The clash of cultural expectations

“I need the address.”, the immigration official shouted at her, as she, a septuagenarian Indian woman, with her limited English, repeatedly, pointed to the paper containing the phone number of her daughter.
Read More

A visit to Gadar Memorial in San Francisco

Getting Inside

After getting misdirected once to 436 Hill St, San Francisco which is the old original address which does not exist anymore, I eventually reached 5 Wood St, San Francisco.
It was the time of sunset, I knew I was late, but finally, it felt good to see a nondescript apartment marked “Gadar memorial”. Least, I expected locked doors. I did not drive 40 miles to stand in front of this locked door. There must be a way to get in, I contemplated, as I noticed an Indian woman walking upstairs towards me.
“I am here to see Gadar Party’s office”, I asked as she stammered while replying in English.
“हिंदी बोलती है आप ?”, I inquired.
“जी हाँ”, she confirmed.
“मैं आशीष, south bay से आया हूँ ग़दर स्मारक देखना था । “, I said, while pointing towards the building.
“आपके पास consulate से permission है?”, she asked.
“consulate से permission?”, I inquired.
“consulate से बिना permission लिए यहाँ आना मना है । “, she confirmed.
Even for bureaucratic Indian govt, taking permission from the consulate to visit a first world war era memorial is perplexing. I believe this is the only such Indian memorial in the western hemisphere. Of course, I was not ready to yield and drive back another 40 miles before paying the homage. We both stood there motionless with an awkward silence.
Someone had to blink, thankfully, she did.
“एक बार मैं अपने husband से बात करती हूँ । “, she said.
She unlocked the door and went inside, and after some chatter, they both came out, and after some quick conversation, he allowed me in to visit the memorial. The rest of the discussion with them was pretty friendly.

Inside

The memorial consists of a single hall with locked showcases filled with books in English, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu. A few posters and pictures were hanging on the wall, labeled in one or the other of the languages mentioned above. I didn’t visit the memorial expecting an audio tour but not finding English, or Hindi labels on the items were depressing. The whole space lacked maintenance. After thanking the Indian couple who seems to have been appointed by the consulate to maintain the place, I left half an hour later. The treatment of the memorial, which is the last symbol of this movement and Indian students who started it, by Indian govt is deplorable. Especially, given the fact that this is the only memorial of its kind in the USA.

Departing thoughts

The treatment met out to defenders of the nation, dead or alive, uniform wearing or revolutionary, determines its destiny. A second world war story of France vs. the UK is apt in this context. “Before World War II, it was not uncommon to see placards hanging outside some restaurants in Paris which read “Dogs, lackeys, and soldiers not allowed”. On the other hand, even pregnant women used to get up and offer seats to soldiers on London buses. When the war broke out, France capitulated in no time while Britain remained undefeated.” [source]

Thoughts on Bureaucrats, Technocrats and Politicians

Bureaucrats take the actions which are justifiable (by book or by order of their superiors), they care less about consequences (in case there are multiple possible actions, they let the politician decide the appropriate action).

Technocrats take the actions which (according to their analysis) have best (long term/short term) consequences, they care less about how harsh the action could be on certain individuals and their logical thinking usually fails to take into account the law of unintended consequences like  Cobra Effect.

Politicians take the actions which are palatable and which are usually good for their (long term/short term, well, usually for next elections) popularity.

Till now, India was run primarily by politicians + bureaucrats, it seems to be transitioning towards politicians + technocrats.
It would be interesting to see the (short term/long term) consequences of this transition.

Note: The above statements are not my original discovery, I have read statements along similar lines at various sources.

Beyond Numbers: Dealing with terrorism in India

Let’s start with a small exercise.
Trying searching for the list of Sept 2011 victims or for the list of London Bombing victims.
In each case, more than half of the results on the first page lead to a list of names along with the photos and life stories of those people.
Now, trying searching for the list of Hyderabad blast 2013 victims, you would get a few results like this which lists the names of the people but where are their photos and life stories?

