“It’s My Duty To Help Them Out”

Desai Praying Going over a package on poverty in the New Jersey Herald News, completed a couple weeks ago by my friend and former classmate Tom Meagher, I just realized that Tom had done more than write policy analysis and work and live as a temporary laborer for a month–he had also profiled several more regular members of the working-class poor, including two immigrants. One is a Peruvian father and husband named Julio, who has left his family behind in Lima. The other is a 20-year old son named Priyank Desai, arrived from India at the age of 16 and determined to help out his family:

Every week, Priyank Desai carries his paycheck home to the Passaic apartment he shares with his family, sets it before a makeshift shrine and prays to his Hindu deity.

“No matter how much money I make by working hard, it will all belong to you.”

Only after praying will he cash the check, which usually amounts to no more than $80 for two days of temporary work. He gives half to his parents to help pay for phone cards to call their extended family left behind in India, and for rides to work. The rest he spends on movies or lunch. He also pays for transportation to classes at Passaic County Community College that he hopes will lead him to a career as a Spanish teacher.(Link)

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The new stereotypes

Both ‘Dilbert’ and ‘Doonesbury,’ two of the most popular comic strips in America, just ran desi topics on the same day. The new stereotypes: both kinder and more boring than the old.

As usual, India and first-genners loom larger on the cultural radar, at least among these blunt instruments of cultural critique, than the second gen:

Absent… personal interaction with South Asians, people’s perception of South Asia itself determines how they treat us. [Link]

Click the pictures see the full strips.

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Diwali Updates: Diwali Parking, India 2.0, Congressional Legislation

Over a month ago, we reported that New York City was considering issuing a parking holiday in deference to the Diwali holiday on November 1. While New York’s Committee on Transportation unanimously approved the motion, it was rumored that New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg would veto the legislation. On October 28, as the 30 day time-limit for the veto was set to expire, Mayor Bloomberg vetoed it. From one of the organizer’s emails: Because the mayor vetoed the bill so late,

“there is not enough time remaining before Diwali (Nov 1 is the date the city was planning to observe it) to override him and observe the holiday this year. Council Member Brewer is confident that the council will override the Mayor, but it will probably happen at one of the two Stated Council meetings in November (I believe 11/17 and 11/31). So the city will officially observe Diwali next year. This year November 1 falls on All Saints day, on which alternate side of the street parking is suspended anyway.”
According to the same email, the Mayor is rumored to be planning a Diwali party at Gracie Mansion, a bit puzzling since he vetoed a bill which would highlight the holiday. Even if Bloomberg doesn’t have the party, the City Council is having one on Wednesday, November 2, at 5:30 p.m. at the Council Chambers at city hall. RSVP by 12:00 Noon on Tuesday, November 1, 2005 here.

We were also informed that back in February of 2005, Representative Joseph Crowley of the seventh district of New York introduced a mostly symbolic resolution recognizing the Diwali holiday. The resolution’s purpose is simply to “express the sentiments of one of the houses,” and will not make Diwali a public holiday. Still it is nice to see some effort to recognize. See the text of the “simple resolution” here, and more from SM on Crowley’s efforts to recognize Indian-Americans.

Lastly, Washington Post reporter S. Mitra Kalita continues her series of India-centric blog posts, entitled “India 2.0,” with her most recent discussing her Diwali partying. Click here to peruse her latest, and click here to see the archives.

Still no word on the stamp.

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East is East, and West is West

And maybe one day the twain shall meet and produce a decent film.  I’m not holding my breath, though.  The Hindustan Times reports on a recent spate of Bollywood/Hollywood joint ventures.  First up is Mumbai-based Percept Pictures, which recently announced plans to co-produce Ram Gopal Verma’s first “exclusively American” film, entitled Within:

The English-language film will reportedly be set in a Manhattan apartment peopled only by American characters.

Within will obviously be a significant first for RGV, but it is likely to be quickly followed up with Ek, a sweeping espionage thriller featuring Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan with a clutch of Hollywood actors. [link]

A Manhattan apartment peopled only by American characters?  Do they have to pass a citizenship exam to enter the building?  According to Verma, “Within will revolve around the fear factor that is present within each one of us, while Ek will be based on nuclear terrorism.”  I personally had no idea that a “fear factor” was present within me.  I hope it doesn’t make me eat cockroaches or something.  Verma said that casting has yet to be finalized, and did not name the Hollywood actors involved.  Will he be able to land a Hollywood heavyweight like Ali Larter? Continue reading

Laying the ghosts of war to rest (updated)

Indian soldiers in WWI were remembered at a reopened German graveyard today:

Until recently there was nothing to identify the quiet, leafy spot where Jafarullah Mohammad and Mata Din Singh were buried. The two servicemen were among thousands of Indian volunteers who fought for Britain in the first world war, and were captured at sea or on the western front.

