Monday, February 4, 2013

Today's newspaper articles

Today's collection of articles were supposed to be up on the blog before Christmas but I never got around to it. Here they are now.

They cover a variety of topics. The first two are from "The New York Times" & talk about the attempts to get Darjeeling tea recognised as a unique product (much like the Italians have done for things such as Parmigiano cheese and Prosciutto di San Danielle - much nicer than Prosciutto di Parma). 

The next article (from “The Telegraph” (UK)) talks about the recent attempt to bring in a law requiring pillion passengers on bikes to have helmets.

The next article (from “The Guardian”) talks about the recent Gujarati elections & the current (& controversial) incumbent, Narendra Modi.

The final article (again from “The Telegraph” (UK)) talks about the Indian equivalent of the Harley Davidson motorbike – the Lee Enfield.
Darjeeling Journal

Good Name Is Restored in Terrain Known for Tea


Enrico Fabian for The New York Times

A woman on the Sungma Tea Estate in Darjeeling, India, where growers have followed the example of Scottish whisky distillers and French wineries in limiting the use of certain geographic names to products from those places.
Published: December 16, 2012
DARJEELING, India — Among connoisseurs, few teas surpass a good Darjeeling. The smooth and mellow taste commands a premium price, and the name itself evokes a bygone era when the British first introduced Chinese tea plants here in the Indian foothills of the Himalayas.

To Anil K. Jha, the superintendent of the Sungma Tea Estate, all this would be extremely good for business, except that much of the tea sold globally as Darjeeling is not actually grown here. Foreign wholesalers often put the name on a blend of the real stuff and lesser teas. And in some cases, growers elsewhere simply slap a Darjeeling label on their tea.

So Mr. Jha and other Darjeeling growers have followed the example of Scottish whisky distillers and French wineries, winning legal protection for the Darjeeling label under laws that limit the use of certain geographic names to products that come from those places.

In a decision this year, the European Union agreed to phase out the use of “Darjeeling” on blended teas. Now, just as a bottle of Cognac must come from the region around the French town of Cognac, a cup of Darjeeling tea will have to be made only from tea grown around Darjeeling.

“That flavor, that uniqueness that comes from here — it is nowhere else,” Mr. Jha said as he stood among manicured tea bushes on a hillside about 5,000 feet above sea level, near the border with Nepal. “People have tried to replicate it, but have failed,” he said.

The uniqueness of Darjeeling as a place certainly seems beyond dispute. On clear days, the white peaks of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain after Everest and K2, floats over the hilltop city like an ethereal fortress. Beyond the clamor of the city, many of the steep surrounding foothills are carpeted with tea estates, some planted more than 160 years ago when a British surgeon found that tea bushes thrived in the region’s alpine setting.

The mountainous terrain also limits production. India produces almost two billion pounds of tea annually, more than any other country, but Darjeeling accounts for only about 1 percent of that output. The Darjeeling district has 87 certified tea gardens, as they are locally known, producing about 20 million pounds of tea every year, and the potential for expansion is almost nil.

That is why local tea growers grew annoyed that as much as 88 million pounds of tea were being sold as Darjeeling on the global market each year.

“Darjeeling tea has always been more expensive,” said Ranen Datta, a longtime adviser to local tea growers, noting that the wholesale price is about five times that of ordinary teas. “And we found that sellers all over the world were selling tea under the name Darjeeling.”

And not only tea: A French company that makes lingerie has fought legal battles with the Tea Board of India to keep using the name.

“This brand name, Darjeeling, was being misused,” Mr. Jha said. “The basic interest of Darjeeling was being killed.”

Local tea growers had already fought to save their product from the vagaries of cold war politics. During the era of British rule, Darjeeling tea was shipped mainly to Europe, which remained the primary market after Indian independence in 1947, when Darjeeling’s tea gardens shifted from British to Indian ownership.

But as India drew politically closer to the Soviet Union, a deal to sell tea to Moscow ushered in a dark period for Darjeeling. The Soviets ordered in bulk and mixed Darjeeling with pedestrian teas from Soviet satellite countries so it could be marketed more widely.

“Russians were not particular about the quality of Darjeeling,” Mr. Datta said. “They took it if it was clear and black.”

