Friday, June 29, 2007

Roping in Bollywood for Hillary campaign?

Read in the media that some US resident Indians are planning to rope in Bollywood stars for the Clinton campaign. Thought our biradari in the US had more sense. I can understand their enthusiasm for the US presidential race. But getting Bollywood stars to campaign for Hillary appears a corny idea. Does anyone really believe Amitabh Bacchan or Rani Mukherjee can sway the electorate? Indian-Americans account for less than one percent of the US population.

I can understand Bollywood stars doing a door-to-door in Mumbai to collect old clothes and cash for flood or quake relief. Involving them in a poll campaign, even in India, has been little more than a media hype. In the recent UP elections the Samajwadi Party featured Amitabh Bacchan in TV promos. The super-star probably was more effective flogging Dabur Chyawanprash on TV.

I can’t see Shahrukh Khan or that Zinta girl campaigning for Hillary at community centres in the US suburbs and the gurudwara Sunday congregations. Whoever has thought of drafting Bollywood star may be having in mind a song-and-dance programme as fund-raiser . Which is old hat. Besides, live shows of filimy item numbers may no longer be the money-spinners they once were. Someone mentioned a recent Asha Bhonsle concert bombed, insofar as there were hardly a thousand people in a venue that could hold ten times that number. One reason is that they are too many of them, held much too often, featuring the same old faces.

A report in speaks of plans by Indian Americans to raise at least $5 million for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. For her senate bid the New York Indian community had chipped in $50,000. Accepting the gift, at a fund-raiser held by a Maryland dentist, Rajwant Singh, Hillary had reportedly joked, “I can certainly run for a senate seat in Punjab and win easily”. At a more recent fund-raiser in San Jose, a participant identified as director of a Mumbai-based tech firm is reported as saying, “If Bill Clinton ran for president or prime minister in India, he’d win”.

Hillary Clinton spoke at the Maryland fund-raiser what her Indian audience wanted to hear. But her folksy talk hasn’t evidently gone down well with the Americans, for whom India has come to be identified with one word – ‘outsourcing’. The point is, in her bid for Indian-Americans' support, Hillary may stand to lose more votes than she might gain. Her opponents are making an issue of the Clintons’ apparent closeness to India and Indians.

A recent newspaper headline said, ‘Clintons’ support to Indian companies deserves attention’. The media article, by Newsday columnist James P Pinkerton, reasons that America under Hillary wouldn’t be such a good idea. As he put it, if Hillary could cruise to the Democratic nomination, and perhaps, the presidency, ‘American jobs will continue to cruise to India’.

In Pinkerton’s reckoning the Clintons seem to have, what he terms, ‘unnaturally close connections’ with foreign companies interested in draining American jobs. “Shouldn’t this be of interest to Americans”, asks the columnists, and answers his own question, “but the mainstream media seem to say no”.

To further his point Pinkerton says Bill Clinton has invested $50,000 in an India-based electronic-transactions company. He has accepted $300,000 in speaking fees from Cisco Systems, which, among other enterprises, helps American companies outsource jobs to India.

The flaw in Pinkerton’s piece is in its statistics. The columnist cites an economist’s projection that “40 million American jobs could be lost to outsourcing in coming decades”. How many decades? That is not made clear in Pinkerton’s commentary.

Cross-posted in Desicritics and Zine5

Saturday, June 23, 2007

NRI Parents ’kick-off’ meet: A non-starter?

I was half-hour late for the meet and Sandeep Chauhan, convenor of the Bay Area Indian Parents Association (IPA), was waiting at the parking lot, presumably, wondering if I would make it at all. He had reasons to be concerned because only one other member in our 38-strong Yahoo Group had turned up. The occasion was IPA’s kick-off meet at Santa Clara, California. From the turnout it appeared a non-starter.

Sandeep wasn’t going to admit failure. The three of us pretended as if it was business as usual and went ahead with the meeting, while a less determined lot would have called it off for want of a quorum. However, we had one thing going for us - a family cheer group of two males, three females and the eight-month old Yash, grandson of a founder member, Mr Y K Gupta.

His family and mine sat through the meet, and even participated in the hour-long proceedings. It was a meeting that set a record of sorts. No association or group can claim to have held its constituent meeting with an observer so young as Yash, who endearingly stretched himself out on the table to reach out for the papers, on which Sandeep was recording the minutes. The meet convenor coped with the intervention by bribing the child with a cardboard box for Yash to play with.

Our e-group, no more than three weeks old, comprises a few visiting NRI parents and many concerned NRIs who want to make their parents’ stay in the US an engaging and sociable experience. Mr Gupta echoed the sentiments of many NRI parents when he said that the only reason that brought him and his wife to America was their son and daughter. The Guptas have been here five times, and their stay follows a predictable pattern – excitement of being with their loved young ones for the first few weeks, followed by several weeks, punctuated by yawning activity-gaps when ‘time-pass’ becomes an issue.

