Category Archives: Writing

MRP–does it make sense?

India’s got a really interesting sticker on almost every product on the market – the MRP, Max Retail Price. I used to think this was great as this meant products had clear pricing listed for the customer’s benefit and was more than happy to pay up the listed MRP. Lately with my visits to the Kotla market nearby, I’m learning that MRP really is the upper limit for an item and I’d be hard pressed to find anyone in this competitive market sells at this price. This whole bargaining trip indicates the same. Almost everything is up for bargain and the ceiling under which they operate is the MRP.

Pearl Pet, a producer or reasonable quality plastic kitchen ware sells a pack of 6 1 Liter water bottles. Listed MRP is approx. 240 180 Rs. If you were to buy this in any upscale market, this is the non-negotiable price you’d be quoted 99% of the time. At Kotla, the starting price is 160 Rs. I got my set for 130 Rs. after looking around a bit.  And as per the source I spoke to at the shop, their cost price was 120 Rs. So, the MRP appears to be a 100 50% mark-up on the cost price (to retailer) in case of plastic kitchen ware and 84 38% on the retail.

Here’s a short table with MRP vs. retail price:

Product MRP (Rs.) Retail Price (Rs.) % difference
TV 40,900 31,500 30%
Kitchen Ware 240 180 130 84 38%
Electric Geyser 3,150 2,350 34%
Washing Machine 19,490 17,700 10%

While researching the topic, I came across the following viewpoints:

  1. Indian Express 1990 – Get retailers to print price on the goods and do away with MRP. This article has a great description of how the MRP is set and why it may not make sense to keep this system.
  2. Legal Service India – they give you the legal low down and take a very anti-capitalist stance with the opening shot against the manufacturers.

I guess this is an interesting topic to think about and shows the Indian divide; on one end you’ve got the entrepreneurs who want to create products with value and are burdened by the need to manage the complexities of varying profitability across states and the consumer viewpoint where profit is seen as a necessary evil.The complexity of indirect taxation and tariffs inside India pose a major barrier to trade, so perhaps instead of targeting manufacturers or retailers as evil doers why not focus on the source of complexity and seek to simply that? In effect, why not look into ways of simplifying indirect taxation within India and overhauling this MRP system.

What’s a direct tax?
Direct tax is collected by the government departments from the bodies who are to be taxed, e.g. income tax. It’s deducted directly from your salary with no intervention on your part.

What’s an indirect tax?
Taxes collected through intermediaries. Generally any financial transaction (purchase or sale) has a tax attached. So if you buy coke, pay for a dinner, pay your rent, etc. there is a portion of this amount that goes into the government coffers. It is collected by the seller. Hence an indirect tax.

Digging further into this issue, I found an excellent post talking about the evolution of inter-state trade in India and the legalese behind it (caveat – this will give the lay reader a case of acute boredom, possibly followed by a painful sensation induced by excessive stress on the comprehensive centers of the brain the forebrain, aka headache). 

The complexities are such that Deloitte and PwC have practices that help businesses with advisory services to address the impact of indirect taxation. Here’s the link to a conference that’ll be held in November. I’m not sure if this is as much of a challenge in more developed countries.

India seems focused on a program to reform indirect taxation with the Goods and Service Tax (GST), which should (according to the website) simplify taxation and bring prices down for consumers, which in turn will boost trade and consumption resulting and greater tax yields. Why? That is a tw0 part question question, because the question really is, “how is GST better than the current state of affairs?” The first part is about how taxation works in India constitutionally at the Central and State levels (current state) and the second part is about a prediction on how it will work post GST (future state). Here’s a rough table outlining who benefits from what in the current taxation scheme:

Exclusive Beneficiary Taxable Product
Center
  • Manufacture tax
  • Service tax
State
  • All sale of movable goods

Central taxation is uniform across all States. Each State may apply various taxes under the umbrella of “all sale of movable goods”, e.g. entertainment, luxury, amusement, tax on goods transported via roads and entry of goods into a local area for sale or consumption. Here’s an example that may help clarify this. For a particular product State A has taxes X, Y and Z at 4, 7 and 3 percent respectively. State B could have taxes Y and Z at 9 and 2 percent for the same product. Consider the number of goods in an average household and consider the possible taxes that could be applied on these goods in your State. As you can imagine, it is a painful state of affairs. How do you expect companies to react when trying to set an MRP with this state of affairs? 

