Sunday, April 30, 2006
An HT story enlightens its readers about the influx of expats in Delhi, particularly those of the corporate persuasion. Would anyone care to introduce me to these folks? Because I'm definitely the spot of milk in the steaming cuppa of my office. Of course, there are execs that flutter in and out, but long-term expatriate employees seem nonexistent in MNC.
The story extols:
Among the many things American expats -- and their spouses -- are taught before they take on that plum India posting is to "never" come on time for dinners hosted by their Indian opposite numbers. Also, they are not supposed to "linger on" after dinner -- because their hosts would probably like to watch Koffee with Karan, not conduct polite conversation over coffee served in the dining room.
The journalist who wrote this story, whom I am sure is quite intelligent and accomplished, apparently was told to make something out of nothing. I'll give her the first point -- many Americans take punctuality very seriously, and it is an adjustment to be hours fashionably late to an event.
But as to overstaying one's welcome? Hah! I've always thought of it as a wonderful, warm aspect of the Indian experience that dinners turn into hourslong affairs where several courses are served, numerous pots of tea are drunk, and one begins to sweat in anticipation of finding an adequate way to excuse oneself without insulting the hostess, proffering just one last gulab jamun.
An anecdote: Someone visiting India contacted me via the blog, and I made a date to have some coffee with her in CP. S came along, always the helpful city guide (way better than Delhi Times). We grabbed a bite, chatted for about two hours, then I graciously suggested she and her companions explore on their own -- get to know Dilli on their own terms .
As we hopped onto the Enfield, S turned to me. "Are you sure they'll be OK on their own? I thought we'd spend the day with them, help them around. Isn't it rude to leave like this?"
Actually, it's more a relief.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
I may agree with the latter -- yes, it's abundantly clear that they're showing Coke and thanda as synonymous.
But the thing is? Ad's not clever. Not funny. It's...ummm...Aamir Khan explaining to befuddled waiters, shocked that the apparent Japanese tourist can speak Hindi, that he's been stung by bees. Really, more than interesting, I might say it's borderline racist (re: my previous post on epithets for the other peoples of Asia).
Being as I am not fluent in Hindi and had only my beloved S to explain, I could be off base. But watching the commercial makes me deeply, deeply uncomfortable.
Again: I'm not all for a world where we're calling midgets "vertically challenged" and I'm crying "mini-rape" when a man stares at my ass, but from a strictly utilitarian point of view, understanding that India wants to position itself as a world power...will a Japanese businessman, perhaps relaxing and watching Zee Cafe after a long day at the office, who does not speak Hindi, feel offended by this depiction? With the clangy gongs ("bong, bong, bongthis is the universal soundtrack of the Orientbong, bong, bong") and the squinted eyes and the camera slung around his neck? I'm thinking he might.
Ghosts by John Banville. (Banville's been shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won in 2005 for The Sea.) Not for the faint of heart -- you might even call it intellectual masturbation, as there is nary a plot to be found, but the writing is...well, sublime. Banville appears to be a writer's writer. On nearly every page, I found passages that I wished I had written.
Maybe he and I (or, I and his character) just have the same bleak outlook. Some excerpts:
"I lie for a long time thinking of nothing. I can do that, I can make my mind go blank. It is a knack I acquired in the days when the thought of what was to be endured before darkness and oblivion came again was hardly to be borne. And so, quite empty, weightless as a paper skiff, I make my voyage out, far, far out, to the very brim, where a disc of water shimmers like molten coin against a coin-colored sky, and everything lifts, and sky and waters merge invisibly. That is where I seem to be most at ease now, on the far, pale margin of things. If I can call it ease. If I can call it being." (P. 20)
"From my copious reading...I gleaned the following: I have an habitual feeling of my real life having passed, and that I am leading a posthumous existence. I had burned my boats, the years were strewn like ashes on the water. I was at rest here, in the calm under the great wave of the world. Yes, I felt at home -- I, who who thought never again to feel at home anywhere. This does not mean I did not at the same time feel myself to be an outsider. The place tolerated me, that's all." (P. 25)
"How can these disparate things -- that wind, this fly, himself brooding there -- how can they be together, continuous with each other, in the same reality? Incongruity: disorder and incongruity, the grotesqueries of the always-slipping mask, these were the only constants he had ever been able to discern. He closed his eyes for a moment, taking a tiny sip of darkness. Stay here, never stir again, gradually go dry and hollow, turn into a brittle husk a breath of wind would blow away. He imagined it, everything quiet and the light slowly changing and evening coming on, then the long dark, then rain at dawn and the gull's wing, then shine again, another bright day declining towards dusk, and then another night, endlessly" (P. 43)
