Sunday, May 18, 2008

rebel brides and ex-wives

As India gets more wealthy, arranged marriage is giving way to more love weddings, and divorces.

Jason Overdorf
May 17, 2008

Not long ago, 19-year-old Sreeja Konidela returned home to Hyderabad from Delhi to attend a family funeral—but didn't get the welcome she expected. Konidela, whose father, Chiranjeevi, is a megastar in the Telugu-language film industry, had been disowned for eloping with Shirish Bharadwaj, 23, who was from a different caste. The two had married on live television last October in a bid to keep Sreeja's father from interfering—they were afraid he'd accuse Bharadwaj of kidnapping her, a common tactic in such cases. But their TV wedding alerted police and a mob of angry fans, who trailed the couple from the temple to the registrar and scared them so badly they fled to Delhi. Now the lovers were back, but Konidela's relatives weren't interested in reconciliation. Instead, she says, they forced Bharadwaj to wait outside and tried to browbeat her into dumping him so she could marry a groom of her parents' choosing. "They just tried brainwashing me," she says. "So I got out of there as fast as I could."

The story electrified India, where a rapidly modernizing society is changing its views on marriage. Tales of rebellion are on the rise. Now that fresh college grads can start outearning their parents right away and the rising influence of Western culture is empowering women, more young couples are challenging tradition. So-called love marriages were rare a generation ago, but now account for 10 percent of urban weddings, according to a November study by Divya Mathur of the University of Chicago. An additional 19 percent in Mathur's survey chose their own spouses but confirmed their engagements with their parents—choosing what urban India awkwardly refers to as "love-cum-arranged" unions. Meanwhile, more and more couples are meeting online or through friends instead of at torturous, parent-chaperoned tea sessions. The revenue of online matchmakers more than doubled from $15 million in 2006 to $35 million in 2007, and more than 12 million Indians—about half the country's Internet users—now visit matrimonial sites.

The changes aren't producing only love and bliss, however: demographers say divorce rates doubled to about 7 percent from 1991 to 2001, when the latest Census was taken. Lawyers affirm that, at least among urban couples, they've since climbed much higher, though they're still very low by Western standards. "India is facing changing times," says Pinky Anand, a lawyer who represented Konidela and Bharadwaj when they sought protection in a Delhi court. "Modernization, urbanization, access to information and globalization—there are no holds barred."

Traditionally, under all of India's major religions, all marriages were arranged by the bride and groom's parents. Unions were considered religious contracts between families, designed to uphold the social order and cemented with the gift of a virgin daughter. They were not seen as private agreements between two people in love, says King's College anthropologist Perveez Mody. With strict injunctions against crossing caste boundaries, arranged marriages helped Hindus to prevent lower castes from gaining status and made it easier to restrict them to hereditary occupations. "Many women got married before puberty, and to keep a nubile girl in the house was a monumental sin," says Delhi-based sociologist Patricia Uberoi. After marriage, couples moved in with the husband's parents to form what is known here as the "joint family." New brides had few rights and answered to their mothers-in-law, their husbands' siblings and his brothers' wives (if they'd been in the family longer). Today class and religious divides remain very strong, so in many respects the old system persists. Parents still work the family network and advertise in newspapers to make advantageous matches for their children—often without informing their sons or daughters until the process is well underway.

Now, however, a complex mix of political, economic and social developments is putting pressure on the old methods. The caste hierarchy itself is under threat thanks to urbanization and civil-rights reforms. India's city population has increased from about 20 percent of the total in 1971 to more than 28 percent today—bringing a new anonymity that makes it more difficult to identify a person's caste. Similarly, quotas for the lower castes in education and government jobs, along with the shift to an industrial economy, have allowed the lower castes to break out of traditional occupations. At the same time, young people—particularly young women—have become better positioned to assert their independence and become more exposed to Western influences, as Hollywood begins to compete with Bollywood, and Vogue and Cosmo hit the newsstands. Today's top engineering graduates, moreover, can earn as much as $30,000 within a few years of starting work—more than most parents ever earned—and even call-center employees make enough to defy their parents. Many of these new lucrative careers also require young people to relocate outside their families' ambit. And although a recent study by Watson Wyatt Asia-Pacific shows that women make up only 18 percent of India's urban work force, they now account for 38 percent of enrollment in higher education, and the number of women in white-collar jobs is increasing. As a result, they now enjoy more power and greater awareness of their rights, as well as more unsupervised contact with men. Together, these shifts have caused a decline in the number of joint families, a relaxation of the rules that once gave husbands' parents (but not wives') a dominant role in their children's marriages, and an uptick in children choosing their own partners.

