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A journalist from US progressive magazine Mother Jones travelled to India and signed up to work in a call centre, going through the cultural training employees get to teach them to pass as Westerners:
Next is "culture training," in which trainees memorize colloquialisms and state capitals, study clips of Seinfeld and photos of Walmarts, and eat in cafeterias serving paneer burgers and pizza topped with lamb pepperoni. Trainers aim to impart something they call "international culture"—which is, of course, no culture at all, but a garbled hybrid of Indian and Western signifiers designed to be recognizable to everyone and familiar to no one. The result is a comically botched translation—a multibillion dollar game of telephone. "The most marketable skill in India today," the Guardian wrote in 2003, "is the ability to abandon your identity and slip into someone else's."The article goes on to descibe how the Indian call-centre workers' received knowledge of America (described as a land of stupid, greedy people awash in money) comes up against their interactions with the American underclass, whom they're meant to be squeezing for unpaid bills:
Nishant, now 26, moved to Delhi at age 18. His first job was tracking down Americans with delinquent bills. "In training they told us, 'It's easy. These guys have the money, they just don't want to pay.' They told us, 'Threaten their credit score, Americans can't live without good credit.'" On his first day, Nishant donned his headset, dialed the number on the screen and was connected to a 60-year-old woman in Tennessee. She had an outstanding hospital bill for $400. "I told her, 'Just pay this, what's the problem?' She told me, 'You don't understand, I can't pay.'" They talked for 45 minutes, and the woman cried as she told Nishant about the Iraq War and its toll on American families. "By this time I'm crying also," Nishant said.
The same day, he was connected with a man living in a trailer. "I told him, 'What's a trailer?' He told me, 'It's this tin shed; it gets 90 degrees; we don't have our own washroom.'" Nishant learned more about America that first day, he told me, than he had in his whole childhood.Elsewhere, the call centre workers were trained in the basics of Australian culture:
"Just stating facts, guys," Lekha began, as we scribbled notes, "Australia is known as the dumbest continent. Literally, college was unknown there until recently. So speak slowly." Next to me, a young man in a turban wrote No college in his notebook. "Technologically speaking, they're somewhat backward, as well. The average person's mobile would be no better than, say, a Nokia 3110 classic." This drew scoffs from around the room. "Australians drink constantly," Lekha continued. "If you call on a Friday night, they'll be smashed—every time..."
"Well, for one thing," Lekha said, "let's admit: They are quite racist. They do not like Indians. Their preferred term for us is—please don't mind, ladies—'brown bastards.' So if you hear that kind of language, you can just hang up the call."(The thing about most Australians having ancient Nokia handsets sounds apocryphal—from what I understand, Australia has one of the highest iPhone adoption rates in the world—though there may be some truth in Australia lagging behind India in terms of telecommunications infrastructure.)
The article goes on, describing fraud operations that call centre workers were hired to work on (""All it is," Rohan explained, "is you call American clients. Tell them, 'US government is giving away free money!'""), the reactions of angry people from different countries (the British are reportedly sarcastic, whereas the Americans are more free with their anger), and a sense of alienation experienced by the call centre workers, trapped between their conditioned, deracinated, generic-Western personas and the more conservative, deeply rooted India they've culturally left behind:
In a sense, Arjuna is too westernized to be happy in India. He speaks with an American accent, listens to American rock music, and suffers from American-style malaise. In his more candid moments, he admits that life would have been easier if he had hewn to the traditional Indian path. "I spent my youth searching for the real me," he says. "Sometimes I feel that now I've destroyed anything that is the real me, that I am floating somewhere in between."
The Guardian speaks to Charanjit Singh, a Bollywood session musician from Mumbai who, in 1982, bought a Roland TB-303 and TR-808 and decided to have a go at applying these sequencer-driven electronic instruments to traditional Indian music, creating something that sounded uncannily like acid house music that came out some five years later:
With some more gentle probing he explains that he was intrigued by the way he could use the 808 and 303 in synch with the Roland Jupiter-8 keyboard. He explains that he didn't know much about the machines when he bought them and that he had to spend time learning how to use them properly. "At home I practised with the combination and I thought 'It sounds good – why not record it'".
Having explained that much of the music that Ten Ragas is compared to comes from Chicago, we settle down to listen to the record that arguably started it all – Acid Trax by Phuture. Singh listens intently but seems unmoved by the pulsing, stripped down music – and the signature squelch of the 303. "It's quite simple" he concludes after around three minutes, gently chuckling at the idea that there are similarities between Acid Trax and Ten Ragas. "It's very simple this music," he says. "What I played are ragas – there's a lot of variation."Singh's record, 10 Ragas To A Disco Beat, sank more or less without a trace when it was released, before being rediscovered a few years ago, and reissued on vinyl and MP3.
