Tag Archives: foreign policy

Four on Friday: Photo Galleries

5 Aug

THIS one goes out to all my creative, shutterbug, artistic friends and family.

1. The New York Times had an arresting photo essay this week on children’s bedrooms around the world. As much as I love looking at pretty pictures, my favorite kind are the ones that tell a story. The story that documentary photographer James Mollison is telling in his new book, Where Children Sleep, is one of stark contrasts, between the little girl in Tokyo and her bedroom crammed with toys stuffed together on floor-to-ceiling shelves, and the four-year-old boy in Romania whose bedroom is a mattress on the ground on the outskirts of Rome. He shares the mattress with the rest of his family. The Times article that accompanies the images says:

Mr. Mollison’s new book, “Where Children Sleep,” had its origins in a project undertaken for a children’s charity several years ago. As he considered how to represent needy children around the world, he wanted to avoid the common devices: pleading eyes, toothless smiles. When he visualized his own childhood, he realized that his bedroom said a lot about what sort of life he led. So he set out to find others.

Jasmine, 4, has participated in more than 100 beauty pageants. She lives in a large house in the Kentucky countryside. CREDIT: JAMES MOLLISON

Jasmine, 4, has participated in more than 100 beauty pageants. She lives in a large house in the Kentucky countryside. CREDIT: JAMES MOLLISON

(The New York Times generally does stunning photo essays and multimedia features. I recommend poking around through those sections here and here.) Mollison lets his subjects tell the entire story, contrasting their portraits with visuals of their bedrooms. The children are photographed against a white background, allowing the entire focus to be on the child. (Kinda reminds me of a portrait photographer we studied at my media program in Bombay, August Sander, whose stark black-and-white pictures of ordinary people in the Weimar Republic revealed so much. I have hazy memories of piercing eyes, a stern man standing stiff and posed, an elegant dog in the foreground, stairs to the house at his back. Before seeing Sander’s images, I had thought that posed photographs could never be truthful; one needed to capture the image when the subject was free and in his or her natural environment, unaware of the camera’s steady gaze, but his beautiful photographs convinced me that even our poses give us away. In an article on the Minnesota Public Radio website, the author quotes Martin Weinstein of the Weinstein Gallery: “For me what makes him a great photographer is the truthfulness of the portraits, the directness of the portraits,” says Weinstein. “It’s his attempt to not induce any type of emotion. Very few of the pictures are taken where people are laughing or smiling or making facial expressions.”)

August Sander portrait of a man with dog

August Sander portrait of a man with dog

That was a looonng aside. Going back to the portraits of children’s bedrooms, I wanted to mention another portrait that I saw recently. It was not a photograph, but the film Stanley ka Dabba, made by Deepa Bhatia and Amole Gupte, the husband and wife team behind the fantastic film about an autistic child, Taare Zameen Par (before it was hijacked by Aamir Khan). I’m not going to review it here—though I loved it and recommend it highly—but want to say that the tension in the film is created by the lack of Stanley’s bedroom. If in Mollison’s photographs we get a sense of the children, their lives, their families, their homes, and their interests from the bedrooms, in the film Stanley ka Dabba the filmmaker’s deliberate secretiveness about Stanley’s personal space is just as telling. (Go see it to find out what I mean by that.)

2. I recently discovered iPhone photography, using a free app on my phone called Instagram. I hear that the paid app Hipstamatic is even better. From Foreign Policy‘s recent five-part photo series on the war in Afghanistan, with all the photographs taken with an iPhone and edited using Hipstamatic, I am mighty impressed.

Speaking of bedrooms, check out this lovely contrast between, on the left, refugee children peeping inside a makeshift house at the Charahi Qambar refugee camp on February 27, 2011, and on the right,Daniel Gretebeck, 21, from South Lyon, Michigan, rests on his cot at Forward Operating Base Minden, Helmand province, on October 31, 2010. Photographs by Balazs Gardi.

