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Kolkata bound (yet again) and Mumbai musings

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This hasn’t happened in the last decade: touching home base twice within an year, far less the same calendar year. It wasn’t planned, but so much in life isn’t.

So there it is……waiting in Singapore to catch the evening flight to Kolkata. Much business to be taken care of in Kolkata, involving lots of loitering around the passport office. Then to Mumbai, briefly, and back to Kolkata, hopefully finish the business there if not done already (the more likely scenario), then back to Mumbai for the main business(this is opposed to the original plans for staying in Mumbai all the time).

Question in my mind: will it be worth it ?  It is a sort of closure, so we have to go through with it. But, as a prominent blogger-friend asked, do we want it ? It is a philosophical question, answerable only after a few martinis.

Sorry about the vagueness, just in a mood for rambling….

Anyhow, hoping to meet up some people in Kolkata, and having fun celebrating a very close cousin’s birthday – last time was ten years ago just before we had left homeland and her age could be counted on one hand. Now she is into modeling and physics !!

Also looking forward to being in Mumbai after ten years.

Mumbai must have changed, although I might not even notice much difference as even while living there, I mostly cloistered myself within the Powai campus,  usually not hazarding a local train journey unless on weekends. But have fond memories of walking from VT to the Marine Drive, all the way down to Nariman Point. Or, catch a dinner first at Bengal Lodge  and then walk to Marine Drive. The best meories of Marine Drive was actually once when my train to Kolkata got delayed by 12 hours and I had to  roam around with nothing to do. The monsoons were on, it was windy, and the sea was spectacular.

Not so fond, in fact , nightmarish memories of the daily commute from Powai to Anushakti Nagar for about three months (summer internship). It started out well, there was a direct express bus right from the campus door-step, easy to find a seat and got there in less than 30 minutes. But wouldn’t you know, it got cancelled two weeks after I started commuting, forcing an additional bus/auto trip to get down the hill and then catching the dreaded Route 399. That was a bus that meandered all around town and took more than an hour (sometimes worse as the monsoons set in and traffic got worse). Sometimes I would spend about 4 hours a day commuting (which, to be fair, wasn’t as bad compared to what many Mumbai commuters face all through the year).

The pain of the commute was more than amply made up by the availability of government subsidized canteen food at BARC. The food was tasty too – hot jalebis with savory upma – try the combination sometime. And Friday lunch chicken biryanis – Rs 10 only per plate e my very second one in the city.

The worst Mumbai commuting story, however, would have to be my only second experience in the city. Again, this was monsoon season. It was my first visit to the city, and somehow I had managed to reach the Powai campus from Dadar Station without any adventures. Now, having finished the business at the campus,  I had to reach my cousin’s place in Thane, with no money for cabs, and a very vague idea of where Thane was located geographically or how to get there. Someone told me I could take bus and numbers such and such – so I stood at the bus-stop. Now this was when they had decided that no Arab numerals would be used on the front of the B.E.S.T buses,  only Marathi on the front.  So unless the bus actually pulled up, I would have no idea what route it was and where it was headed and this being Mumbai peak hour, by the time I realised I should step into a particular bus, it was either full or it simply rushed off. Took me a while, but I eventually learnt the Marathi numerals (which helped in future as well) in the two hours of waiting in the constant downpour that is the Mumbai monsoons. Eventually, I did find my cousin’s place, after reaching some place in Thane by bus, then wading through knee-deep water for a while to get to the wrong rickshaw-stand and therefore charged 40Rs extra (a princely sum for a poor student at that time), only to be dropped off at the wrong gate of this humongous apartment complex where people in one block of the complex did not know the location for a block at the other end and oh – it was still raining, and there was a power-cut, and hence quite pitch dark. I never loved the sound of my cousin’s voice nor found chicken curry so delicious after a hot bath as I did on that night.

Hopefully, I can avoid such nightmares this time around.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

July 30, 2008 at 12:06 am

Posted in Immigration, India, Kolkata, Life, Personal

Tagged with , ,

Say what ?

with one comment

From Yahoo news:

U.S. Hispanic groups and activists on Thursday called for a moratorium on workplace raids to round up illegal immigrants, with some saying they were reminiscent of Nazi crackdowns on Jews in the 1930s. [emphasis mine]

….

They accused the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement of "racial profiling," or selective enforcement against Hispanics, for arresting 1,300 workers on immigration violations in December 12 raids at meatpacking plants in six states.

"We are demanding an end to these immigration raids, where they are targeting brown faces. That is major, major racial profiling, and that cannot be tolerated," said Rosa Rosales, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, at a news conference.

