Friday, March 30, 2007

Sex in the subconty

Here in the land of the Kama Sutra, I have been INCREDIBLY disappointed with how people in general -- and the media in particular -- broach the subject of sex. The debate is pretty polarized, with people either prudishly denying impulses exist ("Karnataka says no to sex education") or superficially embracing prurient matters with a smattering of jingoistic verbiage ("India's cricketers put sex appeal before six appeal").

So I generally avoid the topic altogether, unless the reporter appears to have taken more than a cursory interest in some of the issues at play. At least, that's the general rule: Today, I couldn't help but read the cover story of Times of India's weekend supplement, What's Hot, which features a callout box on "What Women Want" that is so ludicrous I simply MUST cite it here in its entirety:
  • Women who live between the Ganges and the Yamuna do not like 'lusty practices' like being bitten or having men dig their nails into them.
  • Those of Baluchistan like to be physically struck by their men.
  • Women of Maharashtra like their men to use foul language while making love; however, women of Varanasi abhor men who do that.
  • The women of Patna are demure.
  • The fair sex of Avanti (central India) loathes being kissed.
  • Women of Punjab can be won over by oral sex.
  • Women of Oudh (Uttar Pradesh) make great love potions are are also impetuous in their desire.
  • The fair sex of Andhra is very 'voluptuous' in its taste.
  • Source: Kama Sutra: The Art of Making Love to a Woman, Pavan K Varma

I really can't make heads or tails of this. Apart from the grossly inadequate assumption that women of certain geographies have uniform sexual preferences, what the hell do some of these comments mean? Are the women of Andhra sapphic, or do they just like fat men? Why (why, why?!) do the women of Baluchistan like to be physically struck by their men, and is it really responsible to assert that they do when, in fact, they may not enjoy it so much as have been conditioned into accepting the practice?

Kya bakwaas hai.

(On a side note, somewhat-but-not-really related, I sometimes call my cat "little Lula," because I give everybody and everything annoying pet names. After about three months of doing so, S informed me that in Punjabi, lula means "penis." Woops. When I told my beloved mum this story, she exclaimed, "But that's what they called your stepsister when she was little!")

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Innovations in South Asian journalism

From Sacred Media Cow (an independent postgraduate collective on Indian media research and production spearheaded by students of SOAS at the University of London):

"Don’t trust the Indian news media? Then stop buying the newspapers and 24X7 channels. Hire your own embedded journalist to do the job for you, a private eye.

If you pay for the trip and expenses as a collective donation, I will go out and report directly to you, on this website and your cellphone by SMS. You will also have control (within reason), via sms or comments, on what I should do next.

75% of what you pay will be spent on the job at hand, and the rest are my earnings.

State your choice of place and amount donated below in comments.

Your three choices this week:

1. Nandigram, West Bengal
2. Jantar Mantar, New Delhi
3. Choose a destination"

The journalist being sponsored is DJ Fadereu, who cites this and this as similar projects.

I have to say, I'm absolutely flummoxed, but perhaps someone with a few more paisa than I would be interested in a little direct research?

Hillary, Barack: Take note

An independent candidate in a Delhi election, backed by his local resident's welfare association (RWA), has a new campaign tactic: Annoying the hell out of his constituents.

RP Gupta, being unaffiliated with any traditional party, needed to choose iconography with which his constituents could connect -- the Congress' symbol is an open hand and the BJP uses a lotus, which serves to allow even illiterate villagers to select the party that most closely reflects their values.

Gupta decided on a whistle, presumably because he could physically utilize it in his electioneering. The Indian Express reports, "The whistle seemed like an odd option till we hit upon an innovative way to campaign in our constituency .... 'Each time I go out for campaigning I start blowing my whistle getting people to come out of their homes. They all know me as the old man who blows a whistle outside their windows,' [Gupta] says."

I suppose it could be worse: he could have chosen a can of mace and sprayed the vile liquid in his constituents' eyes, or perhaps his gimmick could have been a leg -- his attendant action could have been kicking the people in his neighborhood in the groin.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Six degrees of expat separation

You know, you'd think there'd be more variety in a country of a billion people.

Imagine, if you will, a young American expat's birthday party on a balmy Saturday night. Said expat is Miss Y. Your humble blogger? Miz Z.

