Ravindra Misal rejected tradition to become a self-made man. With his “personality contests” and idiomatic-English lessons, he’s trying to help others do the same.
The gulabis, whose members say they are a “gang for justice,” started in 2006 as a sisterhood of sorts that looked out for victims of domestic abuse, a problem the United Nations estimates affects two in three married Indian women. Named after their hot-pink sari uniforms, the gang paid visits to abusive husbands and demanded they stop the beatings. When obstinate men refused to listen, the gulabis would return with large bamboo sticks called laathis and “persuade” them to change their ways.
The ultimate Indian male fantasy involves horizontal gymnastics with an actress from Bollywood or the smaller regional film industries such as Tollywood, in the state of Andra Pradesh, or Kollywood, in the state of Tamil Nadu. The fact that Indian actresses also participate in Miss Universe pageants, strutting the stage in bikinis, only heightens their desirability. The recent arrest of two Indian actresses for prostitution, or what the Indian media calls the “flesh business,” however, raises the question of whether this fantasy may actually be within reach for men with enough money.
Op-Ed from the NYT regarding the flooding in Pakistan.
Driving back to my farm, which has (so far) been spared from the flood, an image of the cow’s ordeal kept coming to me: splashing through the flood for hours and hours, at dusk or in the blank overcast night, with nothing around it but a vast expanse of water stretching away, an image of perfect loneliness. It must have found high ground, waited there as the water rose, then set off again, driven by hunger. In the immensity of the unfolding tragedy, this littler one, this moment of its death, seemed comprehensible to me, significant.
It pains me to read about how aid for the region is falling through, failing. I heard one theory on NPR the other day, that earthquakes & tsunamis are instantaneous, one big swift blow or shock, and its easier to react to that. These floods have been drawn out, and somehow don’t seem as catastrophic.
I hope its because of that, and not because, say, the west is scared of/hates Muslims, or whatever…
A piece on the unique & dwindling Anglo-Indian community, a group of people I’d never really read about.
More reading: Wikipedia article
Kennedy Odede, who grew up in a slum in Nairobi, writes in the New York Times that Slum Tourism is exploitative and that “its not worth” the money and awareness that it advocates. Odede suggests that “slum tourism turns poverty into entertainment, something that can be momentarily experienced and then escaped from.” The author sites examples from slum tours she/he witnessed in Kibera, of tourists taking invasive pictures of the men, women, children who lives in the slums, etc etc etc.
I see where the author is coming from, yet, having never myself lived in a slum, I don’t presume to understand what that is like. Its the sort of very tricky situation that comes up in our uber-PC world these days; the sort of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ sentiment that I got so often reading pieces of literature from the Women’s/Gender Studies classes I took. One wants to raise awareness (right?) yet, it seems all attempts can be labelled as fetishizing or patronising (or whatever) the subject. I’m not sure how a white privileged person ought to go about helping (apart from throwing money at the situation from afar, which, in many eyes, is also contemptible). But even apart from that, I take issue with the generalizations made in this editorial to back up the thesis.
In Mumbai, Vanessa and I went on a slum tour of the Dharavi slum, one of the largest slums in Asia - and, yes, featured in Slumdog Millionaire. It was probably one of the most rewarding & eye-opening things we did in India (even more so than helping at the orphanage in Bangalore). I went into the tour knowing absolutely nothing apart from what I’d read & saw in That Movie, and I learned SO FUCKING MUCH. And that is why I think slum tours are ‘good’: they dispel the myths that trickle through to our sheltered, western lives and educate tourists with something (at closer to) the truth. For instance, That Movie purports that the slum is a cesspool of poverty and gang leaders. What we were told on the tour and what we saw, was actually a mind-blowing, intricate & independent & entirely self-sustaining recycling industry and surrounding society. I have no doubt that the things we were told were rosy-coloured for our ignorant temperament, but all the same I think what we saw & learned are valid - and things that would have been much more difficult to learn elsewhere.
I also want to point out that the tour we went on was not like the tours described in this editorial. (We followed the Lonely Planet’s advice and booked one with Reality Tours and Travel - if anyone is in Mumbai I HIGHLY RECOMMEND GOING ON THEIR TOUR). We were not allowed to take photos, and the profits from the tour went directly towards a preschool in the slum (which we visited) and an adult education center/community center (which we also visited, and saw young adults learning how to make spreadsheets). Also, our tour director was a young man who’d grown up in the slum. One of the women on the tour with us, an Indian-American, worked for a non-profit in another part of India (I mention this in attempts to prove that it wasn’t just ignorant Americans on the tour, but also ‘industry insiders’ LOL).
