Archive for the ‘India Unfinished’ Category

“Your face, my thane, is as a book where men

May read strange matters”

– Lady Macbeth to Macbeth, the thane of Cawdor, in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Act 1, Scene 5.

If books reflect culture, book reading habits too, perhaps, reflect a people’s tribal instinct. And then, do social events like ‘book parties’ reflect something intrinsic about different social groups, different national groups?

Shoba Narayan seems to think so. At least when it comes to Indian versus American ‘book release parties.’ Her vividly observant article at Wall Street Journal, The Indian Book Ceremony.

In the United States, the publisher manages the event to celebrate the author and then sell as many books as possible. By contrast, for “the argumentative Indian” it’s all about a well-spent evening of discussions and disagreements, regardless of how few copies were sold at the end of it

In the U.S., everybody accepts that there’s a mini cult of personality around the writer.

Ms. Narayan doesn’t quite state, but implies that somehow the Indians seem to emphasize the book and the event more than the author.  At least, that is how it is hinted, here:

We Indians are a ceremony-driven people. Book readings are not merely announced in the local paper but through personal invitations sent to friends and relatives. Sometimes the bookstore sends these invitations to everyone on their mailing list; other times the publisher does this. Likewise, politicians are welcomed to conventions not merely with a handshake and introduction but with garlands and bouquets, …

…..  Stores open with a traditional ribbon-cutting, followed by the lamp-lighting.

The same Indian who rudely cuts ahead of a queue of strangers will refuse to help himself to the buffet until his elderly uncle has eaten. All suggestions to “go ahead and eat” will be met with pehle aap. The same applies to authors who are loathe to be the only ones talking about their book. Instead they follow the literary version of “pehle aap,” where they get a panel of guests to go first. To the Indian, talking about one’s own book or accomplishments is intrinsically boastful.

To a Western publicist, panel discussions are a minefield. They can go off-message, ramble all over the place so that the audience gets bored, take the spotlight away from the author, and in the worst case scenario, criticize the author and book. But these are chances that Indian publishers and authors readily take.

But Indian authors want a panel anyway. We are comfortable in crowds; we need people around us, even on a dais. We are used to loud and vocal disagreements, having heard it all the time in family quarrels. Hollywood stars and American politicians revel in the spotlight. In India, it is the opposite: Being surrounded by people is the true show of strength.

On a broader note, if this item were to be believed, the French love reading fiction, even the gloomier variety; Germans love out door stuff; the English lighter fare, and Americans  even lighter fare. Someone recently claimed that Indians read the most, in a general survey of reading. And, that in a few decades majority of English speakers in the world will be Indian! What do these factoids bear on the social organization of book coming out parties?

As side note to the above block quotes, is ribbon cutting really a tradition in the same vein as lighting a lamp? Isn’t it more of a true colonial vestige, albeit a well-integrated vestige? In any case, this sharp observation of Indian character is quite revealing.

Finally, to I.U., this looks like a case of adaptation,  the casting of a native attitude into an alien form of social activity. After all, traditionally the Indian writer looked to a royal or governmental patronage of arts. Only now, being democratic and all, book launches take on this new mongrel form, more out of need than by design.

What do you think?


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A mosque is being built at Ground Zero near where the World Trade Center towers collapsed during the September 11 attacks on America.

Just a few hundred yards from where the jihadists’ planes crashed into the towers, a Muslim building will open, that too on the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.

The Cordoba Mosque is being touted as a peace initiative, but it is a two faced outrage. A hundred years from now, would someone even remember that there stood in that place what were once the world’s two tallest buildings, built by a people known as The Americans?

Imagine that for a moment.  Ever wonder what lay under the Dome of the Rock in Israel?  Does anyone ever doubt the recorded story of what lay in the past of Haghia Sophia in Turkey?

But then, it is possible that the Americans have lost their mind!

Now think about this:  why is it so hard for people to even allow the speculation that the Taj might not be what it is today.

History repeats itself, winners get to re-write the narrative.

In fact history needs to be re-written first before a civilization can re-invent itself, recreate itself. Else, it simply continues as a fossil replica. At the very least, people should stare at history with a cold hard eye, untainted by romanticism, poetry and unverified data. That is all IU is saying.

Original Post Begins Here:

The timeless wonder of Taj Mahal is a gift that keeps on giving, in more ways than one.

A nice round up of the lore, the legacy, the controversy, and the alternative view that Taj Mahal was actually Tejo Mahalaya (Professor P.N. Oakh), a Hindu Rajasthani temple – and other such notions –  all are  presented nicely in this round-up.

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“Well, you know, I thought it was an elaborate joke. I have friends who play practical jokes,” Ramakrishnan told The Associated Press by telephone from his lab in Cambridge. “I complimented him on his Swedish accent.”

Ramakrishnan described his work on ribosomes as an attempt to understand “this large molecular machine that takes information from genes and uses it to stitch together protein.”

He said he and others had been using X-ray crystallography to build an “atomic picture of this enormous machine.”

“Now we can start figure out how it does this complicated process,” he said. Yahoo News

Associated Press newsphoto, via Times of India.

Associated Press newsphoto, via Times of India.

Congratulations Dr. Ramakrishnan!

Joint-winner of 2009 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. For his work on a neutron-scattering map of the RNA of ribosomes, the protein-making structures in cells.

What follows is a modest compendium of links, pics, quotes and news clips.

I am interested in the structure and function of the translational machinery, which makes proteins in all cells using instructions encoded in the gene. This process involves the ribosome and its interaction with mRNA, tRNA and various protein factors. US National Academy of Sciences Member Directory.

THE RIBOSOME PAGE of Dr. Ramakrshnan’s research lab is a delight! If you visit their site, don’t miss short animation movie about protein synthesis in a ribosome. It’s a fun way to learn about his work and what it implies.


From Dr. Ramakrishnan's Lab - Click on image for Animation Film

Times of India, profile.

Ramakrishnan shares the 2009 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Thomas A Steitz of Yale University and Ada E Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, said: “We are absolutely delighted that Dr Ramakrishnan’s work has been recognized with the 2009 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Venky’s award is the Medical Research Council’s 29th Nobel Prize and is a reflection of the excellent work that our scientists do. Times of India.

Ada Yonath of Israel is one of only four women, since Madame Curie, of the pitchblend fame (1898) to win the Nobel in Chemistry.

To listen the MAN himself, Dr. Ramakrishnan talks on the telephone with the official Nobel staffer, a traditional phone call now available online here. This is a highly recommended audio, specially the last one minute! IU can’t wait for it to be on youtube!

For the truly curious, LiveMint of WSJ, has an audio podcast here, that explains Ribosomes and all. Umesh Varshney of Bangalore explains it all. A nice little science talk, recommended.

Scienceblogs has a very nice explanation of the explanation from the Committee as to why the research of these three scientists deserved the Nobel award.

Reuters video of the live announcement. Nice.

IndiaTimes announcement video can be seen here. Caution: If you are used to world class media at all, this Indian-style news video will cause your mind to explode with its incomprehensible accent, inane graphics, and staccato delivery. Enjoy it, a little jingoism doesn’t hurt, eh!

Some thoughts on Indian Nobelists:

Another Indian settled abroad wins a Nobel Prize!

IU is thrilled, of course. There is the thrilling notion of a culture that continues to exercise creative, constructive influence even as, around us in the world, other cultures continue to spur adherents in destructive ways. Hopefully, this constitutes a true difference. On the other hand, why are not the Nobels won for work done IN India. Why do Indians win only when they leave the land and work elsewhere. Please, don’t blame the infrastructure or colonialism. Even Literature prize has gone to an expat, generations removed, and may someday do so again (to a Booker winning expat, no less).

IU will be even more thrilled if the Nobel goes someday to someone who actually worked on Indian soil, in an Indian laboratory, at an Indian institution. When such a day does arrive, IU hopes the winner doesn’t turn out to be a Haldane or a Ross. That would be rich irony!  Granted, science is truly global and color-blind, but the culture of the people who produce the scientists is very regional and ethnic. How people organize their hearts and minds does, matter.

IU will be waiting with a bated breath, for that day when a Nobel is won by an Indian who has never left the shores. That would have been the sort of land that Tagore was praying for. (Ahh, unwittingly, we come full circle back to him, our first (1913) Nobelist!)

A few more thoughts along these lines – it’s not the water! – can be found here.


Maps of India has a nice round up of India’s claim to Nobel fame.

India Unfinished, continues…


And leave it to Indians to dramatize every bit of life .. including one scientist’s inclination to lead the quiet life of science research. Details at Asian Window.

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{If readers are willing, and Ganesha consenting, this will mark the start of a yet another series. VOTARIES & VISIONARIES will be just that. A spotlight on some very productive, visionary and informative people – regardless of their origin or current location –  whose singular achievement is to show an India that is Unfinished in the best sense. Writers, broadcasters and advocates, great men and women with voice, who see in India a rising tide of good tidings. This category of posts is a salute to the strong voices of Praise India , if you will. Even critical but constructive rants will be featured. Happy Reading, we have a very strong subject to lead off with!}

Kamla Bhatt is, to put it simply, Extraordinary. How so, you say? Listen to this none too humble a goal:

We need heroes and role models that are relevant to the new and emerging India. There are hundreds of stories out there of inspiration, motivation and innovation waiting to be discovered and told. I am passionate about getting those stories told and heard,

And, indeed she delivers, day after day, post after relentless post, video after endless stream of video. Poet, pauper, philosopher, merchant prince, or prince turned merchant: all are grist for the mill of what is nowadays simply called the Kamla Show.

Among the knowledgeable, the show is a phenomenon. The Wall Street Journal’s Indian siding, Live MINT’s radio show, Livemint Radio harbours Kamla Show.


Click to open Kamla Show

The show, the podcast, the blog, the persona- Kamla Bhatt is the voice of India on the Internet.

The sheer range and volume of her topics and subjects simply takes the breath away. One is just left to wonder, where does she find time, and, where does the energy come from. Well, it’s got to be a true labor of love and passion for expression and exploration. But, also love of India in there clearly, but you be the judge. First partake of a few offerings from her extensive, exhaustive archives.

Check out Kamla Bhatt on Youtube too!

Consider for example, a conversation with Pico Iyer, on a wide ranging issues.

A more recent show captured the flavor of a Hare Krishna Rath Yathra in San Francisco.

Here is a video to go with that post.

A fascinating conversation with Flower Silliman discusses her reminiscenses of Mahathma Gandhi, and her life in Bomaby cinema before there was Bollywood the foolish word/world. That conversation centered around the role of Baghdadi Jewish women in early Hindi Cinema (one of IU’s earlier posts “When Hindi films went Jewish”).

Any worthy journalist can not do without the mandatory ‘cab driver interview’. Bhatt talks to a septugenarian Sharma, of Delhi. Listen here. Her interest goes beyond the human interest or the banal. Using Hindi and English she elicits a portrait of India in flux, India Unfinished.

For the Obama junkies, there is an interview with Prof. Paul Kapur about Obama’s South Asian policy.

Have you ever wondered what really happened between India and China that long ago during the 1962 war, when India under Nehru-Menon got it’s clock cleaned.  Kamla’s guest, Rajesh Rajagopalan, sheds a ray of light.

Diwali Around the World is a delightful romp.

You can read about the great ho-hums of India such as  Shyam Benegal, Amin Sayani, MiraNair, Madhur Jaffrey and others just about any where, and Kamla does feature them with her own brand of special keenness.

But, where else could you read about  jazz musician Rudresh Mahanthappa, google video sensations Smrithi Mandhra, and  Ben Rekhi, writer Anita Nair, cinematogrpher V. K. Murthy, the unsung man who filmed Guru Dutt movies for 30 years. Who knew!!

Kamla scores a triumph in her great chats with Indian legends in IT such as the delightfully named Ninja Srinivasan of Yahoo, Padamsee Warrior of Cisco, Ashish Gupta of Helion, Suresh Narasimha of Bluetooth and countless others.

Kamla, too, features dozens of young and upcoming artists, enterepreneurs, cross-over adventurers and a whole cast of interesting personae.

Undoubtedly, caveat here, examples cited and linked here are random, chosen for no special reason. Don’t let this selection bias you in any way. In point of truth, the Kamla show is a veritable, inexhaustible smorgasbord that leaves you craving for more.

Kamla - Twitter

Kamla - Twitter

Lest one thinks Kamla is all intellection and no fun, fret not. She is witty, and funny.

According to a recent tweet from her, she can enjoy Jimmy Buffet, and Indian dinner at the same time (and along the tweet-way also drops us a tip on the Buffets’ lineage). How about that for commingling two great classics.