Miz Z brings her husband, Mr. S., to the party, who promptly identifies Miss Y's paramour as "a guy who looks like my friend R," who indeed turns out to be his friend R (with a slightly different haircut).

Miz Z also brings her friend Big D, a freelance journalist, to the shindig, because, you know, Americans gotta stick together. Big D immediately begins talking to Miss Y, who works for a human rights foundation in Delhi that is TOTALLY Big D's "No. 1 favorite human rights organization."

Miss Y, consequently, is working for the organization in India on a fellowship that Miz Z just discovered is run by the son of Miz Z's former employer.

One of the girls also in the fellowship program (and at the party) is Easy E, who has brought her fiance to the fete. The fiance went to LaHell, the private Catholic high school located in Miz Z's home town (she went to the downmarket Milyucky).

There are two fine young people who also attended a rather exclusive Holi party attended by Miz Z et al.; another attendee is studying the '84 Sikh riots, which Mr. S did a photo essay on last year.

I could go on, but seriously, six degrees? Try one or two. It's a small world after all.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Unfrozen Sudoku champion?

At left: The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer (played by the late Phil Hartman), of Saturday Night Live fame.

At right: The six representatives of "Team India," bound for the World Sudoku Championship in Prague on March 27. Presumably, they're helmed by the dashing man in an incongruous black shirt, who may or may not have fallen into a crevasse during the Ice Age only to be discovered by scientists in 1988 who reanimated him.

I know the picture is a bit fuzzy, but I can totally imagine our plucky friend addressing the audience at the penultimate Sudoku championship ceremony: "Ladies and gentlemen of the audience, I'm just a caveman. I fell on some ice and later got thawed out by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me! Sometimes the honking horns of your traffic make me want to get out of my BMW.. and run off into the hills, or wherever.. Sometimes when I get a message on my fax machine, I wonder: "Did little demons get inside and type it?" I don't know! My primitive mind can't grasp these concepts. But there is one thing I do know -- when a large media group offers you hundreds of prizes for putting some numerals on paper, and they also offer to fly you to Prague, you seize the opportunity. Thank you."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Close encounters of the politico kind

I was at Khan Market this morning, dallying, mostly (and looking for a new pair of jeans, a quest that sadly went unrequited), when I noticed that a new store had opened: Good Earth.

I peeped curiously through the darkened windows, lingering a bit and wondering whether I could get a free glass of champagne or something if I entered -- garlands were strewn all around, and it was apparently the grand opening. I hemmed, hawed, contemplated, and ultimately decided not to be presumptuous -- when who walks out but the Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit.

OK, so she's not exactly a celebrity, but she is an immensely powerful and influential woman. She was wearing a khaki silk sari, and she looked much as she looks in her pictures; she wasn't doused in makeup or drizzled in gold, just a normal woman, escorted by several security men and a glistening Amby. For some reason, I wanted to ask her for her autograph.

I didn't. But I was awed by her presence, for better or for worse. However, it does beg the question: Why is she spending her time gracing the opening of posh stores, rather than helping alleviate widespread poverty, etc.? Granted, you can't be on all the time, but why are high-end home furnishings more important than highlighting the importance of, for example, eliminating tuberculosis or securing a safe water supply for all Delhiites? (I cite these examples because earlier this week there was an emphasis on both in the newspapers, presumably, for example, because it was World Water Day.) I don't envy politicians, in that they have to flatter a variety of stakeholders, but can't her support extend beyond token appearances?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Don't mix drink with drive

According to this Web site, the Mumbai Traffic Police have started disseminating these coasters (at left), which are printed with a type of red ink that only appears when wet.

Thus: Order a frosty beer; enjoy the mug, glistening sweat; finish draught; admire mugshots of people with what appear to be head wounds.

It's gruesome, shocking, tasteless, and a little bit fantastic. I love it when art and technology collide, particularly in such a public forum.

That said, I have absolutely no idea of the back story for this; when S and I were in Mumbai, we certainly didn't notice any of these while we were quaffing innumerable pints. There's also little buzz about drunk driving in recent media, so the catalyzing event for this macabre exhibition will remain a mystery for me.

Save the cheerleader ... ignore the credibility

(Or, another stunning derivation into India as portrayed by American pop culture.)

So one of my favorite guilty pleasures is Heroes, mostly because it's airing nearly in real time with the U.S. -- meaning I can visit all sorts of obnoxious time-wasting Web sites where people discuss the relative hotness of Milo Ventimiglia et al.

