Friday, April 27, 2007
I honestly leave India with mix feelings. I'm quite excited to see my friends and family who I haven't seen in 2 years. I'm also glad I'm leaving before the summer heat REALLY kicks in (it truly is sweltering already). But mostly I'm glad I'm leaving because I still like India and I want to leave before I don't anymore.
There is one particular point of contention that has struck me this week. Namely the Indian hypocrisy with marriage. For a society that prides itself (to extreme, often absurd ends) in its conservative family structures.
What is often neglected is the foundations of these families - the initial marriage.
I try not to judge (teehee I almost said that with a straight face), but the pervasiveness of arranged marriages in India, really staggers me. Because its not a simple, "I have a son you have a daughter, let's hitch them up" affair. It's more like a business transaction. "What are your assets, what is your family history, where are you from, what do you do, what do you eat, where did you study, how tall, how fat, how fair, what time and day were you born... all these are part of the equation. This past week I have been subjected to having to accompany someone who is arranging his brother's marriage. Mind you the brother lives in Africa, and they are looking for a girl to ship there, because "of course it's the wife's duty to move for the husband." Sigh.
And in the other hand, we have two individuals (among many!) who have recently told me that they are engaged. Granted they are proven homosexuals, but why should being a cocksucker get in the way of pleasing your parents and marrying a woman. Sigh.
So with these parting thoughts I head of to the western hemisphere. To be reunited with my love ones (albeit temporarily) and witness my sister's second wedding, and participate and my dear friend's Lorenzo's first.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
One particular quote from this article that struck me:
Because there is little or no overhead — for example, the cost of indoor kitchens or refrigerators — the food is exceptionally cheap. A full meal costs roughly 25 cents. “Every day, they are passing new laws,” said Kamal Yadav, 16, who runs his family’s open-air lunch counter near Chandni Chowk. “Where will the poor go to eat?”
Delhi Snacks Move Up From the Street
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
INDIAN street food is a snack of endless varieties, eaten on the run or on a date, while playing or playing hooky from school. It is served and sometimes entirely prepared on the street. It is eaten while standing, also on the street, usually within whiffing distance of the gutter.
But as incomes rise and ways of eating change, the inevitable has happened. Street food, that emblem of raucous, messy, urban India, is slowly being tamed.
In recent years, it has begun to come indoors, get sterilized, and go upmarket. Most recently, a court order has prompted this city’s government to consider a ban on cooking food outdoors.
Across India, street food can range from the gilauti kebab of Lucknow, skewered lamb so tender that legend says it was invented by a toothless nawab’s cook, to the kathi roll of Calcutta, a deep-fried wrap of grilled meat, raw onion and hot sauce of secret provenance.
The iconic street food of Delhi is chaat, a variety of snacks that are meant to deliver a rave of tastes and sensations to the tongue, from crunchy to soft, tart to hot and sweet. The word is derived from the verb to lick.
A good chaat is a complex assemblage, as pleasure always is, and, by definition, it is not good for you. In Delhi, you can find nearly a dozen different kinds of chaat on the streets. They all involve something fried and starchy, and indulging in chaat requires abandoning all concern for hygiene.
Today, across India, brightly lit fast-food chains offer the standard varieties of chaat. Specialty restaurants self-consciously peddle the nostalgia of the unruly street in the least unruly surroundings of all: the mall. Even at a five-star hotel restaurant called Fire, a slender glass platter of chaat can be sampled, improbably, with a bottle of champagne.
Increasingly in these tamed chaat enclaves, the cooks use gloves for the sake of hygiene. Plastic cups and plates have replaced the cups and plates washed on the side of the road (though to say they are washed is being generous and invariably it is done by children, which is illegal).
The algae-green-colored tamarind juice that is the vital fluid of the type of chaat called pani puri, and that looks exactly like the sort of the thing you should not ingest, is now prepared with mineral water — and advertised as such at some of Delhi’s oldest chaat establishments.
The pani puri, also known as the gol gappa, or phoochka, depending on which part of the country you’re in, is a deep-fried hollow shell that is deftly punctured by the chef’s thumb, stuffed with boiled potato, dunked in the aforementioned green juice, and ferried from the hand that makes to the hand that eats. That intimate public exchange is as central to its pleasure as the hot-sour explosion on the palate.
