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Upcoming Indian Elections

The General Elections are about to take place later this month in India. In a country of 1.1bn people where there are over a dozen official languages and large swaths of the rural areas have very low literacy rates, it’s incredible that elections manage to take place at all.

You could easily compare India to Europe. Imagine if all the countries of Europe, with their different customs, culture and language, were asked to vote in a general election to nominate a single party to represent them all. It probably couldn’t be done. But if you can imagine that, then you can imagine the kind of difficulties the political parties face here.

The general elections nominate 543 Members of Parliment, of which a party needs a 66% majority to form a government. The newly formed Government then elects a President (the current President is Pratibha Patil) and the President then appoints a Prime Minister (the current Prime Minister is Manmohan Singh) nominated by the party in power.

The role of the Indian President is a bit like the Queen in the UK (according to my enlightened Indian friends). The role is largely ceremonial. The president is the head of the armed forces. The president can dissolve the parliment and call a new general election, they also sign any new bill that parliment want to pass and have little choice to refuse it.

The role of the Prime Minister is just like in the UK. They are responsible for the day to day running of the country, in charge of policy, schmoozing with the world leaders and whatnot.

Just like in the United States, there are two main national parties called Congress and BJP. Congress is more secular, and the BJP is more about Hindu nationalism. The current party in power is the Congress party, and has been in power for the majority of the time since independence in 1947.

In the build up to elections, there is a large amount of political manouvering amongst the national and regional parties. The national parties come to power based on their alliances with the smaller, regional parties as there is no way they can achieve a 66% majority by themselves.

Here in Tamil Nadu there are two main parties, the DMK and AIADMK. Both the Congress and BJP parties are courting them to try and get an ally in the Tamil Nadu state. In return for this, the national parties promise a certain number of parlimentary seats or ministries to the local parties. The political wrangling comes when two different state parties demand a the same ministry .

I can’t speak much about other states in India, but in Tamil Nadu, it’s very much a case of celebrity politics. When the famous actors and actresses reach an age where their looks fade, dancing ability wanes or singing falters, the natural progression is to turn to politics and to bring your large army of fans with you. The leader of the DMK is a very renown scriptwriter and the leader of the AIADMK is an aging 60’s icon actress.

Unlike in England where there are ‘just’ 27 million votes to count and polling lasts for just one day, the elections in India last for 29 days between 16th April and 13th may, with the results not announced until the 16th May.

There are many reasons for this, such as the size of the country, size of population, inaccessibility of rural areas (ie. no proper roads), providing security for voting, and the shear length of time it takes to count the votes.

I’ll write some more about the upcoming elections here later on this month.

Three Great Films You Probably Haven’t Seen

Living in India, I have cable TV which has blessed me with 10 sports channels, at least one of which will be showing live action football on Saturday or Sunday. This means I’m able to watch the Premiership matches which you guys in the UK can’t, such as the 3pm Saturday matches.

It also gives me 3 English movie channels, so when there’s no football, there’s likely to be at least one half watchable movie on.

For anyone that knows me, my taste in films tend to be action, comedy, thrillers with a healthy dose of escapism (think Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, King Kong – all of which are incredible movies by the way!) and a suspension of reality for a few hours.

Unfortunately the movie channels seem to be obsessed with terrible Jean Claude Van Damme straight to TV films (Until Death and Double Impact registering highly crappy on the crap-o-meter scale) which make you feel a worse person after watching them.

There have, however, been some real gems. These are films that I would never have chosen to watch in a million years, either because they are boring ‘life’ films or foreign independent films, but watched them because they were on, and got drawn in and hooked.

Wasabi – 2001

Definitely not a fan of foreign (ie. in a language other than English) films, so would do everything I can to avoid watching them. However, the Wasabi film was dubbed in to English, so made it watchable. It tells the story of an old French spy who goes back to Japan and discovers he has a tear-away teenage daughter he never knew about.

While getting to know his teenage daughter (who doesn’t know that he’s her Dad until much later in the film), he’s also trying to discover the killers of her mother.

