Rate hikes: The story continues

BY AGAMONI GHOSH

As expenses continue to rise without subsequent rise in income, the plight of a salaried individual worsens day by day. With soaring food prices and transport costs, the interest rates on borrowing from banks also hit another high. The RBI hiked the repo rate by 25 bp points to 8.25% last week, making it the 12th straight rate hike since March 2010, the longest rate cycle hike in nearly a decade.

The Short term lending (repo) rate, the rate at which the banks borrow money from the RBI has been on a steady rise and is expected to rise further by 25 bp in October.  Even the short-term borrowing (reverse repo) rate at which banks park their funds with the RBI has climbed to 7.25 per cent.

The automobile sector is worst affected, facing the possibility of even slower growth and lower revenues with the hike in fuel prices adding to its woes. Most rate sensitive sectors in the stock market like banking and real estate are also expected to suffer, since loans become more expensive with higher EMIs. In other sectors, companies which are expanding and in need of capital are going to suffer with credit availability becoming difficult. With growth seemingly out of the question, the only reprieve for a long market in heavy infrastructural investment is that the hike can be yet another round of speculative rumblings bound to perish with the same alacrity.

As the last few weeks have seen the Eastern European currencies and Latin American currencies weaken, it increasingly seems like the global recessionary pressure is getting to us.  Investors are now waking up to the truth that Asia is no longer immune to what happens in the Western world. Indeed, more than that, since Asia is suffering, growth is taking a hit owing to their policy actions. India’s rise in interest rates is now beginning to impact growth domestically.

The industry and even a section in the Finance Ministry, led by the Chief Economic Adviser to the FM Kaushik Basu, were of the view that the central bank should desist from hiking rates yet again as the slowdown is more serious than previously visualised. Many analysts have assumed that there might be a disagreement between the finance ministry and the RBI on managing inflation.

Had the Government acted earlier, RBI would not have had to resort to such consistent hikes. The government on the other hand continues to act irresponsibly, with eyes on the vote bank. Projects are at a standstill, especially in the power sector and capital goods. If the rupee continues to depreciate, inflationary pressures will only go up.

As the monetary authority continues its war on inflation, Pranab Mukherjee feels it is imperative on the part of the government to take this decision.

The monetary tightening effected so far by the Reserve Bank may have helped in containing inflation and anchoring inflationary expectations, but  has added to the common man’s dilemmas once again.

‘Modern’ Times for ‘Mad’ Men!

BY SUNETRO LAHIRI

It was a night for stars alright, replete with resplendent show-tunes, spiffy tuxes and Elie Saab’s and Armani Privé’s in every palette of red. Funny hostess – check, surprises springing up like Halloween décor – check, gushing speeches oscillating between funny and ridiculous – check. The night was set for television’s very own grand gala ball as the 63rd Emmy Awards were doled out on 18th September at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. Needless to say, after a long starving wait, the Awards turned into a night many would remember, not least for the surprising victors that thwarted the predictions of every television pundit worth his dime!

On a night that began with two straight – up wins for Modern Family’s incessantly bickering couple, Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell, one could safely say that a lot of toasts would be coming the show’s way! Not surprising one and all with its fourth straight win, equalling The West Wing’s previous record, Mad Men racked up the Best Drama gong walking hand in hand with another funny ‘Modern’ as the usual suspects! And yes all the while we learnt that Jane Lynch ISN’T always the mean machine Sue Sylvester is and to prove the point, she even ‘slashed’ her alter ego in the introductory piece.

As expected she induced a few guffaws and gnarls but it didn’t quite hit the benchmark set by Neil Patrick Harris who hosted the Awards two years back. Dressed in a white Armani Privé that seemed like memorabilia from the storehouse of Star Wars (the prequels!), Julianna Marguilles avenged her previous year’s ouster with a sure-fire Best Drama Actress win for The Good Wife that didn’t cause so much as a raised eyebrow. And of course, Miss Winslet, the lovely English Rose, well she gushed and we swayed, she smiled and we swooned. In short, draped in a red Elie Saab number that hugged her in the right places and swathed her in a temperature raising red, Winslet said boo-ya to the ‘Oscar Curse’ and her divorce with a win for her stunner of a performance in HBO’s eponymous ‘Mildred Pierce’.

