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Archive for the ‘india’ Category

Varnam Is Moving On Up

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For those who don’t already know, JK has joined the cabal of do-gooders over at National Interest, hence his blog has a new address:

http://varnam.nationalinterest.in

Update your bookmarks and RSS readers accordingly. Congratulations to JK, this move will be a step-up in terms of more exposure for his blog. Just beware of the haters out there. Don’t let them get you down.

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Written by niraj

September 18th, 2009 at 11:42 am

Do You Know Who I Am

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Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was briefly held (for two hours or so) at Newark International Airport by the Department of Homeland Security. It seems Khan’s name matched a name on some terrorist watch list, but after ascertaining Shah Rukh Khan’s identity – with the help of the Indian government – he was promptly released

Of course Shah Rukh Khan was upset by his mistreatment, especially given the fact that he is an oft visitor to the United States. And the entire country of India is upset, as well, as if the nation’s character was impugned in the process. Naturally, the Indian press is having a field day with countless articles and editorials blasting the United States for what is perceived to be a racist and bigoted slight.

It’s hard not to notice an air of arrogance by Shah Rukh Khan and his supporters. It’s the type of attitude celebrities are known to take whenever they don’t get their way.

“DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM!” This is a common refrain used by celebrities the world over, and Shah Rukh Khan is no exception.

Personally, I think Shah Rukh Khan was more upset that he was not recognized by immigration officers as the legitimate superstar that he is.

In defense of the immigration officers, they did their duty safeguarding American security: they discovered a problem, investigated it, found out there was nothing there, and promptly released the Indian actor. Khan was held for two hours. He wasn’t thrown in some hole, renditioned to Cuba, and tortured by the CIA. But according the India press, he might as well have.

I hope this incident doesn’t become an ugly diplomatic row between India and the United States, simply for the reason that it’s a petty issue.

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Written by niraj

August 18th, 2009 at 2:16 pm

I’m Still Here Status

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Nothing new to report from my end. Of late, I’m on an extended hiatus. Not doing much blogging as you can see – not one post for May, in fact! I’m reduced to updating my Facebook status and an occasional post on Twitter. I have stopped reading blogs altogether; but I am reading a lot, reverting to printed materials. You can say I’ve gone old school.

But I’ve made an exception for the latest issue of Pragati, the history issue, which was edited by JK Nair. It is very good, and I highly recommend it.

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Written by niraj

June 14th, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Review: An Area of Darkness

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V.S. Naipaul. An Area of Darkness: A Discovery of India. New York: Vintage, 2002. 290pp.

V.S. Naipaul is at same a good writer and a bad one. His book, An Area of Darkness: A Discovery of India, Naipaul’s travelogue about his first trip to India during the early 1960’s. His travel writing is superb, but as often the case, he has the tendency to ramble, especially when he decides to take the reader into his brilliant brain and observe his thought process at close quarters. It makes for difficult reading, at times, but it is well worth it by the end.

Like many members of the Indian Diaspora, his image of India was shaped by the perception he had while a child growing up in Trinidad. Naipaul’s grandfather immigrated to Trinidad as an indentured laborer. Naipaul’s memories of India were shaped by his grandfather’s memories. So when he finally arrived in India to see what the fuss was about. And like many Indians who return “home,” he was thoroughly disappointed by what he saw: the poverty, the corruption, the decays, a civilization that was listless and fading into irrelevance. He tries to make sense of it all, often asking the question why?

Though Naipaul makes many points, two in particular stand out.

In one of the chapters, Naipaul recounts his experience with a Sikh gentleman while on a train journey to South India. To Naipaul this Sikh gentleman (like many people Naipaul talks about in his book, they often go nameless) is striking, both for his features and his temperament. This Sikh gentleman, though educated and worldly (and, not to mention, a bit of an English twit), is also a racist and a bigot, and doesn’t mind telling Naipaul, whom he mistakes for a kindred spirit. This Sikh gentleman hates South Indians. He thinks they are the reason why India has wretchedly failed after achieving its independence. He calls them “blackies” and other assorted names too offensive to name here. The Sikh, you see, is of Aryan stock, hence a martial race, a people born to thrive if it weren’t for the weak Dravidian race of South India. Naipaul is not really shocked by what he hears because he knows India is ribboned with race, ethnic, caste, religious, economic animosities that permeates every strata of society. The Sikh gentleman was a mere example of it.

