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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Khana Mat Khao" or In Telugu, Rice = Food?

Thanks to the harsh winter we are having, I have been battling cold, cough, and fever for over a week now. Last night, during a particularly phlegm-infested sleep cycle, I had a dream. A nostalgic dream, I dreamed of something from 28 years ago in Andhra Pradesh. Something that had baffled me for years.

In 1986 when I was 6 years old, my dad was transferred to Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh for a year. A couple of months after we move there, I fell ill. Fever, cold, cough, same as now. My dad took me to the neighborhood doctor (the neighborhood was Aryapuram, if memory serves). The doctor was a native Andhra-ite with a very rudimentary grasp of Hindi. We were Maharashtrians who spoke Hindi but with very little knowledge of Telugu. So we spoke in Hindi.

The good doctor examined me, wrote up a prescription for what I assume were antibiotics (that's the trusted way to treat the flu in India), and then proceeded to give me some dietary advice in Hindi.

Doc: Teen din ke liye, khana mat khao (For three days, don't have any food (or so it literally translates))
Dad: Kya? Kuch bhi nahi? (What? Eat nothing?)
Doc: Nahi nahi, khao. Bread khao, roti khao, dal khao, khana mat khao. (No No, you must eat. Eat bread, roti, dal, but don't eat food.)
Dad & Me: ???????????????????????
Doc: (also confused, but repeating) Bread khao, roti khao, khana mat khao (Eat bread, roti, but don't eat food.)
Dad: Lekin........ bread aur roti bhi toh khana hi hai. (But.....bread and roti is also food)
Doc: (looks at me and dad for a few minutes, thinks, and then suddenly smiles) Rice! Rice mat khao! (Rice! Don't eat rice!)
Dad: Rice?
Doc: Haan, bread khao, roti khao, rice mat khao (Eat bread, roti, but don't eat rice)

Now, the medical validity of the doctor's dietary advice aside, for almost three decades, this incident has been stored in my memory banks. I occasionally remember it and am confused. Today after I had dreamed of it, I thought of an explanation. Maybe in colloquial/spoken Telugu, in some parts of Andhra Pradesh (especially Rajahmndry), the word for rice is similar to the word for food/meal. The good doctor wasn;t exactly fluent in Hindi. So maybe it was a translation error.

So I turned to twitter for answers. Based on the responses I got, the verdict is mixed. Half the people say that the words are indeed used interchangeably. Others disagree.

I don't know. But it was fun to get a humorous blast from the distant past.     




Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween and Uncle Leo

Seven years ago this day was my first Halloween in America. I was a fresh PhD student still struggling with how much tougher the coursework was than I had expected. I had been in the country for a little over two months. That evening, after I finished my Stats homework at school and got on the bus to go home, I saw people in costumes all around me.

Ah, it's Halloween, I realized. Until then, most of what I knew of this country came from TV shows, movies, and books. So I knew that this was the night when kids accompanied by their parents roam their neighborhoods, knock on doors, and demand candy by yelling "Trick or Treat!!!". Oh great! So I will be expected to buy candy and hand it out? What a scam! But when in Rome, right?

Not wanting to be seen as a rude or clueless foreigner, I decided to take the necessary steps. I got off the bus at the stop in front of the grocery store. Bought lots of candy. Took another bus home. When I say "home", I mean a 3 bedroom row house I shared with two other Indian grad students who were both out of town that night.

At home, I put the candy in a bowl, turned the TV on and waited. The hours ticked by. Not a single knock on my door! I looked out the window. There were groups of kids and their parents dressed up in costumes knocking on doors around my building complex. So I guessed it was just a matter of time before they came to my door. But another hour passed by and there was no knock on my door. Before I knew it, it was 11 PM, the streets were deserted, and not a single person had come to my door trick-or-treating! All the candy was sitting there in the bowl. Except for the dozen or so that I had polished of watching TV.

The next day, I felt a little hurt. The neighborhood trick or treaters had ignored me! And as is the instinctive reaction for many of us, my first thoughts went to racism. It was because I was brown, I decided. These racist white folks didn't want to take their kids to an Indian guy's house. How shallow they are. And how bad I have it! I spent several hours indulging myself in the victim routine when everything that does not fit your expectations is due to racism. I became the Indian version of Jerry's Uncle Leo!

  
And then I got a reality check. I mentioned my shunning by the trick-or-treaters to an American friend, trying to sound as wounded as I felt. She seemed confused and initially a bit apologetic. Then realization dawned upon her.

She: Did you have a pumpkin outside your door? Or some sort of Halloween decoration?

Me: No.

She: So your door was completely bare?

Me: Yes, same as always.

She: Ah! That's the reason. In our town....and in most of the country....there's a simple code. Trick-or-treaters only knock on doors that have some Halloween decoration. That's the way a household signals that they want to take part in the candy thing. If a door is bare, it is meant to signal that you don't want to be disturbed.

Me: Really?

She: Yep, so kids and their parents saw that your door was bare, decided you didn't want to be disturbed, and went to the next house.

Me: Oh!

And there it was. A simple explanation for a phenomenon I had been too quick to put down to racism or xenophobia.

This is not to say that racism doesn't exist. But sometimes we need to stop being Uncle Leo and ascribe everything to racism.




Thursday, April 18, 2013

Conflicted

Something happened today that has left me conflicted. If you read this post months or years later, remember that "today" is three days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

I got on the 33rd Street PATH train at Hoboken (the starting point of the train) to head home to the city, and found the compartment mostly empty as usual. There was an old white man at one end and a young black woman at another. I sat down on a seat in the middle of the compartment, opened a magazine, and started reading.

