Blast From the Past – Sports Days

I was never a major athlete but I loved to take part in sporting events. I was on the basketball team in school, dabbled in athletics, table tennis and even was on the House volleyball team albeit to make up the numbers.

More than the inter school matches which were by far few (and us dainty darlings were trounced by the corporation school kids) the inter House events were one of the most memorable part of school for me. Staying back in school post classes for matches, races and relays, being able to traipse around the place in short, juniors and seniors (boys that is) cheering you on if you belonged to their House, the competition, the cat fights, the adrenalin rush!

Oh I miss all of that! We compete everyday with people at work, but behind that there are multiple considerations, of a livelihood being earned, of trying to balance work and life, of “fulfillment” being sought at the workplace. We don’t compete just for the sake of competing. It stops being a fun activity, at times it stops being healthy.

Winning these events won us medals and cups and certificates. We beamed and walked up to get these little baubles on Sports Day, proud and happy in front of our parents and indeed other parents. I even took pride in the fact that I was a regular on the choir that sang the prayer and the national anthem! Winning the overall shield was an icing on the cake and the House members shared such a unique bond…a bond that transcended age and sex..where the only common link was the House one belonged to! It was thanks to these events that I met my really good friend as well! We held “meetings” and conducted them with such seriousness and in full earnest that only teenagers could invest in such seemingly unimportant things. Who was to be on the team, who was to be given the boot, the politics was there but largely most people got to participate considering the small size of the school.

One of my heart’s secret desires was to become a captain of my House or even the school! And I stood a very good chance of this happening if not for our move to Madras and I had to change schools in Standard XI when the captains were typically nominated. After my change of school, I found it very difficult to garner that loyalty for my new House, I did take part in the events, but my soul was not there.

My very last Sports Day at this wonderful school was washed out. It was the first time I was supposed to take part in a 100 metre race, the only event that was held on the Sports Day (all other events were spread out over a 1 month period prior to the actual day) and I was a bit nervous about it. But it never happened and the year I left the management changed and they actually stopped holding inter house events (it was almost like the Taliban banning everything under the sun) and other extra curricular activity. That maniac of a principal was thankfully removed a couple of years later and the tradition was revived.

At times I wonder if that part of me is still alive somewhere in me. That girl in blue shorts and a yellow t shirt, running around dribbling a ball, defending baskets, “terrorizing” the opponents with my long hands that could tap the ball away from opponents, the girl who tried out every event including shotput (yeah thin me – almost fracturing my wrist in the process), the girl who surprised everyone even herself by taking part in a high jump event after there was a last minute drop out and placing third, free spirited and happy.

Nowadays we play Scrabble and Battleship.

Hell the nuns were right!

I went to a college run by nuns. Now that meant very strict rules. No short tops, no sleeveless clothes, no tight pants, no capris even. They’d have been happy if we landed up in college wearing a salvar kameez set with the dupatta pinned up.

And it goes without saying that there were people flouting the rules and the nuns would patrol the campus, “catch” girls in objectionable clothes and send them back home to change and come back. Essentially they played party pooper.

So yesterday I finally saw merit in their argument. So here’s why you must not wear short stuff. The heroine of the story is moi, who finally sits down to cook dinner after many days. I was a little rusty about my “processes” and went on to take the hot pressure cooker and place it on the counter. I then busied myself with the vegetable I was making and reached out to the shelf about the counter to get the salt. And then I felt a stab of pain and I shrank back, not knowing what hit me. Thanks to my short top which rode up when I reached for the salt, my stomach came in contact with the cooker and I got a nice red burn on my poor tummy.

So yeah either I need to follow the nun dictat or not lose touch with cooking (I dont think I ever put hot stuff where I did!). Sigh!

Masakali

Ok I am absolutely in love with the song. I think Sonam Kapoor looks like a million bucks, has so much character and just lights up the screen. If I was a lesbian, I’d surely be hitting on her. There is some sort of an explanation to the meaning of the word here.

