Thursday, February 28, 2013

Today's newspaper article

Sticking to the train theme from yesterday, today’s article is from “The Australian” and talks about the plan to upgrade the Indian rail system:

Indian railways a lot nicer, for some

  • by: Amanda Hodge, South Asia correspondent
  • From: The Australian
  • February 28, 2013 12:00AM
INDIAN Railways - the rattling arteries of the subcontinent - is to receive a luxury makeover with plans to introduce a high-dollar train carriage boasting the sort of amenities most Indians could only dream of.

While the bulk of the country's train-travelling public will continue to battle crowded, dirty compartments and privies that drop their loads straight to the tracks, the new Anubhuti coach with its plush seats, "zero-discharge" toilets and internet access will be added to selected train services across the country.

The announcement was one of the headline features of this week's annual railways budget, coinciding uncomfortably with news that a Bhopal rail official had been burnt to death by an angry mob after two children were run over by an express train.

The children, aged five and 12, were crossing the rail tracks with their mother when they were hit by a speeding train. The suburban station has no pedestrian over-bridge, despite repeated lobbying by locals.

The accident highlighted the failure of successive rail ministers - who have used the portfolio as a populist platform - to upgrade basic facilities for the more than 25 million passengers who ride the railways every day.

So vital is the country's rail system, it has its own budget. Traditionally released several days before the annual federal budget, it proves an often handy forecast for the direction of government spending for the coming year.

If the latest rail blueprint is any indication, India's 2013-14 general budget, to be unveiled today, will feature a combination of hard economic decisions and conspicuous election sops for ruling Congress Party faithful.

In his maiden budget late on Tuesday, Rail Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal claimed to have honoured his promise not to further raise passenger fares before next year's federal election (following the first fare hike in 12 years last month), though booking fees, cancellation costs and freight rates will all rise this year.

Mr Bawan promised to introduce a reliable internet booking service and improve hygiene and catering on passenger services.

Perhaps more revealing was his announcement that the new Anubhuti (spiritual experience) carriages would be built at the RaeBareli coach factory in Uttar Pradesh - the electorate held by Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi.

Opposition MPs yesterday ridiculed the plan as a "RaeBareli budget", pointing to the allocation of six new projects to Sonia Gandhi's electorate and another to Amethi, held by her son and Congress scion Rahul Gandhi.

A government-commissioned study last year found that 15,000 people died in an annual "massacre" trying to cross Indian train tracks, and another 1000 died after falling from overcrowded compartments or in train collisions and derailments.

The study noted successive rail ministers had introduced new passenger trains with no heed to their financial viability or the need to enhance infrastructure to cope with those services.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A visit to Nepal

Tania was recently in Nepal with work.

Here is a small selection of photos from her trip. Enjoy:

Flying into Kathmandu

Nothing bothers the dogs !!

Wild Dogs of Agra

Tania was down to Agra in December & took this photo of these two dogs doing what they do best here in India – sleep !!

Today's newspaper articles

Today’s articles are about Indian politics. The first is from “The Australian” and the second is from the “Foreign Policy” website:

Narendra Modi lays bare India's economic cross

  • From: The Wall Street Journal
  • February 25, 2013 12:00AM
NO politician in India attracts as much attention from friend and foe alike as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. So it was no surprise when his speech this month at a Delhi college --the sort of thing many chief ministers would struggle to have reported at all -- turned into a frenzy of television coverage and nonstop analysis.

Pundits declared Modi's hour-long address to a rapt audience of about 1800 students the Gujarat strongman's coming-out party on the national stage. On the heels of a thumping electoral victory in his home state in December, his third in a row, Modi's Delhi foray also underscored his position as first among equals in the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, reinforcing speculation that he'll be the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in next year's national elections. It inevitably triggered a rash of comparisons between him and his putative rival -- the ruling Congress Party's Rahul Gandhi.

Modi's performance certainly appears to have struck a chord with the students he addressed, as well as with a cross-section of the middle class. But despite his ambitions, it's his ideas and style of governance that offer lessons for India. Outside the echo chamber of social media, Modi's prime ministerial prospects remain slim.

The problem is electoral. The BJP lacks enough of a base in southern and eastern India to even come close to forming a government on its own, which means it has to build a coalition. Thanks to anti-Muslim riots on his watch in 2002, Modi appears to be anathema to important potential allies such as the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh. Plus, there's no evidence that his middle-class supporters outside Gujarat -- including many of his 1.2 million Twitter followers -- have the numbers or the organisation to count at the ballot box.

But Modi's message deserves attention for a subtler reason. His speech marks the most high-profile departure from the usual way in which Indian politicians speak about development. In a nutshell, the chief minister wrapped a call for economic competitiveness in a broader message of hope, ambition and national pride.

It's hard to think of any other major Indian politician bluntly declaring that "government has no business doing business", or bemoaning the time, before Nehruvian socialism cut India off from world-class technology, when Ahmedabad's textile mills earned it the sobriquet "Manchester of India". Or for that matter, publicly declaring that India needs "skill, scale and speed" to compete with China.

This offers a glimpse of how politicians can approach a problem at the heart of Indian democracy -- the difficulty of selling sensible economics to an electorate largely poor and nursed on a diet of handouts. So common is this leftist tilt that even anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal, whose new Aam Aadmi Party is supposed to represent the middle class, has an economic agenda that consists chiefly of berating private power companies for making profits.

The failure of politicians to update their vocabularies two decades after India embarked upon liberalisation helps explain its current slowdown. The International Monetary Fund expects the economy to grow 4.5 per cent this year, excellent for an advanced industrialised economy, but anemic for one at India's stage of development. Economists estimate 7 per cent growth as the bare minimum for employment to keep pace with India's young population. Alarmed by a ballooning fiscal deficit, ratings agencies last year threatened to cut India's sovereign rating from investment grade to "junk", which would hike the cost of borrowing for Indian firms.

These threats motivated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to push a few symbolic reforms in September, but his government still hasn't offered a coherent message of aspiration, or enacted "Big Bang" moves such as amending India's socialist-era labor laws or privatising loss-making state-owned firms. And across the country, it's still politics as usual. Congress will probably seek re-election on the back of food subsidies and cash transfers to the poor. Against this backdrop, Modi's speech is a rare attempt to frame development in small government terms.

Still, to regard him as a messiah, as his more ardent supporters do, would be foolish.

His most significant achievements in Gujarat -- such as supplying reliable power as long as people are willing to pay for it -- depend more on sound administration than on radically overturning the status quo. And even though Modi's speech was clearly aimed at the country at large (it was in Hindi), it's a lot easier to tout South Korean development lessons to college students in Delhi than to impoverished peasants in the hinterland.

Nonetheless, Modi's political heft and national profile give his message resonance.

Sadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.





Return of the Gandhis


In the new India, everything is moving a mile a minute. Except politics.



| FEBRUARY 22, 2013

NEW DELHI — I am on my seventh trip to India since I first came in 1976. Nothing is the same. The essential Indian narrative has gone from timelessness to disruption; the national icon from the lumbering elephant to the call center to the high-tech entrepreneur. The Delhi that I first knew was the gracious city of white bungalows, trimmed lawns, and broad boulevards laid out by Edwin Lutyens in 1911; now Old New Delhi, as I think of it, recalls a quaint colonial past in a city of 16 million. Everything has changed -- except India's politics, which feel utterly familiar. You can't help wondering when -- or if -- India's politics will catch up with its society.

The big political news in recent months has been the return of the Gandhis. Not that they ever really went away. The 42-year-old Rahul Gandhi, son of Rajiv, grandson of Indira, great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, great-great grandson of Motilal Nehru, has taken a senior position in the family business, known as the Indian National Congress party. With parliamentary elections scheduled for next year, India's vast tribe of pundits (derived from pandit, the Hindi word for "sage") and political junkies are waiting with bated breath for an epic battle for the premiership between a coalition led by Gandhi and another led by Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat state, a figure equally known for his business-first mentality and his hard-line Hindu nationalism; many Indians believe that he encouraged Hindu rioters who killed around 800 Muslims in 2002 riots.

India has a parliamentary rather than a presidential system, so in any case the two will not be running directly against one another. And Rahul (members of the Gandhi family, who are thought of as every Indian's son, brother, mother, etc., are almost always referred to by first name) has said that he has no wish to serve as prime minister in 2014, even if the Congress party wins. He may even mean what he says, but neither the public nor his own party, desperate for a new infusion of Gandhi-family charisma, is prepared to hear it.

The family-run political party is hardly unique to India. It is in fact the norm in South Asia. In Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto begat Benazir Bhutto, who married Asif Ali Zardari, the current president. (And both begat Bilawal Zardari, waiting in the wings at age 24.) Similar lineages have governed Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Dynasties can confer stability and predictability on otherwise chaotic democracies, especially during moments of crisis, but they do tend to devolve toward the fin de race (witness Pakistan's oafish president).