The War in Hipstamatic CREDIT: Balazs Gardi

The War in Hipstamatic CREDIT: Balazs Gardi

Here’s another of my favorites, from the fifth part in the series, See No Evil, by Omar Mullick, of Rahmatuallah Rahmani, who lost most of his family and children in an air strike in Helmand province sits at the mosque in the Charahi Qambar refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul. There’s a kind of a haze that prevents us from seeing the two men clearly. It may be a function of the fact the picture was taken with a camera phone but it suits the mood perfectly. It feels like a cloud of grief that separates this man from us; his experiences are so terrible we cannot, from our privileged standpoint, even imagine what he feels.



3. The same magazine has an interesting collection of images of visual art from Egypt: graffiti, performance art, public cinema, poetry, and more. One of my favorites is Tahrir Cinema. The author writes, “Recently, a group of filmmakers has been putting on ad hoc screenings in Tahrir Square, dubbing the series Tahrir Cinema. Lindsey writes, ‘[Filmmaker Lara Baladi] provided a projector and a screen; a passerby volunteered to get a mat for the audience to sit on; electricity was jury-rigged from streetlights. And soon hundreds of people were sitting, entranced, watching footage from the revolution that various amateur and professional filmographers contributed.'”

And then there’s this mural of a menacing tank heading toward a boy on a bicycle. Learn more about the collective artwork here.



But what I want to leave you with is not an image but some words. A poem by Kareem Abdulsalam, part of his collection, Teargas Poems. I saw it on the website Jaddaliya.com.

4. What Comes From a Cop

Armored cars
Boxes of perfected fear.
We thought they were divine creatures come to crush us
as native Americans first looked at horses.
We thought death itself sprang from them.

Armored car
Went up in flames
And the policeman inside struggled against the tongues of fire
Fought against fear.

When we rescued him,
He joined the rebellion.

4. This week is Shark Week on Discovery Channel, as I’m sure you know from the incessant ads on TV. As much as I dislike the sensationalism of the shows (some of them, at least)—if you’re trying to educate the public and raise awareness about these beautiful creatures, why use the image of a surf board with a bite taken out of it by some presumably confused shark as a recurring logo?—I love shows about sharks in particular and marine creatures in general. Some shows are better than others (some are quite bad, with soap opera-ish narration and melodramatic soundtracks) so pick your viewing judiciously. But ever since I observed great white sharks off the coast of South Africa last year, I have been fascinated by them.

Far from the man-eating monsters they are sometimes portrayed to be, they are actually the ones hunted by humans. According to “Man Bites Shark:”

While we might be alarmed at any indication that sharks are showing up in different places or biting into more and more humans, they’re far more vulnerable to us than we are to them. There have been only two recorded shark attacks in Massachusetts waters since 1670, but commercial fishing has decimated the area’s spiny dogfish shark population in recent decades. Since the 1970s, the numbers of scalloped hammerhead and tiger sharks have fallen by 97 percent along the U.S. East Coast, with bull, dusky, and smooth hammerhead sharks declining by as much as 99 percent. In the Mediterranean Sea, researcher Francesco Ferretti and his colleagues found that fishing has decimated large, predatory sharks over the past two centuries. Looking at the activities of the 21 countries that use the Mediterranean as their fishing grounds, they concluded the species that fared the best, blue sharks, declined 96 percent during that time, while hammerhead sharks declined more than 99 percent.

Shark Week from Discovery Channel

Shark Week from Discovery Channel

And according to Traffic, a site which monitors wildlife trade:

The top 20 shark catchers account for more than 640,000 tonnes annually, nearly 80 percent of total shark catch reported globally. The top 10, in order, are: Indonesia, India, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, United States, Japan, and Malaysia.

I had no idea that India contributed to the decline of shark populations! Another random fact: there’s more likelihood of being injured by a toilet than a shark.

The Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File reports that in 1996 there were 43,687 injuries related to toilets in the United States and only 13 shark-related injuries and deaths. That means the odds of actually dying from a shark attack that year were 1 in 3,748,067.

