Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Another twofer

A House for Mr Biswas (by V.S. Naipaul) was good, but perhaps too epic. The detailed explanations, the belabored words of everyday existence...a good effect sometimes, as in A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth), but here it seemed too much musing, too little action. I would give a more cogent review, but I have the bubonic plague, or something like it, so it's time for some quotey quotes:

Time would never be dismissed again. No action would merely lead to another; every action was a part of his life which could not be recalled; therefore thought had to be given to every action: the opening of a matchbox, the striking of a match. Slowly, then, as though unused to his lim bs, and concentrating hard, he had his evening bath, cooked his meal, ate it, washed up, and settled down in his rocking chair to pass -- no, to use, to enjoy, to live -- the evening. The house was unimportant. The evening in this room, was all that mattered. (I think this illustrates quite well the point I want to make; it is certainly elegant writing, and a nice excerpt, but when an entire book reflects this same tone over 600 pages, it can get old.)

'In a few years you will look back on this and laugh,' Mr Biswas said. 'You did your best. And no true effort is ever wasted. Remember that.'
'What about you?' Anand said.
And though they slept on the same bed, neither spoke to the other for the rest of the evening.

Living had always been a preparation, a waiting. And so the years had passed; and now there was nothing to wait for.


Also breezed through Jack London's Call of the Wild, which I probably should have read at some point in my elementary education (I mean, come on! American classic, folks!).

In contrast to Naipaul, this was a taut little story that moved quickly and refused to imbue everyday events with undue emotion -- and yet managed to be moving and meaningful. At its heart, Call of the Wild is just a great story of nature, of the conflict between man, beast, and circumstance.

I suppose I'm a sucker for dog stories, too, but this was about more than a dog -- if I were still in college, I would probably pfaff about how Buck's narrative is an allegory for modern life, anomie, brutality, enforced selfishness. But I know that would be pushing it, and besides, my energy is fading fast. So I'll leave you with some lively prose; the words aren't special or complex, but there is an ineffable movement to them when strung together.

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.

He was older than the days he had seen and the breaths he had drawn. He linked the past with the present, and the eternity behind him throbbed through him in a mighty rhythm to which he swayed as the tides and seasons swayed.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Weekend jaunt

S, his mother, and I went to Jaipur this weekend to visit their Buaji (and to shop). Just...great. I unfortunately came down with some sort of disgusting fever and am now sniffling, coughing, and hallucinating a little bit, but otherwise? Fabulous.

Buaji is S's great aunt, about 75 or 80. I imagined that she would be a crooked little woman, gray hair, simple cotton saris, whispering to me in hushed tones about our impending nuptials. Instead, she was what I would call a classy old broad -- not in any sort of denigratory sense; she's this majestic, proud woman who loves to gossip and kid and have her picture taken, a woman who loves to lead new friends through Johari and Bapu Bazaars, haggling with the shopkeepers who dread seeing the woman with jet black (dyed) hair, perfectly creased and shining salwar, in the doorway.

I am now fully prepared for my very Indian engagement (which is about two weeks away) -- I have a Patiala salwar in bright pink, a block printed kurta in vibrant blue, embroidered juttis, blue and pink bangles, a string of beautiful blue enamel and gold beads with matching earrings, bindis, and -- oh yes -- a custom-made engagement ring. And I have the blessing of Buaji, who made S take pictures of she and I pretending to dance bhangra ("You will look at this picture and remember the fun and the dancing!"), which is worth more than everything else combined. It's been awhile since I've been around a coven of fabulous, strong older women -- far, far too long since I've seen my mother, aunties, grandma -- and S's mother and great aunt were just so wonderful and warm.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Umm...

Information you should not divulge about your new line of saris:

"Initially, the cloth is bleached with cow urine" (K. Vijayan, chief technician of the Handloom Development Weavers Society in Balaramapuram, Kerala)

Granted, this is the land of the holy cow. And I admire this man's forthrightness. But perhaps he could have highlighted the neem, tulsi, and turmeric dyes. I have a hunch that minimizing one's association between urine and a consumer product is a good thing.

