Monday, October 31, 2005

South-central Bee reporting from the Party of the Year

What began as a sad and despondent day ended as a very happy one, thanks to more than a little help from my friends. I just feel so lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful people, who plied me with endless vodka shots, took care to see that all the guests are well taken care of, supplied the party with some great music and made it so much fun for everyone.

On Saturday, we had a party celebrating both Halloween and S's birthday. We had told all the guests to try and dress up in costumes, but I the hostess, was too tired to do so myself. So I wore a funky gown that I had and pretended to be a diva. Unfortunately, I hardly have the attitude to go with it, so I was not very convincing at all. But my guests more than made up for it, arriving in style in the most amazing and outlandish costumes. There was a fair, a butterfly, too many devils, no angels (!), a grim reaper (with fantastic make-up), a NASA astronaut, Nepalese woman, Foxy Brown, Raskolnikov (my favourite - from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment) and many, many others. The crowd favourite by far: S's friend Panos, dressed as a baby, wearing nothing but a bonnet, bib and baby undies. Complete with a bottle and sucker in his hand! Everyone wanted pictures with Panos in his baby get-up.

Guests sorely missed: Suze now that she's a post-doc in Harvard after getting her PhD. Way to go girl! I miss you. And Soto, who was driving through Texas with his brother on a road trip vacation. You missed out on the hot girls, buddy.

Secret Society: Me, Em, Pumpkins and C (from G&C) as we kept disappearing into Em's apartment on the pretext of "just picking up some stuff", "just fixing some things". And we left the other guests wondering what we were upto. Truth is we gathered around the table for some "angel's tears", as Em loves to call his bottle of Stoli. And with each "secret trip", my cheeks got more flushed, I giggled endlessly, and the world was a better place. Oh Stoli, how I love thee! After the first shot, I came back, and my guest, the Bulgarian economist said to me "You know what they say, when the hostess looks so happy, the party is a success"!

Duties for the Night: I ran around too much, I'm a fairly conscientous hostess, and never forget the cardinal duties of being one. One, make sure everyone has a drink in their hand. Two, make sure everyone knows where the food is and that they should help themselves to it. Three, most importantly, keep checking the bathroom periodically to see that everything is, ahem, "under control". Fortunately, every guest I've ever had behaves impeccably when liquored up. All the puking stories of drunk guests I've ever heard have been at other people's homes. I confess though, I do have a certain person on my party blacklist, after I learnt that he had ruined at least two carpets in other friends' homes after a drink too many.

Fun conversations: Didn't have time for too many, but there were three that stood out. I talked to the fairy, who happened to be Italian and originally from Sicily about my trip to Italy, and we talked about how we loved Rome, and Southern Italy and such. There's such a difference between Northern and Southern Italians, even though she told me that she was from Pisa, her wonderful effervescent nature made it apparent that originally she was a Southern Italian. I'd love to travel to Sicily someday as well.

Conversations with the Bulgarian economist, who is great to talk to, interested as he is in so many different things. We exchanged notes as PhD students and about experiences working as teaching assistants. We also spoke about investment bankers selling their souls to the devil, the importance of networking and overcoming an introverted self, and mysticism and Orthodoxy, and the Eastern way of things. First Urmi and now him, my estimation of economists grows by the day!

The third conversations deserves space in the gossip section, which is presented below.

Gossip and the Naughty Bits: What's a party without some spicy broth, and we did have a few bubbling away. First the spat. So Becks, who has a very wacky sense of humour (that I enjoy immensely), when introduced to one of the guests at the party, said very loudly that she knew him well and also the fact that he had herpes! Now most of us wouldn't think twice about this, because Becks says things like this all the time. But this guest, who by the way, is a complete stranger to us, and was brought along by a friend of S's, took great offence. Not only that, he turned nasty. Apparently, he tried to grab Beck's arm, calling her a "fat bitch", with an ass too fat to be wearing a short skirt. Beck's ignored his attack, and later in the party was talking to me and the Bulgarian economist, looked around and saw this guy standing a few feet behind us. She said (loud enough for him to hear, but then she was drunk) that she didn't like him. The guy heard, came up to her, and started screaming that she was a fat bitch, and she shouldn't dare say anything about him.

Becks ignored him, but I got really angry, came face to face with him, and told him to stop insulting my friends. I told him in no uncertain terms that I would not tolerate anyone insulting my friends, that even if she did say what she did, he had no right to attack her in such crude terms. All he should have done is told her he was really hurt by her joke, and she's sensible enough to apologize and let it pass. He went away, and apparently left the party, which I felt was good riddance, because I cannot tolerate such uncouth, uncivil, guests. I really didn't have a problem that he came uninvited, I welcome every guest, invited or not, but you'd think he'd have the decency to behave himself in a stranger's house.

The Pumpkins were also part of the other big gossip buzz of the night. Apparently He Pumpkin went around flirting with all the gorgeous girls in the party. He was dressed as a pimp daddy, with a wad of fake banknotes in his pocket. By the end of the night, every cute chick had a a fake 500 dollar bill stuck in her cleavage.

She Pumpkin had some fun of her own, talking to the guys and giving one guy in particular some very wrong ideas. She chatted with a new neighbour of ours, a fairly good looking guy who was extremely helpful in offering to be the DJ of the night, mixing up the playlists. The boy was under the impression that She Pumpkin was single and looking, and assumed that she was interested in him. Em saw them chatting, and blurted out, "Keep off, she's taken"! After which, She Pumpkin ran off into Em's apartment and then left soon after. After she left, new neighbour, obviously very drunk tried to convince us, that a)she didn't mention her boyfriend even once, b) she was really interested in him, and c)when we met the Pumpkins for lunch tomorrow, we should take him along! We tried to convince him that she had been with her boyfriend for a while and was certainly not looking, and offered to hook him up with some single female friends of ours.

It was really hilarious, this conversation took place when all our guests had left, just Em, new neighbour, Nav (new neighbour's friend and our ex-neighbour) and I were left, drinking vodka and coke and eating cheese pies. Over and over, new neighbour tried to convince us that there was a spark, a connection between him and She Pumpkin, and we tried to convince him to hold his horses and calm his passionate longing :)! At last he said that he wouldn't make a move on a girl who has been with a boyfriend with more than six months. So under six months is fair game? Hmmm.....Well that's better than Em and Nabil who say, "Boyfriend, what boyfriend! Whether a girl has a boyfriend or not is immaterial in the decision to pursue her". I've certainly stayed away from the obverse of this. I've never pursued a man who I knew had a girlfriend, though I do have friends who've seduced men with steady girlfriends. I don't judge them at all.

And at 4:00 a.m. drinking vodka and coke, chatting with friends, I discovered a grave truth. I really don't like plain cheese pies (tiropites). But I love the ones with sun-dried tomatoes. Vive le fusion!

