Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tilda & My Mother's Signature Biryani

Recently I did an article on Tilda Rice with my colleague Sudeshna Sen who's based in London. Tilda - which is one of the best known Basmati brands in Europe & US - is an example of a global brand created and promoted by a global Indian family. The London-based Thakrars, who set up Tilda in the 1970s, are a Gujarati family who lived in Uganda before 1972 and moved to UK during the Idi Amin dictatorship. The company is now a big exporter of basmati rice from India to major markets in North America, Europe, Middle East and Africa. The Thakrars are even known as the rice kings in UK.
Tilda basmati is a well known brand among South Asians in UK, US and Europe and the company now plans to launch many of its products in India too riding the retail boom. An interesting promotional activity undertaken by Tilda in UK is sponsoring events with the Craft Guild of Chefs and the company has even published a recipe book with signature biryanis by UK's famous chefs.

And now the company plans events with top chefs in India too and is planning to bring Cyrus Todiwala, MBE and founder & executive chef of London’s famous restaurant chain Cafe Spice Namaste to India.

Tilda sees South Asians all over the world as its brand ambassadors.The company sponsors the TUCO University Chef of the year competition in UK every year. And talking about signature biryanis I would like to share with our readers my Mother's Signature Biryani. This is possibly the most simple and yet most delicious biryani in the world. A lot of my busy friends and family have told us that this is the ideal recipe for entertaining people during the weekend and provides a quick and tasty option. Another good thing about this recipe is that it's not too high calorie either.

So here's My Mom's Biryani - something that I've grown up with and will always love.
1.Mutton 1kg.
2.Yogurt (dahi) 800gms
3.Basmati Rice 4 cups/you could use Tilda! ( 1kg apprx)
4.Onions 2 large or 3 small
5.Oil for frying
6. Jeera(cummin seeds), Methi (fenugreek), Mouri (aniseed/saunf), Sukno lanka dry (2-4 dried red chillies) fried and powered
(1 teaspoon of all the spices and half teaspoon of fenugreek)
7. 6 cups of water
8. Turmeric powder
9. Salt to taste
1. Marinade the meat in yogurt and the spices and
turmeric powder for 2 hours.
2. Put in a pressure cooker
and add 1 cup water. Cook till meat is soft (about 15
20 mins, according to the quality of the meat.

3. Meanwhile cut onions into thin slices and fry in about 2 or 3
tablespoon of oil till golden brown.

4. Wash rice and drain
5. When u can open pressure cooker, put the fried onions
with oil and put in the rice.Add rest of water
6. Close cooker again and put on fire, wait till the pressure builds. Now lower the heat and
keep for only 5 mins not more (this is important.)
7. Open pressure cooker when u can.
8. Don't try release pressure by lifting the wieght with a spoon
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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Marching with BRIC

The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are about to crash into the G-6 list, displacing France, U.K., Germany and Italy. According to a Goldman Sachs report prepared in 2003, called "Dreaming with BRIC's - the path to 2050", only Japan and the USA will remain in the top six economic powers by 2050. The ranking at that point, according to the report, will be

1. China
2. USA
3. India
4. Japan
5. Brazil
6. Russia

India is forecast to maintain the steadiest growth rate throughout this period. If the predictions are correct, India's GDP should outstrip that of Japan by around 2030. In the words of a recent article in "Accountancy" magazine, the journal of The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales "..India's the one to watch !"

Many aspects of the report have raised eyebrows. One is the prediction that Brazil will outrank Russia. Another is a forecast that the currencies of the BRIC countries will appreciate by 300% against the US Dollar by 2050 !

The currency outlook is one which requires careful scrutiny and is likely to be the main indicator that matters are progressing according to the Goldman Sachs projections. The Indian currency steadily declined against the dollar after Independence. Some of us remember that in the 1950s the Rupee was 7 to the dollar ! However, that trend may well have been reversed. In 2005 the Rupee declined to 49 to the dollar. Today it is around 40, an appreciation of 18% over two years. While the prediction of a 300% increase may sound unrealistic, it is worth recalling the history of another currency - the Japanese Yen. In the mid-1970s the Yen was app. 300 to the US Dollar. Today it stands at 120. So the analysts of Goldman Sachs may yet be proved correct.

