Hats off to these school kids

“The childhood shows the man,
As morning shows the day.”
― John Milton, Paradise Regained

I read this story today and was so impressed that I just copied it on my blog.

A 52-year old man in shabby clothes sells chocolates from a spotless chair and study table in front of the Ayyappan temple in Perambur, Chennai. Till two months ago, he was begging on this very street for three years. It isn’t a rags-to-riches story, but a tale of a handful of school students who wanted to make lives better.

R Naagar was given the new life of a candy man by a group of Class 11 students of Kaligi Ranganathan Montford Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai. When many looked at beggars with disdain or offered small change, this group of 13 boys and girls did something different. They scout their surroundings for beggars who are willing to work and give them an opportunity. The students pooled in their pocket-money and helped Naagar set up this petty shop with Rs 2500. They have identified 30 beggars like Naagar at nearby parks and temples. “We are looking for jobs of sweepers and security personnel for the others,” says M Roshni, a student of the group. “We met the city mayor with the idea. He has offered loans to beggars we identify.”

Not all beggars are entitled to this offer. “We do blood tests on them to check of they are alcoholics or smokers,” says school headmistress Anitha Daniel. Some beggars tried to make use of us, the children said. “Some put conditions to work for a living. We are careful in choosing only those who want to live a decent life,” says A C Hariharan, another student.

It all started when these children saw a young boy and a girl begging in front of their school. They felt bad. They wanted to do something about it. Naagar is happy that he is no longer extending his hand for alms. “I had a vegetable shop at Perambur market. A friend cheated me and took away all my money. I tried my hand at painting walls, but a fall left me with a broken hip. I have no family, so I took to begging,” says Naagar. He gets his food from a temple, bathes there and sleeps on the pavement. At the end of the day, some shopkeepers in the area are kind enough to keep his candies for the night.

The children officially inaugurated their mission for a beggar-less society on Saturday. They will observe the third Saturday of every September as “anti-begging day.”

With kids like these, our future is in better hands. I wish that this noble spirit continues to guide them and encourage others. Hats off!

Indian Mars mission — Mangalyaan creates history

India’s maiden mission to Mars — Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), the Mangalyaan (it literally means Mars-craft), creates history by successfully entering the orbit of the red planet after a 300-day marathon covering over 670 million km this morning (7:17 am IST). India now joins the elite Martian club that comprises the US, Russia and the European Space Agency.

India becomes the first country to successfully get a spacecraft into the Martian orbit on its maiden attempt. Since 1960, there have been 51 global missions to Mars and the overall success rate stands at 42% — only 21 were successful. Both Russia and the US failed in their maiden attempts. The first Chinese mission to Mars, called Yinghuo-1, failed in 2011 alongside the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission with which it was launched. Earlier in 1998, the Japanese mission to Mars ran out of fuel and was lost.

Mangalyaan is an indigenously made unmanned robotic mission weighing 1,350 kg, including 850 kg of fuel and oxidizer, was launched from the rocket port at Sriharikota on the coast of the Bay of Bengal on 5 November last year. MOM was developed with homegrown technology.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is known for its frugal high technology abilities. At approximately Rs 450 crore or around $75 million, the cost of the mission was just one-ninth of the $670 million NASA spent on its Maven explorer. European space agency’s 2003 Mars express orbiter had cost about $386 million. This works out to less than Rs 7 per km for the Indian journey to Mars. That is cheaper than an auto ride in Delhi, which is Rs 8 per km!

It’s a proud moment for all of us. Heartiest congratulations to ISRO scientists! I salute their tireless efforts, and dedications that made it a success. Jai Hind!

Lunch with colleagues

My colleagues told me in the morning that they are planning for a lunch for the Investment Department and Back Office department. They requested me to join them too. Some of them decided to join with their spouse.

The lunch was planned at Bestoon Samad Restaurant nearby. I agreed to join them. It would be a nice way to meet my colleagues outside the boundaries of the formal atmosphere.

The table was booked by Zaid. Ibrahim volunteered to take us and drop us in his car. I got OK for our visit from security too.

After 3:00 p.m. we went to the restaurant. Although the restaurant is some 15 minute walk from our residence, but the car took a circuitous route due to some traffic restrictions in the neighbourhood. We were around 14 people gathered for the lunch. Zaid, Mustafa and Rana were accompanied by their spouses. Zaid came with his son too. He’s a lovely boy and very cool also. He has no inhibitions. He even came to my lap for quite some time.

Rana’s husband was sitting beside me. We met each other for the first time. Dia — Rana’s husband — is a nice guy. He’s presently doing his doctorate on complexities in architecture.

Our lunch started with soup and salads accompanied by huge Iraqi qubooz. The main course followed after we finished our soup and almost through our salads. I opted for chicken barbecue. We finished our lunch with tea.