However, the night also must have made some bookies very happy and some really mad! For starters, Mildred Pierce got ‘pierced’ straight in the heart to be outdone by a geriatric yet weighty Downtown Abbey in the TV Movie/Miniseries category. And the world knew that HBO could sometimes lose at the Emmys! While Margo Martindale’s quietly murderous mother from the sinister western Justified nabbed for the team, ousting bookie favourite The Good Wife’s Kalinda Sharma, Tyrion Lannister’s dry wit won Peter Dinklage the gong, giving the superb Game of Thrones at least a few wins! However, the biggest surprises were reserved for the Emmys for the other Acting Leads.

Jim Parsons may have expounded every scientific theory on The Big Bang Theory, but his Sheldon Cooper could not possibly explain how, in an honour reserved for few, he won his second trophy in the running especially when a wincing Steve Carell bade adieu to his ‘Office’ without a single Emmy on his platter for the record!

Big girls are back in fashion, for sure, as Melissa Mccarthy continued her brilliant year with a jaw-dropping win for the ho-hum comedy, Mike and Molly.

However, the night’s biggest upset was Jon Hamm not being rewarded for his BEST acting turn of the year for Mad Men. Kyle Chandler may have gotten the sympathy vote, what with being snubbed year after year, but if Hamm doesn’t win next year, we’re pretty sure there will be some bounties on some heads and some heads shall roll!

Of Grit, Class and Technique

BY PRAKASH GOVINDASREENIVASAN

Back in 1996 when a young 23-year old boy donned white kits for the first time for India against England at Lords’, not many would have bet their money on this lanky looking textbook cricketer. It was the same game in which, if I may say, a more flamboyant batsman called Sourav Ganguly made his debut too and scored a stunning century. Even today, the whole country remembers ‘Dada’ for that knock.

But, it was also the game where Rahul Dravid, who put on a wonderful 95-run partnership with Ganguly for the fifth wicket, played a patient and a rather matured innings of 95, standing ground for over three hours. That, I reckon, was the birth of one India’s best for a long time to come.

Grit, Class and Technique – a few words one would associate with the man from Bengaluru whose career lasted for 15 glorious years. He entered the International arena at a very interesting stage- when Sachin Tendulkar was already a household hero and Sourav Ganguly’s classy offside play was starting to attract more and more fans and experts alike. At first look, Dravid was an epitome of composure, someone who was in complete senses in all situations, be it two sessions of the last day to bat on with the number eleven or fifteen runs to get off two overs in a limited overs match.

It was almost outrageous for someone so young to be so focused at the crease. As a top order batsman, it’s baffling as to how Dravid was one of those who rarely premeditated and went for a greedy slash at the ball. It was all about technique and it always will be. It took great determination and dedication to be able to play exactly according to your coach’s words and every single time Dravid was in the middle, he would do exactly that.

Slowly and steadily, Dravid cemented his place in the Indian top order in both formats of the game. So much so that he was called ‘The Wall’, purely due to his ability to consolidate and play out the middle overs in the most elegant way possible.

Dravid’s career in a sentence can be described as that of a rescue worker, someone who was always at the crease when the chips were down and more often than not he orchestrated a comeback. It’s also his uncanny ability to build long lasting partnerships with his colleagues in the middle that sets him apart from most of his era. His best supporting role came in that historic match against Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001 where a 376-run stand in the second innings with VVS Laxman helped India comeback from a follow on to beat the then best test team in the World.

After having played 343 ODIs, Rahul Dravid decided to call it quits after playing the ODI series against the same opponent he started out against England.

