Saturday, August 25, 2007

The trip to Delhi (5th - 11th Aug 2007)

A trip to Delhi can always be as exciting as one can expect it to be and that too when done with half-baked hindi it just adds a bit more spice to the fun and frolic, thats exactly what myself and appu experienced. We boarded a 4:45 pm flight to Delhi and were warmly greeted by 3 cute looking airhostess to whom we definitely would have looked like two clumsy characters for just the manner we carried ourselves (we couldnt control our excitments you see ...). I still can't forget how we gulped and munched everything the airhostess gave us in a fruitless and senseless attempt to catch their attention. The two and a half hour comical flying experience came to a halt at the Delhi airport. We immediately caught a blueline bus that took us through all the centre places of Delhi and landed us near the New Delhi metro station. With whatever hindi we knew we managed to get the directions to go to the Delhi metro station which was metro of an amazing standard, the metro has really redefined the experience of travelling within Delhi. Once in the station, two tickets to Vishwavidhyalaya was taken and we were on our
destination in not more than 20 minutes.

But by the time we reached our cousin Aravind's hostel, it was almost 9 pm and a huge panic had setin amongst our parents for not calling back as soon as we reached Delhi (they still think we both are 2nd grade kids u c ..), raising the tensions and temperature of Aravind. Instead of a warm hug we both were strongly rebuked for the priorities that were not prioritized. It took about 40 minutes for everything to settle down and as soon as it happened we set forth on our usual prattles which sparked off a series of uncontrollable laughter amongst us.

With Aravind not able to accompany us for the next two days, we set forth on our mission to explore Delhi all by ourselves. Armed with a Delhi map, we headed to a few places of interest and tourist attraction namely the Jama masjid, Qutib minar, Cannaught place, India gate, Red fort, Akshardam temple and Bahai worship place or much more famously known as the lotus temple. All the places were good but i was specially impressed with Bahai temple for it's architectural brilliance and simply an amazing piece of engineering. Though the other places also has its own significance and greatness it was the Bahai that caught my attention. As we came to the end of our two day exploration mission, we headed back to our room to catch the train to khatgodam from where we were destined to go to Nainital.

The three of us boarded the 10:40 p.m train which was supposed to get us to Khatgodam by 5:30 in the morning, well it was supposed to be but what really happened was that we landed in khatgodam at around 2:30 in the noon making it not less than 14 hours of one of the most bugging journeys that i have ever been into. But then again its these kinds of unexpected incidents and upsets in plan that makes a trip pretty interesting and interesting in its own ways, after all whats the fun when everything goes according to the plan. On reaching the Khatgodam station we caught a taxi to drive us up the hill to Nainital, which we he did in about 2 hours time. We scanned through a few lodges that could satisfy our necessities and finally zeroed in on the one that offered us Garama garam pani (hot water) 24 hours. As almost the entire day had elapsed we just caught up with boating in the evening and prepared to get ready for our first trekking experience deep in the forests the next day.

At about 7:30 a.m the next day, armed with a loaf of bread, butter, jam, sauce and half a dozen puffs, we started our trekking expedition, walking for about 2 hours on the outskirts of the town before we actually got to trek into the forests. Trekking is by no means an easy expedition and that too when its done on a hill, it really can make you huff and puff, which was precisely what happened to us as we set off to conquer the 700 meter high 'Cheena Peak'. The inclination was roughly about 10 to 13 degrees through most of the climb and in a few places it rose to about 20 to 25 degree which made it all the more difficult. Ironic as it may sound, it was the difficulty that made trekking an enjoyable experience as we put our endurance to test. Around 12:30 at noon we rejoiced on reaching the Cheena peak and munched up all that we had brought to eat. After relaxing a bit on top of the hill, we started our stroll down the hill not knowing what we were to about to encounter.

Relieved on knowing the we dont have to climb anymore and thinking that it would be more of a cake walk down the hill, we continued on our trek with a great deal of enthusiasm. Our enthusiasm levels surged higher as we witnessed the real deep forest scenery with no clear path visible to us but just managed to keep up with the tracks with the help of our much experienced guide. We enjoyed every bit of the forest experience until we realised what really surrounded us and every inch of our path. It was after some half an hour's trek down the forests when i happened to be the first victim to realise something getting on to my legs, when i removed my slippers to see what it was, i was shocked to see three leaches sitting right on top of my foot sucking the much needed blood that it wanted from me. Acting immediately with some salt i was able to get rid of the leaches but from then on having witnessed the villian of the forest it was just sprint for all the three of us, as we just couldnt bear the thought of leaches sticking on to us. As comical as it could get, the inevitable did happen and Appu happened to be the victim this time as a pair of leaches got on to his legs and in the act of getting the leaches out of his legs, he threw one of his slippers down the slopes of the forests, to the utter disbelief of myself and Aravind, we never knew a pair of leeches can pull out such extreme reactions. Neither me nor Aravind were ready to take the risk of plunging down the slope to get his slipper as we could be encountered with further more leaches and there was even a chance of slipping down the slope. As the dangers of walking without an footwear lurked large, he was rescued by our guide who volunteered and picked the other footwear much to the relief of Appu.

For the next 1 hour the three of us simply ventured into a spree of dangerous running down a narrow path just to be out of the hold of those leaches, overlooking the much more grave danger of falling down the slope. Luckily nothing of that sort happened and we were safely out of the forest in one single piece. Once out of the forests we entered a small hotel that served some wonderful paranthas and a steaming cup of tea for all of us.
Having had our fill, we ventured down the 15 km road to Nainital but luckily found a jeep midway that gave us one of the most exciting journeys of the trip. The three of us sat on top of the jeep as it was packed on the inside of it and down we went in one of the most realistic roller coaster ride that one could possibly experience. This exciting journey on top of the jeep lived out for 30 minutes after which we got down to walk further down to our room in Nainital.

The trip being as tiresome as it proved to be, we slept the rest of the evening and at about 9 p.m we packed our bags to catch our bus to Delhi. Although we were totally sapped out, the sight of two charming girls right infront of our seats made us lively again as we set forth on our attempts catch their attention with unbridled energies. But things didnt last rosy for long as the movement of the bus down the hill arouse a vomiting sensation within me and induced the same in Aravind and in one of those girls. For the next one hour or so the three of us set forth on a vomiting spree that never seemed to end as far as the bus was going down the hill. When the bus finally reached the plains, we felt releived but horribly embarrassed for our attempts to make a style statement infront of those girls were ruefully spoiled. Luckily Appu didnt experience any such sensation and had an excellent chance to impress those girls especially since both his competitors happened to be out of contention. But Appu being Appu, the chance didnt make much of a difference as he was pretty content in sleeping the rest of the journey peacefully with us. " Appu analum nee romba nallavan da ... he he "

The following day happened to be Friday and we were left with just 2 more days to return to Chennai but the tiresome trekking combined with the dreadful bus journey made us a bit apprehensive on our expedition atleast on that day. So we decided to let that day pass
with no real outing and waited for Aravind to return from college to plan our trip to Agra on the final day. But our dear cousin's late night appearance and confession that he would not be able to accompany us to Agra almost jeopardized our final plans to Agra. It was already 2'o'clock the next day morning and we had a flight to catch on the same day at 7 p.m, so if we wished to see the Taj and also catch the 7 p.m flight the only one possible way was to book a taxi right away and head to Agra at the earliest time possible, luckily we were able to find one in the middle of the night.

With our plans set and the taxi booked we started to Agra at 4 in the morning, it was a pretty smooth ride down the Delhi - Agra road as we smoothed near the Agra fort at about 9:30. It was a fort of architectural marvel, a fort from where the Taj could be seen and a fort which was designed to protect the king and his subjects in times of war. In about 40 minutes we came
out of the Agra fort and headed to the Taj in not so quick but certainly an enjoyable Camel ride. The Camel dropped us near the Taj, we then decidedly employed a guide and headed into the magnificient and timeless Taj. The Taj by all means is an excellent piece of art, symmetry and architectural brilliance, no wonder people are allured to it from all parts of the world. One can only be awestruck by a timeless piece of creation by Ustad Isa Khan for as long as the existance of humans on earth continues, the Taj will be looked at and remembered as a chaste symbol of love.

Precisely at about 1:30 at noon we were on our way to the Delhi airport being a bit tired due to the scorching heat and the taxing journey. The journey went about without much of a drama and we reached the Delhi airport around 6 in the evening. We checked in and boarded the flight but both of us were a bit disappointed as for the lack of an attractive hostess this time around. As being the case, the return flight to Chennai went about without much of an activity and comical stuff from our side on pretext of impressing the hostess.

Apon landing at the Chennai Airport we became aware of the hard fact that the six days of unending fun has finally come to an end but the reminiscence of the Delhi trip, the fun and frolic that came along with it will always put a smile on any of the three of us. At the end of it all what makes the trip enjoyable is the people with whom the travel is made and on that count a huge credit does go to Appu aka Varun for making it one. His continous stream of witticisms be it non-sense or less sense always kept the mood of the trip to be lively and fun filled.

In true sense of my words, the trip to Delhi will always be a trip that will be cherished and remembered in all our life time.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Subprime loans and Hedge funds

With the debacle of U.S subprime mortgage loans looming large over the Indian bourses and causing substantial negative impact in the Indian markets, a lot of investors are looking at hedge funds for an escape. Now for all the amateurs, here is an explanation on the U.S subprime mortgage loans and hedge funds.

What is subprime mortgage loan ?

There are 2 kinds of loans in U.S, they are the Prime and Subprime loans both are handled by private banking sectors in U.S.

Lets just focus on subprime loans for the moment.

The Subprime loans are the loans given to people with poor credit history. A lot of private banks in U.S had given a huge amount of subprime loans (the total amount is still not known) for the housing sector on instructions from the U.S government for reasons best known to them.

So what the hell is the problem ?

The history has repeated itself and a large number of debtors have defaulted in their repayments resulting in a large liquidity crisis for the U.S banks.

Why should this affect the Indian bourses and other global bourses?

Thats the beauty of 'Macroeconomics', ours not an independent economy and is dependent on the economies of a lot more countries other than India but primarily dependent on economy of the U.S. The magnitude of the dependence may vary from one country to another and impact of the dependence will vary accordingly.

Now coming back to the question as to why the U.S subprime crisis should affect the Indian bourses is because the FII's (Foreign Institutional Investors) who are mostly private banks from U.S have invested a huge amount of money in Indian and other global markets and have set themselves in a selling spree to increase their liquidity. This resulted in roughly about 2,00,000 crores of money being washed away from the Indian bourses. Though it constitutes only about 5 to 6 % of the total market capitalisation of the Indian bourses, it still is some big money.

The figures given below will show you the impact of the U.S subprime crisis in Indian markets.

On the start of Aug 1st 2007, the SENSEX was hovering around 15550.99 points and today Aug 17th 2007, the SENSEX has plummeted to 14131.84 points, thats a fall of about 1370 points and roughly about 8.8 % fall in 12 trading sessions swiping away more than 2000 billion crores from the Indian markets.

Alright we are definitely headed a downhill movement in Indian markets but why does Hedge Funds come into play ?

Hedge funds are private investment vehicles that are not regulated but are known to perform well when the markets are set for a steep fall or a steep rise like it is at the moment. They take big bets on a wide range of assets and specialise in sophisticated investment techniques.

Who runs them ?

Hedge funds are run by former bankers or traditional investment managers who set up their own funds. They are known to make a lot of money by their sophisticated investment techniques and charge roughly about 2 % for management fees and 20 % on profit.

Does hedge funds incur a loss ?

Yes, some of the hedge funds have incurred a big loss by betting the wrong way on recent market movements. A few of them have made losses by buying complex packages of debt that contain many of the U.S mortgage loans that are now turning sour. There are no regulators to bail you out in case of crisis and the full blow is apon the investors if the fund goes bust but then again the higher the risk the higher will be the return and its always been the case with the stock markets.

How big are the hedge funds ?

There are thousands of hedge funds in existence accounting for trillions of dollars of investments worldwide. They have enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years as investors have tried to diversify their assets and increase their returns.

Hope a bit of enlightenment helped you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

School education or Rote education ???

I recently read an article by Mr. Pillai in The Hindu Open page and the subject was "Does real learning take place in schools ?" (the link for the same is provided above) and given below is my reply to him and my perceptions on it...

Hi Pillai,

Your article today in The Hindu Open page "Does real learning take place in schools ?" was spot on. I have similar perceptions on education at school level and you were right in saying that education at school is more about memorizing than learning or understanding the concepts. That is a stark reason as to why Indian education doesnt produce excellent scientists and there is a huge dearth of talent in the research domain in any field in India. The education system in India is extremely mark based and exam centric which pushes the students to a false perception that obtaining high marks is the ultimate goal in school life and added to it the high number of subjects and higher number of topics covered in each subject only augments the problem by pushing the students into bad habits like memorizing. There is no emphasis on the application of a concept which fails to trigger the ability of student to relate what they study in a real-world situvation.

There are quiet a few reasons as to why this happens in education in Indian schools, the primary reason is that there are a millions of youngs minds in India to be educated and not many teachers to cater to the intellectual needs of those students. This results in a single teacher being assigned to teach atleast 60 to 70 students in a class which makes it close to impossible to cater to the needs of all those students. To further more compound the problem the teachers are paid a meagre sum even in good schools which declines the already depleted quality in teaching and drives away people from picking up teaching in schools as a profession.

But even the above mentioned reasons is no excuse for having such a faulty education system. The core problem is the objective of the school education which happens to be marks and only marks. As long as this happens to be the objective we will only be grumbling, like you said "of our fault-plagued school education system".