A minute later, some more people walked in. An East Asian woman, two young white women, and a desi (South Asian) looking guy. The desi guy sat across from me about 10 feet away, slipped his backpack off, and pushed it under the seat. He then took a pair of earphones out of his pocket, put them in his ears and sat there listening to music.

I stole a few more glances at him and the backpack. It is not common, at least in my experience, for someone in the NYC area to push their belongings under the seat. On the seat next to them when the train is as empty as this one was, sure. On the floor between their legs, often. That's where my own backpack was. But under the seat, very rare. At least that's what I told myself was the reason for looking at him more than usual.

Soon the train got going. I tried to read the magazine, an article about HBO's new show Vice, but found myself glancing at him and the backpack every so often. The thought "what if the backpack has...." kept looping through my mind without completing itself.

Eight minutes later, the train reached Manhattan and stopped at Christopher Street. I looked at the guy. He was still listening to his music. There was one more stop to go before I got off at 14th Street. I found myself thinking, "I hope he gets off after me". For two completely opposite reasons, which are obvious.

A couple of minutes later, the train stopped at 9th Street. He got up. I dropped any pretense of stealing glances and stared at him. He didn't seem to have noticed. He took a couple of steps towards the door. My throat went dry as I saw that his backpack was still under the seat!

Shrill alarm bells rang in my head and I was about to spring up from my seat. I was just trying to decide if I should scream and tackle him or go press the Emergency Speakerphone button that every train compartment has.

Before I could make up my mind, he stopped mid-stride. He mouthed what seemed like "Oh shit!", quickly retracted his steps, and picked up his backpack from under the seat. He then turned around and sprinted out before the doors closed. The train started moving again.

I sat there, feeling conflicted. And have been conflicted ever since. Was I paranoid or just vigilant? "If you see something, say something!". Was I bigoted against brown people.....which as a brown person myself would make me self-loathing I guess. After all, I didn't look twice at any of the other people in the compartment. Or was I just being rationally cautious? Was it because I once possibly escaped a commuter train bombing because I was feeling lazy and cancelled dinner plans? Or do I harbor the same prejudices based on skin color and race that I usually abhor in others?

I am not sure. Conflicted.




Monday, February 25, 2013

Problem with Seth MacFarlane - He Insists Upon Himself

Last night was Oscar night. For a couple of weeks leading up to it, I was tweeting about how choosing Seth MacFarlane to host the Oscars was a horrible mistake because he was overrated, unfunny, and by and large a talentless hack who just got lucky getting the right breaks when he did. Many people, especially Family Guy fanbois, responded with indignation.

But then, last night was Oscar night. The mainstream press reviews as well as the overall twitter feedback was unanimous - Seth MacFarlane sucked!

And he was bound to suck. Because he is an overrated, unfunny, and a by and large talentless hack who just got lucky getting the right breaks when he did.

Here's the problem with Seth MacFarlane.

Apart from being overrated, unfunny, and a by and large talentless hack who just got lucky getting the right breaks when he did.

His jokes are just a manifestation of his immense self-indulgence and a meta-idea of how funny his jokes are supposed to be seen as.

His jokes aren't funny because of their content or humor quotient. He thinks his jokes are funny BECAUSE he thinks he is being so cool and edgy and counter-cultural by the virtue of the topics he is addressing. So it isn't so much what the joke is saying that is supposed to amused us, but the topic of the joke itself. Seth thinks that we should find any joke he makes about topic X funny only because most straight laced people wouldn't dare joke about topic X, and he was cool enough to do so.

Except, that's not what makes jokes funny. Or that's not all that makes jokes funny. Yes, there is an edgy appeal to tackling subjects that most straight laced people wouldn't dare joke about. But the jokes themselves have to be funny and clever. Let me give you an example from last night.

Talking about Lincoln, Seth said, "”I would argue that the actor who got most inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.”

I yawned. And when he got a lukewarm response from the audience, Seth's reaction was "too soon?"

No, Seth, I don't personally think joking about an assassination that happened almost a century and a half ago is "too soon". The problem isn't that your joke was "too soon". It's that the joke was simply way too lazy, pedestrian, and something you expect to hear in 3rd rate comedy clubs with 2-drink minimums. It's an oh-so-predictable use of the "getting into one's head" metaphor and the fact that Booth was an actor.

When I find something funny, it's because someone made an observation and phrased it in a way I never would have thought of myself. And I wish I had. This joke was just lazy and stupid. If MacFarlane chooses to believe that he got a poor response because the joke was somehow edgy, politically incorrect, or whatever, he is just deluding himself.

And that's the problem with Family Guy too. For the first 3 seasons, Family Guy was a reasonably funny show. It had amusing and reasonably novel storylines supported by quirky characters, and frequent pop-culture references.

Then maybe MacFarlane ran out of story ideas. The show just became consumed by those pop-culture references. So just making a joke about topic X was supposed to be the amusing part, forget what the actual joke was. Family Guy decided that it was somehow the premier voice of wise-ass counter-culture. Which, well, it could have been. If it had written funny jokes. But it didn't.

MacFarlane decided that a joke would be funny just because it used a random topical or pop-culture reference. And 4th season onward, you could see these randomly unfunny jokes coming a mile away. The writing process itself got distinctly lazy. Something that South Park accurately spoofed -



To use Family Guy and Peter Griffin's own poorly phrased words, when it comes to making topical or pop-culture jokes, the show "insists upon itself".

