Thursday, September 28, 2006

Modernism in Delhi Architecture

Modernism in Delhi, a talk by K.T. Ravindran at the IIC annex, organized by the Attic, Delhi.

This talk focused on Jawaharlal Lal Nehru’s vision of architecture, in Post Independence Delhi, for a fifty year time period. This talk was very well researched and K.T. knew his material well, it was supplemented with photographs.

The ideological frame that modernity functioned in India was, the Gandhi – Nehru clash of visions, in reference to the role of architecture in modern India. Gandhi saw cities as clearing houses for village products. Bapu built Sevagram to highlight this vision. He started the Khadi movement in Wardha, as a protest against the cotton mills of Manchester. Nehru’s vision was more elitist, and he felt individuals should build houses that reflect their personal interest and style. He built the mill owners building in Ahmedabad. Gandhi was against industrialization, and wanted self-sufficient village communities, Nehru wanted industrialization and modernization was the way for India to catch up with the West.

Other ideological frameworks were the shift from rural to industrial societies. Humanism and secularism. Scientific temper, absolute values is science, a quote by Architect Kanande. A socialist nation state, with a democratic party. Rationalism and empiricism.

Two buildings that represented Nehru’s vision was the High Court building that looked like a big dam, and the Assembly Building that morphed into a electricity generating powerhouse.

Access to power was through votes, but the exercise of power is through banks. The voting process is often subverted by castesim and religion.

The ITO or the income tax building in Delhi was created to collect revenue for Vicregal lodge in Shimla. Sapru house in Delhi was made in an Indo-Sarcenic style, with a Buddhist stupa as a feature.

The political geography of Delhi

The Roshanara Bagh part of Delhi to old Delhi railway station was located where the waters of the Yamuna were cut off. So it was built on a river bed. The Mandi
house area to Chanakyapuri was created as Nehru’s Delhi. Mandi house was the cultural center, Chanakya Puri was the diplomatic center, and Lodhi road area was the location for global firms, like World Bank, the U.N. and the Ford Foundation.

Schizoid urbanism
City versus countryside.
The old fabric within the city, like part of old Delhi were counter posed with swish New Delhi and its modern buildings.
The planner and the planned for
Indigenous cultures as opposed to religion and science and technology.

The Delhi improvement trust DIT 1937
This plan only improved the colonial apparatus and factories. The logic being that the for the success of industrialization, worker productivity needed to be improved, so their living conditions needs to be kept hygienic. The solution to population is dilution.

The DDA plan of 1957 (Delhi development authority) was to implement the interim general plan prepared by the town planning commission. 40,000 slums were cleared and DDA lands were auctioned but their were no buyers, which was suspicious considering the major need for land in Delhi.

Resettlement post partition- lots of refugees were streaming into Delhi after the aftermath of partition between India and Pakistan, so housing was needed to accommodated these new residents. Asaf Ali Road project was done by demolishing the old city wall. This was done to create Delhi’s first commercial area.

Nehru was very friendly with the Kennedy’s, and this lead to the signing of PL 480, leading to the arrival of architects from America like Stein. Within modernism their were two groups the rationalists, who believed that what was good for Europe was good for the rest of the world. This was lead by Bauhaus Gropius. This was an antifascist and pro democratic movement. Indian architects like Kanande and Habib Rahman, worked with Gropius. Le Courbosier was also part of this group and Shiv Nath Prashad. The other group was the romantics, led by Frank Lloyd Wright and was more Gandhian in their vision. Richard Neutra was a student of F.L. Wright, and has influenced design theory immensely.

The Sri Ram Center, Akbar hotel and the Tibet house redefined Couerbosier brutalism.

Joseph Allen Stein built the Lodhi estate complex. He was from the romantics’ style that tried to create a building that worked within surrounding trees and plants.

Shantineketan was the first attempt to bring in hybridity to challenge established design norms.

Some building began to have art deco embellishments. Banaras Hindu University, recreated Hindu motifs in the architecture of the building.

Habib Rahman built Mandi house and created historic ripples in Indian architecture.
He also made R.K. Puram housing in a y shaped structure that was aesthetic.
The Indraprashta building was made by combining steel and marble.
Rabindra Bhavan was built by combining space and structure in an intuitive way.

According to K.T. the India International Center and the Rabindra Bhavan are the best built buildings of that time period. The IIC has used the Jaali Concept very effectively.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

open heart

The open heart, dharma in everyday life by Tenzin Palmo

Is a cave necessary in order to be a practioner?

In a bodhisattva’s path their are 6 paramitas in order to attain enlightenment. Everything has to be taken on in the path. What happens on the way is important. Retreat centers often became places where we look to see what we gain; it becomes a game of ego. There is always something else. Trunkpa Rimpoche called it spiritual materialism. The only practice is where we are now. All our neurosis is in this moment. It’s important to address the junk that is happening within us. It’s important not to suppress the shadows, and just to look at the light. We need dharma cause we are sick and its like a medicine. The ego loves to feel sorry for itself. The dharma helps us to look at ourselves in a naked open manner. Helping us became real and more conscious and mindful. When we are doing something we should know what we are doing. Often our mind and bodies are disconnected from each other. Look at the mind 4-5 times an hour. It helps us to step back and watch our mind.

The first task in learning how to mediate is turning the volume down of the mind. Its important to get the mind to be spacious, vividly present. This wakes up the mind from endless dreaming. Thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings, they are not us. It’s important to select skillfully and recognize them. Thoughts are like bubbles, don’t make them real. We need to control our thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness is dhyana to remember or recollect. Habitual tendency is to forget to be present. You have to know what you are doing when you are doing it.

Open the heart

How to be open and sensitive yet exist in this world. It’s important not to create walls around us. Be completely open without solidifying it. Dalai Lama takes in the sorrows and sufferings of the world with his in breath, and breathes out compassion. Keep our hearts open to the pain in the world. At the same time remembering that this sorrow is temporary and there is an intrinsic Buddha nature that is beyond subject object duality. We need wisdom to understand and compassion to deal with the pain of others.