HOWEVER -- and this is a big however -- I'm really annoyed by the depiction of Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy), who is the narrator and is following up on the work of his father, who discovered what are essentially genetic mutants and was subsequently killed for reasons unknown but presumably connected to his work. Anyhow, the plot doesn't matter too much, but what DOES matter is that Mohinder is supposed to be from Chennai. And...umm...every time he comes on the screen, S starts shrieking, "There is just no way any Tamil would name their kid Mohinder! The names don't go together! This is a travesty! Blargh!"

OK, maybe that's quibbling, and it does rest on a neatly smoothed bed of assumptions (that because he's from Chennai he's Tamil, etc.). There's room for error there. Perhaps more disturbing is his absolutely absurd accent, which, while sexy, is certainly not one I've ever heard in the subconty. As one Web poster notes, "I thought he was definitely cute, but the accent gave me the heaves. Being Indian myself and having extended family that fits both the 'Indian raised in India with English medium schools' as well as those 'raised/educated in Britain' profile, I can say that his accent is nowhere near either of these categories, if that indeed is what his character is supposed to be." Another rants, "Mohinder must be trying for a call centre job here in India with that pseudo-British accent he's doing. Producers, please do some basic research. If a guy is supposed to be from Madras, please get him to practise a South-Indian accent. And don't give him a completely North-Indian name like "Mohinder"."

And then the show follows Mohinder (gah!) back to Chennai when he has a crisis of conscience.

Seriously, it's like the producers/writers just gave up. One, it's clearly set on a sound stage in California; havelis, though lovely, do not make the depiction of the city more credible. (Note the accompanying picture, which is allegedly Kanyakumari; the characteristic Kumariamman temple is TOTALLY Photoshopped in there.)

Two, unlike in Japan, where everyone is speaking Japanese and they give them subtitles (even one staple character, Hiro, primarily speaks Japanese and gets that treatment), in Chennai, everyone is speaking English in a variety of accents. Granted, many people in India speak English, but in bazaars, in normal middle class life, most lapse into the vernacular -- Tamil or Marathi or Gujrati or Hindi or Malayalam, whatever. These small inconsistencies? Chipping away my soul. My tortured, tortured soul.

Americans are uninformed enough about other cultures. When I tell (American) people I've lived in India for about two years, the most common questions I get are about bride burning and tantric yoga. I may be making a mountain out of a molehill -- after all, it is just TV, and who said the media is obligated to depict the world as it exists? -- but wouldn't it be nice if someone acknowledged that, just as there is no one "America," there is no one "India"? That trying to generalize one billion people and as many opinions, hearts, and minds, into one Funjabi, masala-fied mess is kind of insulting -- to both the culture and to Americans who are deemed incapable of understanding that the subconty is anything beyond chicken tikka masala?

(For your reading pleasure, a nice chat on cultural hegemony; I'm currently hopped up on painkillers because my ear feels like an alien is going to burst out of it, and thus am incapable of making prescient observations about issues of culture and domination and media, but I really feel what this woman is saying.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Coincidence? I think not.

Left: Steve Carrell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Right: Strapping young employee of the Delhi government's department of trade and taxes.

Something about this ad had been bothering me for days; I think now I've figured it out.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Noble effort

Picked up a copy of Insight ... creating awareness, a new magazine based in Delhi that allegedly is looking to spread enlightenment about sundry social issues.

Unfortunately, the whole project just seems a bit off. I can't quite gauge the forces at play here -- perhaps its backers have vested interests, or maybe they are simply incapable of translating their thoughts into suitable English -- but their stated intent conflicts a bit with the magazine's contents.

Let's take, for instance, their covery story, "Women: Freedom With Caution." It starts out promisingly enough, with the reporter narrating three instances of crimes against women. And then you turn the page.

Which includes such gems as, "Late night parties are a big hit these days, as life has become busier and women have become career oriented they usually do not find time to enjoy life, and late night parties serve as a good option for them but while going out for such parties it should be made sure that venue for the party is safe and proper arrangements have been made. All such parties should be ended at a reasonable time so that it do not pose any unwanted situations or danger for anyone." (Suffice it to say, [sic], [sic], [sic].)