Secondly, Naipaul asks why Indians are so passive. He comes to this conclusion when China and India are fighting a border skirmish. Naipaul is in Kolkata (then Calcutta and according to Naipaul, the most English of Indian cities), keenly observing the city’s mood. Already there is talk among resident s of a likely occupation of the city by the Chinese, and how to deal with their new leaders; never mind the fact that the Chinese were nowhere close to the city – in fact, they were hundreds of miles away. And this attitude persists even while trainloads of Indian soldiers make their way to the border.. Preparations for defense were half-hearted, at best, the army too ill-equipped and ill-trained to mount a credible defense, the lack of seriousness from the people to the government. The ethos of peace and nonviolence was too deep to overcome. To Naipaul it is no wonder why India is such a conquered nation.

Reading Naipaul one wonders if the man simply hates India? Many Indian critics have made this charge. At first reading, Naipaul does seem to display some sort of a mean streak. At closer reading, however, this mean streak emerges more as disappointment than visceral hatred. After all, Naipaul, a Trinidadian and a British citizen, is still an Indian, albeit an unwilling on.

I can relate to Naipaul’s experience to some extent. I immigrated to the United States in 1976 when I was three; I returned for my first visit to India (and Bangladesh) in 1982 at the age of nine. Though Naipaul had the luxury of returning as an adult and make sense of it all; I, even as a child, could tell what a huge disappointment India was to me.

I returned to the city of my birth, Kolkata. The first thing I noticed was the stench. The ride into the city was not equally reassuring. The heat, the impenetrable crowds, the ramshackle buildings, walls desecrated with political slogans, but it was all the widespread poverty on display that really shocked me. I’ve seen pan handlers in the United States, but in India I was accosted by beggars at every turn. They somehow sensed that I was from overseas and ripe for the picking. Experiencing load shedding, where there is no electricity for hours on end, was a revelation. How can you run out electricity? I was perplexed beyond comprehension And only able to watch one government-owned channel for three hours a night was a visible reminder of what communism must have been like for those poor souls trapped behind the Iron Curtain (yes, I was quite politically aware for a nine-year-old).

Though my opinion of India has improved over the years I still find India to be a disappointment. And like Naipaul, I believe that India has yet to achieve its potential.

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Written by niraj

January 2nd, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Posted in books,india

Indians To Play Baseball?

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You might be seeing some desis playing major league baseball:

The Pittsburgh Pirates hope Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel really do have million-dollar arms.

The two 20-year-old pitchers, neither of whom had picked up a baseball until earlier this year, signed free-agent contracts Monday with the Pirates. They are believed to be the first athletes from India to sign professional baseball contracts outside their country.

Singh and Patel came to the United States six months ago after being the top finishers in an Indian reality TV show called the “Million Dollar Arm” that drew about 30,000 contestants. The show sought to find athletes who could throw strikes at 85 miles per hour or faster.

It’s gimmicky, to be sure, but it would a nice thing, indeed, to see desis play professional sports in a country where there is a paucity of brown professional athletes.

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Written by niraj

November 24th, 2008 at 10:28 pm

Naipaul’s Impressions Of India

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Currently reading V.S. Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness: A Discovery of India, a travelogue of the author’s first trip to India. Even though I have only read the prelude and first chapter, it is a book that is strongly resonating with me: trying to connect with a country that, for a long time, existed only in my imagination.

For any traveler, first impressions are important. In the prelude, Naipaul reounts his maddening ordeal trying to reclaim two bottles of spirits that were confiscated by custom officers on his arrival in Bombay. Naipaul was sent on a wild goose chase through the serpentine Indian bureaucracy: having to obtain this permit and that permit, to talk to this fellow or to that fellow, never getting a straight answer. And he never reclaimed his bottles. Naturally, for Naipaul, it left a bad impression.

As a young child and teenager, I remember the trips I took to India with my family vividly, if not always fondly. Our arrival coincided with my first impressions of India: the stifling humidity, the ramshackle terminal building, surly immigration officers, greedy custom officers; the usual malaise and apathy that afflict third-world, socialist dysfunctions like India. The custom officers, especially, took perverse pleasure in torturing fellow Indians, fleecing them for bribes, threatening them if they did not pay them.

This whole experience tainted my later observations of India, and I think it tainted Naipaul as well.

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Written by niraj

June 12th, 2008 at 2:41 pm

Posted in books,india

Pipe Dreams

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I believe India is foolishly staking its energy needs on this potentially troublesome IPI pipeline, which it has agreed to in principle:

Pakistan and India have principally agreed to resolve fundamental issues of Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project and committed to start the construction work next year.

The most pressing concern for India, of course, is energy security since the pipeline will traverse the restive province of Balochistan, a hotbed of insurgency and unrest. Can Pakistan guarantee that the pipeline will not be harmed in anyway?

