Saturday, 30 January 2016


ARYANS, DRAVIDIANS AND, NOW, TWO MOREBangalore Mirror Bureau | Jan 26, 2016, 04.00 AM IST

By: Mihika Basu
A new study has found that Indians also descended from Tibeto-Burman (North-East) and Austro-Asiatic (East and Central India). It has also identified a fifth ancestral lineage dominant among Negrito tribals of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Contrary to the current understanding that India's population has descended from two ethno-linguistic groups, a new study has discovered that there were actually four. The study, which has been published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) after over 20 years of research work, explores the genetic history of present-day Indians and the peopling of the Indian subcontinent. 

Researchers previously suggested that mainland India's current population largely descended from Indo-European or Aryans (North India) and Dravidians (South India) groups. The two additional groups now are Tibeto-Burman (North-East India) and Austro-Asiatic (fragmented in East and Central India).

"India, with more than one-sixth of the world population, has been under-represented in genome-wide studies of variation," director of the West-Bengal based National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), Prof Partha P Majumder, told Bangalore Mirror.

"The present study, using judiciously selected populations who provide a more complete representation of Indians resident in diverse geo-cultural ecosystems of the country, and also using about double the number of DNA variants per individual than a previous major study, has been able to provide robust evidence that four — not two — ancestral stocks contributed to the genetic diversity of present-day Indians. 

These ancestral stocks are roughly identifiable with the four language families in India - Indo-European (North India), Dravidian (South India), Tibeto-Burman (north-east India) and Austro-Asiatic (fragmented in east and central India, spoken exclusively by the tribals)."

The NIBMG is an autonomous institution under the Union department of biotechnology.

Majumder and his colleagues explored DNA variation in about 400 unrelated Indians belonging to 20 ethnic groups. Two of these groups are Negrito tribals who reside in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The remaining 18 groups - both tribal and caste groups - are from mainland India.

They also reviewed data from the Human Genome Diversity Panel (HGDP), a repository of genomic data representing hundreds of people worldwide.

While studies have been conducted in the past by various researchers, including the authors of this article, this is the largest DNA variation study conducted in India, taking into account both the number of ethnic groups (20 groups) and the number of DNA variants (over one million variants) examined on each individual. "It is a significant finding and a much more complete profile of the ancestral lineage. 

Suitable technology was not available earlier, so getting a foolproof answer was difficult. But the technology currently available have enabled is to assess a large number of markers in human genome," said Majumder.

The authors also said they have shown there is a distinctive ancestry of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands populations. Accordingly, the Andaman archipelago (island group or chain) was peopled by members of a distinct, fifth ancestry, says the paper titled "Genomic reconstruction of the history of extant populations of India reveals five distinct ancestral components and a complex structure".

"A fifth ancestral lineage that is dominant among the Negrito tribals (Jarawa and Onge) of Andaman & Nicobar Islands was also identified. 

Using publicly-available HGDP data, we found evidence that this lineage is also ancestral to the present-day Pacific Islanders. 

Although present-day Indians largely group themselves in relatively-isolated social groups, with negligible proportion of marriages taking place between individuals belonging to different social groups, this situation did not prevail in the past. 

Gene exchange was widespread among the four ancestral groups of the present-day Indians, our study has revealed. That is, difference in social position was not a major bar to marriage," he said.


The paper says inter-marriage, without major restriction, was replaced by the formulation and declaration of social norms, leading to the formation of endogamous groups - groups whose members married only within their groups and not outside.

"This study, using DNA data, estimated that the transition in India from free intermarriage to endogamy took place about 70 generations ago; that is, about 1,600 years ago. 

Leafing through the pages of Indian history, one finds that during this time the Gupta empire, founded by Maharaja Sri Gupta, covered much of the Indian sub-continent, with Pataliputra (near Patna) as the capital of the empire. A lot of social transformation took place during the Gupta period. 

Notable among these was the enforcement of social strictures against marriage between castes, as enshrined in the Dharmasastra. 

This reveals that some social norms leave imprints on the DNA of people, which can be reconstructed by careful genetic studies," the finding reveals.


The researchers have argued in their paper that previous studies on the number of ancestral components in the populations of India may have been underestimated because of lack of inclusion of tribal populations, inadequate representation of the geo-cultural diversity of India in the set of sampled populations, and selective removal of some populations based on deviance of their genomic profiles.

The path-breaking study further said: "Our study has corrected this deficiency and has provided a more robust explanation of the genomic diversities and affinities among extant populations of the Indian subcontinent, elucidating in finer detail the peopling of the region."

Map of India showing approximate locations of sampling of the populations included in this study. Populations shown in 'grey' are populations from the Andaman and Nicober archipelago. Populations shown in 'red' are Dravidian speaking tribal populations from the Nilgiri Hills in Southern India. Populations shown in 'cyan' are Austro-Asiatic speaking tribal populations from the East and Central India. Populations shown in 'green' are caste populations primarily speaking the Indo-European language. Populations shown in 'blue' are Tibeto-Burman speaking populations of North-East India and are predominantly tribes, except the Manipuri Brahmins.

National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG)

* The conclusion of an earlier major study that sought to reconstruct population history of India using DNA data was that the present-day Indians are derived from two ancestral stocks of people, one of whom is ancestral to all north Indians and the other ancestral to all south Indians. That study was published in 2009 in Nature journal, jointly by scientists of the Broad Institute in the USA and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.

* In the current study, the authors have inferred that at least four distinct ancestral components—not two, as estimated earlier—have contributed to the gene pools of existing populations of mainland India. The authors have also shown there is a distinctive ancestry of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands populations, which is likely ancestral also to Oceanic populations.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Top 25 High Paying Skills That Can Get You A Job In India in 2016

Top 25 High Paying Skills That Can Get You A Job In India in 2016Mohul Ghosh
January 29, 2016

Linkedin, world’s largest professional network, has come out with their annual ‘The 25 Skills That Can Get You Hired in 2016’ list in order to gauge the demand and supply ratio. This list has been created based on the hiring and recruitment activities witnessed on their platform last year; and based on their internal research pertaining to the jobs market.

The most desired skill this year would be Cloud and Distributed Computing skills, which has been ranked #1 in this list. Interestingly, last year this skill was not even in the top 25 list!

This means two things:

a) Cloud is making a massive comeback

b) Integration of Cloud with Digital would be the next big thing for the market.

Statistical and Data Mining skills, which is part of the Big Data niche is ranked #2; which was incidentally ranked #1 last year. Hence, this proves that Big Data is here to stay and will be in demand for the next few years to come.

At #3 this year is Marketing Campaign, followed closely by SEO/SEM Marketing at 

#4. Last year, Marketing Campaign skill was placed at #12 while Digital Marketing was ranked #16 and SEO/SEM was ranked #6. The elevation of both of these skills translate into one important factor: More and more businesses need digital marketing, and SEO isn’t dead yet. (related: Digital Marketing predictions for 2016)

Mobile development has been ranked #6, which has climbed 1 position compared to last year. Considering that Mobile is the new Digital, this is hardly surprising; we may witness it’s ranking even higher in the next 12 months.

Skills related to hardware and security such as Network Security and Information Security has dropped 3 positionswhile Storage Systems and Management has dropped 5 positions in the last year. Does it mean that businesses need less security now? No, this means that IT security aspect is now increasingly being automated, and only those security wizards are in demand which have the right skills. Job market is certainly tight in this sector.
Skills Which Lost Demand

Compared to last year, skills such as Middleware and Integration Software have gone down in demand, while skills such as Recruiting has disappeared from the list. In fact, Business Intelligence, a very crucial skill for large scale businesses has lost 12 spots compared to last year.

This speaks volume about our prophecy regarding automation and artificial intelligence: Jobs which were considered big deal in last few years are slowly but gradually getting out of fashion.

Some other skills which lost their flavours include:

Algorithm Design (lost 3 places); Pearl/Python/Ruby programming (lost 3 places); Mac, Linux, Unix System (lost 2 places); Economics (lost 6 spots)

Besides Recruiting, skills which have vanished from this year’s list include: SAP ERP, Integrated Circuit Design & Game Development.

