Friday, August 31, 2007

The Forbes list: The World's 100 Most Powerful Women

I was going through the list and noted a few interesting things:

1. Indra Nooyi, Chairperson and Chief Executive of PepsiCo (No.5) and Vidya Chhabria, Chairperson, Jumbo Group (No.97) are listed as being from the U.S and U.A.E respectively. Chhabria is credited as being 'originally from India' in an article linked to the list.

2. Sonia Gandhi, the only representative from India, is listed as 'President'. Not President of the Congress Party, but President full stop.

3. Diane Sawyer, co-anchor of 'Good Morning America', whom I saw a couple of days ago, comes in at No.62.

4. Compared to India's one candidate, China has five, and the U.S fifty.

Intrigued, I found out the basis for the ranking system:

Our ranking system starts with a list of women who have crossed certain thresholds. Most of them run companies, governments or nonprofits, or are very close to the top. A handful have established power bases in other ways (an entertainment entrepreneur, a judge and an author have been on the list). The power ranking score is based on a composite of visibility (measured by press citations) and economic impact.

The latter, in turn, reflects three things: résumé (career achievements and titles, so a prime minister counts as more powerful than a senator); the size of the economic sphere over which a leader holds sway; and a multiplier that aims to make different financial yardsticks comparable. For example, a chief executive is assigned the company's sales in the economic impact calculation, while a foundation executive is assigned the foundation's assets. The assets get a higher multiplier than sales.

Emphasis in bold mine. So does this mean that countries where the press is not as active as in others will render the achievements of women in that country less worthy? As for the second sentence I emphasized in bold, that explains why there are fifty women from the U.S in the list, I suppose.

A son remembers his mother, I remember an icon

Ten years ago, there was a tremendous outpouring of grief across the world when a vivacious, attractive woman died in a car accident. She was known as the 'The People's Princess', and often used her magnetism to spread the word about the menace of landmines. She was also one of the first high-profile people to be photographed touching a person with AIDS, way back in 1987. As Bill Clinton said "It helped change world's opinion, and gave hope to people with AIDS."

She got married to the heir to the British throne the same year I was born, and as we were in the very country that happened, quite a few of the souvenirs my parents brought back when they returned to India were things that had her face on them. I can't remember where I saw the extensive TV coverage of her wedding years later, but I still remember the long trail of her white veil as she walked down the steps of the church. 25 feet it was, apparently. And she was all of 20. She didn't have a very happy life, but she made sure her two sons never saw much of that. She did what I believe all mothers do. In her son's words,

"She kissed us last thing at night. Her beaming smile greeted us from school. She laughed hysterically and uncontrollably when sharing something silly she might have said or done that day. She encouraged us when we were nervous or unsure."

In 1997, I was still in school. It was a holiday - the weekend, I believe - and I saw the coverage on TV early in the morning, as news flowed in about her accident. Hours later, when her death was confirmed and the bouquets started mounting up outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, I still wasn't sure why I was sad.

As I type this now, ten years later to the day, I think I know why. Despite the intense media scrutiny of almost every movement she made, every haircut she had, every outfit she wore, she was also very normal. Just like you and me. She wanted to be. She was pretty and personable. The people loved her for who she was. They felt they were a bit like her. I felt like I was a bit like her.

May her soul rest in peace.

The future is NOW!

How many of you have seen the Michael J.Fox multi-part movie, 'Back to the Future'? Well , looks like we, residents of the Earth circa 2007, are already in it. The future, I mean. A Californian company has actually made the very thing I thought would make our world like the one in 'The Jetsons'. Which, incidentally, is a cartoon show I used to thoroughly enjoy as a kid. I probably would if I saw it again now!

But back to what I was talking about : Flying cars are here already.

I'll see you at Space Stop 9876 tomorrow. Provided, of course, you have the $90,000 needed to buy yours. Let me go the bank to check about that loan.... :-D

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Good Morning America!

Which nut wakes up at 5 a.m to do something that is not work-related?


Nice to meet you.