Even as the Rainas and the Kohlis look to fill his humongous shoes in the ODI format of the game, Dravid will continue to put his heart and soul into the team in the longest format of the game.

After the departure of Sourav Ganguly, India managed to do decently well with the replacements in the middle order in test matches but when Dravid leaves , the void is surely going to be bigger and one that will spark off what is called the transition phase of Indian cricket.

Till the day comes, cheers to those impeccable square cuts and long patient innings.

Air India: The Maharaja of disasters

BY PRATITI CHAKRABORTY

The National Carrier is in deep trouble and the man trying to turn it around probably has the toughest job. With all the problems surrounding Air India, Civil Aviation Minister Valayar Ravi is quite literally begging his way out of financial issues.

Air India has the infrastructure and the personnel required for it to be revived. However, faulty management decisions and poor governance has resulted in heavy losses and the current pathetic condition of the airline. Air India has been in financial trouble for a while now; however the biggest issue to be resolved is the acquisition of a huge number of aircrafts by the Aviation ministry.

The Comptroller and Auditor General report, tabled in the Parliament earlier this month, strongly criticised the Civil Aviation Ministry and its aircraft acquisition terming it risky and pointless.

The report concentrates on the deal of 28 new aircrafts in 2004 which grew to 68 after the Congress took over. This purchase was to be paid off with the help of loans and debts. An organization which was already under a debt of Rs 29 crore was pushed up to approximately Rs 38000 crore in just a year. Air India also took a loan of Rs 200 crore with an extremely high interest to fund its expansion plans.. This deal with Boeing has turned into a nightmare as the delivery has not only been delayed by three years but the hasty plan has also ensured that there is no money to pay even after the delivery.

In 2004, Air India had only 93 aircrafts which were all around 20 years old. This, clubbed with the decision to purchase 111 aircrafts to be able to compete internationally, has been a ‘recipe for disaster’. Not to mention, the call for the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines further added to the woes of the airlines. This merger also caused problems a few months back when the AI pilots went on a strike for pay parity. The six day strike led to a loss of Rs 5-6 crore per day which pushed Air India into a financial abyss. These financial issues brought about the thought of privatisation of Air India.

It seems that the government hid the ailing health of the Maharaja for too long. But now that the CAG report is available on a public forum, the government has to come up with the solutions to all the issues being faced. Privatisation of the airline is clearly out of the running, so other ways have to be found out and implemented before it is too late.

The main concern now is recovering debts and putting a stop on further losses. A competent and experienced team of people should be given the task of marketing and human resources. These are the two main areas where efforts need to be increased. The AI pilots have been unhappy about the way the management has treated them, it is time to bring about changes in the managerial ways. Another area that needs immediate attention is infrastructure.

It is important that the products provided to the clients are of superior quality and capable of competing with the international standards. If the service is of a defined standard then fares do not need much of a subsidy. This will be contrary to the present low fares that have often resulted in decreased revenue for the airlines.

For a long time now private airlines have been favoured by the majority of ministers. It is time to stop such biased benefitting immediately. Whether it is preference in the airport bays or route networks, private airlines use their clout which plays out as a major disadvantage to the National Carrier.

If the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines merger can be turned into a success story, it would provide the airlines with a huge number of motivated employees.

With these employees and the acquired infrastructure, the Maharaja can be brought back from the dead.

BY PRATITI CHAKRABORTY

Pune lights up for Pujos

BY RAINA KSHETRY

“Yaa Devii Sarvabhuuteshhu Maatrirupena Sansthitah

Yaa Devii Sarvabhuuteshhu Shaktirupena Sansthitah

Yaa Devii Sarvabhuuteshhu Shaantirupena Sansthitah

Namastasyaih Namastasyaih Namastasyaih Namo Namah”

(Goddess Durga is omnipresent. She is the personification of the Universal Mother. She is a Mother, who is present everywhere and who is the embodiment of power and energy. Great mother, who is present everywhere and who is embodiment of Peace. I bow to that mother, I bow to Durga, I bow to Shakti.)