For S: "Tea. Talk about tea. For me, the taking of tea is a ceremonial and solitary pleasure...Ithere is the matter of the cup...I love bone china, the very idea of it, I want to take the whole thing, cup and saucer and all, into my mouth and crack it lingeringly between my teeth, like meringue. Tea tastes of other lives. I close my eyes and see the pickers bending on the green hillsides, their saffron robes and slender, leaf-brown hands; I see the teeming docks where half-starved fellows with legs like knobkerries sticking out of ragged shorts heave stencilled wooden chests and call to each other in parrot shrieks; I even see the pottery works where this cup was spun out of cloud-white clay one late-nineteenth-century summer afternoon by an indentured apprentice with a harelip and a blind sister waiting for him in their hovel up a pestilential back lane. Lives, other lives! a myriad of them, distilled into this thimbleful of perfumed pleasure--" (P. 54)
"...And as she talked I found myself looking at her and seeing her as if for the first time, not as a gathering of details, but all of a piece, solid and singular and amazing. No, not amazing. That is the point. She was simply there, an incarnation of herself, no longer a nexus of adjectives but pure and present noun. I noticed the little fine hairs on her legs, a scarp of dried skin along the edge of her foot, a speck of sleep in the canthus of her eye. No longer Our Lady of the Enigmas, but a girl, just a girl. And somehow by being suddenly herself like this she made the things around her be there too. In her, and in what she spoke, the world, the little world in which we sat, found its grounding and was realised. It was as if she had dropped a condensed drop of colour in to the water of the world and the colour had spread and the outlines of things had sprung into bright relief." (P. 147)
Published 1993; edition I reference is Picador, 1998, London
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
After general pleasantries, I asked her about her time there, the office, etc. Though I am ancestrally about 75% German, my only experience of the country was getting stuck overnight in Munich during a snowstorm, during which I learned the wonders of a nice lager and television auf Deutsch.
"So, how'd you like it? Did you pick up any German, ja?" I asked, snorting.
"Oh, you know, some some," she said shyly. I cocked my head to the side. We haven't spent much time together, but she and I seem to have forged a strange bond wherein we both sense that the other is something of a kindred spirit.
She looks up, smile breaking like a wave.
"I learned shopping words, mostly. Everything else...every other word is fahrt! Fahrt this, fahrt that!"
Nothing is better in the morning that cultural exchange on the vagaries of language and flatulence.
As you may or may not know, in India it is not at all uncommon for well-educated, wonderful, thoughtful people to call people from China -- or people who have typical East Asian features -- Chinks.
Which of course makes me, a PC thug, want to die every time I hear it.
Apparently SV and TK have had some trouble scheduling a call with a woman from Shanghai, and all day it's been, "The Chink's responded again!" "What's the Chink have to say this time!"
I have no idea how to diplomatically express my...well, I guess, disgust...at the term, without making it seem like I think they are objectionable people. Wah wah wah....
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Under MASSSAGE PARLOURS (also, [sic] -- directly transcribing everything printed):
The World of my Angelz, Just landed on Earth. Heavenly beautiful masseurs. Real Delhiites. Feel the experience."
"Worldwide hi-class massage 7*/5* luxury? Only royal elite, b'ful Indian Russian masseurs. Call. Only decent personality."
"Male to Male can you waiting a complete body massager like Kashmiri boys satisfaction guranted."
"High-class massage service. Full range of world class beauty service R U looking something so different quick service any time just call me up."
"Delhi glamour high-profile model only 5 star. X-clusive masseur services decent soft spoken presentable. Hygienic reliable. Very charming. (Be careful from cheaters)"
Not that I don't enjoy donning just-so jeans and a relaxed cotton tee; indeed I'm a staunch supporter of laidback sartorial style. Dressing for a somewhat formal office means standing bewildered in front of my closet every morning, where I calculate comfort, expected maintenance (linen? Uhh, no.), and public reaction. The latter is perhaps the most important element of the decision; choosing a skirt that falls above the knee will earn me, at best, derision on the streets, and at worst, gropes, hoots, hollers, blatant stares from icy women, their sari pallus draped chastely over the face.
But despite these pitfalls, casual Friday is far more fraught with danger: danger for my eyes.
Let me imagine the snazzy young MNC worker as he begins his day...
Hrm. I want to be casual, but not too casual, so I suppose these track pants (with such a cool Nikee logo on the bum!) are out. But every other day of the week it's khakis, khakis, khakis, and starched, spotless white shirts -- when do I get to let loose? Show my personality? I'm hip, I'm happening. I watch the Bollywood. "I'm the Neal! I'm the man! Rock star, superstar!"
