Thursday, June 29, 2006
Rewind: A woman in the Indian Army Supply Corps, Sushmita, committed suicide on June 15; though 93 armymen did themselves in last year, this incident aroused an implicit call for women to be stricken from active duty.
So Prasannan, in this article, argues that perhaps the feminists and etc. are wrong, and that women are naturally weak and unable to keep pace in the demanding world of the military. Although he does make some good points about the Army being intrinsically patriarchal, the report presumes that women have the opportunity to be treated equally.
He expounds that it is this criticism "...which has made many in the Army wonder: do women expect to be treated with kid gloves in the Army? The fact is that they already are. Both as a matter of policy and in practice." The report highlights two case examples which are supposed to show that women are being given unfair advantages, soft jobs, and better treatment than men.
Even if Prasannan bolstered his credibility by naming his sources, the information still seems suspect. It seems that in lieu of rigorous reporting, he is relying upon a few individuals to make broad assertions about women as a discrete group. Yes, perhaps one woman was given a break -- an officer allowed her to continue flying after she had a bad landing. But why blame women here? Even if she was on her knees crying and begging, it was the male superior who caved and decided she needed another chance. This speaks more to the male perception of female weakness than to anything else. Furthermore, this is India -- it's not beyond the pale to imagine that these breaks have been afforded to cadets whose fathers were powerful generals and had a stake in continuing the family's military legacy, etc.
The report holds that "...in order to project a politically correct image and to attract more women to the services, the armed forces have been giving undue publicity to women's recruitment." I don't understand how this is a bad thing. In fact, I think this "undue publicity" is a prime means of combatting chauvinism in the Indian military -- for, if numbers of women continue to be low in menial positions and in positions of power, how can there be any hope of the Army becoming a more progressive, competitive organization that elevates the best candidates, male and female, and confines the least fit, male or female, to appropriate duties?
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
I've said it before and I'll say it again, but I LOVE THIS FRUIT. Because I'm too lazy to try and formulate cogent thoughts right now, a vaguely mango-related list:
- Although at first I just cast them off because I thought they were unripe, green mangoes are indeed delectable
- S refuses to eat Alphonsos ("the king of mangoes") because he thinks they get too much press
- I once had a professor who made us call her "Mango" and spoke about herself in the third person
- The best way to eat a mango is in your jammies standing over the kitchen sink
- Despite S's conviction that I would get cholera from drinking a mango shake in Daryaganj purchased for a sporting Rs 15, I did not indeed suffer any gastrointestinal distress -- AND they put delicious dried fruits and ice cream on top
- My friend R was shocked that my skin was so clear when I told her I eat at least two mangoes a day; she says they give you pimples
- "If they gave no trouble, he was willing to pay them an annual rent in kind -- mangoes and rice" (David Davidar, The House of Blue Mangoes, p. 120) <--- I wish I was a landlord and could exact this type of payment
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Not half bad; as S and I lounged at Punjabi by Nature last night to celebrate one year since my return to India, we debated its merits. The writing is simple, clear, and the story is rather charming. And I'm always drawn to works that explore the meaning of art, the whims of circumstance, and the methods for coping with a feel that one stands outside the world (an aside: what novel DOESN'T that describe?).
My only criticism -- and it is a rather large one -- is that Maugham perhaps belabors the themes of slavery, freedom, etc. There is a fine line between alluding to one's ideas and explicating a doctrine; Of Human Bondage is so transparent that at times it seems Maugham is more interested in expounding his personal philosophies than letting the writing and story take care of itself. Shrug.
"Insensibly he formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading: he did not know that thus he was providing himself with a refuge from all the distress of life; he did not know either that he was creating for himself an unreal world which would make the real world of everyday a source of bitter disappointment."
"'As long as you accept [your deformity] rebelliously it can only cause you shame. But if you looked upon it as a cross that was given you to bear only because your shoulders were strong enough to bear it ... then it would be a source of happiness to you instead of misery.'"
