The Guardians of the British Raj

Stalin found it “ridiculous” that “a few hundred Englishmen should dominate India.” [Link]

A new book by historian David Gilmour, The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2006), “helps explain how [the British civil servants in India] pulled it off.”

In yesterday’s Washington Post, noted author and UN official Shashi Tharoor gave a generally favorable review of The Ruling Caste. In Tharoor’s view,

The Ruling Caste paints an arresting and richly detailed portrait of how the British ruled 19th-century India — with unshakeable self-confidence buttressed by protocol, alcohol and a lot of gall…. [For example,] one 24-year-old district officer found himself in charge of 4,000 square miles and a million people [Link]

The arrogance of the British administrators and the paternalistic means by which they viewed their Indian subjects is upsetting, though not unsurprising. One viceroy is quoted by Gilmour as saying:

We are all British gentlemen engaged in the magnificent work of governing an inferior race.

According to Gilmour:

Few shared Queen Victoria’s “romantic feelings for ‘brown skins….'” Well into the 20th century, they spoke and wrote of the need to treat Indians as “children” incapable of ruling themselves.

Despite Gilmour’s insights into the personal lives and thoughts of these administrators, Tharoor is critical of the book’s failure to examine the Indian response to the British public officials, who were “members of the Indian Civil Service (ICS)”:

What is missing, though, is any sense of an Indian perspective on these men and their work. What did the subjects of their administration think of them? Gilmour does not tell us. He glosses over the prejudice and casual racism of many ICS men.

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Marital Advice from the Homeland

Aside from Religion, few things have spilt more blood and ink than the battle of the sexes. Even those beholden to the most strict and twisted notions of piety recognize the one domain where the rules sometimes just don’t apply

Mr. Moussaoui said there were times when a Muslim can lie without being immoral: to reconcile Muslims, to answer “yes” when a wife asks, “Am I beautiful?” and to carry out jihad.

Because any man knows that answering that question honestly is tantamount to jihad unto itself. Best to save that energy for a battle you might actually win.

Now while mere questions of spousal beauty allow for wiggle room, in a different corner of the world, we learn that divorce is rather literal

A Muslim couple in India has been told by local Islamic leaders to separate after the husband “divorced” his wife in his sleep, the Press Trust of India reported.

Sohela Ansari told friends that her husband, Aftab, had uttered the word “talaq,” or divorce, three times in his sleep, according to the report published in newspapers on Monday.

When local Islamic leaders heard of the sleep talking, they said Aftab’s words constituted a divorce under an Islamic procedure known as “triple talaq.” The couple, married for 11 years with three children, were told they had to split.

Husbands and wives are known to lash out at small annoyances as a way of signalling something deeper; in this case, maybe it really was just the small annoyances

A jobless man burned himself to death after his wife refused to serve him meat for dinner, Indian police said Sunday.

The wife, who works as a domestic, refused to cook meat, saying they could not afford it.

Irritated by this, Sanjivan locked her in the house before setting himself on fire outside.

Poor Sanjivan, if he only knew about the Triple Talaq.

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Templezilla vs. Megachurch

Earlier Abhi posted about the booming hair trade at the main Venkateshwara temple in Tirupati. It turns out that the sale of devotees’ hair is only one of this massive temple’s revenue streams, which dwarf those of American megachurches. Other revenue streams include cash, gold and diamond donations, laddoo sales and e-hundi.


E-hundi? Yes, electronic donations. You can donate to the temple right from ATMs owned by Andhra Bank and State Bank of India. The lords work in mysterious ways, but especially at withdrawal time:

“Andhra Bank ATM cardholders can make payments into the `hundi’ of Lord Venkateswara of Tirumala, from any of the bank’s ATMs. All they have to do is insert their card, enter the amount to be credited to the hundi account and it would be done instantly. In future, the facility would be extended to make payments for railway reservations and other services…” [Link]

