Saturday, October 6, 2007

Lasagna is an objective good

I made about a metric ton of lasagna on Wednesday night for no good reason, and boy are my cold, leftover vittles tasty.

I feel numb.

My jade plant, in kitschy faux-Ming vase, just fell off the window ledge. The pot broke. I don't feel well enough to sweep up the dirt.

I've been dizzy all day.

My phone is ringing. It's my mother and I won't answer it. I don't want to answer any calls. I don't want to talk to anyone. I don't want to listen to weeks-old voicemails, or see the annoying message notification on my phone, or really do anything but suck on a lime in between shoveling pasta into my gullet.

What do I do now?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ay dios mio!

So, I'm going to be an aunt. Again.

Yup, my eldest sis is preggers, which will bring her count up to three. My other sis just had her bebe, Charlie, and at three weeks old, he may be the cutest and most advanced boy I've ever seen (I swear to god he sighed "Oh yeah" as he was nursing the other day). Dennis and Emma, Misty's kids, are also suitably adorable.

In Oregon, and leaving for NY again on Sunday. Didn't realize just how much I missed the Northwest, but...surprise. I do. The trees and the clear air and the sheer awesomeness of Powell's Books. Hrm.

Also, my parents have really great cable. In honor of fall premieres, watch the season 2 opener of Friday Night Lights. Sigh over the cuteness of Matt and Julie. Relive the awkwardness of high school. Enjoy! http://www.tv.yahoo.com/falltv2007/friday-night-lights/show/38958/videos

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Update!

Whoa.

It's been a super-long time since I posted here. Part of this is a function of having a life (I no longer come home and blog; instead, I take walks, or call friends/fam, or go slumming at Goodwill), and part of this is related to some nasty comments left here and elsewhere that weren't great for my frame of mind; I was also trying to keep the India theme alive, which is difficult when the news source closest at hand is so abysmally poor at covering the subconty. (Really, a critique of the "Kerala model" of development on your front page, NYT? That's sooooooo 2002.)

Then I went through a phase of trying to create a new blog, rebrand myself, etc., but all the good names were taken (leaving me with, oh, I don't know, SexSluuuut825642.blogspot.com). Then I got preoccupied with hummus and mozzarella, then I forgot about everything, and then I realized a month had gone by and I should get off my ass.

So here we go again. Last weekend, we went to Coney Island, so you get a picture of that. I don't know whether this is going to be a personal journal sorta thing, or a roundup of interesting news stories about topics I'm interested in, or some agglomeration of both, but I suppose we'll see. As time goes by.

(Also, an anecdote from Overheard in New York that well illustrates why I love Queens:
Female barista, scrubbing floor boards: I hate doing clean sweep 'cause I get all sweaty... Especially in my butt crack.
Male barista: You should employ the butt tissue. Just slip a paper towel in there at the start of the shift, and then just toss it at the end.
Female barista: I already do that.
Customer: Now that's legendary service.

--Starbucks, 67th & Queens Blvd)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

I don't think I'm in Kansas anymore

Umm, in case you haven't heard, a tornado hit New York. What the bloody Jesus?

It took me three hours to get from the hovel to the office -- and then when I got there, I was one of only five or so people in my department resourceful enough to navigate the wild, wild world of thousands of stranded subway users, fighting for a bus heading for the Midtown Tunnel.

I did walk about two miles, snicker at a woman trying to vanquish a foot of standing water with a small mop, invite myself to share a taxi with three people who had only limited English skills, and lost my leg to the jaws of the 7 train at the Jackson Heights station, but so be it. Delhi crowds prepared me well; whereas claustrophobic Americans were hysterically imploring fellow riders to "Act like human being, not animals!", I was smugly listening to Golmaal Golmaal ... Everything's Gonna Be Golmaal and wiggling around frenetically, my eyes glazed in bliss.

That said, I thought I would stop dealing with woefully inadequate infrastructure when I left the "third world." So much for conventional notions of modernity and backwardness ...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

It really IS a Wallyworld

After months (years?) of speculation, it's official -- Wal-Mart is setting up a B2B joint venture with Bharati Enterprises to enter to the Indian market.

I'm not sure what the impact will be, but one of the most interesting things to watch may be how W-M's reputed supply chain organization will link small farmers and manufacturers to retailers. (It's estimated that 30%-40% of India's food rots in the fields or spoils in transit due to insufficient infrastructure.) It's not an incredibly sexy topic, but it certainly could have an incredible impact.

An endnote: I have to say, I have to delight in the thought that in the near future, whether in sleepy old Sonora or dusty Delhi, people like my grandmother will be able to unite in pursuit of an ever-better buy (Grandma: "Why would I spend $70 on a pair of jeans when I can get them for $12.99 at Wally World? Are you crazy?")

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Scenes from a company picnic

Co-worker's new husband to my beloved S: "So, you're with IT?"
S: "Ummm...no, I'm married to her. She works with your wife."
Co-worker's new husband: "Wait, so you're not in IT?"
S: [perturbed silence]
S to me: "Is there something wrong with this guy?"
Z to group: "Hey, don't worry about it folks, he's doing something better than IT -- he's unemployed!" (Ba dum ching!)

Big fat Sikh wedding (Get it? Sikh and Greek rhyme, and there was that movie ...)

The Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee is urging the Sikh community to make weddings more modest in a bid to end female foeticide, on the precept that the burden on the woman's family to pay for such celebrations is driving the community's sex ratio down.

Their suggestions? No meat, no alcohol, and festivities finished by noon.

It's an interesting suggestion, and certainly one that I might support (if I knew slightly more about the political machinations surrounding the proclamation); however, I don't think it will do a whit of good, based upon an informal poll of my husband.

"No kebabs? Lamb roast? No rara ghost? Why else would I go to a wedding?"

(Addendum: I know that the reporter probably didn't insert the helpful callout box on Sikhism ["Sikhs are forbidden from drinking, smoking or taking drugs and should not cut their hair," "Every male should add Singh after his name and every woman should add Kaur," etc.], but bejesus. If people are interested in learning about the religion, isn't it more effective to do a little informed Googling than to spout four or five platitudes alleged to represent an entire system of belief?)

Picture: My modest (and modern) wedding to a Sikh.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Forgive me, fam ...

... but this is simply too good not to blog about.

