Archive for the 'India' Category

Eating and Belonging: a Conversation

a conversation

So, I met this girl… on the internet.

No, that doesn’t really capture it. To begin with, she’s a woman, not a girl. A really, really smart one.

More to the point, we met quite by accident, not on JDate or ashleymadison.com. It seems we both live in, and blog about Pondicherry. And we are both a little food-obsessed. So we started corresponding about these things.

Deepa Reddy is a cultural anthropologist by profession, an artist by natural talent and temperament, and a cook by passion. Her blog, Pâticheri, is a thing of beauty, thoughtfulness, and deliciousness. During one of our exchanges — about the semiotics of baking or some such thing — she suggested that it might be fun to take our “ethnographic free-play” public, to post our back-and-forth on our blogs in real-time. With you, Dear Reader, adding your own “deep play” (I promise, that will be my one-and-only cultural anthropology joke) in the comments, this might just be an interesting experiment.

After loosely settling on a topic — national identity and all-things-food — we have decided to let it rip. Let the wild rumpus begin!

MBJ

The Conversation Thread
1. So American! (Deepa) 15 July 2012
2. You Are Having One American Nature Only, I Am Telling (MBJ) 16 July 2012
3. Cosmopolitan Comforts (Deepa) 20 July 2012
4. No Accounting for Taste (MBJ) 24 July 2012
5. What a Mess! (Deepa) 10 August 2012
6. Tell Me What You Eat and I Will Tell You Who You Are (MBJ) 21 August 2012
Reader Comments…

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Tour de Pondichéry

Janice Valdez on her Tour of India

Our friend Janice Valdez is a woman with a mission… or at least an adventure… or perhaps both. She is in the midst of a two-month tour of India to promote an extremely cool machine: the Stromer electric bicycle. Unlike the old mopeds, which used peddle energy as a way of forcibly jump-starting a motor, or electric scooters, which use no human power whatsoever, the Stromer uses an electrical drive to augment the rider’s contribution to forward motion.

Back home in Vancouver, Janice cycles everywhere and her (non-power-assisted) bike is her principle form of transportation within the city. With a strong commitment to sustainable, low-carbon-footprint living, Janice is a contributor to isCleaner.com, a web portal of news and ideas on clean energy. So she was, perhaps, a natural ambassador for this tour of India to show-off the Stromer.
Continue reading ‘Tour de Pondichéry’

Remembering Ishwarbhai Patel

Ishwarbhai Patel

Ishwarbhai Patel was the role model to my role models. Today, on the first anniversary of his death, we remember him fondly.

In a country where ritual hygiene is sacrosanct and actual hygiene is observed mostly in the breach, Ishwarbhai devoted his life to the rational, hygienic management of human waste. Recipient of India’s Padma Shri for distinguished service to the country, among many other national and international awards, Ishwarbhai’s greatness and achievements were certainly widely admired. But, true to his modesty and good humor, he got more pleasure from his more humble nickname, “Mr. Toilet”.

Ishwarbhai was as matter-of-fact as could be about all matters of human waste. Within the first five minutes of the first time we met, he advised me how much my average daily dump weighed in grams – I forget the number – and added that it was likely more dense than the average Indian feces, because the Western diet includes more refined and processed foods. This was typical conversation, and there was nothing casual about it. It was part of Ishwarbhai’s mission. Having made sanitation his life’s work, he could hardly afford to be abashed in discussing these things. Moreover, he understood that the polite refusal of most people to talk about human waste entailed a pernicious complicity in the epidemic of debilitating and frequently lethal diarrheal diseases in India. “How can we solve a problem people are too embarrassed to talk about sensibly?” he complained.

Continue reading ‘Remembering Ishwarbhai Patel’

Incredible Vision

Book Cover: Infinite Vision by Pavithra Metha and Suchitra Shenoy

Pavi Mehta and Suchi Shenoy have just published an outrageous book, Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion. These are two women not usually given to prevarication;* but the inventiveness, thoroughness, and depth of their deceit in Infinite Vision is really quite breathtaking.

The book makes the following absurd claims:

1. That a doctor hailing from a tiny, rural village in South India, whose hands were so badly gnarled with rheumatoid arthritis he had to specially train himself to hold surgical implements, became perhaps the most important eye surgeon in history.

2. That this man, Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, following his retirement from government service, started an eleven-bed eye clinic, called Aravind, which grew within his lifetime to become the largest eye-care hospital system in the world.

3. That Dr. V and his Aravind colleagues revolutionized cataract surgery, allowing massive numbers of patients suffering from the leading cause of needless blindness to have their sight restored.

4. That ophthalmology residents from the leading medical institutions in Europe and the United States come in droves to train at Aravind, and that Aravind openly and actively teaches its methods to administrators of public and private health care from around the developed and developing world.

5. That, in order to make cataract surgery affordable to the world’s poor, Aravind developed world-class manufacturing capability to deliver intraocular replacement lenses and other surgical supplies at a tiny fraction of the cost at which they were available from American and European manufacturers.

6. That Aravind operates an extensive, well-coordinated mobile outreach program to ensure that its services reach into the poorest districts and most remote villages.

