Monday, April 12, 2010

What's up with the Regional Pride?

I still remember when Madras changed its name officially to the Tamil version- Chennai. Before you knew it, Bombay became Mumbai, Calcutta became Kolkata. Now all this Bengaluru/Bangalore business. I fail to see the point of it all. I'm sure there are people out there who would consider me less Indian for it, and perceive this as a betrayal to our culture, but I really don't see why the names of cities change how much more "Indian" they are. If people would stop caring about all the superficial crap, and start focusing on ACTUALLY showing regional pride, they would pay more attention to how they can conserve their languages, explore literature, safekeep art. Isn't that what regional pride should be all about? Making it so that the culture is secure? And not worrying about outdoing each other and worrying about something as small as political bullshit? Bitter. Yes, I am. I feel that people sometimes thrive on bigotry, and come up with any reasons they can to create differences and unnecessary and unhealthy competition to set themselves apart. India has a lot of broken processes. Even with how much advancement there has been, and I'm just as proud as the next person, that in a time where US and Europe are reeling from the hits to the economy, India has emerged, not just as the "little country that could", but really as a country that has fought for and earned the right to be respected as a world power. India has a voice, and everyone is listening. But there is a lot that remains to be fixed. I wish there was more focus on that, because now is the time, it can really be done. Growing up in an India suffering from "Brain Drain"- the tendency of young, capable, educated people moving away (usually to the US), it is pleasant to see that plenty of people choose to actually go back to India, and there are a lot more people sticking around to give back to the motherland that gave to them. But, I don't know how beneficial that's been. I think all in all, India has become a lazier culture. People don't need to study as much to get a decent job. All the twenty and thirty somethings, continue to live with their parents (which is good in a sense, because there is a severe lack of space and housing), working, and with a large, disposable income that is blown on frivolous things. There I said it. And quite honestly, I am stuck somewhere between revulsion and envy of that life. And with all the brains that India has retained, and the drain having been clogged up a bit, doesn't show in practice. The poor remain poor, and the rich get richer. The middle class has been benefited for sure. I wonder if I would feel differently living in India.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Eastern Approach

Elephants and camels. Strange rituals, languages and customs. Half naked ascetics sitting on a bed of nails. A dark and mysterious river, running through lands of mystique. Cultural histories as old as time itself. The East (most of Asia) is seen as a specter, veiled in fabulous precious gems and fine silk. The history and culture is definitely worthy of admiration, and there is a lot that can be learned from these cultures. Western cultures have in the recent past embraced ancient techniques used in Eastern cultures for overall well-being. This paper will evaluate briefly some of the benefits of what the Eastern approach has to offer, in health, general well-being and the magic of the Eastern philosophy.
The most obvious element that has been absorbed by Western cultures, and is the current fad is Yoga. An ancient Indian practice, this combines stretching, postures, deep breathing and physical manipulations to attain good health. Yoga has been known to treat obesity, high blood pressure, hypertension, among hundreds of other illnesses and the permutations of “asans” or postures available make it possible for the whole body to relax and at the same time get a workout. The best part is that it combines mental de-stressing techniques with the physical manifestation of the workout. It is used to discipline the body and mind at once, and individuals who regularly practice Yoga swear by it. In addition, the latest craze of the day is natural and organic. People are now ready to try alternative medicines such as herbal medications and natural remedies. My own great grandfather was a doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine (Indian Herbal Medicine). Ayurveda, literally meaning the “Ved” or science of living, is the use of ancient knowledge about the healing qualities of natural ingredients (especially in plants) to treat diseases. This can be as simple as using turmeric as a disinfectant, or cloves to treat a sore throat, or can be as complex as mixing 36 roots, berries, seeds, and tree bark to treat a chronic condition, like asthma. There is much scope remaining for Ayurveda to gain prominence in the west. It is effective, natural and potent. Of course, the drug companies might demur.
There is always meditation. Perfected by the poster boys for the cause, the Buddhist monks in monasteries in Nepal, India, and Tibet, the powers of meditation remain sadly unexplored. The Dalai Lama eloquently explains the processes and benefits of meditation in an interview. Meditation is a channeling of the mind that allows for greater focus, improved ability for calmness, introspection and rational thought, sharper reasoning and problem solving abilities, greater alertness, better observation powers, greater capacity for abstract thought, and teaching oneself determination and patience.
In the same realm of Eastern philosophy vs. Western practicality, cognitive scientist George Lakoff dicusses the distinct differences of both ways of thought and the benefits and dangers of each. The mind-body connection in particular is a debate that has been at the forefront since Rene Descartes. Lakoff specifically points to the use of metaphors in science and in philosophy. There can be multiple causes to anything, and the use of metaphors is essential in both science and philosophy to even begin explaining causation. The main difference in western and eastern thought and ideologies is that the west seems to focus on clear cut connections, and the east tends to focus not on the black or white, but the most dominant grays of life. There is value considering the eastern methods of thought because these ancient cultures take the mind body connection very seriously, and encourage feeding and healing both mind and body- an improvement in each, it is thought, has no choice but to cause an improvement in the other. In addition, as Lakoff states instinctively, “…in most cases, the answers to the deepest questions of human existence will most likely be metaphorical answers. There is nothing wrong with this. We just need to be aware of just what our metaphors are and what they entail.” So it seems that while entirely eastern philosophical thought is too abstract to make for scientific advances, and uber-practical western thought is too precise to allow for leaps of growth in possibilities, the answer points to a combination of both where we maximize possibilities and opportunities. The answer is the simplest among the choices given? Shocking.

