Sunday, August 04, 2019

Bottle of Lies - Book on Indian pharmaceutical exports

I have just finished reading the book “ Bottle of Lies: The inside story of generic drug boom” by Katherine Eban

The main hero in the story is Dinesh Thakur, the whistle blower, who collected 48 million dollars for exposing the scandal of quality control frauds in Ranbaxy which was fined 500 million dollars by the US FDA. The other heroes are the FDA inspectors who jump over walls to pick up trash containing shredded documents and discarded samples. 

The author has used the Ranbaxy story to condemn Indian generic exporters. She has gone beyond India with a larger agenda, portraying generics as dangerous as against the patented branded medicines. It appears that she is part of the conspiracy of the Big Parma majors to trash the inexpensive generics and the Indian exporters.
She does not even pretend to be objective. She has dug only the dark side of Ranbaxy and does not acknowledge the merits of Ranbaxy which was a leader in Indian Pharma industry and was a pioneer in opening the US and global markets. She has completely ignored the strength of Indian Pharma entrepreneurs and scientific community. 


Undoubtedly, there is some truth in the allegations of the author. The Indian drug quality control is lax and disorganized. The Indian drug manufacturers have been converted to strict quality controls and good manufacturing practices, driven mainly after discovering the hugely lucrative US market. In their hurry to file new registrations with FDA and reach the market before the others, some companies have cut corners, cooked the books and compromised on quality for profits. Ranbaxy set the bad example followed by some others.

Indians are not the only ones who get FDA fines. Even the Big pharma tries to cheat and get caught. GSK, a British MNC paid a fine of 750 million dollars and the whistle blower got the highest reward of 96 million for exposing the poor manufacturing practices in their unit in Puerto Rico. Even the famous Pfizer paid 2.3 billion dollars fine in 2009.
Of course, there have been even bigger scandals from the Brahmins of Quality: The German Volkswagon’s cheating on emissions and Kobe Steel’s poor steel products, besides American scandals such as Enron and Madoff. But one cannot damn Germany, Japan or US, as Katherine has done with India based on a few cases.

The truth is that the US desperately needs less expensive Indian generics to reduce the huge cost of health care. That’s why they import five billion dollars worth pharmaceuticals from India annually. US is the number one market with a one third share of India’s global exports. Half India’s exports go to highly regulated markets such as UK, Germany, France, Canada and Australia, besides US. These countries, who are aware of the Indian issues and culture, are going to continue and even increase their imports in the future. The Big Parma has also joined the boom of India’s exports by acquiring and setting up manufacturing units in India. Mylan, the top generic producer in the world has many production units in India. The President of Mylan is an Indian, Rajiv Malik, who is trashed by the author of the book. It is good to see four Indian companies ( Sun Pharma, Cipla, Lupin and Dr Reddy Labs) in the top ten global generic medicine producers in the world.  And, India has the largest number of FDA approved pharma units in the world. 

Pharmaceuticals is one area in which India has beaten China in exports. In 2018, India exported 15 billion dollars as against 9 bn of China. What is interesting is that the Indian manufacturers use a substantial quantity of Chinese raw materials. While India imports 2 billon dollars of pharma products, China imports 28 billion dollars annually.  It is a pity that they import only about 40 million dollars from India but import more from countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Greece and Hungary.  Obviously, the Chinese need the less expensive generics from India as much as the rich countries of the world. So China should be the next target of Indian pharma exporters. The government of India should push this with the Chinese with whom India has a massive trade deficit of over fifty billion dollars. The Chinese can certainly buy a couple of billions of dollars of generics from India to reduce their high health care cost.

Despite the clear agenda, motives and prejudices of the author, the book is informative and useful. It gives an insight into the bureaucracy, corruption and politics and challenges faced by FDA. It has shortage of staff to deal with the large number of inspections around the world. The inspector job is unattractive with poor salary and hazardous travels to remote areas to do risky detective and investigation  work in environments of different cultures and value systems. The book is a must read for Indian pharma industry and policy makers to understand how FDA works and to improve the quality standadards of our own exporters.  