The most popular festival among Bengalis, Durga Puja’s spurt of fanfare can be sensed on all four days of mirth and extreme euphoria. Bengalis all over the world rejoice to their heart’s content with identical sounds of the dhak, ecstatic sights of dhunuchi naach, while the air breathes intoxicatingly of shiuli flowers.

Though believed to be more of a Bengali festival, Puneites too celebrate Durga Puja with passion and devotion. They welcome this festival with excitement and enthusiasm. Major puja committees in Pune are all decked up to make this year’s festival a grand success.

The festival of Durga Puja has been celebrated in Pune for more than seventy years now and every year the response and participation of devotees from all different communities has been encouraging. Major puja committees start preparing in advance to ensure that these four days are gripped by sanctity and fun.

There are more than twenty three venues where Durga Puja is celebrated every year in Pune. The top locations where one is sure to find all the fun and frolic are- the Kalibari at Khadki, Congress Bhavan and the Sabojanik Durgautsav Committee, Kalyani Nagar.

“We are always thankful and grateful to the local people of Pune for helping us to make this festival a success. It is actually a place where people irrespective of their origin, caste or any other kind of differences, come together and adore maa durga. It is metaphorically a celebration of humaneness,” says Rajesh Burman of the Bongiya Sanskriti Samsad, Congress Bhavan on JM Road Pune.

And who can resist the delicious Bengali cuisine and mouth-watering rasogollas? The Pune Pujos takes care of that as well.

“People who come into our pandal do look forward to eating their heart out at the food stalls that we set up. One can pamper their taste buds with some traditional Bengali food items. Furthermore, this year we have put up a painting exhibition cum training sessions, wherein interested minds can learn the basics of merging colour with imagination. To cater to non-Bengali devotees, we have arranged singers who will sing Hindi and Marathi songs,” says J P Banerjee, President of Sarbojanik Durgautsav Committee, Kalyani Nagar.

For all the Bengalis out there, if you’re not at home, this will be the perfect way to enjoy your Durga Puja in Pune!

A trip to Leh and a mountain of memories

BY BIBARTAN GHOSH

A lot has been spoken about hill stations in different parts of India and how scenic and breath-taking they are. However, in all of these, the best one surprisingly remains low-profile. If you have a week’s time in hand, head off for the best of the hill-top experiences in India to a quaint little city called Leh.

Situated at an altitude of 3400mtrs above sea level in the trans-Himalayan range, Leh is the district capital of Ladakh. One of the smallest cities in the world, Leh faces the extremes of climatic conditions. While winters are stretched and temperatures fall as low as -30°c, summers can be as high as 25°c. The tourist season falls between May and October. Post that, the roads from Manali and Srinagar are closed due to extreme snowfall.

You can either choose to fly or go by road. There are daily flights available from Delhi reasonably priced at around Rs 6000 for a round trip.

While road trips are much more exhilarating, it takes almost 2-3 days to reach Leh from either Manali or Srinagar. However, there is nothing like taking a road trip to Leh, driving across mountains and high-altitude passes while experiencing the vastness of the Himalayan mountain ranges.

Decent accommodations are easily available within Rs. 1000 a day on a twin sharing basis. The day can be utilized to roam around Leh, visiting local monasteries and Leh Palace, markets, interacting with extremely simple Ladakhi people and sampling Tibetian delicacies. Most of the restaurants here make incredible momos, thukpas, teemoks and thanthuks at extremely reasonable costs. Though chicken items are a little difficult to find, Ladakhi cuisine features lamb, sheep and mutton in abundance. The Tibetian Wok, the Himalayan Café (in the main market), Lamayuru and Little Tibet of Fort Road are some of the best restaurants in Leh.