How do we overcome our fears and extend our compassion.
India is a wonderful learning opportunity to keep our hearts open, while looking at the play of samara. We lose people that we love. It’s important to use what’s right in front of us as a source of our practice.

Anger is clear energy, once we understand that we see it as a moment to transform mental defects into energy. Tantra teaches us that the more kleshas that we have the more wisdom we can gain, if we are able to transform the kleshas. Its good to have strong emotions if we know how to deal with them skillfully.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tenzin Palmo

Thus have I heard?

I went for a wonderful lecture by Venerable Tenzin Palmo, at the IIC Annex today.
Her manner is casual, simple, eloquent and graceful. Her personality is dynamic and she exudes kindness and compassion.

Here are some of the points that she made.
The purpose of life is to realize our spiritual path. The title thus have I heard, is a basic Buddhist sutra, its historical antecedents was that when the Buddha gave a talk, (when Ananda (his disciple) was not around), he asked him to repeat the teachings so that he could transcribe it.

On Buddha’s passing, 500 Arhats gathered and wrote down the teachings of the Buddha, obvious in that was their inherent bias towards men, setting the tone for the sexist interpretation of the texts. No mention was made of any Arhatis, considering women made up half the population; their complete silence needs to be questioned.

The words written by a unenlightedned monk leads to biases and distortions setting in.
One of the most basic questions that a monk has to deal with is how to relate to sexuality. The Buddha came up with various solutions. The first seeing the body as unattractive, this will reduce the desire to possess a body. The Buddha recommended going to the foot of a tree, and examining the body from head to toe. I think this is referring to the Buddhist practice of Chod. It is a way to peel away the layers. We come to the realization that what we have is not very sextually desirable. It’s a way to look at people around us as skeletons. This leads to a losing fascination with one's own body and that of others.

Later teachers like NagarArjuna and Shantideva, interpreted the teachings as referring to the female body as foul and disgusting. Women were seen as the problem.
One of the ways in which women were silenced was by denying them an education. If they did not have the educational background, they could not read the scriptures to be able to be of any social function, within the community.
NagarArjuna had a prayer that required women to pray that in their next life, they should wish to be reborn a man, so that they could attain enlightenment.

In a perfect world we all have Buddha nature and it is beyond gender defining.
Taiwan, Korea and China have Buddhist systems that enable women to be fully ordinained, the Tibetan tradition, only allow women to reach the position of novices.

In the West, women are running monasteries, centers and holding retreats. This change is having far reaching consequences for how the tradition is going to be interpreted in the future.

Women are practical and they look for teachings that they can apply to work and function within the constraints of their life. How to practice while being a daughter, a mother, a sister or a grandmother. Their voice will round out the dharma. Buddhist nuns in Taiwan believe that to be an effective bodhisattva, do not just talk the talk, but practice it. So lots of them are involved in social work. Women’s voices in the dharma do not need to be superior, just different.

Train to Pakistan

An article in NYT about the release of Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan. It contains 66 black and white photographs by Margaret Bourke-White.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Man Pushcart, Sherrybaby & Lage Raho Munna Bhai

Saw two very bleak movies, in the last week. The first was Man Pushcart and the other Sherry Baby. Here is a review from of Man Pushcart.

Ramin Bahrani's film, is the life of push cart vendor in New York City. He wakes up before dawn, drags his cart through oncoming traffic to his corner, and then serves hot coffee, tea and bagels till noon. After which he tries to sell pirated dvd movies. He has a son, and his wife seems to have died in suspicious circumstances. He does not have many friends or much of a life, other than the push cart's daily rigmarole.

New York is beautifully filmed, with the most of the movie in black and white, and shades of grey. Ahmad, a former Pakistani pop star, now a push cart vendor’s life seems depressing and unending. The movie did not have much of a story, it was never clear, exactly how his wife died, or why he left Pakistan to come here. It was more a creative exploration of a push cart vendor's daily routine, without filling out more details of who he hung out with, which community he felt comfortable with. I would have liked to see more indepth descriptions of the Pakistani community that he belonged to, what happened after they could buy their own cart. The film maker was more interested in the idea of a push cart vendor in the darkness of Manhattan setting up his cart, turning on his stove, and getting a tea ready, rather than a human narrative of who he was, what his thoughts were. He was made to look heavy, beared, with dark circles and not much of a dialogue.

SherryBaby was about the life of a heroin addict, who comes out after serving a three year prison sentence. Sherry Swanson (Maggie Gyllenhaal) returns home to New Jersey, eager to reestablish a relationship with her young daughter. Alexis has been cared for by her brother Bobby and his wife Lynn.

Sherry seems to think that she can get what she wants by having sex with men. But this pattern leads to her numerous relapses. The movie shows her father abusing her, which lead to her addiction to drugs and alcohol. She realizes that taking care of her daughter is not an easy task.

Maggie Gyllenhaal held the movie together, by creating a credible addict who kept repeating impulsive patterns that got her into trouble.

Saw one bright, cheerful movie, Lage Raho Munna Bhai , which was funny. Sanjay Dutt tried to impress a woman, by pretending to be a Gandhian Professor. While studying, Gandhi, he is visited by the ghost of Gandhi, who helps him follow the path of “Gandhigiri”. He and his girl friend, Vidya Balan, then go on radio to help people, solve issues through the Gandhian way.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Type 2 Diabetes

A scary article on the rapid spread of type 2 diabetes in India, in the NYT.