For one of those few times in my life, luck decided to favour me and I was selected to be part of 'Good Morning America', ABC's daily morning news show, yesterday morning. So if I had to get up at 5 a.m, then so be it! After reaching Times Square at 6 a.m and getting pissed off with the sidey characters who made random comments at me (6 a.m!! Eve-teasers need to get a life. The sun hadn't even risen yet), I was allotted to the group that was going to be in the audience for the 'Dancing for the Stars' segment on the show. Being part of the television audience for an American TV show is supposed to be one of those things that one must do if they get a chance (or so I'd been told - see, I'm a sucker for all these things!). The show tapes 7-9 a.m, but our segment went on around 8 a.m, prior to which there were a couple of trial runs in a little cement island in the middle of busy Times Square, which is where the segment was to be shot.

For those of you who are not familiar with 'Dancing with the Stars', it is one of those reality shows that pits famous people against each other in a dancing competition. I think it's one of the most-watched reality shows in the US, second of course to the all-pervasive 'American Idol'. Yesterday's show had some hot salsa dancers to showcase the programme, and the co-hosts of the show, Tom Bergeron and Samantha Harris (who had some of the younger members of the audience screaming and fervently asking for autographs and photos) revealed the participants for next season.

So, what was it like being there? First, the show taped outside, so there was none of the 'ooohhh I'm in a TV studio with real sets' kind of feeling. Second, all that was seen of me by the one person I know who watched the show, was me waving and screaming enthusiastically, standing on the top row of bleachers right behind Diane Sawyer (the anchor of the show) and the sexy-looking co-hosts. I'd only ever seen posters of Sawyer with her fellow anchors while riding on the subway - never really watched her on TV before, but she was all made-up and gave the air of 'I know I'm important', if you know what I mean. But with the sexy-looking Bergeron and Harris there, not to forget the salsa dancers (pictured above) who's going to look at the audience?!!! Anyway, anyone who knows me will probably vouch for the fact that if ever 'enthusiastic' people are needed, I can be counted on to pep up the atmosphere. Earned me the not-so-attractive nickname of 'enthu-pat' in college (short for 'enthu-pattani', translatable as 'enthusiastic pea' - whoever came up with it is DUMB!!!!!).

But (and there always is a but, pardon the pun), just being in Times Square at that hour was sort of surreal. The lights and billboards never stop flashing in all their glory, and I'm a fan of the bright lights - not just the billboards but the studio lights as well. It's all so exciting, and heck, I'm not a filmstar!!! :-D

The hot salsa dancers and the hot judges were worth it, in any case. The Johnny Cash-inspired soundtrack for the show which they played in between had the salsa dancers (and me) snapping their fingers, and was fun too.

So, yeah, an experience to smile about as I reminisce when I'm older, that's for sure!

Monday, August 27, 2007

'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' - A Review

My review of Mohsin Hamid's 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' which appeared here last week:

The politics of the Middle East and South Asia and the relationship of the United States with many of the countries in the region have been fodder for many journalistic articles and fictional books in the past. Post-9/11, the happenings in the region have taken on an even larger significance and consequently spurred a huge onslaught of writing by contemporary authors. Released earlier this year, it was only natural then that I was keen on reading Mohsin Hamid’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, a book that many people I know kept talking about. The word on the street was that it was quite riveting.

I’m going to burst the bubble right here and say up front that I was slightly disappointed. I have not read Hamid’s first work, ‘Moth Smoke’ which was a Betty Trask Award winner, a PEN/Hemingway award finalist and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, but I will say that ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ certainly is a book that started out with a lot of promise, but faltered somewhere along the way. In today’s political climate, it had the potential to resonate much more strongly than it eventually did.