Leh can be seen extensively even in a day or two. The best places to visit in the trans-Himalayan range are Nubra Valley, Khardung La, Pangong Tso, Magnetic Hill among others. If you are a biking enthusiast then you can hire motorcycles from Leh or pool-in cabs and taxis are also available. The second day can be ideally used to visit Magnetic Hill and a village called Nimmu, about 30kms from Leh. While Magnetic Hill actually defies the law of gravity, Nimmu is a quiet, small town with rich Tibetian culture. On the way back, the Hall of Fame by the Indian Army is a must-visit. The Hall of Fame preserves the actual ammunitions and stories of India’s battle for Tiger Hill in 1999 and the Kargil War.

The next day could be spent travelling to Nubra Valley while passing through the world’s highest motorable pass, Khardung La. It is at a height of 18380ft above sea-level. Pool-in cabs will cost anywhere between Rs 1000-1200 per person and an entire cab would cost around Rs 4000 – 4500. If you are an adrenaline junkie, then self-drive Enfields can be hired at around Rs 800 – 1000 per day. The road to Nubra is extremely rocky with a steep incline for 40kms till you reach Khardung La. After that, the descent continues till you see plain lands stretching for kilometers. Nubra is the most fertile valley in Ladakh with lush green fields & plantations. It is one of the most beautiful places in an otherwise dry and arid Ladakh region.

After a visit to Nubra, the next destination is Pangong Tso. It’s a 134 km long lake, with some parts even stretching to China. The lake became famous to Indians after the film ‘3 Idiots’.

Sooner than you realize, the week-long holiday comes to an end. There is something about the barren mountains, or the chapped cheeks of innocent Ladakhi kids or just the city that sleeps before even its eight in the night that will make you feel like coming back even before your flight has taken off.

Call an Ace, an Ace. Please

BY SUKETU MEHTA

The biggest sporting icons in India have always been cricketers. Be it a Kapil Dev a Sachin Tendulkar or a MS Dhoni. Each of them has performed to their potential, made the country proud on numerous occasions and hence attained demi-God like status along with unmatched fan following across the nation. This partiality towards the sport of sporting icons has propelled the media to hype up any sportsperson, who is not a cricketer, in spite of any notable performance in their sport. A shining example of this is Somdev Devvarman who was recently honored with the Arjuna Award based on his performance last year which included a gold medal each at the Commonwealth and Asian games.

It has been four seasons now when Somdev turned pro in the ATP circuit. In these four seasons, he hasn’t won any ATP recognized tournament, not crossed the second round at a Grand Slam event and lost more matches than he has won throughout his professional career. None of the above makes him ‘India’s hope at a Grand Slam’, ‘Next big thing in tennis’ or even ‘India’s tennis sensation’ as any news report or article would describe him as. But there remains a feeling in every Indian that Somdev will get India high up on the tennis map.

The man is already 26. He still has, at the most, four years left in him to play at the top of his game. His style of playing, a defensive baseline game similar to Nadal’s will make it tough for him to sustain longer than that in professional tennis. With how things have gone in the last four years and the quality of players currently on the tour, it seems rather improbable that Somdev will make a turnaround of sorts to achieve all what people hope he can.

It is wrong to make an ordinary player look like someone who can stir a revival. It is wrong for both, the player as well as fans of the game. The player then needs to carry a billion hopes on his racquet when he knows that he is not as skillful or as fit as his peers. And when he fails, the audience understands his standing and this makes them lose respect for the player, a folly on their part.

It has happened before. Ask a Sania Mirza, a Narain Karthikeyan or even a Karun Chandhok. Somdev’s story seems to be drifting towards the same path unless he drastically improves his game with help of certain Rajinikanthesque powers or the media stops making more of him than he is. The former seems more likely.

No ‘running out’ of cricket

BY SOHAM SENGUPTA

This season of cricket seems to be everlasting refusing simply to run out. Indian fans now have the Champions League T20 to look forward to after the ignominy of the English tour. How much interest this tournament will engage in the overfed cricket fan is a matter of debate yet the tournament is here.