(Image from bitmapr on Flickr)

I find you annoying...

...so I'm going to shut down your shop.

In the "newspapers that need better copy editors" file is HT, which alleges that, come September 1, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi will forcibly close illegal shops in residential colonies that are "trading in obnoxious, hazardous, inflammable substances".

Clearly, they mean noxious. But, nonetheless:

HAH.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Central Board of Film Certification, I salute you!

The stars may be blind, but thanks to India's Central Board of Film Certification, Paris Hilton's music video won't be assaulting any of our other senses.

Yes, famous heiress's debut was issued an "adult" certification -- which means it can't be broadcast on any channel in India.

Now, usually I oppose censorship, but...gotta say I agree with this decision. I've seen her vagina all over the Internets, and it's not pretty.

(Now removing tongue from cheek...)

From the "What were they thinking?" files...

... comes the case of "Hitler's Cross," a new restaurant in Mumbai.

I get the publicity angle -- even if people aren't buying, even if people are rioting, your name is in the news. But this just seems so odious; there are names, surely, that are more clever and less...well, reminiscent of attempted genocide, yes?

HT carried a report on this today, and the proprietor reportedly said, "There was absolutely no intention of hurting anyone's sentiments when we named the restaurant. We only wanted to project the idea that we want to conquer the world with the taste of our food. We have no photographs of Hitler and no food items have been named after him. We do not have a Hitler Dark Chocolate, Hitler Mousse or any Nazi stuff here."

This, of course, is contradicted by the man's admission that they do have a picture of Hitler up for the inauguration, and there are rumors that a replica of one of Hitler's pistols is used to light the cafe's hookahs.

Still, this is all tertiary: there is a Jewish population in Mumbai, Hitler killed six million or so Jews less than 70 years ago, and -- addressing the proprietor's direct justification -- HITLER NEVER RULED THE WORLD. He ruled a part of Europe and caused considerable casualties, but ultimately, it took less than 10 years to stem his empirical spread.

Is it really so alien for people to try and build business on elbow grease, word of mouth, and excellent food and service, rather than ludicrous shock tactics? Gah.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Death and taxes

So, I know I harp on stupid governance a lot, but let's strike up the band one more time: this Orissa policy is idiotic.

According to HT's Soumyajit Pattnaik, the Orissa Finance Commission is pushing a "family welfare cess" that would impose a yearly tax on families that have more than two children.

Now, let's set aside the issue of whether a government should meddle in family planning, etc. Completely different arena. This little recommendation drives me batty, primarily because it hinges on a Rs 25 ($0.50) fine on families below the poverty line, and a Rs 60 fine on those below it.

Is this really going to deter anyone? Granted, for those below the poverty line, this may be more than a drop in the bucket. But it's far from punitive, and, let's face it, this is India. How can you enforce this kind of policy? It is slated to be run by gram panchayats, which are set up in villages with more than 500 people; it is not inconceivable that a new family member could go undiscovered, if that child is not birthed in a hospital/by a traditional birth attendant/registered in proper channels/etc.

Pattnaik reports that incentives for family planning haven't worked, so they're trying something new. But...is this really a "disincentive"? Isn't there anything more innovative they could try?

Then again, I'm completely ignorant. Is this a good policy? Because to me it smacks of ineffectual maneuvering, legislation for the sake of creating the appearance of action.

Gah!

It seems my kittens are dead set on keeping me on a posting sabbatical -- I wrote a nice line post, only to have the tiny toodles knock the router off the desk, requiring me to restart my computer (I'll spare you the lengthy explanation of the crapitude of my system).

Anyhow, long story short: busy. In addition to work, also cataloging four years' worth of LiveJournal; K pointed me toward a LJ book maker, but the PDF ended up being 962 pages long, and even I couldn't justify printing it at work. So now I'm experimenting with creating Word-like docs for each month (from 2002-06) on Writely, Google's spit-polished Web-based word processing system. Gotta say -- I'm enjoying it thus far.

