Chinese expansion fears revealed

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Australian intelligence agencies suggest China could overestimate its own capabilities with a significant risk of strategic miscalculation and instability.

”The nature of the [People’s Liberation Army] and the regime means that transparency will continue to be viewed as a potential vulnerability. This contributes to the likelihood of strategic misperceptions,” the document says.

”The rapid improvements in PLA capabilities, coupled with a lack of operational experience and faith in asymmetric strategies, could lead to China overestimating its military capability. These factors, coupled with rising nationalism, heightened expectations of China’s status, China’s historical predilection for strategic deception, difficulties with Japan, and the Taiwan issue mean that miscalculations and minor events could quickly escalate.”

Need a clear-eyed analysis such as this for India as well


Not for hard-core nationalists

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Prospect Magazine: Issue 154, January 2009

Mumbai’s bloodied elite
The Mumbai attacks hit India’s rich the hardest. They may now take democracy more seriously

Elegant apartment blocks stand tall above the gardens of Malabar Hill, the most exclusive district in south Mumbai. The area juts out on the far side of a bay, like the thumb of a hand stretching for the sea, as if trying to keep at arm’s length from the body behind. Property prices here rival downtown Manhattan. When the smog isn’t too thick, residents can gaze east across Back Bay, to see the city’s seething downtown fingertip. Few places would have given a better view of the smoke rising from…
You can see the entire article here

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.

Two quotes from a review of two books on colonial India by William Dalrymple in the New York Review of Books (via Andrew Leonard) give some food for thought…

Most terrible of all was the plunder of Bengal following its conquest by the British in 1757. The British commander Robert Clive returned to Britain with the huge fortune of £300,000, making him one of the richest self-made men in Europe; after one single battle—Plassey—he transferred to the company treasury no less than £2.5 million that he had seized from the defeated nawab of Bengal. The conquered province was left devastated by war and high taxation, and stricken by the famine of 1769. Its wealth rapidly drained into British bank accounts, while its prosperous weavers and artisans were coerced “like so many slaves” by their new British masters, and the markets were flooded with British products. As the contemporary historian Alexander Dow put it:

At that time, Bengal was one of the richest, most populous and best cultivated kingdoms in the world…. We may date the commencement of decline from the day on which Bengal fell under the dominion of foreigners.

And, even more thought-provoking:

But amid all the tales of hard work and evenhanded justice, you never get any impression of the many clearly negative effects that British rule had on India. 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.

Gives things a new perspective, doesn’t it?

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I came across a post by the always interesting Manish on Ultrabrown, frothing about the way Indian accents are depicted by whitefellas (in or out of brownface- or brownvoice in some cases), especially Apu in the Simpsons.

He has many problems with the accent used by Apu (as spoken by Hank Azaria): it is ‘crudely done’, ‘a poor imitation’, ‘a travesty’ (of the real Indian accent), ‘crudely pasted’, ‘synthetic’, ‘artificial’ and how ‘gut-level revulsion this churns up’ in him just talking about it. Strong words and fair enough, being his opinion. But he goes on to say in a couple of places including a comment I left, that this caricature of an Indian accent is racist, including this:

It’s not that only desis are allowed to do desi humor. It’s that the version done in the U.S. exists only in the U.S. and Britain and is done only by white people — it’s artificial. It’s badly done partly because the language lacks Hindi phonemes (as you know, Spanish and Hindi have soft consonants missing in English), but also because of a racist lack of interest in doing it well.

Let’s look at this a little closer.

Manish feels that it is racist because it is a poor imitation or ‘synthetic’ version of an Indian accent and because it creates or perpetuates a stereotype of Indians in the USA and UK. But that is just caricature, isn’t it? It can be offensive but most humour is offensive to one party or the other.

If racism is

a belief system or doctrine which states that inherent biological differences between human races determines cultual or individual achievement — with a corollary that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others (Wikipedia)

then doesn’t that rule out cultural differences such as language or accents? Is the way we speak English (and there are so many regional accents for Hinglish) a characteristic that defines us as a race? In that case, if I spoke with a plummy British accent would I then not be part of the Indian ‘race’? What a great way to escape racism!

And which Indian accent is acceptable then? Is is that of the Bengali with the b’s instead of the v’s, is it that of the Maharashtrians with there hard ‘t’s and d’s or the Malayalee english pronounciation with the oily vowels and funny consonants? Well, the accents of UK desis Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal are held out as an example of an Indian accent done well. Oho, so it is the accent of the upper middle class ‘convent’ or ‘public school’ educated upper middle class kids that meets with approval! But that is no more Indian than the faux upper-class stentorian English accent that we used to hear on All India Radio’s news from Surajit Sen and others in the 70’s and 80’s.

And what is the subtext when Sellers- or now Steve Martin- send up the French in the Pink Panther films or how the German accent is stereotyped by Hollywood (ve haff our vays). Is that racist too?

And here’s the nub. All these representations of Indian or other accents are but caricatures. Why should they have be close to the real thing? Whether they were too lazy to do the work to get it right (as Manish and another comment leaver have said) is besides the point! It’s meant to raise a giggle with the target audience! Yes, naina, it was mocking of Indians as is most humour mocking of some person or group. You don’t have to like it but you cannot wheel out the ‘R’ word for someone making fun of your accent! It might be also insulting, revolting, boring and any number of other adjectives, but racist- I don’t think so.

To accuse people of racism seems to be the first resort of the educated Indian whose hypersensitive antennae perceive a slight where none may be intended.

As the thoughtful comment by musical points out

Hindi movies take the cake when it comes to racial and linguistic stereotyping. Even desis mock each others accents! What about all the South Indians saying Ayyo Rama, all the Bengalis saying Uri baba, all the Punjus saying Balle Balle, all the Sindhis saying Vadi Saayin-all bad stereotypes, all perpetuated by us, the desis.

These are all examples of one social class making fun of another social class for general amusement. It really has nothing to do with race. Given time the stereotype of the Indian in the West will change from the mindless depictions of Sellers, to that of the current call centre agent stereotype to something that more accurately represents the Indians that people in the mainstream meet.

No, girls and guys, un-knot your chaddis, relax the sphincter, unwind yourself (as Kaa the snake said to Mowgli in The Jungle Book) and put a smile on your face. Then go and make some more jokes about Mumbaiyya Hindi, Malayalee English or Punjabis with American accents (heard venture capital guru Vinod Khosla talk?).

In short, get a sense of humour.

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