My grandfather has decided, for reasons unknown, that he wants to be baptized. Which is cool, you know, I respect his decision, and he wants it done on our family property (through which the Tuolumne River runs), so I suspect it will be a rather beautiful occasion.
But he was talking about it with my mom (Grandpa: "Daughter, would you also like to be baptized?" Mother: "Hell no!"), and my stepdad, a former Mormon mucky muck of some repute, steps into the conversation. "You know, when I was in the church, I used to do that; maybe I could be of some help."
So now, my stepdad is officially baptizing my grandfather. As if I needed MORE to talk about in therapy.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The displaced subconty celebrates in style

This weekend? Midsummer Masala, Six Flags Great Adventure. Rock to the sounds of RUDE (Rutgers University Dhol Effect, totally in the running for Z's inaugural most awesome acronym award), eat Udupi dosas, slurp up Kwality ice cream, and then try not to puke when you plunge 155 feet on the Great American Scream Machine.

Yeah, it sounds corny as all get out, but it would be an interesting place for sociological observation. It's authentic India as interpreted by what is presumably a bunch of Americans of Indian heritage, presented as a galvanizing community event at a ridiculously overpriced, plastic family-fun factory. There's a lot to unpack there.

The absurdity relativity theorem

I used to roundly mock the government-run ads in India's print media -- the bad Photoshopping, the hilarious art, the poorly written copy, the absolutely nonsensical causes being championed/events being celebrated ...

And then I opened The Village Voice and noticed a lovely pink display telling me I could feel confident again. Hm, I thought, I am rather lachrymose right now ... what could be the cure?


Apparently, female genital surgery, including labia reduction and beautification, so I can "wear tight clothes comfortably." (Obligatory link to the NYUI Female Genital Surgery Center, so you can explore should you be genuinely interested.)


Yes, the laws of absurdity are the same in one system as in another system in uniform motion relative to it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Uncomfortable conversations with a recent immigrant

Partygoer: So, S, you've just gotten here from India. How do you feel?
S: Well, it's still a little overwhelming, you know. I'm fresh off the boat -- only been here for a few weeks.
Partygoer: (Uncomfortable silence)
S: Great to meet you!

Z to S, in hushed tone: Ummm ... so Americans are a little more PC than that.
S: What do you mean?
Z: It might make people feel weird because you're talking about your recent immigrant status in what could be construed as a derogatory way. Wikipedia says, "The term "FOB" has been used with offensive intent, often to those with a foreign accent or ethnic style of dressing. Depending on the person's attitude to the culture in question, he or she may or may not take offense at these statements. The term may also be used by people who themselves were immigrants years ago, in a way turning the insult once hurled at them onto the new arrivals, and in so doing emphasizing their own progress in assimilation or improved language skills."
S: Can't we just tell them to fuck off?
Z: ... And never the twain shall meet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Little India in NYC

At the behest of, well, just about everyone, S and I finally made a trip to Jackson Heights to see what all the fuss was about. Verdict? Not much.

Sure, Patel Brothers is great. We got lots of spices and made aloo mattar last night, which we mopped up with some precooked aloo parathas, since I am categorically unable to get the hang of traditional breads. And there are lots of stores glistening with ostentatious jewels of all kinds, and there are curry-a-minute shacks a grotty as those found in the back lanes of Old Delhi, but for some reason, some how, it just doesn't ring true.

In Chicago, when I went to Devon, it felt like I was stepping back into the insane traffic of the subconty; it felt like an outpost of civilization in a otherwise upturned world. In New York? I spent hours gazing at the RED palak paneer (red? since when is spinach RED?!) waiting for the buffet-hungry consumer in its ubiquitous chafing plate, feeling outside, outside, always outside. I know that yes, I'm technically not Indian, and yes, maybe I should feel like an outsider, but ... I can't put my finger on it; something just felt wrong to me there.

Any suggestions? Places to go for a delicious, authentic slice of South Asia? Or am I just being fussy, projecting my suspicions that Little Italy is really a tourist's playground, onto other supposedly "ethnic" (a term I don't particularly want to employ here, but so be it) neighborhoods?

Monday, July 23, 2007

A victory for Indian women?

Figurehead position or not, congratulations are in order for Pratibha Patil, the new president of India. Patil is India's first woman president (though the subconty is not unfamiliar with women leaders, such as Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi).

(And, of course, obligatory mention of how ironic it is that India is by and large perceived [in the U.S.] as oppressive to women, while we Americans struggle to wrap our heads around the potential election of Hilz and default to either calling her a bitch or a lesbian.)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Salivating in anticipation

I love burritos, I love crepes, I love manicotti, so it's no surprise that I love another log-shaped delight, this one South Asian: puttu, a cylinder of steamed, compressed rice sprinkled with flakes of coconut and usually served alongside kadala, a spicy chickpea stew.

I've only had the dish in Kerala, but apparently, it's popular in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka -- or so holds The Village Voice, which tipped me off to a must-visit venue: Bownies, 143-05 45th Ave., in Flushing, Queens; they note, "Sri Lankan food in Queens at this luncheonette, serving the broding, spice-laced 'black curries' (pick lamb); mellow, coconut-laced fish curries (pick kingfish); and breads like appams (weekends only) and outsize rotis that make Ceylonese cooking delightfully unique."
... I think I know where I'm headed this weekend. Smell ya later, Colombian bakeries of Sunnyside! I need a little spice in my life!

Monday, July 16, 2007

NYT: Telling us things we should have known about a year ago

Only three months after the Indian embassy announced that the first consignment of mangoes exported from India to the U.S. was on its way, The New York Times is reporting the trend.

And they offer such enlightened reportage such as Nandu Patel's observation, "My customers are really happy." Patel is the manager of Patel Brothers, a grocery in Jackson Heights that is capitalizing on the desire for a taste of home by selling a box of 10 mangos for $30. (When I left Delhi, mangos were about Rs 60 [~$1.50] a pound.)


Brava, NYT. Good thing you waited three months to get the story right.

Ads by hand

I know it's an ad, but I love this hand-painted sign nonetheless (found in Brooklyn, perhaps Williamsburg, if I recall my weekend meanderings correctly). It lacks the vibrant colors of the Limca and Coke visuals defining the urban imagination in India, but olde tyme fishing with a whiskey bottle? Words can't describe how awesome I find this.

That said, India isn't averse to eye-catching billboards for booze. Attaching a picture of one of the ubiquitous mountain billboards for Himachal Pradesh fruit wine; I love how the juice bar is requesting a bit of a tipple (god knows it's cooler than hippies here requesting a shot of wheat grass in their damned bougie pina colada smoothies!).




Thursday, July 12, 2007

Words can't express ...

... how hard I laughed when I saw this image in the latest issue of The Village Voice.

Mr Zoey adds:

Bhaaji aa ki?

Should I be enjoying this ironically?

