Dec 16, 2007

Banyan Tree

banyan tree ficus sacred strangler benghalensis

Banyan Tree is a sacred tree of Mumbai.It is interesting to know how the tree might have gotten its name.

Early travellers to India had observed that Indian traders and merchants frequented the tree for the shade. Indian merchants are called Banias in local languages. The Portuguese picked up the word and passed it on to the English. Eventually, the name Banyan became the name of the tree.

The tree's scientific name is Ficus Benghalensis. It's a Fig. Its seeds germinate in the cracks and crevices on a host tree, although cracks on buildings and structures are fine as well. The seeds germinate and send down roots to the ground. The host tree is enveloped and starved for light. This is why these trees are also known as strangler fig trees.

Older banyan trees are characterized by their aerial prop roots which grow into thick woody trunks. With age, these become indistinguishable from the main trunk. These trees can spread out laterally using these prop roots to cover a wide area. left alone these trees can survive eternally.

Dec 15, 2007

Oil Money Flows into Mumbai

Gulf Finance House Promo Mumbai SEZ Special Economic Zones Ivan RaszlAn investment bank from Bahrain announced the biggest ever ($8 Billion) foreign investment in Maharashtra to build three cities -- one each for telecom, software, and entertainment -- sprawled across 1600 acres along Mumbai-Pune expressway. Although the zone is not revealed, the land acquisition has already begun.

This commitment is in addition to the bank's commitments early this year to build an energy city for $2 Billion.

The bank wants to develop a world class business and related social infrastructure in the heart of the state's business corridor. It is interesting to know that the previous biggest investment in the state was made by now bankrupt Enron Corporation.

Energy, Telecom, Software, and Entertainment are the key drivers within the Indian economy. India's software leadership is well known, however, it is interesting to know that the country has been adding 8 million new telephone connections each month.

These specific business districts will offer holistic live, work and play environments and will include schools, villas. apartments and several four and five star hotels.

Founded in 1999, Gulf Finance House is one of the Middle-East's most-respected investment banks. It has several infrastructure investments, worth $12 Billions, across the world. These are spread across Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, India, Germany, Spain, Egypt, Morocco, China, USA, UK and France.

Dec 13, 2007

Air India to Join Star Alliance

Air India 747 777 787 airbus 321

Air India is planning to spread its wings. The national carrier will be joining the Star Alliance, as a part of its global expansion plans. The membership will allow coordinated flight schedules with other airlines on a single ticket. It will also allow code sharing, splitting of the traffic to other destinations and special fares and other comforts for the passengers.

Star Alliance has Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada and United Airlines as its members. Air India had previously halted talks with Star Alliance during its merger with Indian Airlines. Air India has arrived at this decision to join the international alliance after months of deliberation and negotiations with Star Alliance, a grouping of 17 leading global airlines.

Air India had held talks with two other groupings – One World and Sky Team -- before deciding to join Star Alliance. While Star Alliance had airlines from the US, Europe, South-East Asia and the Far East, geographically there was a void in the Indian region, which would disappear with AI joining the alliance. For AI, benefits to its customers would include lounge facilities at various airports, better fares and being able to avail of frequent flier benefits by getting them redeemed on any member airline. By joining hands with Star Alliance which has Lufthansa and Austrian as its members, there is a feeling in aviation industry circles that Air India might zero in on either Munich or Vienna as its choice for an European hub.

Dec 12, 2007

Probiotics in India

probiotics digestion immunity lactobacillus bifidus

Traveller's diarrhea is one of the first issues facing the visitors from the western world to Mumbai. It is an easily avoidable situation if one follows basic rules related to food hygiene. Another nutritional supplement that can really help is probiotics. Inclusion of probiotics in diet can really help the visitors enjoy the trips to Mumbai.

Proboitic means “ for life”. Probitics are defined as “live beneficial culture administered in adequate amounts which confer a beneficial health effect on the host”.

In the US and Europe there are brands from Dannone such as Activia and DanActive (Actimel in the Europe). There are also pills and capsules that can remain stable at room temperature -- Kyo-Dophilus being one such brand. Visitors can carry these on there trips.

There are similar brands available in India.

Jarro-Dophilus, Bifilac, ViBact, Binifit, Becelac PB, Gutpro being some of them. In addition to managing the diarrhea, these supplements also help with regularity, immunity, calcium absorption, and general wellness through detoxification and synthesis of nutrients.

Brands available in India.

B-Active dahi
By Mother Dairy. Taste and texture like regular yogurt. Smaller pack is convenient for single person’s consumption.
90 gm for Rs 6,
200 gm for Rs 14.

Nesvita dahi
By Nestle. Familiar taste like regular yogurt.
200 gm for Rs 15,
400 gm for Rs 25.

A sweet concentrated probiotic drink. Fermented mik product. Has its own unique strain (lactobacillus casei strain Shirota) of probiotic bacteria.
100 ml for Rs 10

Mother Dairy’s concentrated probiotic drink. Available in strawberry and mango flavours.
Available in Delhi.
100 ml for Rs 10.

Ice cream by Amul. Great in taste. Available in 5 flavours.
125 ml for Rs 15,
1.25 litres for Rs 120.

Dec 8, 2007

Laughter Yoga!

Laughter Yoga in Mumbai

Each Year I visit Mumbai, I see groups of middle to old aged people gathered in a group of 10-20 and laughing for no apparent reason. The groups have increased in number. The basic ideas are that the Laughter is good and emotion will follow the motion.

Try it out. Just start laughing out for no reason and you will find yourself laughing for real.

Day after day hundreds of Laughter lovers from all over the world are visiting Bombay, the city of Laughter Clubs, to experience phenomenal Laughter Clubs where hundreds of people gather in public parks, factories, offices and laugh their hearts out for NO REASON first thing in the morning and start the day by releasing happy chemicals.

Dr. Madan Kataria, Bombay based physician has developed a new yogic technique of group laughter where anyone can laugh for 15-20 minutes eveyday without resorting to jokes. Each laughter session starts with deep breathing and the Ho-Ho, Ha-Ha exercise, followed by a variety of stimulated laughter like hearty laughter, silent laughter, medium laughter, lion laughter, swinging laughter, one meter laughter, cocktail laughter, gradient laughter and many other kinds. Not only we laugh but also practise ways and means of sensible living, in a group, by removing negative emotions like anger, fear jealousy and sadness.

At present there are 70 laughter clubs in Mumbai and nearly 450 all over India. Scores of people are enjoying a health benefits from this wonderful nature cure. This concept has been widely accepted all over the world and appeared in prestigious publications like National Geographic, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Sunday Times (London) and Colors Magazines in Italy. It also flashed on BBC, CNN, NHK (Japan), Star TV and ABC News in United States. Recently he along with his wife Madhuri visited many cities in USA, Australia, Singapore and the concept was highly appreciated.

To teach how ancient yogic practices blend with science of laughter for removing NEGATIVE EFFECT OF STRESS, achieving peace of mind, improving morale, interpersonal relationship and productivity at workplace, fecilitate healing of illness, remove inhibitions and achieve self-confidence he has started workshops and Teachers' Training Programmes in Bombay as well as many other countries.
If you are interested, then read the following or at

New Self Cleaning Public Toilets for Mumbai

Mumbai may just begin to look like Stuttgart or Paris, at least as far as the public toilets are concerned. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is seriously considering an international toilet design to improve the city. Last month, Mumbai delegation visited Stuttgart in Germany and Paris in France for a civic seminar where they were very impressed by the ultra-clean, ultra-modern design of toilets in those cities.

The toilets look like huge pillars with doors that slide open. They are also fully automated, which means they can be programmed to automatically clean up after the user has left. The toilets can be pay-per-use or free and can also be used as advertising billboards on the outside, the revenue of which can go towards maintenance. Also, the toilet is automated which means as soon as the sensor detects that a person has left, the cleaning mechanism will start. This process takes just one minute. The cost of one toilet block is about Rs 4 to Rs 5 lakh and will be installed at a distance of 200 metres. This will make it convenient for citizens and will help keep the city clean.

