Thursday, July 27, 2006

A revealing chewing gum ad...

The other day, I had the opportunity to catch this ad on TV that left me stunned beyond words. I looked around to see if anyone saw what I saw but all I could see where faces which were blank or with a hint of a smile. All I could do was nod my head and reiterate to myself that racism is alive, kicking and vibrant in our land.

The ad was about this chewing gum that apparently whitens your teeth. It is set in a land where there are no lighting devices but men propped up on poles and on cars armed with the chewing gum. Whenever light is required, they pop one and open their mouth, and lo, there is light! What was wrong about this ad was the representation of the people who were the light-props. They were uniformly brown-skinned, suggesting a definite race/caste equation at work. Why did the director of the ad ensure that only brown-skinned people would do the part of the props? Is it because if they had used light-skinned people, it would have been incongrous? And this way, it looked "natural", ie, people would not notice anything wrong with it? (of course, some, like me, do see it as wrong)

And then, Rimi Sen says in an interview that "he can make even a black African look pretty"! Wow! Now that is just fucking amazing how she got away with that! Of course, there are some in the blogosphere who have commented on the racist nature of this comment but there has hardly been a hur and cry over it. While when Suhasini makes a statement regarding pre-marital sex, she gets slapped with a lawsuit for "sullying the name of tamil women"! Rimi Sen would probably never learn about how racist her statement was and even if she does, she wont feel pressured to issue an apology, let alone purge her racist thoughts.

One of things that I notice about the South Indian film industry is that even though the male actors are not required to be light-skinned (which is the case in Bollywood) to be considered to be heroes, the females are always expected to be goris. They would import female actresses from the north just to ensure that they be considered beautiful.

Another thing I notice is that north indians look at the heroes of the south indian films and react with disgust. Why? because they are dark-skinned, have a moustache and overact? Because they dont bare their bodies at the drop of the hat or go kkkiiiran. For a dark skinned man to make it big in Bollywood, he needs to be exceptionally talented and even so, he would not be considered for the traditional hero-roles!

When will we face the fact that racism is extremely common in India? Can things be more obvious than these two incidents? As long as representation of people is as it is in our popular media, it is going to stay. As long as there are people who deny the existence a multiple levels and layers of discrimination, it is not going to go away.

One may argue that it is not really racism that is common in India but a discrimination against dark skinned people. That there are a lot of dark brahmins. Interestingly, light-skinned dalits do not exist! I would argue that this is a discrimination based on skin colour and that it is derived from racism and manifests itself as racist behaviour when confronted with people who are undeniably of other races.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

No! you cannot have that knowledge...

In India, the bureaucracy is the subject of a lot of jokes. The incredible stonewalling nature of the government makes it a huge black box to our citizens which periodically spews out legislations and ordinances that seemingly make no sense. Why do they do that? What thought processes go into it and who takes the decision about which way to go? These are questions that are seldon answered and are rather important if we take accountability seriously.

The RTI act was a piece of legislature that was enacted to make the governance transparent. It was rather surprising that the government did indeed pass this act as it does put them in uncomfortable positions for the decisions they take.

Well, come july and we now hear that the cabinet wants to "would remove ambiguities in the bill and make provisions of the Act more effective and progressive." Whatever could these be?

Alternative Perspective has a detailed blog post on this subject. Go read it and learn why the government is scared of this act. The main purpose of the act is not to make the decision available to the public, which usually is but to make the decision process transparent, which the cabinet now seeks to obfuscate. Whyever so? Apparently because "progressive" countries like the USA, UK and Australia also do the same thing! Perhaps, the government of India is planning to invade Iraq as well!!!

Sign this online petition if you do not want this amendment to go through or you can alternatively write to the president.

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From hopelessness to hopefullness in two hours...

I would be lying if I said Last Life in the Universe did not move me. It was a film to whose main character I related to a little. A suicidal, bookish, cleanliness-freak librarian named Kenji and a lonely, pot-smoking woman living in a filthy home get together and this is the story of how they develop affection for eachother.

Kenji is a guy who is neat and clean. His house looks like a library and he works in one too. He is alone with no friends and family, and he spends too much time thinking about death. But as the film shows death comes in an instant but the waiting period is an eternity for an individual.

Kenji meets Noi when he is sitting on the railing on a bridge contemplating his death and when Noi's sister gets run over. Then Kenji gets into trouble because his overbearing "friend" gets killed in his apartment and he kills the killer. He decides to run and ends up going to Noi's house and staying there for a while.