In its hushed but unrelenting manner, Type 2 diabetes is engulfing India, swallowing up the legs and jewels of those comfortable enough to put on weight in a country better known for famine. Here, juxtaposed alongside the stick-thin poverty, the malaria and the 1. AIDS, the number of diabetics now totals around 35 million, and counting.The future looks only more ominous as India hurtles into the present, modernizing and urbanizing at blinding speed. Even more of its 1.1 billion people seem destined to become heavier and more vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes, a disease of high blood sugar brought on by obesity, inactivity and genes, often culminating in blindness, amputations and heart failure. In 20 years, projections are that there may be a staggering 75 million Indian diabetics.

Two of my aunts are already suffering from diabetes, one has no sensation in her feet and the other has adult onset diabetes. One of them told me that her doctor said, it was misnomer that it was just sugar, that caused it. But the bigger culprit was carbohydrates, which are composed of sugar.

Also the difference between diabetes in the West and India, is that here, it is a poor person’s disease due to cheap processed junk food. While in India, the richer you are, the worst your diet, and the lower your level of exercise, combined with heavy drinking, leads to this disease being called a rich person's disease.

It seems that Indians have a genetic predisposition for the disease.

Too much food has pernicious implications for a people with a genetic susceptibility to diabetes, possibly the byproduct of ancestral genes developed to hoard fat during cycles of feast and famine. This vulnerability was first spotted decades ago when immigrant Indians settled in Western countries and in their retrofitted lifestyles got diabetes at levels dwarfing those in India. Now Westernization has come to India and is bringing the disease home.

Also going barefoot, leads to picking up infections, and helps spread the disease.

Diabetes, though, ruins sensation in the legs, and foot infections go undetected and are often a preamble to amputations. So doctors like Dr. Ramachandran strongly recommend against going barefoot. Yet the culture demands precisely the opposite.

I guess we all need to exercise more, eat healthy food and lead less stressful lives.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Home By Manju Kapur

I read this wonderful book in two blissful days. It was a quick read, but totally engrossing without being vapid. It centers around a lower middle class business family in Karol Bagh, a colony in Delhi, and encompasses two generations of the women in the family. The first generation are Sona, her sister Rupa and her sister in law Sushila. The next generation focuses on Asha, Pooja and Nisha.

The author, Manju Kapur, handles the politics within the family very descriptively. In the family the seminal values are making money for the men and for the women producing boys, taking care of elders and the men of the household. This is done by arranging marriages to preserve the status quo.

Once the basics are taken care off, jealousies, financial and educational differences in the men the women married came up. Ours and theirs is clearly differentiated. Vicky was Sushila’s son, and since she was a sister, he was always seen more as a burden, then the other children. The child abuse that Nisha faced was hidden within the depths of the family, but action was taken to remove the child from the house, where she was disturbed. Women’s education and work were seen as irrelevant, as long as the women were as educated as their husbands, college degrees or work did not come into the picture. Nisha, who did create her own business was tolerated as long as she was unmarried. After marriage, her husband and her family did not encourage or allow her to continue to work. Producing male heirs, was seen as the most fulfilling task, a women could ask for.

The author described these values without judgement, she showed, rather than told. The book reminded me of a suitable boy, with its descriptions of Indian middle class family life.

This blog has a good review of the book.

Pakistan's Hudood Ordinance

It is sad to see that twenty seven years later, the same discussion is going on in Pakistan - their unjust rape laws. Musharaff, has given into the dictates of the Mullahs, who actually control Pakistan. Women's basic human rights are seen as a challenge to the patriarchial control of soceity. Sabiha Sumar, had made a powerful movie, titled Who will cast the first stone, which dealt with the issue of the Hudood Ordinance in Pakistan.

Pakistan to broaden rape laws, but women's groups see setback
Parliament is expected to vote this week to allow evidence in rape cases other than four male eyewitnesses.

By David Montero | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – A bill originally intended to repeal Pakistan's controversial rape laws is likely to suffer a severe setback this week, analysts say, when Parliament votes on a watered-down version designed to placate conservatives.
Under the country's long-standing Hudood Ordinances, a woman who claims to have been raped must produce four Muslim male eyewitnesses to the crime - a virtual impossibility in most cases. If the witnesses cannot be produced, the rape victim herself can be charged with fornication, or adultery if she is already married, a crime punishable in the most stringent circumstances by death.

This, and other provisions regarding public morality, have prompted calls from human rights activists and progressives for repeal of the Hudood Ordinances since their inception in 1979. The push for changing the laws gathered steam this summer after a private television channel initiated a series of debates on whether the laws are indeed rooted in the Koran and the Sunna (the sayings of Muhammad), as some religious conservatives contend.

The government channeled the repeal momentum into a narrower effort focused on repealing the rape provisions. The Protection of Women bill was supposed to come to a vote on Monday. But the government has now postponed it until Wednesday because, it says, it wanted to consult with religious scholars who could ensure the bill honors the spirit of religious law.

Progressives, rights activists, some members of the government had hoped that a vote on the Hudood Ordinances would place secular law over religious edicts. But after conservatives flexed their political muscle, the government has announced it will not touch the religious laws.

Instead it has struck a compromise, one which many say reflects the tightrope it must tread: Rape will remain under the purview of Islamic law, but judges can also choose to use secular evidentiary procedures provided by Pakistan's penal code if the circumstances of evidence and witnesses call for it.

Ruling party members say the amendment will constitute a step forward. "We are going to make it easier for [rapists] to be convicted," says Tarique Azim Khan, spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League, the ruling party.

But many analysts and activists say the bill highlights the power of hard-line Islamists to strong-arm the government.

"It might be a step forward, but it's a step backward in the broader context of Pakistan," says Kamila Hyat, joint director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. "Once again, it shows that the government caved into the pressure of extremists."

This week's decision, which comes after months of political wrangling and protests, is one of the central skirmishes in a larger battle between secular and religious forces, a kind of barometer of Pakistan's commitment to progressive values, analysts say.

Women's rights activists and progressives argue that rape should be placed under Pakistan's penal code, where standard criminal and evidentiary procedures apply. The Hudood requirements, they say, place the onus of proof on women, and are therefore inherently discriminatory.

