ASEAN-India FTA: Death knell for small farmers?  

Posted by Praveen in ,



As the issue of allowing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail trade is being widely debated for its pros and cons, here's a look at the Indo-ASEAN free trade agreement signed in 2009 and how it adversely affect Indian farmers(especially those in Kerala). Though the technicalities of FDI in retail are entirely different, some after effects are similar. 

Trade barriers are a thing of the past in a post liberalised world. As more and more trade treaties are signed, limitations which used to exist in trade between two countries have reduced to a large extent. The advocates of free trade project this as a win-win situation in which both the countries involved will benefit. But at the other side, the reduction in tariffs of agricultural and marine goods is bound to hit farmers and small and medium enterprises (SME) hard. 

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India signed the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods (TIG) Agreement in Bangkok on 13 August 2009. It paved the way for the creation of one of the world’s largest free trade areas consisting of 1.8 billion people and a combined GDP of US$ 2.8 trillion. 
One of the main features of the ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement (AIFTA) is the tariff reduction commitments which provides for a phased reduction of import duties on Indian and ASEAN member countries’ agricultural and non-agricultural goods between January 2010 and January 2016. The products are classified under 4 broad headings-Normal track, sensitive track, special products and exclusion list. For the products in the exclusion list, there is no tariff reduction. Excluding the products in this list, India has made commitments to reduce or eliminate tariffs for over 89% of all of its agriculture, marine and manufactured goods by 2016. 

India’s exclusion list contains some of its major agricultural products like coconut, cotton, dairy products, wheat, paddy/rice, sugarcane, apples, etc. But the presence of a product on the exclusion list does not guarantee protection from all competition. Local producers of the agricultural and other products listed in the list could face increased competition from imports of cheaper substitutes whose tariffs are being reduced under different tracks in the FTA.

Tariffs for many agricultural products which are included in the other lists will drop to zero by 2016. This will result in a drastic reduction in demand for local agricultural products. Under the safeguard provisions of the FTA, countries are allowed to raise tariffs in case of emergencies. But it cannot be above the levels stipulated in the Agreement. With tariffs dropping to zero for most products by 2016, this becomes meaningless. Therefore India’s commitments under AIFTA are likely to cause significant negative impact on livelihoods and food security across several segments of the rural population in the country.

South India, especially Kerala will be the most affected by this scenario because it shares a similar tropical agro climatic condition as South East Asia. Both regions cultivate the same kinds of crops. The marine fisheries resources are similar too. Natural rubber, coconut, tea, coffee, spices, cashew, and tropical fish varieties etc are common to both regions. 

The CPIM politburo in a statement released on the day that the FTA was signed said, “Eliminating the tariff in 80 percent goods traded between India and the ASEAN countries would be harmful for domestic industries, agriculture and fisheries, which have already been adversely affected by the economic slowdown. This would have an adverse impact on the economies of the states, particularly Kerala. The claim made by the government that excluding some items from the list of tariff concessions would address the sensitivities in agriculture and other sectors did not hold much water. The sharp cuts in import duties in the future would affect the livelihood of a very large number of people in the country”

But Union minister Vayalar Ravi disagreed with this view saying that, “This is far from the truth, because in today’s world none lives in isolation and the farmers can look forward to a positive future because of the agreement. This pact would enable our farmers to compete with the rest of the world and the central government would help them through proper policies and support”

Added to this scenario, some key products like black tea, coffee, pepper, crude palm oil and refined palm oil are kept in a separate category called special products. The products in this list are subject to tariff reduction commitments unlike those in the exclusion list. No other country has kept any products under this category. It is still unclear why India opted for such an arrangement which directly affects the business of small enterprises. 

On the brighter side, import liberalisation in intermediate goods like electrical machinery, optical, photo, medical apparatus, chemical products, plastics, copper etc will benefit the Indian MNCs that are active in the region, in the chemicals and iron & steel sectors. It will also be advantageous to some extent to the services sector. 

So, the Indian establishment has to grapple with the dilemma of being an active partner in ASEAN to counter the primacy of China in the region and at the same time isg faced the problems of livelihood of farmers and small enterprises in a world of unfettered trade. 