Courage Under Fire

It's only to be expected that some rather extreme views be aired in the immediate aftermath of the bombings in Delhi. However, it is important to remember that while terrorists must be brought to justice and organizations perpetuating and supporting terrorism dismantled, an entire community of Indian Muslims should not bear the burden of negative perceptions and accusations. In circumstances such as this, such articles, as the one that appeared in yesterday's The Hindustan Times, Delhi is very sobering.

The article is part of a report that discusses sentences handed out to Islamic militants who attacked the Red Fort in Delhi, killing two military personnel and one civilian. The judgment hinged on the crucial evidence provided by Mohammed Ahmed, an Indian Muslim who had to subsequently go into hiding, after selling his house, fearing for his life. The Delhi Police failed to provide him with the security and resources promised, thus leaving him vulnerable to retaliatory action by fundamentalist groups. However, when asked why he had agreed to be a witness in the case he says:

""People still ask us why I took all the trouble. My family members ask the same question. But the guilty should be punished. I have to die one day but I don't fear them. I am very happy with the judgement," Ahmed said."

("The witness who didn't give in to fear", Tushar Shrivastava, Hindustan Times, Nov.1, 2005)

(This is from the Hindustan Times e-paper that is subscription only and hence the article cannot be linked.)

Saturday, October 29, 2005


I should be happy today, it's S's birthday, and we have guests coming over in a few hours, but I'm sad. I woke up this morning to news of the bomb blasts in Delhi. I checked news websites, online streaming news videos, and it looked pretty bad. I was happy to know that my family and friends are safe, though I haven't checked on all of them (especially one friend who lives very close to one of the blast sites). It's too late for me to call Delhi (it's the middle of night there), so I'll wait till evening to call up.

I check an online forum dedicated to discussion on issues around South Asia, and someone had started a thread on the Delhi blasts. There was some sympathy for the victims, but some of the members merely speculated if the blasts will now take attention away from the earthquake victims in Kashmir. Damn it, conniving, devious, attention-seeking Delhi. Charred bodies, broken limbs, so they can turn sympathy away from the Kashmiri earthquake victims. Never mind the large Kashmiri diaspora, Hindu or Muslim, that calls the city home. The frantic SMSes that flit across the screen from Kashmiris asking their loved ones in Delhi to call back home and assure them of their safety. I thought the idea of India is shared grief. But apparently Delhi's suffering distracts too much from suffering elewhere.

And then, the story that went around the Indian blgworld, of one blogger's effort to save an accident victim in the face of unparalleled barbarity that apparently the city of Delhi throws up effortlessly. And the comments on the story, berating the heartless, inhuman bleak little place that I once called home. And I experienced shock at the devastating narrative, and then incredulity as it refused to match up with my experiential map of the city. Pieces refused to fit and yet, it was hard to question a tale told with such conviction.

And then today, I was watching NDTV news online, and they played a video taken by a British tourist couple in Paharganj moments after the blast, that showed people using all means possible, cars, rickshaws, little wooden carts used to carry goods in the narrow lanes and bare hands to rush the victims to medical assistance. An overwhelming rush of amateur do-gooders, galvanized by the situation, united in collective misery. I was reassured, I had a solid piece of evidence to throw back at the skeptics, to show that there were yet people who wouldn't leave other human beings to perish on the streets. Blogger whom I'm too disgusted to name, you owe my city an apology.

As for Delhi, it moves on, as it always has. Sacked, pillaged, looted, torched and bombed. Yet on and on.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Manipur and its Jewels

I have already recorded in this blog my fascination for the North-eastern region of India, albeit under fairly sad circumstances. I have always regretted the fact that I didn't seek out more information about the region while in India, but honestly, there wasn't much that was readily available anyways. I knew a bit about Assam, because I've been there twice (as a kid) and still have family there. But I don't really know too much about the other states, and certainly wish to know more about Manipur, whose art and aesthetics I am incredibly impressed by.

Anthony, who calls Manipur home has very sweetly obliged this pesky commenter and written two wonderful posts about the state of Manipur and its people. I do hope he continues writing about the state, and I would encourage everyone to check them out to know more about the state and its people. A bit of googling of my own reveals this website, which looks like a bunch of fun!

And looking at the pics here, as well as elsewhere on the internet, I can't help but comment on how amazingly beautiful the people of the North-east are, especially the women. I just don't understand why, besides a couple of Assamese models, Northeastern women haven't made a mark on the Indian modelling scene. Is it because there is a strong bias in favour of a stereotypical "Indian" look? If that is indeed the case, then pray tell me what business does Aishwarya Rai have in Bollywood? Anyway, Bollywood and Indian advertising's loss entirely.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Il Padre Brillante!

Finally, I'm in awe of this man. Em and I caught a wonderful discussion on the debate on critique of evolution theory in biology and "intelligent design" advocates. Now I'm one of those who'd sooner become a Pastafarian than go near anything that tries to make a gazpacho out of religion and science. So of course Em and I clapped through as the very charged Ken Miller from Brown University provided excellent rebuttals of all points raised by Paul Nelson , who argues for Intelligent Design, which is basically Creationism by another name.

When Father Coyne came on in the next session, Em and I were a bit apprehensive. After all here was a priest, who happened to be the head of the Vatican Observatory, asked to speak on the debate between evolution theory and intelligent design. Would a man of religion find it within himself to rationally consider all the scientific evidence that pointed to the complex way in which it took billions of years for life to evolve on the planet? As it turned out Father Coyne had a PhD in Astronomy, and is as much a man of science as religion, and spoke with great passion and refinement about scientific engagement and the state of our current knowledge about the universe. He spoke of his scientific temparament and religious convictions as belonging to separate domains neither requiring validation by the other. Father Coyne reminded me of all that I've read about men of religion over centuries who've made invaluable contributions to furthering the cause of science, at times inviting the wrath of organized religion in the process. If you have the time I would highly recommend Father Coyne's excellent talk, as well as the very forceful presentation by Miller, both available on video on the American Enterprise Institute website.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Cantankerous Bong men and Visible Boxer Line?

On Saturday S and I made a brief trip to the Durga Puja celebrations organized by Dakshini, which take place almost a week after every other Durga Puja celebration has folded up. The visit was sudden and impromptu, so didn't have a chance to dress up in a sari (or even salwar-kameez) and was given the stare down by the umpteen Bong mashimas (aunts)and didimas (grandmas) at the venue. Happy to report that the competition over the most dazzling saris and jewellery is as strong as ever, and many of the women were dressed a bit too extravagantly for the afternoon.

