Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Priceless heritage yearns to strike gold

Tombs of emperors stand beside traffic junctions, forgotten fortresses command suburbs, the titles of lost dynasties are woven in the vernacular, if only as street names.”

These words of the renowned historian Jan Morris describe the grandeur of Delhi. Delhi, a city which has at some point of time belonged to everyone, emperors, politicians, diplomats, journalists, poets, artists, writers and to hundreds of generations of common people. It is one of those cities which has seen dynasties making and breaking and has still safeguarded the reminiscences of time.
So while Archeological Survey of India plans to nominate Delhi for the Heritage city tag, one must try to gauge the benefits that the country could rake in through the three World Heritage Sites already adorning the city.
The three World Heritage Sites which are located in Delhi – Qutub Minar complex, Humayun's Tomb and the Red Fort complex are not only the witnesses of the immortal heritage of India but also speak about the grandiose and affluence of our past.
Out of a total of 981 properties being chosen by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as the World Heritage Sites, 30 are located in India. The UNESCO World Heritage Sites are natural or man-made places which are of universal cultural and physical value. The first set of World Heritage Sites were chosen in 1978, three years after the 'Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage' came into force.
In India, the monuments to make it to the coveted list for the first time, in 1983, included the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves. Since then 30 places have been given the tag in the country including three in Delhi, the Qutub Minar Complex and Humayun's Tomb in 1993 and the Red Fort Complex in 2007.
A World Heritage Site enjoys an edge over the others.“The budget allocated to World Heritage Sites is comparatively higher than other monuments. They also get extra and better trained staff. All three World Heritage Sites in Delhi have security guard garrisons, whereas other monuments are striving for even a single guard. Besides, such sites are continuously monitored by UNESCO and hence it becomes compulsory for government to take special care of these structures,” Vikramjit Singh Rooprai who runs the Youth for Heritage Foundation said.
These sites, thus, are considered to be of utmost cultural and traditional significance for the world. The tag helps in the conservation and promotion of these sites. Thankfully, Delhi has been able to derive
some benefits of being a home to three World Heritage Sites but if one looks at a comparative picture there are miles to go to actually strike gold with the priceless heritage that the city has.
This is especially true for the masterpiece of Indo-Muslim architecture, Qutub Minar. This 13th century red and buff sandstone pillar tops the chart of the richest monuments in Delhi and comes second to only Taj Mahal when seen at a national level. With the largest number of foreign and domestic visitors, Qutub Minar is the most visited monument in Delhi.
According to a report by Ministry of Tourism, in 2009-10 the monument attracted 2.21 million foreign visitors and earned a revenue of Rs 10.4 crore. In the same year the top grosser Taj Mahal earned a revenue of Rs 14.81 crore.
In Delhi, Humayun's Tomb is the next favourite of tourists. The footfall of foreign tourists in the financial year 2009-10 was 1.8 million and for the Red Fort it was 1.4 million.
The revenue earned through entrance fee from the World Heritage Sites, centrally-protected ticketed monuments, of the top 16 sites in India fell by more than Rs 16 crore in 2009-10 when compared to 2008-09.
Many attribute this loss to the 2009 Mumbai terror attacks and global recession. A feeling of insecurity is the biggest challenge to optimising the revenues through tourism. Like 2009, the flash floods of Uttarakhand in 2013 are supposed to have heavily taxed the foreign tourist arrivals in the country.
“Foreign tourist footfall is negligible after the 2013 Uttarakhand floods. Otherwise even in off season Qutub Minar used to be a home to tourists from across the world. I don't have the figures but I am sure that it must be a huge loss,” said Shripal, a ticket seller at Qutub Minar.
