Indecent Exposure

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Valentine’s day is coming up. No this is not a Karan Johar—-Yash Chopra movie promotion. This means everywhere in India, frustrated right wing ladies and gentlemen (as well their extreme left-winger compatriots) will take to the streets and try to vandalize shops selling Valentine’s days cards and intimidate couples celebrating Feb 14th. Now I am all for taking down valentine’s day which I consider nothing but a part of a larger obscene capitalist-Judaic conspiracy (this nexus has been blamed for 9/11, the Tsunami and most things in recent history so why not this?) to make money by generating a need where none should exist. Why cant a simple “I love you” do ? Why the need for an elaborate card with cheesy music and a profusion of the color red? Which brings me to an abiding mystery—why do love and communism share the same color? That I shall focus on in another post but here let me come to the point—that being the obsession with non-issues that the loony fringes of political opinion share.

In India the extreme ends of the political spectrum have always taken the role of the moral police, protecting the unwashed masses from the perils of debauchery. The Hindutva saffron police has gone after men in Tata Institute of Fundamental Research wearing shorts (male exposure is an issue I feel very strongly about–it should be banned), set fire to Archies card galleries (something which I do not endorse but fully understand) and stopped the “Kaanta-laga” girl from doing public performances because she wears low-rider jeans showing a bit of thong in the original music video (paraphrasing Sisco from the “Thong song”—it’s wrong, ra-wrong, ra-wrong ). Their most outrageous moral moment occurred when Sushma Swaraj became Information and Broadcasting Minister and informed us that newscasters on the staid state-run Doordarshan had been wearing transparent saris—something that she wanted to be stopped immediately. Do any of you recollect frustrated, hyper-hormonal young men flocking to watch the 8:40 “Samachar” to get an insider’s view of the day’s news? I am sure you do not cause it never happened. How do I know? Cause I was one of these young men and the 8:40 samachar was never on the top or even in the middle of our to-watch lists. Yet the same Atlases of morality promoted crotch-grabbing Wacko Jacko’s Mumbai concert———there was no obscenity there of course because the Bal Thackeray family (the most outrageous voice of the saffron brigade) were doing the event management.

The left is never left behind on these issues. They went after Kentucky Fried Chicken (now Kitchen Fresh Chicken…..if there can ever be anything as kitchen fresh) which they felt was an instrument of imperialism ——-just imagine going upto a KFC drivethrough and being asked “How would you like your imperialism sir—classic or extra crispy?” When the Miss World contest was held in India the leftists formed the first line of defense against the commodization of the female form—–preventing tickets from being sold and in general causing such a nuisance that the swim suit round has to be shifted to Mauritius. The leftists——god when will they get the point? What they should have done is campaign to keep the swimsuit round in India and kick the idiotic question-answer round to some other country——-after all who watches Miss World for those rehearsed hypocritical answers and flashing of the pearly whites?

Now listen to me soldiers of both brigades. I want to make my own choices. If I am brain-dead enough to watch a non-event like a beauty pageant, you have no right to stop me from doing so. If my wife really expects me to buy her a card and waste my money and I do so, you have no right to stop me from being hen-pecked. Is the freedom of the individual in a free society too much for you people to understand? I am an adult and I like my newscasters in gossamer thin saris ——-can you read my lips or as the “Kaanta Laga” girl would say can you read my hips?

So what has prompted my latest outburst? A bunch of Islamic fundamentalist stiff shirts have gone about defacing and vandalizing “obscene” advertisements in UK——-it’s the same thing a constituent of the loony left in Bengal called SUCI (god knows what they stand for) used to do to “A” rated posters in Kolkata (mostly dubbed Southie movies starring Silk Smitha or Disco Shanti or Nylon Nalini) . Aah when will they ever learn?

I wish I could tell all these people, the homegrown as well as the London ones what Robin Williams in “Good Morning Vietnam” says to his superior: “You’re in more dire need of a blow job than any white man in history! “. I wish I could say that but then again I do not want the fellowship of morality painting a black blob on your screen.

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Gentlemen of the class of 2005

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So you have gotten admission to a US university for a MS/PhD. Great job dude. What follows are the real survival tips that you, a desi Indian male graduate student, will need to know in order to have a fruitful social life here in US. You will not find this in any study guide or counseling class . However if for some reason, you wish to lead a frustrated life wallowing in self-pity and loathing then this is not for you. For the rest, read on.

1. Have Realistic Expectations: Forget what your mom told you. The single white female is not waiting here with her web spun with the express intention of ensnaring you with her wiles. No matter how much you want to be trapped. Life in US is not spring break in Cancun as you saw on MTV—-thou shall never get to party on the sands…..spring break will be the time you shall be catching up on your assignments and programming projects.

2. Wild Parties in USA: Inherently tied up to Point Number 1. A desi graduate student party is vastly different from the undergraduate dorm parties you dreamt of and you will see “firangs” having. Your parties can be wild of course but not in the pleasant sense of the term. There will be about 15-20 guys who will sit on the couch (and the floor) basically looking at each other with nothing to do and nothing much intelligent to say. The girls who will come (if at all ) shall leave early because they have a call from India coming. They will usually have nothing stronger than a beer. Then it is all upto you guys—-get drunk, puke, abuse each other, watch some optically hued movies——basically the same thing that you did back in India during a hostel party when you were an undergrad. Nothing special about USA there. Do not expect great things. Else frustration awaits.

3. Start Early: Yes we all know it. All of us have felt it. Away from home in US lonely ..our mind turns towards the opposite sex—-ie females. Desi females to be precise. But one thing you should never forget and that is the law of supply and demand. There will be few of them and more of you. In other words a whole lot of competition. So a first step is to start early in the game. When you are coming to the US, scour the mailing lists for attractive names—try to schedule your journey together so that both of you are at the same European stop over for a few hours (try to go the HumTum way minus the kiss). Remember that once you alight on the shores of USA, the Indian graduate student association hounds will swoop down on the female population picking up their luggage, driving them to housing, taking them to groceries and in general try to ingratiate themselves with the ladies as much as they can. They shall have their own vehicles there…you shall have none. So try to wrest the advantage as early as possible.

4. Learn To Cook : I am sure your mother gave you this advice. So am I but for a different reason. The way to a graduate Indian ladies heart is through her stomach. I have seen this time and again—–the best way to meet girls is to cook every night and call them over. Make different things everyday—girls do not like the same thing every night (food that is) and if you get monotonous or take your eye of the ball then she can just go to another desi rasoi ..sorry graduate student’s house.

5. Learn to Drive: You cannot survive in USA without having your own vehicle and driving. Cannot survive socially that is. In order to keep your social life active frequent drives to the grocery are a must. Also essential are trips to the mall, the Indian store, the 10 o’clock screening of Swades and oh of course to the train station and/or airport. Dropping her off at her uncle’s place in New Jersey counts for bonus points.

6. Be Careful of Chatting: For the socially challenged, bad cooks and lousy drivers this is the easy way out. Create an id like nystud2k4 and prowl the chat rooms with an “a/s/l” on your fingers. While people have been known to get lucky by following this path, it is fraught with land mines. Most of the people (almost all) the people in the chat rooms are guys like yourself including the ones who say they are 22/female/India…..for some strange reason when guys do not “get” girls they start pretending to be girls perhaps in an attempt to feel empowered , at least in the cyber world. Whatever maybe the dark motivation, be reconciled to the fact that the person you are exchanging sweet nothings (or even steamier stuff) with is a man. And pray that it is not someone who you know from college——–else be prepared to have your innermost secrets and fantasies broadcast on your college alumni mailing group. In conclusion, if there is anything in the cyber world which seems too good to be true then it usually is.

7. Lead the Community: As mentioned before , the desi graduate student leaders always get a head start in the game by virtue of getting all the right mails from the right people. So in case you missed Point No 2 then make up for it the next year. Needless to say, ladies like leaders.

8. Be Careful Of How You Are Perceived: The kiss of death for your romantic pursuits vis a vis a particular lady is for her to consider you a “rakhi brother”—–rakhi brothers are people who have been defeated but decorated for their attempt—–a kind of Param Vir Chakra without the glory. Avoid it like the plague.

9. Act Refined: Think cool…think Bond. Even if you like to drink till you drop, act temperate. If you like to hum “Tere Baap Ko Maine Dekha Bandra Station” say you like Jagjit Singh and Carnatic music. If you adore N Sync and Britney Spears, swear by Guns N Roses and Black Sabbath. You get the picture…

10. Always Be Positive: You will win some and lose mostly. But the trick is always to extract the positive and see it as a process of learning. Which is why you are here in the first place. Let me conclude with a story of mine—when I was a second year PhD I took a programming intensive course with a bunch of freshly arrived ladies from India—and no that was not the motivation. The word had gone around (with some help from yours truly) that I was good at programming. The course needed a knowledge of C++ as a pre-requisite —-a language that the girls did not know. Neither did I but when one of the girls, whom I had a fancy for, came and asked me to help her with C++, I pretended to know it inside and out and offered to do an intro session next day evening. That entire night and the whole day I sat with Stroustrup ( the C++ Bible) in hand learning C++ myself, doing practice problems—-I have never learnt so fast as I did in those magical 24 hours. The next evening the girl concerned attended my session and the day after next she dropped the course. She was soon going around with someone else but no that’s not the point. The point is that I had learnt C++ in 24 hours—–there was no way of God’s earth I could have learnt it that quickly otherwise. So what do I care if she was gone, I still had my C++ ! It was indeed the start of a “beautiful friendship”.

My Kingdom For A Laugh

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This has to be it. The funniest movie I have seen in a long time. What madeit really funny was that the movie was not meant to be so—–farthest from it. But the more posturous and pedantic it got the more it reduced itself to farce. I would have understood if the movie had a bad plot—–in that case the director and story-writer can at least share the blame. Here the director had an epic legend in his hand, a mostly true story of unparalleled drama and scope……yet he blew it. And what a blow it is ! There are very few movies which can make “Asoka” look passable ———Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” manages that distinction.

One of the things I kept on thinking as I endured through the three odd hours of this celluloid abuse was “how could the studio execs let this pass?” Ok lets assume Oliver Stone was stoned but then is not there any other creative control at Warner Bros which should have said No no no and no ? This movie is appalling but what’s even more appalling is that someone (and quite a few people too) actually felt there was nothing wrong in this movie. What were they thinking?