Not surprisingly, a recent government-sponsored survey of street food vendors across India found “poor knowledge” of food- and water-borne diseases. Most vendors, the study found, threw their trash on the roadside and did not decontaminate water used to clean utensils or serve for drinking. Even more remarkably, the study found that on the hygiene survey, fast-food restaurants did not fare much better.
The pani puri has been repackaged in sterile and unexpected ways. Haldiram’s, an Indian fast-food chain, offers the shells in a sealed plastic bag, which you have to puncture and dunk in juice yourself. A trendy restaurant chain called Punjabi by Nature offers an inventive cocktail built around the pani puri: Two potato-filled shells are served with a shot of vodka infused with green chili and lime, along with a glass of draft beer as chaser.
As in everything in India today, the old co-exists effortlessly with the new.
And so one afternoon under a blazing mid-April sun, devotees of old-style chaat huddled near the acclaimed Prabhu Chaat Bhandar, a grouping of hot stoves propped up on a wooden platform, shaded by four large umbrellas, in a narrow alley of dogs, cars and trash in the heart of the capital.
Shubha Dua, 22, and four college friends had come for one of their regular lunch breaks. They sat squeezed inside a small car, all holding in their hands small foil plates of papri chaat, a blend of crisp wafers, yogurt, tamarind and spice.
They said they chose not to think about the cleanliness of the fingers that had blended their chaat. “We’re not looking over there,” is how Ms. Dua put it. They wouldn’t mind if the alley were a bit cleaner, they said, or if the flies could be kept away. Still, they confessed, they were lured here, week after week. You could customize your chaat to your taste, they said — ask for a bit more heat or a bit more sourness, or adjust the amount of yogurt. The mall chaat, they said, wasn’t the same, or as cheap. Prabhu’s chaats go for about 50 cents a plate.
Naresh Chand Jain, a vendor of betel leaves who came one afternoon for his regular helping, insisted that the pani puri juice at Prabhu’s had the power to cure all stomach ailments. (Prabhu’s pani puris are indeed so perfectly tart and refreshing that his theory seems entirely credible.)
For a contrast, there’s Fire, the cool, posh restaurant at the Park Hotel. The chaat platter comes with five items, all largely traditional fare, but arranged for the contemporary cuisine set, between mounds of thinly sliced cucumbers, carrots and beets, which gives it a deceptive air of healthfulness.
The raj kachori, a large deep-fried shell, is stuffed with two varieties of sprouts, green chilies and dollops of sweetened yogurt. True to tradition, the papri chaat is blended by hand. There are also deep-fried vegetable pakoras; chickpea dumplings in a spiced yogurt sauce called dahi bhalla; and the least successful of all, a deep-fried spinach leaf topped with yogurt and spice.
The chaat maker’s signature lies in his sonth, a sweet tamarind chutney whose recipe he is likely to zealously guard (Fire’s exceptionally tasty sonth incorporates dry ginger powder from the desert state of Rajasthan), and his masala, a spice mixture that in this kitchen can take up everything from rock salt and roasted cumin to crushed pomegranates and dried mango powder.
The perfect chaat, said Fire’s executive chef, Bakshish Dean, must “thrill” the brain. Here, it is not a cheap thrill; a chaat platter for two, spectacularly garnished with fenugreek sprouts, can set you back roughly $16, or easily five times the Indian daily minimum wage.
A more modest version of domesticated chaat can be found at City Square, one of dozens of new malls that have lately mushroomed across Delhi. One of the mall’s sit-down restaurants, Khaaja Chowk, exploits street kitsch in its décor but produces workaday chaats that taste exactly like what they are: food made in the mall. Upstairs, in a food court crammed with purveyors of pizza and nachos, as well as mutton sheekh kebab, is a place that calls itself Street Foods of India and promises the roadside snacks of Delhi, Mumbai and Amritsar, in the west.
Neelima Chadha, out shopping one Saturday, was unimpressed with what she called the “refined” taste of air-conditioned mall chaat. “If you want street food you go to the street,” was her verdict. She dug instead into a platter of fried bread and vegetables.
