Thursday, May 31, 2007

Free Kian and Haleh

Sign the petition to free them here and here.

About Kian and his detention:

Kian Tajbakhsh is an internationally-respected scholar, social scientist and urban planner. He is a dual citizen of the United States and Iran, and has taught at both American and Iranian universities. Dr. Tajbakhsh is also an international expert in the areas of local government reform, urban planning, public health, and social policy. He has consulted for several Iranian government organizations, including the Municipalities Organization, the Social Security Organization, and the Ministry of the Interior, and with international nongovernmental organizations such as the World Bank, the Open Society Institute, and the Netherlands Association of Municipalities. His work in Iran has included evaluating humanitarian relief and rebuilding projects in the aftermath of the devastating 2003 earthquake in Bam.

Dr. Tajbakhsh’s academic research examines the evolving nature of Iranian state institutions and the policy-making process in Iran. In 2006, he completed a three-year study of the local government sector in Iran. He is the author of two books, The Promise of the City: Space, Identity and Politics in Contemporary Social Thought (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press 2001), and Social Capital: Trust, Democracy and Development (Tehran: Shiraze Publishers 2005, in Persian). He has also published numerous scholarly articles, as well as non-academic writings on cinema and culture.

From 1994 until 2001, Dr. Tajbakhsh taught Urban Policy and Politics at the New School for Social Research in New York City. He received his BA from Imperial College, London in 1983, his M.Sc. from University College, London in 1984, and his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1993. He is a member of the American Sociological Association and the Iranian Sociological Association.

Kian Tajbakhsh was arrested at his home in Tehran on May 11, 2007, and has been held without charge in Evin Prison since.

About Haleh and her detention:

Haleh Esfandiari is the Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. She is a 67-year-old Iranian-American who came to the US over 25 years ago. A recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Grant, she is an expert on Middle Eastern women’s issues and Iranian affairs.

Dr. Esfandiari is held in high regard by academics and civil society professionals across the Middle East. She has organized many seminars in the region bringing together diverse Middle Eastern thinkers, particularly women’s rights experts. She is known for her kind demeanor, academic integrity, and enthusiastic networking.

Dr. Esfandiari regularly travels to Iran to visit her elderly mother. On December 30, 2006, she was in Iran heading to Tehran’s international airport to return to Washington. Masked gunmen ambushed her taxi and stole her luggage, including her Iranian and U.S. passports.

When Dr. Esfandiari went to replace her passport, she was sent to the Intelligence Ministry for interrogation. For four months she was held under effective house arrest and repeatedly interrogated. In February, Lee Hamilton, the director of the Wilson Center, wrote to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asking that Dr. Esfandiari be allowed to leave Iran. He received no reply.

In early May, Dr. Esfandiari received a call from the ministry suggesting she “cooperate” (i.e., confess), an offer she declined. On May 8, security forces took her away to Evin Prison, though she has not been formally charged with any crime. Evin Prison is notorious its harsh treatment of political prisoners. In 2003, Iranian-Canadian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi was killed during her interrogation in the prison.

The arrest of Dr. Esfandiari has been condemned by the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the International Herald Tribune, and Human Rights Watch. Her colleagues from around the world fear for her health and her safety. They call on the Iranian government to correct the mistake that has been made and free Haleh at once.

The “Free Haleh” campaign has been initiated by the American Islamic Congress in conjunction with Ibn Khaldoun Center in Cairo, the Initiative for Inclusive Security in Washington, Freedom House and the Kuwaiti Economic Society.

Talk to foreigners and we will view you as a spy - What crap!

Academics in Iran have been asked not to travel abroad for conferences... The blunt warning has been issued by the ministry's counter-espionage director in an atmosphere of rising suspicion and paranoia as Iran claims to have cracked a CIA-backed spy ring and has charged three American citizens with spying.

"I have been told that my services will not be required in the next academic year, even though I am not close to retirement age and they need lecturers in my field," one social scientist, who has taught in the US, told the Guardian. "I was told that I was in touch with quite a few foreign academics and travelled abroad quite frequently to lectures and, therefore, I was a suspicious person. They warned that if I followed it up and created publicity, they would make more trouble for me and even threatened my family. It's terrible. For the first time in my life I have the feeling I'm living in a police state. I think things will get worse before they get better." More from Guardian.

Is Sarkozy banalising the French presidency?

