Maybe they were sleeping off the booze

Indian aviation just can’t seem to catch a break. First there was a story about the number of pilots who get grounded because they are have had too much to drink:

Around 50 pilots each year in India are being grounded because they had consumed alcohol before taking a flight, the country’s civil aviation authorities said Tuesday… Civil aviation rules specify that pilots and cabin crew cannot consume alcohol 12 hours before taking a flight… India is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world with dozens of new airlines competing with each other everyday, often resulting in pilots forced to fly at short notices. [Link]

Notice that this is meant to be a positive story. Even if pilots are boneheaded, they’re getting caught before they get into the cockpit. If they’re actually catching all the tipsy pilots (and that’s a big if), then oversight authorities have done their job well.

However, there’s no good way to spin this next story other than to point out that at least nobody got hurt:

An Air India flight headed for Mumbai overshot its destination and was halfway to Goa before its dozing pilots were woken out of a deep slumber by air traffic control, a report said…

“After operating an overnight flight, fatigue levels peak — and so the pilots dozed off after taking off from Jaipur,” … The plane flew to Mumbai on autopilot, but when air traffic there tried to help the aircraft land, the plane ignored their instructions and carried on at full speed towards Goa. “It was only after the aircraft reached Mumbai airspace that air traffic control realised it was not responding to any instructions and was carrying on its own course,” the source said.

Finally air traffic control buzzed the cockpit and woke up the pilots, who turned the plane around, the report said. [Link]

Air India has strenuously denied the story, saying that it was merely a communications glitch:

“The report is absolutely incorrect, devoid of facts, misleading and irresponsible. It is a figment of imagination,” Air India spokesman Jitender Bhargava told AFP by telephone from Mumbai. [Link]

Note that a shutdown in communication still doesn’t explain why the pilots neglected to land the airplane as they were supposed to in Bombay. At best Air India is saying that its pilots simply … forgot, and there was nobody to remind them. Maybe they had a bit too much to drink.

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Are you feeling lucky?

First reported by High Heel Confidential (thanks Nirvana), the Google Ooogle Sari is here. It’s produced by designer Satya Paul (you can see his URL in the URL bar of the browser), as part of his “inspirational series 3 – pop art” (Thanks Bloog). This is the promotional copy attached:

Georgette jacquard printed sari along with unstitched blouse piece attached.

Inspirational Series 3 – Pop Art
“Starting in the 50’s, Pop art is a reflection of popular culture in art. Pop art is neither praise nor condemnation but explores the everyday imagery that is so much a part of contemporary consumer culture. It often uses media, advertising, packaging, celebrity and comic book art styles to bring art closer to real life.” [Link]

The sari sells for Rs. 11,995.00/ USD. 299.88 and has now been spotted in a mall in Gurgaon:

Spotted this in a fancy mall in Gurgaon, India (the tech hub south of Delhi). I don’t know the backstory, and I couldn’t find out because (proving that India is aspiring to Western standards in every way!) a guard started rushing over to bust me for taking pictures. [Link]

This latter part cracks me up — was the guard protecting the intellectual property involved here? Afraid that somebody would take the photo and use it to create a copy of the sari more cheaply?

While I’m generally a traditionalist, I see the potential in this sort of printed sari. Do you think it will catch on? Will there be more logo branded saris in the future? Or perhaps saris that use text as decoration – after all, search results (and sponsored links in particular) are kind of boring. One could do far better if you want to invite somebody over to (ahem) deconstruct your text.

Finally – how long until somebody wears this to Google’s own offices? (I’ve got a friend who works at one of the Delhi area offices as a programmer, I should ask him if he’s spotted it yet)

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Leaving Uganda

We’ve talked about it here before: In 1972, Idi Amin gave all 80,000 Asian Indians living in the Uganda 90 days to pack up and leave. As the BBC reported on August 7, 1972, “Asians, who are the backbone of the Ugandan economy, have been living in the country for more than a century. But resentment against them has been building up within Uganda’s black majority. General Amin has called the Asians “bloodsuckers” and accused them of milking the economy of its wealth.”