We managed to snag packets of prasad (offerings) and S had his first taste of narkol mishti. He is hooked and was wondering if I could make the stuff or not. Sure, the afternoon I feel like slaving for four hours in the kitchen. Or I can just go ahead and open a packet of frozen shredded coconut and mix in sugar syrup.

Here's the weird bit though. So I was showing S around the place (because I had been there before) and the community centre where the Puja is held has a nice courtyard. We are walking around, and suddenly a elderly Bong gentleman appears out of nowhere and barks instructions to S and me to drag the trash cans that were lying in a corner to the centre of the courtyard. S and I meekly comply, and I answer him in Bengali. He looks at me and says (in Bengali) "Oh so you are Bengali? Why don't you go to the kitchen and ask for some trash bags...You're a Bengali girl, do some work!" (Bangalir meye kichhu kaaj koro, is what he actually said).

S and I are taken aback but march off to the kitchen nonetheless to get trash bags and fit them around the cans. I told S that in case he was wondering the gentleman was rather rude. And by the way, after he rattled off instructions, he promptly went off to play cards with his buddies. Bengali men of a certain age love to bully younger men and women. Jotto shob jyathamo. Anyway we left soon after that, but I strongly suspect we might have been saddled with the duties of serving lunch!

In the evening we went to the birthday party of a friend, who put up a nice little performance for the guests, singing his own compositions. It was quite slick with mikes and amps and all taking up a quarter of his living room. I also met an old neighbour of mine, who's working in a major Hollywood production house now. We talked a bit about my research and then about the movie business. He retains the habit of wearing his pants really low, so Em, S and I were giggling hysterically whenever he bent down to pick up something and we could tell if they were boxers or briefs (boxers as I remember).

A little digression. Our friend, the birthday boy told us that once he went to the apartment of old neighbour's ex-girlfriend, an up and coming Hollywood actress who played in a major movie recently. All the girl had in her kitchen were rows and rows of supplement bottles, vitamins, proteins, you name it. That's all she eats apparently, protein and vitamin supplement shakes and capsules. Nothing in the fridge either. Oh and one pack of fat free tortilla chips.

We also saw the sad manifestation of the post-marriage syndrome that afflicts many women. Land up at a party in your most bleh clothes (work pants and sweater in this case), no makeup, messy hair tied up with a rubberband all accompanied by substantial weight gain since I last saw her. Actually make that post-boyfriend syndrome, since I'm guilty of a few of those sins myself. Weight gain, check. Bad outfits, check. Fuzz on arms, check (ewww). I need to rescue myself before I fall deeper into this man-content abyss. But I really don't think my outfit was too bad that day, though Em did say that pairing black boots with a short blue dress was a bit street whorish. Pfffff. One man's whore is another woman's bohemian chic.

On Sunday, S and I went to Chinatown for an excellent lunch of pho, the Vietnamese staple that I haven't had for ages. Pho is my favourite soup, and I adore how clean, simple and fresh the flavours are. I also ordered Vietnamese cold coffee which is great and some of the best restaurant coffee in the city (that's the secret, you want good coffee, go to a Vietnamese restaurant). After lunch, S bought a Vietnamese peasant hat (sshh that's part of his Halloween costume, but I'm not allowed to reveal), and I bought a steamer. Now I can make pithey in January, yay!

I could swear I heard the workers and manager at the Chinese market (where I bought the steamer) speak in Vietnamese, which confirms my sense that the Chinatown next to downtown LA has been taken over by the Chinese diaspora from South-east Asia, predominantly the Vietnamese. In any case, this Chinatown was established not by Chinese from the mainland, but Guangdong-hua speaking ones from Hongkong. Hence the large number of dimsum and Cantonese cuisine restaurants. Also, most of the Indonesian restaurants in town are run by Chinese-Indonesians and many of the Thai restaurants are run by Thai-Chinese. The South-east Asian Chinese diaspora has a huge presence in the restaurant business. Here's a really interesting article on Chinese restaurants outside China, that claims that 230 Chinese immigrants run between them 50 Chinese restaurants in Greece!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The IIPM Petition

If you feel concerned about the IIPM story, as well as the state of educational institutions in India in general, please do take a look at the petition posted on Kaashyapeya's blog. There is also a link to an online petition on the IIPM issue. For those late to the matter, the post provides an excellent overview of the issue with all the relevant links.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Information Pertaining to IIPM

I think I'm finally ready to present all the bits and pieces of information on IIPM's European connections that I've collected so far. To minimize any possible bias, or heavy editorial voice, I shall try to present as far as possible only the bare evidence as it was made available to me. I would encourage journalists researching the story to make use of these pieces of evidence as they see fit. Anyone wishing to have access to the actual emails should leave their email address in the comments and I'd get back to them.

Point 1: Relationship between IMI, BBS, EBMS, and GCME

A number of blogs have pointed out that the websites of the International Management Institute, the Barcelona Business School, and the European Business Management School look suspiciously similiar. Well one reason is the fact that all of these websites are designed by the same man. His name is Thierry Kirschstein and this is his website.

Not only that the Dean of the International Management Institute and the Director of the Barcelona Business School are the same person, someone by the name of Freddy Kirschstein. He also happens to be the Dean of the Global Business Academy, also based in Antwerp. This Global Business Academy also features in the list of websites designed by Thierry Kirschstein.

I emailed my friend who lives in Barcelona (he grew up there) and attended ESADE, one of the best business schools in Europe. He has never heard of the Barcelona Business School.

I contacted the International Management Institute as well as Marc van Gastel, someone who lists teaching assignments at the IMI and EBMS in his resume.

The email I received from IMI
Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2005 14:51:30 +0200

Dear XXXX,

Thank you for your email message.

Please be informed that an academic cooperation agreement between IMI and IIPM exists. As a consequence some of our

Faculty members are going to IIPM regularly.

Yours sincerely,

F. Kirschstein


The email from Marc Van Gastel
Tue, 18 Oct 2005 21:21:01 +0200
Subject: Re: Request for Information
From: "Marc Van Gastel"


Thank you for contacting us. I am indeed one of the faculty professors, teaching Business Intelligence, CRM, Strategic Information Systems, e-Commerce, e-Business and Balanced Scorecards.

To get more detailed information about the institute’s focus, status og degree, etc... I would like to refer you to our dean, Prof. Kirschstein. The email address : .

sincerely yours,
Prof. Marc Van Gastel

So there is at least one person who goes on record to say that he has taught and still teaches at the International Management Institute. Which confirms that the institute does exist in some form. But what is the status of the degree/diploma it provides?

To find out I emailed NARIC-Vlaanderen, a Belgian government organization that determines the validity of degrees offered both within and outside Belgium for use within Belgium. This is the email I received from NARIC.

