Friday, December 29, 2006

Much as I sympathize with people suffering from mental illness ...

... I couldn't help but laugh at Krishnadas Rajagopal's reportage in "'Over-protection of employees has affected efficiency in offices'" (IE, Delhi Newsline, Dec. 29).

Rajagopal recounts the court case surrounding the dismissal of a watchman, Suresh Chand, who contended he spent long spells away from work (frequent, unauthorized absences spread over four years) to be treated for anxiety and depression. What really sunk this poor chap, though, is that his employer provided him medical facilities, but rather than avail of these, the guy went to a private hospital, which produced a certificate for him. Subtext? This man is faking mental illness and using a forged certificate that he bought on the black market as an excuse to tell his workplace to fuck off.

(I do realize that there are a number of issues at play; the way in which mental illness is conceived in India could prevent someone from letting his employers know that he is seeking treatment, but let's be honest: this reeks of foul play.)

The High Court, thank god, upheld Chand's dismissal; the journo writes, "Government organizations in the country are held back by the whims of employees, who consider their appointment to government services as a 'licence to thwart the work culture and discipline of the organisation," the Delhi High Court has observed in an order."

The court, not immune from having itself a little laugh, also observed, "I consider that there are very few persons in India today who are not suffering from one or the other form of anxiety or depression. If such medical certificates are acknowledged as valid for such long, unauthorised absence, no work can be done in any of the government departments."

As a frequent audience for government employee tomfoolery, I applaud this decision ... if only it meant that change would transpire. I'm never going to get back those four hours of waiting for the marriage registrar to consecrate my vows!

Don't go(a) there!

First, props to Atreyee Dev Roy and Rouhan Sharma for crafting one of my favorite leads of the year, published today in The Indian Express ("New year Goa flights on a high"): "Fly Mumbai-Goa-Mumbai on low-cost carrier Air Deccan this weekend for Rs 19,500 or Delhi-London-Delhi on British Airways for Rs 16,330."

Second, hah! Perhaps I can't really speak, because I've never been to Goa, much less the assured bacchanalia of trance parties and free love on one of the world's greatest beaches, but this strikes me as absolutely fucking absurd. And you can't blame the airlines -- they're only charging these fares because they can ("In the run-up to the year end, domestic air fares this season are literally sky high, reflecting an unprecedented shortage in supply in select sectors.").

No, aspiring socialites and social climbers, I'm laughing at you. It may offer prestige to say you spent the naya saal in Goa, and you may get to see and be seen. But I'm guessing that Goa, particularly at this high tourism juncture, is pretty robbed of any of its charm and appeal, because there are so goddamn many morons running around, scantily clad, with oversized Chanel (or Channel, eh?) sunglasses perched on an adorable coif.

I'll take Dharamsala, thankyouverymuch.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

9/11: Officially carbon neutral

Now, I'm not too political, but it's worth noting that more of my countrymen (and women) have died in Iraq (2,974, at last count) than did in the Sept. 11, 2001 (2,973), attacks. Does the number mean anything? Well, if you're trying to weigh it against the political justification for entering Iraq, one might say that the two had nothing to do with one another, and if you're trying to build an argument about the need for us to withdrawal, I might support you.

But if you're me, it means that your brothers (and some dudes you knew in high school) have been deployed to the Middle East about a half a dozen times in the past five years, and you're more than a little (selfishly) thankful that they are not among the bodycount.

I am allergic to being too serious, but this hits home. Luck doesn't last forever, and as much as my family jokes about the boys entrepreneurially selling sex toys to their comrades in the war against terror, it is pretty fucking frightening to have two people you really care about repeatedly risking their lives for a cause that is so....opaque. Here's to a hope that in the new year, a miraculous solution to this whole conundrum will be birthed from the soil, just as the baby Jesus was delivered to the Virgin Mary. Uhhh...totally.

(Insert slogan shouting ['Bring them home! No war for oil!'] and yellow ribbons here.)

You know you've lived outside the U.S. too long when ...

... you no longer cringe when you find several hairs in a vacuum-sealed package of murmura
... you make visitors order normal water instead of mineral water at restaurants (because you can stomach it), and then they get diarrhea for several weeks
... you don't have any friends that are not at least bilingual
... you miss the post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas orgy of consumerism that seems downright wholesame in comparison with the crassness of homeless men shilling plastic Santa masks imported from China to eager buyers in their Mercedes
... your sister is pregnant, and your first thought is, "And 25! What took you so long?"
... McDonald's feels like an exotic treat
... you start craving dal, roti, and pickle at 9:30 in the morning
... you set up a meeting with someone "after lunch" and know you won't show up at his office until at least 3 p.m.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merriment and social policing

Ah, thank God: the Asom Sena will save Guwahati from indecency this year. I was so worried people in the city might actually have to be subjected to making mature choices about where and with whom they want to spend their holiday!

The Indian Express explains, "Asom Sena, the vigilante wing of All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU), has warned that it would not remain a silent spectator, if people crossed the lakshmanrekha of decency. ... Asom Sena is concentrating more on the dozen or more lounge bars and numerous restaurants and highway dhabas, some of which have already announced “exciting parties” for December 31. Two-years-ago, the Sena volunteers had ransacked a major hotel in Guwahati on New Year’s Eve allegedly for crossing the limits of decency. “You cannot allow people to dance with almost nothing on, just because they are happy that the New Year has come,” Nath said."

I'm sure the 20-odd police will be more than happy to help the scantily clad locate lovely clothings...

The great certificate race

This -- "Certificates reduced to ashes, hockey player tries to end life" -- is something one could hardly imagine transpiring in the U.S.

As someone who likes to think of herself as having risen based upon merit (rather than looks, legacy, or relative luck), it's hard to understand why someone would be so shaken up that a few pieces of paper no longer exist. The girl is presumably still an excellent hockey player, one who has honed and can display her talent at will; a few missing papers, in the grand scheme of things, is rather minor.

But this is India, the land of a billion, and relentless competition imbues these documents with real worth. Although one can sometimes take others at their word, it's far more likely that the girl would be harassed until she furnished some tangible proof of her history. Sure, she could forge some papers, but that is a) expensive and b) risky.

Most of my American homeboys have this inkling that people here can fake everything, buy papers, hide behind the proliferating population, slip through the cracks and have it all turn out all right. But it seems to me that it's the opposite; yes, you can navigate life relatively unmolested, so long as the social constructs that have been erected portend your safe passage. Step out of line -- lose your papers, choose an alternative sexuality, marry later than people in your family traditionally have -- and, unless you are the lowest of the low or the highest of the high, pay the price.

Oh yeah, by the way: Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

MY year in cities

Idea snagged from here.

In 2006, I've been in:
1) New Delhi, India
2) Munich, Germany
3) New York, New York
4) Portland, Oregon
5) Milwaukie, Oregon
6) Frankfurt, Germany
7) Jaipur, India
8) Bangkok, Thailand
9) Siem Reap, Cambodia
10) Angkor Wat, Cambodia
11) Phnom Penh, Cambodia
12) Sihanoukville, Cambodia
13) Chandigarh, India
14) Shimla, India
15) Chail, India
16) Patiala, India
I think that about does, I've traveled!! That's four countries. Go me!

Christmas carols: Desi remix

I clearly have too much time on my hands. And thus I present "Christmas Carols I Totally Want to Hear Produced and Remixed and Possibly, Set to a Synth Bhangra Beat":

"All I Want For Christmas Is For You Fucking People To Leave Me Alone"
"The Twelve Days of Tortuous Questions About My Marriage, My Future, and My Reproductive Cycle"
"Cow Dung Roasting On An Open Fire"
"Miscellaneous Biker Got Run Over By A Rickshaw"
"O Leave, All Ye Beggars"
"Deck The Halls (With Boughs of Cheap, Tacky, and Overly Adorned Ornaments Shipped From China So You Feel Like a Part of The Rising Middle Class)"
"Here We Come A-Brandishing the Bhagavad Gita (and A-Harassing You For 100 Rupees)"
"I Heard the Maid Asking For Baksheesh on Christmas Day"
"I Saw The Man Selling Santa Masks at the Stoplight Kissing the Hood of the Mercedes"
"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like A Hallmark Holiday Exploded All Over Khan Market"
"Bhangra-ing Around The Christmas Bush"
"(There's No Place Like) An Overpriced Buffet Line at a Five-Star Hotel for the Holidays"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pri-yucky Chopra

"Psst...Priyanka. That dress? Sorta Dancing With the Stars, but also: nice rack."