When I'm in a less foul mood, I'll be witty and happy and etc. But for right now, it's a bad India week for T. Don't get in my way.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Double the pleasure, double the fun?

Lewd, I know.

I think this TOI story about a guy with two weiners is definitely fake -- no other news agency has been able to track the story (though Reuters just released a story that basically rewrites the TOI report), and one would think that the novelty would certainly merit attention.

Nonetheless? Intriguing. Apparently there's no medical documentation of such a phenomenon yet; although it's not unheard of for a man to be born with two organs, one is generally the "master" organ, the other one non-functional. Abantika Ghosh reports, "Sanjay, 24, has lived with the condition since birth, concealing his shame from all. But now, the young man is contemplating matrimony and wants one of the organs removed."

Best of luck, young Sanjay -- and if anyone has pictorial proof? You KNOW I want to see it.

Two two two in one

Really loved Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter. For some reason I was dreading it, thinking it was a war story; rather, it was a book set in colonial Africa. Rather simple plot, the complexities of love and the erosion of empire, but nicely written.

"He couldn't tell that this was one of those occasions a man never forgets: a small cicatrice had been made on the memory, a wound that would ache whenever certain things combined -- the taste of gin at mid-day, the smell of flowers under a balcony, the clang of corrugated iron, an ugly bird flopping from perch to perch."

"He felt no jealousy, only the dreariness of a man who tries to write an important letter on a damp sheet and find the characters blur."

"What an absurd thing it was to expect happiness in a world so full of misery. He had cut down his own needs to a minimum, photographs were put away in draweres, the dead were put out of mind...But one still has one's eyes, he thought, one's ears. Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, evil -- or else an absolute ignorance."

As you can see, a bit depressing and full of retrospection, and, at the end, the protagonist commits suicide. I know, a spoiler -- but anyone who's read more than a handful of melancholy books would know it was coming.

Also just finished A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess. In all truth...respect the writing, enjoy the overall theme of the book, but damned near unreadable at points. Not that Burgess can't string a sentence together. Rather, this is attributable to the fact that to bolster the atmosphere of teenage disillusionment he's created a lexicon of slang that is, well, a bit opaque. You can figure out what the words mean, but it's like trying to learn a different lanugage. Disorienting, challenging (perhaps his point entirely), but I dare you to try and translate this excerpt:

"The like minds of this Dr Brodsky and Dr Branom and the others in white coats, and remember there was this devotchka twiddling with the knobs and watching the meters, they must have been more cally and filthy than any prestoopnick in the Staja itself. Because I did not think it was possible for any veck to even think of making films of what I was forced to viddy, all tied to this chair and my glazzies made to be wide open. All I could do was to creech very gromky for them to turn it off, turn it off, and that like part drowned the noise of dratsing and fillying and also the music that went with it all."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Yo, I'm gonna pop a cap in your ass, biatch

No, the Bloods and the Crips haven't developed a Web presence (at least, so far as I know); but "gang blogs" and "gang wars" ARE a prominent feature of the Sunsilk site, which is being pushed throughout Delhi -- print ads, billboards, TV spots.

I know I shouldn't. I understand that gangs don't have the same connotation in India, and that perhaps drive-by shootings are as foreign to them as trying to make a nice paneer concoction in a pressure cooker is to me. But every time I see these ads -- shiny, happy girls bubbling over with love for Sunsilk -- I crack up.

Insert Indian national anthem here

Yes, merry Independence Day! Let's celebrate by hunkering down into our home sweet hovels, frightened that the terrorists -- damn them all -- are going to bomb us to kingdom come. Despite the scare tactics, and the cable channels' repeated insistence that SECURITY IS AT AN ALL-TIME HIGH, S and I found Delhi rather deserted all day, with nary a cop dutifully sizing us up in his gun's sight.