Email from NARIC-Vlaanderen

Wed, 19 Oct 2005 14:29:22 +0200
From: "Onderwijs Naric"
"Patricia Michielsseune" ,
"De Coorde Christel"
Subject: Re: Message to Mr. Malfroy regarding Institute's recognition

The "International Management Institute" in Antwerp and Brussels is a very very very very very very private institution.
In earlier days this institution was called the "European University", which was a diploma mill.

The qualifications awarded by this kind of institution are NOT at all recognised by any Flemish or Belgian education authority.
Holders of such qualifications may NOT claim any academic (further studies) or civil right (access to regulated professions).

Sincerely yours,

Erwin Malfroy

I guess that settles the question of the status of the IMI degree and by association the IIPM degree once and for all (Editorial voice: I loved how he used very multiple times. Couldn't be more emphatic than that :)).

Point 2: Association of alleged international partners with IIPM

On the IIPM website are listed the names of a number of persons who are supposed to have some sort of alliance with the institute. I emailed as many names from the list as I could asking them about their relation with the institute. Here are the emails I received, and I reproduce them.

AW: Request for Information
Date: Tue, 18 Oct 2005 16:51:45 +0200
From: "Baumberger, Roland"


Thanks for your e-mail. I have to inform you, that we do not offer any courses in IIPM but give students the chance to visit our Headquarter in Switzerland during their regular European Tour and talk about Human Resources issues within our organisation.
Hope that this is what you want to know, otherwise please feel free to contact me.

Roland Baumberger
Global Human Resources
Sulzer Turbo Services
Sulzer Management Ltd.


Mon, 17 Oct 2005 15:55:14 +0200
From: "Jean-Daniel Pasche"
Subject: Rιp. : Request for Information

We refer to your e-mail and thank you for interest regarding the Swiss
Watch Industry. Our contacts with IIPM have taken place within the
following framework. We have received a delegation of students from
at our headquarters in Bienne (Switzerland) in order to present them
Swiss Watch Industry, the activities of our federation and namely our
fight against counterfeiting. We have not offered course in IIPM.

I hope this information is useful to you and remain

with best regards

Dr. J-D Pasche

Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH
Jean-Daniel Pasche

Miles Dodd"
Subject: IIPM
Date: Fri, 14 Oct 2005 06:44:46 +0000


Thank you for your e-mail.

My connection with IIPM is almost nothing. I gave one lecture for them
about six years ago in Geneva, and that is all I have done for them.

In fact, I did not know that they were using my name, and have
them asking them to cease doing so.

I am sorry that I cannot give you better news, but wish you all good
luck in
your future studies.

Kind regards

Miles Dodd


RE: Request for Information
Date: Fri, 14 Oct 2005 10:25:56 +0200
From: "Schelling,Thomas,VEVEY,Z-AOA"


many thanks for bringing this to my attention. I was not aware that they display my and other Nestlé executives names on their site.
We will take this up through our operation in India.
Again, suggest you contact the IIPM directly with your question.

Best regards
Thomas Schelling
Nestlé S.A.
Management Z-AOA

Update & Disclaimer: I have decided to heed to the concerns of some commenters of the dangers of the emails and adddresses in the post being misused by spammers. Hence I am removing the addresses. I would also like to declare that the communication was made to me in a personal capacity and not representing the corporate position of the companies that the individuals work for.

Update #2 Mr. Christiansen wrote to me saying that since Nestle has nothing to do with IIPM, he does not wish to be mentioned in the context of this issue. I'm respecting his wishes and removing his email.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Roar of Freedom Gives Me a Headache

On Sunday morning, I had to force myself out of bed at 6:30 a.m. because S and Em wanted to go and see an air show close to San Diego. I'm supremely disinterested in airplanes, but Em is passionately in love with them, and S thinks airshows are cool. So we drive down to San Diego and suddenly realization dawns on me (after checking maps and directions) that the air show is actually being held at the Miramar Marine Base. I've never been on any sort of military base or cantonment area in any country before, so this was a strange experience from the start.

But first, some background. California's economy has benefitted immensely from the presence of the defence-industrial complex. Indirectly, the defence industry generated a large number of jobs in the region, and companies like Boeing, Northrup Grumann, Lockheed Martin have a major stake in the state. However, there has been a lot of direct employment generated by the location of a substantial number of army, navy, marine and air bases in California. At the end of the Cold War though, there was some major rethinking about the need and expenses involved in running such massive bases (with huge expenditures on personnnel and equipment), which resulted in the recommendations of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) in 1993 to close down the El Toro Marine Base, resulting in the shifting of the Marine Corps Air Station to Miramar, which was housing a Naval Air Station at the time. Details regarding base closures can be found here and here.

The Miramar Base has not been without controversy, as the surrounding community grapples with the issues of noise and air pollution, urban expansion and rising home prices and the need for a new airport to accomodate San Diego's growing air traffic. There was concern that the BRAC 2005 might recommend the Miramar MCAS for closure. However, this didn't happen, and fairly low-key recommendations were made regarding shifting a few of the training personnel to a base in Florida. Within this context, the Air Show acquires a different meaning. Not only was it celebrating the 50th anniversary of its existence, but it was also trying to engage the local community, convince them to have a stake in the continued presence of the Base in the area, and of course aid in the recruitment drive of the military.

We reached the Base, and were directed to our spot in the parking lot by polite but stern Marines. One of them looked barely 18, his face covered with acne, delicate wire frame glasses perched on his nose. His slim body was overwhelmed by his uniform, and his boots were strikingly visible, dirty brown, perhaps suede or sheepskin. After our bags were checked, we walked along the barbed wire fence, as Em told me that the fence reminded him of his military service days. On the other side of the fence were the finest that the military of the United States could commission or buy, handsome hacks of metal welded together with precision, the exposed fusillage indicating the strength of the engines that were to shatter my peace of mind in a few hours' time.

A strange sight where a few South-east Asian style rickshaws (or pedicabs), which some of the Marines were using to give rides to the visitors in return for tips. We walked into the main area, to find many of the planes put on display and the general area resembling in appearance a county fair (minus the rides). There were hot dog and hamburger stands, BBQ chicken sizzling on grills, impossibly tacky souvenirs and "VIP Chalets" for corporate sponsors. Many of the visitors seemed to be Marines and their families, many a little boy dressed up as a soldier, clutching a little B-2 model plane between his fingers. A Base is a self-contained world, what could be more natural than a Marine's son becoming a Marine. We found our seats, which were in the very first row, right next to the runway, just the way the Pumpkins had ordered them. And then the show started.