The other day at work, someone started a long yarn about how she saw a restaurant the other day that served rice pudding. And only rice pudding.

I half thought she was joking (still getting accustomed, again, to the American brand of wry cynicism) until, when taking the inimitable husband on a whirlwind tour of the Lower East Side, we chanced upon Rice to Riches.


What I suppose are considered tongue-in-cheek flavors -- Sex Drugs and Rocky Road? Corner of Cookies & Cream? -- seem a bit pat. It's novel, yes, that the proprietors can support themselves by selling a product that frankly probably isn't that great by merely appealing to the fact that if you build it in a cool neighborhood, hipsters will come; at the same time, are we really so post-everything that people will pay $6 for a cup of pudding topped with fruit?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Hugs for all! (Love me? Please?)

Hugs for all, courtesy Amma.

(Although I, humble little Zoey, promise to give you hugs if you help me figure out my life. Or even just my blog. Yes, that's right -- India, Kerala, and my new life in New York, all coming together. With the loving wisdom of a mother. Maybe we'll do a darshan together?)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

So what if there are human bones in his medicine?

... he IS wooing New York, you know.

That's right, at his camp in the U.S., Swami Ramdev attracted more than 1,000 guests.




I'm just saying ... I went to look at an apartment the other day, and I mentioned that I had lived in India for two years, and my potential landlord was all, "Oh! India! I have a friend who's spent time there, and he has a number of gurus. And we talk about it a lot, but I can't pick which guru is right for me."
You know, if you can't figure out which guru you want to follow, perhaps you shouldn't follow one at all.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Threads

Earlier this year, it was all about the Rural Olympics (or, as some know them, the Kila Raipur games in the grand state of Punjab). Bullock carts were raced, cars were pulled with teeth, and heavy sacks of grain were loaded and unloaded from carrier trucks with characteristic aplomb.

In Dharamsala, we contemplated boycotting the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Free Tibet! Free!
This weekend, my aunt is competing in the 2007 Senior Olympics -- swimming a couple events in the 55-59 category.
As they say .... one is an exception, two are anomalies, and three is a trend.
(This goes right along with the ridiculous symmetry of now working in the Manhattan building in which I originally met the son of the man who hired me to lecture in his Indian journalism school.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

It's a hell of a town

That's right, I'm coming at you live from Sunnyside, Queens -- NYC at its finest. Not even a last-minute bout of gastroenteritis could keep me from my motherland, and now that I'm here? Pleased as a little pea.

But don't fret -- this blog won't die, it will simply be repositioned. Not only will I be trying to discover the city, I'll be exploring from a somewhat skewed perspective: I'm an insider in that I'm American and I've spent a bit of time in New York in the past (local vs. express trains? I'm all over it), but I'm an outsider in that living in India (not to mention marrying an Indian citizen) has shifted my perception of my identity.
For example, coming home from work yesterday on the 7, I was reminded of Delhi's notoriously crowded buses; unperturbed by squishing myself between a Hispanic woman and a coochie-cooing couple, my ears instantly pricked: I heard Hindi.
I turned to my left, and there were two men, holding hands (a custom which I imagine baffled some of my fellow travelers), discussing which station to get off at. I cocked my head toward them, considered interrupting, then remembered the power that passing under the radar can grant you sometimes -- so I smiled, turned away, and jumped off at my stop.
On the way home, I passed a Japanese/Nepalese restaurant.
I think I'll like it here just fine.
Picture is from Union Square, February 2006. Apologies for the crappiness.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

India's parting shot!

I was supposed to be on a plane today. Five hours from now.

But instead, I've postponed my flight until maybe Saturday, maybe Sunday, all due to the wonder that is gastroenteritis. I'm weak, I was on an IV for four hours, and worst, I'm sad and frustrated. I haven't been able to blog because I'm just in over my head, and all I want to do is get to my new home and new life.

I'm a sad, sad animal right now.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Development porn

If I weren't so insanely occupied with my impending (72 hours!) relocation to NY, I would be blogging about something lots of other people on the Interwebs have been commenting upon of late: the preponderance of white Western males as photographers of the developing world and the corresponding effect of this upon the way in which mainstream media depicts poverty, community building, etc.

Boing Boing has an excellent discussion of it here. I don't have much to add in theory, but I must say that the way in which people respond to me, a white woman trying to capture images of life in the subconty, vastly differs from the way in which they respond to my esteemed third-world photographer husband.

Perhaps a good project for him would be to chronicle New York as what people may assume to be a tourist. Somehow, though, I don't think it plays the effect back in the same way. Back to the drawing board.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Things I will miss about India, No. 2

There just aren't enough ads about preventing mosquito-borne diseases in U.S. newspapers. Particularly sponsored by rock-star-like politicians who cater to a regional language (I mean, when did the New York Times last run a dengue-awareness ad in, say, Czech?).

And, in Zoey's culturally insensitive break of the day, I will also miss tittering at signs that would be inappropriate in an American context: UTI (urinary tract infection?) Bank, STD (sexually transmitted disease) phone booths, and drivers with names like Beer Singh and Manmeet (Do you like man meat? Dude, I can't get enough of it!).

I'm sorry, god. I had to get this off my chest.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I raise a glass to Willie Nelson (or, umm, Nikhil Wadhwani, or something)

Anheuser-Busch has entered a joint venture in India; if I travel to Hyderabad or Mumbai, I'll be able to dedicate this Bud to you by July.

And that's not the only good news for hops lovers -- in the same article, an Economic Times reporter notes that Crown Beer will roll out a brew called Armstrong. Carlsberg will also enter the subcontinent with Palone, a Polish brand.

I don't know; Kingfisher and Cobra are both still pretty satisfying to me. Can the power of an American brand overwhelm the brew's overwhelming taste of urine?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Masala Mickey

Content localization is the name of the game, and Disney knows it -- just one reason its recent partnership with Yash Raj Films is such a watershed. Yash Raj will create Disney-branded films, voiced by Bollywood actors, according to The Wall Street Journal; the paper notes that India has more people younger than 14 than the U.S. has total population.

Possible titles:
Steamboat Shiva (the plucky adventures of a young god traveling down the Ganga)
Saraswati and Saath Hijras (an abandoned girl child takes refuge in a colony of eunuchs)
Ganesha (Shiva and Parvati welcome their child to their world...only it has an elephant's head. Can our hero's mischievious ways save him from a life a ridicule?)
Rama Against the Rakshasa (which is harder to keep in line -- your wife, or the forces of evil?)
101 Rabid Stray Dogs (a power-mad Delhi clothier attempts to cull the unruly beasts of his neighborhood to build his business selling faux fur stoles to the Capital's upwardly mobile)
Ashwati in Wonderland (one girl's sojourn to find the perfect Manali hash)
Nataraj's New Groove (who needs designer togs when you're the lord of the dance?)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Spam on my phone

In addition to frequent inducements to view pictures of "EXOTIC & SEXY BABES!!!," I've now started to receive very strange SMSes from people purportedly on Yahoo! Messenger.