Now, you get an idea of why IU thinks the real classic here is Kamla!

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Hillary - What a leader looks like

A True Leader

“If Hollywood and Bollywood were how we all lived our lives, that would surprise me. … And yet it’s often the way our cultures are conveyed, isn’t it? … People watching a Bollywood movie in some other part of Asia think everybody in India is beautiful and they have dramatic lives and happy endings. And if you were to watch American TV and our movies you’d think that we don’t wear clothes and we spend all our time fighting with each other.”
Hillary Clinton in India –

“Hillary has just taken Asia by storm. … On this Asia trip, and more generally, Clinton demonstrates she has done serious homework, is well briefed and articulate”  – Scripps Howard News Service Op-Ed by Arthur I. Cyr.

“Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen as the most intelligent First Lady followed by Eleanor Roosevelt” – Harris Poll on First Ladies.

“Asia trip propels Clinton back into limelight” – Headline story, New York Times.

“Hillary Clinton could be made envoy to Northern Ireland”  – Headline story, Belfast Telegraph.

“Does Hillary ever suffer from jet lag?”  Foreign Policy, Washington Post Company.

It is not certain if  Obama is indeed God as some of his followers claim, but one thing is for sure. His opponent for the party nomination last year, Hillary Clinton is certainly a saint by any measure of sufferance and fortitude.

Early during the campaign for the party nomination, before even the start of the primary elections  season, Hillary Clinton was mocked as Senator (D-Punjab) implying that the Clintons sold out to the Punjabis.

The Obama campaign released that Senator (D-Punjab) smear memo to the media in secret. Amazingly, almost as an omen, it didn’t hurt Obama at all. But, it did set a certain style in motion. Midway through the nomination season she was falsely accused of adopting a so-called ‘kitchen sink’ strategy. All throughout the primaries, she and husband Bill were painted absurdly, erroneously as racists, and assailed as being beholden to India’s business interests.

Hillary was undaunted and, as the season wore on she proved to be a tough candidate. She won every large state that mattered, persisted in her chase for nomination despite the vicious attacks by partisan Obama hacks, by ignorant young voters with no knowledge of history, and at times even by the so-called feminists of the Left who should have known better. Obama, of course ended up buying up the superdelegates, the DNC leadership conspired to take away some of Hillary’s delegates, and selected Obama as candidate even before a nominating convention was held. Just to please the ultra-leftwing of the party, the party bigwigs behaved in the worst manner familiar to the Indian polity – a la the Congress High Command – in disregarding Clinton and in sucking up to Obama and his millions of campaign money. Vote bank polemics in the worst Indian-style were evident during the Democratic Party nomination fight of 2008!

Hillary Clinton was beaten upon, but was never beat down; was written off, but was never written out. The invisible fight the millions of Hillary voters fought to no avail, the birth of the PUMA movement and its continuance. No wonder then that the poet Maya Angelou offered this wonderful paean to Hillary Clinton, as


You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Mrs. Hillary Clinton saw it all, weathered it all.

In 2008 Hillary showed the world what a political brave-heart she was. She set the standard for honest political campaigning, integrity, persistence, authenticity, and loyalty. The highly memorable victory statement in Ohio Primary, ending with the phrase “This win is for you!” typified her struggle and vision.

In 2009 the same old Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton is Madame Secretary of State. One year after being edged out of the primary process, Hillary is career-wise born again. She is showing the world what a true diplomat she is in sterling performances around the globe.  From somewhere above, Thomas Jefferson is beaming with approval. So are, undoubtedly Elihu Root, Daniel Webster, and the indomitable Marshall.


During her recent trip to India Hillary continued her unique style that blends grace, charm, humor, and vision. At every event she proved herself to be a cut above, way above, her slipperybumbling, lying boss. What a great president she would have made!  Ok, enough of that:

Hillary Clinton is getting high marks for her diplomatic achievements during the India tour.

For those who were not glued to television coverage, here are some clips of her India events:

Mumbai Townhall (3 videos)

University of Delhi Speech (4 videos)

Many official ‘State’ videos here.

And then, you have this person known only as  jcjcd.

No one loves Hillary youtube videos like jcjcd.

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Outrageous, and hard to believe!!

A US based airlines broke protocol and body scanned a President of India.