See a great series of shark pics here. (If you’re interested in learning more about marine life, check out this National Geographic article from 2005 about orcas, more commonly known as killer whales, which share lots of traits in common with us! The are a highly social kind of dolphin with distinct cultural habits, such that orcas in one community will not behave in the same way as orcas from a neighboring community. They have families, called pods, and extended families, called clans. And sadly, they are showing increasing levels of toxic contamination from PCBs or Polychlorinated biphenyls, which disrupts reproduction and does all sorts of damage. It’s worth a read.)

And because I’m an inveterate dog-lover and can’t resist pics of cute canines, here’s an adorable collection of pooches by Carli Davidson caught post-bath while they are in the middle of shaking themselves violently to fling the clinging water droplets off off off them! Go on to her site to see the full Shake series, but here’s a teaser:

Shake doggie shake! CREDIT: CARLI DAVIDSON

Shake doggie shake! CREDIT: CARLI DAVIDSON

On that note, happy weekend all!

Four on Friday: Just for Laughs

8 Jul

IT’S that delicious part of summer, when dull winter coats and snow-slushed boots seem like a thing of the past, and belong to a remote future, when free concerts and movie screenings and other outdoor events abound, and when you never have to walk more than two blocks for a scoop of chocolate ice-cream. In that frothy spirit, here are some fun amuse-bouche to start you off for the weekend:

Samosapedia screenshot

Samosapedia screenshot

1. Samosapedia.com: I don’t know when this website popped up, but I am so glad I discovered it! It’s a witty compendium of South Asian slang, from “lau” (Lau, not Dau), “Kiney” for Kinetic scooter, and “monkey cap” (oh, how that brings back memories of camping trips from school!). Here’s the meaning of “Lau:”

Originally derived from the digga pronunciation of the English word “love”, it has now wholly eclipsed the English word in usage and meaning.

Now it is a Kannada slang word meaning “romantic intent” but carrying more suggestive overtones. Road-side Romeos distinguish this word from a similar yet orthogonal word dau which means “lustful intent” and is more anatomical in execution.

The gap between lau and dau is the saga of frustruated youth in Bangalore.

And an entry on the necessity of ordering a “gravy dish” when eating out:

Apart from the obvious division of dishes on Indian menucards (vegnon-veg), there’s the more subtle dry and gravy distinction.

If you order too many dry dishes, the waiter will grow increasingly concerned for your health and safety, and will gently suggest “gravy dish, saar”. A gravy dish is considered essential to a meal, and unnamed, horrible things happen to diners attempting to eat rice or rotis with only dry dishes.

If you turn down the waiter’s offer, his eyes will widen, he’ll start shaking a little and there’ll be tears in his eyes as he implores, “No saar, gravy dish is a must. Cancel one dry dish?” He’ll gesture towards the ladice and children at the table as if to say, “How can you treat them so?”

If you’re pushy enough to persist, he will bring you the dry dishes, and then triumphantly set down gratis bowls of “gravy”. “To have with naan, saar.”

Gravy dish is a must.

Delhi Belly poster

Delhi Belly poster

2. Speaking of language and its usage, I have to mention the new English-Hindi movie Delhi Belly. If the title doesn’t offer enough of a clue, let me be very clear: if you can’t handle scatological humor, stay away. The use of language, local idiom, and Hinglish slang in the film is pitch perfect, with the characters peppering their conversations with gaalis and desi-isms. Sounds like something you’d overhear on a college campus, except wittier. I’m not going to summarize the plot here, or write a detailed review, or discuss whether the film captures Delhi, or any of that. There are weaknesses in the plot; the ending requires a bit too much suspension of disbelief, and I had about run out by then; not to mention that the Aamir cameo at the finish needed much cutting, but would I watch it again? In a heartbeat.