The new bill likely to be passed this week claims to put an end to this controversy: In the event that four witnesses cannot be found, a judge is empowered to use evidentiary standards of the penal code, such as DNA tests or other medical means, to establish rape.

Mr. Khan, of the ruling party, calls it a major step forward. "A judge can decide that a woman's own testimony is good enough, without the need for four witnesses."

Almost all analysts agree that, since finding four eyewitnesses to rape is practically impossible, most cases going forward will likely be tried under secular law.

Nonetheless, hard-line Islamists insist that the witness rule must remain on the books so as to honor Islamic principles. "It is important because [the four-witness rule] is a God-given law, and no court can amend God-given laws," says Dr. Fareed Ahmed Paracha, a member of the National Assembly from Jamaat-Islami, one of the conservative parties working to uphold the Hudood laws.
As part of the compromise reached this week, the government has ensured it will keep the witness rule on the books, as well as the strict punishments for adultery and fornication between unmarried persons codified in Hudood - currently 100 lashes or even death by stoning. Dr. Paracha says such punishments are rarely if ever administered, but must remain on the books as a deterrent.

Such small victories symbolize the power conservative religious parties have to sidetrack political reform, analysts say. More than 60 hard-line politicians, who view the repeal of Hudood as blasphemy, have threatened for weeks to resign from the National Assembly, organizing street protests and rallies. Their mass exodus would have forced fresh elections for those seats, with no guarantee that conservative elements or the ruling party - the pillars of President Musharraf's constituency - would be voted back in.

"It clearly shows the lack of commitment," says Bushra Gohar, a women's rights activist in Islamabad. "The government is going to try to appease the extremists rather than looking to the rights of women."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sept 11

I was in Paris on Sept 11, 2001. I was to leave for New York on Sept 12th. We came back to our hotel room and turned the TV on, and saw replays of the planes crashing into the towers. The broadcasts were all in French. No planes were allowed to leave for America for a week after. So we were stuck in a mid way point. We went downstairs to eat at a Moroccan kabab place and all the men were standing around the TV looking shocked. It was strange being somewhere else and not being able to get back.

Here is an interesting take on the three 9.11's by P. Sainath.

Three 9/11s — choose your own
P. Sainath

There were three 9/11s in history. The New York one of 2001. The neo-liberal one of Chile 1973, and the non-violent one of 1906 — Gandhiji's satyagraha in South Africa. The authors of all three tried to change the world. Two brought bloodshed, destruction, misery, and chaos. But the Mahatma's WMD — Weapon of Mass Disobedience — helped change the world for the better.

FIVE YEARS on, the world is a more dangerous place than it was prior to September 11, 2001. Acts of terror, real and presumed, cause panic each month across the globe. Hundreds of people have been killed in terror attacks in many countries. Tens of thousands have been slaughtered in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. Both nations have been ravaged and devastated. Millions of lives have been disrupted forever. Lebanon lies shattered. And more and more flashpoints — even nuclear ones — emerge. In a divided planet, there is one zone of agreement: the worst is yet to come.

The appalling crime committed in New York on 9/11 — when close to 3,000 people were murdered in the WTC bombing — is still fresh in memory. One claim of the time was that it had "changed the world forever." Did it? And in what ways? The West's search for security against a global threat continues. It was there in the 1960s too, when the satirical song writer Tom Lehrer sang an ode to it in his "MLF Lullaby." The `multilateral force' set up to `deter' the Russian threat was its subject. "MLF, will scare Brezhnev," crooned Lehrer, "I hope he is half as scared as I."


Non-violent 9/11

The first of the 9/11s did help change the world. That was the day Gandhiji's Satyagraha in South Africa first began — September 11, 1906. Today is the 100th anniversary of that launch of his non-violent resistance movement. Gandhiji was quite clear it was a war he was fighting against racism and colonial oppression in South Africa. A war he saw as touching anti-colonial sentiment in India as well. A war he felt he had a strategy for. "Only the general who conducts a campaign can know the objective of each particular move," he later wrote. "And as this was the first attempt to apply the principle of satyagraha to politics on a large scale, it is necessary any day that the public should have an idea of its development."

For decades, the weapon of mass disobedience he had developed rattled the British in India. Gandhiji always referred to 9/11, 1906, as the day it all began. "The term satyagraha was invented and employed in connection therewith," he wrote. And listed the times where he used it again — in India. It was to be used yet again in South Africa much later. It was also used by Martin Luther King in the civil rights struggle in the United States.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Indian women's peacekeeping force for Liberia

India's first women's peacekeeping force for Liberia

January 22 2006 - (NewIndpress) For the first time, a company of 120 Indian women would be deputed to Liberia, west Africa, for a peace-keeping mission following a UN request to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

"We had met some of the commanders of the UN who requested us to send a company of the women's force," said J.K. Sinha, director general of CRPF, adding that this would be for the first time India would send a women's company on a peacekeeping mission.

The issue came up during a meeting with UN officials and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 2005, he said, adding that the CRPF is the lone force in the world that has a special battalion of women personnel."The forces deployed in Liberia were facing difficulty while dealing with women and therefore we were requested to send a company," said Sinha. He said the women's contingent would
be sent to Liberia in two months."A team would shortly leave for Liberia after the Republic Day function and submit a report on the infrastructure facilities for the personnel," Sinha said.

The CRPF personnel on peacekeeping mission would be posted in Liberia for a year and the status of their returning back to India would be decided only after completion of the tenure.Sinha said the response has been good with more women personnel applying for the assignment than was anticipated.The women's force would be selected from different companies of CRPF so that the best candidates could be sent.

The Inheritance of Loss Kiran Desai

This is a wonderful book by Kiran Desai. It describes life, through the eyes of Sai, a teenager living with her uncle in Kalimpong and Biju, a cook’s son trying to make it in New York.

