Saturday, September 30, 2006

Indian Express? This is common sense calling...

So I opened IE today and was shocked by this headline:

Urban unemployment at 45 pc [percent], says survey

Nah, it couldn't be, I thought; sure, there are lots of beggars, and lots of people idling around, but unemployment THAT high? It just seemed wrong.

And it was. Because the person who wrote the headline is, without a doubt, an innumerate moron.

Although the lead holds "...the latest National Sample Survey on employment and unemployment in India has revealed that the unemployment rate in urban India was as high as 45 while that in rural India was 17," the next paragraph explains, "the unemployment rate [is] the number of persons unemployed per 1,000 persons in the labor force".

What's 45/1,000, again?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

No news is good news (or, He's not a driver, he's loco!)

From the "slow news day" files of The Hindu:

Engine driver is
now 'loco pilot'

Staff reporter

Kollam: The driver of a passenger or goods train is no more an engine driver. He will now be known as 'loco pilot.'

A notification to this effect has appeared in Indian Railways' (open lines) General Amendment Rules 2006.

According to the notification, the term 'driver' is renamed as 'loco pilot' and 'first fireman' or 'assistant driver' as 'assistant loco pilot.' Following the notification, all duty communications to engine drivers are now addressed to loco pilots...

It continues like this. For 200 hundred freaking words. What a waste of space! Need I mention that this is on page 7 of their national edition?

While I do appreciate their ardor for linguistic reform...come on, people. Ass.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The modern Punjabi

So my friends at work never tire of telling me how lucky I am to be engaged to a Punjabi; not only are they a strong community ("You'll never see a Sikh beggar!"), but they "love their mothers," "have lots of money," and -- best of all -- "always have the nicest things and the latest gadgets!"

Most of the time I chalk this up to uninformed gabbling to placate the white girl. But after seeing pictures from S's cousin's engagement ceremony, I think I see what they're getting at.

At left, you'll see a crude recreation of a page from the cousin's photo album. The confused young man, the scowling bride to be, frozen in one pose while various relatives parade into the picture, pinching cheeks, feeding sweets, and passing the befuddled young folks envelopes of filthy, filthy lucre -- if you've ever been to a wedding or engagement in India, you know the scene. But who's that happy chap in the background? Why is this beturbanned buck blemishing every portrait of the happy couple?

Observe the man's right arm; it's in a slightly different position in every frame. When I first saw the photo album, I was absolutely confounded; my brow wrinkled in concentration as I tried to divine the reason this chachaji was omnipresent. After a few minutes, S leaned over my shoulder and began laughing, laughing so hard he was nearly in tears.

"Is that...is that a remote control?"

Aha!

After a rapid exchange in Punjabi, punctuated by deep belly laughs, S explained, "See the remote? My chacha had just gotten a new digital camera for my cousin's engagement, and this new toy was in the box. He set the camera up on a tripod, and instead of standing and looking through the viewfinder, he stood behind my cousin and his fiancee, controlling the camera from afar."

Completely impractical, absolutely ludicrous, and apparently, stereotypically Punjabi. God bless his heart -- some people might say the pictures were ruined, but to me they're all the more memorable.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tea for two

Though it may not be apparent here, tea is one of my foremost passions. While my friends were into Liptons or, at best, Celestial Seasonings, my mother and I were exploring the hundreds loose premium teas stocked at Limbo, a fabulous Portland market conveniently next to Trader Joe's; from unflavored white tea to gunpowder, sencha, and gussied up darjeelings, we explored by shoveling tiny scoops of the leaves (purchased by the ounce) from the pristine glass cases into neat little Ziploc pouches, taking them home and immediately brewing a few cups of each.

