Category Archives: MUMBAI

Roma vs. Gypsy: NYT Copy Fail



3rdWorldImagineer is back today with another instalment of ‘why language matters’. For the record, I am not a PC fascist, but I do think it’s critical to examine how we talk about certain subjects, particularly ones gaining steam in the media. Hence, my semi-annual beef with the AP Stylebook.

For the uninitiated, the AP Stylebook is the vanguard of American newswriting style. Most publications write their own additions, but few deviate markedly from the BOOK.  Hence, the press dictates everything from what to capitalize to which country/city/state name is preferred (as in Mumbai/Bombay, Burma/Myanmar) and is NOTORIOUSLY adverse to change. In the words of TJK, one of the book’s overlords, “we don’t want to have to change it back.” 

The stylebook’s aim is a noble one: to take the world’s most widely spoken and written language–the lingua franca for news–and standardize it. Doing so requires a certain degree of rigidity, but sometimes conservative (and condecending) attitudes about the intelligence and adaptibility of readers block changes that are long overdue. Case in Point: Roma vs. Gypsy

The Roma, once called Gypsies (gitano or tzigan in most Euro languages),  are Europe’s largest ethnic minority. I had written a whole graph about it, but suffice it to say, their various plights in the post-Soviet era make them probably the unluckiest ethnic minority in the world right now (trust me, nobody knows how to brutalize like the Euros). To quote the Guardian:

The evictions underline the plight of Europe’s 8 million Roma as the continent’s most downtrodden minority. Subject to entrenched harassment, discrimination, and ghettoisation, the Roma are liberty’s losers in the transformation wrought by recent free elections and free markets

Given all that, you’d be forgiven for asking what’s  in a name. 

Unfortunately, there’s a lot. 

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Little Big Things in South Asia part 2—Tata’s Nano and what the 1W is missing


Back in the day when I used to read Adbusters, I remember they had a video that depicted the United States as a pig trying to squirm its way out of the map. It was supposed to represent how North America uses 25% of the world’s resources despite having only 4% of the world’s population. That was in, like, 1998. A decade later, i thought the message would have gotten so old it’d be a disgusting cliche, but NO. Euro-American selfishness REFUSES TO DIE.

My beef isn’t with consumption—that’s the oldest saw on the planet. My beef is with ENVIRONMENTALISTS, the selfish, narcissistic, whiny, self-righteous ass-clowns who have the NERVE to bitch about the Tata Nano, the most eagerly awaited consumer product to hit India since Nokia.

ENVIRONMENTALISTS fear that the explosive popularity of the Nano (which middle class Indians have been saving for months to buy) will increase the demand for fossil fuels and drive up air pollution. They blame Tata for not making the “world’s cheapest car” ™  a clean energy vehicle. If you think that’s absurd, its because it is absurd. And/or you don’t yet understand that the laws that apply to Western environmentalists and those that apply to middle class Delhites, Mumbaikars, Hyderbadies, Kolkatans and Bangalories are totally different.


There is a valid environmental concern. Namely, that a bunch of people who used to drive pollution spewing motorbikes will now start driving gas guzzling cars. And they won’t do it a few hundred thousand at a time—Indians are going to switch by the tens of millions. If it could have produced a cheap clean energy vehicle for the Indian middle class, it would have been a boon for the earth.

The question is—why does that responsibility fall on Tata’s shoulders? Why does every article about the Nano in the mainstream western press play lip service to the idea that this is fair when it’s ridiculous? Have you ever even been on the Delhi Metro? It’s like being crushed to death. Ride the Mumbai Local much? Even a crosstown trip in an auto-rickshaw (surely more polluting than the new Nano) is enough to make you want to wash your hair.

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3WI Special Report—Why they’re not listening to us

Last night, as I found myself drawn into another argument on an old saw of mine, I was reminded (brutally and in the most unpleasant way) of how little we (collectively) hear, talk, write or know about the international scene in the Global South, and immediately again why no one listens when we (reporters, academics and assorted nuts) yap off about it.