Society is struggling to cope with the shifts. While the weakening of tradition has made relationships more equal, it has also led to higher divorce rates, as women object to archaic constraints and loveless unions. This is true even in remote corners of the country; according to India Today magazine, about a tenth of all child marriages now end in divorce. Geeta Luthra, a New Delhi-based lawyer who works on divorce and other women's issues, says that men are often the ones to split up their marriages when their newly empowered wives refuse to do housework, play the good hostess or kowtow to her in-laws.

Love marriages, meanwhile, are also leading to serious conflict, especially among India's rural populations. In communities like the Jat caste of rural Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, the murder of couples that elope has become disturbingly common; at least five such cases made headlines in the last month alone. "If a lower-caste man is involved with a higher-caste woman, he is invariably killed. And the girl, whether belonging to the higher caste or the lower, is also almost certainly eliminated," says Prem Chowdhry, author of "Contentious Marriages, Eloping Couples: Gender, Caste and Patriarchy in Northern India."

So far, the state's response to these changes has also been flawed. Officially, intercaste and interreligious marriages have been legal in India since 1872, almost 100 years before interracial marriages were legalized in all 50 American states. But over time, the law designed to facilitate these unions, known as the Special Marriage Act, has been twisted around to prevent love marriages. Under a 1954 amendment still on the books, couples are required to register their intent to marry with the court, provide the names and addresses of their parents and wait 30 days while the police verify that neither spouse-to-be is already married. Although in 2006 the Supreme Court directed police and other authorities nationwide to protect intercaste and interreligious couples from harassment, this filing requirement still helps parents locate runaway lovers and retrieve them, often by accusing the groom of kidnapping. (Since 2002, such charges have grown 30 percent faster than other crimes against women.) Though police acknowledge that in most of these cases the women have willingly fled with their future husbands, the cops nonetheless often track the couples down, throw the boyfriends (or husbands) in jail and return the women to their parents. Judges also often play a pernicious role, rejecting girls' testimony of consent or ignoring documents that prove she is of marriageable age.

India's divorce procedures similarly lag behind the times. The formal rules have become more liberal over the past 30 years—for example, by allowing Muslim women to sue for alimony and expanding the grounds for Christian divorce. Yet in practice, getting India's overburdened courts to process a divorce if one spouse objects can take up to 15 years. For women like 23-year-old Rani—a resident of provincial Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh—such waits can be unbearable. "I want to be divorced this minute!" she says. And because the glacial pace of courts often drives women to misuse laws against dowries and domestic violence to threaten their husbands into granting a quick settlement, the separation process can mean almost weekly trips to court and the police station, and constantly wondering whether one is going to be arrested and jailed.

Perhaps because of all these obstacles, even many of India's Westernized urban youth remain fairly conservative when it comes to love. Most still strive to find a partner who is roughly acceptable to their parents, even if not of their choosing. Often, when they do marry without their parents' blessing, they keep the marriage secret at first and continue living with their parents, only gradually introducing the new spouse as "a good friend," hoping to win over their parents before revealing the truth. If all goes well, a proper public ceremony then follows.

Even for those who do play by their parents' rules, however, things are slowly changing. Caste and class boundaries have expanded over time to permit more unions, and the old prohibition on the bride and groom's meeting before the wedding has been relaxed so that prospective spouses are now allowed to date or at least exchange phone calls before the big day.

The advent of online matchmaking has also helped. In the old days, young people often had no idea they'd entered the marriage market until photographs and résumés of prospects began arriving in the mail (parents aimed to avoid confrontation with their children by cluing them in as late as possible). Now as many as 40 percent of the profiles posted online on matrimonial sites are written by the candidates themselves, and industry experts say would-be brides and grooms—not their parents—make up a similar percentage of those viewing their pages. The result: today "the marriage decision is negotiated between parents and their adult children," says Delhi University sociologist Radhika Chopra.