Danger signals abound, though. The growing (and highly visible) disparity between the upwardly mobile urban middle class and the teeming masses mired in poverty, requires the most urgent attention on the part of India's social engineers. Even the Goldman Sachs report points to the risk that political and social instability could derail the Indian Express.

It's worth repeating the words of the late Archbishop Romero of El Salvador " What good are beautiful highways and airports, all these beautiful skyscrapers, if they are fashioned out of the clotted blood of the poor who will never enjoy them ? "
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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Farmers' widows & children in Wardha: RV Bhavani

R V Bhavani, Director, B V Rao Centre for Sustainable Food Security, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation has sent us the following article

Linisha and Bharti Bhatero outside their ramshackle hut in Wadgaon village, Seloo block, Wardha

Over 60 percent of India's population is rural and dependent on agriculture and allied activities for their livelihood. The landholding situation is highly skewed with the majority being small and marginal farmers with landholdings of 2 hectare and less. The share of agriculture in the Gross Domestic Product has however been falling over the years. So has investment in agriculture per se as well as investment on agriculture research and in rural infrastructure - a phenomenon that has characterised the neo-liberal reform period beginning in the nineties. Insurance for crop failure is virtually non-existent. The agriculture extension system has failed. The farmer is largely left to take a beating on the Input (Credit, Technology, Inputs) and Price and Market fronts. Increasing number of suicides by farmers in rainfed farming areas (mainly the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Vidarbha region of Maharashtra) since the late nineties is a manifestation of a serious malaise afflicting the Indian economy today. In fact, these are danger signals for the policy makers to sit up and take note but that sadly is not happening.

Their husbands/fathers have taken their lives, leaving behind the mothers and children to cope with the harsh realities of everyday existence. The situation is bleak; what do they have to look forward to, is the question that keeps coming to mind when one meets and speaks with them. It is a question of surviving from day to day. Most of the widows now work as farm labour and the children also go to work during weekends and holidays. While the women/girls get Rs.25/- to Rs.30/-, for five hours of work, the boys get about Rs.50 (in both cases, less than a dollar). In some families, atleast one son has dropped out of school to help their mother with farm work. In some families, the older son had been in a crucial year at school when the father committed suicide and that put an abrupt end to studies. The land in most cases is joint property or in the in-laws’ name. One could feel the anger in 17 year old Linisha’s voice, from Wadgaon village in Wardha district, when she said that her uncle now cultivates the land they had and her mother goes out to work as farm labour. Linisha has given her class X exams and would like to study further. Her sister Bharti, 13 has gone to class VIII. Their home is a ramshackle hut with asbestos roofing and mud flooring in the front room.

The insensitivity with which the agrarian distress relief packages are being implemented and the general apathy especially at the lower levels of administration also comes to light. Usha Dhale of Rohankheda village shelled out Rs.4000/- for a cow under the relief package. The cow is not yielding any milk and is an additional liability. Her father has taken it to his village so that it is not a burden on her. Asha Kurwade from Khambit village in Ashti block with one acre of land and no well was thrust with an engine for which she had to shell out Rs.5000/-. She has since borrowed from a moneylender at a rate of 5% per month to meet expenses when her children fell ill.
Asha Kurwade with her children, Khambit village, Ashti block, Wardha - what does the future hold for them?

The license for the fair price shop that Sushila’s husband Prakash Taksande used to run in Kharda village of Deoli block in Wardha district was withdrawn when he committed suicide. His wife, young Sushila who, hats off to her resilience, manages to have a smiling face all the time, was not considered for running the same, inspite of being class IX pass. She has not got any suicide relief either. The household of mother and two sons aged 12 and 7, runs on the rupees ten thousand she gets annually by leasing her four acre plot of land. In one village, the post office cuts Rs.20/- per child from the instalment deposited in the post office savings account as monetary support for education by a NGO.

Most families still have the debt outstanding, to the pressure of which their husbands succumbed, hanging over their heads. Some suffer from health problems, following the trauma of the husband’s death. What is however heartening in the scenario of gloom, are the aspirations of some of the children to study and the endeavor of the mothers to stand by them and strive to ensure that their desires are fulfilled. Nineteen year old Amol from Ashti village whose mother works as a helper at the anganwadi centre in the village will be completing an ITI course in wire work this year and hopes to take admission in class XI. Some of the families have children who are going to take their first steps in schooling and go to the balwadi or class I, and have a long way ahead.