Or this: "Studies show that the concept of woman liberalization and empowerment was highly misunderstood. Late night parties, drugs and immoral dressing were tagged as freedom of women. What we forgot was that this is not our culture and this is not even what our women wanted." (One: What studies? Two: What kind of dressing is "immoral"? Three: What is your culture? Four: What DO your women want?)

Once more, with passion: "Though not completely, but somewhere women too are responsible for the indignities hurled upon them. ... Though what one wear's is a matter of personal choice but still woman should be prudent enough to decide clothes according to the place and occasion. Traveling in public transport wearing skimpy clothes is a direct invitation to trouble. ... Dressing sensibly safeguards one from inviting unnecessary trouble. Clothes not only reflect one's personality and state of mind but they are also associated with respect of family and elders." (Wait, so there are women who wear, I don't know, string bikinis on DTC busses? Most I see are in saris or salwar kameez ...)

Tips for the workplace: "A woman who is more frank with her male colleagues is often termed as cunning and easy going and they are on a look out for an opportunity where they can take an undue advantage of her. It makes her an easy prey and everyone wants to use her when ever possible. Many a times, their frankness is interpreted in wrong sense. Her conduct is often misunderstood as an invitation and she has to face unwanted situations. So while conversing with a male she should make sure that her respect is intact." (My respect is definitely not intact, if this is the measuring stick.)

In-depth sociological observation: "Women are more emotional than their male foil." (THAT explains the crying fits!)

Now, I'm a glutton for punishment, so I actually sat through all that dreck without flinging the magazine out the car window on my commute home today. And I found that I agree, to some extent, with the reporter's penultimate point: "The aim of liberalization is to incorporate independence and self-confidence among women. It's an attempt to provide them with equal opportunities to show case their talent. They should realize that whatever they do they have to safeguard themselves from being a victim."

I can buy into that. I think too many people pass the buck, shirk responsibility, etc. But the rest of the article seems to say, "You know, we think equal rights are nice and all, but you need to find some way to enjoy them without crossing the lakshman rekha." For a publication that bills itself as one that "will come out with topics on how to reforms our society in various spheres and dimensions," it certainly seems to have a rather regressive view of the world.

Then again, perhaps I'm projecting my Western mores on something I don't understand. How do I unravel all these threads?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Gods in blue

India's first match in the cricket World Cup is tonight, and the subconty's gone (even more) cricket crazy.

Exhibit A: A man in Chennai who set up a temple about six years ago has been drawing throngs with his eleven-headed god (eleven heads to represent, of course, the eleven players on the cricket pitch) and two Ganesh idols depicted bowling and batting. According to The Hindu, "Even as the temple was under construction, [the man] had prayed to Ganesha during an India-Australia match at Kolkata following which India from the verge of a collapse, made a miraculous win ... He said in that particular match, not only India won but also several records were created. Sachin Tendulkar crossed his 10,000 runs in test cricket, Harbajan performed a hat- trick besides V V Lakshman scoring 281 and Rahul Dravid 180."

Exhibit B: Ubiquitous billboards for Reebok, featuring India's cricketers -- and enticing taglines alluding to diarrhea. (OK, I know more people here associate the phrase with cricket than with gastrointestinal distress, but when it screams in 1,000-point font that someone's "got the runs," I can't help but dissolve into a fit of immature warbling.)

Exhibit C: Tihar jail, one of Asia's largest prisons, will "relax TV watching norms" and play commentary on the match over their PA system (if that's not cruel and unusual punishment, I don't know what is).

Exhibits D, E, F ...: Reuters reports that weavers in West Bengal are making saris featuring Sourav Ganguly, in Orissa a man videotaped himself trying to play cricket underwater, and a restaurant in Ahmedabad is offering a cricket-centric menu, including "googly pasta" and "century noodles."

Lock up your daughters, folks, it's going to be a wild few weeks.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Innocent until proven guilty, but still probably an asshole

This week, Indian celebrity fashion designer Anand Jon was arrested and charged with six felonies, including rape and lewd acts on a child.

Now, I'm not jumping to conclusions, and in America, it's innocent until proven guilty (unlike what is sometimes rougher justice here -- as when alleged killer/rapist/cannibal [?!] Mohinder Singh Pandher had the shit kicked out of him when he exited a court earlier this year). But I feel pretty secure calling foul on this statement by Jon's defense attorney, Ronald Richards:

When you have people desperate to be in fashion, they get upset when you don't place them where they want to be. When you deal with a large number of women, you're going to have potential false allegations made against you.