From hard_ik2002: "hi there honi any plans to rock sat nite?"
From masti_masti2000: "how are you doing? the indian sardarni?"

Is this really a new service Yahoo! India is offering? Or is this a virulent (and obnoxious) new form of spam? I don't recall ever putting my mobile number anywhere on the Internet, much less on any Y! site ...

Friday, June 8, 2007

Good news for the impending relocation

Let us all bejewel ourselves and gyrate lewdly in time to the dulcet tones of a man who sounds like he may have a sinus infection, for Bollywood movies will now be available on demand in the U.S.

That's right, Cox Cable and Time Warner have both rolled out services that will offer viewers 24-hour access to such gems as Krrish, Don, and Jaan-e-Maan.

I'm a little late to the party, I guess, because I now see press releases about this from last November, but no matter. I never before had the palpable prospect of being deprived of Shah Rukh Khan or the beloved Amitabh; just one more reason to believe that the transition back to an orderly American life will be somewhat less jarring than imagined.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

OMG11!!!!1;2!

Mike Tyson is reportedly in talks with Firoz Nadiadwala to star in a Bollywood movie -- and to stimulate interest, he's starring in a music video to promote the very filmi Fool n Final.

Yahoo reports:

"[Tyson said] 'I was, anyway, in that phase when I didn't mind trying out something different ... The script seemed very interesting, with lots of excitement thrown in."
I totally think Hindi script is interesting too. All those curves, at that mysterious line from which all the characters hang! Fascinating! Thrilling!

"Tyson said there are similarities between acting and boxing.

"'In both the fields, in order to survive and triumph, you need focus and to be highly disciplined and determined,' he said."
He failed to add that in the rider for his film, he promised not to bite off Amitabh Bachchan's ear. Unless the producers found it necessary for his character's development.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The importance of being on trend

Not only is it necessary to flaunt Louis Vuitton bags and Chanel shades -- now, even your snack food can be your ticket to a better life.

Or so seems to be the message from SM Foods, the makers of such classy nips as Peppy Cheese Balls and Simba Chipniks ("Rrroaring with taste!"). When it comes to their tortilla chips, the company's Web site boasts, "Senor Pepito range is very popular with the teenagers, the young and happening crowd and the beer guzzlers. More importantly, Tortilla Chips are very trendy and considered a status symbol."

That's pretty big talk for packaging that has a cartoon sombrero on it. Unless the secret of their nacho cheese flavoring is a light dusting of gold (24 karat, natch), I think I'll pass.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Wound up

I'm too exhausted to do anything but drink lemon soda. My recipe to keep you cool in the 45-degree-Celsius heat:

1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
3 lemons, quartered and squeezed

Create a decoction of these three ingredients in a tall glass; when the syrup is well mixed, fill the glass with club soda and enjoy!

(I'm still in denial about leaving the subconty. We have the greencard/immigration interview tomorrow morning, and we're slated to leave in less than three weeks. I'm afraid; Delhi feels more like home than anywhere else ever has. What to do?)

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Ole!

An interesting observation from a birthday party held at TGI Friday's for one of my co-workers: The American chain (so American that it does, in fact, serve deep-fried macaroni and cheese) offers Cuban cigars on its menu. Now if I was Thomas Friedman, I would exclaim about the wonder that is globalization, but instead, I think I'll just puff, puff, and pass.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Just a staffer

Or, running commentary on "They are not foreigners, just staff" from today's edition of The Hindu.

"A German candidate essentially forwards a prolonged CV running into five or six pages whereas a Frenchman prefers a short, handwritten one. Russians indulge in detailed biographies and the Chinese present numerous recommendation letters to back them up. An Austrian candidate invariably lands up in highly formal attire, irrespective of the weather, while Americans are casualness personified. Australians display right attitude traits like honesty and straightforwardness at an interview and the Finns prefer to showcase their teamwork skills rather than their technical abilities. A Canadian aspirant waxes eloquent on his accomplishments while the British focus on competencies and competitiveness.

"To top it all, a Swede will definitely turn up with a trade union representative in tow.

"Contrary to what it may appear, this is not a satire on the individual job search idiosyncracies of different nationalities. It merely presents a window for recruiting foreign applicants in keeping with global trends. Yes, looking across the country's borders for fresh talent is no flash-in-the-pan."

The reporter neglects to mention that they must look beyond the borders because Indian applicants present lengthy CVs from headhunters' templates, then call every person they've ever met asking for internal company contacts, which they next proceed to hound for weeks until the HR department tells the applicant that the company will call the police if the person doesn't stop bugging its employees.

"At the time of hiring, it is necessary to understand the cultural background of the applicant apart from a comprehensive review of his qualifications. They should be made aware of issues pertaining to management of employees, peers, suppliers and others from local cultural issues. This calls for cultural sensitivity training to sensitise them to the nuances of customs, ethnicity and language."

Things I wish I'd been told before I started working in India: 1) It's not necessary to speak Hindi (or Kannada, Tamil, Bengali, or Marathi), but it's quite advantageous. People don't talk about you all the time in the mother tongue, but you'd be surprised at what they'll say when they think you're not listening. It's sort of like being a superhero. 2) It doesn't matter how hard you work -- if you're not sitting at your desk, it doesn't count to your manager. 3) Everyone wants to know who you are, how much you make, why you're here, and why you left the land of the free. If you don't want to narrate your entire life story, you'll probably be considered pricey and aloof.

"Employing foreigners calls for a higher payout rate. The employers have to offer cost of relocation, higher salaries, special perks and leaves at par with the country of their origin."

Really? Why didn't anyone tell me?

"A multicultural workforce can stir a hornet's nest too. The domestic employees may view 'the outsiders' as a threat or be peeved. Cultural differences may set the stage for tussles and misunderstandings."

In one of my favorite Indlish aphorisms, cultural differences and misunderstandings are there. But if there's one thing I've learned from my time in Dilli, it's beneficial for everyone if you come into the office with humility and an open mind. Don't be afraid to explain misconceptions, but be sure to hear what other people are saying -- there's a tremendous opportunity to learn about and improve yourself if you spend time with people who differ from you, so long as you don't imagine that you are superior by dint of the geographic serendipity of your birth.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Making men of gods and gods of men

The advertising industry thrives on provocation -- exploiting the exotic, titillating the senses, etc. Often, this manifests in pictures of scantily clad women or beefy men, selling themselves as part of the product.