With commentary by those whose skills had been honed doing sports commentary for middling small town American footbal teams. Lots of "Yeehaws" and "I'm lovin' it" peppered the shrill insistent drone. And music by those whose home fires are kept burning by military music commissions. Except for the curious inclusion of the 3 Doors Down song "Kryptonite". Either no one paid attention to the lyrics, or it was the work of some disgruntled Marine. There were many Marines continuously patrolling the fences that separated the staging area and runway from the audience. Many of the boys looked very young, and certainly many must have been destined for Iraq. Some looked oblivious, some flippant, some pensive. Mostly indifferent to the tribute to patriotism that was being enacted around them.

And then it started. Aircraft after aircraft, tearing down the runway with a thunderous roar, doing impossible spins, flips, manouevers, stretching the machines to the maximum even as the noise reached a crescendo. My ears were enduring a double pounding, the noise of the jets compounded with the incessant commentary. The commentator called the roar of the aircrafts the "sound of freedom". My ears were begging for an escape from the sounds of freedom into the arms of the silence of tyranny. I tried to shape two piece of tissue paper into ear buds, but to no avail. The sound just wouldn't stay out.

And then stray snatches of conversation started to filter in, that froze my blood to my finger tips. Like little boys who rushed to the fences when a mock battle scene was enacted to say "Wow, that was so cool!". Or when I heard a child's voice behind me say, "Oh cool, they have the B-2, but where's the Napalm bomber?" I turned around to see a little Polynesian or Filipino looking boy with his father, the little model B-2 by his side, eyes glued to the planes. Suddenly I realized that there were way too many children at the venue. Children have sensitive ears. Soft and ductile and malleable and impressionable. Very delicate ear canals, that do not filter the noise well, that cannot make the association of noises with physical substances, red, viscous, plentiful and scarring.

I told S I had had enough. But we had to wait, because Em and the Pumpkins had gone to get some food. But my heart was already pounding. And then more jets took off crisscrossing the sky with ropes of noise suffocating me to the point that I felt choked and was in tears. S took me out as soon as the others returned, and we got out of the Base and headed towards San Diego to see the Greek Orthodox church that had been built by S' grandfather during his stay in the US. It even has the same name as S, because it is also the name of a patron saint. We couldn't get inside the Church because it was closed, but I saw a glimpse of a fairly traditional altar inside.

My spirits had settled after leaving the Base, not the least because the area that we drove around to reach the Church was pretty, close to the campus of UCSD, with little cafes and handsome houses. S and I then met some relatives of his briefly and later drove down to the San Diego seaside, to meet the others for dinner at one of the area's oldest restaurants. The others though were not too keen on a fish dinner and decided to let us eat dinner there before taking us to Old Town San Diego, a touristy little part of town with faux-authentic Mexican restaurants (oh my God! they make real tortillas). Em and the Pumpkins had dinner there, and even though the Pumpkins raved about the food, I didn't think it looked very interesting (very cookie cutter Mexican). Actually I don't really rely on the Pumpkins for food recommendations, since their tendency towards the lowest common denominator is very high. Not that Anthony's, our restaurant, was any good, but at least it had fresh fish.

The Sea Meets the Ocean, Not in India Though

One fabulous evening and one lousy day, not bad for a weekend eh. And given the dismal weather in LA (rain yesterday and gloomy clouds today) and a mini professional disaster, the weekend seems pretty good in retrospect.

On Saturday, I attended a concert by Indian Ocean, a wonderful band that started almost 15 years ago with an innovative brand of music that fuses together Indian classical and folk traditions, jazz, rock, other indigenous sounds around the world, etc. I love their music anyway, but I have an extra-special reason to like them. You see, I actually went to college (same course, same section) with one of the band members. And attending their concert meant that I would see him after almost 10 years! In fact, I just realised that he's only the second classmate from college that I've met in the near 10 years since leaving college. And the first one is also a musician, playing with the band Parikrama, a fairly well known band in the Indian college circuit.

So S, Soto and I went to the "other" school (UCLA if you must know) for the concert and we were running almost two hours late! Those who lament the Indian Stretchable Time have seen nothing till they've experienced the Greek liberties with time and punctuality. I am positively Germanic by comparison. There they are blissfully unperturbed about being two hours late for a concert, and I'm fuming and fretting. So we reach the packed hall, and squeeze ourselves into a corner and get the last 40 minutes of the concert. And they were fabulous. Even better live than they sound on CDs, musicians with a lot of passion and soul, truly enjoying the opportunity to play music with each other. After the concert was over, we went out to dinner with the band and a bunch of organizers. Amit and I talked about folks from the class, his life on tour and his new ventures. I really admired his quiet determination, his unassuming personality, and his love for his vocation. And told him that I never thought he'd end up becoming a professional musician!

Yesterday, night S called me while driving home from work and said he had their music on his car CD player (he bought two of their CDs) and said he loved them. Now S is someone who is usually quite indifferent to music, but he does tend to like the folk-fusion type stuff, like Dionysis Savvopoulos in Greece, so this was just the kind of stuff he admired. Here's wishing them the very best, and hoping more people get to hear their great music. So check out their tour itinerary, and if they play in your town, go and hear them. They are truly worth it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

IIPM, Indian politics, and why Government of India websites are so fun

Ok, just to relieve the tedium a bit, and make this more interesting, here are some fun facts about IIPM and its founder Dr. Malay Chaudhuri. This is the sort of havoc that's unleashed when you provide a graduate student with an absentee advisor, lots of caffeine and a fabulous ethernet connection. So let the fun times roll!

Now here's an absolute gem. Apparently Dr. Malay Chaudhuri started his own political party and in the 2004 elections even fought an election himself from the Balasore Lok Sabha seat in Orissa. Why Orissa you ask? Well senior Chaudhuri was born and raised in Orissa that's why. The party is/was called Bharatiya Manavata Vikas Party (Indian Humanism/Humanity Development Party), and let the puns on the name begin! And not to be a nitpicker, but Mssrs Chaudhuri, if you please, Manavata Vikas does not translate as Human Development. Human Development is Manaviya Vikas or Manav Vikas.

The party was apparently started in 2001, as a continuation of the Manav Seva Kendras started by IIPM in the 1980s in West Bengal and Orissa. Now I was fairly strongly involved with the voluntary and social development sector in India throughout the mid and late 1990s, but honestly, I do not remember ever coming across such any mention of such Manav Seva Kendras. Just to be sure, I checked the voluntary organization database by the Planning Commission, India. No, no mention there (but that might be because they folded up).

But I was the editor for one of the most comprehensive directories for NGOs in India and their fields of operation, and I don't remember a mention of Manav Seva Kendra. I had worked for an organization in the late 1990s that ran a very successful rural mobilization programme in Bankura, West Bengal and never was Manav Seva Kendra mentioned. And it would have been mentioned, considering the fact that IIPM was fairly well known in Delhi even in those days.