Tirupati is also the most visited temple in the world. It is estimated that more that 50,000 people visit the temple everyday; this makes it almost 19 million people in a year, almost double the estimated number of people visiting Vatican City… Tirupati is the second richest religious institution after the Vatican City… it usually takes anywhere from 2 to 40 hours, depending on the season, to get to the Sanctom sanctorum from the time one registers into the queue system. [Link – thanks, tef]

The temple staff alone amounts to a number of 18,000. [Link]

Hundi collections (cash donation by devotees) account for roughly one-third of the Tirupati trust’s income. It also earns substantial money from the sale of human hair (offered by devotees) and laddoos, apart from interest on bank deposits. [Link]

For added convenience, you can book religious pilgrimages at State Bank branches worldwide. Separation of temple and state, what?

The bank is in tie-up with the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams management on a package to get the various `sevas’ in Tirumala temple and cottages booked at any of the bank’s branches in the world. ‘ `e-hundi’ is also part of the software, wherein a devotee can drop his offerings either in an ATM in the country or at the 52 overseas offices in 33 countries. [Link]

The bank was nationalised in 1955 with the Reserve Bank of India having a 60% stake. [Link]

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The tao of Steve

Last weekend I saw Inside Man, currently the top movie in America. In Spike Lee’s excellent caper mystery, actor Waris Singh Ahluwalia explains the significance of the Sikh turban, covering your head in the presence of god, to the largest American audience to date. It’s very cool of Lee to carve out screen time for this exposition, and more such movies might reduce Sikh harassment in America.

The hollow men

On the other hand, Denzel Washington’s rejoinder (‘Bet you can catch a cab…’) feels like shuffling, not dancing. I didn’t catch Ahluwalia’s smack-back because the audience was laughing too hard at the turban-cabbie joke. Ick. Ahluwalia gets the lion’s share of the desi actors’ screen time. Reena Shah has a couple of seconds as a hostage, and Jay Charan is barely seen as a bank teller.

The movie opens with ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya‘ from Dil Se, and Punjabi MC raps over an orchestra-enhanced mix during the closing credits. The inclusion of ‘Chaiyya’ has nothing to do with Hindi samples in hip-hop or Bombay Dreams — Lee draws directly from the source (thanks, mallika). At some point desi influence in American pop culture will melt in so thoroughly, it won’t even be worthy of remark. Then the Uighur-Americans will start blogging about how poorly they’re represented in popular American culture. Viva la Uighur Mutiny.

Viva la
Uighur Mutiny
The flick reminds me of Gurinder Chadha’s newer movies: it’s a thoroughly commercial film, a bid for mainstream relevance which still shouts out to the brotherhood (minorities, blue-collar workers, Brooklyn and polyglot NYC). It finesses the task of melding social commentary, such as a violent Grand Theft Auto parody, with product placements galore. As unfocused as it is, just one of Lee’s movies gives you more to chew on than three normal Hollywood flicks. Unlike Chadha’s work, Inside Man objectifies women as much as She Hate Me reportedly did, with an extended joke about big tits.

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VoA will no longer speak Hindi…but learns more Bangla

From the newswire (thanks “Blue Mountain”) we see that the Broadcasting Board of Governors has decided to scale back some of its global Voice of America programming, seemingly to re-direct dollars to countries most in need of America’s voice.

This may come as a shock to millions of Hindi radio fans worldwide, Even as the Indo-US relationship scales a new peak, the popular Hindi service of the Voice of America seems all set to be closed down in six months, after being on air for more than four decades. In its annual budget, the Broadcasting Board of Governors has said it will close down VoA’s Hindi radio broadcasts along with four others–Turkish, Thai, Greek and Croatian. Although it is still under Congressional review, it is unlikely that the lawmakers would go against the board’s decision.