Hamid has chosen for his style of writing the first-person narrative, which is very courageous. There are not many books that immediately come to mind that are written in the first person – Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ is one that came to me after some thought – and while it is a powerful tool in immediately engaging the reader, the writer also risks losing his attention equally fast if he is not crystal clear with his thoughts, because there is no opportunity to clarify what he means. It’s like being in a class where the professor does not allow you to ask questions, even if you don’t quite get bits of the lesson. In this story, the one-way conversation is between Changez (pronounced ‘Chun-gays’, the Urdu word for Genghis), a young Princeton-educated Pakistani who chooses to return to his home country following the turmoil that he is thrown into after the World Trade Center bombings in New York, and a nameless, voiceless American visitor, as they sit in a restaurant in Lahore one evening.

Changez, the product of a once-rich Lahori family that enjoyed elite status in the city, sails across the seas to study at Princeton University in the US. He is the beneficiary of a scholarship – but he tries to hide this from his fellow schoolmates as he feels it betrays the fact that he once used to belong to their class – a social class that can afford to pay their fees at the elite university they attend. He is at the end of his four-year undergraduate degree in 2001 when he begins his story, and goes on a trip with a group of friends to Greece before he starts his first job with Underwood Samson in New York, an extremely competitive valuation firm that he is fortunate to be selected to join. During the trip, he falls in love with Erica, a fellow Princetonian and a budding writer with problems of her own. As New York comes together in the aftermath of 9/11, Changez is forced to face the doubts that lurk in his mind over the happenings in his home country and the increasing possibility of a war with India, as well as the inaction of the US with respect to Pakistan. He finally throws up all he wanted – his well-paying job, the security and status it offered, and returns to Pakistan, even as he is not wholly convinced that what he is doing is right.

The book is not so much a novel as a novella – there is an interesting reference to Erica’s writing in the story which is an accurate reflection of this book itself, of how the novella is a ‘platypus of a beast’ – and ultimately this was perhaps its undoing. With a little more exploration of the theme – the book clocks in at just 184 pages – Changez’ character could have been developed better, and that would have made for a smoother flow of the story. All along, all we see is the confusion in Changez’ mind. He truly is constantly reluctant, as the book’s title asserts. But his evolution into a so-called fundamentalist is less evident. Given the political atmosphere in the US, it is understandable why he felt the eyes of suspicion, being a brown-skinned South Asian. But why did he suddenly feel pushed to make his ethnicity so evident – going so far as to grow a beard, and invite attention? There wasn’t much explained about Changez’ views on Afghanistan and American intervention there, but he was clearly against India and lack of American intervention there – so where exactly was his anger against the US coming from?

On the positive side, Changez’ romance with Erica was sensitively written and that bit of the story, not what one would typically expect. Hamid’s knowledge of the corporate world also comes in handy when he writes about Changez’ experience at Underwood Samson (Hamid worked at McKinsey & Company in New York for a while, after obtaining degrees from Princeton and then Harvard). All in all, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is a book that is worth a read, but that will in all likelihood leave you with unanswered questions in your mind when you finish.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lager Beer

To my Ol' Faithfuls who visit here:
I dedicate this poem to the husband dear
Whose drink of choice
- Thankfully not a vice -
Is (for those who still want to ask)
Lager beer, brewed in a cask.

I should be a poet, no?!!! OK, fine, NO!!!


Lager Beer

- Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

I lafs und sings, und shumps aroundt.
Und somedimes acd so gueer.
You ask me vot der matter ish?
I'm filled mit lager peer.

I hugs mine child, und giss mine vife.
Oh, my dey was so dear;
Bot dot ish ven, you know, mire friend,
I'm filled mit lager peer.

Eleetion gomes, I makes mire speech,
Mine het it vas so glear:
De beoples laf, und say ha, ha,
He's filled mit lager peer.

De oder night I got me mad,
De beoples run mit fear.
De bleeceman gome und took me down
All filled mit lager peer.

Next day I gomes pefore de judge,
Says he, "Eh heh, you're here!"
I gives you yust five-fifty-five
For trinking lager peer.

I took mine bocket book qvick oud,
So poor I don't abbear;
Mine money all vas gone, mine friend
Vas gone in lager peer.

Und den dey dakes me off to shail,
To work mine sendence glear,
Und dere I shwears no more to be
Filled oup mit lager peer.