It deals with issues of migration, terrorism, poverty and police brutality. Pankaj Mishra reviews this powerful book here.

By Kiran Desai.
324 pp. Atlantic Monthly Press. $24.

ALTHOUGH it focuses on the fate of a few powerless individuals, Kiran Desai's extraordinary new novel manages to explore, with intimacy and insight, just about every contemporary international issue: globalization, multiculturalism, economic inequality, fundamentalism and terrorist violence. Despite being set in the mid-1980's, it seems the best kind of post-9/11 novel.

The Inheritance of Loss" opens with a teenage Indian girl, an orphan called Sai, living with her Cambridge-educated Anglophile grandfather, a retired judge, in the town of Kalimpong on the Indian side of the Himalayas. Sai is romantically involved with her math tutor, Gyan, the descendant of a Nepali Gurkha mercenary, but he eventually recoils from her obvious privilege and falls in with a group of ethnic Nepalese insurgents. In a parallel narrative, we are shown the life of Biju, the son of Sai's grandfather's cook, who belongs to the "shadow class" of illegal immigrants in New York and spends much of his time dodging the authorities, moving from one ill-paid job to another.

What binds these seemingly disparate characters is a shared historical legacy and a common experience of impotence and humiliation. "Certain moves made long ago had produced all of them," Desai writes, referring to centuries of subjection by the economic and cultural power of the West. But the beginnings of an apparently leveled field in a late-20th-century global economy serve merely to scratch those wounds rather than heal them.

Almost all of Desai's characters have been stunted by their encounters with the West. As a student, isolated in racist England, the future judge feels "barely human at all" and leaps "when touched on the arm as if from an unbearable intimacy." Yet on his return to India, he finds himself despising his apparently backward Indian wife.

The judge is one of those "ridiculous Indians," as the novel puts it, "who couldn't rid themselves of what they had broken their souls to learn" and whose Anglophilia can only turn into self-hatred. These Indians are also an unwanted anachronism in postcolonial India, where long-suppressed peoples have begun to awaken to their dereliction, to express their anger and despair. For some of Desai's characters, including one of the judge's neighbors in Kalimpong, this comes as a distinct shock: "Just when Lola had thought it would continue, a hundred years like the one past — Trollope, BBC, a burst of hilarity at Christmas — all of a sudden, all that they had claimed innocent, fun, funny, not really to matter, was proven wrong."

There is no mistaking the literary influences on Desai's exploration of postcolonial chaos and despair. Early in the novel, she sets two Anglophilic Indian women to discussing "A Bend in the River," V. S. Naipaul's powerfully bleak novel about traditional Africa's encounter with the modern world. Lola, whose clothesline sags "under a load of Marks and Spencer's panties," thinks Naipaul is "strange. Stuck in the past. . . . He has not progressed. Colonial neurosis, he's never freed himself from it." Lola goes on to accuse Naipaul of ignoring the fact that there is a "new England," a "completely cosmopolitan society" where "chicken tikka masala has replaced fish and chips as the No. 1 takeout dinner." As further evidence, she mentions her own daughter, a newsreader for BBC radio, who "doesn't have a chip on her shoulder."

Desai takes a skeptical view of the West's consumer-driven multiculturalism, noting the "sanitized elegance" of Lola's daughter's British-accented voice, which is "triumphant over any horrors the world might thrust upon others." At such moments, Desai seems far from writers like Zadie Smith and Hari Kunzru, whose fiction takes a generally optimistic view of what Salman Rushdie has called "hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs."

In fact, Desai's novel seems to argue that such multiculturalism, confined to the Western metropolis and academe, doesn't begin to address the causes of extremism and violence in the modern world. Nor, it suggests, can economic globalization become a route to prosperity for the downtrodden. "Profit," Desai observes at one point, "could only be harvested in the gap between nations, working one against the other."

This leaves most people in the postcolonial world with only the promise of a shabby modernity — modernity, as Desai puts it, "in its meanest form, brand-new one day, in ruin the next." Not surprisingly, half-educated, uprooted men like Gyan gravitate to the first available political cause in their search for a better way. He joins what sounds like an ethnic nationalist movement largely as an opportunity to vent his rage and frustration. "Old hatreds are endlessly retrievable," Desai reminds us, and they are "purer . . . because the grief of the past was gone. Just the fury remained, distilled, liberating."

Unlike Gyan, others try to escape. In scene after scene depicting this process — a boarding house in England, derelict bungalows in Kalimpong, immigrant-packed basements in New York — Desai's novel seems lit by a moral intelligence at once fierce and tender. But no scene is more harrowing than the one in which Biju joins a crowd of Indians scrambling to reach the visa counter at the United States Embassy: "Biggest pusher, first place; how self-contented and smiling he was; he dusted himself off, presenting himself with the exquisite manners of a cat. I'm civilized, sir, ready for the U.S., I'm civilized, mam. Biju noticed that his eyes, so alive to the foreigners, looked back at his own countrymen and women, immediately glazed over, and went dead."

Desai's prose has uncanny flexibility and poise. She can describe the onset of the monsoon in the Himalayas and a rat in the slums of Manhattan with equal skill. She is also adept at using physical descriptions to evoke complex states of mind, as when Biju gazes at a park while celebrating the great luck of being granted his American visa: "Raw sewage was being used to water a patch of grass that was lush and stinking, grinning brilliantly in the dusk."
Poor and lonely in New York, Biju eavesdrops on businessmen eating steak and exulting over the wealth to be gained in the new markets of Asia. Not surprisingly, he eventually becomes "a man full to the brim with a wish to live within a narrow purity." For him, the city's endless possibilities for self-invention become a source of pain. Though "another part of him had expanded: his self-consciousness, his self-pity," this awareness only makes him long to fade into insignificance, to return "to where he might relinquish this overrated control over his own destiny."