Without getting into too much detail (and, tragically, without naming names) allow me to explain:

I was fraternizing at a friend’s birthday party in Harlem when an animated foreign acquaintance and our abrasive American colleague —whom I am at a loss for words to describe (acquaintance feels far too genial)— got into it over, what else, foreign press coverage of policy and conflict outside the G8.

The fireworks started at about the same time Comrade 2 was regaling us with tales of obnoxious American do-gooders in the Save Darfur movement. Or maybe it was obnoxious American do-gooders  in the Justice for Palestine movement. Anyway, these were protesters dejour with our lady’s phone number, and damned if she was going to spend precious pico-seconds on the horn with a bunch of scarf-wearing crybaby’s who’s event was under quota for the TV cameras . Wasting her time with their gesturing—how dare they.

Fair enough—I’m not the only person endlessly frustrated with the caprice of the well-meaning. And for once, I wasn’t the only one in the room who felt that too much time and too much UN air is being wasted on Darfur, a horrific situation that is actually among Central Africa’s milder conflicts. One imagines that, as a UN attache for one of the leftier, 3rdworldier TV stations out there, Comrade 2 is practically wading in these people and their half baked ideas about how the world should be run.


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The Reimagineers, Chapter 11: Sept. 7th, The Coney Island Apocalypse

I’m already several chapters past this, but it felt like a good time to share. Cuz I FELT LIKE IT, motherfuckers

Look up.
There in the sky, ten thousand feet straight up from here, a four-and-a-half year old refugee with thick plastic glasses will see his first American seagull. He will press his nose to the glass, watching an almost imperceptibly small white figure soar and dive towards the red metal arms that reach endlessly up out of Brooklyn. If the Rx is good he may see the lean stripe of yellow beaches, punctuated here by the Steeplechase Pier jutting half a mile into the Atlantic, and behind it, Deno’s Wonderwheel (and almost certainly the projects beyond). As the plane circles terrifyingly earthward, he will squeeze his eyes shut and dream that unspeakable secret dream, a Made-in-China Yankees cap—preemptively bought—clutched in his sticky brown fingers.

If you, like us, naturalized through JFK instead of Ellis Island, then Coney Island’s Eiffel Tower was almost 100% absolutely the first American thing you saw. The French should errect a new goddamn plaque.

Every summer we return here, spilling out of Ocean Parkway and West 8th Street and Stillwell Avenue, Bangladeshi and Dominican and Cantonese alike; blacks from the West 27th Towers, from Coney and Flatbush and Bushwick; the Russians from their garish pink condos and their bungalows in Brighton; the Persians from the newly redoubled single-family’s in Gravesend, Mexicans and Chinese from the cluttered 5-family brownstones in Sunset Park; the Lubavich and the Islanders from the squat apartment houses of Crown Heights, and the hipsters, like some 11th plague, from the $2,000 a month one bedrooms of Williamsburg, their Canons trained on us like M-16s.

Last week, Astroland Amusements and the developers who own their concrete reached an impasse. Starting tomorrow, the poured plastic wildlife, the space needle and the haunted house and King Neptune water flume will be all leveled, auctioned and removed.
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Terrorist, moi? Why the Maya Arulpragasam LTTE-drama is NYT Tiger-shit

Getty Images

Getty Images

By Sonja Sharp

BROOKLYN–If you read us regularly or if you’ve ever glanced at the header, you probably know how 3rdWorldImagineer feels about the enormously pregnant Ms. Arulpragasam, aka M.I.A., the South London Tamili grime star.  As I wrote back in December, M.I.A. is the real thing when it comes to imagineery sampling and all-world street cred (she hopped from Sri Lanka to Tamil Nad to South London to  Bed-Stuy, for crying outloud).  So you can imagine how stoked we all are to see her performing at the Grammys and nominated alongside A.R. Rahman for the Oscar. And how completely disappointed when the Times freshly minted Colombo correspondent uses this moment–the deepening of a humanitarian crisis so severe that the world can no longer turn a blind eye to it, and the ascent of an exceptionally talented artist to whom, until the awards season, the Times had been equally deaf–to pen a hackish,  one-dimensional piece on her radical personal politics,  as though it were revelatory.
(I’m linking the piece here, just so we have a frame of reference going forward)
Are you just now picking up Arular, Mr.  Fuller? (M.I.A.’s debut album is named for her father, Arular Arulpragasam, who joined  the Tamili separatist movement in northern Sri Lanka in the  1980s).  Do you miss Guragoan? No air-locked malls in Colombo, innit?