Und from dot day I drinks no more,
Yah, dat is very gueer,
But den I found de tevil lifed
In dot same lager peer.

What Happened To Us?

Dan Perjovschi, Bucharest-based contemporary artist, concludes his first site-specific installation in the United States at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this weekend. I've been to see it a couple of times. On one level, as the husband will insist on saying, it is just a series of random cartoonish scribblings, the kind you or me used to do on the last page of our notebooks in school. Well, maybe not me, but my more artistic friends probably did! Anyway, it is a satiric reflection of American society, and even more generally modern society today, and some of his cartoons are amusingly profound. You can see a printable version of the installation here, (seriously, go through it and tell me what you think!) and watch Perjovschi as he installed it in MoMA and explained his work here:

Pornographers are not bad

I bet THAT blog title made you sit up and take notice - !! Anyway, as opposed to what SOME of you might have thought, this isn't a dirty post. Sorry. You, you and you, please take your business elsewhere :-D

I chanced upon the name of The New Pornographers , a Vancouver, British Columbia-based indie band somewhere this morning on the web, and curiosity led me to their site. The name for the band is assumed to reflect a quotation by televangelist Pentecostal preacher of the 80's, Jimmy Swaggart, who once called music the new pornography (Seriously, what random facts one learns every day!).

This music video of theirs features an unexpected twist, and the music itself is quite decent. Ah. I feel happy when I unearth new artists like this.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Attack of the Rat!!!!

I still don't know the significance of this massive rat on Sixth Avenue in New York (it's been looming above pedestrians in the same spot for a month now). I don't know if it has anything to do with the fact that there are apparently three rats for every human in NYC! EEEYYEEEWWW!!!

Photograph credit: Me!

The Devil Came on Horseback

‘The Devil Came on Horseback’ is not an easy film to watch. Documentaries in general run the risk of being pedantic, in my opinion, but that is not the reason why this particular film will be difficult to digest. For me, maybe it was the images of the rotting corpses, the dried blood, the burning villages and the images of the truly evil-looking militia, or janjaweed, who killed civilians in cold blood. Or maybe it was the jarring knowledge at the back of my mind that what I was viewing was not fiction or special effects, but actual images of death and devastation caused by people - not hundreds of years ago, but today. The same world in which I live myself, unharmed and untouched by the savagery on screen. Roughly translated from Arabic, janjaweedmeans ‘man with a gun on horseback’, but in the film we are told that it means ‘devil on horseback’, and hence the title.

I will be honest and say that prior to watching the film, my knowledge of the happenings in the Darfur region of Sudan was rudimentary at most. I’d seen bits and pieces of articles in newspapers or events that publicized, but that was about it. This film, with footage shot by former US Marine Captain Brian Steidle, served as a huge wake-up call. Activate interviewed Steidle post the release of ‘The Devil Came on Horseback’ and they have given a concise background of the events that mooted the making of the film, for those of you who are unfamiliar:

‘In 2004, Steidle spent six months as an unarmed military observer with the African Union to monitor the ceasefire of Sudan's decades-long civil war. But as the war between north and south cooled, the Arab-run government launched an ethnic-cleansing program, backing attacks on African blacks in Darfur by nomadic Arab militiamen known as the janjaweed. The regional politics are a complex mix of racial rivalries and resource grabs, but more perplexing, Steidle says, is the world's inaction.’

In 2005, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, a family friend of Steidle’s, helped publish his first-hand images of the genocide in Darfur. What followed were rallies and public events where Steidle spoke about what he’d seen in Sudan. The film shows all this, and follows Brian and his sister as they traveled to Chad later and spoke to some of the 250,000 people who had been displaced as a result of the genocide. Brian also went to Rwanda to see how the country was renewing itself after the equally devastating genocide there in 1994.