New Jobs Skills Which Are In Demand

Meanwhile, traditional jobs are making a massive comeback as skills such as Electronics and Electrical Engineering, Economics and Corporate Law are now included in the top 25 list.

Traditional IT jobs such as Database Management and Software, Software Modeling & Process Design, Software Testing have also made a grand comeback this year. This basically means that businesses are going back to the old school model in 2016.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

5 Things to learn from A.R.Rahman by Prashant Pillai

5 Things to learn from A.R.Rahman by Prashant Pillai

5 Things to learn from A.R.Rahman by Prashant Pillai


It’s been a little over 5 years since I wrote this post. Glad to know that this post has been shared and circulated all over helping inspire and touch many lives. Thanks for all the love and appreciation for this article.


Prashant Pillai

Today, A.R.Rahman is a name known world over, thanks to Slumdog Millionaire and the awards and nominations its bagged. Like everyone here in India, I have known him and his music right from the time Roja was released in 1992.. thats a good 17 years.

Everyone speaks of his music, and what he eats, sleeps, drinks and what he does when he is free and so on so forth. But really, there are things much beyond that that one needs to know and learn from the legend that A.R.Rahman is. With so many many people who speak so high of him at all times, there are some things that are unsaid and certain things that we so easily ignore about Rahman, that makes him stand apart from the clutter.

The musical genius that Rahman is, most of that comes from his being and principles. Rahman’s success presents some valuable tips every person can apply to his professional life in an effort to help him achieve his goals.

And on that note, with the little that I know of him, I would share some of the learnings from A.R.Rahman

1. Respect your parents

It might be very easy to brush this fact aside, but the truth is Rahman has always loved, respected and adored his parents. With his father R.K.Shekar leaving for heavenly abode when Rahman was nine years old, Rahman’s mother Kareema Begum, gave Rahman a new ray of hope and fresh lease of life. She painstakingly raised the family, and is one of the driving factors of why Rahman’s a legend today.

By the way, this relationship is not one-sided, Rahman’s love and affection towards his mom is immense. One instance where I got to know about his profound respect for his mother was, when I met Rahman for the first time at his residence in Chennai. After previewing him my work on a Audio Disc, and after realising my dream, when I was about to leave, I asked to myself “Why not live this dream? Why not work with the legend?” This sporadic thought made me ask him, If I could work with him, to which his reply was “I will have to ask my mother, I will talk to her and get back to you.” Now where on earth will you get an answer like that. And I guess Rahman talked to his mother and I was soon on my way from Pune to Chennai to work with the legend. This is the greatness and gratitude shown by the man, who loves, believes, respects and adores his mother.

And all my confrontations/meetings with Rahman’s mother have been memorable. She made me feel homely and asked about my family and my well-being.

If you look at most of the music launch functions, Rahmans mother usually launches the music album, and that’s the way its been. Which other music composer or for that matter which other media/entertainment personality do you know who follows this principle.

2. Be spiritually inclined

A.R.Rahman believes in god and spiritualism. Its not about the fact that he follows Islam, and offers prayers 5 times a day…its much more than that. There is a huge difference between being religious and being spiritual, of which the latter is what Rahman is made of.

In a recent interview Rahman revealed that, “Religious sounds rather vulgar these days, I am more of a spiritual person. And I believe in being consistent with my spirituality. As one grows in life, one realises the magnitude of spirituality. It is the most beautiful passion. It raises you above all the negativities. For me and my music, spirituality is the most important element and I don’t think I can create the kind of music I do, if I don’t practice spirituality.”

Rahman says “I have been particular about prayers for the last 15 years. With success and acknowledgement my faith and conviction in the strength of prayers has only increased ten folds.”

Spirituality has not only made him connect to his music, but has also made him connect to humanity. His association with various social causes/initiatives and his charitable foundation by the name of A.R.Rahman Foundation, proves it. There are many instances where Rahman and his mother have helped needy,deserving people in ways too many, which fortunately have not come under the media scanner, or else by now the Rahman would have been made a “superhuman” by the media. Somethings are good when they are untold.

Today many music composers try to ape Rahman’s music and follow his style of music making. They end up being commented how close they are to creating Rahman’s sound, which might give those composers an ego-drive and hype which is shortlived. For the legend that Rahman is, may it be known that it is his devotion to constantly bow down to the almighty and in the process finding peace and solace in oneself that makes his music so special and timeless.

3. Don’t leave your soul

Mumbai the mecca of Indian films and the entertainment industry, a place where any and every musician will find a way out to survive and earn enough to feed him for the day. It would have been so easy for a musician like Rahman to come down and settle in Mumbai and work for acclaimed filmmakers post Roja and Bombay. But the man preferred not leaving his home, his roots to a place where instant fame, recognition and money was assured.

Of the many ignored facts, Rahman’s major success lies in working from his home. Home is where your heart, mind, body and soul is. Rahman being in Chennai at his home, has made him unscathed of the many negatives associated with being in [Mumbai. Mumbai, a place where anyone can get carried away by its humongous larger than life, plastic coated emotional people, and a place where hate daggers fly in public and in private.

With Rahman opting to work from Chennai, made only the cream of filmmakers approach him. Or else by now, there would have been a dozen of Yash Raj, Karan Johar, Sooraj Bharjatiya etc. films that would have Rahman’s music. Goodness gracious, Rahman saved himself from the torture of running in and out of the same rat hole that the Mumbai entertainment industry is.

In Mumbai, musicians spend a lot of time outside the studio, whereas they should be spending most of their time in the studio. Example this, a music composer ’scores music’ for a film and the music is out. He will now go on to spend the next 2/3 months attending various music parties, launches, 15 day record breaking sales party, singer being nominated for a sidey-shady award party, press interviews, television shows, etc… And then that music composer vanishes into thin air….sample these music composers and try to track their whereabouts….Anu Malik, Jatin, Lalit, Sameer Sen, Dileep Sen, Himesh Reshammaiyya..and so on…what have these guys achieved, some of them are getting work on their previous works goodwill, some are retired coz of their arbid soundscape, and some are busy acting…Fortunately Rahman has been far away from all these social PR protocols, located in one of the serene narrow lanes in Kodambakkam, Chennai. With no distraction whatsoever, he has all his energies focused on doing quality work from the comfort of his home.

My father once said “Look at Rahman, he has not left his home to work on any project. Did he move to Mumbai after so many Bollywood hits under his belt…” And his words striked a chord in me, its so true. It means a lot to be based out of the place where your family is, where your soul is..your home, your hometown.

4. Let your work speak for itself

Yes, let your work speak for itself. Many a times, there are instances where one will be criticised for the way he is, his dressing, his upbringing, his economic background. One will be made fun off, and will be called names. One will not get the support he expects to receive from his seniors and so on….But at the end of all this, if you have a strong will power you can overcome all these, and prove yourself with your work.

I had a very bad patch in my life, where I had to leave my dream halfway through and come back to Pune. I had no clue what I would do here in Pune, because the music scene here was bad. I got to share my experiences that I had in Chennai with Rahman, to which he was taken aback..and he advised, there will be many obstacles that one may have to overcome to achieve their goals, but it should not stand in the way and pull you down. He gave an example, where he was being humiliated by some directors and producers over the kind of music he had scored, and all this when Rahman was at his peak. He could do nothing about it, and preferred to remain calm and unmoved. And when his work was released, it got an outstanding response and was embraced by the masses. This overwhelming response and success he says was a slap on the face of those producers and directors. These words gave me the courage to stand up and face life afresh.

I started off as a brand new piece of particle on this planet and gathered my resources, knowledge and love and affection from my parents and sister to reach where I am today. Not that I have achieved something great in life, but what I have achieved today is purely because people have appreciated my work. And that’s helped me move on, and overcome the toughest phases in my life.