One of the major drawbacks with the Champions League 2010 was that the teams from Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies struggled to match up to the levels of teams from the rest of the world. In an attempt to increase the levels of competition as well as spectator and commercial interest of the tournament, the 2011 edition is having a qualifier round involving teams from these countries, the top two county sides, and the fourth-ranked IPL team.

Is this enough to sustain spectator interest?  India’s drubbing on English soil witnessed a steep fall in viewership. The lack of competition and the abundance of injured players have to a great extent wilted the interest of the Indian cricket fan.

The teams participating in the qualifier round are Trinidad & Tobago from West Indies,Ruhuna from Sri Lanka,Auckland from New Zealand,Kolkata Knight Riders from India,Somerset and Leicestershire from England. The top three teams from the qualifier round will compete in the main draw that will also include Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore from India, New South Wales and South Australia from Australia, Cape Cobras and Warriors from South Africa. The ten teams in the main draw will be split into two groups of five each, with the top two from each group contesting the semi-finals.

The dominance of the IPL teams suggests that the organizers are again clearly targeting the Indian spectator. The Kolkata Knight Riders are also part of the qualifiers so we can expect up to four teams from the Indian Premier league. This is twice the number of teams from any other national league. Hence, it is essential that the Indian teams do well in order for this league to have any chance of financial success.

Already this new feature has sparked off some intriguing moments on field. Sanath Jayasuriya is playing for Ruhuna, the Lankan domestic T20 champions. He was seen to be as competitive and energetic as in his heydays against Trinidad and Tobago.

The presence of aggressive teams like Trinidad and Tobago and Cape Cobras should make the matches keenly contested ones if trends from last year are to be believed. When the big guns like Dhoni, Pollard, Gayle, Gibbs and the rest take to the field, the drama should be on the high. One should also watch out for the lesser known but no less effective players such as Shaun Tait, David Warner and Peter Trego.

Despite such interesting prospects arising out of these qualifiers, the spectator turnout has been low. The qualifying round matches of Champions League T20 failed to draw the crowds here Monday with poor attendance marking the league opener between Trinidad and Tobago and Ruhunu at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.

Though, the turnout picked up for the second match of the day featuring Kolkata Knight Riders and Auckland Aces, it was still not to the standards of T20 version. Attendance for the second match was a notch above 8000 where the total seating capacity is 40,000. Obviously a long season of cricket right from the World Cup, followed by the IPL has exhausted not only our star players but also the viewers.

The organizers continue to believe that interest will pick up after the main draw begins. The big teams like Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians are expected to lure the big crowd in.

Whether old champions clinch the trophy or a dark horse comes up trumps is a question of time. Until proved otherwise, it looks like a textbook case of too much cricket.

The Fashion Guru

BY SALONI DUTTA

Down to earth, compassionate, and cheerful best describe Swapnil Shinde. He’s the man who dresses the damsels of Bollywood. Swapnil Shinde believes in letting creativity empower the work one produces. He speaks fondly of his career in the fashion industry acknowledging the fact that it has been an eventful journey filled with crests and an occasional trough. In a span of just three years, this designer has found his footing in the industry which is known for its ruthlessness.

Swapnil began his journey with the industry when he decided to opt for a course at the National Institute of Fashion Technology. He followed that up with a Masters in Fashion from Milan. He made it big with the television reality show Lakme Fashion House in 2005 where he got a chance to showcase his talent in front of the who’s who from the fashion industry including Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla.

“I was the first runner up and I had to go for a six month internship at the House of Versace, one of the best known Italian fashion brands. It was a dream come true for me to work for Versace and the whole ordeal left me with new confidence. Since then I have been a regular at Fashion Weeks”, said Swapnil Shinde

His journey in Bollywood took a sharp turn with the movie ‘Fashion’. “I knew actor Mugdha Godse from when she was a model and she wanted me to design her clothes in ‘Fashion.’ She recommended me to the film’s stylist and they were keen on using my collection for Priyanka Chopra. The film clicked; so did her clothes.”

