Monday, October 22, 2007

Book Review Cairo Maps - The Practical Guide

Published by The American University in Cairo Press It used to cost 30LE, but if my information is right, the price has now increased to 45LE if you buy it in Egypt.

If you plan to use only one map in Cairo, then this is the one to buy. It may not be as detailed as some other maps that you have used in other countries or Google maps, but it's the best and most detailed that is available for Cairo city.

You can't expect building numbers and one way directions (since they keep changing daily in Cairo) but what you can expect is all the roads being named and the major hotels and tourist spots are marked. There is a 1 page map of the Cairo Metro system and one comprehensive single-pager of the Ring Road. At 58 pages, it's a pretty slim map for the city, but as I said before - it's the best you can buy for Cairo.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sociology Prof in Canada wears Niqab

From CBC News

Carleton professor's lesson veiled in delivery

Last Updated: Saturday, October 20, 2007 | 12:36 PM ET

Students at Carleton University in Ottawa were given the chance to learn a lesson in culture and cultural assumptions this semester when their non-Muslim sociology professor hid her face by wearing a veil.

For the first three weeks of class, Sian Reid wore the black traditional Muslim veil called a niqab, covering all of her face except for the eyes.

Sian Reid, 41, said she wanted to make her students aware of the assumptions they make about the world.Sian Reid, 41, said she wanted to make her students aware of the assumptions they make about the world.

Reid read a posting on a university online discussion board from a student who said when they first saw her they thought she must be a teaching assistant getting ready for the "real professor."

"And it wasn't until I stepped behind the podium myself and started to talk, that they realized I was the real professor," she told CBC Newsworld in an interview Saturday.

In week four, she removed the veil and long robe, called an abaya, allowing students to see at the front of the room a red-headed woman in clothes from her regular wardrobe.

"Nobody came and approached me and until the fourth week when I did take the niqab off … and even then, it wasn't raised in front of the whole class," Reid said. "A small group of students stayed behind to talk to me about why my dress had changed so dramatically.

"The conversations started out by pointing out that when we look at things in North American culture, we look at them and we interpret them at the same time — and in sociology you can't do that.

"What people thought they saw was an orthodox Muslim female professor. What they actually saw was a female professor wearing a niqab.They had made an interpretation kind of automatically — and in sociology you can't afford to do that. Observations and interpretations have to be two different things."

Reid said she decided over the summer to use her dress as a teaching technique to get the students' attention on the first day of class "in really large classes — and mine are 300 to 450 students," and to give them a chance to use other ways of trying to get information about her, such as body language and tone of voice — "things we don't rely on quite as much."

The teaching technique later became a way for students to think about culture and ethnocentrism.

She said there was some discussion as to whether it was appropriate for a non-Muslim woman to have dressed the way she did.

"And my point to my students is that, well, if a woman from Saudi Arabia comes to my sociology class and she wants to wear jeans and a turtleneck, nobody says to her, well, you're not qualified to wear those clothes."

Reid said they also talked about whether someone can be judged to be not ethnically and religiously qualified to wear clothing more common in another part of the world.

"And it invites my students to think about how they perceive aspects of other cultures. It's OK to eat Thai food, [but] is it OK to dress in Thai clothes?"

The professor said she was "really shocked" at the level of rudeness she encountered when she was away from university and running errands while travelling to and from work while wearing the niqab.

"At the university I didn't notice anything in particular, but certainly out in the general public I did," she said.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Latest in Indulgence - A $22,000 Pet Cat

After Uma's post on Vodka with a dash of Diamonds I was left wondering what the next flagrantly expensive "in" thing would be.

I seem to have found an answer of sorts. But this time, its Alive. Its the latest - Lifestyle Pets. Although its not as expensive as the vodka and it lasts longer!

These aren't your run of the mill pet cats.

Its the ASHERA (please note the name is trade-marked) The worlds rarest and most exotic domestic cat. (so they say)
The Ashera is priced at $22,000, plus any applicable sales taxes and is due at time of order. Generally, the delivery date from receipt of payment is 9-12 months. However, for those customers who simply can’t wait to own an Ashera, a few selected kittens are available earlier for an additional cost of $6,000. All Ashera kittens are provided with a Certificate of Authenticity that will include an image of each kitten's DNA “fingerprint”.

Wait, it gets better :
All Ashera kittens are hand delivered to their new owners and hand carried on the transporting aircraft by a Lifestyle Pets representative. Total cost of delivery within the United States is approximately $1,500; outside of the USA they will quote you by location.

Included with the purchase of your Ashera kitten are the following:
Complete and updated vaccinations through delivery
Mandatory spaying or neutering
Microchip Identifier implant
One year of premium veterinary health insurance through Pets Best (USA customers only)
Airline certified electronic climate controlled cat transporter
Veterinary Health Certificate (required for travel)
One set of nail caps already applied (these are vinyl nail caps applied to your kitten's claws that effectively cover the claws so no damage occurs to furniture, etc.)
Starter Pack (includes premium kitten food, additional nail caps, cat toys and other kitten sundries)
One year guarantee (see purchase agreement for terms and conditions)
10 Year consultation access to Dr. Roland Tripp, internationally recognized animal behaviorist.

