Wednesday, January 31, 2007

While the ship sinks in the U.S., Indian media is buoyed by new print editions

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.I'm particularly excited for mint, a business paper produced by HT in partnership with the Wall Street Journal (primarily because it's designed by the fabulous Mario Garcia). It debuts tomorrow, and the Web site will go live as well; should be interesting. They're playing around with monetizing the online vehicle, which hasn't yet proved very successful in the subconty, so it'll be interesting to watch not only for journos, but also for crorepatis and techies (oh my!). FINALLY, you should pick up a copy ever day, if only to search for an upcoming article (profile?) of K. Thomas Oommen, currently the director of a journalism school in Kerala, and a fabulous, fabulous character.

Another pub of interest is Metro Now, a 48-page morning tabloid published jointly by HT and TOI. Thus far, tabloids in Delhz have been execrable (and I should know, I worked for one!) -- tits and ass, maybe some cricket, and tepid nightlife listings taken from the Delhi Diary. Can't find any Web presence, but the hubby knows the editor, so it should, at some point, actually make it onto newsstands.

I find it endlessly fascinating that, while circulation is dropping in the U.S. (AND PANIC ENSUES! IT ENSUES!), there's such a flourishing market in India. Why go to j-school -- why invest in writing for a living -- if the newspaper industry is circling the toilet bowl?

My suggestion for burgeoning young American journalists? DON'T spend some of your most promising years toiling away at City Council meetings. Take a chance. Move to a different country, play up your native English language skills and the benefit they can bring to other people in the newsroom, work for chump change (come on, you'll be doing it anyway), and get excited! Don't scoff at what you perceive as "poor" news coverage -- keep an open mind, take what works, chuck what doesn't.

OK, it's sanguine, and it probably doesn't address underlying economic drivers, etc., but at least you'll have something cool to blog about, eh?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Current anthem: I'm BOSSY!

Good thing I don't plan on vacationing in Bihar!

Because, as Ramashankar warns us in "Drink at your own risk here" in today's HT, "a person caught drinking at a public place will have to pay Rs 251 as penalty and receive five punches (ghusas) in full public view."

But at least I'm not a bootlegger: a person caught selling liquor pays Rs 551 and gets 10 punches. This is all transpiring in villages falling under Bali panchayat of Fatuha block in rural Patna.

I really don't even have snark for this. Public punching as punishment? And it's 2007? And India is the Next Big Thing?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

... but presumably, no portly white men will bumble around the park

Just when you thought builders in Delhi couldn't get any more prosaic -- pushing developments like Orange County and Park Place -- Noida, still recovering from alleged serial killings of women and children, is set to debut its own Jurassic Park.

I won't pretend to understand the draw of 23 different models of dinosaurs, constructed of "fine quality" imported grass. I also won't mention that this project comes about 10 years too late. Instead, I'll merely ask the developers of this project to please include a life-size model of Wayne Knight (you know, Newman on Seinfeld?) in the lay.

And I'll leave you with the brilliant musing of one of the film's central characters, Dr. Ian Malcolm: The lack of humility before nature that's being displayed here, uh... staggers me.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

India and the white other

An addendum to Khushwant Singh's column in the Hindustan Times, courtesy Vipin Bucksey, New Delhi:

"When I born, I Black
When I grow up, I Black
When I go in Sun, I Black
When I sick, I Black
And when I die, I still Black.
And you white fella,
When you born, You Pink
When you grow up, you White,
When you in Sun, You Red,
When you cold, You Blue,
When you scared, You Yellow
When you sick, You Green,
And when you die, You Gray ...
And you calling me coloured?"

I understand the necessity of having some sort of counter to the predominant message that whitness is greatness. But if India is going to flip a collective shit over Jade Goody being "racist," it might be worthwhile to note that these amusing limericks and anecdotes don't do anything to improve race relations. Actually, it makes me feel pretty shitty, and when you call me a gora, or a firang, and assume that I don't speak Hindi or understand the somewhat negative connotations of the words, it's insulting.

This poem is part of a corpus of work, oral and written, that focuses on mocking the white other. When I was teaching in Kerala and attending, I believe, an Onasadhya, a man came up and introduced himself to me. We got to talking, and he starts telling me a story.

