kawaa's blog

Situating Slumdog Millionaire

By: on 22 Mar 2009

I saw “Slumdog Millionaire” months ago, before the Oscars but after its appeal had risen to fever-pitch in the more multi-cultish corners of the US, like my very own Bay Area. I arrived early with my friend and the theater was packed with well-heeled, wide open-minded Berkeleyans, and this was well before the previews. And the next two hours were very enjoyable – the plot, if a bit saccharine, was also snappy and well-executed, the supersaturated colours were beautiful and it was not Bollywood length: all positives. By the time the credits came around and there was all that dancing at VT, I realized that that was the first and last dance number, also a major appeal. I liked it. I felt like Danny Boyle had given me a good time: it was Bollywood-ish enough not to feel completely fake, not Bollywood enough to require Excedrin before the intermission. But with enjoyment came some unease. 

Diversity and Ethnic Minorities in University Faculty

By: on 28 Jun 2008

This is just one of those things that I still don't completely understand from when I came to the US and into university life 10 years ago: tokenism / diversity in faculty representation. I know we've done the race-vs-class thing a million times on this blog, but I really want to find out what anyone thinks about this: what diversity do privileged minority faculty members bring to the academy?

Here's a bit of background from my own context:

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.

Review: "Khuda ke Liye": Oh, For God's Sake!

By: on 26 Apr 2008

(apologies that this is old news: KkL came out in Pakistan on July 20th, 2007 and in the US / UK in November. But it has just come out in India, which is fascinating and worrisome at the same time).

Khuda Ke Liye, the first Pakistani-made movie to hit the worldwide art film market, is the worst possible attempt -- made by anybody, ever -- to grapple with issues close to the hearts of people in the country and South Asian region: religious extremism, community identity, generational conflict, racial profiling. While I don't stand with the mullahs who condemn it for blasphemy, it deserves condemnation of an entirely different sort, from anyone with taste and political imagination, for setting the quest for understanding the complexities of Pakistan's politics back decades.

Open Thread: And here's to you, Mr. Mandal...

By: on 14 Apr 2008

This is usually Dr. Anon's prerogative, but I figured that since this issue deserves an airing:

In 1979, the Mandal Commission was convened at the behest of Morarji Desai to 'identify the socially and economically backward', and to recommend increases in quotas for backward communities in government jobs and educational institutions. BS Mandal, the chair of the Commission, recommended an increase of 27 percent in reserved positions in schools, colleges, universities and government institutions.

Pakistan Burning: What Democracy?

By: on 31 Dec 2007

As the violence starts to die down in some of the major cities of Pakistan, the massive tangle of Pakistani elections – to have them, when to have them, who will participate – catches up with the grief and shock of the Bhutto assassination. Wheels are starting to turn again: the Pakistan People’s Party is now chaired by the boy prince, 19 year old Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, and they have declared that they want elections on the 8th of January. Pressure from the international community, particularly the United States, for elections as quickly as possible comes into conflict with the security and logistical requirements of conducting free-and-fair elections, particularly a week after a national crisis.

Elections are not a silver bullet. They do not restore legitimacy in one swoop. And the actual business of electioneering is completely divorced from the dust-road, hardscrabble existence that most Pakistanis wake up to each morning. [I know this is standard roti on this site, but some masala in a moment].

Pakistan Burning: Who's Responsible?

By: on 29 Dec 2007

Benazir Bhutto was killed the day before yesterday, and was buried yesterday in Larkana. Even amid the fog of national grief, one question burns clearly and brightly: who is responsible? The inability, or unwillingness, of the government to give that question a definitive answer lies at the very heart of the trauma and violence that continues to engulf Pakistan.

Pakistan Burning: Another Reaction

By: on 28 Dec 2007

I wrote the little piece of verse below this afternoon, while watching the footage of Bhutto's funeral. All the analysis on the news is becoming stale, because it concentrates on what we'll never definitively know, i.e., who killed her. We will need to wait a while to see how the assassination is playing out in Sindh and elsewhere.

Pakistan Burning: Bhutto's body flies home

By: on 28 Dec 2007

The streets of Islamabad this morning – chilly, beautiful, brittle and above all silent – stand in marked contrast to the flames and smoke that engulfed Rawalpindi last night, all along the Murree Road, spreading outward from Rawalpindi General Hospital. There, at 6:16 pm yesterday evening, Mohatarama Benazir Bhutto, the Chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party, died after being shot outside a rally in Liaqat Bagh. The shooting was accompanied by a suicide bombing that killed more than a dozen.

The news spread quickly through the cable networks last night: first the news of the bombing somewhere in ‘Pindi, then news of Benazir injured, then finally the news that she had ‘expired’. Tires were burning along the broad new highways connecting Rawalpindi to Islamabad by 7:30. By 8 pm, shops were shut all over the twin cities, and more than a few establishments had been torched. The violence in other cities – Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi – has been worse. Video coverage alternates between archived footage of Bhutto’s speeches and charred banks and businesses all over the country. Sindh, the PPP stronghold, is tipping into a state of sustained conflict as activists are attacking government offices and the army has recently been given orders to shoot protesters on sight. We all wait with baited breath for Bhutto’s body to be laid down after Friday prayers alongside a father and two brothers – hanged, poisoned and shot – at the family mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bux, near Larkana. Following the burial, the real response of Pakistan’s most powerful party will begin.

State of Emergency: Washington's Role

By: on 4 Nov 2007

A state of emergency has been declared in Pakistan, with General Musharraf finally wearing his true hat, that of a Martial Law Administrator. This declaration puts the democracy movement back a long way.

But what kind of democracy movement is it anyway? The national opposition to Musharraf and military control is in fact opposition to the Pakistani Army’s actions against militants in the Northern Areas, which has led to the destruction of villages and thousands of civilian casualties, retaliation against government and military installations: a civil war by any other name. The opposition to these actions comes in two forms: political and civil society calls for the restoration of democracy and attacks on government installations.

It goes almost without saying that the conflict spreading through the Northern Areas is pushed ahead by the United States’ expectations of Pakistan’s role in the War on Terror. These expectations are not shared by most Pakistanis. Therein lies the problem.

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