Jag Venugopal's Blog

October 27, 2010

India’s most respected magazine indulging in repeated plagiarism?

Filed under: India — Jag @ 12:05 am

One of India’s largest media barons, Aroon Purie (editor-in-chief, and proprietor of India Today, and a host of joint ventures, including those with Penguin and Harper Collins) stands accused of plagiarism. His “letter from the editor” in the October 18th issue of India Today lifted quotes regarding a southern film actor, Rajinikanth, straight from Slate.

Mr. Poorie’s excuse was that he did not write his own column, but asked “Delhi” to write up the stuff about Rajinikanth. In the process, “Unfortunately, a couple of sentences lifted from another article were sent to me.” He then tenders a non-apology to his readers: “So, without any reservations, mea culpa. Apologies.” In addition, Mr. Purie actually had the gall to blame jetlag for his journalistic kleptomania.  His non-admission of his own act of omission or commission, and his total disregard for both his readers and journalistic ethics is reflected in his one word apology. No “I am terribly sorry that this has happened, and it is not the culture of India Today to plagiarize”. No “we will investigate and lay the facts before our readers”. No “I will write my own columns henceforth”. Just “Apologies”, was what came down from King Purie to his subjects, those of his countrymen who still pay to read India Today (your correspondent being one such unfortunate soul).

Mr Purie’s arrogance carries over to his non-apology to the original author. Here is his letter to Grady Hendrix in its entirety (formatted by me to work with WordPress). I particularly like the “inadvertent error” part. Wonder what was inadvertent about it? Did the plagiarist (Mr Purie or one of his minions) have a seizure that caused his hand to move the mouse for an exact cut-and-paste? Was Mr. Purie under the influence — perhaps he just meant to steal the idea and not lift the text verbatim?

Dear Mr. Hendrix,

As you are surely aware we have apologized to our readers for the inadvertent error in which part of your article on Rajinikant got published in my letter from the editor.

I would like to apologize to you as well.

I have also written to the Editor of Slate magazine.

Aroon Purie
India Today

Now, one could be forgiven for thinking that this was a momentary lapse on the part of India’s analog of Rupert Murdoch, and that some low-level staffer is to blame. However it appears that there is a pattern to such thievery. In 2008, the deputy editor of India Today copied an article about Mills and Boon romances from a blog posting by Niranjana Iyer. Ms Iyer pointed the purloining out to India Today in April, 2009. No apology has been forthcoming in the last year and a half.

It is shameful that one of India’s major publications should be a serial plagiarist, and they have gotten away with it so far. Certainly, the only apoplexy about the latest episode is in the blogosphere. There is nary a mention of it in the Indian press. I guess, there’s honor among thieves — they don’t betray each other.


October 15, 2010

What will Obama’s India visit achieve?

Filed under: India — Jag @ 12:06 am

President Barack Obama will visit India in November. Doubtless, platitudes will be issued about the countries’ shared democracy, commitment to eradicating terrorism, and the like. A few cultural agreements of little significance will also be signed. Obama will visit a few old forts and the Golden Temple in Amritsar, proclaiming the two countries’ shared commitment to pluralism and diversity.  He will visit Gandhi’s grave, which is de rigueur for any visiting head of state, and tell his hosts something to the effect that they are an emerging power. He will attempt to explain away the recent increase in H1B visa fees, squarely aimed at Indian outsourcers and his recent use of the word “Bangalore” to be synonymous with “Bogeyman”.

But beyond these, what will Manmohan and Obama talk about? Sure, India needs all manner of stuff, ranging from airplanes to uranium. India is unlikely to rush headlong into an American embrace to procure these items, because there are many sellers and India would like to get the best price. Similarly, Obama is not going to grant India its fervent desire to be a permanent member of the security council. As Sumit Ganguly asks in the Newsweek, what does India have to offer in return? India will again complain loudly about Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism, little realizing that the US has its own problems with Pakistan to deal with. In any case, fighting terrorism in India is not Obama’s problem — its Manmohan’s.

