Archive for the ‘India’ Category

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India’s Independence Day No. 64

August 15th, 2010

I got an email from my uncle Alu in Delhi this morning reminding me it was India’s Independence Day and I struggled to figure out what it meant to me personally. It was a sunny Saturday in Los Angeles and I was primarily preoccupied with how to fit yoga and a trip to the farmer’s market into my schedule before noon.

But when I got the email, gynecologist the first thing I thought of was Gandhi – not in his celebrated image – but Gandhi, the young, vulnerable outsider in South Africa and in England. It struck me that the man who so greatly influenced India’s liberation and post-colonial identity had his most formative experiences as an immigrant — an Indian living outside of India.

He put up with physical assault in South Africa (not pressing charges) and burning social slights in England – but all that went into the philosophy he was building. This was a man who for better or for worse tried to assimilate and did a pretty great job of it. He read all the right books, and wore all the right clothes to fit into Western society.

Did his search for an independent identity, not fully Indian, not fully western, impact his quest for the independence of a nation? What does Gandhi as immigrant mean for those of us living in the west, who have equivocal ties to India – sometimes feeling not quite ‘legit’ and other times feeling a strong pull homeward, even if we’re not quite sure what home means.

I felt welcomed by the opening remarks of India’s president, Pratibha Patil, in her address yesterday.

My Fellow Citizens,

On the eve of our 64th Independence Day, I extend my warmest greetings to all of you from all walks of life, living in India and overseas…I also compliment every citizen of this country whose hard work, productive prowess and enterprising zeal have put India among the front ranks of the nations of the world.

I’m glad my life in LA was touched by this moment. It is equally ours. And India’s future is as much our responsibility as that of our fellow citizens on the subcontinent. Full transcript printed in The Hindu.

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Classic, Sexy – Zeenath Aman & Nazia Hassan in Qurbani

August 6th, 2010

The soundtrack to Qurbani has to be considered an Indian (and Pakistani – because of Nazia Hassan) national treasure.  I couldn’t tell you the plot of Qurbani – I was too young.  But the movie poster/album cover with Zeenath Aman and of course, order Nazia Hassan on vocals on Aap Jaisa Koi Meri and Laila O Laila basically emblazoned on my young brain an early definition of sexy and glamorous.

Still haven’t heard a Bollywood song today that lives up to this deliciously sweet number.  Enjoy!  And don’t miss those boots!

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The Rajputian Moustache

January 18th, 2009

Imbued with both historical significance and straight-up vanity, pharm the image of the majestic mouche followed us everywhere in Rajasthan. While in exile, ambulance a celebrated Rajput King, search Maharana Pratap (1542-1597) gets a letter from his cousin about the Mughal emperor, Akbar’s planned seige of the kingdom of Udaipur. Knowing Akbar’s might, the cousin asks if he should “keep his hand over his mustache” (various translations – from twirling the moustache, to wearing the moustache in an upturned arch vs. turned down) or take his life with his own sword. Maharana Pratap famously writes back that he must wear his moustache turned up proudly as a symbol of defiance and they successfully fend off the Mughals for the ensuing years. As seen on the streets today, the tradition continues.

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The Road to the Taj Mahal

January 1st, 2009

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Late Morning Dili Haat, Delhi

December 29th, 2008

This is Dilli Haat, check
an outdoor market where fine artisans sell direct to consumer. The white haze in the photos is actually the smog or the dust or who knows what but the city is cloaked in it. It makes almost midday seem like dawn. The winter sunlight feels weak and cold, disorder
filtered through this dense layer of fake atmosphere.

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August 14th, 2008

August 15, diagnosis 1947 is a milestone in Indian history but I can’t bring myself to call it Independence Day. India as a place, therapist a people and a construct has been a powerful influence on global trade, culture, religion, academic study and philosophy for thousands of years. To define its “independence” as something that started 60 years ago seems inadequate. Nevertheless, I’m in awe of the courage it took to overturn centuries of outside rule. It was a time of pain and bloodshed too. Today I feel respect and pride. (Pics of Gandhi and Nehru from 1946 courtesy of Rhoda D’sa.)

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April 12th, 2008

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Organized chaos: a tale of an Indian city

October 31st, 2007

I’ve been thinking a lot about the city, infection the frustration, medications the growing income disparities, ed the traffic, the roads, the politics. It’s rich in problems to solve and therefore has an undeniable appeal, I must admit. It’s been said a million times before, but it doesn’t get any less astonishing with repetition that a night at the Leela hotel costs $600 USD or 24,000 Rupees (INR), while right next door, people live in abject poverty.