After our great get together over lunch, we left for our homes. Ibrahim dropped us at the gate. Thanks guys for making my afternoon with nice company and good food.

India’s oldest and iconic watch company is running out of time

HMT Watches, the iconic brand that evokes nostalgia in most Indians, will be shutting shop soon. It was set up in 1961 in collaboration with Japan’s Citizen Watch. The first batch of HMT watches was released by India’s first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.

HMT used to dominate India’s watch market during the 1970s. Such was once its sway that it even had a waiting period, which could run up to 10 months. It was a prize gift, the sort of thing that parents would promise to give their offspring if they did well in board exams. It’s ad punchline portrayed it as “timekeepers to the nation” and nobody suggested that was hype. In fact, it claims many firsts to its credit — the automatic day-date watch to the first Braille and quartz watches.

indexI was also a proud owner of a HMT watch. I was gifted a HMT watch — Ajeet — before my secondary school examination by my father in 1978. I had that watch with me until I got a job in 1985. I just checked flipcart and found 133 HMT watches are there on their list. I immediately ordered one for me, one of the last HMT watches.

HMT Watches was outperformed by another Indian company — Titan — a Tata group company, when they introduced various models of quartz watches at quite reasonable price in mid-1980s.

The government has decided to wind up the company, a wholly owned subsidiary of HMT Ltd, which has been incurring losses since 2000 and has been unable to generate adequate resources to pay salaries to its employees. A sad reality for not aligning with the change in customer preferences, and unable to sustain the competition.

Dinner at the residence of the Indian Ambassador

Yesterday, while talking over phone Mr. Dharam Veer Singh, HOC, Indian Embassy invited us for dinner. Mr. Singh is a nice, friendly person and I agreed immediately. He again called me in the afternoon to confirm our presence in the evening at the residence. It’s so nice of him. He also informed me that he’s now getting posted at Atlanta in Georgia (USA).

We reached the residence of the ambassador at 7:00 p.m. We had nice chat with Ambassador Ajay Kumar, Mr. Singh and Mr. Ashok Rawat, Consular over scotch whiskey followed a heavy dinner.

There was kaju barfi in dessert! They said that they got the barfi just today. It was fresh indeed. Kaju Barfi is an Indian subcontinent dessert. Kaju literally means Cashew nuts and Barfi is a type of Indian sweet.

We didn’t realize that it was almost 11:00 p.m. We wished them Good night and walked back to our residence.

We hope to see Mr. Singh again before he leaves for Atlanta. I wish him all the best in his new assignment.

Bank risk in emerging markets

The past decade saw an unprecedented rise in the fortunes of emerging-market banks. Less affected by the global financial crisis than their developed-world peers, their collective revenue surged to $1,400 trillion in 2012 from $268 trillion in 2002. The future, however, may be a different story. Historically strong capital and liquidity positions have eroded, and operating pressures are mounting from a combination of factors including tighter US monetary policy, stronger growth in developed markets, a changing regulatory landscape, and increasing competition.

Profitability in emerging markets is still much higher than in developed markets: countries such as South Africa, for example, enjoy very high return-on-equity ratios and strong value creation. Yet revenue margins that have been double those in developed markets have already been hit in some regions, and further deterioration seems likely. The net result is that risk management has moved to the top of the agenda for emerging-market bank CEOs and their boards. Risk teams that once focused only on measurement, compliance, and control must now shift toward mitigating challenges on credit, capital allocation, and liquidity or funding.

Traditionally, banks in emerging markets have paid little attention to cultivating a risk culture, where employees feel encouraged to speak up when they observe new risks. In the current economic and banking environment — where banks must respond decisively to existing and emerging risks — it’s critical to develop a strong risk culture. Many banks have begun to take the initiative by setting up dedicated sessions with business, risk, and control functions to evaluate risk-response scenarios; explicitly defining what’s expected of all stakeholders; and engaging in tests to reinforce a strong risk culture. In addition, many emerging-market banks plan to introduce or upgrade institutional frameworks on risk to promote prudent decision making—an action strongly encouraged by regulators concerned about strengthening banks’ risk management and governance.

There is significant room for improving credit collections. For example, loan-loss impairments for emerging-market banks nearly tripled to €34 billion between 2007 and 2012. Addressing this issue requires two steps: identifying actions on nonperforming loans that can have an immediate positive impact on bank performance, and supporting improvements to credit management related to a defined recovery strategy, organizational structures and processes, and systems.

Emerging-market banks need to make better-informed credit decisions. There is simply not enough information on creditworthiness, whether in the form of reliable financial data about customers (especially for small and midsize enterprises), credit-bureau information, or historical performance data. Given these gaps, banks have strong incentives to develop their own innovative risk models that incorporate both qualitative and quantitative factors. Where credit bureaus are active, they are having an impact.