As a journalist, I wrote several reviews of Chicago-area tea shops; when I was in Delhi in 2004, I met the world's first tea sommelier, who paired brews expertly with food at the House of the August Moon; S and I fell in love over strong ginger tea served by his cook Raju from a tarnished silver teapot; we named our kittens Earl Grey and Orange Pekoe; our kitchen is littered with airtight containers for Makaibari, Castleton, Devan's, and teas from S's various travels in Nepal and northeast India. So I'm always excited for tea-related stories; after NickD's auspicious mention of going for a single-estate run in Illinoise, it seemed a bit more than coincidental that I found a recent NYT article on the proliferation of new tea-bag designs in the U.S., which are leading to a sort of democratization of long-leaf heaven.

It's an interesting phenomena, but I'd like to note that, by and large, Americans are still lazy bastards:

"Like coffee lovers who moved up from making instant coffee to grinding their own estate-grown beans fresh for each cup, many American tea drinkers have graduated to whole leaf teas. Though there are myriad gadgets on the market, like little metal infusers, for brewing a single cup from whole tea leaves, they do not eliminate the chore of cleaning up the soggy remains. ...

And even though the better tea bags will produce an excellent cup of tea, some of the finer points of tea making have been lost, like the different water temperatures and steeping times required, depending on whether the tea is black, oolong or green. An exception is the tea made by Le Palais des Th├ęs: a suggested temperature and brewing time is printed on the foil packets that contain the muslin tea bags. But how many tea drinkers pay attention to those arcane details anyway?

'People like good tea but not the work,' said Michael Harney, a vice president of Harney & Sons, in Millerton, N.Y., a company that his father, John, founded. 'We see our customers switching from loose tea to sachets all the time now.'"

So let's raise a glass to people finally catching on to delicious and excellent teas, rather than the insipid droppings plied by some of the world's prepackaged tea players, but...come on guys. Do you really deserve delicious first flush if you're so afraid of getting your hands dirty? For shame.

"You will look at this picture, and you will remember the dancing, and you will smile!"

Turns out, Buaji was right.

Buaji is S's great aunt; she lives in Jaipur and takes care of her husband, who has Parkinson's disease. She is a vibrant woman, incredibly full of life, and no one ever fails to comment on the fact that it's a shame she's stuck in her somehwat-dilapidated house, comforting a man who can hardly move.

It makes me admire her more, in fact, because it would be so much easier to put him into a facility, to dash off every day, shopping with relatives and going to family events. To settle for a life of occasional visits, dying her hair black as soon as gray roots begin to emerge from her hairline, proudly showcasing photo albums from her years as a host for foreign exchange students, demonstrates a kind of love that isn't spontaneous but learned, and probably much stronger for being so.

We visited Buaji before my engagement, and she took us to all the shops she's always taken her visitors, shops where the normally brazen dukhandaars become timid as she harangues them for a 10-rupee discount. Before we left, she insisted on S chronicling our visit.

I had spent a few hours that day pouring over old albums, and couldn't help but notice the repetition: confused white girls, bedecked in heavy jewelry and glittering saris, arms thrown toward the ceiling in a pathetic bhangra. But I didn't want to ask, lest I draw attention to the somewhat strained faces of her charges.

I was wearing a black shirt, so Buaji insisted that S's mom give me her necklace; then, Buaji disappeared into her room and emerged -- in a fresh silk suit, though she had gotten dressed for the day less than an hour before -- victorious, a festive pink dupatta waving in her hand. We moved to her sitting room, a dark, dusty place showcasing treasures such as Hummel figurines and chipped plaster models of the Air India maharaja, closed except for the most important occasions, and she draped me in the dupatta, tucking one end into my jeans.

"Now you are having color, and you are looking pretty!" A diamond in the rough, I am.

After a few sober shots of us three women demurely smiling, as well as muddled self-timed shots with S half in the frame, we stood up and initiated the process of goodbyes. But just leaving would be too easy.

Buaji began speaking in Punjabi to S's mom, and began playfully wiggling her hips, then shrugged her shoulders; soon, her arms were raised exultorily in the air to an inaudible bhangra beat.