Why was Angelina Jolie, Alexander’s snake-worshipping pagan mother, speaking with a fake Russian accent—which creative brain came up with that subtle touch ? Why were there so many blind men in the entire story, each of them blinded in the same eye in the same way——-were there any group discounts available? Why are there scenes inspired from Braveheart—–the same battle speech delivered with a moving horse, identical death scenes and the same “I see dead people” (if you have seen the movie you know what I am talking about)? Why was Alexander so tortured –what really was his problem with his mother? What were his motivations for going on a world tour? It is not as if the director does not attempt to answer these questions—-in fact his entire movie is about the twisted workings of Alexander’s mind but even after so much time dealing with these issues we got no answer. What we get instead is Collin Farrel hamming, Angelina Jolie doing a KGB agent impersonation, Rosario Dawson doing a Jamaican accent (she hails from Persia according to the plot), and a whole lot of “pretty” boys dancing seductively.

And there is where Alexander is elevated from a purely abysmal movie to a farce. The director wants to show that Alexander is gay——half of the movie is about “analyzing” (no pun there) how homesexual he was. Why his “gaiety” was important I do not know but it sure made for some unintentional humor. In case you have not seen the movie (and trust me you have saved three hours of your life) then Alexander is seen having “feelings” for Hephaestion, his childhood friend—-making for some romantic moments which bordered on softcore gay porn (let me stress that I have no idea of gay porn—never watched it in my life—just extrapolating from heterosexual porn–not that I see that also) . Cliched romantic music playing in the background and Collin Farrel and Jared Leto (first getting dumped by Cameron Diaz for Justin and then this) passionately exchanging terms of endearment (stay with me tonight) —–something about that scene totally cracked me up (and the rest of the audience)—–somehow it seemed to be a parody of all such scenes ever made.

Another source of sniggers was an androgynous Persian “girlie-man” dancer who accompanies Alexander and at whom he is always throwing lustful glances……somehow in the context of empires falling and history changing, a neutered person giving the emperor a lapdance just did not cut it. What was hypocritical was that this gay behavior was just to tease the audience—–it seems the director was not comfortable showing Alexander as gay but was beating about the bush conveying the message in as many ways as he can without actually putting his finger on the issue (mm that may not have been the best metaphor in this context). This led to Alexander becoming a movie manifestation of the “ambiguously Gay Duo” from Saturday Night Live.

The dialogues were cheesy often seeming like verbatim extracts from a gay version of Mills and Boons . Alexander when he was a child was defeated by his to-be gay lover Hephaestion. Antony Hopkins as Ptolemy in the voice over, in all seriousness ( I do not know how he could say this without cracking up himself) says of this incident: Alexander was said to have been defeated only once, by the thighs of Hephaestion. Touche

In passing what’s the deal about American popular culture and its refusal to acknowledge India’s contribution to world civilization? Firstly they like to think that the Incas invented zero (some say Arabs) , the Buddhists in China invented Yoga ( a Time article about Yoga did not carry the name of India once)——-and now the famous “I wish to be treated as a king” ( a line spoken by an Indian king called Puru) was ascribed to the Persian princess. And India was shown as a land of monkeys and Indians referred to as monkey-men who worshipped “strange gods”. Puru is of course totally ignored in the movie…..which may have been good——I would have felt squeamish seeing Alexander ogling our king.

Watch Alexander either as a guide to what a movie should not be or else watch it for its unintentional comedy. Better still stay at home and watch back to back episodes of the reality show “Who’s your daddy?” It will be a much more intellectually satisfying exercise.

The Tale of Two Caps

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Item Number 1: Worldhelp is a Christian aid agency that has launched a massive initiative to “help” Indians affected by the Tsunami. This is an excerpt from one of their documents.

More than one billion Indian people are lost in spiritual darkness and idol worship. 50% of the worlds unreached people groups are in India. North India is the least-reached area of the world. Less than one person in a thousand is a believer in Jesus Christ. 175 million people live in just one state in North India (if it were a separate country, the state of Uttar Pradesh would be the 5th largest nation in the world). The North Indian State of Uttar Pradesh is considered the home of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, but has not given a home to the Gospel. In Allahabad, the holiest city in Hinduism, 60 million Indians gathered recently for the Hindu Kumbh Mela celebration. They come to the banks of the Ganges River in the false hope that the rivers polluted waters will wash away their sins. Animal carcasses, trash, sewage, and filth are everywhere, and yet Hindus come hoping for salvation. No one has ever told them that it is not the filthy waters of the River Ganges, but the shed blood of Jesus Christ that washes away our sin.

Item Number 2 Jet-set Christian evangelist K A Paul , who proudly points out that he owns the only privately-owned 747 jet after the President of USA, comes to India with all the condescension of a true-blue white European missionary (despite the fact that he is India-born) and his first (and only) initiative is to catch hold of Tsunami orphans and send them to an orphanage he has established. The motivations are obvious: the orphans are ripe for conversion.

Item Number 3 In Andhra Pradesh, India, a plan is developing to build “Christian communities” to replace destroyed seashore villages. In a dispatch that the evangelical group Focus on the Family posted on its Family.org Web site, James Rebbavarapu of India Christian Ministries said a team of U.S. engineers had agreed to help design villages of up to 400 homes each, “with a church building in the center of them.” (Source)

The misery scavengers are here. In big numbers. With deep pockets and a fervent desire to cleanse the country of the scourge of Hinduism. In the process they undermine the very genuine work done by organizations that follow the Red Cross/Crescent code of conduct that requires among other things that aid ” not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint.”

So the question is should the government of India (following some other countries) refuse aid and prevent the operations of evangelical organizations that do not follow the Red Cross/Red Crescent code of conduct?

