Navi Mumbaikar

I’m off to Bombay for a few months for a change of scene. (Switches to the deep sepia ink and sharpens the nib.) If I don’t come back in waxed chest, brown highlights and mirrored shades yelling ‘call me, yaar!’ into a trick GSM, I’ll be deeply disappointed.

These juths were made for walkin’

Some of you have asked why I spend far less time slamming Bollycheese than American exoticism. The answer is that I walk past the exoticism every day. Now the lazy susan turns, the juthi is on the other foot, &c., &c. Sunil Shetty, a.k.a. Funky Hunky, you’re goin’ down.

I’ve gotten some great advice from Mumbaikars who are big fans of our ‘South Asian’ blog. They told me the best place to live is east Mumbai, stay out of Colaba because it’s not safe after dark, and if you’re on the Bandstand late at night and a policeman approaches you, pinch his buttocks — it’s a friendly Mumbai greeting. They also told me Parsis are the poorest Mumbaikars, Haji Ali sells authentic electronics, the women’s carriage is the safest way to travel and the best time to avoid traffic is from 3 to 6 pm on Marine Drive.

Please god, let me survive the Sepia readers of Bombay.

Related post: Livin’ la vida Sepia

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The first desi Supreme Court Justice? (updated)

As Dave mentioned earlier, the lawyer arguing one of the most important cases in front of the Supreme Court right now is a desi – Neal Kumar Katyal.

The future Justice Katyal?

He’s so illustrious that he has even been mentioned as a possible future (Democratic) pick for the Supreme Court:

At a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution on the Senate hearings on Judge Roberts, moderator Stuart Taylor, a columnist for the National Journal, pointedly asked panelist Katyal if a future Democratic president nominated him to the Supreme Court, which could well be, would he also be as evasive as Roberts was at the hearings?… [Link]

To give you a sense of why this is a plausible conjecture, here are just some of the highlights from his resume:

  • He clerked for both Justice Breyer and Judge Guido Calabresi of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. He also worked for now Justice Roberts the summer after he graduated from Yale Law. [Link]
  • “In 1998-99, Katyal served as National Security Adviser to the Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice” [Link]
  • “He … served as Vice President Al Gore’s co-counsel in the Supreme Court election dispute of 2000” [Link]
  • He “represented the Deans of most major private law schools in the University of Michigan affirmative-action case” that was settled in 2003. [Link]
  • In 2004, he was responsible for the case that “struck down the Guantanamo trial system as unconstitutional and a violation of the Geneva Conventions.” [Link]
  • In 2005, at age 34, Katyal was named one of the the leading “40 lawyers under 40” by the National Law Journal
  • He is listed as a speaker by ICM, one of the largest literary and talent agencies around. They also represent Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster.
  • Even with all the time he spends in court, he’s a Professor at Georgetown Law.
  • And yes, ladies, he’s married. That means even his Punjabi parents are happy!

Katyal is the lead lawyer in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Amrit Singh is one of the lawyers involved in Ali et. al. v. Rumsfeld, and Vanita Gupta argued the Tulia case. Looks like we’re doing alright in terms of representing in the field of civil liberties, no?

Related posts: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, The art of the book review, The “Devils” Advocates

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Posted in Law


This NYT story on the reimportation of cheap college textbooks from India misses the entire, delicious point: Americans line up as huge fans of globalization when the money saved goes to them rather than their employers (thanks, WGIIA).

Over the last few years, many American students… have been buying American textbooks printed in India, as word has spread of the larger savings available… The textbooks are printed legally in India under copyright arrangements worked out over the last decade by American and British publishers. Americans are huge fans of globalization — when they’re making the moneyUsing tax breaks and cheap labor, Indian companies publish the books in black-and-white, low-quality paperback editions, and sell them for as little as 10 percent of the cost of the same book in the United States. But under the licensing agreement, the books may be sold only on the Indian subcontinent and in surrounding countries…

There are no penalties for students who import books for their own use, under a 1998 Supreme Court decision that ruled that manufacturers who sell goods more cheaply overseas than in the United States have no protection against having their products sold back to the American market. [Link]

The other interesting point here is the same problem intellectual property publishers have been facing for decades: differential pricing is not sustainable in an efficient market. You can’t sell Microsoft Windows for 10% the cost in India because Americans will import the lower-price version. And you can’t sell it at full cost and expect decent sales in a developing country, only the rich will buy. All you can do is segment the market with a lower-featured edition.