A new young adult novel Child of Dandelions by Canadian author Shenaaz Nanji sheds much needed light on the upheaval of Asian Indians in Uganda. It’s worth checking out, even if you don’t have a young adult in your household, or don’t normally pick up books for younger readers. dandelions.jpg

The protagonist of Child of Dandelions is fifteen year old Sabine, a girl whose comfortable life is torn asunder on August 6, 1972, the day that Idi Amin issues his expulsion order for all Indians in Uganda. Shaken by the protests she walks into while window shopping in Little India, Sabine turns to her parents for protection.

Sabine’s mother is afraid and eager to leave Uganda, but her father, a wealthy Ismaeli businessman and landowner, is determined to ignore Dada Amin’s orders:

“Nonsense!” Papa laughed his conch-shell laugh, and her little brother echoed it. … “We are even more Ugandan than the ethnic Africans. Not only were we born here, but we chose to be Ugandan citizens when other Indians remained British…

Sabine agrees with her father. She is different after all. Her best friend Zena is African. They’ve grown up together like “twin beans of one coffee flower” and Zena is just like her sister, even if others (like her Indian friends) don’t see it that way.

Narmin …Nasrin … Sabine’s hands clenched at the names of her classmates. They were prissy prunes. She’d had a big fight with them after they called Zena goli. Mixing her African and Indian friends was like mixing oil with water.

As the 90 day countdown continues, Sabine’s optimism is drowned out by the growing chants of “Muhindi, nenda nyumbani! Indian, go home.” Amidst reports of violent attacks against Indian families, the mysterious disappearance of her favorite uncle, and strained relations between her and Zena (whose uncle is a general and crony of Idi Amin), she is forced to reexamine her understandings of race and class.

The novel is what Nanji calls Faction, a mix of facts and fiction. Continue reading

Vinay Passes

I’m sorry to report that Vinay Chakravarthy passed away this morning.

SAJA has a statement from his family / friends –

“We are devastated at our loss today,” said a spokesperson for the Chakravarthy family. “Vinay was an amazing soul who inspired all of us with his will to live. We take some comfort in knowing his journey may have saved lives through the campaign, and in all the lives he touched with his love and spirit.”

Vinay’s last post, dated May 12, 2008, sounded promising and like Sameer hinted at a return to normal life at home

After the procedure I was transferred back to the regular floor and my diet was slowly advanced to normal! I am doing well so far and will be transferring to a physical rehab center here in Boston to get my overall strength back. I hope to be home for good in 2-3 weeks! The rehab facility will provide 3 hours of physical therapy seven days a week, quite intense but should be better for me in the long run.

His wife, family, and friends are in our thoughts and prayers.

[Previous Vinay & Sameer coverage]

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Are You Blazin’ Hope?

Angelenos this Friday will have the opportunity to give back through a truly unique experience – by partaking in Blazin’ Hope II at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. The sequel concert to a benefit event last fall, it was seeded from a vision from a few folks who wanted to ignite altruism in the South Asian community while giving back to the local and global community.

This year, we invite YOU to think. To Think, Give, and Listen as we raise money to alleviate the plight of underprivileged youth in our global and local backyards. 100% of proceeds from this event will benefit a domestic and an international organization: Peace4Kids (South LA) and Itipini (South Africa). [BeTheCause]

Not just a “concert”, Blazin Hope II is setting itself up to be a inspiring and giving experience. The performers include some of Los Angeles best South Asian artists, such as Jason Joseph, Raja Kumari, The Himalayan Project, and Nicco. And of course, the much blogged about Karmacy will be droppin’ their latest album, Wooden Bling, at this event.

Wooden Bling Again.jpg

Layering multilingual flows atop cross-cultural beats with lyrics and themes that invite people to think. The group’s ability to absorb individual life lessons and discover a new truth, a new Karmacy, has led it to trust its instincts to the Nth degree and created a sound that resonates more deeply and harmoniously than ever before. [Karmacy]

Also performing at the event will be youth from the organization Peace4Kids, the local beneficiary organization. There is even talk of a joint performance between the teens and members of Karmacy. Continue reading

Everyone Has to Play Ball — Jindal’s Latest

It’s dangerous to put politicians we like on a pedestal. Anyone closely watching Barack Obama’s carefully packaged campaign over the past few months must have noticed that he’s not some kind of liberal messiah, but rather a very astute politician, making some difficult pragmatic choices to win — without seeming to sell out entirely. (Well, that’s the goal, anyway.) In just the past week we’ve seen it happen three times: with Obama’s support for the compromise over FISA, with his reversal of the position over campaign financing, and finally, with the whole “Muslims Have Cooties” controversy. None of these are venial sins in my view, but they also probably aren’t quite what young voters who have idolized Obama were probably expecting. (Would you rather he were idealistic & lose, or pragmatic & win?)