More WikiLeaks fallout:
India's Environment Minister has blamed the popularity of the Harry Potter books for the decline of wild owl populations, suggesting that owls are being poached and sold as pets to Potter fans:
The report's author, Abrar Ahmed, wrote that he decided to investigate the owl trade after being asked by a friend to procure a live white-coloured owl for her son's Harry Potter-themed 10th birthday party. "This was probably one of the strangest demands made to me as an ornithologist," he wrote.The report is titled, in the sort of splendidly Wodehousean English often used in India, The Imperilled Custodians of the Night.
The latest use of offshore personal outsourcing: cutting the drudgery out of online dating:
Anyway, last weekend I was talking to an acquaintance about his use of such services. He has his assistant seducing women for him. His assistant, who is female and lives in India, logs onto his account on a popular dating site, browses profiles and (pretending to be him) makes connections with women on the site. She has e-mail conversations and arranges first dates. Then her employer reads the e-mail conversation and goes to the date. (Perhaps he also does a quick vet before arranging a date to be sure the assistant has chosen well, but I did not confirm that.)Currently, this seems anomalous and a bit sleazy, but perhaps there'll come a time when a variant of this (minus the sketchy subterfuge of it) becomes the norm. After all, the pace of life continues to accelerate and people have less unstructured time. (This is so across the spectrum, from high-powered executives to overworked students holding down two jobs to keep their heads above water.) Spare time is a declining luxury these days. Meanwhile, online dating, at least in its early stages is a labour-intensive activity: reading dozens of profiles and crafting charming responses tailored to the individual strangers, who will most probably not reply. This is a tedious and unrewarding activity, and, clearly, not the sort of thing today's time-stressed professional has time to spare on.
Perhaps the offshore-dating-assistant position will evolve into a sort of dating agent: half recruitment consultant, half marketing professional, with a touch of seduction guru thrown in (depending on how much of a bro the client sees themself as). There will be differently priced tiers of service. Those with the means looking for a partner (or a hook-up) will hire them, getting generally the level of service (in finding and wooing suitable partners, and selling them) they paid for. Those who don't will either do the job themselves, cutting into sleeping time or whatever, or go bowling alone.
In India, where light-coloured skin is seen as a sign of status, Vaseline (who sell skin-lightening cremes) have published a Facebook app which lightens complexions in photos.
The technology, of course, has other applications. Anyone want to bet how long until the UK/Europe see an app for tanning photographs?
Think your privatised public transport service is shoddy? It could always be worse, like, say, the buses in Delhi, which are privately owned, with strong free-market incentives. Unfortunately, they're incentives to drive faster, overtaking the bus in front and grabbing potential passengers, whilst skimping on any avoidable maintenance, rather than providing a useful service:
While a city-run service would prioritize getting its citizens from A to B, a private driver is less focused on customer service than on overtaking the next bus down the road. After all, the faster he drives, the more competitors he passes, the more passengers he picks up, and the more money he makes.
Which is why the last thing a Blueline driver ever wants to do is come to a stop. Every move he makes is done with the intent of keeping the bus in motion: slowing just enough so debarking passengers can jump off, then picking up speed as the new passengers run alongside the bus, swinging themselves up and in as the conductor screams at them to hurry. And before the last passenger is fully aboard (sometimes pulled in by his fellow passengers), the driver is already shifting gears, spewing mocking black smoke at hapless would-be passengers still running after the bus, and bulldozing the bus back into traffic.
But with an estimated 2,200 Blueline buses careening across Delhi on any given day, it’s no wonder the newspaper reports are almost identical every day. After an accident, the driver tries to flee, an angry mob beats him, the police impound the bus, the driver is thrown in jail, the owner of the bus is not mentioned. Sometimes the driver escapes, in which case the mob finds its release in setting fire to the bus.The Delhi government wants to replace the privatised system with a modern, city-run one, though is expected to run into powerful opposition from the owners of the private buses.
Pandit Surinder Sharma, avowedly India's most powerful black magician, claimed on television to be able to magically kill any person within three minutes. The president of Rationalist International, Sanal Edamaruku, took him up on that, with unsurprising results:
After nearly two hours, the anchor declared the tantrik’s failure. The tantrik, unwilling to admit defeat, tried the excuse that a very strong god whom Sanal might be worshipping obviously protected him. “No, I am an atheist,” said Sanal Edamaruku. Finally, the disgraced tantrik tried to save his face by claiming that there was a never-failing special black magic for ultimate destruction, which could, however, only been done at night. Bad luck again, he did not get away with this, but was challenged to prove his claim this very night in another “breaking news” live program.Sharma repeated his attempt on Sanal's life some hours later, at night, with millions of people watching; the attempt ended with the magician cutting a dough effigy with a knife and throwing it into a fire, with Sanal laughing, and with black magic's prestige taking a battering throughout India.
