Pet Peeve #452

One of my pet peeves is retail people assuming I don’t eat pork. I would hesitate to call it a micro-aggression because I’ve experienced this behavior from all kinds of people. Desi guys at Subway, the Asian guy at a Chinese restaurant, and white people at supermarkets. When I order a sandwich and order bacon on it, I get a concerned look and a warning that bacon is pork and if I’m ok with it. Fuck yeah! That’s why I ordered it. Or more infuriating is when I order pork belly and am warned that it’s pork. I almost want to snap back that I sure hope it is. The supermarket is especially galling at the samples table. I amble up to try a sample to the guy screaming at everyone to try the latest ham and get a warning that it’s pork. I’m like, yes that’s why I came over unlike the others who’re pretending to ignore you.

I’m not sure where this unwanted concern comes from. Maybe it’s the assumption that all brown guys are Muslims and Muslims don’t eat pork. It’s almost like if I manned the supermarket samples table and warned all white guys that the meat samples are not kosher and wonder what they’re doing out on the Sabbath.

Harrowing Experience flying American Airlines

For our second wedding anniversary, we traveled to San Francisco for a quick 3-day visit. It turned out to be a day and half longer than we anticipated thanks to sheer incompetence of American Airlines. While our trip was exciting and fun, the travails of getting there and back ruin whatever good memories we have. Since we live in a small town (Bryan- College Station), we’ve to take connecting flights to Dallas or Houston to fly anywhere in the country. Usually we fly Continental, flying via Houston, does a decent job of keeping your itinerary intact. To our bad luck this time, we decided to try American Airlines since it was cheaper. Never again.

Although the weather was almost perfect, we were still delayed at Dallas by an hour on our way to San Francisco. We were told that the fog in San Francisco was to blame. That’s like blaming the July rains in Mumbai; I’m sure everyone knows it happens and you could plan for it. But the real test of our patience was on our way back. We checked in online the previous night from FedEx Kinkos located near our hotel and printed out our boarding passes so that we wouldn’t be delayed at the check-in counter or booth. We were aware that it was Christmas Eve and the crowds would be crazy. We reach the airport well ahead of time, pass through security, grab some breakfast and settle in near the departure gate. Ash checks her email to get a strange email from Expedia that our itinerary has changed. We briefly panic and rush to the counter at the gate. We’re told that since our flight from Dallas to College Station has been canceled due to inclement weather, we’ve been bumped off our first flight out of San Francisco and placed on standby. Also, we have been automatically booked on the 12:40pm flight…on the next day. WTF all around. Apparently, this last-minute flight change was done at 5:30am for our 7:30am flight so there was no way for us to know about it until we had reached the airport.

We soon realized that we weren’t alone in our misery as AA had bumped dozens of passengers who had connecting flights. After talking at length to the poor hassled lady at the counter, she booked us with the same itinerary for the next day while keeping us on standby for the next flights to Dallas. This still threw our plans into disarray as we had to frantically call Lucy’s boarding service to keep her for another day and reschedule another pickup date and time on Christmas Day. We could have taken the next available flight to Dallas (we were 9 & 10 on the standby list) but then the measly three hour drive from Dallas to College Station was still in limbo as all rental cars were booked up. We decided to consider our sunk costs and just head to the nearest hotel to cool our heels for the next 24 hours; all on our expense of course.

Thankfully, the next day, the flight left on time with us on board and we even landed in Dallas 15 minutes ahead of schedule. But then American Airlines wasn’t done displaying its incompetence. Our 35-minute flight to College Station was delayed by an hour. We were then shunted to four different gates within the span of an hour. The plane arrived but the crew was flying some other plane somewhere up north. The staff at the gate counter had to ultimately resort to “We don’t know when you’ll be flying”. At this time, we wished we had landed in Houston so at least we could’ve asked Ash’s parents to pick us up. Finally, one and half hours after our scheduled time, the crew appeared and we boarded the plane.

It took us nearly 36 hours since we checked out of our hotel in Union Square at San Francisco to the time we landed in College Station. I’ve reached India quicker. I can understand weather delays but the sheer incompetence and lack of communication on part of American Airlines was galling. We will pay more next time and fly airlines other than American Airlines. They may be cheap but then they make you aware of that fact every step of the way; after all you get what you pay for.

