Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bhairavi, Kalyani, Quaker Oats and Kingfisher

What have Bhairavi, Kalyani and Quaker oats to do with Kingfisher, one may ask. Was Quaker Oats being served as breakfast on a Kingfisher Airline flight (when it was indeed flying) with Bhairavi and Kalyani ragas played on the in-flight music system?  Most unlikely.  But they are indeed connected......

"Kingfisher brand" was mortgaged as collateral to the group of bankers that funded the airline, as security for huge loans aggregating to Rupees 6,300 crores, which have now swelled to over Rupees 7,000 crores with application of interest.  It is said that Bhairavi and Kalyani ragas were mortgaged by legendary musician "Bhairavi Venkatasubbaiah" as security for 1000 gold coins he borrowed, in the 18th century.   Thus, mortgage of intangibles is not at all new and Kingfisher was not the first to start this novel trend. This is in vogue since many centuries in India.  Not only Bhairavi and Kalyani , even Todi and Shankarabharanam have also been mortgaged from time to time.  Lenders believed the borrowers and confidently gave loans on the security of the ragas.  There are also stories of poets mortgaging some letters (say Ka or Pa) to raise loans.  Once these letters (alphabets) are mortgaged, the poet could not use them in his literary works till the loans were paid and the letters were redeemed! There are many similarities between these transactions of mortgage of ragas, letters and Kingfisher brand.  However, there is one major difference between mortgage of ragas and Kingfisher brand.

Bhairavi Venkatasubbaiah, known as Venkanna in his younger days, was very fond of learning music and did everything possible in his command to pursue his passion.  He lost his first Guru (Teacher) due to a misunderstanding and even followed a drunkard with all his eccentricities, for learning finer points of music from him.  He left his old mother and led the life of a nomad to master the art.  As a budding artiste he fell in love with a dancer-girl by name Chandra and lived with her. Since he needed money for being permitted to live with her by her mother, and taking care of other expenses, he borrowed 1000 gold coins from a money lender. Money lender wanted security for the loan and Venkanna had no security to offer. Venkanna suggested pledge of his two favorite ragas, Bhairavi and Kalyani, as security and assured the lender that he would not sing those two ragas till the loan was repaid in full.  A mortgage deed was drawn accordingly and loan of 1000 gold coins was disbursed.

Venkanna's uncle (mother's brother) comes to know of this transaction.  He visits Venkanna's house and enquires from Chandra about Venkanna's music practice. She confirms that Venkanna did practice singing regularly.  When specifically asked about singing of Bhairavi and Kalyani ragas, she realizes that Venkanna was not singing these two ragas during his practice sessions.  His uncle then gives her the mortgage document, obtained by him by repaying the loan to the money lender. When the girl starts the evening practice session with Bhairavi, Venkanna falls silent. She shows him the redeemed document and extracts a promise from him to pursue his musical path without a break.

With hard work and dedication he becomes a famous artiste and occupies the place of "Asthana Vidwan" in the royal court of King Madakari Nayaka, ruler of Chitradurga.  He masters Bhairavi and in due course of time becomes known as Bhairavi Venkatasubbaiah. He becomes arrogant and moves away from others in the music world. He learns from his mistakes and towards the end of his life, he stops singing for others.  When he was forced to sing before Hider Ali, who conquered Chitradurga after several attempts, he is said to have cut off his tongue. A musical Kannada film by name "Hamsa Geete" made in 1975 based on this theme was an award winner and brought many laurels for the actor Anant Nag, elder brother of Shankar Nag of "Malgudi Days" fame.

There are similar anecdotes of pledging ragas as collateral for loans.  One Todi Sitaramayya, an Asthana Vidwan of King Sarfojee (1798-1832) of Thanjavur was known for his singing of Todi raga. Once he sang Todi raga for 8 days in a row to bring about all its different aspects.  He needed money and unable to find any tangible security, he pledged Todi raga with another Vidwan.  When the King asked Sitaramayya to sing Todi, he declined.  Having come to know of the mortgage, the King got the loan repaid and then Sitaramayya could sing Todi again.