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Age of ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China- book by Evan Osnos


Evan Osnos, who lived in China as correspondent of New Yorker and who speaks Chinese, gives a fresh perspective on the multidimensional and rapid transformations taking place in the Chinese society. He does this through the narration of his encounters and interactions with individuals who are entrepreneurs, company executives, party leaders, government officials, workers, peasants, artists and dissidents. He describes how the people try to make sense of the new dawn of China from their own point of view and advance their careers and goals. Some of them are lucky to hit the jackpot while others struggle and fail. Some entrepreneurs succeed in becoming billionaires legitimately as first movers. But there are also lot of corrupt officials, party leaders and those close to power who also become rich quickly.



The journalists, artists and activists play a cat and mouse game with authorities all the time. Each side tries to push the boundaries of freedom of expression and state control of thought relentlessly moving back and forth. The authorities sometimes resort to ridiculous methods such as banning jasmine flowers in the market to prevent them from being reminder of Jasmine revolution in Tunisia which brought down a dictatorship. 

The authorities do not have fixed doctrines except for the determination to perpetuate their own power and control. Confucius was persona non grata at one time. But later the authorities changed their mind and rehabilitated him. They have even gone to the extent of using Confucius name as soft power diplomacy by opening Confucius Centres all over the world.

Osnos has not come to any conclusions or given the readers any clue to the future of China. But after reading the book, one gets the impression that the process of reforms and transformation of China are likely to go on for a long time. What is clear is that the Chinese have a remarkable capacity and hunger to learn, adapt, improve and excel themselves quickly with resilience and determination. So there is no point in gloating over the Hongkong protests, the economic slowdown and corruption scandals.

The absence of democracy is not going to stop the country from becoming more prosperous and be a global leader. Look at Singapore. It is respected as a role model for good governance, development, cleanliness, efficiency, least corrupt and globally competitive. But it is not a democracy. China will go the Singapore way. So will Cuba and Vietnam.

Osnos confirms my own impression after my visit to China last year. As an Indian, I saw a lesson and inspiration for India from the Chinese success and achievements. I admire the way the Chinese have transformed themselves within a generation. I have nothing but admiration for the way in which they have become global leaders in areas such as high speed trains, electric vehicles and renewable energy, overtaking US in such a short period. 

India has to manage the relationship with China smartly given the complex role of China as a threat, competitor, collaborator, trade partner and global leader in manufacturing, trade and technology. The US-China rivalry offers opportunities for India to play one against the other and get the best from both the great powers. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Cycling in Minneapolis

 I cycled almost every day between 10 and 20 kms during my stay in Minneapolis from 22 May to 16 June. I found it as the most enjoyable and leisurely way of sightseeing while getting some exercise as a bonus.

I was inspired by Becky, my daughter in law and son Raja both of whom who go to office by cycle and take their children in the bike trailer and tagalong. They do it on many days even in the harsh winter when the temperature is many degrees below freezing point. Thanks to the daily cycling, both Raja and Becky are fit and do not need to go to gym. While the five year old Divya enjoys pedaling in the TagAlong, the 30-month old Leela prefers to go to sleep in the Burley trailer listening to audio stories from iPhone. Becky's parents, in their seventies, also cycle every day besides going on cycling tours to other parts of US and Europe.

Becky is not only an enthusiastic cyclist but also a passionate activist promoter of cycling and use of public transport to reduce use of cars and pollution. She works with NGOs in these fields.

                                                      Becky taking Divya in Tag-along 




                                     Raja taking the two kids to daycare in Burley trailer


Minneapolis, ranked as one of the best biking cities in USA, proactively promotes cycling as a healthy, low-cost, safe and environment-friendly way of travel. The city has 130 miles of on-street and 100 miles of off-street bikeways. There are free public facilities for pumping air and minor repair tools in cycling routes. The city runs and efficient and user-friendly bike-share program called as Nice Ride which has a fleet of 1600 cycles and 170 stations. There are special maps and Apps for cycling.

There are several hundred miles of cycle trails beyond the city going through scenic interior areas of the state.  The buses and trains have special places to take the cycles along.

The state, city and county authorities collaborate with NGOs in planning, maintenance and innovation of the cycling facilities and use.

Traffic rules and regulations are in place to ensure the safety and efficiency of the cycling system. A new culture of cycling has evolved. Car drivers respect cyclists and give way to them. The cyclists offer the same courtesy to pedestrians. When you hear the shout "on your left" one needs to give way to the faster cyclist behind who wants to overtake.

Thousands of Minnesotans commute to work in cycles with special and stylish bike wear and change into office dress after reaching the place of work. 