Buddhism. Retrieved October 30, 2009, from
Lakoff, G. THE THIRD CULTURE. EDGE. Retrieved October 30, 2009, from

Image courtesy:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's wrong with us?

This morning, I was on MSN India (, and while I know it is important to be aware of current events, sometimes I wish I could just glean awareness without knowing. Strange, I know. Impossible...I know. It's been a LONG time since we were half-human half-apes walking the earth, and yet we behave even more like animals than we ever did. This is not restricted to India of course, but today, I want to talk about some of the things I read about.

Two eunuchs (hermaphrodites) were brutally murdered in their home by their own adopted son. The only motive seems to be money; the safe was raided. But was there more to it? Does it matter if there was or wasn't more to it? In the outskirts of Delhi, a pregnant woman was gang raped by a dozen men in front of other men, women and children. The men responsible came in to steal, and just happen to ravage a poor Dalit (let's not beat around the bush- Dalit is whitewash for untouchable) woman who was doing her job. What I think is disgusting, is that the same people who create these invisible barriers between groups of people, break those barriers and invade at their convenience. In Delhi, again, two more rapes in the news. An 28 year old interviewee raped by her interviewer!! A 20 year old girl who was a computer teacher to children was gang raped by 6 men and mercilessly beaten. I'm not even going into the man/woman control debate right now. This is about humanity.

So where the hell is it???

Is humanity a myth? Are opposable thumbs the only things that separate us from a pack of rabid hyenas?

This is all about power. People, organizations, nations. In individuals it manifests itself in rape and murder, in organizations and goverment, it expresses itself through money and politics. In groups of people it is wielded as a self-righteous sword....leading to things like genocide.

It seems almost as if we are hard wired for this stuff. The people who don't perpetrate violence stand around and watch it happen. Everybody tries to shut their eyes and pretend it's not happening. Until you're a victim and can't pretend any more.

A girl on the streets of Mumbai a couple of weeks ago sat naked for 5 hours on a busy street during peak hours before someone came to her aid. It took five hours for someone to notice her enough to cover her up. She ended up being a mentally ill, abandoned girl and was sent to a shelter. While she sat there, a procession of people celebrating Durga Puja, the great goddess, walked RIGHT by her.

Must we all be victims to look in the mirror? A little humanity from human beings doesn't seem too much to ask for. Look, people....think....act.