More shocking, the airline employee brushes it off as routine!!

Such impudence would not have been tolerated by any human being except President Kalam – one of the gentlest human beings alive besides His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet.

Two of the gentlest people of our time APJ Abdul Kalam & Dalai Lama / Reuters Phot.

Two of the gentlest people of our time APJ Abdul Kalam & Dalai Lama / Reuters Phot.

Associated Press has the story here.

The President of India, Mr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was violated by a US based airlines given business permit by the sovereign nation of India to operate on it’s land.

In less refined times this would have been an “international incident.” Among less refined peoples, this would have been a causus belli.




For the record, let it be said that IndiaUnfinished has vowed not to succumb to jingoism, hyper-patriotism or knee-jerk nationalism of any sort, or arguments of cultural supremacy.

IU is dedicated to simply exploring this world as we find it. And, at the same time, calling out nonsensical values and behavior wherever and whenever it is seen. Why then does IU react so strongly to a simple event like this? After all, he was only a former President?

Consider the wide range of reasons why IU finds this event appalling, deplorable and stupid.

1. Mr. Abdul Kalam held the office of the President of India, the orlds largest, free democratic republic. He symbolizes the virtues and the prowess of over a billion people!

2. No world leader has ever been subjected to such violative treatment on his own home soil by any airline, let alone one that is foreign based.

3. President Kalam was no ordinary politician. He was uniformly honored by all political parties in India, before, during and after his elevation to the high office.

4. President Kalam was not just a leader, but a constitutional Head of State. Any violation of his person is an act of aggression against the Nation that he represents. Never mind that he is retired now. Once a President, always a symbol of the nation!

5. President Kalam is the most revered and beloved of all Presidents of India. I have lived through their tenures -all twelve of them.  President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was and remains beloved of the people of India from all walks of life, and all elements of Indian polity.

via IndiaStudiesChannel.com

via IndiaStudiesChannel.com

6. Mr. Kalam was not just the highest office holder of India. He was an honored scientist, proud son, and a genius who dedicated himself to the people of India. He sacrificed more personal comforts and ambition than all the politicians combined. In IU’s estimate, he is second only to the Mahatma.

7. As the Missile Man of India, he doggedly worked to put his people on the cosmic map, in a sense.

8. He was nominated by the so-called Hindu Nationalist Party, BJP, but was uniformly hailed as worthy by all.

9. Simply put, it is bad business. Totally unnecessary to insult a former Head of State, period.

10. Well, there is no number ten. This is not one of those lists of ten. Just a small rant. There, whew!

After all is said and done, we can safely predict a number of the usual lame sequence of events: mumbled apologies, loud chest beating, a low level worker sacked, board room knives out for the weakest, and few late night comic moments.

What the political pundits would want to know is: Is this news of an old event that occurred in April, does this have anything to do with politics. Say, the business deal about nukes just announced?

Whatever, the point is that this is a breach of protocol and courtersy between nations. I predict, the guilty will be punished.

On a lighter note, an American news outlet based in Texas, the same state as Continental’s Houston, made this snide remark in their article.

Note to George W. Bush: think about flying American or Delta on your next trip to New Delhi.

LOL indeed…


It is being reported that Continental Airlines of Houston, TX has formally apologized to Mr. Kalam. If true, this is a belated development. But the airlines should apologize to the Rashtrapathi Bhawan, and the citizenry in general for it’s silly behavior and lack of common sense. No wonder, American business is in the toilet.

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Click to go to Tablet.com's podcast page

Click to go to Tablet.com's podcast page

You never know what you run into when you just drift along, and let the surf take you where it will. That’s the joy and beauty of leisurely Internet browsing.

The above image and link popped up unexpectedly while meandering from site to site, and somewhere along the way I stopped at The Kamla Show – that post is coming later – and before you knew it, I am exploring the Baghdadi Jews & Bombay Cinema connection.

Turns out, very early in Bombay’s film history, before Bollywood became a world wide word, Jewish women were starring in Hindi films in Bombay! Who knew!!

Wonders and discoveries never cease. Enjoy this excellent podcast from a terrific Jewish web site that takes great pains to record history and experience.


Hindustan Times Tribute to Silent Screen - Jewish Women of Hindi Cinema

The Hindustan Times has a nice collection of nostalgia plates.

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