And essentially, that's what MacFarlane did at the Oscars. He insisted upon himself. He insisted that by the virtue of who he was and the topics he was tackling, he should be hailed as a comedic genius. It was as if manatees were picking up random supposedly controversial pop culture references, and adding random nouns and verbs to make it a joke. And if we didn't find his jokes funny, we were just moldy curmudgeons who were too stuck up to get the jokes.

Seth MacFarlane doesn't realize that whether someone finds the selection of topics too risque or not (and I never have), his jokes simply aren't funny anymore. And that's what led to him bombing so badly at the Oscars. He thinks his limited fake voices and accents can inject an illusion of humor into his lazy jokes.

But all he does is, he insists upon himself.




Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why I Threw Away My Ferrari Gear

I used to be an ardent Formula 1 fan. And an ardent Ferrari fan. Over the years, I lost interest in the sport. But occasionally I would still catch portions of a race on TV and in my heart, I was always cheering for a Ferrari win. On a recent trip to Europe, I bought some Ferrari gear to occasionally display my support.

This morning I threw all the Ferrari gear in trash. Because of this.

The background story in a nutshell is this. Two Italian navy sailors killed two innocent Indian fishermen in Indian waters (the Italians dispute the jurisdiction). India arrested and charged the sailors. The Italian government has been supporting these murderers. So has the Italian media. Note that they're not denying that the sailors killed those innocent fishermen. They still want the Indian government to let the sailors go. Why? The reasoning is flimsy and convoluted and in my opinion can be summarized as "Because!". The arrogance and the racist undertones in Italy's stance are obvious to me and many others. To me, the subtext is, "yes, our boys killed two guys by mistake. But they were just a couple of brown fishermen. Let our boys go! Give them back to us and we'll give them a slap on the wrist. You Indians have no right to try someone who killed your citizens". Do you think that if the fishermen had been Americans killed off the coast of America, the Italians would dare be this brazenly arrogant?

And in a sickening display of further arrogance and willful insensitivity, Ferrari decided to inject itself into the situation. The Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix is this weekend. Ferrari has announced it will carry an Italian Navy flag specifically in support of the two murderous sailors. It's not like Ferrari has been carrying the flag throughout the season. They're doing this only in India. They're not even using the pretext of just supporting the Italian navy in general. Their statements specifically mention support for the murderers. To me this is a small scale version of a British team carrying the flag of General Dyer's regiment only in India to express solidarity with his actions in Jalianwala Bag. Or some other European team supporting one of their fellow citizens who has been locked up in Goa for abusing street kids.

Ferrari is wrong for needlessly wading into this debate specifically during the Indian GP. But more importantly, they are absolutely wrong in supporting those two murderers whose crime, I repeat, is not even in doubt.

As an Indian, I find Ferrari's stance reprehensible and I cannot in good conscience support them in the slightest. So I threw away my Ferrari gear. I hope Indian fans who go watch the race on Sunday are not so slavishly beholden to the team and so morally bankrupt and insensitive as to wear caps or t-shirts supporting these proud backers of murderers.




Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Translating a Raj Thackeray Speech

I don't agree with Raj Thackeray's stance against immigrants from UP and Bihar. I can sort of, kind of, see where he is coming from, but I don't agree with the conclusion. And I find his forcible and occasionally violent methods to have his way (especially against powerless shopkeepers and job applicants) abhorrent.

However, as a Marathi person, I find the gap between what he says in Marathi and what is reported in the national media to be suspiciously wide. There are two problems. First, they wrongly translate a lot of what he says. Second, they seem to pick and choose the most provocative bits that can be spun into an attention-grabbing soundbite. I have written about the dangers of this phenomenon before.

Today Raj Thackeray led a rally to Azad Maidan (without permission from the police top brass) as a protest against the August 11 incident. He gave a speech there. Again, I marveled at the difference between what he was saying and what the national media was reporting he was saying.

So I had an idea. I have translated PuLa Deshpande's work before. Surely I can translate a speech. So here it is, the speech in Marathi, and then, what I think is an objective, unbiased, and direct translation in English. This is not an endorsement of what he said. Just a translation for illustrative purposes. I agree with some parts, and disagree with some. I'll leave you to judge it for yourself.

Note - I am translating it in a bit of a hurry. So please forgive any typos or inadvertent grammatical errors.



When it's an institution from Maharashtra, be it a police department, a media company, or anything else.... even just a person from Maharashtra....we should demonstrate the strength to ensure that no one ever looks askance at them again with the intention of harming them.

For the last two days, this has been going on... police officials come to me and ask, how will you take the rally from Girgaum chaupatty? I told them we'll walk.

(crowd laughs)

Then they're like, you can't go from here, you can't go from there...all these efforts at putting obstacles in our way have been spearheaded by Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik. I found out the other day..... in fact a few police officials told me this...that they'll try to stop our cars, and try other things to stop us. I called the Chief Minister right away, and asked him, what is this? What happens or doesn't happen (at the rally) is something we can deal with later. But can't we express our protest in a democratic way with a rally?

Why stop us at every point? I assured them at our rally will be a peaceful one, and they still refused us permission for it? And they had no problems giving permission for that Raza Academy rally? But here we are, with a rally to protest what happened the other day right here, and they refuse us permission?

Then there's (Home Minister) R.R. Patil who says - we won't spare anyone who threatens the law and order of the city. Really? So what happened that day? Was his tail between his legs?

(crowd laughs)

The other day he calls up (MNS MLA from Mumbai) Bala Nandgaonkar and says, "What could I do? What was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to take a big stick and stand there?"

