Sunday, December 31, 2006

globalising labour

Workers of the world, unite.

Friday, December 29, 2006


CK was having one of those days. She'd just had her hair cut and was walking home dodging gluttonous Boxing Day shoppers raiding the High Street. She'd never been particularly taken by Bridget Jones, but there really did seem to be smug marrieds everywhere - on the street, in the shops, on the cards, in the emails, "David and i...", "we're going to...", "we were thinking of...", now even in the house. New smug marrieds were the worst. Desperately seeking performance space, audiences, learning to touch each other in public, getting used to it, gauging reactions, while dumb (obviously autistic) singletons watched because there was nothing else on TV. Bah, humbug. 'I'm not a psychotic freak', she thought. She was ok with smug marrieds really, most of the people she knew were smug marrieds, some were expecting smug babies, and a very smug few even had smug litters. She could be nice to smug marrieds. She couldn't go on holiday with them, no, but she could invite them to dinner. In fact she often did, cooking meals, pouring wine, planting questions strategically like some minimalist Scandinavian director, allowing them to play their little games with each other before they kissed and made up and went home. Together. Except that one time. But smug marrieds at home - ones she had not even invited herself - that was an entirely different ball game. For one thing, they made her dinner, cajoling, coaxing, trying to include her and make her feel welcome in her own home, but leaving her cold, like a haddi the kebab was desperately trying to wrap itself around. To make matters worse, she didn't like one of the smugs, even though he was trying very hard. The casual misogyny, the bluff geniality masking pathetic insecurity, it was all deeply unimpressive. Out, out, damned smug, she wanted to say.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Drowned Out is showing at the British Museum on January 12. Narmada is now museumised history. A truly tragic comment on our times and on an unfolding disaster.

When, at a recent lecture in Oxford, I asked Montek Singh Ahluwalia about Narmada resettlement (specifically, why adivasis constitute 55% of people displaced by dams in independent India when they are only 8% of the population, and whether this is fair), he said three things. First, he asked in classic modernist fashion, 'How long do you want adivasis to live the way they do?' This, by the way, is pretty much what Justice Kirpal said in NBA v. Union of India. Forget about what they want, how long can we allow them to exist in the way that they do. Second, he said the anti-dam movement plays very well to, and is the darling of, Western NGOs and some of its leaders speak better English than the English (a comment that I thought was particularly deranged because, what, pray tell, does this have to do with the merits of the issue? Clearly a gratuitous statement intended to delegitimise dissent. Curiously - and I'm trying to step into his mindset for a moment here - it doesn't seem to matter that he plays very well to Western capital and speaks very good English. None of that undermines his credentials to continue to speak in the national interest, but when a social movement does it - whoah! they can't possibly be 'authentic'). Third, on a somewhat manic triumphalist note, he said India doesn't have too many dams, it has too few (with not the slightest acknowledgement of our miserable dam-building record, flawed cost-benefit analyses, underestimated life spans due to premature silting up, etc.) No, we were simply told that we needed more dams. Bring on the river-interlinking, huh?

[and before anyone reprimands me for being indiscreet on my blog, these remarks were not made under Chatham House rules or any equivalent understanding, so I feel fully justified in broadcasting them. not just justified, duty-bound.]

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Israel boycott

Read John Berger's letter, signed by 93 other authors, film-makers, musicians and performers, calling for a cultural boycott of Israel. I support this boycott because I am persuaded by the comparison with South Africa, and because this is envisaged as a non-systematised boycott, the application of which will be a matter of personal choice based on the exigencies of particular situations (see for example the second last paragraph of the letter).

Friday, December 15, 2006


In the US, even under the egregious administration of George W. Bush, torture is - in theory at least - impermissible, unimaginable. It is not the American way. At least they feel obliged to say, to put on record, to eliminate by definitional fiat: Americans do not torture. In India, our police boast about torture: 'Torture is the only deterrent for terrorism...I do it for the nation.' Here's a mindless philosophical conundrum for you: is it better to live in a world in which torture happens, but it's not ok to say it does, or in a world where torture happens and we frankly acknowledge that it does?

Oh, and while we're on the subject, we should ban the use of the phrase 'national interest' in the justification of public policy. Not because of the abuse to which it has been subject from the very dawn of the nation-state - nothing so profound as that - but just because it's too brief. Dude, we need details.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I have said it before and I will say it again: agricultural subsidies in the North are helping to kill farmers in the South. Read P. Sainath on the agrarian catastrophe in Vidarbha. This is a concrete illustration of the argument that Thomas Pogge is making: forget about charity, the rich have an obligation to do no harm.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Stranger than Fiction

I am currently grappling with an epigraph that has taken on a life of its own. For starters, it's a page long. Then it began to insinuate itself into the arguments I am making in the chapter, necessitating further research into potential links, connections, affiliations with the characters and plotlines that I was really interested in. At times it has threatened to overwhelm the chapter itself. And sometimes I feel like the epigraph and the 2 main characters have always known all along that they were really like each other, collectively rolling their eyes at the fitfull and halting way in which, I, the author, have begun to grasp their affinities.

So I identified somewhat with Karen Eiffel's (Emma Thompson) bewilderment, fascination, horror in Stranger than Fiction. This is a rare movie that manages to be conceptually interesting in ways similar to Adaptation, and quirky, sweet, funny, endearing. I usually walk out of movies like this tying myself up in knots, trying to resolve logical contradictions. Stranger isn't just a puzzle asking to be solved, it also manages to be human and quotidian. Thompson is brilliant as the neurotic author and Dustin Hoffman plays a literary theorist who looks weirdly like Edward Said. The reviews have been mixed, but they shouldn't be. I liked this movie.

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