Awarded as the 'best maintained tourist friendly monument' in the year 2008-09, Humayun's tomb attracts mostly foreigners and a discerning clientele of tourists. A report submitted by the Ministry of Tourism in the year 2012 also said that the tomb is less popular with the domestic tourists in comparison to foreign visitors. In 2011, Begum Biga's ode to her husband Humayun, could rack in Rs 6.2 crore.
“This tomb is said to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. It is beautiful. The pure Mughal architecture and the lush green gardens make it stand out. In a way, the serenity of the place makes it more beautiful than even the Taj. I wish the weather was a little better. I would have liked to read something in the garden. I can imagine some royalties doing that,” said Susan, a tourist from South Africa.
The Red Fort Complex comprises of the Red Fort, built by Shah Jahan and Fort Salimgarh, built by Islam Shah Suri. According to the Archaeological Survey of India, the red sandstone monument complex managed to earn a revenue of Rs 5.9 crore in the year 2011 from the entry fee.
According to ASI, in 2011, Qutub Minar and Taj Mahal earned Rs 10.1 crore and Rs 19.9 crore, respectively. These figures show that despite better connectivity and availability of all amenities which can support tourists, Delhi has not been able to brand its World Heritage Sites. Taking a closer look can show that in 2011, all the three sites taken together have been able to earn only a little more than what Taj Mahal could earn alone.
According to Discovery News Channel, the Great Wall of China attracts an average of 10 million people yearly which is almost double the number of people visiting Delhi's all three World Heritage Sites.
A study conducted by Stanford University on the economic impact of global heritage sites in the emerging economies said that Red Fort complex alone is capable of driving Rs 20 crore in the economy by attracting at least 2 million people in a year. On the other hand, the Great Wall of China and Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in China can earn Rs 288 crore and Rs 192 crore which is five to seven times more than Taj Mahal, Red Fort and Champaner taken together.
These figures reflect the under-utilisation of the tourism sector which is otherwise a high potential area. Undoubtedly, the sector has shown growth but from a global perspective, the management has failed to truly encash one of the most commercially viable resources. Proper branding with effective measures that do not create pressure on the monuments can help in generating revenue. The travel and tourism sector directly contributed Rs 1,92,000 crore to India’s Gross Domestic Product in 2012. This
is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 12 per cent, said a report by Confederation of India Industry (CII).
Restoration projects such as for the Humayun's Tomb and other cleanliness and renovation drives have proven to be beneficial. Although one can still complain about the lack of basic facilities like parking, first aid, government approved guides and easy access to the monument and ticket counters yet the conservation and maintenance projects have made it a point to maintain the authenticity of the monument.
“We have been constantly working on projects to conserve Qutub Minar. Being the identity of Delhi, we can't let it tarnish. Right now the projects are closed for summers but we make sure that the conservation efforts are undertaken in a way that can the monument maintain its originality. Hence, we use only those materials for renovation which were used to built the minaret like sandstone,” Suman Dogra, conservation head of Qutub Minar said.
Talking about the chances of losing the World Heritage tag, he ensured that there was no chance of any of the monuments in Delhi to lose the tag because proper conservation methodologies were being undertaken which were in tandem with the UNESCO guidelines.
In the past, India was about to lose the tag for Manas Wildlife Sanctuary due to excessive poaching. However, after 19 years of conservation efforts the sanctuary could again feature on the list in 2011. “Losing the tag is a matter of shame for any country. Hence, respective agencies are taking special care to protect them,” said Rooprai.

