Sunday, May 27, 2012
Suprose: Win A Copy Of The Invitation By Anne Cherian: This month Suprose will be giving away 3 copies of Anne Cherian's The Invitation . The Suprose interview with Anne Cherian is here . You...
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September 23, 2010
A Grass-Roots Rapprochement Between India and U.S.
By AKASH KAPUR
BANGALORE, INDIA — Over the years this city, the epicenter of India’s booming technology industry, has increasingly been inflected with traces of America.
Streets that were once bordered by colonial bungalows are now lined with glass-paneled towers bearing the logos of U.S. technology companies. OnMahatma Gandhi Road, young tech workers shop for bagels and Philadelphia cream cheese. In the city’s pubs, the talk is about venture capital, stock options and Silicon Valley-inspired compensation packages.
The Americanization of Bangalore is a reflection of a more general rapprochement that has taken place in recent years between India and the United States. For much of India’s post-independence history, the two countries were political and cultural antagonists. India was effectively a Soviet ally during the Cold War, and in its economic and public policy it espoused a straitened austerity that was sharply at odds with U.S. materialism.
It wasn’t until the early 1990s, when India adopted something approximating a capitalist economy, that ties improved. In 2000, President Bill Clintonvisited India — the first U.S. president to do so since Jimmy Carter, in 1978 — and, in a speech to Parliament, declared the two countries “natural allies.”
Eight years later, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Washington and, thanking President George W. Bush for pushing a landmark civilian nuclear deal between the two countries, told him that the “people of India deeply love you.”
Recent months have witnessed something of a cooling in that ardor. A series of events have contributed to the impression that the relationship is going through tough times.
In August, the civilian nuclear deal, a symbol of the two countries’ new closeness, came under strain when the Indian Parliament passed a bill that would increase the potential liability of nuclear plant operators. The United States expressed its concern and asked India to change aspects of the bill.
Also in August, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that hiked fees for the H1-B and L visa categories used by skilled Indian technology workers. Indians were incensed by Senator Charles Schumer’s characterization, during debate over the bill, of Indian businesses as “chop shops.” (He later clarified that he meant to say “body shops.”)
Then, earlier this month, Ohio’s state government announced a ban on the outsourcing of state technology projects to offshore centers.
The reaction in India has been swift, and unhappy. The National Association of Software and Service Companies, an industry trade body, labeled U.S. actions “protectionist” and part of a “disturbing trend.”
Media reports have accused the United States of “inventing a villain” and setting India up as a “whipping boy” to distract from domestic woes.
But how threatened, really, are ties between the two countries?
Even as they protest, Indian businessmen concede that they are unlikely to suffer much. Devendra Saharia, an entrepreneur who runs a medical outsourcing company in the city of Chennai, told me that while people were paying attention to what was being said in the United States, the future of the outsourcing sector still looked bright. Business continues to grow, he said, “due primarily to a shortage of skills in the United States.”
In addition to the limited impact on companies’ bottom lines, though, there is another, more structural and perhaps more significant, reason why the political and public jousting is unlikely to result in real damage.
Unlike many bilateral relationships, ties between India and the United States are not, primarily, driven by politicians or the political process. The growing closeness of the last couple decades has had, rather, a distinctly grass-roots character. It has been forged in thousands of interactions between individual citizens, many of them in the context of flourishing commercial and business transactions.
Between 1991, the year India began its economic reforms, and 2009, trade in goods between India and the United States grew from $5 billion a year to nearly $38 billion. The United States is now India’s second leading source of foreign investment.
It is this thriving commercial relationship, more than the official government-driven bilateral relationship, that has defined Indian-U.S. ties in recent years. As Manjeet Kripalani, the co-founder of Gateway House, a Mumbai-based research organization, said: “Business has been leading diplomacy in India for 15 years.”
Many of India’s technology entrepreneurs were educated or worked in the United States. The companies they founded upon returning to India are imbued with a U.S.-style work ethic and office culture. They have served as crucibles not only for a new India, but also for a new attitude to the United States.
When I was a child growing up in India, the son of an Indian father and American mother, it was common to hear Indians rail against U.S. imperialism and decry the evils of U.S. capitalism. Now, it is far more common to hear Indians — and especially Indian entrepreneurs — talk about a “common mind-set,” and a shared commitment to democracy and capitalism.
In 2005, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey to measure global feelings about the United States. The survey, conducted in the midst of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, found significant hostility around the world. But in India, 71 percent of respondents — the highest number outside the United States itself — had a favorable view of the country. Eighty-one percent of Indians considered Americans hard-working, and 86 percent admired Americans for being inventive. Such positive attitudes provide a deep font of good will between the countries.
At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the French philosopher Montesquieu summarized his views on the potential of trade, writing that “the natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace.”
That maxim holds as true today, in an age of offshoring and e-commerce. Good relations between the United States and India are built on foundations of shared commercial interests. Those foundations are by no means unshakable — but they are likely to prove solid enough to withstand short-term political positioning or economic saber-rattling.
Posted by Visi Tilak at 1:59 PM
New Delhi fills up al fresco all day, all night - The Boston Globe
New Delhi fills up al fresco all day, all night
By Joe Ray, Globe Correspondent | September 19, 2010
This city begins on the street where I spy an indoor-outdoor, sit-stand joint called Al Bake with a team of cooks trimming cooked lamb from upright spits before going crazy on the trimmed meat with a pair of cleavers. Wap! Wap! Wap! Wap! It leaves a mound of heavenly-smelling minced lamb and spice that, wrapped in flatbread, make one mean, minimalist, New Delhi-style shawarma.
At dinner, I corral a few friends and guilt-trip them into joining me at Al Bake. Munching away while sitting on plastic chairs under the stars, we are not disappointed. While Delhi can feel hard to connect with, exploring the street food scene is a direct path to its core.
“In India, life happens on the street,’’ says a friend, and nowhere is that more evident than in the Delhi street food scene, particularly in the pulsing heart of Old Delhi.
Indian street food explodes all day, from sidewalk-straddling sugar cane juice stands and kebab kiosks to full-out kitchens of men working like blazes to produce specialty items. For some of India’s best food, do a bit of research and make a list of places to try, haggle with a cycle rickshaw driver, and then plunge into the bazaar.
Old Delhi is a mishmash of stunning balconies, colossal mosques and temples, and atrocious modern architecture that begins crumbling as soon as the cement sets. Masses of wires dangle from buildings and telephone poles giving it a post-apocalyptic feel. There are hordes of people, wholesale vendors of every kind, entire streets and micro-neighborhoods devoted to metalworks, electronics, wedding supplies, spices, silk, and jewelry. Rickshaw wallahs cart scores of uniformed schoolchildren on their three-wheeled cycles, porters haul plastic, cooking oil, rebar, or great slabs of paper on their heads, backs, and carts. It’s a crush of hungry humanity and everyone needs a place to eat.
It’s also such a maze that finding the food stalls (finding anyplace, for that matter) can be half the challenge. Directions in local newspaper articles routinely suggest heading down a better-known street to a well-known landmark before doubling back 100 feet to make a turn you would otherwise miss. Even
Google Maps gives up the ghost when you try to zoom in.
One of those first places I try, the Ashok & Ashok Meat Dhabha, makes the effort worth it. A tipster has sent me here to try mutton korma, a house specialty available only two days a week, where the spice-laden meat is seared, then slow-cooked over low heat.
“We’re out of mutton,’’ says the fellow taking orders in the sidewalk’s fray. “Have the chicken.’’ The stand has been open half an hour and the signature dish is sold out.
The chicken korma arrives on a metal plate, a vessel for a host of spices and the clarified butter known as ghee. The chicken has a flavor so incredibly deep and earthy, it tastes as if its claws are still on the ground. It’s served with a dish of biryani rice, flecked yellow-orange with saffron, and a continuous supply of whole-grain chapati, or flatbread; either is a perfect means for getting more of the curry into your mouth.
If you need a breakthrough moment for Indian street food, this would be it.
Accommodations are spartan. Wooden utility tables take up most of the sidewalk in front and there’s an awning-tarp combination protecting some diners from the sun. You eat on your feet, licking your fingers and thanking the heavens.
“I can have a lot of Byzantine notions, but five-star hotel food isn’t very good,’’ says Rahul Verma, my Ashok & Ashok tipster, who has been singing the glories of Delhi’s street food for 20 years for The Hindu newspaper.
“I love it. I get energized,’’ he says. “If you look at street food, you get the whole city.’’
With a Rolodex of the best places to eat in the warren of Old Delhi, Verma seems custom-made for his job. He’s the kind of guy who holds court at the Press Club of India, continually dispersing spot-on information on the best places to eat and topping off your beer whenever you’re not looking.
“Street food is the closest link to culture and society and it’s evolved over the centuries,’’ he says, “and it’s cheap.’’
A perversely proud two-time survivor of jaundice, Verma has a strict set of ground rules to minimize the chances of catching traveler’s illnesses affectionately known as Delhi Belly.
1. “Go someplace busy’’ — the faster the turnover, the fresher the food.
2. “Eat food that is cooked in front of you’’ — to minimize the risk from food-borne bacteria.
3. “Always carry bottled water.’’
4. “Don’t touch the sliced onions.’’ They may have been staying fresh in a bowl of water.
With that and a handshake, he sets me loose on the city with a list of his favorites. I enlist Scottish-born journalist Pamela Timms whose Eat and Dust street food blog was recently voted one of India’s top five food sites.
We take a cycle rickshaw to Chawri Baza, one of Old Delhi’s main drags (picture a chaotic “Indiana Jones’’-esque street scene, double the number of people, make sure they’re all sweating profusely, and you get the idea), and we head to Jain Coffee House, one of Timms’s new favorites.
We walk through an alley I wouldn’t want to head down alone at night and come out in an aqua-hued courtyard full of wholesalers. It’s a calm world, separate from the bazaar half a block away.
“There it is,’’ she says, pointing toward a white-haired man sifting wheat. Hidden in the corner is the tiniest of kitchens, taking up just enough space to make coffee, chai, and some peculiar specialties.
She orders a pair of mango sandwiches that arrive with the crusts cut off.
“Their sandwiches are usually fruit jelly with thin slices of paneer [a type of fresh cheese] and grape or pomegranate, and slices of mango or apple,’’ she says. “It depends on what’s in season.’’
Ours, which we eat while sitting on sacks of grain, are unlike anything I’ve seen in India — more, say, a fresh and slightly healthier version of the cream cheese and jelly I loved as a kid.
“They’re not traditional, but Jain has been around 50 years,’’ she says, smiling at the contradiction. “It’s a pretty unique enterprise.’’
We head to check out one of Verma’s suggestions, Manohar Dhaba, which is nestled into the electronics bazaar at the end of Chandni Chowk, across from Delhi’s historic Red Fort. Here, you eat “japani samosas,’’ one-of-a-kind stuffed mille-feuille with muddled, and not necessarily Japanese origins.
We take a bite — the flaky, cube-like puff hides an interior stuffed with peas and potatoes — which make a fantastic, if heavy mouthful.
“This would come in the ‘hangover food’ category,’’ says Timms, putting a fine point on the inherent greasy goodness.
From here, we cheat a bit and stop at a sit-down restaurant that’s on both Timms and Verma’s lists: Hotel Adarsh Niwas.
“Hotel’’ gets a bit of a stretch in Delhi, encompassing accommodation-free eateries. Inside, owner Satnarayan Sharma sits on the edge of a booth seat, his legs folded under him. We buy brass tokens at the register and hand them to the waiter without a word; he returns in a few moments with the restaurant’s signature “thali’’ — a large metal plate covered with smaller metal plates, each with a different dish: dal, curries, and even sweeter options to be eaten alongside the savory. One cup has a thin yogurt with puffed grains — something I’d be tempted to eat for breakfast or as an afternoon snack, yet in the context of the other options, it makes perfect sense. There’s also warm “gulab jamun,’’ sweet milk solids typically flavored with cardamom or rosewater that remind me of a perfect pancake from my youth.
We’re stuffed to the gills but Timms wants to make sure I have what I need.
“Need any other places?’’ she says.
“Not unless we’re within 10 feet of one,’’ I reply, raising the white flag.
She understands, but she’s a good foodie, and I can see the gears turning as we head out the door.
That evening, I take a walk in the Nizamuddin neighborhood where I’m staying. The mercury is still high and a block away from the flat, I hear the tinkling bell of the popsicle cart. All the man sells is three sizes of “kulfi,’’ a dense ice cream cousin traditionally made by boiling down sweetened milk. This version has traces of cinnamon and cardamom — cool, soothing goodness on a stick.
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Thursday, September 23, 2010
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