The song is the heroine’s “aspiration to break free and fly high”. Nice. I want to be like that too. Live life without a care in the world, not be constrained by a million things, be able to break into a dance whenever, uninhibited. Strictly from the song (I really don’t know what kind of a character she’d turn out to be in the movie), that girl is everything I’m not. I’m more like Shahana Goswami in Rock On, except that I do not have a good for nothing husband and I’m not bitter enough to grudge other people’s successes. You know that tired rubbing of eyes, cribbing about everything under the sun, the feeling of being short changed. Yep that’s me. As much as I try to stay positive there’s something that comes in the way, pulling me down.

And KT and I have been going on trips. Guilt trips. He feels that he cannot do things for me that will enable to me to loosen up and go after what I want. And I am so guilty that I am turning out to be more of a guest in the house. Coming home to do some more work and sleep. Food is either provided by my mother or KT russles up a simple meal. And that is horribly unfair.. I’m not able to keep up my part of the deal. My ma has been trying to get me to get a cook, but I really don’t think we’d be able to manage one and get work done out of her. I’m just trying to think rationally and not let emotions come into play. But my rational thoughts are so intermingled with my emotions that I am helpless. Also my rational self says go find another job. The current market says bwahahaahaha. And my emotions say boohoo, there’s no way out of this mess. Can I just go to sleep and wake up when the recession lifts?

As regards KT’s guilt with respect to me, I honestly feel the feelings are completely baseless. Anyone remember this post I did on my MBA plans. Well I decided to shelve them and for the first time in my life I’m completely at peace with this decision. One of my biggest grouses has been the timing of my marriage and I essentially felt that it completely poured hot water over my B School plans. Now in hindsight, had I not been married, I would have passed out of B School in 2009. And been in a huge soup. A soup whose main ingredients would have included meagre savings, a student loan and the prospect of finding a job in this wonderful market. I can be pretty sure that I’d have killed to be in the position that I am now. And the thing is after this, getting an MBA and trying to get a job leveragin that MBA doesnt sound like a very interesting proposition. So Im completely fine with the idea of not getting it. A CA and CFA (which I will hopefully complete soon) sounds good enough. Plus I’m having a lot of Buddha moments here..and am receiving enlightenment by leaps and bounds.  So yeah KT. Relax. We’re doing fine. And you know that its not in my DNA to quit and sit at home for a bit before I can find another job also. So you can rest assured that its not just money that is forcing me to work here.

And when you hear of people losing jobs, facing so many uncertainties, my problem of too much work actually sounds like a blessing. My main issue is that my body refuses to let me work like a maniac and I am pulled down further by the callousness that abounds at the workplace. I just wonder if it is all worth it.

I just decided that I’d go get myself a spa treatment.. a nice head massage perhaps. Let me see if what people say about emerging dewy fresh is really true!

And then they came for me

Received this in an email forward..chilled me to the bone. The link:

Lasantha Wickrematunge, a Sri Lankan newspaper editor was shot last week. He had anticipated his killing, and his posthumous editorial was published in his magazine “The Sunday Leader”. This is clipped below.

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The Sunday Leader’s 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.

Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries. Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.

But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.
The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning. Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognise that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic… well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you’d best stop buying this paper.

The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by unquestioningly articulating the majority view. Let’s face it, that is the way to sell newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we often voice ideas that many people find distasteful. For example, we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urged government to view Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens. For these views we have been labelled traitors, and if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly.

Many people suspect that The Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition it is only because we believe that – pray excuse cricketing argot – there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the UNP was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred. Indeed, the steady stream of embarrassing expos‚s we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.

Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations ever to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship.

What is more, a military occupation of the country’s north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering “development” and “reconstruction” on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen – and all of the government – cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.

It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government’s sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.

The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, Mahinda and I have been friends for more than a quarter century. Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few people remaining who routinely addresses him by his first name and uses the familiar Sinhala address oya when talking to him. Although I do not attend the meetings he periodically holds for newspaper editors, hardly a month passes when we do not meet, privately or with a few close friends present, late at night at President’s House. There we swap yarns, discuss politics and joke about the good old days. A few remarks to him would therefore be in order here.

Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to the SLFP presidential nomination in 2005, nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than in this column. Indeed, we broke with a decade of tradition by referring to you throughout by your first name. So well known were your commitments to human rights and liberal values that we ushered you in like a breath of fresh air. Then, through an act of folly, you got yourself involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, at the same time urging you to return the money. By the time you did so several weeks later, a great blow had been struck to your reputation. It is one you are still trying to live down.

You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well that my sons and daughter do not themselves have a father.

In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.

Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you. Indeed, your conduct has been like a small child suddenly let loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps inapt because no child could have caused so much blood to be spilled on this land as you have, or trampled on the rights of its citizens as you do. Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish.

As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. And I have not travelled this journey alone. Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most of them are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the shadow of death that your Presidency has cast on the freedoms for which you once fought so hard. You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice. I feel sorry for you, and Shiranthi will have a long time to spend on her knees when next she goes for Confession for it is not just her owns sins which she must confess, but those of her extended family that keeps you in office.

As for the readers of The Sunday Leader, what can I say but Thank You for supporting our mission. We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty so swollen with power that they have forgotten their roots, exposed corruption and the waste of your hard-earned tax rupees, and made sure that whatever the propaganda of the day, you were allowed to hear a contrary view. For this I – and my family – have now paid the price that I have long known I will one day have to pay. I am – and have always been – ready for that. I have done nothing to prevent this outcome: no security, no precautions. I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remains to be written is when.

That The Sunday Leader will continue fighting the good fight, too, is written. For I did not fight this fight alone. Many more of us have to be – and will be – killed before The Leader is laid to rest. I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your President to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish. Not all the Rajapakses combined can kill that.

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niem”ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niem”ller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niem”ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:
First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: The Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.

True lies

Please pardon the language, lack of proper flow etc..I wanted to just put all my thoughts down and hopefully will edit the piece out later.

The name Maytas was derived by distortion of the word Satyam. Ironically that’s what happened in reality. The complete distortion of truth and in all probability it was Maytas and murky real estate deals that led to the whole ground giving way.With Ramalinga Raju sending shockwaves in the financial circles on Wednesday, the already beleaguered markets had one more issue to add to its cup of woes. The scale of the disclosures made was so huge that the first reaction of most people was that something like this cannot really be happening.

Cash of Rs 5,000 crores was there in one instant and wished away in another. Margins of Rs 649 crores were in reality just Rs 61 crores. The other disclosures pale in comparison to these numbers. Here is a NYSE listed company, audited by a top audit firm, promoted by a respected man. How could this even be true? It is being called India’s Enron. What has been missed by analysts all over was that Enron was well, before Enron! The Enron issue saw a whole host of regulation coming in place, strengthened accounting standards, the Sarbanes Oxley Act, heightened disclosure, higher risk mitigating procedures at audit firms. The ghost of Enron still hangs around the atmosphere in audit firms. All these regulations were being put in place just to prevent another Enron from taking place. But here we have another scam, albeit not the scale and perhaps complexity of Enron, but possibly more brazen given its simplicity.

As to how the fraud took place, it is too early to tell, given that everyone is characteristically running around in circles. Either the auditors were in collusion with the Management or the Management created a whole host of false evidence that they showed the auditors and consistently pulled wool over their eyes for some six odd years. Audit procedures to ensure cash balances are in order involve typically obtaining confirmations from banks. Bank confirmations are supposed to be called for by the auditor from the banks directly. Now two things could have happened here, one the bank managers could have been on the take and provided confirmation of incorrect balances or Satyam could have doctored the confirmations. How difficult is it to replicate a bank’s letterhead / seal etc? I really do not believe that the auditors did not bother to get the confirmations at all but they could be in trouble if they had not directly obtained the confirmations themselves. But there again some one has been involved in forging the documents so blame will not rest entirely with them.

Second scope for manipulation here is the bank reconciliation statements (BRS). Now typically the bank balances as per the books of account and the bank statements will not tie in. This is because of legitimate reasons such as the lead time of cheques deposited but not realized or cheques issued but not encashed by the third parties etc. This is why the reconciliation statements are prepared and the auditors again examine these statements to check for any irregularities. Here again the Management could have very easily put in bogus cheques and inflate the bank balances. Auditors normally check for subsequent clearance of cheques mentioned in the BRS, however given that results are declared within first 10 days of the new quarter it is a very logical explanation that cheques have not been cleared in that period and you let it go!

