Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Farewell Lunch for Secretary (west)

I joined Latin America and Caribbean Division in sept 2004, at the same time when Senora Shashi Tripathi took over as Secretary ( west). She is leaving the Ministry shortly,after a distinguished career of 36 yrs. I hosted the lunch in her honour at Taj Mahal Hotel Hotel, New Delhi. Ambassadors and Honorary Consuls of the region and CII and FICCI attended the lunch.

Highlights of my speech:

- In the past relations with the region were described by some as " casual flings, occasional flirtations and one-night stands".

- Now the relations have moved to a romantic stage. Even PM Manmohan Singh could not resist the magic of latin America. he said in his press conference in Brasilia, " I am leaving part of my heart behind". Many other delegates also have left their hearts there. My follow-up action is to visit Brazil to bring back those.

-In the past there was a different mind-set. ... jokes

- The ground realities were different in the past. "magical realism" in latin america and "mythical realism" in India.

- But now the realities have changed. Both latin America and India have undergone pardigm shift and have become attractive to each other now.

- In the past two two years, we intensified our engagement with the region like never before. We handled about 40 incoming and outgoing visits at various levels and reached out to countries such as Bolivia, guatemala, Dominican republic and El Salvador.

- Our economic diplomacy in partnership with CII, FICCI and the bz paid off. Our trade reached 6.2 billion dollars in 2005. The largest-ever bz delegation from India went to latin america earlier this month.

- A promising longterm partnership between latin america and India will flourish in the coming years, built on the new paradigms of the two sides and new mindset.

We said, Gracias Senora Tripathi for your leadership and support ! and wished her long healthy and acive life beyond foreign service. And gave her a latino tip... " we dont stop having fun when we grow old... we become old only when we stop having fun!!!"

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

love and labyrinth in India-Mexico relations

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I was invited to talk about business in the CII meeting with the Mexican Minister of Small Scale Industries and his business delegation. As usual, i strayed into businessplus and talked about love and labyrinth in the relations between the two countries. I said,

-Octovio Paz 's first experience in India was a cultural shock. After landing in Bombay in 1951 he walked around in Bombay streets and was overwhelmed by the crowd, color, noise and smell. He wrote " The excess of reality in India ...made it appear unreal" . I call this as the encounter between the "magical realism" of latin america and the "mythical realism" of india.

-He came back and stayed in India as Ambassador from 1961 to 68. He travelled extensively in India and wrote poems on kanyakumari, madurai and Lodhi gardens. His poetic work "tale of two gardens" compares India and Mexico as two gardens. In this, he concludes " the strangeness of India reminded me of the other strangeness of Mexico"-I have been reading a book of his for the last six months, unable to complete it. U will understand if i tell the title..... " Labyrinth of solitude ". It is about mexican character and identity. I got lost in the Mexican labyrinth, confused as to which labyrinth is more complex and confusing, Indian or Mexican?

- But despite the labyrinth, confusion and excess reality, Octavio Paz found one thing in He fell in love with marie jose and married her under the neem tree in his prithviraj residence in delhi. She became his second wife.

- There is a latino saying, " wife brings success .... and sucess brings the second wife and more women " That is how Octavio Paz got his second wife... and so did Vincente Fox, the President of Mexico !!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mexican food festival 15 - 30 sept

Shangri La Hotel in New Delhi is hosting this food festival. fone 41191010.

Mexican food is somewhat spicy and hot. Burritos, quesadillas, Enchilladas, tortillas, tacos, moles,tamales, chillies, pickled jalapenos.. goes with Corona beer and tequila.

Last week there was a Mariachi group which performed in Ashoka hotel.

There was a delegation of parliamentarians from the state of Jalisco. They were keen to know how India deals with issues of poverty, diversity and autonomy of states.

And there are two business delegations including the one lead by the Minister of Small scale industries.

The credit for these intense activities goes to Ambassador Rogelio. He is promising even more the coming months.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

matar saudade in Sao Paulo

Saudade is a portuguese word for nostalgia. In Brazil it means more. It is a unique feeling of missing something with passion, yearning and love. Matar saudade means kill the nostalgia in plain English. In Brazil it means letting oneself indulge in all those things one missed, with a vengeance. The following are some things i did to matar my saudade and these are a must-experience for the visitors:

- Radio Gazetta. This is a FM radio playing Brazilian music. As soon as i get into a car or taxi I tune to this favourite station. One of the reasons i got attached to this station was that the station is located just in front of the Consulate I established in 1996. The steps of the entrance to the Gazeta building is the best vantage point to sit and watch people.