Way to take the high road. A pure class act. Because you know that every young girl is dying to be known as having been sexually abused, or to have her name associated with rape and lewdness the world over.

Case studies from adventures in social networking

For reasons unknown (even to myself), I have a MySpace account. Usually I forget about it, but occasionally, I see fit to log in and check out what the aam admi is saying.

Recently received messages:

Nameless schlub 1
Subject: Liking
Message: I like you
(Accompanied by a friend request)

Nameless schlub 2
Subject: hi
Message: u look cute....can u sspeak hindi? r u in india?
(Accompanied by a picture of Scott Foley and a friend request)

Nameless schlub 3
Subject: note
Message: I'm thinking of coming to India sometime in the near future. Do you have any Indian friends that look like you? I just want an Indian girl that looks like you!!!! That way I don't have to have brown babies. haha
(Accompanied by semi-pornographic images)

Another excellent hub of social networking shenanigans is Orkut (which is quite popular in the subconty and was recently in the news for potentially offering the Mumbai police access to information about people who have started an "India hate" group).

Nameless schlub 4
Scrap: hi i am from delhi north side can we friend
(Accompanied by picture of man lifting shirt and rubbing six pack)

Nameless schlub 5

Scrap: hi
myself working as senior research officer in reputed hospital in Delhi, well educated, smart, hdsome, gd looking, fun loving, broad minded, respect feelings, easy going, loving and caring. like ur profile very much. like to have honest, trustworthy friendship and enjoyable time with u if u r interested in friendship. if u like my profile then reply on "xxx" directly and also let me know ur separate ID so we can contact directly for quick responses. i am transparent in my friendship . whatever u want to know more about me, i will glad to reply u and we will become good friends then see where the things go. rest is on u now.
(Thankfully, not accompanied by any further evidence of his academic accomplishments)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Let the rain fall

Tuesday forecast: 71 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) high, 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) low.

That's right. It's March, and I haven't once been compelled to switch on the air conditioner (guiltily, trying to conceal my heat weakness from the hubby). I wore a jacket when I walked to the place where I get picked up for my carpool. There was a light mist in the air, all my co-workers were miserable, and I had the hugest smile on my face.

Take that, statistically average March max of 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31 degrees Celsius)! I don't care if my normal life has been thrown out of gear, I'm loving it.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ahead of the trend curve

As I've rambled about before, it seems 419 fraud isn't what it used to be -- in fact, it's having a large effect on India, whereas one might imagine that the scammers would target more affluent nations.

The Hindustan Times validates my hunch, reporting:

The 419 scam is best known for the ubiquitous spam offering jobs or money in return for small advance payments that crowd everyone’s cellphones and computers. India is becoming increasingly entangled in this network. Besides becoming a target for 419 conmen, India is becoming a hub for 419 fraud activity in two other ways.

First, India is home to an increasing number of rings that operate the fraud in other countries. ... This year’s Ultrascan survey of 419 fraud estimates there were at least seven rings based in India last year, up from three in 2005. The seven rings probably had a little over 100 individual operatives.

Second, some small Indian call centres are being used to handle the information gathering that victims are often asked to provide to collect their supposed reward. For example, a call centre will be hired to ask the victim for his name, fax and phone number to lull him into believing these are from a legitimate organization. Engelsman recommends: “Call centres should check if their client and his company really exist. Google the names of both together with the word ‘scam’.”

Hilarious and intriguing as I find this entire thing, the way the story has been reported in the Indian media leaves something to be desired. The "Nigerian" is on the verge of becoming a hulking bogeyman, not only waiting to defraud naive businessmen, but also corrupting the youth -- supplying drugs! To raves! That our children have been duped into attending! Granted, I fully condemn international drug trafficking, but if the police are basing their investigation on one Nigerian having 10 grams of cocaine and "[leading] a lavish lifestyle suggest[ing] he might have some links to the Pune bash," the connection seems tenuous, at best, exploitative at worst.

Bottom line, again, folks: There's no such thing as a free meal. What's the appropriate Hindi idiom for that?

(Note: Photo is from the notorious scam baiters at 419 Eater. Read, laugh, awesome.)

Friday, March 9, 2007

Mixed messages

The media scene in India is such that new publications seem to appear every other week; one of my favorite pasttimes is to wander through markets and stop at the nearest newsman, paw through the titles, and select one I've never seen before. (Which explains why I've read the Indian Maxim and other hideous "lad mags" -- sociological research, my friends!)