"Have you heard about God's oven?"

No, actually, I haven't. Please, sir, explain?

"You see, God was making the people. First he made the African. And he put the dough in the oven, and he left him in too long, and when the first man came out, he was burnt black. So the next person he made, your people, he put in, but he was afraid they would get burnt, too, and so the Europeans, the whites, they're pasty and undercooked. Finally, he got it just right: perfect and brown, the Indian. Not too dark or too light, just right. The Indian."

There's a part of me enjoys the fact that people are so upfront about differences; my co-workers will talk about "chinks" and I'll cringe because I'm a PC thug, but they'll just shrug and be like, "They look different, you know?" Still, there's a part of me that wishes there was some intervention; some way to explain that even though my country is incredibly chauvinistic and full of rich people and stuff, white people don't like being called firangs any more than Indians like being called Pakis.

I donno; ever since the man told me I was undercooked, I've started thinking that my face does indeed look a bit Pillsbury-esque, pinched and risen but not quite set.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Get Garfunk-y

So, I have this really dear friend who loved Simon and Garfunkel, but his allegiances were strongly in the Simon camp. I, however, have always had an affinity for Garfunkel, the underdog. Anyhow, I was making my argument for about a year before we saw the "Old Friends" concert, at which Garfunkel busted out "Bridge Over Troubled Water," TOTALLY shutting said friend up, because Garfunkel's voice was this crystal bell ringing out through the stuffy, crowded Chicago stadium.

Anyway, more evidence that the Funky One is awesome? This, his ridiculously long reading list -- spanning from 1968 to the present. He happens to share more than a few of my faves (Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man; Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar; Edith Wharton, the House of Mirth; Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre; Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther). Holy moley, I knew I liked him for a reason.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Monday meanderings

So tonight I decided to try and imbibe a full-length movie in Hindi (even if it is a children's animated film). This, of course, led me to some pretty aimless Internet surfing, because if that damn ... being or whatever ... says "Narayan, narayan" again, I might throw my newly purchased set-top box out the window. This might also be rage that I've been desperately trying to learn Hindi and am still at a pretty elementary level (exhibit A being trying to explain to the guard/receptionist at work today that I needed to get a new key, which resulted in much parroting of "Naya chhabi? Chhabi?" and a very nice guard man turning bright red and suppressing what must have been one hell of a laugh).

AAAAANYhow, so I was on Metafilter and someone linked to The Beast, which attracted me because it basically said that "you" (you know, the "you" that Time loved so much?) are the cause of all the world's problems -- or, rather, "you" is No. 16 on a list of the year's 50 most loathsome people.

Not so interesting -- I have a healthy degree of self-hatred without my Internets turning on me -- but then I got to No. 25 on the list, Deepak Chopra.

And I quote, "Charges: Widely regarded by new age simpletons to be a font of wisdom, Chopra peddles a chutney-flavored weak anthropic principle based on the usual dippy claptrap about "universal energy" and a profoundly erroneous extrapolation of quantum physics. An accused plagiarist and sexual harasser, Chopra entreats his readers to abandon their silly religious traditions—and adopt his. Pitching a watered-down Hinduism as some perfect union of science and spirituality while supporting Intelligent Design and purporting to "prove" the existence of an afterlife, Chopra’s work proves only one thing: he’s just another mystical moron providing a psychic security blanket to soft-skulled suckers.

Exhibit A: Suggested a Middle East Disney World and Iraqi Nickelodeon to mollify their rage.

Sentence: Five years shoveling actual bullshit."

Dog? Word. Word. Also, I'm fairly sure he was testing the waters to proposition me a few years ago; it was my first assignment in Delhi and I accompanied a fellow journalist who, of all things, had forgotten a pen and pad of paper and needed me to transcribe his interview. At some point, Chopra stopped addressing said journalist and instead started asking me about myself, before finally asking us up to his room for ... mystical voodoo? A copy of his latest book? Something kinky and Kama Sutra-esque?

I rest my case. I also return to my movie.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

iPod-free and proud, I guess

So I've been considering buying an iPod, if only because I got a rather fat bonus at the end of the year and I think I deserve a fun toy.