Kenji is a shy guy who seems to have never had a girlfriend and certainly does not know how to make one either. But as time progresses and his stay in Noi's house gets prolonged, they get closer to eachother and you see a genuine relationship developing between them. The film shows, almost in real time, just how much time it takes to become intimate with another person.

There is so little which is spoken aloud in the film and so much conveyed with an mosiac of imagery. You know the background of Noi without her telling anything. And the final scene where Kenji does get caught, you see that this is not a bad ending because his fantasies center on his getting back together with Noi in the future. There is just one other film which rivals this one in terms of amount of things conveyed with little speech and that is Bergman's 'The Silence'.

The film has a poetic quality to it. The scene where Kenji transforms Noi's home is just pure magic. That is film making at its best.

I think I will watch this again next week.

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Movie Saturday..

Seen three and a half movies today. Kind of tired but I know it is going to be a long night too...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Anh Hung Tran's Cyclo

Collective Chaos is doing an Asian Wave film fest this weekend. A repeat of all the movies would be screened next week. So, if you miss any, you can see them next weekend! That is a pretty neat thing to do.

Yesterday, I watched this movie by Viatnamese director Tran that deals with the lives of poor, lower class people living in the Ho Chi Minh City, the capital of Viatnam. The central character is an 18 year old boy who drives a Cyclo (a cycle rickshaw. the word is also used to describe the person who drives the cyclo) to earn a living. His father used to be a Cyclo too until he died an untimely death on the streets and left his son nothing. You see the hopelessness in the face of the individual who is illiterate, has not means of improving his social conditions, and is harassed daily at the hands of thugs.

When one says that people can improve their conditions just by working hard, they do not realise/hide the fact that a lot of things can go wrong for those living in the lower economic classes. Also, there is a greater chance of things going wrong for them. Nobody would give them a loan, let alone a credit card. So, when there is a money emergency, they have to take a loan from the loan sharks and if they cannot repay it, they are forced into doing a lot of things that they would not have wanted to do. The cyclo in the film has his cyclo stolen, the cyclo which he was renting from a woman with a mentally retarded child and with a criminal connection. He ends up becoming the foot soldier for the crimes perpetuated by the woman's henchmen.

The film then follows the stories of other characters in the film and does it in a way that there are no heros and no villains. It is full of sad characters who are forced into crimes by others just like them. We see that it is a vicious cycle that just does not seems impossible to break. The lower class people become the criminals who act according to unknowm masters who are most definitely higher class businessmen. We see the cyclo destroying grains stored in a warehouse and torch a particular shop which seems to indicate that the job was given by some rival businessmen or opportunistic businessmen who destroy grains to keep the prices of food items artificially high.

This film is, in general, a moody one following the minds of four principal characters. It follows their thoughts, the motives for their actions and the end they all reach.

What amazed me about the movie was the director's attention to detail. The apartment of one of the principal characters is not just a room with some articles spread around here and there but a reflection of his world, his character. The director fills the frame with so many extraneous things that do not seem important to the story but give the film a flavour that is hard to miss and at the same time, extremely powerful. There is one particular scene where Cyclo gets back to his hideout after escaping the policemen. He is covered in dirt and what looks to be sewage and we are taken so close to his mouth that we see insects crawling all over his face and mouth but yet there is an expression of satisfaction, relief, and happiness on his face that contrasts with your own feelings of aversion.

It is a movie that has love, loss, sadness, poverty, crime, anxiety, death, life and how all of these seemingly contrasting things coexist together in the streets of Ho Chi Min City.

In one final shot, the camera pans across the lives of the rich of the city and we see them swimming in their pools in the distance and you realise how cut off and distant they are from the lives of these people who form the base of the city.

A powerful and impressive film. One that ought to be watched...

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Holy cow!!!

Rosy Lipped Batfish

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What is discrimination? Does it always have to be overt or can it couched in terms that do not sound discriminative but are in fact?

A woman who solves a hard math problem getting accused of cheating because she could not have solved it when none of the men in the class were able to is discrimination. Attributing the differences in the ratio of women to men in science degrees to innate abilities when no such theory has so far been proved is discriminative. Having to exert yourselves more to be taken seriously is discriminative. Being discounted as being *insert stereotypical behaviour* is discriminative.

