Thursday, November 7, 2019

Photo of the day

In a famous Varanasi temple, priests have covered the faces of Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga, Goddess Kali and Sai Baba with... pollution masks! The deity left unprotected: Kali Ma. The reason: “She is an angry goddess and it is believed that her popped out tongue should not be covered. So we decided not to cover her face." See the photos here.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Rs 25,000 crore bailout for real estate

The government has announced a massive plan to rescue builders and home-buyers—and it may prove to be a much-needed lifeline to a stalling economy.

First, some background: There are nearly 1,600 unfinished residential projects in India due to lack of funding. Developers are struggling due to falling sales, rising number of unsold flats and lack of cash. And they are heavily in debt, and in a number of cases, just plain bankrupt. Homebuyers have been left stranded: they have already paid a lot of money for their flat but have no home to show for it.

Now, some scary numbers: Here's how bad it is:

  • The 1,600 stalled projects account for 458,000 housing units (flats). Of these, 200,000 are in NCR, 100,000 in Mumbai, followed by Pune, Hyderabad and Bengaluru.

  • The net value of these stalled projects: Rs 1.8 trillion.

  • 66% of these stalled projects have already been sold to buyers. 

  • Builders rely on loans from Non-Banking Financial Companies—which are flailing thanks to mismanagement and bad loans (explainer here). Funding from these institutions tanked by a whopping 73%—dropping from $520 million last year to $140 million in the first half of 2019.

  • Add to that, the record number of unsold properties: 800,000. 

  • The number of real estate firms facing bankruptcy has more than doubled—to 421 from 209—in less than a year! 

  • With real estate becoming a bad bet, the number of new projects shrank by 45% in the top nine cities this year. 

Wow, so the bailout is big news! Yes, and here’s how it will work. 

  • The government is putting in Rs 10,000 crore, while State Bank of India and Life Insurance Corporation of India will put in the rest.

  • It is targeted at incomplete projects worth less than Rs 2 crore/ unit in Mumbai, Rs 1.5 crore in other big cities, including Delhi NCR, and Rs 1 crore in other parts of the country. In other words, it offers relief to middle to low-cost housing.

  • The biggest deal: the government had previously disqualified builders who were facing bankruptcy proceedings. They now will be eligible for relief.

  • The total number of units it will bail out: 458,000.

  • Only projects that are 70% complete are eligible.  

Why is this good for the economy? For starters, real estate contributes nearly 6% to the GDP. And it’s well-being has a huge impact on 100 other industries—think steel, cement, transport and most importantly, banking. Property builders have taken 50% of their loans from NBFCs. If builders go bankrupt, these institutions are left saddled with bad loans. And if these shadow banks start to run out of money, they in turn will default on loans they’ve taken from larger commercial banks like Yes Bank, IndusInd, Axis etc. The domino effect—left unchecked—could trigger a massive financial crisis that affects all of us.

The bottomline: As biz writers put it, the Indian economy has a “liquidity crisis”—a fancy way of saying no one has money to spend. This plan is a massive cash infusion to kickstart economic growth. Let’s hope it works.

Learn more: Mint has an overview of the fund. Business Standard explains the financial roots of the real estate crisis. Economic Times reports on the dangers that the real estate crisis poses to banks. Last September, Broadsheet decoded the NBFC mess.

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wondering what to do with all those indoor plants you bought

Your tech-related madness update is here: And it includes the following:

  • A new report titled ‘Megaphone for Hate’ by Avaaz, a non-profit activism network, says that Facebook has become a cesspool of hate speech against Bengali Muslims—thanks to the ongoing National Register of Citizens disaster in Assam. Buzzfeed reports: “Comments and posts that called Bengali Muslims ‘pigs,’ ‘terrorists,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘rapists,’ and ‘criminals,’—seemingly in violation of Facebook’s standards on hate speech—were shared nearly 100,000 times and viewed at least 5.4 million times.” Also: Facebook only removed 96 of the 213 posts and comments reported by the organisation, “including calls to poison Hindu girls to prevent Muslims from raping them.”

  • Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde offers his account of Twitter’s decision to suspend his account in a Mumbai Mirror column.

  • And if there is any doubt about Twitter’s bizarre policies, it flagged this perfectly innocuous tweet supporting Alt News for deletion.

  • Twitter is also in trouble on the other side of the world for its decision to ban political “issue” ads. As per this policy, environmental groups’ ads are out, but ExxonMobil ads touting its ‘green’ record are A-okay. 

  • Bad news for those who shop on the fashion shopping app Spoyl. A bug in its software has exposed its users’ personal information including name, mobile number, address, and email ID.

SoftBank is haemorrhaging money: The company suffered its first quarterly loss in 14 years thanks to the tanking valuations of WeWork and Uber. The total loss in the July-September period: $8.9 billion! (Bloomberg)

The latest Infosys goss: is that one of the company’s co-founders and a former senior executive conspired with the whistleblowers who recently accused the company’s CEO and CFO of “unethical practices” (read more in our explainer). The accusation is hazy on details and big on rhetoric: "This was a terrorist attack involving a mastermind (with) a link to the company and those who executed the attack.” Chairman Nandan Nilekani’s indignant response: “These speculations are appalling and seem to be aimed at tarnishing the image of some of the most accomplished and respected individuals." Also: “Infosys has strong processes; even God can’t change the numbers of this company.” 

