Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A review of True Grit

I reviewed the movie True Grit on a cool Bollywood-themed blog about all kinds of movies. Enjoy the review here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Research in India

This post is for those of us thinking of going back to do research in India. Thanks to EJ for the link, which is a conversation with Prof. Ashutosh Sharma from IITK. Prof. Sharma recently won the 2010 Infosys Prize.

He talks about how things have changed (just like all Indian adults of his generation), particularly for Indian scientists. Some of the better quotes in the article are "education is too important to be left to teachers" and "ours is a reverential system which doesn’t encourage freedom of thought; in fact there’s little freedom of thought."

He also made some comments about how alternative careers ("history, archaeology, fine and performing arts") are great ways to train the mind but are ignored in India because of social pressures. These insights stemmed from the fact that he wanted to learn philosophy in school, but was prevented from doing so because of his situation.

Overall, I get the feeling he is a great mentor for a lot of lucky, lucky people.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cultural neighbors

I was reading an article in The Hindu about a parliament debate on India's foreign policy. It was a lot of hot air and politicians doing their thing. However, one comment by Mulayam Singh Yadav (wisdom comes from the most unlikely sources) struck me. He said that "India had no real friends in the international community".

As a person who has felt a little jealous of the US special relationship with Britain (who can forget Fowler's line from Chicken Run: "Americans! Always late for every war!") I started thinking about this.

I've taken the neighborhood map from Wikipedia, and color coded it according to cultural closeness. Three of the cultural contacts are religious based, while the fourth is based on shared British occupation.

Obvious (but granted, lazy) explanations reveal themselves. Most of India's cultural connections with our neighbors are weak. Those that are strong, are canceled out by the fact that our diverse country is also, almost uniquely, Hindu majority. Even though we share so much with our neighbors, perhaps they don't trust us (or we don't trust them?) because of this difference.

But its interesting to note that India does have this patchwork of mild cultural/culinary/musical/linguistic bonds with a large variety of countries. This explains why traveling anywhere between Dubai and Singapore could result in a sense of "this smells/tastes/sounds/feels vaguely familiar".

Monday, March 14, 2011

Arranged marriages

I keep getting irritated by smug westerners judging arranged marriage. So I thought I'd make a chart to make it clear. Each box in this chart assumes a marriage happens. We then ask if the family and the couple agrees.

"Don't care" = Indifferent.

Note that its only forced arranged marriages that are evil. Of course those still happen, with mostly women being exploited, and I would gladly join forces with the smug westerners to fight this.

But note that there are other kinds of arranged marriages. Particularly, the lower-leftmost square. This is how millions of Indians get married. Since they don't have access to dating, when they feel like they'd like to start a family, they let their parents arrange their marriages. I'm not denying that this would feel weird to a westerner. But that is a cultural difference, and I'd like to see a bit more tolerance for arranged marriage.