July 14th, 2010

Having finally finished my book (due out August 2010), I treated myself to a “fat cat” weekend in Bangalore and went to see Avatar 3D. At the airport on my way back to London, I picked up my two favourite Indian news magazines: Tehelka and Frontline. Both current issues focus on illegal mining. Avatar isn’t science fiction: it’s happening right now (see the picture and caption on the left).

UPDATE: India’s environment ministry has rejected Vedanta’s application to mine aluminium ore in the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa (the site shown in the picture on the left). Vedanta can appeal, so this particular battle is far from over, but it shows that resistance is not futile.

While on our trip from Mumbai to London, we spent three weeks passing through the states that used to comprise Yugoslavia: Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia (unfortunately we didn’t make it to Macedonia). Encircled by European Union states1, they feel totally European — great public transport, drinkable tap water, lots of consumer goods on display, relatively little poverty, and a great café culture.

However only twelve years ago these republics were at war.

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Kurt Vonnegut

April 22nd, 2007

Hearing that Kurt Vonnegut has died made me very sad. Since I’m on the move I don’t have any of his books to hand to quote from, which has made me late to his wake. However yesterday I read a passage in an essay by another great American writer which sums up far more eloquently than I am able to the significance of people like Kurt Vonnegut. In “Down at the Cross”, James Baldwin says:

“Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: it is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.” (The Fire Next Time, p123). Read the rest of this entry »

Tamil Nadu has always been a bit of a mystery to me. It has its own unique identity and cultural history quite separate from that of the rest of India. The Tamil language has a recorded history spanning over two millenia, and belongs to the Dravidian language group whose characteristics are quite distinct from those of the Indo-European Sanskrit-descended languages spoken by North Indians. The Dravidian people also have their own classical music (karnatak sangeet) and classical dance tradition (bharatnatyam). In the same way, politics in Tamil Nadu has its own unique and (to an outsider like me) bewildering history, resulting in regional Tamil parties having held power in the state since 1967. Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars promises to describe and explain the world of Tamil politics, including the stories of its larger-than-life leaders.
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Trade talks and the aid scam

January 8th, 2007

Although the Doha round of trade talks was suspended last year, there is still a possibility that an agreement could be reached. President Bush has until 30 June this year to negotiate a deal with the Europeans, following which his authority to negotiate directly will lapse. The Doha round collapsed following the failure of Europe and the USA to cut tariffs on agricultural imports and farming subsidies (respectively) enough to satisfy countries like India and Brazil. Cuts on agricultural subsidies won’t just mean that the poorer countries will be able to export goods to the USA – it will have a direct impact on how rich countries provide aid to poorer ones. A couple of years ago, I did some consultancy work for an NGO in Ghana. While there, I got into a discussion with one of the local employees of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). What he told me was a real eye-opener.

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