Special Delivery: Come Give it to me (The Remix)

lunch.jpg A few years ago, erstwhile mutineer Manish posted here about an enterprising Tiffinwalla in New York who would deliver healthy, vegetarian lunches (“2 chapatis, rice, dal, one vegetable, appetizer, dessert and pickle/chutney”) for all of $5.

I was living in California at the time and lazy ingrate that I am, I was green with longing, even as I was eating fresh Mallu food daily at home.

It just seemed like such a fantastic concept; New Yorkers got EVERYTHING, I wistfully thought. Couldn’t the left coast have had similar, especially during that arid, empty time that my Mother was abroad for two months? ;) I mean, protein shakes get old, y’all.

Apparently, my whining has been answered, according to a story in the grey lady which many of you were blowing up our tipline/news tab with (Thanks, Derick):

In Mumbai, formerly Bombay, the tiffin, or lunch, is prepared by the wife, mother or servant of the intended. In the United States, because of little time (and a lack of a domestic staff), many of these lunches are prepared by outsiders, but the underlying principle is the same…
Annadaata, which began as a homespun operation in 2002, has morphed into a business with several delivery people distributing meals each weekday across San Francisco. Kavita Srivathsan, 29, the chief executive of Annadaata, got her start by cooking meals for her new husband and his friends.

Srivathsan stumbled in to a market which was just waiting for someone like her to hook them up with comfort food:

She did not have a job at the time, so she spent her time learning how to cook Indian foods. Using recipes from her mother in south India, she experimented in the kitchen for a few hours each day. On a whim, she advertised $5 box meals on justindia.com, a Web site based in the San Francisco area that no longer exists. “That was the only time I ever did any advertising,” she said. “The very next day I got a few phone calls from people ordering the boxes, and from then on the word spread like wildfire.”

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This will never sell in Thirunelveli

In an earlier thread, reader Sadaiyappan reminds us of the reverence with which many cultures in India regard paper and books:

Ok, I’m a tamil. Tamils were raised to respect paper because you get education through paper and all legal documents are of paper, if my foot accidentally touches a paper, I must touch the paper with my hands and then touch my eyes much like I am praying / being blessed. So we are not supposed to use paper to wipe our ass because it is disrespectfull to the paper… [Link]

Sheep poo paper, complete with flecks!

Here’s a question though – how would traditional desis deal with paper made from animal dung?
The Elephant Poo Poo Paper company makes stationery and related goods out of dried, odorless elephant shit:

We can make about 25 large sheets of paper from a single piece (or turd) of elephant poo poo!!! That translates into about 10 standard sized journals including the front and back covers! Neat, huh!?!?!?… [Link]

There is also paper made from Moose Droppings (site in Swedish), Sheep Droppings, and even Panda droppings. Yeah, I can’t see this going over in India at all …

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5 Things Happening in South Asia Unrelated to Cricket

There’s been quite a raft of South Asia-related coverage in the New York Times this past week or so.

Perhaps most importantly, the Times finally gets to Musharraf’s ugly confrontation with Pakistan’s legal establishment. Perhaps what’s most striking in the current instance is the fact that Pakistan’s rioting lawyers are only now getting the message that Mushie may not be good for business.

In business news, New York’s Citigroup offices are going to see a major round of layoffs soon, while the company’s Indian back office is going to continue to grow. A few thousand formerly well-paid bankers have suddenly grown quite enthusiastic about Lou Dobbs’ brand of anti-outsourcing populism, and are suddenly pining for John Kerry.

Third, unrelated to outsourcing, it seems the Indian publishing industry has been doing quite well in the past couple of years, even as conventional publishing in the U.S. has struggled. There is an editorial in the Hindustan Times by Peter Gordan to that effect, but more importantly, see the article in the Business Standard from a couple of weeks ago on the subject. Apparently blogs have been part of the growth of the industry:

What has given the industry the much-needed charge and brought about these changes? Says Pramod Kapoor, publisher, Roli Books, “The reading habits of people are seeing a lot of change and there is more thirst for gaining knowledge.” Kapoor feels a lot of the credit for this should be given to the media as well as the Internet boom.
“People on blogs talk about books and there is more awareness about the titles released. The media too has played its role by giving more space to the publishing industry.” Literary festivals too have helped interest in books and authors grow. (link)

This is good news. Societies with vibrant book publishing are generally ones with bright futures. (Yes, I am saying something upbeat about India. Someone must have put something in my Kool-Aid.)

