The Roof and the Root

Why

There were two reasons that I was in Africa. The first one was that the mountain is there. I contend that every good journey involves a mountain high enough that it keeps a piece of you with it after you think you’ve gotten off. On top of the mountain is a doomed glacier of storied beauty that I needed to see before it melted into just a “once upon a time” memory described in a book or by an old man. The second reason I had long desired to come here was that my mother was born in East Africa (Uganda) and I wanted to feel a trace of what she once knew. Being under this sky, on this land, the pidgin that is Swahili ringing in my ears, I sought to better understand some part of her that ended when she was a teenager, a part that remained an unearthed root of my life.

Dar

The South Asian quarter (Uhindini) of Dar es Salaam is where you want to be if you have only one night in one of East Africa’s largest cities and you blog for a South Asian themed website whose readers expect you to work around the clock. It is also where the food is the best mix of Indian, Chinese, and East African. The gem dealer from Sri Lanka recognizes us as fellow guests of the dingy hotel. Your first night in a country should always be spent at a dingy hotel, otherwise you won’t learn how things in that country really work (such as how much cab fares to locations in the city should really cost). He tips us off to the fact that the best money exchange can be found next to the mosque at the end of that street. A good restaurant (I have the mutton) is directly next door to the hotel. The 34-year-old sits down with us at dinner and explains that if we want to find nice girls (why aren’t we married yet?) all we have to do is provide them with a little jewelry and some spending money. He swears that those two things will keep them satisfied and they won’t ever talk of divorce. I decide to keep my “blood diamond speech” under wraps just this once, even though Africa is the most appropriate place for it.

The Muslim friend I’m with tells me to stick with him for protection in this part of town. Five minutes later and three blocks north we pass the Pramukh Swami BAPS mandir, services just ending. “Your on my turf now,” I tell him.

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p>Closer to the hotel again, it sounds like some bar or disco is playing Bob Marley. Sweet. I wanted to check out a bar here anyways and this one apparently has good music blaring on a Saturday night. As we get closer to the source I see that the music I am hearing is in fact emanating from a large group of women sitting on a mosque floor. Yeah, it definitely wasn’t Buffalo Soldier I was hearing. It is probably not polite for me to keep staring like this either. Indian Point

There are two categories of routes that go up Kilimanjaro: the Coca Cola routes and the Whiskey Routes. Neither class of route is considered easy, given that the end point of every path is located at 19,340 ft, but the Coca Cola routes do come with wooden huts and bunk beds and a modicum of comfort. Over 5-7 days these are considered luxuries. We took a Whiskey Route (Machame) and camped in tents of course, since the journey matters.

The view from Camp Barafu (Ice)

Our guide Dizmus answers us politely when we ask how we compared to others he’s led. It is then that Dizmus, with a sly smile that makes him look much younger than he is, reveals a truth to us. When guides see Indians coming to climb Kili they know they’ve made easy money. Indians are never able to actually finish the climb to the top. Fortunately, we don’t count as Indian he tells us (but I wonder if he thought that when he first met us). Indians from “western countries” usually do finish, or give a hell of an effort. It is the Indians from India and Africa that the guides deride. The two other guides laugh, nodding their heads in agreement.

Dizmus: “You see, they all take Coca-Cola route. It has, what do you call…huts. If you have group of 20 Indians, by first hut only 15. By second hut only 10. By third hut only 4 remain. You know fourth hut, last hut? The guides call it ‘Indian Point.’ You know why?”

Abhi: Why?

Dizmus: “All Indians quit by that point. Then they take a picture, then go buy a t-shirt to take home.”

He spreads his hands as if he is apologizing for telling us the truth and wonders if he has said too much and offended us (we’ve yet to tip him).

But my companions all laugh at this because they know it is likely true. We know friends and relatives just like this. The American inside of me thinks its funny but the Indian inside of me can only shake my head in embarrassment that this is the reputation. “Indian Point,” sound like a location I’d expect to take pictures at somewhere in the desert southwest of the U.S., not near the roof of Africa.

