NYT Saints Mukesh Ambani: W... T... F?!

By: on 20 Jun 2008

I hate hagiographies. I can barely take it if the ‘saint’ in question is dead, murdered for his idealistic beliefs and mourned by the many whose lives were transformed by his or her example. (Even in this instance, I'm with Orwell on his reflections on Gandhi). My blood pressure rises to a whole different level, however, if the individual is very much alive, well-padded, entirely self-serving and quite possibly the richest man in the world.

And thus the New York Times decided it would be a good idea to profile Mr. Mukesh Ambani, elder son of Dhirubhai Ambani (the ‘Polyester Prince’) and the chairman of Reliance Industries. The NYT has sunk to some depressing lows in its coverage of South Asia over the past couple of years (most of them diligently recorded in this blog, search around a bit), but this is, I believe, a nadir from which it cannot redeem itself. By setting Ambani as the exemplar of Indian success, if not the saviour of the Indian people, the article is telling the story exactly as Mukesh-ji, in his most self-assured moments, would have it told.

What you get with such innocence and trust (read, naivete) on the part of the interviewer is some truly absurd claims: No, Mukesh Ambani is not a latter-day Gandhi. No, Mukesh Ambani will not save Indian agriculture by establishing a chain of grocery shops. No, Mukesh Ambani is not “a revolutionary thinker”. And no, Mukesh Ambani does not “speak more like a father of the nation than a corporate executive”. But under such absurdity is a pitch, from a salesperson no less vaunted than the New York Times, for a pretty radical concept in governance: that we trust the robber barons of modern India with the project of development.

Open Thread: This Post Removed For Renovation

By: on 19 Jun 2008

There was an identity post here, but I botched it badly.  Let me try again:

I am interested in talking about South Asian or related identities in the diaspora in way that are not profoundly framed by and dominated by the features of South Asian American spaces.  I mean a space for the intersections and complications and silences that are not present in those conversations.  For example: What are the identity issues that Gulf desis face (and how do they vary across class, gender, country)?

Cue Freddie Mercury

By: on 18 Jun 2008

While the Eurocup raged on, sparking absurd amounts of car honking and/or window smashing in my neighborhood whenever Turkey wins, the Maldives won its first ever South Asian Football Federation Cup in Colombo on Saturday by beating India 1-0. The Maldives co-hosted the cup along with Sri Lanka.

The tournament set up was a bit wonky, as they say.

Sex! Sex! Sex!

By: on 16 Jun 2008


News on sex and sexuality in South Asia:

1. Namita Dendal at Times of India has an entertaining commentary on what would happen if Sex and the City were in Mumbai. Memorable bit of the article:

In Mumbai, a Sex And The City conversation would very likely go something like this: "Please, please God, help me find a man who is not gay, married or hung up on his mother." Sex in Mumbai? Bunk! The Sensex is more exciting.

2. According to the Centre for Policy Studies in London, Sri Lanka faces the risk of an HIV crisis. (Daily Mirror). "Sri Lanka is vulnerable to an impending epidemic due to a large number of risk factors, such as its large sex worker population, migrant workers, military personnel, internally displaced persons, refugees, drug users and a high incidence of unsafe sexual practices, including low condom use and an escalating rate of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, (STDs)." It also argues that the current government estimate of AIDS victims (862 people) is a serious underestimate compared to UNAIDS figures (5000 people) and that most of the cases are in the Western province.

3. Guardian reviews a book that critiques the idea that poverty and gender inequality are the root causes of high levels of HIV in a country, pointing to Bangladesh as an example where both exist but has low levels of HIV. I would point out that from its inception, in a South Asian context, Bangladesh has had a fair level of political consciousness among women (mukhti bahini anyone?) and this tradition of assertive women hasn't disappeared (see Elora Shehabuddin on rural women's attitudes towards incompetent jamaat electioneering before the 1996 elections). I don't know what the HIV stats are, but it would be worth looking into.

4. A call to end objectification of women in the media, workplace discrimination, and other crimes against women from a writer in Bangladesh. (New Nation)

5. Study on marital rape and domestic violence against pregnant women by Pakistan Journal of Gender Studies, reported in ANI, says that psychological and physical violence is common in their sample (50 people, ages 20-39). A recent article also points to the marital rape issuein Nepal (The Himalayan Times).