GST brings the promise of simplification. GST envisions a Central tax and a State tax for Goods, for Services and for Concessional items. Which means that the States and the Center will share a common income source.  Calculating taxation would then be a matter of determining which category your commodity falls into (Exempted goods, Special Rate goods, Standard Goods, Concessional goods or a Service) and applying the relevant Central and State taxes. I used the video below to develop my understanding of the vision of GST, among other resources.

The implementation of GST has fallen hostage to opposition politics according to Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee. Initially the expected implementation was April, 2011 but now it seems that it may be delayed till late 2012.

Why is the GST causing such an uproar and why is the implementation stalled? This long article that goes into much (read as: putting me to sleep) detail about the current consensus on the GST. The length of this document is testament to the conflicting interests and viewpoints at play.

The debate over GST is nowhere near done. Business leaders and the Central government are pro GST. The States on the other hand have a list of reservations. Some of the concerns of the States are:

  • What gets exempted – in a sense the debate is about what is a necessary commodity; quite philosophical
  • Perception that the Center is intervening in matters which are in the State’s area of jurisdiction – changes to the constitution will be required, so changes will be permanent (or as permanent as the constitution is).
  • Specific rates – Loss of income from taxation is a major concern here. After all, while the consumer and businesses may be winners, will this merging of the taxation pools benefit the States? The devil we know (status quo) or the devil we don’t (post GST) problem.
  • Dispute resolution with the Center

The Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers on GST is the key body representing the States’ point of view. I find it hard to imagine that the GST will ever pass and with my poor understanding of Center vs. States and party politics, I’m nowhere near qualified to even judge whether this would be a good move. I’ve spent the whole day researching and writing this article and I’m disappointed at the amount and quality of material that’s available online that could shed more light on the different points of view. One thing is clear to me. If India is to count itself in the rank of developed nations, the Government of India, the State Government, businesses operating inside India, the NGOs and the Citizens will all have to raise their game. And it all starts with our duties as Indian Citizens. In effect, the fact that MRP does not make sense is our collective problem, and its not the only problem we have.

Blog updates!

So, after a comment by Pragmatic Phil about updating twitter and all my social media sites about my blog posts, I did some research. Since I use Windows Live Writer, I wanted to use a plugin that could do it for me. After some searching I came across ping.fm This site lets you cross post to several social media networks including Twitter & Google Buzz. And WLW has a plugin called vCrossPost which kicks-ass! And here we go!

Research in New Delhi

I’m reading up ancient Indian history and came across some really interesting subjects and facts:

  • India was the first country where an envoy was always given safe conduct.
  • To surrender, you held a straw between your teeth.
  • At one time Patliputra (Patna) was one of the amazing cities of the east.
  • The chakra was not just a mystical weapon (as seen in the horrible horrible and totally inaccurate depictions by Ramanand Sagar), but a deadly disc that could slice through bone! And yes, one could spin it on the index finger to launch it.
  • There’s proof that India was one of the first countries to develop and use firearms.

So, of course this means I’ll need to dig up some dusty tomes for some research, which got me to thinking of libraries. Just found this list of libraries in New Delhi:

http://www.mapsofindia.com/maps/delhi/new-delhi-library.htm

The Delhi Public Library’s in Sarojini Nagar market. While I haven’t looked into its collections yet, it does seem a promising start.

 

Of Tennis in India

I spent most of my day today watching the U18 qualification rounds at the R. K. Khanna stadium in New Delhi. I’m new in town and know very few people here, so when Srinath Prahlad suggested I join him and Kyra Shroff at the stadium to watch a round or two, I was game.

Walking into the stadium at 11, I desultorily watched a few matches while waiting for Sri and Kyra to show up. I wasn’t following the matches or keeping score, but I could appreciate the young players and their skills as they battled each other. I say young players and their skills because in the three games that I watched, skill counted for a lot, but the composure of the players was what made them winners or losers. A young player of 18 vented his anger and frustration at his game by chucking the racquet, another voiced out loud, her low opinion of herself as she lost point after point. 

IMAG0043

I observed the winners acknowledging their mistakes and fumbling, but not giving into their doubts. Despite their losses, and errors, they maintained their composure and played on.

Kyra and Srinath joined me towards the end of the second match. Over lunch, Srinath and I enjoyed a delicious vegetarian thali. Kyra was more in the mood for a sandwich, and finding none at the café, declined to eat. They’d been training at the Siri Fort complex and were here to support Kyra’s friend Arancha in her qualifying round. Arancha, and her father, Gary joined us as we wrapped up our meal.