The least the larger community could do is to ensure that these children do see some hope at the end of the tunnel and their aspirations are not thwarted even before they have taken shape. While it is a fact that by and large the scenario is not going to improve unless the ground realities of the agriculture that they do changes and necessary infrastructure and support services are in place, immediate support to the widows and their children is imperative. A small pilot initiative steered by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, a non-profit trust, is on in Wardha district of Vidarbha, where children of school going age from farmer suicide families are getting monetary support to ensure that they continue their education. 77 children from 37 families spread across the eight blocks of the district are covered at present. Children completing class X and XII now need help and counseling by way of courses they could join that would also give them some income earning skills instead of just leading to a run of the mill degree with no assurance of a job at the end of the day. The Rural College at Pipri, Wardha for instance offers a two-year diploma course in agriculture. Students undergoing the programme can if they wish to study further apply for admission to any degree programme other than engineering and medicine. Alternately, the diploma is also considered as valid qualification for certain jobs in the district administration. Children who had to drop out due to the sudden tragedy can also benefit by acquiring some vocational training skills that will help them to earn some additional income besides working just as farm labour. For instance, Nilesh, 19 of Paloti village is class X fail; so are brothers Narayan, 23 and Nitin, 22 of Sawli Wagh village. The Community Polytechnic at Pipri, Wardha offers six-month certificate courses in computer hardware repair, TV repair, two-wheeler repair, welding, electrical work etc. Undergoing such training can help them have an additional income earning skill in hand.

Ranjana with sons Abhishek (Class I) and Suraj (Class VI), Chincholi village, Karanjha block, Wardha: A long way to go...

Livelihood rehabilitation for the widows is also a matter of concern. Many have qualification ranging from class VIII pass to Class XII pass. Many are quite young too, in their early twenties to mid thirties. Most as mentioned earlier now work as farm labour. Life has virtually stopped midway on the tracks for them. Training in some skill that they can put to use while in their respective villages and make some money can help them get confidence, but it is also a challenge. A village may have only one such affected woman. The villages are spread out across the district, some being a hundred kilometers from the district headquarter, making a plan to bring them together for long periods of training difficult. Some of the women are members of self help groups. But only in one case we heard of a Self Help Group (SHG) having started a goatery enterprise with bank loan. Moving from just saving and lending to enterprise development and management is crucial if the quality of life is to improve. Uppermost on the minds of the mothers however, is the worry on what the future holds for their children, on what will happen after they have completed schooling so that they get a better deal in life.

Wardha abounds in educational institutions some with international renown; there are also many research institutes in the vicinity like the Central Institute of Cotton Research and National Bureau of Soil Science and Landuse Planning at Nagpur, just 70 kilometres away; The College of Agriculture in Nagpur is a century old. There is no dearth of intellectual capital either. The banks in the district led by Bank of India and State Bank of India, have undertaken a financial inclusion initiative. Historically, Wardha happens to be the base from where Gandhiji steered India’s freedom struggle and had all the potential for developing as a ‘Gandhi Zilla’ where everyone has a means of secure livelihood and can lead a life of dignity. Sixty years on however, the challenge is to stave the ignominy of being labeled a farmers’ suicide district.
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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Of Women and Presidents: Debjani Banerjee

It has been a heady week in Indian politics and the Presidential nomination is still up in the air. But I thought I would post this anyway so we can mull over matters while the politicians play their cards.

I was excited when I heard that India was going to have its first woman president. Even if the role of the Indian president is largely symbolic and not quite equivalent to that of the French or American president (if the U.S. swears in a woman this November, I promise I will have no rants), it is path breaking. A woman even as the ceremonial head of India seemed like a harbinger of things to come.