Post ‘Fashion’, Shinde designed for Lara Dutta, Kangna Ranaut, Mandira Bedi and Soha Ali Khan in their films. He also designed for Sanjay Leela Bhansali Productions ‘Guzaarish.’

As a designer, he feels he has evolved. “I used to primarily work on evening gowns but now I have started expanding my work. I plan to introduce an Indian line of clothes for my brand and also launch a menswear line.”

Shinde is also busy preparing for the coming fashion weeks. His last stint of backing out from the Lakme Fashion Week is still being talked about, for which Swapnil clearly says, “I had some personal reasons and matters to look into which led me towards backing out from the fashion week but now I am all set for the coming seasons.”

Talking about fashion in Pune, Swapnil commented on the recent sprint of fashion weeks in the city by terming them as inspiring for the young city based designers. “I feel these events come out as a huge opportunity and are stepping stones towards the national fashion weeks for budding designers. They are a perfect platform for them to showcase their work. I would be glad to be a part of some event. It is young, refreshing and inspiring for all of us in the industry to see fresh budding talent.” He also feels that a taste for good fashion has been gradually developing in the city and it is becoming one of the biggest markets for the sale of high street fashion clothing and accessories.

With a strong clientele in South Africa and UAE, Swapnil also has a big following in India. His designer brand, ‘Swapnil Shinde’ is a favorite amongst many Bollywood actresses. “My dresses are a way for me to express myself. I’ve been at LFW for 11 consecutive seasons. My tastes have been refined, I’ve matured as a designer, I developed my own prints and have been giving more attention to accessories as well. The designs I make are mass production-friendly; experimental yet wearable.”

With a target group of women between the age group of 18 to 25, Swapnil tries to make his creations cost-effective. “The “Swapnil Shinde” woman can be anyone. It’s just about looking for that hidden quality, and the much sort after “x factor” which the brand aspires to provide.” he said.

Although the inspirations and the design philosophy behind his collections vary, the trademarks remain the same- complicated pattern making, innovative draping, and the Indian inspiration, is what sets Swapnil Shinde apart from the others in the fashion industry. He has recently finished styling for the television soap, “Ratan Ka Rishta” and has worked on the dresses in Micromax and Sony Viao advertisements with Kareena Kapoor. Of what we can see, he is bound to become a heavyweight in Indian fashion in times to come.

Indian classrooms, Afghani dreams

BY ANCHAL PATHAK, SWATI DEOGIRE, TARANA ARORA

A tall, well-built 19 year old boy leans on the railing outside his classroom. In broken English and with a shy smile on his face, he converses with his Indian classmates. His eyes, however, skim the room, continuously looking for others like him. With his own people he laughs boisterously while his mannerisms become more conscious around others. This is just another moment in the life of Idrees Kamawal, one of the many college students from Afghanistan who is trying to make a home away from home in India, more than 1800 kilometres away from his own country.

Pune being the ‘Oxford of the East’ has kept up to its sobriquet by being a host to students from various countries such as Mauritius, Bahrain, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Afghanistan.  Every year, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) offers 700 full scholarships to students from Afghanistan to pursue their higher education in India. The subjects pan from performing arts to commerce, law, arts and many more. On his recent visit to India, President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai was promised by New Delhi that 300 more scholarships will be provided to Afghani students in the field of agriculture, thus providing further scope to the youth of Afghanistan.

Though Kabul and New Delhi share warm vibes, S A Boxwala, Vice Principal of Nowrosjee Wadia College in Pune paints a different picture of Afghani students in the city. “(They) find it hard to blend with the Indian students”. Trisha Singh, a third year, B. A. History student agrees, “They don’t mix much and prefer to stay with their own people. Out of a group of twenty, maximum four or five people will step out and mingle with Indians.” Also when it comes to talking about their country, faculty and students agree that they remain reserved and only bring up Afghanistan after a lot of probing or in class discussions, not so much during normal conversations.