One middle-class Delhi couple that wedded three years ago illustrates how such negotiations work. Arun and Deepti decided to get hitched in 2005 after dating secretly for a few years. When they approached their families, both sides objected. Though both are Brahmins, they belong to different subcastes, and Arun is from Bihar, considered a backward region, while Deepti grew up in Delhi; she is also better educated, speaks better English, and has a higher-paying job than Arun. But over time, sustained lobbying won over the families. "We both were ready to have a runaway marriage," says Deepti. "But we wanted our parents to agree. That is something which has not changed in India." Today, to show her respect, Deepti veils her face when she visits Arun's family in conservative Bihar, and Arun (a rare atheist) goes to temple to please Deepti's parents. Love, as they say, may still conquer all; but in India today, tradition remains nearly as powerful.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

vir sanghvi on food & wine snobs

In this week's Brunch (the Sunday magazine of the Hindustan Times, readers outside of Delhi), editor/food critic Vir Sanghvi decided to take on food & wine snobs, and has identified various types (the olive oil bore, the wine bore, and the Michelin bore, etc). One that he forgot to mention, though, was the Five Star Hotel bore--perhaps because he's the worst of them all.

At the beginning of my stint in India, I liked Vir's column in Brunch because he seemed to be the only Indian food writer who had any standards (the others wrote clearly from the perspective of a guy who enjoyed a lot of freebies in return for unjustified, and badly written, raves). But over time I've come to feel that Vir writes the same two articles every week: (1) Some kind of revelation about why the chef at X five star hotel is a genius (he makes a half-decent something or other "from fahrin" as they say, and he has recognized Vir as a fellow master of all things culinary) and (2) Some reminiscence about a vile concoction that he learned to eat at Mayo College. Food snobbery & reverse food snobbery? It would seem so.

...speaking of murder

Just after I finished writing about The White Tiger, I had a look at the front pages of the papers and turned up this gem about a recent child murder in Noida.

Normally, the Indian press has to fear of printing potentially libelous conspiracy theories--see the coverage of Noida's own serial killer for reference--which is why this story caused me to sit up and take notice. First the girl turns up dead, then the police and the papers blame one of the servants, then the servant terms up dead on the terrace of the same house. But the only story to come out of it is that now the police are looking into the possible involvement of "a third man" in the girl's murder. A couple observations: (1) The implication of this slant on the story is obviously that the middle/upper class girl's murder desperately cries out for solution, while that of her servant is only relevant as a clue. (2) Why isn't anybody jumping to the (logical, if not founded in fact) suspicion that the family caught the servant they blamed for the girl's murder and administered their own rough justice? Why the rare instance of the press taking a conservative line, rather than jumping to conclusions for the sake of a salacious story?

Girl murder case takes a new turn

Ashok Kumar

NOIDA: In a bizarre twist to the murder of young Arushi, who was found stabbed to death at her Sector 25 house here on Friday, the body of the suspect Hemraj was found with his throat slit on the terrace of the same house on Saturday.

The 14-year-old daughter of a dentist couple was found lying in a pool of blood in her bedroom with deep stab injuries on her face and head. Her body was found by her father Rajesh Talwar when he went to her room to wake her up in the morning.

The police had suspected the involvement of domestic help Hemraj in the crime as they found him “missing”. A reward of Rs.20,000 had also been announced for providing any information leading to him.

However, the case turned on its head on Saturday when retired senior police officer K.K. Gautam staying in the neighbourhood of the family discovered the brutally stabbed body of Hemraj on the terrace of the same building on Saturday afternoon. The officer had gone to the house of the Talwars to convey his condolences to the bereaved family and apparently his cop instincts took him towards the terrace.

“I had gone to the Talwars to express my condolences and went to the room of Arushi and the domestic help to have a look at the crime scene. I found several clues there and decided to reconstruct the sequence. Following the leads, I reached the terrace of the house and found the door locked. When the lock was broken, I was flabbergasted to find a body lying in a pool of blood. The deceased was later identified as Hemraj,” said Mr. Gautam.

In the wake of the dramatic discovery of the body from the terrace of the same house, the police said the involvement of a third person cannot be ruled out.

“The discovery of the body has completely changed the line of investigation. We are now investigating the possible involvement of a third person. There are three or four possibilities but it would not be right to discuss those at this point in time. The post-mortem report is expected to throw more light,” said SHO (Sector-20) Datta Ram Nauneria, who is investigating the case.

Based on his inspection of the crime scene, Mr. Gautam said that more than one person could be behind the murder.

