Must it be Halloween everyday?

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Since it’s Halloween, and I have not yet overdosed on Starburst and Snickers, I started to wonder how what role fear has in 2007. We seem to want to be scared, which is why horror movies are so popular, although I am not a fan of torture-porn flicks like Saw and Hostel. Catwoman was scary enough.

But what about using fear for non-entertainment purposes? It can often be used in situations where it may not be the best approach. Like a parent who warns, “Study hard, or you won’t get into the Ivy League and you’ll have no future.” Well, I studied hard, didn’t get into the Ivy League, and am doing OK.

It may sound naïve, but hope really is a better sales pitch than fear. And if all you have to offer is fear, or it’s close relations such as cynicism, paranoia, etc. – you start to become unpleasant company after awhile.

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Diversity in the Indian Constitution (Guha Chapter 6)

[Part of an ongoing series on Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi. Last week's entry can be found here. Next week we will skip a chapter, and go directly to Chapter 8, "Home and the World," which explains how India evolved its "non-aligned" status.]

I’ve actually written a longish post on the idea of “secularism” in the Indian constitution in the past, but of course there’s more to say. The entire proceedings (more than 1000 pages of text!) of the Constituent Assembly have been posted online by the Indian Parliament here. Guha’s account comes out of reading through those proceedings, and is also deeply influenced by Granville Austin’s classic book, The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation, which is still as I understand it the definitive book on the subject.

As many readers may be aware, the Indian Constitution was worked out over the course of three years (1946-1949), by a Constituent Assembly that contained 300 members, including representation by religious minorities, members of marginal groups (i.e., Adivasis), as well as a small but vocal group of women.

Three of the profound disagreements that the members of the Assembly had to resolve included: 1) the proper role of Gandhian philosophy in defining the new nation, 2) the question of “reservations” for Dalits and Tribals (Scheduled Castes and Tribes), and 3) the status of Indian languages, and the idea of an “official” language. Continue reading

Making the most of Halloween

Think about it. Once a year a bunch of impressionable young children come to your door and give you their undivided attention. This presents the PERFECT opportunity to proselytise. It’s like a reverse Jehovah’s Witness-type situation. While many of the world’s other religions are clever enough to take advantage of this amazing opportunity, Hindus are left behind (mostly due to a lack of creativity it seems). Beliefnet has a great feature that gives us a tasty sampler of some of the divine candy out there, and also provides us insight into why Hinduism faces an uphill battle when it comes to creating converts of the young:

First up is the Christian “Scripture Candy:”

Once you pop, you can’t stop! These scripture-wrapped mints are downright addictive. Not too minty, yet soft enough to melt in your mouth. According to the maker, these mints were created to turn “a pagan holiday into something to glorify God…” [Link]

Why can’t someone make candy with Gita passages?

Next we have Star of David pops:

I’d eat a chocolate Hanuman pop if it existed. I’m just sayin’.

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"He Speaks So Well"

If you are a regular viewer of the Sunday morning news shows then you will have taken note that Bobby Jindal has now graduated into that honored circle. You are not a real politician in this country until you’ve gone a round or two with the Sunday morning punditocracy. Tim Russert’s Meet The Press is the big leagues with This Week with George Snufalufagus coming in second. Slightly more inviting and easy for a first-timer like Republican Bobby Jindal is Fox News Sunday. Here is Jindal’s full interview from this past Sunday’s episode:

He makes a pretty convincing pitch for why he would be a boring (no corruption or titties) governor which is what he says the people of Louisiana have long been waiting for after decades of corruption and mismanagement. He also talks a little about the “Bubbas for Bobby” that helped him win. This was his first big interview since he won so check it out.

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Don’t count your chickens

In our new and improved news tab, I saw a story posted by Chachaji about how Mukesh Ambani was now, at least temporarily, the richest man in the world!

Not actually the richest man in the world, but he is in the top five.

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani today became the richest person in the world, surpassing American software czar Bill Gates, Mexican business tycoon Carlos Slim Helu and famous investment guru Warren Buffett, courtesy the bull run in the stock market.