Yesterday coming home from work was a nightmare -- my evening commute clocked in at more than two hours, thanks first to the "checking of every car" (read: mustachioed Punjabis ambling around, sentimentally caressing their pre-WWII muskets and wondering precisely what they should do, for example, if Osama bin Laden attempts to travel from Haryana to Delhi with a tube of hair gel) at the (arbitrary) state border station, and then to the nonsensical decision to block half of MG Road near Ahinsa Sthal with bright yellow metal crowd barriers, rusting from disuse. Seriously, what. the. fuck.

Let's hope traffic is fine tomorrow. Another amusing anecdote: Apparently, no one in the government can decide whether this year is the 59th or 60th Independence Day -- flipping through the newspaper, every congratulatory ad saluting the efficient, upstanding Indian body republic seemed to cite a different number. This must be related to whether people count 1947 as year 0 or year 1; by S and my estimation, it is the 59th Independence Day, kicking off the 60th year of independence. But we could be wrong. And god only knows what the netas and babus are thinking.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

First drafts

Well, here I go. Stop talking about being a writer, and start writing. This was a spurt.

***

I am watching Bunty, my maid’s grandson, through the window. He is sitting quietly – or at least, quietly for a twelve-year-old. The browning plastic lawn chair upon which he is perched, one knee drawn to his chest, intermittently pitches back and forth; one of its legs was broken in the last pre-monsoon storm.

Bunty has been waiting, meditating, for the last hour or so. I have only a limited knowledge of Hindi, consisting of words and phrases commonly found in Lonely Planet guides. I would like to find out what he is doing, or why he is doing it, but the best I can muster is a half-hearted “Kya?”. When I ask this, his rapid patter will go over my head. I can extract a few words – bhaiyya, amma – but the greater meaning is lost. I am unable to communicate on even the most basic level. The help I want to give Bunty is irrelevant at best, inappropriate or even offensive at worst.

I am sick and my fiancĂ© is out of town. I prefer to let the floors gather dust, local newspapers spread around me; letting Bunty clean means embarrassedly shifting around the tokens of my comparative wealth, a lamp, a telephone, so he can drop to his hands and knees with a filthy rag and scrub at the dust that will only resettle when he leaves. When I throw something away, and put the garbage bag outside for collection, I know that it contains something – an empty water bottle, a broken comb – that might be useful to Bunty and his grandma. I feel too uncomfortable to hand it to them straight out, and don’t know the words to insist that they take it. So I let them rummage through the sack before they leave, pretending I don’t see, while they chatter and exclaim over the treasures of which I so thoughtlessly dispose.

I suspect that his grandmother has told Bunty to clean and not come back until the gora is happy. When we’re happy with nothing, Bunty also has to be happy with nothing. I tried to shut myself into the bathroom so I didn’t have to see, but vision is a curse. Sometimes, you can’t look away.

We used to have a soccer ball, and Bunty would kick it around the terrace to pass the time. The rains have not yet come and the heat is oppressive. And the ball is in tatters, soft and sad and deflated. I heard it thud against a wall once this morning; Bunty must have given up when it didn’t return to him. I think about all the times that I’ve expended effort only to be stymied by an impenetrable force. I wonder how a life only characterized by blocks and walls would feel.

Bunty sees me, my head cocked, staring. He makes a fist and raises it near his mouth, throwing back his head. I unbolt the door and point to the cups, then to our water dispenser. I don’t know how much he wants and I’d rather let him make his own decisions. Shyly, he picks up a mug my fiancĂ© bought when he was at the Indo-China border; it is green and has pink and yellow dragons carved and painted upon it. I give him a crooked smile, nod. He turns on the sink’s tap and fills the glass, drinks it in one pull, and repeats the process. I don’t know how to tell him that that water isn’t clean, that he should drink our Bisleri. But then I remember that he probably lives in a tarp tent, probably pumps his water from a ground well, probably waits in line several hours for a bucket of grimy brown. The government’s mildly chlorinated brew must look like a heavenly spring from the Himalayas.