References: 

1. Financial liberalization and agriculture: An overview of the challenges before developing countries by Smitha Francis and Murali Kallummal.

2. ASEAN-India FTA- Noises of dissent from deep south by K.N.Harilal [Kerala State Planning board Occasional Paper]

3. ASEAN investment report 2011

Interview: Author Ashokamithran  

Posted by Praveen in , ,


Ashokamithran is one of the most celebrated writers in post-independence Tamil literature. As part of a writing project on translations, I had an opportunity to meet him to get his thoughts on translations. I decided to convert this into a full fledged interview for this blog.
                                                 
Ashokamitran, whose real name is Thyagarajan, has written eight novels and numerous short stories.  He won the "Sahitya Akademi" award in 1996 for his work "Appavin Snegidhar", a collection of short stories.  He worked in the Tamil film industry in the 50s and 60s and then went on to become a full time writer.  At 80, he is still bursting forth with energy when he talks about writing. Though his voice is feeble and sometimes broken, his memory is still impeccable. He recounted many stories, a few of which am sharing here. And yes, this was my first ever interviewing experience.

How did you start off? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
In those days, writing was very much part of everyday life. Nowadays, telephony and internet has taken out writing from our daily routine. We used to write letters regularly. Office work also involved a lot of writing- memos, notes etc. Now we have paperless offices. In school also, we were encouraged to come up with our own works of creativity.

Have you ever thought about doing any other work, other than writing?
No. My father died prematurely and I was quite young at that time. I was in Secunderabad at that time. I lacked elder's guidance. So, I had to make my own decisions. Then I shifted to Chennai and worked in the film industry for about a decade. And then, slowly writing began to take up most of my time. So I left the industry and took up writing full time.

Some of your books are set in the film industry.
Yes, I've written quite a lot about it. I was working as a public relations officer. Replying to letters was my main job there. We used to get a lot of letters from students and others asking for permission to visit the studio. I was supposed to reply that they can't visit the studio, at the same time I had to convey it pleasantly. So we had a convoluted way of writing those replies-diplomatic, feel good replies. Film shooting was at private places. Now they shoot everywhere from Chennai streets to Alaska.

I was reading the translation of your book 'Karaintha Nizhalgal'(star crossed). There was this scene where one of the technicians brings his whole family to the studio to watch the shooting.
Yes, yes. But we used to avoid the general public. Then, there will be officials whom we couldn't say 'No' to. For example, this income tax officer who used to insist on visiting the studio often. We couldn’t say no to an income tax officer! There was this one time in 1956 when Chinese premier Chou En Lai was visiting Chennai and he wanted to visit the studio. So we made arrangements for the visit. The problem was, at that time the young Dalai Lama was also visiting. The film that was being shot then was about kings and people who were loyal to the king. Chou En Lai did not like it because it went against his brand of communism. On the other hand, Dalai Lama was a pleasant fellow and he enjoyed every bit of the song and dance.

So, you had started writing while you were in the industry?
Yes. I started with short stories. Then, I started writing a novel for some contest. I couldn't complete it on time. I completed it about ten years later, the novel 'Viduthalai'(liberation). That was a bit pompous.

But, I've read somewhere that you concentrate more on intense experiences of small lives than grand sacrifices, public protest and posturing.
Yes, yes. That's very true. I don't carry an explicit social message. The reader can derive anything he wants. Otherwise, the essence of the story is lost. Anyway, am not a very popular writer!

Whatever I've read about you and heard from others, tells me otherwise
(laughs) It’s a very slow process. As a writer, you become known to people very gradually.

After 1980s, your books began to be translated more. Your fame spread outside the state during this period?
Yes, I became known in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta after that. I think I became more known in those places than in Tamil Nadu. That was the time when there were a lot of fights over languages, the anti-Hindi agitations and such movements. There was so much antagonism against the Hindi speaking people here and vice versa too. They make a fuss over these languages all the time. Each language has its own beauty. I've translated the biographies of Bankim chandra chatterjee and the Mother of Aurobindo ashram. I've also translated Anita Desai's 'Fire on the mountain'. It was not a great novel, but it did win a Sahitya academy award. Whatever fuss they make about ours being a classical language, we are yet to produce a work comparable to those of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. Devdas is one of his weaker novels. Even to its level, we haven't reached.