Around the same time, another Vidwan Narasayya pledged Raga Shankarabharanam with one Ramabhadra Moopanar for 80 sovereigns of gold. One Appuraya, a senior official of East India Company called Narasayya to sing on the occasion of the marriage of his daughter.  When requested, Narasayya could not sing Shankarabharanam as the mortgage was still subsisting.  Appuraya sent for Ramabhadra Moopanar who came running with the document, waived the loan in full and requested Narasayya to resume singing of Shankarabharanam!

John Stuart, Chairman of the Quaker Company was of the view that brands and trademark were far more valuable than land or brick and mortar assets. He is reported to have said once, "If this business were split, I would give you the land, brick and mortar, and I would take the brands and trade marks, and I would fare better than you".  He truly believed in unlocking value from intangibles in a business proposition. John Stuart indeed  knew the value of brands as he started his working life by sweeping floors in his father's mills in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. When his father Robert Stuart and his partner Henry Parsons Crowell got control of "American Cereal Company", they changed the name of the company as "Quaker Oats Company", to take advantage of Quaker brand built by Crowell. It was the first marketer to register a trademark for a cereal.  Though the brand has changed many hands over the years, Quaker is a popular brand even today.

Brand is a special intangible asset that could be the most valuable asset in some businesses.  Brand value of Coca Cola, Apple and IBM are today valued at about 80 billion US dollars each.  Brand evaluation is a complex concept that includes Brand vision, Organizational culture, Brand objectives, Brand essence, internal implementation and brand resourcing.  Among the collaterals offered by the Kingfisher Airlines to its lenders are tangible assets like a building in Mumbai, a villa in Goa and two helicopters.  To increase comfort level of bankers, Kingfisher brand was offered as a collateral. Audit firm Grant Thomton India was drafted to value the brand.  Valuation was arrived at 4,100 crore rupees in 2010, but now has come down to 2,500 crores.

Kingfisher brand was offered and accepted as collateral.  Now that the loans have turned bad, bankers want to encash the security.  United Breweries Limited now says that the "Kingfisher" brand is its registered trade mark under trademark classes pertaining to alcoholic beverages and that it is not hypothecated or mortgaged to any lender whatsoever.  Now a subtle distinction is being made between "Kingfisher Airline" brand and "Kingfisher" brand of UBL. Bankers feel that the Airline part of the brand is quite valueless, but the beer brand holds value.

We have seen the similarities in these cases; it is one of mortgaging intangibles. What is the difference between them?  In the case of ragas or letters, it was not the property of the person offering the security.  There was no dispute as to who owned the security or which part of it.  The only understanding was that the borrower would not be able to use the raga or letter till the loan was repaid; there was no restriction on others as he could not bind them.  It was not even a kind of security that could be encashed when necessity arose.  The true security was the word of the borrower; its value was infinite. There were others who were ready to repay the loan on behalf of the borrower and redeem the security!  Lenders got the money back and their objective was fulfilled. They were not constrained to fight for the very title of the security, as is happening with the Kingfisher case.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Shantaram, Milton and Eye check-up

Fitness and health check-up have become novelty today.  Periodical health check-ups are recommended and followed meticulously.  Check-ups do not guarantee good health for the future, but certainly provide mental relief.  Mental relief, if the results of the tests are satisfactory.  Of course, more tension and worry if the results are not as per expectations.  There are many advantages of health check-ups.  It is ensuring good health of the doctors and health-care industry.  It is also providing hospitals and drug manufacturers with wonderful growth opportunities, besides giving employment to thousands of support staff.  As for the patients, they can pride themselves about the number of tablets and capsules they consume each day.  Patients can also have their breakfast, lunch and supper regularly, since prescribed medication should either precede or follow in take of food. Their days are never dull and swallowing the tablets as per the given time schedule keeps them totally occupied.  They always have something to look forward to; the next tablet, syrup, capsule or ointment.  Ensuring that all the tablets required for the next two weeks are available at home makes them remain physically and mentally busy.  It also keeps the other members of the family on their toes; if the patient does not take a tablet for headache, it often becomes their headache.  If the patient at home is an elderly person, their patience is tested as well and teaches them many advantages of being patient.  Patience is a difficult trait to teach or develop, we all know.

