Thursday, March 31, 2011

Goodbye!

With a tinge of sadness, I am hereby having to end this blog. I have a new position with India Public Diplomacy Commission, one that unfortunately stipulates that I don't publicly blog. I have been blogging now for some 5 years, and have enjoyed this public forum to share my thoughts, quotes and tidbits of wisdom. I would like to thank all you readers for tuning in to my daily meanderings. I hope the blog has helped enrich your days, and you consider the time spent here to be worthwhile. If not, all time wasted shall be refunded. Until then, auf wiedersehen!

The Failure of Shareholder Capitalism

Dancing in the streets of Delhi

My friend Thomas had a great story about his days managing a scuba outfit in the Sinai.  He gave his workers a number of days off over a monthly alloted period, and told them that they didn't need to come to him every time that they wanted a day off, but to just take the days alloted.  But, sure enough, the first of his workers approached.  Mohammed exclaimed, "Boss, my grandmother is dying! I need the day off."  Worried, for his worker, he promptly gave him the day off.  Yet soon after, another Mohammed came to him with the same trepidation in his voice declaring, "Boss, my grandmother is dying! I need the day off!"  He quickly caught on to onslaught of Mohammeds and their dying grandmas.

Yesterday was the India vs. Pakistan cricket match. There is a real carnival atmosphere about. It is practically a national holiday. And those who couldn't get off have called in sick or otherwise. You wouldn't believe how many dying grandmothers can be found when India is playing Pak in the World Cup. I ducked into my boss' office, and declared that my Indian grandmother was DYING and I needed the rest of the day off to care for her.  He giggled and let me beg off.

The match was a great one.  India batted first, and Sachin Tendulkar ("the Splendid Scimitar") was off like a rocket.  India played well, and never looked in trouble, especially after Pakistan's "Boom Boom" Afridi went bust.  India won the match, and now is in the finals against Sri Lanka.  India is my favorite team, but Sri Lanka has my favorite player, the hurler Lasith Malinga. Slinga' Malinga has a supremely distinct way of bowling (pitching, for those not initiated), and is a phenom.  So bringa on Malinga and Lanka Lanka Lanka!

After India won, Venkat, Neel and I went out into the streets to see the celebrations.  Venkat mentioned to grab my camera, and I had a premonition that it was a bad idea, but took it anyway.  We got a car and driver and headed down to the India Gate for the celebrations.  On the way, the streets were packed with fans cheering and dancing on the side of the road.  People were hanging out of their windows, waving flags and honking.

We got down to the bedlam around the India Gate, it was intense.  It was practically a parking lot.  Everywhere there were people dancing and singing, waving flags and cheering on top of their cars.  We hopped out and were dancing, shouting and partying in full celebratory mode.  Funny thing is that many Indians called the semi-final match their World Cup final, and don't care so much about the actual final.  Fireworks were going off and the base was bumping in the night air.  I happened to be the only gora there, and especially the only gora in a Sahara India cricket jersey.  At one point, I jumped up on a car roof, doffed my jersey and was waving it like a flag to the cheering Indians screaming "Jai Ho!"

We danced and sang.  The funniest thing was the driver, who turned out to be a raucous rock star.  He was dancing the most, and breakdancing in the street.  He hopped up on the roof of his company car and was ebullient in cheer.  We actually had to get Neel to start driving to convince him to move on.  He got back in, and would drive 5 feet, then stop again, get out, and start dancing to the base-bumping music.

The whole thing was a full scene to behold.  Hard to describe in full vivid detail.  It was intense, but calm too. No looting like in the US after the home team wins, just pure Jai Ho celebrations.

Eventually, we made our way out of the carnival. I rode on the edge of the car window, slapping fives with all the fans.  We drove off into the silent night, as I remained sitting perched on the window with my body out like I was in a personal convertible.  The cool night air in the breeze alternated from floral to fetid as we passed from tree-lined streets to slums and back again. As the wind whipped through my hair and assaulted my eyes, I gently put my head on the roof and thought about how much I would miss this place where almost anything goes.

When we arrived back at Venkat's Clubhouse, I went to get out and look for the lens cap, and didn't realize that my camera bag was still open.  The camera and big lens came tumbling to the ground.  The camera was fine, but the big lens got banged up.  It still seems to work, and doesn't look scratched, but definitely took a shot.  It should still work, but will need to be replaced at some point in the future. Total confluence of events: had the lens cap been on, the bag wouldn't have been open.  So it goes.  

The Raja's breakfast

Among the billion things I am going to miss in India, one of the things I will miss the most is my breakfast walk on the way to work.  I stop at various carts to get a plate of fierry chole (garbanzo and potato stew) with red onions covered in radish chutney and served with giant fried puri bread.  That, and a tall glass of fresh squeezed OJ sets me back 30 rupees ($.66).  Breakfast fit for a Maharaja.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Taking Cricket Diplomacy to a grass roots level

I have a new blog up on the USC CPD site on Cricket Diplomacy and the need to take such ventures to a grassroots level:



"Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there is a field. I'll meet you there." -Rumi

In the subcontinent, there is really only one religion that unites India, Pakistan and Bangladesh: cricket. With India’s dethroning the three-time consecutive champs Australia, and with Pakistan’s victory over the West Indies, the stage is set for a raucous match between India and Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup semi-finals. 
Cricket has a long history as a platform for diplomacy and public diplomacy between India and Pakistan. Cricket diplomacy in the Indo-Pak context made its appearance in 1987. Amid a period of rising tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and with both armies on high alert at the border, Pakistan’s President Zia ul-Huq accepted an invitation from Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to attend an India-Pakistan Test match held in India. "Cricket for peace is my mission," said President ul-Huq as he attended the match, accompanied by a large delegation of government officials and businessmen. The visit ultimately helped ease the rising tension between the two sides.
In 1999, Pakistan’s team toured India, and at a match in Chennai, received a standing ovation from Indian cricket fans after they defeated the hometown favorites.
In 2004, the Indian Cricket team made a full tour of Pakistan, the first in almost two decades, in an event billed as the “Friendship Series”. Then-Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee told his squad as he sent them off to Pakistan. “Don’t just win the games. Win the hearts of the of the people as well.” That they did, as India’s cricket team was greeted with cheers from Pakistani fans at their matches. 
The following year, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared, "Nothing brings the people of the subcontinent together more than our love for cricket and Bollywood," as he invited former former-Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to Delhi for a One-Day Test match between India and Pakistan. 
India is presently hosting the Cricket World Cup, and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sent letters of invitation to Pakistan’s President Zardari and Prime Minster Gilani to invite them to attend the semi-final match on March 30th. Pakistan’s prime minister accepted the invitation and attended the match. This marks the first major bilateral event at the apex level of politics since the Mumbai attacks in November 2009 derailed high-level discussions between the two sides. 
On a people-to-people level, there has been a bit of ticket diplomacy, as nine Indians gave their tickets to Pakistani fans in a bit of goodwill, and as an attempt "to destroy stereotypes."
This author had previously advocated that the U.S. engage in cricket as public diplomacy in Pakistan. As such, the U.S. should consider supporting a grassroots initiative to help engage in more cricket exchange between India and Pakistan on a local level. While the high-level cricket diplomacy is helpful and beneficial for taking diplomacy wickets, real people-to-people cricket diplomacy would do far more to lower the levels of hostility between the two sides. 
When I was a counselor at Seeds of Peace Camp in Maine, I watched Indian and Pakistani campers play cricket together and form bonds of friendship that helped pave the way for better understanding. 
Already, there is a media-sponsored public diplomacy initiative called Aman ki Asha, sponsored by media titans The Times of India Group and The Jang Group (Pakistan) that works to foster people-to-people dialogue between the two subcontinent neighbors. The initiative has engaged in cultural diplomacy exchanges, and has been working to make cross-border travel between India and Pakistan easier, as well as conducting numerous conferences on issues shared by the two communities. 
In the wake of the cricket diplomacy excitement surrounding India and Pakistan’s match, the Aman ki Asha initiative should take advantage of the opportunity posed to build grass roots cricket exchanges, and the U.S. government should play an active role in such endeavors.