Today's the perfect day to demonstrate to my boss and colleagues what a with-it chap I can be. Acid-washed jeans, exported from America circa 1992? Check. T-shirt witih irreverent logo? (I'm not as think as you drunk I am...genius!) Check. Tub of hair gel? Check. Man, I love casual Friday.
For reference, I've included this picture from the Mall in Shimla. Note the excellent rendition of Marilyn Manson on the store's sign, as well as the superfluous grocer's apostrophe. Then, focus on the mannequins. These are my colleagues, down to the ridiculous coiffure. For a bonus laugh, squint and examine the duds on the dude severed by the picture's left border. Bulky jean jacket coupled with jeans of a different wash, punctuated by a flashy (if somewhat out of place) back pocket. Brava.
Friday, April 21, 2006
(That said, the opposite is also true: some things have been the same for millenia and will never change.)
This morning, I passed a sweets and namkeen store on the way to work, the same store I pass every morning, situated at a T-stop between Qutab Minar, South Delhi, and Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road.
This evening, less than ten hours later, it was gone.
The press has been all over this story (most recently, I enjoyed a photo essay in City Limits about a slum colony razed to make way for an overpass to prepare the city for the Commonwealth Games). But though we've seen pictures of bandhs, women beating their breasts at the ruins of their former lives, the (Indian) press has yet to fully explain just how rapidly India is changing.
It's a common refrain in the Western press (ahem, Tommy Friedmann) that India and China are moving at a hyper pace. But one doesn't see the buildings broken in the span of the day; readers certainly don't follow the fortunes of those displaced by this development. How will the government and people respond to these challenges? Where do we go from here?
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Nainital: In a shocking incident, a 36-year-old woman cut off her tongue to appease goddess Kali at the Ma Purnagiri Shaktipeeth temple in Tanakpur town on Monday.
A profusely bleeding Lakshmi Devi was rushed to the Tanakpur Civil Hospital here.
Medical officer in-charge at the hospital, Deepak Gahtauri, said her tongue had been cut off from the root and Lakshmi Devi had turned mute.
Devotees said the woman took the extreme step after she was unable to offer a goat for sacrifice. It is learnt that she had made a vow a few years ago if her wishes were fulfilled, she would sacrifice a goat at the altar of the goddess.
As she was unable to keep her commitment, she decided to turn mute by cutting off her tongue with a sharp-edged blade while returning home to her village in UP.
Source: Times of India
This is really starting to drive me insane.
There was a small blast at Jama Masjid in Delhi last week, and as such, there have been countless follow-up stories in all the national newspapers, trying to determine who was behind the explosive, how business has been affected, etc.
And though some of the stories have been interesting, they are INEVITABLY accompanied by pictures of white people standing in front of the mosque (I've seen at least three; the one that sparked my ire today was in Hindustan Times).
Now, I get it. Jama Masjid is in Lonely Planet, The Rough Guide. White people go there a lot. And they have money. It's a powerful constituency, but...ya know...
Shah Jahan built it to have a capacity of 25,000 people. At the time of the blast, an estimated 1,000 people were there. Although there are a fair number of tourists, there are also thousands of Muslims who go there every day for namaaz. And the blast probably means far more to them than it does to the honkies....
...or maybe I'm just crazy.
Just wondering who reads this biz-nass. I suppose I have a dedicated following of MASCOM folks and real-life friends from the States/India, but that doesn't explain the more than 6,000 hits this hub has attracted.
Are you an expat in Delhi, looking to make friends (hint: I am bored and occasionally would like to rendezvous with people experiencing similar missteps!)? Thinking about moving to India to ride the outsourcing wave? Interested in seeing an outsider's perspective of your homeland?
Whatever your story, I'd like to hear it! So often I'm babbling away here without any response...the blogosphere is so conducive to isolated, fiendish rants. Want me to link to your blog? Want to meet at Barista (or, better, a nice roadside gol gappa-wala)? Let's play!
Sunday, April 16, 2006
1. Rode on the motorcycle for at least ten hours.
2. Watched DVDs of several Punjabi weddings/related ceremonies with S's mum and learned to identify the various women of his family by sari color.
3. Ate about 12 pounds of paneer.
4. Was accosted by a man in Army fatigues in Shimla who pointed at S and said, "This man is not your husband! I know this man is not your husband!"
5. Took numerous pictures of ye olde tyme signs around the colonial town.
6. Ate in a restaurant in which the only parties that got tablecloths were those that included white people (the waiter brought us a slightly soiled white cloth and majestically unfurled it about five minutes after we sat down)
7. Didn't throw a shit fit when S's Enfield pooped out, forcing us to take a Volvo A/C bus (which, of course, reminded me of that time when the woman vomited on me on a similar bus)
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Which is why I love The Hindu's recent decision to create a reader's editor. In the States this is sometimes referred to as an ombudsman, and this person essentially works within the newspaper to monitor fuck ups, run interference with angry sources, and provide clarity on editorial policies. Some also write columns to address issues, and most handle set recs ("setting the record straight," or corrections/clarifications).
Set recs in U.S. newspapers are by and large dull, because it is anathema to restate the newspaper's error. While this does cover one's ass and minimizes the amount of newsprint devoted to incorrect information, it can leave the reader puzzled as to what was wrong in the original news item. They are at best obtuse, at worst irrelevant.
The Hindu, on the other hand, spices their corrections up. This column, run on the op-ed page, is often hilarious -- whether mocking persnickety readers or correcting idiotic staff errors. Today's prize goes to:
"A shy lad, the 19-year-old Raina has a steady shoulder on his head," was the last sentence in the last paragragh of "Suresh Raina -- India's rising star" (Sport, April 11, 2006). A reader points out that it is an anatomical impossibility!
New Delhi: A massive 300 kg chappati was on Tuesday unveiled at a function organized by a Rajasthan-based organization.
Made from 125 kg flour, the 'Hanuman Rota' was the major attraction at the 23rd Hanuman Jayanti Mahotsava.
The problem with Indian journalism today? Gems like this are contained to two sentences, while reams of paper are printed on election results.
Also, would it have killed you to include a picture? That is one big chappati! I want to know dimensions -- how big was it across? Was it nice and round, like a good chappati should be, or did it look like one I would make, uneven, lumpy? How does one make a 660-pound bread? Did people eat it, or will it just become a roadside attraction?
Friday, April 7, 2006
And Jet Airways has a really tempting offer -- less than Rs 6,500 roundtrip to fly to Guwahati in Assam, from which we could hop on a train to any number of other cities, etc.
I currently am flush with money because I am an incredibly miser, and I'm tempted to buy us tickets so we can have a nice vacation.
BUT: I want to go back to the U.S. this summer. Which will cost a significant amount of money. And I don't want to go back until I know that S can come with me, which is a big question mark right now.
Sigh...impulsivity? Or sensibility? What's an adult to do...
Thursday, April 6, 2006
Carol Gracias, one of India's top models, caused quite the kerfluffle when her top fell off during a run for the Bennu Sehgal show. A synopsis, via Wikipedia:
During the annual Lakme Fashion Week, March 2006, Carol Gracias's dress fell off. This had created a furore in the semi-conservative India, which still hasn't come to terms with wadrobe malfunction. Hours after the show on 29th March 2006, the slip was for all to see as MMS clips on mobile phones all over India. Carol was modelling for designer Bennu Sehgal that day. Her wardrobe malfunction was caught both on still and video cameras.
An investigation was mounted, which determined that it was an honest mistake. But this still hasn't deterred the moral police, as the Indian Express explains today:
"A day after the Mumbai Police gave a clean chit to the models, designers and organisers involved in two incidents of 'wardrobe malfunction' during the just-concluded Lakme Fashion Week, the Chairman of the Maharashtra Legislative Council today directed the government to conduct a 'thorough inquiry' into the incidents and make a statement to the House.
In the Council today, Shive Sena MLC Pramod Navalkar said: 'The police have not completed a thorough inquiry.' He also urged the government to inspect he designs of the specific dresses."
Ravi Bajaj has a good response in HT (You're slipping, Carol!, page 8, Delhi edition). He writes:
"Now as a result of your rather ‘deplorable’ act, the entire spectrum of the fashion-glamour-modelling industry is under the scanner. The Mumbai Police, given the job of investigating why your halter came undone — and why your colleague Gauhar Khan’s skirt split right on cue as she was turning back — may have finally stated that there was ‘malfunction’ and not ‘titillation’ displayed on the ramp.
But it’s hardly over. Surely, they’ll be watching us more carefully from now on to check whether there is any such ‘publicity stunts’ that go on on the ramp. Lingering doubts will be fashioned in unasked questions like ‘How did the designers manage such timely choreography? Did they use a remote control? Or were they holding the models’ garments with invisible strings which they yanked on cue?’ The Maharashtra assembly will be interested in the answers to these questions...."Seriously, have you NOTHING better to do? Does Maharashtra not have other problems -- such as the increasing number of farmers committing suicides because they are starving to death? Such as policemen raping women on Chowpatty Beach? Must we investigate these outrages of modesty ad infinitum, when there are outrages of...I don't know, human dignity?...occurring every minute of every day in different corners of this country?
(From page 2 of Express Newsline, Delhi, Thursday, April 6, 2006)
"A Story of Naughty Boy
See... father & son fell in love of same sexy girl"
Playing at Odeon, Paras, Milan, Movie Palace, Silvercity, and Movie World, four shows daily.
It's not quite Engrish, but it's still abominable!
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
DHL, the delivery company, is pushing a special package for Indian customers.
And it's called "Say it with mangoes."
From the Hindustan Times' front-page advertisement...
"DHL Mango Express - The sweet new gifting option!
Ship Alphonso mangoes to your business associates and loved ones abroad, with DHL Mango Express. The mangoes are FREE! Plus, you get up to 25% reduction on our regular air express rates. We also ensure that only the best Alphonso mangoes are hand picked and delivered within 6 working days from date of order."
Unfortch, there is no service to the U.S. (or Japan/Australia), and, double shitballs, it appears that although the mangoes are "free," the shipping costs Rs 3,250 (about $70) for a dozen of the sweet fruits.
Monday morning, our doorbell buzzes. I still have sleep in my eyes, and I don't speak enough Hindi to interact with whomever is seeking baksheesh today, so S heads outside while I retreat to the bathroom.
He bursts back into the bedroom.
"We've got a gardener!"
"Where are we going to get a garden?"
Indeed, we're paying a man to take care of nonexistent plants. C501 residents, single-handedly reducing Delhi's unemployment rate.
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
My family has always had a knack for the quirk, which is why it wasn’t entirely surprising to me when my brother developed an intense fascination with the musical stylings of Daler Mehndi.
In retrospect, though (especially as I’ve spent a significant proportion of my life in India), it’s a little hilarious that J became absorbed in the church of the turban, mesmerized by bhangra beats and a portly Punjabi dancing with abandon. Who would think the straight-A student, math genius, hidden in the back of the classroom, a genuine smile on his face that crinkled his eyes into slits, would fall so hard for a ridiculous cultural institution of India?
During physics, we would abscond from the classroom and settle in a computer lab, key in the address of one of his music videos, and dissolve into laughter. J forwarded the link to everyone he knew; soon, suburban Milwaukie had desi fever. I assume most everyone has forgotten about the fad now, but I still remember people coming up to me in the hall, giggling and asking, "Did you see that video your brother's been circulating?"
(Of course, this was all bordering on out-and-out mockery, which is why it’s so fitting that I now have Daler’s Rang de Basanti running through my head at a near-constant clip, inspiring me to unconsciously shrug my shoulders to the beat, waggle my head back and forth, grinning like a devil.)
Sunday, April 2, 2006
The American Dollar Store is great because everything within is priced at Rs 99, which is actually more like $2.25. They carry the crappiest American brands, like Suave shampoo (which costs about $0.99 a pop) and Aviva makeup and wonky Mexican foodstuffs, such as horchata.
And the best? Despite the stars and stripes, the red, white, and blue that festoon all displays, the American Dollar Store routinely features subversive advertisements.
A poster about Sarajevo.
Subtle mockery of the U.S. obsession with guns.
And, the piece de resistance, a banner behind the cash counter with a Photoshopped caricature of George W. Bush, edited to look slightly simian.
Now that's a store I can patronize.
Saturday, April 1, 2006
Granted, the Hindustan Times printed a few fake stories ("Louise Vuitton" and "Chanelle" accessories on sale, all for Rs 99 apiece! -- sound suspiciously like Sarojini Nagar...). Still, it's just not the same as finding a troll doll's pink hair sticking up through the bath's drain, instilling in me a lifelong fear of clogged tubs. It's nothing like my mom making me a bowl of cereal with green milk, or "breaking up with my boyfriend," or any other fiendish April Fool's deed.
It being casual Friday, one dashing young gent wore a T-shirt that showed someone's pointed finger and a slogan suggesting I pull it, or something to that effect. He was holding a Bacardi Breezer (are those available in the U.S.? It's the equivalent of a Smirnoff Ice), as were most of the men around him. No other women were drinking, and I may have scandalized someone -- or a few someones -- by bravely swigging a Kingfisher beer. Whoa there, Nelly -- we've got a live one.
Out of the whole place, I think I knew maybe ten people, which is a signal that I need to be more friendly/proactive/less of a hermit; however, one of those ten came up to me and started talking about one of my mentors at IT and how close he was to him, and how he had gone to see this IT editor and they had talked about me, which was incredibly creepy, because this is a guy I genially smile at in the hall or elevator if I happen to encounter him, not someone I've shared my hopes and dreams with.
Delhi: 16 million people, but still a small world.