Saturday, May 26, 2007
Uh oh...problem here. Tell me, is French comprehensible to someone who speaks only Romanian? Or English to someone who speaks Norwegian exclusively? Then how the hell does he expect a native Bengali to understand Tamil? I dismissed the incident as a freak accident of fate. But no, I had overestimated the intelligence of some people in this place. Since then, I have met people who have asked me the same dumb questions. "Is there internet in India? Do you speak English? Do you have electricity?" Haven't they heard of India ever? Haven't they followed the furore that outsourcing created? Have they not ever heard of Amartya Sen? Do you have any idea how many Indians work at Microsoft? Do they even know that when they call Dell to troubleshoot your computer, they are probably talking to an Indian named Maragathavalli with the nickame Maggie, or one named Sambasivam a.k.a Sam?
For the last time guys, I am not from the tip of the world. I come from a country that is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It is many times bigger than France or Germany and is home to one-sixth of humanity. And also for the last time, a language called Indian does not exist. It is Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Bengali, Gujarati or even Tulu, but not Indian. Get it right! Indian is a nationality, not a language!
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Now, let me make it clear that while I am no avid supporter of the caste system in India, I do not believe it can be abolished. It exists and will continue to exist for the next 500 years. Nobody wants to get rid of it, not even the "oppressed castes" themselves. There is an increasing affirmation of one's caste identity within the framework of Indian democracy. And, I made the mistake of actually telling Miss. Know-it-all this in the belief that she would drop the topic and concentrate on getting her low-calorie sandwich and "yaourt nature" from the counter. But no, she was not to be outdone. In an irritatingly smug voice she declared, "Mais...tu sais que le sytème des castes va à l'encontre de la démocratie en Inde. Tu te rends compte que c'est l'oppression!!"
For those poor souls who know little or no French, she was basically trying to convince me that the system was against the concept of democracy and that it was oppression of the lower castes! Hello!! But who exactly is someone from an ex-Soviet republic that has no idea of freedom, and much less of democracy, to hector me on what it means to be democratic? It was, at best, frustrating. In fact, all I felt was a sense of outrage at being told that India was not democratic. At that moment, I felt like tearing her argument apart by pointing out that her country did not even remotely resemble a democracy and that people in glass houses must not throw stones.
Aargh!! Honestly, some people believe they have exclusive sovereignty over concepts like freedom, democracy and liberty. A cursory glance at the Freedom House index of liberty in the world will reveal that India is one of the few developing countries in the world that is completely free. Also note that most countries of the ex-Soviet Union are considered not free. Need I say more? I admit that India is not the best country in the world when it concerns corruption, human development and primary education. But, to say that India is not democratic infuriates me like no other comment can. I may be wrong in saying this, but ask the man on the street in India if caste must be abolished. He/she will say no. Caste, like a family name is an identity. It is a symbol of belonging to a particular group. So much so that many people are beginning to adopt their caste names as surnames in South India. Who is a western-educated Kyrgyz student of International Relations to hector the people of India to get rid of that one symbol that gives them security? It is true that the "oppressed" castes must be given basic rights. But, to say that the system must be abolished is both unrealistic and patronising.
Let me make one thing clear. Ridding India of the problem of caste is not, as Kipling would have claimed, the white man's burden. It is not even the black, brown or yellow man's burden. The people of India will get rid of it when they feel that it has lost its utility and relevance in the modern world. Until then, the world would do well to step aside and let us rule ourselves the way we think fit. We elect our leaders in free and fair elections every 5 years, sometimes even more frequently. We are capable of deciding who should rule us and what the rulers should do. Like all other democracies, we have our failings. We elect people who are not worth it. We make mistakes and so find that politics is increasingly corrupt and criminalised. But, let us deal with it in our own way. Through democracy. It has served us well over the last 60 years. And I believe it will continue to do so for many decades to come. Until then, western-educated know-it-all snobs would do well to refrain from commenting on things they neither know nor understand.