Delhi has a lot of advantages over other cities in the country and can propel tourism in other nearby states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand as well. A heritage city tag for Delhi will not only boost tourism but will also instill a sense or pride. But a proper strategy for effective marketing should be put in place. These Heritage Sites have immense potential to earn huge revenue for the country. Ironically, these untapped coffers of exorbitant wealth are being left largely high and dry.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Markets at life high but volatile

After crunching and falling to all time lows for about a year, the Indian stock market has seen nothing less than a miracle in the last fortnight. Now, whether this is a miracle for the tumbling Indian economy or for the ruling Congress led UPA government is still a question.

Despite the turmoil caused by the geopolitical tensions over Ukraine, the economic barometer of Indian economy, Sensex, has spurted to all time highs breaching the 22000 point mark. The spurt is being attributed to a slew of positive domestic factors which have ultimately led to the robust inflow of FIIs (Foreign Institutional Investors).

The positive sentiment on the Dalal Street is being attributed to the reduction in inflationary pressure, narrowing CAD (Current Account Deficit), and favourable results of the opinion polls.

While the Trade Pundits were banking on Modi as the “only hope of the stock market”, the new data have shown that even a stable third front atimages (1) the Center can propel the economy to newer highs.

The dependency of the Indian stock market on the FIIs is not a hidden fact. The unfavourable economic data being released by China and Japan have also resulted in the foreign investors banking on India.

Although brokers are betting big on this pre-election rally of the stock market, yet the market doesn’t seem to be stable. A plunge in the IT stocks led basically by the Infosys, spooked the Dalal Street on Thursday. Moreover, it is being said that any further rise in the value of rupee might be detrimental to the country’s exports on whose back the economy is seen to be reviving.

This instability in the economy does not only come from the Dalal Street but also from the vulnerabilities in Parliament. What is needed is a strong platform being built by the new government which is capable enough to carry the pressure of the internal and external turmoil and also back the national and international sentiments with stability. Now that platform can be NaMo’s ‘56 inch ki chaati’ or RaGa’s ‘deeper democratic set up’ or even the fledgling third front.

Friday, February 14, 2014

No money, no honey

A perfect card, a huge teddy, lots of chocolates and a bunch of fresh roses- this was the idea of a perfect Valentine’s date till the people in love started asking for more from their lovers and eventually from the gift shops.

This is not how the celebration of February 14 started. Its origins stem from fertility festivals of ancient Rome, when young women were not given candy or flowers. They were whipped with strips of animal hide because they believed that this would make them more fertile. A couple of centuries later, Christians celebrated a priest named Valentine, who secretly performed marriage ceremonies for soldiers when the emperor had forbidden it. By the 1400's Valentine's Day was firmly established in England.

Slowly and gradually the tradition changed and people became softer. Roses and chocolates started to substitute the whips. But now lovers almost strike gold on this day.

For chocolatiers, jewelers, hoteliers and greeting card manufacturers valentine’s day is like Christmas in February. The multi-million industry which is thriving on not only on the pocket of people but also on their minds, has been successful in creating a whole week of expressing love. Exquisite roses on rose day, foreign chocolates on chocolate day, teddy bears on teddy day have made room for expensive jewellery and exotic holidays on the V-day.

Another blot that this beautiful day has seen in the last few decades is that while many feel this is a harmless bit of fun, others find it an abhorrent craze, or worse still, a plot by multinationals to impose Western culture elsewhere and increase their sales. It has been reported that many people celebrate it because they don’t want to be seen as unromantic.

A study conducted by a Stanford professor has put the estimated expense on this year’s Valentine’s Day at $130 per person. This Valentine’s Day, enthusiasts are expected to spend more than $17.6 billion on romance-related goods, jewelry, cards, flowers and chocolates, a ten-year high. That’s not even the whole picture, when you include all the other things that go along with the “perfect” romantic experience: heart shaped doohickeys, fancy dinners, candle lit romantic massages for two, romantic getaways, puppies and couples counseling.

But for many it’s just annoying. People dislike how Valentine’s Day represents the commercialisation of relationships, dictating how people can demonstrate love, defining what ‘romance’ should be, and suggesting being loving during the 364 other days of the year isn’t important.

You love it or hate it but Valentine’s Day is a phenomenon that you can’t ignore it. Clearly, the economics of love is serious business.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Indian stocks await stable politics

In the last one year, Indian Stock Market has been like a topsy-turvy land. A land wherein on the one hand a single statement by the US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke could jolt the Indian economy like never before then on the other hand the dynamism of the newly appointed RBI Governor, Dr. Raghuram Rajan is standing tall like a wall in the way. It is not only economic instability that has rattled the nation but also political precariousness. As India goes to polls in April-May this year for the 16th Lok Sabha elections, it is very difficult to determine whether there  would be a stable government or not. This political uncertainty is making Indian Stock Market suffer. The general elections are happening at a time when the economic growth is at its all time lows and inflation is at its all time high, therefore it is very important to have a government which is capable of strengthening the confidence of not only the country but also of its (1)

While the Trade-Pandits are banking on the Bhartiye Janta Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi as “the Indian stock market's greatest hope” the current political scenario says that it is too early to decide it considering the performance of an year old Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi elections. Modi has been presented by the BJP as the pro business future Prime Minister who comes with a proven business model. Both Rahul Gandhi and Arwind Kejriwal have failed to attract and convince investors. This was well reflected by the assembly elections results of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Chhattisgarh on December 9, 2013 when the markets jumped by 1.5 percent because of BJP leading the way. But one can’t ignore the fact that things don’t come easy and expected in India. Political instabilities have led to economic downturns and economic vulnerabilities have resulted in political crisis in the past. Whatever be the voter mood in the 2014 elections, the Indian market needs a stable government for a strong economy.

The unnatural ‘rights’ and wrongs

For the world the date was 11-12-13 but India was back to 1860s. The forenoon of December 13, 2011 will be remembered as one of the darkest hours of Indian judiciary. Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ganpat Singh Singhvi gave one of the most contradictory judgments by ‘setting aside’ Delhi High Court’s verdict of decriminalizing homosexuality.

Justice Singhvi, through his last judgment set the cogwheels rolling to the 19th Century which banned homosexuality as “against the law of the nature”. The judgment is being criticized for its logic.

Section 377 is an infringement of Article 14 of the Constitution which deals with the fundamental right to equality, Article 15 which deals with the fundamental right to non-discrimination and Article 21 which covers the fundamental right to life and liberty, including privacy and dignity. The judgment, in just one stroke, has turned millions of people into criminals who engage in consensual sex in the privacy of their homes.

A lot has been said about this judgment. Like one can’t bind love, or everybody has the right to choose his or her course of life. Innumerous questions have been raised on the equality of the LGBT community. But one of the biggest dangers is to the safety of the LGBT community.

We aren’t unaware of the cases of rapes, sexual assaults, extortions and other crimes against the community. Now that the risk has multiplied, the future of the community seems to be uncertain. Surprisingly the court is unmoved by the plight of the families whose members have suddenly turned into criminals if they express their love physically.

The inability to understand the essence of Section 377 is shocking. A closer look shows that the British imposed this because of the then prevailing Victorian beliefs. Sexual intercourse for the British was meant for begetting children and not for mere pleasure.

Thus, only penile vaginal intercourse was considered to be natural and any kind of penile non-vaginal intercourse was considered to be “unnatural” including penile oral and penile anal sex.

This lack of sensitivity towards a marginalised community puts at risk not only one community but also the value system of the society.  As the SC calls a section of society “unnatural” and snatches the Fundamental Rights from them because they are a “minuscule minority” the situation to me seems to be of absolute disdain. And what is more appalling is Supreme Court’s decision to not to re-consider the judgement. For some it is the age of wisdom but this judgment has made it an age of foolishness.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Paranthawali Gali: A century old flavour

For some it’s dark and dirty, for others it’s lively and exciting, for some it is poor, for others it is the coffer of our cultural heritage, for some it is stingy and shabby but for others it is a mini India. Rich in food, art and handlooms, Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi is a home to some of oldest jewels of our history like the magnificent Red Fort and the Jama Masjid. But a little away from the grandeur and the limelight is a small restaurant, Shri Kanniyalal Durga Prashad Dixit Paranthe Waale, which has been there for around 140 years and is an important ingredient of the famous Paranthe waali Gali.