Anyway, so the symbol of the party is a book, and their USP is facilitating the entry of professionals into politics. Hence, a curious candidate recruting process involving newspaper ads (media savvy all the way) and interviews. Only graduates to be given party tickets (I'm sure they verified that the claims of candidates regarding their degrees were genuine :) ). There are articles about the party here and here, and do take the time to check out the election promises and manifesto, they are particularly amusing.

And now you must be curious to know the record of the party. Well it seems even though most of the press coverage of the party dates to the 2004 general election, the senior Prof. Chaudhuri did contest one election almost immediately after forming his party (or did he form the party for the purposes of fighting the election?). This was the Midnapore by-election in May 2001 necessitated by the demise of the late, great Indrajit Gupta. Needless to say, since management principles can never deliver a surefire way to win an Indian election, Prof. Chaudhuri lost and was placed last among the candidates.

And confirming my impression and assertion that government websites are an absolute goldmine of information, if you only know where to look, just check out what I found. Of course every candidate has to submit an affidavit declaring his/her total movable and immovable assets, and the Election Commission in it's infinitely tech-savvy avatar, has made this information available online. I would certainly encourage others to make use of this info and check out the asset declarations of local politicians and then try and match it up with they know about them. That'll be a super fun game to play.

Anyway, focussing on Dr. Chaudhuri, here is is declaration of assets. Here is a relevant page, and another one. Apparently, not only does Dr. Malay Chaudhuri not own a car, but the only house he owns is one worth Rs. 2 lakh (approx $4500)in Uttar Para, Nadia (a small suburban town close to Calcutta) where he shares ownership with his daughter. Contrast this with the Jaguar and BMW that Arindam Chaudhuri allegedly has, and you think, damn, the old man is having it rough! Sure he does have around Rs. 22 lakhs (approx $49000) as bank deposits and savings but those are supposed to be the savings of a lifetime, small change for a man who was the Director of a major management institute till recently.

(Copyright: Election Commission of India)

And here is one of the most interesting parts of the story. Here's the part of the affidvit that declares Dr. Malay Chaudhuri's educational record. I reproduce verbatim:

Ram Krishan Mission Jamshedpur High Secondary 1953
Presidency College, Calcutta University BA (Hons) 1957
Berlin School of Economics M.Sc. 1962
Berlin School of Economics Ph.D. 1963
Berlin School of Economics D.Sc. 1970

(Copyright: Election Commission of India)

Ok, this is on record. And very, very easy to verify. So Presidency alumni (you know who you are), jog up your alumni networks and try and see if the Presidency connection can be verified. About the Berlin part, I'm still trying to make sense of this one. I know the German system is kinda strange, but a PhD in one year! And the Berlin School of Economics states that it started in 1971 on its website (are they lying?). Perhaps it existed in another incarnation before morphing into the Berlin School of Economics in its present form? Is there another Berlin School of Economics? The mind boggles.

So this is how the IIPM and Chaudhuri saga stands so far. I'm raring to dig more, but I'm hungry and I strongly suspect I'm hypoglycemic, and so food must be consumed. Watch the space for more updates

Disclaimer: I'm grateful to Navin for pointing this out. I submit that the information reproduced here (with credit and URL reference to the Election Commission website) is solely for information and research purposes. Also, the information in the documents have not been altered and modified in anyway, and the quotes have been reproduced verbatim.

Update: Here is a great post by Sumeet that clarifies some of the things that I've always vaguely known about the German education system. Saves me the trouble of having to email German friends.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Festive Season

Aapnaader Sabaike Bijoyar Abhinandan O Shubhechchha!!

Shubho Bijoy and a very Happy Dussehra to everyone!

And a Very Happy Rosh Hashanah!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Earthquake in Kashmir and Relief Efforts

Here's moving on to more pressing issues. It's terrible to watch the images of devastation emerging from both sides of Kashmir as people attempt to come to terms with unimaginable grief. And all this so soon after the deadly tsunami, it's just such an overwhelming challenge for South Asia. I've become very skeptical of a lot of relief agencies lately, but I still retain considerable trust in Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), and am very proud of the fact that my friend Alex joined the organization recently. MSF is organizing relief efforts in the region, it makes sense to donate to them. Otherwise, if anyone knows the names of any Kashmiri NGOs, please do let me know.

My thoughts are with the Kashmiris, and let's hope that relief arrives promptly to help them rebuild their lives.

Monday, October 10, 2005

My Take on the IIPM Saga

After I wrote my last post, the IIPM matter has snowballed and has since spawned two legal notices, two threatening phone calls and one principled resignation. Desipundit has done a stellar job of assembling the many diverse voices in the Indian blogosphere that have united in condemning the appallingly strong arm tactics used by IIPM to silence criticism against the institute. Rather than rehash all that has been already been said, I would direct you to Desipundit and the excellent coverage on K's blog of the issues involved. Here's simply my impression of what are the most important issues at stake and why we should care:

Given the fact that I spent an entire summer translating the Indian Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code from English to simple, everyday Hindi (for a legal literacy series), I like to refer to the letter of the law when possible. So of course I looked up Sec. 499 of the Indian Penal Code that deals directly with defamation, a terribly antiquated piece of legislation conceived by the British colonial powers in 1860 to squash Indian dissent. The law has been heavily criticised by media and political activists in India, and is long overdue for reform. And certainly as long as it exists in it's present form, with possible prison sentences for presumed defamation, it would hang as a Damocles' sword over all who wish to practice free speech in India.

For those curious about the legislation, check out this excellent overview and the bare text of the Indian Penal Code whose Chapter XXI deals with defamation. Bear in mind that the law was drafted with only print material in mind, and jurispudence in India hasn't figured out a way to handle electronic media and the cyber world. As far as I am concerned, the law contravenes the Fundamental Right under Indian Constitution of freedom of speech and expression, and I'm surprised that it hasn't been challenged and struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of India.

Certainly IIPM is well within it's rights to serve legal notice to JAM and Gaurav for presumed defamation. Given the past history of judgments on such cases (especially if the case can be taken directly to the Supreme Court under the Fundamental Right of freedom of speech and expression), I would presume IIPM doesn't have a chance in hell with this one. In fact if indeed push come to shove, there are any number of legal and civil rights activists in India who'd be more than happy to take IIPM to the cleaners for this attack on free speech.

But what really makes me angry and provokes a public stand are the shocking tactics adoped by IIPM to intimidate Gaurav into retracting his statements. The language of their presumed "legal notice" to Gaurav was offensive enough, but calling his employers at IBM and threatening them with retaliatory action if they didn't shut Gaurav down (which to its eternal credit, IBM didn't) is not only despicable, it is positively criminal. Such undemocratic behaviour has no place in civic society, and the least we can do (hapless common citizens that we are) is to keep it away from at least our educational institutions (since we seem to be woefully unable to stop such thuggery elsewhere in Indian civic space).

