Plain Tales from British India – The New York Review of Books

For all the irrigation projects, new railways, and imperviousness to bribes, the Raj presided over the destruction of Indian political institutions and cultural and artistic self-confidence, while the economic figures speak for themselves. In 1600, when the East India Company was founded, Britain was generating 1.8 percent of the world’s GDP while India was producing 22.5 percent. By 1870, at the peak of the Raj, Britain was generating 9.1 percent, while India had been reduced a poor third-world nation, a symbol across the globe of famine and deprivation.

-William Dalrymple in a review of two recent books on colonial India.



MUMBAI — The Mahindra Group has acquired a minority stake in luxury brand The East India Co., both companies said Monday.

The joint statement didn’t give details of the deal.

London-based The East India Co. was established in 1600 to trade in commodities such as silk, cotton and tea, and was responsible for a large chunk of global trade for more than two centuries. It was re-launched last year, as a luxury brand selling high-end food products.

The East India Co. plans to invest $100 million over the next five years, expanding into markets in Asia and the Middle East, it said in the statement.

The Mahindra group owns Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., India’s biggest sport-utility vehicle maker by sales, and outsourcing company Tech Mahindra Ltd.

Write to Anirban Chowdhury at

And it comes a full circle! Only a minority stake but the once colonised are now taking back their history!

Indian Erotica?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Warning: Some links NSFW

While Indian men are, no doubt, as much samplers of porn as any average male, one did not see too much of Indian erotica or port until lately.

It’s quite visible now as blogs like Enjunindia, Mi Ramya Ranee and the cartoon-porn character Savita Bhabhi. The latter site, is aparently not available to people in India as it has been censored by the authorities [link]. And porn clips involving Indian women are quite easily found on the net, some sites even having an ‘Indian’ category for their videos.

Seems another veil in the traditional prudery and hypocrisy of our culture has been removed. Progress?

From camels to Rolls Royces

Monday, 5 November 2007

It used to be a joke among those observing the rapid development of the Middle-East in the seventies and eighties that the oil states there had gone from camels to Rolls Royces in one generation.

In another conversation just last weekend, we were talking about how some things in India were far more modern than in some Western countries- the Delhi metro and mobile phones being examples- and that this was because of the leapfrogging effect of a later adoption of a technology. So, there’s often been a revolution rather than the evolution that the Western nations went through in their adoption.

So this, in an article by Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times, did strike a chord:

So what should India do? It should leapfrog us, not copy us. Just as India went from no phones to 250 million cellphones — skipping costly land lines and ending up with, in many ways, a better and cheaper phone system than we have — it should try the same with mass transit.

His question in the first sentence relates to how India can reconcile its new found passion for the car with the congestion it already has on its roads.

He goes on to say that

India has become a giant platform for inventing cheap scale solutions
to big problems. If it applied itself to green mass transit solutions
for countries with exploding middle classes, it would be a gift for
itself and the world.

Now isn’t that a major shift in how India is perceived! She is seen now to have the ability to fix at least one of the worlds bigger problems using the ingenuity of its people. I think this is something that is only now becoming apparent to the world. I mean, think about it: China is usually heralded in the area of manufacturing technologies as being the low cost, efficient producer- largely on the basis of low labour costs. But already India is seen to be capable of making a difference not because of a labour cost arbitrage but by the use of its brainpower. I think this is a major milestone in how India is perceived in the world.

Hindu Asylum Seeker

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Via Shrimpy’s blog at chingrimaach comes a link to a story about Kunal, a boy of Indian parentage who is driven to excel in spelling bee competitions. His parents were refused political asylum in the USA and had to return to India- Bihar, it seems. While the story in the NY times that Shrimpy links to is about the problems he faces and his anger at having to live without his parents, I found this bit about his father very interesting:

Mr. Sah, who was born in India, came to the United States in 1990 and shortly before his entry visa expired the next year he applied for political asylum, saying that if he was forced to return to his home province in southeastern India he would be targeted by Muslims because of his involvement in a group called Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which he described as committed to Hindu nationalism.

Mr. Sah acknowledged in his application that he had been active in organizing a campaign against Babri Mosque, in northern India, because it was “built on our sacred land” and that he “actively participated” in riots intended to demolish it.

In 1992, after Mr. Sah had immigrated to the United States, Hindu extremists destroyed the mosque.

In denying him haven, immigration officials noted that Mr. Sah “had participated in the persecution of non-Hindus and thus was ineligible for asylum.”

Surely, Mr. Sah can move to Gujarat where the government (and people) seem to be quite favourably disposed to Hindu nationalists? Instead of facing persecution he may well be treated as a hero!

The Goddess Exhibition

Friday, 9 February 2007

The Art Gallery of New South Wales held a very successful exhibition called ‘Goddess:Divine Energy’ that ended last month.