3. One of the trending topics on Twitter today is #againstIndianCulture. That’s just an invitation to snarky comments about inquisitive aunties, cutting lines, and Rajnikanth. Here are a smattering of my favorites (sorry, I had to remove the Twitter handle as it got too confusing and there were so many RTs):

Having a low-key marriage without calling the whole neighbourhood #AgainstIndianCulture

Buying software #AgainstIndianCulture

So true !!! Staying in a hotel when your mother’s cousin’s brother-in-law stays in the same city. #AgainstIndianCulture

BE PREPARED! Today, Arnab will probe the fact what was there in the hashtag #AgainstIndianCulture that led us to go complete nuts???

SO true! Not asking salary of someone you just met. #AgainstIndianCulture

bollywood dances without pelvic thrusts #againstIndianculture

Not wanting to attend your uncle’s brother-in-law’s son’s thread ceremony is #againstindianculture

Removing the plastic seat covers of a new car #AgainstIndianCulture

India vs Pakistan during World Cup and people not bunking office/school is #againstindianculture

Taking signboards seriously http://twitpic.com/5my7jt #againstindianculture

4. Beautiful photographs of Sudan, on the eve of South Sudan becoming an independent country tomorrow, July 9.

Four on Friday: The India Files

24 Jun

FOUR tidbits from the homeland this week.

1. Coke Studio has come to India! For those of you new to Coke Studio, it began in Pakistan four years ago, as a television show sponsored by Coca-Cola featuring live music and collaborations between Pakistani folk, eastern, classical, and contemporary musicians. It has become a runaway hit, and there is nothing quite like it in the region.

From the melodies in Pashto and Dari to the pop compositions of Strings and Ali Zafar, from the sweet voices of Zeb and Haniya to the gravelly Garaj Baras rendition by Ali Azmat and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and the irresistibly foot-tapping Chambey di Booti (Jugni) by Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi, Coke Studio Pakistan enchants and delights. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what the lyrics mean or what that instrument is called, it draws you in and doesn’t let you go.

Noori in Coke Studio Pakistan

Noori in Coke Studio Pakistan

In a behind-the-scenes Newsline interview, Coke Studio Pakistan’s producer, Rohail Hyatt talks about the show’s beginnings and what he hopes to achieve with it. Hyatt laments the fading out of traditional music and said he hopes the music show will provide a new platform for dying musical languages. He adds that Coke Studio isn’t “a commercial platform, it’s become commercial because people have liked it, but it was never meant to be. We have never succumbed to the pressures like, ‘Oh God, there are so many fans now that we have to cater to the public taste.’ In fact, it’s even more experimental this time.”

Asked about Coca-Cola taking the show to India, Hyatt is hopeful. “From what I am seeing and hearing, India is also trying to reinvent itself. Trying to totally steer away from Bollywood. Just look at the palette they have in terms of raw talent. Music is part of their philosophy. With a palette like that, you could paint a very interesting picture.”

It’s true that Indian radio stations play Bollywood beats obsessively, and it’s only in recent years that non-movie songs by Rabbi Shergill, Kailash Kher and others have made it to FM. As composer-singer Shankar Mahadevan—who featured in the first episode—told NDTV, “Bollywood is huge, I admit, but isn’t our country huge too?”

As someone who only discovered Coke Studio earlier this year, I didn’t have quite as long to wait for Coca-Cola to bring their venture to India. Perhaps that’s why I don’t share the skepticism of long-time fans when Coke Studio India, officially known as Coke Studio@MTV, debuted in India last Friday at 7 p.m. on the popular music channel. The blog Kafila pronounced, “The unanimous verdict is that Coke Studio India (first aired on the Friday that went by) is no match for Coke Studio Pakistan.”

But Coke Studio Pakistan is mature, and in its fourth season, having produced more than 80 songs; Coke Studio@MTV is six tunes old—an infant in comparison. It’s true, the Indian show could lose the flashing strobe lights and nightclub-like atmosphere, and there’s a lot out there apart from drums and catchy beats, but I for one enjoyed the debut and am looking forward to more. (Watch the first six episodes here.)

