Monday, November 24, 2008

India Milkmen Angry Over Prices

"Hundreds of milkmen gather in Bhubneshwar, India, to protest over price cuts which they say have made milk cheaper than water. The Milk Producer's Federation in Orissa state first increased the price of milk, but the cut prices again. Farmers say they aren't making enough money to feed their cattle," reports Basmah Fahim of Reuters.

India in 25 years...

What would India look like 25 years from now?

Read this article by Mira Kamdar in the World Policy Journal, at

The website for the World Policy Journal is here-

V.S. Naipaul - A Biography

One of the most celebrated and controversial writers of Indian descent
has had a biography written about him by none other than the English
journalist/writer Patrick French. The New York Times Book Review says
, "French's authorized biography of Mr. Naipaul. It's a handsome
volume, jacketed in silver and black, with a disarming cover
photograph of Mr. Naipaul stooping, with a gap-toothed grin, to tie a
loose shoelace.

Flip Mr. French's book over, however, and you confront this
Voldemortian clump of words from Mr. Naipaul's old nemesis, Mr.
Theroux: "It seems I didn't know half of all the horrors." Cue the
scary organ music.

Well, the reader thinks, here we go: Mr. French's 550-page biography
will be a long string of bummers, a forced march through the life of a
startlingly original writer with an ugly, remote personality.

The good news is that Mr. French, a young British journalist, is
certainly unafraid to face unpleasant facts about his subject. But the
better news about "The World Is What It Is" is this: it's one of the
sprightliest, most gripping, most intellectually curious and, well,
funniest biographies of a living writer (Mr. Naipaul is 76) to come
along in years."

From the Boston Globe Review --
"When he went to Oxford from the Caribbean in 1950, at age 17, V. S.
Naipaul was a British subject of Indian descent who resided in the
West Indies, specifically Trinidad, an "accidental occidental Indian
from the most amusing island that ever dotted the sea," as one wit put

The question of identity is as crucial to Naipaul's books as it was to
the man himself. He wanted to be called not a West Indian, but "a
Trinidadian of Hindu descent." His small size (5 feet 6), dark skin,
and island profile made this brilliant writer a touchy,
class-conscious character all of his life.

To say that Vidia Naipaul was merely complicated seems an
understatement. In his authorized biography "The World Is What It Is,"
Patrick French shows us a man at once "angry, acute, open,
self-pitying, funny, sarcastic, tearful." It is high testament to
French - as well as to the acceding Naipaul - that the writer insisted
on being as impeccably objective as possible and that he chose to
"expose the subject with ruthless clarity."

An asthmatic, Naipaul was the pampered oldest son in a successful
family of girls and one younger brother. He wanted to be wealthy. He
wanted to succeed. "I like luxury," he said. "I take to it easily, and
feel it is mine by right." This ambitious fellow, who would eventually
receive a knighthood, become a multimillionaire, and win the Nobel
Prize for Literature, knew early that he was meant for larger things,
and as French puts it, he certainly "did not want to be classified
alongside people who climbed off banana boats wearing zoot-suits and
wanted jobs in factories."

An admitted snob, Naipaul was at odds not only with the Third World
but with pop entertainment, pop politics, pop lifestyles. "He detested
hippies, yippies, beatniks, free school, flower power, Black Power,
flag burning, hair growing, sit-ins, be-ins, teach-ins and love-ins,"
states French. He bewailed the attention the Beatles received,
angering many readers of the Saturday Evening Post when in an essay,
"What's Wrong With Being a Snob?," he lamented that "entertainers from
the slums [have] replaced the Queen as a cause for national pride."

Moreover, Naipaul was famously frugal. He did his own accounts and
bookkeeping (with his first wife's help) and was more than happy when
possible to take advantage of offers for extended stays in various
friends' houses or flats to save money."

The New York Times Review is at this link --

The Boston Globe Review is at this link--

The First Chapter of the biography is available at this link --

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In the world's biggest democracy, homosexuality is illegal

Several prominent Indian authors, professors, and other professionals
choose not to live in India because they are unable to reveal and live
with their sexual bent.

From the Boston Globe --

"Even with the white horse rented, his gold-speckled turban fitted,
and the wedding hall lined up, Mahesh did not feel ready to get
married, at least not to a woman.

The shy computer engineer is gay.

But Mahesh went ahead with the elaborate ceremony in May because
someone he had befriended online blackmailed him - threatening to tell
his parents unless he paid $5,500.

Severely depressed and suffering from insomnia, Mahesh recently
swallowed a dozen painkillers. He survived. But his blackmailer heard
he was in the hospital and demanded more cash to keep his secret.

Three months later, Mahesh said he is broke and taking several
antidepressants. He is still married.

"I really don't want to die. But I also don't want to keep lying,"
said the 24-year-old, who spoke from a counseling center and asked to
be called by his first name. "I feel so trapped. According to the law,
my blackmailer can report me and have me arrested."

That's because in the world's biggest democracy, homosexuality is illegal.

The Indian penal code describes the act as "against the order of
nature" and declares it punishable by 10 years to life in prison,
longer than most rape or murder sentences.

But several human rights groups are making a historic challenge to the
law, imposed by the British in 1860, in the New Delhi High Court. The
effort to repeal the law is seen as a test case of India's commitment
to secular democracy, with some legal specialists saying that moral or
religious arguments cannot trump constitutional rights in a democratic
society. A verdict is expected before the end of the year."

Read the full article at--

Indian American Gunman Kills One at a Church in New Jersey

Another example of a crime in which an Indian American was involved.
As written in the New York Times --

"A gunman invaded a small church in Clifton, N.J., during services on
Sunday and killed his estranged wife and critically wounded two other
people with shots to the head in what appeared to be the climax of a
violent domestic quarrel that had reached from California to India to
New Jersey over
As more than 100 worshipers dived under the pews of St. Thomas Syrian
Orthodox Knanaya Church, the assailant, after an argument in the
foyer, fired four shots from a silver handgun, striking his wife, who
had refused to leave the church with him; a relative who had recently
taken her in; and a man who either happened upon or tried to intervene
in the confrontation, the police and witnesses said.

The shootings happened at 11:44 a.m., a witness said.

The gunman ran from the church and drove away in a green convertible
Jeep Wrangler with a black soft top and the California license
5JHD200, said the police, who identified him as Joseph Pallipurath,
27, of Sacramento. He remained at large Sunday night as the New Jersey
State Police and law enforcement authorities in northern New Jersey
widened a manhunt on highways and at transportation terminals.

The victims were taken to St. Joseph's Medical Center in Paterson,
where Mr. Pallipurath's wife, Reshma James, 24, died about 4 p.m., the
police said. The other victims, both listed in very critical
condition, were identified by church members as Ms. James's relative,
Silvy Perincheril, 47, of Hawthorne, N.J., who is the principal of the
church's Sunday school, and Dennis John Malloosseril, 23, a church

Read the full article at--

Saturday, November 22, 2008

If we are here, what are they doing there?

"It was five years ago that I left America to come live and work in
India. Now, in our family and among our Indian-American friends, other
children of immigrants are exploring motherland opportunities. As
economies convulse in the West and jobs dry up, the idea is spreading
virally in émigré homes.

Which raises a heart-stirring question: If our parents left India and
trudged westward for us, if they manufactured from scratch a new life
there for us, if they slogged, saved, sacrificed to make our lives
lighter than theirs, then what does it mean when we choose to migrate
to the place they forsook?

If we are here, what are they doing there?" writes Anand Giridhardas
in an essay in the New York Times.

A very interesting read at --

Friday, November 21, 2008

Insurer Offers Option for Surgery in India

The trend is getting more popular, reports the New York Times --

"The health insurer Wellpoint is testing a new program that gives
covered patients the option of going to India for elective surgery,
with no out-of-pocket medical costs and free travel for both the
patient and a companion.

The program is being tested at Serigraph, a printing company in
Wisconsin whose managers have been looking for ways to curb rising
health care costs, said Dr. Razia Hashmi, chief medical officer for
national accounts for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which is
affiliated with Wellpoint.

"This is a first for us," Dr. Hashmi said. "We will be monitoring
every aspect of this very closely, to make sure everyone is satisfied
and there are good clinical outcomes."

By the year 2010, more than 6 million Americans annually will be
seeking medical treatment abroad, according to the Deloitte Center for
Health Solutions, a consultancy. The potential savings are
significant. Knee surgery that costs $70,000 to $80,000 in the United
States can be performed in India for $8,000 to $10,000, including
follow-up care and rehabilitation, Dr. Hashmi said. Similar savings
could be achieved for such common procedures as hip replacements and
spine surgery."

Read the full article at--

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Serious Monkey Business?

"An Indian man has come up with a novel way of making ends meet - he dresses as a monkey to scare away monkeys for money.
Acchan Miyan, alias Gudde, is employed by the railways administration in Lucknow, in India's northern Uttar Pradesh, to stop monkeys menacing passengers. His skills have proved invaluable at Charbag railway station of Lucknow," reports Reuters.

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire, by the British filmmaker Danny Boyle has been
getting rave reviews from the press. The New York Times calls it "a
part-vérité, part-magical journey into ground zero of the Indian dream
— a Mumbai slum — with a film that tells the story of love, pluck and
greed through the eyes of a child forced to grow up too soon."

"Slumdog Millionaire" is ostensibly about a young contestant on the
Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." The story of his
short but rich life unfolds in a series of flashbacks, one game-show
question at a time. Foreign audiences will find some of those
flashbacks to be brutal, even revolting, but such is an Indian slum
dog's life. And Mr. Boyle, 52, the maker of films as varied as
"Trainspotting," "The Beach" and "28 Days Later," does not flinch from
it. He sees this as a movie about memory, each remembrance pulling the
hero closer to the woman of his dreams," says teh review in the New
York Times.

Read the full review at --

More reviews and details about the film at--

Indian Americans - Coming home

Yet another interesting article in the American Diversity Report about
Reverse Brain Drain.

"The United States has the best educational infrastructure and has the
biggest market for goods and services. Indian companies aspiring to
grow sales in these markets find it difficult to manage the cultural
intricacies and subtle communication for negotiations. Thus Indian
companies have hired an increasing number of American citizens to give
that insight among marketing to that market. Similarly countries
wanting to enter the Indian market are happy to hire Indian Americans
who are aware of working in both cultures. This is also especially
true in the outsourcing sector where Indian Americans who have
returned are in great demand, because they have the expertise as well
as the networking needed,"says this article.

Read the full article at --

U.S. Slowdown Dulls Sparkle of India's Diamond Capital

"The global capital of the diamond-polishing trade is losing its
luster. For more than two decades, this coastal city in the western
Indian state of Gujarat has been a crucial way station in the world's
diamond trade: Eight of every 10 finished diamonds in the world are
cut and polished here before export to markets such as the U.S. At its
peak three years ago, the industry generated exports of about $12
billion a year.

But while wages elsewhere in India have risen, the owners of
diamond-cutting businesses have kept a tight cap on pay, prompting an
exodus of workers for more lucrative jobs. Now the industry is bracing
for another blow, this one from the slowdown in the U.S., which as
recently as two years ago imported roughly half the diamonds finished
in Surat," according to an article in the Wall Street Journal titled
"U.S. Slowdown Dulls Sparkle of India's Diamond Capital."

Another example of how hte US slowdown is affecting various segments
of industry worldwide.

Read the full article at --

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bombay Gourmet

An interesting article by math professor and skilled fiction witer
Manil Suri in the New York Times titled "Bombay Gourmet" begins thus
"Growing up in India, I lived with my parents in a single room, part
of a flat shared with three other families. Although we were middle
class, there were times when our finances dipped to the change I
collected in the slotted metal box by my bed. Still, my parents
managed to scrimp enough to put me through an elite private school —
my ticket to a better future, they said. It was a bittersweet parting
when I received a scholarship to study mathematics in America; my
parents knew I was leaving behind everything in the life I shared so
closely with them. For the next eight years, I industriously
assimilated myself into America. Then in 1988, a seven-month research
sabbatical took me to Paris.

Now that I had made it to this third continent, a whole new culture
awaited exploration. I sat at cafes sipping Pernod and speaking
French. I splurged on a nice apartment. (Look, Mom and Dad, my own
place in Paris!) I started putting mousse in my hair, then styling
foam as well. With Europe on my résumé, my promotion from Immigrant to
World Citizen seemed within reach.

What truly drew me in was the food. I explored every marché I could
find and ate at starred restaurants I could ill afford. I learned to
tell the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy, Brie and Chaource.
Watching the just-released "Babette's Feast" near the end of my stay,
I had an idea: Wouldn't it be great to prepare a multicourse French
meal for my parents in Bombay to give them a taste of the new world I

Continue reading this entertaining essay at --

Thursday, November 13, 2008

India's Colleges Battle a Thicket of Red Tape

"Loosening the Indian government's famously bureaucratic "License Raj"
when it comes to governing businesses has helped spur an economic
surge that has transformed the country and its standing in the world.
In contrast, critics say India's educational system remains mired in
red tape that stifles expansion and innovation.

The system falls far short of meeting the demand among young people
for places in good colleges and universities. And it deprives India of
the ranks of well-educated graduates it needs to supply crucial
industries such as information technology and pharmaceuticals," says
an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, "India's Colleges Battle
a Thicket of Red Tape"

As someone who understands how the educational system in India works,
the more that is written about the red tapism, the reservation system
and the dire lack of a meritocracy, articles such as these are a
welcome read. The more that everyone understands the problems facing
education in India, the more the chances of the awareness bringing
about solutions.

Read the full article at --

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sinus Sufferer Turns Nasal Spray Project Into Sales Leader

An Indian American doctor couple have made it big with their new
product, Sinus Rinse.

"The soft-spoken Dr. Mehta and his wife, Nina, are the masterminds
behind Sinus Rinse, an over-the-counter nasal irrigation product that
has relieved millions of sinusitis sufferers from throbbing headaches
and the nose-clogging effects of seasonal sinus infections.
Since 2000, their privately owned company, NeilMed Pharmaceuticals,
has evolved from a pet project into a 250-employee player in Santa
Rosa's $1.5 billion medical technology sector and a leader in the $6
billion United States market for sinus treatments.

Much of this growth has come in the last two years. Although the
Mehtas declined to disclose revenue figures, Dr. Mehta estimates
NeilMed has tripled sales of Sinus Rinse and its other products during
that time. The gains came as the company expanded from its regional
base to sell its line of nasal-oriented wares nationally in
supermarkets, drug store chains and big-box outlets like Wal-Mart and
Costco, as well as in Europe, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

"There is no huge secret to what we are doing here," said Dr. Mehta,
NeilMed's founder and president. "It is a simple product and a lot of
people can copy it; what sets us apart is the way we execute our
plan," says an article in the New York Times

Read the full article at--

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rescuing Cultures of India, From A to Z

In the midst of financial crises and technological advances, rescuing
cultures is not be forgotten.

"In an academy deep in the agrarian countryside of western India, five
students were writing briskly in ruled notebooks. They were in their
early 20s and newly enrolled, but there was no discounting the gravity
of their assignment: When they are finished, the world will have five
more documented languages," says an article in teh NEw York times
titled, "Rescuing Cultures of India, From A to Z"

The article says, "One word at a time, they are producing dictionaries
of languages with which they grew up, but which scarcely exist in the
rest of the world. These are oral languages, whose sounds have perhaps
never before been reproduced in ink.

"If we make this, those who come after us will profit from it," said
Kantilal Mahala, 21, taking a brief respite from his work on the
Kunkna language. "In my village, people who move ahead speak only
Gujarati. They feel ashamed of our language."

It is not only obscure languages that these students are trying to
chronicle and preserve, but also cuisines, sartorial habits and other
significant elements of rural culture. Like drivers heading downtown
at rush hour, the students see everyone else going the other way. A
swelling class of Indian aspirants from small towns and villages like
Tejgadh sees urban life and the English language as pathways to
affluence, security and respect.

Had it not been for Ganesh Devy, a former professor of English
literature who founded the academy more than a decade ago, the young
people in this rural community might have gone down that path. He
created the school, known as the Adivasi Academy, with a burning
question on his mind: Why do we wait for cultures to die to
memorialize them?

"There is a continent of culture getting submerged, and that's why I
wanted to take the plunge," Mr. Devy said.

With financing from the Ford Foundation and other philanthropic
groups, the Adivasi Academy tries to preserve a culture by steeping a
new generation of villagers in their own quickly disappearing

Read the full article at--

Sea of Poppies

Amitav Ghosh's latest book "the Sea of Poppies" was nominated for the
Booker Prize and is getting rave reviews from the press.

"At its heart, Amitav Ghosh's epic novel, Sea of Poppies, is a book
about seeking freedom and renewal in breathtaking, daring ways.

Written in a polyglot language of 19th-century sailors — where Hindi
and English mixed freely — the novel tells the stories of a disparate
group of seafarers aboard a former slave ship that has been
retrofitted for the opium trade and its human cargo," says NPR.

The New York Times review says--

"At the start of "Sea of Poppies," Amitav Ghosh presents two indelible
visions: a tall-masted ship 400 miles from the Indian coast and a
voluptuous agricultural crop, a profusion of flowers capable of
warping the world. The crop, the livelihood of a woman named Deeti and
her neighbors, is opium poppies. The ship is named the Ibis, and at
first it seems a pipe dream, a figment of Deeti's imagination. But
during the course of this novel, the first installment in his
projected Ibis trilogy, Mr. Ghosh turns the ship into something
robustly, bawdily and indelibly real.

Deeti's family is one of many that supply produce to a British-run
opium factory in Ghazipur in colonial India. It is 1838, a pivotal
year in the annals of the opium trade, when Mr. Ghosh's story so
vividly begins. Poppy farming is considered a perfectly legitimate
line of agricultural work, especially by the businessmen who find it
so profitable. And the Ibis, which will become a rowdy and imposing
vessel as this novel gets under way, transports both drugs and
outcasts to far-flung corners of the world.

Originally a slave ship making raids in West Africa, the Ibis is not a
prized vessel. Even in a new, improved incarnation, it is "a
hell-afloat with pinch-gut pay," in the words of a crew member named
Zachary Reid, a freed slave's son from Baltimore. Yet this ship
becomes home to Mr. Ghosh's sparkling array of eccentrics, blowhards,
runaway lovers and people seeking new leases on life. One of its most
memorable passengers is a raja, seen at the height of power and
privilege as the book begins. Later, humiliated and exiled, he sails
aboard the Ibis past the fief he once ruled.

And although none of these people know it, their ship appears to be
headed toward the fight that will be central to Mr. Ghosh's extended
story: the Opium Wars, waged between Britain and China over the
British East India Company's monopolistic drug trade. "Sea of Poppies"
is pointed toward that conflict, in a series perhaps headed for the
thick of the fray. This opening book concentrates affectionately on
its oddly matched characters, explaining who is aboard the Ibis and
the curious, roundabout way in which each has wound up adrift in this

The tale told engagingly by "Sea of Poppies" is hardly a
straightforward one. Beyond the clever circuitousness of Mr. Ghosh's
narrative there is also a language barrier to be surmounted. "Sea of
Poppies" is written in thick, polyglot jargon that is made more or
less self-explanatory by its context but still gives the book a
mischievous linguistic fascination. For instance: "Wasn't a man in
town who could put on a burra-khana like he did. Sheeshmull blazing
with shammers and candles. Paltans of bearers and khidmutgars.
Demijohns of French loll-shrub and carboys of iced simkin. And the
karibat!" Many such passages also have a cryptically obscene ring.

"Sea of Poppies" comes equipped with a lexicon of sorts, an addendum
that Mr. Ghosh calls "The Ibis Chrestomathy." If you need to pause to
contemplate what chrestomathy means (one dictionary definition: "a
selection of literary selections, especially in a foreign language, as
an aid to learning"), it won't be the only time "Sea of Poppies" slows
you down. Mr. Ghosh uses this lexicon to provide elaborate
amplifications of his favorite (though by no means all of the book's)
turns of phrase and to connect those words with the characters who use

Listen to the NPR story at--

Read the NYT review at--

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Mumbai, Striving and Sinking

This has always been one of the Indian paradoxes, one that is
increasing with the countries growing economic status. One that
exhibits characteristics of a capitalistic society where the rich get
richer and the poor get poorer. An interesting article about the
growing city of Mumbai, one which is seeking to attain the status of
"World Class City."

From the New York Times essay --
"This city, before it was a city, was a dusting of seven islands in
the choppy brine off India's western coast. Beginning nearly three
centuries ago, it was gradually reclaimed from the sea, seven masses
forging one, and claimed by the teeming country at its back. Dangling
in the Arabian Sea, it has become Mumbai, India's stock-trading and
film-making capital and its window to the world.

But if the reclaiming was complete, the claiming never was. The city
was tethered to the subcontinent by a land bridge in the northern
suburbs, 20 miles from the upper-crust stronghold of South Mumbai,
where mainland India felt remote. The rich were in India but not of
it. When news arrived of distant floods and famines, malfeasance and
malnutrition, they told themselves that theirs was a world apart.

Escapism was constant. In the 1960s, young elites observed the Western
music hour on All India Radio like a religion. In the 1980s, wealthy
women flew to London to avoid the steamy bazaars. Recent years have
brought diversions like gelato, sushi, fashion shows with Russian
models, velvet-rope nightclubs, restaurants that cook the
ever-less-sacred cow medium-rare.

Here the highest social boast is that you "just got back" from abroad;
the loftiest praise for a restaurant is, "It's like you're not in
India." Mumbai's globalized class hungers for it to be a world city,
and its leaders pledge to make it Shanghai-like by 2020; the plan is,
to put it gently, behind schedule. The rich blush when Madonna dines
at Salt Water Grill and Angelina Jolie drinks at Indigo: portents,
they say, that Mumbai will join New York, London, Paris in that
coterie of names emblazoned on the epidermis of boutiques everywhere.

Arriving from overseas, one encounters first this outward-looking
city. But in the layers below, a strange truth is buried. If the elite
live in virtual exile, seeing Mumbai as a port of departure, the city
teems with millions of migrants who see it as the opposite — a
mesmeric port of arrival, offering what the mainland doesn't: a chance
to invent oneself, to break destiny.

For the writer, the Dickensian lens offers an easy view of Mumbai:
wealthy and poor, apartment-dwelling and slum-dwelling, bulbous and
malnourished. In office elevators, the bankers and lawyers are a foot
taller, on average, than the less-fed delivery men.

Luscious skyscrapers sprout beside mosquito-prone shantytowns. This is
at once a city of paradise and of hell. But Mumbai's paradox is that
it is often the dwellers of paradise who feel themselves in hell and
the dwellers of hell who feel themselves in paradise.

What you see in Mumbai depends on what else you have seen. For those
who grew up in Westernized homes, the standard is New York. That
comparison is hard on Mumbai.

To be sure, in my five years here, which are now ending, the city has
inched toward world-city status. Restaurants began to serve
miso-encrusted sea bass. Indian-Western fashion boutiques started to
attract global jet-setters. The air kiss became as Indian as not
kissing once was.

But it takes a muscular suspension of disbelief to pretend that
Mumbai, which used to be called Bombay, is what its elite wishes it
were. Residents will tell you that Mumbai is "just like New York,"
before launching a tirade about why it isn't: nowhere nice to eat,
same incestuous social scene, no offbeat films, no privacy. There is a
sense in this crowd of a city forever striving to be what it isn't.

Still, minute after minute, migrants pour in with starkly different
pasts and starkly different ideas of Mumbai."

Read the full article at--

An Artist in Exile Tests India’s Democratic Ideals

Freedom of speech and expression, clearly needs to be better defined.
PAinters, writers and other artists push the limits, but what are the
limits, and where are they defined?

Somini Sengupta writes in the New York Times, " Maqbool Fida Husain,
India's most famous painter, is afraid to go home.

Mr. Husain is a Muslim who is fond of painting Hindu goddesses,
sometimes portraying them nude. That obsession has earned him the ire
of a small but organized cadre of Hindu nationalists. They have
attacked galleries that exhibit his work, accused him in court of
"promoting enmity" among faiths and, on one occasion, offered an $11
million reward for his head.

In September, the country's highest court offered him an unexpected
reprieve, dismissing one of the cases against him with the blunt
reminder that Hindu iconography, including ancient temples, is replete
with nudity. Still, the artist, 93 and increasingly frail, is not
taking any chances. For two years, he has lived here in self-imposed
exile, amid opulently sterile skyscrapers. He intends to remain, at
least for now. "They can put me in a jungle," Mr. Husain said gamely.
"Still, I can create."

Freedom of expression has frequently, and by some accounts,
increasingly, come under fire in India, as the country tries to
balance the dictates of its secular democracy with the easily inflamed
religious and ethnic passions of its multitudes.

The result is a strange anomaly in a nation known for its vibrant,
freewheeling political culture. The government is compelled to ensure
respect for India's diversity and at the same time prevent one group
from pouncing on another for a perceived offense. Ramachandra Guha, a
historian, calls it "perhaps the fundamental challenge of governance
in India."

The rise of an intense brand of identity politics, with India's many
communities mobilizing for political power, has intensified the
problem. An accusation that a piece of art or writing is offensive is
an easy way to whip up the sentiments of a particular caste, faith or
tribe, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an Indian political scientist, points out.
He calls it "offense mongering."