What's so special about these cats you may ask : They have been (bred and genetically) developed by blending exotic bloodlines of the African Serval and the Asian Leopard cat with the domestic cat. The cat weighs upto 14 kilos they are specially bred to have Leopard spots on their body and stripes on their limbs.

As an additional service, they have even introduced a limited payment plan to facilitate the purchase of an ASHERA kitten.

My concerns :
What happens to the kittens that don't come out with their stripes and spots in the advertised places ? People aren't going to pay 22,000$ for those!
Whatever they may claim, these cats are bred from wild felines. They grow upto the size of 14 kilos/30 pounds. How safe can it be to have them around, especially with children? Some may argue that they grow to the same size and weight of large breed dogs, but these cats have a much closer link to their leopard forefathers.

They are currently developing a new breed of a very small dog. Wonder how much that would cost!

You can sign up for their newsletter on the site. I have, I definitely wanna know, what's next! Simple curiosity, I'm re-discovering that from my own cat (she's a naturally conceived mixed breed)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Twenty20 - Reactions From a Non-cricket Watching Indian

Nothing personal against cricket, but I don't watch sports ! (This is my first post where I've chosen "Sports" as the Section) Except gymnastics, ice skating and synchronized swimming.

Equally crazily, I am married to the ultimate cricket fanatic, who watches matches, repeats, highlights and replays on the news (that's all of them - not an either/or choice). Who remembers statistics from games I never knew were played. For eg. He just said "We have never lost to Pakistan in a world cup" OK, not a great example, but it needed repeating :)

Another of his gems just before the last ball "For a moment, I thought about the last time a Haryana bowler named Sharma had the last over against Pakistan in a final. New Sharma, New ending"

Now these nuances are lost on me, but I'm sure there is a large group out there who can appreciate them. (Like the employees of various MNCs in India who officially closed office at 4 P.M. today.)

Being away from India for the first time on a long posting, he quickly ensured that we got all the right technology installed at home for regular access to cricket matches.

There's a small population of desis in Cairo (about 500) and an even smaller subset of cricket "fan"atics. The previous matches in the last year went by without much community feeling and viewing in this country. But this 20/20 brought a large portion of the Indian community together.

A couple of rational reasons for this would be the shortened timings in offices due to Ramadan (offices close by 3, the matches started at 2 - Egypt time) and the BCA showing the matches on a big screen where desis could get together and watch the matches in a group with alcohol available to drown sorrows or celebrate victories.

The group did avoid meeting at the club on the day of the India-England match because of the larger number of British supporters. But they regretted doing that by the end of the match.

Many of the Indians met up at the BCA for the days the Indians were playing. The non cricket watching wives would sit around and watch each others husbands bemusedly, wondering which of them would make a bigger scene at a missed catch or a wide ball.

We were of course happy that the matches were shortened, it meant less time sitting around. But it also meant shorter, almost non existent ad breaks (except 2 very irritating Horlicks & Sensodyne ads on Ten Sports) to try and communicate with your cricket lover.

Some of them would sit in the same crazy position that they were in when the last 6 was hit or wear the same clothes/shoes to every match. All kinds of crazy stuff that only fans can indulge in.

This was a good opportunity for us to get together and celebrate being Indian outside of India. Yuvraj's 6 sixes was obviously the biggest highlight till today's match. He does deserve the quarter-million and its good to see the BCCI giving something back to the players.($2 million for the team)

We watched today's match at home, but the phone calls kept coming and going throughout the match from across the world. Reactions & moods of the husband were oscillating from wild elation to extreme dejection at each ball. The little bits of the match that I did watch, I found it difficult to keep track since I couldn't recognise more than half the players (I had completely lost track of cricket from the time the slide started, plus this team had tons of newcomers to the international field)

But it was good to see a young team selected and though they had their health problems, they kept at it. Their confidence and perseverance are to be commended & rewarded. The cup and the 40 lakhs each are just a beginning.

Dhoni from all the conversations I caught, more than proved himself as being an able captain willing to take risks (who else would play a complete newcomer as opening batsman in a world cup final?)

He also showed more class in taking his shirt off and giving it to that little kid (I didn't catch who the kid was) rather than waving it around :)

From the strange tie breaker at the last India Pakistan match to the 6 sixes, to the final world cup win, it was an amazing journey even to the part time spectator.

The final run around the field with the Indian flags was a "rungte kadhe hone wala" scene that would warm the cockles of any Indians heart.

Way to go Indian team. This is a victory to savor for a long time and I hope it paves the way for more new comers into the playing Indian team.

By the way, we did this without a coach !

Photo Credit :

The "Animal" Attraction

My personal love affair with pets began before the moment I was even conceived.

My nana (maternal grandmother, not grandpa in our part of the country) loves animals. In her younger days she nursed peacocks, deer and sundry other birds & animals back to health. The family household always comprised of a couple of cats, dogs, cows, goats, pigeons and various other species including a monkey at one point of time and a rat snake who would regularly appear to eat the pigeon or chicken eggs. All this was obviously long before the government started poking their noses into which species could or could not be allowed in family spaces.

Living a half day bullock-cart ride away from the nearest neighbours (while on the estates) made domesticating animals (for food and otherwise) a necessity.

By the time I came along, nana was pretty much restricting herself to dogs, cats, poultry and dairy animals. In most households, dogs were for guarding houses, cats were meant to keep the mice away. They were always fed a little below satiating point to keep them hungry enough to catch pests and scare away the people who had no business hovering around the gates.