"When the foreign students see me dancing the bhangra, they are always looking at the ceiling and asking, 'What are you pointing at?'" she giggled. Her laughter was infectious, and as S's mother began grooving along with Buaji, the matron turned to S.

"You take our picture. Then you can look at this picture, and you will remember the dancing, and you will smile!" I chortled, halfheartedly pointed my fingers skyward, and humored her. At least I had an explanation, I thought.

But now, when I look at the picture, it's a funny thing -- I do smile. A rush of wonderful memories floods me, and I laugh. If I'm feeling blue, all I have to do is think about Buaji, and remember that some of the things that seem ludicrous are, in fact, the best parts of life. If there's anything I've learned in India, it's that simple things do matter, and pleasure doesn't have to be sophisticated; even if you're feeling miserable, the smallest something can reenergize your day.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Loss, traffic, endings, and beginnings

This was an enormously frustrating week for me, for a number of reasons, but primarily because I feel like such a negligent kitten mother, my dearest Earl having escaped the pleasant confines of C501 to frolic with the neighborhood hooker cats. I've more or less given up on him at this point, but perhaps Ganesh will smile upon me, and Earl will bound in, beedi clenched in his tiny kitten jaw, like he just got back from a weeklong bachelor party.

To top off the abysmal week, which featured women troubles, news of a coup in my vacation destination, and remonstrations from co-workers who think I am now too thin (after they playfully slapped my admittedly cushioned ass and called me a fatso), the chauffeur of my drop decided to take a completely unnecessary 45-minute detour through flooded roads in Vasant Kunj.

So we're about to reach the juncture at which I am unceremoniously dumped, and we're stuck at a red light, and there's a beggar woman with a tiny child strapped to her hip and the entire situation suddely seems overwhelming, even though it's what I deal with every day with nary a tear. I'm rubbing my eyes, massaging my temples, when the driver turns to me.

"Madam?"

"Haan ji?"

"Thank God it's Friday, yes?"

Indeed, sir, indeed.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Missing and presumed frightened!

I know that there is a snowball's chance in hell of anyone on the Internets having seen my darling kitten, but when you're desperate, you're desperate.

MISSING: One chhota billi (pictured, front) -- answers to the name of Earl Grey. Last seen Tuesday night in C block of Defence Colony (in the southern part of New Delhi, India, in case you haven't been paying attention). Wearing a small white collar with a bell. About a year old. Likes smelly socks and rolling around on newspapers; a bit of a scaredy-cat. Reward offered to anyone who returns him to me.

I am so sad and feeling like the worst kitten mother. I've been scouring the streets and sewers, but god only knows where he could be by now; his sister, also pictured, escaped from our flat last night as well, but was waiting at our door this morning. She is shocked, dirty, and her claws are splintered, which leads me to believe they were in a fight.

Meow? Anyone?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Behind the scenes

So, along with visiting relatives and attending a farewell party in Patiala this weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of catching a Punjabi music video in the making at Qila Mubarak.

The pictures pretty much speak for themselves, but in case you're keeping score:
  • Cheesy leading man and woman -- check
  • Awkward, spastic dancing -- check
  • Gaggle of backup dancers who should be in sync, but are instead all vying for the spotlight -- check
  • Shiny black pants -- check
  • Pancake makeup five shades lighter than skin -- check
  • Pink-striped Oxford shirts unexpectedly knotted at the waist, a la Britney Spears circa "Hit Me Baby (One More Time)" -- check
  • Crotch grabbing -- check
  • Inexplicable crowd of onlookers, including on-duty policement -- check

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Free TVs for all!

I don't have much to say about this story (in which the government of the southern state, Tamil Nadu, distributed color televisions to "poor" citizens), but it does include a rather excellent sentence somewhat typical of Indian journalism:

"This was only the first phase and would get over in a few days. Just as all guests at a wedding do not feast at the same time, the distribution of television sets could not be done in one go."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The end of Rockstar: Supernova...

