his first name in 1507.

Primary settlers in north America...Jamestown, Mayflower, Mayflower compact...
For more than 100 years after the new continent was discovered nobody went there from Europe for any sort of settlement.The first settlers arrived  from England with the support of the king James I and settled on an island which they named in honour of their king-Jamestown.The territory they named after England's late virgin queen- Virginia.That was in 1607.

In spite of the first settlement in 1607, American historical chronicles trumpets the second settlement of Europeans in US as the beginning of such settlements.It was in 1620 when 102 persons traveled in the enduring crumpled condition in the ship Mayflower.Among the 102, 19 were male servants ,3 female servants while few others were crew of the ship.During the difficult journey 2 persons- one passenger and one crew- perished while a child was born!! Passengers were in fact seeking religious freedom while settling on the new land.They were Christians known as puritans or pilgrims who were against Roman Catholic church beliefs while they could not agree to practices of Church of England(Protestant) either.The place where they landed was named as Plymouth since it was from Plymouth,England that their journey commenced!

Mayflower compact, a brief contract signed by 41 adult male pilgrims promising cooperation among the settlers, practice of their religious belief and general goodness of the colony of the settlement is considered to be the seed of American democracy.

After that settlement of 1620, tens of thousands of English puritans arrived in the new world.The Dutch came in 1626.Spanish started settlement more or less in the same period but in small numbers. Their actual settlements commenced in mid 18th century.Between 1850 and 1930 more than 5 million Germans settled in America. Irish,French and others poured in....many as indentured servants or bonded labor to the promising new world.

First Thanksgiving Day is celebrated but........
It is recorded in history that the English Mayflower settlers were welcomed by friendly local tribe of Wampanoag. But 50 among the Mayflower settlers died during the first winter. However they were helped by the natives which had the a friendly chieftain named Massasoit, to settle comfortably including teaching the pilgrims how to grow maize, corn and beans.After the first seasonal harvest, which was a bumper crop, pilgrims decided to spend three days of festivity, feasting and prayers.The local Indian tribe were their honored guests for the function, which was the first Thanksgiving Day in US!!

After 50 years , could be at the time of next generation after the death of Massasoit, all the warmth of the relationships between the settlers and natives had vanished. Enmity and mistrust came in between.War broke out in which 600 settlers and 3000 natives were killed.English fire power was proved too strong for the natives!Native chieftain at that time was King Philip, son of Massasoit- as named by the settlers whose actual name was Metacom, was captured and killed.His son, grandson of Massasoit, was prisoner along with his wife and 9 years old child who were taken out as slaves along with a number of natives to west Indies!!

        Statue of Massasoit at Plymouth, the native who helped the  European settlers.

Through out north America as the settlers came in, native Americans were forced to relocate to new places from own lands which they resisted. Skirmishes broke out which tuned out to be full blown wars.To make matters worse for the natives, the Europeans gave them some thing more.Smallpox, measles, typhoid and few other epidemics .I understand this was deadly for the natives in which millions perished.Nobody knows the exact number perhaps.This genocide continued in one form or other until 1924,when US granted citizenship to all native Americans. 


You stay...I go!
It was in August 1911 that Ishi walked into American culture at Oroville,California from wilderness where he was leading a solitary life for 40 years.All his fellow natives of the tribe got killed or died, he didn't have any other choice. Ishi is identified as the last native American ever lived who is believed to have born between 1860 and 1862.



When he was asked about him name, he said that he didn't have any as there were none of his people to name him. He was named as "Ishi' which means man in his own language Yahi. He was taken care by University of California where he cooperated with professors and all the staff.Next few years he demonstrated his skills in hunting and spoke his tribal stories and songs.He was a gentle man.In 1914 Ishi was diagnosed with TB,and on 25 March 1916 he died.His brain is preserved, body cremated.

"You stay..I go" is believed to have been his last words!!Was it a just a coincidence or did his last four words echo what he and all his native brethren thought of  settlement of Europeans in north America?