(crowd laughs)

There is this one boundary line....one border....one line that cannot be crossed. I have never crossed that line, and will never cross that line. Never raise your hands against the police.

(crowd applauds and cheers)

If you demoralize the police to such an extent, then where will the common man go with his problems? Where will he go? If this keeps happening, tomorrow even the police will say "we don't want to get involved here, do whatever you want".

Is this how a state is run? And this Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik. The cops caught the guilty people. And what does he say to the DCP who arrested the guilty people? He says, "You bastard, let them go!" He tells him to let the criminals go!

Our policewomen sisters were tormented here... they were pulled aside and beaten up and molested......all these guys, our Marathi police constables, were getting beaten up... and they weren't getting any orders?

Oh, and these (police head honchos) knew everything from the beginning. They knew that there were trains full of these goons coming for the rally. And they had choppers, and rods and everything else... tell me, are there ever any rocks lying around here (in Azad Maidan)? Where did the rocks come from?

These people had advance warning of all these facts, and they still ignored them. And they refuse permission for my peaceful rally? The other day, when some police officials came to meet me, I told them. I told them that the 11th August rally at least had targets. That mob knew that it was supposed to target the police and the media.

Who do we want to target (in this rally)? I have already declared our targets. Arup Patnaik, resign! R.R. Patil, resign! I declared this in the beginning itself.

We have not come here to destroy cars or set something on fire. We don't even wish to do all that. Even if we were to, whose cars would we destroy and whose property would we set on fire? Our own? Those belonging to our citizens from Mumbai and Maharashtra? This rally isn't for such purposes.

But how else are we supposed to express our anger? They won't let us express our anger at whatever happened. And they say, please respect democracy. This is democracy?

Go and look at the track record of Raza Academy and its rallies. A few years ago, this same Raza Academy had a rally in Bhiwandi. This bhadva (translates to 'pimp' but pimp doesn't have the same punch :)) Abu Asim Azmi went to that rally. He gave a speech there, that too an inflammatory speech. And they're sending me notices - "don't make inflammatory speeches". That Abu Azmi went there, made an inflammatory speech in Bhiwandi. You know what happened next?

The mob killed two police constables by bashing their heads in with big rocks. Then they cut off their private parts and threw their corpses into burning buses..... the government had no problems with that. And they refuse me permission for a rally?

Whoever came here (on 11t August) had no connection with Maharashtra. They all came from outside Maharashtra.

(crowd applauds and cheers)

After everything that went down here that day, this passport was found, a Bangladeshi passport...

(shows a Bangladeshi passport to the crowd)

This was found right here. Single entry passport (I assume he meant visa). Needed only to come into India. No intentions of going back, so it was thrown away here...

(throws it away)

There are countless such people coming into Maharashtra... they are all setting up their bases in Maharashtra. Tell me something....they say 'coincidence'....what coincidence?

In 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished, where was its retaliation felt instantly? In Mumbai! There was no violence anywhere else in the country (GS: this isn't true...there were riots in many other cities)...only in Mumbai! And when this incident happened during the rally on 11th August, its reaction happened in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. So something happens in Uttar Pradesh, there's a reaction in Mumbai, and something happens in Mumbai, there's a reaction in Uttar Pradesh. Doesn't India have any other states???

The reason is, all these people are coming here from there. All these Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who have infiltrated and set up bases in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and Jharkhand, they're all coming here by the trainfuls. And the bases that they are setting up here in Mumbai, those are going to create trouble for us in the future.

Otherwise tell me, this Abu Azmi is elected from two different constituencies in Maharashtra. Two different constituencies? Should any politician from Maharashtra get elected from two different constituencies? He gets elected from two constituencies because all the people in those two constituencies have all come from outside, and they vote for him.

That day, it finally came to the police (couldn't understand the word he said here despite re-playing it many times, at 12:20)...then they had to do it. While doing that, the guy who died, Abu Azmi announced 1.5 lakh rupees for him. So why not for our policemen?

(crowd applauds and cheers)

Even the state government hasn't announced anything yet. No announcements from the state government that they are going to provide compensation for those who were hurt or troubled in those events. Nothing. Nope, just get beaten up.

Why didn't R.R. Patil speak up then? He threatens us.... anyway, what's the point in threatening us? It's almost time for us (and him...a pun) to leave now.

(crowd laughs)

They don't think about anything that has already happened or what may happen. They don't do anything useful. Just get the cops beaten up. Anyone will come, drag our cops away, and beat them up?

The other day when they had that rally in Uttar Pradesh, rioted, destroyed property and all. The ones who did that were also all from outside - Pakistani Muslims and Bangladeshi Muslims. They all poured out into the streets. And what did they do? They defaced a statue of Gautam Buddha. Everyone saw it. Everyone saw pictures, saw it on TV.

Where is Mayawati? Where is that Ramdas Athavale? Where is R.S. Gavai? Where is Prakash Ambedkar? Why are they all silent? All they're obsessed with, as if possessed by a ghost, is Indu Mills Indu Mills Indu Mills Indu Mills. Don't they have anything else to do? What do they want to build in Indu Mills - a bungalow?

Why aren't they talking now? But no one will talk about these things now. They're not ready to utter a word. It's been so many days since the (11th August) incident. But there has been no statement about it from Ramdas Athavale. No statements from R.S. Gavai or Prakash Ambedkar or Mayawati, or anyone else. Nothing. Cat's got everyone's tongues.

This Mumbai Police Comissioner.....he has a "favorite" (that's the word he used) officer Dhoble. The other day, he takes a hockey stick and goes to that...what was that..juice center bar... juice center something...where did he go?