The other more minor point that I wish to make is an extension of what I said in my last post about Arindam Chaudhuri, so called management guru, and inexorably associated with IIPM (an institute he inherits from his father who founded it). Call me a snob, but I'm an out and out meritocrat. I do believe that you need to do something more than cobble together cliches and unleash a PR blitz to become a credible expert in something. As things stand, Arindam's published work or his professional contribution does not qualify him to become a a management guru (which I define to mean an expert in the field) by any possible intellectual assessment. And both the fields of professional and academic management have come a long way since the time that homilies could be passed off as management insights.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Constructing Celebrity in Contemporary India

This post by K got me wondering about the process of celebrity creation in India. I guess after decades of socialist stupor and seeing the mugs of politicians plastered in newspapers day in and day out, we felt the need to invent other stars. The very fact of an increase in celeb population doesn't bother me one bit, in fact I think it makes for a more interesting social scene and adds to our general gossip making potential. What worries me a teeny bit is the uncritical acceptance of the credentials of just about anyone for celebritihood. I'm usually loathe to point accusing fingers at the Indian media (though I do hate the Aajtak website for screwing up my subscription, damn you Prabhu Chawla), because they are pilloried quite a bit already. But seriously, it's not a bad idea to cross check the claims made by some people before providing them with precious newsprint and hence oodles of free publicity. Let me illustrate with two examples:

The first is Arindam Chaudhuri, who's already featured in two blogs because his institute, IIPM, threatened to sue a blogger because he linked to an article that sought to investigate the dubious claims made by his institute in print ads. Arindam is widely introduced as a management guru and visionary in many well-established mainstream publications in India. I have not read his DIY management book, but I do know that no work of his has perhaps ever graced the pages of a peer-reviewed journal. His professional experience is limited to being the Dean at the institute that was founded by his father, which is also where he obtained his MBA degree. Whatever little I've read of his ideas, I shudder to think of a working manager taking them seriously. And yet our man gets feted with awards, features prominently in the media and is a fixture on the management lecture and seminar circuit. I wonder how and why he manages to pull this off.

Arindam Chaudhuri is an extreme example, but there are others who perhaps do deserve their success but are allowed to get away with absurdities just because someone was too bored or lazy to run their press releases through fact checkers. Witness this news item, and I quote:

In fact, Olive - Delhi (there's one in Mumbai too), says its Manager - Operations, Tanvir Nizam, is the only restaurant in India to make it to the Conde Nast Traveller's list in 2004, sharing the honour with Gordon Ramsay, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon.

Wow. Thomas Keller, Alain Ducasse, are you guys serious? I was quite happy that an Indian restaurant had been judged to be the culinary equal of such greats as The French Laundry, but also puzzled that they had picked one serving pan-Mediterranean rather than Indian cuisine. So I hopped over to the Conde Nast Traveller website, and this is what I find. Turns out it just made it to the list of new restaurants, hence the presence of the august company of Keller, Ducasse and Robuchon, who were opening second or third ventures. The list is picked by Condy's inhouse staff rather than readers, which explains the puzzling inclusion of so many celebrity chef restaurants. So technically the Olive staff are right, but strictly speaking I don't think any serious publication should allow a restaurant to get away with the misleading assertion that they belong right at the top with the best in the world.

Actually the chef behind Oliva/Olive Moshe Shek is quite an intriguing character as well. Curious about the current culinary scene in India I tried to find more information about him. In interview after interview, reporters mention the fact that he worked in a kibbutz as part of his resume as a chef. Now I have friends whose families, or they themselves have lived and worked in kibbutzes, but certainly they didn't think it qualified them to become professional chefs. There is mention of having worked for the Hilton Group, but no mention of specific restaurants, or responsibilities undertaken (was he a line or a sous chef, or a hospitality manager). I'll let pass his reference to Schnitzel as "typical Israeli food" because there is considerable debate about what constitutes "Israeli cuisine".

Also I have my own opinion about this whole business of a restaurant serving pan-Mediterranean cuisine. I mean innovative cusine is exciting, and fusion can work at times, but representing accurately the culinary heritage of a bunch of Mediterranean nations is a great challenge that even the best of chefs can stumble with. I've been cooking and reading up on Greek cuisine for the last three years, and I still feel apprehensive serving a Greek dish to someone who is Greek. I genuinely think I know very little about the cuisine and have a lot to learn, and hence pardon the my skepticism about claims to serve Sicilian, Genovese, Greek, Turkish, and Israeli cuisines, all under one roof. Serving a bunch of cuisines together in one restaurant simply because all use olive oil is as absurd as serving Swedish and Japanese food together, because both have raw fish as ingredient.

But of course, in the current scramble for celeb cred, pan Mediterranean is more exotic than just plain old Lucknowi kebabs. Toss in an Israeli connection, a stint in Switzerland and you've got the foreign mystique. Apparently working in a kibbutz helps as well. And for some, just a ponytail and dorky glasses would do just fine.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Wine-drenched evenings, and why academia is good

Ok, why do they let graduate students anywhere near free alcohol? civilized, a little reception to meet the new Dean, delicate hors d'oeuvres (I had to google the spelling), and wine and a few beers. And of course endless tra la la schmoozing. Oh how nice to see you, you work for so and so, oh delighted and la-ti-da and all that jazz. But don't you see, there's something fundamentally wrong with this equation? Unlimited booze + microscopic nibbles = very buzzed and bumbling PhD student.

It starts off pretty well. You make small talk with the advisor about funding and potential proposals and conference paperrs. You move on to cool dude professor and ask about his trips and all the cool stuff he's done since you last met him. By that time, you're on to your third glass of wine (but it's white!!!!! so? dumkopf, how does that make a difference?). And then, you try to score an intro with an alumnus. Not because he is a big shot working for some big public agency, but because he has a Greek name (how fucking cool, my boyfriend's Greek too). But he thinks you are a serious ambitious student out to network (because you want a job), but then the wine makes you blabber that the real reason you came and talked to him is because he had a Greek name. After establishing your wacko credentials, you decide to avoid faculty and alumnus altogether, but then you turn and almost run into a faculty member.

Oh, where were you? Well, says faculty member, I was attending a talk on the life of Thelonius Monk. Huh? Thelonius Monk who? (Oh must you be such a philistine, so aesthetically depraved, and no it's not the wine, I had no clue who Thelonius Monk was). Turns out he is genius jazz pianist, and someone decided to write his biography and give a talk on it. My alcohol bombarded brain cells make appropriate noises about the revival of the biography genre (talking off my ass was invented for me), and faculty member appears suitably mollified (or puzzled) to move on to tete-a-tete with the Dean.