Not in nana's house. Our cats & dogs were always overfed. So the dogs would sleep at the gate when they had to be guarding the compound and the cats would sleep in the attic when they were supposed to be catching mice ! All because she did not have the heart to leave them in the least bit hungry.

Nana's children - my mom, aunts and uncles - all absorbed this instant love for animals and most of her grandchildren were born to it. we were always surrounded by them and our dogs and cats were our friends too.

Even if the rest of the cousins ganged up against one, the dogs and cats would not take sides.
If you needed to cry away from anyone else's view, you could always take one of the dogs for a walk - who would silently lick your hands or cheeks (whichever was in closer proximity to their height)
If you wanted unconditional love - the dogs/cats provided that.
Non judgmental - bingo.
Non questioning - sure.

They know exactly when to come sit in your lap and when to give you an adoring look. As Dee elaborated about Zoya in Love, Grief, Pain, and a Kitten no matter how many times you push them away, they keep coming back to you.
They never judge you for anything - Feeding them late, not getting home in time, being pissed drunk, being lazy, being a few pounds overweight......

They will accompany you anywhere and everywhere where you let them and sometimes even if you don't. Our little munchkin (whom we adopted a couple of days ago) watches cricket with the husband. Husband is absolutely thrilled to have a cricket viewing partner in the same household.

They just keep coming back and give you more love. They insist on following you into the bathroom, but you don't mind since they aren't going to scrutinise your flabby thighs or beer belly. They just want to be around in your presence.

With a pet around you can never feel worthless. Because you are the world to them and they make it very evident to you.

How can you resist adoring eyes like these ?

Published on DesiCritics

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Book Review : Cairo - The Family Guide

In a previous article, "Bookshops in Cairo" I heavily recommended this book, but I never mentioned why.

The current issue of the Cairo Family Guide is the 4th edition (the first edition was in 2001). It has been revised each time to update the data and make it more current & relevant.

Its written by Lesley Lababidi in collaboration with Dr Lisa Sabbahy and printed by the AUC Press

Its one book any person planning to check out the sights of Cairo on their own, or living here for more than a week should most certainly pick up.

The book is categorised location wise and then each place worth a visit in that area is listed out with complete details.

For eg. there are 3 different itineraries for the Egyptian museum depending on a person's interest. It also helps split the museum into manageable trips so as to be able to absorb maximum information.

Special attention has been given to understanding and recommending activities based on a child's age and interests. So the book is especially handy for those visiting with kids.

Maps to the areas, the closest Metro stop, the timings (including changed timings for Ramadan), Entrance fees (for foreigners, residents, students & Egyptians - yes there are multiple rates), Photography and video fees if any, (or whether they are allowed at all), the telephone numbers to that location, facilities available (bathrooms, gift shops, cafeterias) the best place to park (this is a major issue in Cairo), relevant websites if any, activities organised at that location if any, how much to tip and whom. These are just some of the gems of information that she shares about each and every location.

This is a goldmine of information especially given the monumental difficulty of gathering such data in Cairo. This is one of our few books where the book has completely lost its crispness (I don't even like the spine cracking in my books)

The only drawback is that since this is a 2006 edition some of the data has become obsolete especially with the recent adding of a digit to all land-line numbers at some of the telephone exchanges. Some sites have revised their charges (upwards of course) But the changes would hardly be in 5% of the data in this book.

So go ahead and pick up your own copy today. At 70LE it's a steal! Make sure it is a blue coloured bind with the picture of children sitting in a donkey cart. This is the latest edition. Many smaller bookshops still stock the older versions with the green colour binding. The information in those would be about 25-30% irrelevant and/or obsolete.

Be sure to pick up this one : not this one

I'll review the practical guide (the second one) in a day or so.

You can buy it at any major bookstore in Egypt. Its one of the most popular books. Or even buy it off Amazon.

I plan to write a lot about the sights in Egypt in the coming week, I will be heavily referencing this book.

Diary of a cat

Sent to me by my friend and fellow cat lover - Alison.

Diary of a Cat

* DAY 752: My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while I am forced to eat dry cereal. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of escape, and the mild satisfaction I get from ruining the occasional piece of furniture.
Tomorrow I may eat another houseplant.

* DAY 761: Today my attempt to kill my captors by weaving around their feet while they were walking almost succeeded, must try this at the top of the stairs. In an attempt to disgust and repulse these vile oppressors, I once again induced myself to vomit on their favorite chair...must try this on their bed.

* DAY 762: Slept all day so that I could annoy my captors with sleep depriving, incessant pleas for food at ungodly hours of the night.

* DAY 765: Decapitated a mouse and brought them the headless body, in attempt to make them aware of what I am capable of, and to try to strike fear into their hearts. They only cooed and condescended about what a good little cat I was...Hmmm. Not working according to plan..

* DAY 768: I am finally aware of how sadistic they are. For no good reason I was chosen for the water torture. This time however it included a burning foamy chemical called "shampoo." What sick minds could invent such a liquid? My only consolation is the piece of thumb still stuck between my teeth.