Conservatives in Louisiana are now learning the same thing about Governor Bobby Jindal, as a recent New York Times article describes. Jindal has had a run of success getting ethics reforms passed in the Louisiana state legislature — and terrific approval ratings for his first few months in office — but this week it’s become clear that he’s willing to compromise to keep lawmakers happy when he needs to. In this case, he’s declining to veto a bill that would allow state legislators to more than double their salaries. This was something he’d specifically said he wouldn’t allow when he was campaigning:

The increase would more than double the salary of the part-time legislators effective July 8, to $37,500 from $16,800, with considerably more money available once expenses are added in. It has touched a nerve in this impoverished state.

More confounding to many citizens here than the action by the lawmakers is the inaction of Governor Jindal, who came into office this year with promises to overhaul Louisiana’s reputation for dubious ethics.

During his election campaign, he vowed to prohibit legislative pay raises. Once elected, he quickly pushed through a package of measures increasing the Legislature’s transparency and stamping out conflicts of interest, basking in the subsequent glow of his image as a youthful Ivy League reformer doing battle in a shady subtropical outpost. (link)

There are two issues here. One is of course that he’s doing something he said he wouldn’t do (though he can always say that it’s the legislature that’s doing it; he’s just declining to veto). But the other, more substantive, issue is whether a pay raise might well be warranted:

The legislators have not had a base pay increase since 1980 and complain that with the governor frequently calling them into special session, their job is no longer part-time. The increase would put salaries in the upper tier for similar part-time legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Mr. Brandt agreed that some sort of modest raise could be justified — an independent commission recommended a 12 percent increase several years ago — but said the 123 percent rise, with additional increases pegged to inflation, was “problematic.”

If you keep in mind that there hasn’t been a pay increase for legislators since 1980, and also that the recent reforms will make it harder for legislators to pay themselves “informally” (i.e., through perks and contracts directed to their own businesses), the pay raise might actually make sense.

It feels strange for a liberal like myself to defend a conservative like Jindal, but in this case, I can totally understand why you sometimes need some Quid to go with your Quo.

(This logic might hold for corruption in the Indian government as well: if government employees are paid better, they have less incentive to take bribes.) Continue reading

“Indian Nonsense”

I came across an anthology called The Tenth Rasa: An Anthology of Indian Nonsense, while browsing in a bookstore in suburban Philadelphia. The book is a collection of nonsensical poems and short stories from all over India, most of them translated into English. It’s one of those rare Penguin India titles that ended up getting distributed in the U.S. (An earlier book that I discovered in exactly the same way, was Samit Basu’s The Simoqin Prophecies. Also, I should point out that the editors of The Tenth Rasa have started a blog to promote the book.)

I’ll say a bit more about the idea behind the collection below, but what I have in mind for this post is a celebration of nonsense by example, not so much a thorough review (I’m also curious to know whether readers can remember their own South Asian nonsense rhymes, in any language. Anyone? Translations would be nice, but not required).

For now it might make sense to start with a couple of poems. First, the spirit of the collection is perhaps best captured by a favorite Sukumar Ray poem, “Abol Tabol,” (translated alternatively as “Gibberish” or “Gibberish Gibberish” to catch the reduplication), first published in Ray’s book of the same title in 1923:

Come happy fool whimsical cool
Come dreaming dancing fancy-free,
Come mad musician glad glusician
Beating your drum with glee.
Come O come where mad songs are sung
Without any meaning or tune,
Come to the place where without a trace
Your mind floats off like a loon.
Come scatterbrain up tidy lane
Wake, shake and rattle ‘n roll,
Come lawless creatures with willful features
Each unbound and clueless soul.
Nonsensical ways topsy-turvy gaze
Stay delirious all the time,
So come you travelers to the world of babblers
And the beat of impossible rhyme.
(Translated by Sampurna Chattarji from the Bengali)

(“Glusician” is not a typo, by the way; its utter unjustifiability is in some sense the point of the poem.)