The other side of incitment

Much is made of Palestinian incitement.  There are organizations like Palestinian Media Watch that tracks Palestinian incitement.  The fact is that there is also a bit of Israeli incitement too.  Israelis like to point out all the Palestinian maps that don't include Israel noted, yet rarely do Israeli maps make note of "Palestine" or "Palestinian Territories" regarding the West Bank and Gaza.  Noam Sheizaf has a good piece in +972 about Israeli incitement in children's books.

...tip me over and pour me out

Tea Party ratings are down. Whither tempest? Two tears in a tea pot...

India v. Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup

"Out beyond ideas of right
and wrong there is a [cricket] field.
I'll meet you there."
-Rumi

There is a real carnival atmosphere about. It is practically a national holiday today. And those who couldn't get off have called in sick or otherwise. You wouldn't believe how many dying grandmothers can be found when India is playing Pak in the World Cup.

Meanwhile, the NYTimes has an article on Cricket Diplomacy and how it has helped thaw relations between India and Pakistan. I have an article on such things coming out soon for CPD.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Picasso on God the Artist

"God is, above all, an artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the ant. He never tried to follow one particular style. He kept on doing whatever he felt like doing."
-Pablo Picasso

Hungry Beast

Hungry Beast, I am.  Or perhaps a Beastie Boy.  Or probably just a "mischef".  Anyway, I have a new article in the Daily Beast on Malaysian Gastrodiplomacy!
Malaysia is conducting a dynamic gastrodiplomacy campaign that has combined elements of culinary and cultural diplomacy. The country is a natural locale to carry out gastrodiplomacy. It was the spice-trading hub of Malacca that brought itinerant traders and successive waves of hungry European colonists ranging from the Portuguese to the Dutch and the British to the Straits of Malacca. Later, the British helped turn the island of Penang into a spice-trading entrepôt.
Malaysia has long been a gathering point for varied cultures, and its present mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian flavors, as well as influences from Thailand and Indonesia, create distinctive and delicious culinary fares. 
The country has been conducting various forms of gastrodiplomacy for a number of years. In 2006, it embarked on a campaign to brand Malaysia as a center for halal food within the Muslim world. 
In 2010, Malaysia kicked off Malaysian Kitchen for the World —a robust gastrodiplomacy campaign meant to create awareness about Malaysia as it creates awareness for Malaysian cuisine and recipes. The campaign has been carried out by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) to promote Malaysian cuisine globally, with heavy emphasis on the U.S. and U.K.
“We are a multiracial, multiethnic society, so we have the Malay, the Indian, and the Chinese cuisines,” said Undersecretary Dato’ Than of the Department of Information and Public Diplomacy in Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Besides promoting Malaysia and branding it, the Malaysian Kitchen for the World helps strengthen relations in the countries we are promoting Malaysian cuisine. It is both cultural diplomacy as well as gastrodiplomacy.”
One of the more distinct styles of Malaysian food highlighted in the campaign is Malaysia’s Peranakan cuisine. Peranakan food was born out of Chinese migration and assimilation to the Malay Peninsula; this distinct culinary treasure deftly combines Malay and Chinese flavors for a subtle but spicy cuisine. Such delicious Peranakan treats include asam laksa—a delicately sour tamarind fish soup with thick white noodles, bean sprouts and mint, or kari mee—a spicy Malay-Chinese riff on traditional Chinese noodle soup that incorporate fiery red curry and coconut milk.
As part of the campaign, Malaysian Kitchen for the World has brought top Malaysian chefs to cook up Malaysian culinary fares at various food fairs and food-tasting events, as well as bringing renowned global chefs to Malaysia to learn about its cuisine. Online, the Malaysian Kitchen websites promotes different Malaysian recipes and offers an extensive list of where Malaysian cuisine can be located around the world. The Malaysia Kitchen campaign even helps arrange financing for Malaysian restaurants and restaurateurs abroad to support the expansion of Malaysian cuisine.
The campaign has also shown a bit of attention to local trends as it set up a food truck in New York to take advantage of the growing food-truck craze that has been sweeping across America. Both the campaign and Malaysian Kitchen food truck have taken advantage of social media to promote the initiatives via Facebook and Twitter.
The brilliance of Malaysia’s campaign is that it has also combined aspects of cultural diplomacy with its culinary outreach. In this regard, Malaysia has set up night markets in famous landmarks of cosmopolitan cities such as a Malaysian night market in the middle of London’s Trafalgar Square. More recently, this public diplomacy campaign touched both coasts of the United States as it set up a night market on Santa Monica’s bustling 3rst Street Promenade and in the hip Meatpacking District in New York City. Such cultural and culinary diplomacy is most effective, as it plays on all the senses, not just taste.
Malaysia’s gastrodiplomacy campaign has been a delicious way to create better awareness of Malaysia through its cuisine. Many other countries looking to engage in such forms of digestive diplomacy would be wise to study Malaysia’s recipe.

PJs

Return to Delhi

I had a slow final saturday in Cochin, and made my way out on a night flight back to Delhi on IndiGo.  I had the whole row to myself, so I stretched out and slept the whole ride.

I returned to a dry, desiccated Delhi.  Such different heat from the humid south. This was a desert heat that sucked every droplet of water out of your body.  I got back for a sunday tour of the Qutab Minar, walking by way of a flower market which turned into some great photo and play as I let all the kiddies try on my hat.  One kid and I got in a tickle battle, which had the whole flower family in stitches.  I was given some flowers that I put in my camera bag, and filled the bag with the intoxicating smell of roses.

Anyway, I visited Qutab Minar, the imposing stone statue minaret of long-forgotten dynasties.  Not able to finagle a student ticket, I had to pay 250rupees (vs. 10 rupees for Indians).  The red sandstone brick is the world's tallest stone structure.  I'm sure it was once an imposing site to be held some 8 centuries back.  The historic plaques spokes of the Lalkot dynasty- a slave dynasty that ruled over the area.  There was also an interesting story of a female Sultana named Raziya, who was the first of her kind to rule.  She challenged the purda (veil) and appeared in public in male dress.  There was also an interesting Iron Pillar statue of metallurgic wonder.  Somehow after nearly almost 1,700 years, the statue still hasn't rusted, and no one knows the metallurgic technology to make it so.  I sat out on the grass in the shade, reading Dostoevsky's short stories, and enjoyed the cool breeze.

I returned to go with Venkat to a lecture by Swami Parthasarathy.  This marked a perfect punctuation to my yatra, as it was the Swami's treatise on Vedanta that had me contemplating the present.  The lecture was fascinating.

The Swami spoke about a passage about Arjuna seeing the cosmic form of Krishna.  He spoke of God as the infinite reality, and how the infinite cannot have form.  He also spoke of prophets (of all religions) as being self-realized individuals.  Swami P continued with a discussion of the 3 states of consciousness: a) Awake, b) Dreamer (kind of ironic, as I am reading a Dostoevsky story about "the dreamer") and c) Deep Sleep.  He also had a little anecdote about meeting the US Consul General of Mumbai, who introduced himself as such, to which the Swami replied "no, you aren't."  Confused, the CG produced his card to show who he was.  The Swami replied that was who he was when awake, but that might not apply when in Dream state.  Wasn't the best anecdote, but I merely bring it up so I can say: WikiVedanta.

He continued about the notion of: I am; I am; I am continuous (I grok; I grok; I grok continuous).  He had an interesting point of how selfless action cleanses the self, while selfish action pollutes the self.  Also a great quote from Oliver Goldsmith, "Where wealth accumulates, men decay."

But...then when the lecture ended, everyone lined up with little envelopes to give donations to the Swami.  Really?  What happened to that great Goldsmith quote?  Might as well just pass around the collection plate.  I find that high minded philosophy and religious principles often lose their luster when struck with reality.

Anywho, I still enjoyed the lecture.  After, Venkat and I hopped a rickshaw, who ended up being drunk.  But, it was okay, he told us, since he honestly admitted, in slurring speech, that he was drunk.  He kept looking back at us when he should have been paying attention to the road.  It was a little scary, and we got out quick.  We headed over to an Andrha Pradesh Ministerial building for some great AP food.  AP food is kind of similar to Tamil food, but a bit spicier.  We had curried zucchini, a delicious garlicy spinach dish and some other assorted AP delicacies.

Nice to be back in Delhi to finish my Indian chapter.

Monday, March 28, 2011

New pics up: Uttrakashi, Chennai and Cochin

From Uttrakashi and the River Yamuna

From Chennai Days

From Chennai Markets (and the Dadas)

From Cochin

The Short List

INDIA Future of Change has released the shortlisted photos, the top 50 (as judged by moi). Some pretty immaculate shots, have a peep.

Nye on China's soft power

Joe Nye (the soft power guy) had an interesting piece on China's soft power, so much so that my own Mom sent it to me.  I sent it to my friend and former fellow fellow Prof. Taru Salmenkari.  She had a great answer: "Seen from China, power is not soft or hard, it is costly or not."

Holi

Unfortunately, my travels took me away from Northern India during the Holi Festival. Check out the Indian Carnival of Color.
                                            (not mine)

On Knowledge

"Knowledge is never given, it must be taken"
-Swami Parthasarathy

Calligraphy to Bridge Religious Communities in God’s Own Country

I have a new story up on INDIA Future of Change's site on Thoufeek Zakriya, an Indian Muslim who does masterful Jewish calligraphy,

including Hebrew calligraphy in Kufic Arabic script

Thoufeek is a wonderful example of India's tolerance and pluralism.  This is the short version, I have a longer version that I am working on as well.

Wikileaks, Indian style

Wikileaks has reared its truthtelling head to the Indian subcontinent. When the cable first hit daylight, the Congress Party was pilloried by the BJP over an apparent cash-for-votes scandal over the US-India nuclear deal.  Ah, but the BJP spoke too soon about its faith it Wikileaks as it came out that their top brass saw the "hindutva" nationalism was merely a political ploy.  Now BJP is backing off how much weight they put in the veracity of said leaks.  Indeed, Wikileaks can be a double-edged sword of truth.

In light of all this, I might have a meeting with the US Embassy's PD div, and I offered to pass the contact on to a friend at the Indian Ministry of Tourism.  He politely declined with a laugh, stating he didn't want to end up in Wikileaks.

The Wikileaks affair is a stirring reminder that all diplomacy should be public diplomacy, and if you can't say it in public, don't say it in private.  

Monkey Diplomacy

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kosher/Halal Seal of Approval

The world's first Kosher/Halal Seal of Approval, as crafted by the talented Mr. Thoufeek Zakriya


Mother Teresa on Life

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is a beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is costly, care for it.
Life is wealth, keep it.
Life is love, enjoy it.
Life is a mystery, know it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.
-Mother Teresa, posted in her center in Calcutta- noted in City of Joy

Progress

Good news friends, since I last wrote about a case of a mentally ill woman being chained to a tree for five years, the progressive forces in India have rallied to enact legislation making it illegal to chain the mentally ill to a tree.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Splendid South

Last night I made my way to the Paradesi synagogue, but unfortunately there was no service.  There were only 4 men, not enough for a minyan.  The Cochin community has dwindled even more than when I was last here, writing about it in the twilight of its days.  We did a few prayers and got a little background and tour from an Israeli volunteering (?) at the synagogue, including a glimpse at the magnificent Torahs, including one with a gold crown given by the Maharaja of Cochin to the Jewish community.

I caught a bus back to Ernakalum and met up with my friend Maneesha for some Chinese food.  Side note, I called her cell on the cell I borrowed from some fellows at a coffee stand.  The jokers tried to call her back and pretended (poorly) to be me and to get her to meet them.  I think it was Gregory David Roberts ("Shantaram") who wrote that India is ultimately a nation of 14 year-old boys.

Today, I had a slow shabbat, doing little save writing and blogging.  I took a long walk to kill time and grab some lunch.  There is such joy  I get when I am the only foreigner in a local restaurant.  The other patrons see me eating what they eat, and doing it in the same manner, and they greet me with huge smiles (and headbobbles).

Tonight I fly back to Delhi.  With affection in my heart, I bid farewell to India's splendid south.

Crossing the Strait of Cochin on a rickety old barge

For the third time today, I embarked on the boat to cross the Straits of Cochin.  I was first told of this boat by Mathew, a loquacious Malayali Christian fellow I met trying to catch the bus back from Cochin to Ernakalum.  Maneesha seconded the advice so I embarked on the rickety boat to cross the strait.  With its loud, antique motor roaring in the middle of the craft, I plied back and forth and back again.

On the first ride, little fish jumped out of the water, disturbed by the craft's wake.  On the second, I gave up my seat to an old woman, who smile in gratitude melted my heart.  I sat on a stoop, comparing my fair skin to the blackness of the fellow sitting next to me.

As the sun was setting pink in the horizon, I crossed for a third time to make my way to the ancient synagogue for the sabbath.  As I boarded the ship, I asked a fellow passenger if the boat went to both Ft. Cochin and Matancherry.  His bobbled answer back to me indicated affirmatively.

The brackish sea air filled my lungs and nostrils.  Not a sound was made on the journey, as the din from the motor was too great.  The beige motor beat like a rusted old aorta, taking in black oil from a soda bottle through a coiled vein.  The barge vibrated with a hum from the heart.  The sun shimmed in the seas like a strand of gold.  Old barges tugged along.  From across the strait, giant cargo port cranes looked down like metal dinosaurs.  In short, it was a perfect ride to welcome the sabbath, and far more ephemeral a mode of transport than the bus.

A city is like a capricious woman: she takes time to be seduced and to reveal herself completely.
-Paulo Coehlo, Like the Flowing River

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cochin Cont

Well, I was planning on leaving Cochin on Wednesday night, but forces conspired otherwise to keep me here and I am staying on until Saturday.  I returned to Cochin on Wednesday to do a bit of site seeing and gem shopping for my little sister for her jewelry biz.  I first stopped in the Dutch Palace, which was originally built by the Portuguese and present to the Raja of Kochi after they stole a little too much of his land.  Later the Dutch refurbished it and hence the name.  The palace had some wonderful Hindu murals of scenes from the Ramayana and some great artifacts and historical info about the royal family.

One of my traveling tasks is to find and procure her precious gems, pearls and jade for her jewelry business: E-Rock Designs.  I spent about an hour sipping tea and haggling over some beautiful white tiger's eye stones, but ultimately walked away when I felt that the other side was too much of a con artist.

I meandered through the long bazaar road, stopping to take pics of the warehouses overflowing with spices and other provisions.  One storehouse full of dried chilies was so potent that my eyes watered just stopping for a shutter second.  I hoofed it over to the Ft. Cochin area and walked about the tourist area and over to the St. Francis Church to pay my curses to Vasco Da Gama at his almost final resting place (he died and was buried there, but was re-interred in Portugal).

I caught the bus back to Ernakalum, and moved hotels to the Edassery Mansion, where I got hooked up with an executive suite courtesy of Venkat's Club House.  Membership has its privileges.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The New Self Hating Jew

Oh Guate

Guatemala's First Lady is divorcing her husband because the constitution stipulates that family members cannot succeed the president in office.  She plans to "marry the people."  If only the people could divorce her How moving.  What a conniving wench glorious stateswoman she is.  Your familial sacrifice for the opportunity to continue lining your pockets service of the nation is truly moving.

