This Week in Bullshit

There is three types of multimedia advertising in this world: 1. That I like, especially those “banned commercials” for they’re funny and mostly have carnal undertones (or the other way around — those are funny because of their reference to certain taboos). 2. That I do not take a note of, 3. All ads have some degree of foul crap in them, but this is the category that is known as complete, utter bullshit.

The following series of adverts with gorgeous backdrops is in the third category. Take a look:

If you’re not convinced yet, please get an Airtel 4G connection in Bangalore, or any Airtel “G” connection for that matter, for it’ll make me feel better! I will have 1. another fellow sufferer, 2. one more to curse and yell at Airtel customer service/care; Airtel needs all it can get as customer outrage for it to change things for good.

Coming back to the ads, I hope for the future that Airtel marketers would be competent enough to hire a competent ad agency that does not think that the rest of the world is not as smart as they’re, and could at least have made those little films more realistic than showing bunch of people watching a prerecorded video with “Airtel 4G bar” pasted on top. I mean, REALLY?!

Enough of my bullshit… Someone please integrate WordPress and Twitter better, so that I can directly tag Airtel India’s Twitter handle here, rather than making a reference to this post in a separate tweet tagging them.

This Week in (Politics ∩ Sycophancy)

Back! Some old pals (students) reminded me that I had something in the name of a blog. So I thought of making it a playground to record the bullshit interesting bits all around.

On that warning/thinly veiled threat, we start with the following exemplary tales of “devotion”.

  1. Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu’s herculean effort in taking servile sycophancy to a new level
  2. Fixed for flattery! How IAS officers sacrificed a T20 match at the altar of UP CM Akhilesh Yadav

I know that flattery will get you far. Apparently, India’s bureaucrats and politicians are also aware of this lesson from a top management school. So let me go flatter my woman now.

EDIT: FirstPost staff and authors need not think that I’m flattering them by linking to their posts.

“Producing Priests”

Volume 26 – Issue 14 :: Jul. 04-17, 2009 issue of Frontline published a special feature on the University system–exposing the sham of de novo “deemed” universities–in India. Among other articles, Meera Nanda‘s “Producing Priests” stands out, as it touches the subject that most Indians are afraid of discussing critically in public media. Meera begins eloquently–rightly so–and I quote,

What is good for the market is proving to be good for the gods in India. The more material acquisitions the middle classes make, the more pujas and homas they feel compelled to perform. Every vahan (vehicle) must have its puja, as must every tiny plot of bhoomi (land) before anything can be built upon it. Every puja, in turn, must have an astrologer or two and a vastu shastri, too. And then, every astrologer and vastu shastri worth his/her name must know how to work a computer, speak in English, and be “scientific” about it all.

Watching India’s thriving god market, one cannot help asking a simple question: where are all these seemingly modern pujaris, astrologers, vastu shastris and other retailers of rituals coming from? How does the supply of ritualists keep pace with the bottomless demand 21st century-Hindus have for religious rituals of all kinds?

That was pretty much what ignited my interest in her forthcoming book, “The God Market: How Globalization is Making India More Hindu”, and I, now, am eagerly waiting for the book to land in my hands. A little search led me to the full Introduction of the book (by Meera herself).

The same issue (of Frontline) also published a boxed feature by A. G. Noorani that busts the il-famous cleverly made-up quote (by Dr. M. M. Joshi). In his party’s manifesto for the past elections, Dr. Joshi quotes from a “speech” delivered by Macaulay “in the British Parliament” on February 2, 1835,

I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such high calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation. —Lord Macaulay, on Feb .2 1835 in English parliament (according to Dr. Joshi).

Historical evidences say this:

Macaulay came to India in June 1834 and became Law Member in the Governor-General’s Executive Council. He returned to England early in 1838.

Funny, no?! 🙂

Her Bollywood Dream

Yet another Miss World competition is over and Miss India Parvathy Omanakuttan came out first runner up. Congratulations.

