In the time I spent in Delhi I spend as much time reading newspapers trying to understand if they are focusing more on international affairs. I also tried to watch news on television but I always found myself switching to BBC World News ! The feeling I always get is that while most Indians I meet think that India is destined to be a superpower , no one really knows what it means and the knowledge of the world beyond is very limited. The focus is more on the former and no one really talks about developing the latter.

From my limited reading, international news coverage is dominated by 30% Pakistan, 20% US, 20% UK and Australia, 20 % China and 10% the rest of the world (including the subcontinent). Pakistan has gone down over the years and China has come up and continued to stay up. There is still too little focus on China and East Asia and still too much focus on Pakistan. A leading national daily has launched a ‘people to people friendship’ venture along with a newspaper in Pakistan to promote peace in the two countries. I don’t see the point of this venture. Can this not be resolved by simply putting more people in Pakistan and getting more unbiased stories out of that country. Why this charade of this grand friendship venture? and why only with Pakistan ? what about Bangladesh, Nepal , Sri Lanka or even Japan. Japan is the second largest economy in the world, it is a big institutional investor in India, presents a counterweight to China in Asia and how much does the average newspaper reader know about that country. Especially when LDP has been voted out of power for the first time in more than 50 years. What does DPJ rule hold for India ?

But this post is about Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina was in Delhi around the same time. While she was feasting on ‘illish’ I was checking out news coverage of her trip in India and I was very disappointed. India’s relationship with Bangladesh has been a sticky one at best and a bad one at most times. My favourite story is when I was in Dhaka in 2001 on the 30th anniversary of its independence from Pakistan and while the newspapers were full of coverage of how the war was won, there was not one mention of India. If that is not an unqualified foreign policy disaster then I don’t know what is !  It is like  if Iraq celebrates its freedom from Saddam in 30 years time and there is no mention of the US !!

But more importantly – why is the media not going around town talking about this visit. Why is it fixated with Pakistan ? I have always been surprised about the lack of knowledge, in the non Bengali speaking community, about Bangladesh in India.  Exactly what is this country of 160 million people about ? I only hear about it when it is affected by a natural disaster or about illegal immigrants from across the border. India imports natural gas from middle east when Bangladesh sits on huge reserves. Is it really that impossible to get them to trade gas ?

By some stroke of fortune, India has finally got a Prime minister who understands the potential of good relations with Bangladesh and this trip was a successful one.  Bangladesh agreed to do things which I never thought would be possible even a year ago and India promised a 1 billion $ credit which I didn’t know it had lying around. The PM should know better than anyone else, he after all co-wrote a report on reconstruction of Bangladesh in 1972 !

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I think I am a pretty hopeless writer and it has got nothing to do with my writing. It has all got to do with my thinking. I can’t seem to hold on to a thought for more than a moment. My mind at the moment is like a sponge full of water. Its heavy and feels pregnant. It can’t take anything new without throwing out something. I have a good mind to throw it into the dustbin and start again. I feel I am too full of opinions, pre conceived notions and conclusions Before someone even starts to speak, I have already guessed it from the ‘non verbal signals’ (demeanour, background etc) what the person is going to say and I have already come to my conclusion. It doesn’t matter then what the person has to say, my reaction is ready on the basis of what my mind has told me.  This is not just for personal conversations, it is also true for news incidents.

Like for example this merger that is being planned between MTN (in south africa) and Bharti (in India). I know in my mind where this is going. I can see that the governments have gotten involved. The heads of both companies have clout in their respective governments and both governments it seems are willing to bend to let this merger happen. No one is talking about how this merger is going to be successful. How will the different cultures of the two organisations meet. What is being talked about is how the merger will create the third largest telecom company. Even a first grader can do the maths if he is told – A has 2 phones, B has 3 phones. If A and B were to put their phones together how many phones do they become.  Sure the boy can’t talk about synergies, but neither can the media. I know this merger is going to happen, the media is going to celebrate it as another sign of India’s success in the global arena and then they are going to move onto to the next charade. But I have very serious doubts if this can have a long term future.

One word I hear worryingly too much these days is efficiency savings. Most political leaders include this in their speeches. It is hard to see a powerpoint these days without this phrase. It is to me the buzzword for the credit crunched and outsourced world. If I was to remember this year, five years on, I would remember this as the year of the efficiency savings. This was the year when you just had to use this phrase and you caught everyone’s attention. Even I, in my all knowing ways, had never imagined that this would become a fad.

If I stretch my mind to its limit, I can maybe remember this year as also the year of the Chinese ghost. This world in recent history has known many ghosts. It has know the communist ghost, the japanese ghost and now it is the Chinese ghost. Couple of a weeks ago I sat through a 101 on the south china sea and how China has captured land illegally from Vietnam. Then there was this whole media hype in India over the so called Chinese incursions. Earlier in the year was the huge trade imbalances in the favour of China. Coming next month is the 60th anniversary party of the communist party. I have no way of knowing whether China did make incursions into India, if it killed Vietnamese fishermen or if it fudges its numbers to understate its trade surpluses.

I guess even the sponge has its limits !

As a child one of my favourite past times has been to stare into the night sky. What I liked the most in the night sky , apart from the moon, was the fact that I could make up as many constellations as I went along. I could include and exclude stars from my constellations. As a kid I had even invented names which I can’t remember now ! So as I stared into the night sky I was wondering where are my constellations in my real world ? Where is my ability to include the dots/stars/news stories and come up with my unique conclusions? Why if someone asked me about some incident I will repeat back what I read or heard somewhere. Why do my constellations disappear when I need them the most, or rather where do I disappear when they need me the most. There are so many of them constellations just waiting to be formed.

I am intrigued by this recent decision of Russia to grant the US a supply route to Afghanistan . This has been coming for a couple of years now, but why now? Why so immediately after the SCO of which the US is not even a member, so soon after Musharraf’s trip to Moscow who was then followed by Kayani. This is the first time Russia is getting openly involved in the affairs in Afghanistan since its own pull out in 1989. S0 20 years later the good guys and the bad guys are getting together again to fight the Taliban who were initially part of the good guys but are now the bad guys. There is still a lot of opium coming out of Afghaistan, the government writ still doesn’t run outside of Kabul and the Taliban still freely move across Af-Pak. To say that I am confused, is an understatement.

Then there was the BRIC summit last month and I am still not sure what to make of it. This has probably the first grouping of its kind which has come together because a certain Goldman Sachs analyst thought up these disparate countries as one group. Fine so it makes some sense in a weird sort of a way to group them. But then like those school puzzles I think there is not one but two odd men out. First is Brazil which is so out of all the action. It is in a relatively peaceful neighbourhood, with no jehadis to worry about and far far away from all the action (and gas) in Asia. There is Russia which now increasingly reminds me of an ageing footballer who makes up for the lack of speed and stamina with some cunning tricks. So Brazil wants a piece of the action, Russia wants to be seen with the cool kids  but exactly what were the heads of India and China doing there ? They both have big countries to run and atleast in China’s case, if not India, BRIC needs China more than it needs BRIC. China can at a flick of a little finger command most heads of Africa in audience and India on the little flick of its big finger can command Nepal,SL and Bhutan too ! Bangladesh would also come but then she will not have a country to go back to.  But then this is only the first meeting of BRIC and I watch with anticipation if BRIC becomes a BIC or a BISC (with SA in it). I will be very surprised if Russia remains in BRIC after 2011 after India gets its Admiral Gorshkov.

The British are in a bad mood these days. The humor is getting sharper by the day. First they have been told up by MPs , post expenses scandal, from developing countries to apply their good governance advice to themselves. Then there is the recently concluded EU-Pak summit in which the EU was represented by the Czech president, who held the presidency of EU at that time. Imagine a former colonial power being left out in a summit with its colony. Another example of how most decisions concerning the UK are being taken in Brussels ( I swear I read about it somewhere but I can’t find it now!). So a diminishing foreign influence, some decisions being taken in Brussels, public debt of monstrous proportions, anglo-saxon model in disarray and on to top it all the great British hope had to go and lose in the Wimbledon semi finals. The Olympics glory seems like a long time ago.

There is a lot going on and,as always, I am struggling to make sense of it.  I am struggling to get away from the event to point of it all. I am almost afraid to write about it because I don’t quite know what I am going to write about. Its almost like I am listening to this concert orchestra and all I want to do is listen to the violinist in the 3rd row. To me she holds the key to the symphony , if only I can shut out the rest and manage to focus on her. I feel more disturbed than usual and I can’t seem to be able to look at a glass half full.

I can’t seem to watch/read/listen to anything without being depressed about something. I read a book on Economics and it talks about how the minority are able to successfully lobby for something which is against the interests of a majority. It goes through because the minority want it more than the majority. I thought that this is exactly the problem that democracy was supposed to solve. What is the point of having an election when lobbyists are going have a sway over decision making. If that wasn’t enough there is this subtle difference between bigotry and rational discrimination. If done properly the rational one can actually improve the bottomline. Especially so if the majority discriminate against the minority.

So I sit down to watch some cricket. Good old IPL with some ‘Citi moments of success’ and ‘DLF sixes’ ! For once I am not enjoying the commentary at all and I am not sure where is cricket trying to be with this. Its like the entire game has been compressed into a little test tube.  I really long for a good test match which won’t get over in 4 hours with a zillion ads in the middle and where a boundary is just a boundary and not a Citi moment of success. Maybe I am now spoilt with the BBC’s coverage of F1 with no ads, maybe I am getting old, maybe I am missing the point of it all. Maybe.

I try to keep up with news on the Indian elections. Again I try to shift the chaff from the real issues. I try to read between the lines and I try to understand what do these politicians really stand for, sometimes I give up. But then I tell myself that I can’t give up when people in rural areas are registering high voter turnouts. What are they registering that I am not. What can they see that I can’t. Why this faith in the undeserving politicians of the country. I see people like Malika and Shashi Tharoor stand for elections and I can’t understand why. They are not standing for power and money , so what is it for them. That’s when the cynic in me gives up.

I pop out for lunch today and the Tamils are in full force in front of the high commission with their bells and whistles. They break some windows and call for a ceasefire. I can’t help but question the timing. I almost wanted to stop and reason with the cheer leaders. To me this is an act of desperation if there was one.  This along with my last post on Pakistan and an interesting situation in Nepal . I blogged late last year on how I think South asia will go through significant changes,  but four months into the year and the contours are not clear to me at all.

I wonder what is the capacity of the world to manufacture and handle global events. So America manufactured the Iraq and the Afghan war and is now straddled with them. On top of it there are the crisis in Africa (Sudan, Somalia etc), the global economic crisis, a fast developing pandemic not to mention that the UN millennium goals (remember them ? ) are not going to be met by a far way. As the developed countries try to look after their own economies and citizens who looks after the world’s poor. If their local war won’t get to them then the trade barriers will. The case has been to reduce to trade barriers to let less developed countries export to the rich countries but even an Obama can’t sell that to his countrymen, much easier to give money to car makers.

Nothing seems to get resolved these days. It  just get pushed down the high table only to re-emerge bigger and dirtier.

I sat through a G20 briefing today at work and it was pointed out that its all men , and one woman, around the table and discussion is on drab economic stuff. Its about fiscal stimulus, regulation and protectionism. Except this time the economic stuff is making rivetting front page headlines. There was also talk about all the bilateral summits that will happen along the sidelines of the summit. I am usually confused when so much is happening so quickly. But this time, as the summit approaches, i am clear on some things. For me in this group of 20 there are 2 big elephants in the room. That is US and China. Of these 2 elephants, one is older and slowing and that is the US and the other is young and raging and that is China. They are not necessarily competing but they are not the best of friends either. They are not at each others throats because they face 2 big common enemies. One is the economic recession which if continued unabated threatens to wipe out their economies built on free trade  and second is global warming. Global warming is not on the agenda because it doesn’t yet hit as hard as the recession. Of the 2 elephants, the US has shown most of its cards. Its put as much money as it can in the stimulus, it has micromanaged bankers and car companies, tweaked its trading regulations and even tried to tell the world what to do. China on the other hand has not shown its hand completely and the buzz at the summit is that may surprise everyone with a big stimulus. The world , including the one smart woman, is looking at China to do something. Boost domestic demand, revalue its currency, buy more US debt if possible etc. Whats even more interesting to me is when the elephants meet at the sidelines of the summit both of them will be aware of it.

This brings me nicely into what I really wanted to write about and that is China. China to me is another Africa. I know very little about it. For the most populous country in the world, 3rd largest economy and the winner of the most gold medals in the last Olympics, the country gets disproportionately little attention.Yes it doesn’t make it very easy for media companies to operate there. Even then I think more can be done. Here is a country that is going to dominate more and more of world stage and I know frustratingly little about it. I know more about Sarkozy’s views of the world than about some of the new ideas that are coming from China or what is China’s view on the war in Afghanistan. Which is not to say Sarkozy’s views are not important. But France is now part of NATO , so I might as well listen to Obama. Couldn’t resist that !

G20 is being held at the Excel centre in London docklands. My only visit there was last year for the Chinese dragon boat race festival. It is only apt that G20 is being held there because for me the event will signal that the Chinese dragon is inching ahead of all the other boats.

Everyday I try to listen or read the news and current affairs in some form or the other. Some day the news is good, some days it is not so good. Some days i am surprised and sometimes I even say a silent ‘ I told you so’ !  But today I thought the news was exceptionally bad. And with all the G groupings the image in my head is of the world, the humanity hanging off a thin G string. The image is not titillating, far from it, it is very depressing.

First there is talk of the upcoming G20 summit. The G20 summit has been pitched to do all sorts of things. Its been called as the new Bretton Woods which will shape the economic architecture of the 21st century. To put this responsibility on the door of this group of countries some of which are still learning to work with each other is asking for too much. Worse the news today was of a caste system emerging in this where countries are being divided into tier 1 and tier 2. Even within the countries which should have learned to work together by now there are rumblings on how to deal with the crisis. The US has finally woken up to the fact that this crisis needs a global economic stimulus and in typical style wants to set the standard for the world to follow. The EU has moved on from the stimulus and wants to instead focus on the regulatory environment at the G20 summit. The UK is playing the classic tight rope walk between the continent and the US. More importantly Gordon Brown sees this as his final chance to shine on a world stage before deflation hits his and labour’s election prospects. I really don’t expect anything out of the G20 except some statement which captures the views from all sides without really meaning anything.

I was also thinking who is going to be the main winner in this economic crisis. Every crisis to me presents its share of winners and losers. Who the losers are is quite obvious, but the only apparent winner to me is China. I think if China plays it cards well, and as the real cost of the bailouts becomes clear, it could come out much stronger simply because the other countries are much weaker economically than before the crisis.  But this is only natural and this has been predicted by many people. The only difference is that it is coming sooner than imagined and in a more dramatic fashion. Time now to learn Mandarin? Or maybe invest in a fund which invests in Mandarin language schools ?

Guess what else is coming sooner ? Its global warming ! The news on global warming which has now sort of shifted out of the news agenda unless it is some news like Maldives deciding to go carbon neutral by 2020 which is even better than Norway’s target by 2030. Maldives will probably be the first ones affected by rise in sea levels and I guess this move is more to attract the world’s attention to this problem before the Copenhagen summit later this year. I even heard a new term today, ‘ environmental refugees’ !

Then there is the continued crisis in South Asia. India for all its craziness seems to be an oasis of calm as countries around her break into chaos. Whether its the politicians in Pakistan continuing to score points of each other, exactly what is happening to that country ? Its 20 years since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and has the wheel has come a full circle ? Or the BDR mutiny in Bangladesh and its repercussions on the country, or the civil war in SL where the end game will probably never end and finally there is the curious case of the ex king of Nepal in Delhi.

How soon before the Gstring finally unravels ?

I have often wanted to remember dates of important events and some how try to link my life around it. I am happy with the same year because its rare to coincide with a date. So for example, I want to say that I was born the year when the Vietnam war ended, or I came to London the year Gordon Brown became PM or more interestingly Lewis Hamilton started to drive in F1.  The idea being that I want to think that my life has been more interesting than it really is and in some ways i am connected with those events. It doesn’t really pan out that way and what usually happens is my life gets linked to the famous date. So I will say that I was in class 11th when Freddie Mercury died. Yes Freddie is my favourite singer and his death left me sad, and my being in class 11th is my attempt to make my life look very interesting.

Yesterday on one inane report on BBC world service, the reporter was interviewing mothers who had a child yesterday and some really zonked out moms insisted on calling their child as freedom child ! My thoughts , you guessed it correctly, turned towards how do I attach myself to January 20, 2009. I couldn’t find a answer and then finally told myself that 2009 has just started and I am bound to find something. The next question was do I really want to attach myself to this date and try to remember it. Do I want to say 4 (8?)years down the line, yeah I was at work when Obama was being sworn and  I watched the program at work on 5 different channels in 3 different languages, of which I don’t understand 2.  Unfortunately, I remember Bush jr swearing ceremony for all the wrong reasons, because I was upset at how Gore could lose. And so I remember 2001 for two reasons Bush and 9/11 and i am still undecided on which one was worse.

But this time I really really want to remember January 20, 2009 for all the right reasons.

On a separate note, I am watching with great anticipation on which foreign head of state will be the first to visit DC pay obeisance to the new leader.  I thought it would be Gordon Brown , but that may not happen , it may be France or Germany , or even Czechoslovakia which has EU presidency. Or could it be Russia to bless the new land route to Kabul. And where Obama go on his first foriegn trip ? My bet is to the G20 summit in London where he gets to meet the G20 leaders at one place.