Many a times you just feel the discrimination in your bones. You know that if you were someone else, had slightly different physical features, etc, you would have gotten a different reaction/behaviour from that other person. When such feelings become chronic, you know that there is something seriously wrong with this society that makes certain set of people feel like that they are inferior to another set of people.

It’s when people don’t know that I was a woman that I can really see the difference. Even in just stupid things. You go into a department store and people are more likely to wait on you.

Stupid things, yes... But a sum total of such stupid things are what makes someone feel that they are inferior to others. It is just an aquired knowledge that just because they are so and so means that they are sub-human because they are treated less favourably than others without such "handicaps". The killer really is when it comes from the most unexpected people.

Discrimination as such is hard to quantise and even more hard to put it in words. Most often we just swallow it without pointing out to the other person what his/her means and what implications they carry. If you do point it out to them, they are most likely to say that they do not really mean it and they are just jesting; "not to be taken seriously" attitude. If you still persist in pointing out that they are reaffirming certain stereotypes which are essentially not true, they are likely to be become indignant and take it more or less personally, as if we were accusing them of some henious crime (which is true in certain ways). If you still persist, they would try to prove the truthfullness of the stereotypes by pointing to statistics that are inherently a manifestation of discrmination - what I mean is that if a certain group of people are left of consideration for certain jobs, then you cannot point out the number of these people employed in these jobs as proof of their capability, ie, you are assuming no discrimination to prove that there is no discrimination!!

Why dont we fight against such discrimination? Why dont we go about pointing out to people that they are being discriminative? Why do not people see that discrimination mainly exists because people think that there is no discrimination? Too many whys... One of the reasons we do not fight it is because we buy into it a little bit ourselves. If one is treated in a way that is detrimental to his/her self-esteem, s/he begins to think detrimentally of oneself. I think it takes a while to understand that the problem is not with them but with the others who treat them so. But even then, a lifetime of low self-esteem does not suddenly go away. Another reason why one would not fight it is because they do not want to antagonise the people around them. After all, (wo)man is a social animal! Acceptance is craved and is something that people do not want to jeopardise by pointing out how shallow the others are being.

For all of us who want to work towards to removing discrimination, there exists a vital question that needs to be answered - who determines that discrimination exists?
The logical answer to that question is that we take the word of the people who say that they are being discriminated against.
The answer is obviously not as simple as that. There certainly are questions of honesty, integrity and scholarship to determine whether this is indeed true and what is the best way to work against such discrimination. But the important thing is to understand is that it is not for the discriminator to say that s/he does not discriminate. It is for the people who are discriminated to say so.

When most people say that they consider men and women to be equal and that they treat both of them equally, I would ask them to consider whether that is completely or even partially true. Most of the time, it wont be true. That goes even for me.

There are a lot of things that we belive is true about ourselves. One of those is that we believe that we are fair and objective when it comes to analysing the world around us. I think our perceptions is a function of our prejudices and opinions and knowledge about the world. Once we realise that, we realise that it is so easy to discriminate without realising it. And it is not solely for us to say that we are not being discriminative. If a lot of people feel that you are being discriminative, maybe you are.

Lucky are the privileged few who do not face any discrimination. But they really are unlucky because they would never understand the true nature of discrimination. They never realise that it is more complex than denying the rights to a well or being relegated to the back of the bus, that it works in subtle ways, ways that words cannot describe and are experienced by people who face the pointy end of it everyday. It is hard to understand for them. I understand that. But the problem comes up when they take up cudgels and fight against any move that seeks to bring to light these little disparities in treatment. It pains me when they call the others as liars, opportunists, dishonest blokes who are just after free lunches and are not willing to work and succeed on their own _merit_. That is when they become the enemy, that is when they show their dirty underbelly. The fact that they are able to influence and exert so much power on public opinion escapes their comprehension.

Whether the discrimination is against women or lower caste people or radicals or homosexuals, it is almost always the same and follow the same patterns. It is fascinating to look at these patterns and I wonder why so few people see it. In fact, there would be some who would fight against discrimination against women but would rant against leftists saying that it is habitual for them to lie.

Amazing. Truly. Amazing.

The world turns worser everyday in certain ways. But it also gets better in certain other ways. I just hope that the world is getting better more than it is getting worse. But somehow the evidence shows otherwise. Pessimistic? I know...

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Thoughts on censorship

Has the government of India completely gone nuts? Blocking millions of blogs is just plain stupid.