More on the San Francisco trip later. That was the good part.

Killing Management

Labor and management have often collided over contracts and worker rights but never have matters crossed a line. Well, they did yesterday when the CEO of a Noida company “was bludgeoned to death by a 200-strong armed mob of dismissed workers.” It is a severe setback for labor movement when the rule of the law is openly flouted not only when public property is damaged due to bandhs but as in this case utterly despicable when the CEO is murdered in broad daylight.

The socialist mindsets of the government reared its ugly head when the Union Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes revealed his crassness and naivete toward effect on foreign investments when he actually condoned the behavior of the murderous mob. In his words, “this should serve as a warning for the managements. It is my appeal to the managements that the workers should be dealt with compassion.” So workers should be dealt with compassion by not firing them but management is fair game because apparently they are cold insensitive androids?

Amit Varma points to the exact image that conjured up in my head. After all, it is in their psyche that garibon ka saathi is always right even if he commits a ghastly murder because in their minds, the CEO had it coming. Probably the French guillotine further romantizes such perverse thoughts. When will we start acting like the civilization that we claim to be?

Wrong on the Internet

[source] We just had this moment but I’m resisting. Must sleep first. Details at 11 (am).

Swadeshi Movement for a Cricket Coach

Ajit Wadekar is credited with enormous cricket successes as an Indian captain in 1971 and later as a coach in the early 90s. In my opinion, he was simply lucky to have the right players that guided India to victory. I am not doubting his talent as a cricketer because frankly neither have I seen him play nor have his exploits been discussed by those who have. In a recent interview, he expressed strong reservations against a foreign coach. This was in light of Gary Kirsten being appointed as India’s coach. Some of his statements against a foreign coach are downright hilarious.

I do not know exactly why we are so obsessed with having a foreign coach only. My objection is that these foreign coaches do not know the Indian culture. They do not know the psyche of the Indian players and their behaviour patterns. We are so different in many ways. We speak different languages. So it is always difficult for a foreigner to coach the Indian players.

Well, I never knew the Indian coach had to be well versed in doing the Bhangra or Kathakali as warmup exercises before every match. Of course, knowing Indian culture would involve touching the coach’s feet before heading out to the field, right? And being an Indian gives us an uncanny ability or rather the inside information on Indian players’ behavioral patterns. Of course, as Indians we all know why Venkatesh Prasad has to sit down when he pees. And yup, Ajit Wadekar spoke all 15 official languages of India.

They have so much experience and they would like to do something for the country again. I mean the BCCI can always get a good Indian player to coach our own team. I do not understand why the BCCI is so keen on having a foreign coach.

I’m sure they want to give something back but you see, we rather win matches than satisfy emotional obligations of veterans. But why let insignificant things like winning matches get in the way, right? After all, we seem to be satisfied in only participating at the Olympics. As Klusner would say, no one died.

Of course, they make his task much easier. But then it has become a pattern now. You have got the main coach, then a physio, a trainer, a masseur, a doctor, a computer analyst, a bowling coach, a batting coach, a fielding coach, and what not. So I really wonder what the main coach is there for.Maybe just to supervise everything! But it has become a fashion to carry a caravan like this with the team.

Oh yes, of course we must carry this ‘caravan’ around. Remember, we didn’t hire Superman as a coach to do everything. I’m sorry, what did you say, Mr. Wadekar? You trained, massaged, treated, analyzed all players on your own when you were coach? What, you even helped teach Kumble how not to spin and yet take wickets and taught Tendulkar that weird croch-down movement each time he comes to bat, and taught Jadeja those diving catches? Well, I’m sorry; I take my words back. But BCCI board members are not ‘caravan members’ for foreign tours, right?

Of course, you can’t make the Indians absolutely extraordinary fielders. You cannot do that overnight. It takes some time. But Robin Singh has been doing a fine job and our fielding seems to have improved. Our bowling, too, appears to have improved. And then we are playing as a team. So why do you need a coach and that too a foreigner?

There you have it, scientific proof that the Indian race cannot be extraordinary fielders. Vivek, you better eat your words now that Mr. Wadekar has spoken. We are better off concentrating on our batting and bowling and hope the other teams hits the ball right into our hands. And now that we seemed to have improved thanks to Robin Singh, it is time to fire him. Of course, we are going to retain this well-trained-in-fielding players for at least 10 years, right?