Elegant or gauche? Don't miss the gold chain around Sarkozy's neck! Megalomaniac to the core, I think he is a more suave version of Hugo Chavez

Excellent article in NYT. Some extracts that caught my attention:

To their admirers, the Sarkozys are the French Kennedys: the president is outdoorsy and athletic, the first lady beautiful and designer-dressed, the passel of children smiling and photogenic.

To their detractors, the Sarkozys are more like Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his clan: showy, vulgar, acquisitive, more nouveaux riche than old mon

Gone are the much older and more formal Chiracs, with their discretion, impeccable manners, old-fashioned style and easy slow motion.

In their place is a 52-year-old president, armed with naked ambition, a hyperactive style and close friendships with some of France’s richest men.

“They look like an ordinary French family — divorced, remarried — with all their problems out in the open,” said Marie-Pierre Lannelongue, a senior editor at French Elle. “Before when the president was unfaithful everyone knew about it but no one talked about it. Here is a great drama of love with its ups and downs. Everyone’s talking about the first lady: Were there suicide attempts? Why did she come back? We don’t know exactly but we want to know.”

But showing off one’s money is considered culturally vulgar in France; discretion is respected. And if the Figaro poll is to be believed, 52 percent of the French believe that Mr. Sarkozy is “flashy.”

His first act after his electoral victory was announced was to dine with Cécilia, other family members and friends at Fouquet’s, a touristy Champs-Élyseés restaurant owned by a business group better known for its casinos. His postelection two-day minivacation with her and their son Louis spent in the Mediterranean aboard the 190-foot yacht of a billionaire friend was mercilessly criticized by both the political elite and the man on the street.

“You cannot identify with General de Gaulle and behave like Silvio Berlusconi,” the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut wrote in Le Monde. He added, “For three days, he made us ashamed.”

Certainly, both Sarkozys seem to resist understated, traditional dress and reject stately protocol. The cover of this week’s popular magazine VSD ran a photo taken last summer of Mr. Sarkozy in a dark suit without a tie, his white shirt unbuttoned enough to reveal a gold chain around his neck. Mrs. Sarkozy wore oversize aviator glasses but not enough undergarments to hide the contours of her breasts or her panty line.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"We are stuck between tradition and modernity"

Iran, despite its image abroad as a repressive society, has a flourishing civil society and an even more lively arts scene. One of contemporary Iran's luminaries is Shadi Ghadirian, a woman photographer who is known for her Qajar series that depict the Iranian woman with certain modern objects but in a setting similar to those found in 19th century photos in Iran. “My pictures became a mirror reflecting how I felt: we are stuck between tradition and modernity,” she said in an interview to NYT. The report also claims that there are many pictures of nude women that have been stashed away in a vault since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Here is a detailed interview with Shadi.

A 19th century photograph of the king's wives from Tehran's Golestan Palace Museum

Some of Shadi's works

What have we come to?

At least 14 people killed... A community (Gujjars) clamouring to be included in a more backward category (ST) than the one they are in now (OBC)... What have we come to? Thanks to sinister casteist politics, Indians are at each others throats. Apparently, the BJP had promised the Gujjars before the state elections that it would recommend their inclusion in the ST category but didn't follow it up after coming to power. This reaffirms that reservation and other benefits should be accorded only on the basis of need. Those who need it most should get it. Why should politicians continue to divide us for their votes?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Iran charges Iranian Indophile of "spying"

This is most unfortunate... Iran has formally charged two Iranian- American academics currently in jail in Tehran with espionage. They include Kian Tajbakhsh (Indophile) and Haleh Esfandiari.

Monday, May 28, 2007

What is Iran reading?

Seeking Signs of Literary Life in Iran


When I moved to Iran in 2000 to work as a journalist, I aspired to belong to a literary circle not unlike that of the engaged women of Azar Nafisi’s “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” who found relief from their authoritarian society in the imaginative world of novels. That bookstores did not exist as such — there were only bookstore/stationery stores, or bookstore/toy stores — was the first sign my plan might not work. I initially mistook Tehran’s most popular bookstore, with its windows full of weathered copper pots and other bric-a-brac, for an antique shop. Inside, the floor space dedicated to books was roughly a quarter of th

at taken up by kilims, cactuses and Lego sets. “I’m embarrassed to call myself a bookseller,” one store owner told me recently, gazing at the wall of Hello Kitty accessories that dominated his shop. In the hour we spent talking, customers came in to buy watch batteries, a condolence card, wrapping paper and a compass. Not a single person bought a book.