Following a strong share price rally today in his three group companies…the net worth of Mukesh Ambani rose to 63.2 billion dollars (Rs 2,49,108 crore). In comparison, the net worth of both Gates and Slim is estimated to be slightly lower at around 62.29 billion dollars each, with Slim leading among the two by a narrow margin. [Link]

If this was true, I thought, it was a meteoric rise. In 2006 he was ranked 56th richest in the world according to Forbes, in March of 2007 he was still only number 14. That got Rajni the monkey fact checker curious, so she poked around further.

It turns out that Ambani isn’t the really richest man in the world, although he may be in the top 5 along with Carlos Slim, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Lakshmi Mittal:

Reliance Industries moved swiftly on Tuesday to deny a report that company chief Mukesh Ambani has become the world’s richest man thanks to a surge in stock market. An agency report putting his wealth at $63.2 billion hailed his rise as another triumph for the nation’s booming economy. But Reliance said Ambani was not quite so rich after all, with a net worth of somewhere in the region of $50 billion. [Link]

This is still a huge increase, seeing as he was worth only $20 billion in March, but it doesn’t put him at the top of the heap either.

Honestly though, to me this is all arcane like counting angels on the head of a pin. Once you’re wealthier than Midas, it doesn’t matter to me how much you have. My question is, when will Ambani and Mittal become philanthropists at the level of Buffett and Gates?

Related posts: Today’s Carnegies?, Forbes names India’s richest, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and …

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Hard Kaur = the Desi Missy Elliott (a theory)

Watching the following video (from the Hindi film Johnny Gaddaar), it occurred to me that Hard Kaur is in some ways the British/Desi equivalent of Missy Elliott:

Like Missy, Hard Kaur depends a lot on the producers she’s worked with. In this case, the song wouldn’t be much at all without the ideas and beat from the legendary Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. In Missy’s case, of course, the wizard behind all of her big hits has been Timbaland. Admittedly, neither Missy nor Hard Kaur could be called serious “auteurs” — but then, they’re not trying to be Radiohead, they’re trying to make money.

Like Missy, Hard Kaur has become a success based on her talent and street swagger, not so much her looks. (Though I really don’t want to get into a “hot or not” discussion of looks if it can be avoided; my point is, there are plenty of pretty pop princesses out there whose careers have gone nowhere, while Hard Kaur is crossing over into Bollywood like a bullet.) Just like Missy, there’s something about Hard Kaur’s rapping that has nothing to do with clever production tricks or computer software; there’s a realness and hip hop confidence (i.e., “hardness”) there that can only come from the street. Finally, both Missy and Hard Kaur have a particular fondness for a) “songs that make you dance,” and b) songs about intoxication (alcohol or drugs).

I’m not saying that Hard Kaur is ever going to make as much money as Missy Elliott, but I don’t think she quite gets the props she deserves for her originality. Is it because she’s too ‘beisharam’ (shameless)? Are people threatened by this Punjabi Kuri who writes songs about getting drunk, and her need for “Sexy Boys” (who should be, as she says, “thora sa lafanga/I need a gangster”)?

In effect, what I’m saying is that I, for one, am a fan of Ms. Hard Kaur — though I concede I may be the only one here. (I also still like Missy, though in my view she hasn’t done anything inspired in awhile.) Continue reading

19 is old enough

You think that Ashwin Madia is on the young side in running for Congress at the age of 29? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Meet Ytit Chauhan, a 19-year-old Indian-American running for city council in Atlantic City, N.J.:

Picture shamelessly cradle-robbed from his Facebook profile

The first round of campaign finance forms shows that this year’s City Council candidates may spend tens of thousands of dollars to land a seat on the resort’s governing body. While files are incomplete, the candidates raised a cumulative $103,141, while spending $77,578 for the Nov. 6 contest.

Leading the pack is Steve Layman, a Republican running independently who is challenging Councilman Tim Mancuso, a Democrat.

Unendorsed Democrat Ytit Chauhan is also running in that race, but he signed forms indicated he planned to spend no more than $3,500. [Link]

Chauhan has even caught the attention of David Letterman and his company WorldWide Pants. Variety reports:

David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production banner is spearheading an untitled feature documentary about young adults running for public office. The doc will follow five men and women ages 18-20 who are seeking elected posts in a range of states, including New Jersey and Tennessee.

The film is the first docu and the first noncomedy project for Worldwide Pants. Doc will be directed by Michael Moore’s former assistant Jason Pollock, and “An Inconvenient Truth” producer Lawrence Bender is attached to produce.