... and the beginning of the reclaiming of my life.

(Don't worry, The OC: Season II: I still have an unhealthy obsession with your implausible scenarios.)

That's right; though I have been generally pathetic and unsocial and introverted for the past 10 or so monthly, largely attributable to having begun a new job that I really enjoy, I am inching toward being interesting again.

It started with Jaipur three weeks ago; then Chandigarh and a Punjabi village this past weekend. Saturday I'm heading to Patiala with the future hubs. S's parents leave for the U.S. the last weekend of September, and we inherit their car -- score, weekend trips (although, sad, parents gone). October 6-20 is Thailand/Cambodia. End of October is the return of the boss(wo)man. November, it appears that my mums and pops will, after my more than three year affair with the subconty, make an appearance in Delhi. Various weddings will transpire during these months, and I will most certainly adorn myself in much gaudy jewellery. Then, with any luck, I will take my leave of Mata Bharat once again at the fag end of 2006 or the incandescent first days of the new year.

What will become of this blog? Well, it will probably go out of commission, because without the fabulous backdrop to my existence, I'd be a bit of a bore (only entertaining headlines and unfortunate incidences have allowed me to distance myself from drudge-filled days of sweat and toil). But until then...come what may!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sign me up for Jesus class

There are certain things about India that I just don't understand.

Like the story of the "occult ceremony" at Loreto Convent school in Lucknow. What has now been entirely blown out of proportion by the media was originally an ill-conceived assembly at which a priest was to speak; rather than, or perhaps in addition to, addressing the students, the priest fell to the ground, began writhing, then declared that Jesus had entered his body.

Unorthodox, yes. But cause for a 30-minute news program at prime time? Cause for continuing coverage in the national newspapers, and a story distributed worldwide by Reuters? It's going a little too far. A frequent refrain I've heard is "Keep religion out of schools!" Now, brought up to firmly believe in the separation of church and state, one might imagine that I agree with this argument. But people seem to be forgetting that this is not a government-run school, but rather a private Christian institution, which parents pay to send their children to. I guess I'm saying, is it really so unexpected that Christianity is being promoted at a religious school? Should we protest madrasas because they instruct students according to the teaching of the Koran -- or do you not care because many Muslims in India are poor and marginalized, whereas the Christian community is relatively successful?

On one online forum,
a respondent takes up this argument. I just can't help but think this poor chap -- and many of his peers -- is sorely misguided; it seems to me that the Indian government has so let down its people that faulty logic and conspiracy theories have become more sacred than demanding the provision of quality services for all. The man argues that another poster has erred in pointing out that parents should remove their children from private Christian schools if they so object to such religious overtones. He writes: My wife who is from is from Loreto, had to say prayers and she did not like it. But her mother told her never to complain because there were no other good schools there. now why other aided / unaided schools can not compete with convents is because there are discriminatory laws in a so called secular India. For example, missionaries always talk abt the caste system as a failure in Hinduism and a reason to convert. but, when other unaided ‘majority, institutions have to be ’socially responsible’ as per the 104th amendment, minority institutions do not have to. This means all institutions EXCEPT minority institutions are subject to reservations and other govenrment directives and supervision. This dilutes the quality of ‘majority’ institutions. how is this fair? christians form 3 to 4% of India’s population, but control more than 20% of ed institutions. don’t you think its unfair advantage to a community that is so empowered??? surely the idea behind giving special privileges to minorities is protection of their culture and values and religion and NOT AIDING THEIR CONVERSION EFFORTS THROUGH DISCRIMINATORY LAWS? have you thought abt this angle? have you tried to understand the root cause of this anger? let me be clear that i do not support vandalism or violance in any form. but the media only reports violance and never reports on the discrimination against the 80% Hindus. this is the friction.

