Monday, July 28, 2008

For the majority.....

This one is an aside, about as far as you can get from this blog's theme as I can get. Heck, the subject of the pageant is miles from Trivandrum. But, like I have said before on a few occasions, some things cannot be left unsaid.

Given what makes for the term "entertainment" on the Malayalam satellite channel universe, I was unusually affected as I was watching the telecast of the Miss Kerala pageant. Unusual, because it is pretty difficult to be moved by the mix of belaboured reality shows, never-ending serials and other miscellaneous ragtag which make up our viewing bouquet these days and because, while my view of beauty paegaents is not as colorful as Shri Thevalliparambil Joseph Alex I.A.S., I don't hold them in high esteem for anything other than aesthetic interest.

One reason is because the concept of "beauty" projected by most of these competitions seems to be skewed towards a small percentage of the population. That 1% of the populace which is female and borders on the verge of anorexia. And I don't say that just because I tip the scales a little bit too much, lol! Let's face it, most of us are not extremely thin or very tall. It is understandable that there should be some aspirational value to the models who don the latest in fashion. Whether many people would aspire to be so lean as to have their ribs visible enough for easy counting is another matter. My basic idea is that clothes are designed to be produced, those produced are made to be sold and the vast majority of clothes sold are to normal people. So why not have them modeled by some normal people, after all I would like to see how a new style of jeans would look on someone with a 38" waistline not just on 28" (ouch!) men?

The upshot of this edition of Miss Kerala was that one of the contestants did not fit the stereotype of a "model" which all of the others were trying to jostle into. Tina Mathew was a pretty Central Travancorean lass who was a lot more about feminine curves than her co-contestants and was damn proud of that fact.

It took me and my better half a few seconds to even comprehend the fact that Tina wasn't skinny, umpteen previous contests had drilled that compulsion into our heads. And what was very impressive, pleasantly so, was that Tina managed to carry it off in style - without liberal doses of the West Yorkshire/North Houston accented malayalam/english common on TV these days or teeny-weeny outfits characteristic of beauty contests. In one of the rounds she was asked a rather spiky question, which went along the lines of asking how she felt about being a non-stereotypical model in a very one-alley world. Tina replied that she felt that the vast majority of women had more to do with curves than with straight lines, and that women should be confident about being feminine. Then came the clincher, Tina politely said that if more women followed her example, all the contestants in the 2009 edition would be full-figured young women! The two of us couldn't help but give a standing ovation to that although we were pretty sure that the esteemed judges would never hand her the crown. Tina didn't win in the end, although she won the Miss Congeniality title as a sort of consolation. That recognition is a pretty good sign that apart from being the cutest of the lot - as attested to by fine-eyed better half - she was probably the gutsiest and nicest girl too. Yet she didn't win.

Tina may not have been crowned, she did send an important message out, one I hope a lot of people did not miss. It is simple, we should never forget what the ultimate aim is. Creating a disconnect from the real audience, the billions with the real-world figures, will kill the market. There will be some novelty value for a while, but interest will wane in things which are not relevant, all said and done. Like any other industry, the clothing sector too has to adapt to changing demographics. The Versaces and Guccis of the world will be forced to cater to the ever-expanding middle class whose wealth has now become too important to ignore.

A different angle to the same topic came up around in the fierce discussion around a BBC programme on Disabled Models which asked if beautiful women who suffer from disabilities should be denied a modeling career? More than the question about real-figured women, this particular debate comes closer to questioning the meaning of beauty itself. A less subjective way of looking at is to question whether modeling or advertising as a whole should focus on the real customer or choose to remain in an abstract realm?

This year's pageant may have not have recognised Tina but soon it may be impossible to hold contests without bending to the pressure of people like her, you and me. In a world which hosts pageants for all sorts of things including cats and dogs, why not a competition for real people?!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Forest City - Sun Group offers $ 2.5 billion investment in Trivandrum

Forest City, one of the leading property development firms in the US, has offered to invest up to Rs. 10,000 Crore ($ 2.5 billion) in the IT/ITES and Biotechnology sectors in Trivandrum.

This was announced by Forest City Science & Technology Chairperson, Gayle Farris and Sun Group Chairman Nand Khemka when they met Chief Minister V.S Achuthanandan on Tuesday to brief him on the group's plans for Trivandrum. A consortium of the two companies has already launched a bid for the mammothRs 6000 Crore ($ 1.5 Billion) Technocity project.

Forest City has developed some of the most famous buildings in the US while Sun Group is one of the leading emerging market private equity firms in the world.

The consortium offered to develop a biotechnology park in Trivandrum and were interested in investing heavily in both projects. This could potentially be a major boost to the 250 acre Lifesciences Park being developed by KSIDC just 1 Km from the Technocity campus.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The hunt continues

Two Su-30 MKIs fire decoy flares as they thunder over the crowd's heads.

A Su-30 MKI wheels overhead as the two jets form a Combat Air Patrol over the beach.

Four SEPECAT Jaguars zoomed in, acting as offensive bombers. They were tempting Fate with the Sukhois patrolling overhead.

The deadly fighters peeled off in sharp turn to line the Jaguars for a kill, forcing the latter to flee the scene.

In true Top Gun style, the Sukhois showed off with a stunning fly-past.

Gunning their mighty engines, the Sukhois left with a thunderous roar.

You can catch the rest, I am posting at least 20 more, at this forum.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sukhoi hunts over Trivandrum

A thrilling part of the Air Show is the mock dog-fight between two Su-30 MKI fighters and four Jaguar supersonic fighter-bombers which try to launch a mock-attack on the Valiathura pier.

Real Top Gun stuff!

You can catch all the day's photos at this forum.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Air Show on July 19 and 20

An hour long Air Show is being organised as part of the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Southern Air Command, headquartered at Trivandrum. Sukhoi Su-30 MKIs, Jaguars, the Surya Kiran aerobatic team, precision parachutists and a host of other aircraft will take part in the Air Show whose highlight will be a mock-dogfight between the Sukhois and Jaguars over Shankhumugham Beach.

There will be a full rehearsal tomorrow at 2 PM and the actual Air-show at 10 AM on Sunday. The display happens over the Beach, so it is easily visible from there.

Don't miss it!

Here are a few pictures from today's rehearsal as a trailer - The Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team trying out their moves in the sky.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More about the Airport.... (Contd.)

Last time, we left off where the Airport is poised today with a brand new, world-class terminal to be finished in 2008 and a massive MRO facility to be operational in early-2009. So where does the Trivandrum International Airport go from here?

There are a number of plans in progress for the continued growth of India's fifth and one of its fastest growing International Airports. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has big plans for Trivandrum.

Further Terminal expansion

Phases I & II of the New Terminal will create nearly 350,000 sq.ft of space by end-2008/early-2009 with up to five aerobridges to handle a total of up to 8-10 international flights at a time. At this time, domestic operations will continue on the Beach side terminal complex, where the existing International terminal (T-2) will be taken over for domestic flights, providing much needed capacity.

The construction of Phases III & IV will commence once the 100-odd acres of land being acquired by the Govt. on the banks of the T.S. Canal are handed over to AAI. Progressively, about one million sq.ft. of space will come up in the expanded terminal which will eventually take over domestic operations as well.

At this time, the Beach side complex would be completely decommissioned and razed to the ground.

The question of how this space would be utilised is open. Some of the possible options include:

- Using the area for construction additional terminal space for future expansion of the Airport. But this would mean that the new terminals would be as circuitous to reach as the current terminals, unless something path-breaking - like a road tunnel under the main runway - is built.

- The area can be handed over to the Indian Air Force/Coast Guard. Trivandrum's strategic importance is increasing by the day with the coming of massive developments like the Vizhinjam Port, Aerospace Command and defence manufacturing units like Brahmos. The Air Force is increasing its presence in the South to extend its reach over the Indian Ocean where China is trying to exert its influence. (This has become a burning topic, enough to spark wide coverage in the global media like this or this.) With the Southern Air Command headquartered in Trivandrum, the IAF would surely love to have more space to park a few long-range Mirage 2000 or Su-30 MKI strike aircraft here. The flip side is that an expanded military presence could hinder civilian operations.

- A new Cargo Terminal and/or Refuelling Hub can be setup.
With its strategic location at the tip of India and on major international air routes, Trivandrum is possibly the best choice for an international air cargo hub in India. India's largest and deepest container transshipment port coming up just 15 Kms from the Airport is a big boost to this concept. Airports like Memphis International, Hong Kong or Anchorage. India's rapidly growing trade with South-East Asia, China and the US will help boost the cargo traffic. Another business opportunity is to have a re-fueling hub at Trivandrum to cater to the hundreds of aircraft which pass overhead daily, most of which today refuel at Singapore by making a costly deviation from their flight paths. However, this will necessitate the lowering of duties on jet fuel to make it attractive for international airlines to refuel here. The main spin-off will be the massive increase in international connectivity due to the flights which land here for fuel.

- Use the space for non-aeronautical uses. The demolition of the existing Terminals - T-1 and T-2 - will leave nearly 50 acres of prime land open for redevelopment. Possible uses could include an IT/ITES park, hotels and/or a R&D - manufacturing facility for the aerospace industry. The space could be developed on a PPP basis with private developers building and operating the facility while AAI gets a share of the revenue.

A New Airport

Eventually, in perhaps less than 10 years' time, the current airport will become saturated as its metro brethren have already become. Even by acquiring small additional parcels of land, TIA may not be able to meet the demands of a metropolitan city with over 200,000 IT professionals alone. The final bottleneck could be the runway itself. Bounded in by the sea, waterways, roads and the railway line, there is almost no chance of building a second runway in TIA (I say "almost no" instead of just plain "no chance" because of mind-blowing engineering feats like this.)

The only real solution to accomodate the ever increasing traffic would be to build a brand-new airport away from the city. Not too far away of course, as Bangalore and Hyderabad are learning to their expense, but outside the urban area. A location close to Attingal or slightly beyond will be ideal, in terms of availability of space and the land cost. Just 10 Kms from the periphery of the city and 25 Kms from the city centre, the new Trivandrum International Airport will be easy to access, especially if a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) or Light Rail (LRT)route is put in place along with the existing NH-47. The new Airport will also be closer to Kollam and Pathanamthitta districts and will also have connectivity via the M.C. Road. And once the proposed highway to Thirunelveli via Ambasamudram is complete, it can also be accessed from the neighbouring districts of Tamilnadu in 2-3 hours.

The new International Airport ideally should be setup on at least 1500 acres of land so as to future proof it against further land acquisition. This should be sufficient to accomodate two runways and up to 3 million sq.ft. of terminal space, a full-fledged cargo terminal as well as extensive aircraft parking and refueling facilities. The Airport will also house an expanded MRO facility, shifted from the existing Airport. This new TIA will be able to handle the 10-15 million passengers who would pass through by 2020 or so, when the traffic will level off after the rapid expansion due to mega-projects like Technocity, Vizhinjam and the proposed Information Technology Investment Region (ITIR).

For one instant, we are left doubting where the money for all this will come from, after all we are not talking about a metro airport here. The answer is evident enough, from 600-odd acres of prime real estate - the site of the existing airport. Once the New Airport is commissioned, the existing one can be progressively shut down, demolished and handed over for redevelopment. The worst case is that some space will have to retained for military operations, even then there will be atleast 200-300 acres of land available to build offices, homes, malls and more. On a PPP basis, the revenue from the redevelopment of the land can be used to fund the New Airport's initial costs. Any developer will jump at the chance to develop land worth thousands of crores in exchange for paying a premium to AAI or the Govt.

Going a step further, the New Airport can be integrated with the ITIR to create an Aerotropolis (Read more about it here.). This is a city centred on a major airport, whose main businesses are related to aeronautical activities or directly dependent on them. With over 20 million sq.ft of IT space and aerospace industries like the new campus of Brahmos Aerospace and ISRO right next door, an aerotropolis is an excellent idea.

After the IT-led expansion which we are seeing now and which is likely to take us till about 2020, the next wave of expansion for Trivandrum in the North could be led by a new Airport. Let's look forward to a future where not even the sky can be a limit!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Nine firms in the race for Technocity

After the Pre-Qualification documents were submitted on June 30th, for Kerala's largest IT project, it has emerged that nine major firms have bid for the massive project. They are:

1. Emaar MGF - a joint-venture of Emaar Properties, the world's leading developer, and MGF Developments. On its own, Emaar MGF is one of India's biggest developers.

2. K.Raheja Corporation - one of India's leading developers and the builders of the iconic Mindspace IT parks.

3. Larsen & Toubro - India's biggest and most respected construction company which is behind other such iconic IT parks as HiTec City in Hyderabad and Tidel Park in Chennai.

4. Forest City is one of the leading developers in the US and is partnered by Sun Capital, a top investment bank and private equity firm.

5. Brigade Group is a leading builder in Bangalore.

6. SREI Group is one of India's top infrastructure development and financing firms.

7. Energy giant Suzlon's realty arm.

8. Maytas Infrastructure - is one of India's fast growing infrastructure development companies. It's a sister concern of software giant, Satyam.

9. Ramky Group is major player in infrastructure, property development and engineering.

An enviable collection of developers including the world's biggest and best have expressed their keen interest in developing Kerala's signature project. With a large number of bidders and a completely transparent global bidding system, Technocity is sure to see a lot of competition, which will ensure the best deal for the State of Kerala. Surely, the Government must be wishing that it had adopted this route earlier instead of preferentially allotting land to projects which are still dragging on and on and proving to be burdens to the State.

The qualification documents are due to be opened on Friday, following which they will be scrutinised by a high-level expert committee, before being sent to the State Cabinet for final clearance. The selected bidders will then compete in August for the grand prize, the Rs 8000 Crore Technocity. Stay tuned!

(For the complete Technocity story, from its inception in 2005 to the present day, please check out this forum which carries every last detail. Thanks!)