Lunch at 15,000 ft. Is it wrong to feed a leftover chicken wing to a bird? Is that cannibalism?

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Giant Tree Groundsels (not sprouting from my backpack)

The Prize at the peak. Its even more beautiful to look at when your body has died and only your thoughts remain.

Yes, we finished. I think they call it Uhuru Peak because it is the point where your mind (receiving less than half the oxygen its used to but probably doesn’t need) declares independence from your body (which has just been slowing it down for days now anyways). There is no past or future there. There are no friends or guides in your field of view. There is only the empty blue present, which is just what you were hoping to find up here when you signed up. A few minutes touching the void is all you need.

The final steps to the roof

Unguja

After the climb and after a Safari (during which a monkey threw a rock at me) was the island. This island had for centuries been at the crossroads of empires (click on the picture below). The Arabs, Indians, Africans, Europeans all saw its strategic value. All came for the spices, which, by the way, is what I needed to bring back for my mom. She wanted cinnamon and cloves.

“Kem-cho?” I heard multiple times on the street, hustlers and shop owners trying to make a buck off this Mizungo. Sometimes I’d open my mouth, revealing my American origin, and the “Kem-cho” would be replaced by a question about what state I was from. My Korean friend had it worse. They tried a line from every Asian language EXCEPT Korean on her. She just about hugged the first guy that actually started with a Korean greeting.

Almost all the brown folks here were Gujus and many were Ismaili. In fact, whole areas of Stone Town reminded me of places in India I’d been. The only thing different was the skin color of many of the residents. My mother’s family took many trips back and forth between Uganda and Ahmedabad. In my mind I had always imagined a shocking contrast but I was beginning to realize that the similarities far outweighed the differences. If I walked through the fish market blindfolded then I might not be able to tell the difference between the Indian diaspora and the native Africans. This, after all, is the greatest reward of any trip: the realization that you may be able to assimilate in to yet another part of the world if you had to. Obviously, I was the lastest in a long line of people that had come to understand the same thing and stayed to make a life here in Zanzibar.

I wonder who lives here. Oh, wait, I see.

There is an Indian restaurant on every corner

Out of Africa

I kind of wish my mom was here. My dad gave her the phone because the front desk of my hotel couldn’t understand that he was trying to reach a guest staying there. “You mom spoke to her in Swahili.” Why did that make me so proud? She gave me a little book that had basic phrases in it before I left so I could get by. I used it some but I preferred instead to marvel at just how many words the natives had borrowed from the Indian coolies brought here decades ago.

My last night I waked down the narrow avenues of Stone Town alone. It was dark and three quarters of the shops (the Muslim ones) were closed because it was 7:00 p.m. and the owners were headed to the Mosques. I was making my way to the outdoor food stalls where the action was at. My friend and I had eaten here last night after our SCUBA diving adventure was behind us and we were willing to let down our guard. He had to get up in the middle of the night to puke his guts out but I enjoyed the lemony Red Snapper, Indian-style potatoes, and coconut nan, so I was headed back for more. God it was crowded in the alley. Mizungos everywhere but now that I was alone people thought I was native. A satisfied smile spread across my space. I duplicated the order from last night but added a fried banana dish to it. I sat down and stuffed my face with my hands, daring my guts to revolt against this goodness.

It was my last night in Africa but it will not be my last night in Africa. Next time I would like to go with my mom.

83 thoughts on “The Roof and the Root

  1. Nobody is talking about gurkhas etc here buddy, so dont get your langoti in a twist.

    I am not talking about gurkhas either, nor am I your buddy, your gratuitous insults are extremely off-putting.

    It is the experience of the african guides that the indians from India and Africa who try to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, are not in good enough shape to accomplish the feat. What is your problem with that?