Putting on my rational hat, I think no. Because we are a democratic secular republic, the Government of India (GOI) has no right to ban or prevent any religious activity. As I argued before in one of my posts, it does not have the right to prevent aid from reaching its citizens—a person who has lost everything could not care less for the motivations of those that provide him help. In any case, it should remain his personal choice whether he chooses to accept the offered aid knowing the consequences of accepting ( possible conversion) or refuse it — the government should not make the choice for him.

Conversions in India have always gone hand in hand with the church providing incentives (food, shelter, education) for maginalized sections of Indian Hindus. For many Hindus it has been the only way of getting rid of the “lower caste” label they would otherwise eternally carry . Conversion, in this context, was a nothing more nor less than a contract between two parties— the person who got converted got something in return. In any case, if our Hindu religion cannot take care of its weakest members, then we should not be crying ourself hoarse when someone siphons them off with inducements .

Firmly under control of my cynical cap, I feel: “what does it matter what religion you are?” All I care is if I am getting fed and clothed—if there is some religion that does it for me then I am all for it. If today Pepsi came to me and said that they would give me 100,000 bucks for which I would have to proclaim everyday for the rest of my life that Coke is evil—hell I would do it. What 10,000 bucks I would even do it for an iPod. What do I care? Both Coke as well as Pepsi are bad for my health—so what does it matter which one I have ? Same it is with religion.

A voice in my head says: But hey isnt religion supposed to be different? Is not religion supposed to be about soul and spirit and conviction of the heart ? I know the evangelists believe or like to believe that they convert people on the strengths of their argument and the power of the Gospel but the fact that they come in during disasters is ample testimony to the fact that they know that this is nothing but a business transaction—You really could use some help right now so here let me help you—in return you give me your soul. Ok question answered………religion is not different from the Cola wars.

Now taking off my rational cap, I put my emotional cap on. My emotions driven by my identity—my Hinduness and everything else that makes me what I am. When I hear my religion (not that I follow it much) being spoken off in such derogatory terms, when India is presented as a filthy, “dark” place that is in need of being saved by these “exclusive” possessors of “truth”—-all I want to do is stomp on my rationality cap. When I see evangelical websites carrying caricatures of Kali and gross misrepresentations of my religion and my country, my gut reaction becomes : ” We shall not let you do business in our country”.

And this is the point where Coke and Pepsi become different from Hinduism and Christianity. I was not born Pepsi or Coke—I however was born a Hindu. When you insult Hinduism, you insult me, my ancestors, my tradition and my heritage. You can do that from in whichever country you are in but no not in my country. This is where I feel the GOI should intervene and not let these people do what they want to on our land. The person who has lost everything and the orphan who is not even an adult (and legally unable to take a decision) have to be protected from bartering away their identity under duress. Just like sex with an underage individual is deemed rape because the underage person is not capable of taking an informed decision, so is trying to convert these people criminal because they are not in a position to take a rational decision.

At this moment of time, these people have to be protected. Our policy should be : “If you want to come here out of the goodness of your heart and your Christian spirit then you are more than welcome. But if you have come here scavenging for emotional and financial floatsam, then sorry there’s the door .”

Wearing proudly my emotion cap, I gingerly pick up my dust laden cynical (liberal) cap and cautiously put it in my pocket. Maybe some other day.

[Links courtesy: Saumyadipta Pyne]

Three Movies Reviewed

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It’s been a long time I havent written about movies. So here now I make up for that by reviewing three movies I have seen recently.

Vaastu-Shastra

Boy ! I have got to stop watching movies. I have seen so many Hollywood movies in the last five years (when I was doing my PhD and had nothing better to do) that watching Hindi movies gives me a protracted sense of deja-vu—I can identify which scene is “inspired” (copied) from which English movie. Of course I will accept there is a fundamental unfairness here…when Quentin Tarantino does it to Sergio Leone it is called “paying tribute” and oooh-ed and aah-ed when our home-grown desi bhailog do it to all Hollywood it is called “copying” and pooh-pooh-ed. One such movie is “Vaastu-Shastra”— Bollywood’s new trend of classy horror movies (“classy” as opposed to the campy terrorfests of the 80s directed by India’s answer to Ed Wood—-the Ramsay brothers.)

Directed by Ram Gopal Verma (whose production house helmed the much better “Darna Mana Hain” ) “Vaastu Shashta” is the story of a happy couple (Chakrabarty and Sushmita Sen ) who move into a haunted house with their wholesome looking kid and wife’s sister (who seems to be inspired by the MMS Dhamaka thing –see the movie to find out why). Everything is predictable as hell and the only fun for me was to find out all the “tributes”— the ” I want some peace and quiet” writer and the red bicycle from “the Shining”, the “They are here” from Poltergeist, the flies buzzing from ” the Amityville Horror”, the whitened emaciated faces from “the Grudge”, the ending from “Thriller”and “Evil Dead”, the ghosts catching fire from countless vampire movies like “Blade” and “Vampires”. What remains of the movie must have similarly been inspired by flicks I miraculously have yet to see.

Still it was much better than the intolerable “Bhoot” (RGV’s previous botched attempt) and had I not been such a seasoned “been there done that” horror aficionado, I could conceivably have been scared. What however really made the hair on the back of my neck stand up was the hyperactive overacting from Rajpal Yadav——-to see a talented actor like him hamming to high heavens was indeed horrifying.