Read the full article at--

Friday, November 07, 2008

Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger

A interesting review of the Booker Prize winnning "The White Tiger" by
Aravind Adiga in the New York Times reads thus --

"Balram Halwai, the narrator of Aravind Adiga's first novel, "The
White Tiger," is a modern Indian hero. In a country inebriated by its
newfound economic prowess, he is a successful entrepreneur, a
self-made man who has risen on the back of India's much-vaunted
technology industry. In a nation proudly shedding a history of poverty
and underdevelopment, he represents, as he himself says, "tomorrow."

Balram's triumphal narrative, framed somewhat inexplicably as a letter
to the visiting Chinese premier, unfurls over seven days and nights in
Bangalore.It's a rather more complicated story than Balram initially
lets on. Before moving to Bangalore, he was a driver for the
weak-willed son of a feudal landlord. One rainy day in Delhi, he
crushed the skull of his employer and stole a bag containing a large
amount of money, capital that financed his Bangalore taxi business.
That business — ferrying technology workers to and from their jobs —
depends, in turn, on keeping the police happy with the occasional

As a parable of the new India, then, Balram's tale has a distinctly
macabre twist. He is not (or not only) an entrepreneur but a roguish
criminal with a remarkable capacity for self-justification. Likewise,
the background against which he operates is not just a resurgent
economy and nation but a landscape of corruption, inequality and
poverty. In some of the book's more convincing passages, Balram
describes his family's life in "the Darkness," a region deep in the
heartland marked by medieval hardship, where brutal landlords hold
sway, children are pulled out of school into indentured servitude and
elections are routinely bought and sold.

This grim world is far removed from the glossy images of Bollywood
stars and technology entrepreneurs that have been displacing earlier
(and equally clichéd) Indian stereotypes featuring yoga and
spirituality. It is not a world that rich urban Indians like to see."

Read the full review at--

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Indian Cowboys Rope Them In!

And you thought cowboys were an American thing!!! Read this excerpt
from a New York Times article.

"Brajveer Singh does not own a wide-brimmed hat, leather boots or a
pair of jeans. He has never ridden a mechanical bull.

Cow catchers rely on rope lassos and brute strength to capture the
cows, whose slaughter is banned throughout most of India.
But he can lay claim to being a real-life urban cowboy. Mr. Singh is
among the dozens of men who spend their days roping cattle on the
streets of this city as part of a long and frustrating battle to rid
India's capital of stray cows.

There is perhaps no more stereotypical image of India than that of a
stray cow sauntering down the middle of a busy city street, seemingly
oblivious to the traffic swerving around it.

Hindus consider cows sacred animals, and their slaughter is banned
throughout most of India. Cows are frequently allowed to wander where
they please, even in cities, where Indians tend to view them much the
way Americans and Europeans regard pigeons — an unpleasant but
intractable part of the urban landscape.

But in New Delhi, many residents long ago lost patience with the
thousands of stray cattle. In 2002, after citizens petitioned the
courts to do something about them, judges ordered the cattle cleared
from the roads.

Six years later, however, the cows are still here. In September, the
government missed the latest in a series of court-ordered deadlines
for their removal, but officials say the city is committed to solving
the problem before the Commonwealth Games, which will be in New Delhi
in 2010.

Meeting that goal is up to Mr. Singh and the city's 164 other "cow catchers."

One recent morning, Mr. Singh and the seven other men in his team
gathered near their truck in Old Delhi, the capital's ancient heart.
Seven of them squeezed into the cab, while one stood scraping day-old
manure out of the truck's long, high-sided bed.

They set off looking for cows.

This is dangerous work. Only on the rare occasions when a trained
veterinarian accompanies them are the cattle catchers allowed to use
tranquilizer darts or a stun gun. Instead, they rely on rope lassos
and brute strength to capture the beasts, which often charge into
traffic or kick and buck violently in an attempt to escape.

On this particular day, Mr. Singh literally seized a young bull by the
horns, wrestling him into position for roping.

"The key is, once you have the horn in your hand, try hard not to let
go," he said with a grin.

He and the other cow catchers all have tales of being injured on the
job, suffering everything from rope burns to broken bones. One even
lost an eye when he was gored by a bull.

But far more dangerous than the cattle, according to the cowboys, are
the people they encounter. The cow catchers have been involved in
fistfights with drivers enraged that the cowboys have blocked traffic
while trying to remove cows from a busy road. Religious Hindus, who
sometimes feed the stray cattle found near temples, have on rare
occasions been known to pelt cow catchers with stones.

"It's an occupational hazard," said the city's most senior cow
catcher, Virpal Singh, who is no relation to Brajveer Singh."

Read the full article at--