What's more, these quasi-monarchies have trouble standing for anything beyond the family and the country's historical connection to the family. The Nehru-Gandhi family ushered India into freedom and in the first generation preserved it from innumerable shocks; since then, nothing so great.

India's romance with the Gandhis, like America's with the Kennedys, has been cemented by tragedy. Indira was assassinated in 1984; Rajiv in 1991. The willingness to pay this awful price has given the family a special kind of legitimacy -- almost an intrinsic right to rule. At the same time, this culling of the ranks has forced India to wait for a new generation of Gandhis to come along. They may be needed, but they're also in very limited supply. Rajiv replaced Indira as prime minister, but he was in turn replaced by a veteran Congressman, P.V. Narasimha Rao. Only under Rao -- along with Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, now prime minister -- did the Congress party, and India, break from Nehru's socialist faith, which had given the state a stranglehold over the economy. The new India of entrepreneurship, innovation, and dynamic growth dates from this moment.

The rise of a non-Gandhi-centric Congress party would have constituted another phase of India's maturation. But it was not to be. The party fell from power and broke into factions, some aligning themselves with Rajiv's widow, Sonia, who had long shunned politics. Sonia agreed to become the party president in 1998 and has remained in that post ever since. When the Congress party returned to power in 2004, Sonia shocked the country by declining to become prime minister. But Singh, whom she asked to take the post, has always deferred to her, and no one doubts who is the most powerful person in the country. The populist economic initiatives that Singh has pursued since taking over -- which have proved highly popular -- come from the party, not the government.

Now, the Sonia interregnum having runs its course, the new generation is ready to take over. Rahul's younger sister, Priyanka, proved to be a deft campaigner with a common touch, but she's married with children and retired from politics, at least temporarily. In 2004, Rahul won the family seat in the "Hindi heartland" state of Uttar Pradesh and then quite consciously disappeared into the long-term business of rebuilding the party at the grassroots. He has sought to instill a new spirit of meritocracy and transparency in the Indian Youth Congress, which had come to be viewed as a nest of young (and not-so-young) louts and timeservers.

Rahul is afflicted by an acute awareness of the pathological elements of the Congress party's relationship to his family, even as he tries to exploit that special relationship to change a culture of nepotism, sycophancy, and gross favoritism. It's a very delicate, and possibly paradoxical, enterprise. "I am a symptom of this problem," he admitted bluntly in a 2008 speech. He has turned down a slot in Singh's cabinet and possibly also the chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh and his mother's job. He wants to be a humble worker in the Congress vineyards -- at least until he is ready to fully emerge on the national scene. But the party may not allow him to be, such is the force of that Gandhi cult of personality.

When I think of Rahul's predicament, I'm reminded of a mass audience with J. Krishnamurti, a revered philosopher-guru, then 85, which I attended in Bombay in 1980.

A bright light shone down on a tiny white-haired man on a stage. He said, with an asperity that bordered on bitterness, "You must not seek gurus. You must have the courage to listen to your own voice." And the crowd roared back in unison, "Yes, master! We will follow our own voice!" Followership is a very hard habit to break.

Modi, Rahul's rival for the premiership, suffers from no such ambivalence about authority. He is a fiery orator who knows very well how to hold and keep a crowd. Modi's father sold tea from a cart at a railway station -- as did Modi. Modi is himself the incarnation of the meritocratic principles of which Rahul speaks. He has said, "I am a fish in the sea, while that fellow" -- and everyone knows which fellow -- "is a fish in the aquarium." A son of the soil against a Gandhi scion, a classic strongman against a mild-mannered democrat, a nationalist who plays with fire against a committed secularist: It really would be fun to watch.

Politics in India is a tamasha -- a big, noisy spectacle. But you have to wonder whether voters will begin to tire of it. The small-scale if endemic corruption of yesteryear has inflated to grotesque proportions as national wealth and the national budget have mushroomed. All parties have been tainted; even the currency of the Gandhi family may have been devalued. Changing this culture may be well beyond Rahul's reach. After all, the Congress party has an election to win, and elections require bottomless sums of cash, often ferried in bags and suitcases. India even has a new anti-corruption party -- the Common Man's Party -- but it can't win elections either without black money.

Politics in India must change -- but not tomorrow, or anytime soon.