Parvathy Omanakuttan

India holds first place, jointly with Venezuela, for the number of winners. Some of the top finishes by Indian women at the Miss World pageant are,

Here is a question for you: Barring Reita Faria, what is common among these women apart from being Miss Worlds? Yes! They all are Bollywood actresses. Some of them are quite successful at their careers. They have at least one more thing in common: they all have perfectly set vocabulary and a very good training in orating words, phrases and names like ‘compassion’, ‘womanhood’, ‘love for children’, ‘underprivileged’, ‘breaking barriers of nationality, color and creed’, ‘Mother Teresa’, ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ etc. Here is an example for your consideration: In the final round of Miss World 1994, Aishwarya Rai said the following, in response to the question, “What qualities should Miss World 1994 embody?”:

Miss Worlds that we’ve had up to date have been proof enough that they’ve had compassion, compassion for the underprivileged, not only for the people who have status and stature, who can look beyond the barriers the man has set up for ourselves of nationality, color …

I’d not go so far as to judge Mrs. Rai Bachchan on the basis of her compassion, for I don’t know if she does have that of any kind, but by now, you know how highly I think of her as a [former] Miss World. I leave it up to you to decide whether she came out true on her words. To be fair to her, let me mention that those lines were delivered with a panache and deserve all the cheers and accolades she got at the pageant site — yes, even the title!

Miss World 2000, Priyanka Chopra went one step ahead of Aishwarya. When asked which woman alive she admired the most, she said it was Mother Teresa. She just had to say Mother Teresa. If it were an event with majority Indian jury and not an international one, she probably would have said it was Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Yeah, in 2000 both were dead! If only they were taught some sense apart from cramming there brains with names and words.

Parvathy, prior to the contest said,

I’ll try my best to make every Indian all over the world proud.” [Express Buzz]

Did she mean only the pageant? I don’t know how many feel the pride. Sure her relatives and parents do.

In the final round, in response to the question, “What does being in South Africa mean to you,” she replied,

In India and South Africa people are warm and warm-hearted. I felt at home in Johannesburg. Presence of two great leaders Mahatma Gandhi (India) and Nelson Mandela (South Africa) have influenced millions of people in both the countries.

In a recent interview on a TV news channel, she was asked if she is looking forward to the offers to movies, she replied with the characteristic charm and deception of a lady who just won a pageant talking hot air and nothing apart from hot air, “I don’t know, I’ll do things as they come.” Now that’s fair! This way, she can keep realizing, or at least pretend realizing, Gandhi’s and Mandela’s dreams and when fed up of realizing them or pretending realizing them, does a movie, sparks up a few controversies, inaugurates a few fashion houses, malls and boutiques, earns some moolah, buys a lavish apartment in Juhu, Mumbai and gets married to a movie-wallah or uska beta. Gandhi and Mandela are then passed on to the next Miss World contestant.

Seriously, what is wrong in accepting that a Miss World is a symbol of beauty that is just skin deep, and the event is a pure fashion and marketing propaganda? A little more of skin show will only help inviting more sponsorship and viewership. Right now, in its current format, with only a swim-suit round, the viewer ends up with… yes, you know that phrase: KLPD. Stop pretending that it is about celebrating womanhood or finding a complete woman. Stop pretending intellectual ability or (borrowing from Mrs. Rai Bachchan) the feeling of compassion. Show us ‘the real thing’! Even I would like to watch it, then.

Now when the contest is over and she is famous, Parvathy has sparked up a controversy of sorts. She thinks she was unfairly judged the runner up; she is the winner, at least to her. Seems she hasn’t got a single modest gene in her curvaceous, delicious body.

Finally we have Parvathy herself with us talking her brains out:

Since we have been talking about beauty queens and Miss Worlds, here is a sample of their distinctive thought process and intellectual abilities. Natasha Paracha was the Pakistani entry to Miss World 2008. It is only ironic that she was asked how she would tackle terrorism as Miss Pakistan. Her reply? Brilliant! See for yourself (her and her answer):

Natasha Paracha

As Miss Pakistan and as a young woman representing the nation and I can definitely think that I would like to promote the country and show that Pakistani women are strong and we can definitely do a lot to represent the nation a lot on the global sphere.