More importantly, when he toured India in 1996 he (Gary Kirsten) did not have a good opinion about our country, which is developing, about our people and about the infrastructure we had then. But so much has changed for better in India now. So why do you want a guy with no coaching experience at all and with a somewhat prejudiced mind against our country and our people?

Yeah! How dare Kirsten criticize our state of affairs and infrastructure. Every Indian knows we have excellent stadium facilities and treat spectators like God. So how dare Kirsten not know Atithi Devo Bhava. See, he doesn’t know Indian culture. Wait a minute, he was our guest, right? Hmmmm. Also, if “so much has changed for better” then it does mean that Kirsten was not off the mark when he did not have a good opinion back in 1996, right? Nope, he is a goora so he is prejudiced.

Forget Gary Kirsten, forget any other foreigner, I would have preferred any one of these two (Mohinder Amarnath and Sandeep Patil). I can never think of any foreign coach simply because I am just not in favour of one.

So there you have it; the entire summary of the interview in two sentences. Why isn’t Gary Kirsten a good choice for an Indian coach? Repeat after me, because Ajit Wadekar is not in favor of a foreigner; even if he might be a better choice in terms of merit.

Of course knowing BCCI, they definitely might be enamored by the magic of success that seemingly only foreign coaches can bring. so in that case, Ajit Wadekar might even be right. That would be sad.

Vote for the Bitch

John McCain was asked in a town hall meeting, “How can we beat the bitch?” obviously alluding to Hillary Clinton. The audience including McCain laughed. My follow-up question, isn’t he first expected to beat the bastards?

The New Seven Wonders

Finally, I can look forward to opening emails from long-forgotten friends without having to fear that chain-letter craziness. The latest craziness was to vote for the new seven wonders of the world. A website, (sorry, no link; feel free to type it out yourself or cut-paste) popped up out of nowhere and in spite of having no affiliation with UNESCO or any reputed historic preservation authority claimed to rework the seven wonders list. The media all across the world lapped it all up willingly with the Indian media not too far behind. I was surprised to see even otherwise sensible bloggers fall in this trap. To be fair, even Ash fell into the trap at DesiPundit.

The ‘scam’ was just too easy to pull off. It was the brainchild of a Swiss businessman Bernard Weber. He said he wanted to invite the people of the world to take part in selecting the world’s greatest wonders. “So that everybody can decide what the new seven wonders should be and not some government, not some individuals, not some institutions,” he said [via]. Of course, he failed to mention that by everyone he meant those with an Internet connection or with at least a cell phone with text messaging capability. Choices were invited and of course, a whole bunch of structures that man has managed to erect made the list; some of them great some of them not so. The folks running the website undoubtedly enjoyed the immense attention so much so that that was all they could talk about in the above-linked CNN story. I’m sure, they also had some kind of revenue sharing model with the cell phone carriers or the media outlets that urged people to text in their votes.

Now if you believe that the people voting were actually judging the choices appropriately and voting for the structure that deserved a place in a list of top seven wonders, then you are mistaken. Several countries including Brazil, Jordan, and India unofficially endorsed this campaign and asked people to vote for the structures in their country. It is not surprisingly to note the location of the structures that finally made it to the list.

For India, it was the Taj Mahal, of course. Why? I guess because if it didn’t make it to the list, it would be a cause for national shame and we would never visit it. Never mind the untold damage that has been wrought on by the environmental and crowd mismanagement, the Taj should frikkin be in that list. There might be hundred other structures that may be better but jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega. Bah! Such morons! The Taj doesn’t need any hyped up media campaign to be counted as among the world’s wonders. People have always loved it and will continue to love in spite of the fact that they are more enamored by the background love story rather than the perfect symmetry of a exquisitely constructed marble edifice that is not just an architectural marvel but also an engineering feat.