I can only imagine the emotional turmoil that Brian Steidle must have gone through as he witnessed the happenings in Darfur, and the courage and patience it must have taken to finally take his story to the public. (The Sudanese government tried to cross the border and capture Brian and his sister when they went to Chad, and when they were back in the US, he got notice through sources that they would try and kill him if he tried to return to Sudan.) As he said in the film, Rwanda was in 1994, over ten years before Darfur happened. The world should have learnt something then. But one can only postulate about what it did, because today we have Darfur to deal with.

As of today, Sudan has agreed to accept a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in the region, and we should be grateful for that. But is it, as Steidle says in his interview, too little, too late?

UPDATE: I found this article on Al-Jazeera's site just now - a Darfur militia leader has warned that if the UN has a 'colonial agenda', they will face stiff resistance.

Alcohol in a land of prohibition

No, I'm not talking about Saudi Arabia. I'm talking about India's frenemy and neighbour, Pakistan. Read here about a 150-year-old brewery in Pakistan that is preparing to bring the Muslim world's first 20-year-old single malt whisky to the market. Murree Brewery, however, can only sell to non-Muslims, who comprise 3 percent of Pakistan's population.

Some notable facts that I discovered : The Murree Brewery is situated in the same locality as the residence of Pervez Musharraf, it is owned by a Pakistani Parsi, and apparently the biggest market for Britain's largest gin is not the United States, but Saudi Arabia, which is of course another country that is 'officially dry'.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Line of the day

Seen on a placard held by a bum in New York this evening: 'I need money and women to help America breed.' :-D

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns - A Review

I'm reproducing here my review of 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' that I wrote for Hafta Mag last week:

Right from the beginning, Khaled Hosseini had something to live up to. When you author a first book as critically acclaimed and widely read as ‘The Kite Runner’, you know expectations will be running high for the book that follows in its wake. With ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, Hosseini has successfully managed to meet those expectations. Judging by the fact that apart from the political setting of Afghanistan there is not much else common with ‘The Kite Runner’ and Hosseini has still managed to weave an extremely compelling tale, I would even say that it surpasses those expectations.

Hosseini has stuck to a backdrop that he knows well, and that also worked well for him in ‘The Kite Runner’. As the story moves across generations, Afghanistan is painted as a country with a once-rich past which starts disintegrating rapidly as the rule of power moves from the Soviets to the Mujahideen, the Taliban and finally the US-backed government with Hamid Karzai at the helm. You feel for the innocent civilian who is forced to bear the brunt of each attack as the wars between different factions progress, as his life falls apart with his loved ones dropping by the wayside or his home and possessions being destroyed in the shelling. But this is not the story of just any innocent civilian, though the protagonists are very much innocent themselves. In that respect, just as ‘The Kite Runner’ was primarily told through the eyes of males, this story is about women, whose condition can be argued to have been much the worse of the two. One reading of the rules of the Taliban for women in Afghanistan makes you grasp this reality at once – and these are only selected lines:

You will not, under any circumstances, show your face. You will cover with burqa when outside. If you do not, you will be severely beaten.

You will not wear charming clothes.

You will not speak unless spoken to.

You will not make eye contact with men.

You will not laugh in public. If you do, you will be beaten.

You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger.

Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools ofr girls will be closed immediately.

Women are forbidden from working.

If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death.

Listen. Listen well. Obey.

And so, this is the story of two remarkably strong women, Mariam and Laila, born about nineteen years apart, and the strange kinship they come to share after being thrown together under extenuating circumstances. As we are taken through their initial years – Mariam first, then Laila, we realise that their pasts could not be more different. Education, the harbinger of intellectual curiosity and freedom, is the key distinguisher, with the city-bred Laila actively encouraged to speak her mind by her progressive parents, and Mariam not allowed to be educated at all, coming as she does from rural Herat. When their stories converge and they finally meet each other, the bitter, lonely Mariam is understandably antagonistic towards the much younger Laila, unaware of all that she has been through. But they begin to realise that as women, they share more than just their ill-tempered, scheming husband Rasheed, whom they are both pushed into marriage with as teens. The increasingly bloody wars have left both women without family and friends, and as Rasheed’s rule of tyranny within the household begins to tell on them both at the same time as the Taliban takes over Afghanistan with their impossible rules, Mariam finds a strength she never had, and Laila a saviour.