A Management that is intentionally committing fraud, can consistently lie to an auditor, revenues can be fudged by creating contracts that do not exist, obtaining “client sign offs” on projects that never really took place. Evidence can very simply be manufactured if someone wants to commit a fraud. I’m not trying to defend the auditors here at all, it was their duty to look at the accounts with a microscope and negligence is a very possible reality in this case. However a determined Management can succeed in taking the auditors for a big ride. When you have the same audit team going in quarter after quarter there is a level of comfort you have as well with the finance team and you tend to take it easy a bit. Plus bulk of the team that actually executes the work, looking for audit evidence etc is young and inexperienced CA students, who are in awe of the situation they’re in and the sudden power their fresh out of school / college selves have been vested with! Time is again a very important factor – top listed companies declare results as soon as the quarter is over leaving auditors very little time to actually go about their jobs.

Another thing I find very puzzling is the issue of the margins. How can a software giant have such low margins? Surely that is not an industry norm, so either the company was not getting any new contracts or they had severely undercut competition and were paying the price. Or there was a massive amount of siphoning off of funds that was happening and the margins were not actually so low. This is a possibility given the Maytas angle to the story. Where was the Raju family getting so much money to buy up vast parcels of land?

It is also a joke that Mr Raju expects the world to believe that only he and the CFO were on the know. If indeed all that evidence had been manufactured, he for sure had to have had at least 5-6 people involved, plus all those people who passed those entries and approved them in the system. I’m really surprised there was no whistle blower in all these years.

Around 50,000 people face uncertainties in their lives. People who had once looked up to Mr Raju and been in awe of the large empire he had created. As late as November 2008, Mr Raju had given an interview where he explained the origins of the name of the company. It was named after his father Satyanarayana Raju and because of the profound meaning of the word Satyam. I wonder what profound meaning he saw in the simple word. I wonder how he was able to sleep at nights.

Related reading: Do read Conspiracy of Fools on the Enron scam

In which we play the Grinch

Alright! Pardon the bad rhyme. But yeah I’m really pissed. Super mad. So yeah Christmas came and went? Oh that useless year of a 2008 also passed us by? Really, you don’t say?! None of it made one iota of a difference to me. Its been an endless stream of work..the days morphed into nights and sleep and food have been calculated necessities. Apart from the stress of the work, I ensured that I planned out my sleep, drinking that one cup of Protinex, ensuring that some breakfast went down my throat. Sort of like a car that you need to feed petrol in, switch off the engine to prevent over heating.

I’m done with this being Ms Busy..working all the time. The patience has really worn off…I’ve been doing this for more than five years now. The night outs, the high pressure of ensuring that 100% levels of accuracy in the output, mistakes are disaster in what I do, some companies are still reeling under the mistakes made by my boss (evil grin), SMSes in the middle of the night from managers asking if I’m free, not being able to attend to a sick husband, turning my mom into some kind of a caterer. I’ve had it.

However that’s not to say that I want to stop working, far from it really. But I want to move to something more comfortable than this pressure cooker, equally or more challenging, in Madras, in the times of the slow down. Yeah so if some one knows of a boutique IB or a PE fund that does two or three deals in a year and is based here, do let me know. Simple want yeah.

THAT MEANS IM STUCK HERE FOREVER AND EVER!!!!!!!!!!

All around people are looking at putting 2008 behind them. And hoping that 2009 will change the tide. You know that idealistic way of looking at things. Of new clean slates to start over with. A crisp white page, a clear day after the storm, new and full of promise. At my heightened state of cynicsm I can only snigger and say bah. Wait till reality catches up with you! You making a resolution to lose weight? Been off the sweets for five whole days now? Just wait till the temptation creeps back. Wait for the novelty of the new year to fade and then we’ll see.

Yeah and on that note I will end this lovely, sunshiney post. And yeah I dare 2009 to prove me wrong.