Try another search for a list of Mumbai attack 2008 victims, what do you get?  a partial list from Telegraph, another list of just names from two circles and mid-day.
One can try more such searches and the difference will be immediately obvious. As a nation, India has reduced the terror victims to numbers.
And that has lead to one of worst forms of desensitization towards terror attacks.

Few months back, women were on streets of New Delhi not because “one” woman was gang-raped (such “one”s happen just too often in the country/world) but because they were able to relate to the unfulfilled life story of “a girl born in a poor family whose father sold his land so that, she can study. And she dares to break the New Delhi’s norm of women not venturing after sunset.” As humans, we learn to relate to other humans based on their life stories.
Imagine this for a while, rather than reducing these deaths to numbers, what if media had instead written about the “engineer from a poor family background who got recently engaged”. I am making this up but such a real story won’t be impossible to find in say, Hyderabad blasts.

The lack of these stories acts as boon for anti-nationals like Arundhati Roy who write editorials supporting Afzal Guru (hanged for 2001 Parliament Attack) – notice the implicit life story of Afzal Guru in the article.
These anti-nationals are able to create well-articulated life stories of these victims to which people claiming to be liberal/open-minded/forward-looking relate to.
When we reduce victims to numbers, we don’t see them as humans any more, we don’t think about the difficulties their immediate family members have to bear. No wonder Narasimha Rao, ex-Prime Minister of India, once said, “It seems in this country only terrorists have human rights”. As India loses the intellectual battle against terrorism, it loses losing the real battle on the ground as well.
This also hits back India in international diplomacy since foreigners would know bad as well as good life stories (sometimes completely fictional) about the hanged terrorists but the terror victims will be reduced to numbers and forgotten.

If Govt. of India or Indian media can start compiling life stories of these victims, it can target all the above issues. Indians will become more sensitive towards terrorist attacks, anti-nationals will lose their clout and foreigners will know more about the lives of who died.

Random Thoughts: Rape and The Indian Blame Game

After the Delhi gang-rape case, there has been a sudden upsurge in traditional as well as social media over rape in India.
As usual in such cases, the initial reaction is to find someone to blame.
And in this case, the onus of the blame has been put on

  1. Patriarchal Indian Society – without realizing that more rapes happen in the not-so-patriarchal USA
  2. Indian masculinity – “who feel threatened by women asserting their identity” without realizing that rapes happen even with infants, senior citizens, visually challengedmentally challenged and homely women in conservative villages of Haryana to Kerala.
  3. Indian Police – as if police officials are omniscient and should be present before the crime happens
  4. Honey Singh – I am expecting a petition against Vatsyayana next

This blog post is a collection of thoughts about the same.

Read More

Female Foeticide

The first episode of Aamir Khan’s show Satyamev jayate raised the issue of female foeticide in Rajasthan. While the show asked for stringent laws, it missed a few major reasons behind the same.

Read More

Book Summary: Imagining India by Nandan Nilekani

The book presents a generalists view of post-independent India. Unlike India Unbound, this book focuses primarily on post-independent India and takes a more pragmatic approach towards understanding the problems of contemporary India.  The best parts of the book are the interesting contradictions which the nation went through – love/hate relationship with the English language, fear of technology and neglected urban development.

Imagining India

Overall, the book is divided into four sets of ideas, that have arrived, that are in progress, that are still being debated and finally, that have yet to become part of public debate.

I have highlighted the best sections of the book in bold.

Read More

Towards a broken future of Internet

Internet, which initially started as a DARPA experiment is [still] under the indirect control of USA government through ICANN despite several objections from Europe as well as IBSA. This worked when most users were from the western world with the notable exception of China and few minor quirks. But in the past few decades, not only the governments around the world are putting more controls but also the internet users (as well as enterprises) are fighting back against US control. In this blog post, I will describe the main threats to the existence of (current form of) Internet.

Read More