    I have no problem with his characterization, yes many if not most middle-class Indians (in India and the diaspora) are not in best physical shape. That’s the cross section of Indians the guide has come across since they are the ones who can afford trips to Kilimanjaro in the first place. What I objected to what was implied by Abhi and several other posters how Indians from the west are more capable of performing physically challenging activities such as climbing mountains than Indians who live in India. It is the blanket generalization that I disagreed with. One of my professors (physics) at the Bombay University was an expert climber and had taken a couple of years off to be mountain guide in the Himalayas and no he was not a gurkha, I was a member of trekking club and we explored the Sahyadri mountains on the weekends, most of the folks usually had typical white collar jobs or were students. During these trips I have seen locals who lived in the villages at the base of these mountains, scale them without any specialized equipment or shoes even, they did it as a matter of course to go to another village on the other side or whatever, it was a part of their daily routine. Yes India and Indians have a lot of problems but this attitude “oh those poor natives are not as emancipated as we are” and generalizing about the entire country based on the Indian “uncles and aunties” in your parents circle is getting a little old.

    There is no denying that Indians on average are the least physically fit race on the planet.

    Again a blanket characterization without any factual basis.

  2. Hi all, 1. Kiswahili (the language, Swahili are the people) is not pidgin, it is a fully fledged language (trust me, I have many “red marks” on my report card to prove it). Having said that, I highly doubt Abhi meant to be disparaging, and I have heard it described as pidgin in Kenya (Tanzanians may not agree), and I don’t take offense to the artistic license Abhi used when writing up an incredibly beautiful post.

    1. Remember that most people who traverse mountains are middle or upper class people who have the money and time for such pursuits…I’m pretty sure many of the worlds poor could climb several mountains (if proper diet and nutrition are not issues) because their work is physically taxing,and they are used to surviving harsh conditions (this is also eliminating the whole conditioning/acclimatizing to the cold/thin air thing). So, while my dad and his college friends used to routinely climb Kili and Mt. Kenya and do a number of other rough and tumble activities, I can safely say that 80% of the desi population in Kenya could not climb mountains. And really neither could my dad or his friends at this point either :) However, there are plenty of desi kids who take part in various activities like the presidential awards scheme (kinda like getting an eagle scout)…

    2. Abhi I’ve been reading and re-reading the post and I love it more each time. You really should visit with your mom.

  3. Beautiful post and great pics. One day, I will go there and my pics are going to kick your pics ass! :-)

  4. Kaka @39

    There is no denying that indians on average are the least physically fit race on the planet.

    This is probably Razib’s area, but “indians” is not a race. Since you like to think of Indians as “not in good enough shape”, having many negative facts associated with them & their country, & being mainly of low caste, it may please you to know that they weren’t significant enough to make it as a separate race… on this planet.

  5. http://www.geocities.com/bharatvarsha1947/Feb_2003/specialforces.htm

    Hard work pays,” quipped Captain Krishnadas after his team secured the first position at the ‘Exercise Airborne Africa – 2002′ at Botswana, beating 28 teams from 12 countries. In the simulated real-war situation at Botswana, the Indian team emerged ‘overall winners’ at the June 8-11 ‘Endurance, Navigation and Evacuation’ event in which participants from Botswana, France, Malawi, Malaysia, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, UK, USA and Zimbabwe took part. The Indian team also won most of the ‘individual medals’. Four others — Ghana, Lisotho, Namibia and Zambia — participated as ‘Observers’.

    There is a fair amount chest thumping here (Ranade’s team finished 15th while Capt. Krishnadas’ team won):

    On what the team learnt from the ‘participation’, Major Ranade said: ”It was an eye-opener for us. The ‘Westerners’ whom we perceived as ‘real toughies’, in spite of being physically and equipment-wise pretty superior, proved ‘lacking in mettle’ when it came to ‘mental challenge’ in real-life conditions.” “Our spirit of sacrifice, mental toughness and experience paid off,” he added. The event organised to test the ‘physical fitness, mental robustness and the will to endure under adverse conditions’ was mainly to foster goodwill and improve relations between the airborne units of the participating nations. Headlines

  6. Anecdotes like Prarthana and Priya, while commendable, do not make a trend.

    Has anyone heard of this study?