However, as some of you may have seen, according to a new index (somewhat like ye olde burger index), India is the second most expensive place to buy the iPod when accounting for purchasing power parity.

Adjusted for U.S. dollars, the 2GB iPod is most expensive in Brazil -- $327.71; in India, it is $222.27. (In the U.S., the fourth cheapest place to procure the iPod, it runs $149.)

So no iPod for me; I remain decidedly anti-evil. However, I would really, really like some sort of device into which I can dump my spicy and excellent indie hits, primarily downloaded gratis from FreeIndie. Any suggestions for reliable, durable, well-designed, reasonably priced toys in the subconty?

(Image from Anti-iPod)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Public service announcement!

Hey friends, I had to post this, because every time one of the monkey public service announcements comes out, I crack up. It's just so...foreign. I'm not saying they're irrelevant, I'm saying that, if one was to issue a "monkey menace" announcement in NYC, well...the world might stop spinning for a few minutes.

Highlights of the text, in case you can't read it: "Monkeys are wild animals, don't domesticate them with bananas" -- isn't that contradicted by the happy monkey holding a banana? Let's stay on message, department of environment, forests, and wildlife; "Monkeys are monkeys" -- no, I thought they were elephants! (OK, I know maybe they're alluding to Hanuman and his monkey-ly importance in the Hindu panoply, but still.)

All jests aside, seriously, don't feed the monkeys. When S and I were in Chail with my parents, we were loading food and stuffs into our car and left it unattended for a few minutes; when we went outside, there was a monkey in the driver's seat, and I ran at him with flailing fists, seriously alarming the hotel personnel, who were wondering just how they would explain a way a monkey-induced firang death in the peaceful mountain town. Just don't do it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Extra! Extra! No such thing as money for nothing!

Before I moved to India, I heard alot about 419 scams in Nigeria (you know, those e-mails that you get from princes whose fathers unfortunately died in oil disasters and the money they inherited can't be accessed unless a total stranger provides them a few choice account numbers and international wire transfers?), but I had never actually read about anyone who fell victim to the ploy.

Here, though, there's items in the news every few weeks about some poor schlub handing over lakhs of rupees because he thinks he sees an excellent opportunity in the fine gentleman who would love to share his windfall, if only some kind soul will help him out.

A la HT:

"Two Nigerians were arrested in a black-dollar-scam case in Central Delhi on Tuesday. The two had allegedly duped a West Bengal executive of Rs 3 lakh through e-mail. ... The complainant, Raja Datta, who is working as assistant manager at the Durgapur Steel Plant in West Bengal, had received an e-mail from the two Nigerians saying that they would supply him with a special chemical by using which the black coating on dollar notes would be removed and they would once again become usable. The accused had created an account under a fake name with ICICI Bank. They had provided the account number to Datta and had asked him to deposit the money in it. Datta, who was not aware of their intentions, deposited the money on different occasions in their bank account. 'Datta came to Delhi in April, 2006, and met the duo at Green Park who provided him with the chemical. When the victim opened the consignment at his house he found 35 packets of plain black paper,' said Alok Kumar, DCP."

Completely unscientific, but if you Google "nigerians arrested for cheating," nine of the first 10 resulting links are news stories about police catching men who had screwed Indians out of thousands of dollars. Hah.

If Ziggy can't stop them, I don't know what can. Let my cartoon friend serve as a cautionary tale.

Reality and race

So if you're in India or the U.K., you know there's been a firestorm of criticism over Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother, with brazen reality hussies mocking Bollywood bomb Shilpa Shetty. It might be racism, it might be ignorance, it might just be people with nothing better to do than form petty, meaningless blocs that can bandy insults back and forth.

Seeing as I haven't actually viewed any footage (of them allegedly calling her a "Paki," a "dog," and telling her she can't speak English), I can't really comment; furthermore, even if I did see it, it's nearly impossible to divine the intent behind the words, because, to an extent, they should be considered within the context of the incredibly strange, surreal situation of being locked in a house and filmed 24 hours a day, which may or may not cause people to behave as they would not in the "real world." If you do want more info, or a comparison of how media is covering this (which I find endlessly fascinating), try this link.