5. Be Humble. Be Honest. Be Simple.

With all the above in place, being humble, simple and honest is all that one needs to do to ensure a great life. With so much of stardom and attention after the Golden Globe, he could have so easily attended the grand premiere of Slumdog Millionaire in Mumbai, however he chose work over publicity. Oscars nominations were announced on the same day and Danny Boyle mentioned, “Can you believe AR getting 3 nominations that’s mind boggling, and that man is there working down south on Delhi 6…truly what a great musician.”

One instance of his humbleness is when I started to work with him, I was put on a software that I did not know to work on. I was told what I was supposed to do by him, but when he understood that I didn’t know the software, he sat down next to me and taught me how to work on it, and ensured that I knew exactly what I was doing, before I could start of the task..and that was a big learning for me.

Couple of months later one more such instance which I witnessed was, when there was a new pitching software that he ordered got delivered. Whilst unwrapping the software pack his excitement levels rose to that of a kid who would love to unpack the wrapper of his favourite chocolate. He could have so easily asked one of his assistants to get hands on the software and teach him the same, but he chose to learn it by himself. He inserted the software disc and started reading the manual, to know in and out of the software.

One thing that I learnt from the instances above is that, he makes it point that before designating a task to anyone before hand he wants to be sure that he himself knows how to do the task. He prefers not being an alien to any task assigned to someone by him. This shows his honesty, humbleness and simplicity. He carries no weight around him, and that makes him completely approachable and genuine.His childlike smile can pacify ones fear and anxiety of meeting him in person. Its like his smile speaks a thousand words. It depicts the purity of his heart and soul.

Today, Rahman has his inner circle populated by few people whose skills, and creativity can serve and benefit him and his music — people who professionally complement their own skillset and creativity(like, the music arranger, asst. sound engineers, sound engineers, etc.). He trusts this circle of people, has faith in them and believes in them and stands by them come whatsoever.
Being A.R.Rahman

Through his eternal values and simple living he presents us with opportunities for professional success provided we learn from them, adapt them to our own situations and implement them appropriately.

5 Things to learn from A.R.Rahman by Prashant Pillai

12 Things About AR Rahman

AR Rahman talks about staying humble and staying passionate in his Twitter chat with fans (Photo: Twitter/@igtamil, altered by The Quint)

12 Things We Just Found Out About Music Maestro AR Rahman
Karthik Kumar
January 20, 2016, 1:36 pm

Hours before the recently held Nenje Ezhuconcert in Chennai, Oscar-winning composer A.R Rahman participated in a brief ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) with his fans on Twitter. Here are 12 things that we learnt from his responses to a variety of questions ranging from the toughest decision he’s ever had to take, to his latest fascination for photography.
Music keeps AR Rahman young (Photo: Twitter/@thalaivARR_FC)

1. Staying Ever Young

I don’t retain any kind of worries or negative feelings in my heart. I just flush them out. I don’t have any baggage. Music makes me think positive and that has benefitted me in my overall appearance. It’s probably because of all this and by the grace of God; I think I look young and fresh always.

2. Choosing Music as His Profession

I didn’t choose this field. It chose me or my mother chose it for me. I’ve never asked myself why I’m doing what I’m doing, because once you’ve made a decision, you can’t think twice. You just to live up to what the situation demands and keep going.
AR Rahman poses with the legendary music composer John Williams (Photo:

3. Meeting With Composer John Williams

I met him after the concert at Hollywood Bowl. He’s been a great teacher as we all learn from his work. Today, film music has become like the classical music of our times and he’s one of the gurus. When I met him, I just told him that he’s my teacher in a way.

4. The Future of Tamil Independent Music

Audiences know what is good and bad. About 30 years ago, there were a lot of Sri Lankan private albums. One such popular song from those albums was Surangani, and people loved this song so much that there were dozens of cover versions made over the years. If there’s quality in non-film music, I’m sure people would love it too. It’s important for independent musicians to make quality music, so that people love it.
AR Rahman on stage (Photo:

5. The Process of Composing Devotional Songs

It’s not about what song to compose. It’s about the purity of thought, purity of faith, no matter which religion it is. Whenever I do a song, be it a Qawwali, or Bhajan, or even a gospel song; it has always been about purity and that’s the kind of quality I want to maintain.

6. His Favourite Composition

People keep asking me this question and my choice keeps changing from time to time. I’m currently working on a song for Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Accham Yenbathu Madamaiyada, and that’s my favourite composition as of today. It might change tomorrow.

7. Reinventing Oneself With Every New Composition

Music is a generic lottery I have from my father. In general, what motivates me to push the envelope is his legacy and the pressure to keep up to what he had achieved during his time. However, when it comes to film music, there are so many factors like the director, story, or a situation and sometimes even the lyrics of a song.
Staying Humble While Being Famous (Photo: Reuters)

8. Staying Humble While Being Famous

I always think from the perspective of my hardcore fan. When I do music, I become that person and imagine music on the internet or on the shelf and I ask myself ‘why should I buy it? What’s so special about it?’ All these questions make me, as well as my team, work harder as we try to make our work more interesting and credible for the person who spends his money on my music.
A young AR Rahman with Yesudas (Photo: Twitter/@chandu532)

9. His First Stint With Music

It was around 1989, I went through a transformation of self-realisation. I realised it was not about technique, but about what comes from within. You become like an instrument and you want music to come through you. When music comes from within, that’s when the magic happens.

10. The Toughest Decision He’s Ever Had to Take

In recent times, the toughest decision I’ve had to take was during the Jai Ho tour. We had an accident, and since we weren’t insured, we had to spend a lot of money. The toughest decision was to keep my word for all the people who had paid for tickets and go ahead and do the show. We had 18 shows; we had only done 3. We went ahead and successfully completed the tour.
AR Rahman has recently discovered his love for photography (Photo: Twitter)

11. Hobbies Besides Making Music

I’ve started collecting cameras since we’ve gotten into film production now. When I find time, I enjoy clicking pictures, which usually happens only when I’m abroad. I’m really interested in photography now.

12. Missing Out on Working With Michael Jackson

It was very unfortunate (that) Michael passed away soon after we discussed working together. But I’ve been lucky enough to work with many talented people like Mick Jagger and others. This year I’ll be working with another legend. I’ll let you know about it soon.

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Rise and Fall of Secularism in Kerala

The Rise and Fall of Secularism in Kerala
Pseudo-secularism has lost its supremacy in Kerala in the information war and common man in Kerala has started realizing the real aim of vested interest groups who had brainwashed them with their selective interpretation of secularism to achieve social and political supremacy

One of the leading novelists in Kerala P Vatsala, recently startled the intelligentsia of the state when she said at a public meeting that she is proud to be a Hindu and showered praises on Prime Minister Narendra Modi lavishly. Further, she took on the leader of left writers forum (called PUKASA in Malayalam) and exposed their hypocrisy.

This was just unimaginable in Kerala till a few years ago when it was fashionable for writers, film personalities and others belonging to the intelligentsia to be critical of Hinduism in public to prove their “Secular” credentials. This was a culture forced by the Left in Kerala, especially by CPI (M) offering benefits to those who yielded and using threat and violence to subjugate others refused to yield.

For the 'progressive' in Kerala, Hindu culture is associated with superstition and Hindu Saints are mocked as Demi Gods (Aal Daivam in Malayalam). Hindu religion is portrayed by the Left as full of discriminations based on castes. However, Communist and pseudo-progressive groups are particular not to offend the religious sensibilities of Muslims and to a certain extent Christians and never attack the contradictions in their belief.

In government schools, where majority of children in Kerala once studied, they were brainwashed to feel that Hindu scriptures approved discrimination and the Hindu Past of Kerala was associated with feudal oppression. The curriculum always tried to misinterpret and misrepresent Hindu lifestyle and hid the shocking cruelties and blatant discriminations that existed and are existing in organized religions.

Vatsala has now exposed the hollowness of Kerala Model Secularism and dared to declare that the “King is Nude”. Many others knew that earlier but didn’t have the guts to say it publicly. But now with the social and political conditions in India changing, things are changing in Kerala also. 

Pseudo-Secularism, a hypocrisy popularized in Kerala by the Left has now started to lose its popularity in Kerala now. Hindus in Kerala are now realizing the way out of the Labyrinth of Pseudo-Secularism to which they were thrown in. 

Pseudo-seculars are really panicked as their labyrinth has started crumbling. Their reaction to this is on expected lines;SECULARISM IS IN DANGER, COMMUNALISM IS ON THE RISE, they are wailing. However, the common man in Kerala is not losing their sleep over the secular moaning and is not impressed by the verbal jugglery of pseudo-secularists.

Now why all on a sudden secularism became a not so admired word in Kerala and the social engineering of Muslim-Backward Unity which the pseudo-secular mafia was trying to implement is at a standstill. The political, social and spiritual structure which the pseudo-secular mafia was trying to build in Kerala replacing the existing system is showing signs of cracking. Why is this happening? How did the public saw the real faces of wolves who approached them wearing the veil of goats?

The answer is simple. You cannot fool everyone forever. If secularism means everyone renouncing their special rights based on religion and deciding to become humans, it is really great. But if a group of people interpret secularism in a selective way and implement it to establish their supremacy then, on the day the exploited group realizes the ploy, they will retaliate. Moreover in Kerala, extremist groups infiltrated secular platforms and secured supremacy turning Hindus away from it.

Let us analyse the situation to understand the story.

Though Kerala also had the history of communal violence and mass killings like any other Indian state or country in the world (remember the communal pogrom known as Moplah Riots) there are some positive aspects also in Kerala’s social life. Here people of all religions live side by side and the Ghetto culture is not widespread. All Keralites speak Malayalam. (Unlike Muslims in Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karnataka who speak Urdu and local language, Kerala Muslims speak only Malayalam). The food habits and costumes of all Keralites are almost similar. Puradh system became common in Kerala only by 90s.

But despite all these there positive aspects, tension has been brewing in the social set up and communalism has also grown in a covert way. While Kerala was polarized on political lines from 1960s to 1980s, by 1990s Kerala society started getting polarized based on religion. What were there reasons?

They are; 1. Information revolution gave the public access to facts 2. Growth of political and economic power of Minorities leading to growing disparity among Hindus and Christians and Muslims, 3.Rise of Terrorism and Backlash against appeasement of minorities from Hindus. Rise of terrorism means in Kerala infiltration of secular parties and non governmental organisations by extremists and taking control. Though the Hindus have not realized the depth of the plan, the vitriolic attack in the name of secularism has created an aversion to Secularism among them

Information revolution

Once, information was the monopoly of pseudo-secular groups in Kerala. There were two systems only; one lead by communists and other by Congress and allies. Communists denigrated Hindu culture while preaching secularism and always turned a blind eye to the glaring inequalities and contradictions among minority religions, Congress and allied groups did not denigrate Hindusim initially, but they toed a soft pro-minority line accepting the supremacy of minority leaders and sidelining Hindu culture slowly. Media also toed an anti Hindu culture line in social issues and thus the available information was selective and against Hindu culture.

With the communication and information revolution, the glaring inequalities in other cultures also came into light. Though media continues to be controlled by minority groups in the fight to gain Supremacy they are also exposing each other thus letting Hindus know the huge injustices in their culture also. The young generation who uses net now knows very well the discrimination based on birth that denies rights to blacks and native Americans and Black Muslims and tribal Muslims of Arabia. The atrocities of Islamic State and other terror groups can’t be hidden anymore. Everyone now knows the mass killings by Communists in the name of secularism. Hindus have thus realized that compared to the inequalities in other cultures Hindu culture is far more egalitarian and democratic.

Growth of Political and Economic Power of minorities in Kerala

Organised religions of Christianity and Islam had been co-existing in Kerala during the past centuries. However , Hindus had the upper hand in society. But this has changed over the last few years.

As Christianity and Islam are transnational religions, they have got international economic and political connections. This has given them more money and power in the form of foreign aid and as the world is becoming a global village. Flow of unlimited funds from Europe and the Western countries to Kerala through church sponsored institutions has opened unlimited opportunities to Christian community in Kerala. Foreign funds helped the church and NGOs to open different institutions and thus they increased their reach and influence.

In the meanwhile the rise of the Middle East has improved the economic status of Muslim community and their organisations in Kerala. While from 1960s to 1980s Christians were the richest community in Kerala, now Muslims have replaced them as the richest. The Muslim population in Kerala has also risen to over 26 per cent of the total population. The increase in population in Muslim dominated Malappuram district has resulted in more MLAs for Muslim League and they have more (five) ministers in state cabinet which contributes almost 20 per cent for Muslim League only. Kerala Muslims are highly educated and in competitive examinations and entrance tests to medical and engineering courses they win top ranks also.

Muslims are undoubtedly the richest group and are educationally and socially forward in Kerala. They are addressed as Sahib, Muthalali (means owner of wealth) or Kakka (the elder) etc in Kerala. Majority of land is owned by them and they are the highest foreign exchange earners from Kerala. They have never been discriminated against socially. But all governments give them reservation in jobs, in educational institutions, financial aid to widows, low interest loans, pensions to teachers of their religious schools etc, many of which are not available to even scheduled castes. But look at the plight of Nairs who get a pittance from the government and still supposed to bear the secular burden.

Anybody who questions the social inequalities in Kerala gets branded as anti-secular and RSS follower. Pseudo-secular groups, especially the Leftists used to divert attention of lower caste Hindus by highlighting the so called discriminations practiced in the past against them by the upper caste. But at present, the youth among backward and scheduled castes in Kerala are mostly concerned about present day discriminations rather than discriminations in the past which are misinterpreted to suit the interests of some groups now. The result is they are no more enthused in the pseudo-secular narratives.

Rise of Terrorism in Kerala

Rise of terrorism in Kerala is another reason why Hindus have lost affinity for Secularism. Terrorist organisations in Kerala recruit from fundamentalist groups. Fundamentalist groups gained prominence in Kerala in 90s when the Left established links with them to gain their votes. (Eg. Are Jamaat, PDP lead by Mahdhani, Moreover, The rise of fundamentalist groups in Kerala was indirectly helped by the ideological campaign of the Left against Hindu culture. Since none, including the Left never attacked flaws in the ideology of Muslim fundamentalist groups, they could convince the society easily as a best ideology. This created a situation in Kerala conducive for their growth. The left parties and Congress compete with each other to bail out workers of fundamentalist groups even if they are caught by law enforcement agencies.

Terror groups in Kerala float frontal organisations and acquire huge assets. They operate hawala rackets and drugs and gold smuggling. They engage in Love Jihad and kill at will. Extremist groups have infiltrated Congress and CPM in Kerala and changed the meaning of Secularism practised by these parties. They make highly aggressive attacks on Hindu belief system. They interpret every Hindu custom as against secularism. They pressurise political and cultural organisations to portray all that is linked to Hindu culture as related to RSS and BJP. Even terrorists and Pakistan are praised by the secularists. Naturally Hindus of all castes have found this too much. This extremist variety of Secularism is in fact the root cause that destroyed secularism in Kerala.

It is difficult to write everything because of lack of space. Are these not enough reasons for the common man to move away from pseudo-secularism? The real need in Kerala now is equal justice for all followers of all Dharmas. A Muslim country like the UAE recently passed anti-discriminatory laws. There needs to arise in Kerala a situation when everyone irrespective of their religion has equal access to all rights and covert operations of pseudo-secular groups should end. Then Kerala will become the real land of Mahabali where there is justice for all and discrimination against none.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Indian Hotel Is No. 1 in the World

This Indian Hotel Is No. 1 in the World Say TripAdvisor Users – Take a Look Around

Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur seen in November 2014 has been voted as No. 1 hotel in the world by TripAdvisor. Jaideep Oberoi

A hotel in Jodhpur, the Indian city in Rajasthan known for its chalky-blue buildings, has won the traveler’s choice award for 2015 from TripAdvisor, a customer review website. Umaid Bhawan Palace, an imposing, art-deco inspired structure built between 1928 and 1943, is still in part the main home to the maharaja of Jodhpur and his family.
Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces

Guests have access to the rest of the palace, including indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a spa and marbled-squash courts. The palace, which has a 105 foot high cupola, or dome, has 347 rooms and was built to provide employment to local people at a time when the area was hit by famine and drought.
The bedroom in the Royal Suite at Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur seen in November 2014. Jaideep Oberoi

The hotel, part of the Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, has 64 bedrooms and suites including one with a private spa and the average price for a night’s stay is $734. Supermodel Naomi Campbell stayed at the palace in November 2012 when she hosted a party at the nearby Jodhpur Fort. More than 750 comments on TripAdvisor described the hotel as “Excellent.”

The Maharani suite’s private spa at the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur seen in November 2014. Jaideep Oberoi

A recent guest from California who reviewed the palace on TripAdvisor wrote: “We stayed in magnificent properties throughout India, but this was the best of all!” However, reviews were not universally eulogistic. Ten out of 839 ratings of the hotel on TripAdvisor described it as “Terrible.”
The Zodiac Pool at the Umaid Bhawan Palace. Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces

“It is a Great Palace with beautiful grounds, a great room and nothing more than that. The people are awful. You will not find a friendly face except at the royal welcome and that is it,” wrote a reviewer from Cleveland Ohio who visited in 2012. A spokesperson for the hotel wasn’t immediately available for comment.
The outdoor pool at Umaid Bhawan Palace. Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces

Friday, 22 January 2016

What really happened at Vasan Healthcare?

What really happened at Vasan Healthcare?

The inside story of how Vasan Healthcare, once a prized unicorn, valued at more than $1 billion, imploded

Ashish K. MishraS. Bridget Leena
file photo a Vasan eye care centre in Delhi. Photo: Bloomberg

Mumbai/Chennai: At half-past seven on the morning of 1 December 2015, two cars pulled up outside 199, St Mary’s Road, in Alwarpet, a South Chennai neighbourhood that still has a few bungalows in what is increasingly becoming a city of apartments.

A man alighted from one of the cars and told the guard at 199, itself a bungalow, that he and his colleagues were from the income-tax (I-T) department. The guard, obviously flustered—a visit from the taxman isn’t a daily affair, and definitely not in St Mary’s Road—alerted the inmates of the house over the intercom and let the tax officials in.

The house belonged to A.M. Arun, founder of Vasan Healthcare Pvt. Ltd, one of India’s best known eyecare hospital chains.

Arun’s son, Yudish, 18, opened the door, as his father walked down the stairs from the first floor.

“Dr. Arun, we are from the income-tax office,” said a man flashing his ID card.

“Fine sir,” said Arun, 47, who has the habit of calling almost everyone sir.

“We have come for a search operation.”

“Fine sir. We will cooperate.”

In all, 10 officials entered the bungalow, men and women. And they began looking—for cash, jewellery, land records, property holdings, bank documents or any incriminating document that would suggest suppressed or undisclosed income. For the next 10 hours, the officers searched and took copious notes, picking up documents every once in a while and asking questions. They looked everywhere—inside the cupboards, inside suitcases, under the bed, feeling the inside of mattresses, in the kitchen cabinets… everywhere—turning the house upside down.

At 10am, another joint team of seven I-T and directorate of enforcement officials landed up at Vasan Healthcare’s office in Mylapore, Chennai. They stayed longer—one-and-a-half days.

The news spread fast. Almost everyone started connecting the dots like they always do, eager to unearth conspiracies that may or may not exist—friendship with a politician, black money, tax evasion, unlawful gains.

After all, Vasan Healthcare had imploded—losses, a mountain of debt, court cases to wind up the company and pending dues to suppliers.

The issue had been simmering for a while. Allegations had been aired of Arun’s closeness to Karti Chidambaram, son of former Union minister of finance P. Chidambaram. Of Karti having used Vasan Healthcare to launder black money.

A few months before the raid, in September, in a series of articles in The New Indian Express, S Gurumurthy, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue and Chennai-based chartered accountant, alleged that Chidambaram received black money through Vasan, which he and his son owned through front companies, specifically Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt. Ltd (more on this later). In August, a notice from the I-T department had arrived at Arun’s father-in-law V. Dwarakanathan’s house and another at Vasan’s headquarters.
A.M. Arun, founder of Vasan Healthcare. Photo: Sharp Image/Mint

Chidambaram issued a statement of denial in response to the allegations.

He said: “Let me say clearly that the entire report is false, malicious and part of a political campaign against members of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government or individuals belonging to the Congress party.

“Neither I, my son nor any member of my family have any equity or investment or economic interest in the company concerned.”

He added: “I would like to say through this statement that the media must be responsible and truthful. Carrying false and malicious reports without independent verification will certainly attract the provisions of law and I shall not hesitate to place the matter in the hands of my lawyers to take appropriate action under law.”

And then came the December operation by the tax department which Chidambaram described as a “malicious onslaught” by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the centre.

In Chennai, talk about the raids ranged from the generous, “Arun may have done it” to the harsh, ‘Of course, he is guilty”.

What actually happened at Vasan is an extraordinary story. This is that story. Of how Vasan Healthcare, once a unicorn and darling of the healthcare industry, a jewel in the crown of marquee venture capital (VC) funds Sequoia Capital India Advisors Pvt. Ltd and GIC Pte. Ltd (formerly Government of Singapore Investment Corporation) fell from grace.

This is the story of a company’s lust for growth and valuation, which took precedence over any sort of financial discipline—all of it exacerbated by a board that allowed the problems to fester for years. This is the story of an entrepreneur who micromanaged everything. It is also the story of collateral damage when entrepreneurs cosy up to politicians and, when the tide runs out, are caught in the cross fire of political vendetta.

Alagappan, who was on Vasan’s board till August 2015, had first cautioned Arun to stop at 125 centres. Photo: Sharp Image/Mint

Above all, this is a cautionary tale.

This story is based on several accounts from people who have known Arun, or have been associated with Vasan. A few agreed to speak on record, including Arun himself and M.A. Alagappan, former executive chairman of the Murugappa Group, who was on the board of Vasan till August 2015. But many requested not to be identified, considering the I-T and directorate of enforcement investigation into the company’s affairs.

Mint reached out to Karti Chidambaram. In a text message he said: “I have no comments to make on speculations. I am neither a shareholder nor a director of the company.”

Even as Arun’s troubles with the I-T department started, he kept his investors, both Sequoia and GIC, in the dark.


The worst is behind us now, says Vasan Eye Care’s AM Arun

In an emailed response to a detailed set of questions, Sequoia said: “Sequoia Capital India has been closely following recent developments regarding Vasan Healthcare. These developments include allegations of wrongdoing by Vasan Healthcare and a related governmental investigation. Investment funds associated with Sequoia Capital India hold a minority interest in Vasan Healthcare and have always advocated that Vasan Healthcare operate entirely within the law. 

Previously, VT Bharadwaj, a Managing Director of Sequoia Capital India Advisors Private Limited, served as Sequoia Capital India’s designee on the Vasan Healthcare Board of Directors. During his tenure on the Board, he demanded that management of Vasan Healthcare conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations. 

Sequoia Capital India fully supports the related governmental investigation, has adopted a policy of full compliance with that investigation, and has dutifully responded to governmental inquiries received to date.”

Bharadwaj resigned from the board of Vasan in November last year. In a strongly worded letter, he chided Arun for not keeping the investors in the loop when the company received summons, for significant delays in filing the company’s audited financials and for failure to clear its dues with vendors, among several issues. “The conduct of the company and the concerned officials in handling this issue clearly lacked in meeting the requisite corporate governance norms,” he said. Mint has seen a copy of the letter sent on 18 November.

GIC did not respond to a detailed questionnaire sent on 6 January. Arjun Gupta, head of portfolio and head of consumer and healthcare at GIC, did not respond to an e-mail sent to him. Gupta resigned from the Vasan’s board in November. Highlighting similar issues as Bharadwaj did, Gupta wrote in his resignation letter: “My well-earned reputation in the market developed with a lot of hard work and commitment on my part, has been put at risk by the Company and I have been exposed to unwanted letters/ communications from third parties and press in the capacity of a director of the Company.” Mint has seen a copy of the letter sent on 23 November.

To understand the Vasan story, one has to travel back in time to 2008, when Sequoia discovered a tiny bootstrapped start-up in Trichy, led by a gregarious, grassroots entrepreneur.

The McDonald’s of healthcare

The business case for an eyecare hospital is excellent. All human beings need to take good, proper care of their eyes. With age, more so. Be it surgery for cataracts or eye diseases, eyesight correction or plain vanilla spectacles, vision is of paramount importance. A World Health Organization report published in 2012 stated that India has an estimated 12 million blind people and an additional 456 million people who require vision correction. In 2008, single specialty healthcare in India was estimated to be an $80 billion market. Almost all of it virgin territory, thanks to the lack of public or private hospitals.

Except, Vasan Healthcare was in the thick of it.

How it got there can only be called an example of serendipity. In its earlier avatar, Vasan ran pharmacies and multi-specialty centres where it conducted lab tests, such as ultrasound and endoscopy. Businesses which Arun dabbled in after inheriting a chain of pharmacy stores from his father A. Murugiah, who died when Arun was just 19 years old, in 1988.

Vasan started out as Vasan Medical Hall, a pharmacy store, in 1947 in Trichy. In 2002, the company entered into a technical collaboration with Dr. Agarwal’s Eye Hospital, a renowned eye clinic in Chennai that was set up in 1994. The collaboration resulted in an eyecare hospital in Trichy. Soon enough though, Arun figured that it was the eyecare business that excited him the most and the one with the brighter future. So he started expanding it, opening more centres.

In the next six years, Vasan set up seven new centres. In March 2007, the company entered Chennai, the home turf of Dr. Agarwal, by acquiring Prem’s Eye Clinic (a premier eye clinic) for Rs.3.5 crore. 

Arun convinced K. Premraj, the founder of Prem’s Eye Clinic, to come on board as chief mentor. He did. By March 2008, Vasan had clocked revenue of Rs.45 crore, with a network of 14 centres, almost all of them in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. That’s when Sequoia Capital came calling.

The VC firm was impressed.

Existing eyecare use case: check.

Daycare model, with low capital investment, no need for beds and lavish infrastructure: check.

Non-real estate model: check.

High margin in eye surgeries: check.

High margin in selling spectacles and lens: check.

Good doctors such as Premraj: check.

Bootstrapped start-up: check.

Grassroots entrepreneur with a real back story: check.

What was not to like?

Eyecare hospitals are of three types—tertiary (large centre, takes about Rs.8-10 crore to set up), secondary (medium sized centre, takes about Rs.4-5 crore to set up) and primary (small centre, takes about Rs.1-3 crore to set up). All centres can do cataract operations. All of them sell spectacles and lenses, the so-called optical business. Complicated surgeries go to secondary and tertiary centres. Margins on the smallest to the most difficult surgeries and the optical business is anywhere between 30% and 50%.
Sequoia’s Bharadwaj, in a letter sent on 18 November 2015, chided Arun for not keeping investors in the loop.

A simple cataract operation on one eye costs about Rs.18,000. Purely at an Ebitda (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) level, a hospital can make about Rs.5,000 per eye for a surgery. 

For 10 cataract surgeries, every day of the year, for one eye: Rs.1.8 crore. For 50 surgeries every day of the year, for one eye: Rs.9.1 crore. Bottom-line: 50 patients walking into an eyecare hospital every day is a good number.

In September 2008, Sequoia initiated due diligence. It brought in Grant Thornton to audit the books, Amarchand Mangaldas for legal and Ernst & Young for commercial diligence. At the same time, it commissioned a consumer survey to understand the demand for eyecare and Vasan’s perception in the market.

As part of the exercise, Sequoia also carried out a KYC (know your customer) check on large shareholders in Vasan. 

The name Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt. Ltd cropped up—promoted by an individual named Chinnabala Nageswara Reddy and two other directors (Ravi Visvanathan and Padma Visvanathan), the firm held a 5% stake in the company. Their association with Vasan went back a few years to when Arun was running the pharmacy business.

No red flags were raised. Everything checked out fine; Sequoia was excited by the business model and the entrepreneur. After due diligence, which lasted about four months, in February 2009, the firm invested Rs.50 crore in Vasan Healthcare. Sequoia’s Bharadwaj was named to the board.

Inside Vasan, the mood was jubilant. While ambitious, Arun, even in his wildest dreams, hadn’t fathomed that a marquee VC firm like Sequoia would invest in his company. With Rs.50 crore on the table, he now started dreaming big. The top team at Vasan went on an off-site to Yercaud, a hill station in Tamil Nadu, to strategize and plan. There, they decided to expand to 100 centres by 2015. We can do this, was the conclusion. Let’s build the McDonald’s of healthcare in India.

Whatever could go wrong? Part 1

With every centre that Vasan added, Sequoia’s appetite for the company grew. In 2009 alone, the company grew at a frenetic pace to add 28 new centres. It expanded to Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and started going deeper in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In February 2010, WestBridge Capital India Advisors Pvt. Ltd (formerly part of Sequoia) invested Rs.50 crore in Vasan. K.P. Balaraj of WestBridge was named to the board.

By March 2010, Vasan’s revenue grew to Rs.158 crore (compared with Rs.95 crore in March 2009). The company recorded a handsome Ebitda of Rs.54 crore. Profit after tax (PAT) was Rs.25.6 crore.

A few months later, in October 2010, Sequoia reached out to Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt. Ltd to buy out its equity stake in the company. Advantage wasn’t interested. After a few rounds of negotiations, Advantage sold a partial stake (30,000 of the 150,000 shares it held in the company) to Sequoia at Rs.7,500 per share—a significant premium, considering that Advantage had acquired the shares atRs.100 each.

Vasan was doing well. Unlike other eyecare hospitals, it helped that Vasan invested in marketing, most importantly a sustained television campaign. Patients started flocking to its centres. 

For instance, on the first day that Vasan opened a centre in Ramanathapuram (Tamil Nadu) and Thalassery (Kerala), more than 100 patients showed up. People had heard of Vasan from their relatives in the big cities, or seen the TV ads. 

Centres in Dindigul and Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu and Thalassery in Kerala reached Ebitda break-even in just two months of opening. It was a similar story for the other centres, most of them registering an Ebitda break-even in less than a year.

For Arun, this was a significant validation of his business model. It is another matter altogether that instead of being content, he started fretting.

That’s because 2010 was the year that VC firms discovered the theme and potential of single specialty hospitals. So they started putting money in eyecare. 

New Delhi-based Centre for Sight raised funding from Matrix Partners. Eye-Q Vision received funding from Helion Venture Partners and Nexus Venture Partners. Watching from the sidelines, Arun was concerned that if he left the North India territory open for competitors, it would be a setback for Vasan. He wanted to grow and go after his competitors.

At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do, because Vasan’s aggressive growth had played out well. In March 2011, Vasan’s revenue doubled to Rs.310 crore. Ebitda, too, grew 2X to Rs.96 crore. PAT was Rs.37 crore. 

Arun also strengthened the composition of the board of the company by bringing in Alagappan. Alagappan picked up a small stake by investing Rs.2 crore and was happy to be Arun’s sounding board.

In Arun’s mind, the logic for expanding to the rest of the country was simple. Once a Vasan centre was opened, patients would come. The network would grow. The brand would grow. The revenue would grow. And valuation would increase and everyone would make money.

What could go wrong? he reasoned.

The investment from WestBridge and the company’s Ebitda only increased Arun’s confidence. The target of 100 centres was within reach. He wanted to get there as quickly as possible. In October 2011, Vasan entered east India, opening two flagship centres at Salt Lake City and Howrah in Kolkata.