(crowd prompts)

Yes, Amar Juice Center. Is that a place to take a hockey stick to? Take your wife, your kids, I can understand, but a hockey stick? He takes a hockey stick there and beats up innocent people with that hockey stick? And what's his defense? He found drugs there....then why didn't he shut it down?

And this idiot...Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik....what's his explanation? He says Dhoble was on his way to play hockey and stopped over at the juice center. Tomorrow, if someone has gone for his honeymoon. So will he just turn up there naked?

(crowd laughs and cheers)

So Patnaik will go out of his way to protect Dhoble! Because Dhoble is his "favorite". And here (in Azad Maidan) when cops were waiting for orders to tackle the mob.....if not firing, at least give us orders for a lathi charge.... at that time Patnaik had nothing to say. And when our police officers were catching the guilty culprits, Patnaik abuses the officers, calling them "bastards"? He is demoralizing cops to such an extent?

This won't be allowed to happen in Maharashtra anymore. I only want to say one thing to R.R. Patil and Arup Patnaik. Even if you have a little bit of shame left...even a minuscule amount of shame left.... then resign. If you have even the slightest bit of shame left.

For the last two days, some newspapers have been saying - "Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is now moving towards Hindutva". Whoever raises his hands against a cop, whatever his religion, he should be bashed up wherever he is.

When my own party's MLA was bashed up....Harshavaradhan Jadhav.....is he here?  When Harshavardhan was bashed up.... I gave the orders for him to be bashed up... would he have been bashed up otherwise? When I gave a speech at that time, I said the same thing. Harshavaradhan, no matter what happens, you DO NOT raise your hands against a policeman. Never raise your hands against a cop.

This has nothing to do with religion. All the constables who were here, all my policewomen sisters...the female cops... I consider them all my Marathi brothers and Marathi sisters. I have come out on the streets here for them.

The rally that day (11th August) was organized by Muslims and today I have organized a protest rally against it.... so immediately they're jumping to the conclusion that I am "moving towards Hindutva"? I only understand...this Raj Thackeray only understands one religion...and that is Maharashtra religion. I don't understand any religion except that one. No one dare cross this Maharashtra religion. No one dare think of harming it.

And today's rally is only to boost the morale of the police and to provide wholehearted support to the police.  Along with them, we have people from the media here. Media vans were attacked, burnt, photographers were beaten up.... this rally is to express support for all of them too.

I thank you all for the tremendous response to this rally. If ever such events reoccur, we must stand together in strength like this.

When you're going back...all of you, when you're going back...keep in mind and make absolutely sure that you don't indulge in any sort of untoward activities. Go back in an orderly and peaceful manner to wherever you came from.

I hope that in the future whenever I call upon you, you will return with the same enthusiasm. And now I take your leave.

Jai Hind! Jai Maharashtra!

--------- 




Monday, May 14, 2012

The Indian Collective Conscience's Blind Spot for Racism/Discrimination

A 2009 issue The latest issue of Outlook has this cringe-inducing article by Diepiriye Kuku, an African American (and presumably gay) PhD student in Delhi. There's nothing new about stories of discrimination faced by Africans or African-Americans or North-East Indians in major Indian cities. These instances are real and shameful. But for me, the most hard-hitting portion was not the one where Kuku describes the specific instances of discrimination he's faced (as shameful as they were), but this

Outside of specific anchors of discourse such as Reservations, there is no consensus that discrimination is a redeemable social ill. This is the real issue with discrimination in India: her own citizens suffer and we are only encouraged to ignore situations that make us all feel powerless. Be it the mute-witnesses seeing racial difference for the first time, kids learning racism from their folks, or the blacks and northeasterners who feel victimised by the public, few operate from a position that believes in change.
Bingo! Kuku has put in words an issue I have been discussing with friends for several years now.

When I tweeted this story, I got a few responses which said "yes, but Indians are also discriminated against in the West" and "Blacks face discrimination even in America, not just India" and "Discrimination is a universal human trait, so why single out India?" That last bit is valid. Discrimination or xenophobia is indeed a universal trait. We have all heard of people discriminating against outsiders or minorities all over the world. India is definitely not unique in that regard.

Where India is unique.....well I shouldn't say unique....but different from societies at least in the West, is the way its collective conscience views racism, or more broadly discrimination against those belonging to groups that aren't part of the "mainstream". We have a major blind spot there.

In the West, yes, everyday there are instances of discrimination on the basis of race and sexuality. But in the West, the collective conscience, or the social discourse recognizes that this is wrong. People use the term "politically correct" like a pejorative. But in the West, it is not considered politically correct by the society to come out and say that some races are inferior. Or that gays are inferior or abominations. Yes, some nutcases say that but in the West, the mainstream collective opinion holds the ideal of equality very dear.

That is largely missing in India. There is no general understanding that saying someone is inferior based on their race or sexuality is wrong. It does exist, in some degree, when it comes to caste. While casteism is still prevalent in India in various forms, the general collective discourse recognizes that saying certain castes are inferior is wrong. The opponents of racism using "merit" is often a code for implied inferiority, but even the use of that code is a "thank heavens for small mercies" byproduct of that Indian collective conscience as least recognizing casteism as wrong.

But when it comes to racism or homophobia, the Indian collective conscience still has a blind spot. Most Indians feel no compunctions in saying that a particular race is inferior or that gays are "unnatural" or "sick" or "disgusting". We humans may never be able to completely rid ourselves of xenophobia and discrimination, the way we may never be able to rid ourselves of murder and rape. But we can take a step in the right direction by at least getting our collective consciences to recognize that xenophobia or discrimination is wrong, just the way murder and rape.