Tidbit: Pakistan News Of The Week

By: on 14 Jun 2008

There's been a lot reported on Pakistan this week, so here's a brief rundown:

As you've probably heard, Nawaz Sharif and tens of thousands of others are demonstrating against the government for failing to restore judges that Musharraf removed preceding/during emergency rule. Sharif has called for Musharraf to be hanged. This puts Sharif on one side, and Zardari (of PPP and the Bhutto family) and Musharraf on the other?

Open Thread: Job Hunting Sucks

By: on 14 Jun 2008

Feel free to share your job-related experiences below. Been treated like a secretary because you're a (South Asian) woman? Been forced to act like the $hit because you look young or are a person of color? Deprived of unions? Not paid for a year by a former employer? Not paid at all by peoplle you did a freelance job for? Told you can't wear a kurta to work!? Felt forced to be closeted?

It's the wonderful world of capitalism!!!!!!! May it all go down in a blaze of rice and oil prices! Workers of the world, you have nothing to lose but your health care!

Bobby Jindal Called An Exorcist

By: on 13 Jun 2008

Bobby Jindal is being depicted as a weird exorcist by some of the center-left blogosphere. Ordinarily, I have some sympathy for figures that are Orientalized, but I'm a little unsure about what's going on here. So, I'll leave that judgement to others who might be more objective.

I also have no interest in arguing that non-modernist discourses you have to take time to comprehend (like the conversations about astrology that so many South Asian woman my age participate in) are off limits for understanding and/or useless. However, when they interfere with how you live your life and the extent of fulfillment you can achieve, they can contribute to the problem. That's what I think I see a glimpse of here: excessive and avoidant religiosity about loving relations, neuroses, and possibly sex. This is my best guess of what Jindal is engaging in in this 1994 essay about his relationship with a friend and how he performed an exorcism for her:

Though she had not said anything, I knew something was wrong. Susan and I had developed an intimate friendship; indeed, our rela­tionship mystified observers, who insisted on finding a romantic component where none existed.

Despite our intimacy, Susan and I had not spent much time together this past year. We had succumbed to pressure from our friends and de­cided we should not be so emotionally interdependent without a deeper commitment. To be honest, my fears of a relationship and the constraints of commitment had kept us apart; our friends' objec­tions merely provided a convenient excuse. Still, I felt comfortable asking her to come to the concert, and she accepted the invitation. Though Susan ap­peared composed throughout the concert, her sud­den departure in the middle of a song convinced me otherwise and affirmed my earlier suspicions.

Tidbit: Labor, Migration, and Corporations

By: on 13 Jun 2008

Satyagraha by workers
Click on the pic for more info from New Orleans Center for Worker Justice about the bad-ass hunger-strikers / migrant laborers / post-Katrina rebuilders and read their petition to see whether you want to sign.  More later on this.

Open Thread: Heritage Learning

By: on 11 Jun 2008

For our purposes, let's define a heritage learner* as someone whose family speaks a language at home, living in a society where that language isn't widely spoken. The heritage learner, then, is exposed to the language at some level or another - can understand, maybe speak a little or a lot, but isn't completely literate. S/he then starts learning the language in a formal classroom environment - whether community/religious center, school, or university.

It's Not the Name That Counts, it's How You Use it!

By: on 11 Jun 2008

I'm deeply attached to South Asia(n) - at least as attached as one can be to such a nebulous concept. It's something I hadn't really thought about for a while, partly because trying to define South Asia(n) was starting to drive me crazy, but its importance was driven home to me recently by a friend who, before returning to Pakistan, recounted meeting Indians for the first time. Having grown up with the idea of India as The Enemy, he was astonished when he came to the US for college and discovered the similarities between himself and the Indian students he met there, and whom he befriended. This is a story I've heard repeated many times from both sides of the India-Pakistan border, and to me it's one example of many of how valuable and meaningful South Asia(n) can be.

South Asia(n) is, however, also fraught with problems, as we've discussed in these hallowed pages many times. The most glaring of these is Indocentrism, with India standing in for the whole region (see kettikili's particularly brilliant articulation of this here).* There's also the question of how to make the term extend beyond Indo-Pak feel-goodness.

More recently, however, I've encountered a new challenge to making South Asia(n) useful: well-wishers who unwittingly render it completely meaningless. The first instance was a comment by an audience member at the Tamil Studies Conference in Toronto last month, and the second was a mailing from the cable company.

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