Growers saturated their tea gardens with chemicals and pesticides to maximize output, and annual production rose to about 29 million pounds. But when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, so did the export deal, leaving Darjeeling with a crop it had trouble selling in Europe, where many customers, especially in Germany, were aghast at the chemical use.

“There were no buyers,” Mr. Jha recalled. “It took a long time to revive the image of Darjeeling.”

The key was to focus once again on quality. Tea growers began discarding chemicals and shifting toward organic farming practices. Total production fell, but prices rose steadily, as growers marketed Darjeeling teas according to the seasons, with the greatest demand during the two harvesting times, known as the first and second flushes, which run between February and July. Growers also developed luxury tea products, particularly “white tips” tea, which is drawn from the white buds of tea leaves.

The New York Times

The Darjeeling district has 87 certified tea gardens, as they are locally known, producing about 20 million pounds of tea every year, and the potential for expansion is almost nil.

But as Darjeeling’s reputation was restored, growers discovered that their teas were being repackaged overseas. Europe had become the biggest buyer again, but some wholesalers there were blending Darjeeling with other teas to bulk up their volume, while continuing to label the resulting mixture as Darjeeling tea.

To fight back, the Tea Board designated Darjeeling as a “geographical indication” for tea that is recognized by the World Trade Organization. Over time, Indian tea officials negotiated agreements with various countries to ensure that the status of the Darjeeling name was respected. The European Union resisted for several years, but a deal was finally struck in 2012 to phase out blended Darjeeling in Europe within five years.

“In the case of Darjeeling tea, it was accepted that there was specificity that is unique — and geographically based,” said João Cravinho, the European Union’s ambassador to India. “Tea produced anywhere else will have different characteristics.”

Mr. Cravinho noted that Europe was pushing its own geographic indication cases in India as part of negotiations for a free trade agreement. For example, while India recognizes Cognac as a geographic indication, it does not do the same for Champagne, so sparkling wines from other places can be sold legally in India as “champagne,” a practice that the European Union wants ended.

Up on the slopes of the Sungma Tea Estate, Mr. Jha said he believes that the trade protections will not only increase profits for the local industry but also, ultimately, save Darjeeling tea. The estate is certified as organic by India, Japan and the United States, and it is pursuing a globally recognized environmental certification.

Reaching down to pluck a leaf from a tea bush planted more than a century earlier, Mr. Jha gestured toward the surrounding foothills.

“Here, we are not doing anything,” he said. “It is all God-gifted.”
A version of this article appeared in print on December 17, 2012, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Good Name Is Restored In Terrain Known for Tea. 

December 17, 2012, 4:16 am3 Comments


From Darjeeling, Distinguishing Between ‘Flushes’

Enrico Fabian for The New York Times

A woman plucking tea leaves at a tea estate in Darjeeling, West Bengal.

Tea is tea, or so I thought before a recent trip to Darjeeling. I had not realized there were different tea seasons. And I had never associated the word “flushes” with tea.

Tea, to me, was just the sugared-up, over-milked liquid adrenaline burst offered without fail at almost every interview I’d ever conducted in India. And every time I’d happily accepted it.

Yet Darjeeling tea is more than that, as I came to learn during a recent visit to the area. I’m still not a tea expert – if anything, I’m the opposite – but here are a few examples of why many people believe that teas can be as distinctive and nuanced as fine wines:
Most tea served in India is “CTC tea,” with the leaves machine-processed to a consistent size used in ordinary tea bags via a method called “Crush, Tear, Curl,” which gives the tea its name. Darjeeling, though, is an “orthodox” tea, with a more nuanced taste, which is plucked by hand so that growers can better control quality.

Anil K. Jha, superintendent of the Sungma Tea Estate, one of the oldest tea estates in Darjeeling, explained to me that tea is governed by four basic seasons, known as “flushes.”

The First Flush begins around late February and ends in late April or early May. Workers combing through tea bushes are looking for the small green leaves, usually two to a stem with a bud, or conical shoot, in the middle. The leaves the First Flush produces are yellower in color than those that follow and more delicate in taste. For years, Germany has been a major importer of First Flush teas from Darjeeling, and prices are often the highest of the year during this season.

The Second Flush runs from early June through the middle of July. These teas are more amber in color and have a fuller taste. Mr. Jha said the Second Flush teas are also more expensive. Japan is a regular importer of Second Flush tea, and many Americans also prefer it, he said.