We are all given one body by the nature or creator.  Hence one place for check-up should be fine. We may so believe, but it is not that simple.   Health care industry tells us that the body may be one, but it consists of many parts.  As each part of the body specializes in some important function, there should be as many specialists to take care of them.  It is quite natural that all specialists cannot be brought under a single roof.  If they are so assembled, it threatens the very concept of specialization. We are, therefore, advised to meet specialists at different centers so that special care is taken of all the parts of the body.  For some parts of the body, there are many specialists as the parts and specialists perform and monitor diverse functions.  Eye is one such organ and naturally requires special care. Bacterial, fungal or viral infections, age, cataract and diabetes add additional dimensions to eye care and eye check-up may result from any of these issues.

Visit to any specialist is a time consuming errand.  Eye check-up is not so.  It is a day consuming mission.  If you go to a temple, you can see the main deity only after visiting three or four other deities. Likewise, you can see the main eye specialist only after you go through three or four rooms presided by the junior doctors.  The receptionist prepares your profile and then passes on the profile along with you to the first junior doctor.  He or she checks the external eye and makes noting on the file.  Then you move to the next junior doctor (senior among the juniors) who checks eye sight and the power of your present spectacles. Then a nurse pours some drops into the eyes and asks you to keep the eyes closed for sometime.  She does not allow you to dream uninterruptedly; she keeps repeating the eye drops till the specialist is free to see you.  This way waiting is made painless; there is no feeling of prolonged waiting as you are actually undergoing the process of being prepared for the specialized scrutiny.  You are advised that the eye has to dilate for the specialist's eye to have a clear view of your eye.  On line dictionary defines "Dilation" as the act of expanding or the condition of being expanded; the widening or stretching of an opening or a hollow structure in the body.

When sitting in a multi-speciality eye clinic with drops in the eye, the mind naturally remembered V Shantaram and John Milton. Why V Shantaram? Why John Milton?

Shantaram Rajaram Vankudre, popularly known as V Shantaram, is a well known film personality.  He devoted his life to acting, making and directing movies in Hindi and Marathi. His entire life spanning 88 years were spent in dreaming about art and presenting those fantastic dreams to art lovers in the form of movies. His movies had many different themes of social relevance and fine arts.  Story, music, dance and sculpture were seamlessly blended and captured in his movies with delightful effects.  He dreamt big and his films had huge and colorful sets, even if the sets were used only for shooting a single scene appearing on the screen for two or three minutes.  He was a strict disciplinarian and brooked no disruption to his schedule of work.  It is said that he replaced his daughter Rajshri with Mumtaz in one of the films since Rajshri did not report for shooting on time. That was one of the triggers for a highly successful career for Mumtaz later on. He is also said to have firmly told Jeetendra, film's hero, that Mumtaz cannot be changed as the heroine in the film "Boond Jo Ban Gayee Moti". 

"Do Aankhe Barah Haath", produced in 1957 is one of the most popular and famous movies of its times.  The film is based on prison reforms and the necessity of providing opportunity for reformation to the most hardened criminals too. Shantaram himself played the lead role in the movie. While shooting one of the scenes in the movie, known as the bull-fight scene, he was badly injured in the eye.  His eyes were treated and bandaged for several months and doctors feared that he may never regain eyesight. A person who enjoyed full eyesight for  56 years was now blind for many months. Shantaram's artistic mind worked overtime during that period and he experienced a riot of colors in his dreams. Treatment was successful and he regained eyesight.  He was able to see and resumed his film making with the next film "Navrang", meaning "Nine Colors", released in 1959. 

The film "Navrang" opens with a song "Rang De De" (meaning "Give us colors") with a black and white shot of closed doors on the screen.  After the titles end with the name of Shantaram as Producer and Director, the doors open and Shantaram himself appears with his eyes covered with dark glasses, as shown in the picture above.  He tells the audience about the suffering he had due to temporary blindness and how he imagined a colorful world in those days.  He mentions that he now shows that imaginary colorful world as "Navrang".  The film (its color poster is given alongside) has the theme of a dreaming poet-patriot and his wife in the backdrop of freedom movement.  It is a fine blend of poetry, music and dance with huge sets and is an example of film making with passion. Among the many films made by V Shantaram, Navrang holds its own pride of place.  It is a film conceived by a temporary blind person who had sight of the normal eye and the vision of a great film maker.