So what do we do?

Some people have suggested the use of the RTI act. But I do not think that is going to work. I am pretty sure that there would be provisions to deny information on the basis of defence/National Interest. So, all your replies are going to like, "Sorry, we cannot provide the information you have requested because it is classified." And that would be the end of it.

The more that I think of this, the more I feel that the ISPs have goofed up big time. I am pretty sure that the government gave them a list of blogspot sites to ban, like -

What the ISPs seem to have done is translated these addresses to IP and blocked the IPs. The thing is all these addresses map to the same IP! So, if they tried to block one address, every blog got blocked! And I think this is a pretty common mistake to make...

Even if the ISPs correct their errors, the issue of censorship remains. The government trying to block websites is not new. They did it with geocities some years ago, if I remember correctly and the controversy related to 'Final Solution' is well known! Can we really accept censorship is a different and quite debatable issue.

Update: Maybe I am right...

An episode of 'Strangers with candy'

No comments from me. Ok, just this - this is one satirical genius of a show. Too bad I never heard of it before.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A descriptive cartoon...

Read more.

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There is a big controversy going around in the Indian blogosphere. Apprently, some Indian ISPs are blocking blogspot sites. And this has been going on for some days now and I had no idea about it.

Shivam tries getting details about why and as usual, he gets stonewalled by the bureaucracy.

And I see that some people are accessing this blog through proxies...

It is not surprising that the Indian Government would seek to do this. India ranks really low in the world press freedom index and bloggers becoming a major force as an alternative media, it is natural for the government to seek to control it.

This does not mean that I support these censorship but just that I am not so shocked as some people seem to be.

We do have the RTI act to help us get the reasons as to why the government issued such a blanket ban on _all_ blogspot sites, which is illegal.

Update: Now I cannot access blogspot sites from home. And I use Airtel BB. :(

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This week..

It has been a busy week. I had to sleep 14 hrs today to shake off the weariness. What with it being the last week of development for our release and all. Plus, to top it all, saturday was not free either. I was in hyderabad and I did my usual walking thingie and ended up walking from Hyderabad Central to the airport. Sheesh! What was I thinking...

But what has happened with this is that I have lost a lot of post... I had a post topic everyday and never got around to writing it. So, I reckon that there are some 4-5 missing posts on this blog, including a satirical piece.

I will try to revisit those this week but I am sure I will have other topics to write on.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bunch of cowards





How can they bomb civilian population and claim to be fighting a just war? They just cannot do that. The weight of their sins and the guilt of their actions would weigh them down to hell on the day of qiyaamat.

Update: A sticky post on desipundit.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A good sign?

The YFE fellows are trying to get facts from the government.

A good sign or a bad sign?

Well, it is good that they are going after some facts at last! But what bothers me is their attitude towards this.

Claiming that they wanted to "expose" the central government's inability to uplift the backward classes since Independence, the members sought to know if students of reserved category were ever given any scholarships or financial help.

Seems to me like a very negative attitude. The thing is that they have already decided the result of their enquiry and are just trying to get some facts that would support their claims, ie, they are trying to get the data to fit their theory and not the other way around.

The thing is that whatever be the statistics, they will find a way to twist it and play it to their tune. The sad part would be that they might actually do it unconsciously because their effort would be to look at the stats with the aim to argue against reservations.

I hope that they do get the stats. I hope that they would look at the stats with an open mind and not with pre-conceived notion based on rumours and anectodal evidence.

The thing is that I am not sure that they would. But I would say that this is a good effort.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

The right kind of development

What are our great minds of our country doing?

Are they trying to develop innovative technologies that really help the country? Well, at least one person is. And he has also won an international award for it!

As of today, around 700 rural homes and 100 urban homes in Maharashtra are using this new biogas plant. Karve says that he has given presentations to institutions and entrepreneurs in Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, after which many have shown interest.

The conventional biogas plant works on human or animal excreta and to produce 250 gms of Methane gas, you require 40 kg of excreta which requires a period of 40 days to decompose. In sharp contrast, Dr Karve's innovative 'New compact biogas technology' method requires one kilo of starch or sugar (in the form of vegetable waste, flour collected from the floor of a flour mill) and just 24 hours to produce 250 gms of Methane gas.

I have been reading about biogas for so long that I always felt why it wasn't being used more extensively. Making the production of biogas sustainable is probably one of the major accomplishment of Dr Karve. But why don't we hear more about this in the national newspapers? This is the kind of news that gives meaning to the 'India Shining' slogan, doesn't it?