Then comes the Monsoon Flush, which runs during the rainy season from the middle of July through the end of September. These teas are considered of lesser quality compared with those harvested in the other seasons in Darjeeling, because the plants are absorbing lots of water.

Finally comes the Autumn Flush, from early October through early December. The taste is closer to the Second Flush, with a more floral aroma and a full body.

Tea plucking shuts down from December to March in Darjeeling.

Tea bushes can live for well over 100 years, though production declines over time.
Growers are now cloning plants so that they can keep the Darjeeling taste alive as the older plants die off.


Delhi government: 'women pillion motorbike riders don't have to wear helmets'


The Delhi government has opposed moves to force women pillion passengers to wear crash helmets because it is a "sensitive issue" and will be unpopular with women who fear it will ruin their hair.

Under Indian law all riders and passengers must wear crash helmets, but the Delhi government allowed a religious exemption initially for Sikh men and women but later extended it to all women Photo: ALAMY

3:58PM GMT 17 Dec 2012

Women's rights and safety campaigners have taken the government to court over the issue in a move that threatens one of India's most enduring images – the poised Indian lady perched side-saddle on the back of a scooter.

Under Indian law all riders and passengers must wear crash helmets, but the Delhi government allowed a religious exemption initially for Sikh men and women but later extended it to all women.

Activists have challenged the government in Delhi's High Court where the state government's lawyer told the judge:"The stakeholders and the transport department arrived at a decision not to make helmets compulsory for women two-wheeler riders.

The issue is sensitive and further deliberation is required," she said.

But according to safety campaigners and women biker groups crash helmets are unpopular among women passengers because wearing them ruins their hair styles.

"They find it inconvenient because of their hair. It becomes sweaty and safety is not their concern," said P.R Ullhas, an activist who is challenging the government to enforce safety rules. He said similar moves to force women to wear helmets in Goa met with fierce resistance from female pillion passengers.

"A woman spends a considerable time in getting a hair style done everyday and also spends huge sum on hair make-up. Using a helmet will obviously spoil the efforts to look beautiful," said hair stylist Jawed Habib.

K K Kapila of the International Road Federation agreed and said his organisation would happily supply combs and brushes to persuade women to put safety ahead of vanity. I don't mind the International Road Federation giving them some brushes to make their hair nice after wearing the helmet," he said.

Bindu Reddy of the Bangalore-based female biker club Hop on Gurls said all riders and passengers in Bangalore wear helmets but in Mumbai there was resistance from women who "do not want to wear a helmet because it might spoil their hairdo. But they can wear a scarf or hair net under the helmet," she said.

Supporters of tougher rules said there had been a surge of deaths among women in road traffic accidents in recent years, many of them pillion scooter and bike passengers.


Gujarat's divisive leader poised to win third term in crucial election

Decisive victory could set Narendra Modi – reviled by Indian liberals for his far-right links – on path to national power

Narendra Modi, Gujarat's chief minister, addresses supporters at a rally. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Kalpesh, Raj, Bishant and Gautam are waiting. Around them, on what is usually a dusty sports pitch in the scruffy Indian town of Dahegam in the western state of Gujarat, are at least 10,000 other men. Arc lights illuminate a stage and many saffron-coloured pennants. Nearby, buses decant hundreds of latecomers. All have come to see Narendra Modi, chief minister of the state and India's most divisive and controversial politician. He is late.

The four men, all in their early or mid-30s, live locally. Kalpesh sells clothes in the market. Vishant runs a travel agency and owns two coaches which carry newly wealthy locals, beneficiaries of Gujarat's 10% year-on-year growth rates, on package tours to Goa and Kashmir. Gautam is a computer technician on contract to local schools.

A cross-section of the new India, they are all "middle-class", they explain. Except Raj, the labourer who is "working-class … but not for long", they laugh.

On the stage is Harin Pathak, a veteran local politician. He is warming up the audience with earthy humour. Modi, clad in white leggings, a pink shirt and a saffron-coloured shawl, makes his entrance to thunderous cheers of "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" – victory to Mother India. "Here comes the lion of Gujarat," shouts Pathak.