As for the positive role played by blogs, I am sure that Manish’s exhaustive coverage of the effect of Shakira’s abdominal muscles on the Mumbai stock exchange must be the culprit. Continue reading

Cricket: And now for “a Happier, Less Toxic Tournament”?

Day 16 of my miseducation in Cricket: for a hot minute, I do not love my India, not after our Red Snapper reports that crap like this was stated with a straight face: Get a grip.jpg

Just heard a reporter on NDTV interviewing disappointed fans in Bombay say to the camera — ‘It’s been a World Cup of tragedies, none bigger than India crashing out of the tournament’[Link]

Yes, that’s totally worse than someone’s neck getting snapped under the shadiest of circumstances. An anonymous tipster left a link to a BBC article by Mukul Kesavan–who has a book about cricket coming out in India later this year– on our news tab. I found it illuminating; I know next to nothing about this sport which Evil Abhi loathes so. ;) Here’s a random assortment of what your favorite bimbette Bedi-impersonator learned and/or found fascinating at the Beeb:

For the television channels that bought rights to beam the tournament to these fans, Friday’s defeat was a financial disaster.
Since the Reliance World Cup hosted by India in 1987, South Asia’s cricketing nations have become more and more influential in the conduct and administration of the one-day game.
…India won the Cup in 1983, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have won it in 1992 and 1996 respectively.
Mainly, though, the balance of power in world cricket has shifted from England and Australia towards the sub-continent for commercial reasons: the dawning realisation that India owns the only mass audience there is for the game.
India and Pakistan had resumed cricket relations after a long chill in 1978, just as limited-overs cricket was starting to take off.
The compulsive need to confront the old enemy led to the creation of a cricket circus in the Gulf sheikhdom, Sharjah, where, on neutral ground, the sub-continent’s blood feuds were re-played as one-day tournaments for the benefit of increasingly feverish and volatile audiences.

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Don’t Bother: You’ll Never Get It

I’m still processing the bilious sortie by Shashi Tharoor, the Indian diplomat and author, outgoing undersecretary-general of the United Nations and failed candidate for the top job, in the opinion pages of last Friday’s New York Times. It’s the one where he announces that America and Americans are congenitally incapable of comprehending cricket, that the condition is incurable, and that after valiantly performing such educational mitzvahs as diagramming cricket play possibilities on bar napkins for baseball fans during breaks in World Series games, he has now given up; and hereby retreats to the world of connoisseurs who will gather, he tells us, to watch the final at the home of an expatriate where “of course there will be no Americans.”

Here’s his parting shot:

So here’s the message, America: don’t pay any attention to us, and we won’t pay any to you. If you wonder, over the coming weeks, why your Indian co-worker is stealing distracted glances at his computer screen every few minutes or why the South African in the next cubicle is taking frequent and furtive bathroom breaks during the working day, don’t even try to understand. You probably wouldn’t get it. You may as well learn to accept that there are some things too special for the rest of us to want to waste them on you.

Lovely! Elegant! Thoughtful! Um… diplomatic! Ever considered working for the United Nations?

Alright, so everyone has an off day. And sure, yeah, most people in the U.S. don’t get cricket. Not exactly a novel observation. So why not leave it at that? Instead Tharoor decides to actually argue the case, justifying his dismissal of this thing called “America” with an array of absurd statements. Americans, he says, “have about as much use for cricket as Lapps have for beachwear.” They follow baseball instead, which “is to cricket as simple addition is to calculus.” Tharoor has “even appealed to the Hemingway instinct that lurks in every American male by pointing out how cricket is so much more virile a sport.” All to no avail. But thanks to satellite television and the Internet, now “you can ignore America and enjoy your cricket.” After all: “Why try to sell Kiri Te Kanawa to people who prefer Anna Nicole Smith?”

But all of this is mere appetizer for the main dish, the Comparative Analysis of National Character. Take it away, maestro: Continue reading

That’s no way to make a geek

It’s no secret that Indian parents tend to meddle play more of an active role in their children’s lives than do American ones. Nor does this end when kids go away to University. Still, I was surprised to see how seriously even the IIT schools take their role “in loco parents” (which is Latin for “as crazy overbearing parents”).