But sometimes, the ad execs go a bit further. This week, stories have broken about two high-profile campaigns that have prompted riotous uproar (on the Internet and on the streets).

The first is Saatchi & Saatchi's abortive attempt to highlight the longevity of Doc Marten's shoes by depicting fallen rockers donning the treads. Kurt Cobain perches atop a cloud in the stompers, a hangdog expression, above the company's logo and the word "forever." Doc Marten's has since fired the ad agency and pulled the series.

The second is the Times of India's shill for its SMS dating service, which features the god Krishna as a dating guru, using his mobile phone to attract devoted gopis by the dozen. The Hindu Janjagruti Samiti has staged protests in Mumbai, claiming "'dating' is a social vice. Those advocating this concept are launching an attack on our culture. Persons responsible for this issue, detrimental from the social and religious viewpoint, should be severely punished."

Perhaps I'm just a rabble rouser, because I think both ads are fairly intriguing. If we acknowledge that advertising is 1) about selling product and 2) sales do not depend upon quality and product features, but also are a consequence of novelty, buzz, etc., then these are both fairly ingenious ploys to evoke a response. Some people will find the shoe ads tasteless and give up buying the boots; but in fact, many of the people who still wear the grunge-era staple may find the campaign caters to their self-image as rebels, brigands, outliers on the social spectrum not obligated to conform with social and cultural mores.

Furthermore, within India, phone applications are becoming so ubiquitous that companies must at all costs find a way to stand out -- lord knows I immediately delete the viral Hutch ads SMSed to me, promising hot blondes and sexy babes if I just log on. TOI is tapping into an overpenetrated audience, and sometimes they must pull outrageous stunts so their service makes it into the news -- it's all the better for them if a group of morons sets up a microphone in Dadar and starts screaming about Hindu morality. They can then run a story about the youth's reactions, affirmations of a new identity, a hip counterculture, that doesn't need to conform with their parents' views of the world. Some people will see the service (and TOI) as an objectionable intrustion, but others will find a social space they may not know have existed -- and they'll be able to (bingo!) become a part of it by exchanging money for street cred.

I suppose my conclusion is that content isn't just about content; it's about the reactions it incites and the way in which people base identity upon a perception of being with or against the larger social system. I'm not "for" or "against" either of these ads, and for me, to attach value statements to either is beside the point; what is most fascinating is the way in which advertising becomes a means of consolidating identity in opposition or in alignment with particular commercial entities. Fascinating.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Things I will miss about India, No. 1: Snakes in a stadia

There are about a million things in the subconty that completely flummox me. But there are also a million things that bedazzle me, that make me thankful to have experienced a life other than the American way.

Earlier this year, a Malaysian soccer team played the Indian soccer team in a match at the biggest stadium in Asia, Yuba Bharati Krirangan. During the match, play stopped for a few minutes when a large snake was found on the field.

FIFA is now investigating the stadium's maintenance practices, but I find the stadium supervisor's response entirely fanciful: "It is not possible for us to find out from where the snake sneaked in. And the snake was not at all poisonous. So, there is nothing for us to worry about."

In the U.S., I have a sneaking suspicion that CNN would give this 24-hour coverage (Python Interrupts Game at Madison Square Garden! At 10, How to Python-Proof Your Apartment in Less Than $10! And coming up next, Lax Officials: What Can We Do About Them, and Who Will Save Our Babies?! More, after the break!). It gives me enormous satisfaction that, although things get out of hand and people burn straw effigies of Richard Gere, a snake is sometimes just a snake, not an eerie premonition of impending doom.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Grand opening!

It's official: S's show is on. The opening last night went off with nary a hitch, but that's not to say that getting to the point of having pictures on the wall was an easy task.

When we showed up on Friday, the previous artist was nowhere to be found, but his paintings and photos were still sprinkled throughout the gallery. There were a few crumpled price lists, some cellophane, and a few gallery hands, but no sign of the genius who was offering a blown-up print of a packet of Maggi Dal Sambhar noodles for nearly 2 lakh rupees (about $5,000). S, I, and a gang of well-wishers were ready to start hanging, but the portly, balding artist didn't see fit to wrap things up until around 3 or 4 a.m., at which point some handymen began puttying imperfections in the walls.

We unwrapped all the images and made a mockup of their sequence; however, as we were doing so, we discovered several problems with the framing -- wrong-colored mounting, scratched images, and so on. After tiring myself by fashioning a ball of duct tape and other packing material (applied art!) then batting it around the hall, I crashed in the gallery's lobby on two chairs pushed together; S buzzed throughout the night, returning home only for a quick two-hour nap, before spending all of Saturday chasing down the framer, fixing captions at the printer, and calling friends to remind them to attend. The last picture hit the wall at 6:30 p.m.; guests began arriving at 7 on the dot, uncharacteristically subverting the law of Indian Standard Time that dictates "punctual" means "three hours late."

There was a fair crowd, including some of our nearest and dearest friends -- as well as some typical Page 3 people, trailing the scent of success, glamour, and ... what was that? Burnt cocaine?

The most entertaining guests of the night, though, were undoubtedly the journalists, a great swarm of men who make a habit of attending every opening -- not because they are aesthetes, but because there is invariably free (albeit second-rate) whisky in the offing. They enter, make a quick chakkar, and then mill around for the remainder of the show, proffering limp handshakes to every bonny young lass as they explain the importance of a free press.

One such gem was a freelancer, a crooked, nearly bald man with a garland of hennaed hair ringing his dome. He haunts the Habitat Centre's openings, and I've met him before no fewer than three times; nevertheless, he doesn't remember me. "Hello, miss. You are with the gallery?"

"No, sir; my husband is the artist." I scan the room for S, hoping he'll intervene, but he's posing, fist against his chin, as he leans against one of his photographs for someone with video equipment.

"Ah, the artist, yes!"

A waiter approaches with a tray of drinks, and the man exchanges the glass in his hand for a fresh tumbler. He takes three big swallows, and then turns to me.

"Yes, yes. I am always talking to your husband. I have just given him my card. He is a great man, a very great man."

I nod, my eyes glassy, and excuse myself to oversee the sale of catalogs and ensure no one vandalizes the guestbook. He carresses my hand, then follows me to the table, requesting a press release about the show. I reluctantly hand him a catalog, and he sets to inscribing the register with his immortal words. After he puts the pen down, he approaches another waiter, downs another drink, and heads out into the stormy night. Curious, I scrutinize the guestbook, and find his scribbled hand.