* DAY 771: There was some sort of gathering of their accomplices. I was placed in solitary throughout the event. However, I could hear the noise and smell the foul odor of the glass tubes they call "beer." More importantly I overheard that my confinement was due to MY power of "allergies." Must learn what this is and how to use it to my advantage.

* DAY 774: I am convinced the other captives are flunkies and maybe snitches. The dog is routinely released and seems more than happy to return. He is obviously a half-wit. The Bird on the other hand has got to be an informant. He has mastered their frightful tongue (something akin to molespeak) and speaks with them regularly. I am certain he reports my every move. Due to his current placement in the metal room his safety is assured.
But I can wait; it is only a matter of time...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

How to Bathe a cat !

Bacardi is driving me nuts at times and is completely adorable at times.

today morning she went straight from the bathroom sink (where I was washing her face-she had been scratching her face incessantly since last night) to the kitty litter & stuck her head right into it !!!!!!!!

She then proceeded to drive me crazy throughout the day, I had workmen come over to fix the ac.. With the front door and french windows open, I couldn't take the risk. so shut her in the other HALF of the house . She almost scratched the door down. Even after dh came home (she normally snuggles up to him on the couch and goes off to sleep) she wanted to come into the hall. Once the workmen left and I had finished cleaning up, all doors were opened again at around 7pm. After that she goes into her aqua fina crate (in the part of th ehouse she was confined to for half the day) and goes off to sleep ! Even now she is happily curled up & sleeping. Whole day she drove me nuts.

One of my friends - Alison - suggested the following methods to bathe her :

Method 1 :
1. Thoroughly clean the toilet.
2. Add the required amount of shampoo to the toilet water, and have both lids lifted.
3. Obtain the cat and soothe him while you carry him towards the bathroom.
4. In one smooth movement, put the cat in the toilet and close both lids (you may need to stand on the lid so that he cannot escape).
CAUTION: Do not get any part of your body too close to the edge, as his paws will be reaching out for any purchase they can find.
5. Flush the toilet three or four times. This provides a 'power wash and rinse' which I have found to be quite effective.
6. Have someone open the door to the outside and ensure that there are no people between the toilet and the outside door.
7. Stand behind the toilet as far as you can, and quickly lift both lids.
8. The now-clean cat will rocket out of the toilet, and run outside where he will dry himself.

Method 2 :
1) with thumb and forefinger extended lift toilet seat up and secure.
2) gently grab your cat by the jugular ( to minimise movement) and carefully place it in the toilet bowl immediately securing toilet seat to prevent escape, by placing 2 house bricks on top.
3) open the lid to the cistern and select an appropriate shampoo. Johnsons baby shampoo is a popular choice as it does not sting the eyes.
4) measure out 10 mls of the shampoo and pour it into the cistern full of water and close the lid back on the cistern.
5) select the half flush mode for a pre wash to remove obvious grime and sit on the edge of the bath inserting your Ipod headphones into your ears and some Rakmaninov to dampen down the sound of the prewash cycle
6) On completion of the prewash cycle with your right index finger placed carefully over the flush control select 2 half flushes to effectively rinse away any shampoo residue.
7) keeping the toilet seat firmly in place open all exits and entrance ways and lay down plenty of old newspaper in gentle sloping pathways leading to all exits.
8) taking a tin of tuna dip the fingers of your right hand into it and carefully draw an invisible line on the path with the shortest route to the outside world.
9) return to the bathroom and removing the cistern lid for the final time measure out 15 mls of a good quality hair conditioner. Pantene Pro V for fine flyaway hair would be a good choice in most instances. Pour the conditioner into the now refilled cistern and select the final full flush to complete the washing cycle.
10) when the cycle is complete and you will know this by the complete refill of the cistern chamber carefully lift the lid of the toilet preferably whilst wearing some form of body armour and whilst standing well clear summon the now beautifully coiffured cat by saying in a medium tone so as not to alarm the cat 'here Kitty' whilst gesturing with your left index finger the most appropriate exit path to take. In all likelihood the cat being a trifle disorientated will choose the longest and most convoluted path to exit. This can easily be remedied next time by increasing the amount of tuna on the newspaper with the shortest distance to the nearest exit.