Swades

So you have made a movie that has created history, set new box office records, become the first Indian cross-over film of recent times ——what do you do next? Ramesh Sippy could never recreate the magic of “Sholay”—the rest of his career produced duds of the magnitude of “Zamana Deewana” (with the honorable exception of the marvelous “Shakti” which nevertheless was a disappointment at the box office) . With this in mind, the big question was what would “Lagaan” boy Ashutosh Gowariker do for his next movie—-would he up the ante or go down in flames?

He does neither and makes a middling movie—Swades. It could have been much better —for once it had Shahrukh Khan doing a real good job of acting (after centuries) , an engaging story line and of course AR Rehman. And it had himself in the director’s chair—a man of no small talent. (Well mmm he made “Baazi ” too ) . Yet Ashutosh Gowariker tries to make a movie with the express desire of winning an Oscar ; attempting to fit “Swades” into the “right” formula that has historically been known to gel with the Academy voters. In the process he ends up with an unappealing, extended yawnfest which has all the excitement of a 80’s Doordarshan primetime documentary—the basket weavers of Kumaon. It need not have been so —engaging movies about social change in villages (“Manthan” comes to mind) have been made in the past. But here, Gowariker goes on sermonizing with the subtlety of a sledge hammer poking viewers in the eye with the message till we want to cry out –” Yes yes we got it already”. The message is noble, the acting is good (Shahrukh Khan without his mannerisms) but regrettably Swades does not work as a movie.

Musafir

Oh yeah baby. Sanjay Gupta, Mahesh Manjrekar and Sanjay Dutt. I always think of them as three stooges getting wasted in a Nasik hotel room and groveling , via cell phone, in front of a mafia don 10,000 miles away. Here of course Sanjay Gupta, the man who directed Kaante and who shamelessly copies Hollywood, is holding the camera and Mahesh Manjrekar and Sanjay Dutt are in front of it. This time Sanjay Gupta’s video library has thrown up “U-turn” and so , with the predictability of a well-oiled machine, out comes the Bollywood version “Musafir”.

Is it any good? One word. Yes. Suitably Indianized and stylized, Musafir is good entertainment. It’s not clean entertainment of course—after all this is a Sanjay Gupta movie where foul language, leering camera angles and shocking violence is expected. Sanjay Gupta is India’s Tarantino—-he makes copying look good. He did it with Kaante and he does it here again. The look and the feel of the movie is so vastly different from the ordinary Hindi movie—yes I know we have seen this in Kaante but the monochrome lens filter, handycam shots and all the “cool tricks” are out of the bag once again and to good effect.

Anil Kapoor, the luckiest actor alive, having played romantic roles opposite generations of heroines is at it again as the hero—Lucky. Opposite him is my personal favorite, the Sultan of style—Sanjay Dutt ( I am sounding like a teenage girl here) who explodes onto each frame playing the role of Billa—the most memorable Hindi movie villain after Gabbar. The dialogues are raw and crackling with the heat of the Goa sun, the camera work dizzying and at the cost of repeating myself Sanjay Dutt straddles the screen like a colossus.

A lot of people wont like this movie—especially the Humtum/Veer Zara/Main Hoon Na crowd but thank heavens there is at least one guy left in Bollywood who makes movies for guys ! The abiding image of Musafir shall be Koyena Mitra seducing Anil Kapoor while washing his Porsche while Mr Barber’s Dream, as old as the hills, relaxes with a Cheshire-cat smile of contentment. Oops he did it again—with another generation of heroines….pure bliss……..

The Rat-Eaters

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Well could they have done it to an African American? Could they have done it to a Mexican? Could they have done it to a Jew? And even if they had done so, would the FCC (the regulating body of US media) have allowed them to get away with it ? What I am referring to is the shocking incident of racism that was allowed to air on Power99 , Philly’s premier hip-hop channel. I quote from Rediff where I first read about this.

US RJs threaten Indian BPO worker

Arun Venugopal in New York | January 11, 2005 11:12 IST

An abusive call made by two prominent radio jockeys to a call centre in India has outraged listeners and prompted demands for the duo’s resignation.

The live call, made during the Philadelphia-based morning show of RJs Star and Bucwild, ended with one of the RJ’s repeatedly calling the female call centre employee a ‘bitch’ and a ‘rat eater’ and threatening to choke her.

Star, whose real name is Troi Torain, initiated the call under the pretext of inquiring into an order he had placed for a product known as ‘Quick Beads’, hair beads marketed primarily to girls outside the black community (Star and Bucwild are black). Midway through the call, Star became aggressive with the call centre representative, Steena.

Star: This call has been outsourced to India?

Steena: That’s right.

Star: Well, ma’am, what the eff would you know about an American white girl’s – uh, uh – hair, and quick beads?

Steena: Just to inform you, ma’am, we’re a national chain services company. And we’re just taking calls on the opposite.

Star: Listen, bitch! Don’t get slick with the mouth! Don’t you get slick with me, bitch!

Steena: Now if you continue to speak this language, I will disconnect the call.

Star: Listen to me, you dirty rat eater. I’ll come out there and choke the eff out of you (laughter).

Star: You’re a filthy rat eater. I’m calling about my American six-year-old white girl. How dare you outsource my call? Get off the line, bitch (laughter, applause, end of call).

This is not the first time the RJ’s have provoked listeners. In 2001, after the death of the R&B singer Aaliyah, their show attempted to make light of the tragedy by playing the sound effect of a plane crashing, along with the sound of a woman screaming.