The error in his logic, it seems, is that government supervision denigrates the quality of schools under its purview, and thus "minority institutions" -- which he has used as a synonym for "Christian school," though it would technically include...well, any school not run by a quasi-Hindu authority? But that's another fish to fry -- must lower themselves so as not to compete with government schools. Why, WHY isn't this man demanding that the government build more and better schools? Nothing is preventing non-Christians from building strong institutions; and only bureaucratic torpor and a sense that they can get away with providing poor quality education to those unable to afford private institutions prevents the government from pursuing reform (well, that and money, visionaries, etc.).
I understand that parents want the best for their children, and that certain conflicts arise between what one wants and what one would have in a perfect world. But if you have already made this trade-off -- in this case, choosing to send the child to a private school although it is run by a religious minority -- you have no foot to stand on to raise a hue and cry about the indecency of religious ceremonies (even if they are a bunch of hoo-ha and an incredibly bad judgment call on the part of the school administration). Oh, yeah -- it's not the parents who are raising objections here. It's the media, it's the man on the street, and it's politicians. Let the parents, the school, and the students deal with this on their own terms; it's far more abominable for Hindu fundamentalists to physically desecrate the school than for a crackpot to claim he's possessed by Jesus and writhe around on the floor for a few minutes.


Monday, September 11, 2006

All snark aside...

... this story on Santraj, a ragpicker involved with the Delhi NGO Chintan, just broke my heart.

The deets: Santraj was selected by Chintan to attend a conference on waste management that was being held in Brazil. He got all his papers together -- no small feat -- and the NGO got him a plane ticket. Unfortunately, they were so good as to procure him a business-class ticket.

When he got to the airport to catch his Alitalia flight, though, the carrier's officials wouldn't let him board the plane because he "didn't fit the profile of an international traveler" -- his English is poor, and, well, he is a ragpicker, after all.

It's just...disgusting. Sickening. Heartbreaking. Now Chintan is threatening to sue Alitalia for its blatantly bad behavior, and has four demands:
  1. Make public the airline's legal code of who can and who cannot fly
  2. Give Santraj a written apology
  3. Train its staff to handle diverse clients with respect
  4. Compensate Santraj monetarily
I'm glad that someone is speaking up for the man, but I can't help but think that...no matter how many apologies are issued, no matter how much money Santraj is given, this will stay with him for the rest of his life. You're born into an unfair world, you raise yourself up by dedicating yourself to a profession that your countrypeople make no bones about sneering at, you do something that deserves respect and admiration, and what do you get? Someone telling you that no matter how hard you work, it's not good enough.

Perhaps I'm being too dramatic; this incident may be no worse than a million other little hurts of life. I only hope that the man is genuinely compensated by something more important than money -- sincere remorse on the part of the airline's personnel at having treated another human being so abominably.

Pre-hitched

It's official: I have one foot firmly planted in the land of the old. I have not one but TWO honkin' diamonds on my hand, I've met the extended Punjabi family, I've had treacly balls from Sindhi Sweets jammed into my gaping maw. If I back out now, I will always be known as the shameless white woman who took advantage of the family, their golden son, and Indian hospitality. Or something like that.

I should (read: will later, when I'm not at work, fielding congratulations) write more about this, in a more coherent manner; instead, I'll list items of particular interest:
  • A boy scout running through the train at our stop in Ambala, distributing free polio drops to the crying baby sitting in front of us
  • My inappropriately pleated salwar, the cause of much consternation from a bevy of aunties
  • Not knowing appropriate foot-touching protocol, defaulting to a half-hearted namaste and a hesitant bend at the waist, most often forestalled by women clutching my hand as they inspected my face (nice and fair!)
  • Muzak modeled on artists including, but not limited to, The Backstreet Boys, The Beach Boys, and John Denver
  • Plaster-cast "villagers" adorning the venue, a resort somewhat akin to a heritage village
  • Inadvertently licking the fingers of numerous strangers as they fed me sweets and waved rupee notes over my head
  • Posing for the exact same picture, in the exact same place, with at least 20 different people/families
  • Driving home from the big event behind a car with a sticker boasting the owner's caste, which was "Billing," which apparently is pronounced "bling," a fact which S's father celebrated by repeating ad infinitum, causing me some cognitive dissonance, as it's not everyday you see a proper Sikh papa, beturbaned, immaculately groomed white beard accompanying a lovely suit, chanting something more often associated with gangsta rap and hos

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Rewriting history

Abdul Karim
Chandni
Shubhangal
Preeti
Dimple
Kishan
Yogesh
Jeetu
see the past as a blank slate.
Virgin Amber Fort means
nothing until we impose ourselves on it;
if our names aren't written
will anyone remember
a lone pilgrimmage
to sandstone being ground into the earth?

Women writing India

Being a bookie, I of course am thrilled by Google's digitization of books in the public domain. Been exploring a bit, and have found some gems of colonial writing by women (a fascination for which I developed as an undergrad malcontent double majoring in gender studies -- Rumer Godden, what what?).

Cutch: Or, Random Sketches, Taken During a Residence in One of the Northern Provinces of Western India
By Marianne Young

"I should infer, that a Cutchee woman, under the influence of social circumstances more congenial to the development of female character, might become a very fascinating ornament of society. Unfortunately, however, they are condemned to every description of menial drudgery; and, condemned as they are by their indolent masters, it is almost a matter of surprise that the impulse afforded by mere female vanity should prove sufficiently strong to induce them to braid their hair, and ornament their persons with the care which is every where evident. Were it possible for a Hindu woman to feel herself an object of regard to the other sex -- could she once learn to estimate her own worth, in creation's scale -- could her full dark eye beam with intelligence, and her lips speak the language of feeling, she would yield to few in attractiveness and grace, and to none, perhaps, in the native gentleness of her character, and the simple elegance of her general deportment. Separated, however, as these women are from the advantages of civilized opinion, the taste of the observer is pained to see so much artless grace enslaved by ignorance, and so much beauty condemned to the most filthy and disgusting labours." (1837; p. 276-277)

Setting aside the various issues -- otherness, the concept of civilization, religious aspects, racialized language, etc. -- I find this intriguing and, might I say, a bit progressive (hey, at least she acknowledges the tremendous capacity of Indian women to endure and make the best of situations in which they are somewhat degraded). She's a victim of her age, but at least Young isn't disgusted by the women, calling them ugly, etc.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Matarchod

So, I'm white, and thus most people assume I will be unable to grasp even rudimentary Hindi phrases. Which can be a pain in the ass -- but also delicious fun. It's amazing the things people will say when they assume you can't listen to them.

Granted, my Hindi -- particularly my speaking ability -- is quite bad. But I understand a great deal of what is being said, I can read Hindi script, and I can cobble together basic sentences.

The first time I was in India, I knew nothing; at school they counselled us not to take Hindi courses before starting our internships because they would be too technical, and besides, everyone who was anyone spoke English (which of course ensured that my reporting and interactions were restricted to that delightful slice of upwardly mobile India more interested in my mobile phone and five-year-old laptop than anything that came out of my mouth). Anyhow, rant aside, I did myself some schoolin' (I highly recommend Afroz Taj's "A Door Into Hindi," an interactive online course with tests, audio, video, and more) and have been casually eavesdropping on conversations for more than nine months now.

Now, the relief is that most people aren't talking about me. I used to be quite paranoid -- I'm so self centered that I was convinced every time I turned around I would become the topic of conversation. Not so! Whew. But occasionally, I do catch people sniggering at my general comportment. For example, the car service contracted by my company employs several drivers who are concerned about how much I sweat and how red I am all the time; I haven't figured out how to explain to them that after I finish my shift, I go running in the company gym. I've heard some people say I'm a little chubby, several comment that I am of an indeterminate age, and an innumerable pool discussing possible reasons a person from Amrika would flee to the dreaded third world.

In response, I could:
  • Curse them and/or insult the chastity of their mothers
  • Call them crazy
  • Ask them their name and tell them mine
  • Discuss food or the weather

Anything else I could say would be so badly accented as to be incomprehensible. So instead I smile, bury my nose in a book, and try not to laugh. But I'm not sure how much longer I'll get to be the silent observer -- after getting myself a cup of coffee the other day, one of the office boys asked "Aapka naam kya hai?" as I walked by him in the hall. Because it's one of my pet peeves that some of my colleagues treat these guys as non-persons, I replied, "Mera naam ... hai."

A new hire turned, eyes wide behind rather thick glasses. "You speak Hindi?" It's all downhill from here.

Staying faithful



I totally heart Regina Spektor, this great singer/songwriter with a penchant for peculiarities (perhaps my favorite song of hers is about reading by the light of a pickle jar). She just posted a video
for a song from her new album on MySpace, and in addition to the song being completely awesome, the video is delightful -- and even features people playing Holi.

If you're not Indian and/or have never been to the subconty, you might not know about Holi, a raucous festival of color in March centered around mischief, water balloon fights, and clandestine groping while one rubs green, yellow, pink, and orange powders on friends and loved ones (and, if you're lucky, bhang lassis, essentially pot milkshakes). Spektor's video isn't a perfect depiction of the event, but I suppose if one hid out in his or her apartment for the duration of the holiday -- as many are apt to do -- a private fight might look something like this.

Whenever I see things like this, I wonder if it's a conscious tribute to Indian culture, or just a cool visual someone happened upon. Either way, pretty damn cool.

Umm...

Billboard seen on NH-8 en route to Jaipur from Delhi:
A construction/property company advertising its services as a "coloniser"


Sunday, September 3, 2006

Sunday selects

Really liked this story in The Hindu Sunday magazine section on an anganwadi worker who was raped and how her family was dealing with the fallout.

One of the first things my fellow Americans ask me when I tell them I'm engaged to an Indian is, "So, do they want a dowry?" Hey, if I hadn't spent so much time in India, I probably would too. It's an easy joke. If people have more than a basic knowledge of the subconty, they also tend to crack jokes about evil mothers-in-law and their propensity to have accidents with kerosene stoves and their daughters-in-laws' dupattas.

So I really enjoyed reading something in the popular press that highlighted the support one mother-in-law offered her daughter. I enjoyed seeing a strong Indian woman who wasn't on a crusade, who wasn't concocting events to get her face in the papers, but instead living her life and trying to change the circumstances which immediately affected it. (Granted, I have the utmost regard for scions like Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy, but at some point, it becomes a cult of personality rather than a question of issues.)

Anyhow, read, enjoy, and have a great Sunday!

Saturday, September 2, 2006

The end of irony

I knew the day would come, but I never expected it to be so soon.

This morning, I opened up the newspaper and happened upon a half-page ad from India's Coconut Development Board.

"On World Coconut Day we celebrate The Tree of Life and The Nation's Drink! We also celebrate the valuable contributions of 15 stalwarts instrumental in the effective promotion of coconut across the nation."

The copy is flanked by a listing of awards -- for best coconut farmer (big, small, traditional, nontraditional), best research worker, best coconut processor, best craftsman, and more.

My first reaction should be to laugh. It's funny! Coconuts! A huge, splashy homage to coconuts! As ludicrous as the "Beef: It's What's For Dinner" campaign! As stupid as writing a weekly column on the miracle of eggs!

And yet...I found myself reading through the awardees, felt a bit of pride seeing the ones from Kerala (I believe the school I was working with visited the farm of the best small traditional farmer last year, but who can tell with every other person named Varghese or George or whatnot). I smiled at the cheeky replacement of an 'O' with a picture of a coconut, an 'I' with a palm tree.

The end times are nigh, my friends.