Arriving back in India in the climactic scenes of the novel, Biju is immediately engulfed by the local eruptions of rage and frustration from which he had been physically remote in New York. For him and the others, Desai suggests, withdrawal or escape are no longer possible. "Never again," Sai concludes, "could she think there was but one narrative and that this narrative belonged only to herself, that she might create her own mean little happiness and live safely within it."

Apart from this abstraction, Desai offers her characters no possibility of growth or redemption. Though relieved by much humor, "The Inheritance of Loss" may strike many readers as offering an unrelentingly bitter view. But then, as Orhan Pamuk wrote soon after 9/11, people in the West are "scarcely aware of this overwhelming feeling of humiliation that is experienced by most of the world's population," which "neither magical realistic novels that endow poverty and foolishness with charm nor the exoticism of popular travel literature manages to fathom." This is the invisible emotional reality Desai uncovers as she describes the lives of people fated to experience modern life as a continuous affront to their notions of order, dignity and justice. We do not need to agree with this vision in order to marvel at Desai's artistic power in expressing it.

Monkeys vs Langoors

I dislike monkeys and langoors, they are aggressive creatures, who seemed to attack women more than men. In school, it was scary to walk down passages that had a family of monkeys who used to bear their teeth at us. We heard stories of Langoors tails scaring students.

Sanawar hires langoors to chase away monkeys
G. S. Paul
Tribune News Service

Sanawar, September 7
Udham, Ramu and Chunia are new entrants in Lawrence School, Sanawar. They are not students but langoors who have been engaged by the school authorities to chase the monkeys away who are creating havoc on the campus.

“The monkey menace has been bothering us, especially in the mornings when the students come for breakfast. The monkeys get infuriated on seeing the packets of food in the hands of the children and end up attacking them, grabbing at the food,” explains the sports teacher and House Master of Shivalik House, Mr Daljinder Singh.

This is their way of getting rid of this nuisance. “Instead of shooting them with a gun or with a ‘gulel’ this is perhaps better,” avers Mr Singh.

As the monkeys and langoors are known not to share a friendly rapport, it is hoped that the monkeys on seeing their arch enemies ensconced in the school, will stay away. The school management has given a three-month contract to the owners of the langoors—Sameer, Aslam and Ali Baba, all residents of Colony No 4 at Phase 1, Ram Durbar, Chandigarh—to house them on campus.

The three men in their mid-thirties have hardly gone to school themselves but have a hard task ahead of them. “At the moment, we are living at 10 minutes’ walking distance from the school. The accommodation is provided by the school. Our day starts early in the morning at around 5 am and till six in the evening we are on our toes, taking rounds of the school, driving the monkeys away,” says Aslam.

Sharing their experiences, they tell us that these langoors have a strong sense of smell. They are kept tied to a long string, the end of which is in the hands of these three men. The moment they smell the monkeys approaching, they start dragging them to where the monkeys are. “One langoor is enough to chase away 40 to 50 monkeys,” smiles Sameer.

But should a dog come on the scene, the langoors get frightened and that poses a problem for the owners. “The dogs bite them and chase them. That is sometimes difficult to control. But now we keep a hockey stick to chase the dogs away,” says Sameer.

In fact, they are professional monkey menace combaters. The langoors are captured and then undergo special training in Delhi when they are a year or two old.

The older members of their family run this business in Delhi in areas around Connaught Place, the Lal Kila, Moti Bagh etc.

Sameer has earlier worked in Chandigarh, where he provided services at the PGI, Panjab University, Punjab Engineering College and Controller of Defence Accounts Office.

The owners of these langoors get approximately Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 per animal for their services and they have been in this profession for a long time. “I was nine years old when I got Udham. That way, Udham is now 26 years old,” smiles Sameer proudly.

However, it is not easy to feed and look after these animals. “Their diet is almost equivalent of an adult person but they are strict vegetarians.”

Just feeding the langoor costs an average of Rs 100 to 150 per day so it is essentially a hand-to-mouth existence for the owners since two people live off one langoor,” explains Ali Baba, the owner of Chunia langoor.

Having the langoors on the campus seems to have worked, agree the students at Lawrence School as the number of monkeys roaming the campus has drastically reduced.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Shakira Shakira

I think Shakira is fantastic, she moves great and she sings with passion.
Here is a review of her concert from the NYT

When people call a pop star fearless, they're usually talking about something milder than that: a willingness to record a song full of weird noises, or to say something gently provocative in an interview, or to wear an outfit that may have looked better on the hanger.

Shakira performing Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
Shakira, the half-Lebanese singer and writher from Colombia, is fearless in a more literal and more absolute sense. She faces big audiences without betraying the slightest hint of anxiety. It's not that she doesn't appreciate all the adulation, it's just that she can't imagine why it would stop. Who doesn't love Shakira?

During her sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, Shakira seemed more invincible than ever. If she hasn't — yet — matched Madonna's triumphs, she also hasn't had to deal with Madonna-sized disappointments. Instead of suffering in tabloids and onstage, the way pop stars sometimes do (or seem to), she seems to have decided that her musical career is a grand game that she's destined to win.

"Here's the deal," she said, near the beginning. "You know I'm gonna be dancing and playing and doing all the required stuff." Then, having shrugged off her own role, she requested that the audience do its part and have fun.

Not that her songs lack passion. On the contrary, they overflow with it; she writes clever, stylized lyrics that keep bathos at arm's length — which is to say, within arm's reach. In "La Tortura," a Spanish-language hit so big that it converted lots of Anglo listeners, a sentimental love song turns out to be a petulant brush-off; the flowery language only makes it that much meaner. (She sings it as a duet with the Spanish balladeer Alejandro Sanz, who got a huge ovation when he emerged, unannounced.)

"La Tortura" comes from "Fijación Oral, Vol. 1," her excellent 2005 Spanish-language album; The concert also included a graceful version of "Obtenir Un Si," a hushed samba song from the album, and an interpretive dance set to the ballad "No," also from that album.

