Thursday, January 29, 2009

Elegy/John Updike

Yesterday I was in a theatre watching Elegy, based on Philip Roth's The Dying Animal. At one point I cried when Penelope Cruz broke the news of her advanced stage cancer to her lit professor/writer/lover Ben Kingsley.

This morning when I opened the pages of the newspaper, I read about the death of John Updike. He died of cancer. I loved John's non-fiction, especially his book reviews and essays. I read some of his novels but did not enjoy them. The language he used was so beautiful I could never reach the story. More than his, I assume it was my limitation.

On an unrelated note, I read this story on self-publishers in the NYT that says what I have always maintained:

The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Indians in Singapore

From my cover story, Singapore Se, published in Khabar, Atlanta, USA:
Can you name a country which is the richest in its region, with Indians forming less than 10 percent of its population, and yet it has an Indian president, many Indian cabinet ministers and a thriving professional class of Indians with their own global glossies and radio stations?

It is not Dubai. It is Singapore.

That’s why it didn’t seem odd when I was recently chatting about Singapore’s Indian diaspora—new and old—with some American students in a café on Orchard Road (Singapore’s famous strip of upscale malls). These students from a college in Indiana were in Singapore to conduct research on the Indian diaspora in the island state. Why did they choose Singapore for their study? Because it is the microcosm of the Indian diaspora in a globalized city state in all its hues and colors—old and new, rich and poor, from all regions of India, and representing more or less all cultures and religions of India.

Here is a succinct description of the Indian diaspora’s situation in Singapore. This is a diaspora whose story might not have been narrated to the world, but it is a story of grit and hard work and of final triumph that needs to be broadcast and celebrated.


How to talk about books you haven’t read

Thank God, most people don’t read books. Imagine how drab a conversation would be if it were only about books—unless those involved were writers or literature students. At least in Singapore, what I have seen during my MRT train rides or on buses is not very intellectually threatening—most people either read The Bible or self-help guides or get-rich-quick books, the Rich Dad, Poor Dad kind of books. Looking at the titles of these books, you know these are not garrulous folks—they want some peace of mind and soul or want to get ahead in life. Nothing wrong with that.

But if you happen to find yourself in an unpleasant situation (with a pleasant person, let us say a person of the opposite sex you can’t ignore or a person of power you have to make a deal with) of talking about a book that you haven’t read, worry not. There is help. There are ways to come out of the situation unscathed, even sounding impressive and intelligent.

You don’t believe it. Roger that. Neither did I in the first place.

But this piece of reassuring wisdom came to me during the last happy holidays season when I hit upon a book by Pierre Bayard. It is called How to talk about books you haven’t read. Yes, you read it right. That is the title of the book. I had read a review of the book in The New York Times sometime ago but hadn’t had the opportunity to lay my hands on the book until now. I read it and I was convinced.


The curious case of B. Ramalinga Raju

Confessing fraud in his letter to the board of Satyam, Satyam Computer’s founder and chairman B. Ramalinga Raju wrote: “It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.”

The allusion to a tiger in this sentence reminded me of last year’s Booker prize winning novel, The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga, a fellow Indian writer. Through his novel as well as author interviews, Adiga postulates that only through two ways can a poor man rise above his rank in India’s current socio-economic system: crime and politics.

How interesting to note that Raju uses the same vehicle of tiger—a symbol of turbo-charged unstoppable growth—to convey what he was dealing with! Juxtapose it with Balram, The White Tiger, the lead character in Adiga’s novel. The narrative shows the contrast between India’s rise as a modern global economy and the crime-fuelled ambitions of Balram who escapes rural poverty to seek a destiny of riches.

But the relationship between the real Raju and the fictional Balram ends here. Unlike Balram, Raju did not exactly come from a poor family. After his father migrated to the state capital Hyderabad from his ancestral village Garagaparru, he started buying land in the city. Raju was sent to Ohio in the US to study business. He came back to help his father in the construction business. Raju grew the business, achieved great success, finally diversifying into textiles and even software—now he was firmly saddled on ‘the tiger’. Tax holidays and India’s outsourcing boom helped Satyam, that was started with 20 employees in 1987, to become India’s fourth largest outsourcer.

But Raju was not happy with the number four status. He wanted to be number one. And that desire to become the numero uno in his field—by hook or by crook—caused his ultimate downfall.