Method 3 :
1. Know that although the kitty cat has the advantage of quickness and lack of concern for human life, you have the advantage of strength. Capitalize on that advantage by selecting the battlefield. Don't try to bathe him in an open area where he can force you to chase him. Pick a very small bathroom. If your bathroom is more than four feet square, we recommend that you get in the tub with the cat and close the sliding-glass doors as if you were about to take a shower. (A simple shower curtain will not do. A berserk cat can shred a three-ply rubber shower curtain quicker than a politician can shift positions.)
2. Know that a cat has claws and will not hesitate to remove all the skin from your body. Your advantage here is that you are smart and know how to dress to protect yourself. We recommend canvas overalls tucked into high-top construction boots, a pair of steel-mesh gloves, an army helmet, a hockey face-mask, and a long-sleeved flak jacket.
3. Use the element of surprise. Pick up your cat nonchalantly, as if to simply carry him to his supper dish. (Cats will not usually notice your strange attire. They have little or no interest in fashion as a rule.)
4. Once you are inside the bathroom, speed is essential to survival. In a single liquid motion, shut the bathroom door, step into the tub enclosure, slide the glass door shut, dip the cat in the water and squirt him with shampoo. You have now begun one of the wildest 45 seconds of your life.
5. Cats have no handles. Add the fact that he now has soapy fur, and the problem is radically compounded. Do not expect to hold on to him for more than two or three seconds at a time. When you have him, however, you must remember to give him another squirt of shampoo and rub like crazy. He'll then spring free and fall back into the water, thereby rinsing himself off. (The national record for cats is three latherings, so don't expect too much.)
6. Next, the cat must be dried. Novice cat bathers always assume this part will be the most difficult, for humans generally are worn out at this point and the cat is just getting really determined. In fact, the drying is simple compared with what you have just been through. That's because by now the cat is semi-permanently affixed to your right leg.
7. You simply pop the drain plug with your foot, reach for your towel and wait. (Occasionally, however, the cat will end up clinging to the top of your army helmet. If this happens, the best thing you can do is to shake him loose and to encourage him toward your leg.) After all the water is drained from the tub, it is a simple matter to just reach down and dry the cat.
In a few days the cat will relax enough to be removed from your leg. He will usually have nothing to say for about three weeks and will spend a lot of time sitting with his back to you. He might even become psychoceramic and develop the fixed stare of a plaster figurine.
You will be tempted to assume he is angry. This isn't usually the case. As a rule he is simply plotting ways to get through your defenses and injure you for life the next time you decide to give him a bath. But at least now he smells a lot better.

dh & Bacardi are enjoying the matches & looking forward to the finals now :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Book Review : The Other Side of Me - Sidney Sheldon

The winner of an Oscar, a Tony, and an Edgar Allan Poe Award, Sidney Sheldon has over 200 television scripts, twenty-five major motion pictures, six Broadway plays, eighteen novels (which have sold over 300 million copies) and one memoir to his credit, ranking him as one of the world's most prolific writers.

The style of this autobiography is uniquely Sheldon and completely engrossing. As he explained in a 1982 interview : "I try to write my books so the reader can't put them down, I try to construct them so when the reader gets to the end of a chapter, he or she has to read just one more chapter. It's the technique of the old Saturday afternoon serial: leave the guy hanging on the edge of the cliff at the end of the chapter."

The book starts with his impoverished childhood during the Great Depression and surprisingly ends before his meteoric rise as a successful novelist.

Born Sidney Schechtel in Chicago in 1917 to German & Russian parents, Sheldon's life had more ups and downs than a month of roller coaster rides. A long time sufferer from manic depression or bipolar disorder as it is now called, he often turned away at critical moments from paths that were just opening up to him.

Success took time coming his way and even when it did, it didn't stay long. (Not until his writing career took off, then there was no looking back) In his words "Success is an elevator that moves up and down" His ups included having three musical hits playing simultaneously on Broadway, the Oscar and the Screen Writers Guild award for Best Musical for "Annie Get your Gun" The downs included long periods of unemployment and blacklisting by the studios.

There are so many anecdotes about so many famous people that are a pleasure to read. Groucho Marx was an extremely close friend and also Godfather of Sheldon's daughter Mary. Having seen the Hollywood industry as a writer, producer and director his insights are precise and delightful.

My only disappointment was that I wish he had written a part 2 before his death on January 30th, this year. He does throw a few morsels about his writing life experiences, but they just aren't enough for his adoring fans.

I highly recommend the book to all Sheldon fans. This is the first autobiography I have ever read which I did not put down even once.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Book Review Ice Candy Man

In 2000, one of the few films that moved me to tears was Deepa Mehta's "1947 : Earth" Coming from the South of the Vindhya's, the Partition was something mentioned in passing in text books. We did not know any affected families and hardly anyone down South spoke about this bloody episode in India and Pakistan's shared past.

According to Richard Symonds 1950, The Making of Pakistan, London, ASIN B0000CHMB1, p 74 "at the lowest estimate, half a million people perished and twelve million became homeless"

"1947 : Earth" brought this part of our history to life and I wanted to read the book which spawned the movie. (Everyone knows that books are better than the movies they inspire) This was on my "To Read" list for almost 4 years before I bought the book and it took me another 3 years to read it. Even reading the book itself took over a month, because it induced strong feelings of despondency, depression and immense sorrow.

The problem with history books is that they tend to dehumanize history, apart from the fact that history is interpreted by the writer for his/her own convenience. Bapsi Sidhwa's - Ice Candy Man manages to avoid both these cons. The story is semi fictional but it is also based on her own experience and that of Rana Khan.

The entire story is told through the eyes of Lenny Sethi (Sethna in the movie) from the time she is 7 to early teenage. Lenny is a Parsi girl. Her religion and age does play a pivotal part in the story telling because most of the events around her do not affect her or her immediate family directly, although it affects the lives of everyone else around her. As Ralph Crane puts it "It may be that the atrocities of 1947 are best seen through the innocent naive eyes of a child, who has no Hindu, Muslim or Sikh axe to grind. . . Lenny is free both from the prejudices of religion and from the prejudices against women and the constraints she will be subject to as she grows older."

Lenny's naivety is brought home often, like when she comes to know that her mother and Electric aunt are acquiring petrol and immediately jumps to the conclusion that they are the ones responsible for setting all the fires in Lahore.