Ultimately, I think the slum Odede is writing about, and the tours that are run there, are very different from the slum tours run in India (and, hopefully, other parts of the world). India, first of all, is a completely different country from Nairobi, with a completely different sort of culture and people. The children we met in the slum came up to talk to us, show off their English, and they were smiling and seemed happy that we were there. (Granted, some of the older workers did not seem so pleased, but we tried our best to be friendly and courteous and respectful; again, we did not take pictures!). I don’t see how the slum tour could be any worse for the Indians than, say, when we had to walk through a different slum to get to the apartment building where our host, Bhisham, lived. For that walk, we were left to make our own assumptions about how the people lived without a tour guide to educate us. This exploitation Odede talks about I think is in many cases simply a side-affect of our more mobile world. If a person travels to India, or Nairobi, they are going to be exposed to the ‘dirty underside,’ that is what tourism is, in part, about. I think Odede has over-generalised, and is blaming the whole industry rather than the offensive part: disrespectful tourism.
Feel free to correct my views. Also, is this different from tour vans driving through the Castro and snapping pictures of the homosexuals in their habitat? I mean, it is different (right?) but what part makes the difference?
Also, here is a link to the Travel Entry I made of our slum tour (which is, I think, a really unfortunate name, but maybe since that is precisely what the thing is, it is an unfortunate activity, after all…)
I really meant to keep up this India blog once I got back home - I meant to do a lot of things that never happened. These intermittent links and stuff will have to suffice.
Bassam Tariq is a Muslim-American filmmaker/blogger/whatever who is currently guest blogging at Boing Boing and has been sharing some really interesting stories and pictures from Pakistan - things we also saw on our trip in India.
His first post was about hijrahs, or transgendered/intersex (wikipedia). One of the first days we were in Bangalore we saw one; knowing absolutely nothing about the phenomenon V & I laughed and tried to figure out if it was a man dressed as a woman, or a manly looking women. Jagadish was very serious, and tried to explain hijrahs to us. Its very South-Asian - to appear to accept something (hijras perform at weddings, etc) but at the same time… not quite. Its the same thing with gender equality - India has had a female prime minister, yet the country is still very sexist.
A similar example: homosexuality. As Tariq notes in his second post, men in South Asia are very affectionate with each other. Vanessa took this picture of two policemen watching the festival in Udaipur:
(funny thing: this was the captcha when I uploaded this picture, lol)
To western eyes it looks, well, ‘gay’ … yet these men are (probably) hetero. Also, until recently homosexuality was illegal in India. Vanessa really loved that picture, and she & I speculated about what it would be like to be gay in India, etc, but we never asked anyone (like our hosts, or whoever) what they personally thought about homosexuality. Tariq’s post ponders why our western minds automatically jump to ‘gay!’ when we see men holding hands, or hugging, or with one arm wrapped around the other’s shoulder. Interesting stuff…
NYT piece about the ‘nouveau riche’ Indian farmers who’ve sold their land to developers as suburbs expand. The first half of the article is better than the second, but the opening paragraph was pure “only in India…”:
Bhisham Singh Yadav, father of the groom, is stressed. His rented Lexus got stuck behind a bullock cart. He has hired a truck to blast Hindi pop, but it is too big to maneuver through his village. At least his grandest gesture, evidence of his upward mobility, is circling overhead. The helicopter has arrived.
Sidenote: In Mumbai we stayed with a guy named Bhisham, and in Delhi our host’s last name was Yadav…
In Mumbai there are loads and loads of working people who eat lunch. Where do they get their delicious Indian lunches? Why, they’re brought to them in tiffins by dabba-wallahs! It is a massive organizational feat conducted throughout the city, in fact on our tour of the slum we saw one of the many kitchens that cook and pack tiffins for delivery. They’ve got an incredibly effecient and precise system worked out which is all the more impressive considering this is INDIA where trains routinely arrive hours late. (It should be noted, then, that it was the Britishers who came up with the idea for lunch deliveries…)