PS: I saw a sign for Pollo Campero in Delhi!  Globalization is truly great if GFC can be found in India.  Too bad I am veg.

Down in Jewtown

So the reason I am here in God's Own Country was to interview a friend named Thoufeek Zakriya.  I met Thoufeek virtually some years back after he found an article I wrote on Cochin's Jewish community.  Thoufeek is an Indian Muslim who does Hebrew calligraphy.  He got interested in Judaism and Hebrew calligraphy and started doing Hebrew calligraphy of prayers such as the birkat habayit (prayer for the house) and other prayers.  He does calligraphy in a number of languages, including Arabic and Sanskrit.  He also does something very unique: Hebrew calligraphy in Kufic Arabic script.  I helped convince Thoufeek to start a blog, you can find his work at http://thoufeekzak.blogspot.com.

Anyway, I met him down in Jewtown (yes, it is really called that) at Auntie Sarah's place.  Sarah is the matriarch of the Jewish community of Kerala, and is the oldest member remaining.  We stopped in to sit with her, and she noted that Thoufeek was like her grandson, and a real mensch.  We sat sipping tea and eating watermelon squares and black helwa (gelatinous sweets) and hearing about Sarah's memories.  Then Thoufeek and I went over to pop in to the synagogue.  The Paradesi Synagogue is 500 years old and is a resplendent beaut, complete with gorgeous azulejo tiles and hanging glass lamps.  The synagogue was being refurbished for pessach, and so we moved over to a place called Ginger to sip ginger lime soda on the water and chat about his work.  I won't get into too much of his story since I am writing an article about him, but he is a fascinating fellow and a wonderful symbol for tolerance.

Southern Red State

While the complexion might have shifted a bit from Tamil Nadu to Kerala, from espresso black to coffee brown (of course, there are overlaps in both), in terms of color, the southerly Indian state  is decidedly red.

Kerala had the world's first democratically-elected communist government in 1957. While the Communist Party ruled intermittently over the coming decades, it managed to put in place a very progressive record of land reform and socio-economic development. Even though the state didn't stay red, it remained very progressive, offering the world the Kerala Model which focused on increasing quality of life, access to health care and education (have a read of the wikilink, I doubt feel like explaining in full)

While India seems to be trailing behind China in terms of literacy rate and life expectancy (India around 66%, China around 93% lit rate; India 63 years, China 73 years), if you detach the Kerala and compare it to China, the numbers get much closer. Kerala's literacy rate is 95%, while its life expectancy is 75 years.

Despite having first world indicators, the amazing thing about it is that Kerala's per capita income rate is still rather low.  Kerala just chose to invest its state resources in its most precious commodity: its people.

Beating the Heat

Brinking tall glasses of watermelon juice with sweet chunks of said melon and slippery seeds to beat the South Indian heat.

Writer of Rain

I write like water flows: sometimes in torrential downpours; sometimes in swirling gales; sometimes in droplets that trickle down; always full of the essence of life.

Wilde Life

"Life is too precious to be taken seriously." -Oscar Wilde (TY LF)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tagore on Misfortune

"Misfortune is great, but man is even greater than misfortune."
-Rabindranath Tagore.

Fight on, Japan.

God's Own Country

I boarded the night train to speed me from East to West across our Indian radio dial.  I dropped my stuff and started chatting with the fellow next to me, Father Joseph- a priest from Cochin ("God's Own Country").  It was a bit of serendipity because I had been pondering how India could do some faith-focused public diplomacy to Middle America ("The Bible Belt is India's safety belt" Rev. Sri Sri Jerrykrishna Falwellpuri).  I took my berth on the upper bunk, which was a little stuffy being away from window or fan but as the night cooled the train did as well.

I awoke around dawn to a dark landscape.  I bought the priest a cup of coffee and had one myself.  Then, to my shock, the meddlesome priest tossed his cup out the window.  I rained down fire and brimstone on the father, threatening to excommunicate him for his littering sins.  He promised to do five hail marrys for his transgression.  We then split a morning prayer.  He offered his morning prayer first:
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
(AND LITTERING!)
I then offered my own Morning Prayer to follow.  Amen.  We continued on through Kerala, affectionately known as "The Land of Coconuts."  It was a deep lush green terrain, with palm trees filled with green coconuts.  Eventually, we arrived in Cochin, and I will continue this adventure later today.

Old Indian Proverbs

Old Indian proverb, "Ganesh laughs when you tell him your plans"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tamilstan

I began my day at Chez Venkat, and we headed off into Chennai to go out separate ways.  A cab first dropped Venkat and Murali at a passport control office and then deposited me in a temple complex area for a festival taking place.  I doffed my shoes and walked into the large complex.  Pilgrims were sitting under the shaded complex on granite stoops as I walked past colorful Hindu mandalas painted vibrantly on the floor.  I stopped to exchange smiles with a group of young priests sitting on the ground chanting.  I couldn't enter the holy sanctuary, but enjoyed watching the prostrating pilgrims flatten and arise to waft sandalwood incense in their faces before it escaped to the heavens.  I snapped pics of the pilgrims, of little girls in fancy saris with two black braids circled around their heads like dumbo loops.While walking through the crowds, I had my own revelation.  My Jewish mantra is: sh(om)a.  Cosmic vibrations for the Jewish soul.

One thing I love about India is the Indian pot belly.  Not a gut, but just a little chapati pot.  A belly is the world's oldest indicator of wealth.  I also love how the gods share the same pot belly characteristics.  No Adonis, but rather supple bellies to show proper puja (offerings).

A little about the Tamils.  The Tamils happen to be black as night.  Literally an ebony black sheen.  Yet they utterly lack African features, and look more like Indians who have been dipped in chocolate.  It is quite striking and handsome.  Meanwhile, I found my favorite hair style: the madras mullet sported by the mustachioed machismos of Chennai.

I grabbed a fat slice of watermelon to cool down and caught a rickshaw over to the National Museum.  The eternal student snagged a student ticket (80rupees vs. 250rupees).  I doffed my shoes and walked on the cold floor through some incredible old statues dating back upwards of two millennia (and some change).  What amazes me is that the images of the gods worshiped then are still the same icons today.  Meanwhile, I ran my hands over a cold stone Buddha statue that was from the days when Rome still worshiped Saturn.

I moved on to the bronze works, and while the 13th century bronze statues of four-armed gods standing on one leg in a lotus arch were impressive, the more modern invention of AC caught my interest more so.  I meandered through galleries of coins, some as old as 300BC with bulls stamped on them.  There were also interesting displays of Indo-French and Indo-Danish (yes, they had a colonial interest here too), as well as the currency of the English East.

On my way out through the garden, I got the gardener to douse my head in his hose.  He laughed at such things.  I grabbed a squat banana and a tender green coconut for strength as I went out foraging for food.  I sipped the sweet clear coconut milk while sitting on the pavement, and then the fellow cracked it open and I ate the meat that was the same white chrome as the Ambassadors passing by.  I found a place for lunch that had an awesome banana leaf thali for 38 rupees (less than a buck) with rice, sambal, little okra pieces, prapad and curd.  A fellow from Hydrabad sat next to me and we chatted about India and its place of respect in this everchanging world.

I returned after lunch to the National Museum for its contemporary arts exhibit.  I starred at the regal paintings of the Imperial British sahibs who acted as governor generals of this fair region.  I imperiously laughed at their hubristic poses and derided their notions that India would forever remain a jewel in their crown, and that the sun would never set on their empire.  There were also some phenomenal paintings of Raju Varma, who painted Indian portraits and religious myths in a romantic style.

I hopped a few commuter trains back to Venkat's place, of which I was the object of many stared considering I was a white star in the black night of the coaches.  I grabbed my stuff and made my way back to the Chennai station, grabbing some last idly and vadas smothered in sambar before bidding farewell to Chennai.  My first trip to Chennai was lackluster on account of being sick, and marauded by the heat and pollution.  This trip was far better and gave me much more affection for the city.  I will write more on the South on the whole when I return up north, and will save the ride to Kerala for tomorrow's blog.

