Interesting NYT piece by Somini Sengupta on gated communities in Gurgaon, a business-process-outsourcing just outside Delhi. Although they lack the overtly racial tones these enclaves suggest for many Americans, Sengupta does a pretty good job at teasing out the two vastly different worlds that coexist.

Also noteworthy (though woefully underreported) is a quick report on women and alcoholism in India via the Hindustan Times.

The Times of India reports that activists in Tamil Nadu are trying to press charges against Bollywood sex bomb Mallika Sherawat for showing up to a red-carpet event in skimpy attire.

A glimpse of the crazy:

[A] splinter group … lodged a complaint with the police on Thursday, saying that Mallika’s attire at the function to release audio-CDs of Kamal Hassan’s new film Dasavatharam in which Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, Jackie Chan and Amitabh Bachchan were present had “hurt the sentiments of Hindus.” The actress was accused of wearing transparent and skimpy clothes … activist Kanirajan, in his complaint, also said Mallika sat cross-legged on the dais where Karunanidhi was present.

Cross-legged! The horror, the horror! Imagine if she hadn’t been so circumspect and pulled a bit of the classic Britney magic

Joking aside, my thoughts, in no particular order: 1) damn, she looks good; she might as well capitalize on her looks while she has them; 2) is contemporary Hinduism really so fragile that a bit of leg could threaten the very core of its philosophy?; 3) if Jackie Chan hadn’t been present, would it still have been such a gaffe?; 4) is women’s sexuality so threatening that men must try and outlaw it and/or shame those bold enough to revel in their fecundity?; and 5) seriously, don’t these fellas have better things to do?

And, for your entertainment, the trailer for Dasavatharam:

The Indian Express reports that the Indian Railways will pilot voice and data connectivity in trains between Ahmedabad and Mumbai; liveblogging about the difficulty of managing one’s bodily functions on a squat toilet with a malfunctioning lock soon to follow.

I kid, but it isn’t funny: women in India face significant challenges, and too often, it seems, issues like gender parity fall by the wayside as the country focuses on its spectacular economic growth, etc.

It’s probably just lip service, but it is heartening to hear the country’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, thrusting the issue into the public eye. In a speech Monday, Singh said, “We are an ancient civilisation and we call ourselves a modern nation. And yet, we live with the ignominy of an adverse gender balance due to social discrimination against women built into our societal structures. … Our record in female literacy is far from satisfactory as the last Census recorded only 54% female literacy in the country. The last Census again showed a declining child sex ratio. This is a national shame and we must face this challenge squarely here and now. It indicates that growing economic prosperity and education levels have not led to a corresponding mitigation of the problem.”

For a good primer on the social status of women in India, I’d suggest the Bridge “India Gender Profile” (PDF). The Wikipedia page on women in India, though of debatable quality, also surfaces a number of issues and provides a bit of historical context.

(Image: Painted advertisement for Jadugar Anand magic show in Kottayam, Kerala, in mid-2005.)

In Kerala, a small state in the south of India perhaps best known for being the first region in which a communist government was democratically elected, a storm is brewing. But not over political machinations: no, the latest kerfuffle has erupted over an actor’s plan to put on a “fire escape act.” Three hundred magicians from the state have signed a petition urging Mohanlal to reconsider performing the stunt, in which he would be “chained and lowered upside-down in a metal box using a crane into a big haystack, which would be set afire.”

According to the Indian Express, “The magicians who held a press conference [in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala] on Monday said the actor is just not trained enough to perform this act, and alleged that his trainer, Muthukad, was himself burnt when he had tried the act in Bahrain sometime back.”

(“Cozy Donkey,” Swati Kurana, 2007, via NY Arts.)

From NY Arts profile of Swati Kurana:

I see myself as very loose, disorganized, and cluttered with my artistic process. I’m a collector, so I have too much stuff, too much music, too many tear sheets, too many journals, too many plastic flowers, too many hard drives with too many images and movie files. But I keep it all, because I hold onto a piece of text, a source image, or song that I want to incorporate in a piece. It often gets shelved for a while, until another text or image or song comes up that complements the first one, and then I ferociously work to complete it.