On the day of inauguration of the branch at Salt Lake City, all of three patients walked in.

Vasan started advertising in newspapers: “Doctors from Chennai are coming to your city”. The number went up for a few days and then dwindled. The company invested in marketing once again. Another round of TV campaigns were aired. Real patients, real stories. “I am happy with Vasan.”

Even as all this was happening, Arun and the existing investors started wondering if the theme of single specialty hospitals would play out in other fields, such as dentistry. Arun and Premraj took it upon themselves to prove that it would. Almost immediately, a plan was drawn up to open Vasan dental hospitals. Not one but 11 of them. And so, even as Vasan was entering new territories, it entered a completely different line of business.

But there was only so much cash available. To bridge the shortage in capital, Vasan started borrowing—mostly short-term loans from banks and non-banking financial institutions. For every loan, Arun pledged his properties as collateral. In his mind, he was confident of coming good on the repayment, thanks to the quick Ebitda break-even of his new centres.

As 2011 was drawing to a close, the mood inside Vasan was celebratory. At its corporate headquarters, a cake was cut for the opening of every new centre. On 26 December 2011, the then Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, inaugurated Vasan’s 100th eyecare centre at Karaikudi in Tamil Nadu.

Doctors from Chennai travelled to every new centre to conduct the first surgery. Arun himself would be on calls with his operations team in the field almost all the time, working late into the night. It was around this time that Vasan found interest from another marquee investor.

Enter GIC.

Whatever could go wrong? Part II

By March 2012, Vasan had grown into a giant in the eyecare business. That year, it recorded revenue of Rs.451 crore, Ebitda of Rs.79 crore, and PAT of Rs.9.5 crore. That was 4X growth in revenue in just three years. It had a network of 103 eye hospitals and 27 dental centres.

GIC was excited to come on board. And it wanted to invest $100 million (aroundRs.500 crore then). Not a penny less.

Vasan went to town with the news. The press lapped up the story. At the time, $100 million was the largest private equity investment in healthcare. Arun and Vasan Healthcare became the toast of the town. After one interaction with Arun, Michael Moritz, the legendary investor and chairman of Sequoia Capital, called him “a tornado of energy”.

Less than 10% of GIC’s investment finally came into Vasan itself. Both Sequoia and Arun saw GIC’s investment as an opportunity to make some money. For themselves. Both did a secondary sale, selling their shares to GIC. No fresh shares were issued. Sequoia and Arun pocketed Rs.170 crore each. A few top officials and doctors, who had equity stock options, also cashed out. Of GIC’s Rs.500 crore investment, only Rs.90 crore made its way into Vasan. And Arjun Gupta of GIC was named to the board.

One explanation for this is that the board didn’t want to say no to GIC but also realized that Vasan didn’t need $100 million.

Arun’s appetite for growth now knew no bounds. He had a fascination for numerology—he wanted to open 11 new centers on 11 November 2011 (11/11/11). When that didn’t happen, he opened 11 new centres on 11 November 2012.

Life at the top at Vasan had become increasingly stressful. Premraj, who turned 60 and was in the habit of flying to every new centre to conduct the first surgery, started feeling that he was getting too old for that life. “My stomach was full,” he said. “I had worked for 35 years, my children were settled abroad, so when I turned 60, I could feel my age. My body couldn’t take the travel anymore, going to distant centres, staying there for four or five days, it was getting very tiring. So I decided to retire.”

Initially Arun resisted, asking Premraj to hang on for some time but in January 2013, Premraj moved to Coimbatore.

Meanwhile, Vasan kept growing. In the period between March 2012 and March 2013, the company added 40 new eyecare centres, expanding to Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The company also went international, opening centres in West Asia (Dubai and Abu Dhabi) and Sri Lanka. By March 2013, Vasan had grown to a total of 170 centres. With very little equity capital at hand (and this is where the GIC investment would have helped, had it come to the company), Vasan was relying almost entirely on debt to fund the expansion. As of March 2013, Vasan’s debt ballooned to almost Rs.800 crore.

It was then that Alagappan cautioned Arun for the second time. He had first cautioned Arun to stop at 125 centres, but Arun had persisted. At 170, the board put its foot down. No more.

“I only wish Arun had taken my advice,” said Alagappan. “I first told him to stop at 125 but he didn’t adhere to my advice. I told him not to go abroad till the domestic market was settled because then everybody’s concentration in the company would be on the overseas markets. I’d seen that in my experience with companies. To a large extent he took my observations in this matter but as a first-generation entrepreneur, Arun saw the valuation and he wanted to grow further. I told him, at least stop at 148 but before I could say Jack, it went to 175.”

Even as all this was happening, investors started getting the feeling that Vasan had a much graver challenge than debt. Its centres in the north, east and west were taking a much longer time to break even. Quite a few had been around for a year and they were far from being Ebitda-profitable. The investors dug deeper and realized that most of the new centres had been built at a far higher cost compared with the centres in south India. The cost of rentals, cost of putting up the furniture and decor (standard Vasan look and feel) was far higher, even as fewer patients were coming in.

To make things worse, Vasan’s centres in south India, especially in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, had started cannibalizing each other.

The board took up the matter with Arun. Perhaps the market in south India was saturated, it told him. Too many players, too many centres. Arun’s response: far from it. Give it time. All centres will break even, it’s just a matter of some time, he argued.

As of March 2014, Vasan’s revenue grew to Rs.728 crore. Ebitda was Rs.131 crore. But the company made a loss of Rs.50.3 crore. And it had debt of Rs.1,200 crore.

It had 200 centres.

The alarm bells were going off.

‘I made a mistake’

It is 11 January 2016. We’ve been waiting for Arun for over two hours now at Vasan Healthcare’s corporate office in Chennai. As the hours have passed, we’ve moved—in sync with his schedule of arrival—from the reception to inside the office to outside the chairman’s cabin and finally at around 7:30pm, inside the chairman’s office.

The room is freezing, white and has a curious decor combining contemporary furniture and gods and goddesses.

There are Stanley white leather sofas at one end, a Bang & Olufsen television hanging from the ceiling above it and a Piguet wall clock next to it. Bang opposite the sofa is the chairman’s large working table. On it are several random knick-knacks, pens, paper notes, a Montblanc watch, a Mac desktop on the left and two stacks of business and leisure magazines on the far right. Just behind the chairman’s chair, the wall is adorned with pictures of all sorts and forms of gods and goddesses—Shiva, Lakshmi, Ganesha, Murugan, Shirdi Sai Baba and many more. On the right is a bookcase filled with books : Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father, Jugaad Innovation, The Secret to Winning Big, Unlimited Power, Winning by Jack Welch,Business @ The Speed of Thought by Bill Gates, The Pocket Oxford English Dictionary, Good to Great by Jim Collins and several others.

At 7:40pm, Arun walks in. He is dressed in a white shirt, beige corduroy trousers and brown loafers.

White is a colour the man likes. He usually wears white shirts and white trousers.

“Sorry, I’m late. There was just too much traffic. I was thinking of going home but then I knew you would be waiting. So I came here just for you.”

No. No problem. Not at all. Thanks for taking the time.

“Have you had something to eat? Drink?”

Yeah. We had coffee.

(Rings a bell. His assistant comes in.)

“Coffee? Tea? Juice, you want juice? Garlic bread? Yes. Get them some garlic bread.”

(The assistant leaves)

“Now, what story are you writing?”

What happened at Vasan? You know, it was a unicorn, valued at more than $1 billion and it all went wrong…

“See, nothing went wrong. There was a turbulence of cash flow. (It was a) temporary issue. I made a mistake. But anybody can make a mistake. We expanded rapidly. In 2012, we were in four states with 100 centres. In 2014, we were in 19 states with 200 centres. There was expansion and cash loss; how can you sustain the business? How can you support 200 centres? I don’t mean to say this but even God cannot create what we did in such a short time.”