By nightfall on Monday, polling in Gujarat's state election will end and Modi will find out if voters have granted him a third full term in office. Most pundits believe they will. The question is by what margin. A major win would catapult the 62-year-old, reviled by Indian liberals for his populism, autocratic tendencies and roots in far-right religious organisations, to the leadership of the currently fragmented main opposition party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP).

This would raise the possibility of Modi becoming India's prime minister after national elections, scheduled for 2014 but likely to be sooner, which will pit the BJP against a weak and unpopular minority government.

One recent boost for Modi, who has established a reputation as the most business-friendly of Indian regional rulers, came in October when the UK broke ranks with all other EU nations and the US to end a de facto boycott imposed after Modi failed to control – critics say condoned – communal rioting in Gujarat which cost the lives of at least 1,000 people, mainly Muslims and including three Britons, in 2002 shortly after he took power.

Vinod Sharma, political editor of the local Hindustan Times newspaper, described Modi's success as "a threat and an insult" to the "very idea" of India as a secular democracy.
"The biggest irony is that this is happening in the Mahatma's own lands," Sharma said. Gujarat was the birthplace and base of Mahatma Gandhi.

But there are other reasons why the choice of Gujarat's 38 million voters is seen as crucial. The state is one of the most urbanised and wealthy parts of the country. What Gujarat already is, India may soon become.

Modi's asceticism, honesty and administrative efficiency – not qualities often associated with Indian politicians – have won fans cross the country. He consistently tops popularity polls.

"A very large section of the middle class across India have great admiration for Modi," said Prof Ajay Dandekar, a social scientist at the Central University of Gujarat.

There are five major issues in all Indian elections: personalities, economic development, communal or religious identities, the impact of national politics on regions, and caste, the millennia-old social hierarchy that still often determines wealth, influence and votes.

Modi is easily winning the personality battle. He is a local boy who once sold tea for a living. The campaign of his main opponent, the Congress party, is led by Rahul Gandhi, the 42-year-old Delhi-based heir of India's most famous political dynasty. It has been easy for Modi to portray his opponent as an elite outsider.

"Would you give the keys of your house to someone you don't know? No. So why give the keys to Gujarat to a stranger? I know you, your wants, your needs, your desires. I am of you," Modi told the crowd at the Dahegam rally, to rapturous applause.

Though caste is a factor, with a breakaway BJP faction wooing one particular disgruntled local community, the poll's outcome depends more on whether the economic boom that has brought relative wealth to many in Gujarat will outweigh dissatisfaction among rural communities and lower castes.

Hindu-dominated urban areas and the higher castes have done well, but indicators such as infant malnutrition and literacy have remained stubbornly unchanged despite the new wealth.

The tenacity of the three worst enemies of agricultural communities across India – debt, drought and disease – have alienated many. "We hear about Vibrant Gujarat [a Modi campaign slogan] but don't see it," said Neeraj Shankar, a farmer from Surendranagar district.

And there remains religion. The BJP has tried to shed its hardline Hindu identity in recent years, recognising that sectarian rhetoric rings false in modern India. But the party's roots are among the galaxy of far-right Hindu groups that still command the loyalty of millions.

Modi himself was once a committed activist of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a militaristic mass organisation which believes in a muscular, assertive Hinduism within India and has been repeatedly banned. Critics including victims' relatives and human rights groups claim Modi held back police during the 2002 riots to allow mobs to kill and loot.

Close associates have been convicted for their involvement in the violence and, although Modi has recently made efforts to show a more moderate side, not one of his candidates for the 182-seat state assembly is a Muslim.

Supporters argue that suspicions of sectarian prejudice are unfounded and say the chief minister was recently in effect exonerated by a 600-page report ordered by the Indian supreme court into the 2002 riots, which followed a lethal fire on a train full of Hindu pilgrims.

Prathak, the veteran Ahmedabad BJP member of parliament, said that Muslims, 10% of the state's population, have lived in "perfect security" in Gujarat since then. This has come, however, at the cost of rigid communal segregation in Ahmedabad and elsewhere.
Nadeem Jafri, a businessman in the Jahalpur neighbourhood, said he lived in "the biggest ghetto in Asia".

