Indian Vibes

Indian Vibes

 

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Why Independence In Local Cuisines Is A Good Idea

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A country’s cuisine is an important part of its identity. But some countries don’t like to carve out their own identities and it’s a very surprising turn of events. Curry, for example, is a very popular Indian dish, and it is also a much loved part of Bengali cuisine (cuisine of Bangladesh and the West Bengal state of India). Meat curries, with a gravy base is a traditional food item in Bangladeshi cuisine, but fish curries seem to be the most popular kind of curry in India, instead of meat curries.

Pakistani cuisine, however, is very different and it is a perfect demonstration of how not every country likes to preserve a sense of independence in their local cuisine. A Pakistani breakfast is a blend of the English breakfast of scrambled eggs, a slice of bread or the Indian and Bangladeshi blend of roti and parathas, as well as a Westernized cuisine slant of minced meat, paired with a cup of tea or coffee, seasonal fruits, such as mango and apples, milk, honey, butter and jam. Similarly, a Pakistani lunch is a blend of Indian and Bengali cuisine: it comprises meat curry, with rice or roti. A Pakistani dinner comprises the Indian and Bangladeshi blend of pilaf and the Middle Eastern blend of kebabs, which are very popular particularly in Iraq, Iran and Israel.

To prepare pilaf you have to cook rice in a seasoned broth and it’s very popular in India and Bangladesh, probably because it’s a rice-based dish; rice is the staple dish in Japan, China, Bangladesh and India. There is no originality in Pakistani cuisine at all. Everything is borrowed from the West, or its neighbours even though Pakistan as a country is nothing like its neighbours or the West.

It’s almost as if tasting Pakistani cuisine means sampling Western, Middle Eastern, Bengali or Indian cuisine because the culinary tastes of Pakistan have adopted and made its own the culinary tastes of countries, whose cuisines I have always enjoyed and found very fascinating. It would be grand if, for a change, Pakistani cuisine showed a sense of independence from the local culinary tastes of India, Bangladesh, the Middle East and the West.

Fashion in the Indian subcontinent

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Pakistan is a conservative Muslim nation, so the dress code for women in the country can be rightfully deemed as something conservative. On occasions, sometimes totally opposite to this can be seen: women wear western clothes, or the sari, instead of the traditional salwar kameez, which is usually the fashion costume most visible on Pakistani women. It’s the most shocking thing, almost as if these women are not aware of their own country’s culture and the dress codes, which would be suitable for them.

Not every country in the Indian subcontinent is like Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan because these are moderate countries, with largely liberal cultures. What is perfectly alright for women in these four countries to wear, owing to their liberal social atmospheres, such as western wear (for women) can’t be extended to every culture in the world, irrespective of whether or not these nations are a part of the Indian subcontinent.

It is a very ignorant attitude demonstrated in Pakistani fashion, replete with what can only be observed as sheer disregard for conservatism, perhaps because other neighbouring nations are so much more rightfully modern than Pakistan, which may have pushed to such an extent of abhorrence of local fashion customs sometimes for the nation.

The sari is really meant for Indian and Bangladeshi women because the sari counts its origins to be in India, and it is the national costume of Bangladeshi women. Naturally, it is always something very grand, when the sari transcends cultures, and earns popularity amongst consumers of other cultures, as well, such as those in the West or the Far East. But this is not about that: this is about fashion in a country as conservative as Pakistan and that the sari is really not as conservative as the salwar kameez, where despite the combination of loose pantaloons + shirt, there is no concerns of a bare midriff like for women in the Indian subcontinent, who like to wear saris.

True, a level-headed approach to fashion regarding the kinds of western clothes that are suitable for Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan isn’t always demonstrated by Bollywood celebrities, even though Bollywood films do excellent work to picturize the cultures of these four nations, day in and day out. But it’s still a different kind of “fashion concept” because this occurs in a largely liberal country, where, like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, western clothes, collectively, could almost be considered as the nation’s ‘second national costumes’.

It’s a very foolish episode and it’s detached from reality too, when Bollywood heroines wear shorts (paired with something that looks like a bikini) and dance around with total abandon in elaborate Indian sets, whilst filming for a Bollywood film. These four nations already provide more freedom to women, fashion-wise, than many in the Middle East do, even though many Middle Eastern countries are so much more affluent than India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan – there is absolutely no reason to portray such an unquenchable thirst for something that, as of now, truly belongs in the West, not the Indian subcontinent.

There is actually no sensible, observable reason behind portrayal of an alien culture – one that places fashion in an unreal corner. Since, great fashion examples exist in tenfold in these regions, anyways, the foolish individual decisions made by many Bollywood celebrities are great examples of nothing but just that – personal fashion choices of Bollywood celebrities, who, when it comes to fashion, aren’t good role models, at all, for the Indian subcontinent.