But as I pondered over the matter I wondered if Pratibha Patil-Sekhawat’s nomination was clinching a deal for the women of India. I think people who are working at the heart of gender politics would not agree so readily.
The problem is not that she is low profile or that she has not done enough work in the area of gender development. The problem is that she is being chosen for her name rather than her work. Her hyphenated name at once appeases the vociferous Sekhawat community and complicates the candidature of the Vice President, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat who has jumped into the fray. As a son (sorry, daughter) of the soil, her nomination would please the Maharashtrians, (The NCP of Maharashtra, under Sharad Pawar, has been threatening to break away over several issues and they need to be mollified.) Suggesting the name of Pratibha Patil, currently the governor of Rajasthan, was a brilliant masterstroke by the Congress (who along with their allies are in political power at the moment) after their candidate, Shivraj Patil, the ex speaker of the Lok Sabha was turned down by the Left. The Left and the allies had also rejected the names of Sushil Kumar Shinde who represented Maharashtrian Dalits (we have already had a Dalit President in K.R. Narayanan so there is no urgency to appease them again right away?) and Karan Singh. (Dr.Karan Singh who hails from the royal family of Kashmir and studied at Doon School is obviously too esoteric a choice?) In contrast, Pratibha Patil, who belongs to a comfortable middle class and has a good education and a distinguished, if not spectacular career, seems like a safer choice. Her nomination has been lapped up by the allies of the Congress. But the Opposition parties have other ideas.

In the most recent development, the Vice President (who is being supported by the Opposition party) has said that he would withdraw his candidature if Dr.Abdul Kalam, the present incumbent, agrees to a second term; supported by heavyweights like Jayalalitha from the south, the President has maintained that he will return to Rashtrapati Bhawan only if he is the consensus candidate. In this complex game of identity politics and electoral ratios, Pratibha Patil, is being positioned as a woman candidate who, by virtue of her gender, represents all the women of India. My concern here, is not that she would have to be called the rather inelegant, Rashtrapatni, but that too; are we going to rename the post and the place of Residence? And even if we do that, can this lady stand outside of petty political strife to even try and make a difference? India is no stranger to women in politics. We have had a woman Prime Minister who has “ruled” India for fifteen years; the current de facto power in Indian politics, it is whispered, is a lady. And yet the position of women in non urban India has not improved in leaps and bounds.


So, if Pratibha Patil is chosen as the President when the politicians have exhausted all their moves, will it mean something for the women of India? Does it mean that women can have more legislation in their favour? Can it even signify that women’s achievements are substantial enough for them to be considered as the head of state, even in a titular position? Or is it just a token gesture that will not serve any real purpose? Tokenism worries me because for those of us who take gender politics seriously, it is a reminder that those in power can just use gender politics to their advantage; because “they” do not want to commit themselves to women’s empowerment in any serious way, they nominate a woman president! It sounds like circular logic but it is unfortunately how tokenism works. And tokenism implies condescension. Well sorry, we cannot pass the bill that ensures that women should have 33% seats reserved in the Lok Sabha, (and this is the place where Bills are debated so it is important to be there) but instead, we can have someone who looks like you as the President! It is like being handed a bar of chocolate when one needed serious attention in order to deal with female foeticide, anti dowry legislation, better education for women and the skewed gender ratio. Tall orders, any of these, but this is what India needs if ever we want development for all our citizens and globalization at a less-than-surface level.

It is being claimed that Pratibha Patil’s biggest advantage is that she has the right name, she is close to the Gandhi family and that she is non-threatening. This last bothers me more than the first two. Previous presidents have been chosen for their names and yet Abdul Kalam, Zakir Hussain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed have left individual imprints as good speakers, who with their knowledge and intellect can make appropriate legal interventions. Kalam certainly has been hailed as a popular President and as such, Patil has large shoes that she has to fill. Can she find non threatening ways to commit to progressive and secular values for the women of India? Or will she be just another name on Wikipaedia? Going for her is that she is a lawyer, an efficient administrator and an experienced politician who has held ministry portfolios of housing, health and education. And my personal favourite – she was the table tennis champion in her college!
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Monday, June 18, 2007

Coming to terms with Father's Day

Usually I don't feel too inspired by marketing driven events such as Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day etc. Every year there's a kind of circus around Valentine's Day when certain fundamentalist political elements resort to vandalism on the streets in some Indian cities while at other cities and metros various companies and restaurants etc manage to make a packet around lovey-dovey marketing buzz. In fact, even very public celebration of birthdays sometimes don't fit in with Indian social realities and often when one goes to wish a colleague whose Birthday is announced on the official website one is greeted with blank looks. That's probably because the colleague in question has a different date of birth for the records than his/her actual birth date. One then gets the feeling that exporting US HR practices directly into Indian companies are sometimes examples of cultural insensitivity and lack of understanding of social realities.