There’s lots to say about M.I.A’s politics and her amusing incoherence in expressing them, but the fact that the Times JUST dumped somebody in Colombo last week is so apparent, its ugly.

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Slumdog Millionaire


Well, I finally saw it. And read the book. And reviewed the soundtrack (what did you do?).

And for the first time in years, I have to say that the movie was a HUGE improvement on Vikas Swarup’s ambitious but flawed novel about the first winner of India’s Millionaire, fictionalized to W3B. With its recurrent filmi tropes (the frame story reminds one of Veer-Zara), and Swarup’s penchant for Dickensonian excess, Q & A lacked the mature eye for telling detail and the subtle touch of Danny Boyle’s riveting new film.

Slumdog took a cinematic but convoluted book and streamlined it into a moving, realistic portrait of slumlife and, better yet, located it on timeline of significant Indian events (beginning with the Ayodhya/Barbri Masjid 1992-93 Bombay riots, and an early scene with Amitabh Bachchan at the height of his popularity, and ending with the economic boomtimes of the 2000’s.) It also eliminated Delhi entirely, which is a huge improvement in my book (if only they had eliminated Agra, but then maybe nubes wouldn’t know it was India at all).

It took a story that was about the exploitation of poverty in India and makes it about one man’s ingenuity against the exploitation of Mumbai’s particular brand of poverty, giving him one singular and believable drive to improve his own situation. Using a simple conceit, it also made the story worlds more suspenseful.

Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy also succeed in introducing both moderation and subtlety into a text that lacked either.

Thus, Ram Mohammed Thomas, a caste-and-religionless orphan becomes Muslim Jamal Malik; Salim-bhai becomes the protag’s actual brother; a child who was abandoned for reasons that have almost no impact on the plot are suddenly two brothers orphaned by ethnic cleansing; and a veritable assembly line of  female victims become one 3-dimensional character, a slumgirl named Latika, the motor behind the plot.

Most importantly, Mumbai’s infamous Dharavi slum (the only one you’ve ever heard of if you’ve never lived there) becomes a colony in Juhu. That might not matter to most readers, but to me, it signifies a more subtle, and therefore more human eye for the true  nature of Indian poverty. It doesn’t have to be Dharavi to be a slum. If you tell things that are true on their face, if you seek out the details that exist among those that populate your imagination, the story will tell itself. Swarap  the diplomat seemed so genuinely eager to lay bare the poverty he had seen so that everyone could see it that he forgot to tell the truth, just as G-d had written it.

Sometimes, I fear the only tool left to tell true stories is a camera.

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Making sense of Mumbai

Today’s post is inspired in part by the SAJA-coordinated lecture series “Understanding the Mumbai Attacks”, moderated by Rome Hartman, with Mira Kamdar, Mr. Rushdie, and one of this 3rdworldimagineer’s favorite journalists, Mr. Suketu Mehta.

The lecture was notable for many things, but what struck me most was the blatant emotionalism that charged the speakers and audience members alike. Never before in my career have I seen such a large, multi-culti crowd in such an eclectic and intellectual city react with such enthusiasm to a display of open hostility towards a sovereign nation, with the well noted exception of Israel.

If this is anything of an indication, then  India, my friends, is the new Israel. Not that the hostility at the Asia Society tonight was focused on either country. No, that passion was reserved for its neighbor to the north, the much maligned Pakistan.

“All the roads of terrorism lead back to Pakistan,” said Nobel Laureate Salman Rushdie, to thunderous applause. It was Rushdie who made the allusions to Israel and the Palestinian territories, saying of the terrorists that: “I do not believe that their project has anything to do with justice. If the Kashmir problem were resolved tomorrow, if the Israel Palestinian conflict were to reach an everlasting peace, do we believe that al Qaeda would disband?” Continue reading

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