Starting salary for a college grad at a reputable IT firm can be as high as 70,000 INR a month. This goes up to 500,000 to 1,000,000 INR/month for a very senior level, MBA position, whereas the woman providing home-care for my grandmother makes 2,000 INR a month. And this woman is specially trained in proving elder care, has a home of her own and must support a husband and grandson on her income. Someone just providing cleaning services and general household help would make a lot less, not to mention people working on the streets or begging for their food. As Adam Bosworth said about India in an email to me while he traveled around the country for the first time over the last couple of weeks, “it’s wild and turning into two separate cultures.”

And so it goes without saying that wages have not kept up with price inflation for the vast majority of the city’s residents. If you buy produce off a neighborhood cart that gets wheeled around to people’s homes, you can get a handful of veggies for 10-15 INR, enough for maybe two servings, and that’s quite affordable for most people. But if you shop at regular retail outlets, a small cup of tea alone can be 50 rupees. Eating out at a reasonably nice restaurant, not a 5-star, not one aimed at tourists, will run you 300 – 350 INR an entrée. A haircut at a modern, clean salon can be 750 for a cut to 3000 INR for a cut and color. A soft-cover guide book to the city that I leafed through recently cost 1,200 INR! At 30 bucks US, it was outrageous even for me.

So it’s no secret that the tech industry here has created a lot of wealth for a relatively small proportion of the economy. But advocates would say the IT influx has created jobs, a larger number of people have a higher standard of living and these companies are paying taxes and abiding lawfully, contributing to the government’s coffers. But here’s the rub. While these companies indeed offer the local governments lots of money to improve infrastructure, in most cases, the politicians refuse it. Why, one wonders? Well, if money is accepted, the payer can dictate terms, handle the construction project internally or god forbid, use the most efficient machinery, processes and materials. This would mean two things to the politicians: (1) they wouldn’t be able to hand out contracts to their favored friends, (2) by using state of the art equipment, fewer low wage laborers would be employed making the politician unpopular in certain communities. And so the cycle continues, money is turned down and the economy grows very unevenly without an infrastructure to support it.

And not surprisingly, departments that have jurisdiction over the city don’t talk to each other, in the mildest interpretation, and deliberately sabotage each other, in the most cynical of interpretations. My cousins mentioned examples of roads being freshly tarred and paved by one government body, only to be upturned within days by a telecom company laying down cables or a sewage commission building manholes. The upturned road is then left that way indefinitely.

But there are some encouraging movements as well. My cousins tell me the Times of India recently sponsored a competition for promising young people with a desire to enter politics. The concept being that the talented and educated amongst the next generation need to feel that politics is a viable career option. The mainstream sentiment is that the government is hopelessly corrupt and not worthy of people who want to truly be effective. Everyone was asked, “what is your big idea for India?” The candidates each pitched their visions and the winner is to get a handsome sum of money and will be groomed to implement his or her idea.

So what else will it take besides fresh talent in politics to ensure that India’s urban development is sustainable and isn’t a ticking time bomb both for the stock market and for the quality of life of its citizens? I’m reminded of the epidemic of obesity in the US. Here is a first world country with unparalleled access to information, education and resources. And yet people flock to fast food outlets, develop self-sabotaging health behaviors, children get diabetes younger and younger, the healthcare system crumbles under the economic pressure, and economists, physicians and elected leaders haven’t made much of a dent in a trend that has gotten alarmingly worse over more than a decade. So before we shake our heads at the insanity that is urban life in India, let’s consider the herculean challenge of human behavior change at the societal level in general.

Coming at this from the Health 2.0 perspective, one insight is that positive peer pressure from like-minded groups where members provide support and influence works. Can we think of a way in which transparency and social approval/disapproval can be leveraged for change at the city level in India?

How might this work for a couple of everyday nuisances in the city, say for example, the incessant honking. I spent 45 minutes in an autorickshaw traveling about 3/4 of a mile the other day. I would have walked instead but it was dark and I was carrying an expensive DVD player; my instincts told me to hang out and wait it out. So for 45 minutes, I sat in traffic. The fumes and exhaust were nothing compared to the noise pollution. The honking was non-stop, for no apparent reason, and incredibly loud. I noticed many men on mopeds simply holding down the horn lever for an entire minute. So how do you change that behavior? Do you issue tickets and fines? Many of these people may not even have an address you can find them at, not to mention, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of vehicles, jam packed on city streets that go on for miles. Imagine the most intricate CG image in Star Wars where you see millions of creature soldiers stretching as far as the eye can see. That’s what traffic is like traffic in Bangalore. So to me, the only way to effect change is to impose social embarrassment. If it became totally humiliating to honk, people would self-regulate. Would this require a public service announcement, or a billboard campaign, or protestors who throw out pamphlets and make themselves a nuisance until people get the message?