- Cafe. In Brazil cafe means more than coffee. It is culture, conversation and colour( of the skin of people). cafezinho is an affectionate dimunitive for a small cup..but strong.

-Churasscaria. This is the typical barbecue restaurant offering varieties of unlimited quantitity of meat and a large buffet to be enjoyed leisurely.

- Chhop. This is light draft beer which keeps conversation going for hours without getting drunk. Every street corner has a chopperia, besides beach fronts and bars.

- Caipirinha. This is cane liquor with lemon and sugar. So sweet and easy to drink and easy to forget the number of pegs and get intoxicated.

-Pao de queijo. This is a little ball of cheese bread. It goes with cafe, as a snack and with dinner,lunch and breakfast.

-Feijoada. This heavy meal with all parts of the meat like a stew and black beans is for weekend or wednesday lunch.

-Livraria cultura. This is a bookshop in Conjunto Nacional building in Avenida Paulista. The best collection of books of Brazil, Latin America and in English language too.

-FNAC bookshop next to the consulate has a cafe besides books and music.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

leaving part of my heart behind in Brazil

ssssh.... you are wrong ... These are not my words as you might have guessed. It was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who said this in his speech to the Brazilian dignitaries and media in Brasilia on 12 sept. He said "I have come to Brazil for the first time but I am leaving part of my heart behind". Even he could not resist the magic spell of Brazil !! His speeches came straight from the heart!! He bonded with President Lula and called him as a brother, friend and world statesman. The two agreed to upgrade the relations to a new strategic level. Expect more in bilateral relations in the coming years.

The 50 plus business delegation from India discovered the opportunities for business and complementarities of the markets. First time, such a large delegation has ever visited Brazil. The presidents of CII and FICCI as well as Vice president of Assocham were there in the first IBSA bz summit on 12 sept, along with Brasilian and South African bzmen. Agribusiness and food processing was one of the areas identified for two-way flow of investment and technology with Brazil.

The first IBSA ( India Brazil South Africa) summit took place on 13 sept. This tricontinental partnership ( cafe- with- milk alliance !!! ) of the three large pluralistic democracies and vibrant economies is set to become a formidable force. The trade betweem them is poised to reach the 10 billion dollar target set in 2004.

The Goan pop singer Remo Fernandez entertained the IBSA audience on 12 sept with his Goan, portuguese and Hindi songs and got some to the dance floor. This was organised by India Brand Equity Foundation CEO Ajay Khanna.

In the meeting of the Prime Minister with Brazilian intellectuals and cultural personalities on 13 sept, Ana Christina announced her project for a Indo- Brazilian coproduction of a film. This is based on Indrani Chakravarthy's novel "Tamarind". Part of the film shooting will be done in Goa. Another Brazilian producer is also keen to shoot a film in India. Monika Petrocelli talked about her consultancy introducing Yogasutras in management. She has earlier worked with Price waterhouse. She studied Indian philosophy in Calcutta for two years. The Brazilian economists compared the developmental experience of the two countries.

The last event was the dinner on the boat in the lake by Ambassador Puri. The credit for raising the profile of Brazil in India goes to him.

I am thrilled with the success of the visit, which has opened the minds of Indian policy makers, business and media stimulating their interest in Latin America and in the business opportunities in the region.

Many male delegates are also leaving their heart behind... I saw their eyes popping out, going up and down and sideways. Their mouths were open and saliva was flowing profusely. They were incoherent and giddy and speechless. You guessed it ....This was the effect of the young Brazilian interpreters whose maxi smiles and mini skirts floored the delegates. No wonder they needed interpretation all the time !!!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Mi mejor enemigo- Chilean film

Mi mejor enemigo ( my best enemy ) is the first Chilean film for me.
I liked it for its theme, depiction of Chilean character and Patagonia where the action takes place.