A case of H-1B discrimination: A new study reveals that US immigration authorities are far more likely to deny H-1B applications by Indian companies. Back in 2015, the denial rate for big US companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Intel and Google was just 1%. In 2019, these increased to between 2-8%—thanks to Trump administration’s anti-immigration posture. However, the spike for Indian companies has been dizzying—jumping from 4% to 41% for Tech Mahindra, from 6% to 34% for TCS, from 7% to 53% for Wipro and from 2% to 45% for Infosys. Related read: No H-1B? No problem. Some Indians have found their workaround in the E-2 visa given to individuals who can set up a business and work in the US—as long as they invest $100,000. One little hitch: you have to apply for a Grenada, Turkish or Montenegro passport. Wut? (Indian Express)

Delhi cab commuters beware! Taxi drivers are going on strike on November 11 to protest the odd-even scheme. (Times of India)

Are you using your air purifier right? Nope, not if you have all the doors and windows closed. You may be filling your bedroom with carbon dioxide instead. In other bad news: a new study shows that indoor plants have a negligible effect on air quality in your home. In order to work, “the number of plants required in an average-sized room would be impractical, infeasible and ludicrously large.” 

In other pollution-related news: Maybe Delhi’s pollution is indeed spreading to Chennai. It’s air quality has deteriorated steadily since Tuesday and is now ‘unhealthy’. (Hindu Business Line)

Which is the best US biz school of them all? Every year, five big publications—Forbes, Business Week, US News, Economist and Financial Times—publish their B-school rankings. And they often wildly differ. For example, Stanford is #1 in two lists, rated #2 in two others, but is #7 according to the Economist. Thankfully, Fortuna ranks their rankings to offer you their collective wisdom. Yes, Stanford is indeed #1, but shares the honour with the University of Chicago. (Fortuna Admissions)

Working women’s biggest concern is not sexism: but age discrimination. According to a US survey, 58% thought their “identities and/or physical attributes impact their experiences at work.” And of these, age has the most impact, followed by physical abilities or limitations. The least impactful: race/ethnicity and marital status. (Quartz)

Vegan like Virat Kohli: Indian athletes like Kohli, footballer Sunil Chetri and mountaineer Kuntal Joishera are part of an Indian “brotherhood of leading sports role models munching on quinoa, avocado and pomegranates alongside other fruits and leafy vegetables.” But the choice is not only about improving performance. Many are concerned about climate change and animal cruelty as well. (Mint)

A new way to fake your own death: A service in South Korea helps its customers stage ‘living funerals’ where they don shrouds, take funeral portraits, pen their last testaments, and lie in a closed coffin for around 10 minutes. The aim: to help people appreciate their lives, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with family and friends. (Reuters)

Apple TV+ is no Netflix rival: according to this review that concludes: “Coming to Apple TV+ from Netflix is like coming from a Las Vegas all you can eat buffet to an artisan serving only the finest vegan food. The choice is limited, and there are probably not many things for you to choose from.” (EFTM)

If you need to be reminded of your privilege: here’s a clip that features little kids, mustard oil and Diwali lamps.

Whitney Houston’s BFF was also her lover: according to a new memoir. Robyn Crawford was her closest confidante until the end, but in the 1980s, she was also her girlfriend. The reason they broke up: "She said if people find out about us, they would use this against us." (

Help, there’s an elephant on my car! A bull elephant in a national park in Thailand decided to greet a passing car… by sitting on it! It wasn’t a very happy moment for its occupants who likely got too close—but the up-close photos and the clip of the encounter are truly something to behold. No one was hurt except for the dented car. And park rangers insist that the middle-aged elephant would “never hurt anyone or any vehicles.” He just wanted to say hi to the car 😂

Your daily quota of sunshine items: include the following: 

  • This inspiring story of two 17-year-old girls whose ‘Happy Seeder, Happy Lungs’ campaign is crowdfunding machines that put an end to stubble burning. 

  • Priyanka Chopra’s daulat ki chaat which comes stuffed with actual daulat. Hain?

  • This highly entertaining—if body-shaming—ad for Veet for men.

  • Chetan Bhagat’s attempt at self-deprecating humour… which went very wrong.

  • Help, there’s a cat in the end zone—right in the middle of US football match. Yes, there was on-air commentary during this live action scene. 

  • A handy Bangalore Litfest line up for Bengaluru folks. 

  • The most dumbfoundingly awful bridezilla ever. 

  • Italy’s amazing bionic model who represents a big win for body inclusivity. 

  • The happy news that you can get your Haldiram munchies on Amazon… in the United States! 

  • These @GooglePay cupcakes that are very ‘only in namma Bengaluru’.

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Vintage Celebrity Photo’ Edition

Instagram has made photos of celebrities seem disposable—to be liked, maybe shared, and then instantly forgotten. But not these images of a bygone generation of stars. They are indelible and iconic.

Don’t say cheese!

Acclaimed portrait photographer Philippe Halsman asked each of his famous and highly accomplished subjects to just do one thing: jump! And they all did—including Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, even Richard Nixon. The results are extraordinary.

See: Philippe Halsman: Jump l Magnum Photos

Sex, Love etc 2

Eight different visions of Marilyn Monroe 

The camera loved Marilyn—and she loved it right back. Her face is perhaps the most famous of any movie star in the world, and yet, in life, she was rarely ‘seen’. These truly stunning photos finally do her justice—not just as a great beauty icon but as a flesh-and-blood woman. (Bonus: This gorgeous gallery of Madhubala photos taken by Life photographer James Burke

See: Marilyn Monroe through the Eyes of 8 Famous Photographers | Artsy

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