Street foods in the mall do not immediately threaten the street food of Delhi, but the roadside vendors may well have to change the way they do business. A court order earlier this year directed the city to ban the cooking of food outdoors, though not the sale of precooked foods. The city has yet to issue final rules, but it is likely to usher in changes to chaat-making.
The chaat makers along Chandni Chowk, in the tourist-filled old walled city, for instance, fry their potatoes outside, though most of the chaat fixings do not require cooking.
Those who would be most affected by the proposed ban are those for whom street food is the stuff of sustenance, not leisure. The daily meals for the city’s rickshaw pullers, porters, construction workers and the like are all made outside. Rice and curries are prepared in giant vats, fresh bread is baked in clay ovens all under the shade of a tree or a sooty tarpaulin. Because there is little or no overhead — for example, the cost of indoor kitchens or refrigerators — the food is exceptionally cheap. A full meal costs roughly 25 cents.
“Every day, they are passing new laws,” said Kamal Yadav, 16, who runs his family’s open-air lunch counter near Chandni Chowk. “Where will the poor go to eat?”
Not far away, in the heart of Parantha Wali Gali in Hindi — literally “the alley of the maker of parantha,” a fried flatbread — an old Delhi hand was mulling new possibilities.
Rajesh Sharma, who manages his family’s 117-year-old restaurant, said people who drive around in air-conditioned cars “can’t digest these paranthas.” Business, he said, had begun to slow down in the alley, heavy with flies and the smell of the ghee — clarified butter — he uses to fry the bread. He said he had begun negotiating for a stall at a new mall across town.
Unbeknownst to Mr. Sharma, someone had beaten him to it. In the food court next to Street Foods of India there is already a stall that borrowed its name from this alley. “Parawthe Wali Gali,” it called itself.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
During my time in India, my health has been less than stellar. I have been in and out of doctors offices and hospitals more that I care to count (thank god it's cheap). And I most say that like every other service industry in India - the service leaves a lot to be desired.
Don't get me wrong the actual medical care was fine, but its the complete package that sucks. Indian doctors have the bedside manner of door knobs, hospital staff have the compassion of tree stumps, and I have yet to meet an actual pharmacist (though chemist shops abound, and drugs are dispensed easily, by store clerks who seemed to have amassed prescriptive knowledge by life training, but not so much by formal education).
I bring this to point now, because for the past couple of weeks I have been getting a tune-up of sorts. Trying to take care of the little things that I should have been doing, but neglected to, and should take care of now while I'm in a place with cheap medical care - especially since I am uninsured!
Maybe, we are spoiled in the west, but you know what is it too much to ask for a doctor (or any medical personnel for that matter) to at least introduce themselves before poking and prodding you? Why am I the one being rude, simply because ask questions? Is it bad that I like to know my diagnosis, prognosis and course of treatment? Am I really expected to sit back quietly and do whatever the doctor says? Bump that!!
I will say though, I manage to get a dental cleaning, my contacts prescription updated, and a year's supply of my 2 daily meds for the cost of less than my co-payment back in the US. :-)
AND I only had to go to the doctor for illness once this month! (Honestly I am not a hypochondriac, but I just don't think Indian germs have liked me much)
Monday, April 23, 2007
Two thousand young men in Iran have protested against new clothing curbs, reports say, amid growing discontent about a crackdown on un-Islamic dress.
Shiraz university students were angry about new rules banning sleeveless T-shirts, even inside all-male dorms.
The protest came as the judiciary head warned police that an excessively ferocious campaign could backfire. Police say they stopped more than 1,300 women for dressing immodestly on the first day of the campaign in Tehran.
More than 100 women were arrestPost Options ed on Saturday; half of them had to sign statements promising to improve their clothing, the other half are being referred to court.
The focus of the new campaign is to stop women wearing tight overcoats that reveal the shape of their bodies or showing too much hair from beneath their headscarves. However, young men have also been arrested for sporting wild hair styles or T-shirts considered immodest.
Iranian television has broadcast nightly programmes warning women and young men with sleeveless T-shirts and spiky hair to be more careful about their dress.
The newspapers are full of pictures of women being arrested for their un-Islamic clothing, but foreign journalists have been prevented from filming it.
The head of the Iranian judiciary, Ayatollah Shahrudi, has warned that a severe crackdown on un-Islamic dress could have the reverse effect.
