Posts Tagged 'India'

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’

Aman ki Asha: Now Why Didn’t We Think of That!

The Dil se Dil and Aman ki Asha Logos

Sometimes an idea just takes a while to germinate. Sometimes the big guys simply need to feel that the brainchild was all theirs before they’ll really run with it. Whatever the reason, it seems that the time has finally come for a serious effort at an Indo-Pak peace initiative based on simple people-to-people interactions and cultural exchange.

The proponents of this undertaking are two of South Asia’s largest media outlets, the Times of India and the Jang Group in Pakistan. In the garbled, half-literate language of the writers at the TOI: “Starting with a series of cross-border cultural interactions, business seminars, music & literary festivals and citizens meet that will give the bonds of humanity a chance to survive outside the battlefields of politics, terrorism and fundamentalism.”

The project is being called “Aman ki Asha”, Hope for Peace. Shiv Sena suck-up Amitabh Bachchan, no less, is promoting the as-yet vaguely defined bridge-building. The one program they have articulated is a concert (or series of concerts) featuring both Indian and Pakistani pop musicians.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it appears to be based on our lovely Friends Without Borders project and its not-quite-successful sequel, Dil se Dil, both the brainchildren of service wizard John Silliphant.

Continue reading ‘Aman ki Asha: Now Why Didn’t We Think of That!’

Experiments with Truth

Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave

“When a thing is true, there is no need to use any arguments to substantiate it,” wrote Vinoba Bhave. Oh really?

Like so many of the wonderful aphorisms spun by Gandhians about the nature of truth (and, principally, by Gandhi-ji himself) this inspiring line from Vinoba-ji is itself true only in the most metaphysical and therefore trivial sense. Truth, it seems, isn’t a requirement for a socially, politically, or spiritually stirring catch-phrase, even when the very subject is truth.

Naturally, we give guys like Gandhi-ji and Vinoba-ji the benefit of the doubt. They were not only among the most brilliant men of the twentieth century, but were impressive in both the purity of their motivations and clarity of their ethics. The moral certitude of the line quoted above would, however, feel quite a bit sketchier were if it were attributed to, say, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, or George W. Bush, all of whom might be equally plausible authors.

There are good reasons not to be too hard on Vinoba-ji. Sure, he failed to recognize that almost all the fun lies in the argument and very little of it resides in the ultimate truth of the matter. But fun wasn’t really his big thing. And we must readily acknowledge that it is convenient to be able to offer the occasional pronouncement without having to “show your work”, as though all of life were a high school math exam.

I spew this kind of unsubstantiated crap all the time. Sometimes I get called on it; often, when the things I say have the veneer (if not the deep resonance) of truth, I get away with it. Which brings us back to Vinoba-ji – and to our story.

Continue reading ‘Experiments with Truth’

Could India Host an Impressive Olympics?

India and China. China and India.

Whenever discussion turns to the New World Order, these neighboring giants are always mentioned in the same breath as the up-and-comers. I understand the arguments, but remain deeply skeptical about the prospects for both countries, though for vastly different reasons.

With the Beijing 2008 Olympics drawing to a close, one must concede that China has managed to pull off a fabulously successful advertisement for itself, even though its ugly authoritarianism and environmental shamefulness remained on plain view throughout. So the question nags: Could India hold an Olympics that would flatter, rather than embarrass the nation? I, for one, seriously doubt it.

Continue reading ‘Could India Host an Impressive Olympics?’

Nirmala Desphande and the Death of Gandhianism

With Nirmala Deshpande in November 2002
With Nirmala Deshpande in November 2002

Nirmala Deshpande died yesterday; and she is being eulogized as a great Gandhian leader in the major newspapers and hailed by politicians across India. I strenuously demur.

Continue reading ‘Nirmala Desphande and the Death of Gandhianism’

India: Going Nowhere Fast

Maruti Suzuki Assembly Line (courtesy of New York Times)

A story about India’s booming auto industry leads today’s New York Times business section. “Ask a billion people, and 99 percent of them are going to say they want a car,” explains Jagdish Khattar, managing director of Maruti Suzuki India, the country’s largest car manufacturer. “The problem,” he continues, “is: How many can afford it?”

And so Maruti Suzuki, and the other Indian automakers are cranking out inexpensive cars by the lakhs. Car sales within India will reach nearly two million units this year, and are estimated to climb to nearly four million by 2013.

Most tout this kind of industrial muscle and burgeoning consumer acquisitiveness as signs of a brilliantly expansive, vital economy. I see it as further evidence – as if more was needed – that India is a second-rate country with first-rate promise, limited by third-rate imagination and fourth-rate fidelity to the values and traditions of its proud past.

Put another way: India is squandering its Twenty First Century economic opportunity with its mid-Twentieth Century mindset.

Continue reading ‘India: Going Nowhere Fast’

Pondicherry Becomes Pondicherry!

Pondicherry Map circa 1705

A year ago, the Government of Pondicherry joined the unfortunate trend of Hindufying the names of Indian cities, formally changing the name to “Puducherry.” This renaming was seen as a repudiation of the colonial past, and played well to the politics of the right-wing Hindu nationalists. Leave aside the fact that the place had been called “Pondicherry” since the late 17th Century.

I am delighted to report that the Government of Puducherry has now partially reversed course, all for the better. “Puducherry” will remain the designation of the Union Territories — those four non-contiguous bits of India, colonized by France rather than Britain, collected together for the purpose of non-statehood governance withn India’s republican structure. The name “Pondicherry” will once more refer to the wonderful town in which we make our home, which is also the capital of the Union Territories of Puducherry. Got it?

A couple weeks ago, in a comment to an article about the Hindufication of Indian place names, I wrote: “Pondicherry then, Pondicherry now, Pondicherry forever!” I guess I was prescient, as well as obstinate.


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 51 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 363,046 hits