For more than 80 years the German graveyard where Mohammad, Singh and 204 other Indian volunteers are buried was forgotten. But today the war cemetery in Wünsdorf, in a forest 40km south of Berlin, is to be officially reopened… Diplomats from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh will attend today’s rededication ceremony…

The restoration is a recognition of the role played by troops from undivided India, who fought in the bloody battles of Ypres, Neuve Chapelle and Loos. Many died. Others ended up interned in German prisoner of war camps. “Very few people are aware of the role Indian troops played in both world wars,” Peter Francis of the Commonwealth Graves Commission said. “In some Indian units the casualty rate was 80%. In three days’ fighting in Neuve Chapelle in 1915, for instance, some 4,200 Indian soldiers perished…” [Link]

Fewer still care to remember those who fought in the second great war on the other side, to evict the British. The ally in that cause was… inconvenient:

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Bombs bay in Delhi

With pathetic regularity, a handful of delusional losers lived out their role-playing fantasy once again. We liked them better when they were living in mom’s basement, unemployed and pimply with their bidis, bhang and their 12-sided dice. ~50 dead and rising.

Paharganj market after the bombing

The first blast was reported at around 5.40 pm from the crowded Paharganj area, popular with foreign backpackers, and among the most congested areas in central Delhi close to the New Delhi Railway Station. The other explosion occurred soon after in Sarojini Nagar, another busy shopping area in south Delhi, popular among the middle class and even foreigners. Soon after there were reports of similar blasts from a few other areas, including Govindpuri, also a teeming market, in south Delhi.

“There was a huge explosion and the walls of a number of buildings came crashing down,” said Arun Gupta, secretary of the All Delhi Hotel Association. “It was so powerful the whole market started shaking,” added Gupta, who said he was barely 100 metres away from the blast spot at Pahargunj that was full of foreign tourists that throng its budget hotels and innumerable internet cafes…

The third blast occurred near the Kalkaji depot in Govindpuri, another extremely congested area… An official of the brand new Delhi Metro said the trains were running normally and commuters were being thoroughly frisked before entering the stations. [Link]

… [Paharganj] is outside the New Delhi railway station and is popular with travelers. Witnesses said that a woman and her infant were among the dead, as was one of the betel nut vendors who haunt the city’s markets… Mr. Chawla said he saw six or seven women lying on the ground, including one whose sari had caught fire. He grabbed bedsheets from a nearby vendor and used them to douse the flames. [Link]

Paharganj is a busy wholesale market, dotted with small, inexpensive hotels frequented by foreign travelers, particularly backpackers. [Link]

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Eelam Idol

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a guerrilla group in possession of a national flower, must also be in want of a national anthem. The Tamil Tigers, having selected the poisonous Gloriosa Lily as their national flower last year, are now holding a contest for a new patriotic song. [Since 1990 they’ve been raising their flag to the appropriately titled “Look the Flag is Rising”]

Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka are advertising for “bards and minstrels with patriotic fervour” to write a catchy national anthem. The anthem should “symbolize the history of our struggle and victories to future generations,” the rebel statement says.

The lyrics should extol the “virtues of those who sacrificed their lives in Tamil struggle, celebrate the unique qualities of exclusiveness and resourcefulness of the Tamil homeland, and manifest the resoluteness, dedication and the aspirations of the Tamil people for freedom and dignity.”

“It should contain 18 lines – catchy and lively and in immaculate Tamil.”

Budding poets have until 27 November, “Tamil Eelam Martyrs Remembrance Day”, to come up with a suitable anthem. [Link]

Personally, I think that they’re missing an important opportunity here. Not only should the anthem be catchy and lively, but the entire process of anthem selection should also be appositely hip. To that end, I suggest the creation of Eelam Idol, a TV show designed to ensure that the resulting anthem is the people’s favorite. Hosted by MIA, Simon Cowell and a high Tamil Tiger official, the three judges could offer ascerbic commentary on the performances of the singer songwriters who volunteer to perform their proposed new version of the national anthem. The show would get killer ratings, both in Jaffna and abroad, and the new anthem would instantly top the charts! Guys, if you’re reading this, the idea is yours gratis. No really, there’s no need to meet for lunch …

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42 hours until the SF Meetup!