Food and its relationship with Hunger

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Hunger is still a cause for concern in South Asia, despite numerous countries in the region already meeting its MDG target of halving, by 2015, the number of people, who suffer from hunger

It was the most unfortunate of circumstances when sub-Saharan Africa could not overwhelmingly meet its MDG goals by 2015. It had appeared during the time frame of the launch of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that sub-Saharan Africa would perhaps meet its targets because a lot of the focus was on the impoverished conditions of the region. Furthermore, G8 leaders, from developed countries, such as the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom had also committed to increasing aid to Africa by 2010 but what followed was that sub-Saharan Africa has largely fallen behind to address the causes for concern, as outlined by the MDGs, instead.

It’s hard to draw comparisons even though both the regions are very poor, indeed, because South Asia is performing a lot better than sub-Saharan Africa, these years. In 2014, sub-Saharan Africa was found to have high hunger rates, much like South Asia; for South Asia, particularly, India has the highest percentage of the global extreme poor (32.9percent) followed by Bangladesh (5.3percent). However, according to latest figures, prevalence of undernourishment chalks at 15.7percent for South Asia and 23.2 for sub-Saharan Africa.

One of the primary causes for concern in South Asia is hunger, which can really give rise to an undernourishment problem, which is a significantly greater problem in South Asia, than elsewhere. Asian nations, such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Malaysia have already met one of the components of the first MDG target:

Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

This is alongside sub-Saharan African states, like Mauritius, Nigeria and Ethiopia, but not Rwanda and Sierra Leone – the two states are expected to reach the target (before 2020) but what is so disconcerting is that the hunger problem still prevails in South Asia. In 2014-2016, hunger percentages from the level in 1990-1992 were slashed by a staggering 69percent for Nepal, a 52percent for Bangladesh and a 37percent for India. In comparison, many states performed very poorly with reduction of hunger, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, food insecurity in South Asia is still a major problem and this is simultaneously also reaping my concerns over consumer affordability because affordability for food is directly proportional to food security. But global prices for foods, such as wheat, vegetable oils, dairy, meat and sugar also recently saw an increase – a rise in prices can mean good profits-wise for agriculture and farming because harvest is managing to rake in such great prices for farmers, which can help them to increase their income bracket and provide the means to afford food more.

The Hunger Problem

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Malnourishment (or malnutrition) is a major cause for concern in numerous countries around the world, from Bangladesh to Madagascar. Prices of food and a person’s diet determines whether or not he or she would rank in the malnourishment scale. It’s not just about less food consumption – if a person’s diet is folded to include an overt amount of rice or corn, it may lead to malnutrition because the diet lacks other necessary nutrition, which a well-thought-of diet would provide, with a lot of simplicity; it’s more close to the scenario of overeating leading to malnutrition, as well.

The time periods 1990-1992 and 2012-2014 saw a 42percent reduction in undernourishment in developing countries. It’s only been lowered by a margin in India and Bangladesh, but the rest of Asia is doing a lot better with the reduction of undernourishment.

The greatest risk associated with malnutrition is how it can affect poor people because of an unequal access to education or them having an uneven income. Previously, in Bangladesh, a poor socioeconomic condition was connected to persistent malnutrition. In developing countries food prices for milk, fruits and meats, should be targeted and lowered, instead of raising it, as is happening. A global food price crisis might not be in the cards, as of now, but it’s definitely not helping poverty groups with their need for basic, daily nutrition.

The targets set by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were met by East Asia, South East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in 2015, as the regions were previously supposed to, within that time frame, in an effort for developing nations to slice in half the percentages of hungry people. It’s important to note that the world does produce sufficient food for every individual to eat. But because the price problem still persists, followed by a low agricultural efficiency and loss subsequent to harvest, issues of hunger still prevails.

Mobile Networks in Asia

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My new mobile network provider Robi got me thinking more about telecommunications in Asia. Robi is also known in Bangladesh as Robi Axiata Limited – the mobile network operator is a joint venture between Axiata Group Berhad (Malaysia), Bharti AirTel Limited (India) and NTT DoCoMo (Japan).

In Bangladesh, Robi is the second largest mobile network operator, which is very fantastic. And this scene of mobile network operators performing as a collaborative effort with foreign companies, is really a very good reflection of mobile telecommunications in Bangladesh. Indeed, two other big mobile networks in the nation: Grameenphone and Banglalink also function in a similar way. Grameenphone is a collaborative effort between Telenor (Norway) + Grameen Telecom, and Banglalink is owned entirely by a Maltese company.

Axiata holds a 68.7% stake in Robi, Bharti AirTel holds 25%, and NTT DoCoMo has the remaining 6.3%. Meanwhile, Telenor owns a 55.8% stake for perhaps its biggest rival – the largest telecommunications provider in the country, GrameenPhone. In Japan, NTT DoCoMo is the chief mobile phone operator, whilst Bharti AirTel operates mostly in South Asia and Africa. Axiata has numerous services across Asia, from Celcom (Malaysia), to Idea (India). Celcom is Malaysia’s oldest mobile telecommunications service, and Idea is the third largest mobile network operator in India – this is entirely by national subscribers base; AirTel is the third largest mobile network operator in the world, by subscribers base – hardly surprising, when India’s an overpopulated state.