Not surprisingly, the Anglo music industry has simplified Shakira's appeal. To non-Spanish speaking fans in America, she's known less for playful, spiky rock songs (though Thursday's show had lots of them) and more for breathy ballads or frenetic club tracks or hip-shaking so vigorous it seems positively lethal. She led a sing-along during "Underneath It All," a lovely ballad that sounded just as lovely in 1988, when the Bangles called it "Eternal Flame." And, inevitably, the night ended with the reappearance of Wyclef Jean, the opening act, for "Hips Don't Lie," their pleasingly inescapable mega-hit.

That comes from the 2006 revised version of "Oral Fixation, Vol. 2," the not-quite-as-excellent English-language sequel to "Fijación Oral." Shakira realized early on that she didn't want to simply translate her Spanish-language songs in hopes of conquering America, so she has figured out a way to have dual careers that overlap (two songs appear on both "Oral" albums) without quite merging. Not surprisingly, she finds usual ways to use English idiom: when she sings "Whenever, Wherever," the words connote eager romantic devotedness; at your local high school, those words would more likely connote indifference.

For someone like Shakira, hurdling the so-called language barrier is nothing. More impressive is the way she has hurdled the attitude barrier. In America, we usually like our pop stars to work hard — to look as if they're working hard — for our pleasure. But Shakira glided through a two-hour set as if it were a merely one of her many hobbies. What kind of pop star can act as if she doesn't need us? Shakira has figured out the answer: a foreign one, who years ago conquered the rest of the hemisphere.

"Thank you so much for a wonderful night," she said when it was nearly over. Maybe it's a coincidence, but that sounds like exactly the sort of thing you say to a smitten admirer who can't live without you — right after you decide that the feeling isn't quite mutual.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The First Screen Versus a Quad Test Prenatal testing

I have heard of four women who this has happened to, and one woman who died while undergoing an amniocentesis as her doctor ruptured her intestine.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, deals with this issue when she describes the two different systems of care- the midwifery model and the techno-medical model. The midwifery model is based on the fact that pregnancy and birth are normal life events. The techno medical model is a male derived framework of care. Pregnancy and labor are seen as illnesses, which in order not to be harmful to the mother and baby, must be treated with drugs and medical equipment.

Thanks for your concern now. But I feel that my case was not handled properly by your office. I was made to do tests that I should not have had to go through.

I had a first screen, which was clear. But I was told to go for a Quad, which was not necessary, I should have just been tested for Spina Bifida but I was again checked for down syndrome. The test did not have my correct week of pregnancy, and I was pressurized and made to feel that I had a serious problem with the 1:13 down syndrome risk. You were not interested in listening to what my concerns were but insisted I make the appointment right away for an amniocentesis.

I requested, that I be given other options before going for an amniocentesis. I asked if I could go for a detailed ultra sound and another blood test with Enzyme labs, so that my first and third results could be sequenced and analyzed.

I did not hear back, and instead got a response a week later, asking if I had made an appointment for an amniocentesis.

In the meantime, I did go to New Haven, and met a wonderful doctor who deals with very serious conditions in pregnancy who spent time with me explaining that the first screen was adequate and did a detailed ultra sound, which showed that the foetus was fine.

I then found a doctor who was willing to listen to me and my concerns and she did a blood test the result of which am happy to relate, have come out better than the first screen.

I did enjoy meeting with you and would have liked to have my delivery done by you.

But am afraid if my concerns for prenatal care and testing are not being heard or listened to, what will happen at the time of delivery.

As a consequence of the Quad test I was very worried and concerned, which as it happened was unnecessary. But I feel my doctor needs to respect me and my decisions, for me to move forward with them.

So thanks again for your phone call and concern, but I feel its too late for me to trust and be able to work through my delivery with you.

Martina Navratilova

I want to be as fit as Martina, when I am fifty..

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Elizabeth Spelke

I read an interesting article in the New Yorker, by Margaret Talbot, titled The Baby Lab: How Elizabeth Spelke peers into the infant mind.

Spelke is a fifty seven year old cognitive psychologist whose focus is on the idea that babies come into the world mentally equipped with certain basic systems for ordering it. She wonders what distinguishes us from other animals? How do we make sense of what goes on around us? What are the core notions that all of our systematic knowledge is based on?

Her research has challenged the view held by William James of a baby’s mind as a “blooming, buzzing confusion”. She believes that there are some forms of knowledge that humans get for free. At two and a half months infants understand certain laws of the physical world. They know that objects are cohesive and distinct and cannot pass through solid surfaces, and they move along expected trajectories unless something obstructs them. This challenged the view of Jean Piaget who said that infants lack a sense of object permanence.

Spelke’s research shows that babies have an ability to compare large approximate sets. They can also do addition and subtraction, tracking small numbers of objects and reasoning about what happens when one is added or taken away.

These innate capacities are the foundations of all other kinds of learning. For instance concept formations that allow you to divide the world in such a way so that they can look at it. Animals are endowed with similar skills. But it is uniquely human to be able to combine such core abilities through language into more sophisticated capacities.

Spelke’s findings on how infants perceive objects as solid, continuos and perduring even when they cant see them and have been incorporated into infant studies curriculum. But her ideas of core knowledge have been challenged by Empiricists, who argue that she underestimates the role of the environment in infant development.

Although her work is being used by parents and educators to start the educational process earlier, she finds that unnecessary and possibly harmful.

“Infants are world class learners, and can be trusted to select, more or less on their own, experiences that will enhance their learning. From the earliest age, they attend to novel objects and events. They are also highly predisposed to learn by observing and interacting with other people”

She thinks teaching children counting at two instead of four is unnecessary, since two year olds are already engaged in the task of mastering much of the encyclopedic knowledge, about objects, events, places and people that adults take for granted. Diverting them from this task by introducing other tasks, like learning to read or work with numbers, seems useless at best and possibly harmful.