That segment, according to some reports, drew as many as 80,000 signatures to a petition and led to the duo being fired from their station at the time, New York’s Hot 97 FM. Their latest segment has inspired a number of bloggers and online activists to rally against Star and Bucwild, initiating a letter-writing campaign to the station, WUSL-FM (Power 99), as well as to its corporate parent, Clear Channel, and the Federal Communications Commission, which monitors the broadcast media.

Although the station pulled the segment from their website, one blogger posted the audio file on his own website:

Another blogger posted the full transcript: http://www.edrants.com/reluctant/001697.html

In a form letter sent to some protesters, the station’s general manager, Richard Lewis, said the station did not condone the use of offensive language.

‘This situation has been discussed with the people in question and I am confident nothing of this nature will happen again,’ wrote Lewis. ‘I sincerely regret any discomfort this may have caused you or any friends and family.’

However, Lewis hasn’t agreed to either of the demands protesters were looking for: a public apology from the shock jocks or even their suspension.

‘Again I apologise to you personally for this and I understand your point of view,’ he wrote, in closing. ‘I do appreciate your taking the time to let me know your thoughts.’

I need not reiterate the offensiveness conveyed by the RJ’s filthy racism and threat of violence. What was alarming is the whole hearted applause among the studio audience and laughter (audible on the mp3) which shows that there were quite a number of people who found the exchange funny and quite “all right”. Even more alarming was the fact that this Richard Lewis guy brushes the incident off as a case of “offensive language” totally missing the point —-that about racism and the undeniable violence suggested by the RJ which is much more serious than an”on the air” profanity. As pointed out by the article there was no suspension and nothing much more serious than an off-the-cuff apology.

My question is the one posed at the beginning of the posting—could they have dared say that to an African-American bus driver or a Latino janitor without getting FCC and other organizations on their case? No. They would not even try. The reason they do it with Indians is that they know we, as a community in the US , are a group of big wusses. All the NRI’s hot air is reserved for their January attendance at the Pravasi extravaganza in Delhi when one by one these “success stories” regale the natives with their anecdotes of greatness. Yet in their adopted home, these “lawyers, surgeons and IT professionals” cower like sissies and are unable or unwilling to use the “economic and social might” they pompom on the podiums of Delhi.

Let’s look at an example— Vijay Amritraj. He emigrated to USA because like so many others he found more opportunities (financial) here. Which is absolutely fine. What is not fine is when he goes home and tries to convince others of his great patriotism (because he played Davis Cup matches oh wow) and how he raised the self esteem of Indians in US by winning Grand Slam tournaments. Oh wait….he did not win any ! How is that with such prominent people like the Amritraj brothers (who would convince you they are big league Hollywood players) and with so many Tom-Dick-and-Harry (sorry Ramaswamy-Ahmed-Devinder) doctors and IT gurus who claim to have the ears of the powers-that-be do we get racially insulted on radio ?

Many of the apologists (Indian) would claim that this is too small an issue for the Indian community to agitate against—-that by doing so we are giving respectability to the original insult–this is a standard publicity stunt of shock jocks–oh yeah right. All excuses to do nada. Despite being a major world religion and India being a major world power (or so we like to believe), the White House has only of late ( for 2 years) been celebrating Diwali and there too the adminstration sends very low ranking officials to the celebration while President Bush personally participates in Hanukkah, Id parties. This is the kind of clout our NRI superheroes exert on Capitol Hill.

It is very important not to consider the “rat eater” incident as too small an issue to agitate against. Its precisely these small things and our inability to react to them that make us easy prey to racist scum like the one in question. There are so many things we can do—-we all know that we, as a community, do have financial power . So let’s exercise it. Only writing letters wont help —we should collectively boycott the sponsors of that program and tell them why we are doing so. Howard Stern’s downfall came when sponsors pulled out support for his program…….that was the only language the studio execs understand. Cutting the purse strings is the only thing that gets them down to their knees. When the said RJ had once previously offended African-Americans with a skit on Aliyah’s death, he was suspended by the radio station. That time they took action and this time they did not because I am sure the head-honchos at the show have figured out that the advertising brownie points they would gain from people who actually like this shit far overshadows the few South-Asian (who in any case don’t buy anything…or so they think) they would lose. Let’s unbalance that equation.

Indians in US are a powerful community economically. India as a country is becoming more powerful with every passing year. All I am saying that it’s time we behaved in a manner befitting our position in American society. And that we can only do once we start winning these small battles. Or at the very least fighting them.

The World Is Not Enough….

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Indians are fools. Goddamn fools. (I am an Indian myself). And the same goes for the Zionists and the capitalist Americans. It is now common knowledge that 9/11 was a CIA-Zionist conspiracy—remember those Jews who didn’t show up for work ? With egg on its face and its shady machinations exposed you would think that the Zionists would mend their ways. But no. Now they have collaborated with the shady, nefarious, cowdung-loving, idol-worshipping Hindu state of India to cause this tsunami. You want proof. Here it is.

Al-Osboa (does the name sound familiar?), an Egyptian weekly in the inimical style we have come to expect from these vanguards of journalistic integrity, have found out that India exploded a nuclear device in the Indian ocean (with Jewish help of course) . India and the Jewish state have a remarkable confluence of ideals: “to exterminate mankind” —the fact that mankind also includes them is lost on these two paragons of stupidity. As an example of this, Al-Osboa points out India’s repeated insistence on carrying out nuclear tests in the Fire belt of tectonic activity—despite the warnings issues by the good folks from Turkey. We see a pattern here—the US conspiracy of 9/11 kills US citizens, the Indian experiment kills Indians……add to the fact that Kashmiri terrorists who kill Indians are actually Indian armymen in disguise (long ago I read an article in an unbiased paper which made this claim) and you have to wonder—–how dumb can Indians and Zionists be not to understand that the rest of the world has caught onto their game.