Just a lightning-quick reminder (what IS it with me getting kicked out of the few, feeble places with net access out here???) about Sunday’s MEETUP.

Be there or be gossiped about. Viciously. 😉

VHAT: Meetup!
VHEN: October 30, 2pm
VHERE: Caffe Greco, 423 Columbus Ave

I promise to hold court until at least 6pm, so IST-adherents should be accomodated, just fine. So far, rumor has it that current Guest Bloggers extraordinaire Saheli and Ads will be there, signing autographs if you are exceptionally lucky.

I will probably be live-blogging it, like last time, since unlike HERE, North Beach has wayyy more wifi for the travel-weary and net-addicted. Whether or not the revolution is blogged, it WILL be photographed. So prepare to paneer it up, big time. As for who is on the Wee Eye Pee: come one, come all, blogger, comment-crafter, lurker and anti-Mutineer alike. We don’t bite.


But it IS the day before Halloween, so if you get lucky… 😉 Continue reading

Merry Diwali, quoth the taxman

The Indian government faces a chronic problem with tax compliance. Nobody pays income tax. Tax rates are relatively high, and the tax system is byzantine. The entire economy is structured in such a way as to help people keep their income off the books. As a result, the government has trouble collecting revenue:

It is estimated that only about 3% of India’s one billion-strong population pay income tax.

“There are only 75,000 to 85,000 people with an income of one million rupees ($22,140) who pay taxes,” Finance Minister P Chidambaram told journalists. [Link]

The text message reads: “Pay your taxes, file your returns and hold your head high. Happy Diwali!” To root out tax evaders, the revenue service is watching people’s behavior during the one time of year when they can’t help but spend money — Diwali. As much as most Diwali-celebrating Indians hate paying taxes, the social consequences of being seen as cheap during a period of conspicuous consumption and status competition are far worse.

Diwali is a time when most Indians loosen their purse strings, buying gifts and making major purchases such as buying a car, and the finance minister said big spenders would be watched.

People with credit card transactions of more than 200,000 rupees a year ($4,435) will be checked by the tax department to see if they have filed their taxes or not.

Similar checks will be run on people who make cash withdrawals of one million rupees ($22,179) or more, or who have bought mutual funds worth more than 200,000 rupees. [Link]

My favorite aspect of this campaign goes after shoppers where it hurts – their mobile phone usage. What kind of Indian shopper can resist gabbing away on their mobile to their friends? The longer they shop, the larger the phone bill will be, thus altering the authorities to the presence of a wealthy person who, in all likelihood, has not paid their tax bill.

Mobile phone users who run up a bill in excess of 1,000 rupees ($22) a month can expect to receive a text message from the finance ministry to pay up.

“Pay your taxes, file your returns and hold your head high. Happy Diwali,” reads the message. [Link]
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“Father of the B-2” arrested

Breaking news today (thanks for the tip Vikram) is that U.S. citizen Noshir S. Gowadia, the self-proclaimed “father” of the B-2 stealth bomber’s propulsion system, has been arrested for espionage. The Honolulu Advertiser reports on the resident of Hawaii:

Noshir S. Gowadia traveled the world, billed himself as the “father” of the B-2 stealth bomber’s propulsion system, and disclosed classified military secrets about the high-tech aircraft to foreign governments, the federal government says.

The FBI’s criminal case against Gowadia, contained in a seven-page complaint made public yesterday, alleges that the entrepreneur and engineer provided eight countries with stealth secrets, in two instances going abroad to train foreign nationals using classified information.

Gowadia, a former design engineer for Northrop Grumman and later a subcontractor at Los Alamos National Laboratories in New Mexico, told investigators that he “disclosed classified information and material both verbally and in papers, computer presentations, letters and other methods to individuals in foreign countries with the knowledge that information was classified,” the criminal complaint states.

“I used examples based on my B-2 … experience and knowledge,” the Maui resident told investigators. “At that time I knew it was wrong and I did it for the money.”

As of yet the Feds have not released which countries were involved in the transfer of the classified data. If convicted he could face up to 10 years in prison as well as fines. Continue reading