The all-powerful Goddess has been a source of inspiration and guidance to followers for centuries. Her many manifestations seek to protect, love, comfort, tantalise, champion, seduce, enlighten, save and, most of all, empower.
Goddess: Divine Energy is the first major exhibition in Australia to explore the many manifestations of the divine female in Hindu and Buddhist art. Created as a focus for veneration and meditation, these beautiful works of art are rich with symbols that convey the many lessons and insights the Goddess provides as she guides towards attainment and ultimate bliss. The power (shakti) and wisdom (prajna) of the Goddess resides within each one of us waiting to be awakened.
Over 150 exquisitely carved sculptures and delicately composed paintings from India, Tibet and Nepal, dating from about 2000 BCE through to the 20th century, have been gathered from collections around the world for display.
Goddess: Divine Energy offers a rare opportunity to delve into the world and wisdom of the Goddess. An extensive events program of film, performance, talks, meditation and music accompanies this exhibition.

The event was very well curated with art collected from several sources including Neplalese and Tibetan depictions of goddesses and represents a new willingness to explore the art of India in a major event. The Gallery also took a lot of steps to include the Indian community and organisations such as the local Hindi School, the Indian Tourism Office, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and the Bengali Association. The latter in fact were instrumental in bringing three craftsmen from Bengal to make an image of Durga over several weeks. This murti was then ceremoniously immersed in the waters of Parramatta River after a procession. The Association also provided volunteers to be present at the exhibition to answer questions from the visiting public.

Female figure India, Madhya Pradesh, Chandella period (c 831–1308), c1000s Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi. Gift of Walter Spink

There were dances, film screenings, talks, teachings, Diwali celebrations, workshops in aromatherapy and painting and celebrity talks (including the author of Holy Cow, Sarah Macdonald). For children they had a school holiday workshop and even a very nicely produced children’s activity guide for little visitors to the exhibition.

The first task of the craftsmen was to make a small murti of Ganesh whose blessings were then invoked at the inauguration of the exhibition.

A great event and lots of credit should go to the curator of this exhibition, Jackie Menzies, Head of Asian Art at the Gallery and its curator for South and Southeast Asian Art, Dr. Chaya Chandrashekar.

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A lament for Air India

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Three things happened this week to remind me of good old Air India.

Just the other day at a backyard barbeque dinner, I met an ex-Air India pilot and we were talking of the old days when I used to travel on (and he used to fly) the last remaining Boeing 707’s to Aden, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. These were the dying days of Air India as a credible international airline. By then it was well into government bureaucracy mode, sloppy, bumbling and uncaring. But this particular flight was a favourite of mine. Great meals were served on each sector, the crew were friendly and I got to know some of them over the years.

In cities such as Aden, the Air India office was a link to things otherwise not available in the then communist country- newspapers, magazines and books. In fact, one of the staff who worked there, a comely local girl of Indian origin, used to run an informal lending library for books that we could borrow and read. In return, we would leave with her the books we had brought in to add to the library.

Because I had got to know quite a few of the staff, I was often upgraded to business class.

Then I see Patrick Smith at Salon (subscription required) laments the changeover of Air India’s livery for its aircraft:

First, a sneak peak at the latest airline livery abomination. There’s been no shortage of these lately, but this one is particularly disappointing because it afflicts Air-India, until now wearer of my all-time favorite color scheme. Here’s the original, shown to gorgeous advantage on a 747. How can you not love it, from the Rajasthani palace window frames to the Nike-style fin flash? It’s exotic, classic, understated, refined. All airlines should be those things.

Now for the update, depicted here on what I believe is a pre-delivery Boeing 777 at the factory near Seattle. The window arches and striping look emaciated. That scrambled egg on the tail is a bastardized version of the carrier’s elegant Sagittarian centaur logo. He appears to have been electrocuted.

In an earlier post he also comments on why the airline chose the centaur from Greek mythology as its logo:

Air-India’s earliest long-range planes were Lockheed Constellations, the first one taking off in 1948. With the new planes came a new logo, and the plan was go with a constellation theme. The centaur, representative of Sagittarius, was a logical choice because it suggested movement, strength, and somewhat resembled the farohar, a Parsi heavenly symbol featuring a winged man, like a guardian angel. The Parsis are a Zoroastrian sect of the Subcontinent — of which Air-India’s founding family, the Tatas, were members — and their farohar is a sign of good luck. Furthermore, incarnation of the Sagittarius brings forth, in the mind of many Indians, images of the master archer Arjuna from the mythological epic Mahabharata. Whatever the exact reasoning, the emblem was adopted and has remained.

And lastly, I saw a recent documentary film about The Doors concerts in Europe in 1967-68. When they came to England they got off an Air India plane!

Alas, the Air India with the maharaja as mascot and the series of classic humorous ads the defined a carrier with some attitude is long gone, replaced now with younger brighter better airlines in India.

An article in a 1960 Time magazine relates how the club-footed ‘socialist’ politicians started hobbling the airline’s personality.

Here is a link to some of the older Air India ads and posters. And one to pictures of the covers of their timetables over the years, including the one pictured above.

And lastly, a link to some more recent ads.

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