AFP/Getty Images

James Traub is a fellow of the Center on International Cooperation. "Terms of Engagement," his column for, runs weekly.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Feel good story of the week

Monkey massage anyone ?? Here’s a story I found on “The Daily Mail” website:

Care for a monkey massage? Grey langurs spotted treating a wild dog to a grooming session in India

  • Monkeys spotted grooming a wild dog in Rajasthan, India
  • Pampered dog lay down as the langur monkeys massaged its head

This wild dog enjoyed extra special treatment when a group of monkeys included it in their pampering session.

The pampered dog lay down to make itself more comfortable as the grey langur monkeys fussed around it and stroked its fur in Rajasthan, India.

After treating the dog to a head massage, the monkeys set about grooming one another.

Pampered: The monkeys set about grooming a wild dog in Rajasthan, India

Special treatment: The monkeys appeared to massage the dog's head as it basked in the heat in India

The unique moment was captured by wildlife photographer Cyril Ruoso, from Lailly in France, who had been observing the monkeys.

'I was following a gray langur troop and they came across a wild dog,' the 42-year-old said.

'People were offering food to the monkeys and several dogs were around to take advantage of the kind visitors. The monkeys and dogs interacted in a very friendly manner, and the langurs even started to groom the dog - it was very happy about that the dog decided to make itself more comfortable by resting on the floor and the monkeys continued to stroke it,' he said.

Fastidious: Groups of monkeys are often spotted grooming one another

Social: Wildlife photographer Cyril Ruoso said it was unusual to see this kind of social interaction taking place between different species

Grooming: Langur monkeys are usually grey with a black face and black ears

Mr Ruoso, a keen observer of monkeys and apes, said it was the first time he had witnessed a scene like it.

'When I take photographs I like to be surprised by what I've seen,' he said.

'And this kind of inter-species reaction was very surprising as you don't expect this kind of behaviour from different animals.'

Awwwwww !!!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

India from a food perspective

Here’s a look at a day-in-the-life of India – from a food perspective.

Thanks to Jane (from work) for pointing this video out to me.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Today's newspaper article

An interesting article from “The New York Times” about public shows of affections in India:

February 13, 2013

In India, Kisses Are on Rise, Even in Public

Manpreet Romana for The New York Times

A couple in a public park in New Delhi. Indians have long tended to view outward expressions of love with suspicion, but kissing is increasing.

NEW DELHI — India may be the birthplace of the Kama Sutra, the ancient how-to manual on kissing and sex. But for many years, Indian couples did not widely embrace kissing, at least not in public. Now that is changing.

The Mahabharata, an epic poem written 3,000 years ago, is believed to include the first written description of mouth-to-mouth kissing. But anthropological studies done over the past century in India and elsewhere in Asia showed that kissing was far from universal and even seen as improper by many societies, said Elaine Hatfield, a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii.

Sanjay Srivastava, a professor of sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth at Delhi University, said: “Until recently, kissing was seen as Western and not an Indian thing to do. That has changed.”

In India, most marriages are still arranged, and the rate of sex before marriage is low, according to a government survey, so passionate kissing among the unmarried has long been discouraged. Many married couples refrained as well, at least in front of other people. But recent studies, backed by interviews with sociologists and psychiatrists in India, suggest that kissing’s popularity has risen considerably.

Chastity is viewed as highly desirable in India, and Indians, as a result, have also tended to view outward expressions of love, be they physical or verbal, with suspicion, said Dr. Roy Abraham Kallivayalil, president of the Indian Psychiatric Society.

“I don’t tell my wife that I love her,” Dr. Kallivayalil said. “My father has never in 88 years told me that he loved me. We don’t do that.”

A study led by James Witte, a professor of sociology at George Mason University in Virginia, reported that more than half of a set of volunteer respondents in India said they kissed at least several times a week. He solicited respondents through Internet portals, in English, but cautioned that his sample was not random. He said he reached people who were “well educated, younger and more urban” and who had access to the Internet.

In Professor Witte’s study, of the 112 respondents in the kissing module, 24.1 percent said they kissed passionately “many times a day,” but when asked about kissing, hugging or caressing in public, 41.1 percent of participants chose “hardly ever or not at all.”

A pivotal screen kiss reflected the changing romantic landscape here. Kissing scenes were banned by Indian film censors until the 1990s, and Shah Rukh Khan, a Bollywood heartthrob who is one of the world’s biggest movie stars, has been teasing Indian audiences in dozens of films since then by bringing his lips achingly close to those of his beautiful co-stars. But his lips never touched any of theirs until he kissed the Bollywood bombshell Katrina Kaif in “Jab Tak Hai Jaan,” which was released in December 2012.