And that’s exactly what these textbook publishers have done. The problem is, students are satisfied with the lower-quality editions because hardly anyone buys textbooks for pleasure, especially not at $150 a pop.

Related post: Stuck with the 50cc Bajaj

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Cyberpunk Bollywood

Sci-fi novelist Bruce Sterling, a pioneer in the cyberpunk genre, is also a huge Bollyfan who designed this bumper sticker (via Boing Boing):

That’s Parineeta on the right, not sure about the one on the left. The guy’s got taste.

He’s also been blogging the ins and outs of various sex-lies-and-mirrordiscs scandals (Sanjay Joshi, Amar Singh) working their way through political parties and the Indian Parliament:

Sanjay Joshi was set up. Somebody videoed him inflagrante diplimatico with a schoolteacher — bad news if your job in a conservative religious party depends on a vow of celibacy. Days later, flamboyant socialist playboy Amar Singh, of the liberal Samajwadi Party, announced his phone had been tapped. A salacious CD of purported chats with Tolly- and Bolly-wood starlets soon began making the rounds (hey, he’s a flamboyant socialist playboy).

In quick succession, more than half a dozen prominent ministers and pols stepped forward with claims that they too had been filmed, shadowed and bugged. More than a few signs point to a dirty tricks arm of the ruling Congress Party, with rumblings of deep-pocketed corporate backing. A crew of snoops for hire, black-hat script kiddies and renegade telco underlings has been rounded up and are under the screws. Meanwhile, the Sanjay sex tape is the hottest DVD bootleg on the market, and rumors of many more discs compromising many more pols abound… [Link]

His blog posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21

Related post: One ticket for the clue train, please

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Pilgrimages ain’t what they used to be

Forbes magazine reports on an article first published in the German magazine Cicero which asserts that the Pakistanis are helping the Saudis develop a nuclear capability under the cover of the Haj:

…during the Haj pilgrimages to Mecca in 2003 through 2005, Pakistani scientists posed as pilgrims to come to Saudi Arabia.

Between October 2004 and January 2005, some of them slipped off from pilgrimages, sometimes for up to three weeks, the report quoted German security expert Udo Ulfkotte as saying.

According to Western security services, the magazine added, Saudi scientists have been working since the mid-1990s in Pakistan, a nuclear power since 1998.

Cicero, which will appear on newstands tomorrow, also quoted a US military analyst, John Pike, as saying that Saudi bar codes can be found on half of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons ‘because it is Saudi Arabia which ultimately co-financed the Pakistani atomic nuclear program…’ [Link]

If this is true then it is a total slap in the face of the U.S., and the assurances that we supposedly have (right?) about Khan’s network being shut down is all bulls*it. Allowing a nation like Saudi Arabia any sort of nuclear capability is crazy, especially if you think that the monarchy there is doomed to failure and that a militant uprising is just a matter of time. Also, it’s not like they have an un-met energy demand.

The magazine also said satellite images indicate that Saudi Arabia has set up a program in Al-Sulaiyil, south of Riyadh, a secret underground city and dozens of underground silos for missiles. [Link]

We’ll have to keep an eye on this to see if any other news organizations follow-up on the German assertions.

Update: Pakistan rejects accusations. See below the fold. Continue reading

When asylum might not be a good thing

shaluja.jpg Sri Lankans Saluja Thangaraja, who is now 26, and Ahilan Nadarajah have been sitting in a U.S. Federal pen for 4 years now. Why? They are victims in a sense of the politics that resulted from 9/11. The SJ Mercury news picks this off the AP wire:

A Sri Lankan woman fleeing persecution in her native country has been released after spending more than four years in federal detention on allegations that she entered the country illegally.

Saluja Thangaraja, 26, was freed from the Otay Mesa detention center late Monday after the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the release of a Sri Lankan man who also spent more than four years in the same facility.