There are five different interesting routes for cycling:

- on both sides of the Mississippi River and crisscrossing through the various bridges with different architectures.

- around the many lakes. A popular circuit is the 12-mile loop connecting the Cedar lake, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.  Each of the lake has a perimeter ranging from 1.7 to 3.2 miles. 

-Midtown Greenway, a dedicated cycle path through the city for 6 miles. It is a kind of cycle highway with one lane to go and another to come. 

-cycle trails, going out of the city through scenic routes. A popular one is the Grand Round Scenic Byway which covers 55 miles around the city.

- on the streets and roads of the city, where large space is marked prominently for exclusive use of cyclists. In some streets, which are designated as bike boulevards, the cycles have  priority over vehicles.

More information: https://rootsrated.com/minneapolis-mn/cycling



                                         riding along the river near the office of Raja


                                           Riding on the historic stone arch bridge


stone arch bridge



riding in a park



                                            Midtown Greenway with divided lanes








the view of standup paddling and boating in the Lake of the Isles which has a 4 km cycling path around

                                                      
                                                view of downtown from the lake


The only problem is that one has to lock the cycle carefully every time one parks it. Cycle theft is common, even from garages in the houses.  

After the Minneapolis experience, I have bought a cycle and use it in my village (Alangudi Mahajanam, 35 km from Trichy and 350 km from Chennai) during my visits. Of course, there are no bike routes there. I ride through tractor roads between the rice and sugarcane fields behind my house.

I would love to cycle in Gurgaon where I live. My golf course, metro station and shopping malls are within cyclable distances. But the roads are dangerous and dusty, although a few enthusiasts do it bravely. The good news is that there is growing realization among the Gurgaon youth about the value and pleasure of cycling. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Gandhian journey with Guha


It was indeed an epic journey reading the three long books on Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha. 
1 Gandhi before India
2 Gandhi: the years that changed the world and
3 India after Gandhi: the history of the world’s largest democracy

Guha gives a fresh perspective on Gandhi with his objective and scholarly approach. He keeps the readers spellbound with his stories, anecdotes, comments and conclusions with his distinct style of narration. 

In these three books Guha gives a comprehensive account of Gandhi’s life: how he evolved with circumstances; the books and people who influenced him; how he became the Mahatma; his politics and spiritualism; and how he used his pioneering methods of satyagraha, civil disobedience and fasting to achieve outcomes. Guha gives the contexts of Gandhi’s actions with details of how his admirers encouraged him and how his critics tried to pull him down.

Gandhi united Indians from different languages, religions, castes, ethnic groups and socioeconomic groups and directed their energy to freedom movement, abolition of untouchability, social reforms and communal harmony.He was the first one to make such remarkable contribution to India’s unity in diversity.



Despite not being a charismatic orator, he inspired people with his many thousands of speeches. He spoke to all kinds of audience ranging from peasants, workers, professionals, intellectuals, political parties, religious gatherings and conferences. His speeches stopped communal violence,  saved many lives and drove people to social reform and personal purification.

Gandhi was a prolific writer. He wrote thousands of articles, letters, pamphlets and petitions to governments. Besides responding on or explaining policy issues, he took the trouble to write in detail, when people asked for help in personal matters about love, marriage and religion.

Gandhi felt perfectly at home in his austere ashrams, in the houses of village peasants, in the British jails, the mansions of rich industrialists and in the Buckingham Palace. Tatas, Birlas and Bajajs donated money and extended support to Gandhi’s ashrams, campaigns and movements.

He is perhaps the only leader who walked the maximum miles across India meeting people, addressing meetings, resolving problems, preaching social reforms and religious harmony. He walked and fasted even in his old age when the doctors advised him against overstraining.  He walked in the hot summers and through all kinds of terrains.

He went on fasting and self sacrifice to persuade governments to stop undesirable legislations and communities to stop conflicts.

He experimented with food, nutrition, nature cure and celibacy. He went overboard in the practice and preaching of abstinence from sex by trying to enforce this even with young people including his own sons.

Gandhi was attacked viciously by Jinnah and Ambedkar who considered themselves as rivals. Gandhi responded to their criticism with reasoning and arguments, while showing respect and courtesy to them. The Communists had called him as an imperial stooge and one Andhra communist leader went all the way to Gandhi’s place of birth to spit on a Gandhi memorial.