BMC has already started talks and correspondence with the France-based company J C Decaux. The plans will be finalised by the next month. BMC officials also attended a seminar on waste water treatment and sanitation, water supply plant, parking systems, public health and hospitals during the tour. Now the BMC is going to exchange information on the workings of the systems with the other two cities.

Dec 7, 2007

India vs. China Markets

In the Goldman Sachs BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) portfolio, China and India are often compared and contrasted. China is clearly ahead in terms of industrial output and current account deficit. China has been the factory of the world and the basic numbers would always make China look formidable in the BRIC countries.

I would pay attention to the following.

  1. India has a much larger percentage of younger population.
  2. Both countries have economic disparities in their population, but India is already a democracy. When China becomes a democratic country, we don't know how these disparities will play out. Could there be another social revolution?
  3. China's industrial pollution problem.
  4. India is building a service economy. China is building a labor and manufacturing economy.
  5. Chinese population also has a thrifty-gene. Westernization and fast food will create a similar metabolic syndrome based health care crisis as in the US.
  6. China does not have an open media.
  7. China is a military superpower. Transfer of technology from the western world is limited to non dual use nature. India just got the nuclear accord with the US.

If India can get out of in attitude of being satisfied with the Hindu growth rate and accept that there is no limit to the productivity increase and compete, India will come ahead.

Mumbai is microcosm of India. Granted, it does not have the farmers, but it has a fair percentage of displaced farmers traveling for jobs. I like the way it works. I am studying how Mumbai works.

So far, I like it what I have seen.

Dec 2, 2007

Anil Ambani to get 50% Stake in Bollywood Studio

N D Studio Reliance

Anil Ambani's next big move in the entertainment industry has finally taken shape. After months of negotiation, the younger Ambani has sealed the deal with one of the leading Bollywood production designers of India, Nitin Desai. ND Studios boasts of shooting films such as Lage Raho Munnabhai, Saawariya, Gandhi My Father, Salaam-E-Ishq and many more.

Reliance Entertainment has picked up 50% stake in ND (Nitin Desai) Studios, which is located in Karjat, on the outskirts of Mumbai for about Rs 150 crore, according to Reliance executives close to the deal. While Mr Desai will continue to manage operations, Reliance Entertainment will focus on scaling up the studio. The long-term goal: to make it the biggest studio in the world on the lines of Universal Studios in Hollywood.

A Reliance Entertainment spokesperson confirmed the development to ET. “The move is clearly in tandem with the plans of Reliance Entertainment, which is aiming to be an aggressive player in the film production arena. We will ramp up the studio significantly and cater to both Bollywood and Hollywood needs,” the spokesperson added.

The studio for the time being will be now called BIG ND Studio. Mr Desai said, “It’s a perfect fit between ND Studio and Reliance Entertainment as both entities share the same vision. The studio size, currently, stands at 32 acres and we will ramp it up to 150 acres by 2010. We have done a lot of work for Hollywood as well, and we are looking at line production for Hollywood in a very serious way.”

In fact, the studios, currently, has two shooting floors and post the partnership with Reliance Entertainment, the plan is add 12 more floors, and town squares that mirror European locations, Mumbai, and Singapore. Apart from Bollywood, the other focus is to attract a lot more Hollywood productions to shoot in the studio, on the back of cheap labour and technical expertise.

Line production, which essentially means outsourcing of shooting operations, is an emerging concept in the Indian film industry. Reliance Entertainment sees it as big opportunity by scaling up existing studios like ND. To transform them into a world class production facility, ND Studio is also building a 400/240 feet tall shooting floor, which will then qualify as the largest in the world. The largest today is the Bond Stage of Pinewood Studio which is 582/160 feet tall. With a shooting floor this size, ND Studio could shoot an entire football match indoor.

Reliance Entertainment also sees ND Studio evolving into a tourist attraction over the next few years, much like iconic studios like Universal Studios, a subsidiary of NBC Universal, one of the biggest American studios.

BEST going to Green Electrictiy Sources

Mumbai at Night

BEST which supplies electricity to Mumbai is turning to the greener energy sources to augment its supply to meet the demand from the malls. In doing so, it is also going to reduce its dependence on Tata Power Company (TPC).

The new sources of energy will be from wind and biogas and will come through three joint ventures. The wind energy will come from Suzlon Energy Ltd for setting a 51 MW wind farm in Bramhanvel in Dhule district. The cost will be Rs. 335 crore.

Spark Green Energy Ltd. will come up with two plants to generate power using biogas. The two plants will be 25 MW each in Pandharpole in Ahmednagar and Laandan in Satara district, both in the sugarcane belt of western Maharashtra. Both these projects will require Rs 115 crore.

In addition to this 8 MW biomass project with Yash Agro Industries is also on the drawing board.

Nov 27, 2007

Household Help in Mumbai

Household help rates in Mumbai

The domestic-help industry may be one of the most unorganised of sectors but there is nothing unorganised about the rate-card system that the industry swears by, which is always proportional to the real-estate value of neighbourhoods. In Andheri, where maids generally demand Rs 250 for one job (jhadoo-katka or sweeping-swabbing and bartan or washing utensils), the charges will jump to Rs 350 a job in Lokhandwala Complex. Colaba, for doing each chore, is Rs 800. But it is Rs 250 in Chembur. The rate at Orlem in Malad is Rs 200 but, at Malabar Hill, it’s an astronomical Rs 1,200.

But there is a method behind the apparent madness, say Mumbai’s bais. “The houses are so big and the sethani makes us do extra work. Don’t we know that salaries have also increased?’’ asks Vimlabai Sonawane. Rates also go for a toss when the family is huge. “If it’s a small family, then all the three tasks — sweeping-mopping, cleaning utensils and washing clothes — will be done for Rs 400-Rs 500. But, if the family has many kids and is big, the charges can go upto Rs 1,200,’’ Mohammad Ali Road resident Salma Lokhandwala says. You love them or you hate them but you just can’t live without them. Careers in many double-incomes households depend on the bai; besides, there is the neighbourhood gossip that goes so well with the evening chai. It is not without reason that Mumbaikars suffer their tantrums and absenteeism with varying degrees of stoicism.

The bai’s profile is also changing. From the typical kashta-sari-draped woman sporting a big bindi, she now sometimes wears jackets and gloves. She also prefer to work in offices.

Nov 25, 2007

Mumbai Hotels are Full. No Vacancy!

Stop the presses. The hotel rooms in Mumbai are fully booked. Corporate travellers and tourists must make alternate arrangements. The five-star hotels have been booked through March and the rest have reported occupancy levels at 90%.

Why is this happening.

1. December through February is a marriage season in India.

2. Hotels have been offering "pamper yourself" weekends. Here your whole family can check-in, enjoy the pool, the gym, breakfast, and the beach. Increasing household income and stressful work weeks means these packages are convenient and attractive to more and more local households.

3. Increased business travel.

So, all luxury chains have increased the tariff by 25-40%. Forget the deals. The next step for this would be a squeeze on rental spaces. Homeowners would be able to make a lot more money by letting the tourists rent their homes for short stays instead of getting into a longer arrangements with the renters.

Nov 24, 2007

Hovercrafts in Mumbai

Mumbai Hovercraft routes

As a viable and attractive alternative to Mumbai's congested roadways, air-conditioned hovercraft service has several advantages.

Distance between Borivli and Nariman Point 55 km
Time between Borivli and Nariman Point 50 min (half of what it takes today)
Cost of one way ticket Rs 130
Passenger capacity 100-300
Days of year the service can run 300

For the hovercraft service to be really attractive, a Ro-Ro (roll on and roll off with vehicles) option would be the best. It will also cut down the congestion on the roadways. This is not being considered currently.