    “We found that Caucasians had higher fat free masses, higher inspiratory and expiratory muscle pressures and wider chests than the other races. The Caucasians and Chinese had longer chests than the Indians. There was no difference in alveolar distensibility or in the diffusion coefficient between the groups. These findings suggest that Caucasians have larger lung volumes than Chinese and Indians because they have increased numbers of alveoli and physically larger chest cavities, and not because of greater alveolar distensibility. Chest dimensions, together with height and race explained 90% of the variation in forced vital capacity and 86% of the variation in total lung capacity.”

  7. I hope you travel more and write more. Especially in the countries of the Indian Ocean Rim: where desis, africans, arabs, persians and malays have lived, and interacted with each other, for millenia.

    If there is a sepia organized trip to some place like Yemen, I’ll sign up.

  8. Amitabh, maybe my perspective is too skewed, but Swahili is NOT the “mother tongue” language for many of the people who speak it (the exception being the coast (waswahili), and with many caveats, much of the population of Tanzania thanks to Nyerere’s language policy initiatives). I think your point about the language morphing into a creole is valid. We can argue up and down on whether or not it is strictly Bantu or strictly Arabic; I would say that it is very much an amalgamation and (simplified) blending of linguistic principles from both languages (although it certainly fits more neatly into the Bantu family). For examples, the cases derive from Arabic (but there are far fewer than in the Arabic language), and the syntax derives from Bantu languages (but again, is relatively simplified compared to any Bantu language on its own). The point is not that Swahili is an inferior language, but rather that it blends, modifies and simplifies two root languages to create a third.

    In the context of the language’s history, I don’t think it’s accurate to say Swahili did NOT develop as a pidgin; that said, it is a highly complex language with its own literature and tradition. My point was that I read Abhi’s use of the term as contextually specific; I don’t think it’s correct or appropriate to then play off the term and label him racist/neo-imperalist/Occidentalist, etc.

  9. The point is not that Swahili is an inferior language, but rather that it blends, modifies and simplifies two root languages to create a third. In the context of the language’s history, I don’t think it’s accurate to say Swahili did NOT develop as a pidgin; that said, it is a highly complex language with its own literature and tradition. My point was that I read Abhi’s use of the term as contextually specific; I don’t think it’s correct or appropriate to then play off the term and label him racist/neo-imperalist/Occidentalist, etc.

    No matter how much one language borrows from another (ex. extensive English borrowings from Norman French) that does not change the identification of the language. Linguists recognize what you call “blending” in only two cases, 1. creoles and 2. pidgins. Swahili is self-evidently neither. Everything you have written on the subject in this thread is linguistic illiteracy, and pompous at that. Of course, my use of the terms “illiteracy” and “pompous” shoud be read as contextually specific, and in no way an attempt to disparage people who come from an illiterate and pompous background.

  10. It’s not true that Swahili developed as a pidgin, it always had a community of native speakers. However, the language’s growth in prominence due to commerce with arab traders resulted in a situation where more speakers acquired the language as second language than as a first, and this did result in a streamlining of the language.

    This streamlining process has parallels to the simplification involved in pidgins and carried over into emergent creoles, only on a much smaller scale. The linguist John McWhorter, a specialist in creoles and pigdins refers to this process as a “hint of a pigdinization,” so while referring to Swahili originating pidgin is in inaccurate, it’s not a mistake borne totally of ignorance, there is an underlying similarity invovled.

    For a nice summary on Swahili’s streamlining, see McWhorter’s pop linguistics book “The Power of Babel,” pg. 167 (very easy to do at Amazon with the “search inside feature”). The book itself has an excellent chapter that introduces and discusses the linguistics of creoles and pidigns.

  11. It’s not true that Swahili developed as a pidgin, it always had a community of native speakers. However, the language’s growth in prominence due to commerce with arab traders resulted in a situation where more speakers acquired the language as second language than as a first, and this did result in a streamlining of the language.

    But did that stream-lining affect the way native-speakers spoke the language? For example Hindi is spoken by diverse communities in India as a second language…for example in general many Punjabis and Gujaratis can speak it reasonably well…but then you have the people in the Hindi Belt who speak it as a native language and it’s a different thing altogether…spoken with much more finesse and fluency. Is that the case with Swahili, that you have various groups speaking it in a simplified way or at least a rough around the edges way as a second language, while the native community of Swahili speakers speaks it with finesse and style?