It scores good points because it’s actually quite funny and the scripting is excellent. It’s very tongue in cheek, so the suspension of reality in the gun battles and some of the visual gags makes it acceptable. It stars Jean Reno who has been in quite a few English movies as well.

Little Miss Sunshine – 2006

Wow, never my life would I thought I’d sit down and watch a film like this. A dysfunctional family travel to a young girl beauty pagent. Honestly, that’s all that happens.

Each family member is a real character; the Dad is an unsuccessful success coach who preaches positive attitudes to everything and has an unnerving positive approach to every situation.

The Grandfather is an aging rebel who likes his women and booze and has very little social etiquette, going through life on his own terms.

The suicidal gay brother-in-law who has just been released from hospital after an unsuccessful suicide attempt when he finds out his lover is cheating on him with another man.

The gothic teenage guy who is full of angst and hates his family. He has taken a vow of silence in protest and communicates by writing in a pad of paper. Despite this, it’s his dream to become a pilot.

The mum, who seems relatively normal in the family, and works hard as the mediator between the other grown ups. She is played by Toni Collette and looks a million times better than in About A Boy – it’s hard to believe that she’s the same woman. In About A Boy she has a proper British accent, in this film she has a proper American accent, but she was actually born and brought up in Australia…who knew?

Finally you have the chubby young daughter with huge glasses. It’s her dream to win a beauty pagent.

The story revolves around the family’s road trip to the Little Miss Sunshine pagent and how they all come together as a family, despite all the setbacks.

The film really is laugh out loud in places and it does keep you on the edge of the seat to find out if the young daughter actually gets to star and win the beauty pagent.

Juno – 2007

Given all the crappy teen flicks that are out there, you could be forgiven for thinking that this might be lumped in with them. Not so. Juno is about a 16 year old girl who discovers that she’s pregnant (“how did that happen” “the usual way”). The story centres on what she decides to do and everything that she has go through during a teenage pregnancy.

Once again, never would I have thought I’d sit down and watch, let alone enjoy a film about teenage pregnancy.

The mother to be is very much a happy-go-lucky girl, not getting depressed, just accepts the situation and gets on with her life. She doesn’t expect the father to get involved and doesn’t resent him for what happened. As she goes through pregnancy, she grows up a lot and becomes a lot more mature.

The film is quite funny, not laugh out loud funny, but entertaining. The scripting and dialogue is spot on for American teenage girls (“and she was like, totally, oh my god” “and i was like, I know! crazy freaky huh?”) and the acting and conversations seem entirely natural. What’s also refreshing is the teenagers in the movies are actual teenagers in real life, none of the 20 somethings you get in other teen-flicks.

Juno has been absolutely slated for being a bad movie, with crappy dialogue, I guess I watched a different version to all those people!

A Second Income

There is no real point to this post, just general / random musings 🙂

Being quite an independent minded kind of person, when it comes to making money, I always like to be in control of how much I earn. This can be very good, but if you are relying on your own efforts and you become lazy, you can fall flat on your face, err, as I found out…oops!

This is why I currently like the concept of having a job where your salary meets your basic living and lifestyle needs and the second income allows you to easily cover any one off expenses without getting in to debt or allows you to save some money – which far too many us don’t do!

I do believe that the days of staying with one job are well and truly over – we live in a much more fluid kind of business world. The older generation, the kids of the 50’s and 60’s, were always taught to find a good stable job with a large employer, keep your head down, work hard for 40 years or so and retire for a quiet life.

This was all very well when the large industrial companies were growing and trade unions had seemingly unlimited power to prevent any layoffs. It was also very well when society expected you to conform to certain rules and norms such as getting married in your early twenties, having 2.4 kids, buying your home, taking a single vacation per year etc. etc.

Nowadays things are a whole lot more flexible. Tying yourself down to one particular role or job could be damaging in the longer term because as soon as we hit uncertain times like we have now, the large company you sought out for stability doesn’t consider the personal impact when it cuts 5,000 jobs.

