Friday, August 31, 2007

again with the mindblowing mahiya....

BTW: Thought readers would like to know that I got the chance to demonstrate my deeply disturbing knowledge of Mindblowing Mahiya at Buzz on Wednesday. Hadn't been there in forever due to the new parking hassles at Saket. But after two obscenely priced beers at Tabula Rasa (Rs.200 for a 12-oz bottle?), Buzz did me right once again. Good co-ed crowd, terrible food, ridiculous music. Maybe even displaced Flames--where the crowd has really gone downhill; now mostly red-eyed and paunchy whiskey drinkers-- on my "best bar" list. Only problem is that happy hour ends at 7. And of course the hell of driving to Saket with the construction of the purported "high speed" bus lane on Tito Marg.

Speaking of which: Somebody should start a pool on how that thing will pan out. My prediction is that the pedestrian/bicycle path will be thronged with motorcycles & scooters, the bus lane will be jammed with cars, and everything will go to hell at the big traffic lights where Tito Marg meets the Ring Roads.... Any reason this should work better than the pedestrian tunnels that everyone ignores, or the speed governors on the Blueline Buses??

peter temple & peter ho davies

I've been slogging away (sort of) so I haven't been up to my usual railing about what ails Delhi... However, I have had time to keep up my reading.

The latest:
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies -- quite amazing literary novel set in WWII in Wales.
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple - quite amazing police procedural set in the outback of Australia

Maybe the best two books I've read this year, though the bar has been set pretty high....

Saturday, August 25, 2007

jim thompson

I was talking about my obsession with crime novels last night at Flames, and I realized that I haven't written much about books in awhile. As usual, I've been clipping along at about a book a week, of course, alternating between "literary" novels and crime books, with a few notables like Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn and Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men edging their way onto my mental catalogue of favorites. Yesterday, however, I dug out our last remaining unread novel by noir-king Jim Thompson--The Grifters--and read it cover to cover, finishing the last chapter or so at the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist's.

Among crime writers, Thompson stands out because his characters are so decidedly small-time, and the picture of America that he paints is so low-rent--dismal boardwalks and pathetic barflies and, of course, sadistic small town sheriffs. The Grifters, far better, like all Thompson works that have attracted Hollywood attention, than the Angelica Huston starrer based on the book, is no exception. It made me want to revisit The Killer Inside Me, a book that is still high up on my mental favorites list, but that I was foolish enough to lend out (never to see it again). I should have known better, of course. The only possible course of action when somebody lends you a Thompson book is to steal it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

more popculture confessions...

I know all the words to Mindblowing Mahiya. AND most of the dance moves.

get gorgeous

I'm not a fan of reality television. All those ludicrous games and senseless posturing--and the pure stupidity of the contestants--just make me bored and depressed.

Which is why I love Channel V's "Get Gorgeous". I know what you're thinking (It's the teenage models) but you're only half right. I'll cop to catching a few episodes of America's Next Top Model (Tyra Banks) but it was utterly unwatchable in the way of most reality TV. These endless rambling monologues, everybody taking herself WAY too seriously, etc. But the girls on GG (yes, I call it GG! I have slipped that far!) are really funny and clever in their bitchiness, and V does a much better job of editing on this show than any of the others I've surfed over.

If I didn't know that it wouldn't work, I'd be tempted to force all the folks in the US who keep asking me about India (snakecharmers, elephants, eunuchs) to watch a few episodes. I'm not sure some of them would be able to define all the words in these bimbos' vocabularies.

There. I've outed myself. As low brow as you get.

oh my stars...

I have to confess I feel sorry for Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan. To begin with, Sanju is sortof my favorite Bollywood star. I like other folks, like Om Puri, Saif Ali Khan and Irfan Khan better--but only because they act in non-mainstream movies that are more to my taste. In both that Reservoir Dogs ripoff (Kaante?) and Munnabhai, though, Sanju impressed me with naturalness on camera and charmed me with his easily recognized charisma. He's no genius. But he's damn likable.