Mr. Khan tried to soften the impact by saying in a published interview that his director made him do it. But the cultural Rubicon had been crossed.

“That kiss was an incredibly important moment,” Dr. Srivastava said. “Shah Rukh Khan defines what is mainstream. If he does it, it becomes acceptable.”

Kissing’s rise here may also reflect the growing power of young women in deciding who to marry, said Debra Lieberman, an assistant professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Miami. In many cases, “women are now able to select mates without having to negotiate as much with family members,” Dr. Lieberman said.

And Dr. Avdesh Sharma, a psychiatrist practicing in New Delhi, said that his younger female patients are far more insistent than their mothers were that their emotional needs be met. That often involves kissing, he said.

“The terms and timing of intimacy used to be initiated and decided entirely by the man,” Dr. Sharma said. “That is no longer true.”

Indeed, while arranged marriages are still the norm in India, a growing share of young couples say that their views play a role in the process. If a young woman does not like the man her parents have picked, many families now offer her a veto.

Prakash Kothari, the founder of the department of sexual medicine at Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College in Mumbai, said that his female patients are much more demanding than they once were.

“For years, most Indian men used sex with their partners as a kind of sleeping pill, and few devoted any time to foreplay,” Dr. Kothari said. “Now, many women are able to ask for what they want.”

Aseem Chhabra, a columnist for The Mumbai Mirror, an English daily featuring local news, said public displays of affection are still a rare sight in India. “It’s not like you can walk on the streets of Delhi and Bombay and see people kissing. It’s still a big taboo,” he said.

“The educated 20-somethings are watching a lot more Hollywood films,” he said. “It’s not like they are imitating, but they are getting inspired.”

Six years ago, Richard Gere caused a national scandal when he kissed the Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty during an AIDS-awareness event. Mr. Gere quickly fled India, leaving legal complaints and at least one arrest warrant in his wake. Ms. Shetty was criticized for failing to resist him.

A 2006 government-financed survey, the most recent available, found that less than 1 percent of female respondents and 5 percent of male ones said that they had had sex outside of marriage in the previous year. Other studies suggest that premarital sex rates are higher than reported in official surveys, but the numbers are still very low compared with those in the West.

Rajat and Neha, two 22-year-olds in New Delhi’s majestic Lodi Gardens, agreed to discuss why they enjoy kissing when their parents had not done so, at least in front of them.

“Love,” Rajat said simply as Neha nodded. Their parents’ marriages were arranged; they hope to marry for love. They asked that their last names be withheld, however, in part because they are from different castes and fear that her parents would not approve.

Rajat and Neha expect to graduate from college this spring; they say their physical relationship has not gone beyond kissing and cuddling. They met four years ago in a park when he approached and asked if she would be his friend. She agreed but soon suspended the relationship for seven months while she studied for her last set of high school exams.

“It was very hard to spend a day without her,” Rajat said. “A single day.”

Soon after the exams, she called him. She had memorized his telephone number because she did not want her parents seeing the number in her phone.

“I knew he was waiting for me,” Neha said.

They meet regularly in Lodi Gardens, which is far enough from their homes that discovery is unlikely. In contrast to parks in other Indian cities, the police in New Delhi rarely harass young couples in Lodi Gardens. But young men often sit and stare hungrily at kissing couples. On a recent afternoon, kissing couples in Lodi Gardens had the added burden of shooing away a foreign reporter clumsily asking for interviews.

Rajat and Neha say they plan to reveal their love to their parents sometime next year. In the meantime, they kiss — igniting a bonfire of yearning that fairly leaps off their lips.

“Times have changed,” Rajat said. “We are different.”

Shreeya Sinha contributed reporting from New York.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

DHOM’s all-staff farewell

On Friday, the outgoing DHOM (Lachlan) has his final farewell with all the staff at the High Commission.

Lachlan’s had more farewells in the last two weeks than John Farnham did in the 90’s.

Here are some photos from the event:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

It’s Kumbh Mela time

The Kumbh Mela is one of the largest pilgrimages is the world; held over two months from January to March of every year.

It involves (literally) millions of Hindus gathering on the banks of four rivers: the Ganges, the meeting point of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers, the Godawari and the Shipra.

The highlight of the event is bathing in the sacred waters of the river.

These rivers are located at Haridwar, Allahabad (also known as Prayag), Nasik and Ujjain.

The event rotates between every city every four years.

This year the event is at Allahabad and it’s the big one: it’s the Maha Kumbha Mela which is only held every 144yrs.

Here are some links to articles with lots of pictures: