The inevitable rise of the assertive hegemon


It is inevitable, isn’t it?

I am referring to the unstoppable rise of China as the new pivot in international relations, strongly positioning itself as a counter to U.S. interests in Asia-Pacific region. There is no competitor to China as such, with even Russia and Turkey vigourously supporting the rise of China as a strategic counterweight to the U.S. (even the U.K., France, and Germany seem to be drifting away from U.S. positions as witnessed recently in the Palestine vote in the U.N. General Assembly).

While no country would take an opposing view to China in global forums, given its economic and military might, a few countries are thinking aloud about the potential ramifications of what they consider as “influence-peddling” by China to gain global power, by lending billions of dollars to poor countries hungry for infrastructure investments. Thousands of Chinese workers have been deployed in scores of countries around Asia and Africa, with their visible presence communicating a sense of beholdenness on the part of the local populations who have to pay back the loans eventually to China, failing which China would demand a stronger involvement in more government and private sector projects in those countries, thereby making certain countries as its vassals. An extreme observation, but nevertheless likely to happen in the next 10 to 20 years, as part of China’s inevitable rise towards the #1 position in economic power. It is estimated that by 2032, China will match the U.S. in terms of GDP size.

Now, who are these few countries with doubts about China’s rise and influence-peddling? These are Japan, Australia, the European Union as a collective, and of course, India. For instance, the EU and India have raised objections to China’s OBOR (One Belt, One Road) initiative, which is mostly an economic exercise to spread China’s influence over 65 countries with USD 124B investment via loans which will eventually make most of those countries forever indebted to China. There is no transparency in the way China has promoted the OBOR initiative, which is mostly President Xi Jinping’s vision without a “hard” blueprint of planning and execution. It is touted as the world’s largest ever infrastructure investment, many times bigger than the U.S. Marshall Plan which was implemented in the aftermath of the Second World War. China will try to spread its political and military influence over many of these “poorer” countries, such as what it has been doing in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It will “buy” entire sea ports or towns and develop these as its own enclaves in those countries. Economic dominance will eventually impoverish these countries.

A lot of thought is required before nations can commit to OBOR. They have to seriously question China’s intentions, which cannot just be global trade and economic growth. There is a cost to everything, and nations have to understand the overall plan and their role in it. Further, all procurement cannot go only to China companies, there must be fair and transparent bidding processes. Land grabbing cannot be allowed in return for money, and human rights have to be respected (not in the way China does these things, however). There cannot be institutionalized corruption as part of the OBOR rollout in countries with weaker governance or authoritarian rulers. What is touted as a global initiative and vision, need to have global governance and a strong underlying framework, and cannot just be controlled entirely by one country (China).

The EU is likely to demand all of the above and more – it would like to have a say if China wishes to extend the OBOR initiative deep into the European heartland. We have seen that the EU is more balanced than the U.S. (or even the U.K.) when it comes to trade matters and human rights, and may be it will become the last bastion for fairness in all global matters of critical importance like this initiative.

I would like to complement President Xi Jinping for his vision of OBOR. It might become a much needed investment plan for most of the world in the coming decades. It might further China’s strategic interests and enhance its geopolitical influence against the U.S. It might even make China a well-accepted “partner” in many of the countries who are in the process of signing up for the OBOR program. All good, but the policy planners in these countries should carefully analyze the cost-benefits of participation in OBOR and advise their governments to seek responses from China in an appropriate manner, conducive to eventual participation.

My guess is that even India will eventually consider participation in OBOR, if its concerns are appropriately addressed by China. More importantly, China has the continuing habit of trying to “block” the world’s largest democracy from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and acting against Pakistan’s terrorists in the U.N. Security Council – these things do not go down well in India for sure, and repeated needling at border locations like the recent skirmish at Doklam is not helpful at all. If China wants to defeat India economically, it needs to first understand that it has already achieved that objective couple of decades ago. If China wants to defeat India militarily, that goal has also been achieved 55 years ago (though that may not be possible again). However, if China wishes to “encircle” India in a strategic manner and constrict it from growth and multilateral participation, then India will retort by intensifying its strong strategic partnership with the U.S. and Japan. It will also bring in Australia and Israel into the equation. India has the advantage of “soft” power which China lacks. India is mostly trusted around the world and at the U.N., while China suffers from a strategic distrust about its territorial ambitions as evidenced in Asia by its claims on the South China Sea.

So, where are we? Where is the world? I mean, on the OBOR program? A lot of questions need to be clarified before it can make a big impact on the world.

I wish President Xi Jinping all the best in OBOR acceptance and rollout, but he better take actions to smoothen the rollout – otherwise it will be consigned to history as a program which was conceived well as a vision, but did not have the essential elements in place and the strategic concerns appropriately addressed.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th January 2018

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A lot of Cheese


I enjoyed high quality cheese varieties this week at one of the most well-known cheese cafes in Singapore, combined with some real good wines.

The Greenwood Avenue vicinity in Hillcrest Park is one of the best locales of Singapore evoking memories of an European town sans the benefit of a cooler temperature. There are only houses and some low-key shopping area here, but there are also some excellent restaurants, bars and cake shop, and all of it comes with free parking! Long time ago, I used to live not far from this place, and so I am familiar with the location.

The Cheese Artisans is an excellent choice if you are into cheeses. I was (and still am) only used to few varieties of cheeses that are available in the usual supermarkets, and my favourites have been Gouda and Edam. I like peppery, spicy and sometimes, the nutty varietals of cheese. The Cheese Artisans are completely different purveyors of direct-from-farm cheeses all from European farms. They have such a long cheese menu that the jaws drop and the eyes glaze – it is better to ask the waiter to put together a platter of different cheeses – some hard, some soft – and they do a good job based on the taste that you should describe to them before ordering. Walking into the cafe outlet located in Greenwood Avenue is an experience – you can not only look at the wines (many of which I haven’t seen before, but that is almost always the case!), the cheeses, the meats, etc., but also the cheese maturation facility where they store the cheese. I have never seen one before.

Suffice it to say that I relished the cheeses that they chose for me – I liked the blue cheese and the goat cheese as well. Of course, the wines were good too – I enjoyed the Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2015 from Marlborough/New Zealand, the Chateau Clinet Ronan by Clinet Bourdeaux 2013, and the famous Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Fay Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. All amazing wines, and to be enjoyed slowly with lots of cheese. You simply cannot go wrong with these wines. The suggestions by the waiters and the chef, as well as the service they provide seem impeccable, and suited to the newly initiated patrons who are just exploring cheeses for the first time in some detail.

The only thing I would suggest to the cafe is to have the right big bottom red wine glasses instead of using the same kind of glasses for both white and red. The red wines taste better with more breathing in a wider wine glass. Further, expensive wines need to be decanted for some 15 minutes before we can realise the full potential of the wine on our palate.

I would suggest that you try out The Cheese Artisans – it is not for the quickie grabs, but for a really leisurely evening play out with lots of talk and slow sampling of finest cheeses and sipping of full-bodied wines, all this will go to make a great evening, especially during these “winter” times that we are having in Singapore – rather “cold” at less than 23 deg C! The impact of climate change is being felt all over South East Asia now, which has been rather unusual. However, it provides a perfect setting for a great cheese adventure while you imagine you are in a farm in Switzerland!!

Have a great weekend, and enjoy your wines responsibly. Do not drink and drive. Avoid driving if you are drinking, like what I did – take a taxi which is the right thing to do (also, do not let another drunk companion drive you home!!!).

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th January 2018

The Verdict


Excellent movie by Sidney Lumet, who is the Director of this 1982 movie featuring an intense court-room drama. I have not seen much of the lead actor, Paul Newman, and I should say I enjoyed his acting – he came through as a talented actor with deep skills which he brings to play. I am sure I will see more movies with Paul Newman as the main actor in the coming months.

While I am not going into the storyline in any detail in this post, suffice it to say that this movie demonstrates that the U.S. Judicial System was plagued in yesteryears with favouritism, nepotism, and corruption of sorts, especially where strong vested interests were in action. We always think that justice can be manipulated in places like India, or justice can be delayed, and there are reasons for that belief to percolate into society. Powerful people and institutions, especially business magnates and politicians seem to escape justice, and poor unsuspecting people seem to be at the receiving end in most casees. This was almost the case in the U.S., and this movie is a good example of how the presiding judge can be manipulated by powerful lawyers and institutions.

Was I surprised? No, surely not. The U.S. developed the art of lobbying. It also developed advanced techniques of power plays which leverage on position in society, wealth, and political power to damage the foundations of justice. While in most common cases, it is apparent that proper justice is being meted out, things are not transparent in most other “power” cases – where a common man (as in this movie, represented by the patient who was wronged) fights against the entire class-based societal system, its biases and prejudices. In this movie, the presiding judge even instructs the jury not to consider vital evidence from a surprise witness who goes against the “powerful defendants” – in this case, the hospital and the concerned doctor.

There always exists incredulity in our minds when it comes to the most common situations in society, simply because we ignore such problems, and expect them to go away in a while, notwithstanding the simple fact that the origin of such situations might arise from the wrongs inflicted by the larger society (which includes all of us) on the common man. The powerful doctor wishes that the problem will go away, the archdiocese running the hospital expects their powerful lawyer to win the case, despite the wrong application of anaesthesia to the patient, which clearly amounts to a serious malpractice destroying the life of the patient. If such important people and hospital believe that their wrongs can be corrected by their lawyer, and the court jury will indeed exonerate them, then you see that this is not just an uncommon attitude in any society. Simply because powerful lawyers can win any case provided they have a strong team working on multiple angles (including sending a lady to seduce the prosecuting lawyer, and making the prosecution’s star doctor witness disappear by probably buying him off), and adopting unethical means is not beyond them in any case. The insane thing is that this movie communicates the power of orchestrated deceit, corruption, lack of ethics, and money, yes, lots of money, ramming the rights of a common man (in this case the female patient).

Good discovery, but not unusual – this is the case even today in many large countries, whether democratic or not. Money, position and power can buy powerful lawyers, and they could defeat innocent victims.

But not in this movie. Paul Newman, acting as the prosecution lawyer, investigates the case with the help of his mentor colleague, and discovers that he will easily lose – but then, does not give up. He finds new angles, and new witness. He establishes the credibility of his powerful closing arguments with the jury, despite strong push back from the defending lawyer, and the judge’s one-sidedness and strictures on him. His arguments are so persuasive that the jury not only hands him a win but also seeks to increase the amount of damages that can be sought from the hospital. Medical malpractices have to be punished severely, and they are absolutely right in seeking much higher damages.

Whether Paul Newman returns to a stable lawyer practice on the basis of this remarkable win is anybody’s guess. He is sure to look at women cautiously, given how he was seduced by the mole planted at the bar that he frequents by the defendant’s powerful lawyer!

A great movie with great direction by Sidney Lumet, and fantastic acting by all actors, specifically Paul Newman. No wonder this movie was nominated for multiple Academy Awards. May be the movie is a bit slow at certain times, but that slowness is based on the alcoholic lawyer’s tribulations and his firm attempts to get back control of his own life. A serious movie with serious messages for the society (from who the jury is drawn in the U.S. Jury System) on how not to fall for polished arguments and push wrongs under the carpet. Everyone needs to fight back against wrongs in society, wherever and whenever one sees these – every life is sacred, and as we see in this movie, famous doctors and powerful church-driven hospitals cannot escape simply based on their believable lies and their established fame/power in society. The Jury obviously came to this conclusion in this movie, despite the judge’s obscene interventions in favour of the defendants.

This movie is bigger than that courtroom drama – it is about the resurrection of an alcoholic and failed lawyer, driven solely by the injustice he felt was inflicted on a poor lady. He did not expect to win the case, but he won. On purely moral grounds.

See the movie if you haven’t and you will enjoy it.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th January 2018

Revolution


If there is a people-driven revolution in any autocratic country, that is a good sign. After all, the legitimacy of even a theocratic state is based on the support of its citizens. There is no god-given authority to any human to rule over his or her “subjects” – such anachronisms continue to damage the real strength of people even in democratic nations such as England. I had recently written about The Republic of England.

The people revolution that is occurring in Iran is a good example of how the citizens of a country can protest, in a non-violent manner, against the social and economic conditions afflicting them. There is actually no real explanation that the Iranian Government can provide, except to flex its police and military muscle. Such things happen even in purely democratic, non-theocratic, non-autocratic nations of the world.

Iran is a special case however. The 1979 people revolution comes to mind, when thousands of protesters took to the streets against the Shah of Iran and the U.S. Government’s intervention in Iranian affiars (the U.S. is very famous for interfering and intervening in the affairs of almost all countries under a coordinated C.I.A. strategy over the past 7 decades). The Shah of Iran was overthrown, and the protesters took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran holding hundreds of hostages.

So, Iran is not immune to civilian and student protests. It is a well-developed country, with a social development and people maturity comparable to many Western nations. The theocratic approach to governing what is the most advanced country in the Middle East has resulted in serious skirmishes with the U.S. which does not, obviously, like to deal with religious figures and considers political figures as too weak to negotiate.

After couple of false starts, here comes another chance for the long-suffering Iranians to assert their human rights, not as stooges of the U.S. or any other Western country, but as rightful owners of their own proud country whose history dates back thousands of years of enlightened civilization and growth. Of course, they are going to be repressed by the police and military in a brutal fashion, which is happening now. More than 20 civilians have been killed in the protests over the last week or so, and hundreds are incarcerated with potential, nay, guaranteed torture in unknown jails or locations.

The human spirit is so strong that it cannot be repressed for too long. We have seen that consistently over many centuries, and that revelation is irrespective of the country, ethnicity, religion or war. It always comes back to assert its superiority over the mundane affairs which holds it back for many years.

In the case of Iran, the U.S. would do well not to interfere. The Iranians know the pitfalls of “external” interference which would quickly be translated as “foreign support” for the protesters by the Government and the military. While President Trump and the U.N.S.C.  Permanent Representative Nikki Haley relish the “big” opportunity to hit back at Iran and extend their unequivocal support for the Iranian citizens, and even call for an emergency session of the Security Council, all these actions and tweets are being interpreted in a rather different manner by the folks who run the religion, the government and the military of Iran. It is not going to be easy to seek a regime change, which has always been the single most important objective of the U.S. despite its ardent denials. The people of Iran have to do what it takes to secure a more positive outcome for themselves and their country without any external help, and that is going to take a lot of sacrifice and time.

In a nutshell, the Iranian people protests again prove that social and economic challenges are more important to people than politics and conflicts and wars. It is irrelevant to them if Iran wins over Yemen or Lebanon, or scores a political victory over Saudi Arabia in its conflict with Qatar. How does that matter to Iranians at the end of the day? Economy is suffering in what could be the most dynamic Middle Eastern country of all for the past nearly 4 decades – even better and stronger than Saudi Arabia. Iran needs to work with other democracies to deliver better results to its own people instead of securing just propaganda wins. If the U.S. continues to impose more severe sanctions against Iran, it is only a question of time before there is an economic collapse or there is a war instigated by one of these countries on some pretext or the other.

Given that the U.S. under President Trump is not going to be nice towards Iran, and would make all attempts to prevent the other top Western nations such as the U.K., England, France and Germany from developing a partnership with Iran in any economic sphere, there is no choice left for Iran. Except to work more closely with Russia and China.

At the end of the day, Iran has to drop its territorial ambitions, drop its political and military interventions/support in other Middle Eastern countries, strictly adhere to the nuclear deal signed in 2015, restrain its ballistic missile testing, and fall in line with the expectations of the world community (not necessarily that of the U.S.). For achieving this, it has to work real hard with the U.N. and few large countries in a deliberate and well-articulated manner over the next couple of years.

That would be the best way to eliminate the potential for a damaging war with the U.S., vastly reduce the economic misery of its people, and realize its scientific and technological ambitions to be a real world leader (the only one from the Middle East, apart from Israel).

Now is the time to do it, without giving further cause to more people revolutions – if nothing is done, something similar to the takeover of the U.S. Embassy is likely to recur.

Cheers to the Iranian people,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

06 January 2018

 

Welcome to 2018


We welcomed the New Year in Singapore with non-stop rains, which played spoil sport for the thousands of party goers assembled at multiple venues for cheering the arrival of a new year. This past year has been a successful one for the Singapore economy with GDP growth almost doubling from its original forecast, and a general uplift in the mood of people with increasing income levels. Real estate prices are climbing yet again after several years of tightening measures by the government. Jobs are available for the right skilled people. Immigration is under check. Workers are adapting to newer technologies. Population of “smart” workers is on the rise. MNCs still view Singapore as a critical piece of their Asia Pacific expansion and growth strategy. Home rents are lower thanks to an oversupply of apartments. New Healthcare initiatives are being rolled out.

However, the world around does not share similar performance as that of Singapore, even in the immediate neighbourhood. While young Asians share an optimism about their future prospects, the Asian governments need to balance their thirst for economic growth and advancement and their strong desire to maintain social order and stability. This is an issue even with developed countries, so it is not new. However, the younger demographics of Asia could pose a tough challenge to governments. The younger generation has been defined by social media proliferation and intense networking, and share a common desire to break away from traditional viewpoints, often espoused with strong vigour by many Asian government leaders.

This is one reason why the Singapore government is infusing its party and ministerial line-up with younger, high-potential leaders. I am sure several other governments in Asia are also thinking and executing along the same lines. It is more critical and important to have an energetic global view of governance and its challenges, rather than just fall in line and toe the party line. Younger generation of today brings unbridled energy, enthusiasm, drive and passion to whatever they do, and if they feel they are not going to be heard, then they will head for the exits – it is not going to be a revolution of sorts, but going where they can be heard and can play a crucial role via contributing to the rise of new technologies. Governments so should devise a strong policy framework to keep their younger talent at home (at least a majority of them), rather than lose them to the same set of developed nations who provide a better ecosystem for such young workers.

The U.S. still remains the bastion of new ideas, despite the damaging influence of President Donald Trump. May be he will go away, and then the new President would liberalize the country and its tech-driven economy, and also further integrate the U.S. with its major trading partners more closely. The world will wait for that to happen. Nevertheless, people with dreams will still find a way to migrate to California.

Now, on another critical topic of interest to all global citizens:

2018 promises to be a year with lot of hopes, aspirations, desires and dreams. Global citizens should unite to stop war threats, and hold the U.N. accountable for ensuring peace in war-ravaged countries. Civilian casualties should completely stop. The International Criminal Court should prosecute more war criminals, keeping its mandate strictly in mind. Lack of peace and war-mongering are the antitheses of economic growth and social development. Let us not forget that there is more investment on offensive weapons and ammunition than on building national infrastructure, providing a higher quality of primary and secondary school education, ensuring a high quality of national healthcare, and other key people-oriented initiatives that governments should consciously implement with the tax payers’ money.

More weapons, higher the stock prices of the defence systems contractors. Who else benefits?

Given that the global wish is to have a peaceful 2018, let us all petition the U.N., the U.N. Security Council, and the U.S. President Donald Trump (no choice folks!), to stop all ongoing wars, and not to start a new one, and to commit not to use nuclear weapons irrespective of irresponsible provocations by rogue regimes. This is the best outcome for a peaceful world in 2018. Our collective conscience should demonstrate our joint commitment to demand that our leaders listen to our collective voice, and act based on that voice. People have a vote, a voice and of course, they pay taxes. Expecting leaders to listen is not an “out of the world” requirement.

So, friends, let us dedicate all our joint efforts in the coming months to stop wars. Please run through some of the anti-war initiatives in the following websites:

United National Antiwar Coalition

Peace and Security: UNITED NATIONS

United for Peace and Justice

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (which won the Nobel Peace Prize 2017)

List of Anti-War Organizations

I strongly feel about this anti-war philosophy – every day brings news on atrocities committed by governments, sometimes on their own citizens, and on other governments which are waging wars under the pseudo-umbrella of a “coalition” against all norms of humanity, civilization, and decency. How can killing of innocent civilians and children benefit any country? I fail to understand the concept of “war” perpetrated by countries with advanced weapons against poor, innocent civilians in the name of obliterating an opposing political or religious philosophy that they are not comfortable with. And, in all this, our great U.N. has been found to be wanting, totally lacking of firm leadership.

I can go on and on, but it is very important for all of you to stop for a few minutes and think, especially those of you living in developed countries. The planet is under threat of wars and an impending nuclear cloud. If you think you can escape by virtue of living in an advanced country, you are totally and clearly mistaken with an absolute lack of understanding of these threats which could become rather real in 2018.

Welcome to a challenging, yet promising New Year folks!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 January 2018

The Passing of an Eventful 2017


Today is the last day of 2017.

What an eventful year it was – every year has some significant events which define it. However, 2017 was one of those years which had multiple significant events trying to define it, the most important one being the coronation (!) of Donald Trump as the President of the U.S. in January 2017.

That changed almost every other significant event in the entire world – Trump changed the world order for everything significant. It became a topsy turvy world defined by uncertainty, chaos, confusion, war-mongering, spiced up elections, enhanced killing of civilians, increase in the number of refugees, increase in the severe perpetration of atrocities on ethnic minorities, diplomacy torn to tatters, more urban violence, intolerance towards minority races, testing of long-established alliances, threat to dismantle trade partnerships, ruinous twitter shots, anti-immigrant rhetoric, vilifying genuine polictical opponents, and what not. The list is endless, but the defining moment of the year was the unexpected anointing of Donald Trump as the most temperamental power-mongering trigger-happy IDK (I don’t know or care) president of the most powerful nation on earth.

If the U.S. is making diplomatic and militaristic waves in the North American continent, the U.K. is making a different set of waves in an economic and trade sense, in Europe via its Brexit separation from the European Union. While massive chaos has not followed the Brexit vote, it is likely that the full impact of this separation would be felt in 2018/19, as both entities resolve trade, immigration, security and other issues between themselves. In Asia, the country which is making most of the persistent waves of a destructive impact would be none other than China, which is intent on flexing its military and political muscle towards an unreasonable, unjustified nationalistic expansion into the South China Sea, to the detriment of the South East Asian countries. While Japan and India are acting as joint counter-balance to the rising influence and belligerence of China, they would not be able to match China, without the active involvement and participation of the U.S.

The most peaceful economic rise is that of India. While marked down by the demonetization and the national goods and services tax initiatives, India is recovering and is on the verge of exceeding a 7% GDP growth rate, soon to reclaim as the fastest growing large economy on the planet. Such a focused, sustainable growth rate is expected to lift 200 to 300 million people out of poverty in the coming 3 to 5 years.

2017 saw military conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria – all in the Middle East. An accurate tally of the human cost of these conflicts is not available, even from the United Nations, but it is safe to assume that a million or more civilian lives has been lost in these countries. It appears that human lives are the easiest expendable commodity that is available to policy makers in both political/government and military circles. This is a pathetic evolution of unnecessary warfare on civilians who cannot defend themselves, or who cannot be defended by their own weak governments. A totally ridiculous situation which even the most sober people in the world are not able to address and resolve to this day.

The ejection of the Rohingya Muslim community by Myanmar is another sad refugee story, which is tainted by lots of blood in the hands of the government and the arumy. The glorified leader and Nobel peace prize laureate, Aung Saan Suu Kyi of Myanmar, has not done herself any favour, by not speaking out loudly and clearly on the ethnic cleansing which has characterized the army operations against the Rohingyas. The United Nations, again, is unable to do anything except giving media interviews.

2017 was positive in many aspects as well. Stock markets everywhere created huge additional wealth during the year. There was strongly positive action in corporate market, with several major mergers and acquisitions announced/completed. Tax rforms in the U.S. have been a positive news for U.S. corporations. Climate change initiatives are in progress, despite the lack of U.S. support and participation. Trade initiatives are in progress, despite lack of U.S. participation (Trans Pacific Partnership, Belt & Road initiative, etc.,). GDP per capita is firmly rising in Asian countries.

So, in a nutshell, 2017 while being a dramatic and significantly eventful year, has not diluted the human confidence on the criticality of economic growth, alleviation of poverty, elimination of wars, sustainability of peace, trade, manufacturing, healthcare, etc., At the end of the day, people need more bread on the table, and if governments can help in achieving that goal so much the better for everyone.

I think we can learn a lot from the happenings of 2017, and could plan execution of important events in our life a little better. Lack of study, analysis and preparation hampers our execution many a time, and we should not let that happen. However, we almost have to pray that a nuclear war is not unleashed on Asia (again). Only one country has suffered from a nuclear war, and that is Japan. Do we want the second such country in Asia as well?

Surely not. Let us hope better sense will prevail over hot heads who have been given the mammoth responsibility to make epochal decisions which affect all of mankind.

I hope you all had a good 2017, and here’s wishing you an outstanding year in 2018 and more success, peace, and health. Forget the money and focus on these three things. You will come to the conclusion that your money priorities were not the right ones to lead a positive and cheerful life.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

31st December 2017

Mona Lisa Smile


Well, that is yet another movie I “happened” to see during this festive season.

While reviews of this movie are not great, I liked it – the “experience” of the Wellesley College of Massachusetts is something that parents would like to give to their daughters. So I thought, before seeing the movie. However, after viewing the movie, my opinion of the straight-laced New England private liberal arts colleges for women changed completely.

As Julia Roberts says in the movie………”this is a finishing (grooming) college for women……..“, what she means is that Wellesley grooms young ladies to become good (corporate) wives in rich families in New England. It is not a place where critical thinking and new ways of learning and appreciating modern art happens – it is a traditionalist, conservative, elite college for women in a very conservative and rich society, which does not like surprises and new ways of thinking or doing things. Women are supposed to become wives and mothers, not to aim for professions or corporate career. And, this was as late as the 1950s and 1960s!

The funny thing is that Katherine Watson (played by Julia Roberts) as the new lecturer of “Art History” came from UCLA California to Wellesley, and her genuine attempts to teach a new perspective in her classes were considered as “subversive” by many students and the board of trustees of Wellesley – the term “subversive” was derogatory and a criminal term as it referred to people like spies who tried to persuade others to take up communism, or lead a life away from the “morality” that was prescribed by the regular Wellesley faculty based on its long pedigree. Actually, Katherine was a “progressive” who was ahead of the feminist movement in the U.S. – she wanted women to make their own life choices, rather than be subservient to society’s commands and expectations. The board of trustees did not like Katherine Watson obviously, but they were faced with the challenge of expelling her from Wellesley when her course became the most popular one in the Department of Arts.

Katherine tells the President of the Wellesely College………”……….I thought I was headed to a place that would turn out tomorrow’s leaders – not their wives“. She tries to guide her promising students towards a dual-life career – why not do Law while also being a wife, but that does not work out……..her students see her ideas and perspective, but could not bring themselves to make the leap towards the vision that Katherine was laying out for them. She was far too advanced for them and their parents and the elite college that was Wellesley. Her ways were considered too radical for that staid society bent on following the conservative norms and expectations. As Katherine’s short-lived boyfriend (the Italian Professor) says……..”………you did not come to Wellesely to help your students find their way, but to help them find her way…….“; of course, this outburst leads to a quick estrangement between the two.

I can easily relate to those situations as Indian society was no different – women were expected to become good wives and mothers, and give up their career aspirations at the altar of their husbands. Women were expected to take care of the family. Women were not expected to become corporate leaders. However, to India’c credit, things changed rapidly in favour of women engineers, doctors, and other professionals, at least in metro cities. When I studied Engineering in late Seventies and early Eighties, and MBA during mid-Eighties, there were a number of aspiring young women who were bright and competitive. They all went for dual-life careers, wherein they became wives/mothers as well as successful business people – I know a number of them. Things dramatically changed in the Nineties and now there is a strong and clear acceptance of women professionals everywhere. I would love to find out the views of the board of trustees of the Wellesley College now, with respect to their expectations on women.

Katherine was a free soul who was determined to make a positive difference in the lives of her (women) students and make a change in the way they looked at life itself, away from their usual traditional mindset. She was of the very firm view that women students should not fall into the regular stereotypes set for them by a conservative society that pushes them, but rather have an open mind on how they can contribute better to society itself leveraging their true career aspirations.

Is Katherine Watson an anti-marriage feminist? Is she a subversive, intent on upending established moral order and values? Does she throws caution to the wind by persuading one of her students to go for Yale Law, when that same girl is engaged and going to get married? Is Katherine a whimsical anarchist?

More questions come up as you watch the movie, but I will let you do it with pleasure. It is a good movie, and you would experience the true feelings and emotions of Katherine’s students only in the last scene. Watch it!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

31st December 2017