Über Desi

Keeping it real, desi ishtyle

Is Google playing political games with India’s map?

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And Betteridge’s Law may not hold the answer, in this case. You make the call after reading this post.

A few days back, I tweeted out something I noticed when checking out the new Google Maps – the Indian states of Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh were entirely listed as dotted lines (See below) instead of solid, indicating Google considered them, at best, disputed territories, and at worst, not part of India.

My limited understanding of international politics notwithstanding, I know that most maps these days split Kashmir in 3, to indicate regions controlled by India, and the ones not controlled by India. Additionally, the state of Arunachal Pradesh has been a point of contention between India and China for the better part of the last century. So, my assumption was that Google Maps was reflecting the same.

However, after a brief interaction over Twitter, my findings are as follows: Google Maps displays the state of Arunachal Pradesh as disputed territory (image on left) when you access it from the US (and perhaps, the rest of the world) but when you access Google Maps from India, the state of Arunachal Pradesh is shown as an integral part of India (image on right).

This post is not intended to stir “patriotic fervor” between Indians, Pakistanis and the Chinese but rather to encourage a discussion on how big technology companies are starting to indulge in politics, at an international level. Please feel free to add to this discussion in the comments space below.

Indian government enters new era of censorship

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This leaked memo contains a directive from the Department of Telecommunications of the Government of India to all ISPs in India explicitly directing them to block various YouTube links, Twitter handles and other web pages.
Per Economic Times reports,

Through four (1, 2, 3, 4) directives to Internet Service Providers between 18 August and 21 August, the department of telecom has blocked numerous web pages on concerns that communal tensions were being fanned in the wake of the unrest following violence in the border districts of Assam. After protests in Mumbai on August 18 turned violent, the government had said that hate content was being spread through the Internet by groups in Pakistan.

This Orwellian move by the Indian government comes in the wake of recent incidents in Assam and the rampant rumors surrounding those incidents which triggered a mass exodus of migrants from the North East from various Indian cities.

Just to highlight how ridiculous and politically tinged this move is, one of the banned accounts is a parody Twitter account of the Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Fanatics and Heretics

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Ramachandra Guha performs a colonoscopy of sorts on the close-minded, anti-intellectual, cliche-riddled, demagoguery that passes for the ideology of the Hindu extremist outfit, the RSS. [Telegraph] (via @pragmatic_d on Twitter)

It’s a fascinating read with real-life accounts from former RSS-ers and includes some hilarious points, for instance, what was the RSS’s stand during the Quit India movement?

However, the portion that stood out to me most:

“Hindus have lived in India since time immemorial; Hindus are the nation because all culture, civilization and life is contributed by them alone; non-Hindus are invaders or guests and cannot be treated as equal unless they adopt Hindu traditions, culture etc…; the history of India is the history of the struggle of the Hindus for protection and preservation of their religion and culture against the onslaught of these aliens; the threat continues because the power is in the hands of those who do not believe in this nation as a Hindu Nation; those who talk of national unity as the unity of all those who live in this country are motivated by the selfish desire of cornering minority votes and are therefore traitors; the unity and consolidation of the Hindus is the dire need of the hour because the Hindu people are surrounded on all sides by enemies; the Hindus must develop the capacity for massive retaliation and offence is the best defence; lack of unity is the root cause of all the troubles of the Hindus and the Sangh is born with the divine mission to bring about that unity.”

Replace “Hindus” with “White Christians”, “India” with “USA” and “non-Hindus” with “immigrants”,”Muslims” or “any other minority group” in the above paragraph and you have the template of a conservative talk show host in the US. Fascinating, huh?

Have sterilization, win car

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We get tired of repeating the proven adage “India is a land of paradox”. Case in point [BBC]

Health officials in the Indian state of Rajasthan are launching a new campaign in an effort to reduce the high population growth in the area. They are encouraging men and women to volunteer for sterilisation, and in return are offering a car and other prizes for those who come forward.

Of course, the prizes are also in keeping with our “cost-conscious” nature”

Among the rewards on offer is the Indian-made Tata Nano – the world’s cheapest car.

While not along the lines of Sanjay Gandhi’s alleged forced sterilization program, there is still something Orwellian about the government bribing people to make changes to their reproductive organs, however well-intentioned it might be.

And why is this paradoxical? While Rajasthan is bribing people to sterilize themselves, across the country, our good ole’ friends the Khasi tribe were paying couples Rs. 1000 per child to produce more children.

American chain restaurants taking India by storm

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Warning: If talk of non-traditional Indian foods, offends you, please take your outrage to Twitter

Desi SubwayNothing says Main Street America like strip malls and chain restaurants (see: Applebees, Chilis, Subway, Burger King, McDonalds and so on. During my pre-FOB days (mid to late 90s), McDonalds was the new “in thing” in India. Heck, one of my farewell parties was at the Mickey D’s on Linking Road in Bandra, Mumbai.My next brush with American chain restaurants in Mumbai was in ‘06, a Subway and a *bleeping* Ruby Tuesday in Mumbai. Apparently, this was just the beginning of a trend. [WaPo]

The picture (left top) was taken during my October 2010 trip to India, and if you click on it, it opens up in a larger image that shows the menu pricing in Indian Rupees. Have fun converting.

NEW DELHI – A group of hungry college students crowded around the newest food stall in an upscale market here: the American Hotdog Factory. Its sign proudly announced, “real American hotdogs for the first time in India.” But these “hawdawgs” – the Indian pronunciation – aren’t exactly what they would find on the streets of New York or at ballpark concession stands across America. Where’s the beef? The only concession here is to Indian tastes. Cows are considered holy by many Hindus, India’s majority religion. So the top-selling item at this stand is the “American Desi,” a mushy, green log of spicy potatoes, soy beans, peas, garlic, chillies and onions held together by a fat hot-dog bun and topped with raw onions and thick mayo chutney.

My first reaction is to drool, masala bhaji in a hoy dog bun with mayo chutney, brilliant! Like I mentioned earlier, if non-traditional desi food is not your thing, outrage on Twitter.

So, what other American chain restaurants have crossed over to the good side and what else is on their menu?

Subway’s six-inch Veg Shammi, a kebab made of lentils, garlic and onion.
Cinnabon, offers an eggless Indian sticky bun,
Starbucks said its offerings would include many local and American treats, such as samosas next to muffins and spicy chai alongside skinny cappuccino.

But not all restaurants have switched their menus to exclusive Indian versions, TGI Friday’s, for instance.

“They have to buy into the culture before they will buy the food,” Rohan Jetley, vice president for marketing for TGI Friday’s, said from a plush booth at his flagship restaurant. The room was filled with decorative Americana: a bust of Elvis, a “Charlie’s Angels” movie poster, a surfboard, a disco ball and a statue of a U.S. astronaut.
Jetley’s insistence on keeping the food authentically American has made him a maverick in India. He even flies in official tasters from the TGI Friday’s Dallas headquarters to make sure its signature Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauce tastes the same in Bangalore as it does in Baltimore.

So next time you’re in India and, for some weird reason, have the yearning for American food, try TGI Friday’s.

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