When I failed to persuade any of the women I knew to form a book club (they found the suggestion precious and downright impractical, given Tehran traffic), I began to wonder why books figured so little in the lives of my otherwise intellectually curious friends. But during the long afternoons I spent exploring the cramped storefront shops attached to the publishing houses on Karim Khan-e Zand Street, I grew to understand their reluctance. By and large, the books Iranians seemed to be reading did not lend themselves to discussion, except with a therapist.

Self-help books and their eclectic offshoots, on topics like Indian spirituality and feng shui, enjoy the most prominent position on bookstore front tables. The emergence of the genre, which did not exist before the 1979 Islamic revolution, may suggest a culture trying to cope with the erosion of traditional gender roles, or with rising rates of divorce and premarital sex. But Iranian intellectuals are quick to blame “cultural repression and spiritual crisis,” as one prominent magazine editor said to me, or as a friend who owns a bookstore put it, Iranians who have “lost their minds.” The success of translated titles like “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” has given rise to some homegrown authors’ specializing in more culturally specific advice. The title of one current best seller, Mahmoud Namany’s “Please Do Not Be a Sheep,” is borrowed from Ali Shariati, the Islamist sociologist who helped inspire the revolution. With chapter titles like “Grief Therapy” and “How to Choose Friends,” it tailors its vision of self-fulfillment to a society where you are expected to commemorate even the anniversary of the death of your paternal great-aunt. “Do you want to be an exalted human, a cud-regurgitating animal, filth or an angel?” Namany asks in one chapter.

When Iranians aren’t reading about depression or the harmonious arrangement of furniture, they’re drawn to soap-opera-ish novels about family life and chaste, unrequited love, bearing titles like “The Solitude of Lonely Nights.” After the revolution, which created a caste of literate women with no more social clubs or cultural centers to frequent, the market for women’s popular fiction swelled. Demand is highest for Persian translations of Danielle Steel (with intimate scenes either blotted out or obliterated by euphemism) and her Iranian equivalents, Fahimeh Rahimi and M. Moaddabpour, neither of whom has ever been seen on television (used in Iran mainly to promote state ideology, soap and rice). The most popular novel of the last two decades, Fattaneh Haj Seyyed Javadi’s “Listless Morning,” about an idle aristocratic family under the 19th-century Qajar monarchy, has sold an unheard-of 185,000 copies since 1998 and spawned dozens of imitations.

When I arrived seven years ago, writers and publishers were making the same predictions about the impending death of reading heard perennially in the United States. In a nation of 70 million with a nearly 80 percent literacy rate and a centuries-old literary tradition, they argued, book sales — 40,000 copies for a typical commercial best seller and 2,000 to 5,000 for novels and literary nonfiction — were dismal. According to Mohammad-Reza Neymatpour of the Nashr-e Nay publishing house, sales have been declining steadily since 1979. Though books are inexpensive by any standard — generally costing no more than the price of a couple of sandwiches — little in public life encourages reading. There are few public libraries, no reading contests in schools and scarce promotion of any book apart from the book. (Billboards inform Iranians that if they can memorize the Koran in its entirety, they will be awarded a formal university degree.) Even the government is growing concerned. In advance of the Tehran Book Fair, held earlier this month, the state newspaper, Iran, published a scolding article under the headline “Let Us Learn How to Read.” In April, an announcer on state radio lamented that the average Iranian spends only 16 seconds a day reading.

From 1999 to 2002, during the hopeful presidency of the reform-minded Mohammad Khatami (a former head of Iran’s national library), Iran seemed to be undergoing a literary revival. The publishing houses with in-store shops invested in attractive décor, better lighting and cafes. I would meet friends for coffee, browse magazines and take home a few books, which suddenly had elegant ornamental covers — the complete Barnes & Noble experience.

But much like the Khatami era itself, Tehran’s literary spring was fleeting. Independent journalists published a handful of daring books, most importantly Akbar Ganji’s “Dark House of Ghosts,” which implicated senior officials in the killings of intellectuals in the late 1990s. But as the hard-line establishment cracked down, several journalist-authors went to prison, and many in-store cafes were closed on various pretexts. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance was chastised for relaxing its standards and resumed vetting books with the same humorless strictness.