Also, why just seven wonders? Why not round it off to ten or still better 50 or even 100? I am sure there are plenty of magnificent structures around the world to still make it a closely-fought contest if that is the intention. In fact even the 1000 places to visit before you die is an insufficient list if you really are a travel bug. Frankly, the Web 2.0 structure of citizen democracy doesn’t necessarily work for everything especially scholarly material. The citizens are already voting with their feet when they visit any monument in droves. But at the same time, the less visited monuments aren’t necessarily bad ones. It just means that they aren’t being marketed effectively. The seven wonders hype is crap. Every person has their own list of wonders, natural or manmade that they wish to visit and will not drop anything just because it didn’t make it to a stupid list.

Oh yeah, the Pyramids in Egypt long counted among the world’s wonder, seven or more didn’t make it to the list. So to counter any ridicule, the organizers accorded the Pyramids an ‘honorary status’ in addition to the seven wonder. Ah! Even the Wonders of the World have lifetime achievement category.

And if you are still interested, the new seven wonders of the world are: The Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, Brazil’s statue of Christ the Redeemer, Peru’s Machu Picchu, Mexico’s Chichen Itza pyramid, The Colosseum in Rome,and India’s Taj Mahal. Now go and revise your must-visit travel list.

King and Queen of India?

Sonia Falerio pointed me to this ridiculous post on Perez Hilton who report the weird story of an Indian prince who has come out of the closet. My initial reaction was why the heck was Sonia reading Perez Hilton who apparently is known primarily for holding the fort for his other famous namesake, Paris Hilton during her ‘moments of crisis’. The post on Perez Hilton starts thus:

Say hello to Manvendra Singh Gohl, the only son of the King and Queen of India. And he’s gay!

Never mind the gay part but King and Queen of India? The last time any monarch even claimed to hold that title was when Ashoka was battling his conscience. Sonia responds appropriately when she says, ” Proving again that too many Americans know nothing about the world, and want to keep it that way.” And of course, we shouldn’t expect any more from sources like Perez who generate fluff news. Where did Perez get that piece of ridiculous information? It was from an ABC News report that mentions this non-story:

Singh Gohil is a prince, the son of the maharajah — Indian royalty from a dynasty that is more than 600 years old. Today, though India is a democracy, the Singh Gohils are still honored as if they ruled the land.

I imagine he read this bit of news and thought India is one big homogeneous chunk of land still ruled by one monarch. After all, history books are for wusses, right? I am sure he isn’t aware that hardly anyone in India apart from those who are apparently still honoring the Singh Gohils has heard of them. The least he could have done is Googled the so-called Prince of India. I did and found only one reference to him (that Google deemed valid) and guess what, it pointed to a link which was written in reference to the Perez Hilton story. I am sure if he truly was the Prince of India, our dear Indian media would have flooded the Internets with the news of his inane habits and possessions. Heck, even a forgotten also-ran Bollywood actress has more Google juice (and hence exists). So Mr. Perez, please continue with your celebrity reporting but at least Google them first to see if they really are celebrities.

I am not even commenting on the ABC News story which seems to be written by a soap opera fan obsessed with the exoticism of the East. </rant>

Krishna as a dating icon

Earlier this week I posted an image of Lord Krishna sucking on a cow’s teat citing that I found the image weird (not offensive, mind you). The post generated lot of comments some of which found nothing wrong with the depiction. I understand their perception and thus lack of any feelings of being weirded out but that the same time we all agreed on that it can be a matter of perception and what seems as weird (or offensive) may not be so for the other. We all come from different backgrounds and have seen different things that color our perceptions but nothing is more important than giving the other perspective its due share while civilly advocating yours. After all, we do argue so as to change the other person’s perspective regardless of whether we succeed or not.

In this light, yet another seemingly controversial image [via Indianpad] seems to have irked the prudish sensibilities of the ranting Hindu right. I am not sure if they deserve to represent Hindus when in fact most of these protests emanate from culture shock of changing times. I am a Hindu and am actually quite proud of my religion’s open, tolerant, accepting culture and its willingness to adapt with the times. The issue – The Times of India published an advertisement called ‘Dating Sutra’ on its website promoting a commercial SMS service to facilitate dating.

The protesting Hindu right group – Hindu Janjagruti Samiti – is apparently peeved by this depiction of Lord Krishna and claim that “Gopis are symbolic of boundless devotion”. They are also angry that Lord Krishna is used to promote dating that the group considers a “social vice” and defines it as “obscene behavior indulged by young girls and boys under the pretext of meeting each other”. Now I wholly support their right to protest and express their displeasure at their interpretation of the advertisement as long as they do not indulge in physical harm or destruction of property. I understand they need to raise funds to keep their Samiti running and any publicity even if it paints you as Luddites stuck in the dark ages helps.