The past has not been so rosy for this service. Vashi to Gateway of India service was started in 1994, but was suspended due to lack of jetties, support from the government. What is required is permanent set of jetties along with a terminal.

All of this would cost around Rs 600 Cr. This would be well worth it. Nearly 550 new cars are being added to the Mumbai roads each day. This viable alternative will cut down congestion and pollution at the same time.

The current plan is to start off with 12 hovercrafts seating 120 passengers and ramp up to 45 hovercrafts.

The service will be suspended during the monsoon season.

Nov 23, 2007

Future of Mumbai

The following two pictures capture Mumbai's future by staying true to her spirit. It is true the more things change the more they remain the same. With the stock market, real estate, incomes booming, Mumbai is getting much needed attention to its infrastructure. New trains, metros, sea link is right around the corner. However, it is quite likely that the following two images would hold true.

Nov 22, 2007

Media and Entertainment Industry

Mumbai being the entertainment capital of India, the growth of media and entertainment industry is critical for its future. The whole industry is expected to grow at the rate of 18% each year through 2011. That means the industry valued at $11 billions will be $2 trillion by 2011.

This is what it means to individual sectors of this industry.

Film industry will be worth $4.4 - 5.1 billions

TV. There are 200 million households. TV has penetrated 60% of those homes. There are more than 350 channels.

Animation industry is nascent at $285 millions.

Gaming is $50 millions right now and will grow to $300 millions by 2009.

Print media accounts for 29% of the industry with more than 60,000 newspapers. However, the newspapers reach only to the 30% of the literate population.

Music and Radio is the only sector which shrank from $250 millions in 2000 to $155 millions in 2004. more than 70% of the content in this sector comes from the movies.

TATA Motors building Hydrogen Vehicle

If everything goes according to plan, athletes at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi will be travelling from the games venue to the games village and back on pollution-free hydrogen buses. Work on the country’s first such green initiative by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and Tata Motors has already started and the prototype is expected to be ready by December 2008.

The bus will not run on an engine but on electric power produced from a mix of hydrogen and oxygen. It will use hydrogen fuel cell technology as against combustion technology which burns gasoline. The bus will emit nothing but a cloud of water vapour. Tatas were enamoured by French inventor Guy Negre’s air-powered technology for car engines and were keen on bringing it to India.


The vehicles will be introduced at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi The buses will emit water vapour and not noxious gases Hydrogen will eliminate use of carbon-based fossil fuels and reduce CO2 emissions; Will be alternative to petroleum.

Hydro-bus will cost Rs 80 lakh

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and Tata Motors are planning to roll out India’s first truly eco-friendly vehicle, fuelled by hydrogen and leaving behind only a stream of water vapour, by December 2008.

Tata Motors will get the frame and chassis ready while Isro will provide the fuel technology. The first bus will be a 60-seater proto-model. Based on its performance, modified versions will be built later on, Isro chairman G Madhavan Nair told reporters on the sidelines of the 14th session of the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum that opened on Thursday at the ISRO headquarters here.

The bus will cost about Rs 80 lakh with the hydrogen gas that will run it costing about Rs 120 per kg or more. A 40 kg cylinder will allow the bus to run 560 km—the equivalent of an entire day’s running for a typical metro bus. “In the short run it may be costly, but in the long run when we are on the verge of hydrocarbon extinction, people will be willing to pay anything. We are working on a bus now because that will be more economical than a car as it will hold 60 people.

“In Phase II, we will come out with a car with a lower cost of hydrogen gas. The technological challenge of conversion of gas to electricity is immediate for Isro now,’’ architect of the bus V Vnanagandhi, programme director, SAC, Isro, Ahmedabad.

Nair said hydrogen fuel cell technology was the future for automobiles. “How much ever we try with conventional engines, we are unable to control pollution, but this technology will help do that.’’

Real Estate Boom

Global real estate majors such as Dubai World, Trump Organisation of US, Smart City of Dubai, Kishimoto Gordon Dalaya, Khuyool Investments, Bonyan Holding, Plus Properties, ABG Group and Al Fara’s Properties are descending on the Indian real estate market with an investment of around $20-25 billion in the next 12-18 months. Top-level management teams of around 50 global developers are currently in India scouting for joint venture partners and tie-ups with various state governments to enter one of the booming property market in the world.

Officials close to the developments said that over 200 meetings were held between the representatives of foreign real estate firms and Indian companies and over a dozen JVs are in the final stages. DAMC Holding (a Dubai-based leading real estate firm ) chairman and founder Hussain Sajwani said they have firmed up plans to invest around $3-5 billion in the Indian market. “We are in negotiations with various Indian developers for a possible joint venture, and hope to enter the market in the next 12 months,” he said.

Trump Organisation executive vice president (development and acquisition) Donald Trump Jr is euphoric about India. “Now is the time to come to India. We hope to strike the deal in the next 12-18 months, though we will be eager to do it much before,” he said. He, however, declined to divulge the amount of investment. Industry officials said a global real estate exhibition organised by Cityscape, currently going on in Mumbai, provided a platform for their discussions.

The Indian real estate industry is estimated to grow by 33% to $50 billion by 2010 and India is looking to remain an appealing investment option for both domestic and foreign investors. Gulf Finance House (GFH) has decided to invest over $2 billion in a greenfield site close to Navi Mumbai, near to the commercial capital’s airport. GFH has already raised $630 million towards the initial development and infrastructure requirements of the project. GFH has signed a wide ranging MoU with the government of Maharashtra towards the development of Energy City India, and the project details are now at an advanced stage.

Similarly, the Dubai Internet City has picked up Kochi to set up a Smart City project, and IT and media hub. The initial investment for the Smart City, being executed by the DIC management will be over $400 million. The Smart City would come up in a vast, 1,000 acres of land on the outskirts of Kochi. Plus Properties CEO Georges Chehwane said currently India offers huge business opportunities and the firm will be entering India in a year’s time.

According to the Asian Development Bank, some 10 million housing units alone will be required by 2030 and with current central bank restrictions on domestic real estate lending, inward flows of overseas capital will be essential to fill the financing void. It is estimated that an additional 16.8 million people annually adding to the surging demand for infrastructure, housing, schools, hospitals, retail as well as hospitality and commercial property. According to property consultants, with many property markets around the world already on the cusp of recession, India offers ideal investment opportunities.

Nov 21, 2007

Betting on Sachin's Bad Luck

Sachin Tendulkar

It seems that master-blaster Sachin Tendulkar’s nightmare with 90s is fast becoming a money-spinner for bookmakers and satorias in the satta market. Sachin, who has not been able to cross the three-digit mark six times this year, has turned out to be the favourite of the betting world.

It is estimated that more than Rs 200 to Rs 300 cr has been put up only on Sachin getting out in the 90s. According to sources, betting on Sachin not reaching the 100 figures has been high in this Pakistan series, especially from the Mohali ODI where he got out at 99 and India lost that match.

“Betting on India or Pakistan has been there since the beginning of the series. But this is a new thing. Now many people are betting on whether Sachin will be able to score a century. Interestingly, for the first time, people have put so much stake on an single batsmen scoring 100 runs,” said a punter.

The rates at the Mohali match on Sachin for not scoring 100 was 1:1.40. So if you bet Rs 100 on him, you would typically get back Rs 140. The punters open these rates once Tendulkar crosses the 90-run mark. The stakes in the Gwalior match was little lower at 1:1.25 — meaning that if you bet Rs 100 on his not scoring 100 runs, you will be richer by Rs 125.

Sachin has been out in the 90s six times this year — twice versus South Africa at Belfast in June at 99 runs in the first ODI, which India lost, and the second ODI which India won. In fact, twice he was out against England in the August-September series in both the matches India won.