The fragrance of freshly fried paranthas adore the whole place and it is so irresistible that you can’t escape it however you try. Founded in 1875 by Late Kanniyalal Durga Prasad Dixit, the small restaurant serves around 30 varieties of vegetarian parathas including the parathas with exotic fillings like kaju, badam, rabri, khoya etc.

“We have been serving people the real Indian Paranthas for more than a century now. We are the fifth generation in the same business,” says the proud owner while he fries a mouth watering Nimbu parantha. “There are more than 1500 to 2000 visitors in a day in the Gali. Business is great but more than that we love the fact that we have been able to keep the dream of our forefathers alive and it is flourishing with each passing day,” he added.

From the famous personalities like Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru and Akshay Kumar to a common man, the restaurant has seen them all and inherits the real taste of the rich Indian cuisine. The parantha is usually served without onions and garlic with sweet tamarind chutney, mint chutney, mixed vegetable pickle, paneer and potato curry, potato and fenugreek curry, and a mash of sweet pumpkin. A chilled sweet lassi adds to the taste.

“I come here very often with my friends and we enjoy the real taste of Indian cuisine,” said Deepankar Pathak, a software engineer and regular customer of the shop. “While I love gobhi parantha, my girl friend is a fan of nimbu paranthas. It is a good change from the mainstream junk food,” he added.

The culinary journey of the Parantha waali Gali has traversed a long journey. It has moved beyond the small lanes and elegant Havelis of Chandni Chowk to some of the biggest malls. Not only this, the gali is internationally acclaimed. The well known Mela restaurant in UK is imitates the ambience of the Paranthe waali Gali.

It might look old fashioned for a large chunk of the Pizza generation but for a larger chunk this is the real taste of India. What is more surprising is that in a small lane lies the flavours of a culture which is more than a century old.

Konark Festival: A blend of art and beauty

Few things are too perfect to be called reality and one can experience this at Konark festival. The lights were as bright as they could be, the decorations were perfect and the feeling was as welcoming as ever. Just follow the rhythm along the scintillating Chandrabhaga beach and you will feel the grandeur of the Sun Temple and it is there that the miraculous parade of the Indian classical dances begins at the Annual Konark Festival.

The Konark festival is held every year from December 1 to December 5. This festival marks the onset of the various dance and music festivalsDSC04127 being held in Odisha from December to March.

This year the five day festival seemed, to many, as lesser scintillating than the previous years’. As reported by Odisha Tourism, an expenditure of around Rs 80 lakh has been done on the decoration.

The perfect blend of art and beauty, Konark festival, began with the Odissi dance performance by Purnashree Raut and Group from Raipur, Chattisgarh which was followed by Bharatnatyam by Anitha Guha and Group of Bharathanjali Trust, Chennai. On the second day, Lasya Akademi’s Sadanam Balakrishnan and Group from Kerala performed Kathakali and Mohiniyattam which was followed by Rudrakshya Foundation’s Odissi dance performance by Guru Bichitrananda Swain and Group from Bhubaneswar. The following days were marked by other famous dance forms like Manipuri by Singhjit Singh and Group and Odissi by Aloka Kanungo and Group on the third day, Kuchipudi by Aekhya Punjala and Group and Odissi by Padmashree Ileana Citaristi and Group on the fourth day and Kathak by Rani Karnaa and Group and Odissi by GKCM Odissi Research Centre on the final day.

The dances ranging from themes like depiction of Ramayana to Krishna’s Raasleela, from Shiva’s anger to Parvati’s calmness, from lyrical prayers to imbibing the male stylization into various dance form.

The international sand art festival has also witnessed entries from across the world.

This festival is one of the greatest dance festivals held in the State. It attracts large number of tourists from across the world.

The festival truly binds India together in rhythmic ties. The winter breeze from the sea, the famous Sun temple in the backdrop and the magic of various dance forms create an atmosphere filled with rhythmic beats which not only provides food for eyes and ears but also nurtures the soul.