"Perfection in all ways."

Indeed, indeed. There were many missteps, but for all the drama, it was a lovely event, refreshingly quirky and magical in its flaws.

Bookin' it

I was thrilled to read that Katha, an Indian publishing house dedicated to culture and literature as a means of empowering the poor, was launching a book club -- and better, an online book club, which I'll be able to track regardless of the hemisphere I'm in. I particularly covet their collections of short stories translated from the panopoly of India's mother tongues -- I can't read Malayalam or understand Bengali, but these books take me to people and places I would otherwise remain ignorant of.

The only problem with the book club? Although they've apparently written a press release for it (which The Hindu, the Press Trust of India, The Times of India, and Zee News have faithfully transcribed), there is no mention of the club on their Web site. I know my initial five-year membership will cost Rs 500, and I know my money will benefit slum children in Delhi and Arunachal Pradesh, but I have no idea to whom I give the money or how to transfer it to them.

The only site that even broaches the question of how to get involved (why would anyone want contact information if a story is about a service being provided or an event being held?) is TOI, which directs readers to e-mail directmarketing@katha.org for membership information.

If you're trying to stimulate interest in a new program, isn't it of the utmost importance to eliminate every possible entry barrier? I'll still probably find a way to sign up, but if the goal is to bring the best of translated India to the masses, shouldn't it be ... a little easier to participate? And if it's really an online book club, shouldn't priority No. 1 be creating online infrastructure?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Polio vaccination, or delicious cod?

While I love to brag about how much I save buying my prescription meds in India ($5 for a month's supply! Which used to cost me $500 a month in the U.S.! And I'm not dead yet!), the health-care system is far from perfect. Actually, on the fucked-up-edness spectrum, it's probably closer to "Now totally taking on the eradication of cholera, which you may remember from the Apple IIE classic, The Oregon Trail."

I was reminded of this when I opened my copy of Hindustan Times and encountered a story about how a the parents of a patient at a hospital in Kerala gave the doctor their morning catch (five kilograms of fresh pearl spot fish) -- which the harried pediatrician stacked inside a freezer in the pediatric operation ward of Kottayam Medical College. (A pharmacist discovered the fish when he restocked the freezer.)

It's not just gross negligence in hospitals; it's a lack of basic hygiene facilities for a vast proportion of the country, water shortages, inappropriate drug delivery systems, insufficient oversight to address health threats encountered by manual laborers, and grinding poverty that makes it necessary to, for example, sell one's kidney to get out of debt.

As much as people are talking about medical tourism, it seems -- as with so many other things here -- that adequate care is reserved only for the elite. I'd gladly pay more for my pills if that could, in some alterna-perfect world, help India's less privileged afford essentials like protection from mosquito-borne illnesses.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Just another reason I love India

So yesterday was a rather stultifying day of red tape; I spent 10 consecutive hours at the Ministry of Home Affairs, primarily being 1) told to wait, 2) laughed at, or 3) asked why I didn't want to be a housewife. But let's put that aside for awhile. Bitterness is so passe.

The new black is belligerence, which I would like to illustrate with a short conversation shouted between a visa seeker and a visa officer.

Officer: "Why are you here again?"
Seeker, a middle-aged balding man, his rumpled purple Oxford shirt unbuttoned to reveal a delightful mass of gray chest hair: "I am needing visa! I am from Italy!"
Officer: "But you haven't followed any of the visa protocol!"
Seeker: "I have seen India! I have seen enough of India! No more!"
Officer: "One by one, you have violated the rules of the visa protocol! There is visa protocol!"
Seeker: "I WILL WAGE WAR ON INDIA AND CHINA!"
Officer: "We will put you in jail! You will be behind bars!"
Seeker: "I don't want JAIL, I want a visa! I hate your country! War!"

What surprised me most, perhaps, was that rather than being trucked off to Tihar, this individual was given what he wanted. Five hours before they addressed my concerns. I think the best thing for me to do is to stop trying to make sense of this utterly chaotic, irrational place.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Got vagina?

Then P.RM Travels has a job for you.

In the classified section of The Hindu, I happened upon a rather hilarious ad, which I will recreate below:

Singapore-Walk-In
1. Mechanical Engineers -
5 yrs exp in rotating, static, PPM skills, planning and scheduling with SAP R3 knowledge. Cost estimation etc ...
2. MEP-Coordinators -
able to do electrical / mechanical maintenance work in building, petro- chemical industry
3. Process Technicians -
Petro- chemical exp must
4. Female
(exp not essential)
5. QA/QC-Inspectors -
precision industry experience must
...
To apply, to know salary & nature of job log on to our website. www.jobonhand.com

Does this strike anyone else as extremely shady? They're not asking for an executive assistant or an administrator, and experience is explicitly unnecessary. So what, dear friends, could the job profile for this female be?

(And, OK, if you go to the Web site, they do request a "female operator." However, I fail to see why they couldn't put this in the ad, if they're going to list details about the other jobs -- apparently targeting men -- that are a bit more salient than specifying desired genitals.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Literature and performance art in Delhi

Just heard over the transom about what sounds like a cool event:

Earlier this year, the British Council Delhi had organized a Spoken
Word Series featuring performances and workshops by UK and Indian
poets such as Anjum Hasan, Jeet Thayil, Lemn Sissay and Patience
Agbabi. This culminated in an open mic evening at Sarai, where those
of us present felt the necessity for more such spaces, which give an
opportunity to poet performers to explore how performance and poetry
can be brought together, spaces where words can come alive on the
stage through ways and means ranging from music to rhythm to dance and
beyond.

Introducing "Open Baithak", a space to experiment with words, enjoy
them, delight in them and do risky and innovative things with them. A
space where poet performers coming from different linguistic, literary
and oral traditions can find and learn from each other. A space where
new poets can try out their verses and voices.

The first five sessions of Open Baithak are being sponsored by the
British Council Delhi. Come to participate, or as audience to good
poetry and to daring, dazzling performances.

WHEN: 18 May 2007, 6.30-8.30 pm
WHERE: The Attic, 36 Regal Building, Connaught Place (see theatticdelhi.org)

To sign up, email openbaithak@gmail.com or show up at the Open
Baithak. Email the same if you have questions!

*OUR THREE RULES*

1. You get 7-8 mins on the mike. A bell will signal when your time is up.
2. Bring new material at every Open Baithak. You can perform the same
material twice max, if you wish to try it in a different way.
3. You can bring poems or prose readings in any language.