Picture courtesy:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Perspectives of an Indian Kind

The moniker of this blog of course, is a play on Encounters of the Third Kind. I love being tongue-in-cheek, and this blog is going to be that, and reflective of all things Indian and all things not. A little personal background:

I am 27 years old, female, and live in Southern California. I will be moving to the Philadelphia area within 4 months to pursue a new, married existence. Culturally speaking, I'm an amalgamation. I spent my formative years in Chennai, India. I was born in Kolkata, and I spent summers there. I'm deeply connected to my Indian heritage and the North Indian + South Indian perspective in itself is something that is a basic part of me. When I turned 17, we moved to the US. Not too much of a culture shock because I'd been here for vacations, but it's been an experience learning and growing "American". As I sit at my American desk working on my computer manufactured in China, sip my British hot chocolate, my Indian mind is brimming with memories, thoughts and ideas, needing to be shared. It's a global village, and this villager has a lot to say! So here's to a beginning of multicultural perspectives coming together to form a creative dialogue. This is important as the world continues to evolve as it has been. A new beginning to a new world.

The Benefit (and Detriment) of Economic Fertilizers

Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, and award-winning author of The World is Flat astutely observed, “India, first of all, came to the game with some natural advantages: one, English-speaking population; two, real emphasis on education. You also have a country that is very instinctively able to glocalize, take the best of the global world and meld it with their own culture." The observation comes on the heels of a couple of decades of intense development in almost every business sector of India. The progress has served as a breath of fresh air and opportunities for a country full of a capable work force struggling to find suitable employment and desperate for opportunity. But progress has demanded a price, and that has been the widening gap between the rich and poor (or possibly this is the result of the poverty being even more glaringly obvious in the surrounding opulence) and the waning cultural traditions. Whether India keeps speeding along at the speed of light, and becomes proudly “glocal”, or stays stubbornly rigid and resists the changes, there is always a price to pay. Ultimately, the best option would be that of “the greater good”, and the long term prospects for a country that is moving at the speed of light look excellent.
The ugly facts first: R. Nagaraj, an Indian economist wrote a paper discussing the realities of the economic growth and the rising global presence of India. While the numbers did show that poverty decreased with the increase of economic growth, Nagaraj argues that the poverty had started decreasing prior to the economic boom, and the poverty cannot be considered to have decreased when considering the nutritional aspects of the diets of the poor which had changed due to changes in the agricultural sector. Finally, he asserts, “If the suggested implications for the labour market have any value, then the observed growth process is likely to have been inequalising. In other words, since the improved growth since the 1980s did not result in a proportionate increase in employment (and poverty reduction), it is very likely that the growth has helped only those persons, regions, or segments of the economy that are already employed or better off.” (Nagaraj, pg. 13). His study points to the vast inequity of growth and wealth distribution in India, despite the country fast attaining economic power.
Atul Kohli contends that while India’s business strategies are obviously working in certain aspects, they are severely falling behind in others: “If India’s recent economic growth was really a result of premarket policies, then, in principle, there ought to be very few costs, only widespread benefits: after all, decentralised markets support democracy; competition creates a level-playing field; efficient use of factors of production ought to create labour intensive industrialisation and thus rapid employment growth; terms of trade ought to shift towards the countryside, benefiting the rural poor; and since capital moves to capital-scarce areas in search of high returns, regional inequalities ought to diminish over time, mitigating inequalities.
Unfortunately, many of the trends noted above do not fit these expectations. India’s growth acceleration is instead being accompanied by growing inequalities, growing capital intensity of the economy, growing concentration of ownership of private industry, and nearly stagnant growth in employment in manufacturing industries…India’s success at growth acceleration is to be admired. However, the current growth experiment has to be kept in proper perspective.” (Kohli, p. 1368).
It seems that some of the concerns about free trade creating unfair monopolies expressed in Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” episode discussing the “Tyranny of Control” are being epitomized: India has come a long way, but there is quite obviously a long way to go.