No, I'll restrict my comments to a short criticism of India's I&B minister, Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, who has decided that this is an excellent occasion to highlight just how reactive and moronic government officials can be. According to Vijay Rana's report in the Indian Express ("Government's latest role: Shilpa Shetty's Big Brother"), "...Dasmunsi said actors on foreign assignments should 'inform the government' and also the Indian High Commissions/embassies on reaching foreign shores so that not only the Bharatiy nari's samman [Indian woman's honor] is safe, the country is also saved from 'unnecessary embarrassment.'"

1) I fail to see how a few narrow-minded, silicone-injected, bleached blonde bimbos (if that is indeed what they are) could harm the honor of roughly 500 million people;
2) Will Salman Khan or Mallika Sherawat reporting to an Indian consulate necessarily prevent him or her from making an ass of him or herself and, by extension, the ass of the subcontinent?
3) Isn't this more embarrassing to the U.K. public at large, if one can extrapolate that manufactured C-listers represent the pulse of a nation?

(Note: I am QUITE heartened by the response of Shetty's spokesperson -- "Shilpa's family strongly feels that this is a game, and it should be treated in that spirit, rather than becoming an issue between two nations." At least someone has some damned sense. Unfortunately, of course, not the respondents to an IE online poll, 54% of whom think the government was right to butt into the situation.)

Everything is rent

So, though the vast, vast majority of landlords in Delhi are unspeakable assholes, S and I happened upon a very endearing old doctor who lives with his brother and has graced us with his benevolence on many occasions.

The latest, and perhaps most endearing?

Landlord: "With you extending your lease, I am going to need to raise the rent, cost of living, you know."
Z&S: [Silent and frightened about potential increase of thousands of rupees]
Landlord: "So, you've been paying Rs 13,000 a month; now you will be paying Rs 13,050 a month."

For those of you keeping score, that's an increase of little more than a dollar a month. Schlamoley.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Least convincing tag line EVER

"Delhi Police: We Would Be There In Case You Need Us"

They forgot to add, "... but if you don't need us, we'll be out by the chaiwallah having some samosas."

I wish I was joking.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Ugly outfit, uglier reaction

They're not the fashion police, but Bollywood star Mallika Sherawat's New Year's ensemble was spicy enough to attract an official investigation after a social worker complained she and her act were obscene.

At left, you'll notice Sherawat in what appears to be stripper wear: glittery g-string, barely there bikini top, and incomprehensible chaps. But really, what makes it all the more hideous is that it's stripper wear attached to a flesh-colored bodysuit; skintight, but certainly not endangering the audience with the threat of her lady bits.

I could and will quibble with the outfit. However, the reaction it's attracted is more odious than any bedazzled wonder she could have donned. SHE IS ABSOLUTELY, FULLY CLOTHED. And even if she wasn't, how is this any more obscene than the photos that are routinely printed in the city tabloids? Than the stars that romp through waterfalls for passionate kisses (or simulated sex) on the big screen? Correct me if I'm wrong, but she was performing at a private party. If you don't like it, leave your swank, five-star Mumbai Marriott and get drunk on expensive booze elsewhere.

I know there are a lot of people who will take this up and start crying about saving the children, etc., but much as I malign her, Mallika did kinda think about the kids here. There's nary a possibility for an upskirt shot here because she's encased in a beige sausage casing, festooned with sparkles. It's not an outfit I'd choose, but you could do worse (Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, I hope your vaginas are listening).

I do sort of wish she'd gone whole hog, just performed in a bikini, but I just don't know if the nation could handle it.

Seeing America from the East

Was browsing some Press Trust of India photos, and found these two images particularly interesting.

The first is from Kolkata, where a political party (Samajwadi) was protesting Saddam's hanging by carrying an effigy of Bush (or is that Mel Gibson?) at the American Center. The second, in case you're not keen on Bollywood, features Salman Khan saluting Old Glory alongside a few cricketers.

It's difficult to describe the American expatriate existence, but this duo sums up, at least for me, the sort of double life one must play (regardless of one's one opinion of her country and its politics). Americans are at the same time lauded for being the land of the free and lambasted for supporting a leader who is mediocre at best, a monster at worst, and in reality, probably somewhere smack in the middle.