The second show is tonight. I, for one, am holding back on the criticism and am cheering with all my might. As much as MTV channel head Aditya Swamy says, “We are not at all worried about TRPs. All we want is to promote pure music [and] youngsters to enjoy the sound of various regions of India,” I am in no hurry to lose a genuine attempt to foster dialogue between India’s diverse musicians to low ratings and an indifferent audience.

Upma as prepared by Top Chef winner Floyd Cardoz

Upma as prepared by Top Chef winner Floyd Cardoz

2. Speaking of success stories, I was buoyed to learn of Indian chef Floyd Cardoz taking home the top prize in the 2011 season of the reality show Top Chef Masters. Top Chef—my favorite cooking show—is a competition among chefs featuring unusual challenges. Past episodes have featured cook-outs on the beach, with the chefs catching the seafood they will serve; cooking with no utensils; cooking with whatever ingredients are on board a ferry; cooking meals reminiscent of their childhoods; cooking healthy versions of the favorite meals of contestants on The Biggest Loser, a weight-loss reality show; creating their own restaurants; and more.

Fellow Mumbaikar Floyd Cardoz won for his preparation of the South Indian upma (as part of a three-course meal that also included a rice-crusted snapper in fennel-laced broth and a reinterpreted version of a beef stew called rendang). Not my first choice at an Udipi restaurant, but still so exciting! Cardoz’s $100,000 grand prize will be donated to the Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund in memory of his father, who died of cancer. After his win, Cardoz tweeted, “Woke up with a hangover. that’s what a magnum of Dom does to you when you celebrate a #TopChefMasters win. I welcome this headache anytime.”

Cardoz, recently of the Indo-French restaurant Tabla, which shut its doors last December, is the new chef of the forthcoming Danny Meyer seafood restaurant in Battery Park, North End Grill. Am looking forward to trying it out!

Meanwhile, here’s his recipe for upma if Top Chef inspired you to give it a try:

Wild Mushroom Upma Polenta with Kokum & Coconut Milk

Four servings


2 cups cream of wheat
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shallots
1 tablespoon ginger
1 tablespoon chillies
3 cups chicken stock
3 cups coconut milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cilantro, as garnish
Pea shoots, as garnish
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup oyster mushrooms
1/2 cup Maitake
1/2 cup king oyster mushrooms
2 shallots
1 chilli pepper
1 knob ginger
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup white port
1 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

1. Heat oil and cream of wheat and toast for 10 minutes on low heat. Remove from pan
2. Heat oil mixture then add mustard seeds and whisk until seeds pop. Add cumin and reserve
3. Heat pan. Add spice oil and butter. Add shallots, ginger, chillies, and cook for 2-4 minutes. Add cream of wheat and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add stock and coconut milk. Mix and cook. Simmer
4. Should be smooth.

Directions for mushrooms
1. Heat oil in sauté pan. Add mushrooms and cook with lightly coloured sear
2. Add butter, shallots, ginger and chilli
3. Deglaze with white port
4. Season with salt and pepper and cilantro.

3. You’ve probably heard of “coyotes” who bring Mexican undocumented immigrants across the border to the United States for hefty sums; in India, the coyotes are called “linemen” and they’re not much different. So says Scott Carney in the new issue of Foreign Policy, in his excellent story, “Fortress India.” In it, Carney describes a “Berlin Wall” that is being constructed by India on its border with Bangladesh, to keep its northern neighbors out. The wall has been in existence since the late 1980s, and is close to completion—the final section will be completed in 2012.