Here I am, this beautiful evening of May, alternating between freaking out over term papers to finish and stressing over the rest of my life. After a solid seven years of university education, I am finally finishing in three weeks’ time. I feel a sense of elation and accomplishment at having come so far. When I stepped into WCC in June 2000, I was a timid and entirely unsure 17-year old. Over the next three years, I made friends, learnt my way around college, had my share of disappointments and failures, drove our beloved head of department up the wall with every rule broken, and above all, learnt the importance of humility. And, I said I learnt the importance of humility, not that I learnt to be humble. I am still struggling with that one. Then came my days at the
Suddenly, I find myself nearing the end of my stay in
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Ok...now on to the next. A friend of mine posted a really nice article on her profile in Facebook. I am pasting it here because having to read it will mean having to sign up on Facebook and adding Julie as friend. In short, it's easier this way.
Where crossing the streets is concerned, I could by now fall within the category that could be understood as semi-Parisian. Depending mostly on my mood, I either join a crowd of scurrying locals and pray that I will not end up a cripple, or wait good-naturedly on the curb with the other Germans (what? did I say Germans? I meant to say foreigners, of course) and take pride in the fact that I am contributing to saving the world from a spiteful, anarchic end. So far, all this is well. That is, all this WAS well, until a recent event, which fell upon me near the Boulevard Saint Germain, left me very much perplexed. I was walking down the street and I came to a crossing. And the red man was signaling a halt. And a steady flow of Parisians was nonetheless boldly advancing forward despite a rapidly approaching white mini-van. (Don’t panic, this is not the account of a horrible car accident full of blood and guts that will make you never want to jaywalk again – actually, whether you will or not, it may have quite the contrary effect.) Now then, since I was in a law-abiding mood that particular day, I quite naturally stopped on the curb, intending to delay my crossing until the appropriate colour signal rendered it feasible. In the meantime, the white mini-van definitely approached the crossing and, the flow of jaywalkers having not declined, had to stop to let them pass, despite the persistence of red at the other end of the zebra. And then, to my great astonishment, the hairy, greasy driver of the vehicle in question leaned out of the window and shouted at ME, angrily gesturing with his chubby arm:
“Bouge, la vache! Vas-y!”
I was so stunned I actually complied with the crude request, making an effort to cross quickly and glancing up at the lights on the way to confirm that they were still red. Sure as the the Sun, I am not colour-blind… but then again, Paris is a world of its own colours… Who knows, maybe one day some Parisian will force me ahead in a cue! Hoping is believing… "
What can I say about this? It is perfect. I mean...I can relate to it perfectly well. And that is saying something because I come from India where the only freaking way you can get to the other side of the road is by jaywalking. I landed in Paris, and was so thrilled that pedestrian crossings actually existed, that I started being a law-abiding resident. All this, only to discover a few days later that you cannot be Parisian if you wait patiently for the light to turn green. I still do, because it is so much easier to cross a road when you are supposed to. But, I do elicit strange, uncomprehending looks from passers-by, who almost expect you to stop them and ask them for directions in Chinese...ok, not Chinese, maybe Indian English. Sigh! What can I say? Paris is a crazy city, and Parisians...are impatient. So, Julie, I concur!
Saturday, May 19, 2007
But then, I am in a rather crazy, philosophical mood, pondering the meaning of love and life, of words and meanings, of music and melody. They are all indications that there is still sense in living this life we so desperately seek to control. But, I suppose the very same words, that held so much meaning, can become meaningless and irrelevant if overused. I learnt this the hard way. But this said, I will always love words. After all, there is a reason for doing a masters in literature...
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Try as I might to recreate the dishes I cook at home with industrial vegetables from the local supermarket in Paris, or tinned vegetables that I buy for the sake of convenience, I fail every single time. My spinach sambar that turns out so delicious back home in India is an absolute disaster by my standards here. Is it the variety of spinach, the heat of the electric hot-plates, the quality of spices or my cooking style? I don't know. I can honestly say that packets of instant rasam are no match to the rasam mum makes in a vessel made of tin over a burning coal stove. My grandmother's sambar always turned out best on a similar coal stove in a stone vessel. I recognise that cooking that way is both time-consuming and energy-inefficient. But the taste makes up for the inconvenience.