"Even if I want to purchase a property in a prime location I won't get one. But even if I could, I would think twice because it might be unsafe. There has been no problem since 2002 but why take a chance?" Jafri, 41, asked.
Jahalpur's slums, where goats wander on dirt roads and children play among rubbish, are overlooked by new luxury housing developments built by Hindus exclusively for Hindus.

When the Guardian posed as a prospective buyer at one 860-flat project, the Venus Parkland, a salesman made clear that there were no Muslims among the owners of the 400 units already sold. There are 30 inquiries every day.

"We can see by the name [that they are Muslim] so we don't follow up their application," the salesman explained.

At the Dahegam rally, Kalpesh, Raj, Bishant and Gautam said India's rich variety of religions was a "good thing" but were horrified at the idea of one of their own children marrying a Muslim.

"Let us be us and them be them and then we will all get along," Raj the labourer said.
In his speech at Dahegam, Modi did not mention religion but, indignant one moment, confiding the next, listed the corruption scandals that have repeatedly hit the Congress-led national government and his own achievements building roads, toilets and pipelines as well as attracting foreign investment.

"If you like what I have done so far then I am happy. But this is nothing. I am not satisfied. I want more. The time has come," he bellowed, a fist raised.

Commentators such as Sharma say Modi will need "a complete personality transplant, not just a makeover", if he is ever to win power at a national level.

Kalpesh, Raj, Bishant and Gautam, standing now amid the crush of excited supporters at the rally, did not agree.

"Bharat Mata Ki Jai," they shouted. "Victory to Mother India … victory to Gujarat … victory to Modi."


Narendra Modi

Born: Narendra Damodardas Modi, 17 September 1950, Vadnagar, Gujarat

Speaks: Gujarati, Hindi, English

Educated: University of Gujarat, political science MS

Career: rightwing nationalist organisations, then within Bharatiya Janata party, chief minister of Gujarat since October 2001

Supporters say: committed, efficient, charismatic visionary who has turned Gujarat into one of India's most economically successful and dynamic states

Critics say: sectarian demagogue who uses marketing and savvy media to obscure failure to tackle basic problems

  • © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.


Royal Enfield Bullet enjoys Indian summer


The Royal Enfield Bullet has roared back to life in India, where the British motorcycling classic bike is enjoying unprecedented sales.

Photo: Alamy
9:23AM BST 24 Apr 2012

Barely ten years after being on the brink of bankruptcy, the 80 year old Enfield, named for its association with London's Royal Small Arms Factory, has sold more bikes than at any other time in its history.

Company officials said it sold just under 80,000 motorbikes last year – almost four times its sales figures of a decade ago – as a new generation of Indians have fallen in love with its retro style.
Since the late 1960s, it has won admirers throughout the world who associated its high handlebars, low-slung seat and rasping engine with the hippy dream of riding the high-altitude switchbacks of the Himalayan foothills.

But according to the company and specialist Enfield touring companies, it is its Indian military association which has brought thousands of new customers.

The Enfield was originally brought to Madras in southern India in the 1950s from the Midlands where it had built sturdy, speedy bikes for British forces in the Second World War. Its first Indian orders were from the Army as patrol bikes for its border guards.

Ever since then, the Bullet has been a symbol of Indian pride and authority, the company's chief executive Venki Padmanabhan told The Daily Telegraph. "When people saw an Enfield on the road in the 1950s and 60s, it was either a military man, policeman, or the big man in town with authority," he said.

Its problem was that the bike was so heavy it needed a "big man" with mechanical skills to kick start it and carry out regular roadside repairs, he said.

His company's success came when they developed a lighter, modern and more reliable motorbike to meet Western emissions standards but found it appealed more to slighter and less mechanical riders who still aspired to the Indian Army hero image.

"The brand has always been strong in England, but it's deeply embedded in the Indian psyche as the big man's macho bike. Now you don't need to be a big man with mechanical skills to start it," said Mr Padmanabhan.

Bobbee Singh, who customises Enfields and leads Himalayan bike tours, said the Bullet makes its riders feel like "super beings".

Many Indian bikers will be temped by Harley Davidson and Triumph, which have hope to capitalise on rising demand for powerful motorbikes among India's rising rich, but according to Mr Singh, Enfield will be protected by its Army image. "That's the kind of emotion you get. You feel like an army officer, looking cool. People love that old-school, retro Indian army look," he said.

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