Society has also changed to a more self-centered one where we look to buy the latest gadgets, go on expensive foreign holidays, take weekend city breaks to various places on the continent, being less frugal with money, spending more and saving less.

Ever since I first started out on the internet, I believed that it could provide a good second income. At times it provided an incredible income to me.

However, I now think it’s more important than ever that people look to create a second income to build up a nestegg. Salaries barely cover our lifestyle choices so there is very little left over to save. A second income can help supplement any savings you might be able to make.

I personally run a couple of websites which have earned a small, regular income for the last 6 months or so. I spend less than an hour a week on them, yet they continue to make money on autopilot, allowing me to build up savings back in the UK.

Having the second income also means that when you are a bit more extravagant that you should have been (and some of us just can’t help but spend money when we get it), it is offset by your second income.

For example, yesterday I went shopping to buy a ‘smart’ collection of clothes for any work meetings and occasions. In total it came to £100, which is a bit crazy (I do live in India!), but included shoes, shirts and trousers. This is way more than my salary will allow me to spend, but my second income offset it because in the last week I earned £100 and didn’t work a single hour to make that money!

The second income has allowed me to make some investments back in England (albeit at shockingly bad interest rates) and enables me to be a bit extravagant now and then without putting the income from my salary under pressure.

The internet makes it possible for anyone to earn some additional money, but it needs to be approached with an open mind and with the right mindset. Some people, who are very close to me, could easily be earning $1,000 or more a week if they chose to make money for themselves, but instead their mindset believes that they should be working for a salary from a company – extremely frustrating for me when they have such a wealth of talent.

You should also be careful that generating money for your second income doesn’t end up taking more time than your actual job! Another area to be careful with is that you are not compromising your work position, if you are a logo designer and offer freelance logo design services this creates a conflict of interest that most companies will not accept!

Another point to consider is that you should probably be looking to supplement your income, not replace your income. Even if you are only able to generate $50 a week, that’s $2,600 from (hopefully) very little work, if you can save that, over the years it builds up savings that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

Important: Obviously if you do create a second income, you should be reporting this to your tax authorities. I have no idea how this works in other countries, but I fill out my tax return each year online! Don’t be cute and try to avoid taxes! In England the tax threshold is around £6,000 a year, which will be taken up by your salary (and, err, if it doesn’t, might want to pop down to the job centre!), but even if you earn less than this, you need to declare it!

Jealousy: Does You Have It?

A friend of mine posted this picture on Facebook, so I stole it off him.

Look at the picture…does it make you even a tinsey winsey little bit jealous??

weather variation between london and chennai

Honestly, I really can’t say that I miss British weather, not even a teeny tiny little bit. Does it stem from being a guy and liking things to be the same and not change?

I don’t know, but waking up in the morning and know that the temperature is either hot or damned hot means you have one less thing to worry about! (do I dress for warm, cold, rainy, snowy, windy…nope, it’s shorts and t-shirts again).

Indian IT Professionals Come Down To Earth With A Bump

When I came to India in the first quarter of 2008, the economy was still pretty much in full swing as I set about building my team of superstars. As I interviewed candidate after candidate a few things started to irk me, such as their belief that by changing jobs it could net them a 100% to 300% pay rise.

There seemed to be a belief that pay was related to experience, not expertise. When an SEO analyst said they had 3 years of experience, it usually meant that they had been pressing CTRL-C CTRL-V for 3 years and never took it upon themselves to learn anything new. Yet because they had been copying and pasting for 3 years, they felt that they deserved 3 times the pay of a fresher.

Err, no, it doesn’t work like that.

Another peeve that I had was when I went through a resume and found a person had as many as 6 jobs in 4 years (I honestly kid you not!) and when pressed on this it was for ‘career growth’. It’s fairly normal to read a resume where a person has lasted 12 months or less in each company before moving on.

Here’s a top tip for y’all: An employer wants to see commitment from the candidate. Changing companies every 6 months sets off nuclear alarm bells that says this person isn’t worth an interview, by the time you’ve offered them a job, they’ve already applied to the next one.

My understanding of career growth is that you progress in seniority if you change jobs. Apparently not in India. When asked why they wanted to change jobs, invariably it was for ‘career growth’, when told that they would have the same designation as they’ve got now, this would rarely be a problem – so where’s the career growth?

The HR guys tell me that I got off lightly with candidates. Such was the need for programmers during the boom times, the candidates would play companies against each other and say “well company X is offering me 4 lakhs (400,000 to my uneducated friends!), how much can you offer me?” And an offer is made and they go to the next company and say “company X is offering 4 lakhs, company Y is offering 6 lakhs, how much do you want to pay me?” And so we had the situation where candidates were putting themselves up for auction.

Fortunately Agriya refused to partake in this, if any candidate tried to auction themselves, our (err, that is, Agriya) interest was immediately suspended.

So, what is the situation now?

It really brought it home to me how rough it is out there the other day when I was interviewing two candidates from the same company.

They had both come in looking for a job. The company they were working for had not paid any salaries for the last two months – yet the employees still went to work on the hope that they could get paid.

When it came to asking about expected salaries, we have turned a corner, there were no requests for 1.5x – 2x their current earnings, they reply came back meekly… “whatever the company wants”. Unfortunately the candidates, despite having four years “experience” didn’t have any more expertise than I would expect from a fresher who’s been at the company for 6 months.

Another top tip: Employers are looking for expertise and passion, not just experience! I read a great article today where a gaming company hired a real estate agent to help develop their new game because he was a passionate gamer and ‘modded’ dozens of games out of personal interest. Give me passion over experience anyday!

So, back on topic how hard is the global economy hitting India?

Well, of course it’s having an effect. The smaller IT companies are folding left right and centre (my writing is Americanized [note the ‘z’] now that the English spelling of ‘centre’ just looks plain wrong), the larger multi-national IT companies are shedding staff – up to 10% of the workforce in some cases, freezing their fresher intake programmes and in some cases imposing compulsory salary reductions as they look to adapt and survive.

One of my friends owns a consumer computer chain store throughout Chennai and he says it’s the toughest he’s seen it as the geeky IT crowd who make up the bulk of his clientele dries up.

Still, India has a very strong domestic economy – 1.1bn people still need to be fed, move from A-B, get clothed, socialize, have spectacularly over the top weddings, be entertained and live.

So while the West is mired in recession, shrinking economies and the looming face of deflation looking more and more likely, India’s annual growth forecast has been cut from 8% to a ‘paltry’ 5%. The West has sneezed, India has the sniffles, but it hasn’t caught the cold – yet.

Foreigners Leaving India…

I thought I’d better write this as a little public service announcement for any Foreigners who are living and working in India for more than 6 months.

As you are aware, you have to register with the FRRO in your city. This is fine (albeit, ensure you have an office boy on hand to run back to the office to fetch the papers that were not mentioned in the original checklist).

What they don’t tell you is the procedure for leaving India. If you have been in India for over 6 months and attempt to leave, they will not allow you to do so if you haven’t registered at the FRRO. I personally know at least 3 people who this has happened to in the last 12 months – no messing around, you have to register!

Another little gem that they forget to mention is that you must take your FRRO registration certificate with you. It has to be the original one with the original stamp on it – photocopies are not acceptable.

I didn’t know this information when I left in December, but luckily I still had my FRRO registration certificate in my bag from earlier that day.

When you are at Chennai airport, you are likely to see a couple of foreigners who didn’t know this information, and they’ll be f-ing and jeffing, but the authorities still won’t let you board the plane.

So remember, register with the FRRO as soon as you get to India, and make sure your FRRO certificate is with you when you try and leave.

An Inspiring, True Story of One Man Against the Odds

I’m sat in the immigration office in Chennai and writing this post, waiting for the office boy to deliver some paper work to me.

It’s a shame to see the wheels of Indian bureaucracy are still rusted together.