Arancha was excited about her upcoming match. She left us to warm up and figure out the court she’d be playing on. After coffee, we headed to the courts to watch her play. As we walked through the stadium Srinath would stop often to say hello to one person or another, with a big smile. During the game, he commented for my benefit, often calling out encouragement to Arancha, and pointers about how to correct her mistakes and look beyond them. She made her share of errors and in the last 3 games found herself facing her doubts. Her opponent had beaten her soundly in their last match. She had to overcome that failure and believe in herself to move on. Arancha won the best of 17 round (9-3).

Sri chatted amicably about the game, and his current coaching career. Tennis is his passion and he spoke on various topics; the differences in bounces on an open vs. closed court, breathing exercises to lower stress, or boost performance, training regimens of players, the lamentable quality of regular coaching, outdated training methods, the importance of neural training to successfully receive, discipline and more. He seemed to accept my ignorance in good cheer and seemed pleased that I was interested enough to ask, listen and share my observations.

Kyra and I got to chatting at the end of Arancha’s game. I was curious about this 18 year old. She’s charming, laughs easily and loves her sport. As a junior she’d been India’s #1 player. Now she was blazing her trails in the women’s category. Diagnosed with Type-I Diabetes at a young age, she spoke of the lamentable, outdated attitude towards Diabetes in India. “It’s a condition, not a disease,” she stressed. “Your pancreas produce 50 units a day, and my doctor used to prescribe 16 units for me,” she lamented. Her tennis career almost ended when her doctor instructed her parents to keep her out of sports,  pronouncing it her death sentence. Her father went along with the advice, but relented when he realized the depth of her depression two weeks into tennis withdrawal. “I was lucky,” she says. She is. But there’s more to her success than just luck. She’s also very determined. And her will’s found her a way and I hope it continues to.

At the age of 10, Kyra moved to Bangalore to improve her game. Her parents stayed on in Mumbai and with the support of her school she swam through her grades till the 8th. 9th and 12th were a challenge and she had to squeeze her studying into her touring schedule, cramming her syllabus in bits and snatches. “I had a choice between the easy life, and Tennis,” she said, speaking about her choice not to attend university abroad. She was offered scholarships at esteemed universities like Northwestern,  and Urbana-Champaign. Her choice was reasoned; college level women’s tennis is below par and that would affect her game. It’s not just the “easy life” that Kyra’s had to sacrifice. Speaking of her upcoming 19th birthday, she wasn’t sure she’d be home to celebrate. The last time she celebrated her birthday at home, she was 10. She does get calls from her family and friends, and she’s content with that.

“India doesn’t lack talent”, according to Kyra. Sadly, most promising players drop out opting for the “easy life”, because Tennis is an expensive game. The costs of touring, medical expenses, equipment, coaching fees, and laughable amounts for prize money in India, all can be insurmountable barriers for most players. “Every two and a half weeks, I use a new pair of Nikes worth eight grand. Eye wear’s sponsored by Oakley and my tennis racquet by Babolat,” she explained. The average age of Tennis retirees until recently has been 35. Kyra expects that with the latest trends, that could be pushed to 40, or 45 even. Without sponsorship and support this rising star’s career could come under some fearsome clouds.

Egypt Report–Feb 4,5 – 2011

Below is what I wrote up for an online journal – however, it went unpublished. Since I’d already done the write-up here it is:

Feb 5, 2011

Time seems a bit distorted due to our changed sleep cycles. It feels like a bit longer, but only yesterday, Volkmar, my neighbor was recounting his experiences in Shehab st. We were standing outside the German Embassy in Zamalek. I’d been complaining about the Street Watch checkpoints and how annoying they were. I nearly lost my temper with them yesterday when they asked to check my fiancée’s luggage at 8 am, on our way to the German embassy, where a convoy of buses awaited Germans and their families to assist with their evacuation.

Volkmar, a German exchange student in his mid-twenties, had been in Egypt for a few months. He lived with his wife and daughter in the apartment above mine. We often met on the stairs in our apartment building and exchanged a hello now and then. He told me that when walking down Shehab St. to a charity run shop, he’d been accosted by several youths from one of the Street Watch and they’d pushed him around a bit saying things that, “Get Out!”, “This is not your country!” His wife had left earlier. He’d wished to stay on previously but he was glad when he’d been asked by the student exchange program (DAAD) to evacuate. He’d spent the night at the DAAD premises as it was a short walk from the office. We’d always planned to get together for drinks, and now we were unlikely to do so anytime soon.