"'I do not attach any exaggerated importance to my poetical works. Life is there to be lived rather than to be written about. My aim is to search out the manifold experience that it offers, wringing from each moment what of emotion it presents. I look upon my writing as a graceful accomplishment which does not absorb but rather adds pleasure to existence. And as for posterity -- damn posterity.'"
"The advantage of living abroad is that, coming in contact with the manners and customs of the people among whom you live, you observe them from the outside and see that they have not the necessity which those who practise them believe. You cannot fail to discover that the beliefs which to you are self-evident to the foreigner are absurd. ... He saw that nothing was good and nothing was evil: things were merely adapted to an end."
"He thought of Hayward and his eager admiration for him when first they met, and how disillusion had come and then indifference, till nothing held them together but habit and old memories. It was one of the queer things of life that you saw a person every day for months and were so intimate with him that you could not imagine existence without him; then separation came and everything went on in the same way, and the companion who seemed so essential proved unnecessary."
"Thinking of Cronshaw, Philip remembered the Persian rug which he had given him, telling him that it offered an answer to his question upon the meaning of life; and suddenly the answer occurred to him ... The answer was obvious. Life had no meaning.... Life was insignificant and death without consequence. ... for the first time he was utterly free. His insignificance was turned to power, and he felt himself suddenly equal with the cruel fate which had seemed to persecute him; for, if life was meaningless, the world was robbed of its cruelty. What he did or left undone did not matter. Failure was unimportant and success amounted to nothing."
"Life was before him and time of no account. He could wander, for years if he chose, in unfrequented places, amid strange peoples, where life was led in strange ways. He did not know what he sought or what his journeys would bring him; but he had a feeling that he would learn something new about life and gain some clue to the mystery that he had solved only to find more mysterious."
Today HT, in "Girls are more prone to [suicide]" by Suchita Sharma, highlights some of these discrepancies. Though her article emphasizes gender dynamics -- whereas in the West men are about four times more likely to commit (not attempt) suicide than women, in India women commit ~55% of suicides (according to an AIIMS study of suicides among persons aged 10-18 in South Delhi) -- the report also contains a number that absolutely blew me away.
"Suicide rates were double for girls in Tamil Nadu as compared to boys, reported The Lancet in 2004. The study reported a high average suicide rate for girls in the 10-19 years age group [of] 148 per 1 lakh [100,000] populationcompared with 58 suicides per 1 lakh boys. Globally, the suicide rate is 6.8 per 1 lakh for women, and 24 per lakh for men.
Researchers at Vellore's Christian Medical College, where the study was done, insist that their findings are not 'a local aberration.' 'We suggest that reported rates of suicide in other parts of India are low because identification of suicides is difficult owing to inefficient civil registration systems, non-reporting of deaths, variable standards in certifying death, and the legal and social consequence of suicide.'"
I find it shocking that the incidence of suicide among young women in this case is more than 21 times that in the West; and, even if you discount the gender effect, suicide seems -- according to this study -- a much larger problem here, though it is not accorded the same sociological space as in the U.S. (which could be one reason for discrepancy, but what do I know).
Thoughts? Mountain out of a mole hill, or genuine problem?
If you or anyone you know (in India) is considering suicide or has mentioned wanting to die, please contact one of these SUICIDE HELPLINES.
Sumaitri Befrienders India: 23389090
Sanjeevani Society for Mental Health: 24311918 or 26864488
Naz Foundation (India) Trust: 26851970 or 26851971
Tulsi Rehab Centre: 9891006875
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Background (thank you, Wikipedia):
Amarnath: There are numerous explanations of how the journey to the cave came to be, but most people agree that some man (some say a Gujjar, some say a rishi) was bopping around the Himalayas and encountered a cave at Amarnath, wherein a lingam (widely considered a symbol of Shiva, a tantamount god in the Hindu pantheon) of ice had formed from water drizzling through the cave; Amarnath then became a symbol of Shiva’s abode and began attracting thousands of devotees seeking to bask in the shiv ling's presence.