Despite its hideous branding, which looks suspiciously like that of Circuit City (the American consumer electronics player), I decided to give City Cheers a try. Hoo boy, what a waste of Rs 30.

Exhibit A: "Corporate Mannerism," which counsels, "How to greet a lady is a million dollar question. Certain rules should be followed: Greet according to her position. Don't try to be too friendly, as an overfriendly attitude easily annoys a female. Guys, mind your handshakes, they should be brief and firm. Avoid long greetings."

Umm...what? "Greet according to her position" -- i.e., if she's a secretary, don't waste your breath? Am I missing some cultural coding? And, if you feel like being a ludicrous ass about it, why should this type apply only to men greeting women? "Don't try to be too friendly" -- i.e., staring at her breasts is liable to annoy her? I just don't get it. Not at all.

Now all they need is an orchestra

The Indian government just ratified an intergovernmental agreement that envisions a trans-Asian railway network; along one corridor, India would be connected to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and China; along the other, it would be connected to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Bulgaria.

The timeline, as yet, seems unclear, and this may all prove to be a pipe dream -- indeed, by all accounts, this project was first envisaged in the 1960s. However, this does seem a positive development, and rail enthusiasts (such as myself -- longest train trip thus far has been three days, from Delhi to Kerala, but I'm itching to hit the Trans-Siberian Railway and ride the rails in China) should be eagerly anticipating its construction.

What with at least two huge bombings of trains (on the Mumbai passenger rails and on the Samjhauta Express to Pakistan) in India in the last year, one would hope that some sort of statement on preventing terrorism &c. is forthcoming. How does one balance the increasing need for connectivity when regional politics are somewhat unstable? ...

... And, furthermore, should I really be wringing my hands over a PR announcement that will likely amount to a hill of beans?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

A whole DAY for people with vaginas?

It's International Women's Day, an event I hardly knew existed when I was in the U.S., but one which is widely acknowledged in the good ole subconty. If you do one thing to commemorate half the world's population, perhaps it should be visiting the Blank Noise Project, which is a blog/activist group committed to intervening on the behalf of women in India.

Alternatively, you could check out information from the Indian Ministry of Women and Child Development, or head to a seminar held by the National Commission for Women entitled "Mentally Ill Women: Is Destitution the Only Answer?"

Despite the somewhat exploitative/outlandish title, I wish I had been able to attend this colloquiom. Although I don't explicitly address it that often any longer, mental illness is certainly an issue close to my heart, and living outside "my" society has only highlighted the fact that it is only a fortuitous confluence of circumstance -- gender, geographic location, parentage, historical era -- that has allowed me to study, marry, travel, and thrive.

On this (perhaps constructively) manufactured holiday, I'd like to acknowledge the strength of the women in my life, past and present. To, first and foremost, my mother and grandmother, who have modeled for me what a woman should be -- intelligent, independent, feisty, caring, and driven. To the lovely Rita, for accepting so wholeheartedly as a daughter; to all the women of S's family for being thoughtful and involving me in all the family's gatherings. To my best girlfriends from "home," Dina, Mandi, Janessa, and Elaine; and to my most excellent women colleagues (and our single male team member!). There are miles to go before we sleep, but we have, indeed, come a long way.

[Mush aside: Lots of interesting coverage in the news in relation to gender, &c. A short selection of the panoply of articles ...

"Women Struggle to Find Place in Modern India" (DNA)
"Two Steps Forward, One Backward" (Inter Press Service)
"Only 14% Women in Top Management in India" (Rediff)
"Mumbai Taxi Service: No Men Allowed" (CNN)
"Tiny Steps to a Women's March" (Times of India)
"Women to be Kept Off Combat" (Hindustan Times)
"Veet Celebrates Women's Day With Launch of Indian Website" (]

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


Sometimes I want a grande caramel macchiato with skim milk so bad I'd cut my left arm off for its treacly goodness, but unfortunately for me, Starbucks won't be setting up in the subconty until well after I return to the homeland. Cafe Coffee Day and Barista are passable imitations, but it'll always be those calorie-packed Frappucinos and eerily ubiquitous half-naked mermaids that warm MY cockles.