The court ordered the release of Ahilan Nadarajah on March 17, saying the government was violating federal law by holding him even though he wasn’t criminally charged and couldn’t be deported in the foreseeable future.

Nadarajah and Thangaraja both fled Sri Lanka and stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border in October 2001 and were charged with being in the U.S. without a valid visa. Both were granted political asylum but the government refused to release them.

In case you are keeping score at home, this is yet another example of the Executive Branch selectively ignoring the power of the Judicial Branch in the name of “protecting” Americans. The fact that these two were stopped at the Mexican border may have incentivized the government to over-prosecute this case so as to justify their specious arguments connecting illegal immigration on the Mexican border to terrorism. Thangaraja and Nadarajah were kept in jail while the original ruling was appealed by the government. As you have probably already guessed, the U.S. government insisted these two were LTTE terrorists despite evidence to the contrary. Continue reading

Posted in Law

Tablas against teabags

A brand-new tea bar called Tavalon just opened by Union Square in Manhattan. It sells high-end loose leaf teas in a microscopic but slick storefront decked out like a lounge. The founders are young corporate law dropouts, a turbaned Sikh dude named Sonny Caberwal and his biz partner John-Paul Lee. Sonny is also a tabla-ista who rocked out on a Thievery Corporation album a couple of years ago. It’s the second gen version of the ‘I’ll open a little restaurant’ dream:

There’s a new wave of Indian restaurants as lifestyle businesses being started by young, desi Manhattan professionals. Indian Bread Company, Chinese Mirch, and their granddaddy, Kati Roll Co., remind me of the second wave of upscale restaurants in London’s Brick Lane; they’re slicker than the usual desi joint… As young restaurants, owners, friends and relatives still work behind the counter… educated urbanites… A lot of the initial marketing of these places goes through word of mouth, friends of friends in the high-speed desi network; it’s the ‘I’ll open a little restaurant’ dream made real. [Link]

The place is decorated with white tile in a fabric texture like Tamarind, white orchids, uplit shelves like a cosmetics counter and menus on 32″ LCDs. It sells teas in tins and test tubes. My buddies DD Pesh spun in the DJ perch yesterday, and Sonny played stand-up tabla by the door.

The teas themselves mimic vitamin water with frou-frou, we’re-not-Lipton themes like anti-aging, energizing and balancing. The bar also carries some wicked-looking paraphernalia including a tea stick, a perforated, stainless steel cylinder which you fill with loose leaf tea; stainless steel honey spoons shaped like honeycombs; and sinuous, double-sided sugar spoons. It’s all very SoHo-boho chic (tongue-in-cheek).

They’ve got a blend called Ceylon King for the days you’re feeling Ravanous. Thankfully, they don’t carry any redundant-dundant ‘chai tea,’ but do stop by and give Sonny shit for his ‘secret Indian spices’

Kama Chai Sutra: … teas just don’t get any more flavorful than this organic chai, made with a secret blend of Indian spices.

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The Cash Money Crew

Three million people marched in France today against a labor flexibility bill, possibly the largest protests in the history of modern France. It’s the kind of reaction you’d expect in Bengal:

The marches were part of a nationwide day of action against the Villepin legislation, which was intended to encourage hiring by making it easy for companies to fire workers under age 26 during their first two years on the job. [Link]

“It is a collective failure of the French system,” said Louis Chauvel, a sociologist who studies generational change. “You earn more doing nothing in retirement at the age of 60 to 65 than working full-time at the age of 35…”

… A sweeping survey of people in 22 countries released in January found that France was alone in disagreeing with the premise that that the best economic model is “the free enterprise system and free market economy.” [Link]

According to the poll cited above, more Indians believe in a free market economy than even the Brits, Germans or French. China tops the poll, and France sits at the bottom.

Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments: “In one sense we are indeed facing what has been called ‘the end of history,’ in that there is now an extraordinary level of consensus about the best economic system.” [Link]

My theory is that rapid development gives people faith in the redemptive power of the invisible hand. The poll was conducted in India’s major cities, so urbanites support liberalization. But the poll says nothing about the voter-heavy heartland.

