Friday, June 17, 2005

Into the Annals of Poor Writing on South Asia


I think we have another entry into the annals of really bad writing on South Asia. This entry comes from perennial favorite, our friends over at Condé Nast Traveler.

Those of you who have been to the region understand my initial surprise when I received my June 2005 issue to see on the cover a piece entitled Driving India. I mean, there is a reason that Hertz and Avis car rental companies aren't on every corner (I believe there are 16 Hertz locations for the entire country of over a billion people). Ever wonder why no ingenious Indian business person hadn't created the rupee car rental company? Perhaps because it isn't safe for those unfamiliar with the country/roads to drive there. Like any good desi, I immediately flip to the story entitled "Accelerating Mayhem," and began reading to see how crazy the writer, Stephan Wilkinson must be to take on the Indian roads. Instead I was left wondering how his article got published.

Well as soon as I flipped to page 92, I began to see the signs, not so much that he is crazy, but for bad and clichéd writing on the region. What are these warning signs you ask? Let's have a looksee:

1. Required discussion of arranged marriage, check. I have no idea what this has to do with a travelogue or driving India, but yes, people in India have arranged marriages. It has been written about, TMBWITW Aishwarya has explained it, and some (gasp) even prefer it.

2. The requisite mention of the "Indian head shake," check. To be fair, Wilkinson describes it as "a vague cock of the head." Furthermore, I think we should formally rename it here as the South Asian head shake because I know they do it in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka as well.

3. Use of the word "the" before mentioning the state of Punjab, check. I never understood how this trend started, to say "the Punjab." Writing, "From Delhi through the Punjab" is the equivalent of saying from Washington D.C. through the Pennsylvania…

4. Requisite comparison of India's roads and driving conditions to a video game, check. The driving conditions suck, but there has to be a better, less clichéd way to describe the roads. And I have seen better game comparisons—he uses automotive tetris.

5. Inclusion of caste, check. Wilkinson notes, "What would get him [a driver] pistol-whipped in Chicago or Manhattan occasions not so much as a rude gesture in caste-docile India." First, I am not too sure that this guy has had the full driving experience in India if he thinks that Indians don't suffer road rage. Perhaps he didn't understand when the 25 people he cut off each screamed ben/mather chod or any other of the various other Hindi/Punjabi expletives at him. Second, not too sure how the caste reference works in this instance, even if he is convinced that Indian drivers are a bit more polite than American drivers. Does he actually think it is because of the caste system that drivers are polite?

6. Requisite play on Indian name, check. Well this one is kind of funny, bad writing, but funny. Yes its use merits placement in the annals of bad writing on South Asia, but I chuckled slightly when I read of Wilkinson's Indian driver's fate with traffic. He writes, "South of Chandigarh, we come to an enormous traffic jam to which even Surender surrenders."

At this point, I have begun to see fault in the little things in the article as well, and am wondering how this article got past Condé Nast editors and into print. We learn on day two that Shimla was the former summer capital of India and that it is "so far off the tourist map that an Indian family stops us to pose for snapshots." That Indian people are stopping you to take a picture is not a good indicator of how touristy a place is. Shimla was once the capital of the British Raj and has been a stalwart on the Indian tourist map for ever. When I was there, foreigners were all over the place, and I remember being bombarded upon at the entrance of town by almost as many touts as at the Taj or in Jaipur.

7. And finally, the obligatory mention of a holy cow, check. Yes they are on the road, we know this. I think if people know little of India, they know of the Taj Majal and that cows are everywhere. This was last on my liste because cows, along with a plethora of other animals are indeed on the road and part of the driving experience. At the same time, the holy cow thing has been done over, and over again.

So if any of you out there ever have to write an article on South Asia and are looking for a little help, I would avoid Wilkinson and Condé Nast, and start off here, at the SAJA style book instead.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Vimukthi Jayasundara's "The Forsaken Land" Wins at Cannes

Director Vimukthi Jayasundara this past May became the first Sri Lankan to ever win the prestigious Camera d’Or award for Best First Film, or any award for that matter, at the world reknowned Cannes Film Festival for his Sinhalese language film Sulanga Enu Pinisa (The Forsaken Land).

Jaysundara, who was trained trained at the Institute of the Cinema and Television of Pune, in India, shares the award at Cannes with an American, Miranda July for her work, Me And You And Everyone We Know.

When asked to talk about the film, Jayasundara said,

"If The Forsaken Land has something to do with my country's history, it is especially through its conveyance of the suspended state of being simultaneously without war and without peace – in between the two. I wanted to capture this strange atmosphere... For me, filmmaking is an ideal vehicle for expressing the mental stress people experience as a result of the emptiness and indecisiveness they feel in their lives. With the film, I wanted to examine emotional isolation in a world where war, peace and God have become abstract notions."

Thankfully, getting to see this film will be made easier by his win at Cannes as his film has found distribution in the U.S and in his native Sri Lanka.

More on Jayasundara and his win here, here, here, and here.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

iRiver South Asia Playlist

One of my favorite things about visiting South Asia, in recent years anyway, is the unique (despite overly repetitive) playlist of MTV India. Sure, some really awful Bollywood songs are included, but where else will you hear a track with such poignant lyrics like "just chill chill, just chill" repeated over and over again, right? So after being in Sri Lanka for over a week, I have added some of the following to my iRiver music playlist. And if you want to have this argument, I like the iRiver better than the Ipod, but lets not make this post an iRiver vs. iPod one.

Bombay Rockers-- Rock The Party. This Danish duo, includes one desi and one gora exactly and approximately. The gora sings in English, and the desi of course sings in Hindi. How novel of an idea? The song is catchy, but the track's music is not original, the lyrics are not really intricate, and it seems like the Rocker's are trying a little too hard to be Europe's answer to the Neptunes (trucker hat, bandana around the wrist and all).

Daddy Yankee--Mirame. To be fair, I actually put this on my playlist before I left the states (along with Raje Shwari and Beenie man's Below the Waist and her track Country Style with Petey Pablo), but this spindi (Spanish + Hindi) reggaeton track is hot, so I had to give it a plug.

Abhijeet Sawant--Mohabbatein Lutaaunga. India's answer to Kelly Clarkson, Reueben Studdard, and Clay Aiken, all rolled into one. Sawant was the winner of "Indian Idol" and can really belt out a tune. It is a little corny, and in the video of this song he does some weird forehead pointing thing, but some of his tracks are catchy, this one in particular.

The Rishi Rich Project--Dil Mera.—This track is on the Kya Kool Hai Hum Soundtrack. I haven't seen the movie, but the trailer makes it look hip, and having the Project participate, makes the film even hipper. I was actually pleasantly surprised to hear a lot of Raghav and Jay Sean tracks all over the radio here in Sri Lanka.

Sonu Nigam, Jayesh Gandhi and Amrita Kak
-- Just Chill. I had to put it on, just to laugh. This is apparently the opening track for David Dhawan's new movie Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya, starring Salman Khan and Sushmita Sen. Remember to "just chill chill, just chill."

Blaaze--Bunty Aur Babli. This is the lead track for the movie of the same name starring Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee. The song is a rap song and the video has Amitabh lip-synching, quite ridiculously, along to the lyrics. Its unfortunate because the movie looks good.