Shiv ling: Various interpretations on the origin and symbolism of the Shiva lingam exist. While the Tantras and Puranas deem the Shiva lingam a phallic symbol representing the regenerative aspect of the material universe, the Agamas and Shastras do not elaborate on this interpretation, and the Vedas fail altogether to mention the Lingam.
Now that you're up to speed, let's see how this year's yatra is going. Actually, it's not so good. In "Amarnath shivling man made?", HT, June 17, Arun Joshi writes:
"Pilgrims to the Amarnath shrine this year would be disappointed to learn that the 'Shivlingam' at the cave shrine is man-made and not natural as it usually is. The extraordinary hot weather last month did not allow the Shivlingam to be formed. An official of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board told the Hindustan Times that snow had to be gathered and shaped like a lingam. .. however, fresh snowfall on June 12, a day after the yatra began, rescued the architects of the man-made Shivlingam. Fresh snow was sprinkled around to make it look natural."
I can't help but laugh when I imagine the organizers frantically packing snow, panicked that the sacred symbol did not develop because the winter was unusually warm. No one seems to be that outraged, which is good, but it does remind me of the good 'ole college years.
See, if you attended my alma mater, you not only sympathize with the organizers, but you've probably participated in a more ritualized form of this subterfuge. For many dorms, upon the first snowfall of the year, take it upon themselves to erect gigantic phalluses from the flakes. In "Year's first major snowfall gets mixed reactions from students," The Daily Northwestern, March 6, 2003, Samantha Nelson reports:
"With Winter Quarter drawing to a close, an unexpected onslaught of snow has made Northwestern students realize how far away spring still is. 'I'm glad we finally got a good amount of snow, but it would have been nicer a few months ago, when I wasn't looking forward to spring,' said Samantha Starrett, a Weinberg freshman. But as long as the snow continues, she expects the fun will too. 'I wouldn't be surprised if semi-offensive sculptures start appearing,' Starrett said. 'I've heard terrible, terrible things about what [dorm] people like to build in the snow.'"
I'm just glad the puerile occupations of college students are now enjoyed by all ages, races, and creeds. Pack it tightly, boys.
I refer, of course, to the masterpiece published in HT this morning, "Essentially India: You don't have to scrunch your nose here," by Ashok Das, on the subject of public defecation in backwater villages.
Yes, a menace more threatening than terrorism in Doda, more significant than the opening of the Nathu La pass to China...poop.
"The approach road to [Ramachadrapur] village had earlier been lined with human excreta, forcing people to cover their nose. Now it is squeaky clean...The village sarpanch, Bhanu Prakash, decided to abolish open defecation and went door to door convincing people to give up relieving themselves in public."
Alright, alright...perhaps I can buy this from a public health perspective. Until Das goes and makes these people look like complete and utter asses.
"'Initially there was stiff opposition. Used to defecation in the open for generations, many people were finding it difficult to get used to the toilet. But gradually and grudgingly they changed and today the village is defecation-free,' Bhanu Prakash said."
Let's set aside, for a moment, the way in which this drives a divide from the city folk -- pristine and clean atop their porcelain commodes -- and those backward village idylls. There are several possible reasons for such bald, idiotically constructed sentences to be printed:
1) The journalist is functionally illiterate;
2) The journalist finds this story hilarious and wants to make a spectacle of hard-fought progress;
3) The copy editor didn't read the story;
4) The copy editor doesn't have the sense that god gave a billy goat; or
5) The copy editor wants to mock the idiotic journalist and inspire readers to clutch at their breasts imagining the intestinal fortitude of these constantly constipated chaps
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Citizens of Delhi: arm yourselves with a cell!
Yes, we all hate auto drivers, but we all have to deal with them on a semi-regularly basis, even if only to shout chuttiya! as the buzzing green and yellow vehicle putts slowly on a flyover.
Anyhow, I haven't tried this, and I don't know if it entails waiting with the jackass driver until the police show up or if you just send along the guy's registration number and our protectors take it from there, but it's an interesting concept.