Daydreams

In my dreams, light as ether, sari-veiled women of pastel pink, yellow and crimson sot cross-legged on the cold marble floor.  Their vedic chants reverberate to through the lattice work arches and to the intricately carved marble domes.  The words dissipate amid the sandalwood incense.  Myriads of eyes from a pantheon of gods peer on with approval.

In unison, the pilgrims rise to their feet with hands together at their chins, with fingers pointed to the heavens.  They gently rock in chant.  A priestess in pink slowly works towards the center bell, her lithe footsteps crowned in timble bells that echoes across the cold foor.  She rings the copper bell three times, and the reverb shatters the air and the dream.

The best dreams are taken when awake, whispers the Muse into my everlistening ear.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Soft Power in Gandhian terms

In my own Gandhian terms, hard power is the power of fear.  Those bend to your will because they feel compelled to do so out of some deeper fear. 

Soft power, on the other hand, is the power of respect.  Those who follow your lead do so because they respect you, and are influenced therein.

Southern Comforts

I arrived to the Chennai train station around 7:45am, and found Venkat ("Don Dadda") waiting for me at the station.  We hopped a commuter train out to his home, some twenty minutes away.  Immediately, I could feel the difference in south from north.  Chennai had a more amiable, relaxed feel.  The circular squiggly Tamil letters on the sign made me smile as we passed through the more tropical environs.  We got off the train and walked through a colorful little market on the way to his house.

We arrived to Venkat's house and I got to meet his beautiful wife Sobha ("Empress Dadda") and delightful daughter Bharavi ("Princess Dadda").  It was a nice reminder that nice guys still finish first too.  It was Princess Dadda's thirteenth birthday, and so there was a festive air about.  I was fed breakfast of thin rice paper crepe dosas and a vada- a fried South Indian donut, with smooth peanut chutney on the side and small metal cups of South Indian coffee.

As the guests arrived, I chatted with Dawn- an American involved in the Indian tourist biz, and someone whose path had fortuitously crossed mine to indirectly bring me here.  Later in the morning, the birthday festivities began with a band coming to the house to perform Karnatic music- classic music of South India with a sitar, an elongated mridangam drum and a singer. The voice and scintillating sitar reverberated off the walls of the house and echoed through my tired head.  I closed my eyes and was transported to a land of lotuses and tall banyan trees, with a shimmering silver lake that rippled with the waves of music.

After the concert, we had a festive lunch, eating crosslegged on the floor.  Teen girls in saris and braids stooped to fill my thali with a sumptuous spread of Tamil delicacies, fluffy rice, sambar, coconut chutnies, curds and other assorted goodies, served on a green banana leaf.  Desert was a delicious gulab jamun-esque dessert, although slightly more subtle as it wasn't swimming in sugar sauce.

After a much-needed nap, I wandered out with my friend Murali into the markets as daylight's fading kiss illuminated the streets.  We wandered through as I snapped photos of bashful vegetable sellers, made coy yet proud to preen in front of the lens.  Squat purple eggplants and pinkred onions mixed with vibrant saris of orange, rouge and peach hues.  People called this paparazzi over to snap a pic, and then sent me to their neighbor to share in the fun.

Evening descended and with it came a respite from the heat.  The night was cool, and the air was scented with jasmine and marigold garlands as we walked a brief path that included some six temples in a ten minute journey.  At Venkat's inlaws, we chatted and watched East India battle West India in the cricket match.  I met a charming girl who had recently starred in The Life of Pi , Yann Martell's delightful tale turned soon-to-released movie as directed by Ang Lee (Crouching Rocky, Hidden Monkey).  We took our dinner on the roof, sitting crosslegged under the full moon, eating idlys, the fluffy white starch cake of South Indian fare, and other delicacies.  Southern comforts, indeed. 


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Leavin' on a midnight train to Madras

Which sounds much more alluring than a 10:30pm train to Chennai. Why choose a 36 hour train over a flight? Because with a 2 hour flight I know what I will get, whereas with a train across the whole of the inverted pyramid that is India, anything is possible.

Like not have the sleeper berth I reserved, as there was another fellow there who was convinced he had berth 23. We figured we would figure it out along the way but off to an auspicious start. As we pulled out, I watched three urchins on the other platform dig through a wallet I can only imagine was stolen. They picked it clean and tossed the carcass in the tracks.

With a heave and a jerk, the train slowly pulled out into the purple night. It came time to sleep and I agreed to take an open top bunk and hoisted myself above. The rhythmic sounds of the fans muffled the high pitched voice of an old Bollywood tune that crooned in the berth next to mine. The coach rocked gently into the long night. I slept as decently well as one can on a moving bed, and tried to imagine I was rocking on a waterbed.

I was awoken to the nasal vibretto call of "chai, chai, chai" and hopped down to see the orange-pink orb rising over the long and empty horizon of the Indian countryside. My long journeys are always a journey through memories to pass the time. I love the solitude that a long journey offers me. I sipped sweet milky chai as the world flew by and had the most perfect shabbat train where I did nothing but read and write and swim through my own thoughts.  And of course, I chatted up the whole train. I was easily the only gora (foreigner) in the 2nd class sleeper cars and so I am the object of attention.

From the train window, the dry dessicated fields reminded me of Texas, and I remembered other trains giving me similar thoughts some years prior.  I thought about New Years in Buenos Aires, and how on the last friday of the year, pages from antiquated day planners fall out the windows of tall office buildings and flutter to the ground like white butterflies.

To stretch my legs, I took a stroll up and down the train.  I passed through the AC coaches, with their cool air blasts and portly passengers.  It was nicer, but not so much so.  I found it a bit stuffy and boring, and filled with stagnant cold air.  I knew I was in the right place in the second class berth.

As we descended further south, the air grew hotter and dryer.  It smelled like something was burning outside, as I cracked a train door and sat on the open stoop.  The water bottle I left in my upper berth was the temperature of warm tea and it started getting ungodly hot.  I resorted to an old trick I learned in the sweltering BsAs summer, and dunked my flamingo jersey in the sink and put the wet shirt.  But when the heat became a little too unbearable later on, especially in the top berth.  It grew so hot that the train car was filled with exhausted silence; nary a soul spoke and all that could be heard was the incessant chugging of the train, occasionally punctuated by the chaiwallahs' calls.

As my skin affords me privileges that I don't deserve, this white sahib snuck into the first class AC coach for a brief nap respite from the swelter.  I won't pay for AC but I will steal it.

The long day's journey into night was heralded by the clapping hijras, the Indian ladyboys who are considered the receptacles of bad karma.  Their claps take away the evil spirits and baksheesh is expected for their work as karmic scapegoats.

The fecund supermoon arose over the wine-dark night and Mr. Tamborineman played a song for me as I tuned into my i-pod for a bit.  A bit, meaning that even when fully charged, it only lasts for an hour and a half so must be used at opportune times.  With a bit of saving grace, Tom Petty sang my night away.

The long and exhausting travel helps squish the travel bug (not the baby roaches scurrying about the second section) that has long infected me.  It helps quiet that restlessness that has long plagued me, and helps bring peace and quiet to my soul.   I had traversed the whole of the subcontinent in a day and a half as we pulled in this morning to Chennai, some 2,100 km south of Delhi, to India's most southerly state. Time well spent. As always, the truth lies in the journey, not the port (Galleano). 


Pooram

Another reason why Jews & Hindus are homies. A live webcast of Kerala (God's Own Country) celebrating "pooram"

Friday, March 18, 2011

Solarick

The Republican Taliban; the Tea Party of God

trying to stifle women's reproductive rights; trying to block funding for the independent voice that is public radio; trying to keep the serfs in their place by destroying collective bargaining: all hail the Republican Taliban, all hail the Tea Party of God.