We offered to send him to school, but he said he didn’t like it. We offered to buy him books or a uniform, or if he didn’t like school, to try and help him find maybe a mechanic to apprentice with. I can’t stand the thought that this is only the beginning of a decades-long career of dusting and bending, smiling and laughing and scrubbing and dusting. Still, we didn’t protest. Twelve-year-olds know so much about what benefits them.

He rinses the cup and upends it by the other drying dishes. Then he goes back to the plastic throne, smiling in the shade as he surveys our terrace. Later I’ll wash the cup with Vim; it’s all the same, it won’t be any cleaner, but it will give me peace of mind. I know I shouldn’t perform such rituals, but I do.

I’m boiling water for my coffee and glancing again at Bunty. I should offer him food but I’m afraid he won’t like it, or won’t accept it, or think I’m only being charitable. I want him to eat, and I have food, but I’m thinking too much. Because I have the luxury.

I am watching Bunty.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

I heart Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises: Check it off the Modern Library list. Not near as good as A Farewell to Arms, but a fitting exegesis on where a lost generation looks to find itself.

There aren't a lot of tremendously quotable moments in the book, but nonetheless, I couldn't put the book down. Hemingway's writing is so simple, terse, to the point. It's the kind of writing that I, as a journalist, hoped to emulate, but became hopelessly sidetracked in the glittering allure of commas, compound modifiers, and complex construction. It made me want to write again, not in the witty, foppish, hipster persona I've so desperately pursued, but directly, hiding nothing behind impressive words-of-many-syllables. And that's probably the greatest achievement an author can ever hope for his literature -- so, brava.

It's interesting -- although this is about expatriates bopping around Europe in the wake of WWI, so much of the dialogue, so many of his sentences remind me of trying to make a niche for myself in India. I'm not fiesta-ing for weeks on end, nor am I indulging in bull fights; but I did leave behind what was familiar because its very familiarity rankled, I drank not to taste the wine but for the inevitable descent into forgetfulness, the ways in which inebriation and foreignness allowed the pertinent to fade away.

Ew. Before I get too misty eyed, quotes:

"Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn't make any difference. I've tried all that. You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There's nothing to that."

[Hilarity ensues...if ONLY this was the case!] "'You're only a newspaper man. An expatriated newspaper man. You ought to be ironical the moment you get out of bed. You ought to wake up with your mouth full of pity...You're an expatriate. You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes.'"

"It seemed like a fine philosophy. In five years, I thought, it will seem just as silly as all the other fine philosophies I've had. Perhaps that wasn't true, though. Perhaps as you went along you did learn something. I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about."

Muy bien. Taking a short break from the ML list for a collection of short stories from Punjab, which should be good. Then on to either Graham Greene or E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. Whatever would I do without books?



Moment of zen (and stomach cramps)


Yeah, I'm totally sick, which sucks. I took a four-hour nap and still woke up sweating and crampy and clammy, wishing that S were here rather than in Chandigarh. Sigh.

But all is not lost -- the Indian Independence Day special issues are out for all the big news magazines, which means a lot of irrelevant crap, product hawking, and, in one shining example, commentary by Donatella Versace. I salute you, journalists, I salute you.

Undoubtedly the best excerpt is from a series of questions Outlook magazine posed to various luminaries. I present, "I'm Afraid of America."

Outlook: Who among world personalities is your Number One Hate Figures? (also, copy desk -- nice use of capitalization)

Rohit Bal, fashion designer: George W. Bush. He's an out-of-control megalomaniac. Even Americans hate him. Look at what's happening in West Asia, it's outrageous. He has just lost it.

Fleur Xavier, model: I dislike (hate is a strong word for me) the current President of the United States. He is not a thinking person -- he is a puppet in the hands of industrialists and other bigwigs who are supporting him, and he seems to have lost his conscience. The world is leaning towards greed, money, power and ego, and missing out on morality, kindness, humanity and living in harmony with the environment -- all of which are needed for the world to continue.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Hey DJ keep playin' that song...

Sometimes, the most familiar things are the most jarring to you when you're in a foreign setting.