Khaled Hosseini’s language is tellingly lyrical as he depicts the Afghanistan of yore (‘vines pregnant with plump grapes’), but as the novel moves forward it is his story-telling abilities which carry the book through. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down till I reached the last page, and then to ruminate over what it must be like to be an Afghan woman today. This is after all fiction and therefore, in itself, part of the book’s success – if I was pushed to think about the issue because of a fictional story, then there must be others who will be too. And for that, Hosseini must be applauded.

Monday, August 13, 2007

'My Cousin Vinny' in Hindi? That needs to be seen!

'My Cousin Vinny' is the husband's favourite movie. When I read that Ravi Chopra has bought the copyright of the 1992 comedy for which Marisa Tomei won an Oscar, my first thought was 'I don't believe this!!'. Hindi movies ripping off Hollywood ones is nothing new, but for Hindi mainstream film producers to actually buy the rights of a movie before making a movie that was 'inspired' by a foreign one, is not very common. If you click the link above, you'll be surprised at how many 'inspired' (as opposed to 'inspiring') movies have been made. In fact, while searching for information on whether there have been cases of producers actually buying the copyright before making a film that they, for all practical purposes, copied, I found that non-compliance with copyright laws may land the David Dhawan-directed, Govinda-starrer 'Partner', released earlier this year, in trouble. Apparently Sony Pictures Entertainment and Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment House, makers of the romantic comedy 'Hitch', plan to sue Eros and K Sera Sera, makers of 'Partner' for $30 million over copyright infringement.

So it's a good sign that the industry is waking up to the importance of copyright laws in India. Now my only hope is that Chopra doesn't make a total mess of the brilliant 'My Cousin Vinny'!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

RD Burman flashback - 2 : Yeh Vaada Raha

I blogged about one of my favorite songs from 'Parinda' recently, and today I randomly thought of this other very lyrical song from 'Yeh Vaada Raha' which I like a lot - I remember watching the movie years and years ago, a love triangle where Poonam Dhillon emerges as Tina Munim after plastic surgery (or maybe it was vice-versa!). Rishi Kapoor is the hero but I don't recall much else. Anyway, I was quite unsurprised to find that R.D.Burman was the music director - the man was a genius I tell you, and upon further digging, I found that the lyricist was Gulshan Bawra, whose two most noteworthy songs, for which he won Filmfare awards, were 'Mere desh ki dharti' from 'Upkar' and 'Yaari hai imaan mera' from the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer 'Zanjeer'. This particular song, the title song from 'Yeh Vaada Raha', is one of his few songs that became hits, amongst the 240 that he wrote in his 42-year career. Long live YouTube!

UTI Bank is now Axis Bank

I must admit, I have never really associated UTI Bank with being a modern bank. I used to think this was my own fault because no one ever really told me that it is not, like ICICI, Citibank or ABN Amro. It's all in the mind though - when you think of Air India or Indian Airlines (now Indian) and then the glossy, sassy Kingfisher Airlines or the business-like Jet Airways (who also went in for an image change recently) which airline would you rather choose? Image has a lot to do with how you perceive a brand. In the marketing-oriented, consumer-driven world of today, it is more important than it ever was. You get out of your house and your visual senses are assaulted with billboards of all sizes, neon signs, small posters on road dividers, banners and so on and so forth. If you stay at home and switch on the TV, then there are the numerous commercials between your daily dose of your favourite serial or reality show or news broadcast.

Anyway, UTI Bank has officially changed its name to Axis Bank, though there has been no merger or take-over. It's just gone in for a new look with a new name. Turns out I was not so far off the mark after all, because listen to what is being said about the change:

The new name, experts say, will help the bank shed its unintended association with public sector banks and also give it an modern, global feel that could appeal to younger consumers.

I rest my case.