At the same time, VoA’s Urdu service is being increased to 18 hours a day, including a special six-hour broadcast for the tribal areas of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The duration of the Hindi service is one hour and 30 minutes. [Link]

This strikes me as short-sighted. What’s happening here is that the powers that be are shifting their dollars away from many of the countries in which VoA is popular and arguably effective, and is instead going to try and focus on immediate hotspots using more exciting forms of media (as exemplified by Radio Sawa and Al-Hurra TV). The Baltimore Sun has a nice op-ed outlining possible motivations behind these directed cuts and why they may be a bad idea:

The enemy media fire hard and fast, said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in a recent speech, and we must return the fire just as fast. As an example, he cites the extensive coverage of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Why not respond, he asks, by reporting on the mass graves of Saddam Hussein’s victims – torture answering torture, as it were. And non-journalists may have to paid to do the job. It is a kind of shock and awe of the media, a crucial part of the war on terror…

The Voice of America, to be sure, does not do this, and therein lies the problem. Dismissed as old-fashioned, stodgy and slow-moving, it is slated for drastic cuts by the supervising Broadcast Board of Governors

Since, comparatively speaking, it costs so little, what’s the problem? Many say it is political. Every administration in Washington tries to nudge VOA this way or that way politically, but the pressure exerted by the current administration is said to be unprecedented…

This interference is not unique to VOA. It reflects what has happened at the Pentagon and the CIA, where dissenters have been demoted, reassigned, fired or otherwise silenced. [Link]

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!ncredibly repressed

The ToI claims two tourists from Morocco and the UAE were deported for making out in Mumbai. What say we pass the hat so the thin khaki line gets laid once in awhile?

Slapping hussies in Meerut

Ibtisay Lamyani, 27, and Alfasar Nasir Abdul Hussain Ali, 37, were visiting India separately and had met at the Gateway of India. They were necking near the Metro cinema junction on Tuesday afternoon when a woman constable from Azad Maidan police station decided to intervene. She warned them against indecent behaviour in a public place. [Link]

The ToI’s smug commentary mirrors the sourpuss constable:

When they argued back, she demanded they show their passports. As luck would have it Lamyani’s visa had expired… Not chastened in the least, they promptly got into a clinch again. [Link]

The female tourist saw the director’s cut of Bombay (now with behind-the-bars footage), and both tourists were deported:

The police then submitted a chargesheet to the court which convicted Lamyani to a day’s imprisonment… Ali was also fined. They were both deported to their respective countries on the same night. [Link]

India Welcomes You.

Related posts: Bitter much?, Do Not Touch!, No sex please, we’re Indian, There is no place to hide it in India, Sex (gasp) in India: juxtaposition, Those legs are weapons of mass distraction, apparently, Indian Maxim is out to save lives, Dress Code

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Posted in Law

55Friday: The “Black Coffee” Edition

i like my sugar with coffee and creamI kept wanting to make our flash fiction extravaganza relevant to current events, but I couldn’t find songs in my music collection that I loved, which contained any of the following:

  • -March
  • -Madness
  • -Sixteen
  • -NO productivity thanks to bracketology and compulsive SM-refreshing

Since I just read Manish’s snide post about hackneyed, caffeinated metaphors, this granddaughter of a coffee-grower suddenly has java on her mind (but sadly, not in her tummy). As a result, unforgettable horns and Peggy Lee’s silken voice waft through my head and there we have it. A title for our weekly 55.

So, write your 55 perfect words about the potent potable I reference above OR its affect on animals (Wheeee!) or the “third place“-establishments which charge you far too much for the privilege of sipping something acrid which apparently came your way via fair trade. Or, ignore me completely and write about whatever strikes your fancy this Friday. As always, leave the next chapter of your oeuvre (or a link to where we might discover it) in the comments below. Thank you and remember, there’s no shame in drinking decaf, I don’t care WHAT anyone says. 😀 Continue reading

The red shoe diaries

It has recently come to my attention that amateur phone sexologist Salman Khan endorses Red Tape shoes:

Try walking a mile in his shoes

Khan launched the new collection from Red Tape… In sync with international fashion trends, Red Tape shoes spell attitude and are a style statement for all those who wear them. [Link]

Oh, they make a style statement, all right:

  • You have to apply to own them
  • There’s an 18-year waiting list
  • You have to bribe a salesman to get them
  • Communists prefer them
  • The pair delivered is always the wrong size
  • They trip you up when you wear them
  • They breed in darkness
  • You can’t discard them, you can only add to your collection

The Dutch like wooden shoes, Sicilians wear concrete shoes, but India Shines in Red Tape shoes. A spokesman said:

Added Mr. Pant, “… There are synergies between himself and the Red Tape brand and he is the right fit, we believe.” [Link]

Man, talk about bad branding. First of all, where’s Mr. Sandal? And second, I think you’ll agree that Khan makes a better spokesman for Blackbuck Jerky.

Related post: Jail Time for Salman Khan?

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Coffee cant

How many times have you seen a desi profile begin with a sexualized coffee metaphor?

Amir Khan, Starbucks menu item

[Boxer] Amir Khan is a slender 19-year-old with smooth skin the color of café con leche. [Link]

That particular style was original before Starbucks was big, when light-skinned black girls calling themselves ‘Mocha’ showed up on prime time to tease the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Only thing is, everyone now knows that coffee beans are actually harvested by poorly-paid brown people. Awkward.

Personally, I say we bring the brewless fuck back in style. It’s so darn cute, so dang-diggly underused, that the NYT should apply it to everyone they profile. And the metaphor should evaluate whether the subject is bangable, through coffeerotica.

Oscar de la Hoya is a 33-year-old with skin the color of espresso.

Avril Lavigne is a 21-year-old with skin the color of a double tall, no-whip vanilla latte.

Alan Greenspan is an 80-year-old with skin the color of curdled whipping cream.’

Hey, if you’re good, kick it up a notch into cocoarotica: milk chocolate, caramel, dark chocolate with almond bits. Make the paper of record sound as subtle as hip-hop lyrics. Bam, now we’re cookin’ with gas.

Related posts: We’ve got a live one!, Sakina’s Restaurant, Anatomy of a genre, M-m-me so hungry, Buzzword bingo

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Sooden rescu…err…I mean released

By now most people are aware that 33-year-old Canadian peace activist Harmeet Singh Sooden (who celebrates his birthday today), along with another Canadian and one Brit, got their first taste of freedom in months on Thursday:

NOW he looks like a “Gandhian peace activist.”

The three hostages were freed Thursday from a house west of Baghdad by a joint U.S.-British military operation. The kidnappers were not there.

“Right before the intervention, they (the hostages) were bound and then their captors left their building,” said Peggy Gish, a member of the Chicago-based Christian Peacemakers Teams.

The U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, said the 8 a.m. rescue from a “kidnapping cell” was based on information divulged by a man during interrogation only three hours earlier. The man was captured by U.S. forces on Wednesday night. [Link]

The operation to rescue the three hostages was led by British SAS and MI6 as detailed in an article at

CanWest News Service has learned the raid was prompted after the Special Air Service and MI6 — Britain’s commando unit and its spy agency — opened negotiations with a kidnapping network after studying hostage tapes released to Arab television stations. Eavesdropping teams also tried to intercept cellphone conversations between the kidnappers and Arab television journalists.

The Canadian contingent is believed to have included the elite Joint Task Force 2, who were, according to Stephen Harper, “fully engaged and fully aware of what was going on…” [Link]

Now for the controversy. If you listened to the news yesterday you probably noticed that the language used to describe this event varied greatly. Some news organizations and groups said the hostages were “released.” Others, including military officials, said that they were “freed” or “rescued.” If you’ll reacall, these three are members of Christian Peacemaker Teams who oppose the occupation of Iraq and the presence of military there. It would put them in a tough spot if they had to publicly thank the military for Thursday’s events. Using different set of words and phrases can allow these different groups (e.g. military, CPT, and journalists) to all put their own spin on the actual events. I’d like to know more about the facts.

In Toronto, CPT co-director David Pritchard described the news as “release” rather than a “rescue” throughout the day. He said the news sent CPT workers on “a roller coaster of emotions…” [Link]

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