I suppose it's much like America's current view of India; there was a brilliant little post a few weeks ago (though I can't remember it's link or author -- it was on both DesiPundit and BlogBharti) offering a (tongue-in-cheek) guide for how people in the U.S. can report on India. Salute the burgeoning middle class, but don't forget to mention the grinding poverty. Juxtapose the jolly, well-fed, polished young technocrats in an office with lots of gadgets with the group of children who wait panstless at the stoplight, playing drums and doing backflips.

Sometimes I wonder if there's any hope for people to have accurate perceptions of place without actually going somewhere. I suppose that's what literature and art and hell, even the Internet, aspire to achieve -- freedom from the bounds of geography -- but is it possible for humans to conceive of locales without trying to fit them into categorical archetypes?

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Oh, the nerdy things copyeditors do

Good (bad?) headline split in the Hindustan Times today, top of the front page, left side:

"Big fish face
the heat now"

I immediately sucked my cheeks in and started using my hands as fins, a defensive posture I adopt when I want to express my embarrassment or delight. Aaah! Big fish face!!!

That's probably not what the editors wanted to people to envision, considering the story accompanying the headline is about a police skirmish resulting from what may or may not have been serial killings of children in a satellite town of Delhi ...

Disclaimer: This picture is from the good folks at the Manteca Chamber of Commerce, who hosted a comedy night in 2005 at which people apparently mimicked our finned friends. Visit their site, and visit their city, and make as many fish faces as humanly possible.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Where all my Medilldos at?

Well, if you believe David Simon's prognostications in Slate, they're likely bemoaning their jobs and hoping to escape the biz.

Based on my informal research and much Google Talking, it's pretty accurate. No one wants to do more with less, and everyone wants to escape and write for a place that doesn't hand out 35 pink slips a quarter. Short inventory of my close newsy homies: three have changed jobs in the past year, and at least two others are on the lookout for better options. Hrm.

From a "what sucked/what rocked about 2006" article:

"David Simon, executive producer, The Wire; former metro desk reporter, The Baltimore Sun
In the year past, we've been given the clearest indications yet as to the future of the daily newspaper in America. And that future is brutal, reductive, and ever-less relevant.

The Los Angeles Times, which thought itself to be in the highest tier of daily journalism and therefore immune to the economic logic, is told to eviscerate itself, and when chief editors refuse, they are summarily dismissed. The Baltimore Sun is hollowed out by a string of buyouts that began more than a decade ago. The Philadelphia Inquirer is confronted with new ownership that demands a news organization with no pretensions beyond covering its circulation area. In their desperation to float their stock prices, the big newspaper chains are slowly strangling the only thing that still makes their daily editions matter: content.

For years, the Kool-Aid drinkers from the home office have journeyed to newsrooms far and wide to explain to the ink-stained rabble that these were new times, that by attritting the numbers in the newsroom, by offering buyouts to veteran reporters, by reducing the news hole, the American newspaper could not only remain viable economically, but could—given effective management—do more with less.

Here's a secret: You cannot do more with less. You do less with less. To gather more news, to investigate more wrongs, to analyze more of the complexity of modern life, you need more experienced reporters.

What now passes for journalism outside the vale of New York or Washington, D.C., is largely an embarrassment. Good people still remain in every American newsroom, and some of them are doing their damnedest to make their product essential. But every month, there are less of them, and every month, some soul-sucking whore from atop the pyramid types yet another memo explaining why this newspaper or that no longer needs a Washington correspondent, or a labor reporter, or foreign coverage. Until the industry begins to believe that content—and only content—matters, then there isn't a power under heaven that can prevent newspapers from meaning less to our world."

Monday, January 1, 2007

New Year's resolutions

1) Lose 10 pounds
2) Drink twice a month, at most
3) Tell my husband I love him at least once a day, and do one thing each day (even if it's just washing dishes) to demonstrate my appreciation of him
4) Submit a book proposal to Penguin India within three months (a city guide for the non-tourist track -- business travelers, young expats, exchange students, international interns)
5) Visit at least one new foreign country
6) Make my money work for me -- invest at least half of my year-end bonus in some sort of fund
7) Do things that will make me feel good; paint, write, listen to music, play around with aromatherapy, buy new lotions and potions