Friday, September 24, 2010
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.
Posted by Visi Tilak at 1:20 PM
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Posted by Visi Tilak at 10:32 PM
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Divisions persist despite prosperity in India - The Boston Globe
Divisions persist despite prosperity in India
Economic gains have not been equally shared
By Lydia Polgreen, New York Times | September 19, 2010
CHENNAI, India — Chezi K. Ganesan looks every inch the high-tech entrepreneur, dressed in the Silicon Valley uniform of denim shirt and khaki trousers, slick smart phone close at hand. He splits his time between San Jose and this booming coastal metropolis, running his $6 million-a-year computer chip-making company.
His family has come a long way. His grandfather was not allowed to enter Hindu temples, or even to stand too close to upper-caste people, and women of his Nadar caste, who stood one notch above untouchables in India’s ancient caste hierarchy, were once forced to bare their breasts before upper caste men as a reminder of their low station.
“Caste has no impact on life today,’’ Ganesan said in an interview at one of Chennai’s exclusive social clubs, the kind of place where a generation ago someone of his caste would not have been welcome. “It is no longer a barrier.’’
The Nadars’ spectacular rise from despised manual laborers who made a mildly alcoholic palm wine to the leading business community of one of India’s most prosperous states offers significant clues to India’s caste conundrum and how it has impeded economic progress in many parts of the country.
India is enjoying an extended economic boom, with near double-digit growth. But the benefits have not been equally shared, and southern India has rocketed far ahead of much of the rest of the country on virtually every score — people here earn more money, are better educated, live longer lives, and have fewer children.
A crucial factor is the collapse of the caste system over the last several decades, a factor that undergirds many of the other reasons that the south has prospered — more stable governments, better infrastructure, and a geographic position that gives it closer connections to the global economy.
“The breakdown of caste hierarchy has broken the traditional links between caste and profession, and released enormous entrepreneurial energies in the south,’’ said Ashutosh Varshney, a professor at Brown University who has studied the role of caste in southern India’s development.
This breakdown, he said, goes a long way to explaining “why the south has taken such a lead over the north in the last three decades.’’ India’s Constitution abolished caste, the social hierarchy that has ordered Indian life for millenniums, and instituted a system of quotas to help those at the bottom rise up. But caste divisions persist nonetheless, with upper castes dominating many spheres of life despite their relatively small numbers.
Read the full story at the link below --
Posted by Visi Tilak at 10:19 PM
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Watch and learn
How music videos are triggering a literacy boom
By Riddhi ShahSeptember 19, 2010
Tiny, sun-soaked Khodi on the western coast of India’s Gujarat state is the kind of village where cattle still plough the fields and women fill clay pots with water from the village well. In the past few years, however, the town has been changing: Thatched mud huts are slowly giving way to sturdy, single-story concrete blocks; farmers conduct their business on cellphones. The state buses, which until a decade ago were only filled with men, are now crammed with women. Enrollment in the local school has soared.
These changes can be attributed partly to India’s recent economic liberalization, which has raised incomes and brought unprecedented growth across the country. But in Khodi, there’s another, more unlikely contributor: the soaring local literacy rate, courtesy of music videos.
Every Sunday in villages across India, groups of people — an assortment of turbaned men, sari-clad women, and gap-toothed children — gather around old television sets to watch their favorite Bollywood film stars sing and dance in song videos culled from movies. These song shows, a popular component of mainstream television programming, are often the only way rural populations can see the stars or access the latest films.
Nine years ago, India’s national television network decided to introduce karaoke-style subtitles to these programs — not in a foreign language, but in Hindi, the language the stars were singing in. The first state to broadcast the subtitles was Gujarat. People in Khodi, and in the rest of the state, saw the captions as an opportunity to sing along with the songs. They began paying attention to the moving strip of lyrics at the bottom of the screen. Often, they would copy the words on paper, going back to them after the show was over. And as they did, the reading level in Khodi slowly improved.
According to Hema Jadvani, a researcher who has been studying the effects of the subtitles on Khodi, newspaper reading in the village has gone up by more than 50 percent in the last decade. Her research also shows that the village’s women, who can now read bus schedules themselves, are more mobile, and more children are opting to stay in school.
India’s public karaoke-for-literacy experiment is the only one of its kind in the world. Technically known as same-language subtitling, or SLS, it manages to reach 200 million viewers across 10 states every week. In the last nine years, functional literacy in areas with SLS access has more than doubled. And the subtitles have acted as a catalyst to quadruple the rate at which completely illiterate adults become proficient readers.
Read the full article at the link below --
Read the full article at the link below --
Posted by Visi Tilak at 2:16 PM
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Thursday, September 09, 2010
SPECIAL REPORT: THE FEMALE FACTOR
In Old Societies, New Fashions Convey Power
From left to right: Anupama Dayal, Network18, MIFW & Sobol Fashion Productions.
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
Published: September 9, 2010
NEW DELHI — Women in corporate India are opting for form-fitting business suits. In Sudan, a woman who dares to wear trousers is sent to jail. In the capitals of Europe, a Muslim head scarf becomes a political lightning rod. And across the Islamic world, a new crop of designers is nudging women to step out of fashion purdah with clothes that meld global catwalk trends with Muslim mores.
In old societies facing a flurry of Western goods and ideas, a woman often carries the competing demands of tradition and modernity on her back. How she dresses conveys a great deal more than her individual sense of style. She is sized up by what she does or does not wear, whether it is by her parents, in-laws, co-workers, loutish men on the bus, and even, as with the debate over the Islamic head scarf, by politicians.
Sometimes she conforms to tradition, sometimes she challenges it. Often she combines old and new in ways that can confuse or surprise.
Consider the case of India today, where a decade of roaring economic growth has been accompanied by new opportunities for the urban, educated woman — and in turn, offering her a vast menu of new looks.
“Almost every day I feel this country changes,” said Anupamaa Dayal, a designer based in New Delhi whose latest autumn collection is studded with short dresses and floppy tunics. “And who changes the fastest? It’s the woman.”
As a woman earns more money, power and freedom, it often engenders changes, both stark and subtle, in how she dresses. But more so than men, however, women find that their wardrobe choices are often calibrated by cultural expectations: modesty, authority, shifting ideals of femininity. What may connote tradition to a Westerner could telegraph a higher status to an Asian or African woman and her people.
Read the full article at -- http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/10/world/asia/10iht-ffsomini.html?emc=tnt&tntemail0=y
Posted by Visi Tilak at 11:03 PM
September 9, 2010
Managing the Future to Keep the Past
By AKASH KAPUR
PONDICHERRY, INDIA — This town is really two. To the east, facing the ocean, is the White Town, or La Ville Blanche as it was known in colonial times, when the French ruled this corner of India. To the west, on the other side of a covered canal, is Black Town, or La Ville Noire, where the natives lived for much of French rule, which ended in 1954.
La Ville Noire is for the most part crowded, dusty and overwhelming. Ugly modern buildings, decked out in tinted glass and neon-bright colors, have taken the place of old tiled houses. Commercial streets are noisy and suffer from unregulated construction.
La Ville Blanche has an altogether different feel. It is dominated by wide, tree-lined boulevards, high-ceilinged villas, and a shady park that extends outside an imposing mansion, the official home of Pondicherry’s lieutenant governor. Commercial development in this part of town is generally understated: small hotels, tasteful boutiques and French restaurants, many operating out of renovated villas.
La Ville Blanche is something of a rarity in the urban landscape of India. Few Indian cities are as attractive or peaceful, and few retain as much of their original character. With a small number of exceptions, most cities are an agglomeration of modern concrete blocks.
In his 1990 book “India: A Million Mutinies Now,” V.S. Naipaul lamented the neglect of heritage buildings in the country. Modern Indian architecture, he wrote, in his characteristically dyspeptic fashion, “spoils people’s day-to-day lives; it wears down their nerves; it generates rages that can flow into many different channels.”
Mr. Naipaul was perhaps overstating the case. But there is little doubt that, for a country so proud of its ancient history, Indian cities are strikingly indifferent to the past.
Read the full article at -- http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/10/world/asia/10iht-letter.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail0=y
Posted by Visi Tilak at 11:01 PM
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
SPECIAL REPORT: ART IN PERSPECTIVE
India's Online Auction Pioneers
By GAYATRI RANGACHARI SHAH
Published: September 7, 2010
MUMBAI — The global art community is abuzz with news of the online-only V.I.P. Art Fair in January, for which several major galleries have signed up. But in the world of art auctions, a start-up from India recognized the Web potential of art a decade ago.
Founded in 2000 by the husband-and-wife team of Dinesh and Minal Vazirani, Saffronart specializes in the sale of modern and contemporary Indian art and claims to be the world’s largest fine-art online auction house. Based in Mumbai, with offices in New York and London, the company has rapidly elbowed its way onto the Indian art auction scene, alongside established veterans like Christie’s and Sotheby’s. While the company is not the only online art auctioneer in India, it pioneered the concept there.
Its fall auction, to be held this weekend, is offering 90 works by 43 Indian artists, including star lots by S.H. Raza and Jehangir Sabavala.
From a modest start of $126,000 in online art sales in 2000, Saffronart is projecting about $30 million in art auction sales this year. While this may be a relatively small portion of the global art auction market, the market for Indian art has grown exponentially since Sotheby’s held the first-ever auction of modern Indian art in 1995. The Indian art auction market has shot up from $3 million in 2000 to an estimated $120 million this year, Saffronart says. Saffronart alone grew 97 percent in compound annual growth terms from 2000 to 2008.
The company holds four auctions a year, each accompanied by a slick catalog. Over a two-day period, 200 to 250 collectors from around the world log on to enter their bids. Saffronart charges a 15 percent commission on buyers for works valued up to $500,000. The company has also ventured into jewelry auctions and luxury home sales.
As part of its efforts to increase visibility and credibility, the auction house curates shows of modern and contemporary Indian art outside of India, including past exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and Hong Kong.
Driven by what they call a “personal passion” for art, the Vaziranis started Saffronart to combat problems they faced as young art collectors. “When we went out to buy art, we found two things difficult,” said Ms. Vazirani, 39, the president of the company and a former management consultant. “One was trying to figure out the price of a work, because you could walk into two different galleries and have a work by the same artist, in similar size and from a similar period, priced quite differently, sometimes as much as 30 to 35 percent. The other part we found hard was getting access. You might go into a gallery but you weren’t necessarily shown the best work.”
The Vaziranis said they embraced the Internet to reach the largest number of potential buyers around the world. They publish the prices of works on Saffronart’s Web site, an idea considered practically heretical in India 10 years ago. “It allowed for a transparency that hadn’t existed in the Indian art market,” said Ms. Vazirani. “Of course buyers were delighted, but the trade wasn’t as keen on it.” That soon changed, with dealers and galleries eager to consign works once they saw the response to online sales.
Continue reading this article at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/08/arts/08iht-rartsaffron.html?emc=tnt&tntemail0=y
Posted by Visi Tilak at 11:08 PM
India's disappointing government
The economy is powering on, but the Congress-led coalition is squandering an opportunity to improve IndiaThis shambles, for which corruption, feuding ministries, sapping bureaucracy and shoddy workmanship are all to blame, does not matter to many Indians. Athletics is not cricket. And few know much about their country’s image abroad. Yet it is depressing, not least because it mirrors how large parts of India are run.
Continue reading this well written piece at http://www.economist.com/node/16953189
Posted by Visi Tilak at 2:22 PM