Sidhwa's characters are extremely well etched from Ayah, to masseur, to Ice Candy man, to Imam Din to Mucho, to cousin, to Godmother to Hari (later Himmat Ali). All these characters play an important part in Lenny's life. Each of their religions takes centre stage as matters escalate. And the rich detailing of each character makes the reader commiserate with the plight of each of the "victims".

Her imagery is excellent and brings each scene to life. Visualising Rahul Khanna, Nandita Das and Aamir Khan in the roles of Masseur, Ayah and Ice Candy man simply helped the process.

An extremely touching and poignant story. Khushwant Singh (A Partition survivor himself) says this book deserves to be ranked amongst the most authentic and best books on the partition.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone. It would help one start to comprehend at what cost our Independence was achieved and August 14th/15th can no longer be viewed by most as "just another dry day"

Also published at DesiCritics

Sunday, June 24, 2007

When the US media starts to lose track

Many in the US have a difficult time differentiating between Arabs and Iranians. President Bush has been caught many times being confused between Iraq and Iran. Some even went as far as suspecting that his poor knowledge of the area was behind the mix-up that led to the involvement of the US in Iraqi quagmire.
Apparently, the leader of the Western world is not alone in this mix-up. Even CNN, the news channel which heralded the 7/24 news broadcast world wide, has a difficult time locating Afghanistan
Here's Anderson Cooper, doing his thing...

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And for those of you who aren't quite sure where it is, Afghanistan is located...

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... in Syria.

Afghanistan would be three countries to the east, Just past Iraq and Iran.

I guess there's a point where U.S. foreign policy is such a near-total failure in so many countries, aggravating extremism in the name of fighting it, that even the media starts to lose track of.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Displacing farmers: India Will Have 400 million Agricultural Refugees

22nd June 07 - Devinder Sharma ~ STWR Contributing Writer
It was on the cards. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announcing the formation of a new rehabilitation policy for farmers displaced from land acquisitions, it is now official -- farmers have to quit agriculture.

Ever since the Congress-led UPA Coalition assumed power after an angry rural protest vote threw out the erstwhile BJP-led NDA combination in May 2004, the Prime Minister had initiated a plethora of new policies for the spread of industrialization. After having laid the policy framework that allows private control over community resources – water, biodiversity, forests, seeds, agriculture markets, and mineral resources -- the UPA government finally looked at the possibility of divesting the poor people of their only economic security – a meagre piece of land holding.

“Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is an idea whose time has come,” the Prime Minister had said at an award ceremony in Mumbai sometimes back. Supported by all political parties, including the Left Front, he has actually officiated a nationwide campaign to displace farmers. Almost 500 special economic zones are being carved out (see The New Maharajas of India). What is however less known is that successive government’s are actually following a policy prescription that had been laid out by the World Bank as early as in 1995.

A former vice-president of the World Bank and a former chairman of Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a body that governs the 16 international agricultural research centers, Dr Ismail Serageldin, had forewarned a number of years ago. At a conference organised by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai a few years back, he quoted the World Bank to say that the number of people estimated to migrate from rural to urban India by the year 2015 is expected to be equal to twice the combined population of UK, France and Germany.

The combined population of UK, France and Germany is 200 million. The World Bank had therefore estimated that some 400 million people would be willingly or unwillingly moving from the rural to urban centres by 2015. Subsequent studies have shown that massive distress migration will result in the years to come. For instance, 70 per cent of Tamil Nadu, 65 per cent of Punjab, and nearly 55 per cent of Uttar Pradesh is expected to migrate to urban centres by the year 2020.

These 400 million displaced will constitute the new class of migrants – agricultural refugees.
Acerbating the crisis are the policy initiatives that promotes privatization of natural resources, take over of farm land, integrating Indian agriculture with the global economy, and moving farmers out of agriculture – in essence the hallmark of the neo-liberal economic growth model.

Agricultural reforms that are being introduced in the name of increasing food production and minimising the price risks that the farmers continue to be faced with, are actually aimed at destroying the production capacity of the farm lands and would lead to further marginalisation of the farming communities. Encouraging contract farming, future trading in agriculture commodities, land leasing, forming land-sharing companies, direct procurement of farm commodities by amending the APMC Act will only drive out a majority of farmers out of subsistence agriculture.

Although the land holding size is diminishing, the answer does not lie in allowing the private companies to replace farmers. Somehow the entire effort of the policy makers is to establish that Indian agriculture has become a burden on the nation and the sooner the country offloads the farming class the better it will be for economic growth.

Contract farming therefore has become the new agricultural mantra. Not realising that private companies enter agriculture with the specific objective of garnering more profits from the same piece of land. These companies, if the global experience is any indication, bank upon still more intensive farming practices, drain the soil of nutrients and suck ground water in a couple of years, and render the fertile lands almost barren after four to five years. It has been estimated that the crops that are contracted by the private companies require on an average 20 times more chemical inputs and water than the staple foods.

Sugarcane farmers, for instance, who follow a system of cane bonding with the mills, actually were drawing 240 cm of water every year, which is three times more than what wheat and rice requires on an average. Rose cultivation, introduced a few years back, requires 212 inches of groundwater consumption in every acre. Contract farming will therefore further exploit whatever remains of the ground water resources. These companies would then hand over the barren and unproductive land to the farmers who leased them, and would move to another fertile piece of land. This has been the global experience so far.