The authorities in India’s premier engineering institute, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Bombay (Mumbai), have cut off internet access to students in hostels at night. They feel that 24-hour internet access is hampering students’ academic performance and overall personality development… “they preferred to sit in their rooms and surf the net rather than interact with their mates. Academics are of primary importance for us but we also want our students to have a well-rounded personality…” [Link]

Helloooo? Who are they kidding – it’s a geek factory and proud of it. If students wanted a well rounded personality, they wouldn’t be at IIT, they’d be out partying and enjoying the Bombay nightlife. Amazingly, they’re not even the first IIT to do this either, IIT Madras cuts off net access for a shorter period of time, from 1 AM to 5AM.

What’s it really about? Well, in part I think it’s about pr0n:

The dean of students affairs, Prakash Gopalan, said one only had to look at the hard drive of any of the students’ computers to see that bad content dominated over good. “In the end, this is the Indian taxpayers’ money as well as the IIT’s network and we have an obligation to ensure that it is not misused,” he said. [Link]

And in part it’s about exerting authority and making students show up to lecture:

… they were beginning to see a drop in attendance during morning lectures … “In the morning the students would not be fresh and attentive” … “It is working well for us now,” he said, “From personal experience I can tell you that I have two morning lectures beginning at 0800 and attendance is always 95%…” [Link]

Quite frankly, it’s absurd. If you’re training engineers, you want them to be able to work all night on their projects, and they need the internet to do so. This is like saying that you’re turning off electricity at night so that students don’t stay up all night studying, or worse yet, reading trashy novels. If you want students to show up for morning lectures, make them worth attending, and make the exams depend on in-class material. Otherwise trust your students to act like adults.

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After the Purge we get Rachel Paulose

If you have a pulse then you know that the biggest news story of the past week has been the politically motivated purge of U.S. Attorneys not deemed loyal enough “Bushies.” The eight fired attorneys were all ones that Karl Rove and the Whitehouse felt weren’t acting partisan enough. They were either pursuing corruption cases against Republicans or not pursuing cases against Democrats hard enough. Evidence didn’t really matter, nor did the fact that of the eight attorneys 6 were Republican and two Independent. The most vociferous of the fired attorneys has been David Iglesias:

United States attorneys have a long history of being insulated from politics. Although we receive our appointments through the political process (I am a Republican who was recommended by Senator Pete Domenici), we are expected to be apolitical once we are in office. I will never forget John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, telling me during the summer of 2001 that politics should play no role during my tenure. I took that message to heart. Little did I know that I could be fired for not being political. [Link]

What’s the first thing you do after you fire eight attorney’s who don’t play political ball? You hire new ones of course. You’d probably go for someone you know you could trust. A loyal “Bushie.” Meet the only (as far as I know) Indian American U.S. Attorney. Her name is Rachel Kunjummen Paulose and she was appointed to the recently vacated job in Minnesota. She is the youngest attorney, and the first woman in Minnesota to hold this post (thanks for the tip Ravi):

It seemed like a fairy-tale: University of Minnesota graduate goes to Yale Law, gets a few high-profile jobs, including stints at Dorsey & Whitney and the Justice Department, and winds up, at age 33, the youngest serving U.S. Attorney, the first woman to hold that position in Minnesota and the first U.S. Attorney of South Asian descent. Her appointment to the post is sponsored by Republican Senator Norm Coleman, but also endorsed by outgoing Democrat Mark Dayton, who makes it his final priority in the Senate to see her confirmation through in the waning hours of the session.

This is the narrative we have received from the media of the meteoric rise of Rachel Paulose, the new U.S. Attorney in the Minnesota district. But with the recent furor over the firings of the “Gonzales Seven”–several of whom were involved in ongoing corruption investigations, and others of whom have revealed that they were pressured to speed up investigations by sitting members of Congress–and their replacement by up-and-coming partisans, the curious case of Rachel Paulose merits a closer look. [Link]
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On Saving Versus Primitivizing, Or Both

The LA Times ran this story a few weeks ago on a local college professor’s work in Nepal to fight human trafficking. I’ve been mulling over the story for a while, so I didn’t blog about it right away. I wasn’t even sure why I was bothered, but then I read about After the Wedding last week, and I felt as though I had a moment of clarity. It’s funny how a fictitious story can sometimes help you better understand your own reality.