    Urdu is a great example (Al Muhajir can chime in on this I know it’s a pet peeve of his) in that urban educated Pakistani Punjabis have virtually adopted it as their native language BUT TO THIS DAY can not speak it with quite the same finesse and style as the native Urdu-speaking community does.

  12. Urdu is a great example (Al Muhajir can chime in on this I know it’s a pet peeve of his) in that urban educated Pakistani Punjabis have virtually adopted it as their native language BUT TO THIS DAY can not speak it with quite the same finesse and style as the native Urdu-speaking community does.

    Did you miss my reincarnation as Pagal_Aadmi? :)

    You are of course correct about the lack of finesse and style of the Urdu speakers from Lahore and other parts of Pakistani Punjab. I think the Punjabi accent is probably hard to get rid of and they are probably not trying anyway. The other day I was speaking to a client (born and raised in Lahore and immigrated to the US in his late teens) and he almost fooled me for a couple of minutes untill he said ‘Iddhar-Uddhar’ and I went aha! I think in his case he has spent a lot of time in the US so that might have something to do with it.

  13. he almost fooled me for a couple of minutes untill he said ‘Iddhar-Uddhar’ and I went aha!

    I thought iddhar-uddhar was bona fide Hindi-Urdu? At least in Hindi I know people say that a lot (along with yahan-wahan of course).

  14. 62 · Amitabh said

    or example in general many Punjabis and Gujaratis can speak it reasonably well…but then you have the people in the Hindi Belt who speak it as a native language and it’s a different thing altogether

    don’t forget Bambaiya Hindi. most Northies that i know (jokingly?) say Bambaiya Hindi is not real Hindi, although my Amrikan/Gujarati accent may be a factor in making them cringe.

  15. Bombaiya Hindi has a huge influence of Marathi on it. You never here “Kya re?” in the North. It is a literal translation of marathi phrase “Kai re?” There are tons of examples there which are literal translation of Marathi into Hindi, that constitutes Bombaiya Hindi.

  16. But did that stream-lining affect the way native-speakers spoke the language?

    Well, eventually it did because those who acquired the streamlined version outnumbered the the native speakers and this dynamic lead to the native version being subsumed into streamlined version.

    but then you have the people in the Hindi Belt who speak it as a native language and it’s a different thing altogether…spoken with much more finesse and fluency

    Well, what exactly do you mean by “finesse and fluency?” This sort streamlining I am talking about refers more to simplifications in grammar, omitting gender inflection, reducing the number of pronouns, etc., not really the much more general aspects of language change like accents and differences in vocabulary. With Swahili there was the elimination of tone in distinguishing words, and there was a reduction of irregular verbs.

    Is that the case with Swahili, that you have various groups speaking it in a simplified way or at least a rough around the edges way as a second language, while the native commthe unity of Swahili speakers speaks it with finesse and style?

    No, this streamlining process began toward the early half of the last millenium and has already run it’s course. The streamlined Swahili is the Swahili that remains today. Swahili is widely used as a lingua franca today in parts of East Africa, so you probably do still have a situation today where there are more speakers who have acquired it as a second language than as a first, but the effects of the streamlining I am talking about occurred well, well before the present situation.

    With the comparison to Hindi, you have to precise to keep the language dynamics straight. The simplifying that occured with Swahili occurred because people were learning the second language as adults and therefore not getting the benefit of the automatic and complete acquisition that children naturally go through. Is that’s what going on with the Hindi speakers?

    I’m guessing what you mean by finesse and style are more probably issues of pronunciation and vocabulary, in which case it’s more of a social judgment than a reflection on the complexity of the language. For example, the pronunciation of typical rural English in the US might at first sound like a simplified version of the original, but really the situation is that alongside the reductions of sounds of the standard dialect there is greater enunciation of sounds reduced in the standard. You get people saying things that sound like “doin?” instead “doing?” but then you also get “po-lice” with first vowel fully enunciated. The variation involved the pronounciation/phonology of different dialect isn’t like the unidirectional effect that you get with this sort mall-scale pidginization that Swahili went through.