The Guardian's latest blogger is the 19-year-old son of a travel writer, who looks like a character from Nathan Barley and will be writing up his gap year holiday to India and Thailand.
At the minute, I'm working in a restaurant with a bunch of lovely, funny people; writing a play; writing bits for Skins; spending any sort of money I earn on food and skinny jeans, and drinking my way to a financially blighted two-month trip to India and Thailand. Clichéd I know, but clichés are there for a reason.
I'm kinda shitting myself about travelling. Well not so much the travelling part. It's India that scares me. The heat, the roads, the snakes, Australian travellers. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited. But shitting myself. And I just know that when I step off that plane and into the maelstrom of Mumbai - well, actually, I don't know how I'll react.
Anyway, I've had to get malaria tablets, purchase travellers' cheques, sort out travel insurance, try and find a universal bloomin' plug, buy a backpack, get iodine drops (whatever they are) and enjoy dozens of injections off a nurse who was grumpy and trying to get me to pay a hundred quid to minimise the after-effects of being bitten by a monkey. I still fancied her though. She was a nurse.And in the comments, mayhem has ensued as the Graun's peanut gallery takes him to task for being upper-middle-class/derivative/a smug twat and having only landed this job by virtue of nepotism; some people speculating that Chris Morris and/or Charlie Brooker are responsible.
Here's an idea, Max. Instead of setting off on yet another inane, identikit trip around Asia before you take up your place at Oxbridge (or wherever), why don't you leave your family's Highgate mansion FOR GOOD, cut yourself off from your father's allowance, move into a council estate in Salford, STAY THERE, and then consider writing a blog about your experiences.
As for skinny jeans , Max if ever you eat from the street you may wish you had something a little more baggy and easy to remove, alternatively you could take some nappies. I'm not sure that the street vendors take Amex though.
You can have your first ladyboy experience in Thailand, but maybe you won't journal that one, just look out for the adams apple.
Dear the Guardian, I spend my money on conventionally shaped trousers and other types of equally conventional clothing, food and beverages. My other outgoings include: mortgage, heating, electricity, sundries and entertainment. I commute to work, an experience which I sometimes find amusing but for the most part find an unpleasant grind which I attemt to ignore by listening to music or reading. I'm reasonably fortunate in that I can take about three weeks of holiday a year which I spend either visiting family or travelling abroad. Going abroad sometimes makes me nervous, as do many new experiences as I get older.
Can I have a blog too?
Hey everyone, I'm Max's friend and he's a real genuine guy and a dude with a passion for travel writing and writing in general. So go easy on him until you hear what he has to say. I guarantee you'll be impressed. And who knows, you might want to visit some of the places he's visited because you heard about it from this blog.
So what if he wears skinny jeans? All us kids do these days, don't hate us because you're old!
Oh, and he co-writes Skins, so he's obviously a real talent. AND he doesn't take any money from his parents at all, he shops at charity shops and everything.
My names Peter Getkahn, at 19 I got a job in a Meat Factory to help pay for my Education. You can't follow my career on a blog, because my Dad doesn't work for the Guardian.
He'll definitely find himself, every 'traveller' he meets will be exactly like him.
This year in India, anti-Valentine's Day demonstrators (mostly from the Hindu religious right) have adopted the tactic of forcibly marrying couples found celebrating Valentine's Day:
A 'rath' (decorated vehicle) prepared by the protesters, mainly activists of the Dharam Sena, for "forcibly marrying couples found celebrating Valentine's Day" was seized in Jabalpur, Additional Superintendent of Police Manohar Verma told PTI.It is not clear whether any such forced marriages have actually taken place, or whether, in fact, they would be legally binding.
Something I didn't know until today: not only has India had a film industry since the 19th century, but it also had literary science fiction since the 1880s:
Asimov's statement that "true science fiction could not really exist until people understood the rationalism of science and began to use it with respect in their stories" is actually true for the first science fiction written in Bangla. This was Hemlal Dutta's Rahashya ("The Mystery") that was published in two installments in 1882 in the pictorial magazine Bigyan Darpan, brought out by Jogendra Sadhu. The story revolved around the protagonist Nagendra's visit to a friend's house, a mansion completely automated and where technology is deified. Automatic doorbell, burglar alarms, brushes that clean suits mechanically are some of the innovations described in the story, and the tone is of wonder at the rapid automation of human lives.