You can read more about the change here, and watch the ad, which features a very cute pair of little twin girls to illustrate the fact that UTI and Axis are the same except for the difference in name, here:

'Exit Wounds' by Pankaj Mishra

For those of you who have time, Pankaj Mishra has written a thought-provoking piece in The New Yorker about how the British Empire's shoddy handling of the partition of erstwhile India in 1947 helped sow the seeds of a war that is now leaving people as far away as Europe and the US scarred for life. This chilling conclusion is perhaps what is most noteworthy:

Meeting Mountbatten a few months after partition, Churchill assailed him for helping Britain’s “enemies,” “Hindustan,” against “Britain’s friends,” the Muslims. Little did Churchill know that his expedient boosting of political Islam would eventually unleash a global jihad engulfing even distant New York and London. The rival nationalisms and politicized religions the British Empire brought into being now clash in an enlarged geopolitical arena; and the human costs of imperial overreaching seem unlikely to attain a final tally for many more decades.

Citizen 123456: You didn't update your landlord's phone number. You will be arrested.

And the technology take-over of the world continues.....police surveillance cameras being installed in streets is old news now, but starting this month, China is issuing electronic cards to help them keep tabs on citizens in Shenzhen, a city of 12.4 million people. These cards will have computer chips which will record all of the following data: the citizen’s name and address, work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status, landlord’s phone number and last but not least (I was waiting to read when this would come up as the article progressed, given China's strict one-child per family policy) even personal reproductive history. It doesn't stop there. The article states that 'Plans are being studied to add credit histories, subway travel payments and small purchases charged to the card.'

Good. In a few more months, maybe the number of times they go to the bathroom will be logged too. %$#@@^&*!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Every two or three days I find myself blogging about some technology-related article or the other and I say 'That's it. This is the end of the world as we know it'. I'm learning better now. There IS no 'end' to this technology explosion drama. I'm just going to shut up and blog quietly!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Koothu time!

Many of my loyal readers (you know who you are, yes you do!) have probably watched the movie by now - many times over even - but since it is now officially on YouTube, here's presenting one of the best Koothu songs in a while.... SAROJA SAAMAN NIKAALO!! Please note the 'Spiderman' interlude - good fun.

Random fact: One of the actors in the movie was the choreographer for a dance in which I performed while I was in college. Haha.

Kid No. 007 : Reporting to Secret Service School

If you are pushed to invent things like this for your kids, maybe you should just home-school them. Agreed, it's a dangerous world out there and there have been one too many of these school shooting incidents like those in Columbine and more recently Virginia Tech (hell, one IS too many), but where are the carefree, simple joys of life, of climbing trees and playing ball? They are supposed to be kids, for God's sake, not secret service agents.

Tragic, but true.

Meanwhile, in the USA, I won't be surprised if there are quite a few takers for the new backpack created by dads Mike Pelonzi and Joe Curran.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Another claim to New Jersey's fame :-)

Image credit: Patrick McMullan, New York Magazine

Not that I particularly care for her, but O.C fans, guess what - Mischa Barton has taken up residence in Hoboken apparently, for the duration of the filming of a movie she is co-starring in with Bruce Willis.

Bollywood - finally a force to reckon with

Bollywood is different things to different people. It can be Madhubala’s perfect face in black-and-white, Madhuri’s jhatkas in ‘Humko aajkal hai’ in ‘Sailaab’, Amjad Khan menacingly saying ‘Thakurrr’ in the classic ‘Sholay’, Shah Rukh Khan hamming ‘K-k-k-kiran’ in ‘Darr’, Kajol at her effervescent best in DDLJ, Amitabh Bachchan in his Angry Young Man avatar in ‘Agneepath’ – oh hell, I’m not even going to try to continue this very futile exercise. What I want to say is this – there is no other film industry the world over, apart from Hollywood of course, where the sheer number of films, and the revenue they generate, is as big as India’s. The heightened fascination of the Western population for movies made in or about India is evidenced by the growing number and popularity of diaspora film-makers, whether it is Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and Gurinder Chadha or the more mainstream Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Karan Johar and Yash Chopra.