The ministry checks manuscripts mainly for erotic and religious transgression. Today, if a novel has made it past the censors, most Iranians assume that it has been tampered with and that they are better off searching for the Shah-era edition or the bootleg film version. Even in fiction, all relationships must conform to Islamic law. In the most recent vetted edition of “Madame Bovary,” for example, Emma’s adultery is omitted. Characters in Western novels who drink Champagne or whiskey find themselves uniformly sipping doogh, an Iranian yogurt soda that has never made anyone tipsy.

Occasionally, a work of homegrown fiction manages to be both absorbing and benign by the standards of Islamic decency. Saideh Ghods’s best-selling novel “Kimia Khatoun,” which revisits the life of Shams-e Tabrizi, the Sufi mystic who inspired the poetry of Rumi, from the perspective of Tabrizi’s discontented wife, is a case in point. Published in 2004, it stirred huge controversy for its powerful feminist narrative and bold suggestion that the women behind Persia’s great literary men might have preferred to be elsewhere.

Still, for every successful novel, there are 10 that never make

it past the censor or off the author’s desk. In some cases, the authorities embargo published books after they have already approved them. As a result, publishers are reluctant to commission new works and often sit on manuscripts for years. Some have turned away from contemporary literature altogether. The Western fascination with Rumi, for example, has heightened the already enthusiastic interest in Iran, and publishers are putting out new criticism and fresh translations. “The Persian classics create fewer problems,” Mohammad-Reza Zolfaghari, an editor at the Chaveh publishing house, said.

For some, literary journalism offers something of a way

out. Though they practice self-censorship, the dozens of small magazines that thrive in Iran find themselves less constricted. With circulations of 2,000 to 5,000, they offer a mélange of criticism, essays and sketches by accomplished, polyglot writers who in a different Iran would be writing books. “Since people don’t trust books anymore, it is the journals that are keeping literary culture alive,” Reza Seyyed Hosseini, Iran’s pre-eminent translator of French literature, said. They also expose Iranians to international authors. At a former military barracks bequeathed by Khatami to “art,” the journal Bukhara hosts a popular evening literary series dedicated to writers like Umberto Eco and Orhan Pamuk — the first time in recent history that literary events have figured importantly in Tehran’s cultural calendar.

Still, Iranians face the sometimes difficult task of tracking down those authors’ work. Often the search leads to the book stalls around Tehran University, which do a brisk black-market trade. Like booksellers everywhere, the proprietors are brimming with recommendations. When I bought a Virginia Woolf novel not long ago, one confided, “If you give me a week, I can get you Joyce Carol Oates.”

Azadeh Moaveni, who reports from Tehran for Time, is the

author of “Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran.” She is at work on a book about starting a family in Tehran.

Oil and Censorship: Would West Asia be more free without oil?

The two are as intimate as blood and nationalism are. "The First Law of Petropolitics," according to Thomas Friedman, is that "the price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions in oil-rich petrolist states." The Christian Science Monitor reports on the trend of increasing censorship in Iran , Russia and Venezuela - all of whom have benefited from rising oil prices. The money helps ruling regimes buy off the opposition and create the resources needed to contain them.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Photojournalism at its finest

Left, Mahmud Hams/AFP-Getty Images; right, Adel Hana/Associated Press

Palestinians, left, ran as a missile fired by the Israeli Army came down on a Hamas post in the central Gaza strip. A Palestinian boy, right, reacted to the blast. The Israelis hit at least eight different locations.

"Terrible, Horrible, Unacceptable"

This image has not been taken in the wild. It's from a "zoo of horror" in China, where live animals, like this buffalo, are released into enclosures that house big cats. Worse, all this to please wacko Chinese visitors who apparently want to enjoy the "safari" from their cars. A Le Monde report summed it up best: "La Chine n'a jamais été célèbre pour le respect des droits humains, et encore moins ceux des animaux", explique Christophe Marie, de la fondation Brigitte Bardot. ("China was never celebrated for its respect for human rights, even less so for those of animals," explains Christophe Marie of the Brigitte Bardot Foundation.) And if you have the heart to watch the action, here it is. There more of insensitivity and insanity in the video.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why are products from China so cheap? Because they are substandard and even poisonous!