Interestingly, with much of the interest already over ever since India won the ODI series against Pakistan, people are now betting on who will win the toss. Among individual players from India, Yuvraj Singh, M S Doni, R P Singh and Robin Uttapha are the clear favourites of the bookies. There is lot of betting on how much Yuvraj will score and even how many sixes he will hit.

Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi and Salman Butt, followed by Younis Khan and Imran Nazir, are also in currency.

Here's an article about the nitty gritty of Cricket Betting.

Retailing Revolution in Mumbai

At present, retailing in India is estimated to be a US $ 230 billion industry, of which organized retailing is a mere 3 per cent. By 2010, organized retail is expected to touch US $ 30 billion with an expected growth rate of about 400 per cent. A study conducted by Fitch expects the organized retail industry to continue to grow rapidly, especially through increased levels of penetration in larger towns and metros and also as it begins to spread to smaller cities and B class towns providing a huge ‘space’ of opportunity for this sector.

Top notch cities like Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad are leading the way but the second tier cities like Nagpur and Surat are catching the eye of all retailers. Fuelled by changing consumption patterns, a strong economy and favourable demographics, the retail sector in the western parts of the country is witnessing a dramatic transformation. In an industry that is largely driven by consumer demand, organized players are going the extra mile to woo customers.

According to a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute, India is poised to become the fifth largest consumer market by 2025. With the largest population of ‘young people’ in the world - over 890 million people are below 45 years of age, India is indeed a resplendent market. As a result of economic growth, household incomes have risen at a fast pace and a change in consumer mindsets has been rather drastic. Today, even middle class consumers are loosening their purse strings, thriving on loans and credit cards and are on a spending juggernaut.

Retail activity in western India is growing thick and fast. Almost all large retailers - such as the Future Group, Reliance, RPG, Lifestyle, Trent, the Rahejas, Piramyd Retail, etc. have set up shop here and have major expansion plans in place. From small towns to metros, India’s new-found obsession with malls is visible everywhere. Mumbai has a shopping mall stock of 4 million square feet, a figure that can go up to 15 million square feet by 2008-09! Reliance announced that it will invest $3.4 billion to become the country's largest modern retailer by establishing a chain of 1,575 stores by 2007.

Considering the diversity in terms of taste and preferences existing in India, the retailers are going for experimentation to identify the winning format suited to different geographies and segments. For example, the taste in the west is different from that in the north or south and this brings challenges to the retailers. Therefore, many retailers are region-centric at this point in time. The Landmark group, which has its dominance in the western region, operates multiple formats such as hypermarket (Max), departmental store (Lifestyle), Shoemart and Funcity12, etc.

Nov 17, 2007

Western Railway Traffic Spikes

Western Railway added 87,000 new passengers to its daily schedule according to the latest statistics. BEST bus routes are losing to the local trains since the roads are terrible and new apartments are being built close to the train stations. This growth is not sustainable. The new projects with metro, monorail will hopefully reduce the load. But till then the daily commute will continue to take a lot of Mumbai's working class.

Hollywood comes to Bollywood

The Bollywood's Saawariya and Om Shanti Om duel be damned. With the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s latest film, Hollywood has officially entered the Indian film arena... and it’s time to pop the bubbly. According to the international studio, the movie grossed Rs 55 crore in its opening weekend. Quite encouraging for a market that promises to open up to bigger, better things, now that foreign investment has come in.

“India has a rich and a prolific film history and we at Sony Pictures recognise the potential and importance of the Indian market. Tying up with an Indian company (as Sony has done with Eros for six co-productions) gives us the opportunity to team up with not only a leading production and distribution house but also gives us the opportunity to work with the talent in India and interact with the enormous creativity that the Indian film industry has to offer,” says Vikramjit Roy, head (publicity) for Sony Pictures Releasing India.

While Sony produced Saawariya for the worldwide market, other Hollywood studios are getting into co-production with Indian studios. In 2006, UTV announced a slate of co-productions with leading Hollywood studios, with a total value across projects of $37 million.

UTV and Fox Searchlight announced a co-production deal on the film I Think I Love My Wife , starring Chris Rock. The $14 million production is UTV’s second venture with Fox after The Namesake. The studio has also announced a $30 million co-production agreement with actor-producer Will Smith and his production company Overbrook Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment, for films to be created and distributed worldwide. “India is one of the most remarkable places on earth and its motion picture industry has always fascinated me,” said Will Smith.

What do tie-ups such as these mean for Indian players? Explains Siddharth Roy Kapur, executive vice-president (marketing, distribution & syndication) UTV, “Co-productions such as ours are a creative and commercial opportunity to play on a global stage. We are being able to mine new revenues across the world. Also, we now have the reach to take our movies to a non-diaspora audience.” The studio recently announced a tie-up with Fox for M Night Shyamalan’s next film The Happening. The movie has a budget of $57 million.

Can the co-production model really work in India? Or will it lead to ‘creative differences’ between directors and the studios? While Sony Pictures “fully supported the creative vision of Sanjay Leela Bhansali”, Shyamalan claims, “I won’t go ahead if the studio does not like even single page in the script. I won’t make a movie if the studio is not convinced about my rationale. My experience with studios across has been ideal and they have always let me have my will in making the movie.”

Come January 2008 and an Indian film will be shot on location in China for the first time ever. Starring Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone, Made In China is being co-produced by Warner Bros Pictures and veteran director Ramesh Sippy. “At the turn of the century there was a lot of promise in the air about globalisation in Indian cinema. With this venture, we are bringing that dream closer to reality. Both Hollywood and the Indian film industry stand to gain a lot from each other,” says Sippy.

Finally, it’s about the money. With Hollywood studios willing to put in big bucks, fees of desi directors and actors are skyrocketing. “The crore is the new lakh and nobody’s complaining,” says an insider.

Nov 11, 2007

New Local Trains for Mumbai

Mumbai local trains are getting a new look. It has been a while since the look of the trains had changed. The last time it was in 1925. The new trains will be 12 coach silver and violet in color. They will replace the current fleet in the next three years.

The upgrade is a part of Mumbai Urban Transport Infrastructure Project. The new train will help the Western Railways add 21 new services on the Dadar-Virar section. The trains are Siemens designed and built in Chennai.

The train ride will be silent and jerk free. The controls will be computer controlled instead of mechanical. Giant fans will provide a forced air ventilation system. These trains will run quieter as well. 66 dB instead of current 90 dB. It will save 30% more electricity since the train will use the braking action to generate stored power. They will run faster as well 100 km/hr instead of current 80 km/hr.

Nov 9, 2007

Kanheri Caves

Situated in what is now known as the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the Kanheri caves were abode to the Buddhist monks in the 2nd century. The complex is divided into several caves that are dispersed over a hilly area— the temple and monasteries are situated here as well. These caves are unlike what one would find in the Elephanta caves nearby. Where they were ornamental, these are bare and minimalistic. But the still functional water harvesting systems with its old channels and cisterns carved out in stone are testimony to the intricate and the genius construction. The central area of these caves has the dagoba—a Buddhist shrine, surrounded by mammoth pillars in a huge hall.

The caves are known as "Buddhist." The highest cave is situated at a height of 1500 ft above sea level. The location of the caves is 45 km from main Mumbai city and 10 km from Borivali railway station. The way to the caves leads through the most beautiful and best natural surroundings of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The zigzag concrete road is fascinating and one enjoys walking the road with natural surroundings (7 km from the Park's entrance. The atmosphere and the scenic beauty is simply enchanting and one is tempted to be in a close vicinity of this place forgetting all the hubs of the Mumbai city.

The word Kanheri originates from the Sanskrit word Krishnagiri. Krishna generally stands for black color. The other name in vogue was "Khaneri" which means black mountain. The following three inscriptions in the caves mention "Krishna-saila", "Kanha Shele", & "Krishnagiri" in cave nos. - C. No. 21, 98, & 101 respectively.