However, I do not agree with their interpretation and certainly do not appreciate them claiming to represent “crores of Hindus”. Lord Krishna even in his depiction in our mythology was no saint and was known more for his pranks, devious and sly behavior than for any accomplishments on the battlefield. In fact, he is loved and worshipped often in that form for being natkat and maakhan chor (don’t we all love Govinda).

His interactions with the gopis were certainly not ‘devotional’ and in fact, he was one of the first ‘players’ that we can recall in Indian mythology. He was seen as a prankster who loved to torment them. Maybe they later turned devotional because he showed them something cool. Ram and Lakshman were too stuck-up and pious for their own good. These aren’t my insinuations but mere stating the way mythology depicts them.

Krishna certainly enjoyed his childhood and adolescent years much more than Ram and Lakshman ever did and he even seemed to enjoy it. Remember, he never ever in his later life regretted flirting abashedly with all the ‘gaaon ki gooris‘ and having umpteen wives. And we Hindus are fine with it and that doesn’t even diminish our love and devotion toward him. In fact, we worship him alongside a woman who never even was his wife. Even unrequited loved is worshiped. So why get hot and bothered if he chooses to do it with SMS and cell phones? He might just have done it if he lived in these times. We cheer our Bollywood heroes when they do the same in our movies so why deny our gods that pleasure.

Why I consider the Samiti’s protests more as a cultural shock than being offended on religious grounds is because the way they define dating. I am sure none of the people protesting have gone out on dates. In their minds, when boys and girls meet, they invariably end up having sex which by definition is ‘obscene behavior’. Or wait! Even holding hands by couples is defined as obscene these days. What’s next – protesting against ‘love marriage’ because it is an obscene way of getting married? I can think of responding to this insinuation in a way that they will understand best – tere baap ka kya jaa raha hai (your father what goes…heh). I will never end up using TOI’s ‘dating sutra’ service but that doesn’t stop the Times from exploiting our mythology for commercial gains. Heck, if we can do it for political gain, I say we can do it for anything.

Moral Police Raj

This is shocking. We should stop pretending that we are a blooming democracy when in fact, the basic tenets of freedom of expression aren’t adhered to. Violations of freedom of expression in India are so common place nowadays that any protesting bloggers or any other group are considered recalcitrant. We like to trumpet the fact that India is the largest democracy and is a shining example to all those dictatorships around the world especially in our neighborhood. However, signs of a successful democracy isn’t restricted to throwing out the incompetent incumbents only to elect equally inept leaders but to ensure freedom in a complete sense. We have achieved political freedom from the British and only lately have we begun to experience economic freedom but we still remain hostage to the errant elements of the society.

The disturbances created by the moral police (on both sides of the religious aisle, mind you) aren’t that infrequent anymore and are exposing the continuing failure of law and order. As Amit points out that there are still regressive remnants in our penal code (e.g. section 295(a), section 153(a) and section 377) that empower these miscreants, I fail to understand how obvious acts like barging into an autonomous university and thrashing an academic institution doesn’t qualify as a far serious crime. Even the freedom of speech right in our Constitution (Article 19) is severely restrictive in nature by imposing ‘reasonable restrictions’ in the name of ‘public order, decency, or morality’. I hope you understand how broadly these ‘reasonable restrictions’ can be interpreted and we aren’t without precedent, the worst being the imposition of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi. Our lengthy Constitution has been amended so many times that the amendments themselves can comprise of a separate constitution (or two).

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Upsets Galore at the Cricket World Cup

Just when I was bemoaning the predictability of a lackluster tournament, the Cricket World Cup kicked into high gear with two monumental upsets. India went down to Bangladesh and Pakistan was knocked out of the World Cup by ‘lowly’ Ireland. It was a dark night on the subcontinent dotted probably with only flickering television screens inside dark homes. At least the west side.