Although I respect artists with a singular vision, artists that paint from life or doggedly pursue a discrete theme expressed in a wash of watercolors, variations on one idea, I’m much more an eclectic; I always love reading about other artists working across media, jumping from branch to branch as the wind blows through the trees …

Really interesting report, “Eviction Slip,” at Guernica Mag site. The author, Mark Dowie, touches on the human cost of conservation, explaining how adivasis are being displaced to preserve forest or other land for wildlife. A brief excerpt:

In early 2005, a national debate erupted in India over the future of its national animal, the Royal Bengal Tiger. Media reports of a “tiger crisis” led to the creation of several “Project Tiger” sanctuaries around the country. As one might expect, the sides taken on the status and protection of tigers were, on the one hand, wildlife conservationists intent upon saving a truly magnificent species from extinction, and on the other, anthropologists and tribal activists intent upon preserving the cultures of tribal people, 325,000 of whom still live inside the core and buffer zones of tiger reserves. …

Gujjars [a traditional grazing community] and tigers have coexisted in Sariska [a wildlife reserve] for thousands of years. The decline in tiger population is a consequence of development—large dams, iron mines and the shifting appetites of distant elites—not the lifeways of forest dwellers whose habitats have likewise been threatened by the same phenomena. “Why then punish one victim to save the other?” asks Indian historian Ramachandra Guha.

In almost every respect, the relocation of Gujjars was badly planned and executed, and evictees were compensated at unbearably low rates. Those relocated inside the forest still had access to firewood, water and livestock fodder. But for years they faced an uncertain future about the permanence of their new residence. Some evictees have returned to their original villages in search of better soil and water, forsaking schools, clinics and other amenities built in relocation communities. The outcome, in a word, has been chaos. However, relocation has continued despite the real threat of pushing another traditional community into utter destitution, while accomplishing next to nothing for endemic wildlife.

Little-known fact: surly old T was a varsity cheerleader for a number of years in high school. Her caboose was loose, and her team was boom dynamite, and even when a rival high school burned the words “white trash” in 20-foot letters on her alma mater’s football field, she kept high kicking.

But even she is skeptical of the Washington Redskins’ stunt to cobble together a cheer squad for a new cricket side in India, as reported by Tunku Varadarajan in today’s Times op-ed section. And though I find the idea objectionable, I do like Varadarajan’s take on things:

Inevitably, moral scolds — of which India, as a society, has a surplus — will write letters to the editor complaining about the vulgarity/anti-Indianness/neocolonialism of the cheerleaders. It is conceivable, too, that there will be demonstrations outside the cricket stadium by women’s groups and Hindu fundamentalists.

All this, however, pales when compared to the broader lessons. With the Redskins cheerleaders on Indian soil, one can safely declare that the British cultural influence in India has been entirely replaced by an American one, cricket notwithstanding. India’s relationship with the United States — economic, strategic, diasporic and cultural — is now its primary external alliance, with a complex nuclear deal at one end of the spectrum and 12 cheerleaders and two choreographers at the other.

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The miracle baby that was saved after falling through an Indian train’s toilet was just the tip of the iceberg: Now there’s another miracle baby in India, a child born with two faces and four eyes. IBNLive reports that some are now worshiping the girl as a god.

Cool piece in the Indian Express on a tribe that’s gone from subsisting on sales of pulses to positioning the coffee it grows as a brand symbolizing sustainable development in emerging markets:

The foundation helped the around 8,000 tribals of the valley organise themselves into the Small and Marginal Farmer Mutually-Aided Cooperative Society, with support from the Green Development Foundation of the Netherlands, and assisted them in setting up a coffee processing plant with machinery imported from the UK.

The Tribal Cooperative set up by the farmers happens to be the only cooperative in the country to have both fair trade and organic trade certification.

Although the tea culture in India seems much more entrenched than the coffee culture, there’s a surprisingly long coffee tradition:

So I was watching network TV today, which I rarely do (I usually save my TV watching for the weekend and catch up on NBC.com, &c.), and a commercial for Vitamin Water that featured Kelly Clarkson came on.