These caves are dated from 1st Century B.C. to 9th Century A.D. Most of them are the Buddhist Viharas which was meant for their residence, study, and meditation. A few Chaityas are seen containing rock-cut stupas meant for congregational worship. The large number of Viharas obviously prove a well-organized existence of Buddhist monks' establishment, which was also connected with many trade centers such as the ports of Sopara, Kalyan, Nasik, Paithan and Ujjain. Kanheri was a well-flourished University center at that time.

Address: Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali (East), Mumbai, 400 092
Phone: +91 22 2202 4482
Fax: +91 22 2202 4521
Nearest station: Borivali
Neighbourhood: Western Suburbs

Nov 4, 2007

Lata Live

Vijay Mallya

Vijay Mallya, an Indian liquor and airline magnate who revels in the tycoon lifestyle, wants to bring his good times to the rest of the world.

Mr. Mallya, 51, built one of India’s largest domestic airlines with aggressive marketing, pocketfuls of cash and a big deal. Now, he is taking his fleet overseas. He plans to bring Kingfisher Airlines, known in India for its saucy flight attendants, top-notch service and the slogan Fly the Good Times, to the United States and Europe as soon as next year.

Back in June, 2007, Mallya added fuel to his overseas plans with a $7 billion order for 50 Airbus planes at the Paris air show. “Our strategy at Kingfisher is to open new long-haul routes and expand existing ones,” he said.

The deal includes five Airbus A340s, which are economical to fly only on long-haul trips. Before Wednesday, Mr. Mallya had five Airbus superjumbo A380s on order, which he plans to fly nonstop to the East Coast of the United States, and five A340s intended for nonstop flights to West Coast cities.

His successes in other businesses are legendary in India, but the foray into international air travel comes at a time when airlines with even deeper pockets, from places including Dubai and Singapore, are attracted by India’s growing numbers of passengers.

And India’s young aviation industry has so far been all boom and no bust, meaning that new carriers like Kingfisher have no experience handling an economic downturn.

Mr. Mallya took over a sprawling family-owned group when he was 27 and turned the businesses into one of India’s most respected, best-known conglomerates, the UB Group, increasing revenue more than tenfold along the way. Taking Kingfisher Airlines international is the next logical step, he said.

“Any serious airline has to look at a worldwide network,” he said in a recent interview in Mumbai, formerly Bombay, as he smoked cigarillos and drank more than one large tumbler of Scotch over ice. “Today, there is serious international growth in and out of India,” he said. “It is an opportunity one should not miss.”

The number of domestic passengers in India increased nearly 40 percent over the last year. International passengers flying from Indian airports increased 25 percent. And only an estimated 3 percent of the nation’s billion people flew last year, so there is plenty of room for growth.

The latest order, and other outstanding orders, will bring Kingfisher Airlines’ overall fleet to 176 aircraft by 2018, from 30 now. Meanwhile, the airline, which started in 2005, has not yet made a profit. Mr. Mallya predicts that will come in the next fiscal year.

As a start-up, Mr. Mallya says, Kingfisher has some advantages that existing American and European carriers do not.

“These airlines grew so large and so unwieldy over the years that they are difficult to manage,” he said. “We have built Kingfisher brick by brick, making sure along the way that we don’t overstaff ourselves, that we use the right technology and that we plan everything to be neat and tight and efficient.”

While he characterizes his business plan that way, Mr. Mallya personally is the sort of unfettered corporate czar that many American boardrooms have not seen in at least half a century. He surrounds himself with a close group of longtime advisers, wears copious diamonds, holds business meetings at his house until 5 in the morning, winks at female journalists and flaunts the “good times” corporate motif in most aspects of his life.

At home, a Mercedes, a Ferrari and a Bentley are parked in his driveway. His ornate living room is filled with silver gilded furniture and art objects like a marble statue of a nymph-like woman, as well as a Picasso sketch. His CD collection includes dance, lounge and party music.

In an India where a growing middle class is rushing to embrace “Good Times,” Mr. Mallya’s image and lifestyle have become part and parcel of the company. The country’s young population “look on me as a kind of an icon,” he said, adding, “That works well for me, and it works well for the business too.”

One thing that Mr. Mallya’s carefully choreographed reputation may be hiding is that he cannot seem to stop working. “I’m not a T.G.I.F. guy,” he said. “I get off a plane at 2 o’clock in the morning and I’m looking for my secretary because I want to know what’s going on.”

“I work hard and I play hard, too,” he quickly added. “There is nothing wrong with that.”

Story in NYTimes.

Mukesh Ambani's New Residence

Antialla Mukesh AmbaniThe Antilia is being built for Reliance Industries Ltd, India’s largest private sector enterprise (with revenues exceeding $25 billion), and the Ambani family, who own the company. Reliance is a petrochemical corporation whose earnings come from exploring, producing, refining and marketing oil and gas. They are the world’s largest producer of polyester fiber, and a runner-up for several others.

The building will stand on Mumbai’s Altamount Road, where real estate costs as much as $1800/square foot. Although Mumbai is the densest city in the world, with almost 30,000 people per square kilometer, this 500+ foot tall building will only be 27 floors where normally a building of this height would be 60, so that each floor can have exceptionally high ceilings, and 35,000 square feet of the entire building area will be the residential quarters of the Ambani’s.

Nov 3, 2007

$59 Million Birthday Gift

Ambani Couple

When it comes to size and price, few can beat Mukesh Ambani. Even if it is just a birthday gift. The world's newest richest man and Reliance Industries boss has just gifted himself and his wife, who celebrated her birthday on Thursday, a gift that has a gasp-inducing price tag and requires a Wankhede stadium to park — a Rs 242 crore Airbus 319 corporate jet.

The customised monster-of-a-bird, that should have been delivered in April, rolled into Delhi's Indira Gandhi International airport en route to Mumbai on Thursday morning. This was confirmed by Airbus sources who did not wish to be quoted. A Reliance spokesperson refused to comment.

The Reliance Industries chairman will finally have his office in the sky. After he bought the aircraft, Mukesh got it customised at the Associated Air Centre in Dallas, Texas. It has a state-of-the-art business office and cabin management system for games, music, satellite television and wireless communication. But more interestingly, it has a master bedroom, master lavatory with a range of showers, galleys and a sky bar in the forward lounge complete with mood lighting.

Sources tell us that Mukesh and Neeta celebrated her birthday a night in advance on Wednesday with a very small, very exclusive party at their Mumbai residence. The theme song for the evening was Mera pati Mera Parmeshwar Hai - reported to be one of Neeta’s favourites. And why not? After all the gift he gave her was something any woman would cherish. Using home video footage of Neeta and their children - right from the time the twins were born - he put together a small film that showcased her with the children.

He may have got the idea from Neeta’s gift to him on his 50th birthday earlier this year. Neeta had gifted him a special biopic directed by none other than Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, the director of Rang De Basanti.

The 40-minute film mapped Mukesh’s life after his father’s death and was shown at the special celebrations organised at Reliance’s Jamnagar factory with workers and special invitees in attendance.

For Neeta’s last birthday, Mukesh had thrown what is still remembered as the party of the year. While Britain’s Crown Prince Andrews was a special invitee, the show stealer was Shah Rukh Khan who had danced the night away.

Next year, Mukesh is probably hoping to give his wife a gift most women can only dream of - a 27-storey mansion. The house is currently under construction at Pedder Road and is expected to be ready by next year.

Oct 31, 2007

Encounter Specialist: Vijay Salaskar

Vijay Salaskar (age 50) was killed in Mumbai terrorist attacks on November 27th at Metro Cinema. More Here

Only terrorist arrested has confessed to killing Mr. Salaskar. How did the final events unfold?