 Even though Afghani students face trouble in communicating with their peers, a large number of them still opt for education in India because of its geographical proximity and, most importantly, for the funding. Professor Pramila Dasture from the Department of History, Nowrosjee  Wadia College explains, “There is an issue of funds. They find it cheaper to live in this country rather than going to the western countries.”

Idrees Kamawal’s response to the same is in the affirmative. He says, “Studying in the west is very expensive. India is the best option in Asia when it comes to education.” When asked why he didn’t pursue higher education in his own country, the response was quick. “The situation there is not so good. There is no standard of higher education in Afghanistan”.

“India offers a maximum number of scholarships annually. Also, people love the culture and tradition. The most important thing is that mostly students are poor in terms of economic conditions and they will always prefer India over London or anywhere else where a burger is sold for $5.”, Says Mustafa Kazemi, Senior Editor, Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Dr Boxwala offers another viewpoint, “India is more liberal when it comes to religion and tolerance. These students may not find the same acceptance in the western countries. In India anyone and everyone is welcome”.

Scanning various Pune colleges for pretty Afghani faces, one senses the reluctance of Afghani parents in sending their daughters abroad for education. Very few girls come to Pune for education in spite of many scholarships available. “You will only find one or two girls in each batch of Afghani students”, asserts Prof. Dasture.

Noori, a friend of Kamawal and fellow scholarship student reaffirms, “We send very few girls outside the country. It’s mostly the boys who come for higher education”. According to common observation made by Taranish and Prachi, third year B. Comm students; “When it comes to international students, we notice more Irani girls in college than boys. But amongst the Afghani ones, we hardly get to see any of the girls”.

Though the government figures show a large number of Afghani students pursuing their higher education in India under schemes like ICCR, SAARC scholarship scheme and Cultural Exchange Programme, do these degrees help these young minds mould a career in India? Or rather are they willing to take up a job here? The answer comes out very clearly in Kamawal’s response, “I want to go back to Afghanistan for a job. There are lots of opportunities for us when we go back with an Indian degree”. Kamawal and his friends, like most Afghani scholarship students in India, agree that they will be placed a cut above the rest when they go back to Afghanistan and apply for a job there. Observing the trend amongst these students, Prof. Dasture states, “They don’t stay here once the course gets over”.

Talking from his personal experience, Kazemi says, “In Afghanistan, most of the jobs are based on qualification. When you apply somewhere and you have good qualifications, you are hired immediately. There are a lot of opportunities here because of hundreds of NGOs, Foreign Forces, The UN, News Agencies, and Organizations hire people as they need manpower. So whenever there’s a qualified student, and if he has experience, every organization tries to grab him. The same thing happened to me”.

While talking about the mindset of the youth and thewestern intervention in his country, the editor says, “While one believes that the country is going on well, others would say that we are going backwards. Religion is also a cause of the mindset. I believe if a person is deeply religious, he is not optimistic about the future of the country.” Taking this comment forward, Prof. Dasture adds, “These students are very religiously and politically inclined. In terms of politics their thinking is way beyond ours; perhaps this is the effect of the intervention of the West in their country”.

All said and done, the Afghani youth in India enjoy their stay in the country. Their love for Bollywood films, their insatiable appetite for naans,and  their ease with the Hindi language ensures they dont feel like fish out of water.

However, Kamawal and his friends say that they like staying in India but their roots are so deeply embedded in the soil of Afghanistan that in spite of the situation there they fervently wish to live in and work for their country soon.

Kazemi sums up the entire situation, “Most of the youth wants to continue living here – including myself. I and a few others like me are optimistic about the future. We believe in our forces, although not too strongly but we believe in the future very well”.

And so, with his friends in tow, Kamawal steps back in to his classroom with a hope to eventually fulfil his Afghani dreams.