  17. What the thin-skinned fake nationalists pathologically refuse to understand is that exceptions do not disprove the rule. For example, a single silver medal in the last Olympic Games does not disprove the fact that South Asia is by far the worst performer in the Olympics. A few non-gurkha desis climbing Mt Everest does not disprove the observation that desis from India and Africa are generally unable to climb to the top of of the much shorter Mt Kilimanjaro. Etc, etc.

    Burying your head in the sand serves what purpose other than make you all look foolish and delusional? Do you think the rest of the world is so dumb and blind that they will disregard their objective statistical observations of India and indians just because you can provide a few examples that go against the trend?

  18. 68 · Kaka said

    Burying your head in the sand serves what purpose other than make you all look foolish and delusional? Do you think the rest of the world is so dumb and blind that they will disregard their objective statistical observations of India and indians just because you can provide a few examples that go against the trend?

    Kaka: let’s talk stats here. Just because India doesn’t have top level athletic performers (the tail end of the bell curve) does not mean that the population mean is below the world average. Indians are usually not owners of transportation, many perform chores taken care of by machines here manually (eg domestic workers, construction laborers). It may be that affluent Indians (more likely to travel abroad; the right tail of the curve economically) aren’t in good physical shape; but this fact combined with the lack of tier 1 athlete cannot be sufficient to conclude that Indians/South have poor than average endurance. Is the fact that there are relatively few African Nobel Prize winners enough to conclude that Africans, on average, are a stupider race? Is the fact that you’re a huge prick imply anything about the average size of males in your race?

    (

  19. Yo Abhi. Excellent summary, but you forgot about the warthog incident at Ngorongoro Crater.

  20. It may be that affluent Indians (more likely to travel abroad; the right tail of the curve economically) aren’t in good physical shape; but this fact combined with the lack of tier 1 athlete cannot be sufficient to conclude that Indians/South have poor than average endurance.

    Firstly, India is the world leader in hunger and malnutrition: do you really think that the masses of poor indians, who bear the brunt of India’s sorry record in feeding its children, have physical endurance comparable to the other better nourished races/ethnicities? Secondly, the middle and upper classes of other nations are far more physically fit than their indian counterparts. Why do you think that is?

    Is the fact that there are relatively few African Nobel Prize winners enough to conclude that Africans, on average, are a stupider race?

    Actually, people of african ancestry (from Africa, Carribean, the Americas) have won at least twice as many Nobel Prizes as people of desi ancestry (from India, Pakistan, Caribbean, America), despite being fewer in number.

    Is the fact that you’re a huge prick imply anything about the average size of males in your race?

    Actually this is exactly the idiotic argument your thin-skinned, irrational and delusional ilk keeps using: pointing out exceptions to the rule as if that changes the rule!

    India keeps sending large contingents of its very best athletes to the Olympics, yet every other region on earth leaves India’s best in the dust. Whats your excuse for this sorry performance? And its not like India does very much better in the mental olympiads. Here are the results of the latest Math Olympiad:

    http://www.imo-2008.com/results.html

    India won just two bronze medals out of over 250 medals awarded and its best contestant came in at #186. China as usual dominated the competition, and among the Gold Medal winners were contestants from Iran, Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, North Korea…..

  21. Can we please stop with the pointless side discussions? This post is about South Asian influences in East Africa.

  22. 72 · Kaka said

    Actually, people of african ancestry (from Africa, Carribean, the Americas) have won at least twice as many Nobel Prizes as people of desi ancestry (from India, Pakistan, Caribbean, America), despite being fewer in number.

    exactly what i’m saying: you can’t use tail ends to compute precise averages; you need all values. also, i’m not sure how you crowned indians/south asians with the least physically fit title. the methodology remains unclear.

    and yes, indian athletes could do with improvement; so could our academic ability; and so could our record with malnutrition. beyond these truisms and standard criticisms of india can you say something more illuminating? why don’t you develop a code, type 1 when you want to diss corruption, 2 when you want to talk about overpopulation, 3 for caste, and so forth. Your views are well-known here, and no novel data is being expressed at this point.