Anyway, back to the article. Six years ago, California State University professor Jeffrey Kottler visited a village in rural Nepal to study maternal mortality. During his visit, he discovered that sex traffickers were taking young girls from the village — sometimes through kidnapping, sometimes with their parents’ consent — and forcing them into prostitution in India. Kottler, who was very disturbed by the scenario, decided to buy a Nepali girl’s freedom. He paid the village school principal fifty dollars to ensure that the girl stayed in school and out of prostitution for at least one year. Within six years, through fundraising and having two Nepalis monitor the uses of the funds, Kottler bought the freedom of 42 girls, preventing them from ever being sold into sexual slavery.

So why exactly would this article bother me, you might ask? Let me be very clear: I applaud Jeffrey Kottler. I fully support what he is doing, and I wish there were more people in this world like him. He’s done more with his life than anyone I know. And believe you me, most of my friends work or have worked tirelessly in the public sector, organizing immigrant workers or opening a health clinic for the homeless or helping abused mothers find employment. Yet despite our collective efforts, I don’t think any of us can honestly say that we’ve been able to prevent anyone from entering a lifetime of servitude and forced prostitution.

So it’s not Kottler who bothers me, or the idea of non-browns helping browns. It’s the undertones of this article and others like it that I do have a problem with. Those of you who follow my posts and my personal blog know that I generally cringe when it comes to stories of westerners “saving” the primitives from themselves. I cringe largely because these stories tend to reek of condescension, and they overlook the work that the “natives” have also done in the same field.

Likewise, the writer of this article uses interesting anecdotes to highlight just how “backward” the Nepalis are. The villagers are so poor that the typical house has “an animal to be tethered to the back wall.” “It’s a place where a father can be killed by a tiger.” There are blatant strokes of sensationalism here, much of which has nothing to do with anything. What exactly is the writer trying to do by evoking so much animal imagery? Then he states that the natives are so devoid of education that they “didn’t know where America was.” Oooh, shocking. Never mind that most Americans I know wouldn’t even be able to point out Nepal, much less India, on a map either. Continue reading

Discrimination down under

Last week, a Sikh in New Zealand got on a Qantas flight from Queenstown to Auckland. You can guess what happened next … he got kicked off because the other passengers didn’t want him flying with them.

“People either side of me were saying they don’t want me on here … One of the ladies told another guy ‘I’m not comfortable with him on this plane’,” Mavi says. “She was talking to a whole group. The lady started it and then somebody went and spoke to the captain. The Qantas man requested me and said ‘You’re not allowed to travel in this plane because the passengers are not happy’…” [Link]

I hadn’t realized that commercial flights were like survivor, that the passengers are polled and one unlucky one is voted off. Silly me, I thought you paid, you got checked out by security, and you disembarked at your destination. Things seem to be a bit … different on the other side of the world.

Of course, Qantas has a different account of what happened. They say simply that:

A Qantas Airways spokesman from Sydney [said] … the passenger “displayed behaviour prior to boarding and on board before departure which concerned our staff”. After “careful consideration” a decision was made to offload the passenger. [Link]
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Cricket: Amar’s Chitra Katha


Day 13 of my Cricket tuition: I’m feeling a bit woozy from all the head-spinning developments regarding certain tragic events of this World Cup. Surely there is no better moment to focus on sweeter aspects of the game, specifically how an essay penned by my erstwhile intern Amar Shah showed up on ESPN the other day. I felt nothing but consummate delight when I followed the link which was submitted repeatedly to the bunker’s hotline; there in baby blue, with his gorgeous wife too, the boy whom I had been surprisingly fond of, even before we had ever met.

It was 2002 and Amar Shah was a student from the University of Florida. I was in a windowless office at Preston Gates, near the White House. I began receiving persistent instant messages from someone with a memorable, if young-sounding screen name. Typical questions about what his internship would be like and how he should prepare gave way to actual conversation and fellowship. Who was this kid? That first day of our program, I remember that though I was excited about finally meeting all of my interns, I was extra-curious about the one who would later jump up in a hyperactive and spontaneous moment mid-orientation and show off how he already knew not just our names, but our AIM screen names, as well. And I thought he had just been chatting with me. ;)

That summer, I held his hand as he crushed on the unattainable: a girl so stunning, she looked as if she had stepped out of a Moghul miniature. I fretted over him while he bounced around the Hill; I kept him company when he was the last of my baby birds to fly away, that tear-drenched August day. It was fitting that Amar’s would be the final flight to leave DC; it was a small comfort that I had a few extra hours to spend with someone I had grown so attached to, someone who since then has always made me proud. Continue reading