Take, for instance, the debut of 95 FM in Delhi -- a new radio station apparently run by Clear Media (is it in any way connected to Clear Channel Communications?) that has taken the capital by storm. Used to blocking the sounds of filmi pop during my commute, I was shocked out of my Hemingway-induced bliss by the enchanting sounds of Shakira's disgustingly ubiquitous hit, which involves the truth of the gyrations of one's body parts.

That's right, Delhi now has a radio station that brings together the latest formulaic "music" of the day, Hindi or English. And I for one couldn't be more uncomfortable. I move 10,000 miles from home hoping for some relief from that cheery, chipper American patois reminding me of their non-stop hits, only to find -- little more than a year after my exodus -- the haunting echo of the Z100 Morning Zoo.

Ew.

(Consequently, I did some research; Clear Media appears to be a Chinese outdoor advertising firm, of which the majority stake is owned by Clear Channel. So I thought.)

Hooch from the hills

Ah, experiments in country liquor. A few weeks back, S was in Himachal (Uttaranchal?) on assignment, and one of the men they interviewed and shot gave them a gift (don't get all American-journalism-ethics on me, folks) -- 750 millileters of chaang, siphoned into a worn, plastic Bagpiper whisky bottle, and a 20 kilogram sack of peas.

S and his colleague somehow managed to offload the peas, but the chaang has been on our aperitif shelf gathering dust. Because my work week was long, and my personal trials...troublesome, I decided to have a nice glass, mixed with diet Pepsi (uh huh).

Thus far? No effect, though S assures me I will have stomach cramps in no time. "It always happens the first time you have it."

Well, at least there's SOMETHING to look forward to this weekend...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Garh!

So I wrote this really concise and excellent review of VS Naipaul's A Bend in the River, then my computer automatically restarted for a security update while I was talking on the phone with S and swatting cats away from my crotch. Sigh.

Thus, without further ado, quotes I liked. Damn hell ass.

The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it. (Pretty damn good opening line, eh?)

Small things can start us off in new ways of thinking, and I was started off by the postage stamps of our area. The British administration gave us beautiful stamps. These stamps depicted local scenes and local things; there was one called 'Arab Dhow'. It was as though, in those stamps, a foreigner had said, 'This is what is most striking about this place.' Without the stamp of the dhow I might have taken the dhows for granted. As it was, I learned to look at them.

Satisfaction solved nothing; it only opened up a new void, a fresh need.

Later he said, 'Strange, reading those diaries. In those days you used to scratch yourself to see whether you bled.'

There came a moment, with the coming of the light, when suddenly the night became part of the past. The brush-strokes on the white-painted window panes began to show, and at that time, out of my great pain, I had an illumination. It didn't come in words; the words I attempted to fit to it were confused and caused the illumination itself to vanish. It seemed to me that men were born only to grow old, to live out their span, to acquire experience. Men lived to acquire experience; the quality of the experience was immaterial; pleasure and pain -- and above all, pain -- had no meaning.

What's next? The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

If I don't see it...

...it isn't there.

Mixed media, 2006.

Yeh Dilli Haat hai

So even though most people go to Dilli Haat to buy mementoes and India schwag at slightly inflated prices (though not as inflated as, say, Cottage Emporium), I sometimes like to go simply to sample food from different regions. It's not always good, but it does give you a ballpark feel for what the food in, for example, Jammu and Kashmir might taste like.

Ever since I moved away from Kottayam, I've had intermittent cravings for traditional Kerala food, which is absolutely impossible to come by unless you know Malayalees in the city. A magazine here suggested a Keralan restaurant in INA Market, but when I went there, they were serving roti, biryani...nary a shred of coconut in sight! Needless to say, I refused to patronize the place. Anyhow, I'm babbling about this because the Kerala shack at Dilli Haat is the only place I've been able to find puttu kadala, a great breakfast food that is sort of a log of rice flour and shreds of coconut, served with spicy garbanzo bean stew. It is nowhere near as good as that served at the school where I worked, but you take what you can get.