Feb 4, 2011

I’ve not been able to sleep too well. I find it hard to sleep when it’s bright outside and with the Street Watch duty I’ve been pulling in the past few nights, it’s been a bit tiring. After much trying I fell asleep around 7pm and woke up at 11pm to get ready. I looked outside the balcony and the roads nearby had makeshift roadblocks set up every 30 meters or so. The roadblock near my flat is a line of small concrete blocks. In a nearby street it’s an abandoned street vendor’s cart with some of his goods and elsewhere people have commandeered traffic barriers or even felled massive branches from trees by the roadside.

Taking a quick bite and fixing a mug with some tea, I quickly dressed in jeans, a medium weight sweater, heavy jacket and a scarf. I’d grown tired of my stubble so I’d shaved in the morning and found some pimples from ingrown hair where my jaw chafed against the rough scarf I’d been wearing.

Things were a bit different in the street today. Eddy had brought a couple of tables and the guys had set up a game of “Estimation”, a popular card game in Egypt. They were bantering easily and invited me over. I stood with them for a few moments and joked about the cool gangster set up they’d prepped. We laughed and I shot a picture of them with their weapons on the table. The gang wasn’t all present and when I commented Khaled said they were out walking. I waved and said I’d do the same.

Picking up a brisk pace I walked down the street in search of the various groups that I hung out with nearby. I found only the doormen standing. “Salam Waleikom,” I called out to them as I walked by to standard replies of “Wa’alekom Assalam”; greetings of peace between strangers. Absent today were hooded youngsters with pipes, baseball bats and other clubs. Absent also were elderly professionals with their rifles, hunting vests and camouflage pants. The first couple of days we’d seen quite a few people strutting around with their guns. It’d felt like a hunting expedition. I guess the long nights had worn them out too and they’d grown bored with very little action in the night. With no constant threat, they’d grown bored.

My neighbor, an ex-security person, Mr. Khaled held the same concern. I met him on my way to Lebanon St. He’d been chatting with a group there and asking them why there weren’t more youngsters on the Watch. It was around 1:30 am. He seemed a bit upset and he handed them a flyer asking them to post it on their building entrance. He seemed worried but was pleased to see that I was up and about. In a wider sense this dissipation of interest is also plaguing the protests. On twitter under #jan25, #tahrir, and #egypt, I see lots of tweets trying to keep the motivation up. In the streets, people are getting restless and weary.

“Egypt is a country of rumors,” claimed a person I chatted with last night. This came in response to several rebuttals I threw at his claims of, “Israel is organizing these protests”, “they’re pumping 50 million dollars into this”, and “all the anti-Mubarak protestors are being paid to stand there daily”. I’d visited Tahrir Sq. I knew some people out there who were protesting. I’d even met with one of the political figures and heard him share stories of the background discussions between the various political parties. My responses to most of his claims were accounts of first-hand experiences. I suggested he visit Tahrir Square. I think he might do that tomorrow.

Mr. Adel an elderly gentleman, guarding a construction site with the anonymous lad, launched on a long diatribe about the protests in Tahrir and their causes, pulling examples from 1936! He’s a contemporary of the new Vice President, Omar Soleiman. He remembered the revolution and made references to the Cairo Fires of 1952, Mohamed Naguib, first President of Egypt and various others. One moment he was anti-Nasser, and the next he praised him for universal health insurance he provided.

I’ve been having a lot of random conversation on the streets of late. It’s partly to pass the time, and partly because the faces I encounter are becoming more familiar. Sherif, a teenager in Shehab St., complained about his hair getting mussed since he’s been wearing a hoodie every evening for the last week. Startled by the popping and cracking of the fire against the nearby pavement, he wondered at what was causing the popping. The boy next to him suggested it was the paving stones that were causing it and he pointed to the cracked and chipped cement blocks. They’d been scavenging wood from everywhere. He’d even broken the bottom of the police barrier they were standing against for the wood.

Stories of looting have been quite abundant too and all peppered with bits of wry Egyptian humor. “Look how decent those thieves were! They entered through the door and exited through it. They stole all, but broke nothing.” Another story Sherif shared was about guys breaking into the clothing store near his apartment building. “They broke in and grabbed everything and walked to Ard El Lewa [a poor neighborhood nearby]. From the Ezz building they stole the steel safes! It must’ve taken 5 men to manhandle those.” Another told me that when real men stood guard the looters stayed away. “The shop next the grocery store… 4 men stood there with clubs made from branches and kept the looters away, and then this gentleman from his apartment fired a few rounds into the air dispersing them.”