With Tuesday’s encounter, the number of criminals shot dead by inspector Vijay Salaskar touched 78. Salaskar, who was reportedly sidelined for the last two years for unearthing the gutka-underworld nexus, was recently attached to the crime branch, where he currently heads the anti-extortion cell. An officer of the 1983 batch, Salaskar in his 24 years of service has eliminated many criminals. Amar Naik, Jaggu Shetty, Sadhu Shetty, Kundan Singh Rawat, Zahoor Makhanda are some of the gangsters who have fallen to Salaskar’s bullets. According to sources, the police officer had once even gone hunting for former don Arun Gawli. “But Gawli fled from the scene, forcing Salaskar to return empty-handed. However, Salaskar got even by killing his two trusted men, Sada Pawle and Vijay Tandel, in 1997, triggering allegations that the encounters were fake. After this, Gawli was so scared that during the 2005 elections, he complained to the government that Salaskar was trying to kill him and requested that he be transferred,’’ sources said.

This is what Salaskar said in 2004 about Mr, Gawli.

Gawli may have become an MLA. But for me, he continues to remain a former Mumbai don and I have to keep tabs on his activities. If I get any information of his group's involvement in a crime or learn about any shady activity going on at Dagdi Chawl, I will not hesitate to raid his Byculla residence. If I have to arrest him, I will not refrain from doing so. Now that Gawli is an MLA, arresting him will involve certain procedures. I will not bow to any political pressure. I will only take orders from the police commissioner, who is my supreme commander.

It was embarrassing that khaki-clad policemen would be deployed to protect Gawli. In the past, we refused him police protection on several occasions. At that time, I had gunned down several of his top henchmen and so he was scared of me. But if Gawli is really reformed, he should not be afraid of me or any other policeman. We do not target innocent persons.

Diwali Sweets: Diabetes and Coronary rolled into one

Diwali Sweets

Mumbai has changed quite a bit over the years. Just listen to the music played during the Ganesh Utsav. Dress code has changed quiet a bit and we have started celebrating Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and even Boss's Day.
One things that has not changed in this "six pack" world yet is the "Sweets of Diwali".
These fat pills are diabetes and coronary rolled into one nice delivery mechanism.

Oct 29, 2007

Mumbai Shoreline Erosion

Western India, 65 million years ago. Huge volcanic eruptions convulse the surface of the earth. Lava spews out of a longitudinal scar running all the way from Mumbai to Nagpur. As the ground cools, basalt formations like Malabar Hill and Gilbert Hill crystallize. A few hundred kilometres up north, the Western Ghats start to swell up. With the passage of time, a turbulent sea carves out more land and soon a string of islands are formed.

For those unsure about the long-term effects of coastal erosion on India’s commercial capital, visions of the post-Jurassic Age may hold the key to some answers. Scientists believe there was a time when not only were dinosaurs in this part of the world wiped out but large rocky outcrops jutting out from the mainland got severed and were left marooned in the Arabian Sea.

Mumbai’s geological history reveals a pattern of soil erosion, which explains the emergence of the seven islands and the presence of partly submerged isles like Butcher and Elephanta around it. A team from the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) has recently helped reinforce this view by establishing a rate of sea level rise along the Arabian coast over the past century, thus suggesting an age-old decline in land mass. “The process taking place today is the key to the past,’’ says geologist and erstwhile Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) professor V Subramaniam, who has spent years studying physical features along the city’s coastline. Over the past three decades, Subramaniam has inspected beachfronts and bays running down from Cuffe Parade to Marve and found ample evidence of the terrain wearing away under constant buffeting by waves. “I have seen walls around buildings disappearing at Versova, you can imagine what is happening there,’’ he adds.

Down the ages, the shoreline is in fact believed to have evolved from a straight configuration into one indented by bays and creeks owing to such pressure. With tides going up to five metres and strong currents swirling close to land, the Mumbai coast is under active and constant attack. And the same activity, when extrapolated over millions of years under the influence of global warming and melting glaciers, leads scientists to believe there will be further ‘separation’ of portions from the mainland. “It may seem incredible, but Butcher Island and Elephanta were once part of the same land mass as Mumbai. To understand this phenomenon, you must look at terrain around Malabar Hill,’’ says Subramaniam.

The Hill, home to the city’s rich and famous, is a promontory that is lashed by waves on either side. Situated at the southern edge of a ridge that runs down through Cumballa Hill, parts of Worli and Pali Hill, it’s an area that lends itself to coastal disintegration. The early signs of stress along the shore near Raj Bhavan is visible to the expert’s eye; if unchecked, it could lead to corrosion and development of caves and small arches. Further on, as terrain crumbles and roofs collapse, the stage may be set for the strip to break away.

The question is, when? Conservative thinkers believe that given the rate at which the sea is rising, any such destruction can be slowed down or mitigated by constructing promenades and protective walls like the ones at Marine Drive or Carter Road. However, others fear there are changes coming which may be immediate. Debi Goenka, who’s at the forefront of Mumbai’s environmental movement, says new data shows “the Arctic ice caps are melting faster than thought to earlier’’ and this could have a profound impact on the behaviour of the sea.

Of course, doomsday predictions are leavened by oceanographers who are unwilling to rule out the possibility that coastal erosion along a stretch can reverse owing to shifts in wave fields and currents. A vanishing beach can have sand being deposited along it in the distant future. “I remember as a young boy how tiny Miramar beach used to be,’’ says a greying NIO director S R Shetye, whose institute overlooks the waterfront in Goa. “Today the same beach has widened in size and has sand constantly being deposited along it.’’

Oct 28, 2007

Nargis and Sunil Dutt love Story

Everything was going well until the wind changed direction. Suddenly Nargis was trapped inside a ring of fire. In a manner reminiscent of his daredevil days in Khurd, Sunil leapt into the flames. Strangely, Nargis had made no attempt to get out of the fire. She later said she was listening to some higher power which told her to stay there, and was 'ambiguous' about being rescued. But when Sunil reached her, she allowed him to lead her out. They were both badly burnt. Sunil had burns on his face and chest, and she had burns on her hands. Had Sunil not acted swiftly, Nargis could have lost her life in the fire.

She was only 28 years old then.

Bombay was too far for the injured couple to travel, so Mehboob sent them to recuperate in his homestead in Billimora, 35 miles from Umra… Once at Billimora, Nargis felt better after swallowing some painkillers, but she was horrified when she went into Sunil's room. He had high fever and was drifting in and out of consciousness. Nargis felt her inaction during the fire was responsible for his state. She sat by his side, changed the bandages, gave him his medicine and kept vigil over him. She placed wet bandages on his fevered brow, brought him food, and sat with him throughout the night, carefully monitoring his comfort. She anxiously waited for him to open his eyes, and was surprised at the rush of relief she felt when he did… Sunil was deeply moved by her efforts to look after him. After all, she was a famous film star and he was still a newcomer. Yet, she was making him feel as though they had known each other for ages. His natural reticence in front of women began to recede. Soon they were talking like friends-sharing ideas, thoughts, dreams. Their fortnight in Billimora became a turning point: incredibly, they had fallen in love.
As she sat by his bedside, she realized that his courage in pulling her out of the fire had impressed her. It was a long time since someone had sacrificed anything for her. She was the one who always did things for others, whether it was for her family or Raj. Though they were both close to 30 years of age, when she looked at Sunil she saw something of the ideals she had once possessed.

His shy and gentle style, quite unlike Raj's flirtatiousness, was like a balm to her. Unusually, she was spending time with a man who treated her like a normal human being.

To her own surprise, as she talked to Sunil, she realized she had stopped caring for Raj a long, long time ago. And even if she had loved him, it had never been like this. What she felt now was a powerful emotion that engulfed her and made her happy beyond belief. The depression she had been through evaporated in the face of this love. She admitted that she may have ended her life because of the 'turmoil' in it, had he (Sunil) not said, 'I want you to live.' Raj had come into her life when she was 19 and ready for a relationship. If it hadn't been Raj, it would have been someone else; he just happened to be her first boyfriend.