Anyone tried it out? Will the ho-lice really take SMSes seriously, or is it a better tactic to get them on the telly? What next -- Internet complaints? Welcome to the twenty-first century, baby.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
So it's about that time to give a shout out to all my early 20s homeboys finally getting their $100,000 diplomas; and yes, I know it's the butt end of the gradeeation season, except in Oregon and at Northwestern, so...you know my allegiances.
CONGRATS! Live it up, kiddles! Congrats to JJ, Nate B, all my other MilHi bros on the five-year plan, and members of the Daily's dead editor's club.
But the biggest and heartiest congrats to my dear bro Bryan, who, despite two terms in Iraq, just passed out of OSU. Next? Nursing school, if my memory serves me. What a guy!
And it wouldn't be a Frey-Tolman-Schauer celebration without idiotic shenanigans, so, from the front lines: my mother reports that Bryan's graduation party was attended not only by brothers, sisters, and the ne'er-do-wells we call friends, but also by a ferret who was unable to fly to Baltimore (long story), my sister Amber's obese cat, and four dogs (one of whom had just been sterilized), all sniffing each other and running between legs and whatnot. Hah!
Sunday, June 11, 2006
RE: "Buying up paradise," Raju Nayak, Indian Express, Sunday, June 11, 2006
"With indications that an international mafia could be buying up land in Goa, politicians here have started opposing the purchase of properties by foreigners, especially those staying on long-term visas. ...
'We want the laws to be changed, making it compulsory for foreigners to take police permission before they apply to buy land,' a senior officer [said]. ...
'The laws should be amended to prevent foreigners from doing business here. Most of them own small businesses and only bring ills to the state,' [said Naik, a Rajya Sabha member of Parliament]."
This is potentially an interesting story, but the version that was printed is either woefully underreported or inadequately explained. We jump from the lede to the assertion that there is a Russian mafia in the popular resort town. Insert a brief description of the type of people buying property -- i.e., foreigners on long-term visas ostensibly operating businesses. Then, facts are marshalled to somehow suggest that the foreigners who are legally buying property are not these long-term visa holders, or they're some sort of exception tot he rule, but nothing is ever really explicated. The entirety of the report seems to hinge on allusion, which, frankly, is a pretty poor case to make on page three.
It seems that this report should have been held until more concrete details could have been obtained; until some of the foreign devils buying land in Goa could be contacted. Instead, it's just more politicians shooting their mouths off about the foreign menace, no reasonable response from the other side allowed.
There may well be a Russian mafia in Goa, and they may well be detrimental to the community. But does this not make a case, rather, for the institution of better oversight, more logical laws? Why must the foregone conclusion be "banish the firangs"? We're really, really, REALLY not all here to make your lives miserable. We're not all here to exploit you. If a similar proposition was made in America -- ban all people of Indian origin from owning any property -- do you know the sort of anti-discrimination court cases that would be raised to advocate for your rights, regardless of your skin color or heritage?
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Hated it much less than I expected to; actually, quite liked the writing and the story both. Bleak, honest. Would have liked to drink grappa with Henry and muse about life, its meaninglessness, wisdom, and hookers.
Quotes that caught me in the gut:
"'..you're too brave. Nothing ever happens to the brave.'
'They die of course.'
'But only once.'
'I don't know. Who said that?'
'The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one?'
'Of course. Who said it?'
'I don't know.'
'He was probably a coward,' she said. 'He knew a great deal about cowards but nothing about the brave. The brave dies perhaps two thousand deaths if he's intelligent. He simply doesn't mention them.'"
"You could not go back. If you did not go forward what happened?"
"I know that the night is not the same as the day: that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started."
"If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
And, proof that Hemingway may be a great novelist, but not a great grammarian:
"We passed a long column of loaded mules, the drivers walking along beside the mules wearing fezes." (Strike my previous comment, of course, if the mules were indeed the ones doffing headwear.)