Monday, January 12, 2009

A moment for India's powerless

Even amid the darkness that surrounds us, the news that Slumdog Millionaire has won the Golden Globe for Best Picture and its director Danny Boyle the directing award for the film has cheered me up.

Slumdog is a fascinating film--the story is not new for Hindi film viewers but the way the movie has been shot and directed (the narrative structure itself) is what makes it different from other films. I saw the film side by side with Mira Nair's similar-themed Salaam Bombay, and the effect was stunning (though I admit that Boyle's take is more uplifting and perhaps Bollywoodesque). It takes a lot of courage to make a film on an unglamorous subject--the story of two Muslim boys from Bombay's slums, who are orphaned in a communal riot--and how one of them grows up to become a millionaire through a TV show--at the cost of the sacrifice of his namazi but criminal and trigger happy elder brother. Boyle had the guts and the wit to make a movie like Slumdog Millionaire. Bollywood's filmmakers should take a lesson from this win.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Satyam scandal

Hear me in a special podcast discussing the Satyam scandal that has rocked India's corporate world with IDC's Philip Carter and Springboard Research's Dane Anderson.

Go here

Or copy and paste this url in your browser:

The art of war

From my blog:

If you have been following the unfortunate Israel-Gaza conflict, you might have seen a video on YouTube in which several ‘Hamas’ (Palestinians) members are seen loading ‘short-range rockets’ into a truck moments before a massive explosion. According to media reports, this video, uploaded by a member of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on YouTube, is the most viewed IDF video on the channel. It has been watched more than 360,000 times.

You get what you see, right? Not exactly. According to an investigation by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the rockets seen in the video were not rockets but gas canisters; the victims were not members of Hamas but civilians moving welding equipment after their workshop had been damaged in the Israeli air strikes.

Chances are that you have not heard about B’Tselem or its investigation on the above-mentioned episode. And that precisely is the point.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Isreal enters Gaza

Welcome to a new year, 2009!

But how new is this new year? It sounds very much like the last year or worse. Even before the old year could be rung out, Israel started pounding Gaza--and this was carried out along with a massive Israeli PR exercise. The corporate media the world over, accustomed to bite the easy crumbs of information handed out by the PR companies, reported what was obvious PR shit. However, some commentators were brave enough to have delved a little deeper into the issue.

Israel has been saying that its aerial bombings of Gaza were provoked by Hamas' Qassam rockets. Hamas is definitely wrong in shooting the rockets, even during a truce period. But is that the entire truth? According to Sara Roy (London Review of Books), it is not:

Israel’s siege of Gaza began on 5 November, the day after an Israeli attack inside the strip, no doubt designed finally to undermine the truce between Israel and Hamas established last June. Although both sides had violated the agreement before, this incursion was on a different scale. Hamas responded by firing rockets into Israel and the violence has not abated since then. Israel’s siege has two fundamental goals. One is to ensure that the Palestinians there are seen merely as a humanitarian problem, beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims. The second is to foist Gaza onto Egypt. That is why the Israelis tolerate the hundreds of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt around which an informal but increasingly regulated commercial sector has begun to form. The overwhelming majority of Gazans are impoverished and officially 49.1 per cent are unemployed. In fact the prospect of steady employment is rapidly disappearing for the majority of the population.

According to Tariq Ali (The Guardian, UK), the Israeli attacks on Gaza are motivated by political goals:

The assault on Gaza, planned over six months and executed with perfect timing, was designed largely, as Neve Gordon has rightly observed, to help the incumbent parties triumph in the forthcoming Israeli elections. The dead Palestinians are little more than election fodder in a cynical contest between the right and the far right in Israel. Washington and its EU allies, perfectly aware that Gaza was about to be assaulted, as in the case of Lebanon in 2006, sit back and watch.

Add to the big picture of motives and goals Israel's military-security-industrial complex's need to demonstrate the effectiveness of its weapons, the surgical precision of its bombings. The Israeli military gloated how in about 3 minutes it was able to bombard multiple locations in Gaza. The footage will help establish Israel's arms industry's effectiveness to its customers and would-be customers--Israel is the world's 4th largest arms supplier now. And in a recent interview to the New Yorker magazine, Naomi Klein, the author of Shock Doctrine, clearly told how Israel's commitment to the peace process has been compromised by its security industry.

Also, sometimes I have this suspicion that Israel wants to incite Hezbollah and finally Iran to take part in this war and finish the Neocon agenda before Bush's final departure. Let us see how it all turns out but the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is appalling.