She said she was 'shameless' in discussing every detail of her life, and was not worried because she knew 'that his (Sunil's) shoulders were always there for me to cry on-and I also knew that his garments will absorb my tears and not scatter them out for people to make fun of me.' As the days merged into one another, Sunil discovered how difficult the last few years had been for Nargis, caught in a hopeless relationship with a man who did not care for her reputation or her future, and only wanted to exploit her. More and more he wanted to protect her and look after her forever. She confessed to Sunil that her relations with Raj had been on a 'razor's edge', and that she had been 'desperately' trying to cling to him without any response. She told him that Raj 'had started making me feel disgusting even to myself' and that before she met Sunil, she had 'no reason to be living-I was like that beautiful plant which wanted to bloom but could not because there was poison in the soil.'

With Sunil, things were different. To begin with, he was not as complicated a person as Raj. He was a straightforward, plainspeaking man with a deep respect for women. He could never put his woman on a pedestal one minute and abuse her the next. He was also far less experienced in matters of the heart. Apart from a few mild flirtations, he had never been with a woman, or even had a girlfriend. It was this naïveté that appealed to Nargis, no longer the young girl who had been swept away by twinkling blue eyes. She longed for someone steady and thoughtful. She found in him all the old values of chivalry that made her feel safe. Finally, she had met someone whom she could respect as well. And even more wonderfully, she loved him and he loved her back!

In her letters she was open and blunt about her affection. And within the fortnight they had decided to get married. But it would be a while before they could share their secret with the world. Mother India was still under production, and had people suspected an affair between Nargis and Sunil, it could have led to a scandal.

To avoid their relationship becoming public, the couple began to employ all sorts of strategies. They decided that they would not speak about it to anybody, or at least to as few as possible. As a result, even to this day, most people, even family and friends closest to them, have no idea how often they met in those early days. It was usually in secret, at night. Since they couldn't meet openly, they constantly wrote to each other. In their letters and in the journal each one kept, they addressed each other as 'Pia' and 'Hey There'. When they sent telegrams to each other, they would sign as 'Pia' and 'Hey There'.

Another set of fun pseudonyms was 'Marilyn Monroe' and 'Elvis Presley'.

In her correspondence with Sunil, Nargis reveals herself to be a woman hungry to show her love. Almost as though she could gaze into the future, she wrote to him, 'Darling, don't get angry, but remember even if I die, I will always be there with you spiritually. I am so much attached to you that even death can't take me away completely from you.' These lines would probably comfort Sunil much later, but right now it was the constant separation and the rumours which had him worried.

Oct 26, 2007

Jet Airways's Naresh Goyal

Naresh Goyal

Naresh Goyal is an inscrutable man. If you’re not in his line of fire, being around him can be a lot of fun. He’s got a great sense of humour. He laughs so often that it’s impossible not to laugh with him. He’s a great conversationalist with a few million stories to tell—and he tells them well. And then there is his legendary hospitality—Goyal is on first name terms with the who’s who at every major city in the world. It is, therefore, easy to imagine the promoter of Jet Airways as an uncomplicated man who’s done a pretty good job of creating a pretty good airline.

Those feelings are reinforced when you walk into his office in suburban Mumbai. You’re struck by the absence of a work desk with all the mandatory trappings like a laptop, PDAs and customised stationary—only a table around which eight people can be seated and a few sofas to lounge around on. And his words are crafted to disarm you. “I’m not a very educated man. I don’t need all that,” he says and delivers his trademark, high pitched laugh.

But accepting these assumptions and his selfdeprecatory remarks at face value would be rather naïve. People who’ve seen him at close quarters will tell you Goyal doesn’t need a desk to write on. Every scrap of information is filed away in his head for posterity. And he never forgets—anything. It’s the people around him who take instructions and do all the writing. The table is for them. “He’s a bloody tough boss to be with,” mutters an executive who’s seen him from close quarters.

But then, airlines are built by tough men. Goyal started creating one when only two kinds of airlines existed in the country. Those run by the state like Air India and Indian Airlines, which didn’t give a rat’s backside what people thought. And while newer entrants like East West and Damania tried hard to make a living, for various reasons they went belly up. As Goyal says, “The quickest way to become a millionaire is to first become a billionaire and then get into the airline business.” Just making it through those years needed ruthless grit. To Goyal’s credit, he manoeuvred his way through a seemingly impossible system to create an airline that has for all practical purposes defined how Indians view the flying experience. “I have no personality, so I can fit in anywhere,” he says.

You would be forgiven therefore for imagining that now, all is well in Goyal’s world. Truth is, nothing is what it seems. Aviation analysts reckon when this financial year closes, collectively, the business will have to absorb $500 million in losses. In large part, this is a function of too many airplanes chasing too few passengers. Last year for instance, passenger traffic grew at roughly 40-45%. But airline capacity grew at 50%. Supply outstripped demand and airlines dropped fares to fill their planes. Lower fares, however, meant the passenger load factor had to be in excess of 80% for airlines to break even. For most players—Jet included—it has been in the region of 70%. Given these realities, it is difficult to imagine what shape Jet Airways will take in the future. Surely, Goyal knows.

The perfectionist:

Problem is, Goyal isn’t telling. Asking him to answer the question is a no-brainer. Because he is the kind of man who plays his cards close. Take this time for instance when his A-team woke up one June morning in 2005 at their homes in Mumbai. Each one of them nearly choked on their coffee.

Business papers were full of Goyal’s decision to order 20 new wide bodied aircraft for Jet Airways at the Paris air show. All of it, the newspapers reported, was to be delivered and inducted into the airline’s fleet over 18 months. But nobody at the airline—not the CEO, not the directors on Goyal’s board, absolutely nobody—had a clue this was coming.

It is not clear why he did that. Some speculate Goyal had seen as far back as then that Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines would be a force to reckon with in the years to come. Goyal, they say, wanted the first mover advantage, never mind how impossible the task of inducting these planes into the fleet seemed. Then there are others who argue that Goyal is an emotional man—and that it was an impulsive decision driven by little reason.

Whatever the case be, says an executive who has since then quit the airline: “It was unheard of. And we didn’t even know what routes the planes would be deployed on. That was when I asked myself, what am I doing at this place?” Those were the days when ambiguity existed around the rules that permitted Indian airlines to fly abroad. Not just that, there were no trained pilots or engineers in the country who could manage the Boeing 777.

“I wonder what would have happened if the government hadn’t changed the rules!” says the executive. “I guess that is the difference between an entrepreneur and a CEO,” he adds. “CEOs are handsome. Entrepreneurs are ugly,” says Goyal and roars with laughter. So is it true, we ask him, that he is a control freak who gives nothing away? “I get into detail. That makes me passionate about my business, not a control freak,” he says.

People around him though “wish he interfered a little less in the daily operations”. Does that lead to complications? “Yes,” says a source at Jet Airways. “The chain of command is disrupted.” How does that matter, we press. When Goyal decided to acquire Air Sahara, says the source, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind it was a good deal—not because of what Air Sahara had managed to achieve, but because of what it could potentially bring to the table. “But Goyal doesn’t think too much of a chain of command. When he wants something done, he gets it done. It doesn’t matter who is mandated to do it. In this case, we couldn’t complete the due diligence. It was only after we closed the deal that skeletons started tumbling out of the closet.”

For instance? “Some planes were unfit to fly,” says the executive. “Then there was the fact that Sahara hadn’t put any money into maintaining its fleet for months. We didn’t know that.” So why does Goyal run things the way he does? “Look at it this way,” says the former Jet executive, “He holds 80% in the airline. This is his wealth. If it fails, he is paranoid he will be known forever as a failed entrepreneur. To that extent he is right.” Ask Goyal if the stories about him being a tough boss to work with are true, he looks back at you quizzically and laughs. “I’ve never sacked anybody in my life,” he says. “If I don’t want somebody, I give him newspapers to read. After three months of doing nothing else but reading the papers, they get the message and leave,” he says. “That doesn’t make me a tough boss,” he concludes.