Sukumar Ray (1887-1923) was probably inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World when he wrote Heshoram Hushiyarer Diary ("The Diary Of Heshoram Hushiar").... It is a spoof on the genre because Sukumar is poking fun at the propensity of the scientist to name things, and that too in long-winded Latin words. He seems to be playing around the fact that names are arbitrarily conferred upon things by humans for their own convenience, and suggests that the name of a thing may somehow be intrinsically connected to its nature. So the first creature that Heshoram meets in the course of his journey through the Bandakush Mountains is a "gomratharium" (gomra in Bangla means someone of irritable temperament).And Bengali science fiction didn't end there, by any means: The article goes on, mentioning stories about the fictional inventor/adventurer Professor Shanku, quoting from one in which he builds a rocket to go to space and invents a "fish-pill" that his cat Newton can eat whilst in space, and then mentions a few items from a catalogue of Professor Shanku's inventions, such as the "Miracurall", a drug capable of curing any ailment except for the common cold, and an "air-conditioning pill", which keeps the body temperature normal in extremes of climate (which could be a very Indian fictional invention).
A recent issue of The Times has a fairly detailed section on rail travel today; this section includes a survey of the state of European rail travel (summary: it's enjoying a renaissance, thanks to Eurostar and environmental consciousness, likely to improve further when cheap flights dry up, though ticketing still has some way to go before booking international rail journeys is as easy as booking flights), a section on travelling across Europe on Inter-Rail passes (along with four recommended European rail journeys to make with one's pass), as well as articles on train travel in Italy and India, shinkansen journeys in Japan, the backpacker-infested Trans-Siberian Express (whose 1-week journey time, the previous article notes, could be slashed to 18 hours if it was rebuilt using maglev technology soon to be deployed in Japan), as well as various luxury train journeys, such as the current holder of the "Orient Express" trademark (an opulent art-deco train journey from London to Verona), the Canadian Rockies and opulent Hungarian luxury trains. Also, Australia's Adelaide-Darwin rail link gets a writeup, getting rather mixed reviews (apparently the "Darwin" terminus 18km from the city centre is an afterthought, the carriages aren't quite as luxurious as one would believe, and the ride is bumpy; not to mention the fact that, catering only to tourists (it's too expensive for casual commuters) and having no stations along the way, it's "not quite a proper train" compared to others).
For anyone wanting more information on rail travel in various parts of the world, there's always The Man In Seat Sixty-One, a (somewhat UK-centric) one-stop information shop for rail buffs and travellers with an aversion to air travel.
Young Europeans are moving to India to work in call centres, as that's where the jobs are. They get paid Indian wages (i.e., a pittance when translated to euros, pounds or krone), but get free accommodation, subsidised food and free taxi fares to/from work, as well as sufficiently flexible schedules to travel around the country. At the moment it seems more like a backpacker working-holiday thing (somewhere between the two Australian rites of passage, the backpacking trip through Thailand and pulling pints in a pub in the UK) than a new trend in migration, though many are staying for longer, mostly for the culture and lifestyle (or possibly to defer the shock of finding how little their bank balance is worth back home).
Remember the Simputer, the tiny Indian-designed Linux-based computer that was going to be cheap and rugged enough for remote villages and powerful enough to be useful, and was going to revolutionise life in the developing world? Well, it's now available. The Amida Simputer has some fairly decent specs, and connects to a lot of things. The internal software is based on Linux and X, only with a custom toolkit. The bundled software gives a glimpse of what PCs would have been like had they been invented in India rather than the US, with "Khatha", a financial planning package based on traditional Indian accounting methods and an astrology application ("Even if you are only peripherally interested in astrology, it may still be fun to find out if your girlfriend's star matches yours!") alongside the usual notebooks, MP3 players and world clocks. (via WorldChanging)
It'd be interesting to get a closer look at one of these; on the website, it looks fairly promising, just from the specifications and screenshots. Though so did the Agenda VR3 Linux-based PDA, which turned out to be half-baked and next to unusable, once the novelty of calling up a UNIX shell on something without a keyboard wore off.
Multinational companies are now moving away from call centres in India, because of communication problems:
In spite of TV and e-mail, people living thousands of kilometers away and without local knowledge cannot always answer inquiries authoritatively. According to reports, England is full of jokes about operators in India who master Scots or Midlands accents, but falter over small physical details. Kate, a doctor based in England, recently on a visit to India, told this correspondent that grappling with rail inquiries in the United Kingdom can be quite hazardous as often the information is incorrect as the person at the other end just does not understand the query.