In any case, this year Father's Day (which was yesterday) left me feeling different because I was missing my father a great deal. Every little advertisement on TV and even the promotional flyer that a local hospital had inserted into my Sunday newspaper brought him back to me as did all the little things around my house like the light bulb that he changed during his last visit and the chair that he had painstakingly painted.
After a great deal of soul-searching I zeroed in on the following poem as the best way to remember my dad on Father's Day. Sailing had been one of his favourite leisure activities and he loved adventure. The poem is Classic T.S. Eliot, so enjoy. And Happy Father's Day (somewhat belated) to all you fathers out there.

What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands
What water lapping the bow
And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog
What images return
O my daughter.
Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning
Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird.
Those who sit in the sty of contentment, meaning
Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaning
Are become unsubstantial, reduced by a wind,
A breath of pine, and the woodsong fog
By this grace dissolved in place
What is this face, less clear and clearer
The pulse in the arm, less strong and stronger -
Given or lent? more distant than stars and nearer than
the eye

Whispers and small laughter between leaves and
hurrying feet
Under sleep, where all the waters meet.

Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.
I made this, I have forgotten
And remember.
The rigging weak and the canvas rotten
Between one June and another September.
Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own
The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking.
This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
Resign my life for this life; my speech for that unspoken,
The unawakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.
What seas what shores what granite islands towards
my timbers
And the woodthrush calling through the fog
My daughter.
(Quis hic locus, Quae
regio,quae mundi plaga?)

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Durgapur & the Age of Innocence

I grew up in a small town called Durgapur - around 150 km away from Kolkata. in those days we didn't really know about classifications of cities such as SEC A, B etc, so I'm not very sure about Durgapur's (or DGP) socio-economic category in those days. Instead, it was categorised as an industrial town and even sometimes (a bit exaggeratedly) called the Ruhr of India. Some of my father's colleagues who had visited Germany even imagined that the lights of Durgapur Steel Plant which glimmered like fairy lights when the train approached DGP from Kolkata reminded them of the Ruhr Valley in Germany with its heavy concentration of steel plants. Whether that was really the case or not - the lights definitely rang an alarm bell for us passengers in the train because we had to be ready to move to the door all set to alight. After all DGP was a tiny railway station where most trains stopped only for 2 minutes!

But the steel plant is not DGP's only industry - there's Phillips Carbon Black (of the Goenka group), Damodar Valley Corporation the power generating PSU, Fertiliser Corporation of India, Mining & ALlied Machinery Corporation - a PSU where various experts from the erstwhile Soviet countries often came to work. In fact my close friend in school Joanna Hornik was Polish and lived in MAMC. Her father was a mining expert from Poland while her mother was German. The list of industries in Durgapur could go on and on - but ACC Babcock Limited where my father worked was a company that manufactured industrial boilers and pressure vessels. We lived in small townships attached to the industries and probably ingested a lot of industrial pollution through the water we drank and air we breathed. Our childhood however was simple and unstressed. In fact, our smart cousins who grew up in the metros of Kolkata and Chennai often teased us about our naivete. But life in DGP was simple and without the upheavals of metro life. We went to school in a bus provided by my father's company and timed ourselves by the morning news on the local radio station. Evenings were a time for outdoor activities from paying catch n' catch to badminton, cycling and later swimming. By sundown all the kids were home and had to get down to serious studies and we had early dinners are were sent of to bed early. Our parents too followed a similar lifestyle - only sometimes they went for a late movie or a few drinks at the local club, leaving us behind with the domestic helpers. Drinks were probably restricted to the men folk while women chatted over colas. Those were pre-TV and pre-computer days and hence we lived with and for our books, our friends, our games and our lives at school.

Recently when Anup Singh (Munna) - who lived at the Steel township and mentored younger boys and girls to take up sports activities - called to invite me to a meeting of DORA (Durgapur Old Residents Association) in Delhi, I went on a pleasant trip down memory lane. Anup had actually mentored a girl called Anupama to take on my sister Deborani in the Durgapur Club annual swimming championship. My sister, of course, was a champ in her own rights and was a winner of swimmimng competitions at the state and district levels. And she had a strategy of her own to take on Anup's protege. The race was a marathon of a considerable number of laps. My sister allowed Anupama to take an early lead and in the very last lap overtook her to win the gold medal in a nail-biting finish. Of course, she was later reprimanded by our swimming coach from the MAMC Swimming Club - Kanti Dutta - who was also a national diving champion, for taking such a big risk with her competition. While my mother was a teacher for more than two decades at St Xavier's School, the boys' school in Durgapur, my sister and me went to Carmel Convent - which was the best known girls school. My mother walked across to her school through a copse of deciduous sal trees even as the bell rang announcing the start of classes. My father was the last to leave home for office. I suddenly chanced upon a website of St Xaviers Durgapur created by a group of ex-students. Photographs of the huge grounds, the auditorium and the buildings brought back memories of times when I went with my mother to fill in a leave vacancy at St Xaviers during college vacations.