India is yet to take that step. It is lagging behind the West by some decades. The West's conscience wasn't always enlightened. Before the 60s, it was perfectly acceptable to say in public that blacks are inferior and so should be segregated. Even until the 70s and early 80s, it was perfectly acceptable in the West to treat gays as abominations or mutations. But that isn't the case now. The Western conscience has moved and continues to move in the right direction.

I hope India's collective conscience does too. And soon.





Thursday, May 10, 2012

Recipe for Egg Salad Sandwich On Toast - Slightly Indian

When I moved from India to the United States in 2006, I encountered a multitude of food items I had never tasted in India. I could readily understand why I had never tasted most of those items in India, due to Indian conventions, habits, and availability of ingredients, such as ribs or steak tartare. But there was one item whose sheer simplicity astounded me. And which, by rights, should have been really popular in India. That item was the egg salad sandwich. I couldn't figure out why I had never encountered it in India.

The egg salad sandwich is so simple, even minimal. So elegant. So tasty. And so ideal for spicier Indian variations. And yet, almost completely absent from menus in India. Why? I have no idea!

Most chicken sandwiches you get in India are cousins of the egg salad sandwich - shredded chicken mixed with mayonnaise and mustard, served on toasted or untoasted bread. Another popular item in India, the Russian salad (which results in Russian salad sandwich or Rusian salad roll) is also similar. So why is the egg salad sandwich not available in India? I have no idea! But I hope it becomes popular.

Here's the most basic recipe for an egg salad sandwich. Take hard-boiled eggs. Shell them. Mash them. Add mustard, mayo, salt, pepper. Make a sandwich using toasted bread. Enjoy!

Another reason this sandwich should, by rights, be extremely popular in India, is the fact that you can easily add quintessentially Indian spices and make it more flavorful. You can also add different veggies to it, to play around with the texture. That's what I do. I love experimenting with the basic egg salad. I have tried various combinations over the years. Here is my favorite recipe for what is (for me) the perfect Egg Salad Sandwich on Toast:

Recipe (makes 2 sandwiches of 2 toasted bread slices each)

Ingredients:
4 slices of bread
2 eggs hard boiled
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbs mustard (I prefer Dijon, but french mustard works well too)
1 tbsp chopped onion (optional)
1 tbsp chopped bell pepper/capsicum (optional)
Paprika/cayenne/red chili powder (to taste, optional)
Cumin powder (to taste, optional)
Black pepper (to taste)
Salt (to taste)

Directions:

Egg salad is among the easiest sandwiches to make. You don't need to be an expert on cooking by any means. Even the novice-est of novices can get it right.

The first step is to hard boil eggs.



















The perfect timing and technique for this varies based on the freshness of your egg (surprising fact - slightly stale eggs when boiled are easier to peel than fresh eggs), its size, and how hard you like your egg boiled.



















Peel the egg. Put the peeled eggs in a bowl.


















Now we need to mince the eggs. There are different ways of approaching this. You can just crush a whole egg with a spoon or a spatula.



















Or you can use an egg slicer to first make elegant slices and then mince the egg.



















Eventually, you mince them with a spoon or a spatula. Go to town on 'em. Crush them the way Assad crushes protesters in Syria.



















Now whether you want to go as far as Assad or dial it back like Mubarak depends on your taste. I like to leave some pieces of the egg white intact, roughly 1 cm in size. Personally, I prefer slightly chunkier versions to an egg salad where the entire egg is minced like keema. So my ideal minced eggs look like this.



















From here on, it's as easy as silencing protesters in Bahrain. Let me tell you about the basic ingredients first. You first add 1 tbsp each of mayonnaise and mustard.



















Then you add salt and pepper. Nothing like a pepper grinder to bring out the freshest flavors!





At its most basic, this is egg salad. You can mix the whole shebang, put it between toasts, and you're good to go. But I also like to add onions. And red or green bell pepper (aka capsicum). This time, I added red peppers because that's all I had at home. They tend to be slightly sweet.



















I also like to add red chili powder (or paprika or cayenne depending on your taste) because I like a little heat in my egg salad. Not too much. Just a pinch. I also add a pinch of cumin powder because based on all my experiments, I think that's a spice that goes best with egg salad.



















Then you mix the whole thing together. Stir it, stir it, stir it, stir it, like a polaroid picture! And this is how it looks.



















I know, not very appetizing. But as Shrek said, don't judge me before you taste me.

Next, we toast the bread. You can use a toaster, but I prefer toasting them on a pan, girdle, or as I have done here, a tava. I like 'em nicely browned and crisped!



















Done toasting? Now take a toast, and add a generous helping of the egg salad.



















And when I say generous, I mean really generous! It's egg salad not butter. Lay it on as thick as Fox News. It should be a thick layer, well thicker than the bread itself.  Cover the bread entirely, without letting any salad spill out the edges. Like this. The spartan toast should look overwhelmed by the rich gooey mixture.



















But don't worry about the spartan toast. Its Leonidas is on its way (when the heck did the Arab Spring similes turn into Ancient Greek similes!??). Put the other toast on top. And make sure the egg salad layer is thick like this.



















Next, you can either pounce on the sandwich like the Persians pounced on the Spartans at Thermopylae. Or you can cut the sandwich in two, like Xerxes wanted done with Leonidas.



