The east side of the subcontinent must have erupted with joy after defeating their strong neighbors. And although everyone has said this but Bangladesh deserved this victory. The Indian team was a perfect personification of complacency and shoddy cricket. Players that are clearly lacking in form have been picked in favor of those who are raring to go. Otherwise dependable batsmen like Dhoni, Dravid, Robin, and even Agarkar failed miserably against a weak attack. India now must win both its games against Sri Lanka and Bermuda to avoid joining their other neighbors on a flight home.

The recently concluded series victory against Sri Lanka shouldn’t be indicative of an always-unpredictable Indian team. Now, I even doubt a reasonable performance against Bermuda that Sri Lanka recently whipped is possible. But then again by the unpredictable scale, India might just pull up its socks and deliver the goods. Remember the previous World Cup when Holland gave us a scare after our loss to Australia? Vitriolic reactions across India almost scared the players into performing and landing us in the finals where we eventually caved in easily. Do we always need a kick in the rear to get our act together?

On the other side, Pakistan finally plunged to its lowest depths after being knocked out of the World Cup – by Ireland. It was probably the sweetest St.Pat Patrick’s Day for the also-greens. I didn’t watch that game but the scoreboard was good enough to tell the woeful tale of Pakistani batting. And I thought they would miss the bowling abilities of junkie Shoaib.

The consequences of these results are far-reaching. There isn’t going to be a India-Pakistan match for the public (and advertisers) to get excited about. And in the likely scenario of India not making it, interest in the World Cup on the subcontinent will nosedive. Poor broadcasters who have spent millions for telecast rights and apparel/drinks/any-conceivable-product-used-by-players sponsors must be sweating hard now. They might just be tempted to fix the remaining matches for India to ensure that at least they make it to the next round. Frankly, I cannot imagine a World Cup without either India or Pakistan in the semis. I guess by the way these teams are playing, we better get used to it, eh?

Other well-informed match analyses: Amit Varma’s India Uncut, Prashant’s Kyun, Rezwan’s Live Blogging the Match, Vivek’s three scenarios for India’s hopes, Idols defeated by Fans, and Chetan’s Review.

Cool Rants: Great Bong’s India Blue It, Confused’s St. Patrick’s Massacre, and BongoPondit’s mandatory (and late) rant.

Update#1: Confused has collated some of the above posts on DesiPundit and almost all of them are well reasoned and give due credit to Bangladesh for their victory. Now all we need are some effigy burning bloggers to complete the picture of reactions the way traditional media tends to highlight. IndiCast mentioned (in passing) stripping the cricketers naked and whipping them but that was at the end of a very frustrating night.

Update#2: Bob Woolmer, renowned cricket coach and the current coach of the now-ousted Pakistani team died unexpectedly in his hotel room earlier today. I hate to sound alarmist but I’d like to know more details about his death [update: Bob Woolmer *was* murdered.] Shortly after his team’s defeat to Ireland he said, “Doing it internationally, it takes a toll on you … the endless travelling and the non-stop living out of hotels.” Probably that’s all that is. Indeed a great loss to cricket.

Technorati Tags: Cricket World Cup, India, Bangladesh, Ireland, Pakistan, upset, loss

Creating an Architectural and Engineering Symbol for India?

In spite of the fact that India has experienced unprecedented growth in recent times [primarily due to liberalization], we somehow still cling to our socialist ideals. I disagree with the notion that most of the growth has happened due to people wanting to ‘uplift’ India and as any economist worth his salt would agree that most progress has been made by people seeking to better their lives. This objective was aided by breaking down of shackles that had previously impeded their ‘pursuit of happiness’.

Rarely does anyone start off by seeking to achieve a grandiose dream of uplifting a nation and succeed. Nehru tried it and so did his immediate successors but couldn’t achieve half the success and optimism that India currently experiences. Others have written extensively regarding the causes of this misconception and subsequent failure but I’ll point out to one such thought/attempt that exemplifies the remnants of that era.

A leading Indian design magazine, Indian Architect & Builder recently announced a competition to create nothing less than an ‘architectural and engineering symbol for contemporary India.’ [via Arzan] This magazine is one of the few reputed ones in the design community in India and once I (rather my team) had the honor of being featured in their student design section so I found the concept of such a competition by IA&B quite surprising. The grandiose aims of the competition state:

…this is the ideal time to capture the momentum that defines the India of today. It is with that objective that we invite the architects and engineers of India to partake of their responsibility in moulding a vision that is consistent for India now and in the future. It is the intent of ‘NOTIONS OF A NATION’, a progressive design competition, to give contemporary India its due architectural and engineering ‘Symbol’ — an embodiment that acknowledges, recognises and celebrates its very spirit. As a design competition dedicated to the nation, it hopes to create an imprint that would grow to be the ‘Symbol’ for India’s presence and inspire people to establish its mark on the world.