FMIL

36 hour train ride coming up, all the way down to Chennai in Tamil Nadu. Had thought it was only 24 hours, which is long but doable. 36 hours is a bit tougher because it includes 2 nights on a train. Rollin' second class, which should prove entertaining as always.

Fail

So the NYTimes is planning to charge again for online access.  Yeah, good luck with that.  The Rockower Post remains free to the people.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Final 4 pics

My Final Four pics:
-The University of Delhi Red Devils
-Bihar State Outcastes
-Mumbai Tech Vegetarians
-Calcutta Runnin' Rickshaws

But the Bangalore Joyas might pull an upset in the Swami 16.

city of joy

The night descended like the purple wine of a Sabbath’s benediction. From the vantage of the Delhi metro high above, the evening traffic lights resembled strings of emeralds and rubies. Families boarded the trains- women bejeweled in lavender saris with sparkling bangles up their wrists carried babes with eyes lined in black kohl. I admired my own city of joy and marveled at the way good literature can intoxicate our surroundings.

one in a billion

I was called in to consult with the Indian Public Diplomacy Division yesterday.  It makes sense considering in a land of 1.2 billion, I have something that not one other person here possesses: a master's in public diplomacy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Duke, Grant and character

I have long hated Duke. With a passion.  Up there with my hatred for the Yankees.  It stems from them being giant killers to Tate George of UConn in 1990, and was multiplied when Laettner hit the buzzerbeater against Kentucky that sunk me as a young gambler.

But I will suspend my hatred for a few brief moments on account of Grant Hill and his letter in response to Jalen Rose and the Fab 5 documentary.  Grant Hill has always been a class act, and worthy of respect.

Good/Bad

Good Israeli Public Diplomacy: Helping Japan with Israel's top-notch emergency volunteer services.

Bad Israeli Public Diplomacy: Training flight attendants to be public diplomats ("Mile High Diplomacy"?). I'm afraid to speculate what work group might be next.  Post office public diplomats?  Taxi cab diplos?

Keys

"For years I was looking for the key.  But the door was always open."
-Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger

Congrats PD Division

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Osama meets Cosmo

Elle-Q. That suicide vest was sooo last season.  Sometimes life is too funny.  Kinda puts the 'ha' in jihad.
I look forward to the Men's Mag: Al-Q. I could use some dating tips for picking up burqa babes.

Perspectives II

A while back, I wrote a blog on perspectives and numbers.  Here in India, there are 24 million Christians (2.3 percent of the population), more than all of Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland) combined.

Meanwhile, there are some 19 million Sikhs in India, just a little less than the population of Syria, but more than Chile or Holland.

There are also about 5.2 million Jains in India, a little bigger than the population of Singapore, Norway or Costa Rica.

The Power of Being Alone

"Silentium"

Speak not, lie hidden, and conceal
the way you dream, the things you feel.
Deep in your spirit let them rise
akin to stars in crystal skies
that set before the night is blurred:
delight in them and speak no word.
How can a heart expression find?
How should another know your mind?
Will he discern what quickens you?
A thought once uttered is untrue.
Dimmed is the fountainhead when stirred:
drink at the source and speak no word.
Live in your inner self alone
within your soul a world has grown,
the magic of veiled thoughts that might
be blinded by the outer light,
drowned in the noise of day, unheard...
take in their song and speak no word.
-Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev

The Boston Globe has a terrific article on the power of being alone.  This Hermit King concurs. Thanks above and below to Nitasha. 

Tragedy

"And to show that Israel can also take unorthodox steps in hasbara."
-Yuli Edelstein, Israeli Minister for Public Diplomacy

Years ago, when I worked at the Israeli Consulate in Houston, I knew it was time for me to leave at a precise moment.  There had been an attack in Israel, perhaps a suicide bombing but I don't remember what, in short someone had been killed.  Since my job was to do media, I was calling around regional radio stations to see if a station was interested in interviewing the Consul General about the news.  I remember that I was on the phone with KTSA in San Antonio, and the news director on the other end was expressing her sympathy for the killing, and yet I remember being indifferent and seemingly more interested in getting the interview on air than actually caring for her sympathy.  Your sympathy is nice but how about an interview.  I knew right after I hung up the phone that it was time to go.

There was a horrific attack the other day in the West Bank.  On a settlement, an Israeli family was killed, including their children.  Nothing, not even occupation, excuses such brutality.  But I find it so shallow and callous that Israel is using exploiting the pictures of the dead family for hasbara purposes.  No, Minister Edelstein, this is not unorthodox public diplomacy, it is a shameful use of tragedy to try to score international points. Same goes to the Israeli government, which is promising to build more settlements in retaliation.  Cynically exploiting tragedies for political gains is the basest of actions.

My 'acha' moment

Indian-Americans are the wealthiest ethnic group in the United States, with an average annual income of over $50,000 (noted in Edward Luce, In Spite of the Gods)

Is Cuy Kosher?

My little brother Harry is off to Peru this summer to  join Sendiro Luminso volunteer with AJWS.  The question I am most curious about is whether cuy (guinea pig) is kosher?  At a church in Cusco (?), there was a picture of the Last Supper, with Jesus and a little rodent on his plate.  Somehow I doubt that  was at the Last Supper, but who knows? I sure wasn't there.

Scenic urinations

I thought it was going to a settled weekend in Delhi.  I left off work for shabbat services and got there just in time to catch the last half.  One of my favorite things about Delhi shabbat services is this adorable old Jewish Indian lady.  She is hunched over at about 3.5ft, and looks like she is 110, but is the sweetest, most adorable old Jewish grandma in a sari, and comes around to wish everyone shabbat shalom after services.

I ducked down after to Paharganj to grab a new book, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, which had come highly recommended.  With the usual haggle, I procured the book, paying a bit extra but always happy to support booksellers and grabbed some pizza at Sam's Cafe, which has the best pizza I have found in India.  Their veggie pizza, with grilled eggplant, red onions, and capsicum (green pepper) is delish.  I think it is wood-fired, which gives a nice crust.  I grabbed a Black Label beer at My Bar and watched Bangladesh beat England in the Cricket World Cup.  The bar was out in full force for the Bengalis, and I chatted with an Aussie who had been snowboarding in Kashmir (!) as the wicket-biter went back-and-forth.

I got home, and to my surprise, Venkat was still there.  He had been heading out to the Himalayas for the weekend for some tourist biz, but his plans had changed enough that I was able to join him in a midnight taxi to Hardiwar.  I quickly packed up my stuff and we hopped in a night car to Hardiwar, some 6 hours away.  Even at midnight, traffic in Delhi is intense, and we inched our way out of town (for no good reason other than there was a police barrier with no police, so it goes).  A night ride never provides much good sleep.

We arrived at 6am to a pilgrim's hotel in Hardiwar, grabbed a little shut-eye and some breakfast, then were back out on the road to Uttrakashi at the base of Mama Ganga.  We had a long ride through the dusty mountain roads (if you can call them as much) and some pretty immaculate scenery of bucolic life.  Poor Venkat was ill from the lack of sleep and the twisty mountain turns.  We arrived to Uttrakashi, to a hotel owned by one of our fellow travelers. I crashed, and slept for 6 hours to awake at 10pm.

We were off the next morning to another pilgrim's camp at the source of the Yamuna River, another holy river.  Another spectacular ride ensued, as did a new game called World's Most Immaculate Pees.  The game involves finding the most scenic spot to micturate.  It is probably a better game than the last one I played that involved leaving other...ehem... marks at scenic places like Mt. Everest, the Sahara and other various deserts.  We caught glimpses of the Himalayan range, with its peaks covered in white powder.