And the icing on the cake is that this idea is not even novel………”A View To a Kill ” (a Bond movie Al-Osaba must have in its video library) had an identical plan—to flood Silicion Valley by exploding oil wells on the San Andreas fault. And Lex Luthor, Superman’s arch enemy, had the same plan for the San Andreas fault–only he wanted to do it by exploding nuclear bombs. Bond and Superman of course foiled the plots but as well all know both of them are fictitious. This conspiracy however is not.

Politics of Charity

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The word “charity” has inherent in it the absence of ulterior motives or hope of benefit. ( I am of course speaking of an ideal situation, Christian missionaries by and large have always performed charity with a motive–conversion) Yet as we have seen in the aftermath of the Tsunami catastrophe, charity is being increasingly used as a means of publicity–it is not enough to be merely doing something but more important to be able to be seen doing so.

The charge leveled at the US by Jan Egeland, undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief for the UN, of being “stingy with aid” may be a bit harsh especially if one looks at the real figures. But if the objective was to stir the US administration to action, it succeeded in its intent. In an ideal world the US should not even have reacted to this statement and gone on doing what it intended to do with respect to Tsunami relief. But it did retort–Colin Powell and George Bush repeated “we are not stingy—we gave xyz dollars”, the US press touted figures showing how much more the US gives “effectively” (as a government and as individuals) than France and Germany (the conservative Press’s favorite whipping boys nowadays), Jeb Bush trooped off to the affected areas in a blaze of publicity (with an eye on Decision 08) —-humanitarian help became one more ring in the media and PR circus.

Sandra Bullock donates 1 million dollars (the same as for the 9/11 victims), Leonardo De Caprio gives blah amount….the list goes on. Now these are admirable gestures and the dollars are very welcome but what happened to silent charity and anonymous donations ? Why is everyone, people and governments alike, so struck up on using charity as a media exercise with the amount being donated directly proportional to popularity brownie points ?

One way to look at the issue positively is that many people or governments who otherwise would not have engaged in it or to a lesser extent go the full hog because of the PR brownie points . After all to many people what matters is the ends not the means. Or the motivations in this case. But the politics of charity work both ways: while it exalts the giver it somehow reduces the receiver. Case in point: the Indian government’s stance of not taking foreign aid even though we desperately need it. In its endeavor of not to be considered as a “victim” and a receiver, the Government of India seeks to disburse monetary and military help to other countries ignoring its own citizens in dire need.

The flip side of the politicization of charity is that those who contribute less are considered in poor light. Charity is not even “I gave. Ergo I am great”. It is now “I gave more than you. Ergo I am greater than you ” with the “you” continuously trying to up the ante in the game of “who gave the most”. (Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front –the dreaded JKLF–the grand daddy of terrorist organizations in Kashmir gave 100,000 ruppees as donation–which begs the question if their cohorts kill Indians by the dozen every month why are they even concerned for Indian Tsunami victims?The answer is tokenism.) The result is that people and government are not doing charity out of their own convictions but out of the fear of being considered “stingy”. If the means and the end are both important (that may be argued ), then this very public way of giving becomes a subversion of what lies at the heart of charity.

The Tsunami victims need money. But what they need even more is grassroots help and a long term plan. Many of the aid organizations (at least those working in India) have come up with long term rehabilitation and community building plans—not only with respect to financial allocation but with respect to how to actually do it. It would be interesting to see how many of the entities who are now falling over themselves to donate money are going to be there for the long haul where there will be no glamour or PR but only hard work and new ideas. I am afraid not many.

What Makes USA Great

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Here I was going to my parent’s place at Rochester, NY and stranded for the whole night at the Detroit Greyhound station (How that came to pass is another story I prefer to forget and hence I am not repeating). The bus terminal was mostly empty with the honorable exception of a stoned Hippie playing a bamboo pipe and an African American pimp-wannabe teenager “doing his thang”.

No there was someone else there. The janitor. Having nothing better to do I watched him as he performed his duties. It was 4 at night…as I mentioned before there was nobody around. Nobody to check what he is doing, how good he is cleaning, whether he is cleaning or whether he is there at all. And yet this man, once with a wet broom on the floor and then with a vacuum cleaner on the carpet went about his work with such patient determination and enthusiasm that you would think this was his own bedroom he was cleaning. There would be people pouring in at 6 when the buses came again dirtying the place up again…..if a supervisor came then he could just blame the dirt on the crowd. But no. No corner was missed, the broom and vacuum went under every chair, every bit of paper was put in the bins.

I could not imagine such a thing happening in India. There even with supervision people do not work…left to themselves they would not even show up. Both the Indian and the American janitor represent the lower rungs of financial strength in society—that American janitors have a better standard of living is just because of US’s greater prosperity. The thing to note is that their relative positions in society are the same—yet their work ethics are so vastly different. Indian janitors in India’s bus terminals would typically clean at much lesser frequencies (if at all) and do a perfunctory job while they were at it. If you, as a passenger, desired a clean toilet and managed to catch hold of the janitor ( a miracle in itself ) you would have to pay baksheesh (payment/tip) to get it cleaned. After all you need it — you pay for it. The fact that it was the janitor’s responsibility to clean the toilet in the first place is moot.