I decide it's time to make a gracious exit, and yak off some more with another grad student making his exit with me. He's a bit of a newbie, has been in the department for about a year, so I was in the peculiar position of imparting superior wisdom and all the dirty department gossip. Suddenly, I remembered I had not see two faculty members whom I admired immensely for almost a year. Do we form bonds in sterile academia? Sometimes. I parted with the other guy at the bus stop and walked home, dropped a sheaf of papers I held a couple of times, had the urge to kiss a bunch of boys eating dinner at a sidewalk cafe (why? oh wine-induced altruism or horniness, can't tell which is which) and gazed at the sky and became sad-happy. I felt (or perhaps wanted to be) the French boy stereotype, baguette under one arm, a bottle of wine in the other hand, and humming Jacques Brel or Georges Brassens, blowing kisses at the pretty boys and with a swing in my step (honestly I couldn't swing even if I wanted to, suffice to say that wine is very diuretic).

Two hours later:

Ok, never ever leave a post unfinished, because now that the wine buzz wore off I'm wondering how I could have been speaking of all that tra la la joy, when I just finished arguing with the boyfriend, and yes all men are pigs, and yes I will retract tomorrow and say there is no sweeter angel than S, but now I'm pissed. Let's remember better times.

The one time, last year, when we were at a conference in that modernist disaster of a university town Grenoble in France, right next door to the adorable Lyon (just go to Lyon and stay there, do not take the train to Grenoble). And on the last day of the conference we had a big dinner consisting of alumni from our university around the world who had travelled to this conference. And after that we had the most amazing night of bar-crawling with me, Illy, a senior professor of ours, Deep (who heads a research centre in our school) and a Mexican professor. We walked around the town, from its Italian quarters (the bar-owner was hilarious with his DeNiro impersonation) to Spanish tapas bar, to a solid French cafe. We went from liquor to liquor, downing shots of armagnac, which incidentally is so much better than whiskey or cognac. And talked and laughed, and planned conferences and vacation trips. And at the end of the night, we stood on the bridge over the river next to the town, and admired the little castle on the hill.

I'll save the story about sharing a vodka shot with a mafia don in Napoli for later. Such memories.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The story tag

I've been tagged by the poison pen, but I've already fulfilled part of my obligation (and rambled on some more) here. So now for the other part, the 55 word story. I wouldn't pretend that I haven't tried writing short stories before, but I'm glad I don't have access to those stories anymore, because it saved my body a few shudders. Here it is then, in all its Nelsonian glory:

She gently dipped her toe in the water. He flung his cracked beer bottle into the waves. She shot him a withering look, as he rolled on the sand, breathing the pungent reek of rotting kelp. She pursed her lips, as he rushed for the waves. And thought, by the next vacation, he’ll be domesticated.

Now who can I pass this on to? Perhaps Adagio, K, and certainly Kathryn would be up to it!

You know I won't ask, but do tell!

My social life is in a rut and I blame it all on lazy ass friends. Actually the biggest culprit is the boyfriend, who has discovered the joys of weekend sailing races. So off he goes, joining the crew of one boat or another, and enjoys the nibbles at the yacht club afterwards, making small talk with the ancient mariners, the only ones who can afford to, or be interested in belonging to a yacht club. Last weekend he met an 83 year old man and his wife who race their sailboat every weekend, which is actually very cool. So I've been stuck at home on weekends, eating one batch of papaya salad after another (note to self: a whole papaya makes a lot of papaya salads).

Last night Suze and I were lamenting over the phone that there was no gossip to be heard about anyone. Yes, we do need to know how others are having all the fun to validate our existence, so shoot us now. Honestly, I grew up with a bit of a distaste for romantic gossip, because all the nosey housewives of my neighbourhood were super-efficient gossip generators, a lot of it concocted. I don't know why it bothered me, frankly now, I couldn't give a toss, and wish I had scored high on their slut-o-meter. In fact there were others in my neighbourhood who had a more sanguine view of things. One of my friends, newly anointed slut because she had kissed a younger boy on the cheek in full public view laughed when I told her the nasty stuff that these women had said to my mother about her. "Oh c'mon sweetheart, these women are bored out of their minds sitting at home. They do need to amuse themselves. I'm just happy to provide them with a few hours of joy". And besides, she reminded me, we gossiped about our friends all the time, though we usually refrained from asking nosey questions or starting false rumours.

The real reason why I could afford to have this "oh I find gossiping so beneath me" persona was that I went to school with and also lived next door to a bunch of attention-seeking, exhibitionist divas. These girls were dying to show off their love lives, and I seemed to be a favourite target, because a) I was to be pitied as a boyfriend-less nerdy bookworm and b) I didn't ask questions, so I could be trusted to not tell. So I had to listen to all the boyfriend stories of these girls, till I couldn't tell the men apart, and realized the evil capitalist genius of Valentine's Day. Some of the boys of the class confided in me too, and these stories were juicier, because some of them was being pursued by girls from the class who already had boyfriends but wished to carry on regardless. The school was never short of gossip, and yet the girls bitched about the "slutty girls from other schools" and how we were oh so better than them.

I think at some point I did come to terms with the fact that I love gossip, I love to know what's going on in the lives of my friends, and no there is no malice in the desire. However, the one habit I did carry over from my supercillious teenage years was to not ask any pointedly personal questions of my friends. So generally, if you don't tell, I won't ask. Which can make for strange situations where I would be the last to know about a friend's new boyfriend after half the world asked and confirmed. And then, she would say in an accusatory tone - "But you never asked!". Yes honey, and you never told. Sometimes I fear that I may not be able to be of solace and comfort to someone going through a rough patch simply because I wouldn't be able to muster enough courage to ask.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Dark clouds over the clouds' abode

This incident deeply anguishes me. There is a lot of news around the world that makes me very sad, but somehow there is a deeper personal note here. I have always been fascinated by India's North-east, althought the furthest I travelled was Guwahati in Assam. I still have very fond memories of the place. In college, many of my buddies were from the North-east, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Nagaland, etc., warm, fun, intelligent and generous. And I do have an elaborate plan of traversing the region when I have the resources and time to do so.

Firing with assault rifles on a crowd of student protestors is not acceptable. There are more humane and effective ways of dealing with the situation, but given the heavy handed way in which the region has been ruled for decades by the Indian central government, I'm not surprised. Even now, instead of trying to hold the guilty officers accountable, the government chooses to call out the Army and impose curfew in the region. That's been the stock response for years every time protests have errupted for altogether genuine grievances in the region, call the Army, impose curfew.

Given the fact that India has had to increasingly come to terms with regional assertion in the past decade, hopefully the central government would not become paranoid about protests in the region and treat every such move as a step towards secession. Let's hope we've matured enough as a democracy to deal with this in civilized ways.