Culture

Food insensitivity

And I’m not talking about breaking out in hives after eating peanuts.

Have you ever paused to consider why some kind of food, perfectly acceptable in some cultures and countries, are totally a no-no for you? Not because you don’t like them – you haven’t even tasted them in your life – but you can’t even entertain the thought of consuming them. You have put them away on the list of “Food that I won’t ever have”. What brings such strong emotions to edible, palatable, even delicious food?

If you are an Indian, and a “non-veg”, stop and think about why you won’t eat cow’s meat. I’m not talking about eating it in India where political forces are at work. But if you are living in the US, (or Australia or Canada), and beef is generally the most accepted form of meat. Is it because of your upbringing, where you not only never had beef but were also told that it is against your culture, your religion? If it really is religion, then stop reading this post. I have nothing to offer you. But if it is some psychological barrier that you haven’t yet overcome, or even tried to overcome, then maybe it is time to address the real reason.

If you are an American, consider the following prospect: you are served a perfectly cooked plate of horse steak. Did you just throw up a little in your mouth? If yes, you’re not alone. According to this piece, eating horse meat was “abolished” on religious grounds. But in today’s world it has all to do with the perception that most Americans hold of horses. Ohh, so lovable creatures. I can’t possibly eat a horse, that’s preposterous! The same with dogs and guinea pigs, which are eaten in many parts of the world.

Now that I have managed to gross out all of my readers, let me point out the lack of sensitiveness we show when we hear about or, worse still, are actually offered to eat a food product that we – as individuals or as a collective society – have quite arbitrarily deemed not fit to be eaten. We flinch, we cringe our nose, our eyebrows arch up with the absurdity of the mere suggestion. That sends a powerful message to the person around you, who is completely at peace with eating whatever you feel is the last thing you’ll ever eat: that I’m being judged and judged to be BAD.

So, the next time someone says that they enjoy a certain food product you consider un-edible, do yourself a favour and stop showing signs of revulsion. And then go a step forward. Actually try out a new food!

Categories: Culture, