Thursday, April 12, 2012


Sachin Tendulkar has achieved a milestone that will be impossible – or extremely difficult at best – for cricketers in near future to surpass. His 100th ton in International cricket will be remembered. It took him under 22 years (since he scored his first ton at Old Trafford in August 1990) to achieve the feat. The #1 reason why it will not be an easy hill to climb is because these days, internationally, cricketing careers don’t last more than 10 or 15 years anyway. So, the darling of Indian sport has made us proud again. But his feat also signals how we Indians are obsessed with numbers and choose freely to miss the big picture.

Fans, commentators, the media and every aam hindustani had been waiting for the hour when the Little Master would raise his bat to thank the heavens as he always does. It took Sachin 369 days to create history. And when he did that evening of March 16 on foreign soil (at Mirpur, Bangladesh), suddenly Indians forgot the humiliation that its cricket team had suffered in the past 369 days during away games! Battered in England (we lost by a margin of 0-8; all formats combined), cleaned up in Australia (we handed over the Border-Gavaskar Test trophy 0-4 and were knocked out of the Commonwealth Bank ODI Series) and pushed aside in Bangladesh (defending champion India was knocked out, and all because we lost to Bangladesh – the day Sachin made his 100th 100!). Minus the tour of the Caribbean, India’s overseas record during the 12 months we spent anxiously to see Sachin’s next 100, stood at 6-18. Translation: We lost 75% of matches played during the time!

Move to pure business. We’re obsessed about Indians making it to the World’s list of billionaires every year. This year, 48 Indians (with a total worth of $194.6 billion) have been included in the list of 1,226 billionaires around the world. This group with a headcount of under 50 is important, for it represents how proud we are about out country’s wealth, and more so because ‘India’ – the country – today represents 3.9% of the world’s billionaire count and 4.3% of its wealth. They are definitely more important because these billionaires make up 0.000003% of the Indian population! Here’s the big picture – as per World Bank, 41.6% of Indians live below the poverty line, while UNDP says this BPL figure stands at 37.2%. According to the UNDP–Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative Report, 8 states in India (Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, MP, Orissa, Rajasthan, UP and WB) account for 421 million poor – more than that present in the 26 poorest nations of Africa combined (410 million)! There is more to the big picture. According to the newly defined poverty line by the Planning Commission, 33% of people in rural and 21% in urban India are poor. This ‘best estimate’ – which makes a mockery of what could be called the ‘rock-bottom of existence’ for Indians – claims that if you earn Rs.28 while living in Delhi or Mumbai, you are not poor. So here’s the deal. Catch a bus to go to work and the minimum you have to spend is Rs.10 both ways, in the National Capital Region. Along similar lines, a metro ride would cost Rs.16 both ways at the least. So a lower middle class India living in New Delhi catches a bus or a metro, and at the end of the day, if he has Rs.12 – Rs.18 to spare to buy himself food, water, clothes, medicine, shelter, he isn’t poor! Folks, a group of 48 billionaires makes you thump your chest. But if you’re happy about India shining yet, you are missing the bigger frame. India accounts for 36.3% of the poor and 33% of malnourished children in the World (UNHDR data). And in our country, where IPL players are bought for millions, BPL families are left to starve! For those obsessed with a handful of Indians making it to the glory list, that is the big picture.

We like to discuss how Akshay Kumar became the 2-year-in-a-row highest tax payer in Bollywood (Rs.200 million each year), why Ravindra Jadeja attracted the highest bid in IPL 5 ($2 million from CSK), when the Sensex will breach the 20,000 mark again, what will remain of Kingfisher Airlines which is operating only 30% of its fleet and reeling under a mountain of debt of over $1 billion, and whether the new coal scam of Rs.10.67 trillion – which is the big daddy of both the CWG (Rs.700 billion) and 2G (Rs.1.76 trillion) scams – will leave the ruling government searching for answers. We crazy-fornumbers Indians will only get to see the real picture, if we can answer some questions to ourselves in an honest voice: Have we paid taxes honestly as Akshay perhaps did? Has match-fixing left the game of IPL untouched? Forget the 20,000 mark, has SEBI done enough to broom out the clans of the Harshad Mehtas and the Ketan Parekhs? And to talk about scams rocking the government, are we voting the right people to power – those who can really make an impact by influencing policy changes?

Over the years, you would have often heard someone marvel over how we add more number of mobile users each month than the total population of Nokia’s motherland Finland! Years back, when we crossed the 100 million mark in the mobile subscriber base, we became proud as a nation that was fast advancing in the field of telephony and modern modes of communication. Even today, we talk about this cellular user base rising by over 9 million each month (addition of 9.88 million units in January 2012). We are sitting on a total of 936 million mobile connections today – I can imagine what kind of celebration and back patting will happen when we cross the billion mark. And to imagine that despite being so proud of our 2G numbers, the fact that comes to our mind when we talk about 2G is the scam.

China is another number-laden topic for Indians. The elephant versus the dragon is quite a comparison. Our GDP grows by 7-8%, and that of China grows by 8-10% – we’re only talking about the day when our growth will overtake their’s. Maybe that will happen in 2020, or 2050, or maybe never. Truth is – there are better numbers for the sake of comparison that we can attempt to digest. Here are some to give you a live telecast of the India versus China cage match. In India, life expectancy at birth is 8% lower than in China. In this regard, China is 36 years ahead of us (Source: UN, ILO, World Bank, IEA, CEIC & IMF). Adult literacy rate in China is 31% higher than in India. (China is ahead by 25 years.) A Chinese consumes 5 times more electricity than an Indian does. (China is ahead by 18 years.) 32% of Chinese use the Internet as compared to 9% in India. And the higher education enrolment percentage in China (25%) is almost 100% more than that in India (13%). (China is ahead by 5 years in both parameters.) So the next time you hear someone talk about India overtaking China only because there is 1% difference or so left to cover in terms of GDP growth, do show them the fine print.

I am an Indian, and a proud one at that. And so like you my dear reader, I confess that I am addicted to numbers. I especially use them while voicing my opinions to convince others. 80 times have I used numbers in this piece to convince you that you, a proud Indian, are obsessed with numbers and often miss the woods for the trees. In the end, you may choose to hold on to your number-preaching game, or agree with me and start reading beyond the digits. The least you could do is learn from the Indian government. Well, full credits to them for teaching us ordinary citizens that the term “reducing the poverty line” was supposed to be taken literally...