Friday, December 19, 2003

The Indian's Calling

Someone recently suggested to me that the phrase "White Man's Burden" is still relevant today, but that the term "White Man" must be broadened to include (in his words) "rasam-swilling, tech types in Silicon Valley with names like Kondaswamy Mokshagundam Thathatachariar." I responded that Indians have no business going on worldwide civilizing sprees, when civilization is missing from Bihar and Tanjore district. This is quite sad, considering that the capital of Bihar is Patna, Pataliputra capital of the Gupta empire of old, and Tanjore is the old capital of the Chola empire (and location of the fabulous Brihadeshwara Temple). Kondaswamy's efforts should be focused on places like Trichy which has an open drainage problem. The well-planned cities of the Indus Valley Civilization had closed drainage, but modern-day Trichy, home of the famous and well visited reclining Ranganatha, can't compete.

But that's the thing with great civilizations - their achievements are notable on mundane and epic levels. I recently read a hilarious essay on a Pakistani news website that suggested that outdoor pissing is a graver problem there than extremism - a not too unfamiliar story on our side of the border. India has a lot to learn (or re-learn?) about civilization. Our Silicon Valley man has much to contribute here since he has seen the filthy streets of Madras and the clean streets and Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco. If a great civilization is characterized by it's mastery of the ordinary and the extraordinary, then the techie is certainly living and working in one. What better way to learn and observe? He certainly has great value as a cultural asset to the cause of Indian amelioration. His efforts are better served in India than as part of a global civilizing crusade. However, I have to admit that young K. M. Thathatachariar is part of a new global order, and manifest destiny is not an altogether alien concept in the country he lives in.

The fact is that we live in a unipolar world in which the dominant hegemon has very recently begun to see itself as a force for change in the world. As Mark Steyn put it on September 12, 2001, "the world's only superpower has been on a ten-year long weekend off... yesterday's atrocities were a rude awakening from the indulgences of the last decade." After this awakening, President Bush has led America on a global war for liberty and democracy. Identifying a lack of liberal societies in the Islamic world as the primary factor contributing to Islamist terrorism, Bush has made it his administration's mission to bring the winds of change to the Muslim ummah. In the dualities of the post-Sept. 11 era, the Islamists believe that the world is divided between Muslim nations and infidel barbarians, and the Americans believe that the world is divided between liberal democracies and unfree tyrannies.

Where does this leave Kondaswamy Mokshagundam? He's Indian, is well educated and well travelled, works in the U.S., and is part of a cutting edge industry that is intimately involved in blurring borders. He belongs in the globalized world just as Mohammed Atta does. To ask a question Bush has asked of all of us, what side should our software engineer take? He certainly does not subscribe to the al Qaeda goal of spreading political Islamism to the rest of the world. Furthermore, he's a democrat.

Despite its many faults, India is a very remarkable country. Firstly, and probably most importantly, it has managed to maintain a succesful democracy for a very long time. Consider that India's current democratic system of government is as old or older than the successful democracies of France, Germany, Poland, Japan, Spain, Italy, South Korea and Chile (and many more). Secondly, India has a very vibrant culture. Indian artistic output is enormous (quick question: how many Saudi Arabian singers can you name?) both in terms of high culture and popular art. Thirdly, Indian intellectual capital is among the highest in the world, and the skill of its people is to be awed. The list goes on, and if you've read this far you can probably augment it much yourself (as easily, I'm sure, as you can drum up a list of faults). As a flourishing liberal democracy, India is definately part of the world of the civilized in the American worldview.

And that's how we view India too. At the end of the day, we believe in democracy. We believe in Parliamentary politics. We believe in an independent judiciary. We believe in a free press. We believe in free speech. We believe in secularism (okay, most of us do). When Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush ask us simultaneously, "whose side are you on?", we are duty-bound to side with the Americans. They share our values, and from elementary observation we can tell that theirs is the greater civilization. We have much to learn from America, and nothing from the Saddam Husseins or Osamas of the world.

*When I say 'we' I identify myself as an Indian. I must qualify this by saying that while I grew up in India and my parents are Indian, I am an American citizen and live and work in the U.S.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Return of the King

I have tickets to see the latest Lord of the Rings movie tomorrow night when it opens in New York. I'm going with ten other people, including my roommate Tim, who's also a major fan. I first read the book (it was meant to be published as one volume, and interestingly, I read it as one volume) back in the 7th std. in R.V. (I was 11 years old). I still remember carrying around this huge volume everywhere I went, and it took me a few months to read the whole thing from cover to cover, including the appendices. I have been a huge fan of the series ever since, and I re-read the books every few years. I recently bought a new copy of the book, and have been thumbing through it every so often to refer to sections to compare with how Peter Jackson has visualized them.

I was anticipating the release of the films ever since I heard they were making them, and was hoping beyond hope for them to be good. I didn't care about box-office success, or anything like that - all I wanted to know was whether the films would live up to the books, or whether they'd be an insult. Thankfully, Peter Jackson had fans like me in mind while making these films, and we have not been disappointed in the least. I specifically stayed in the U.S. for the release of The Fellowship of the Ring (my parents wanted me in India, but I told them they could wait!), and loved it. After seeing the extended editions of Fellowship and The Two Towers, I have to say that these are some of the best films I have ever seen!

Tim and I had some problems getting tickets for opening night, but we refused to wait for another night, and persevered. So now we have tickets, and I've got to say, I am racked with anticipation. I have goosebumps and butterflies and everything else you can think of, and am very nervous. The reviews are extremely positive, and I am sure this movie will be a masterpiece. Oh man, I can't wait for tomorrow!!

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Remeber today - today is a good day

And so the vile, tyrannical, evil dictator of Iraq has been caught! It's more than ten years too late, but as they say, better late than never. This is good news for the beleaguered people of Iraq and the rest of the world. We all owe the Bush administration and the American military our thanks.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Current Reading

Right now, I'm reading a book called The Face of the Tiger by Mark Steyn. Steyn's my favorite current columnist, the George Orwell of our times. His insight is amazing, and he can pick up on significant trends and details from any news item, and use them to highlight his brilliant opinions (as you can tell, I'm a fan!). Here's what he has to say about the "massacre" in Jenin (from May 2002):

"The Isreali govermnet's latest figures for Jenin put the death toll of Palestinians at 52. The Palestinians themselves put the death toll at - wait for it - 56.

That's right. 56. There are no missing zeroes on the end. The only missing zeroes are those gullible British hacks who swallowed that line about hundreds of dead civilians but have fallen mysteriously silent as the figures have been revised downward... Unlike those leathery flak-jacketed foreign correspondents, I'm no expert, but, just as a matter of intersest, is a discrepancy of four enough to qualify as a 'massacre'? 23 Israeli soldiers died at Jenin, so the comparative death tolls sounds less like a 'massacre' and more like a - what's the word? - 'battle'."

The Face of the Tiger is a collection of Steyn's awesome essays from Sept. 11, 2001 to Sept. 11, 2002, and it's filled with many such biting observations. I find myself having to suppress the urge to laugh out loud while I'm reading this book on the subway. Check out Mark's website, and a few of his columns from The Spectator, The Daily Telegraph, National Review and the Chicago Sun-Times. He's just brilliant!

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Welcome to my new blog. I'm not really sure what I want to do with this site yet, as I started it on a whim. I'll update it as and when I see fit. Hope you like it.