It is about a war which was about to erupt between Chile and Argentina in 1978, over a border dispute in Patagonia in the south. The Chilean patrol of five soldiers sent to the border loses its compass and gets lost in the vast arid expanse of patagonia. They come across an Argentinian platoon and they become friends, although the Chilean soldiers had taken the oath to kill five Argentinians each. They help each other in the cold and windy emptiness of Patagonia and, no surprise, play football. Fortunately the war is averted but the news does not reach the platoon in time, since the battery of their communication equipment is down. The nervous Chileans kill an Argentinian, who helped them. The hero of the Platoon comes back and takes his comrades to the bar where his girlfriend works. She turns him off when he tries to kiss her in front of his friends. Ni un besito... not even a kiss. no medal ... no money... comments the poor soldiers.. fodder in war and politics.

The human side of the war is touching. They are caught between the patriotic and militaristic beliefs and the warmth and friendship of the soldiers on the other side. The film brings out the rivalry between the Argentinians and Chileans, which plays out in contemporary forms. They tease each other over tango, football and meat.

The Patagonia scenes are breathtaking. The unique play of light and colours at sunset and sunrise have been captured in the film.

The last song in the film
"solo lo pido adios ( i just want to say bye) ..... is touching.

The film, released in 2005 is a coproduction of Chile with Argentina and Spain and directed by Alex Bowen.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Two Mexican films on Catholic fathers

I saw in the weekend these two contrasting portrayal of two fathers, one comically and the other tragically.
El Padrecito ( little father ) by Cantinflas and
El crimen del padre Amaro(the crime of Father Amaro) of Gael Garcia Bernal

In El Padrecito, Cantinflas( Mario Morena ) is at his usual comical best.It is the story of a young father who tries innovative non-holy approches to solve problems of his flock. He fights the bull when the Matador does not turn up for the show. He outsmarts the local hood who terrorises the community. This is one of the best films of Cantinflas.

The crime of father Amaro is about a newly ordained priest who succumbs to the temptation of the body and falls in love with a 16-year old girl who has unholy fantasies in the middle of her holy pursuits. The combination of holy rituals and the rituals of courting and sex is amusing. She gets pregnant and wants to marry but the priest is married only to the church. He takes her for an abortion, where she dies. The girl is the daughter of the mistress of the older father. There is another priest who joins the people's movement against the drug lords and is ex-communicated.
The film is based on a 19th century novel of Esa de Queiros of Mexico.
The controversy created by the obviously angry reaction of the Mexican church made the movie the highest money spinner in Mexico.

Book on Latin American political economy by Javier Santiso

The title of the book says what it is about.
" Latin America's political economy of the possible - Beyond good revolutionaries and Free Marketeers"

I finished this book of 250 pages quickly in two days. Two reasons: The analysis and assessment of the trend of political economy of the region by the author are the same as mine. Secondly I was going fast to see if the author has any discoveries and illuminations which would be new to me. I did not come across anything dramatic except for new economic jargons such as "consolidology"and "transitology". He has also quoted Carlos Fuentes and Octavio Paz , who have , of course, made some profund and thought-provoking statements on the Latin American situation.

Here are the conclusions of the author:
  • The region is moving away from economic "magical realism" that plots miraculous and impossible solutions.
  • There is the emergence of "Possibilism" and gradualistic policies.
  • Even those committed to monolithic ideologies, after coming to power, have taken the path of seeking pragmatic and pluralistic solutions. The Chicago Boys of Chile conceived socialistic policies, while Lula of the left pursued market-friendly policies. Fernando Henrique, former president of Brazil and one of the Gurus of Dependency theory opened up the market and pursued conservative macroeconomic policies.
  • Chile, Brazil and Mexico are the three shining role models of moderation and non-dogmatism, influencing the policy makers in the rest of the region.
  • Argentina set a negative example by its rush into neoliberalism and paying an enormous political, economic and social cost for the folly.

The author has been diplomatic about the Bolivarian Revolution of President Chavez, which goes against the trend in the rest of the region. He has also touched only the positive aspects of instituitional anchoring of Mexico in NAFTA, without going into the other side.

I share the author's conclusion that the region has undergone profund transformation consolidating democracy and instituitions. He is also optimistic about the future of Latin America, as I am.

The author is a OECD economist. The publisher is MIT. Published in 2006.