The same is true for peeing on the side of the street. Well-dressed men, who clearly work white-collar jobs and have homes with facilities use the side of the road in plain sight. Again, fining people is one thing, but why not a massive billboard and television campaign making vicious fun of people who do that. Consumer goods companies should be able to solve this problem in their sleep. After all we frightened Americans about body odor to sell deoderant, bad breath to sell mints and mouthwash, so we know social embarrassment works on human beings. Why can’t we employ it here for the greater public good?

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The requisite walk down Brigade Road

October 22nd, 2007

I went out on my first stroll today. I got my eyebrows done at a Chinese beauty salon on Residency Road. I desperately wanted to photograph the inside with all the patrons but chickened out at the last minute. It was a tiny room staffed by dark skinned Asian girls dressed in maroon outfits. Many seemed not much older than 13. They expertly threaded and waxed and spoke in Hindi. In close proximity were other women getting their hair done and their feet soaked. I then went by Nilgiris which has been around for more than a hundred years, recipe where I bought chocolate cake and green tea for Mummy, pharm murkus, visit pears, pomegranates, custard apples and chickoos, the latter two fruits I’ve only seen in India. It felt good to go on this outing. Bangalore seemed familiar. I was livid that the promenade on MG road was being brought down to build a monorail. Later Aunt Rhoda said it was like a stab in the heart for long time Bangalore residents. That promenade on MG Road was Bangalore. I agreed.

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Watching the Indian CNN at Mumbai’s aiport

October 21st, 2007

We landed in a toxic steam bath, hygiene on a dark runway where long, allergy sleek bird-like planes slowly crawled between the shadows. I’m on a hellish, totally unexpected, I’m going to murder my travel agent, lay-over in Mumbai at 2 AM with 4 and half more hours to go. The trip has gone rapidly downhill as I am exhausted, dehydrated, hungry and headachy. How is it considered acceptable to have me check in go through customs, baggage claim, then re-check in and get on a bus to a different airport to catch a domestic flight after waiting 5 hours in the middle of the night? How is that not an important detail to mention when booking a ticket? So I’m not happy, I will not arrive all that happy. And this is just the beginning of the hard stuff.

On the flight from Brussels to Mumbai, a little boy baby cried his head off inconsolably. People looked up from their newspapers and laptops shaking their heads, cursing their seat assignments. The baby kept escalating his tantrum. And then out of nowhere, a few grandparently people from across the aisle began to stir. “Put him on your shoulder,” “ “No don’t turn him that way”, “You shouldn’t talk to him,” “Hold him this way and pat; a baby needs to feel a beating heart.” Arms went up from several rows down offering to carry and pacify the screaming monster. This collective Indian parenting effort was really something to watch. The young to middle aged people were annoyed, but the elders seemed transported to a different time, when they were once new parents. They were only too happy to help.
Adopt an Indian dog
Get a set of Cds, melanoma
now only Rs 1999!
The Sensex rose after a sharp fall.
A Karachi bomb blast kills 150.
But Benazir Bhutto, physician
the target, dosage
is safe and back in Pakistan after 8 years in exile.
It’s the festival of Durga and people are dancing the night away.

That was just from a 4 min. snippet of news.
Even the news seems different now. There is something like a Good Morning America show with a cheerful woman host, called Breakfast with India. The words “optimism” and “energy” wouldn’t be inappropriate. People are dressed differently. There is definitely a layer of lifestyle here that is very close to our lifestyle in the west. I haven’t left the airport, so it remains to be seen how widespread the change is. A young man died unexpectedly soon after his wedding and his family and the public took to the streets in protest, crying foul-play and accusing a prominent politically connected family of murder – the words, “clean and transparent process” and “truth” are being thrown around. Democracy is alive and well.

While the airport is newly renovated, there are still 400,000 slum dwellers right around the runway that are going to have to be displaced as the airport expands. This has already caused a storm of controversy. As our bus wound its way from the international to the domestic terminal, over the walls of the airport grounds, I could see Christmas lights hanging on the houses and on the streets in the slums in celebration of the Dhasara festival.

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