I'm not one for reading my work, and let's be honest: I haven't written anything I'm proud of in a long, long time. But it's great to see someone's trying to cultivate a more stimulating literary scene than book launches that are more about P3Ps than prose.

There's no justice like mob justice ...

... especially when a newspaper publishes the results of a survey that you find dissatisfactory.

Tamil daily Dinakaran wrote a story summarizing the poll, which, among other things, apparently touched on who would be the political heir to Karunanidhi (who you may know as the guy in the sunglasses in the ad I just blogged about). Karunanidhi has three children, one of whom was pegged the overwhelming winner -- which so insulted the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (a political party) that brigands burned the offices of the newspaper, as well as Sun TV, ultimately killing three people. (Hindu story on the incident.)

Why? Why do these things happen with such frequency? I'm glad that (from reports I've seen) the rioting was rather isolated; then again, am I really finding a silver lining in a totally senseless act that ended up costing lives? How does one try to reconcile the image of multibillionaire technocrats with the embers dying out in the Dinakaran rubble?

So self-serious

I know I'm supposed to be saluting a great true politician, but I can't stop thinking this is a promotional for Half Baked. (Click on the image for my witty [puerile?] reimagining of the ad, which ran in several national English-language newspapers.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

What marriage means to me ...

... according to people interviewed in the city section of Hindustan Times:

"A lifelong free pampering session and someone to pay for that laser treatment." -- Pooja
"Unlimited sex and that too with social sanction." -- Vishal
"No more waking up at five in the morning to fill the water tank." -- Nitin
"Funding my MBA course." -- Arati
"My partner can take my pets for a walk and I can workout in the gym." -- Rahul

Ah, romance. So sweet and meaningful. How I abhor those crass people who marry for companionship, intellectual stimulation, and emotional support!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Don't let the sun go down on me

Sunrise and moonlight
IE has an interesting story -- currently, India has only one time zone, Indian Standard Time; the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy has just put forth a proposal to create a new zone for northeastern states in the hopes of potentially saving power consumption.

The reporter explains, "The logic behind the argument is that owing to early sunset in the North-East, lights have to be switched on in offices in the evening, leading to excess consumption of power. This can be avoided by advancing the clock by one or one-and-half hours so that offices close before sunset."

Wikipedia weighs in on the subject, and at best, the argument is debatable. But it certainly is an interesting topic -- and I thought daylight savings time was just a plot by shadow governments to undermine the focus and resolve of the American public by continually disturbing their biorhythms!

Shameless husband promotion!

It's THE exhibition of the Delhi art year! Come one, come all, to the Visual Arts Gallery at the Indian Habitat Centre; opening night is May 19 at 7 p.m., and the booze will be freely flowing.

S's exhibition offers a peek behind the scenes of India's burgeoning fashion scene. From hair stylists to models, the ramp to an aspiring designer's barsati, the hub attempts to capture the image-conscious industry off guard. Dr. Alka Pande curates the exhibition, a culmination of more than four years of work that began while S was a grunt photographer at an afternoon tabloid in Delhi.

The show runs through May 24, and the gallery will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. If you're lucky, you can hobnob with the artist himself -- or, even better, his lovely firang wife!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Nation and identity

Despite its tremendous linguistic, cultural, and ethnic diversity, the image of India one draws from the media (particularly outside the subconty) is usually of the northern plains -- bhangraing Funjabis or colorful Rajasthanis, usually accompanied by a camel or two.

So I quite enjoyed this week's Outlook, which had two passable articles on Indian identities to which less attention is paid: Franco-Indians living in Pondicherry (and preparing to cast votes for either Sarkozy or Royal) and young people from the Seven Sisters (an increasing presence as employees in the capital's hippest shops and cafes).

On a related note, I just finished Pavan K. Varma's Being Indian. It's interesting, in that it tries to debunk some of the myths that have been created about India. Varma writes:
"The Indian reality is transparent and opaque simultaneously. What is visible is as much a part of the truth as what remains unseen. Foreigners see what is overt, and conflate it with their preconceived notions of 'the great Indian civilization.' In the process many assumptions evade critical scrutiny, and a great dmany inferences are either incorrect or only partially true. But foreigners can be forgiven their errors. Not so the Indians. Over the years the Indian leadership, and the educated Indian, have deliberately projected and embellished an image about Indians that they know to be untrue ... What is worse, they have fallen in love with this image, and can no longer accept that it is untrue.
"The image has been created by a quantum leap of logic, an ideological sleight of hand that derives an untenable ought from an undeniable is. India has been a parliamentary democracy since Independence in 1947; therefore, Indians are undeniably democratic by temperament. Several important religions were born and flourish in India; therefore, Indians are essentially spiritually in their outlooks. People of different faiths have found a home in India; therefore, Indians are basically tolerant by nature. Mahatma Gandhi defeated the British by relying on ahimsa; therefore, Indians are peaceful and non-violent in temperament. Hindu philosophy considers the real world as transient and ephemeral; therefore, Hindus are 'other-worldly' and unmaterialistic in their thinking. India has nurtured a great deal of diversity; therefore, Indians are of an eclectic and catholic disposition.

"India is much too important today, and its potential far too significant in the coming decades, to be held hostage to this simplistic myth-making."
Although there are points within Varma's narrative with which I disagree, this excerpt fairly accurately reflects the relationship I've embraced as regards explaining India. People want quick and easy answers, a 30-second soundbite about how spiritual and loving and wonderful my two years here have been. The thing is, they haven't been. Certain moments fall into these categories, but to generalize -- to try and synthesize a country of more than a billion people into neat little boxes -- is simply impossible.

Booze basics

Aspiring Indian oenophiles, take heed: Tulleehoo wants to "enhance your alcohol experience."

It sounds vaguely menacing to me -- so formal! -- but apparently this company offers training in the fine art of tasting, appraising, and appreciating foreign and domestic wine, beer, and whiskey. In addition to product info, there are also cocktail recipes, including India-specific delights such as "tar-booze" (a play on tarbooz, or watermelon).

They also seem to be trying to build a booze-centric online community, which (in my humble opinion) is far superior to the scrapping about who made out with whom and why on Orkut. But sometimes, they miss the mark.

The pub rating system for users to vote on local bars is entirely incongruous. People can typify the experience at the city's most glamorous hubs, from Tuskers to Tabula Rasa, as: 1) Five orgasms in a row; 2) One orgasm; 3) Hand jive; 4) Coitus interruptus; or 5) Like getting sodomised by all the Harlem Globetrotters.