Another of my favorites from the collection is an almost-limerick, originally written in Oriya by a writer named J.P. Das, and is called “Vain Cock”:

Taught to say ku-ku-du-koo, ku-ku-du-koo
He only said, ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’
Such a vain cock—
You’re in for a shock:
Not tandoori, you’ll only be stew.

(The joke here of course is that in many Indian languages a rooster’s cry is rendered along the lines of ‘ku-ku-du-koo’, and presumably in the Oriya version of “Vain Cock” the phrase “cock-a-doodle-doo” is rendered phonetically exactly as in English. The Vain cock, in short, is due for stew because of irremediable Anglophilic tendencies in his onomotopoeic ejaculation.)

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The Arranged Marriage World … is Flat

For those of us who are so wishing that the public’s fascination with arranged marriages was over, well … it’s not. Back in 2005, there was a lot of buzz [including here] around financial writer Anita Jain’s New York magazine article “Is Arranged Marriage Really Any Worse Than Craigslist?” So much so that she got a book deal out of it.

Next month, her memoir Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India will be published in the UK, US, and India by Bloomsbury. The book is being pitched as a “witty, confessional memoir” that simultaneously records Jain’s romantic quest and the story of “a country modernizing at breakneck speed.” The big question it asks: Is the new urban Indian culture in which she’s searching for a husband really all that different from America? Has globalization changed the face of arranged marriage

I want to groan, but I’m trying to be openminded and wait till I’ve actually read the book. I can’t help it though. The red flags go up in my mind when I hear about another arranged marriage book. And, now, this one combines that with another buzz word “globalization.” Is this the chick lit version of Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat”?

[Below the fold, glimpses of an excerpt which appeared at the Guardian last weekend.] Continue reading

Microcredit in a Nutshell

Hey folks – been on the road the past few weeks so haven’t had a chance to post. But, I did like this nugget from Tyler Cowen on one of the reasons Microcredit works

If you don’t pay up, your associate has to. The reality is that the person left holding the bag — who knows you well — will come seize your TV set or in some cases the process is a bit less pleasant. Part of the efficiency of microfinance is simply the separation of the lending and the “thug” functions.

I’m a Microcredit fan overall but like Cowen, instead of seeing it as a whole new way of doing business, I see it as an interesting alternative to traditional charity for a very underserved margin. However, even at this margin, many of the old rules of capitalism still apply. So I look forward to the day when Microcredit as well as its borrowers grow up, credit becomes more formal, and hopefully the “thug function” becomes the final reserve of the state.

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Poignancy can have limits: BRICK LANE review

Is that salmonella outbreak still affecting tomatoes? Got a few that might be unsafe to eat? Well, pick ’em up and prepare to hurl them at me, cuz I thought Brick Lane was a dud. 1186156.jpg

But first, let me explain:
The movie is, of course, based on the critically acclaimed novel by Monica Ali. She of the Granta 20 under 40, Booker shortlist, and ravishing looks. No, I’m not jellus (ok, maybe a little bit), but for one reason or another, I never got around to reading the book.

Despite filmmakers ardent wishes, fans of any much-loved book want a movie to be a faithful adaptation. I praised The Namesake movie because it vividly brought the book to life, and willingly overlooked the disjointedness and odd pacing of the film.

Therefore, in the spirit of thoroughness, I picked up Ali’s book and spent the past few days hoping to crawl beneath the skin of the characters, to let their emotions wash over me, to exult in their triumphs and sob at their failures. I’m about halfway through and so far will admit that the movie does reflect the book: in both cases I struggled in vain to keep my eyes open. Well, I did manage to stay awake through the film, but the woman next to me succumbed quite rapidly to the charms of a deep, grunting, wheezing slumber.

Yes, the movie is poignant and lyrical and subtle. But just as the tension ratchets up in anticipation of a climax, the plot meanders, the intensity dissipates, and the viewer/reader slumps back into the seat.

Much like in sex, this can be very frustrating.

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