Ibrahim, a colleague, was on the phone with me a few minutes ago. We swapped stories. “These protests are well organized,” he said. “They say that they start at the same times across the country.” I held a different opinion. I pointed out that Tahrir was never empty, so start and end times did not matter there. Additionally, while there was a semblance of organization it was primarily because the various groups were online and broadcasting, picking up and exchanging information. It wasn’t a conspiracy that dated by 5 years as rumors were held.

“I’m going crazy with boredom,” said Ibrahim, echoing my feelings and those of my Street Watch. My doorman, Mohamed, wants a return to normality. When pressed about whether he’d like to go return to the status quo and specifically to the old regime, he said he wanted a return to normalcy; he wants to sleep regular hours, he wants the curfew ended and he wants to feel safe. “Aren’t the protestors satisfied? Isn’t what Mubarak offered enough? They should end this,” says Helal from the street nearby. On twitter I see a frenzy of posts with #Egypt and #tahrir, echoing this sentiment while others report more protests planned for tomorrow, Tuesday and Friday. Are the Egyptian protestors losing focus and public interest? With over 150 dead and hundreds injured, what will the outcome be?

Back to bread… and about Sanderson

Today I got back to baking after a really long time. I used proper yeast this time. Found a source that’s approx. 5 mins walking distance away Smile. So, fresh yeast is at hand! F**k Active Dry Yeast.. I never learnt how to use you anyways – says I by way of Alanis, I think.

I read Brandon Sanderson recently; Alcatraz and The Evil Librarians… if I don’t look up the name of the text, you’ll never read me again coz Orson Scott Card says if the writer’s too lazy to do the work, the reader ain’t going to love him/her. So, the name is “Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians”. It was quite interesting written and is intended for middle-schoolers. I guess that’s somewhere between 9 and 12? Alright… I’ll look it up!

And I did… according to Sanderson, “the publisher places it for ages eight through thirteen, but I’d personally target it at ages ten and up.”

I’ll go with Sanderson, coz I’m definitely in the upper range of 10 and up.

I’m happy I found Brandon’s books. I came across him via LibraryThing.com – I added a few books I’d read; Brent Weeks – who I found while perusing the site sffaudio.com, Iain M. Banks – an all time favorite, and others. So I look forward to happily adding even more authors and books into LibraryThing and seeing what else they’re likely to recommend!

And LibraryThing I came across coz I was fiddling with Calibre and trying to download metadata for some books and some cool cover photos for others. I’m glad when I can backtrack with those crumbs… an expression I heard recently again when watching Star Trek: Voyager episodes – Season 1… I think it was the one where Torres our Human-Klingon mix is split to her Klingon and Human bits and half of her survives the experience. Come to think of it the Human bit’s whiny and appreciative. Her Klingon bit seems to take things as they are. At this point, I won’t find you the name of the episode. I’ve shown you, my reader, good faith and done a good bit of research and shared some cool sites. And, I’m writing a blog, not an article!

Yes, I was making bread.

Enjoying James Clavell

Clavell’s books are about passion and passionate people. He covers the basics really well: love, hate, sex, greed, and power. He doesn’t think much of Piety, or religion. His protagonists generally appear smarter, drink boiled water or tea, and are often beset by problems.

I find that reading Clavell always brings some level  of focus to my life. Reading the lives of his intensely focused and passionate characters, I often find my life drab in comparison. Nothing unique about that. If stories talked about the ordinary and the mundane, would they have the arresting qualities?

Recently, I read Gai-Jin and watched the “Noble House” mini-series. The Struan family features positively in both. Gai-Jin is based in Japan, in the early 19th Century, with the settlement of Yokohoma. Clavell literally brings this period and city to vivid life. Joss features heavily and the story develops with layers of complexity piling up and the reader is often bewildered and hooked by the twists in the story. Interesting tidbits like the first sewage system, invention of the underground railway, the economics of the China trade, American civil war, taxation reform, interesting points of British law, and more are built into the story.

Young Malcolm Struan, heir apparent to the Noble House, comes onstage confidently. He gets injured in a tragic incident and things start getting interesting. Both, the European and the Japanese, sides of the stories are well covered and a vast game unfolds with characters making moves, counter-moves and random decisions. Each play illuminating the board and the characters in interesting ways. Change is inevitable. Loss of control and composure leads to failure. Evil gets punished, or it doesn’t, all in its own time, but blindness always leads to failure. And this is where Clavell is a master. Characters that adapt and survive do so by taking risks, and keeping their eyes open and accepting their Joss.