First it was the pet food scandal... Then came the cough syrup disaster... Now it's the toothpaste trauma... All of it in a year and from China! All toothpaste consignments from China are now under the scanner in the US as some batches in Panama and the Dominican Republic were found to contain diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used as a coolant in engines.

(You might as well use one without toothpaste. Image from

This follows revelations by New York Times that glycerine exported by China to be used as a solvent for cough syrup was actually diethylene glycol. This killed over 50 persons in Panama! Then came the pet food scam where pet food from China killed several pets because it contained, no surprise, melamine. These instances drive home one point... If a product is available cheap, it just means we are putting off the cost for a latter period - whether it is paid in terms of poorer health or enviornmental damage. A t-shirt may cost Rs 50 instead of the usual Rs 300 but that means unethical farming, lack of respect for farming labour and unsustainable manufacturing processes, among others. We might as well pay an affordable cost right now rather than paying with our lives at a later stage.

The Islamic Republic "detains" second Iranian-American scholar

This time it is Kian Tajbakhsh, an indophile. A BBC report says the Soros Foundation has expressed concern about the scholar who it says was detained in Iran earlier this month. Tajbakhsh works as its consultant to facilitate public health and humanitarian assistance with the knowledge of the Iranian government. We already know Haleh Esfandiari, another American-Iranian scholar, was detained in December last year. Such detentions are regular in Iran. Another Iranian indophile (Ramin Jahanbegloo) was in the news for the same reason when he was detained at the airport in Tehran in April 2006 after his arrival from India. He was released in August from Evin, the notorious prison in Tehran after widespread international opposition, including from several Nobel laureates and the EU. Jahanbegloo, who was a rofessor of democracy at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, was detained allegedly for his comments on Ahmadinejad and the holocaust in an interview to a Spanish newspaper.

Coming to Tajbakhsh, this news is far more shocking because I met him while I was in Iran last May working on my thesis on Indo-Iranian relations. He came across as somebody very eloquent on Indo-Iranian ties and argued how Iran has had a huge influence on Indian literature but that India, on the other hand, has had little impact on the insular Iranian society. I sincerely hope and pray for his imemdiate safe release.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why Indo-Pak bonhomie is not good for the Democratic Republic of Congo...

Shamelessly, Pakistani UN peacekeepers, in collusion with Indian businessmen from Kenya, have been smuggling out gold from DRC by re-arming the militias they were supposed to disarm and disband. This is growing to be a major scandal... More here.

Can we create an ethical Indian man?

BBC's Newsnight team travelled to Mumbai earlier this month as part of their series on global warming and ethical living. Unfortunately much of the debate on this issue remains trapped in two extreme positions like Justin Rowlatt of the Newsnight team points out:

A) That India is a world-class polluter... It has already overtaken Japan to become the fourth biggest producer of greenhouse gases on earth. In 2000 India was responsible for 1.89 billion tonnes of CO2 (5.6 per cent of the world total) – just a few million tonnes behind the Russian Federation - 1.91 billion tonnes (5.7%).


B) That the per capita pollution is minute compared to most countries... Between 1950 and 2000 each American produced 642.0 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Each Briton toted up 499.1 tonnes. Over the same period the average Indian was responsible for just 16.5 tonnes. That is one of the lowest figures for any country on earth - 164th out of 185 countries - and is less than the average American is responsible for in a single year.

The way out has to do with greater thrust on alternative and cleaner technologies. The Indian government unfortunately remains entrenched in the first opinion and has done little (in other words needs to do far far more) to encourage cleaner technologies. Suzlon and Reva have taken the lead... Why cannot more companies follow suit? Why is public transport (buses) in Delhi and most cities still so miserable? Why cannot we have better transport so that fewer people uses their cars and bikes? Just because the western countries screwed the environment to develop doesn't mean India should also hurtle along the same path. The point that the Indian government needs to make effectively intenationally is that developed countires should do their best to transfer cleaner technologies to India and help improve our energy efficiency. Also, the Ministry of Environment and Forests needs to live up to its name... It has been sidelined for growth. What could be more ominous that the MoEF asking a government institute to "reconsider" (scroll to the bottom of the page) its position disallowing bauxite mining in Lanjigarh (Orissa)!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Passengers push train back into motion!