Brings out the real depth! Thank goodness she is considering offers from Bollywood. That at least is one place she’ll do well, despite being laughed at.

Whose lost boys?

Mohammed Hanif, the head of BBC Urdu service and the author of “A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” explores the internal crisis in India and Pakistan as an afterthought to recent terror strikes in Mumbai. [cf. The Lost Boys, Tehelka]

He takes on Indian and Pakistani establishments and media agencies asking them not to point to the other country every time there is a terror strike in any one of those, saying (I quote):

This week might have been an opportunity for Pakistan to acknowledge its own internal crisis, to start looking for the lost boys who are destined for very short-lived violent careers on our small screen. For India there was a real opportunity to stop hankering for American-sized victim status and start counting its own lost boys. Instead, it has turned out to be a case of the blind accusing the blinkered and then both walking hand in hand into the smog created by the airwaves pollution.

Among all things said, he touches briefly on what the Pakistan media says about the religion of the strikers (terrorists):

That Kasav boy? That’s not even a Pakistani name. Maybe it’s Kasav? But, hang on, show a close up of his wrist in that picture. He is wearing what those Hindus wear for raakhi bandhan. A boy from Lashkar would never wear that thread. Come to think of it, he would never even dress like that.

Herein lies the entire problem: media, from both sides, claims essentially this: all terrorists from India are Hindus and all of them from Pakistan are Muslims. Now that we know that some Mr. Kasav from Pakistan was one of the criminals (international intelligence agencies, from MI5 to Mossad, agree on his Pakistan links and LeT training), Pakistan media tries to find loopholes in the ‘theory’ based on what Kasav looks like, wears and acts. Since he wore a thread on his wrist, he’s not a Muslim and so he is not a Pakistani. What kind of logic is that? For once, let me concur just for the sake of argument that he’s not a Muslim. Does that mean he is not from Pakistan? Aren’t there Hindus in Pakistan? Aren’t there Muslims in India?

Once again, it is clear that religion is blinding everyone, from governments to media, just like it blinds the terrorists.

The need of hour is not just counting the lost boys and knowing what religion they belong to. It is rather knowing what makes them choose the path. Economics is closer to the center of the problem than Religion. Work on your economy and education more than you work on religions. Why did Kasav and the likes agreed to carry out the attack? Because he was a Muslim and he saw atrocities on other Muslims? Maybe. One can’t be certain on that. But, what one can be certain on is that he quit school after 4th standard and hardly ate all the meals of the day. Yes, there are some who have had best of the education and were born with silver spoons in their mouths, e.g., Bin Laden et al. They are psychopaths. Religion can affect only a fool and it is these people from whom Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” Religious sentiments take over ones thought process when there is not much to do: the poor and uneducated or riches. Hardly anywhere in the entire world history have the working middle class is seen getting involved in such bigotry. So get you people educated, get them jobs and you’d have solved the problem to a large extent. Then the bigots like Bin Laden, Al Zawahiri, Masood Azhar won’t get those easy recruits.

Political Fallout of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal

Mrs. (Indira) Gandhi‘s heroics resulted in India witnessing more than three decades of “Nuclear Apartheid,” following the 1974 Pokharan nuclear tests. With a helping hand from the United States, India is back in the club of nuclear elites and their groupies, as Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, a.k.a. the “123 Agreement“, was passed by the US Senate on Wednesday, ending more than thirty years of prejudice. Later on President Bush said, “I look forward to signing this bill into law and continuing to strengthen the US-India strategic partnership.” It will be interesting to see what role we play, that of a submissive groupie or an elite.

123 Agreement
123 Agreement

Apart from (hopefully) strengthening the strategic partnership between India and the United States, a successful deal means (if we put all other matters of home aside for the time being) ominous signs for Indira Congress and its allies, collectively known as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in Indian politics.

Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh now stands on a higher than ever ground of his political career, both in his own party and Indian politics. Congress hails the present hour to be Dr. Singh’s finest hour. This means that, apart from Sonia Gandhi, Dr. Manmohan Singh will be the face of the Congress Party at center-stage in the upcoming general elections. It was Dr. Singh whose strong political will and non-aggressive stance saw the deal through. Whether the deal is good or bad for the state and the nation is another matter, but just the fact that Dr. Singh fulfilled a promise he made is a huge boon to his party. After all, it is not everyday that politicians in India keep their promises, and this event will surely stay long in a voter’s memory.

Singh-Bush alliance
Singh-Bush alliance

Dr. Singh and his government had to face strong criticism from their allies, the left parties, and the opposition lead by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) both. In the process, the UPA government faced its worst ever political crisis when the left parties chose to withdraw support.

I have a lot of respect for the Left for its issue-based political stands. In all the drama that ensued regarding the 123 agreement during past couple of years, many fail to see why the Left stood its ground. If it supported the deal, the Left would have lost its image as staunch opponent of US “imperialism”, risking serious erosion of core support and loyalty. Unlike the right and centrist parties, the Left criticizes the deal as part of a Indo-US “strategic partnership” or India’s strategic embrace of the US. It also refers to the impact of the agreement on India’s advocacy of universal nuclear disarmament, the ideology which the UPA promised to return to while embracing the power in center. Whether Left will succeed in maintaining its core support or not is an interesting prospect of the future to observe.

BJP on the other hand is in muddy waters, as their shallow political stunts and the wide-spread unrest can easily be seen. It was the BJP government in the center when the deal was proposed–although it vehemently denied anything to do with the deal later, when it sat in the opposition–and the success of the present government seeing the deal through means a big jolt to its campaign of getting back in the center of power. Its position, with respect to the deal, is that of a disruptive opportunist.

But the power game is very complicated! Though UPA succeeded in bringing home the deal, there are several issues that decide the outcome of the political gimmickry called General Elections. UPA has failed (to a certain extent; that extent depends on where you stand) when it comes to a lot of matters of the homeland. That analysis is surely not the subject of this post.

Worldviews and Opinions of Scientists in India

The Worldviews and Opinions of Scientists Project –by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College, Hartford Connecticut— is aimed at conducting a series of surveys in countries with differing cultures, in order to learn who today’s scientists are and to compare their thinking about a range of contemporary social, economic, cultural, moral and ethical issues. Under this project, first survey was conducted among Indian scientists. According to the project website, India was the first country chosen mainly because of its growing global importance in science and technology and in the education of scientific, medical and technology professionals. Among the 7,500 contacted science and technology majors, about 1,100 (~15%) from 119 institutions responded. Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur had the largest number (58) of participants.

The survey resulted in some very interesting trends. For example, a majority thinks that they studied sciences for personal interest and curiosity, something which, for some socioeconomic reasons in India, is hard to fathom. A majority thinks that India today does not fulfill its constitutional duty (viz, “to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”). I belong to that majority. A majority had faith in current economic policy in India, that of a mixed economy. Majority also believed that there are less women in science due to the cultural influence. I would like to see the response from US or European scientists to the question whether they endorse Evolutionary theory or not, for I think, in India, 88% concurring with the theory is too less for scientists. The most surprising response (to me) was to the question whether there is any efficacy in alternative curative and diagnostic techniques! I was surprised and somewhat embarrassed to see that half the scientists in India believe that Homeopathy is effective, and close to half believe that prayer is effective! Moreover, 44% approve astrology. There was a very interesting question in the survey, viz, “In 2005, space scientists went to Tirupati to seek the blessing of (some) lord before a launch. Do you approve the decision?” The response was shocking! 41% approved that action!

Needless to say, majority among the respondents (66%) said they were Hindus. Only 10% were in Atheists/Agnostics/No Religion category. 26% believed strongly in God and its existence. 28% believed that God does miracles. Majority of scientists were spiritual.

Most of the respondents were practising scientists. I’d also like to see such a survey conducted among students, not just in sciences, in India.