Meanwhile, an MP has asked why the police should spend so much time arresting young people and filing court cases against them instead of fighting drug addiction and poverty.
Source: BBC News 23/Apr/07
Friday, April 20, 2007
One that struck me today while I was on the treadmill at the gym observing overweight housewives trying to recapture some glimpse of a girlish figure was the number of similarities between the average Indian and American White Trash.
White trash has been a stereotype of the average American for decades (let's not forget that over 60% of the US can be classified as rural). Inspiring bands and movies, but is it a unique American trait?
Let me list some noted similarities:
- A penchant for synthetic fibers
- Way too many moustaches (there are even regional variances to how you grow your moush)
- Mullet haircuts
- An inclination towards public nose picking, spitting, peeing, belching
- Racist tendencies
- A liking of boiled peanuts
- A predisposition for pot-bellies
I'm not sure what this means, but I think it does merit further analysis, especially if you stop to consider how much older the South Asian civilization is, and the Indian-American predisposition to own motels and 7/11's.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Who decides what is immature and what is fun? So what if I'm 30, unemployed, broke, and homeless. I'll admit that I'm not exactly a prime catch, but I'm smart, educated, well-traveled, well read, still kinda cute.
Is prioritizing life experiences over financial gain really that bad? Does one really only achieve full adulthood when one obtains a mortgage and a retirement plan?
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Its fascinating how we like to hide human nature. How the status quo likes to preserve itself regardless of the evidence. To me this is further evidence that humand, sociallogically speaking, are still infants. Infants with big and dangerous toys.
Saudi Arabia's Gays Lead Good Life - Or Do They?
from www.querty.com website, 9 April 2007
It's common knowledge that Islamic countries forbid homosexuality. It may come as a surprise, then, that Saudi Arabia - the only country ruled entirely by Islamic law - actually affords queers more freedom than other parts of the Middle East. According to The Atlantic's Nadya Labi, not only are Saudi sissies largely unregulated, gay sex has long been the norm.
One of the main tenets of severe Islamic law, or Wahhabism, rules that unrelated men and women cannot socialize. The entire country's been divided into gendered regions. Men hang with men and women hang with women. Gay girls and boys, then, can socialize freely without fear of anti-gay recrimination. Labi writes:
...The kingdom leaves considerable space for homosexual behavior. As long as gays and lesbians maintain a public front of obeisance to Wahhabist norms, they are left to do what they want in private. Vibrant communities of men who enjoy sex with other men can be found in cosmopolitan cities like Jeddah and Riyadh. They meet in schools, in cafés, in the streets, and on the Internet. "You can be cruised anywhere in Saudi Arabia, any time of the day," said Radwan, a 42-year-old gay Saudi American who grew up in various Western cities and now lives in Jeddah. "They're quite shameless about it." The shamelessness comes not from gay acceptance, but from a distinct divide between one's acts and one's so-called sexuality.
Unlike the West, where men who have sex with men are largely labeled "gay", Saudi Arabia has no such classifications. Men who sleep with men are simply performing gay acts, not aligning themselves with some larger social identity. Well, for the most part. You see, men – both married and straight - often use other men to vent their sexual frustrations. Thus, if you cruise another guy and fuck him, you're not considered gay. If you're the one getting fucked...well, that's a different story.
For many Saudis, the fact that a man has sex with another man has little to do with "gayness." The act may fulfill a desire or a need, but it doesn't constitute an identity. Nor does it strip a man of his masculinity, as long as he is in the "top," or active, role. This attitude gives Saudi men who engage in homosexual behavior a degree of freedom.
Ladi goes on to explain that sexuality isn't divided by acts, but by pleasure - those who enjoy getting fucked are considered deviant, while the dominant tops retain their masculine virility.
What you may find even more surprising, reader, is that Saudi Arabia has a long history of pederasty. That is, sex between older men and young boys constitutes an important rite of passage, as in ancient Greece. Ladi's words:
Abubaker Bagader, a human-rights activist based in Jeddah, explained that homosexuality can be viewed as a phase. "Homosexuality is considered something one might pass by," he said. "It's to be understood as a stage of life, particularly at youth." This view of sexual behavior, in combination with the strict segregation of the sexes, serves to foster homosexual acts, shifting the stigma onto bottoms and allowing older men to excuse their younger behavior—their time as bottoms—as mere youthful transgressions.