Gandhi’s life was an open book. He admitted his weaknesses, changed his course several times when he realised the need and accepted the advice of others on many things. It was Rajaji who stopped Gandhi (in his sixties) from his pursuit of spiritual marriage to the Bengali beauty Sarala Devi. Gandhi was influenced by Tolstoy, Gokhale and some others who had enlightened him.

Conservative Hindu Sanatanists tried to kill him with a bomb in Pune but fortunately his car got delayed and the bomb fell on the wrong car . They showed black flags protesting against his campaign to abolish untouchability and opening of temples to the Dalits. Eventually it was another fanatic Hindu Godse, who assassinated him with the grouse that Gandhi was too generous to the Muslims. 

In contrast, the British rulers treated him with due respect and courtesy even while acknowledging that he was the biggest danger to their Indian empire. While convicting Gandhi, a British judge openly expressed his personal anguish about his legal burden of having to punish a great man. A British government circular in the forties had asked the civil servants to start referring to him as Mahatma. While there were a few racist detractors such as Churchil, overall, the British showed remarkable tolerance and reverence to him. Thank God India was not a Portuguese, Spanish or French Colony. They would have killed Gandhi long before..

At the same time, Gandhi had never called the British as enemies. He showed respect and friendship to the British and he just wanted them to be true to their own principle of freedom which India deserved.He showed such respect to all his other opponents and opposing ideas.

Gandhi was responsible for inspiring and nurturing thousands of value based political leaders and followers. Under his inspiration, thousands of Indians gave up their jobs and sacrificed their lives for the nation. There were many foreigners who devoted their lives looking after him, supporting his causes and participated in his many experiments with life. He set an example with his actions and sacrifices. He never asked anyone to do what he would not do. The leaders who imbibed this spirit laid the foundation for the free India. 

My admiration for Gandhi has increased after reading these books.  I have also become a fan of Guha, who has portrayed, analysed and interpreted Gandhi with objectiveness and clarity based on his original research.

Guha’s books on Gandhi deserve to be made mandatory reading in schools and colleges as well as in management schools and civil service curriculum. Obviously some beliefs, teachings and practices of Gandhi do not fit in today’s world. But the success of Gandhi in uniting Indians and achieving freedom and social reforms will certainly ignite and inspire the minds and hearts of young Indians.


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Carnatic music flowing into Cauvery river in Thiruvaiyaru Aradhana

I attended the 172nd edition of Thyagaraja Aradhana (tribute) music festival which honoursthe legendary Carnatic music composerevery year on his death anniversary.  Thyagaraja composed most of his music while living in Thiruvaiyaru where he died in 1846. The Festival is held in the premises of his samadhi (memorial) on the banks of the Cauvery river. This is perhaps the oldest classical music festival in India.


This is the Thyagaraja image in Kolam in front of a house in Thiruvaiyaru

A total of 242 concerts were held in the period 21-25 January. Typically the new musicians are given 10 or 15 minutes while the established ones including Jesudas get 20 minutes to perform. The concerts start at 9 am and go non-stop till 11 pm without any break. They are organised with Swiss punctuality without waste of any time. There are  two stages. When one concert is about to finish, the next group sits on the other stage waiting to start. Nadhaswaram performances are the second most predominant, after vocal concerts. 



The musicians consider it a privilege to perform in the Aradhana and come here paying themselves for their travel and accomodation. They do not get any performance fees either. Some of them come regularly every year.Those learning Carnatic music worship Thyagaraja as a saint and perform pujas at his temple.


                                                            The temple
The vocalists sing mostly in Telugu and a few songsin Sanskrit, since the Thyagaraja, a Telugu Brahmin from Thiruvarur composed in his mother tongue and the mother of the mother tongue SanskritSri Ramais the much repeated refrain in most of the songs. Thyagaraja was a devotee of Rama.
The music festival culminates with Pancharathna singing on the last day which was on 25 January this year. It was an amazing experience to see thousands of people (professionals as well as audience) singing together in chorus the Pancharathna (five gems) Kritis ( musical compositions) composed by Thyagaraja. The organisers had distributed copies of the Telugu and Sanskrit (four in Telugu and one in Sanskrit) song lyrics in Tamil script for the audience. This event is telecast live in Doordharshan Tamil channel every year. 



