Mumbai’s Dark Glory

This is a new one, published Today Itself. My first night in Mumbai, we went down to Colaba and visited two of the city’s most emblematic landmarks, the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, both of which were stamped with violence on 26 November 2008. The city gave me a small lesson that night.

This was in early December 2010, just over two years since the terror attacks in South Mumbai that have become known as 26/11. Not such a long time, really. “Imagine, they came right up through here,” said Isha, looking through the arch to the harbour on the other side. “And over there,” said Jag, pointing off to the left at a small mooring on the edge of the concrete expanse. It was, in fact, very difficult to imagine. I’ve never had to deal with any kind of large-scale violence in my life; my only frames of reference for gun-toting commandos on the charge come from television news and action films.

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The Indian North/South Divide

It’s a bit like the difference between the North Island and South Island in NZ. Or Eastern and Western Europe. India has an arbitrary border somewhere in the middle; what lies to the north is designated as North India, while everything south is considered to be South India. Yeah, there are differences, but should we really be that bothered?

Living as I do in Kerala, I have picked up many more arguments for the South than the North. For example: The North is dirty; the South is clean. The North is more poverty-stricken; the South is more affluent. The North is more illiterate; the South is more educated. The North is corrupt; the South is… less corrupt. On the flip side: the North is more liberal and varied; the South is more conservative and uniform. The North is more cultured; the South less so.

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The Competitive Indian

One night after our finishing our dinner at a ‘kwality’ dining establishment in Kazhakuttam, near Thiruvananthapuram’s Technopark, my colleague and I were waiting in his car for a break in traffic. In the twenty seconds we were stationary, I saw:

  • a motorcycle in the centre of the road whip across in front of a speeding bus;
  • an Ambassador taxi, with its wheels half on the road and half on the dirt beside it, speed at 60 km/h alongside the slighty slower-moving traffic;
  • and an autorickshaw drive the wrong way down the highway until it could pull across to the correct lane.

I remarked to my colleague that people sure are in a hurry in India. “Mmm,” he acknowledged thoughtfully as he inched the car backwards into the chaos. “We’re so impatient,” he said, forcing a space in traffic by jutting the rear of the car out into the road so other motorists had to veer around us. He turned to me and laughed. “Even I am like that! And I don’t know why.” The way somewhat cleared, we sped off on the way back to work.

…read more at The NRI…

The Kerala Wedding Experience II: Christian

My mind soon drifted away from comparisons as I understood that in Kerala, a Christian wedding is all about devotion. It is less a celebration of two lives and families coming together as it is a testament to God’s glory at allowing them to reach this point in their lives. No less than four priests held court before the happy couple, all dressed in flowing robes of white/black/red and suitably official headgear, as verse after verse was recited to the letter. The church itself was grand in that impeccably Christian way: imposing purely for the height of its ceiling, all angles, points and wings, but certainly not wanting for ornate carvings and elaborate stained glass windows.

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The Land of Open Expression

Over in the central Palace Hall, there seemed to be more of a calm that befitted such a princely and tradition-filled room. I remained there for the rest of the weekend as part of an extraordinarily varied audience. There were: distinguished local retirees with a passion for language; twentysomething Malayali men asking me for my mobile number within minutes of meeting; young tourists in summer dresses and sunglasses; local professionals, well groomed and dressed; adolescent children sitting unusually still; fellow resident foreigners of all backgrounds; and many of the authors themselves, catching another speaker’s session.

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Your Moment of Horror is Waiting

It begins with a gold-tinged scene of a waterway at dawn. Burnt-out husks of dead trees rise from the water like the Devil’s fingers – and after more than ten seconds, one of them moves! The landscape is alive! Run for your lives! It is in fact a humanoid figure, long-legged and brandishing a spear. There are no signs that it will be aggressive, but one senses that it might become so at any moment.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Welcome to Kerala.

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Being Changemakers with CRY: Child Rights and You

The biggest barrier to undertaking activism often isn’t a lack of desire. For example, India is a nation of desperate and disadvantaged children, but the apathy towards their dire situation isn’t based purely in a disinterested and uncaring middle class; it’s also the product of a society who have given up on idealism, perhaps wanting to help but not seeing any practical way to help, and ultimately hoping that somebody else will clean up the mess. With millions of children in need on the streets of India’s metros and all over the country, airline purser Rippan Kapur decided he wanted to do something about it. He decided to found an organisation that wouldn’t simply get their hands dirty for the sake of child rights; they would provide a base for volunteers everywhere to effect positive change. In 1979, with six friends and a base fund of just 50 rupees, he set up CRY: Child Rights and You.

…read more at The NRI…

You Too Can Travel In Style

That age-old desire to flaunt more wealth and status than your neighbour ties into another growing sector of the luxury travel market: weddings. Shifting your son’s or daughter’s wedding to foreign country is still a rare thing, but if you can manage it, you’ll be the talk of the town. This from the Wall Street Journal tells of nuptials in Macau and Bangkok and bills of up to USD$5 million – that’s over 22 crore rupees – with nearly a thousand guests flown from India, along with full catering staff and a host of top entertainers. The location is not chosen only for a hotel’s willingness to submit to the parents’ lofty requests, but also for its attractiveness as a tourist destination, which makes doubly certain that all the guests will return home with nothing but good things to say. more at The NRI…

The Kerala Wedding Experience I: Hindu

A Hindu wedding is dominated by colour: the red of the bride’s one-off sari, the tint of the gold chains around her neck, the white and green of fragrant jasmine flowers, the black of the groom’s hair and moustache – all illuminated in intense clarity by the camera crew’s megawatt bulbs. My first Hindu wedding was on merely my second day in Kerala, my venerable new neighbour eager to have the new saip present at his second son’s marriage, and the whole experience was utterly intoxicating. Some of that initial sheen has worn off after attending so many more, but enough of the magic remains that my enjoyment of each occasion extends beyond simply paying my respects, or ‘blessing with presence’ as one friend’s elegant invite read.

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5 Lessons from Gandhiji’s Autobiography

1. Introspect. Throughout the years covered in the book, Gandhi interrogates and investigates himself. He wonders why he dislikes bathing the sores on his father’s feet. He feels certain, for a while, that in order to become powerful one must eat meat. He questions whether his all-natural earth treatments are effective. On almost every page, he remains convinced that he hasn’t yet everything figured out. It is through this constant self-questioning that he attains a deeper understanding of himself and crystallises that understanding into a way of life. With so many distractions around us today, it is surely valuable to sometimes consider why we do what we do – especially the things we take for granted – and then consider whether we have good reason to keep doing them.

…read more at The NRI…