There it is. Beautiful, tasty, simple, and nutritious Egg Salad on Toast. Enjoy! I like to position my diagonally cut sandwiches like in the image above and imagine it is the globe from Pacman that I Binky, am attacking. As you can see, all my cooking similes and metaphors have to do with wars and bloodshed. What do to? I am Gandhian that way. Anyway, enjoy the sandwich.

Oh, and if you're like me and savor licking remnants of food off utensils, don't forget the bowl you made the egg salad in.  See this?



















Don't throw it in the sink. Long after you've polished off the sandwiches, working on the remains of that great civilization in the bowl can bring you greater please than archaeologists relishing Greek ruins.




Monday, May 07, 2012

Why EPL is Soccer and not Football: The Definitive Answer

I have been in America for 6 years now, and will most likely spend my life here. Like almost all Americans, I refer to what is played in the NFL as football, and what is played in the EPL as soccer.

I don't like soccer. Have never liked soccer. Even as a kid growing up in India, decades before I even heard of the Superbowl or NFL, I found soccer an extremely boring sport. But this post is not about why soccer is so boring. This post isn't about the banality of a "sport" that features 90 minutes of ambling around, kicking around a ball, and scoring on an average just 1-2 times during the whole excruciating period. This post isn't about a sport where it is not considered shameful to feign injuries, where convincing playacting wins games, and where referees seem even more willfully clueless than the fake referees in WWE pro wrestling. This post isn't about the utterly fallacious argument "Soccer is the #1 sport in most countries in the world, so it has to be awesome", that could also be extended to say "denying women rights and dignity is a practice prevalent in most countries in the world, so it has to be awesome".

No, this post is about the name nonsense. You know, what the "real" football is. That what's played in EPL is the only sport that can and should be called football. That churlish notion is what this post is about.

In my academic, professional, and personal life, I have gotten to know about a dozen or so Europeans and a couple of South Americans well enough to call them friends. I have had countless conversations with them, over the course of which, I have referred to Europe and South America's favorite sport as "soccer" and not "football". No eyelids were batted. No corrections were demanded. No moronic "Call it football!!!" suggestions were made. I am sure all of them think of the sport as football. But they were normal people who had better things to do in life than split hairs over the name of a game. 

But I have lost count of the number of Indians who have, rather rudely and ignorantly, interrupted me or corrected me with the occasional use of profanity, and demanded that I not call the sport soccer. As they say, the newest converts are the most extremist. And most Indians who follow soccer are the archetypal new convert extremists. India is currently ranked 165 in FIFA rankings. Snowmen have a better chance of surviving months long cruises in hell than India does of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in this century. India's club soccer landscape is so dismal, that a documentary about it would look like Dystopian science fiction set in sub-Saharan Africa. I'm sure the bottled water budget of the newest IPL cricket team, the Pune Warriors, is more than the overall budget of all soccer tournaments played in India. Forget cricket, which is the king of sports in India. I'm sure that the revenue from the sales of Manchester United jerseys in Bombay is way more than the overall budget of all soccer tournaments played in India.

Despite the abysmal ranking and the tragic club scene, India has millions and millions of soccer fans! Or, as their hubris would force me to say, "football" fans. Now a non-Indian might wonder, how is it that a billion-strong country with millions of soccer fans is ranked lower than countries that don't even have populations close to a million? Why don't these Indian fans of the game go and watch local club soccer, support their teams, affect change and improve the fate of soccer?

The answer is simple. An overwhelming majority of self-proclaimed soccer fans in India are not really "fans" of the "sport" the way most people elsewhere are fans of sports. Scratch the surface and you'll realize that Indian soccer fans couldn't care less about the actual sport. They're just taken in by the aura surrounding the brands that European soccer has managed to cultivate and export. It's more about basking in the borrowed glory of Manchester United, Barcelona, etc. by paying ridiculous amounts of money to buy their jerseys and hats. Most Indian soccer fans couldn't tell you the difference between a banana kick and a banana split, or explain the offside rule. But they could identify the colors, logos, and brand endorsements of the top European club teams, and could tell you the keyboard shortcut to type Barca (the way any English-speaking person would type it) as Barça with that weird tail under the C to convince themselves they really know their stuff.

Well, they don't. Some do. A very few do. But most moneyed upper middle class Indians are just latching on to clubs from random European cities they couldn't even pinpoint on the map because they don't realize how completely they have been taken in by well-crafted marketing campaigns. These Indians spend more than a slum dweller's annual food budget on overpriced (but usually made in Bangladesh) jerseys, display logos on their facebook and twitter accounts, and go by nicknames like "gooner" as an expression of their utterly shallow new-convert extremism. Little wonder then, that despite dozens of European soccer clubs playing the game, 99% of Indian fans swear by one of 3 mega brands - Manchester United, Barcelona (sorry, Barça), and Arsenal.

And these Indian soccer fans are at the forefront of ignoring civility and rudely telling someone "y u call it soccer da? Call it football no macha!" and "LULWUT? y u watch rugby/NFL/AFL da? Dem no be football ra. Dey be hand-egg ra!" And of course, lazily forwarding this oh-so-cliched hand-egg picture; perfectly representative of Indian soccer fans' sporting ignorance and tendency to bask in borrowed glory - they can't even come up with their own clever rebuttals! But their ego grows a few precious microns as they do all this.