She also believes that boys and girls are born with essentially the same cognitive tools.

Her renown in psychology is based on her use of looking time measures, to answer questions not only about perception but also about cognition. Did infants have expectations of how the world worked- and could you determine what these expectations were by determining what surprised them? She emphasizes that she is talking about a babies implicit knowledge- no infant even if he could talk, would say why he cant work through a wall.

She does not believe in brain boosters but does believe in exposing infants to as many experiences as possible with people, places and events that their parents enjoy, so that the infants will have some implicit emotional memory attached to them, and can enjoy them when they are older with their parents.

She is interested in looking at universal human attributes that lie beneath the superficial cognitive differences of language, culture and gender. She looks for deep commonalities.

Her lab has been accused of reifying the concept of race. Just because babies see it doesn’t mean its right. But we shouldn’t be wary of asking the question. In her view nurture or human will is ultimately more powerful than nature, because humans are capable of rejecting certain aspects of their evolutionary inheritance- recognizing them as wrong, either factually or morally or both.

Alison Gopnik, a baby researcher at Berkeley has described Spelke’s idea of core knowledge as fundamentally oversimplified theoretical account. Babies preferences seem to show surprising mutability. A study in 2006 involved Caucasian infants raised in Israel, African infants raised in Ethiopia, and Ethiopia infants raised in Israel. Presented with photos on a screen, the white Israeli infants preferred looking at new faces of their own race. African babies raised in Ethiopia preferred to look at African faces. But the Ethiopian-Israeli infants who had been exposed since birth to people of both races, showed no preference. The conclusion being that babies aren’t prejudiced at all- that they learn to be wary of others only if they grow up in an isolated environment. Or it could mean that babies are programmed to trust people who look more like their own parents, and this instinct can been counter balanced by enlightened education.

Guyana Elections

Global Voices Online discusses the Guyana Elections. They seem to have been relatively peaceful.

On Monday 28 August, an estimated 300,000 Guyanese turned out to vote in elections for the unicameral National Assembly. Elections in Guyana have historically been fraught with public anxiety and violence. The two leading parties, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP/Civic) and the People’s National Congress (PNC/Reform) have traditionally drawn their strength from Guyana’s two main ethnic groups — respectively, Indian and African — and most Guyanese vote along ethnic lines. The ruling PPP/Civic has held power since the 1992 elections, widely considered the first relatively free and fair elections in almost thirty years.

More recently, the 1997 and 2001 elections were occasions for significant inter-ethnic violence, and — with the murder rate soaring, and after recent incidents such as the assassination of agriculture minister Satyadeo Sawh in April and the murder of five Kaieteur News employees earlier this month — many Guyanese have spent recent months fearing that this year’s elections would bring a further round of bloodshed. “Stock up and lock up,” suggested Guyana-Gyal on the eve of the elections. “‘Cause tomorrow is Election Day and we don’t know what them following days gon bring.” Except she detected “something new strumming in the air … humming on tv, on the radio, campaigns for peace, young folks in ads on tv, singing a line or two, asking for peace”. And MediaCritic of Living Guyana reported on election day that the capital city, Georgetown, “is a fortress … We hear that most stores are completely boarded up as if people in Guyana think that Hurricane Ernesto is coming their way.” He suggested that if the PPP/Civic won a clear majority “one major section of the country … ARE GOING TO CAUSE TROUBLE”.

What complicates this year’s elections is the existence of a new “third” party, the Alliance for Change (AFC), founded by relatively young former members of the PPP/Civic and the PNC/Reform. Over the last fifteen years, a number of small parties have tried to break the two main parties’ hold on electoral power — most notably the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), which chose to boycott this year’s elections. But the AFC is the first “third” party in recent times that has seemed capable of making a decisive intervention in Guyanese politics, perhaps by attracting enough votes to cause a hung assembly and a coalition government. This would be the “Election of Elections”, predicted demeraralighthouse in late July, who went on to suggest in detail what the PPP/Civic and PNC/Reform election strategies might be. By the weekend before the elections, it seemed clear from opinion polls that the PPP would win at least a plurality, returning President Bharath Jagdeo to office. The question was whether his party could command a majority and form a government outright.

On election day itself, all seemed quiet, with schools and offices closed and a heavy police and military presence on the streets to maintain order. After Guyana-Gyal voted, she complained about the deep purple indelible ink used to stain voters’ fingers (to prevent duplicate voting). “Now me finger look like if gangrene and riga-mortis setting in.” Voter turnout was also unusually low. “The PNC and the AFC looks as though they have failed miserably to dethrone the PPP”, wrote MediaCritic.

The elections commission had promised early results — in previous elections, it took several days for votes from Guyana’s more remote districts to be counted — but as of Tuesday evening, a day after polls closed, there was still no official announcement. Still, numbers of one kind or another, and of uncertain reliability, were slipping out. At the JahajeeDesiForum — “a community web site for the Indian Diaspora in the Caribbean” — an administrator posted poll numbers suggesting that the PPP/Civic had an absolute majority of votes, with 670 of 1,999 polling stations reporting. MediaCritic also began posting a regular Unofficial Elections Results Update, with information from “sources in the media”. Early on he suggested that the AFC had beat the PPP in their Region 6 stronghold (running along the eastern border with Suriname). Then he reported “a VERY CLOSE race with the PPP in front”. But by his 7.04 pm update, the numbers were “PPP = 77014, PNC = 45,562 … No figures for the AFC but they are not looking good”, suggesting “a HUGE lead for the PPP”. MediaCritic also marvelled that at least four of the smaller parties had got zero votes in the national elections, as of 8.28 pm — “Not even the presidential candidates voted for themselves!” It seemed unlikely that official results would be announced before Wednesday.

Middle School chronicles

Middle School is a dress rehersal for life