“The body of Hemraj has been dragged several metres in an attempt to hide it. It cannot be the handiwork of a single man. There must be more than one person involved in the murder. Since there are no blood stains on the staircase, Hemraj must have been murdered on the terrace. The blood stains on the terrace door can help the police reach the assailants. I think the assailants could have also hid the weapon of offence somewhere on the terrace itself,” added Mr. Gautam.

aravind's book

By now, those of you with literary pretensions will already have read Aravind Adiga's first novel, The White Tiger. I'm coming a little late in the game. But nonetheless:

I don't want to "review" the book. That's something I only do for money, and, these days, I don't even do it for money, having lost my outlet for that kind of thing. But I will say that it's as good as the positive reviews make it out to be--somewhat less impressive than Mohsin Hamid's Moth Smoke, I think, but perhaps more skillfully executed in its own way. In a nutshell, this is all the stuff Aravind was never able to write for Time Magazine, because these problems are eternal and therefore not "news." The best thing about it is its anger.

Rather, I'd like to address a few points made by at least some of the local reviewers (who, it must be said, did not recuse themselves despite their own feelings of literary jealousy): (1) that the book is somehow flawed because it was "written for the foreign audience" (2) that the gimmick of the narrative--a letter addressed to Chinese Premiere Wen Libao--is unrealistic and (3) that the book's endorsement of violence is somehow morally repugnant.

Points 1 and 2 are really related ones. The use of the Chinese Premier is a device that allows the narrator to explain things that an Indian may already know about--which some have misread as indicating that it is written for the dreaded "foreign audience" who are always frustrating educated Indians with their insistence on seeing elephants, snake charmers, and starving people where there are none. It's a gimmick, of course. But the tone makes it clear from the beginning that it's being used with a wink and a nod, so calling Aravind out for its lack of realism is both uncharitable and absurd--essentially outing the reviewer as somebody with his own unpublished (or justly forgotten) novel someplace. The contention that the book is written for the foreign audience--as opposed, I suppose, to One Night @ The Call Center and the like--is equally ridiculous, it should go without saying. But even if "writing for the foreign audience" was actually a literary crime of some kind-- perhaps because it tempts the writer into oversimplifying? perhaps focuses him too readily on the exotic--again the tone of Aravind's book makes it crystal clear who his audience is. This book skewers India's English-speaking middle class (perhaps unfairly, at times) and takes as its "enemy" all the dreams that they hold for the country. It's not exactly a satire, but it has the same vicious bite. Who else, then, can the audience be than the people getting bitten? (See also one of Aravind's best responses to an interview question about whether it's really possible that a DRIVER might write a letter to the Chinese premier: "You're betraying your class.")

The third point, that the book's murderer hero should be caught and punished (though it's never been articulated so baldly) also betrays the class of the reviewer. The fantasy that the thousands of servants who murder their masters (seemingly more common, or more feared, based on recent newspaper reports) represent some kind of proto-revolutionaries is also a device Aravind clearly uses with a wink and a nod, his real agenda being to point out how amazing it is that there has been no great uprising against the obvious injustices faced by the poor. I suppose there were people who complained similarly about Richard Wright's Bigger Thomas (Native Son), on both sides of the black-white divide, even though Bigger did face justice in the end.

Like every novel, The White Tiger has its flaws. But as far as I can tell, the false ones that reviewers have pointed out have said more about them than about the book.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

the new brt

I missed this one--but I can't resist commenting on it now.

Apparently, Delhi has decided to experiment with a "new model" for the BRT, where the buses drive in the left lane and the cars drive on the right and there's no physical barrier between the lanes. It sounds suspiciously like the way the roads were before this fiasco started, I know, but here's what chief secretary Rakesh Mehta had to say, according to the Hindustan Times: "We have decided to try out another model for the Moolchand to Delhi Gate stretch. The bus lane will be on the left, while the car lane would be in the centre. The bus lane will be painted in a different colour, and traffic police will be asked to enforce discipline." ("Stop, please! You're killing me! You had me at 'another model'," a local scribe is rumored to have remarked).

Three days later, transport minister Haroon Yusuf demystified the elusive "second model" for the Times of India. "Bus stops will remain where they are and cars will ply as usual. It is not a second pilot because we are not doing anything at all. It will just be status quo," he said.