Method to the madness:

By the middle of next year, the wide bodied aircraft that Goyal ordered, much to the chagrin of his team, will be deployed on international routes. Another three that have been ordered will be deployed in 2009. The assumption is this: Jet Airways will take losses for 12-18 months on each of the routes it operates on. That is the deadline Goyal has set his team to break even. The airline has already started making profits on the Mumbai-London, Mumbai-Singapore and Chennai-Singapore routes. If the relentless pace at which routes are being added tapers off, by 2010, all of the routes Jet Airways flies on will become profitable ones. By then, Goyal is hoping that 50% of all his business will come from international operations.

As far as domestic routes are concerned, the expectation is the market will grow at 25-30% for at least five years. Capacity additions, however, will be in the region of 12-15%. Coupled with consolidation in the industry and the argument that “however rich Mallya is, his resources are also finite,” the airline expects a certain amount of rationalisation to steady the business.

Eventually, argues Goyal, he will leave his business to professionals to run “because my children aren’t interested in it. My son only wants to play cricket and my daughter has expressed no interest in it.” “Sooner or later, he will have to dilute his 80% stake. I suspect he will wait until the time he feels the valuations are right,” says an aviation analyst. “And in the future, if regulations permit, he may even bring in a foreign partner,” adds the analyst. Talk in aviation circles is that Lufthansa and British Airways are interested parties. But like everything else with Goyal, it is impossible to know until it happens. In the meantime, Goyal continues to work relentlessly. As he puts it, “To build an airline with the technical efficiency of Lufthansa, the on time performance of Swiss Air, the service quality of Singapore Airlines and the accident free record of Qantas.” By all accounts, he’s getting there.

Oct 21, 2007

Electricity in Mumbai

High tension transmission lines

Mumbai saw electric lighting for the first time in 1882. The place was the Crawford Market. The following year the Municipality entered into an agreement with the Eastern Electric Light and Power Company. Under the agreement, the Company was to provide electric lighting in the Crawford Market and on some of the roads. But the Company went into liquidation the following year, and the Market reverted to gas lighting. Thus ended the first scheme to provide electric lighting in the city.

Another scheme was taken up for consideration in 1891; and in 1894 the Municipality sanctioned funds for installing a plant to generate electricity. The current was to be supplied to the Municipal offices and Crawford Market. It was, and the two places were fitted up with electric lights. But by 1906, with the wear and tear of all those years, the machinery at the plant was in a bad way. The current would stop off and on. So, once again, Crawford Market went back to gas lighting. The Municipal offices, however, arranged to get the electricity it needed from the newly established "Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company".

This Company was originally established in England, as a subsidiary of the British Electric Traction Company, which had been trying since 1903 to bring electricity to Mumbai. The Brush Electrical Engineering Company was its agent. It applied to the Municipality and the Government of Bombay in 1904 for a license to supply electricity to the city. With the municipality approving the Company’s schedule of rates, the Government issued the necessary license : "The Bombay Electric License, 1905. When the Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company came into being, it entered into a contract with the original licensee to take over the right of supplying electricity to the city.

The Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company (B.E.S.T.) set up a generating station at Wadi Bunder in November 1905 to provide power for the tramway. The capacity of the station was 4,300 kws. The needs of the city and of the tramway in respect of electric power were bound to grow. At a rough estimate the full capacity of the Wadi Bunder plant was not going to be adequate beyond 1908. The plant could not be expanded much either. So it was decided to set up another generating station, one with a higher capacity, near Mazgaon (Kussara). It started functioning in 1912. The pace at which the demand for electricity grew can be gauged from the fact that within three years the Wadi Bunder Station proved to be inadequate. The tram service had been expanding, and more and more power was needed for the industrial and commercial establishments, as well as for domestic purposes.

Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company started supplying electricity to the city in 1905. Until 1926, the Company had been generating its own electricity for distribution to its consumers. Later, the Tata Electric Companies started supplying electricity to the BEST. The Tata Electric Companies (The Andhra Valley Power Supply Co. The Tata Power Supply Co., The Tata Hydroelectric Power Supply Co.) generated electricity from their reservoirs at Bhira, Bhivpuri and Khopoli in the Western Ghats. A major portion of it was transmitted through 110,000 Volts overhead lines to their Receiving Stations at Dharavi and Parel. In these Receiving Stations the voltage used to be transformed to 22,000 and 6,600 volts for ease of distribution. The Tata Electric Companies provided, through their cables, electricity at requisite voltage to the industries and mills, the Railways, the Bombay Suburban Electric Supply Company and the BEST.

In 1947, when the Company was taken over by the Municipal Corporation, the Undertaking was buying electricity from Tatas at nine receiving points known as : Kussara, Mahim, Kingsway, Jamnadas, Suparibag, Lalbaug, Esplanade, Palton and Backbay. At all these points, except Kussara, Kingsway and Mahim, the supply was received at 6,600 Volts. The supply was received at 22,000 Volts and transformed through Tatas’ transformers to 5,500 Volts at Kussara and to 6,600 Volts at Kingsway and Mahim. From these receiving points the cable network carried power to 247 Substations situated in different areas of the city. With the help of transformers at these substations, the voltage was further transformed to 400/230 Volts, suitable for use in the factory, shop and home. It was made available to the consumers through a low voltage distribution network and service cables to individual buildings. The major portion of electricity distributed was at Alternating Current (A.C.). But, in some areas of South Bombay, particularly Fort, Kalbadevi and Girgaum, Direct Current (D.C.) was supplied at a voltage of 460/230 Volts. To convert it into D.C., Rotary Converters were operated at Pathakwadi, Telwadi, Apollo and Palton Road Substations and Mercury Arc Rectifiers were used at Phirozshah Mehta Road substation.

Oct 20, 2007

New Scheme for Mumbai Taxis

Mumbai Taxi Meter Bombay

Mumbaiites will soon be able to hire a taxi of their choice. Fulora Foundation, a non-profit organisation based in Mumbai, plans to set up a new special purpose vehicle (SPV) called Mumbai Gold Cab (P) Ltd, which will own a fleet of yellow taxis that would be leased to several taxi drivers under a scheme designed to help taxi drivers and commuters.

A taxi driver joining the scheme will get a brand new vehicle in exchange for the old car. The driver will have to pay a daily instalment, which will depend on the type of car chosen. Those do not have the taxi permit will have to pay a security deposit of Rs 20,000, said Mr Arun Sabnis, CEO, Mumbai Gold Cab. The minimum daily instalment works out to about Rs 300. The SPV hopes to bank finance at one per cent lower than the market rate, he added.

Initially, the vehicle will be owned by the company and leased to the operator. After five years, the ownership will be transferred to the operator.

Mr Sabnis said that there would be three segments of the fleet - basic, medium and luxury. For every 1.5 km clocked by the vehicle, the customer would be charged Rs 15 (basic), Rs 19 (medium) and Rs 24 (luxury) respectively. The basic segment comprises vehicles such as Tata Indigo, Indigo Marina, Maruti Esteem and Hyundai Accent; medium segment has the Mitsubishi Lancer and the luxury segment the Toyota Corolla.

The new service will be carried out in three shifts of eight hours each. Thus, productivity will be high and drivers will earn more than what current black and yellow cab and cool cab drivers earn, said Mr Sabnis.

In comparison to the rates charged, the black and yellow cab currently charges a minimum of Rs 13, while the cool cab charges Rs 16.50 per 1.5 km. Under the scheme, the company will offer 24-hour service, bookings through fax, SMS, Internet, taxi terminals and radio booking through GPRS technology. Besides these services, the fleet will come with facilities like car audio and video entertainment, said Mr Sabnis.

Regular customers will be given a pre-paid charge card (Standard, Classic, Silver and Gold). Every card member will get bonus points that can be redeemed against normal taxi usages, while corporate card members will be provided with pre-sanctioned limited swipe cards.