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Hamdan v. Rumsfeld

As I write this post, the Supreme Court of the United States is hearing oral argument in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, an important case involving the president’s constitutional and statutory authority in times of war, and the legality of military commissions set up to try detainees captured in the war on terror. The facts of the case:

Petitioner Salid Ahmed Hamdan is a detainee being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 and admits to being a personal bodyguard and driver to Osama bin Laden. He was charged with conspiring to commit acts of terrorism, and was to be tried before a military commission, which is a special adjudicatory body created by Presidential order to try individuals accused of war crimes. [Link]

The procedural history, or how the present case made its way to the Supreme Court:

Before trial, Hamdan challenged the lawfulness of the military commission that was to try him, and in November 2004, the D.C. District Court enjoined the military commission proceedings as illegal under the Geneva Convention and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed, holding that military commissions had been duly authorized by Congress; that relief was unavailable under the Geneva Convention because it did not create privately enforceable rights and because it did not apply to Al Qaeda; and that the UCMJ did not preclude HamdanÂ’s trial before military commissions. [Link]

Hamdan appealed to the Supreme Court and in November 2005, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case. Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself, as he served on the D.C. Circuit Court panel that upheld the war crimes tribunals. (Some are calling for Justice Antonin Scalia to step aside as well because of comments he recently made in Switzerland, see here.)

Respected desi law professor Neal Katyal is arguing the case on behalf of Hamdan. There are two questions (.pdf) before the Supreme Court. The first is a threshold inquiry regarding the Court’s jurisdiction to hear the case. The government contends that the Court should dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds:

[The government] argue[s] that the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA), enacted by Congress after the Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case, preclude pre-trial review by establishing an exclusive post-trial review process for all Guantanamo detainees. In addition, the Government has argued, even absent the DTA, the Court should withhold ruling on the merits until a final decision has been reached in accordance with traditional abstention doctrine. Petitioner, on the other hand, argues that Congress specifically modified the effective date provisions of the DTA to ensure that the Supreme Court could decide this case.[Link]

Second, as to the merits:

petitioner argues [in part] that the military commission that seeks to try him is not authorized to do so under U.S. law. [H]e argues that such authorization must be explicitly provided by Congress. Respondents dispute whether such explicit authorization is required, pointing to the historical practice of the President convening military commissions as evidence of his inherent “Commander-in-Chief” power to do so. [Link]

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The Britannia Cartel (updated)

Dave’s post about the British Raj reminded me about the seamy underside of the British East India Company, namely its business in drugs. Imperial trade in opium was central to the success of the British empire:

Indian opium helped the British rule the world

By the early part of the nineteenth century, British Indian opium had stanched the flow of New World silver into China, replacing silver as the commodity that could be exchanged for Chinese tea and other goods…Opium revenues in India not only kept the colonial administration afloat, but sent vast quantities of silver bullion back to Britain. The upshot was the global dominance of the British pound sterling until World War I… [the] data supports, without opium the British global empire is virtually unimaginable. [Link]

The British energetically encouraged poppy growing, on occasion coercing Indian peasant farmers into going over the crop. By the end of the 1830s the opium trade was already, and was to remain, “the world’s most valuable single commodity trade of the nineteenth century.”(4)… [Link]

The definition of a drug cartel is a group with a monopoly on the distribution of an illegal narcotic. The empire, in the form of the East India Company, fits the bill quite neatlyWithout opium the British global empire is virtually unimaginable:

In 1773, the Governor-General of Bengal was granted a monopoly on the sale of opium, and abolished the old opium syndicate at Patna. For the next 50 years, opium would be key to the British East India Company’s hold on India. Since importation of opium into China was illegal … the British East India Company would … sell opium at auction in Calcutta on the condition it was smuggled to China. In 1797, the company ended the role of local Bengal purchasing agents and instituted the direct sale of opium to the company by farmers.

In 1799, the Chinese Empire reaffirmed its ban on opium imports, and in 1810 the following decree was issued:
“Opium has a very violent effect… Opium is a poison… Its use is prohibited by law.” [Link]

Certainly, the British ended up doing many good things in India. Still, we should acknowledge that the roots of the British Raj lie in something as dirty and illicit as the Medellin cartel. That a bunch of dirty narcoterrorists could give birth to the world’s largest, and (relatively speaking) one of its more humane empires, is perplexing indeed.

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