A Good Indian Wife

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Two cultures and worlds apart

A Good Indian Wife explores the differences between American and Indian culture through numerous identities. The protagonist in the novel is a thirty-year-old Indian girl called Leila, who is married off to an Indian-American boy. When the story begins Leila works as a local teacher in a South Indian village – she teaches English, and because of her age is considered by her family as already too old to ever have a marriage. But then Neel arrives from the United States and although Leila, who has seen too many suitors come an go, thinks that Neel will be just the same, his family propose marrying the two off, which makes Leila’s family very happy because it’s almost as if this is an event they had thought would never come; after the marriage, Leila moves to San Francisco, with her husband.

Neel, meanwhile, comes across as an ideal-type of romantic Indian hero. He’s a handsome young boy, thirty-five-years-old, and works in a hospital as an anesthesiologist – he was actually very psyched about his life, until his marriage to Leila. Neel also has a tall blonde girlfriend, Caroline, in San Francisco, who he continues his romantic relationship with despite his marriage to Leila. Neel had to go back to his hometown because his grandfather was dying but then during the trip he was tricked into a marriage with Leila – Neel’s mother and aunt, during the trip to rural India, seem to be unaware of his relationship with Caroline because they consider him to be single and the only reason he gets married in India is because Neel’s fearful of disappointing his grandfather.

Neel promised himself he would divorce Leila soon after his grandfather had died, but Neel doesn’t. Neel’s trapped inside his traditional Indian identity, despite his character having overarched shades of modernity – Neel knows, all too well, his family would never accept Caroline as his bride. After Leila and Neel’s marriage, Neel does not touch his wife – she spends most nights and weekends by herself.

It makes for a good read to find Leila as a somewhat-independent young woman, with good looks and intelligence to boast, so it’s hardly surprising when Leila portrays that she’s got a vague idea about what her marriage is truly like, what it could really be, on the surface. Leila turns to a support group, as a result, she contemplates studying creative writing at Berkley and even confides in Neel’s best friend’s wife – he’s a Bengali but married to a white woman.

Everything complicates itself when Neel discovers Caroline’s family will never accept him – this kind of propels Neel to piece together another romantic story but with Leila instead. In the course of this, Leila becomes pregnant but Caroline is still waiting for Neel to divorce his wife so that the two can be together, which judging by what Caroline had in mind, is way past due already since this was supposed to happen after Neel’s grandfather had died.

Anne Cherian (the author of the novel) seems to write from her own Indian experiences – she’s originally from Jamshedpur (India), was also brought up there but resides in San Francisco now. The story brilliantly etches out both the Indian-American identity and the kind of experiences an Indian woman can have whilst living in the United States. It’s a superlative and traditional experience of two incompatible young people drowning their incompatibilities, and a good insight into Indian cultures (in the United States).

Patriotism in Films

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What is patriotism to South Asian cinema?

In India, films with a patriotic theme seems to bind the whole nation together. It portrays nationalistic sentiments, love for one’s nation, and in a sentimental albeit heroic way. Patriotic Indian films also have the power to liven up spirits, teach new thoughts to people irrespective of the class they belong to, their religious or socio-economic background, and these Hindi movies appeal to both the educated and the illiterate.

On another train of thought, since the early seventies, leaving out films with an obvious Pakistani (or Pakistani-minded) slant, Bangladeshi films have often made the Bangladeshi film industry an important one. On the subject of patriotism, in internationally acclaimed director Zahir Raihan’s Jibon Theke Neya (1970), for example, which fictionally depicted the atrocities committed by Pakistan against Bangladesh, pre-independence, the story plays out like a tale of struggle for freedom for a husband, two boys, who are brothers, and some servants, from the clutches of an oppressive woman controlling her family.

In the landscape of the film, it is shown that protests erupt in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) against oppressive Pakistani rule, which signifies the days of Bangladesh’s language movement but the portrayal of the oppression was more symbolic than anything else, imprinted into a family drama. The turmoil of the oppression reflects in the lives of this family who begin to protest against the oppressive woman and her brand of family-regime by speaking loudly against her. The home front then gets more tangled inside a protest-theme, when a marital angle is thrown into the narrative: the two boys bring home two wives, who plot to snatch away sovereignty of their new family from this oppressive woman in power by obtaining the keys to the house – it symbolises gaining control of the house.

What was also rather interesting about the movie was the specific, symbolic caricature of former Pakistani President Ayub Khan’s autocratic rule in East Pakistan as a despotic female head of the house, with an ill-tempered nature – marriages and schemes for control tragically follows in the lives of the Bangladeshi family for it. Meanwhile, patriotism in Indian filmmaking is often proclaimed through the tense subject of Kashmir. Since 1947, a dispute has been happening at the shared border between India and Pakistan which has spelled out into three separate wars to claim Kashmir.

At the moment, India controls a majority of Kashmir, and I have always felt Kashmir as an entire state belonged to India, not Pakistan. In Hindi films, such as Mission Kashmir (2000) and Roja (1992) the theme of the Kashmir conflict is woven together with a major love story. It’s hard to picturise a romantic angle to a story in the theatre of war but that is what the narrative is often like for South Asian cinema – if it’s not romantic, it must be a family drama of all things, heavily reliant on symbolism to depict patriotism rising in the face of oppression.