For the past few weeks, Warren Ellis' blog has been running predictions for 2004 from the various gonzo futurists, scifi writers, early adopters and scary goth camgirls he knows; Matt Jones' predictions are probably the most interesting of the series:
BrIC: 2004 is the year where the cultural and economic dominance by BrIC [Brazil, India, China] starts to emerge. More movies of the calibre of 'City of God' dominate the movie and soundtrack charts. Brazil's equivalent of the Neptunes dominate the global ringtone charts. Kids on the 8mile practice not rap, but capoeira battles.
CORMANRINGS: In 1977, Lucas unleashed Star Wars. There were a gazillion cheapo ripoffs on tv and screen including Roger Corman's awesomely bad-but-I-love-it "Battle beyond the stars": y'know the one with John-Boy Walton as the hero... The oscar-winning success of Peter Jackson's Tolkien trilogy coincides with the low-low price of pro-am digital video and film production to produce a bumper crop of copyright-skirting elvish nonsense of a similarly amusing/appalling ilk.
(Machinima meets Dungeons & Dragons, anyone?)
Update: There's more on BrIC in the news: a piece on the Brasilia Consensus replacing the Washington Consensus, and a piece on the G20 (which includes BrIC) and EU issuing a joint communique on global trade talks. (Though isn't the EU, economically speaking, an inherently neo-liberal construct?)
Veteran English literary/cultural magazine The Spectator looks at Hinglish, the oddly ornate dialect of English used in India, laden with British Army metaphors, cricket terminology and quaintly archaic British slang that hasn't been heard in London since the 1930s:
Like so many good gags, `Official intimation' pops up in P.G. Wodehouse (Heavy Weather, chapter ten), whose books are to be found on every bookshelf of every bookshop in India. It is a safe bet that Wodehouse is the inspiration for many standard Hinglish-isms, viz a `quantum' (never a mere amount), `sans' (as in, he went out `sans' his coat), or, my favourite, `for the nonce'. An Indian acquaintance once playfully suggested that Wodehouse has a place in the elastic pantheon of Hindu gods.
More unappealing in tone is the ubiquity of 'mishap' to describe everything from massacres of peasants in rural India, the unspeakable daily carnage on India's roads, to the 1992 razing of the 16th-century Babri mosque at Ayodhya by allies and members of the present Hindu revivalist government. Newspapers are also guilty of inappropriate levity: 'A mosque in Tamil Nadu was bombed in the wee hours today.'
The Spectator (a somewhat conservative institution, though not in the dogmatic, anti-intellectual way associated with contemporary conservatism) presents Hinglish as a charming, if in places unnerving, phenomenon; progressive psychiatrist Eliot Gelwan, however, regards it as somewhat more sinister, a symptom of the "cultural schizophrenia" of a civilisation broken to the will of Victorian England, and suggests that the Spectator's fondness for it may be an artefact of its "cultural-imperialist attitude".
This morning on 3RRR, I heard about an interestingly subversive art installation being launched at the Blackbox gallery. It explores the nature of globalisation and personality, and consists of a love-letter transcription service. Users record a romantic message on a computer, and it is sent to a data-processing consultancy in Bombay, India, where (thanks to the cheap, skilled labour that is so popular with the call-centre and medical-transcript industries in the West) it is hand-written and mailed to your beloved. I believe it is part of the Experimenta "Waste" programme.
The spread of the Internet has cost 400 jobs, namely those of carrier pigeons in India made redundant by the rise of email. (via Techdirt)
Researchers in India recently did an experiment: they set up a computer, connected to the Internet, in a window where illiterate street kids could operate it, and watched what happened.
Mr Mitra found that within days the children were able to browse the internet, cut and paste copy, drag and drop items and create folders. One of the things they particularly liked was drawing, discovering how to use the MSpaint programme to create paintings. The children then moved on to downloading games and playing then. They did not stop there. By the second month they had discovered MP3 music files and they were downloading songs.
A BBC piece on the Indian Government's Simputer project, to produce an inexpensive and reasonably capable computer that can be used by the rural poor.
Here's something good: the Simputer, a sustainable, low-cost computer for the developing world. Developed in India, it's based on an Intel CPU and Linux, has a touch-sensitive screen, flash RAM, built-in telephone modem and USB port. The Simputer will cost about US$200 to produce, and the designs will be publicly available, giving hope to the dream of an affordable humanist computing platform for most of the world's population.
Meanwhile in India, the censor's office is hiring detectives to make sure that unscrupulous cinema operators don't show films with banned sex scenes surreptitiously restored, exposing the unsuspecting public to horrific images of bootywhang.
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