Umm ... is that really necessary? I don't really think the categories are cute or hip, which is what the site seems to be aiming at, and I somehow think that their clientele -- the city's elite -- might be somehow beyond sophomoric college humor. Then again, what do I know? Maybe sodomy is the new black!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Begging for a visual

In Kalagram, Chandigarh Tourism has opened what appears to be the country's first "condom bar" -- a themed watering hole/disco where pints are served in condom-shaped mugs and prophylactics festoon the walls. Free condoms will be distributed to patrons, and rather than returning loose change, customers will be given a handful of rubbers.

Aiming to spread awareness about HIV/AIDs and to destigmatize the usage of condoms, I applaud this new effort -- stories about which have been run in every major English-language newspaper in Delhi.

But conspicuously absent? Any accompanying visual. Is an image still too taboo for a morning read, or (as all these stories appear to have been ripped directly from a press release) was there simply no camera-ready art?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Copywrong

On Monday, the Bush administration announced that it had put 12 countries -- including India -- on a "priority watch list" for failing to sufficiently protect U.S. producers of music and movies from piracy.

I'm not sure whether they're targeting cheap pirated CDs and DVDs or the larger issue of intellectual property rights, but I certainly hope they're not going to lead a crusade against masala-fied adaptations of Western culture. Because really, where would we be without silver screen gems such as Fight Club: Members Only (Fight Club), Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai (My Best Friend's Wedding), and Deewane Huye Paagal (There's Something About Mary)? Whither the dulcet tones of Pretty Woman (originally by Roy Orbison) or Saiyan Dil Mein Aana Re (Spice Girls, who I realize are not technically American, but potato, potahto)?

Dance dance revolution

You simply must watch this video (which has been spreading across the Internets like a global wildfire) of an Infosys account manager dancing -- nay, shaking a leg, getting down, gyrating, vibrating on a completely different plane.

And lest you think this is some kind of divine setup, let me assure you: I have witnessed even more horrendous acts than this, including an 8-year-old son of an executive assistant singing "Smack That" (unedited) while wearing leather pants and grabbing his crotch. Nightmares, my friends.

Great moments in copyediting

One of my guiding principles for journalism? The more monkeys, the better. But if you're going to slap a chimp licking an ice cream cone on the front page of your metro section, you've got to get the details down.

The Indian Express has failed us. Because check out the caption (lower right corner): "While mourning for the brother of a former Hizbul commander, this militants."

Obviously, in lieu of the full stop, the sentence should have continued, "... contemplates the politics of identity, mulls the implications of terrorism in the subcontinent, and contemplates the merits of butterscotch over chocolate chip."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The third way

In "White Skin, Brown Soul," an HT reporter takes on an interesting phenomenon -- white, natural-born citizens of India (primarily "the children of foreign immigrants — missionaries, social scientists, businessmen — who came to India in the 1950s and the 1960s").

Reporter Riddhi Shah exposits, "Much has been written about the NRI experience -- their conflicts, their battles, their struggle to come to terms with their mixed identities. But the stories of these reverse NRIs -- white on the outside and brown on the inside, 'white chocolate' to the NRI's 'coconut' -- have gone largely untold."

The story itself leaves a lot to be desired -- it's only about 300 words and attempts to synthesize the narratives of five or six people, all without really offering context or relaying the particularities of any one person's situation. Still, the topic poses interesting questions about identity and belonging in a world in which traditional boundaries are increasingly blurred. It stings when I hear people calling me gori and firang, and when children point, laugh, stare, sing songs. But I can only imagine how it would feel to have grown up in the subconty, to consider oneself Indian, and to experience the same day in and day out, endless explanations of life never quite either here nor there.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A life less ordinary

Internet has been down here for awhile, and I've been taking the opportunity to do some reading. Just finished A Life Less Ordinary, an autobiography of Baby Halder, a domestic worker (it was originally written in Bengali and published [in Hindi, I believe] as Aalo-Andhari).

It's a quick read and a powerful story -- she offers a glimpse of the life a woman who was married and a mother by 14 who, after years of harassment from her husband and the community, picked up everything and disappeared to Delhi; after a few bad jobs, she found herself working for a man who caught her looking at the books on his shelves and, rather than remonstrate her for slagging off on duty, gave her a pen and a notebook and told her that she should think of reading and writing every day as one of her daily chores.

I don't have a coherent perspective on the writing/execution/style of the book (largely because I find myself confounded by the tension between literature as literature and literature as therapy or social tool), and I haven't read a great deal of other subaltern autobiographies, so I'll just highlight two passages I found particularly compelling:

"One thing that had become clear to me by this time was that man or woman, everyone was basically concerned about themselves and about having enough to eat. Had I understood this wisdom earlier, I would not have had to suffer so much."

"I like cooking for people and feeding them and even when I was with my husband, any time I made something new, I would share it with everyone around. Perhaps that was what made him so unhappy with me! I also liked looking at cookery books as much as I liked reading books and poems and stories. Reading the newspaper had become like an addiction and everything that Tatush read to me or told me about was a new discovery for me. Perhaps this was why I waited at the gate every morning for the papers to come."

Juxtaposing them, I guess what I like is that, despite an absolutely bleak outlook on the state of humanity, she still finds something, some way, to make her life positive. I've been accused of being an incurable cynic, so to try and capture some of this attitude in my life would probably be beneficial; shitty things happen, and sure, people are jerks, but there are too many good things to get caught up in feeling sorry for myself.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Better health through impoverishment!

India's Ministry of Health has just debuted a Web site promoting awareness about health. While I applaud them for providing information on disease prevention, nutrition, and healthy lifestyles, I'm a bit disturbed by some of the content I found in a section entitled "Indian values."

Next to a picture of women carrying earthen urns on their heads, text reads: "The glory in carrying an urn, Health through carrying an urn These women rarely developed cervical spondylosis. They were physically active and many of today's diseases were thus prevented."

Then, by a woman grinding wheat on a millstone, comes this reproach: "Health through grinding your own flour in glorious India. These glorious Indian women never developed a frozen shoulder. They were physically active and home ground pure whole grains were being consumed which are very healthy to the body. Health was through eating whole grains, health through physical activity through their daily chores."

The key message seems to be right on -- physical activity is good. But the subtext seems to be that women, in embracing urban lifestyles, are dooming themselves to unspoken tragedy. This wouldn't bother me so much if there was also a section on how men should return to the agrarian life, say, urging them to embrace manually sowing fields, but there isn't. Instead, it is presumed that women should stay in their traditional places, shunning convenience for the sake of slaving over an open fire to provide the family endless freshly made rotis (and, of course, waiting until the men finish their meals before serving themselves leftovers).