"Hearty welcome," reads the ad in The Hindu, "to Miss Beryl Selvaraj, MBA, d/o Mr S.P.S. Selvaraj (Proprietor of GOPAL TOOTH POWDER). Welcome to India on completion of your MBA in England." Wishing Ms Selvaraj success and Gods Blessings in all Your Future Endeavours are a whole list of Selvaraj family members, plus staff and workers of the Gopal Tooth Powder works. May I, on behalf of everyone I know, similarly wish Ms Selvaraj a hearty welcome and very, very shining teeth as only tooth powder can make them?
What is VAW? It is part of a recent spate of acronymisations, which has a whole unpleasant department for itself under the title of developmentese. VAW refers to Violence against Women, and seems to have been the outcome of the coverage of a very worthy regional seminar held recently in Kathmandu. That seminar ended with a "Kathmandu Commitment" and plan of action to end violence against women and children, but if you start reducing all important subjects to acronyms, you merely trivialise. This same may be said for other genderised acronyms like WID, WAD, and GAD (figure them out yourself).
This from The New York Times of 15 October, on whats currently classy among rice varieties among the gastronomes of the Big Apple: "Bhutanese Red Rice, the new darling of the culinary world, has short, pinkish grains and, because it is partly milled, cooks faster than other red rices. Its mild, sweetly nutty flavour takes to good spice." Thats the good news, and I hope that the Bhutanese rice farmers had a good year exporting to Manhattan. The bad news is that about 90 percent of all rice consumed in the United States is grown in the United States even though they might have origins in our Southern climes. For example, as the NYT tells us, there are US-grown basmati varieties, known as Kasmati, Texmati and Calmati (grown in Texas and California) which are preferred to the Subcontinental varieties "because they do not require rinsing". Pah! Rice which does not require rinsing cannot be rice as we know it!
Bravo to Bhaktapur Municipality in Kathmandu Valley for striking a blow for regionalism. They charge upwards of 600 Nepali rupees to overseas tourists to visit the ancient township, but recently announced a contribution of no more than NPR 30 per tourists if they happen to be from India, Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Now, let us see if anyone else could think about beginning to emulate this example. The India International Centre in Delhi for starters, which demanded firang membership rates from a Nepali journalist. And this, despite the 1950 Indo-Nepal treaty of peace and friendship which stipulates that both countries regard each others citizens ones own!
Sanjoy Ghose, the activist working in Majuli island in Assam, who was abducted by the ULFA, is most likely long gone - killed or died accidentally. But the coverage has not subsided, mainly because the development worker comes from one of the best-connected families of New Delhi. The tragic end of Ghose, meanwhile, seems to prove a development theory that I have developed. The best test of a development project is whether it has made enemies. If it has not, then most likely the work has had no impact. In the instant case, the retribution seems to have been extreme and tragic.
The take on the Asian financial crash (actually term that southeast Asian) in an article in the International Herald Tribune was that the region suffers from a stunted form of capitalism marked by authoritarian leadership, little regulation, poor accounting standards, and excessive corporate secrecy. "For years, the Asian economic miracle blinded the world. But it was often the mere sheen of capitalism without its substance." Ah hah, something new being said. So whats the solution? The writer, who teaches business and economic journalism at Boston University, says the only way out is for an unfettered press that can improve corporate accountability and national economic openness. Okay, but India has an unfettered press, and look where it is. What gives?
For too long, typhoons in the western Pacific have gone with American names like Betty, Kate and Zelda (actually, I doubt if they ever get that far - there are not enough typhoons to go around). The World Meteorological Organisation recently decided that from the year 2000 onwards, typhoons shall carry Asian names. Fair enough, but they are likely to carry East Asian names where the typhoons hit, something like Hiroko, Bai Ling or Keiko. So heres an idea so that we also get to name South Asian names. How about christening cyclones and hurricanes in the Indian Ocean as well, which as yet go nameless? The names, if they have to be female, could be after the great silver screen actresses of yesteryears: Madhubala, Waheeda, Sharmila, Bimala. Bimala?
The slogan of an Indian Government tourism promotion campaign currently underway in Canada is "Everything youd never expect." I would say that again, for the picture of the Indian Himalaya printed in one ad in the Canadian edition of Time shows the very Nepali panorama of the Annapurnas, including the peak of Machhapuchharey.
When the British Foreign Secretary suggests mediating between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, the Indian national press foams at the mouth and ack acks him out of the sky. But it is awfully indulgent when Yasser Arafat suggests that he is ready to play go-between between Isla and NDelhi. "Arafat Stirs Hornets Nest" wrote one national daily, but buried the story deep inside. There was no follow-up the next day and that was the end of it. Poor Robin Cook, he should have been born Arab.
"Please read Nepal for friendship with all nations: HM instead of what inadvertently appeared in the main news on page one of the Saturday issue of The Rising Nepal. The error is deeply regretted. The Editor." That is all the notice said, in bold type. I wonder what the error was: Nepal not for friendship with all nations?
It is great for newspapers when corporate giants slug it out, for explanatory or condemnatory advertisements are the welcome fallout. I saw this happen yet again in the full-page advertisement brought out by Suzuki (slogan: "Belief in India, Committed to Maruti"), seeking to dispel "disinformation" about its role in producing the Maruti line-up of vehicles in collaboration with the Indian Government. Luckily for the publishers of more than one national daily, the fight over control of Maruti delivered them full-pagers. Now I wonder why Suzuki would not think of a certain South Asian magazine which is having to survive on a diet of Nepal-based ads...
Elites of the world, unite! is the message read by Media Mail, a progressive newsletter published by the Magic Lantern Foundation in New Delhi, in the syrupy television coverage of the funerals of Mother Teresa and Princess Di. Write the editors, "The Western media barons not only control peoples way of thinking in their countries, but also control the thought patterns of the third world elites." Saying that the Indian English dailies sang paeans to Dianas beauty and personality only to get mileage from her tragic death, Media Mail writes, "It proves that the globalisation of the thoughts, concerns and understanding of the Indian elite is complete."
My personal best magazine reading for the month of December is hereby awarded to Najam Sethi, editor of Lahores The Friday Times and Aaj Kal, but writing in the Outlook of 15 December, who encapsulates in four paragraphs the grand drama that took place in Islamabad having to do with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and President Farooq Leghari. You go read it yourself, but here is some additional food for thought which Sethi offers, on the role of the Pakistani Army, "A largely Punjabi army chose to side with a Punjabi prime minister rather than a Sindhi chief justice." Hmmm, had not thought about it quite that way...
How nice that Bhutan released a special Druk Yul postal stamp on the occasion of the 50th year of Indias independence, and held the releasing ceremony in New Delhi rather than in Thimphu. And how much nicer would it have been for the little country with the finest stamp collection in the world to have similarly commemorated Pakistans 50th and Bangladeshs 25th.
Romila Thapar addresses invitees at the
Southasian relaunch of Himal Southasian,
IIC, New Delhi, January 2013.
Old Faces, New Precedents
On 11 May 2013, Pakistan went to the polls in a general election that will transfer power democratically for the first time in the nation's history. Nawaz Sharif has claimed victory for the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
From our archive:
Mehreen Zahra-Malik discusses novel means of holding corrupt officials to account in 'A coup by other means?' (July 2012)
Shamshad Ahmad on praetorian irony, Machiavelli's prince, and Pakistan's fight for constitutional primacy. (January 2008)
Zia Mian and A H Nayyar write about Pakistan's coup culture and Nawaz Sharif's 'absolutist sense of power.' (November 1999)