Thursday, June 30, 2005

fueling the gravy train

My colleague Ron Moreau has written a damn interesting article about the Tata Group in this week's Newsweek International. He looks at Tata as a "different kind of multinational," that respects its workers, strives to develop business in places like Africa and Bangladesh, and actuall spends money on do-gooder programs, instead of just paying lip-service to "corporate citizenship." Some of the history here may be old stuff for India's business scribes, but it makes for a good read.

(A thought: Is Moreau trying to oust Thomas Friedman as India's most beloved foreign journo?--Nah, for that he'd have to come up with some cornball slogans and theories... the Tata Theory of Olive-bearing Flora or the Laughingly Obvious Matrix of Overstatement).

Another shameless plug for the guys who (mostly) pay my bills: Stefan Theil's piece on Europe's shrinking population is a must read for all Mallus and Biharis looking for soft landings abroad. How's this for a factoid: "Home to 22 of the world's 25 lowest-birthrate countries, Europe will lose 41 million people by 2030 even with continued immigration, according to the latest U.N. Population Division report. The biggest decline will hit rural Europe. As Italians, Spaniards, Germans and others produce barely half the children needed to maintain the status quo—and rural flight continues to suck people into Europe's suburbs and cities—the countryside will lose close to a third of its population, say both the United Nations and the EU."

There has to be some cheap farmland available. And, as always, I'm available for the post of commune leader.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

crime writers for sale...

Shailaja and I go through a few books a week, sad testimony to our social lives and the state of Delhi nightlife. Now we're running out of room, and we've got a lot of stuff that's too good to flog to the ignoramuses at Saket. So here's the first installment of our giant sales list. You can get any book for Rs. 150, five for Rs. 600 or ten for Rs. 1100. (Note: We don't ONLY read crime novels, but tend to keep our literary novels and obsessively thumbed boxing books)

This is genre fiction but all these come with our personal guarantee that the crap stuff has already been sold to unknowing suckers who don't read this blog.

A Rich Full Death by Michael Dibdin - Gold Dagger Winner, mystery featuring English poet Robert Browning. Much better than Dibdin's Aurelio Zen series.

The Poet by Michael Connelly - Well within that great territory of pleasurable, silly books about serial killers that don't embarrass you vicariously with their stupidity (a good example of an author that provide that kind of pleasurable schadenfreude--Patricia Cornwell). Connelly didn't convince me with the first one I tried, but this one was better. Adding to the pleasure, the hero is a journo who covers the cops beat, and the former LA Times reporter does a good job of getting inside "the life," digging at editors, etc.

One Step Behind by Henning Mankell - We picked up Mankell's first book about a year ago and we were immediate addicts. Inspector Kurt Wallander reminds one a little of Ruth Rendell's beloved Inspector Wexford in his sensitivity and irascible manner, but Mankell's descriptions of life in provincial Sweden are what really sells this series. A notch or two above Connelly, who's a notch or two above Cornwell, on the trash-literature continuum.

Firewall by Henning Mankell - The worst of the Wallander series -- hey, I promised full disclosure -- but you gotta read 'em all once you start. Mankell gets bogged down in a Y2K bug type scenario, which doesn't suit his skills.

A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine - For those in the know, Barbara Vine is the pen name of much-feted mystery writer Ruth Rendell. (OK, if you haven't read Ruth Rendell, we've got some more books to sell you, but first you have to push off the rock you've been living under and read some testimonials. This is the kind of author who gets knighted or whatever it is they do with women, though I don't know how writing crime novels is service to the empire). In the Vine books, Rendell is really writing gothic novels a la the Bronte sisters, in my estimate. Childbirth, often post partum depression, and creepy old houses tend to get big play. It's a deft touch, though, as one would expect from such a master, without any dopey old magic or ghosts. In this one, a group of hippie types drop out in the old mansion one of them inherited from a relative. Murder is inevitable.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall - McCall won many fans with the first of many in the Ladies Detective Agency series. Set in Africa, these are engaging, if sometimes a bit patronizing, tales about Precious Ramotswe, a matriarchal type who solves crimes. A TLS international book of the year and booker judge special recommendation.

A Demon in My View by Ruth Rendell - See above for fulsome praise of Ruth Rendell. This is one of Rendell's psychological thrillers (she does police procedurals in the Inspector Wexford series and gothics writing as Barbara Vine) and takes as its subject a strangler who succeeds in suppressing his compulsion by nightly strangling a store mannequin--until his downstairs neighbor takes it out for burning on Guy Fawkes day.

The White Lioness by Henning Mankell - Here Mankell, who later moved to Africa from Sweden, kind of bridges the gap between his two lives with a thriller cum crime novel about a plot to assassinate Nelson Mandela. I know that sounds dumb, but it ain't.

The Blood Doctor by Barbara Vine - See above for Vine intro. This one has some qualities reminiscent of AS Byatt, as it follows a biographer investigating his great grandfather, physician to Queen Victoria. And one creepy dude.

A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine - Two sisters have a creepy conflict that involves a baby, unwed pregancy, and murder.