Blatant rip-offery of The Beatles courtesy '60s Bollywood revived by the Internets 2.0 (the song is "Tumse Hai Dil Ko Pyaar" from the movie Jaanwar, and is a Hindified version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand").
It's things like this that really make me regret all the hubbub about intellectual property -- because you know back in the day someone from Apple would be all up in India's face, suing and bitching and generally preventing the spasmodic, enthusiastic, joyful gyrations. And we would be all the poorer for it.
For more vintage Bollywood shout outs, watch Ghost World; the opening entree is fab.
Thursday, June 8, 2006
And, in a trend I hope to maintain, my favorite quotes from the book (written by E.M. Forster):
"Her thought drew being from the obscure borderland. She could not explain in so many words, but she felt that those who prepare for all the emergencies of life beforehand may equip themselves at the expense of joy. It is necessary to prepare for an examination, or a dinner-party, or a possible fall in the price of stock; those who attempt human relation must adopt another method, or fail."
"Looking back on the past six months, Margaret realized the chaotic nature of our daily life, and its difference from the orderly sequence that has been fabricated by historians. Actual life is full of false clues and signposts tha tlead nowhere. With infinite effort we nerve ourselves for a crisis that never comes. The most successful career must show a waste of strength that might have removed mountains, and the most unsuccessful is not that of the man who is taken unprepared, but of whom who is prepared and is never taken."
"She need trouble him with no gift of her own. She would only point out the salvation that was latent in his own soul, and in the soul of every man. Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its highest. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die." (Joan of Arcadia? Anyone? Anyone?)
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
As an editrix, I make a lot of trade-offs between descriptive and prescriptive grammar -- between language as it is spoken or written on the ground and the rule books (Chicago, AP, Strunk and White) to which I cling so dearly. Although my Indian colleagues tend to have rather good grammar if you judge them by, for example, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston and Pullum), it's a battle to explain that using American business style is not a compromise of quality but rather another way of seeing language -- a perspective that must be adopted as companies increasingly look to India for knowledge workers focused on global correspondence.
These musings are prompted by a visitor from my company's New York office who oversees two women that schedule interviews and thus correspond with people from Paris to Poland, China to Chicago, South Africa to Switzerland. She pulls me into her cubicle one day, and hands me a print out. "These," she says, "are examples of the e-mails the girls have been sending out. Since you are, after all, an American and know what American business style sounds like, can you read through these and make suggestions to them about how to improve their written English?"
The communiques were peppered with words many of my compatriates consider archaic -- shall, henceforth -- and lacked the assertive voice so often confused as brash unconcern for anyone's affairs but one's own. Neurotic, perfectionist to the core, I compiled ten or so "best practice" templates expressing information in what I considered a courteous, respectful, and direct manner. "Perfect," the overseer said, "now there are no excuses for this bad grammar, bad punctuation."
Yesterday, one of the girls called me over to her desk and asked me to read through a new draft of a letter. "Is this too rude?" The template has been mangled, the word "please" appears two or three times in thirty words, and passive construction abounds.
"Well...it's alright, but I think your boss wanted you to start using those samples I suggested?"
"But...they're just so rude!"
I shrugged, discussed the dilemma, and let it be. It's not really my place to be the arbiter of international language standards; however, I do wonder how this will evolve.
Befuddled? An illustration:
Kindly ignore the previous mail. Request the schedule stand for date at time. The dial in details are being mailed.
Please ignore the scheduling mail sent date at time. This message was sent in error.
Your discussion with our editors on “__________" will take place date at time, as previously discussed. Details on how to dial in and connect to the call will be sent shortly.
Sunday, June 4, 2006
We went to Amar Colony and picked it up for Rs 2,100 (a little under $50). And it's tons better than the one in this pic because it's painted an old antiquey white and has nice scrollwork on it. Yeah, I know, it would be better if it was a nice kind of wood, but it appears to be a mix of perhaps mahogany and plyboard, so it's just as well that it's painted.