"This unfortunately reminds me of when Hitler began rounding up the Jews for no reason and locking them up,"

This is perhaps the most bizarre invocation of Godwin’s Law ("as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one") I have heard. As far as I am aware, the US government never passed any laws making these workers illegal overnight; they were in the country illegally to begin with. I am no fan of the current US immigration system and I believe it is in dire need of reforms – both for illegal and legal workers. Also, the question of how to handle the twelve million odd illegal workers in the US is also very complicated – but it does not help to go into this hyperbole, comparing their condition to Nazi persecution of Jews or the civil rights movement.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

December 26, 2006 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Immigration, Politics, Rants

Unfair comments

with 2 comments

Megan McArdle (Jane Galt) refers (via Crooked Timber via WaPo) to a recent paper by Vanderbilt economist Joni Hersch which purports to show that there exists a correlation between skin color and economic prosperity for recently arrived immigrants to the United States (link to pdf).

Bypassing a discussion over the findings of the study itself, interesting as that will be (check the original links for some ongoing debates), I would like to highlight a particular sentence from Megan’s post:

I find this sadly unsurprising. The evidence of workplace discrimination is that resumes with recognizeably black names are less likely to be picked out of the pile; it’s natural to assume that this winds its way up through the food chain, although in person presumably personal characteristics mitigate it somewhat. Also, in many countries, like India, those darker-skinned immigrants would have been discriminated against pretty openly in their homeland, which presumably stunts human capital formation. I don’t know what should be done about this, but I think there’s no question that skin discrimination exists.

Discrimination based on skin-color happens with obvious openess in India, sadly bordering on a social malaise. Especially for girls with a dark skin, it is perceived to be a huge drawback in the marriage ‘market’. Go through any Indian matrimonial column and you will be struck by the numerous ingenious adjectives employed to hide the prospective bride’s ‘true colors’ (in Bengali, ‘ujwal shyamborna’, roughly translated as ‘fair dark-complexioned’, is popular, while ‘wheastish’ is the favorite term in English).

However, all this is in a social milieu. One wonders how much discrimination solely on the basis of skin color takes place at the work-place, which is what she is referring to. Either in the hi-tech job sector, from where majority of the immigration to US occurs, or in others, if any discrimination exists, it is in favor of where you got your academic degree(s), your intelligence, and to some extent, your command over English, true especially for management level jobs. None of these factors have a correlation with skin-color AFAIK.

Admittedly I have never worked in India – but I have observed my parents and relatives and parents and relatives of my friends, many among them dark-skinned – and most have attained very high positions within their organizations. (This is not say that nepotism and politics does not advance one’s career in India).

Even in industries such as cinema and modeling, that should be crawling with fair-skinned people (and indeed they are in majority), dusky actresses and models such as Smita Patil, Bipasha Basu, Konkona Sen Sharma, Nandita Das etc have done rather well.

In short, the statement by McArdle is tripe.

One might say that this is a very trivial point and nothing to get worked up over. But it really bothers me that a highly educated blogger like Megan McArdle, who usually employs sound logic and rational reasonings in her writings (often to excrutiating levels) should harbour such mis-conceptions, and do a lets-just-pull-a-conjecture-out-of-my-hat-to-support-my-statements trick.

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On a related note, Patrix has a post on beauty and skin color among African-Americans, and points out to a short student film on the subject. Do check it out at his blog.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

October 20, 2006 at 8:59 am

The Great American Immigration Debate: The legal quagmire of legals

with 7 comments

The title is a bit of a hyperbole, as arguments often tend to be in the good ole US of A, but over the last few days out here, the hot-button issue dominating the news stories has certainly been immigration. For those outside this country or those who have not been following the story, the issues stem from recent efforts by the US law-making bodies, the House and the Senate, to carry out a host of immigration reforms. While everyone agrees that such reforms are long overdue, the crux of the debate is the effect these new laws may have on about twelve million immigrants who are in the country illegally, a majority of them being Mexicans. Depending on which version of the proposed laws get accepted, the consequences vary from severely restricting, penalizing and even deporting illegal immigrants (and includes fining those who employ them) to granting them an amnesty that would make them legal overnight. As an aside, I should mention that the word ‘amnesty’ itself has been quite controversial. Politicians who support amnesty are loathe to use it even though I am not sure what else to call a ‘guest worker’ program that will allow the illegal to stay here for six years legally and work their way to citizenship through (sarcasm alert!!)a very difficult process of paying 2000$ in fine and learning English (oh the horror!). (New York Times, on the other hand thinks this is not an amnesty from a different viewpoint)

Getting back to the point, present day immigration in America is a very complicated issue. One could even begin the discussion by going back to the puritans who came here as pilgrims. Megan McArdle at Asymmetrical Information neatly sums up part of the immigration history (mostly from the Irish perspective, but I think it covers the gist), while arguing for an open immigration policy. A quick search will land a host of such articles; so I will not attempt to discuss the political, economic and cultural impact of a large population of low wage-earners from different countries in the US. The rest of this post will be personal takes on the current debate (derived mainly from listening to NPR reports and reading some blogs). I will also talk about the problems being faced by legal immigrants and potential immigrants (like me) and much of that will come from personal experiences. These issues trouble me a lot and I often feel conflicted myself- so pardon me if it sound incoherent at times.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

March 31, 2006 at 1:38 pm