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A Building Full of Suspects

The body the just-born girl child with the placenta and umbilical cord intact, was found on Friday morning behind one of the cars in the stilt car-park of Ramgiri Paradise building. The child’s head had been battered. The post-mortem report from Sion hospital states that a blunt object was used to kill her.

This didn’t happen in some desolate corner of human habitation untouched by civilization but in Mumbai, the proverbial melting pot of India [via Indian Writing]. And these people consider themselves worthy of existence? DNA tests will instantly reveal the identity of the culprit. Right now, none of the 24 families living in the apartment building are saying anything but if they know the guilty, shame on them too. Shouldn’t the Sena be protesting against such travesty of Indian ‘culture’ where children are considered bhagwaan ki den (gifts of God)? [image above NOT of the baby in the news; source].

Technorati Tags: Mumbai, infanticide, murder, India

Baby Gandhi gets offended

Last year when the Blogspot domain [later clarified to 17 individual websites] was blocked by the Indian government, many cited national security as justification. Wouldn’t you agree that blocking few websites was better than losing 10,000 lives – was a common argument. It is also that classic ‘support the troops’ pro-war argument that if you say anything in protest, you are assumed to be supporting the terrorists or killing babies.

Now it turns out that at least one site was banned not because of any nefarious or evil designs on the Indian state but merely because it offended the sentiments of India’s so-called first family – the Gandhis. And now, Rahul Gandhi who is a Congress MP has sent a legal notice to the owner of the Hindutva website [via email from Nitin]. Never mind that the so-called offender is outside India and beyond jurisdiction of the Indian courts, Rahul Gandhi and his lawyers are hell bent on playing the sympathy card. The legal notice says:

“This publication exceeds and excels even the worst standards of scurrilous, perverted gutter writing — acting at the behest of maliciously motivated elements who cannot stand Rahul Gandhi’s standing and popularity in India and abroad.” We intend to prosecute you and conspirators under all relevant civil and criminal laws” [source].

I cannot help but smile at the naivety of these attorneys who only seek to appeal to the emotional sentiments and generate publicity [wasn’t justice blind?]. And they forget to mention, which “all relevant civil and criminal laws” are or where can we find the so-called “standards of scurrilous, perverted gutter writing”; maybe because it would require them mentioning free speech. To those who underplay the threat to free speech in India, I would point out the slippery slope that we embark on. Because right now, it is Rahul Gandhi who is getting offended, tomorrow it might be someone else. So ultimately what offensive or hate speech is boils down to for whom it is offensive instead of what is offensive. Strangely, such action against hate speech is restricted only toward anti-Muslim articles although anti-<any-other-religion> rants by fundamentalist Islamics is found more frequently. Anyway, I have not read the offending article which may for all you know be completely baseless but we see thousand such accusations against Britney Spears in the National Enquirer. It boils down to if you want to lend it any more publicity or credence by publicly protesting against it.

There is plenty of writing on the Internet that I find highly offensive but I choose to ignore it and not read it. Or monitor them for anti-national activities if that is your intent. Don’t drive them underground. It is as simple as that.

The Gandhi YouTube Controversy

Gandhi Controversy Video on Youtube
(image source: Boing Boing)

Couple of weeks back, Brazil insanely decided to ban YouTube for failing to effectively curb the spread of the Daniella Cicarelli sex-on-the-beach video. The order was issued after Cicarelli and her boyfriend filed suit in a Brazilian court. Of course, Daniella hadn’t envisioned that in spite of her celebrity status in Brazil, no one in today’s world of ubiquitous video would spot her having sex in broad daylight on a Brazilian beach. To have sex on a public beach and then react strongly when someone actually shot and posted the video on YouTube is simply hypocritical. I thought Brazilian courts would see through this faulty logic but they didn’t and ordered YouTube shut. Of course, even after YouTube removed the offending video, it reemerged in other forms and even transitioned to Google Video when I saw it. Of course, it was removed from there too but in today’s dime-a-dozen video sites, it didn’t take long to emerge elsewhere.