"Tee hee...I know!"

"But, um. You know, the beanie? Did some Bollywood hussy rip out, you know, a significant portion of your epidermis, or, um..."

"Just keep smiling, and keep your eyes off my bling."

"And, you know, one more thing. Your arms? And your legs? They're different colors. But still, fab, darling. Fab."

(Credit where credit is due: Salmaan Khan and Priyanka Chopra walk the ramp at the Salaam-e-Ishq music launch; PTI photo carried by HT.)
Thank you, HT photographer Amlan Dutta, for capturing this photograph of Kajol arriving at the premiere of Baabul on December 6.

As the peanut gallery gossips behind her, Kajol smiles through her pain -- and calls her publicist.

"Hi, Hari. I thought you told me ponchos were still an acceptable substitute for a chic shawl. It's bloody cold, but I wanted to look sexy, and yet I hear whispers that umpteen yards of polyester strung together in a fringed chain mail is something of a faux pas. Furthermore, your advice on the bag covered in disarrayed pailletes? Crap. Finally, a waistband, ankle bands, and billowing cotton/spandex are nary a substitute for proper pants. In other words, you're fired."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Writers and Jaipur's heritage

Abhay Mishra's piece in the Indian Express today, "Meet Rushdie, Kiran Desai at Jaipur Heritage Festival," piqued my interest. Anyone been the the heritage fest? Will this manufactured event actually provide fruitful literary commentary, or is it just a publicity stunt, featuring fleeting glimpses of authors whom we have constructed as heroes?

Unfortunately, the article doesn't provide any answers -- or even any details, beyond the fact that it is sometime between January 13 and 23 and presumably in the Pink City -- so I can't offer much food for thought.

I have, however, just finished The Inheritance of Loss, written by Desai. Not great (though it was awarded this year's Booker), but certainly not execrable. It seemed to lack a certain formal structure, hiding behind the larger issues it presented, but perhaps that's just the influence of recent criticism I've imbibed. I will say, however, that the way Desai ran together words reminded me of Arundhati Roy, and at time I contemplated whether Desai won only because India is such a hot topic these days. Furthermore, the part of the novel I found most emotionally resonant? When the dog, Mutt (Mutt Mutty Mutton Chop!) was taken from its owner. Probably not the lasting impression the author hoped her readers would glean.

Monday, December 18, 2006

But how do you pass?

Is gender a yes or no question? Well, if, like me, you were a total hippie and graduated with a double degree in journalism and gender studies, you probably acknowledge the fluidity of one's sexual identity; however, if you're an official from the recently concluded Asian Games in Doha, it's a little more cut and dry.

As in the case of Santhi Soundararajan, whose silver medal in the women's 800 meter race is in jeopardy after she "failed" a "gender test." This will be an interesting case to watch unfold; as of now, the story has a lot of shock value, but little information to substantiate the confounding details.

For example, a gender test involves a board of doctors, a gynecologist, and physical and psychological exams, but what exactly are they testing for? And what does it mean if one fails? Did they find a penis, and, if so (the larger point), are we nothing more than our genitals? Even if one wants to hold sporting competitions that separate the sexes, how far can the regulation of athletes go? Must we really air these personal struggles to a gawping public, always looking for the next big scandal?

As much as I dearly love the media -- and depend upon it to feed my blog -- sometimes I question the business. I have no illusion that the journalists are purposely attempting to meddle in this person's life, and I understand that occasionally, one buys into the idea that all information is good information. But I simply can't see how the international media masturbation is fruitful in any way in this case; of course, I'm not urging media being censored, I'm simply asking if it's always necessary to disseminate story after story when simple questions can't even be accounted for. Next week (theoretically), a story will come out saying that the person "passed" the gender test after all, whatever that means, but will hundreds of newspapers, Web sites, blogs carry this clarification?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A new fave

Word people, pay attention! Great little Web site I just discovered (umm, and I'm probably way behind the curve, so don't skewer me if everyone already understands this site's awesomeness) -- Verbotomy.

Each day the site owner posts a definition and a cartoon illustrating the definition, and people write in suggesting words that could be defined in such a way. That's not a real coherent explanation, I know, but trust me. Give it a click, check out the FAQs and submit you own! There's some sort of strange scoring component, but it's just as well to ignore the social-networking aspects and merely delight in the wonderful, inventive, luscious creative solutions people come up with. Tonight I'll curl up with my latest apparamour, a beautiful embroidered shawl that was a wedding gift, and enjoy the show.

Pantsless fug

Alright. I can overlook the fact that the person who wrote the headline considers these women as adorned with "a bit of glitter" -- the pink outfit, though perhaps not immediately apparent from my poor reproduction of the picture, appears to have been constructed nearly entirely from the remains of a disco ball repurposed after the dismantling of Delhi's latest passe party place. Also disturbing, but not entirely unnerving, are the hairpieces that the women have been styled in: detachable buns styled as if these dainty flowers have just disembarked from a cross-city jaunt on an Enfield or Bajaj scooter.

No, what bothers me most is the nearly nude...churidar? Footless tights? Leggings? The top is an appropriate (if more-than-slightly tacky) dress, but coupling it with some bastard stepchild of Mary Kate Olsen's skintight retro capris and the traditional Indian bottom is confounding, to say the least. Furthermore, if you're so intent on making this the next big thing, why not, at the very least, make the untoward garment the color of the darker stripe, so as to prevent our fine but perhaps more Simpsons-esque sisters the embarrassment of explaining that yes, they are indeed wearing pants?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fugging Indian fashion

In the grand tradition of incredibly important blogs such as Go Fug Yourself and Manolo's Shoe Blog, I present a new (intermittent) series, provisionally entitled "Fugging Indian Fashion."

I am not sartorially gifted. I nearly always look rumpled and occasionally, I have wardrobe malfunctions: once when I was in a high school concert as the first-chair flute, I wore a tight white shirt with only a lacy white push-up underneath, and a button failed in front of a horrified audience of about 100 well wishers. Perhaps I am not qualified to critique the fashions of others. However, India presents a unique challenge: so many beautiful people, such horrible, horrible, HORRIBLE style. Never before have I met someone who thought it appropriate to wear a bright blue T-shirt bearing the word "FUCK" -- in 200-point Helvetica, no less! -- on casual Friday at a Very Important Multinational Company.

My first victim is Sarah Jane, a VJ on what I presume is an MTV imitator (though she might, indeed, work for the desi MTV).

Inappropriately placed vinyl belt? Check.
Jaunty, albeit ill-fitting, capris over textured tights, conspiring to make a lovely, perfectly sized girl look like an obese leprechaun? Check.
White shoes after Labor Day? Check.
Superfluous laces? Check.

Seriously, check out her expression. Even she doesn't buy what she's wearing.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Retro(photo)blogging the nuptials

Or, "The Other Side of the Great Indian Wedding."

It's December 7, 2006. Our anniversary will be the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which somehow seems quirky and fitting. We're certainly not an ordinary couple.

We arrive at the district commissioner's office a month after we've filed all our police reports, affidavits of support, and administrative detritus, to be sworn husband and wife and receive our official marriage certificate. Which sounds quite routine and simple, except with us, nothing ever goes as planned.

Our spirits are buoyed when the first bureaucratic lackey enters us into the day's register; our pictures are pasted next to a description of ourselves and our dwelling, and S strokes his moustache in anticipation. The man, whom you will recognize in this photo wearing a strikingly bad toupee, assures us that the magistrate, who will consecrate our unholy love, will be there in an hour, tops.

Two hours later, we're still waiting. Our witnesses, which include S's father, two of our former colleagues from the Delhi newspaper, and a woman who is nearly six months pregnant, are getting antsy; one is dispatched to buy Magic Masala Lay's and quaint little guava juice boxes, the kind you placate kindergarteners with. I need a nap and feel like crying, but the show must go on.

We order a round of chai from a small lean-to behind the office; its tin roof supports a raft of rhododendrons, a vibrant magenta cloud of flowers. S's father instructs the chaiwallah on the proper preparation of tea; the man gently minces a hunk of ginger with a fragment of brick, and we relax on a planter, hoping for some news. The Intrepid and Important Indian Photojournalists begin calling their contacts, haranguing them to discover the whereabouts of our magistrate.