The ABL township where we lived all our childhood years had large British style bunglows and was surrounded by deciduous woods. Among the local places of interest was the Bhabani Pathak's Tila or mound. It was a tiny hillock on top of which was a broken down stone wall like structure. DGP-lore had it that this was the headquarters of a gang of Robin Hood style dacoits of yore and the mound was connected to the Damodar river nearby through an underground tunnel. Needless to say that none of us had ever encountered any tunnel. However, we had pleasant outings to the hillock including a nocturnal moonlit picnic when we had trekked there with a group of friends from ABL - which was about 8 km away. My parents were always very adventurous and had once trekked to Santiniketan which was about 50 km away with their friend Debashish Sengupta. That was the mid-1970s probably and the trio had followed a rural route along the Ajay river. They had spent one night at a forest bunglow enroute and reached Santiniketan the next evening - proving to everyone that Snatiniketan, which was also my grandparents' home - was actually walking distance from DGP. Later, Baba and Ma with Debashish and his wife Sumita Sengupta and two other friends Jawahar Pillay and R.Kumar had gone on an arduous, off-season trek to the hill shrine of Amarnath in the Kashmir Valley. So while life was simple and uneventful - it had its share of adventure too.

We had our unconventional birthday parties - meticulously planned out by Baba. The memorable ones are one when Baba drove us with a bunch of friends to the breath-taking rose garden around his office in the evening and the second when he and Ma organised a bonfire and bar-b-que for our friends on a November evening. We had collected autumnal leaves for weeks before that to stoke our bonfire and the party was a roaring success. We had annual picnics, festival dinners, badminton and cricket tournaments and Holi revelries. Most of these events are well documented through photographs taken by my father. In fact, those sepia toned memories are about all that remains of life in DGP - as my childhood friend Nilanjan, who's now a very successful professional in America, says: "Durgapur is indeed a time capsule more than a physical location - a grimy, boring metaphor for our lost youth." He hasn't been back since 1983. And I probably went to DGP for the last time even before 1983. I don't have much clarity on what plans the West Bengal government has for Durgapur - if any. All I know is that most of us who spent our childhood in that city still think of our lives there and have many pleasant memories. I've been part of a school alumni meet at Silicon Valley - when my classmate Kalapi - a computer scientist at Intel - rallied all our other batchmates from Carmel Convent Class of 1981 together for a lunch about six years ago. We spent the whole afternoon at her house in Cupertino, talking about little apart from our school days and life in DGP. Then there's Neema Kudva, a professor of city planning at Cornell, whose garden and house in DGP were happy hunting grounds for many of us on summer evenings. We climbed trees, plucked fruits, played hide & seek or just sat around and talked books.In fact, if Durgapur was about the outdoor experience - it was also about reading lots of books and creative writing and literary discussions.

Two of my friends with who I shared my love for reading and writing were, of course, Neema and Nilanjan. A memorable experience was a play directed by Nilanjan's mother Mrs Sarbani Sen - a very talented individual - who had got together a motley crowd of school kids like us and some of my father's enterprising colleagues to put up Agatha Christie's A Murder is Announced. The challenges for her ranged from dealing with strange regional accents and ensuring that people had learnt their lines before they came for rehearsals to finding an empty bunglow for the rehearsals and chastising the boys in the cast - who often disappeared for a game of cricket instead of practising - and then finding the right costume for Mrs Marple. Needless to say that the production set in a small village in England created quite a stir in our own provincial small town lives in DGP. It was undoubtedly the highlight of that season! There were the muscial programmes too of song and dance that had a great deal of involvement of both my sister and mother. Rehearsals for those went on for weeks and even months and the final evening was always of very high quality performances. The rigourous rehearsals brought out the best of talent and team work in various people including homemakers who usually maintained a low profile at other times. Those were occasions that we looked forward to and which helped us to communicate with others around us and do creative things together.