The IPA is a social initiative to evolve a support-group approach to the ‘time-pass’ issue. Sandeep suggested periodical weekday neighborhood community lunch at someone’s place or the local park, for visiting NRI parents, at which stay-at-home moms could pool in their home-cooked dishes.

The idea of creating a databank of members was discussed. Someone suggested county-wise directory of NRIs, like the one they once had in Phoenix, Ariz. (no one was sure if it is still being maintained). On our part, it was agreed we should start with a databank of our Yahoo Group. Sandeep raised privacy concerns, involved in online disclosure of postal address and phone numbers of the group members. We settled for collection of bare minimum data such as county of residence, age, areas of interest so that folk living within one another’s easy reach could arrange to have their own ‘do’s’.

As a visiting NRI parent I suggested we mention the city we come from (Mysore). This could give an additional focus of contact among visiting NRI parents; and also help some of them sustain their contacts even after they return to India. On the privacy issue I am among those who believe that transparency is a key pre-requisite for social networking among visiting NRI parents. Of the 38 Yahoo group members I find no more than 11 have chosen to declare online their name, age, and location. I don’t find it encouraging, or even worthwhile, to interact with a bunch of unnamed persons, about whom I know nothing other than ‘encrypted’ e-mail ID.

When I raised this point one of our young friends mentioned spammers, privacy concerns, risk of revealing online one’s name, location and other contact details. I can understand such concerns of a few who may be vulnerable to a threat of harassment. Having been a blogger for some years now I get exposed to spamming, online cranks and hate-mailers. Yet, I haven’t felt the need to adopt a phony online identity.

I can't speak for young working NRIs, but I wonder what privacy concerns visiting NRI parents can have; particularly, in a place where they are unknown and go unsung. The whole point of IPA, I reckon, is to help NRI parents emerge out their social self-exile and engage themselves in meaningful group activities.

Cross-filed in Zine5 and Desicritics

Thursday, June 14, 2007

US jail food, not quite the Hilton standard

I didn’t know, or care, what they serve for lunch to inmates in California jails till San Francisco Chronicle ran a story on it. Frankly, I wasn’t thinking about jail food till Paris Hilton got locked up in a Los Angeles county jail for drunk-driving. The way the US media fussed over the custody saga creates an impression that the food they serve Ms. Hilton in jail is a matter of national concern.

Where this celebrity kid is interned they serve inmates cold cereal, hard-boiled eggs and a beverage for breakfast; it is ham or cheese sandwich, fruit, Jell-O and cookies for lunch. Dinner has to be a hot meal – steak or macaroni and cheese, vegetables and dessert. And Paris doesn’t touch anything other than cereal and bread. So says SF Chronicle.

In the San Francisco jail, the food is reportedly prepared under supervision by Aramark, a food services provider whose clients include schools, professional clubs and ball-barks. Besides overseeing the jail kitchen, Aramark is said to train prisoners in cookery. Michael Buffington, a catering company founder who has been chef in some famous hotel kitchens, had graduated from the San Francisco jail, where he served time in 1992 for cocaine possession and driving under influence.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

An ode to RG

Heard about RG’s death in Bangalore from fellow journalist M R Venkatesh. Chennai-based Telegraph correspondent, MRV, is a rare species in the media that retains relationship with me even years after my retirement. R Gopalakrishnan of The Hindu was a common friend and colleague, known for accurate notes-taking at press conferences and getting the 'quotes' right. I know this, for I have relied on RG’s notes when I had doubts about my own speed-writing at press conferences we have attended together.

Reproduced here is the e-mail MRV sent me on RG:
Could Karma’s Taal
And ‘Rebirth’s dance
Turn a little comical
When similar mortal frames
Are seen on a Contemporary screen?
That’s how Language
Drew a picture
On the mind’s slate,
When years back
I first met ‘RG’,
As the self-effacing soul
R.Gopalakrishnan was fondly known
To friends even outside ‘The Hindu’,
Oh! He seems
Bengal’s great genial actor
Utpal Dutt
Reborn on a same Time scale!
Almost Everything about ‘RG’,
The gait and the cigarette,
Spectacle drooping and studied,
Deep Intellectual anger
Soaring like summer-time mercury,
To the rollicking laughter
That blazoned a Child-like innocence,
Looked an Utpal Dutt reprint!
But soon I discovered,
All these were only the
Bodily chariot
Reined in by a deeper Soul
That ‘RG’ came to signify,
Economics, Marxism
Sociology et all,
Were the rims of a
Rollercoaster ride
With a journalistic leg
On Each side,
His voice of Peace
That climaxed against
His abiding faith
That the down and under
See Secularism as Naturalism
Came as enduring light
Before his Soul flew away!

- M R Venkatesh/Chennai/ June 5, 2007 (After Hearing
of RG’s Death at Bangalore)

Cross-filed in Desicritics
- and Zine5