In all my years in US, this is the biggest difference I have seen with India. Common people, working class people have amazing work ethics—to them proper performance of their duties is sarcosant. Corruption exists in US too but at the highest levels–Washington DC, industry top bosses, upper echelons of law enforcement—but at the lower levels it is virtually non-existent. (exceptions of course are there) . Cops do not take bribes, driving tests do not require you to “financially gratify” the tester, files are not “lost” unless you grease the right palms. In India corruption and dereliction of duty is systemic–from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high everyone does it and is brazen about it too. We have a lot of holy cows in India—work is just not one of them.

Looking at the man working away on a cold winter night, I realized that I was looking at USA’s real asset—the honesty and commitment of its blue collar work force. We can copy a whole lot of Americanisms in India thanks to MTV but this is one thing we just cannot. Cause firstly MTV does not show janitors vacuuming. And secondly its too damn tough an act to follow. Much easier to dress up like Britney Spears.

No Aid Please, We Are Indians

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Unbelievable ! I am not only referring to the Tsunami and its consequent devastation but to the totally inept, politically headstrong, misguided (I am running out of adjectives here) policy of the Indian government to refuse foreign aid for dealing with the aftermath of the Tsunami in coastal India.

Here’s what we wanted to tell the world :” Look at us Ma no hands. We don’t need no help—-we are a superpower now . Not only don’t we need any help we will be giving out millions of rupees to Maldives, Sri Lanka and other small dominions in our sphere of influence—that’s how tough we are. Remember that when you expand the permanent members of the Security Council……….

Our brave (quixotic?) stance made the headlines in the Western media which incidentally is all that the Indian government really cared for. ( Of course this will have no effect on our membership at the Security Council or on our perceived position in the brotherhood of nations—-but that is a different issue altogether.) But at what cost has the GOI attained its objective? Read on.

Scene 1: A coastal village in Tamil Nadu a day or two after the tsunami. A victim tells Rediff that the district administration gave 4 sacks of rice (yes 4) to feed 20,000 displaced people ! And then it bribed some of the affected to lie to the visiting chief minister of the state as to the efficiency of the district administration.

Scene 2: In his blog India Uncut (also on Rediff) Amit Varma quotes Dr Narasimhan, one of the numerous volunteers at the scene of devastation who gives us the real picture of our government’s might.

All that the government has been doing is lining the streets outside with bleaching powder. They are not interested in coming here, they left this to the NGOs……………….Mani Shankar Aiyar, India’s petroleum minister, had announced on TV four days ago that such equipment was at the top of his wishlist of aid. Then why did it not materialise? Could the government not mobilise its resources even that much?………..
What we need now,” he (Dr Narasimhan) says, “is kerosene. We need to burn bodies as we come along them on this stretch, before they decompose further. And we have no kerosene.
“We’ve been calling aid agencies and so on asking for fuel to burn the bodies with,” he continues, “but we got none. We managed to file some cans of kerosene lying around some of the devastated houses, but there’s no more of even that?”
“But can’t the government give you kerosene?” I (Amit Varma) ask astonished.
“The government does nothing,” he says. “I thought differently till I came here, but now I’ve seen it for myself. Everything is left to the junior IAS officers, who are in meetings all day. Ministers come, and all they want to know is how many people are dead. They don’t care about relief work at all. In an unprecedented situation you need an unprecedented response. But that has not happened.”

Dr Narsimhan gets back to his work, and I look up, where a helicopter moves languidly across the sky. “That’s the fifth one today,” says a lady who is part of the doctor’s team.
“They come and ‘survey’ the area, which is so pointless, because you cannot actually see the dead bodies from here amid this debris. It is just a show, to reassure themselves that they’re on top of things. The army officers who come here, they refuse to even touch the bodies. They just hang around aimlessly.”

Very illuminating. And damning. Army officers do not touch dead bodies of Indians—and yet troop off to other countries to offer assistance. As Dr Narasimhan says: ” it’s all a show” with an eye to tell the world “Look we got everything under control.” When the real situation is exactly the opposite. So the logical question: why aren’t we hearing tales of government ineptitude in the Press ? Another volunteer (who herself is a journalist) throws light on this (from the same above article):

So why haven’t the press written about this, I ask her. “The press,” she snorts. “The journalists from the Hindu are all flying around with dignitaries. That is the kind of reporting they do.”

It’s time we faced the truth: we are not equipped to deal with this catastrophe on our own. A hundred call centers, a shopping mall, a Barista coffee shop do not constitute “development”— we are still very much a developing nation and do not have the infrastructure to deal with catastrophes on this scale. We are neither rich enough as a country to absorb quietly the shock of the financial consequences nor do we have the administrative muscle to do anything (except of course hover round in copters). Someone who has lost everything and everyone to the ocean does not really care for a permanent seat in the Security Council—-all he wants is relief. The least the government can do is to not prevent anyone from helping them. And even that the wise mandarins at Delhi have not managed to accomplish.

There are very few developed countries in the world which when faced with catastrophe on this scale could have performed effective disaster-recovery without external help. In that sense there would have been no shame as a nation in asking for help. Whether the world press thinks we are a regional superpower or a leaking hot-air balloon is irrelevant: the truth is that the government has let down its own people at a time when they needed the country the most. There can be no bigger shame than that.