Vantage point

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cyclone Aila Relief Fund

Posting this for my friend Amit Arora who is involved with AID -

Cyclone Aila struck the coasts of Bangladesh and West Bengal, India killing more than 200 people and destroying 180,000 homes. Over 3 million people have been displaced as per the estimates.

The govt help is as always not adequate. Association for India's Development (AID) is partnering with local NGO partners to provide food, water and shelter. AID has already disbursed $21,000 to one of the partner NGO Baikanthapur Tarun Sangha (BTS) for this work.

If you would like to help the relief work please donate to AID All India Relief Fund.

Click here if you would like to follow the regular updates (from people working right in the middle of it and not from seasoned journalists)

If you would like to go and help in the relief work drop a hint in the comments section.

Cyclone Aila in press : BBC | The Daily Star | CNN | ToI | The Hindu


Indian Student Murdered Abroad, and the Tamasha Starts

A couple of students have been brutally attacked in Australia, for ostensibly racist reasons. Such incidents are very unfortunate, and I feel for them and their parents. It must be horrible to get that call from abroad about a loved one being killed or being in the hospital because of such barbarity.

What annoys me though is the frenzy whipped up by the media, and the holier-than-thou statements from elements of the Indian government. The media starts publishing paranoid articles about how Indian students are so unsafe abroad, compiling lists of incidents from the US, Europe and now Australia. People in the government start sprouting soundbytes and homilies, demanding from local governments that such attacks should be stopped.

With all this tamasha, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Indian students get murdered only abroad. All students in India are living, hale and hearty. But as a cursory search on google news will show, a student is murdered in India every few days. For a variety of reasons, ranging from lovers quarrels, college politics, random grudges, ragging to kidnapping. There are countless cases of rapes and molestation of women. And a number of suicides. And all these are just reported cases from big urban centers. You can imagine all the unreported or ignored crimes against students in the smaller towns and urban areas, often for religion and caste-based reasons.

Shouldn't the Indian government first ensure that students don't get abused or murdered at home? Making sure that the perpetrators are punished? Working hard at creating a safe environment, especially for female students who even now must be feeling a lot safer abroad than in India?

Then there's the media whipping up a frenzy over these incidents. Our of the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of students that have come to America, maybe 20 or so have been killed. I don't have any data, but my gut feel is that the ratio of victims to total Indian students abroad must be far lower than the ratio of the victims to students in India. In other words, I think the numbers, if anyone has them, will show that an Indian student is much more likely to get attacked or killed in India than abroad.

But reason and logic goes out of the window when sensationalism enters the picture. An Indian student murdered abroad makes for a sensational story. Throw in the element of racism, and it gives all of us the excuse to express moral outrage.

I understand that the element of racism is worrying, and needs to be addressed. It is not the reporting I am bothered by, but the disproportional hysteria that the media tries to whip up. Has anyone bothered to look at how many Indians, students or otherwise, get killed all over India because of their religion or their caste?