Apparently, he didn't get the memo that the Sheila Dikshit government was trying to save face.

Monday, May 05, 2008

cheerleaders, born in the USA

Thought you folks might like my latest opinion piece. Very erudite and serious, as it is, and as it should be, since it appears in Outlook!

Not long ago, a columnist for the New York Times celebrated the arrival of the Washington Redskins cheerleaders in the Indian Premier League by remarking that this hallowed event must surely signal that India now more than ever looks to America, rather than Britain or Europe, as its model for cultural development. Apparently, while you are still playing cricket—a kind of baseball with a flat bat—you are now doing it in a satisfyingly snazzed-up American way.

As a red-blooded Yankee with a more than passing love for the steroid-pumped spectacle of the US National Football League (the one with armour and the funny-looking ball), as well as the more historic American standbys of Mom, baseball, hot dogs and apple pie, I felt my eyes well with sentimental tears. Not since the foul-mouthed hulks from Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment toured India has American culture had so representative an emissary as the humble and hardworking cheerleader.

Keep your Ramanujan and your 6,00,000 engineers a year. So you invented zero. Discovered it. Whatever. It's a number for losers anyway. For statistical and mathematical gimcrackery, we'll take our guys any day. Consider P.T. Barnum, the circus promoter who calculated, "There's a sucker born every minute." Or, of course, Earl Whipple, who invented the giant foam finger, aid to sports fans everywhere, that eloquently proclaims "We're Number One!" Anyway, what's math compared with Reality TV? Most of your software geeks are even now cracking open cans of Budweiser, and watching large-bosomed women wolf down plates of worms on Fear Factor. Yes, readers, I will say it. American culture has converted "pop" into a celebration of the dumb. Today's Elvis is Britney Spears. Genius!

Naturally, I was stunned to discover that not all Indians have greeted our scantily-clad emissaries with my own enthusiasm. Some members of Parliament have rashly sought to ban them, others to curb their freedom of expression by imprisoning them in pants. Clearly, this is both prudish and undemocratic. Worse, even, than rejecting our nukes.

It is obvious from America's present ascendancy in economic and political affairs that the dumb-beats-smart phenomenon is not limited to sports and entertainment—stupidity and vulgarity triumph over reason and good taste in all arenas. To prove this to the world, we elected George W. Bush, a former cheerleader. Twice! It is now time for you to fall in line. You're starting to get the hang of stupidity. So far you are doing very well with Indian Idol and Nach Baliye, and Bollywood has mastered the art of stealing Hollywood plotlines and denuding them of their last vestiges of intelligence. You even refer to Vijay Mallya as "doctor". Why baulk at the bimbos?

Most Americans—who, to be quite honest, remain perplexed about why Christopher Columbus was looking for India in the first place—are blissfully ignorant of this blatant slap in the face. But were they to read of it, perhaps at the end of an amusing story about a eunuch who has run for mayor or a village woman who has married an elephant, it would only confirm their convictions that we are embroiled in a battle more perilous than the one we fought against communism. The truth is, we can't help but feel we are beset on all sides, because we are! No matter which backward country to which we bring the joys of freedom and democracy—processed food, bleach blondes, and some other stuff to do with civil rights and powerful detergents and whatnot—the people greet our sharp-dressed marketing executives and our fresh-faced soldiers the same way: with suspicion and distrust. When even our cheerleaders—who did for the ballerina what Velveeta cheese spread did for brie—receive such a reception, it is no surprise we're always wondering, "Why do they hate us so?" Ours is an utterly thankless task.

Perhaps a bit of background is needed, if the cheerleader is to make a comeback in an India worthy of KFC. Once upon a time, American sports were primitive and wholesome, like cricket, and there were no cheerleaders for the professional teams. (Now only Major League Baseball remains sadly bimboless). Cheerleading began at the University of Minnesota in 1898. Through what now seems an obvious oversight, the squads were all-male until 1923. But as it evolved, a dearth of athletic activities for women made cheerleading into a sort of substitute sport for the fairer sex. The original purpose, that is the leading of the crowd in cheers ("Rah, rah, ree! Kick 'em in the knee! Rah, rah, rass! Kick 'em in the other knee!") has long since been forgotten. The crowd is better at organising its own cheers anyway, and the players have money and performance-enhancing drugs to keep them motivated. But high school cheerleaders—like Olivia Newton John's character Sandy in Grease, or more recently the characters played by Mena Suvari in American Beauty and Hayden Panettiere in Heroes—have become iconic representations of America's youthful exuberance: contortionist Lolitas in tiny skirts, fresh and innocent...or maybe not.