Though many Saudis consider sodomy to be blasphemous, as in Christianity, the Koran does not explicitly forbid anal sex. As Ladi points out, it suggests punishment for adultery or premarital sex, but no penalties for sodomy. Thus, the Saudi man recently executed for having sex with boys was punished, according to their laws, unjustly. Still, homosexuality remains in the shadows. It becomes a national "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" situation, Ladi explains, in that officials don't go poking around in people's sex lives, nor do they encourage you to flaunt it.
Globalization, however, has started blurring the lines between sex acts and sexual identity. With Western ideas of homosexuality, then, may come stricter enforcement of social laws. Men who choose another man over their menstruating wife would be considered gay. Men who need to work one of in another man - they'd be gay, too. One of Ladi's subjects explains:
The whole issue used to be whether that guy was a [top] or a bottom. Now people are getting more into the concept of homosexual and straight.
Don't be looking for a gay rights movement in Saudi Arabia, though - the recent heterosexist imports have had contradictory effects. On the one hand, some men have disavowed their "gay" sex acts. Others, however, insist that by "coming out," they'll do nothing more than invite public - and legislative - scrutiny. The best thing they can do, many say, is to keep up the charade, ignore Western sexual divisions and enjoy a land where they can get laid easily and often, however secretive. One man remarked: When I see a gay parade [in trips to the West], it's too much of a masquerade for attention. You don't need that. Women's rights, gay rights—why? Get your rights without being too loud.
Another recalls a local telling him not to rock the boat: "You've got everything a gay person could ever want." It may sound that way, but at what price? Or, is there a price?
If you live in a society that has no true (read: Western) concept of homosexuality, does the irksome closet really pose a problem? Are the psychological effects of concealment as deep and devastating? Not according to a man named Zahar: "We really have a very comfortable life." But, of course, it's a double-edged sword. He continues, "The only thing is the outward showing. I can be flamboyant in my house, but not outside." And that could be a problem, especially for all the
big nelly queens among us....
The Kingdom In The Closet [The Atlantic]
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Never mind the fact that India has had proven success with sex education programs. And you know what in a country with such a high birth rate and number of people infected with HIV, it may not be a bad idea to teach youth how to use a condom properly. God knows they are obviously having sex!
Indian state bans sex education
India's Maharashtra state has banned the introduction of sex education in schools after protests from legislators who say it will corrupt young minds.
The move is being seen as a setback to central government efforts to introduce sex education in schools countrywide.
Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh states recently announced similar decisions. India has the highest number of people living with AIDS in the world. However sex is still a taboo subject in many parts of the country.
Despite the large number of people living with from HIV and AIDS, sex, the word and subject, is taboo in many parts of the country and is not discussed as openly as in the cities.
Many parents still hesitate to talk to their children about the topic and related matters. The children are just taught about the basics - such as biological changes in girls and boys and reproduction - in school N N Nayar, the principal of APJ School on the outskirts of Mumbai told the BBC that they have received instructions to increase awareness regarding "social evils" in teenagers and they have been doing that. "Our endeavour is to make children aware of these evils such as drug addiction, alcoholism and other dangerous things".
Another parent said it is important the school takes the lead in this matter because there are many mothers who still do not have "the talk" with their children, even about something as basic as menstruation.
Authorities may have banned sex education in schools but the move has focussed everyone's attention on the subject.
Health experts hope this will spark off a debate on an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.
Source: BBC News 03/Apr/07
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
By the time I move out, I would have been living in India for 20 months (8 in Kolkata and 12 in Mumbai). Honestly, I'm really glad I did this. It has been one of the most rewarding and enriching things I have ever done. But now I have to deal with the fact that I have no job and no money. Hum, so not cute.
I started looking for jobs, but it's not looking too hopeful yet. I originally wanted to try my luck in Thailand, but I'm really not finding anything, so now I'm not limiting myself to any particular locale. All I want is a job that will satisfy me, whatever that means.
I've actually realized, that jobs for my level are pretty tough to come-by. I'm too experienced for entry-level and still a few years away from being Senior. Hum, where does that leave me?
Oh, well in the meantime I'm just looking forward to being home. April 28 is just around the corner!