A stalled electric train in Bihar got a helpful nudge from hundreds of its passengers when it came to a halt in a neutral zone. A neutral zone is a zone that does not have live wires to power the locomotive. Normally, a train passes through sich zones because of its inertia while in motion. In this case, the train stopped in a similar zone when somebody pulled the emergency chain. So when the passengers got down to pushing the train, it toom them over 30 mins to get the train back to a live zone so that it could resume its journey! "In so many years of service in the railways, I have never come across such a bizarre incident," Deepak Kumar Jha, a spokesman for Indian Railways, told the Reuters news agency. Inspiring!

What about some tips from the French elections?

As France remained transfixed for weeks on the presidential elections, I couldn't help but admire that the French voters cared two hoots, and rightly so, about the private lives of their candidates. Segolene Royal, who made it to the second round, has been the private-life partner of Francois Holland, the first secretary of the French Socialist Party, since the 1970s. The couple have four children and are bound by PACS (civil pact of solidarity), which permits a civil union between two adults, regardless of their gender. All she was criticised for were her planned policies not her private life. Would India allow such a candidate to stand for elections? And how would we treat him or her? Even Sarkozy, who is divorced and has since remarried, would not pass muster.

(Sarkozy, the French president, jogging to the presidential residence)

And now we learn that, Francois Fillon, the newly nominated PM, and Sarkozy went for a jog together right after the former was sworn into office. Some say this is a symbolic gesture that the two are serious about getting the nation back on the move! Now, can you imagine Manmohan Singh and APJ Abdul Kalam doing the same? Out with gerontocracy!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Iran commits the very act it condemns

One one hand the Islamic Republic of Iran condemns the kidnapping of the BBC's Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston, and on the other it "detains" (kidnaps, in other words) Haleh Esfandiari, a leading Iranian-American academic at Woodrow Wilson Center in Washingston!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Outsourcing - A wise move for journalism?

"We seek a newspaper journalist based in India to report on the city government and political scene of Pasadena, California, USA." - A job posting from

I was stunned to read that the aforementioned news site has hired two journalists in India to report about local events in a place that's more than 5,000 kms away! The editor defends his decision because the weekly Pasadena City Council meetings can be watched over the Internet and that one is "still just a phone call or e-mail away from the interview". So journalism has now been reduced to a phone call and the Internet? Whatever happened to the cardinal necessity about being there on the site, about the importance of legwork that we learnt at journalism schools and about observing a person's mannerisms? And how well can Indian journalists, even if they have studied in California (as one of the two journalists hired by has), fare in understanding the nuances of the west coast? We'll have to keep a track on the kind of reports these journalists file. More on this blog later.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Gastronomic foreplay

While researching for an article I am writing, I came across a fascinating essay on the geopolitics of culinary traditions by Zilkia Janer. She argues very cogently how Indian cuisine should not be tailored to suit western culinary traditions that are "driven by the need for efficiency in the restaurant kitchen" and has to do more with the "ease of production and predictability than with taste". But what really stands out in her piece are these two paragraphs that describe the joy of Indian cooking:

Cleaning and preparing legumes and vegetables is a purer pleasure since it does not involve any guilt. It also provides many of the unsung delights of cooking. Only the cook gets to enjoy the dance of rice being washed in cold water, the snapping sound of beans coming out of their pods, the graininess of flour becoming smooth pliable dough, and the intoxicating aroma of onion, garlic, ginger and spices releasing the premiere of their aromas in the grinding stone. After cooking in this labour intensive way I realized that eating is only half the pleasure that food offers us. By the time my meals were ready I felt almost completely satisfied and needed to eat very little. I wonder whether the tendency to over-eat in industrialized societies is a way to compensate for the alienation from food production and preparation.

Eating a proper meal in India is a full sensual experience. Dishes of contrasting colours, aromas and tastes are enjoyed following a relatively flexible order. Learning to eat with my fingers was another revelation. Touching your food allows you to extend the pleasure of eating by anticipating how the texture of the food will feel in the mouth; it is an exquisite gastronomic foreplay.

Brilliant, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What's with France and burning cars?

(Image of a car burning in Strasbourg. Taken by François Schnell on 5 November 2005)
They were burnt when some in France wanted to protest the widespread discrimintation in 2005. Now they are being burnt again because the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy (who infamously referred to the car-burners as "scum") has been elected as the President. Even on leaner and more tranquil days, an average of 80 cars are torched each day in France! "No other country in Europe immolates cars with the gusto and single-minded efficiency of France," says International Herald Tribune.