Anyhow, S and I hit up the old DH this weekend and made a beeline for the food; discouraged by the sleeping workers at the Kerala stall (granted, it was only 11 a.m.), we decided to try the cuisine of Chhatisgarh. And let me say -- most excellent. We had paranthas and bhindi masala (fresh, fresh, fresh and piping hot), but the piece de resistance was uncontestably kokam, or, as the menu described, "tribes drink." God only knows what was in it -- it was red, cold, and had a taste I couldn't quite put my finger on -- but I don't care. Delicious. They also had great bamboo tables, magazines about the state, and our server insisted we take a map. Three thumbs up.

Secret agent man...

No work today -- happy Raksha Bandhan! I love how holidays become a business opportunity for, for example, domestic workers. Our maid brought S a rakhi and tied it on him, then asked him for money for it -- of course quoting a price about twice the worth of the rakhi. Very enterprising, actually. Another interesting tidbit: This year, traditional rakhis have given way to those adorned by superheroes...baby Hanuman, Spiderman, and Krrish. I am constantly amazed at the way in which new ideas are assimilated in Indian culture.

Just finished The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad's only book set in London. It's quite short; I have mixed feelings about it, but at least it didn't take long to plow through. The first two-thirds, I thought, were a bit slow, but the end was quite nice, provocative. Not much more to say about it, so on with the quotes, which to me seem particularly applicable to American politics.

"To see [his ambition] thwarted opened his eyes to the true nature of the world, whose morality was artifical, corrupt, and blasphemous. The way of even the most justifiable revolutions is prepared by personal impulses disguised into creeds."

"She lamented aloud her love of life, that life without grace or charm, and almost without decency, but of an exalted faithfulness of purpse, even unto murder. And, as often happens in the lament of poor humanity, rich in suffering but indigent in words, the truth -- the very cry of truth -- was found in a worn and artificial shape picked up somewhere among the phrases of sham sentiment."

Monday, August 7, 2006

The "next" big thing?

Interesting -- Hindustan Times has launched what they claim is "India's first youth newspaper." I was a bit surprised to see this ad today, as usually these media properties are debuted with fanfare, but perhaps this rag is still in the pilot phase.

The corporate HT Group Web site PRs:

HT NEXT has everything that the youth ever wanted in a newspaper: sports news (great stories for English Premier League and Formula 1 nuts), nuggets on celebs (yes, even more colourful than Laloo Yadav), world news - in other words, Your world (which, incidentally, is Our version of the world too).

There is even a political digest for those who want to go beyond the simpler, lighter matter, and seek to know which way the world is moving.

Check out the daily double-spread on science and tech in the section, 'Life, The Universe and Everything.' For the youth of India, this is Where It's At.

Yeah, sic, sic, sic for all that wonky capitalization, etc. It's an interesting concept, but I'm wondering whether the Indian media market is mature enough for a youth tabloid; recent micromarket targeting -- e.g., Delhi City Limits, which began as a biweekly magazine but has since become a mere marketing complement to Outlook -- have been less than successful. On the cutting edge? Or too far ahead of the curve?

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Low-paid laborers and their discontents

Come October, it is quite likely that I will be breaking the law on a daily basis.

No, I don't expect to develop a penchant for hookers, and I'm not nursing a cocaine addiction. Rather, S and I employ a maid who, four days out of seven, brings her grandson Bunty with her to help with the chores.

Bunty is a slight boy, friendly and a rather diligent worker, considering he can't be any older than 12. Mostly he sweeps the floors and perhaps sloshes a bucket of water on the ground, but he has been immeasurably helpful to me numerous times by tracking the errant kittens.

I digress. Yes, the Indian government intends to crack down on child labor; although it is officially illegal now for those under 14 to work in "hazardous industries," this is hardly enforced. Now, they're looking to extend the legislation to prevent children working as domestic servants or at roadside food stands.