After another six hours of driving, we arrived at the Yamuna River camp, which was immaculate.  At the foothills of the Himalayas, the crystal clear river passed along the campside.  I froze my toes in the holy river of life as I stared off at the mountain range and listened to the rush of water pass by.   The camp itself is great, with the sound of rushing water to be heard from the deluxe tent structures.  Perhaps I will have my honeymoon for my Indian arranged marriage here.

But alas, we had to get back on the road.  And we drove some 7 hours back to Hardiwar through the long and dusty roads.  We reached Hardiwar around midnight, and took a 3.5 hour nap and arose again.  We were off around 4am to get back to Delhi.  The road was filled with an eerie yellow fog as the sun arose, it was kinda scary because there was zero visibility.  I thought it best to go back to sleep for a bit.  We eventually got back just in time to hit Delhi morning traffic, which is a snarling beast that LA, Houston and DC could scarcely fathom.  There goes the previous day's peace.    

Monday, March 14, 2011

Employment Opps

I think my job search is over.  I am planning to take over the State Department spokesman position.  Apparently PJ Crowley is out at State for saying publicly what many believe privately.  A reminder of why I will probably never be a diplomat.

Sancho Harranza retorted that there are also some opening with NPR.  

The Great Ride Cont

My fried Phaedrus Winter has another HuffPo article on his great ride forward.

Play mishti for me

I feel like I have been a bit negligent of late in describing the deliciousness of my Indian experience, so I thought I would give a run down of the yuminess.  For starters, one of the Venkat's Clubhouse members brought a traditional Bengal sweet called mishti doi, a phenomenal sweet curd dessert.  Think kind-of a thick, sweet yogurt that is the color of coffee yogurt.  It goes from a thick custard on top to a similar texture to yogurt but much more subtly sweet, and whose sweetness lingers across the palate.  It comes in a great earthenware crock pot.  Delish.

I don't just eat dessert though.  I eat a ton of rice and rice-ish dishes.  One delicious rice dish is curd rice, which is white rice with curd (yogurt) added and mixed with ginger, chillies and mustard seeds.  It is a "southern comfort" food, as in a Tamil dish.  It is soothing, and has a consistency that is fun to eat with your hands.  Other delicious rice dishes include lemon rice- a vibrant tumeric colored rice with red onion slivers, mustard seeds and chilies.

Meanwhile, I have a favorite drink in the form of sugar cane juice pressed with ginger and lemon.  I have found pressed sugar cane juice in many places, and the lemon is a nice Indian addition, but the ginger seals the deal for a drink that has some sugary pep and flavorful balance as the ginger, lemon and cane conduct a tryst with my throat.

And of course, there is my daily lunch.  The routine means I haven't written about it much, but it is always wonderful.  We have a fellow named Salik who cooks for us every day.  Late lunch, often around 2:30pm, so I am starving.  It is basmati rice and a delicious lentil dal, plus various assortments of potato or cauliflower dishes, and some curd to balance.  My favorite is a chargrilled eggplant dish that is like an Indian babaganoush (baba-Ganesh?) that is a gooey eggplant smash, which goes perfectly as a rice ball emulsifier.  Salik makes fresh chapatis, so we get some delicious bread to crane everything up with.  Sometimes, I make curry potato tacos with the chapati and yogurt curd.  But usually, I just use my hand to shovel it all in.

I have found a few things about eating with my hand. One, I eat faster (I eat pretty fast to begin with).  Two, I rarely spill food because I am eating directly over my plate and I am not bringing a utensil up in the air and over to my mouth.  Three, I am convinced that the food tastes better when eating with your hand because you get to add the sense of touch and a bit of texture to your meal.

And the beauty of all of this: I am shedding kilos.

PS: Bosnian Mountain Oysters, anyone? Hlava Dzon Braon.

PPS: A wing for a wing? Uncle Sam is an international poultry trafficker.  Kup khoon kram, Harry.

PPPS: Itinerant cookbooks.  Spacibo Kim.  

Royalty

Screw Prachanda, I am the last Jewish King of Nepaul. My capital is Kathmanjew.

Friday, March 11, 2011

On what we see

"They remain slaves because they can't see what is beautiful in this world."
-Iqbal

E-Mandarin

I have a new article in Taiwan Today on E-Mandarin as a platform for Taiwanese cultural and public diplomacy:
It is crucial Taiwan promotes its cultural relevance within the global community as a means of boosting the nation’s international visibility. As part of this push, the country is planning to engage in linguistic diplomacy through the Taiwan Academies initiative.

Set to be created around the globe, these linguistic centers will become an alternative to the mainland Chinese-run Confucius Institutes, and an ideal way of showcasing local culture and teaching Mandarin. They should also help reinforce Taiwan’s reputation as a site of traditional Mandarin scholarship.

The academies are intended to serve three functions: to help preserve traditional Chinese culture with Taiwanese characteristics; offer a window on the nation’s distinct society; and provide various outlets for cultural exchange activities. In the U.S., the centers will open in Houston and Los Angeles later this year.

Interest in Mandarin scholarship is booming globally. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages released a report in 2010 noting that Chinese is the fastest growing language of study in the U.S. with a rate of 195 percent. Furthermore, in 2007, it was estimated that over 1,600 public and private middle and high schools taught Mandarin, up from 300 just a decade prior.

Private companies have also seen an increase in interest in Mandarin study. U.S.-based Rosetta Stone, which offers learning services in 24 languages, found that Mandarin is among its top 10 packages sold, reporting an increase of 719 percent in corporate sales from 2008 to 2009.

But instead of trying to compete with mainland China’s Confucius Institutes, Taiwan should innovate and make its academies virtual. Rather than confine the country’s presence to locations where it has cultural centers, Taiwan would be wise to ramp up its global pedagogical presence via the Internet. Through the use of digital technology, e-Mandarin language promotion could be pioneered as a form of cultural diplomacy.

Already private companies in Israel offer online Hebrew instruction, which allows students to connect with teachers via web cameras and voice-over-Internet-protocol technology as a means to study from the convenience of their own homes. Taiwan should adopt such a program.

Given the nation’s reputation as a technological hub, utilizing VOIP technologies to promote Mandarin learning makes perfect sense. These live digital e-Mandarin classrooms would also help further enhance Taiwan’s global standing as an innovator.

Taiwan is already engaging in e-learning on a small scale via its Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Digital Opportunity Center 2.0 campaign. In APEC member economies, the country has set up digital centers to teach information and technology skills to traditionally marginalized members of society. Many of these centers already offer e-Mandarin.

Another creative outlet for Taiwan to offer such classes could be via its international broadcasting arm, Radio Taiwan International. The U.S. and U.K. have long conducted linguistic diplomacy over the radio as a form of cultural outreach using Voice of America and the BBC, respectively.

Since 1959, VOA has broadcast a program called “Special English” which is geared toward non-native speakers as a means to help teach American English. The BBC and British Council—the U.K.’s cultural diplomacy arm—partner to offer online English lessons to aid teachers and students of British English, including podcasts, games and learning materials.

Given the global interest in learning Mandarin, RTI could attract wider listenership by scheduling simple classes in the language. Already the broadcaster airs a short program “Chinese to Go,” but such efforts could easily be boosted up as part of an expanded program of linguistic outreach. With programs in 13 languages, RTI has the potential to serve as a valuable creative platform for linguistic diplomacy.

As the adage goes, “creativity provides opportunity; innovation provides leadership.” Creating virtual Mandarin classrooms as part of an online program would showcase the nation’s creativity and innovation, thus creating public diplomacy opportunities to promote the country. This will allow Taiwan to maximize its cultural outreach, as well as reinforcing its reputation as a hub of innovation.

