Sore Plums in India from Her Majesty’s Trade Mission

Top Gear Gang
Top Gear Gang ‘It’s all about thrust and power eh’  – L to R – Richard Hammond ‘Hamster’, James May and Jeremy Clarkson ‘Orangutan’

They all want to do business in India and who are we to stop them. The East India Company was here and a fine job they did. Circa 2010-11 – James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson land at India Gate and have a look around. And they are a part of David Cameron‘s finest trade ambassadors. It’s a mission and it’s not impossible.

But hey, can you Jaguar your way with a Rolls and a Mini Cooper for company on India’s busiest streets? And with a motor mouth like they have, you have one of the greatest episodes on TV out there. Top Gear never felt this good. And I am an Indian. You will realise why I resort to such chest thumping.

Pulled up post their India episode by all the liberal cuckolds in London and India, Top Gear was nearly forced to apologise for something that is a classic if there ever was one. Clarkson and gang run with the dabbawallahs with pure British horsepower (the Germans contributed here and there and India owns a major chunk of one), take the leap in a train, break into a sweat in Rajasthan, before heading for the cool climes of the Himalayas. India has never been chartered so wittily.

Wondering what the fuss was about, I got a chance to watch the complete 90 minute episode online. Bing, Bang, Poof… these guys sure know how to entertain and pull a rabbit out of a hat. They did that through and through. First running the dabbas through the streets with Hammond ‘the Hamster’ dumping half the dabbas, curries and all, on the Churchgate street as his Mini Cooper made a Bourne Identity-like car swerve. James May was his usual OCD self but looked like he landed in Sanjay Gandhi National Park trying to deliver his dabbas with the Rolls not doing much when it comes to navigation. Clarkson drove the Jag to the hilt. Pedal to metal and the dabbas on the floor. Sambar boot space he got in the end.

I dunno how they managed it, but the Mumbai-Jaipur train journey was a laugh riot. Not for the three musketeers though. They puffed and painted their way with banners that spke wonders of Her Majesty’s business acumen and what she had to offer and pasted the train cars with the message of a lifetime – “The United Kingdom Promotes British IT for You” and British bakers got a boost with “Eat English Muffins” being promoted with great fanfare.

A minor change in bogies at Jaipur ensured that the message remained on the train cars with a slight realignment of letters. The images below would clearly define this.

Aah… I got IT
How I love doing business with the pommies

“Manual labour and queueing are two things I can’t do,” so says Clarkson. But he sure has a lot of patience putting up an elaborate set up for the “Trade Missions” gala nite at one of Delhi’s poshest suburbs. And boy, what a night it was. Pants off, the best sports car keys in a bucket, boring the arc lights off the glitzy women, feeding McVities biscuits with sour cream on top and passing it off as Gordon Ramsay manna… ha it was a sight to behold and truly exposed Delhi’s shallow underbelly.

This is Brit humour documented with some of the sharpest screwballs in history. The British cars, standing for all that is under Her Majesty’s bonnet, made it up to the Himalayan foothills and boy what a journey it was. Ragged, but definitely worth it, and I would say, India has been cheerfully exposed for all it truly is – beautiful, slimy, crowded, stupid, inventive, breathtaking. Yup, I loved it. Keith Vas and all you sods out there trying to drop your liberal pants whenever Mr Clarkson catches a stinging cold… go ahead, do it. Do it by the Thames, will ensure there are sharks at the river’s edge.


“I love to drink all day”

Trust Jersey Shore‘s Snooki to come up with the line of the decade when it comes to beverages. Only difference, I am talking about coffee. With business intel on the coffee industry showcasing better tidings this year, price fluctuations would be closely watched. Being a part of this industry, I would. Vietnam and Brazil are showcasing a shortfall and it must be seen how India rises up to this shortage. The last time such an instance occurred was in the mid-nineties when Brazil experienced a severe frost and its crop got nearly wiped out.

Coffee Board India
Coffee Board of India Website

Such scenarios require a clear view of the market rates as they fluctuate and there was a time when ITC’s e-Choupal provided day-to-day updates in line with the NYSE. Somehow this venture to connect rural India and enable farmers to be direct sellers fizzled out. I wont be surprised if the middle-men lobby got to ITC and threatened their supply chain considering ITC was on the verge of entering the food chain at that point in time.

The Coffee Board of India has tried to do its bit in providing real-time prices as Arabica and Robusta prices keep swinging. However real-time is an unreal phenomenon when the Coffee Board updates its site. The dependance on real-time price falls back on the middle-men (exporters) who are a phone call away from the latest prices. Chennai port determines the prices (don’t ask me why).

Commodities trading websites, mainly Wall Street based, do provide the international prices. But then you have the conversion rates and export rates to take into account and it just doesn’t add up. All you have is an approximation, in terms of percentage, where you can sort of predict the swing from the rates quoted by exporters.

For all the talk about e-nabling the agricultural sector, nothing concrete seems to be in place. The price still depends on the local mandis and APMC yards where fixers are galore. ITC proved that this could be done in the past and there’s no reason why it cannot happen again. Reuters came into the picture some time back and contacted coffee growers directly for business intel reports that were delivered on your mobile. I did receive them for some time and then the fee subscription kicked in. Waited to see how this would work, but looks like that too fizzled out. Anyway I did realise that these Reuters reports were a day old, so there you go – lack of real-time monitoring and measuring. Real-time management in an information age governed by digital guidelines is not something you can ignore. Let’s see how long it takes to get there. It’s a market opportunity for anyone willing to listen. You get the agri sector hooked in India and you will realise the depth of this market.


table tennis
Racketeering. Check the Compass marks on the bat on the right. The bat on the left is my weapon of choice – much lighter. I used to play with the heavy bat, but now stick with this.

It’s been a couple of months in the new place and I finally get some competitive games in the table tennis room. Games were few in between as not many residents made the trek up to the games room. I saw the billiard board scraped a bit, but ping pong looked lonely i.e. till I made the late evenings my walk time and bumped into a couple of hard boiled paddlers.

Now with a couple of professionals for company, I get to play some real good games after a long long time. I guess the last long stretch of competitive table tennis was in my school days. Considering that, it took me only a few games to get into the groove. I may not win, but I can sure give these two pro’s a run for their money. They appear to be the Republic Day finalists that people were talking about. Few more consistent weeks at the table and I should be a considerable challenge.

While working out at the table tennis table it was also pointed out about a fault in my service game. I need to toss the ball a bit more to give the right impression to referees and ensure that there is some ‘air ball’ before its served. Point taken, my service game is curtailed a bit, but I am getting there.

Kamlesh Mehta
Kamlesh Mehta
Jan Ove-Waldner
Jan Ove-Waldner

Table tennis was always a huge draw for me. I wasn’t a great player but did enough to make it to the last 16 in one tournament – my best shot. I remember being influenced by Kamlesh Mehta and Jan Ove-Waldner. Both were wizards with the paddle, Mehta the Indian champ for nearly a decade and the Swede on the world stage. It was a treat watching them play, with Doordarshan‘s sport runs showcasing quite a bit of the game. The greatest thrill was getting the right angle to smash the ball across the table with the right level of aggression and finesse. It’s a game that tests your patience and hand-eye coordination to the extreme.

Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) approved bats from the ’90s still hold good for me. I use the light Shanghai bat while the GKI bats had to have a side scraped with a compass to enable spin. The bat remains in my possession with the compass marks. Still going strong with a good top spin.