Still more progress was made in the Farrah Fawcett 1970s by the cheerleaders for the NFL's Dallas Cowboys ("America's Team") who scrapped the virginal facade and made cheerleading unapologetically sexy. In tiny white hot pants, white cowboy boots and cowboy hats, they merged the worldly glamour of the Coffee, Tea or Me era airhostess with Playboy's liberated (but still pliant) bombshell. Now, professional cheerleaders look and perform less like wholesome girls filled with school spirit than like the entertainers known in America as "exotic dancers". You may not understand, but this transformation has reached its peak in India, where they play a wonderful double role—first as women with remarkable (if surgically enhanced) bodies, and second as the white, blonde temptresses of the West—in encouraging India's much ballyhooed rise.

I dare say this important reinforcement of femininity—cheering for men, rather than playing on a team yourself—has been no less important than the Barbie Doll. But it is faltering in America, due to a foolish new emphasis on women's athletics. Not long ago, for instance, when a mother in Texas committed first-degree murder to make sure her daughter made the cheerleading squad, the court was not sympathetic. The judges failed to see she was defending a vital American tradition that is now under serious threat.

Today, it is mostly in nostalgic films and TV shows that the cheerleaders are the most beautiful and popular girls, ruling the school together with the male athletes in their varsity letterman jackets, tormenting the smart kids by pushing their heads down the toilet and similar time-honoured pastimes. In real life, sad changes are afoot. At the school I attended, for instance, the pretty girls turned up their noses at cheerleading, letting those who were plain and slightly overweight fill in the ranks. The guys who played guitar and could dance—even some "straight A students", what we call the kids who ace all the exams—had more girlfriends than the football players. Something has to be done to stop this perversion of the natural order of things.

Thankfully, as it did with the Miss Universe pageant, India has stepped forward to shoulder the burden, casting off benighted traditions like purdah and socialism. It is high time somebody said it. Like the editorial staff of the Indian Express, who last week decried the joyless opposition to the "shiny, happy girls who inject a bit of pep into the IPL".So brave it was, it reminded me of a red-white-and-blue declaration along similar lines: we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Friday, May 02, 2008

how americans can solve the food crisis

Recently, Condi Rice, who apparently thought her surname qualified her to weigh in, incensed Indians by implying that India and China are causing the food crisis because these days they can afford to eat better. Alongside this unsettling truth--vaguely reminiscent of Swift's Modest Proposal, but made in all seriousness--Condi could have made a fair number of equally useless observations on how America could solve the food crisis.

(1) By dieting.
Americans are too fat. We used to be pleasantly obese, a sign of our great wealth and relaxed lifestyles. Now we're just sick. If we're not grossly overweight--I'm talking bending the steel picnic table benches at Dairy Queen--then we're hooked up to our ipods and frenetically exercising, like Hamsters on one of those pointless wheels, to burn all the calories we consume. If everybody would stop eating so damn much, all this talk about the food crisis could stop.

(2) By eating less meat.
A cow eats a lot of grain before you slaughter it for its steaks. How does India feed 17 percent of the world's population with only 3 percent of its arable land (or whatever) and farms that are less than half as productive as America's? It's simple. They're vegetarians. And, even if they eat meat, they don't eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday the way Americans do. (Unless Condi is right).

(3) By cutting back on junk food.
How much flour can one person eat? Not very much, if every time you feel the need for wheat you have to get out a bag of the stuff and mix it up with water and yeast to make a loaf of bread. As far as I'm concerned, the food crisis should be blamed on the people at Nabisco, who make too many delicious cookies, snack cakes and crispy fried things. It makes it almost impossible for anybody to achieve point 1, even if they manage to achieve point 2.

what's the status of the other "n word," anyway?

More and more recently I'm running across the word Negro in literary and popular fiction--and maybe even here and there in a magazine. Now, I know that the N word is totally out of bounds, except to hip hop artists. But I was under the impression that Negro was sort of N-lite (well, maybe zero calorie N). And now here it is back again. What's the deal? Is Negro a racist term or not, or is it just like saying Formosa instead of Taiwan or Burma instead of Myanmar?