American Diversity 2.0

Timothy Egan writes an interesting piece about how diversity in America is becoming more Asian, and Asians are the fastest growing minority. I wonder if this will cause less angst for the nativists.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

No time to get down 'cause we're moving up

"It's a conniption fit when the microphone's lit
I take it higher like a bird on a wire, retire the fire
I never cause I'm just moving on up
Choosin' to touch, the unseen, craving the clutch
The most inevitable, legible pyro-mania
Slaying the devil, and sendin em back to Transylvania
Strangely enough, I evolved that side of the ghetto
but my heavy metal, will settle the puppets like Gepetto
Damm, if mirrors were created by sand
then I'm looking in the water for reflections of man
Understand the minds above time when it's empty
Emcee, Tragically Hip - Ahead by a Century"
-K-OS, Crabbuckit

Family Security Matters attitude to Muslim attitudes to Jews and Israel

Muslim Attitudes to Jews and Israel, which I contributed a chapter on Pakistan-Israel relations (see on the sidebar- Dancing in the Dark) got a nice review.  And my piece got a nice review as well:
It is regrettable that there was not a scholarly essay concerning Afghanistan though fortunately Paul Rockower and Aneeq Cheema’s “Dancing in the Dark: Pulling the Veil off Israeli-Pakistan Relations” is an engaging essay concerning its next-door neighbor. I particularly found the section on “Breaking Bread in New York” concerning President Musharraf’s address to the American Jewish Congress in 2005 interesting in that it once again pointed to the commonalities of the monotheistic faiths but also Musharraf’s ability to acknowledge the Holocaust. There is also much to be gleaned from the mutuality of early statehood for both Israel and Pakistan and the partition of India. I cannot possibly do justice to the essay here.
That is the good news.   That Family Security Matters is ultraconservative is less positive.  But hey, as I have posted over the last few days, conservatives apparently have more sense than I had previously given credit. 

This is what class war looks like

"An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics"
-Plutarch, Lives

From the Daily Kos


And to add a little more fuel to the fire, the 400 richest Americans are richer than poorest 50 percent combined.

Photoshop fail on the subcontinent

Indian news reported that Pakistan photoshopped a picture of Indian navy cruisers and used it as a picture for the Pakistan navy! They merely swapped out the flags on ships they really didn't have. haha!

stuff

The Israeli MFA tweeted that Lieberman was in Italy, meeting with Italian leaders. I tweeted to them to ask if Lieberman was making pilgrimage to Mussolini's birthplace.

Speaking of authoritarians, a fascinating article about Egyptians getting a view of the tabs the state security had been keeping.  See under: The Lives of Others.

Meanwhile, kudos to France for recognizing the legitimate government of Libya, the Libyan National Council in Benghazi. Please Obama, show some resolve and do the same.  And Nick Kristof makes the case for a no-fly zone as not as a big deal as being portrayed.

In other news, the Dalai Lama has announced he will step down and pass power to the Tibetan PM in Exile in Dharmasala, India.  China's General Akbar quickly declared: "It's a Trap!"

And in a reminder that being diplomatic means never speak your mind,  the head of the US State Dept's Japan desk was booted for calling Okinawans lazy and using the base as a means to extort benefits.  Maybe Wisconsin's Gov. Walker needs a Japan hand.

Soviet Soft Power in God's Own Country

An interesting article about Soviet soft power in Kerala:
That, perhaps, was the aim the USSR had when it launched the Soviet Information Service and, in 1966, decided to publish translations of Russian writings in Malayalam. Kerala had, by then, voted the communist party to office and Malayalis had a yearning to read what the Russians did. For 25 years, Gopalakrishnan lived in Moscow and did just that; he translated vast amounts of Russian writing, from Dostoevsky and Chekhov to young fiction, communist classics and propaganda. These translations enriched the soft power of the Soviet Union. They were a bulwark against the critical works that sought to demystify the USSR myth. The influence of American popular culture in undermining the Soviet empire is much talked about. Russian translations played a similar role in enhancing the charm of Soviet communism in Kerala. The terror of Gulag was known to Malayalis, but was too unreal, perhaps, for a people who had been initiated into Russian affairs through folk tales and children's fiction.

It helped that the communist experience in Kerala was vastly different from that of Stalinist Russia. Most communist leaders here were schooled in the national movement and influenced by the Gandhian ethic of simple living and selfless public service. Even the mass struggles waged by the communist party took its cue from the national movement. It was a fertile soil for the Russian soft power to gain roots, and the skillful translators were up to the task with carefully-chosen stories. Histories of communism in India seldom acknowledge the role played by the likes of Gopalakrishnan in the spread of ideology. Public action and political literature, of course, led the way, but the soft power instruments are not to be underestimated
.

RIP Broder

David Broder passed away. Good night sweet columnist, may flights of pundits wing you to your rest.

The Hijabed Crusader

Oh no, Batman has been fooled by Radical Islam! Who will save us from the Jihad?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Batman's Muslim Sidekick
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook




Spiderpig, you are our only hope!


Sultan Kobe

Kobe does some stellar commercials.  Teshekur, Mel.

Passionfruit

Chopstick Diplomacy in Chile

China is getting into the gastrodiplomacy act.  Check out this article on chopstick diplomacy in Chile. 

My friend and former fellow fellow Taru told me a story about a bit of Chinese gastrodiplomacy in Finland.  In a remote area, the village asked the Chinese Embassy for some real Chinese food.  They obliged, and sent over a proper Chinese chef, pots and pans in tow.  Now, somewhere in remote northern Finland, there is an outpost of proper Chinese cuisine run by this gastrodiplomacy envoy.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Passport Ownership prevents Diabetes

(Left: Andrew Sullivan's Map of the Day. Right: Diabetes Belt stretches across Deep South and Appalachia) 

From BoingBoing (thanks K): It's conclusive: owning a passport will prevent you from becoming diabetic.  Wallin, you are screwed!


Israeli PD to the Arabs?!?!

Israeli Public Diplomacy to the Arab world...what a novel concept!  

Arranged Marriage; Lost in a sea of buses

I headed out from Pushkar on Sunday morning. I got a little late start as I had to get some extra sleep since some people in the guesthouse kept waking me up in the early hours with their booming voices in the tiny hall.  I had to ask twice to get them to shut up, I was not happy.  I grabbed a cup of the best coffee in India (Honey Dew Cafe), and had the best falafel in India (Surya) for breakfast.  I rarely go to the same place twice when I am traveling, and I made two return visits to two different locations on my way out, which says something.

I hopped the bus from Pushkar to Ajmer.  I sat next to a fellow who had just had an arranged marriage.  He helped me arrange a marriage with a cute Russian girl named Natalya standing in the doorwell in front of me.  I posted on facebook that my status had been changed to "married," and that in some cultures what had transpired was known as "mail order."  The marriage status caused a bit of consternation among people wondering why they hadn't been invited to the wedding, or wondering WTF.  Alas, the marriage was short lived as Natalya was running late for her train to Agra, so I convinced her to jump off the semi-slowmoving bus.  She didn't land well, so hopefully she didn't break anything.  Thus I am divorced.  We'll always have Pushkar.

The ride continued from Ajmer to Delhi by way of Jaipur.  As can be expected with Jaipur, things got dicey.  When we pulled into the bus lot in Jaipur, I had to pee.  I asked the bus if I could pop to use the bathroom, and he said sure and signaled that I had 5 minutes.  I quickly hopped in and out of the bathroom, and came back out to the spot where I left the bus...except it wasn't there.  I began looking around for the bus, and found myself swimming lost in a sea of white buses with blue and yellow trim.

I started running around but couldn't find the bus anywhere.  Every bus looked the same. I thought I was screwed.  I ran towards the exit gate to see if it was pulling out.  It wasn't there so I ran over to the bus area, frantically called out for the Delhi bus.  I found a bus conductor and explained what had happened.  He told me not to worry, that the bus had gone for diesel.  I took a deep breath, but still stood worried, watching the gate and doing inventory of what I would have lost.  Thankfully, a few minutes later the bus pulled up.  The other passengers laughed when I got back on because they understood how I had been lost and knew I was worried.