So then, which sport can stake claim to the name football? There's a short answer and a long answer. The short answer - Meh, who cares? A rose by any other name and suchlike. To give you an analogy, at any given moment, I can't tell you if I'll call India's biggest metropolis Bombay or Mumbai. I am Marathi, and in that language, we call it Mumbai. But I also grew up when the city's "official" name was Bombay and that's what we called it when speaking in English. In my mind, the names are synonymous. But there are a bunch of  folks as self-important, deluded, and rude as Indian soccer fans who can't abide by that. If they live in Shivaji Park or Goregaon, making someone say Mumbai instead of Bombay is the greatest Maratha achievement since the Battle of Wadgaon. If they live in South Bombay, making someone say Bombay instead of Mumbai is the greatest act of civil disobedience since the Salt Satyagraha. But the real answer, the short answer is - Meh, who cares?

The long answer is this. About soccer/football I mean, not that Bombay/Mumbai boondoggle. Rude soccer fans for some reason think of "soccer" as a word the Americans coined, and "football" as the pure true holy name that the noble Brits gave the sport. The long answer is vastly different. The answer steeped in history and etymology, not fallacious vapid logical shortcuts. Indian soccer fans simplistically say, as that hand-egg cliche denotes, that soccer is a game involving kicking a ball with the foot. NFL/Rugby/AFL involve carrying the ball by hands. Hence, FIFA/EPL is the "real" football. Done. Proved. Settled. QED. Elementary, my dear Watson!

Ah, Watson! Sherlock Holmes! Perfect segue!

Have you read the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter? Not one of my favorites, but useful here. Published in 1904. The captain of the Cambridge rugby team asks Holmes to locate a missing player on the eve of a crucial match against Oxford. In that story, the sport is referred to as just "football", sans any qualifiers on three separate occasions. It is also referred to once....only once as "rugger" (as opposed to.....soccer? But more on that in a while). And as rugby, zero times.

So in the la-di-dah home of the sport, England, as a story written by one of the most famous English writers ever suggests, "football" was a term used to referred to rugby. The fact is, "football" was a generic name for a bunch of different sports, including rugby, gridiron football, soccer etc. Football was not exclusively identified even in England as the sport that is now played in the EPL. And although there isn't complete consensus on this, most scholars agree that the term "football" comes, not from kicking the ball with the foot, but the fact that the sport was played on foot. So rugby was football and soccer was football.

In fact the name soccer also originated in England (not in America!) - soccer originates from Association, because that variant of football was called association football. So soccer is the name the English came up with to explicitly distinguish the EPL/FIFA type from other types of football in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Across the pond in United States, once English colonies, they played mainly English sports in the 18th and 19th century. In fact, cricket was very popular before the civil war, and a team of top cricketers from England toured North America in 1859 and played in front of packed stands in Philadelphia, Hoboken, Rochester, Hamilton, and Montreal. But my cricket-loving mind digresses.

The point is, they played a lot of English sports in America those days. Including football - different types of football. If you look at the history of football, the basic point seems to be tolerance for variations. Why go into history? Even today, rugby union is markedly different from rugby league. So that kind of football, where you are on foot but carry the ball in your hands, got tinkered with in America as well. That tinkering led to what I think makes American Football so awesome - the forward pass. The pioneers were colleges who played each other in the 19th century. Finally in the early 1900s, an innovation on the scale of what IPL seemed in 2007, was made. The first ever Rose Bowl (known then as the East-West Football Game) was played between Stanford University and University of Michigan in Pasadena in 1902. That is, two years before Doyle wrote his story about the missing three-quarter.

So we can see that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the term "football" was used in America to describe what is now played in the NFL, and by AC Doyle to describe what we know as rugby. I am sure there are also instances of people using "football" back then to refer to what is now played in the EPL. I didn't look it up. Even reading about soccer makes me sleepy. But I am sure people used football to refer to soccer as well. That's the point. It was a generic term.

The 20th century progressed and progressed fast. For socio-cultural reasons I'd rather not go into, the football that became most popular in Europe and elsewhere was the variation that involved kicking the ball around. The football that became the most popular in America and somewhat popular in Europe (under the name Rugby) was the variation where you hold the ball in your hands and run. They're all football.

Except!

Well, the thing is, it's the Europeans who invented a different name for their kicking game - soccer. FIFA governs a sport that has two names, like the Bengali bhalo naam and daak naam if you will. Both names coined by the Brits. In America or in Canada, "gridiron" football was just called football. If you're in America, football is what's played in the NFL and Canadian football is what's played in the CFL. If you're in Canada, football is what's played in the CFL and American football is what's played in the NFL. By rights, Aussies should call AFL football too, but they call it "footy", maybe for the same bizarre reason they call barbecue "Barbie". Americans didn't need a second name for their favorite game the way Europeans needed it for their favorite game. Europeans who were into soccer were probably the ancestors of Indian soccer fans, insecure and unsure, and so came up with two names.


Why do I refer to the game in the EPL by the name soccer? In the immortal words of George Mallory, "because it's there!" The name soccer is out there, put out there by Europeans, and is understood worldwide as referring to the game that involves pretending to be hurt while taking leisurely strolls, once in a while prodding the ball into a disgruntled-looking net.

So why is the sport played in EPL/FIFA soccer and not football? Because if someone says football, it could mean one of several things. But if someone says soccer, it means only one game. The game where the highest trophy shouldn't be called Golden Boot, but Golden Actor Holding His Shin Pretending To Be Hurt.




Sunday, May 06, 2012

TextsFromHillary for Mamata Banerjee

Today Hillary Clinton is meeting Mamata Banerjee. I imagine these are the texts they are exchanging.
Obviously, inspired by Texts From Hillary whose creators Hillary didn't arrest, but LOL-ed with. Mamata Banerjee on the other hand...