The candidates include Ytit Chauhan, 18, a first-generation Indian-American running for city council in Atlantic City, N.J.; and George Monger, 18, who successfully appealed to lower the Memphis voting age from 23 so that he could run for city council. [Link]
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The Tronie Foundation

Since we’ve already had one depressing story about child slave labor in India today I thought, why not end the day with an…errrrrr, uplifting story about child slave labor? Thank goodness for the Seattle Times for reporting on this gem to take some of the earlier slime off:

As a 7-year-old girl in southern India in 1978, she was taken from her parents and sold into slavery.

At the same time, a 9-year-old boy in Southeast Asia was surviving alone in a cave, after the fishing boat on which he was fleeing Vietnam became shipwrecked.

Rani and Trong Hong would eventually be rescued from their separate childhood nightmares and brought to safety in Washington state. They would meet as adults on a blind date, fall in love and marry…

Now, motivated by the pain of their early years to help others, they are renovating a home exclusively for victims of human trafficking — people recruited, transported and harbored for sexual exploitation or slave labor. [Link]

Talk about a power couple! Click on their names in the passage above to read about their unfortunate childhoods. The non-profit they’ve established, partly on the profits from their lucrative home-building business in Olympia Washington, is called The Tronie Foundation (and it could use your donations):

Rani works with victims who have been abused by all forms of Human Trafficking. Whether the victim was part of a mail-order bride schemes, sold into servitude, sexual slavery or victimized as part of an international adoption ring, Rani because of her own personal experience has a heart for these women and children. She shares openly her own personal story, in hopes that they too can be restored and live a productive life, free from the pain of their past.

“No woman and child should be so severely abused that they end up looking like they are mentally and physically ill. As a survivor of human trafficking, I personally have chosen to speak publicly to give hope and encourage those of you that may be afraid to come forward. [Link]

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Dubai — The Beginning of the End?

For the first time that I know of, Desi (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Sri Lankan) workers in Dubai have gone on strike to protest low wages and working conditions. After years of systematic exploitation, it’s about time.

The boom has been possible due to plentiful investment from oil-rich neighbors and armies of non-unionized south Asian workers whose fear of deportation, until recently, kept them from voicing discontent over low wages.

“The cost of living here has increased so much in the past two years that I cannot survive with my salary,” said Rajesh Kumar, a 24-year-old worker from the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh who earns $149 a month.

The laborers ignored the threat of deportation and refused to go to work, staging protests at a labor camp in Dubai’s Jebel Ali Industrial Zone and on a construction site in Al Qusais residential neighborhood. They demanded pay increases, improved housing and better transportation services to construction sites. On Saturday, workers threw stones at the riot police and damaged to police cars.

Emirates’ Minister of Labor Ali bin Abdullah al-Kaabi described workers’ behavior as “uncivilized,” saying they were tampering with national security and endangering residents’ safety. (link)

Uncivilized? In my view, what’s uncivilized is when you’re making billions and your workers (nearly 2 million of them) are forced to live in prison-like conditions for $149 a month. When they have limited civil and legal rights, and are forcibly segregated from the native population. And when you have laws on the books that prevent them from organizing in any way that might lead to a better situation for themselves.

The era when South Asian workers were desperate to go abroad to try and make a little money under these circumstances seems to be gradually ending, and many in Dubai are more than ready to walk away, especially with a growing economy at home, and the UAE’s Dirham linked to a falling dollar:

Companies, however, do not want more workers to leave as they struggle to find enough to complete existing projects following an overwhelming response to a government amnesty program to persuade illegal laborers to leave.

In June, the government offered, no questions asked, a free one-way plane tickets to illegal workers hoping to leave. They have since been swamped by 280,000 workers who, fed up with a rising cost of living and low wages, were ready to go home. (link)

280,000 are ready to go home right now (NB: they can only go home if the UAE allows them to do so).

It’s true, even if many of the Desis leave, others might be willing to take their place. But with one large reservoir of dirt cheap labor drying up, it sounds like the oasis of Dubai’s recent economic boom is starting to flicker. It may have always been a mere mirage — albeit one built with real sweat, and in some cases, blood. Continue reading