Shockingly—or perhaps, not so shockingly—the Indian Border Security Force guarding the wall has notched up nearly 1,000 killings since 2000, roughly two per week. Carney writes:

In India, the 25-year-old border fence — finally expected to be completed next year at a cost of $1.2 billion — is celebrated as a panacea for a whole range of national neuroses: Islamist terrorism, illegal immigrants stealing Indian jobs, the refugee crisis that could ensue should a climate catastrophe ravage South Asia. But for Bangladeshis, the fence has come to embody the irrational fears of a neighbor that is jealously guarding its newfound wealth even as their own country remains mired in poverty. The barrier is a physical reminder of just how much has come between two once-friendly countries with a common history and culture — and how much blood one side is willing to shed to keep them apart.

And with climate change wreaking havoc on ecologically sensitive Bangladesh, things are expected to get a lot worse.

Situated on a delta and crisscrossed by 54 swollen rivers, Bangladesh factors prominently in nearly every worst-case climate-change scenario. The 1-meter sea-level rise predicted by some widely used scientific models would submerge almost 20 percent of the country. The slow creep of seawater into Bangladesh’s rivers caused by global-warming-induced flooding, upriver dams in India, and reduced glacial melt from the Himalayas is already turning much of the country’s fertile land into saline desert, upending its precarious agricultural economy. Studies commissioned by the U.S. Defense Department and almost a dozen other security agencies warn that if Bangladesh is hit by the kind of Hurricane Katrina-grade storm that climate change is likely to make more frequent, it would be a “threat multiplier,” sending ripples of instability across the globe: new opportunities for terrorist networks, conflicts over basic human essentials like access to food and water, and of course millions of refugees. And it’s no secret where the uprooted Bangladeshis would go first. Bangladesh shares a border with only two countries: the democratic republic of India and the military dictatorship of Burma. Which would you choose?

The migrants will continue to come, and many will die—unnecessarily—at the hands of trigger-happy soldiers. Since liberalization of its economy in the 1990s, India has been keen to imitate the United States’ worst habits: McDonald’s; privatization to the detriment of the population; the workings of its newspaper industry, now foundering badly. In this, too, the U.S. example has not been a successful one. Criminalizing immigrants, erecting fences, xenophobic attitudes: none of this has worked. It’s time to find another path.

The Beautiful and the Damned by Siddhartha Deb

The Beautiful and the Damned by Siddhartha Deb

4. Finally, we are seeing India’s new Internet laws in motion, in the recent lawsuit for “grave harassment and injury” that businessman and Bollywood dabbler Arindam Chaudhuri has launched against journalist Siddhartha Deb, the publishers of The Caravan, which published Deb’s profile of Chaudhuri, Penguin, which is publishing Deb’s forthcoming book, The Beautiful and the Damned, of which the Chaudhuri chapter forms a part, and, bizarrely, Google India.

Check out my previous post about the broad, vaguely worded and regressive new law. I hope to write more on this issue later, so I will keep it short here. Please do read Deb’s profile of Chaudhuri: it’s exceedingly well-written, incisive and even-handed (apologies for the formatting; The Caravan was forced to remove the article from their website by the Assam court, where the suit was filed), and Chaudhuri’s fulminating rebuttal—where he praises the new Internet rules, and which was published in a magazine that he owns—here. The Caravan promises to keep readers updated on the progress of the case. In their editorial on the issue, they say that they intend to “fight this suit because we believe that we must defend the right of journalists to report on controversial subjects or persons without undue fear of legal intimidation from powerful entities or organisations that seek to insulate themselves from criticism.” Amen.

Lessons From Columbia ’68

12 May Columbia students had occupied the school buildings, April 1968. Courtesy Life magazine

NINETEEN sixty-eight was a year that shook the world. It also shook Columbia University, rattling it so hard that the president, Grayson Kirk, and the provost, David Truman, fell down—their reputations so tarnished that they had to “retire.” It is a time that haunts the secret underground tunnels under the main campus at 116th Street where student protesters once swarmed. Its ghosts linger in the five buildings—Fayerweather, Math, Hamilton, Avery and Low—that were once occupied by students for an entire week. It blankets the grass where police kicked, beat and arrested hundreds of demonstrators and bystanders.

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