The Rottweiler by Ruth Rendell - One of Rendell's more engaging desi character in this one, not to mention the classic blackmailer's line, "You're the Rottweiler, innit?" Psychological thriller - you'll never stoop to Thomas Harris again after dipping into Rendell.

Ripley Under Water by Patricia Highsmith - The appealing thing about Highsmith is you get to root for the sociopath. Ripley only murders the rude, uncouth, or foul-smelling, and I say good riddance to all of 'em.

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell - the first of the Wallander series. he gets better as he goes along, but this one lays the foundation for greatness. Swedish police procedural about bank robbers that soon turn murderers.

Queen of the South by Arturo Perez Reverte - Not his best work, in my opinion, but good enough. This is the story of a Mexican girl, the moll of a "narco," who gets caught up in a burn gone wrong and has to split for Europe. In Spain, she rises to become the Queen of the South, the head of a drug-smuggling ring that unites all the big players. Sort of a Scarface meets Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke - Full disclosure: I'm a recovering sci-fi/fantasy geek who read every book by Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan, my childhood idol/secret identy), so I was pretty much bound to like this Harry Potter for adults. The surprise was that Shailaja, a confirmed fantasy hater, dug it, too. I think the secret is that it's a sly joke on literary novels somehow, and seemingly pretty clever about English history, a subject about which I'm near ignorant.

-- More to come: Contact by emailing me or commenting on this post --

identity theft

I'm working on the identity theft issue this week, an assignment that has compelled me to devote more attention to the furor arising from the UK-based Sun's sting operation, which allegedly exposed a scam to sell stolen bank password information, than I might have. The Indian press has been diving into this story with its usual rabid enthusiasm, but it seems to me most papers are taking the Sun's lead and developing an apparently faulty premise. How many articles have been scare items about how data is unsafe at BPOs? Most have been even more critical than the international pieces by the Washington Post and others, which have at least pointed out that the 1,000 passwords the Sun bought pale in comparison to the 40 million swiped in one go from a database in the US. Cooler heads have been relegated to the edit page, even though this is only the second "major" incident of identity theft India has encountered. And who called it major?

I ask you: Why follow the lead of the international press on a story colored (at least in part) by protectionism, racism and irrational fear of a brown planet?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

delhi bar ettiquette

Can anybody explain to me why bars in Delhi insist on playing music at deafening volume? Waiters have objected to my complaints variously, but Shaila got the best answer so far: "Madam, nine o'clock: Pub has started." Another guy told us that they wanted the music loud so people would hear it on the street (two floors below) and think the place was "happening." When I asked him how he would convince them it was "happening" after they came in and discovered that nobody was in the place except two drunk journalists (one bald), he had no response. When I went outside with him to confirm that the building's sound-proofing had thwarted his plan, he resorted to obfuscation.

I AM getting old, and I don't have any daily office grind to escape from at the end of the day, but I don't think I'm being unreasonable here. When everybody is sitting down in restaurant format, it's not a dance club. Right? Are there really people out there who will leave if the music isn't loud?

The only place I've found that will actually entertain requests to turn down the music is Flame's (their grocer's apostrophe, not mine) in GKII M-block market. That, and their shockingly cheap booze, has made the place the hangout of choice for a good cross-section of young professionals, student types and the usual red-eyed whiskey drinkers.

On another note: Isn't it time for GKII M-block market to go through some kind of renaissance? How many bath and toilet fixture shops does one need on top-end real estate? This area used to be the bar capital of Delhi (OK, that's pushing it) back in 2002 or something, but is anyone still interested in drinking in watering holes like M-52? Club Zeros finally died, but was replaced by something equally awful and twice as expensive called ffad or something. Fffuck that.

For the greater good of the city, I therefore humbly offer my services:

Jason Overdorf
Drinking companion, drunk-eye-for-the-sober-guy and barstool consultant par excellence, more than fifteen years experience in New York, Taipei, Beijing, Hong Kong and Delhi

-drink evaluation
-noise-level metering
-talent scout
-withering interior decoration tips
-general bonhomie

Don't let this opportunity pass you by.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

NYT's purple prose (poetry?)

A Washington Post reporter has hammered The New York Times's India correspondent Somini Sengupta, for among other things, her purple prose.

<>( <>

Why just Sengupta? All NYT reporters fashion such doggerels ad nauseam. I'm on paragraph four or five of a page one story and I'm thinking, "Hello? Where's the news? Where's this going? Where is the 'why' this story is being written?" Such stories have become so tiresome that I have stopped reading anytime a story begins something like this: <>
It is early, just 10 am,

but the African sun

is already high

in the sky,

when Kwame sits on his haunches

after his morning munchies,

under a baobab tree to defecate

and contemplate his fate.

I have been forced to use annoying 'colour' leads many a time even when I'm writing a business story, but at least I 'try' and make the colour somewhat relevant and 'try' and keep it to a minimum. This 'colouring' of news stories is a horrendous and dangerous trend me(humbly)thinks. Wait? Trend? It has already become the norm.

<> More rants on the NYT to follow --they will never hire me, so why not-- if any of you are interested.