Regarding security Khawaja Asif said there is no security concern to the pipeline as we have made precatuionary measures to protect it. He said the gas pipeline will come from Iranian Balochistan along with coastal route and joint Nawab Shah in Sindh.

Then this happens:

Unknown saboteurs blew up two gas pipelines supplying gas to Och power plant and Punjab in two different incidents in Malguzar area of Jaffarabad and Doli area of Dera Bugti districts in the wee hours of Sunday, police sources told APP.

If Pakistan cannot keep its own pipelines secure how can it protect the IPI, which India is desperately relying on to slake its thirst for energy? Proponents will say the IPI pipeline will bind India and Pakistan, forcing to them to work closer and, hopefully, reduce tensions. Perhaps. But I believe Pakistan will also use it as a cudgel to force India’s hand on issues like Kashmir.

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Written by niraj

April 29th, 2008 at 8:49 am

Left Front’s Suicide Pact

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The CPI-M offers its prescription for the rising cost of commodities in India:

  • Strengthen the Public Distribution System by universalizing it; restore the cut in food grain allocations to the states under the PDS; include 15 essential commodities including pulses, edible oil, and sugar in the PDS.
  • Put curbs on procurement of foodgrains from farmers by private companies and traders.
  • Ban futures trading in 25 agricultural commodities as proposed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.
  • Cut customs and excise duties on oil and reduce retail prices of petrol and diesel.
  • Take stringent action against hoarding of essential commodities; strengthen the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act to empower state governments to deal with hoarding and black-marketing.
  • The present requirement of declaration of stocks of foodgrains of 50,000 tonnes and above held in godowns and warehouses should be lowered to 10,000 tonnes.

It’s a recipe for disaster, if you ask me. Government intervention, of any kind, may be a viable short-term solution, but in the long-term it will only end in disaster.

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Written by niraj

April 25th, 2008 at 10:09 am

MP Insults Pilot, Pilot Threatens To Sue

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The problem with Indians, as I see it, is that we are thin-skinned and overly sensitive to slightest of slights. For example:

The row over an MP being asked to get off an aircraft by its pilot deepened on Sunday as the former refused to tender an apology and threatened the pilots’ body to “do what it wants to do”.

“There is no question of any apology from my side. I have done noting wrong,” Indian Muslim League MP Abdul Wahab, who was accused of allegedly using foul language against an Indian Airlines pilot, said.

“Let the pilots association do what it wants to do,” the Kerala MP said.

The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) had said they would file a defamation suit against Wahab for allegedly calling the pilot a “glorified driver” and asked him to tender an unconditional apology.

Yes, MP Abdul Wahab is probably a jerk, but calling the pilot a “glorified driver” hardly merits a riposte let alone a defamation suit. In fact, the pilot should have just furnished an insult of his own. End of problem.

But in all honesty, the MP is not far off the mark when he called the pilot a “glorified driver”, because it is true. A pilot’s job is to pick up passengers, go from point A to point B, and disgorge passengers. Repeat. Aside from more skill involved, what’s the difference between a pilot and a bus driver? And I’m not being insulting, but someone who loves aviation and even tried his hand at being a pilot. I had no allusions about being a pilot then, and I don’t now. So the ICPA should just leave it alone.

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Written by niraj

April 13th, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Posted in aviation,india,labor

Affirmative Action In India

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Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh says the UPA will be quick to implement the law that gives members of Other Backward Castes (OBC) 27% of seats in elite public education institutions like IIT and IIM after the Supreme Court ruled the law was not unconstitutional. The law is odious because it institutionalizes discrimination against another group while supposedly protecting another, but the UPA government is not stopping there:

Singh told HT that a bill to regulate admissions and fees in private educational institutions “will be taken up” once the current “priority of implementing the SC order,” is finished. “I have not moved away from it,” Singh said. He said his ministry is interacting with central institutions to implement the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act cleared by the apex court on Thursday, after excluding the creamy layer.

Forcing private institutions, who do not rely on government funding of any kind, to implement such an immoral policy is a classic example of socialist high-handiness the UPA is still known for.

Do private institution even quiz applicants on their caste? Do they even care? If the government forces them to set aside seats to OBCs, they will be forced to ask that question. This will only increase resentment, and discrimination, against OBCs by affected groups who are already shutout from public institutions.

The only good thing to come out of this (if you want to call it that) is the fact that the Supreme Court has rightly excluded members of the ‘creamy layer’ from the quota. Plus, the Supreme Court will reevaluate the law after five years to gauge its effectiveness.

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Written by niraj

April 12th, 2008 at 8:52 pm