There are no tickets for the concerts which are open to the public. The hall becomes full and overflowing outside for the Pancharathna event and when celebrities come to sing. This year the celebrity singer was Jesudas from Kerala. The music can be heard not only inside the hall but also in the streets of the town which are fitted with loud speakers.
There was a time, when women were not allowed to sing at the festival.The credit for opening women’s participation goes to Bangalore Nagarathnamma. She was a Carnatic singer, cultural activist and scholar in the early twentieth century in Karnataka. After becoming an ardent devotee of Thyagaraja she came to Thiruvaiyaru where she settled down in 1920. She built a temple over  Thyagaraja samadhi and contributed to the tradition of the Aradhana. Her samadhi is next to Thyagaraja’s.
It was not easy for her. She hailed from the  devadasi (courtesan) community, which was looked down. She was the first president of the Association of the Devadasis of Madras Presidency. She was the "first female artist to pay income tax" in Madras province in those days.
The President of the Aradhana committee is Rangasamy Moopanar, a rich landlord from Kabisthalam, near Thiruvaiyaru. Karuppiah (GK) Moopanar, his elder brother and Congress stalwart was the President for 36 years till his death in 2002. His son GK Vasan is the chairman of the Board of Trustees. The Moopanar family has been well known as patrons of culture. 
Thiruvaiyaru is a quiet small town with a population of around 20,000. It does not have proper restaurants or hotels to accommodate the artistes and festival visitors, who stay in Thanjavur, 12 km away. Thiruvaiyaru is known as the land of five rivers (Iyaru means five rivers) namely Cauvery, Vennar, Vettar, Vadavar, and Kudamurutti rivers. The deity in the famous temple in the town is Aiyarappan /Panchandeeswarar which mean Lord of five rivers.



There is belief that those who die in Thiruvaiyaru, considered as the sacred equivalent of Benares, will go to heaven. Some old people come to stay in the Chattirams (charity accommodation) at their terminal stage waiting to die there. Sixteenth day Ceremonies as well as anniversary rites for the dead are done on the bank of the Cauvery river in the town. There are over fifty Brahmin families which live on the income of performing the rites for the dead. 
The venue of the annual music festival is the samadhi of the saint which is on the bank of the Cauvery river. The audience sit on the floor which is just pure river sand and enjoy the breeze coming over the Cauvery waters. 



The music hall is open-air with shamiana cloth cover on top. It feels as though the music flows into the river. The music- filled water has made the Cauvery delta region fertile, as evident from the lush green fields of rice, coconut, sugar cane, betel leaf and bananas. 

The historical prosperity of the region around Thirvaiyaru had given more time for the people of the region to pursue music, dance and other forms of arts and culture. Thygaraja and the other two famous composers (Trinity of Carnatic Music) Shyama Shastri and Muthusamy Dikshidar were born in Thiruvarur, another town in the same delta region, seventy km away from Thiruvaiyaru. Many of the Carnatic musicians come from the Cauvery delta region. Proud of this lineage, artistes use the name of the place as their first name such as Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Papanasam Ramani, Thanjavur Raju, Kumbakonam Aravind, Mayavaram Pandian, Ayyanpetteai Haridoss and Thruvaiyaru Murugan. 

The region of Thiruvaiyaru and Thiruvarur was part of the Chola dynasty of Thanjavur which had patronised arts and culture and built historic temples. The Chola dynasty has a distinct place in Indian history. Cholas were the only Indian rulers who ventured outside India conquering overseas territories and colonising parts of South East Asia. Alas.. History has its own way of humbling the proud. After the decline of Cholas in the 15th century, Thanjavur came under the Telugu speaking Governors appointed by Vijayanagara empire. In 1675 the Marathas took over Thanjavur and ruled till they lost to the British in the ninteenth century. There is still a Maratha dynasty prince living in the Thanjavur palace surrounded by a small Marathi community. The Maratha kings promoted Sanskrit and before them the Nayaks patronised Telugu language. So this explains the Telugu and Sanskrit compositions of Thyagaraja who did not bother to use Tamil in his music although he had lived in the heart of Tamilnadu. 
Poor me.. despite the fact that my village is close to Thiruvaiyaru,I did not understand a word of the songs of my neighbour Thyagaraja which were only in Telugu and Sanskrit...Moopanar, the President of the Board of the Thyagaraj Aradhana Trust do not understand either..One of those (among many others) cultural contradictions in Tamil society.