This inequity is explained further, with a hope for a better future by The Times of India Columnist and ex CEO of Procter & Gamble, Gurcharan Das in his assertion that most economies developed from being agriculture based to industry based to service based. India seems to be skipping the industry and going right to the service based economy, which he says is “a weak middle step” (Das, pg. 7). Das seems to be incredibly hopeful about India’s future. He claims that a short term relief for the poor would be for the country to encourage another green revolution and bring back strength to the agricultural sectors, since India has an ally in the tropical weather. Das refers to the Indian Democracy as “resilient and enduring”, even though India is far from basic necessities for a higher standard of living such as mass access to schools, health facilities and clean water. However, Das brings everything into perspective when he points out that half of India’s population is under 25 years of age, and therefore, the labor force will grow and strengthen, which he says “will translate into what economists call a “demographic dividend,” which will help India reach a level of prosperity at which, for the first time in its history, a majority of its citizens will not have to worry about basic needs.” (Das, p. 16).
The main advantage of the Indian economy is its entrepreneurial nature. A large percentage of the Indian economy is entrepreneurial. Even in rural areas, small business industries create jobs and minor revenue which add up to the major portion of the total economy of India. The remaining revenue comes from industries and service. The white collar professionals in India are the minority. This varied economic position has actually saved India from a veritable economic meltdown during the global recession. Indian industrialists have invested in education and the local industrialization which has helped generate new jobs and strengthen local communities. This has been an important contributing factor in India's growth and confidence as a self sustaining country. India has also made notable advances in technology; despite being a country which was based on agricultural revenue, India is now on the world map in terms of developing technology in various fields. Of notable mention, is the Tata Nano car, the least expensive car in the world, which has been a great development in the automobile industry. The IT sector in India has exploded giving rise to one of the highest concentrations of IT professionals in the world.
As Milton Friedman eloquently stated, “Economic freedom promotes human freedom.” This is the freedom that is seen in Thomas Friedman’s video of his visit to Bangalore, the hub of out-sourcing to India. Thousands of opportunities have sprung up for college graduates that would never have existed prior to now. As the personnel manager of the call center staff states, youngsters with a basic Bachelor’s degree make more than she ever did starting out with her MBA years ago. The young women in their mid twenties proudly display their apartment, their newfound security, their ability to embrace the future, while (somewhat) holding on to their heritage, while only a couple of decades ago, they would have been married with children at the same age. The out sourcing of jobs to India has indeed contributed not only to provide affordable solutions to world economic powers like America, but also to set the middle class “free”.
The “Indianness” of India has suffered due to this global invasion. Those who are aging are finding themselves increasingly left alone with paid strangers caring for them in place of their children. The offspring, stuck in the frame of gaining economic prosperity are leaving their small towns and cities for other big cities never to return. The clothes, the music, the movies, pop culture is all growing increasingly western, and the generation gap is the furthest apart it has ever been. Still, on an emotional front, these changes are concerning, and on a pure business standpoint, the changes can be seen either as a product of economic progress, or vice versa; but truly they have a symbiotic relationship.
When the United States of America was being faced by the recession, it would have been prudent to stop outsourcing. America had and is still facing a steep unemployment curve and one way of controlling that is preventing jobs being taken over by other countries. Therefore, an obvious knee jerk reaction was to prevent outsourcing. However once the economy stabilizes, outsourcing is a good way for any country to benefit economically. You pay a developing country much less to make your products, make them use their resources and also making them deal with the production and post production problems. The recession has served a blow to the confidence of the consumerist attitude of people and the purpose of the stimulus plan is to allow money to flow in the markets. Once the economy is steadied, outsourcing will once again be a valuable tool in the growth of the United States’ economy (more workforces being paid less with a much lower investment).
Ultimately, a consumer’s memory is selective, and America can and will capitalize on that, and will not need to put an end to out-sourcing in order to reinstate the economy or provide jobs for Americans. The Economic Fertilizers being put in place (as they have been in India for decades) will prevail.


Das, G. (2006, July). The India Model. Foreign Affairs, 85, 4., pp. 7-16. Retrieved September 2, 2009, from

Kohli, A. (2006, April 8). Politics of Economic Growth in India, 1980-2005 Part II: The 1990s and Beyond. Economic and Political Weekly, p. 1368. Retrieved September 2, 2009, from Princeton.

Nagaraj, R. Indian Economy Since 1980: Growth or Polarisation? February 12, 2001. 1-22. Retrieved September 2, 2009, from Google.