Allowing direct procurement of farm commodities, setting up special markets for the private companies to mop up the produce, and to set up land share companies, are all directed at the uncontrolled entry of the multinational corporations in the farm sector. Coupled with the introduction of the genetically modified crops, and the unlimited credit support for the agribusiness companies, the focus is to strengthen the ability of the companies to take over the food chain.

I have always warned that agribusiness companies in reality hate farmers. Nowhere in the world have they worked in tandem with farmers. Even in North America and Europe, agribusiness companies have pushed farmers out of agriculture. As a result, only 7,00,000 farming families are left on the farm in the United States. Despite massive subsidies in European Union, one farmer quits agriculture every minute. Knowing well that the markets will displace farmers, the same agriculture prescription is being applied in India.

A Planning Commission study has shown that 73 per cent of the cultivable land in the country is owned by 23.6 per cent of the population. With more and more farmers being displaced through land acquisitions, either for SEZ or for food processing and technology parks or for real estate purposes, land is further getting accumulated in the hands of the elite and resourceful. With chief ministers acting as property dealers, farmers are being lured to divest control over cultivable land. Food security and food self-sufficiency is no longer the country’s political priority.

The government has very conveniently taken refuge behind an NSSO study that says some 40 per cent of the farmers have expressed the desire to quit farming. After all, what the government is facilitating is to make it easier for the farmers to abandon their land. It believes that a rehabilitation policy for the farmers therefore is the need of the hour. What is however not being seen through is that an agrarian economy like India cannot afford large-scale displacement of farmers. It will lead to social unrest the kind of which has not been witnessed. What India needs desperately is a policy paradigm that restores pride in agriculture, stops take-over of agricultural lands, and ensures sustainable livelihoods for 600 million farmers.

Devinder Sharma is a food and agriculture policy analyst. He can be contacted at or visit

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Article in The Times: The Indian Tourist

Delhi Times

Oh bother, it's an Indian tourist!

Going by a recent survey, the ugly Indian tourist is loud, untidy and doesn't believe in tipping the waiters. DT on why the cash-rich Indians fail to score on the etiquette meter . Indians are travelling abroad like never before. Far East, Europe, Australia - the world is their oyster. But are the people of the countries that Indians are visiting appreciating this tourist invasion too? The answer, as provided by a recent survey by Expedia, is a clear and resonant no. According to this survey, Indians are the world's second worst tourists, beaten to the post only by the French. The parameters for the survey included behaviour, politeness, willingness to learn the local language, trying local delicacies and spending on the local economy. Indians are least likely to attempt to learn the local language, try out the native delicacies and are also very stingy when it comes to tips. They are also said to be rude and untidy. So, are Indian tourists as ugly as this survey makes them out to be?

Washing dirty laundry in NY

High fliers from India accept this charge, and then add some of their own accusations. Says adman Suhel Seth, "I have seen Indians washing their laundry and drying it on leather sofas at a posh hotel in Manhattan, NY. Some of the richest Indians stand in the lobby of the best hotels in New York and bargain for an upgrade. I have felt embarrassed on more occasions than one because of such behaviour . Once the general manager of a foreign hotel told me, 'I really admire the Indian success stories. What I don't understand is why none of them give their clothes for laundry!'"

Indians also don't have a good standing when it comes to following basic rules related to noise, hygiene etc. Says Pavan Varma, director, ICCR, "We need to work on our etiquette and mobile manners. Mostly, the demands Indians make while vacationing are unfair and the interaction is crude. Decorum often takes a backseat with the nouveau riche. But I must say, I have seen people from other nationalities behaving rudely, and taking advantage of their fair skin. Indians are not half that arrogant."

A tip for the travellers

Heena Akhtar, the COO of a travel agency, agrees with Varma. "Indians are adaptable and take care of the protocol of other countries. Even if they behave badly in India, they improve their general behaviour when abroad," she says.

However, there are certain issues that act as a flashpoint for Indians. "Indian travellers are very finicky about food," says a source from another travel agency. "Indians, with their love for spicy curries, find the European food bland. Also, they find it difficult to settle for beef and pork. To make sure things go fine, some frequent fliers take cooks along."

Another front where the Indian traveller does not score is tipping. "Indians are a hesitant lot when they have to tip at hotels or restaurants," adds Akhtar. As a airhostess with a leading airline adds, "Sometimes, you come across Indian travellers who are looking for a freebie and consider service staff as menials."

Some complimentary hospitality?

However, Indian travellers get a thumbs up from the Indian hospitality industry. They describe the cash-rich Indians as discerning travellers who settle for nothing but the best and can be a little fussy on that account. Parveen Chander, resident manager of the Taj Mahal Hotel says, "Indians know what they want and are very particular about getting their money's worth. The South-East Asians are the most difficult to please. They spend a lot of time to check everything. The Britons also have high expectations and are not very easy to please."

Kshitij Deopuria, a rooms division manager, maintains that the behaviour of Indian tourists is improving. "Sometime back, Indian travellers were known to throw their weight around but now it is not the same. They are very well-behaved, not very finicky and concentrate only on the services. However, they still look out for discounts."

Demand for freebies is one problem that hotels here also face from Indian travellers. "Sometimes, Indian travellers demand complimentary services," says Eros group director, Avneesh Sood, adding, "But then they also spend a lot."