John Milton (1608-1674) is considered as "one of the greatest English authors" and was an important supporter of Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth.  He was a fierce defender of free speech and freedom of press.  His life was an inseparable part of the political upheaval in England's 17th century events.  His major works came after he progressively lost eyesight and became blind.  He lost his eyesight in 1651-52 at age 43.  He married Elizabeth (third wife) who was 31 years younger to him, in 1662 and dictated 20 to 30 verses each night to her.  His "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise regained" were thus written.   One of the popular jokes is that he wrote "Paradise Lost" when he married and "Paradise Regained" when he got divorced!

Milton's famous sonnet "On his blindness" is a remarkable reflection of his own talents and spiritual pursuits.  It is said to bear reference to the "Parables of Talents" in the Gospel of Mathew.  Milton blossomed as a poet after he lost his eyesight.

It is true of many other artistes as well, especially in music.  Loss of eyesight probably sharpens their talent to identify the many nuances of sound, its effects and variations.

On the lighter side, both Milton and Shantaram had three wives.  Milton's third wife Elizabeth was his support for bringing out his literary works and talents.  Shantaram's third wife Sandhya brought out Shantaram's dreams on the screen as lead artiste in many of his movies, "Do Ankhe Barah Haath" and "Navrang" included. 

It was just and proper to remember Shantaram and Milton, while sitting for dilation with closed eyes in the multi-speciality eye hospital! 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


The term "Pacific Northwest" is used with reference to the geographical region between the Pacific Ocean in the west and Rocky Mountains on the east.  Oregon and Washington states of the United States of America and British Columbia province of Canada form the core geographical areas of the region.  Sometimes even Alaska and the northern mountainous regions of California are also included in this term.  The area has bountiful natural beauty with the Pacific Ocean on the one side and the coastal mountains, Cascade Range, Olympic Mountains, Columbia Mountains and the Rocky mountain range on the other.  The Mount Rainier National Park with the 14,410 feet high Mount Rainier in the Washington Cascades is one among the many tourist attractions in the area. Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada), Seattle (Washington state) and Portland (Oregon state) are the major cities in the Pacific Northwest. Water bodies, hills and rich vegetation have made the area attractive to visitors. Many man made monuments and attractions have enhanced tourist interest in the region.

Columbia river is the largest river that runs through this region.  It takes birth in the Rocky Mountains in Canada and joins the Pacific Ocean near Portland.  It is said that after Mississippi, more water flows through this river in the entire country.  The 2000 kilometer long river has many hydroelectric generating stations and is the largest source of power in North America.  The river has cut a deep and wide gorge around the rim of the Columbia plateau and created many beautiful tourist spots.  There are more than 90 waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge.  Multnomah falls is the biggest among them and attracts a number of tourists all round the year.

MULTNOMAH FALLS is about 30 miles east of the city of Portland in Oregon State and along the historic Columbia River Highway that runs parallel to the Inter-state Highway 84.  It can be reached by a half-hour drive from Portland.  It is on the Multnomah Creek and the two-drop cascade is 620 feet high.  The first falls is 542 feet high and the second is about 78 feet. The picture given alongside gives a beautiful view of the waterfalls.  Melting snow in the hills and frequent rains in the higher hilly regions makes the falls an yearlong attraction.  A bridge known as the “Benson Bridge” is near the second drop.  Hiking trails lead the tourists all the way to the top of the falls.

Waterfall spray makes the entire area cold and slippery.  Proper protective dress is required to go near the falls and enjoy the majestic beauty of the waterfall.  There is a hotel, restaurant and gift shop at the foot of the falls.

Our visit to the falls was in January 2014.  It was raining throughout on the day of the visit and we were not confident of having a proper view of the falls. Just as we reached the parking lot and parked the car near the falls, the rain stopped and bright light provided a wonderful view of the falls.  A photograph taken with my host is given here.  We enjoyed the sight for about 20 minutes and returned to our car.  As soon as we reached the Columbia River Highway, it started raining heavily.  May be, Multnomah Falls had an important appointment with us!