Lyric of the day:
"Love is the answer to a question that I've forgotten and I know I've been asked...is it possible that all this magic went unnoticed?"
Thursday, June 1, 2006
43) Sleep without the air conditioning once during
62) Have my Dooney and Burke purse repaired (lining resewn and zipper replaced). S took it to the Chinese shoemaker's shop, where they seamlessly did the work for Rs 150. Talk about bang for the buck.
101) Publish this list on my blog. Well...duh.
And, progress on the big ones:
32) Read all novels on the Modern Library’s list of “the 100 best novels” (http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnovels.html
I've now read (most recent bolded):
#2 The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
#4 Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
#6 The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
#7 Catch-22 Joseph Heller
#15 To The Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
#21 Henderson the Rain King Saul Bellow
#28 Tender is the Night F. Scott Fitzgerald
#31 Animal Farm George Orwell
#41 Lord of the Flies William Golding
#48 The Rainbow D.H. Lawrence
#55 On the Road Jack Kerouac
#64 Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
#67 Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
#75 Scoop Evelyn Waugh
#76 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark
#78 Kim Rudyard Kipling
#90 Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie
#94 Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys
#96 Sophie's Choice William Styron
33) Read all books on the Modern Library’s list of “the 100 best nonfiction books” (http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnonfiction.html)
I've now read (most recent bolded):
#4 A Room of One's Own Virginia Woolf
#21 The Elements of Style William Strunk and E.B. White (well, reread it, because it's just THAT good)
#58 Out of Africa Isak Dinesen
#86 This Boy's Life Tobias Wolff
#96 In Cold Blood Truman Capote
Perhaps I don't adequately understand the contours of religious discontent in India. But I have to say...I simply don't understand the threat governments see from screening The Da Vinci Code.
According to the BBC:
"The government of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has banned the release of the Hollywood film The Da Vinci Code ... The decision to ban the film followed appeals from local Christian leaders who felt that the film might hurt the community's religious sentiments. Tamil Nadu is the fourth Indian state that has banned the screening of the film, which was released last week."
I'm just sick of...well, I guess it might be the sheer size of the democracy. I mean, don't get me wrong. I believe in democracy. I don't want any other system of governance. But when there's more than a billion people in a country, everything is always both true and false.
It would be one thing if the government was being consistent; say, they ban The Da Vinci Code and also admit that there are reasons to believe that communal disharmony is a tangible threat. This is not at all the case.
Exhibit A: India protests over pope comments. What did popey poo say? He criticized India in a speech for what he called "disturbing signs of religious intolerance." It could be construed as a potshot at the BJP (a Hindu fundamentalist party), or as an acknowledgment of the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, sparked off by the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims which may or may not have been caused by Muslims, as was suggested by some.
Any way you slice it, it seems that on one hand, Indian leaders are trying to prevent discord among India's panoply of faiths, as well as deny the existence of any problem.
(An aside: Are religious tolerance and freedom of expression mutually exclusive? Is it intolerant to ban a movie seen as betraying some religious sentiments, or is it just undue censorship? If we are free to worship, are we also not free to dissent?)
Exhibit B: Aamir Khan, a Bollywood star whose recent movie Fanaa was boycotted in Gujarat. Why? He made a completely benign statement about restitution for people displaced from their land by a dam project (think Arundhati Roy's constant spiel); thrown in there somewhere was a blanket statement that he thought it was bad that people died in 2002's violence. In a BBC interview, Khan states:
"I think it is (Vadodara incident) very sad and what happened in Gujarat a few years ago was also equally unfortunate. It's a shame that the administration is not able to control the situation there and it is resulting in deaths of innocent people ... It doesn't matter which religion these victims belong to. The bottom line is they are all human beings. It seems to me that the law and order machinery or the administration is simply not capable of controlling the situation."
To ban his movie in the state because he expressed sympathy is reprehensible. I hear everyday tolerance this, multiplicity that. But...in real life, does it mean anything at all?