The hours pass, and we attempt to amuse ourselves by taking pictures next to two abandoned, torched cars lingering in the commissioner's compound. An old couch, it's back separated from the seat, springs and a wooden frame exposed, languishes near a gate. The bridal party of another couple orders Domino's pizza; I fret and try to find a quiet place, a place apart from the hum and buzz of anticipation. Next to the marriage registration office is a newly opened disaster management cell. There are signs warning us about touts, explaining that marriage registration is a simple procedure. This is our fifth visit to the office, and the current ordeal has lasted four hours; no official is in sight. It's not as complicated as, say, brain surgery, but it's no walk in the park.

Finally, five hours after we were told he would reach the office, the Hateful Administrator shows his face. S and I are ushered into his office, but the man continues to ignore us, jabbering into his phone on what we are supposed to assume is official business.

After terminating the call and hastily ordering his peons around, the Hateful Administrator begins to examine our file. Papers are pushed in front of us, and five copies are duly signed. Amid our hubbub, the man pauses, clears his throat, and produces exhibit A: an undertaking stating our names, parentage, birthplaces, previous marital status, and religions. I've never been a believer, never had a religion, and yet I didn't want to call myself atheist or agnostic, so I just left that spot blank. The papers were signed off by the Hateful Administrator's underlings, despite this omission, so we assumed it was all smooth sailing.

Not so. The Hateful Administrator brandished the paper and began, "Religion is everywhere. What is this? How can one not have religion?"

I shrunk into my seat. My voice was very small. "I've just...I've never had a religion."

"Surely you were born Christian. We'll just write born Christian."

"But I wasn't born Christian; we've never been anything..."

"But a paper can't just have a blank space."

I'm panicking; our wedding party is glaring at the man; tension is rising. S plucks the paper from his hand and says, "Fine. Is it alright if I just pen in 'agnostic'?"

I'm not entirely happy with the solution, but it's better than being put through the wringer for another 20 minutes. The ceremony continues, and we read out our lines, perfect actors: yes, I take this man/woman to be my lawful husband/wife. My hand is on S's knee, I'm blushing, and we're both waiting for our Hateful friend to add his final stamp, read his final rites.

"What, no garlands? Not even exchanging rings? What kind of a wedding is this?"

Well, sir, we're not asking you to pass judgment on our decisions, we're just asking you to wed us. I shoot S a sideways glance, my eyes dancing between outrage and joy. A few more tense moments pass, and the man begins reading from our marriage certificate.

"I hereby pronounce you, SIS, son of JJ Singh, and TF, daughter of Mrs. Melinda...Daughter of Mrs.?"

The Hateful Administrator realizes he has taken his dickery a step too far; a law was recently (the last year or so) enacted which gave women the right to be listed on documents, but I suppose it's still not common for matriarchs to be cited in this fashion.

"I, uh, now pronounce you husband and wife."

He doesn't add, "Now get out of my sight." But we do anyway; we burst out into the sunny December afternoon all smiles. More goofy picture taking ensues, then we bump off to greener pastures for a late lunch; it's far from romantic, from a billowing white gown and hundreds of chic guests daintily tucking into crudites, but for our relationship, it's oddly fitting. Here's to a new era.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

News of the overly litigious

Handpainted Just when you thought Americans were absurdly overeager to use and abuse the legal system, The Hindu reminds us that it takes all kinds.

Two headlines on page 10 of the Delhi edition today: "AC too cold, rail passenger can move forum," and "Case against Aishwarya Rai."

In the first, the reporter relays, "The Central Information Commission has...asked a 70-year-old passenger to approach the Consumer Forum for refund of fare from the Railway Board as air-conditioning in his coach was 'uncomfortably cold.'" Isn't air conditioning supposed to be cold? And, if you've ever been in an air conditioned place before, and you know that you don't like how cold it gets, shouldn't you bring, perhaps, a jacket or a blanket to keep you warm?

I may have a personal beef; at work, it drove me insane all summer, because the office was kept at a rather chilly temperature, and every day, you could expect that you would be cold, and thus logic dictates that carrying a shawl or a jumper is necessary, or, at the very least, a good backup. Instead, these women would come to work and spend at least a few hours every day nagging the building's guards, complaining about how cold they were, and sipping endless chais. Oh, how I wanted to wring their necks. I digress.

Exhibit B is related to Ash and Dhoom 2. PTI reports, "A case has been filed against Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai and actor Hrithik Roshan for an alleged obscene sequence in the recently released film, Dhoom 2.

"The case was filed in the court...under Sections 292 (vulgarity) and 509 (derogatory to women) of the Indian Penal Code. The complainant has alleged that women felt offended after watching the scene and that it promoted vulgarity in society, especially among youth."

I object to legal restrictions on vulgarity for this very reason; while some woman in Indore might think it's harmful, others might think it's perfectly innocuous. How many other actors and actresses have performed item numbers (big, splashout, ridiculous coordinated musical intervals in scanty costumes) without being persecuted in this way? Is it really necessary?

I've lost my train of thought, so I'll end the rant. I just wish that people would keep to themselves a little bit more; if you're cold, bring a jumper (and if you can afford a ticket in an AC car, you can most likely afford protection against the cold). If you find something vulgar, avoid it, don't let your children watch it, tell your friends that you don't like it. Is this personal quibbling really a matter for courts?

Saturday, December 2, 2006

I'll also take the obsessive-compulsive undershirt

In an advertisement for Big Bazaar, a Wal-Mart-like retail chain that spans India:

"Paranoia socks (set of 4): MRP Rs 99; buy one get one free"

I wonder how our friend the groundnut wallah feels about all this horn tooting

In news of the meta, Times of India today reported on a forthcoming article in the International Herald Tribune that ostensibly is a piece examining the trend of Indian pride in the rising strength of the nation.

It's a bit difficult to judge the content and/or article at this point, but it's certainly something interesting that I've noticed: an incredible hubris on the behalf of (middle- or high-income) Indians about how great they are, based primarily on the fact that growth has nearly hit the magical double-digit mark for several years now.

On the one hand, it's great. Pride is a powerful motivator. But on the other hand, when one is on vacation in Cambodia and runs into another traveling Indian journalist who extemporizes on t he incredible weakness of the southeast Asian nation, it's a bit hard to swallow. For example, as a (somewhat) objective outsider, I didn't see a significant material difference between sewage systems in areas not developed for tourists in both Cambodia and India. I didn't find the Cambodian people "primitive" and "immature," as this man claimed; rather, I found them remarkably flexible for seemingly beginning to reckon with some of the havoc wreaked by the Khmer Rouge.

So it's an interesting reality check. Times of India seems completely ignorant to the fact that the article likely casts something of a skeptical light on their practice of putting a logo -- "Global Indian Takeover" -- on anything related to how awesome the subconty is (i.e., "The report reaffirms the point by taking note of a logo...with every article that indicates India's growing international presence and stature in every walk of life"), but such is the Slimes.

IHT apparently ushers evidence of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh as the only doubters of India's ascendance, noting, "'Gandhi appeared embarrassed by the mood of triumphalism about India's economic transformation, pointing out that while India was "a country of dazzling prosperity," it was also a country of "dehumanizing poverty"'".

Still, it seems that Singh's reservations about "obstacles to these dreams of superpower glory -- the educational system, a failing public health service, and a shortage of vital energy resources" will continue to fall by the wayside, at least in mainstream media. They're too busy tooting their own horns, or ogling Aishwarya Rai's goodies. It's a bit of a shame that a sensitive/balanced analysis of Indian mindsets is confined either to specialist domestic journals or international papers trying to dip their nib in India's swirling pot.

Friday, December 1, 2006

She lives!

Yes, despite my blogging sabbatical, I am alive and well. Shocking!

Today was my one-year anniversary of gainful employment with MNC. Huzzah to all that, and in celebration, I'd like to pull a "by the numbers" column out of my bag of tricks:

240 -- days I commuted to work
2.5 -- hours spent commuting per day
600 -- total hours spent in office car between December 2005 and December 2006
25 -- equivalent number of days I sat immobile in a Qualis, reading classic literature or bobbing my head to the sounds of filmi FM
36 -- books read from the Modern Library list of 100 best novels
26 -- days spent at a posh hotel in New York while trying to get my visa in order
50 -- average number of documents edited per month
600 -- estimate of documents edited in the past year
4 -- occasions upon which I discovered the word "pubic" or a variant on the word in documents
2 -- times I caught the word "asses" during my happy editing time
5 -- average liters of water consumed per day
1200 -- rupees it would cost per month if I paid for that water
500 -- rupees deducted from my monthly salary for unlimited snacks, beverages, and lunches
6 -- shots of espresso consumed each day
100 -- days I worked out in the gym for more than 30 minutes in the past year
6 -- days until I get married
0 -- number of co-workers who know that I am getting married sans pomp and circumstance

That should do; I could go on ad infinitum, but I won't. How does your year shake out?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Hu are you talking about?

Hu Jintao, as imagined by the art department of Outlook magazine, meet Eugene Levy, actor, riband, he of huge eyebrows. Or have you already met?

(I'm just saying, resemblance much? And also, how awesome would it be if Hu Jintao sang songs about terriers and literally had two left feet and danced in circles?)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Help! The Indians! They're stealing my copydesk!

Just when all my nitpicky editor colleagues were getting comfortable comes the latest news from our global world: Indians are plotting to take over the planet, one comma splice at a time!

Yes, an article on the Poynter Institute's Web site heralds the coming of age of the editing outsourcing business, and stateside workers clutch their red pens in fear. Well, from someone who is more intimately acquainted with the subconty than these chaps, I'd just like to say shenanigans. SHENANIGANS!

Although Joe Grimm points to a number of providers offering editing services, I'm guessing that he hasn't taken the time to do something so simple as give the providers' Web sites even a cursory read. For example, Hi-Tech Exports (which Grimm explains offers 40 hours of editing services for less than $300) -- what copydesk do you know would contract a company whose corporate site features the sentence, "We have so far completed successfully, a wide range of projects." Nice comma use, fellas.

I agree that it's certainly an interesting industry to watch, and given the preexisting English skills, there are certain editorial functions that may be amenable to this sort of parsing. But the kind of alarm implicit in this blurb and the responses to it just smack of paranoia. Do a good job, develop lots of skills, and, if need be, offshore yourself; if you are a dedicated worker, you have nothing to worry about, so long as you don't wed yourself to being in one place doing one thing for one's entire life.

Pre-shaadi snooping

So it's wedding season -- not just for me, but for thousands of couples throughout India. I'm not really sure why November-February is considered so auspicious, but I suppose it probably relates to the fact that the weather is bearable. Anyhow, everyone's getting hitched, and, always desperate to discover the next big trend, HT City brings us "Knot guilty: Is marriage on your mind? Someone may be stalking you -- perhaps, a detective your prospective in-laws have hired..." (Monika Adlakha, Nov. 13, 2006, Delhi edition).

Essentially, it seems that people are hiring private investigators to track (primarily) brides to be to make sure that the girl is "suitable" for marriage.

So what do agencies check, according to the article? "The bad news continues to be for the single-and-ready-to-mingle gang, particularly if you are a girl, as 'too much of openness is a complete no, that's the first thing we are asked to check,' says Sanjay Singh of Indian Detective Agency, adding, '...the enquiries for the girl's character have seen a rise.'"

Let me get this straight: women are spied upon by their potential families, and doing something so innocuous as, for example, talking to a man who is not the prospective husband can lead to a report being filed about how one is unsuitable? This is insane. Yes, with the proliferation of e-dating sites and marriage classifieds, you may be thinking about tying yourself to a person with whom your family is not intimately acquainted. But wouldn't it be more fruitful to, oh, spend time getting to know a person and their family, and judge from those interactions whether or not you think it's a good match? I am constantly told how impersonal and rude Americans are, but this strikes me as a far greater slight to the human spirit than my decision to read a book during my car ride to work.

Now, of course, people are free to waste their (thousands and thousands of) rupees as they see fit, but is this really necessary? No person is infallible; must I really live in fear that my decision to talk with a friend at a cafe is an irrevocable denunciation of my loose ways? Sigh.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Art in India

Not content with the domestic scene, art lovers in Delhi can now get a piece of the Met -- without ever having to leave the safe haven of South Extension.

So new that the location hasn't been added to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's listing of its store locations, I doubt that the outlet has been officially launched. But there it is, right on Ring Road, nestled above Mango and adorned, for the time being, with only a flapping red banner.

In brand-happy urban India, I'm guessing that this will be a smashing success -- once people discover that the store exists, and that the Met is a Famous American Institution. For now, we'll have to rely on what is presumably a story from the Press Trust of India (though perhaps the agency should be called the Press Release Trust of India):

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one of the largest and finest art museums in the world, has opened its first store in India. In New York, the Museum houses more than two million works of art spanning 5,000 years of world culture from prehistory to the present, and from every part of the globe. Founded in 1870, the Museum has long been one of New York’s leading tourist attractions, and was visited by 4.5 million people last year. A long-time leader in Museum retailing, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Store was ranked fifth among New York City’s most popular chain stores in the influential Zagat New York City Shopping 2006 guide.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Thank you India; thank you terror; thank you disillusionment...

(Or, why S should not order an entire bottle of wine for the two of us at a fancy birthday dinner.)

The past year has been one of tremendous growth. In another journal, I reflected upon the different needs I had as I faced both my 22nd and 23rd birthdays; one's life changes so fast in the rapid progression from excited young professional to haggard old crone. (Or, in the words of my mother, "Just wait until you're 50. Then your birthday will really become a non-event.")

Anyhow, instead of babbling on and on about myself, I'd like to give some shout-outs. I'd like to thank the Academy and:
S -- for being everything and asking nothing, for showing me that I can be beautiful, for believing in tenderness and progress and love that doesn't have to be perfect, but malleable
NY -- for remember, across all these miles
SV & theek hai -- for getting me a birthday cake, and for apologizing because what you really wanted to get me was a case of Diet Coke
S's mum, dad, and bro in the U.S. -- for being unbelievably understanding, for never asking too much, and for calling and wishing me well, even though I haven't made as much of an effort as I should have to make sure you're comfortable in my homeland
T&M -- for ringing up from Canada, though we've never met face to face
D -- for freakishly getting engaged to a woman who has my same birthday, making it easier for both you and S to remember the date
Mass Com bunch -- for flooding me with the sweetest e-mail messages this side of Hollywood, and for reminding me how much the day meant to me last year
E-lizzle, J-dawg, etc. -- for being, you know, my hos, no matter what

The airing of grievances will have to wait 'til Festivus...

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Pizza: What CAN'T it do?

So, one of the myriad *great* things about Cambodia, and Phnom Penh in particular, is the preponderance of restaurants offering "happy pizza." What is happy pizza, you might ask? Well, it's got a secret ingredient that looks somewhat like oregano, but is actually quite a different herb altogether. Depending on to whom you are speaking, it may or may not be medicinal, it may or may not kill your brain cells, and it may or may not give you the munchies. Hm.

Anyhow, I'm just sitting here wishing I had a nice slice of happy pizza, because basically since September I have been a gigantic ball of nerves. My sleeping schedule is off, my eating patterns are off, and I rapidly cycle between loving the world and, between sobbing fits, calling my co-workers names that are variations on the theme of genitals. Vacation was great, but the entire time I was still wrapped up in this drama related to some unfinished bureaucratic business that wasn't resolved until I got back to Delhi.

Here's to trying to lighten up (and to, ahem, lightin' up -- I know, bad, ba dum ching!).

Saturday, November 4, 2006

I have seen the future, and it is not bright

So, in pizza-related news, the latest rumors on the Internets are about Kono Pizza, which might be interesting to someone who doesn't live in the subconty, which, as I have previously discussed, features it's domestic version of the product, which Pizza Corner calls the "Conizza."

The best part, as many people have pointed out, is that it seems to be giving the pizza industry a collective hard-on, causing them to disseminate marketing buzz such as, "Every few years, a product comes along that completely changes its category. As the iPod has revolutionized the way people interact with music; as cell phones and wireless internet access has altered the way they communicate, so, too, will the way they approach eating change with the introduction of Pizzacono, the first dramatically new way to consume pizza in recent memory."

I still think it's all absolutely ludicrous, but maybe I should take some time this weekend to experience the magic. That said, most responses I've seen tend to affirm my belief that this is one of the most unholy creations wrought upon earth by the higher powers.

Chatter on Metafilter re: conical Italian cuisine...

"It's the next Pepsi Blue"
"You know what would revolutionize pizza? Put some general tso's chicken on it, cram a slice into a taco shell, then batter and deep fry the fucker. That would be revolutionary."
"Like calzone, but harder to eat"
"...'The name "Pizzacono" accurately describes the product's taste and characteristics.' 'Cono -- literal meaning is "vagina." Used by Spanish people everywhere, frequently in place of "damn," "shit," and "fuck."'"
"Who has a problem eating pizza with one hand? What kind of pizza are these people eating?"
"These guys are fools. There's just two ways to improve pizza: stick it between some breasts or inside a vagina. CASE CLOSED."
"I took my first bite cleverly from the bottom of the cone, and gargled in delight as I sucked out the toppings in one foul swoop. The gargle turned to a gasp as the hot grease overpowered my esophagus, and the cheese welded to the now blistering walls in my throat. As I fell to the ground, gasping puss and cheddar, the pizza crust cone rolled nearby in a lopsided manner, a silent megaphone that would never voice my cry for help."

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Headline o' the week

Courtesy Indian Express, October 31, 2006: "Americans, Americans: Why Do They Do Things So Differently?"

And, for your pleasure, if you click "read more," you can read my version of the story -- in which I have merely substituted references to America with references to India and its people, and which I call, "Indians, Indians: Why Do They Do Things So Differently?" (Tongue, of course, firmly planted in cheek.)Do you think The New York Times would consider running this on their editorial page?

Europeans call them crazy. But are Indians really crazy or do they just do their own thing?

I have always been intrigued by their use of the word "prepone." When the world refers to plans that have been fast tracked, they say "the date has been moved forward," but Indians say prepone -- even if the prefix has just been added to an coantiquated term for a type of bread!

Even if India's teas were introduced to the world by exploitative colonizers, India's beverage of choice is still chai. And how. A paper cup of milky, syrupy sweet tea filled every two hours or so. Ditto with the samosas. A couple of friends may go through several dozen of these deep-fried wonders in about an hour. I've often wondered if there's such a thing as Indian food -- apart, of course, from tandoori, Chinjabi, dal, and roti.

Talking of khana reminds me of a time when I was visiting a small Indian company. We'd been working nonstop since morning and I was beginning to feel hungry. Finally, at 2:30, I asked we could grab a bite. "Oh, I'm sorry," responded my host, "I usually don't eat until later in the afternoon. And then I just see what's in the canteen." So we walked to the cafeteria; there was enough to feed an army, but I was with someone who "just wanted to see." I got myself a liter of water and some salad, with a small bowl of dal and some boiled rice, but there were Indian and Continental choices aplenty, which my host proceeded to heap in large portions and leisurely consume, before going back for seconds -- and having four or five jalebis. And this guy just wanted to check out the scene!

The Indian economy has traditionally been a disaster. They don't bat an eyelid when government officials embezzle crores of rupees , yet they complain when their company deducts 500 rupees from their monthly take to cover the free lunches and dinners provided at the workplace. Every Indian carries a few hundred spare rupees to bribe traffic police if they're pulled over for running a red light -- who cares if these are the same people who are outraged when Transparency International publishes reports that cites corruption in the country as endemic. Is this all a grand Indian scheme to drive the rest of the world crazy?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Well, at least they're honest (and, by the way, screw the Wayback Vacation Machine -- I'm too nonlinear)

S and I spotted this sign outside a restaurant along Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh. We didn't partake in any aperitifs, but I presume that even their "pretty good" wines were better and more reasonably priced than those we get in Delhi.

(An aside: one of my favorite things about Cambodia was the ubiquity of freshly baked baguettes, a legacy of French colonialism, I suppose, which also contributed, perhaps, to the wine culture.)

Our last day in Phnom Penh, S and I wandered down a few new streets and happened upon Red Apron -- "the Kingdom's FIRST wine boutique & wine tasting gallery," according to a brochure I snagged. After two weeks of sticking to a conservative food budget, we decided to treat ourselves; even if a half glass was $1.75 (the country's local currency is all but useless in most establishments), it sure beats the outrageous prices of piss-poor American wines offered in Delhi's five-star hotels -- virtually the only place one can get foreign wines, which routinely price, for example, Turning Leaf around $75 (the same bottle is available in the U.S. for less than $10).

ANYHOW, we ordered three whites and a red, one French, the other from the "new world" -- and none of which I can accurately propound upon, as I am a total amateur. We also had some delicious brie accompanied by piles and piles of medallions of rustic bread, and more happy I have never been. The shop was warmly lit, the staff incredibly professional (even when S oooooothily broke one of the wine glasses), and the experience a fabulous contrast to some of the trials and tribulations of budget travel.

I would highly, highly recommend patronizing this excellent place -- at No 15Eo, Street 240, in Phnom Penh. Their e-mail addy is; if you have the chance, take the time to experience what they describe as, "maybe our greatest reward[,] to be enabled to introduce the elegance dedicated to the world of wine and the tasting of these, through our Cambodian employees, to a country that has unfortunately been exempted for many years of this luxury that is often quoted as one of the ingredients in the provision of 'the joy of life' (la joie de vivre!)."

A pathetic Halloween this way comes

Do holidays transfer across borders? (Or, a rant on why the George Bush mask sold for hundreds of rupees in a Khan Market toy store does not a successful Halloween make.)Photo courtesy "Dead Air" on Flickr

So last night, despite my rampant anti-social tendencies, S and I ventured out to a party thrown by eM, former journo colleague turned professional blogger. Anyone who knows eM knows that she is an utter dear -- dainty and eccentric and at times a bit above-the-logical-plane, but all in a very well meaning, earnest manner, which seems to keep her surrounded by a revolving group of folks who are generally interesting.

Anyhow, eM was hellbent on her party being a Halloween party, which meant she harangued all attendees about the absolute import of wearing a costume. Any costume, just a costume, if you don't wear a costume I will stand in my doorway, yes, all 100 pounds of me, and prevent you from entereing -- that sort of thing. S and I didn't make an effort to dress up (although I kept a passel of jewelry and a particularly stank headscarf in my purse to convert my rather bohemian top in to a full-on hippie costume, just in case we were the only uncostumed ne'er-do-wells), and when we picked up our friend V, she was also lacking any visible theme.

We trudged up to eM's place, and entered a dark room full of people smoking, drinking, and conversing, just like any and every other Delhi party I have ever attended, save for eM, adorably donning aluminum-foil antennae and butterfly wings, and a sprinkling of roommates/close eM friends, cajoled into, for example, draping a dupatta over a skirt and tank top to mimic a toga.

There were quite a few firangs there; in fact, more than I've been in close proximity with since the days of the fabulous M&J, my American homeboys. Anyhow, many of them were Americans, and as such, had made some attempt to capture the spirit of Halloweens past -- donning costumes from sorceresses to Superman, which were abandoned in piecemeal as the night went on, as the apartment was not becobwebbed, there was no spooky music, no carved pumpkins greeted us, and there was nary a Mars bar or undigestible Sugar Daddy to be had, only bottles and bottles of vodka, like Seagram's Fuel was going out of style.

All of which just underscored to me how ridiculous it is to try and capitalize on the American holidays here. If I'm entirely honest, the only reason we Americans keep Halloween around is the candy, the joy it brings little kids, and the excuse it gives us to be someone else -- not a corporate hack, not a paper pusher, not a manual laborer -- for just one day.

All the English newspapers here have umpteen features on Halloween, how you can celebrate in Delhi, etc.; Star World is running a marathon of the Halloween episodes of The Simpsons; various Halloween-themed specials abound. But it seems to me that it's fetishizing the lives of Americans without really understanding that it's hardly some sacred ritual that should be exported and celebrated with abandon. I don't know, I'm not describing this well (which relates to a larger issue I've been having lately, that I'm feeling like I'm increasingly splitting and having blackouts and losing interest in things like, oh, eating, which is pretty concerning, but another story entirely). I can't criticize anyone for wanting to get in on the action -- most Americans love Halloween. But it's about candy, and shenanigans, and charade, not just slipping on a suffocating rubber mask and then getting drunk and ranting ad infinitum about the politics of language.

In the same way, when the South Asian student's group at my university in Chicago held Holi (a month after it was actually celebrated), I was rubbed the wrong way. It was a parody of something that is a fabulous, enjoyable celebration -- in India. Getting together, throwing a little color around, and calling it a day doesn't mean you've captured the spirit of a holiday. In both instances, one is just...attempting to capitalize on traditions without putting in the time or effort to reflect said tradition.

But then again, maybe I'm just a bitter fussbudget. People seemed to be having fun, and that's a positive outcome, whether they were dressed as pirates and hookers or not.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Wayback Vacation Machine, Day 3: Along For The Ride

A comfortable bus ride, S attracts us a border helper tout monkey, we meet an Italian and a Austrian who live together in Switzerland with whom we share a bumpy four-hour Camry ride, and we discover that Siem Reap really isn't a town but a playground for package tourists and the shopkeepers, orphans, and landmine victims who love them.

So this introduction may give you the impression that I hated Siem Reap, but that's neither here nor there. I'll try and address this later, but first, all the fun of recounting hours and hours of sitting!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to read, and I read anything I can get my hands on. I'm currently working my way through the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century (I think my current count is about 40 down), and I figured a big, thick book off the list ought to hold me through the entire vacation. Which was partially true, because I was so unable to get into Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point that I didn't get through the 500-odd pages until the flight from Bangkok back to Delhi, and even then, I was really only skimming.

My plan was to absorb myself in the "Vanity Fair for the 1920s" to pass the four-hour jaunt from Bangers to Aranyaprathet, but I quickly discovered that the VCD of a Thai variety hour was far more entertaining. The time passed quickly, and when we reached the border, people just kept pointing, and S and I just kept walking, until we found ourselves in a line for holders of non-Thai passports that moved rather quickly (as opposed to that for Thai nationals, which was populated by at least 200 mildly disgusted folks waiting to gamble away some hard-earned baht at the casino about 500 meters from the official crossing).

Then we're all set to just walk up and apply for our Cambodian visas, and some sleazy guy in a stank baseball cap somehow manages to endear himself to S (the S is for softie!). Thus began an hour and a half of counsel and advice contradictory to every the tenets memorized by every Lonely-Planet-toting wanderer -- "I know the sign says that the visa is $20, but you have to pay 1,000 baht [closer to $30], or else they have to walk the paper to a man in Aranyaprathet, then get the stamp, then walk back, and this will take at least three hours; you pay the 1,000 baht and it takes 10 minutes." "This is a free bus that takes you to the Poi Pet bus station. I'll ride along with you so you don't get taken advantage of by bad people." "No, there are no buses that run to Siem Reap for at least another five hours. But if you pay $50, taxi leaves now!"

S is being cordial, smiling and nodding, and I'm rolling my eyes, sighing loudly, and trying to stop myself from screaming at our new "friend" to back his ass up. Around this time, at the ostensible bus station (which is really a dirt lot filled with Toyota Camrys, a small information desk thronged by men who get paid for "assisting" travelers," and a few rows of empty chairs), we decide to try and leverage an economy of scale (why oh why have I incorporated corporate-ese into my everyday vocabulary?) by hooking up with some other lost, Angkor-bound souls.

At first the couple seemed wary and wanted to check out the size of the taxi, for which they would pay $50; as they dithered about, S and I managed to bargain through our helper to go for $30. Just as we were about to seal that deal, the fellow foreign duo returned and told us to hop in -- halving the price for them, and saving S and I the hassle of potentially being crammed into a shoddy vehicle with numerous passersby interested in seeing how much money they could extort from us. Introductions all around, then we hopped in, leaving a pack of infuriated helpers behind us as we bumped down the road.

Highlights of the ride included a Khmer version of "My Humps" (confidential to Fergie: your insidious invasion of pop culture haunts me always!); a guilty sense of triumph upon our fellow travelers confessing they paid 1,200 baht for their visas; my womanly time of the month starting around hour two of navigating the potholed Cambodian road; and a large, poorly Photoshopped banner advertisement featuring Jackie Chan holding a can of some local brew, miraculously without using his fingers (a note from my paper journal: The sign we saw at a refreshment shack where our taxi driver stopped for the dust to be rinsed off our ride was awesome, because it had a picture of Jackie Chan -- which I believe was ripped from a Western ad for Coke. The can of the local beer (energy drink?) was just juxtaposed over his fingers and thumbs, because JC is damn near superhuman and his compelling personality attracts Cambodia beverages to him like so many kitschy magnets to a fridge).

Eventually, we all ended up at the Popular Guesthouse in Siem Reap, which was clean -- and cheap -- enough. We unloaded, then went to explore the town; after having a beer, I started writing more, as is my wont. My reflections, as I sat on a posh terrace on "Bar Street" sipping Beerlao and watching droves of tourists flock to Italian, continental, and Thai restaurants, became a bit philosophical (I may unfortunately be casting myself as an itinerant hippy with this travelogue...). On the car ride, we jostled a lot on the dirt road, and it was bumpy, but at least the monsoon is more or less over; it could have been much, much worse. Couldn't everything? For some reason I got to thinking about what would happen if I clumsily happened upon a landmine and had to have my arm amputated, and even that I think I could make the best of -- a bionic hand, or a chopstick I could hold in my mouth to select keys on my computer at the office. Does this qualify as a "can-do" spirit or a delusion?

That question still remains unanswered, but it struck me as the sort of view one has to adopt when one is constantly surrounded by poverty, suffering, people debasing themselves to make a living. When I first arrived in India, I would cry when my autorickshaw driver stopped at a light where women would approach me, touch my feet, ask for just one roti. It just wasn't conceivable to me then, the way that there is always a way down, no matter where you stand. Some of this ranting may make me sound annoyed, frustrated, even infuriated with the ... unpleasantries? that Western tourists encounter the first time they venture outside a place that has a veneer of palpable respectability, but looking back -- both on this vacation, and on my time in India -- I've developed a perspective that's less reactionary, a bit more generous. The tourist trade is lucrative at the border crossing, and every person passing through is an opportunity to put food on the table. Something likely beyond an individual's control has consigned them to a life that is so incredibly foreign to someone who grew up not wondering whether there would be water today, someone who could afford to scrape leftovers into a garbagecan that (likely) wouldn't be picked through by someone that didn't have enough to eat. I have momentary flashes of intolerance, but ultimately, I think I understand at least some of the forces at work. I suppose what I am (quite inadequately) attempting to say is that, although I quickly reach my breaking point when it comes to being petitioned for money, I don't blame the people for trying. I want a larger structural answer to this, to this endless mire, which will probably never come, and so to my fellow humans I try and be cordially dismissive, firm but not insulting.

Oh, this ramble has gotten out of control! I have taken some Valium and cold pills because I was having a panic attack and the dry heaves and couldn't work with my thoughts, and now they're all seeping onto the screen. Thus I bid day three adieu, in just as much a fog as I did walking back slightly tipsy from a happy hour in Siem Reap, with just as many unanswered questions and ill-informed musings as I bounced off S with his hand gently guiding me "home"...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Best. Story. Ever.

Ashok Das, I salute you, for "Politicians and their wild campaigns" (Hindustan Times, Tuesday, October 24), is a certified masterpiece.

I quote:

"Politicians are never known to be civil while dealing with their rivals -- not even in the best of times.

After incidents of leaders having a go at each other during assembly sessions comes the latest from Vijayawada, the erstwhile political and cultural capital of Andhra Pradesh.

It all started about 10 days ago, when Telugu Desam Party [TDP] activists in Guntur decorated a buffalo in Congress party colours and hung a placard around its neck which read: 'I am Rajasekhar Reddy. I am thick-skinned and insulated to criticism. Do whatever you like, I will not resign.'

The buffalo was taken around the streets of the town as part of the TDP's statewide campaign to force Reddy to resign in the wake of a Supreme Court order quashing the pardon granted to a murder convict.

The Congress hit back. They got a donkey decorated in the TDP's yellow colour, which, like the TDP's buffalo, carried a placard saying: 'I am Chandrababu Naidu. I speak lies and utter lies. I change my stand to suit me. I betrayed my father-in-law for the sake of power." The donkey led a procession of slogan-shouting Congressmen through the streets of Vijayawada.

Congress activists though the TDP hadn't been hit hard enough. So two days later, they took out another rally with a dog in TDP colours. This time, the placard read: 'I am Chandrababu Naidu. I only bark.'

The battle had just begun. They got a man to look like Rajasekhar Reddy and paraded him through the streets with a group of seemingly irate women chasing him and thrashing him with chappals, broomsticks, rotten eggs and tomatoes.

What were the police doing all this while? The drama was too good for them to interrupt [...]"

Disclaimer: This picture is from Vaarttha, a Telugu paper I found on the Interwebs. I'm not sure it's a picture of the incident (since I don't read Telugu), but it's from the paper's Guntur edition on a date near that mentioned in Das' article.

Maybe Anand Jon is blind?

Alert the paparazzi (S, are you listening?)! PARIS HILTON -- that's right, THE PARIS HILTON -- is coming to Delhi. Where she will likely flash her vagina with impunity (if you read Perez Hilton or Pink is the New Blog or A Socialite's Life, you know what I mean).

She will be in the very country in which I wore an Oxford shirt with only the top button undone and was approached in a market by a total stranger who proceeded to point at my fashion faux pas and, when I did nothing to ameliorate the transgression, buttoned it for me as I tried desperately to shrink into an aisle cluttered with grains and pulses.

Reuters reports: "Hotel heiress is to model for an upmarket American fashion line in India next year despite her music video being banned in the country for being too explicit, a newspaper report said on Monday."
Now, there are several things I found hideous about this story -- first and foremost, the fact that Reuters thinks this is worthy of 300-odd words. But perhaps the most obnoxious is the way in which Paris makes Americans look like ignorant, utter morons when it comes to conceptualizing other countries. Anand Jon, an American designer of Indian descent who ostensibly is providing the reason for Paris' interest in the country, is quoted as saying, "For her, India is the land of exotica and beauty. In response, her response was, 'I finally get to visit the exotic.'"

Yes, the subcontinent is full of nothing but curios and parrots and Oriental rugs. How utterly charming!

Also...she "finally" gets to visit the exotic? She couldn't divert some of that $25 million of hers, or take some time out from making sex tapes, to do it before? Kya nonsense.

The Wayback Vacation Machine, Day 2: Beginning to Chart Our Way

Chatuchak Market, an aimless bus ride, and the disappointingly tame Khao San Road: an abbreviated introduction to Bangkok in anticipation of the real gig, Cambodia.

Our second day remains a bit of a blur; I've scrawled in my notebook, "Bangkok. Not nearly so hectic, at least the parts of it we've seen, as it's made out to be. I feel surprisingly like I am in New York. [S and I] have fought a bit, but I suppose it could be worse."

I guess this abbreviated stream of consciousness is attributable to the sheer amount of stuff we tried to cram in before grabbing our Day 3 bus to cross into Cambodia. Because the details of much of our meandering would likely bore you, I present a list:

Eat breakfast; pay 70 baht for a rather poor "buffet" (muesli, Tang, warm pineapple, but some admittedly delicious Jif peanut butter) at the guesthouse

Ask the proprietor for some general advice on getting around the city

Pop into one of the ubiquitous 7-11s, due to an irrational desire to discover whether there would be lychee-flavored Slurpees (no)

Walk for about 45 minutes to what we thought was Chatuchak Weekend Market, but was instead just a busy road

Hail a taxi and persuade the driver to use his meter, through the liberal usage of pointing, then repeating the word "Chatuchak" until he realized that we, moron tourists, probably wanted to go to one of Bangkok's biggest weekend tourist draws

Marvel at the wonder that is the sprawling market -- bins full of thumb-sized turtles; lanes and lanes of puppies, kittens, even red squirrels; oodles of shocking yellow T-shirts praising the Thai king; lighters of all shapes and sizes; magnets; clothes, used and new, including some repurposed vintage Adidas shirts that appeared destined for Urban Outfitters; tiny speckled eggs fried by the dozen; tea served in a plastic bag, accompanied by a neon-green straw; blind strolling minstrels with mobile mics and amps; and more, more, more

Attempt to take a tuk tuk, get into a large argument with S about our next move, then take a metered taxi to explore travel logistics for the remainder of our trip

Visit Mo Chit bus station to determine the cost and time of the ride to the Aranyaprathet border crossing

Argue some more

Head to the train station to compare offering with other options; man at information booth vehemently counsels against the train: "It take very long time, and you stand. Very cheap, but you stand by Thais who want to go to casino for six hours."

Call S a huge dick, then immediately apologize to him for being a dirty cunt, before being accosted by a helpful woman who directed us toward a bus that would take us to Banglamphu, the traditional Bangkok tourist district that encompasses Khao San Road, hailed by every guidebook we read as dirty and full of cheats

Pay 8 baht for what turned out to be one of the best parts of our entire trip: a bus ride through town that offered a new perspective (for example, rather than being groped by a man in a spittle-encrusted kurta, I witnessed a sweeper woman get onto the bus, and when she stumbled, the fare collector actually deigned to help her gather her possessions and ensured that the sweeper got to sit down, something that particularly struck me as an event I would never witness in Delhi); got off at an arbitrary point that looked interesting

Took in sights, including ironic T-shirts, an old fort, and a pier; consumed dim sum, fresh noodle soup, and the thick batter encasing what was essentially a lollipop of meat (which carnivorous S graciously gobbled)

Visited a "China Emporium" where we procured a few very useful things -- a travel alarm clock (which lasted, I kid you not, until an hour or two after we returned to Delhi), a pocket knife, and tweezers

Finally reached Khao San Road, to be disappointed by the shockingly clean wide lanes (where are the cows? the rickshaws and Balenos and bicyclists and trucks?); ate some delicious noodly thing at a roadside stall instead of at an overpriced pub filled with drunken idiots with accents of all colors

Returned to guesthouse and slept

Monday, October 23, 2006

By the way...

As you may have noticed, I am monkeying around now with Blogger beta and various hacks created for the revamped service. And, as I know next to nothing about code, HTML, etc., so expect some malfunctions and a heap of idiocy.

By the way: purple monkey dishwasher!

The Wayback Vacation Machine, Day 1: A Last-Minute Scramble and a Drunken Duck

In which our heroine nearly misses her flight due to her unfortunate lack of foresight to remind her fiance to pack his college degree.

Our flight to Bangkok was scheduled to take off around 7 p.m., landing in Thailand 'round midnight. But first we had to check in and get our Air India boarding passes.

You don't realize the power of a U.S. passport until you travel with someone who doesn't have one.

S, being an Indian citizen, holds a passport that comes with a fistful of restrictions, which require a fair amount of kissing up to bureaucrats who will, if they feel generous, issue an essential (if somewhat incomprehensible) stamp or piece of paper or written permission.

I bring this all up because of an incident that nearly derailed the entire excursion. For all but six or seven countries, Indian citizens must have a certain stamp in their passport; I forget what it's called, but it's ostensibly to prevent human trafficking and other such badness, so I can't complain about its overall purpose or utility.

Anyhow, the travel agent told S that Thailand was one of the countries that didn't require the stamp, so we somewhat leisurely made our way over to Indira Gandhi International about three hours before our flight (better safe than sorry), expecting to quickly shuttle through airport security and lounge on badly upholstered seats sipping Nescafe and musing about our upcoming adventures.

It was not to be.

Instead, we (and by "we" I of course mean S) ended up in IGI's immigration office, begging unamused officials for help, for some way to escape the damning plague of too much time in Delhi. Our only hope, it turned out, was a copy of S's college degree, which struck me as a particularly strange sort of snobbery, the assumption being that if you're clever enough to pass through school, you won't get conned into being a sex slave or indentured servant or something. I panicked, because I imagined myself in S's place: I don't just keep my BSJ lying around, and while I might have a few copies somewhere, to try and find someone who could a) get into my apartment, b) sort through piles and piles of old magazines, newspaper clippings, tax returns, various receipts, and other detritus to locate the correct document, and c) find a shop from which to fax the degree to the airport -- all in less than two hours -- would be slim pickens.

But I digress. Unlike me, S is aware of the likelihood that someone may arbitrarily demand a copy of his educational qualifications, and he also has co-workers who apparently have nothing better to do on a Friday afternoon than go to their office and break into the file cabinet in which S keeps important documents. While this was happening, I distracted myself by scribbling in my travel notebook such astute observations as: "We have two hours. It's sort of like a reality TV show, only not. Sigh."

After that brief fiasco, everything went pretty much according to plan. Our flight featured a rather intoxicated man two rows in front of us demanding whisky from every passing air hostess; it also featured an obnoxious Hindi movie, as well as an undelicious, cold gulab jamun.

We touched down at the new airport (Suvarnabhumi) in Bangkok, which is sparkling clean, cosmopolitan, and a hint of artsy. Got ourselves some baht, delighted in the ease of visa formalities, quickly collected our baggage, and grabbed a taxi to our guesthouse -- all without once being harassed or propositioned or asked for small change.

The taxi was a sight in and of itself -- bright pink, small red LEDs spelling out something (I assume "hired" or "vacant") in the front window, and a prominent sticker in the passenger window proclaiming, "I love Farang! English spoken here" (an aside: farang has approximately the same meaning in Thai and Hindi, more or less meaning foreigner, with perhaps a connotation of whiteness -- hey, I never said I was a linguist). We hopped in, and S read out the name of our destination, then pointed to it on a Lonely Planet map.

S tried to make conversation, only to find that he couldn't understand a word of the English through our driver's Thai accent. I interpreted for him; I suppose I should have directly spoken to the our cabbie, but sometimes, even though I'm a feminist or whatever, I like to let the guy do the negotiating, mostly, I suppose, because I'm lazy. We saw a sign with the name of the neighborhood we wanted on it, and were pleased to see that the driver turned in that direction; perhaps he did know what we said.

Then we realized we were winding through rather dark, unpopulated lanes, and the driver was pointing at basically anything that resembled a hotel, and we just kept saying "Asha. Asha. Soi Intamara 3." He pulled over, gestured to our map again, and doffed some of the thickest glasses I've seen this side of the Ganges (comforting to know that he didn't see fit to wear them when we were zipping along at 100 km an hour). This exchange went on for about ten minutes, when, exhausted, he finally pulled out his cell phone and dialled the guesthouse number we somehow scrounged out of sheaves of hints and tips for the bootstrapper in exotic Asia.

A quick conversation, a minute's drive, and we were met at the guesthouse gate by a smiling man in a bright yellow shirt that was bordered with palm trees. Rob, our friendly guesthouse proprietor, pointed a few features out, but realized that we had probably been traveling for quite some time and wasted no time pulling up our reservation.

"So you wanted a double room, with a fan? No AC?"

I looked at S, thinking an AC would be nice with the humidity, but it was 50 baht (about $1.50) extra per night, so I forced a smile and said, "Just a fan."

Rob grabbed a key off the wall behind him and grinned. "Alright, then. We're out of fan rooms for the night, but since you had a reservation, and you said you wanted a fan room, we won't charge you extra for the AC." We shouldered our backpacks, headed up to the clean, spartan digs, switched the air conditioner on to a comfortable 24 degrees Celsius, fell into bed, and woke up around 8 a.m., primed for a day of wandering in a new place.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Damn those hussies!

Moronic letter of The Week (pun intended; October 29, 2006 issue) -- one Colonel Sanjay Kapoor of Delhi extols:

"Women have come a long way in the last decade but somewhere along, they seem to have gone overboard ('Welcome to she-zone', October 8). Women are running nonstop with the sole aim of overtaking men. In trying to compete with men, they have forgotten that they need not wear trousers, use alcohol, smoke and be ruthless. In trying to find a new identity women are losing the identity they had. Where are those doe-eyed women who could entice men by just fluttering their eyelids? She can be an achiever without becoming a man and killing her feminine identity. These are indicators of the suicidal and homicidal mission that women are on these days."

Umm...I just can't respond to this. If fluttering my eyelids is supposed to be my only claim to identity, then I guess I was born with the wrong genitals.

Piccies now online!

Because Angkor Wat was probably my favorite part of the Southeast Asian excursion, I present you this lovely shot at Ta Prohm, a temple complex overrun by large, almost braided trees. It really felt like a lost world in which one could explore, rather than a regimented, political maze through which one must deftly navigate.

There are now roughly 200 or so uncategorized shots on my Flickr account, though all the Thailand/Cambodia pictures should be tagged "southeast asia" and "october 2006."

Friday, October 20, 2006

On a different note...

Yes, I have lots of gushing to do about the utter fabulousness of my vacation. LOTS. As in, when I get back to home base, I'm going to go day by day and treat you to pictures, musings, and perhaps even very crude sketches of all I saw. You will likely find it painful, but I can't help myself. I like written records, and I like having as many of them, in as many different media, as humanly possible.

But what I really want to talk about for a second is politics. It's all very tenuous, rather uninformed theory, but I'm reading The Killing Fields by Christopher Hurdon. The introduction reads:

"This is a story of war and friendship, of the anguish of a ruined country and of one man's will to live. With these words the American journalist Sydney Schanberg began one of the most extraordinary documents to have come out of the war in Indochina.

It opened in war-torn Cambodia in August 1973. Since as long ago as 1968 there had been thousands of American B-52 bombing raids over Cambodian territory -- an attempt to dislodge the Vietcong who had established forward bases in the jungle from which to strike across the border at Saigon. Despite blanket bombing, and the replacement of Prince Sihanouk by the U.S.-backed government of Marshal Lon NOl, the Communists were making headway. Aided by North Vietnamese troops, the fanatical Khmer Rouge had beaten back Lon Nol's army to the Mekong River.

It was at this stage of the war that Sydney Schanberg persuaded the foreign desk of his newspaper the New York Times to take on an official stringer -- his Cambodian assistant Dith Pran. What happened to Schanberg and Pran, when the Khmer Rouge rebels overran the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and instituted a reign of terror, was the true story Schanberg had to tell."

Passages of this book just sound hauntingly like what is happening in Iraq/the Middle East right now. Schanberg, watching a reporter, recounts the man's dispatch: "But, as a senior U.S. official put it to me last night, 'We know very damned little about the Khmer Rouge.'" How much do American politicians really know about the machinations in the Middle East? How much do they understand regional warlords and the inability to control certain areas of countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq?

Another section explains, "The final, last-minute plan, conceived by the French and backed both here and by Graham Martin, U.S. ambassador in Saigon, had been the bring back Sihanouk to form a coalition government in Phnom Penh. Sihanouk was willing. But the dead hand of the Nixon Doctrine could not drop Lon Nol now. The plan and fallen through, and with it, any real hope of a controlled solution in Cambodia."

Bush is not in Iraq, but his policies are, for better or for worse. There has been a spate of articles comparing the current situation in Iraq to the Tet Offensive and stalemate in Vietnam, and it's just made me wonder. Not many people in the U.S. at the time knew what was happening in Cambodia, and Schanberg explains the difficulty of getting his stories to press -- not just because of logistical problems, but because of the perception that the reports would undermine U.S. interests. Are we destroying other countries to get to Iraq? What is the real story? Will it take ten more years for us to find out?

So many more questions than answers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wastin' away again in Sihanoukville

Ah. So I am breaking my blogging fast with a dispatch from Sihanoukville, Cambodia's "premiere" (only?) beachside resort. All sorts of crusty old men keep telling S and I that Sihanoukville now is like Thai beaches were 30 or so years ago, so I guess we're ahead of the curve. Rampant commercialization and ample sex parlors, here you come!

Lots, lots, lots to write about soon; wish I could upload pictures, as well. I haven't taken many nice shots, but S certainly has. I have mostly spent my time here reading, getting incredibly sunburnt, doing a little snorkeling, and monitoring the incredible swelling of a zit on my chin, which has in the last two days caused my entire lip to puff to such an extent that I look every bit the petulant, pouty brat I've always been.

Anyhow...drop me a line. Vacation is fabulous. Vacation is necessary. And cheap vacations to exotic locales...I'm not sure I'll ever have the chance again. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hello from Cambodge!

S and I have just finished the first official leg of our Thailand/Cambodia trippie; we'll leave Siem Reap (the tourist trap town just off Angkor Wat) tomorrow morning for Phnom Penh.

I've been doing a tremendous amount of writing (and taking pictures), but posting any of this -- or really, any coherent thoughts about the trip -- probably won't happen until we get back to India, which is October 21.

Suffice it to say it's been amazing. I'm fighting back the double threat of dehydration and exhaustion, and my thighs hurt from scaling temples, but otherwise? Fighting fit! Upward and onward!

Friday, October 6, 2006


Pre-script: this post is brought to you by a tequila sunshine, consumed in preparation for a ritual waxing before jetting off to southeast Asia.

I'm so excited! To go to Thailand! To adventure to Cambodia! To see Angkor Wat! To eat at Happy Herbs! To find a perfect postcard for Buaji and S's fam! To torture friends on Facebook about how it only costs $300 for me to go to Thailand! To get away from work for the first time in almost a year! To have everything I need in a half-empty backpack!

If you want anything, and you can tell me my middle name and approximate the size of my breasts, leave a message. If not, I may reply to your e-mail, but don't expect me to ship a Thai prostitute to your door.

Also, sorry for the excitement. I've only ever been in India, America, and Germany, which means I am a pathetic world traveler and have the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old on Christmas morning. Bear with me. I'll try and post while on the go, because God knows I can't live without my bloggery, but if I get caught up in, ya know, life, I'm hoping you'll understand.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Reason I'm excited about my Thailand excursion #951

From Overheard in New York:

World traveler: Really, you can get anything on the streets of Bangkok. Thai prostitutes, smoothies, passport pictures...It's like Craigslist.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Dussehra! (or, if you will, Burn, Baby, Burn!)

Kind of like Burning Man, except frequented by fewer naked hippies. My pictures are admittedly horrible, but I am too tired to be clever and write about how interesting this festival was, so accept my link to Wikipedia and enjoy the snaps.