I'm not quite sure if such a lifestyle exists now, even in DGP. Besides, I'm not even sure if there were not issues that needed to be addressed way back in our childhood such as more global exposure etc. In fact, life in a small town setting where everyone worked at the same office or went to the same schools had its flipside too. For lots of people, malicious gossiping sessions provided the only leisure activity and many of them were trapped in the little comforts that came with the small town lifestyle. Perhaps a lot of talent went undiscovered and many people found their spirit of adventure harnessed by the ordinary routine existence. However, my own world that was essentially created by my parents and my sister was totally nurturing and DGP gave me all the values that have been with me after I left it behind. The two and a half hour journey from Durgapur to Kolkata by Bidhan Express that I always longed to make was more than a grimy train ride. It will always remain for me a metaphor of growing up and transcending the limits of a small town existence. It was a journey that had to be made, even though what one was leaving behind was precious - the age of innocence.
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Friday, June 15, 2007

The Cost of Multiracial Love

The Best Things In Life Are Free, goes the conventional wisdom. That should include Love, surely one of the best things in life.

Not so apparently in the USA, in the case of men wishing for success with women of a different ethnicity.

A joint MIT and University of Chicago study (What makes you click - Mate Preferences and Matching Outcomes in Online Dating by Gunter Hitsch and Ali Hortacsu) has actually spent a lot of academic time on researching the amount of additional income a man needs to date a woman of a different ethnic background in America.
Anyway, the findings are that (taking an income of $ 62,500 per annum as the base), significant increments are needed for trans ethnic dating in many instances.

For example, the study says, for equal success with White Women, a White Man needs 0 incremental factor over $62,500. However, an additional $154,000 is needed by a Black Man to date a white woman, i.e., an income p.a. of $62,500 + $154,000 = $ 216,500.

A Hispanic man, on the other hand, needs only $ 77,000 more than $62,500 to achieve success with a White Woman.

Now comes the bad news. Asian men apparently need a whopping $247,000 more than the base of $62,500 to win a White woman !

Further bad news for Asians. According to the study, Asian women will accept a discount of - $24,000 if wooed by White men, so they are apparently easy preys to White men earning only $ 38,500 per annum ! On the other hand, they require - according to the study - an incremental $ 30,000 from Hispanic men.

I am not sure how the field work was conducted between MIT and the University of Chicago. Hopefully it was a lot of fun for the research team, but presumably expensive if the wrong ethnic combination was involved. Perhaps the academics on our blogsite can enlighten.

Long live Academic Research !
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Wednesday, June 13, 2007


In an earlier blog I had written about the over subscription of H-1B visa applications for 2008, the present quota being 65,000 from all countries. Since historically Indians account for more than 50% of H1-B entrants to the USA, this was clearly bad news for Indian technicians and other qualified personnel hoping to gain employment in the USA. In spite of the lobbying from employers to raise the quota, I had reluctantly concluded that ".. However, the reality is that these limits will probably not be increased any time soon, while the Great Immigration Debate rages on through the United States as part of the 2008 election campaigns.."

For a while it seemed that my prediction was too pessimistic, since the recent Immigration Reform Bill contained a provision to raise the quota to 115,000. Alas, this bill has been defeated in the Senate, mainly because of opposition to other clauses, but of course the net result is that the H1-B visa position remains closed for 2008.

While the heated discussion in the USA on this subject has focused almost entirely on Mexican migrants, the implications for immigrants from other countries have largely been ignored. In particular, the significance of Indian immigration is largely lost on the US public. It is a little known fact here that India accounts for the second largest number of immigrants to the USA, after Mexico. Even more significant, in terms of legal immigration, Indians rank far higher than Mexicans, who are only sixth on the scale of legal immigrants.

The contradictions and inequities in the Immigration Reform Bill which caused it to be denied passage will mean that the flow of Indian qualified personnel to the USA will probably continue to remain in check, at least through 2008 and perhaps beyond that date.
One favorable exception though is in the category of Nursing. Because of the severe shortage of nurses in the USA, a special category of Green Card (Schedule A) has been created for qualified nursing practitioners, and Indian nurses have been taking advantage of this category. As a result, they now constitute the second largest number of foreign nurses in the USA (after those from the Philippines)
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