This is the kind of activity that the Government of India should be promoting, which apparently it is not. Dr Karve has won the Ashden Award for renewable energy twice, which is amazing!

I suppose there are lot of things that would need to be improved like efficiency in production of the biogas, more fuel efficient burners, etc, etc and I do hope that Dr Karve would keep improving on his technology. Another positive thing is that it looks like his daughter is also following in his footsteps.

The article seems to suggest that biogas is pure methane, which it is not. It is more like 60% methane.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

India Superstar!!

These days we read about how India is on the verge of becoming an economic superpower and how Manmohanics has turned around this country!

Along with numerous reports that India would become one of the top four economies in the world by 2035, these ideas are further strengthened by the booming IT industry in cities such as Bangalore.

Are we really to become a global power? Is this century going to be an India-China dominated one?

This article in the NY Times answers some of the questions. Though there is nothing new in this report, I loved this particular paragraph in it...

INDIA is a roaring capitalist success story." So says the latest issue of Foreign Affairs; and last week many leading business executives and politicians in India celebrated as Lakshmi Mittal, the fifth richest man in the world, finally succeeded in his hostile takeover of the Luxembourgian steel company Arcelor. India's leading business newspaper, The Economic Times, summed up the general euphoria over the event in its regular feature, "The Global Indian Takeover": "For India, it is a harbinger of things to come — economic superstardom."

This sounds persuasive as long as you don't know that Mr. Mittal, who lives in Britain, announced his first investment in India only last year. He is as much an Indian success story as Sergey Brin, the Russian-born co-founder of Google, is proof of Russia's imminent economic superstardom.

I wondered why such huge hue and cry was made about Mittal-Arcelor deal and why the Indian government was persuaded to influence the Luxemburg government on the merits of this deal.

Anyway, there are also some facts mentioned in this article (again, nothing new) that I would mention here.

Recent accounts of the alleged rise of India barely mention the fact that the country's $728 per capita gross domestic product is just slightly higher than that of sub-Saharan Africa and that, as the 2005 United Nations Human Development Report puts it, even if it sustains its current high growth rates, India will not catch up with high-income countries until 2106.

Nor is India rising very fast on the report's Human Development index, where it ranks 127, just two rungs above Myanmar and more than 70 below Cuba and Mexico. Despite a recent reduction in poverty levels, nearly 380 million Indians still live on less than a dollar a day.

Malnutrition affects half of all children in India, and there is little sign that they are being helped by the country's market reforms, which have focused on creating private wealth rather than expanding access to health care and education. Despite the country's growing economy, 2.5 million Indian children die annually, accounting for one out of every five child deaths worldwide; and facilities for primary education have collapsed in large parts of the country (the official literacy rate of 61 percent includes many who can barely write their names). In the countryside, where 70 percent of India's population lives, the government has reported that about 100,000 farmers committed suicide between 1993 and 2003.

Emphasis mine.

Manmohanamics has _not_ helped the nation as a whole. It has just helped the rich to get richer at the expense of the poor.

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The environment and you!

Take a look at this site.

Do look at the 'What can you do?' section. Though it is US specific, it is still enlightening...

For example,

Unplug electronics from the wall when you’re not using them
Even when turned off, things like hairdryers, cell phone chargers and televisions use energy. In fact, the energy used to keep display clocks lit and memory chips working accounts for 5 percent of total domestic energy consumption and spews 18 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year!

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Better late than never...

I forgot to link this excellent, well researched post by obc voice. For that I apologise.

Well, I suggest you read it. And go to the NCBC website verify what he says.

It is definitely enlightening. A limited version of this was posted as a comment on his own blog some time ago. Now, he comes up with much more detailed post that answers a lot of questions. Have a look, read with an open mind and try to engage him in a meaningful discussion. I am sure he would welcome that.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

The horror!

I just cannot believe this.

Hat-tip: Dilip

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"So why do you write these strong women characters?"

I finished watching Josh Whedon's Firefly series this week. I have become a fan of this man. It is a brilliant, brilliant show. Feminist? Yes. Witty? Yes. Great sci-fi? Yes.
Sad that the series was discontinued because of stupid FOX's scheduling.
They did create the movie Serenity and I hope they will create a sequel to it. More on Firefly later.

Just hear his speech.

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