With Salman, the talent is harder to see, as his acting in the movies I've seen has been truly horrible. But the charisma is there. I used to dismiss him out of hand as a lout (girlfriend-beater, poacher, drunk driver--there wasn't a lot to like). But in the past few weeks of watching interviews with him, I started thinking of him in much the same way I think of Sanju: OK, he's an idiot, but....

It's sad that the Indian courts operate so slowly that by the time these guys--and millions of others whose problems are not followed with bated breath--actually get punished for their crimes, they've already repented and turned over a new leaf, and we've already forgiven them. There's no easy answer, of course. They can't be let off just because the courts have been so shamefully slow that we've all had time to decide they are genial idiots rather than thugs and criminals. But it is undeniably terrible that this is the way it is, and it's likely to remain this way for many years to come.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

voluntary affirmative action

Today the papers are reporting that Bharti became the second big corporate to embrace "voluntary affirmative action" -- India Inc's rearguard action to prevent the government from stepping in and mandating quotas or some other scheme to create equal employment opportunities for Dalits. While this is a laudable move by Bharti and Infosys (the first company to make the move), I can't help but feel that voluntary actions alone won't do the trick.

I doubt that the large mass of "anonymous" Indian companies will find the same incentive (and spare cash) to start training/employment programs for Dalits and other historically disadvantaged groups. It's good PR for Infosys. But for X Generic Autoparts, which never gets in the newspaper, it's just another cost burden. Also, there remain serious concerns about prejudicial hiring practices, and the voluntary system means that there's no oversight. How do we know what progress is being made if nobody is keeping track? Just as it was ludicrous for the government to start defining quotas without a recent and accurate estimate of the number of people making up the so-called Other Backward Classes, it's absurd to think of an affirmative action program that is based entirely on an abstraction. Good will, even if it exists, is simply not enough. (Consider the surprise which greeted the Sachar report on the socio-economic condition of India's Muslims).

I'm not sure quotas are the answer, either, of course, though it's hard to deny that quotas in the government sector have been responsible for much of the progress that Dalits have made so far. Yes, quotas work--though some on both sides of the debate will argue they don't work as well as they should. But India cannot legislate a job for everybody, as they have sought to do in education, both for the practical reasons related to competitiveness that industry claims and for expedient reasons related to the political and social fallout that such a move would engender. Again, there's plenty of learning to be gained from the debate on quotas in education, especially where related to dealing with all the various groups in India that face discrimination/disadvantage that doesn't stem from caste.

But rather than to fall into the usual trap of doing nothing because we can't think of a plan that is absolutely perfect, I suggest that the government can develop its own mandatory affirmative action plan that isn't based on quotas. It could start with Dalits and be expanded to include OBCs and religious minorities as needed. Essentially, this would be a very simple system. All companies would be encouraged to employ X% of Dalits in their organizations, with some kind of weighting system to give greater credit for those who employ Dalits at senior levels. If the company meets the requirement--say it's 13%--it gets a significant tax break (maybe the tax break could be tied to the percentage of Dalits the company employs). On the other hand, if it doesn't meet some minimum, the company would have to pay a penalty tax, from which 100% of the revenue would go to supplement existing funds devoted to scholarships, improving primary education, job training, and other programs for the advancement of the Dalits (or, later, other concerned groups).

This would mean three things. First, we'd have an accurate count of the number of Dalits employed in the private sector (or the organized sector, anyway). Second, industry would have an incentive to employ Dalits that goes beyond good will or PR. Third, there would be some allowance for industry to avoid hiring Dalits where they weren't qualified--but at the same time ensure that they were funding programs to alleviate that problem.

Under this scheme, Bharti & Infosys would benefit -- although I'm guessing the amount of money they've devoted to their voluntary affirmative action is considerably smaller than the tax penalty they'd have to pay under any realistic mandatory plan -- and those companies without the will to work toward social equality would lose.