All well and good, but worth a state visit? Surely both the President and Prime Minister have better things to do in their respective capitals?

In the ultimate analysis, the relationship between India and the US will be economic rather than military or political. Any respect that India gets today is inspite of its myriad problems, and only because of its perceived economic potential in the years to come. Much praise for India in the western press has to do with its ability to produce and innovate — software, cars, medical science, communications, and the like. I have not seen one magazine article that praised India for its nuclear reactors, nor for its army and certainly not for the quality of its government.

I wish President Obama will have the courage to tell his hosts to stop obsessing about being called “an emerging power”, and membership in the Security Council. I hope he will counsel them that their greatest chance for respectability and status is in ensuring 10+% annual growth for a couple decades, thus lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. And yes, I do hope he has the guts to tell them to let go of the long-alienated Kashmir valley. India has far more important things to do than to hold on to 0.25% of its population against their will.

October 14, 2010

Hosannas for Capitalism

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 12:28 am

In many parts of the world today, (including among politicians in the US), Capitalism has become a dirty word. As an example, I present to you this quote from President Obama, quoted by WSJ columnist Daniel Henninger

“The basic idea is that if we put our blind faith in the market and we let corporations do whatever they want and we leave everybody else to fend for themselves, then America somehow automatically is going to grow and prosper.”

Two separate events, occurring at opposite ends of the world, at about the same time, prove the robustness of private enterprise and the profit motive. One is in India, and the other, Chile. I will let Dan discuss the role of Capitalism in the Chile miracle, which was enabled by those same profit-seeking capitalists that politicians love to revile. Instead, I will focus on India.

The Commonwealth Games was awarded to India in 2003, and was meant to showcase the advances of the “Great Indian State” (my quotes). Never mind that hundreds of millions of my people live in grinding poverty, and even more without access to clean air and water. It was thought by the powers that be, that the games would propel India to a place of prestige on the world scale.

Instead, what happened was a Libertarian’s dream — a thorough expose of what big government can do — delayed projects, waterlogged stadia, collapsing ceilings and bridges, eighty-dollar rolls of toilet paper, and treadmills costing $17,000. All of these works were accomplished by the socialist republic of India.

About the only bright spot was the newly upgraded Delhi airport. Apparently it looks gorgeous, and was completed on time (in March 2010, well ahead of the Commonwealth Games). The difference between the chaos of the rest of the games and this brand new, gleaming airport? The airport was constructed and operated by a for-profit firm. Similarly, the Bangalore airport (about which the only complaint is that it is so far away from the city) is owned and operated by private capitalists. It replaced a state-owned airport that was probably the dirtiest and most cramped among all major cities anywhere in the world.

India’s economic miracle happened, not because of the state, but in spite of it. Much of the growth has been in sectors that the government either could not regulate or chose not to: cars, pharma, IT, BPO and Bollywood. Where government has involved itself, one can see spectacular failures (e.g. HMT, the state-owned watchmaker which was a monopoly for decades, has virtually disappeared from the markets, to be replaced by private companies. As of 2010, it is still manufacturing hand-wound watches). Similarly, much is made of India’s troops of educated engineers pouring out of universities. Here, too, private enterprise has changed things drastically. My home state of Karnataka is host to over 50 private engineering colleges. A resident of Karnata is virtually guaranteed admission at in-state rates to an engineering college, thanks to these private, profit-seeking enterprises that get to admit students from all over the country for a higher tuition. Is the quality of instruction great? No. But it is often better than what is available in state colleges, and has significantly improved in the last decade. If you were to fall sick in Bangalore, you could take your chances at the state-owned Victoria and Bowring hospitals (named after our former colonial masters) and pray that you come out alive and with all organs intact, or you could have your pick of many world-class hospitals that will take care of you for about a tenth to a twentieth of what it would cost in the US. When I left India two decades ago, the telephone company was a state monopoly. You could either wait for eight years to get a connection, or bribe the local Member of Parliament to obtain one through his “discretionary quota”. As of 2010, profit-seeking capitalists have built a mobile phone network that is the second-largest in the world. Phones are available starting at $10. Air time costs 2 cents per minute (with incoming calls free). Virtually everyone has a phone, including some of the poorest people, involved in tasks such as street sweeping and garbage collection.

