Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Manga Artist Vanquished

That strange Indian head-shake...
How does a foreign entrepreneur-artist experience !ncredible India?

For a quick and dirty introduction to cultural contrasts, there is no better book than Yukichi Yamamatsu's "Stupid Guy Goes to India" (Indo e Baka ga Yatte-kita).

It is the story is a 56-year-old, out-of-work, enterprising graphic artist who - despite all warnings  - decides to sow the seeds of a Manga-book industry in India. With of budget of JPY 1.2 million (~₹ 7 Lakhs / USD 10k) Yamamatsu flies in to Delhi in 2006, to try and publish Hindi translations of a few famous Japanese Manga books.

The author also happens to be a cancer survivor with a missing sigmoid colon, resulting in very weak bowels. In a country suffering a chronic shortage of usable public toilets, this becomes a formidable handicap. In spite of all odds, he rents a one-room-set in North East Delhi for ~₹ 5,000 / month and starts looking for translators, assistants, publishers and then, finally, retailers for selling the books.

As expected, he encounters all the troubles that beset foreigners to India -- dishonest, agressive auto-wallah's, beggars, filthy streets, and that strange Indian way of shaking heads to convey everything from consent to directions, and disdain. And then there are other spectrum of experiences that are reserved for only the most daring of Japanese visitor -- winning the odds at the Race Course, trying to hawk books at the second-hand market for books at Daryaganj, attempting to start art classes, a dabble in FMCG (cello-tape dispensers), and the grand finale - a visit to the prostitutes at GB Road!

Unfortunately, this is not a book with a happy ending. In the end Yamamatsu's efforts come to naught. He finds no takers for his translated Manga's or his tape-dispensers, and he leaves six months later with the question - "Even though there are countries where masses of people are illiterate, is there any nation so idiotic that they won't look at easy-to-understand, easy-to-read Manga?"

The sad part about this book is that it merely reinforces the incredulous, negative image of India. Its leaves you with yet another predictable glimpse of the yawning cultural gap that separates India and Japan.

And yet, it is certainly a book worth reading. Yamamatsu may not have succeeded in translating Manga into Hindi but Kumar Sivasubramanian does a fine job of translating the book from Japanese into English. Small mercies.


* Yamamatsu Yukichi (2006): Stupid Guy Goes to India (Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian 2011), Blaft-Tranquebar 2011
* 2012 book review - DNA -
* 2012 Book Review - The Hindu -

Chocho Michimichimichi = Tokyo Mitsubishi! :)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How Did We Know?

Conciousness is a strange thing.

On one hand it is easy to grasp that there could be a world beyond the reach of our five sense organs, but on the other it is not often that you come across proof that hits you like a ton of bricks. In books like "Autobiography of a Yogi" and "Apprentice to a Himalayan Master", there are numerous illustrations of paranormal perceptions, of yogi's being aware of events taking place thousands of miles away, of fantastic realms and parallel universes, but every now and then, you are confronted with facts that are difficult to brush aside.

First, the questions raised by Kurshed Batliwala:

  • How did the ancients know that the earth was round? (Varaha-avatar, "Bhu-gol")
  • Antares star (15th brightest) was called "Jeshtha" (the eldest, biggest) is actually 40,000 times larger than the sun, and one of the biggest celestial objects known to man. How did they know this 7000 years ago?
  • In the Great Bear constellation (Ursa Major), the tail has a bright star called Mizar which -- when seen through telescopes - turns out to be a  twin star. In ancient India, it was always called the Arundhati-Vashishta which actually goes around each other -- a kind of stellar tango. How did they figure this out?
  • Rust-proof Iron Pillars - (1) Qutub, Delhi (2) Kollur, Karnataka - been around for at least 2400 years...built to welcome Shankaracharya (?)
  • Extracting Zinc from ore. Melts at 997C, but vapourises at 1000C -- "Indians built an innovative up-side-down furnace to extract zinc...a process that was secret for 4000 years...first the Chinese stole it from us, then the British stole it from the Chinese". Process was patented by William Champion (1543) who made the first Zinc Distillery in England. 
  • (According to Wiki, Champion used a scaled-up process similar to that used at the Zawar mines in India where this process was available centuries before William Champion rediscovered it, since the 12th century AD)
  • Katapaya-dhi Sankhya in a sloka praising Krishna gives the value of Pi up to 30 decimal places! What was the point in encrypting Pi into a Sanskrit sloka?
  • Vasco-da-Gama's 'discovery of India' - in the Purtuguese journals,he was 'escorted' by a Gujarati trader who had ships 12x larger than Vasco's ships, and yet, in the European narratives, he is depicted as a mere 'guide'!

And then we have the questions raised by Graham Hancock in his controversial TED presentation:

  • Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a potent psychedelic drug. Usually it is smoked because in the stomach it gets broken down by an enzyme (monoamino-oxidase). However, the Indians in South America mix it with juice extracted from a vine which is a MAO inhibitor. How did the Indians know that out of the 150,000 vines available, this particular one had the MAO inhibitor?


* BharathGyan --

* Khurshed Batliwala's videos --

* Autobiography of a Yogi (Yogananada)

* Apprentice to a Himalayan Master (Sri M)

* Graham Hancock -- 

Friday, February 12, 2016

WW2: Eye of the Beholder

This has been the most interesting book I've read in 2016.

Raghu Karnad's "Farthest Field - Indian Story of the Second World War" skillfully weaves history around lives of a bunch of cousins and friends in South India, who venture out into Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Eritrea, and then across the sub-continent to Burma and North East India.

As a boy growing up in India of the 1970s and 80s, the WWs were already dim, distant memories that nobody talked about. We had a great-grandfather who served the British Indian Army in Mesopotamia, and his son served the RIAF on the Arakan Peninsula. Neither of them left any notes or records. So my own view of the wars were built on "commando comics" where the British were invariably the intrepid heroes, Germans were always screaming "Mein Gott!", the Russians wandered in the periphery, and the Indians, of course,  were nowhere to be seen.

It is only now that I realise the sheer scale of India's involvement. Once the British realised that the allies just did not have the numbers to face the the Germans, Japanese and Italians, the Indian Army was expanded from 450 Indian officers to 12,000 between 1939-1945. Similarly, the personnel below officer rank had increased from 1.5 lakh to 2.2 million!

Another great revelation has been on the role of the Japanese. Unlike most western authors, Karnad takes care to give credit where it is due. The book gives you a glimpse of the astounding levels of training and preparation that went into the Japanese offensive that swept scross the Asia-Pacific in the early 1940s.

If it were not for a few errors of judgement history would have most certainly been written by a different set of victors. The Japanese, for instance, only crippled Pearl Harbor because they forgot to destroy the fuel and repair depots. Had it been completely knocked out, the Pacific War and t he Battle of Midway, would not have taken place at all. They also failed to realise that their codes had been cracked.

The Japanese also made a big gamble by sending across an army of 65,000 soldiers across the forests of Burma, hoping to grab the storage depots set up by the British in Dimapur. In the end barely 10,000 managed to retreat back home.

WW2, it turns out, was a much closer fight that we are willing to admit.



The INA and Independence -

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

New Ideas: How Far is the Market?

What is the distance between a product-idea and the marketplace in India?

In the developed markets this distance has been cut down considerably by those who have an access to the internet. As this article illustrates, the difference between those who harness freelancers on the internet, and those who go the traditional way, can run into thousands of dollars.

Comparing two similar products presented at a trade show, it turned out that one had spent four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in hiring engineers and manufacturers, while another needed just seven months and $11,800 to get there. How the market responds to a prototype presented at a trade show depends on a number of factors but what does it take to get till this point?

The first thing you need, of course, is an idea. From here on you are seeking the answers to a series of questions:

  • Is the Idea unique?  - checking the online databases at Patent Offices and Patent Depository Libraries. If the idea turns out to be unique, then - 
  • Who provides the best VFM for professional Patents Search services? If the idea continues to have legs, then after filing a provisional patent - 
  • Which product designer / engineer can create a prototype model?
  • How should demand and product pricing be assessed?  - Focus groups through sources like
  • Which manufacturer provides the best deal in terms of cost and quality? Does he also have his own distribution network?

In India, over and above all these questions, you need to also constantly look over your shoulder to see if there is anybody waiting to flood the market with cheap imitations!


* (2010) - From Idea to Market -