“Oooh! K-dawg! You’re muh girl! I wanna break away!”

She looks awesome and cute, but the commercial is utter tripe — and not only because the product she’s shilling is, at best, utterly unnecessary. I think it’s supposed to be a spoof of German talk shows (?!), and the host is like, “Rock und roll! I hear you’re into trying new things! Like India!” And then Kelly’s all “Yes! I wanted to learn to be a snake charmer!” and the host honks “Rock and roll!” and then we cut to a guy dressed up kind of like one of those monkeys that wear fezes, and he’s playing a tiny piano, and he’s in … brownface?

Oh, India. More than a billion people, and the American media would have you believe that all of them fall into neat categories like (1) gurus/godmen, (2) starving peasants, and (3) tech geniuses.

Oh, those people in the Third World: “Hitler, Frankenstein in Meghalaya assembly” (Times of India)

This is, of course, not to overlook the idiotic folk who got tattoos of Chinese characters (that they couldn’t themselves read) on their asses. Or to forget that our language translates funny into other languages, as well — today I learned that in Punjabi, the word for turd is quite similar to the English name Linda.

(Photo by Tom Maisey, licensed under Creative Commons on Flickr.)

There are still government-authorized bhang (a derivative of cannabis) shops in India (like the storied shop in Jaisalmer), but fewer people are probably aware that certain states sanction the sale of opium. The Indian Express discusses the politics surrounding Gujarat’s decision to license opium but bar the sale of alcohol.

It’s certainly a different tack than that taken by the U.S. government and its wasteful, ill-conceived War on Drugs. (Link to AEI report, “Are We Losing the War on Drugs? An Analytic Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy.”) Better or worse? Lacking better evidence, it’s tough to say — but it’s hard to imagine we could do worse than we are now.

Recent woman-friendly news from the subcontinent:

  • “Female condom for Rs 5 in India” (Times of India) — “Union Health Minister A. Ramadoss said: ‘When a male partner refuses to wear a condom, women need self-initiated methods to protect themselves against unplanned pregnancies and HIV/AIDS.'”
  • “Women force liquor shops closure” (Times of India) — “The women folk in Akurdi had a reason to rejoice on Sunday as their long-pending demand of closing down two liquor joints — one a country liquor shop and the other a wine shop — had been granted by the district collector. The women had been conducting relentless campaigns against the shops as they were causing nuisance in the area for the past several years. Their efforts bore fruit when the two shops were sealed by the excise department on Saturday night on the directives of the district collector.”
  • “Indian families offered cash to stop abortion of girl foetuses” (The Independent) — “India has launched a dramatic initiative to stop the widespread practice of poor families aborting female foetuses by offering cash incentives for them to give birth to the girls and then bring them up.”

 

So, in addition to drinking gallons of tea and reading so much my head might soon explode, I like to knit and sew, and I’ve recently gotten interested in learning to embroider. There are some great places to do so online (such as the Stitching Cow and Sublime Stitching), but I just came across a tutorial for shisha mirrorwork. The writer also suggest substituting tiny mirrored pieces with coins, shells, and what appear to be pieces of aluminum cans, which is totally cool and innovative!

Shisha seems to have originated in the subcontinent or Central Asia, and there are great illustrations of Pakistani and Indian embroidery at Quilter’s Muse. Of all the varieties, I’m most interested in phulkari (probably because my husband/extended family is Punjabi) — but for the life of me, I can’t find instructions or patterns for the craft. This is likely because it’s handed down through generations, a tradition woven into the life of the village, not something commodified and exported for indiscriminate consumption, and maybe it’s crass to think I could learn to do it without an apprenticeship of several years with a Punjabi granny. Nevertheless, it seems like the Internet could offer guidance toward online repositories of related info. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

The Times of India reports, “[a] survivor-against-all-odds baby, the 1.4 kg girl … had a delivery through her mother’s womb into the toilet bowl of a running train and then right onto the tracks.” Nearly unintelligible prose notwithstanding, holy moley. That’s way more riveting than Georgia the subway cat.

A group in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India, just set the world record for the largest tea party — 32,000 people gathered for a ritual cuppa, breaking the record previously set in Japan.

“From an industrialist to the man on the street, a cup of tea is a major bonding factor in India,” said Sanjay Mani, general manager of the Dainik Bhaskar newspaper, which helped arrange the event.

Darjeeling, anyone?

A piece by Salman Rushdie, “The Shelter of the World,” ran in last week’s New Yorker, and while I didn’t find the story (a tale of Emperor Akbar and maybe-real, maybe-imaginary wife Jodha) as gripping as I have some of his work, one passage jumped out at me:

“The court was also full of foreigners, pomaded exotics, weather-beaten merchants, narrow-faced priests from the West, boasting in ugly, undesirable tongues about the majesty of their lands, their gods, their kings. When the Emperor showed her the pictures of their mountains and valleys they’d brought with them, she thought of the Himalayas and of Kashmir and laughed at the foreigners’ paltry approximations of natural beauty, their vaals and aalps, half-words to describe half-things. Their kings were savages, and they had nailed their god to a tree. What did she want with people as ridiculous as that?

They came in search of—what, exactly? Nothing of use. If they had possessed any wisdom, the inutility of their journeying would have been obvious to them. Travel was pointless. It removed you from the place in which you had a meaning, and to which you gave meaning in return by dedicating your life to it, and spirited you away into fairlylands where you were, and looked, frankly absurd.

Not sure whether it’s happenstance or by calculation, but Rushdie’s not the only person who’s got something to say about the erstwhile emperor. Jodhaa Akbar, a Bollywood flick billed as “a sixteenth-century love story about a marriage of alliance that gave birth to true love between a great Mughal emperor, Akbar, and a Rajput princess, Jodhaa,” debuted on February 15 and has been in the news ever since, not least because its historical accuracy has been called into question. The Times gave it a fairly good review, but people in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Sonepat, and Ambala will have to wait for pirated VCDs of Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Cecil B. DeMille-esque grasp of cinematic grandeur.

The Times of India offers a fairly good precis of recent controversies related to Bollywood releases; the Hindustan Times also chimes in with analysis of the phenomenon.

Mass hysteria, the making of a mountain out of a molehill? Or a microcosm of a deep sense of unrest about (historical and contemporary) identity in India? I can’t say that I have any answers, or even insight. But Bollywood — and artistic expression, disciplined studies or street-level outpourings — does, however, seem like an important vehicle for understanding the subcontinent; I certainly find it, and the way people in the middle class interact with it, more enlightening than figures from the World Bank about the economy’s growth.

Additional links:
Bollywood literacy for the 1990s and today, a Berkeley course coordinated by Leena Kamat and Katherine Good
Hindi cinema: making meaning of a popular culture
Desi critics
Queering Bollywood
Bollywood as India’s cultural ambassador
Bollywood for the skeptical
Upperstall: a better view of Indian cinema
Bollywood fashion police
BollySpace 2.0
Beth loves Bollywood

“Indian Pink and Orange,” mixed media, Hermes spring 2008 advertisement and a 2005 photograph of a group of women pilgrims in Kovalam, Kerala.

 

The Times of India reports that it’s now as expensive to lease a flat in Mumbai as it is in NYC.  Nauzer Bharucha writes:

“A three-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side can be rented for about $5,000 to $8,000, or Rs 2 lakh-Rs 3.20 lakh a month. In Mumbai, a similar-sized apartment in any good building between central Mumbai and Bandra could cost as much, or even more, according to realty experts.  …

“The rental segment of the residential market is booming mainly because of expats and a large number of senior executives belonging to corporates setting up base in Mumbai,” claimed Joygopal Sanyal of Jones Lang Lasalle Megraj, a global property consultancy firm. According to him, large flats in south Mumbai could fetch upwards of Rs 10 lakh a month.”

This is bloody bonkers! I guess I got out of India at the right time ….