The article discusses the pleasures of eating with the fingers. I still do when I eat at home. I enjoy feeling the food on my fingers. I would abandon the fork and the spoon any day for a hearty meal on a banana leaf. But well, that's just me. Maybe I am an obsessed food-lover. But, reading that article has made me hungry. And it's 1 AM. Not a good thing! So, I am going to try to sleep, all the while planning out the menu for tomorrow. I only wish there was someone other than me to eat what I cook. It is kind of boring to eat alone.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
I was listening to A R Rahman’s song “New York Nagaram Urangum Neram” from Sillunu Oru Kaadal this afternoon. Seeing as I was slightly free and wanted to relax, this seemed a good choice. Now, this is not the first time I am hearing this song, nor is it the first time I actually paid attention to the lyrics. But, today was different. Feeling slightly depressed as I was, thanks to the rain in
That set me thinking. How many songs have I heard that makes me want to cry, laugh, feel nostalgic or express some emotion in some way? Well, the answer is clear. Not too many. The ones that do are few and far between. One song that never fails to elicit some kind of reaction from me is the song Mettuppodu from the movie Duet. It really is beautiful. I reacted with confusion when I first heard it. I was quite young, still a teen. I had no idea language could mean so much to someone. And I frankly could not understand why someone would want to sing about the Tamil language of all things. Today, I have come a long way. And I do agree that the language has a beauty that none other can really match. I am not an expert in Tamil. Indeed, my first attempt at reading anything more than road signs in the language came when I was 17. But, as I discovered the world of Tamil literature, I realised that it is a language that was more beautiful than
Anyway, with that observation, I go back to listening to music. And yes, much as many find it difficult to believe, I prefer Indian music any day to anything western. Maybe it is just me, but I need to feel the words, understand them with my heart and not my brain, and above all, relate to it. Indian music lets me do that. Pop, rock or jazz do not. It is as simple as that. I prefer the beautiful and melodious voice of Nithyashree Mahadevan supported by only a tambura, or the Instrumental theme music of the film
On a totally unrelated note, I just wish people would stop associating Tamil with the LTTE. I speak Tamil, live in Tamil Nadu, and love the sound of the language. It doesn’t make me a terrorist!! Argh! I just wish they would stop.
Monday, May 07, 2007
The results are in. Nicolas Sarkozy,
Analysts suggested that Sarkozy’s pro-American, capitalist stance contributed to the success of leftist candidates in the first round. From my personal experience with the French, I know that this is a country that obsesses with job security unlike any other western democracy I know. I followed the election campaign with interest, and I must say both Sarkozy and Royal were extremely convincing in their arguments. If I had not been a convinced liberal, believing in the law of the markets, I would probably have voted for Royal. However, one of the proposals in her election manifesto caught my interest. She promised to raise the minimum salary, or the SMIC as it is called here, to 1500 euros a month. That would mean a proportionate increase in all salaries, because one can obviously not raise the SMIC and leave the pay of someone who was earning a lot more than the old rate unchanged. And it left me wondering how she proposed to raise the money needed for the endeavour. But I suppose one can dream.
Next comes Sarkozy. With his promise to tighten immigration rules, fight economic stagnation and ensure better pay for longer hours, he caught the imagination of many people in the country. The promise to tighten immigration rules and make regularisation of illegal migrants more difficult certainly strikes fear in the heart of many an immigrant, illegal or not. Unpleasant reminders of Jean-Marie Le Pen and his campaign of La
Anyway, these are just the rants of an obsessed libertarian who firmly believes that the government must govern because that’s its job, while letting the markets peacefully generate wealth. Many of the French would disagree. But hey, we live in a democracy. And dissent is healthy!
Friday, May 04, 2007
These are, as the title suggests, the confessions of an obsessed freak. I am totally and completely fed up of people using the words then and than interchangeably. I am also fed up of people forgetting that good is an adjective, and well is an adverb. One cannot do good in studies. He/she can only do well. Is it really that difficult to remember some basic rules of English grammar? I am a stickler for good grammar. So, shoot me! The French would not take kindly to someone speaking their language badly. They will and do correct glaring mistakes in language. While I acknowledge that writing in e-mail lingo is both quicker and easier, there must be some ground rules on writing in serious columns and blogs. I agree that your blog is your own personal way of saying what you feel like. But, that doesn’t mean you render yourself totally incomprehensible to the unsuspecting reader who stumbles on your home page.
I was looking for some maps on the