Little did I know that a similar case would play out soon in India. Except in this case, it was a unfunny comedy video that involved Gandhi dancing around a strip pole. I had initially ignored the issue but was surprised when the Indian I&B ministry took personal interest in the video and was purportedly ‘angered’ and wanted the IT ministry to ‘take action against YouTube’. There never was a better example of shooting the messenger even if the message isn’t all that popular. What’s more, since it can’t do anything to the comedian who committed the ‘offense’, it also was pissed off at the TV channels – IBN-7 and Sahara – for showing the video. Of course, the next natural act for an irrational government is to advocate for a ban on the entire site itself.

I have seen the video and although I didn’t find it particularly funny, I don’t see any reason to get all riled up and ban the ‘invention of the year’ completely. Of course, if you do, the Indian public will largely suffer and be bereft of the tons of cool videos that youTube has brought into our homes. But to expect the Indian government that had earlier banned Yahoogroups, Blogger, and even Orkut to contemplate rational thought over emotional appeal is expecting too much. Indians (on an average) cannot wrap their heads around extent of free speech and allowing for dissent or unpopular opinions. See this insanely funny Jesus Christ: The Musical video. I bet any ardent Christian would be deeply offended but in a largely religious-friendly White House administration, no one even mentions banning it. There might be thousand things wrong with the United States but their tolerance for free speech is unparalleled.

However in India, although everyone agrees with free speech in principle they also agree that there should be limits to free speech while totally unanswering the question of who would impose those limits. We’ll even go to the extent of inciting or threatening violence against people who have a different view of a man who in fact preached the opposite. No one would for a moment wonder what would Gandhi do. In fact, in the popular movie on Gandhigiri he addresses this question and encourages people to pull down his statues that dot every Indian town junction. There is no dearth of people in India who would get offended at the slightest hint of disagreement or humor that pokes fun at them.

After the Blogger ban, my brother strongly supported such a ban and said if it saved ten thousand lives such a ban is justified; after all who cares for a few blogs. Well, I was surprised considering he is an educated and rational individual. So now, I would ask him if banning YouTube is similarly justified because it saves hurting the sentiments of a few million Indians. Perhaps those millions wouldn’t have even heard of the offending video if the government hadn’t made such a ruckus. Trying to impose delicate sensibilities of few easily-offended officials on millions of Indians is highly undemocratic and even more dangerous is trying to control channels of communication that in fact empower citizen sharing and networking.

If this ban is indeed enforced, there is no stopping people who would be offended by other videos. Shiv Sainiks might burn a few more buses if a video making fun of Bal Thackeray popped up or even Sonia Gandhi fans might be offended by people who think that an foreign-born shouldn’t dictate national policy in India. Precedent is a dangerous thing in legal circles and otherwise; once set in motion, there is no stopping it and you never know where you might end up at. Yesterday, it was Blogger today it might be YouTube and tomorrow it might be the entire Internet itself. Are you ready to go back to the dark ages just because few pricks got offended? And if the I&B ministry was that interested in the affairs of YouTube then how come they never recognized or praised YouTube for bringing us rare Gandhi footage from our history?

Update: As you read this, yet another story is developing that might also lead to a controversy at least in India. Perhaps not because it has been revealed by his grandson. It seems Gandhi almost succumbed to personal sentiments:

“At the age of 50, Gandhi, a married father of four, came perilously close to succumbing to a temptation that threatened both his family, and his life’s work, after falling passionately in love with the beautiful Saraladevi Chaudhuri, three years his junior.”

Of course, Indians cannot see their leaders as being human or even having emotions that any normal human would have. This revelation even though made by Gandhi’s grandson as an effort to capture the real man in our Father of our nation is bound to offend some purists. What will they try to ban in this story? Or they will simply do like they do in Bollywood movies, paint the woman as a seductress and a slut in spite of the fact that Sarladevi Chaudari was a gifted, well-informed and a driven individual.

PS. Trust me, even if you were or are offended by the Gandhi video, you are going to click on the video links above if you haven’t seen them yet. Try not to.

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