Bank capital will be increasingly scarce in most markets. Yet banks can support business growth and unlock profit potential by understanding where current capital is consumed and optimizing its absorption. We have seen some banks establish a capital-based threshold at which they retain a client’s business. Others seek more collateral or push for more favorable collateral from a risk-weighted-asset standpoint and add covenants to mitigate “rating drift.” Emerging-market banks can also optimize their product portfolio for capital consumption, steering customers toward receivables-based financing rather than working-capital financing.

Source: McKinsey&Company

Cyber-terror attack on banks — a devastating possibility

Bankers and U.S. officials have warned that cyber-terrorists will try to wreck the financial system’s computer networks. What they aren’t saying publicly is that taxpayers will probably have to cover much of the damage.

Even if customers don’t lose money from a hacking assault on JPMorgan Chase & Co., the episode is a reminder that banks with the most sophisticated defenses are vulnerable. Not simply an effort to steal money, the attack looted the bank of gigabytes of data from deep within JPMorgan’s network.

US Treasury Department officials have quietly told bank insurers that in the event of a cataclysmic attack, they would activate a government backstop that doesn’t explicitly cover electronic intrusions. A worst-case event that destroyed records, drained accounts and froze networks could hurt the economy on the scale of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The government might have little choice but to step in after an attack large enough to threaten the financial system. Federal deposit insurance would apply only if a bank failed, not if hackers drained accounts. The banks would have to tap their reserves and then their private insurance, which wouldn’t be enough to cover all claims from a catastrophic event.

AIG in May began offering a new line of insurance in addition to previous policies for the costs of data breaches, hack investigations and business interruption. The new policies cover physical damages to people and property, such as inoperative computers or broken electrical grids. Still, even expanding product lines can’t solve the problem of a systemic crisis.

“Nobody has really been able to define what cyber-terrorism risk is,” said Mirel, now a partner at Nelson Levine de Luca & Hamilton LLC. “So even the companies that are offering these policies don’t entirely know what they are covering.”

Source: Bloomberg

Indian elephant gets her own art exhibition

A series of paintings by an Indian elephant have gone on sale at an upmarket gallery in New Delhi to raise money to protect the endangered animal.

Artist Alpana Ahuja used baskets of bananas and other treats to lure Phoolkali, an elephant who was rescued from her abusive owners, to create her masterpieces — giant footprints in bright hues. The trick, she said, was to catch the elephant in a good mood, dab paint on its foot and press it against a giant canvas.

The money raised from their sale will be used towards elephant conservation, said Babita Gupta, the art director of the ArtSpice gallery, where the paintings are on show until September 19.

The exhibition is timed to coincide with the Indian festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, which begins on Friday and celebrates the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates the population of the Indian elephant between 20,000 – 25,000. They are often kept in pathetic conditions by their masters and trafficked illegally.

[Source]

Iraqi bonds gain on Maliki resignation optimism

Iraqi government bonds advanced, sending yields down the most in 11 months, on speculation Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s resignation will improve the country’s security situation.

Maliki’s move ends a political impasse and may enable Prime Minister-designate Haidar al-Abadi to pull together a more inclusive government better able to counter Islamist militants advancing in the north.

The financial markets had largely priced in this change as we witnessed a 2.5 point rally in Iraq 2028 bonds during the week. The bonds continued their impressive rally on Friday and the yield on the dollar-denominated debt maturing in January 2028 fell 27 basis points to 6.88% at 6:10 p.m. in London, the biggest decline since September 2013.

The Iraqi bonds joined the continued strengthening we’ve seen elsewhere in Emerging Markets and Russia in particular. The rate decreased 61 basis points in the past five days, the first weekly retreat this month. Yields on the government’s 2028 securities have risen 59 basis points since the Islamic State militants captured the northern city of Mosul on June 10.

Celebration of India´s Independence Day

Today is India’s 68th Independence Day and I am in Baghdad.

There was an invitation from the Indian Embassy, Baghdad for the flag-hoisting ceremony in the morning. We reached the embassy at 8:00 a.m. Soon the Indian flag was hoisted and the national anthem was sung. It was followed by customary reading of the President’s address on the eve of the Independence Day by Ambassador Ajay Kumar. A local Iraqi boy also gave a small, good speech. He gave a speech last year too.

There were some 30 Indian nationals also, who are returning to India tomorrow through Indian embassy. They are staying now at the premises of the embassy.

The embassy served us traditional Iraqi breakfast items — samoon and falafel.

A samoon is a rhombus shaped bread baked in brick oven. It is made with flour, yeast, water and salt. Quite conducive to stuffing as the interior is a bit more airy.

A falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas and sometimes with broad beans also. Falafel is a common dish eaten throughout the Middle East.

Ambassador Ajay Kumar has joined the embassy a couple of months ago and this is our first meeting. We had a long chat with him after other guests departed. We walked back to our home at 11:00 a.m.

Happy Independence Day! Vande Mataram! Jai Hind!