That's the only work of his that most people know about.
Yes. He never prescribed drinking as a solution to lost love. It was a written in a very realistic framework. But somehow, people interpreted it in the wrong way. He was extremely unhappy. He used to say that if I had known that people would interpret it this way, I would never have written that. So, what I was saying was, in Tamil we have big novels which run to thousands of pages, but those can't match the sublime quality of his work. Much needs to be done here. In Tamil, we do have some great poetry though.

You are one of the few fulltime writers in Tamil? Why don't we have more people who take this up as a profession?
How will you survive as a writer in this age! And there are no institutions which gives jobs to writers. Even your college would n't give me a job. Also, you wouldn't always get paid when others use parts of your work. For example, many situations from my books have appeared in a number of films but they have never credited me. It can be by accident, but this is what happens.

You had said long time back that people with integrity can never make a film. Was it based on your experience in the industry?
Yes, It is difficult to be honest in this industry. In my book 'karaintha nizhalgal', based on the film industry, the character Reddiar who is a producer is a straight forward man. He goes bankrupt and he never completes his project. There are thousands of films that are in different stages of completion. There are thousand others which are completed, but no one is ready to buy it. There is so much happening behind the scenes.

So, how do you feel about the current state? The studio system that existed here has crumbled. What are your thoughts on the monopoly that is running the industry?
It is financially in the clutches of a team, the Marans and their cousins. Now they are selling it as an international product rather than catering to the local audience. I don't understand the films these days. I still remember the days of going to theater to watch Chaplin or Fellini.

You've written in your book 'Mansarovar' that "A man living in his hometown is under various constraints. This is why everyone seeks to be free, live in anonymity away from their native towns." Was it written from your own experiences?
It is true for everybody, not only a writer. In a place where you are not known, you can do anything. The anonymity helps. It is a fact. But, somebody has to point it out. That is what I did.

You moved to Chennai from Secunderabad, where you spend your early years. The novel '18th parallel' was set there. So, the early days must've influenced you during writing the book.
18th parallel is the line that passes through Hyderabad. When you create a character, you have to provide some context, some location. It was set in the background of the Indian govt taking over Hyderabad after independence and the preceding turmoil. Not much has been written about the place. It was my first book to be translated to Telegu. It was received with great respect there.

So, are you a writer who writes mostly from things which you've experienced, places you've seen?
Yes, experiences feeds into your writing all the time. And also, you’ve to give a context or a background to your characters. So it’s easier to set them in familiar places.

Are you writing anything now?
I am suffering from cramps for the past weeks and I am tired too. So haven't written much recently. Before that I wrote a story that was published in some magazine few weeks back.

And then I made a request for a click. What happened next floored me, and also showed how down to earth this man is. He told me-“Wait. I’ve to respect the camera and the photographer. So, let me wear a clean shirt, comb my hair and come”. Even after I requested him not to take all those troubles, he insisted on it and within a minute, came dressed in a white shirt and with neatly combed hair. As I started clicking, he was worried whether there was enough light in the room and was even prepared to walk out into the balcony. Those troubles, I didn’t let him take. And so, an interview which was supposed to finish in 20 minutes went on for an hour...

As I walked out to my bike, he was there waving from the balcony. A lesson learned in humility…


Reverse colonization or a quest for food?  

Posted by Praveen in ,



In the past one year, the drought in the Horn of Africa consisting of Ethiopia and Somalia has morphed into the biggest humanitarian crisis in history. People migrating to refugee camps perish before they could reach their destinations. While this painful process is going on, a new wave of agriculture is taking shape in these countries. Agricultural companies from developing countries like India and China are making huge investments in Ethiopia and neighbouring countries. They are buying up lakhs of hectares of arable land, sometimes after evicting the original inhabitants.

A feature of these African countries is that the farmers do not have any rights on their land. Government owns majority of the farmlands in Ethiopia. The peasants use ancient techniques of cultivation. When rains fail, their survival depends on the food aid. To breathe life into this agriculture sector, the Ethiopian Government began wooing foreign investors in the later part of the past decade. They were offered large tracts of land at rock bottom prices. They were also given tax breaks and Government built the roads and other infrastructure.

The biggest investor in Ethiopia currently is Karuturi Global ltd., a Bangalore based neo agricultural company. In the province of Gambella, they were given 300,000 hectares of land on a 50 year lease, at 10 dollars a hectare. They are cultivating palm, rice, sugar etc. They had promised homes, schools and clinics to be built in the locality but these are yet to be fulfilled. Thousands of farmers were evicted from the land they have farmed for generations. Compensations were not given because they do not have ownership on their land. Recently, Ethiopia slashed the size of Karuturi Global Ltd.’s land concession that was larger than Luxembourg on concern it was too big for a single company to manage and to enable an annual migration of antelope.

Forests across hundreds of hectares are being felled and burned to the dismay of locals and environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region's rich wildlife. There have allegedly been a number of arrests and killings of local people who oppose the recent land investment. The deals are signed in such a way that there are no limits to where the companies can sell their crops. So, most of these agro products are exported. David Hillam, Deputy Director of the FAO, told a conference in Washington DC in 2009, "Imagine empty trucks being driven into, say Ethiopia, at the time of food shortages caused by war or drought, and being driven out again, full of grain to feed people overseas. Can you imagine the political consequences?" However, Karuturi's CEO, Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi, denies such allegations when he says, "We are putting money into Africa and making the lives of these exploited people better."

In Ethiopia, some of the land now being used by foreign companies had formerly been used for the production of teff, the staple diet of most Ethiopians. Now the land is being used by companies like Karuturi to produce such crops as maize for export. It is believed such shifts have contributed to the recent local price increase in teff, the supply of which has decreased as demand has increased. 

The Indian Government and the Indian business associations have provided strong support for these companies’ endeavors in Africa. The stagnant food grain production and dependence on international food imports prompted the Government to look for other avenues. Rapid industrialisation and conversion of farmland for other uses has reduced food grain production. Water availability, exacerbated by climate change and increasingly erratic rainfall has also hit Indian agriculture hard. The opening up of some agricultural items to International trade without proper restrictions, have also impacted the domestic prices.  In this scenario, the Indian Government has supported a host of initiatives to facilitate Indian agricultural companies in their overseas investments in Africa.  They support conventional new greenfield foreign direct investments, merger and acquisitions, public-private partnerships and specific tariff reductions on agricultural goods imported to India.

Another major way the Indian government has financially facilitated the process is by giving concessional Lines of credit to various African governments, banks, and financial institutions through the Indian ExportImport Bank (Exim Bank). Often such lines of credit are for the purpose of national development projects, and where these projects involve agricultural development, Indian foreign investors stand ready to win concessions and contracts for agricultural development in the form of their foreign direct investment. The Indian government has also liberalised its regulations on allowing outward foreign direct investment by Indian companies. The Confederation of Indian Industries and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries have organised several buyer-seller meets between African delegates and Indian businesses to facilitate agricultural investments in these countries.
                                  
In 2009 the FAO along with the World Bank and other organizations drafted the Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) principles, a set of best practices and principles that foreign investors ‘can’ adhere to. These set of rules were supposed to govern the international transactions of farmland and also expected to incorporate the rights of the local residents. However the RAI principles have been widely criticised by activists and scholars as an insufficient response that can actually result in legitimising a process many feel is rife with exploitation and rights abuses. Critics say the fact that the principles are only voluntary falls far short of actual laws and strict regulations that could be enforced.

In June this year, Obang Metho, Executive Director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), a non-violent, grassroots social justice movement, wrote an open letter to thepeople of India. She raised some pertinent questions-“Any who resent the colonial past of your own country, should know that it began through the British East India Trading Company; where some of the more unscrupulous often colluded with corrupt indigenous government officials. What would Gandhi say today were he to know that Indians, who were only freed from the shackles of colonialism in recent history, were now at the forefront of this “land-grabbing” as part of the race for foreign control over African land and resources; currently being called the Neo-Colonialism of Africa?” The Indian media was largely silent on this issue except for an article by Jayati Ghosh in frontline two months back. The rest of the media were largely celebratory with regard to companies like Karuturi.

So, are we trampling upon the rights and lives of these innocent Africans in our quest to become a developed country? Or, are processes like these inevitable in a world which is increasingly finding it hard to feed its millions?


References for this post- Rick Rowden's study on 'India's role in the global farmland grab'
Youtube video reports by guardian and other media.

Book Review: Sikandar  

Posted by Praveen in ,



When I finished reading the novel ‘Sikandar’ the past week, little did I know that it was something prophetic. Originally written in Bengali by Binayak Banerjee and translated into English by Soma Ghosh, it chronicles a reality show called 'sikandar' modeled on the same lines of Bigg boss (yes, with that stupid extra G). Being an ardent hater of all kinds of 'reality' shows, I was reluctant to read this. But then, lines of praise like 'remarkable insight into the depths of human existence where passing personalities engage in a life and death existential struggle to attain one's true human destiny' on the blurb, made me read this. And by the end, I was disappointed!

Coming back to the prophecy, I was quite surprised yesterday when Sami Agnivesh announced that he is going to enter bigg boss. My first reaction was- ‘this must be the hangover from that book’. Because, one of the ten contestants in the ‘sikandar’ reality show is ‘Swami Samyuktanand’, an ascetic like Agnivesh. I guess Agnivesh must have got this book through the ‘book reviews’ program and took it to heart.  Like the character, Agnivesh seems to have plans to preach at the wrong place. This comment from him yesterday is a primer for what to expect from him- "The girls inside the house don't seem to have any social responsibility.  I want to make them realize just how many girl children are killed in the womb and how many women are burnt alive in the name of sati”.

Enough of Agnivesh’s ramblings. The first problem with the book is that it confuses you right from the introduction.  The introduction throws at you a set of ten highly confusing Bengali names and their brief background. By the time you are done with it, you will be highly disoriented and you will have to keep on going back to these introductions to make sense of who is what and which, unless you are related to these people. Talking about relations, another funny thing is that all of the ten contestants are related or rather know each other in one way or the other. Some had shared fights. Some had shared beds. Some had shared stages. And it is an eclectic mix of characters- actor, industrialist, former revolutionary, prostitute etc.

I read this one right after I finished Jose Saramago’s classic ‘Blindness’, which also handles a similar, but REAL situation. There also, a group of people are quarantined in a building after a mysterious contagious blindness grips a place. It chronicles the change in their behavioural patterns, captures their quirks and builds it up into a larger picture of how humans react in peculiar situations, with the use of sublime prose peppered with philosophical overtones. In ‘Sikandar’ also, the author seems to have similar intentions, but the ‘pearls of philosophy’ from every other character looks out of place at several passages. Having said that, I did like certain sections and certain characters, most notably Rangajoba Sanyal, the ex-revolutionary who is in the show to get enough money to cure her daughter’s cancer.  But, most of the characters are half developed, especially the ones who are eliminated from the show in the earlier stages itself.

By the time I finished the book, I had only this to say- “So?” I kept on reading the book expecting for something to ‘happen’. There were too many loose ends and many things which were not explained. Having recently done a project on translations and the problems associated with it, I have a feeling that some things were actually ‘lost in translation’. How I wish I has some Bengali knowledge! But then, I don’t want to read another novel on ‘reality shows’, which are anything but REAL!

On a serious note, Swami Agnivesh’s big boss news comes as a disappointment. After his recent pivotal role as the Govt’s mediator with the Maoists and that epic NDTV show in which he silenced Barkha Dutt, this was something that he could’ve avoided.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at  BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

Metallica in bangalore: When the bell tolled for us!  

Posted by Praveen


                                
The picture worth a frame. Metallica thanking the Indian crowd after the concert. 29/10/11

In the past 5-6 years, I’ve attended almost every concert by international bands in India- from Maiden to Porcupine tree to Meshuggah. Each of those was like a dream come true. But one name on top of my band wishlist remained uncut, a band which served as the best possible introduction to my favorite genre of music. It was towards the end of high school that someone lend me an overused cassette of the black album. I was told that I will either love it to the core or hate it to the extreme. Those days, the term music band used to bring to my mind such illustrious names as 'backstreet boys', 'westlife', 'boyzone' etc. Songs with pumping beats were 'rock' to me. I didn't know that something called metal existed. I pushed that old cassette into my not so big tape recorder. The opening strains of 'Enter sandman' were heard. The next one hour was like a blur. I couldn't make any sense of it. All I knew was I felt really pumped up hearing some of the songs. Metallica, the name registered in my brain. I didn't know how big they were nor was I big enough to appreciate how good that album was.

In the next two years, I heard more music of the same genre. I discovered Priest, Maiden, Sabbath, Megadeth etc. Slayer and Pantera came in later. But Metallica remained the eternal favorite. And, after watching classic concert DVDs like the 'Monsters of Rock' in Moscow, I wanted to be one among those screaming madmen, forced against the front barricade.  In the past decade, Metallica released some albums which many felt they shouldn't have. From being a bunch of four guys who were angry at the system, they (Lars Ulrich, to be precise) flaunted their elevation to bourgeois class by cracking down on kids downloading their music. They shifted from the raw fast paced pure thrash of the 80s to the mellower mainstream tone of the late 90s. But still for those first five albums, for those evergreen riffs and for those five discs of immense expression of anger, we love them. Maybe, worship them.

It has been months of anticipation, from the day 'Metallica in India' concerts were announced. The events in Delhi on Oct 27 made us all frantic. A veil of uncertainty remained over the Bangalore concert as I got on the train from Madras. I was dying to click this concert but before long it was clear that any such dreams are best forgotten. The weekend was the coming together of many old friends in Bangalore, all united under what James Hetfield termed as the 'metallica family'. As we travelled to the concert, we could see the road from MG road to palace grounds was chockablock with traffic, and all of those vehicles had groups of people wearing black metallica tees. Strangers flashed the horns at each other.

Passing through the gates, we got a taste of how big the crowd was going to be. It was a task to locate our huge group sitting under the 'blue tree', enjoying the power of jagermeister. Familiar faces, glimpsed and forgotten at many concerts, passed by. I was getting restless to go in and tried to pull in the others. They lounged around, even as most of the crowd went inside the concert arena. At a distance, we saw a convoy of cars riding into the ground, in our direction. Three of them passed me by. The fourth one had a familiar face sitting by the side and smiling. Familiar to me, not the other way around! It was Lars Ulrich. I stood there, dazed. The next second, I could sense myself running alongwith the car flashing the horns at him. He looked straight into my eyes and flashed it back. I felt like I was caught in one of those slow motion scenes, which take an eternity to finish. Or was it my senses slowing up!? The next car had caught up with my running by then. I turned my head and there he was, my favorite Metallica man- James Hetfield. Now I was screaming incoherently, running alongwith the car and with the horns still flashing. I realised that lightning can strike the same place twice when Hetfield also did what Ulrich had done few seconds back. Somewhere, I caught a glimpse of Hammett too. The next five minutes, a few of us ran around screaming in random directions. It still didn't sink in, whether it was jagermeister's trick or whether it all actually happened.

We entered the concert arena on a high, of having seen them up close. Rain started pouring and the slush was getting heavier. We had missed two opening acts by then. The Scottish rock act Biffy clyro was playing in the rain and they were surprisingly good. By then, our group had got lost in the huge crowd and I managed to get five of us together. After Biffy Clyro, it was a wait of almost an hour for metallica to start. Old rock and metal hits were heard from the speakers as the technicians went about their job. In between, one of the band's representatives asked the crowd to step back a little from the barricade and they promptly obeyed. The spirit was building up by then. And at 10 minutes past eight, the strains of 'ecstasy of gold', that classic Ennio Morricone score from 'The good, the bad and the ugly', were heard. A staple of all metallica concerts from the 80s, the theme accompanied by scenes from the movie projected on the screen, had the crowd screaming in anticipation for the band's appearance. Then, at the crescendo, Lars popped in behind the kit and played the opening beats of the epic 'creeping death'. All hell broke loose when Hetfield, Hammett and Trujillo joined in. There was a sudden surge forward and the moshpits started.
                                                 
Trujillo during one of his famous antics

The Hemingway inspired 'For whom the bell tolls' followed. 'Fuel' fit in with the racing mood that India was gripped in over the weekend.  Hammett launching into the solo amidst the pyrotechnics brought in goosebumps. Their own knowledge of how fans perceive their recent albums was best exemplified by James asking the crowd permission to play the song ‘Cyanide’ from the ‘Death magnetic’ album. The best moment of the day came at the end of 'The memory remains', when the crowd chanted non-stop for three minutes. The look of astonishment on Hetfield's face had to be seen to be believed. This chanting prompted him to say, "Bangalore, you are beautiful". ‘One’ was another of the much awaited songs of the night. When those intro gunshots and helicopter sounds replicating a war scene were heard, the screams were louder than for most other songs. And how they pulled it off, Oh boy!
Hetfield in full flow as the pyrotechnics go off during 'fuel'

This Metallica was surely different from the ones that we caught a glimpse of in recent times in youtube, going through their motions and looking almost bored on stage. It looked like they were truly excited in discovering so many fans in a country that they never been before.  This perhaps was the band discovering their lost form and it all looked like a throwback to their heydays in the 90s. With the exception of 'sad but true', almost every song was perfectly rendered. The tightness was best on display in 'Master of puppets'. When Hetfield went to the upper stage, raised up the mike and sang the 'master, master' chorus with the crowd, the excitement had reached a crescendo. Many (including yours truly) had tears in their eyes, having fulfilled a dream of 20 years.  And, then he gave us that evil laugh too! Could this have got any better?

 
Kirk Hammett with Trujillo in the background

‘Nothing else matters’ was another highly anticipated song and as with every other song, the whole crowd sang to it. With ‘Enter sandman’ ending in fireworks ending in fireworks lighting up the sky, the band bid the customary ‘goodbye before the encore’. With the crowd crying out for more, they were back before long with the cover song ‘Am I evil?’ The song ‘battery’ was one unexpected inclusion in the set list. ‘Seek & destroy’ provided a perfect end to the best concert that I have watched till date. The crowd of almost 50,000 clearly surpassed the previous attendance levels in international concerts in India. Lars Ulrich soon announced that they will surely be back in India soon. So, all is not lost for those of you who missed it this time.  They hung around on the stage for more than 10 minutes after they finished playing, distributing more and more plectrums and drum sticks. It looked like they just couldn’t get enough of the Indian crowd. As we walked back through the heavy slush, I mentally struck off that name from the top of my band wish list. Now, left on top is one more from the Big four, Slayer and AC/DC.
                                     
Hetfield and Trujillo

Metallica is more than just a band to many of us. It is an emotion that binds a million black tee sporting people worldwide. They gave us the first taste of metal music, when we did not know any such thing existed. Over the years, we have listened to a thousand more bands. But Metallica remained the eternal favorite. And, after watching classic concert DVDs like the 'Monsters of Rock' in Moscow, I wanted to be one among those screaming madmen, forced against the front barricade.  In the past decade, Metallica released some albums which many felt they shouldn't have. From being a bunch of four guys who were angry at the system, they flaunted their elevation to bourgeois class by cracking down on kids downloading their music. They shifted from the raw fast paced pure thrash of the 80s to the mellower mainstream tone of the 90s. But still for those first five albums, for those evergreen riffs and for those five discs of immense expression of anger, we love them. Maybe, worship them. This concert was a slap on the face for those posers who said that ‘Metallica is passé’.
                                     
Lars Ulrich

Setlist:
The Ecstasy of Gold (Ennio Morricone's theme song from 'The good, the bad and the ugly')
Creeping Death
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Fuel
Ride the Lightning
Fade to Black
Cyanide
The Memory Remains
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Sad But True
All Nightmare Long
One
Master of Puppets
Blackened
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman

Encore:
Am I Evil? (Diamond Head cover)
Battery
Seek & Destroy


All pictures courtesy- Metallica.com