When President Obama travels to India in November, I hope he sees the difference between the incompetence of its governments (state and local), and its world-class private industry, which was unshackled merely two decades ago. And having seen that, I wish he would would put his faith stateside in private enterprise, and let corporations do what they do best. If he still wants to understand how effective state intervention can be, he merely has to click on this Wikipedia link.

October 10, 2010

Blast from the past

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 12:06 pm

Recently, we acquired a game board that is very popular in India, but virtually unknown in the US: a carrom board.

Carrom is a game that’s a cross between, say, pool and air hockey. The game is played with eight black, eight white, and one red disk. In addition, there is a striker. Each side plays for one color. The object is for each team to get their disks into the corner pockets, before the other. The red disk confers additional points.

Carrom is a very popular game in India, and reportedly, in Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of the Arab world. It takes minutes to learn how to play it — a seven year old could potentially play the game. Yet, it takes skill and practice to play it well.

Most boards available in the US are imported from India. Prices range from around $75 to $400, with higher prices buying thicker boards and better quality wood. We bought a board costing about $100, which is good enough for a family game, but not necessarily of tournament quality. If you’ve never played carrom, give it a try. Its simple, and you’ll enjoy playing it regularly. The cost of an entire ensemble is less than what you would pay for a night of dinner and shopping for a family of four.

October 5, 2010

The Verdict on the Ram Janmabhoomi Issue

Filed under: India — Jag @ 12:34 am

For my American readers: The Ram Janmabhoomi issue refers to a conflict over a piece of land. Until about 1992 or so, a mosque stood on it, purportedly built by the first Mughal emperor, Babur. It was also claimed by Hindus as the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the incarnations of Vishnu, a member of the holy trinity in Hinduism. In 1992, a group of Hindu zealots razed the mosque to the ground. In its place now stands a makeshift temple to Lord Ram. The case was litigated in the courts for close to sixty years, and finally, the justices of the Allahabad high court handed down their judgment: The land was to be divided between Hindus and Muslims in the ratio of 2/3 to 1/3 respectively.

I’m going to upset a lot of people with my take on the issue, most of all my own family members. But when coming to issues of legal judgment vs. issues of faith, one must go only by the evidence. Ergo, here’s my opinion in purely legal terms:

  1. There was a mosque on the site until 1992
  2. It is rumored that the mosque was built either by demolishing an existing temple sometime in the 16th century or on the ruins of a temple at the same time. Regardless, justices today cannot and ought not to right any perceived wrongs that occurred in the 16th century. Using the courts to right historical wrongs will lead us down a very slippery slope (just imagine if all the inhabitants of Southern India wanted Northern India vacated on the argument that their land was usurped by invading Aryans from Central Asia many thousands of years ago; or if all the low caste inhabitants of India sought reparations from every high-caste person in India, on the theory that they were oppressed for centuries).
  3. Lord Ram is a mythological character, and held in the faith of all Hindus. He is not a historical character. There is no historical record of his existence, much less his birth. Therefore, when seen in dispassionately legal terms, it could not have been the birthplace of Lord Ram, because there was, historically speaking, no Lord Ram. Even discounting the absence of the historical record, there is no mention in any scripture as to his actual place of birth. Thus, even if Ram were historical, his place of birth is unknown from any records.

Accordingly, when we objectively look at the evidence that exists, it cannot be proved that there ever was a Ram Janmabhoomi or a Ram. It can be proved that there was a mosque until 1992, built by whomever. The state failed to protect the mosque from a mob. Therefore, justice demands only one thing… that the mosque be restored to status quo ante.

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