Still, I may be in luck -- if Shahnaz Hussain's latest wacky venture looks to play on something more than the Starbucks brand name. Yes, the hoary beauty buff has announced she's starting a chain of 25 cafes called "Starstrucks," and the folks in Seattle are none too happy about her decision. Hussain's rebuff is that everybody pulls this crap (a fair statement in a land that also boasts a "Starbeans"), and she holds that her chain will feature movie posters and other utterly fabulous/glamorous items.

Politics, lawsuits, and other shenanigans aside, if Starstrucks can manage to whip up, oh, I don't know, a gold-encrusted mug of melted Sugar Daddies, there will be no objections from this party.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Rants and raves

So the big news from Holi is that a rave party outside Pune was busted and nearly 300 people were arrested.

I'm thinking that the palpable outrage would be somewhat subdued if these kids (or, according to the nut graf of The Hindu's front-page story, "250 youths, including 27 girls and 7 foreigners") hadn't been arrested for drug (from most accounts, ganja, hashish, and charas) offenses on a festival long known for its association with bhang, the equivalent of a pot milkshake -- there's even a government-sanctioned bhang shop in Jaisalmer.

I've just had to shut NDTV the hell off, because their nonstop coverage of the incident is insipid at best. Seriously, folks, what does it even mean if 91% of your viewers at 8:49 p.m. think that the rave and drug culture is taking hold among India's youth? It seems a bit counterproductive to try and extrapolate what this event means for a country of billions -- millions and millions of whom live on less than $2 a day, and millions and millions of whom could care less about the hip young BPO professionals and flight attendants, when they can't afford to buy onions because inflation is a bitch.

Amit Varma on the India Uncut blog makes a good point about how the news is being coopted to potentially punish a Web site (or Web sites) on which information about the party was available. And I think his argument can be made even larger: Although this could perhaps raise an interesting discussion on drug policy, the tension between "traditional" use of drugs and the commercialization of the drug trade, &c., it seems that people have found it more convenient to drone on and on about those wasteful, disillusioned youth seeking to tear down society by any means necessary. In case you haven't been following along? It's old hat, tiresome, sort of like listening to Thomas Friedman babble on about how flat the world is.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Holi moley!

HOLI HAI! S and I, quite a few bhangs in. We celebrated at a party at the Art Room. Lots of colors (the dress I was wearing was cream colored in the morning), lots of merriment, lots of foreigners. And LOTS of bhang thandai.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

NYC: No visa needed

That's right, upwardly mobile India: Why visit one of the world's greatest cities when you can live in it -- without even straying from the Mumbai-Nasik Highway?

Hindustan Buildwell Pvt. Ltd. assures us, "Plot purchased by many film/TV stars." Well, thank god for that -- I wouldn't want to share my living space with someone who hadn't appeared for an eight-second cameo in the item number of box-office bomb.

And can those five boroughs; this New York City includes a helipad, mini golf course, a "gymnasium equipped with the latest tools to keep you in shape," and an "entertainment club."
Frankly, this whole thing looks a lot more like someone's wet dream of a stripmall in small-town USA. I'm just saying, if anyone tried to get a hipster from Brooklyn to book a flat in this development, I think he'd run screaming and impale himself upon the razor-sharp edge of his acerbic wit.

(And, moreover, why do we have to build up this myth of America as the promised land? Most of my Indian friends and loved ones say that Americans have rather distorted views of what India is -- bride burnings, poverty, tie-dye -- but this certainly isn't an accurate depiction of a rather flawed land, either.)

Friday, March 2, 2007

A quick and dirty guide to whipping up sentiment, illustrated by West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi

First: Pick your tragedy.
(For GG, the death of 10-year-old ragpicker Susmita Sarki, who died while she was sifting through garbage and a landslide of filth buried her.)

Next: Dig up your purplest prose.
(According to The Hindu, "Mr. Gandhi regretted that a 'rose like life' had been 'smothered under a load of filth generated by humans.' The girl ... was 'martyred to our callous excesses and neglect.'" Later in the same store, he adds, "We live for the present moment ... and leave this beauty spot having drawn everything Darjeeling has to offer, but giving nothing to it in return. Except empty packets of crisps and gutka, apart from the water bottles and other plastic containers.")

Then: Wait for newspapers and bloggers to parrot your story.

Finally: Smile in smug satisfaction that you have safely skirted actually addressing the problem by talking about martyrdom and introducing similes equating life to some thorned flora.