  23. Marcus Samuelsson, had a cookbook on African food, and it integrates a lot of Indian spices into African food – it is also a wonderful reminder of all the cultural exchange through the ages that has happened. I love African food and the lingering Indian flavors in it, I’d reccomend it to anyone who want to infuse newer flavors to their Indian food to pick the book up.

    http://www.amazon.com/Soul-New-Cuisine-Discovery-Flavors/dp/0764569112

  24. This post is about South Asian influences in East Africa.

    sort of randomly on topic. this guy deol will be repping canada in the oly. he was born in lusaka and his pops repped kenya in three olys. if you delete this post, the wrath of all desiettes will descend on ye. lord guruvayurappa knows they dont get any dates and they hang around blogs waiting for desi eye candy. so this is in the pubic interest.

  25. not Watson at 75:

    indian athletes could do with improvement; so could our academic ability;

    Huh??? and huh again. The only people I want to work with these days (a recent development after a lifetime spent in kakaesque self-loathing) are Indians. They’re simply the best. I work with applied math (which might explain the bias) but I’ve done lots of other things. Can see why you’re not James Watson.

  26. my_dog_jagat, kaka @ 72 mentions a junior math olympiad where indian students are not performing upto par. i commented in context of that observation. i’ve no doubt as to the academic ability of indians (never having suffered from kakaesque self-loathing or mao worshiping) — but i don’t think we have a hegemony (or any country for that matter) on academic brilliance. there are (obviously) many factors which lead to a nation performing poorly or well in competitions; most of these reasons are (probably) structural and institutional, rather than reflective of ‘inherent’ traits prevalent among particular nationalities.

    if you trained physically supple indian girls to be olympian gymnasts from a young age, gave them the great nutrition etc etc, they’d probably be as successful as competitors from the erstwhile east bloc. i’m not endorsing this. one, i’m not a believer in regimenting kids to perform so that some idiots can experience national pride. two, when i see intellectual or physical achievement, i’m happy/inspired/jealous regardless of the nationality or phenotype of the people. three, my pride in being indian is entirely independant of how we’re doing in cricket, olympics, mountaineering, or math olympiads. i love it because i was born and raised there; had i been belonged to another country, all of that love would be transferred to that geography. it’s that simple.

    SM intern, I apologize for the diversion.

  27. Kaka, here is an article by a Chinese-American about how he thinks Michael Chan is disadvantaged by ‘inherent’ physical traits. The author is somewhat self-loathing (like you) but at least the dude has a sense of humor (unlike you).

    To great fanfare, he had his racket company, Prince, design a stick that was one inch longer than the industry standard. It improved his serving angle but also reminded everyone that Chinese guys had to compensate for genetic shortcomings besides our height. Where did Prince add that inch of length? To the shaft, naturally.
  28. in goa, while renting a kayak, the owner suggested wearing a life jacket. i asked if it was absolutely necessary and pointed to several europeans rowing away without them. the owner responded “indians no good swimmers like foreign peoples”. he certainly couldn’t be referring to the the remarkably fit locals and fisherfolk, but rather the bandy-legged potbellied urbanites on holiday..

  29. Kaka, here is an article by a Chinese-American about how he thinks Michael Chan is disadvantaged by ‘inherent’ physical traits. The author is somewhat self-loathing (like you) but at least the dude has a sense of humor (unlike you).

    There’s so much been written on how much the Chinese government spends on Olympic training, even during a period when extensive famines were going through the country. I’m not sure how much the Indian govt spends on Olympic training but I’m sure it’s minuscule compared to other countries. Comparing issues like this by nationality or descent is rather stupid b/c it compares w/o using context – a way that many racists or model minority proponents come up with their deductions to push stereotypes of people. As for me, if I’m supposed to make it even to Indian point or past it, I’ll have to stop with my smoking but my sis who’s always played sports and is in great shape I’m sure would be able to at least get past Indian point :)