An Indian friend once told me that 80% of taxes in India go on paying for govt staff and govt pensions. If you visit any Indian govt office, you can well believe it.

The confusion starts from the moment you enter the grounds of the offices, which doubles as the passport office and loads of smaller ministry offices. The only way to find out where to go is to ask someone. Signs and maps would be expecting too much.

You then find the right office, down a small side street and a notice says welcome to hell. Or bureau of immigration, it depends which way you look at it.

There is a man sitting behind the most ridiculously small desk and he silently waves you to a guy standing nearby. This new guy waves you to a line of seats. You look around and guy #3 points to a seat you should take.

Every few minutes another soul enters the gates of hell and you all shuffle along, under the direction of guy #3.

It turns out that guy #3’s job also involves preventing any Indians coming in to the office.

So, you finally get back to guy #1 behind the desk and he takes a note of your passport number and the reason why you dare interrupt them in their important jobs. No doubt it’s the job of someone else to enter this data on a typewriter and then for a superior to enter it in a computer.

Guy #1 then allows you in to the office (guy #4, who’s guarding the entrance moves aside) and tells you to go to office one. You get directed by guy #5 to take a seat and the whole shuffling process starts again, under the direction of guy #6.

Standing outside office one is guy #7. When a door bell rings, it’s his job to wave the next foreigner in line in to the office. You don’t see the previous foreigner come out of the office.

So now you are dealing with your 2nd guy behind a desk, and guy #8 overall. He goes through your paperwork, desperate to find a mistake or missing piece of paper. He went through mine 3 times before, to his absolute delight, he found one of my request letters was addressed to ‘whom it may concern’ instead of the ‘frro officer’.

Once they find a mistake, that’s it. The whole process comes to a stop. You are ordered to bring back the proper paperwork and he won’t look at anything else or give you any more information until it’s corrected.

So, you bring back the corrected paperwork and with great reluctance guy #8 concedes that your paperwork is adequate for the next stage and you are directed to your third desk.

Enter guy #9 to direct you to your seats and guy #10 to show you to the desk (which is almost 4ft from where you are sitting). The seat shuffling continues.

This time a lady goes through your paper work and agrees, like her colleague, that it is barely adequate. She then asks you for Rs 20,000 for the registration fee, which is fine because you took 40k, just to be safe.

She watches you like a hawk as you count out 20 1k bills. Then with absolute glee in her eyes, she tells you that they no longer accept cash. Yes, I was prepared for this too and brought out my cheque book. No, she says, we only accept bankers drafts now.

So I am now sat here writing this. I phoned my company and told them the details. It absolutely must get here by 12.30 I said, otherwise i have to wait until tomorrow. No problem, it will be there, they promised.

It’s now 12.45 and I am still waiting. Don’t know what will happen, but i’m hoping i can still make the payment.

Continued…

The lady scrutinizes the bank draft hoping for some problems. I am now the only person left in the office.

I’m given a token and told to wait for my number to come up. Guy #12 shows me to a new room, guy #13 to show me where to sit. The room is empty.

Eventually the counter staff (girl #2) notices I’m waiting. A difficult task in an empty room, to be sure. Eye contact is made, I can go over.

But wait, she raises a hand to tell me to stop. A button has to be pressed first.

“Counter number two please” says the recorded voice. And her counter light flashes.

There is not a flicker of embarrassment on her face.

I may now go over.

Once more, the paper work is checked, double checked, triple checked and then again, just because.

“aha!” she exclaims “you need two copies of all these documents.”

“Behold” I replied and pulled out 3 more copies of all the paper work, flourishing them in the air.

It was evident that I had robbed her of a simply joy as she ruffles through the paper work again. Oh dear. The original registration permit is not here. It’s not mentioned in the list of required paperwork given to me on the first visit, but no matter. How dare I try and beat the system by turning up with all the correct paperwork and correct number of copies.

Another call to the office. Send more documents! Within 10 minutes it’s in my hand, but hell, err Bureau of Immigration has a final sting in the tail. The counter lady has gone for lunch. Please wait for an hour.