7. That Aravind is the subject of a famous case study at Harvard Business School.

8. That Aravind sees more than 7,500 patients a day and performs more than 300,000 sight-restoring surgeries each year.

Finally, in a coup de grace of imaginary thinking, the book makes the preposterous claim that Aravind provides two-thirds of its services absolutely free-of-charge.

Continue reading ‘Incredible Vision’

Doing History Wrong

Was Gandhi-ji a saint, a devil, neither, or both?

Neoconservative historian Andrew Roberts has written a thoroughly dickish profile of Mahatma Gandhi in the Wall Street Journal, entitled Among the Hagiographers. Under the thin guise of a review of Joseph Lelyveld’s new biography, Great Soul, Mr. Roberts unleashes an unprovoked, relentlessly cruel smear-piece on Gandhi-ji. The essay bristles with the sort of raw enmity one might expect from a man whose professional career has revolved around the lionization of Winston Churchill and who has unreservedly adopted the venomous loathings of the man he idolizes.

The facile way to read Mr. Roberts’s offensively negative presentation is as a smoking condemnation of Gandhi-ji: the father of satyagraha was a creep and a pervert. Indeed, the essay catalogs many of Gandhi-ji’s personal shortcomings and reversals of position; and Mr. Roberts’s project is to spin these into an unflattering portrait of hypocrisy, if not outright depravity. Roberts presents precisely the opposite portrait from that assembled in the usual, beatifying hagiography; and the true object of Roberts’s loathing may be as much the Gandhian canon as Gandhi-ji himself. But, in this detail, I see a shred of subtle value in Mr. Roberts’s malicious piece. It illustrates the absurdity and ruthlessness of a bizarrely one-dimensional mining of the historical record.

Continue reading ‘Doing History Wrong’

The End of an Era in Cleanliness

Shuddham Door-to-Door Watse Collectors

Shuddham, the remarkable volunteer-run NGO doing solid waste management in the heart of Pondicherry’s French Colonial district, has ceased operations, effective 1 January 2011. After eight years of going door-to-door, teaching households and businesses the importance of segregating waste streams into compostables and recyclables at the source – and slowly building compliance to an astonishing 80% among households – Shuddham has fallen victim to the incessant corruption of local officials and the negligence and callous indifference with which the government performs its obligations to the public.

Continue reading ‘The End of an Era in Cleanliness’

Serenity and Gratitude to Bring in the New Year

New Year Diyas at the Auroville Pavillion of Tibetan Culture

My new years eve was just as I prefer it: quiet, relaxed, with great food and great friends – a dinner party and sleep-over in the lovely forest township of Auroville.

At some point before dinner, my friends and I visited the Pavillion of Tibetan Culture, within Auroville’s International Zone. In my jaded experience, it is seldom less than nauseating to combine Tibetans and Western spiritual seekers – through no fault of the Tibetans. The scene at the Tibetan Pavillion, however, was perfectly wonderful. A thousand diyas and paper lanterns had been lit, and people sat in stillness or walked quietly through the compound. A cleanly, modestly amplified soundtrack alternated between throat chanting and simply rendered devotional music. If the feel of the event was here-and-there, in one-participant-or-another, too ostentatiously and self-consciously reverent for my taste, the overwhelming mood was of simple serenity and gratitude – both superb attitudes with which to bring in the new year.

Continue reading ‘Serenity and Gratitude to Bring in the New Year’


Blasts from the Past

Man Up!
Man up you pussy!

... because the idiocy of manliness is an evergreen topic.

.

Talking Turkey
how to cook a perfect turkey in half the time

... because Canada and the US will celebrate their Thanksgiving holidays and, regrettably and preventably, not 1-cook-in-10 will serve a decent turkey.

.

Filial Piety Awareness Day
Kaki Tusler, Mother's Day Celebrant

... because everyday is Mother's Day.

.

America Dreaming Small
American Dream

... because the American Dream seems but a distant memory, given the country's dominant ethos of small-mindedness.

.

Serenity and Gratitude to Bring in the New Year
New Year's Eve at Tibetan Pavillion

... to remind us that not every mix of Tibetans and Western spiritual seekers has to be nauseating.

.

Incredible Vision
Infinite Vision

... to celebrate the new edition of Infinite Vision published in India.

.

Expelliarmus! Harry Potter and the Path to Gandhian Nonviolence
Expelliarmus, Potter, Gandhi, Nonviolence

... reprised because military strategy seems more cruel and less effective than ever -- and certainly there is a better way.

.

India Going Nowhere Fast
Nano in Flames

... because cars are ruining Pondicherry, where I live. How badly are they fucking up your Indian town?

.

Understanding the Gift Economy
Gift Economy Explained

... reprinted because more-and-more people seem want to understand the gift economy. (Yeah!)

Join the Banter!

At its most fun, memestream is a dialogue -- or, better, a cacophony -- rather than a library of overwrought essays reflecting a single point of view. For that, we need your two cents!

If you read anything on memestream that provokes an interesting thought, an emotion, a laugh, violent disagreement, passionate agreement, an anecdote, an uncontrollable non sequitur... be sure to leave a comment.

It will be no surprise to anyone who follows this blog that "all the best stuff" resides in the readers' comments. So don't stop reading when you hit the end of the essays. And add your voice to the discussion!

Enter your email address to follow memestream and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 49 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 361,326 hits