Japanese Americans Swiss

France India China

I have my reservations on Americans being the Best tourists. They do seem to throw around the most amount of money, but general perception in Europe & elsewhere of American tourists isnt very positive.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Book Review : National Geographic Series - Holidays Around the World: Celebrating Diwali and Ramadan

Author Deborah Heiligman has embarked on an ambitious "Holidays Around the World Series" with National Geographic

Aimed at 6-9 year old children the series is rich in photographs from around the world and lower on textual explanations, letting the pictures speak for themselves.

Celebrate Ramadan & Eid Al-Fitr with Praying, Fasting and Charity and Celebrate Diwali with Sweets, Lights, and Fireworks are the first 2 titles in the series.

Deborah has collaborated with a Consultant for each book who personally celebrates the festival being discussed.

I'm not sure what the scope of these consultants was though, because I spied a couple of technical errors in the book on Diwali. For example the Taj Mahal is called a mosque, Lord Ganesh is said to symbolise prosperity, the meanings of deepa and vali have been interchanged. The Consultants could have been limited to just writing the afterword instead of proofing the text of the whole book.

I'm not too sure about the exact technicalities in the book on Ramadan because whatever I have viewed has been as an outsider looking in. Although, I have been able to observe it in greater detail here in Cairo, where the sahour's and iftars are celebrated even in 5 star hotels. The entire city fasts, the timings turn topsy turvy. Offices close earlier. Unlike India where most praying and fasting happens inside closed doors of houses and mosques, in Cairo the sheer numbers forces them onto the street even during the regular Friday noon prayers.

The pictures are amazing and well laid out. For someone who celebrates either of these festivals, the pictures will seem incomplete because Diwali there are so many more aspects than can be represented in a 32 page book. But for someone who has no idea about Diwali, Ramadan, Islam and Hinduism, this is a very good introduction. I would have loved to compare these 2 books with the books on Hannukah or the Passover which I do not know about as well as these 2.

I especially loved the satellite pictures of India on Diwali and 6 days later showing the difference in intensity of light between these days. The pictures in both books represent an excellent geographic spread.

There is a recipe in each book that a 6-9 year old can easily help an adult assemble. Children who see these books will be instantly attracted and it could be a great way to initiate dialogues into cultural differences.

The books are an excellent buy for someone who is trying to introduce children to an alternative culture and festival. Priced at $15.95 per hard cover version, the entire series will be a wonderful addition to any Children's or School Library.
Also Published on

M T R Foods Sold for $100 Million

MTR Foods has taken a Scandinavian turn. It's not US spice king McCormick that will buy MTR Foods as speculated earlier, but the Norwegian foods-to-metals group Orkla.

Shock/dismay/sadness/happiness.... a series of feelings ran through me when I read these headlines in Finance Asia & the Times of India.

Shock since I did not have any idea that MTR was up for sale, being in this faraway land. Dismay & sadness that a Scandinavian Company has taken over at the helm of MTR. What do Scandinavians know about Kannadiga cuisine? Happiness that MTR as a brand was worth 450crore, three times its current turnover. But mostly I feel sad. What Orkla will do with the brand & the product compositions remains to be seen. But things can never be the same.

Why am I writing on business news which I normally just read & never write about ? Because I have a deep personal connection with MTR. To me, MTR is like the khansama from an ancestral kitchen who keeps giving me treats, tips and tricks to turn out better food in my own kitchen.

My love affair with MTR began when I moved to Bangalore in 1999 & was introduced to the Mavalli Tiffin Rooms in Lalbagh. The institution is over 80 years old and produces some of the best, most authentic South Indian Vegetarian cuisine ever. There is always a long line of people waiting to get in. Right from 6:30 in the morning when it opens. Fluffly idlis, crisp dosas, the rava idlis that they popularized. Words cannot do justice to their piping hot sambhars and other yummy food.

Three floors were not enough to house their customers, and they later branched out into a fast food principle based "Namma MTR" in Bangalore & Dubai to keep up with the demand.

MTR pickles found pride of place in my kitchen right next to the pickles that my mother and grandmother sent me. MTR spice powders and masala mixes were the number 1 choice if I did not have the time to make my own.

When I left for the US, half my luggage was MTR instant Bisibele Baath mix on request from several colleagues who were missing the "taste of home".

By the time I returned they had vastly increased their range and had also introduced the "Ready to Eat" line. Heat and eat, even simpler than the "Instant Mix" and much less oily than a lot of other brands prevalent in the Indian market.

When we moved to Cairo, a large part of our shipment consisted of MTR instant mixes - rava idli, dosa, upma, gulab jamun among others. From Soups to Ready mixes, to Papads to Chips to Ice Cream mixes to Pickles to Ready to eat and Frozen Foods - MTR prepares and sells them all to their hungry customer base.

Their forays into North Indian food and Malayali food can be forgiven since they seemed to manage a pretty admirable job with those items too.

The restaurant and the packaged food business were separate entities. As of now there isn't much clarity on whether the restaurants will also belong to Orkla.

I hope Orkla does not tamper with the product compositions because they have been perfected with a lot of care. I pray they do not destroy the brand completely like other MNC's have tried to do with Indian Acquisitions. And I wish they will start exporting to Egypt.

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