Friday, May 15, 2009

The 2009 Indian General Elections Post

(All times EDT, i.e. 9.5 hours behind IST)
10:45 p.m. - Ok, so I finished a lot of my research work for the week yesterday. Took a nap in the afternoon. Stocked up on snacks and drinks. And I am fully set for an all-nighter for the Lok Sabha results.
00:05 a.m. - Three major surprises. 1) BJP is actually looking like winning a seat in Tamilnadu.... BJP in TN??? Whoa!! 2) RajT's MNS is giving Milind Deora a tough fight in South Bombay!! There are like six registered Maharashtrian voters in South Bombay. How is that happening? 3) Early leads indicate Chiranjeevi's aprty is outperforming the TDP!!!
A thought - how does Dorab Sopariwala pay his rent in years when there are no elections????
00:17 a.m. It's amusing how eager all news channels are to take credit for the flimsiest of excuses. Prannoy Roy just boasted that his channel was the only one that said Chiranjeevi's PRP will do well. Umm...if anyone, Chiru should be the one boasting, Prannoy.
00:20 a.m. The general trend seems to be that UPA is gaining heaps over 2004. Especially in UP where Rahul Gandhi's call of going alone in UP seemed like a suicidal move. Now it seems like a masterstroke!
00:25 a.m. Most channels are shocked... shocked... that Congress and NCP are doing well in Maharashtra. All the high-profile media coverage of the Thackerays makes people forget.... for all this extremist and bombastic rhetoric, the BJP-Sena has won a Lok/Vidhan Sabha election in Maharashtra only once in the last 49 years.
00:30 a.m. The BJP is getting annihilated in Rajasthan!
00:31 a.m. The Congress is totally kicking ass in Uttar Pradesh. Totally kicking ass! This is Rahul Gandhi's big big triumph. Won't be surprised if Dr. Singh humbly and voluntarily informs Soniaji that he doesn't wish to continue as PM, and then Rahulbaba takes over.
00:54 a.m. It seems all over bar the shouting. UPA will retain power. Over and out for now.
01:11 a.m. Had to come back and post this. Najma Heptullah on NDTV says "The Muslims in Gujarat have voted for Narendra Modi." Could someone get me the contact details of Najmaji's pot dealer? Has to be superbly potent stuff!

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Parks and Recreation - A Review

Ever since I saw the promo's I was looking forward to a new NBC series from the creators of (US) The Office - Parks and Recreation. Philosophically, it has the same DNA as The Office, except that it is set in a government parks department. I have enjoyed the first few episodes. The plots are irony-filled, with a subtle understated humor that is still rare in US sitcoms, and the best compliment for it is that it is potentially a worthy sibling for The Office.

The problem, at least for me, is the casting of Amy Pohler. She just does not seem to fit the lead role as well as one would hope. I loved Pohler's work on SNL, but the show demonstrates that making the switch from a sketch comedy show to actual acting is not always easy. Pohler's character, Leslie Knope, has been written as a government-office equivalent of The Office's Michael Scott played by Steve Carell. The problem is, she plays it a little too much like Scott. While watching the show, it is difficult not to compare Pohler to Carell, and then mentally list down her shortfalls.

I wasn't instantly smitten by The Office either. Having been a hardcore fan of the original British version of Ricky Gervais, I found myself comparing the two, consciously and subconsciously, and finding the US version falling short. Especially because in the first season, they used a couple of the same story plots, making an absolute apples-to-apples comparison possible.

But Carell's triumph, aided by the writers, was to portray a character that is completely different from Gervais' David Brent. Different mannerisms, different personality, different motivations, and even different skills. By the second season, it became possible or even necessary, to think of the US version as a completely different series on its own. It very rapidly and successfully moved out of the British version's shadow.

The problem with Parks and Recreation is that it is still under The Office's shadow. Or more specifically, still under Michael Scott's shadow. The plot, story arcs, situations and even the other characters are good enough for it to carve out an identity of its own. But Pohler's Knope is just too Scott-ish.

Part of the problem might be that Pohler is just not as good an actor as Carell is. Although Carell became famous for his correspondent role in The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and later due to the surprise hit The 40 Year Old Virgin, we know that he can act and act well, as we saw from his gay Proust scholar role in Little Miss Sunshine. Pohler, sadly, has not provided evidence of her acting range. She seems to be consciously or subconsciously copying Carell. And that could be the show's downfall, given that it airs right before The Office.

Maybe it was a mistake casting her. Off the top of my head, I can think of one actress from their "gang" that would have fit the role perfectly - Angela Kinsey, who plays Angela Martin on The Office. Or even Rashida Jones (who played Karen on The Office) who has a supporting role in Parks and Recreation.

If the show gets canceled because of poor ratings, and research shows it was because of Pohler's inability to aptly portray Leslie Knope, it will be a real shame. It is, like I said, a very well-written, well-conceived and intelligent show and certainly deserves a longer run on TV.

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