In the wake of this news, S and I have been trying to gauge what Bunty's "outside" life is like. He does not go to school, and stopped studying when he reached class five. He says he doesn't want to go back, because he does poorly and doesn't like to study. Of course, this probably means that his grandmother and mother have told him that he can't afford to study; we've offered to pay for his schooling or books, but to no avail. Now we're trying to see if maybe we can help him find an electrician or a mechanic with whom he can apprentice; something, anything that will give him more options.

I am a bit ambivalent about the new law. Although, of course, I think it is abominable to have children working, and I have more than once demanded that Bunty not work in our flat, it's just...a little too bleeding heart liberal to think that a law will stop anything. When it comes down to it, the families of these children have, in all likelihood, forced them into employment because no one else in the family is capable of earning. There are, of course, no plans to help ensure that these families can still do things like eat and have a roof (or tarp, what have you) over their heads. Furthermore, it's not like there is any shame attached to child labor here. Even the poshest families have a "Chotu" or a "Raju" who comes and hoses off their BMW every morning; although there is some public consciousness of this "moral" transgression (the truth or falsity of this statement is something that can be debated in another forum), it's nothing abnormal for a seven-year-old to help put chini (sugar) in your chai, or for a ten-year-old boy to wash your undergarments.

At some point...it just gets so overwhelming. I don't know how to tackle this problem, even at the most micro level. The last thing we want to do is scare Bunty away, make him think that he's not welcome or that we're going to turn him into some higher authority. What can we do? How can we change this situation without forcing him to make a choice to engage in work that is even more harmful?

Imagining the Indian woman

Two pictures, from two different magazines -- one a women's magazine, one a Delhi city magazine. For some reason, these two faces seemed eerily similar to me.

By the way...I could blabber on much more about my motivation and my thoughts while artsy fartsying, but if you care, I suppose you'll ask. Sometimes it seems more important just to present the images and see if they provoke people in the same ways they've provoked me.


Saturday, August 5, 2006

Ads I hate

Apart from the protruding genitalia, which should have been disguised by some sensitive Photoshopping, the tagline is a bit...aggressive. "Prepare to get assaulted"? Umm, no thanks.


Not the other

Excuse the poor execution -- this piece is a bit distorted because I used my point-and-shoot to get it onto the computer, and then I used Paint to clean it up a bit. Still, thought I would put this up, because I've been thinking a lot about how the media portrays Muslims and Islam in the country with the world's second largest population of the religion's adherents (Indonesia, of course, being topping the list).


Second time's the charm

The first time I tried to read 1984, I didn't really absorb it. Let's face it, high schoolers -- for the most part -- just aren't that interested in hearing about the dangers of mind control when they spend six hours a day being lectured to, remonstrated, and molded into the school board's idea of accomplished young adults.

But rereading it was good, particularly in the current sociopolitical context. Yeah, yeah, old saw, but fitting. Rewriting history? Bending words to one's will? Harping on GW Bush's administration and the way in which Rummy et al have trampled on civil liberties is more or less fruitless, but I'm lazy, so I'll do it anyway. Every voting American with two brain cells to rub together should read -- or reread -- this book.

On the importance of history and remembering:
"When there were no external records that you could refer to, even the outline of your own life lost its sharpness. You remembered huge events which had quite probably not happened, you remembered the detail of incidents without being able to recapture their atmosphere, and there were long blank periods to which you could assign nothing." "Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth."

On literature (and a fairly accurate reflection of my response to books on the Modern Library list):
"It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order...The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already."


A la McSweeney's

A short list of Delhi businesses which I have no interest in patronizing:

Sham Enterprises (in Khan Market)
Competent Autos (a chain of secondhand car dealerships, I believe)
Systematic Systems (which makes the lockers for my office gym)
Snipers Salon (in Defence Colony; I assume they meant "snippers")

Ah, the malleability of the English language. Anyone have suggestions to add to the list?

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Unfortunate headline of the day

From The Hindu, Delhi edition, Tuesday, August 1:

Run against diarrhoea

Perhaps the event's organizers should have hosted, oh, say, a walk? A cricket match against diarrhoea? SOMETHING less laden with double entendre?