Most of the films they make are captured on a canvas that is larger than life. Think ‘Monsoon Wedding’, ‘Bride and Prejudice’, ‘Devdas’, ‘Munnabhai MBBS’, ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’, ‘Chandni’. To some, there isn’t much common between these films. But to me, they are all pulsating with Indianness, whether it is tradition, costumes, politics, romance or day-to-day life. I remember watching Bhansali’s ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ sitting in one of the first few rows of the theatre in one of the first few days of its release in India. The colours were what overwhelmed me first and foremost, the sheer brilliance and glory of it. At the end of the day, those are things that stick in a movie-goer’s mind. What a sensible director should do is capture these Indian sensibilities in a sensible story (like Nagesh Kukunoor’s ‘Dor’, for example), but even if they don’t, even if it is just Govinda and Sanjay Dutt pairing up to make the masses weep with laughter in one of David Dhawan’s nonsensical laugh-riots, the Indian movie-goer is a willing audience.

Hollywood has finally understood this simple fact. Of course, with business in mind, because they know the kind of receipts Indian films generate. Nevertheless, cinephile that I am, I was impressed and extremely happy to read that Sony Pictures Entertainment will be the first American studio to produce an Indian mainstream film with eight of our acclaimed song-and-dance routines – Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Saawariya’, scheduled for release this November. Walt Disney has also partnered with Yash Raj Films to make an animated film called ‘Roadside Romeo’, and Paramount and Warner Brothers will be in the fray soon.

This is the true coming-of-age of Indian cinema. Indian movie lovers of the world, rejoice!!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Are you a virgin? Go to New Jersey!!

This country is REALLY weird. My convictions get stronger as the days go on. Check out this gem - apparently, a New Jersey festival uses virgins to help guarantee good weather.


I really don't know what to say.

'I want to practise a new yoga posture'

John Tierney of the NYT writes about a University of Texas-Austin research project which aims to document, of all things, why humans have sex. Seriously, is it something that needs to be researched?!!! Some people have time, and some people have money to help them spend their time one way or the other, I tell you. Imagine getting paid for something like this!

Anyway, some really funny and stupid answers came up (as I would have expected!), such as 'I wanted to feel closer to God' (WTF?????!!!!) or 'I was drunk' (well, mate, at least you're being honest!). Tierney has also invited readers to nominate their own reasons at TierneyLab.

And, uh, no - I haven't submitted any reasons yet - but you can feel free to ;) - and don't forget to let me know what they were!!


There is no doubt that the world is changing. The rapid advances that technology has made over the last few years have rendered so many past technologies obsolete. I studied this computer language called BASIC in high school which was dead and gone even before I passed out of school. It really was a beginner's computer language, as the expansion of the acronym stands for. The younger generations probably have not even heard of BASIC - they are too busy learning Photoshop or Java. There was a day and age when I would have to wait patiently for my parents' weekly call in hostel when I was in college, and now I talk to my parents in India everyday through GoogleTalk on the computer. Forward-thinking universities like MIT have made their course information available on the internet for free so that an economically poor but academically bright young child in rural India can have access to all their courses, as long as they have access to the internet. The world as we knew it is gone, and the new one is changing every minute.

Don Tapscott, Toronto-based speaker, author and consultant, is working on a $9 million research project to show how people today can participate in the economy like never before, and it is called Wikinomics. The introduction and first chapter can be found here, and I can tell you right now that I can't wait to read the entire thing, whenever it comes out.

Two paragraphs I especially liked:

Twenty years from now we will look back at this period of the early twenty-first century as a critical turning point in economic and social history. We will understand that we entered a new age, one based on new principles, worldviews, and business models where the nature of the game was completely changed.

And, like open-source software, this idea which I have often thought of myself, that is today even more of an actionable possibility than it ever was:

Why not open source government? Surely we would make better decisions if we were to tap the insights of a broader and more representative body of participants.

Governments would definitely be more efficient then. That much I can say.