The same article quotes Michel Wieviorka, a French sociologist who has studied the phenomenon. He says it is "typically French" (burning cars) and goes back to the late 1970s when suburban unrest was on the rise. Parked cars made an enticing target for "gangs of young men nursing a grudge and hungry for attention". "It is very spectacular," he said. "It draws the attention of the media, and when the media comes, the politicians follow." The article goes on: "Though it is difficult to pinpoint the initial incident, the city where it first became an urban sport was Strasbourg, the Alsatian capital and home of the European Parliament. Since the 1980s, gangs there have marked New Year's Eve by stalking cars with cans of gasoline and lighters."

Monday, May 07, 2007

Some smart puns...

- Energizer Bunny arrested. Charged with battery!

- A man's home is his castle ... in a manor of speaking!

- A pessimist's blood type is always b-negative.

- My wife's hobby is pottery, but to me it's just kiln time.

- Dijon vu. The same mustard as before!

- Practice safe eating. Always use condiments.

- A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother.

- Shotgun wedding: A case of wife or death.

- I used to work in a blanket factory, but it folded.

- A man needs a mistress just to break the monogamy.

- A hangover is the wrath of grapes.

- Is a book on voyeurism a peeping tome?

- Dancing cheek-to-cheek is really a form of floor play.

- Banning the bra was a big flop.

- Sea captains don't like crew cuts.

- A successful diet is the triumph of mind over platter.

- A gossip is someone with a great sense of rumor.

- Without geometry, life is pointless.

- When you dream in colour, it's a pigment of your imagination.

- Reading whilst sunbathing makes you well-red.

- When two egotists meet, it's an I for an I.

(Courtesy: A rare useful forward)

Money laundered or well spent?

I have never been to Dubai. It is sure, as I am told and as I read, an obscenely rice emirate. But does that warrant expenses like the luxury Palm Jumeirah project? It is being developed along the beachfront districts of Dubai and is a huge man-made, palm-shaped island. Take a look at it for yourself. I think it is such a futile architectural exercise! Just imagine the poor fellow who has to visit somebody in the sprig above his - he'll have to take a long detour via the branch rather than take the shortest route. But then they have desert-beating and gas-guzzling SUVs to do that. The island is coming up at a cost of $ 14 billion! It may be of interest to know that, according to UN's WFP, it takes just $ 0.19 to feed a child a day and that 20,000 children die of hunger each day. Also, with the money being spent on the island, we can choose to feed 52,63,15,789 children! Even Dubai has its fair share of problems that it needs to tackle - the social security of the labour force tops that list! Where do we draw lines on what is acceptable and what is not in such a context? Even India has, I am sure, such hideously expensive luxury projects.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Should a temple be allowed to dictate national policy?

I have never been a fan of this urban eyesore of gigantic proportions (in other words the Akshardham Temple) on the bank of Yamuna. But what caught my attention recently were reports that the managing trust of the temple has stalled the Delhi Development Authority's plans to have highrises and five-star hotels in the vicinity (all related to the preparations for the Commonwealth Games) because it would "violate the sanctity of the temple". And if you remember, the same DDA, backed by other government organs, had pleaded against the Ministry of Environment and Forests initial objections to having any permanent structure on the river bank, only to have it reassessed later in its favour.

Friday, May 04, 2007

When Nasrallah talks sense

Not that I am a great fan of Nasrallah or Hezbollah... However, his comment that the Arab states, unlike Israel, refuse to inquire into their failings hits the nail on its head. Look at Egypt: Mubarak has been in power since ages with American support and will remain so till he successfully hoodwinks the US into thinking that he is the best buffer against the rising tide of political Islam in the country (read as Muslim Brotherhood). Lack of openness and democracy in the Arab states will only bring to power radical Islamists, whether the MB in Egypt or Hamas in Palestine. Any wonder why Iran, probably the country with the freest civil society in the region, hasn't seen the democratisation of terror unlike other nations in the vicinity (Saudi Arabia to top that list).

Also, this reminds me of a (politically incorrect) joke:

Q.) How many Arabs does it take to change a defunct bulb?
A.) None. They would rather sit in the darkness and blame the Jews and Israel for it!