Whatever could go wrong? Part III

By mid-2014, it was clear that Vasan needed intervention. At Rs.1,200 crore, the debt was too high. It had started affecting the company. So much so that Arun was spending almost all his time juggling finances and fire-fighting on repayments. In May 2014, the board decided to do something about it and arrived at a decision to go for a rights issue. Arun put in Rs.170 crore, Sequoia Rs.80 crore and GIC Rs.100 crore. Vasan Healthcare was valued at Rs.3,000 crore.

The investors had a simple plan in mind. Along with Arun, they would take the money and sit across the table with Corporation Bank and retire a huge loan ofRs.180 crore. In return, Corporation Bank would release a clutch of Arun’s property (worth Rs.150-odd crore), which it had held as collateral. Arun would then sell the property and invest the money back in Vasan. Simple enough.

What actually happened is this. Corporation Bank said no. Vasan had a working capital loan running with the bank, so just to be sure that everything was in order, the bank would continue to hold the property as collateral.

Even as all this was happening, Vasan started getting suitors from the healthcare sector across the world—specifically Malaysian conglomerate Sime Darby Group and South African hospital chain Netcare. Both were interested in picking up a large stake in Vasan, valuing the company at more than $1 billion. To the tune of almost Rs.7,000 crore. A unicorn. Newspapers caught a whiff of the deal and started reporting on the impending transaction. The Economic Times reported on 28 July 2014, quoting people with knowledge of the matter, that around 51% would be sold, with the promoter also selling a part of his stake. Talks progressed, especially with Netcare, but then it all came to a standstill on a simple point.

There was no balance sheet.

What are the numbers? And where are they?

This is at the crux of Vasan’s implosion. Vasan grew from 14 to 200 centres in just three years of operations, but there were no financial controls. At the board level, there was no concept of plans, budgets and approvals. Whatever Arun would present would sail through. If not, he would cajole his way through. If there was a variance in the amount that had been spent, no red flags were raised. The board believed that Vasan was a growth company, a start-up, and convinced itself that adding controls would hinder growth. Their logic: after all, it is a promoter-driven company.

In its simplest form, what is financial control? It is delegation of decision making to spend money and be accountable for it if something goes awry. 

At Vasan, there was only one person who called the shots—Arun. In the three years of unhindered growth, he micro-managed everything, from operations to finance to marketing. That level of micro-management reflected in the organization. In three years, Vasan had failed to implement SAP, or Systems Applications Products, an enterprise software system. 

There was too much cash floating in the system—sometimes dues to vendors and doctors were settled in cash. To add to it, Vasan had failed to deposit with the government tax deducted at source (TDS) of Rs.19.22 crore that it had deducted from the salaries of its employees in 2012.

And then there was the far bigger problem of Arun—whenever he was running short of money, he would borrow and put it in the company.

“There were a lot of transactions between Arun and the company,” said Alagappan. “He had invested a lot of his own money. He was borrowing outside and putting it in the company. Then money was going back to him, going in dribs and drabs. That is why getting the balance sheet out took time. The auditors became much more cagey. If he had got the balance sheet out on time then the current problem would not have arisen.”

In the second half of 2014, board meetings of Vasan became infrequent and moved from the company’s headquarters to the Taj hotel. In the meetings, it was evident that Arun’s entire focus was on making repayments for loans, juggling supplier payments, re-negotiating loans and getting the balance sheet out. The more time it took, the more jittery investors became. By the end of 2014, it became clear that there would be no external investment.

Almost everyone could see the writing on the wall. Vasan was headed for a free fall.

What’s bad must only get worse

As 2015 began, Vasan was taken to court on its TDS default. For about a month, its bank accounts were frozen. Cheques that the company had issued to vendors bounced. Everybody was spooked and started reaching out to the company. First, the emails went unanswered. Then the calls were ignored. Finally, left with no option, suppliers and landlords started dropping by at Vasan’s headquarters to collect their dues. 

When Arun was not reachable—and he was never available in early 2015—suppliers started calling the investors. From as little as Rs.25 lakhs toRs.200 crore, money was due to a lot of people—landlords, equipment manufacturers, those who had supplied frames and medicines.

At Vasan’s headquarters, a lucky few vendors got their money. Most others received empty assurances and post-dated cheques. A few thought of suing the company but then dropped the idea, considering the legal costs involved. Some did eventually take the company to court.

Even as all this was happening, a few mezzanine funds approached Vasan. They were attracted by the company’s Ebitda profits and mooted the idea of retiring the company’s debt in return for a 22-23% return on investment and a little equity. 

Arcus Capital was one of the funds that initiated due diligence for such a deal. It brought in Deloitte India to carry out a complete commercial audit. But yet again, this proved to be a non-starter.

A balance sheet is the first port of call for any investment and at Vasan, even till February 2015, there was no sign of the balance sheet for the year ended 31 March 2014.

By this time, Vasan had run out of options. Most banks in Chennai had already loaned it money. The company had retired more than Rs.400 crore of debt, thanks to the rights issue, but its debt was still too high. So were the dues to suppliers. It was only a matter of time before board members started resigning.

In Chennai, Vasan’s implosion became a subject of intense gossip. Whatever happened at Vasan?

In September 2015, Gurumurthy wrote a series of articles on Vasan in the New Indian Express, alleging that Vasan was actually a conduit for routing money to former finance minister Chidambaram and his family and that it was partly owned by Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt. Ltd—which in turn was owned by Ausbridge Holdings and Investments Pvt. Ltd, a company where Karti Chidambaram was a director.

Mint looked into the antecedents of Advantage and Ausbridge. According to Registrar of Companies filings, on 25 March 2011, Ausbridge Holdings bought 200,000 shares (amounting to a 66% equity stake) in Advantage Strategic. According to a May 2012 report in the Economic Times on the business interests of Karti Chidambaram, he was a director at Ausbridge at the time. He is no more a director at the company and it is not known when he quit.

Advantage Strategic did not respond to an email with a detailed set of questions sent on 6 January. Ravi Visvanathan, the director of the company, declined to comment.

‘I have done no wrong’

We have been chatting with Arun for a while. It is past 8pm at Vasan’s office, which is now deserted except for Arun’s assistant and one supplier still waiting in the board room to negotiate payment of his dues. Arun is doing most of the talking.

He believes he can come out of the hole that, ironically, he himself dug.

The problem was caused by expansion, the funding of the expansion and a miscalculation on when the new centres would break even, he explained.

“In 2012 March, when GIC invested Rs.500 crore, the company was present only in south India, in four states. We had 103 clinics in four states. The revenue run rate per month when GIC invested was Rs.57 crore in four states. In 2013-14, in just two years, we added 100 clinics across 15 new states. Money was spent in marketing, capital expenses in putting the hospital, interest of the loans, repayment of term loans—you can’t do that by magic. Where there was a mismatch was we thought clinics would break even like south India. We had to fund the cash loss, fund the loans which we had taken for the older clinics and the newer ones.”

Things will get better, he promised.

He must believe that, because he has restarted coming to the office regularly.

“I have tasted all rough weather, have understood the strength of my business. We have learnt what to do, what not to do,” he says.

Among the dos, he rattles off financial reporting, governance, professional management system, building a team where the leaders can take decisions, people empowered to execute the passion of the founder.

Among the don’ts: no micro-managing. “If I do everything myself, it gets diluted. It becomes too many things, it doesn’t work.”

His plan is to downsize 35 centres, address the cash-flow mismatch, improve the quality of financial reporting, and get back on track. There’s still about Rs.450 crore of debt, Rs.140 crore due to suppliers (which don’t include Vasan’s past dues to two of its largest suppliers—Essilor and Alcon India. Right now, Vasan is working on a cash-and-carry arrangement with them, making weekly or monthly payments).

Then, there are the investigations by the tax department and the enforcement directorate. The investigation is on and Arun has been visiting the I-T office almost twice every week. When Mint reached out to an official at the I-T department, he refused comment on the status of the investigation.

Arun thinks he can handle these too. “I have done no wrong,” he says.

“Going forward I think I am in the best of my times.”

Tarun Shukla in New Delhi contributed to this story.

Ashish K. MishraS. Bridget Leena