Kerala: Drinking to the Max

I found out about the BBC’s recent big story about Kerala when I was browsing in the Reliance World internet café below my office.  One of my colleagues – a Malayali, same as 95% of the people who work in my Technopark office – came to me with a big grin on his face.  “Hey, did you hear there was a story about Kerala in the BBC today?”  I told him I hadn’t, but was quickly interested to know what it was about.  Kerala in the news! Exciting!  “Yeah,” he said, grin still fixed to his face.  “It said that Kerala consumes the most alcohol in the whole of India!

There it was on the BBC’s front page.  ‘Kerala’s love affair with alcohol’ read the headline in bold type.  I had expected an appreciation of the palm trees and backwaters seen in Incredible!ndia, or something equally charming and inoffensive, but this was an exposé of the state’s runaway drinking culture.  Normally, when there is bad international press about your homeland, you tend to react with either shame, disgust, protest or a combination of the three.  My colleague, however, seemed almost overjoyed to tell me that he and his fellow Malayalis were becoming world renowned for their drinking prowess.  A typical reaction of a young male anywhere, I guess, but it neatly sums up the attitude here.

…read more at The NRI…


When news of Lindsay Hawker’s murder broke into newspapers, colleagues and friends assumed I would have a greater-than-average interest in the story, what with my going to Japan soon. They were all eager to call it to my attention and see what I thought about it.

I was as appalled as anyone by such a horrific event, but still, it’s one life gone in a world full of thousands more deaths every day. I’m not trying to be insensitive – such a senseless murder as this does merit extra attention – but it’s important to retain perspective, and not feign shock when you simply don’t feel it. As a writer (Ha Ha!) and keen observer of journalistic standards, I was more interested in how the story was being reported. (Badly.) Example:

“Mr Hawker told a press conference his daughter had researched Japan thoroughly before taking up work as an English teacher, to make sure she knew the dangers.” – BBC News

According to the Mail on Sunday, Mr. Hawker actually said “Before coming to Japan she researched extensively on the net, and we all agreed that Japan was a safe place and a good society.” Why have the BBC inserted that extra clause about ‘the dangers’? Because, in searching for a good angle for the story, the writer hit upon the idea that Japan is littered with such behaviour. Which can’t be proved, but hey, we’ll run with it because it’ll tap into people’s fear of a cultural Other.

I find it so frustrating when, in 2007, the barriers between societies are still being rigidly maintained in ways such as this. The Japan that I am aware of is home to the same kinds of unusual and antisocial behaviour as anywhere in the Western world, though it may appear to be slightly different. This behaviour isn’t brought on by overdosing on anime, hentai or Morning Musume; it’s generally the result of a mental disorder, just like some of our own suffer (but then again, we have nice barriers to keep them out, too).

Of course I say all this without having actually been to Japan. It could very well be full of slavering young men fixated on violating young, attractive Western women. But this is a blog post, a brief and poorly thought out opinion piece, whereas people like the BBC are in the business of informing people. It isn’t good enough.

The entire point of this post was to draw attention to Richard Lloyd Parry’s piece in The Times, which excellently sets out the parameters involved in the murder, its setting, and our reactions to it, before going on to provide insight about an aspect of it that most hadn’t even considered. I spent most of my time bitching (as usual), but bugger it.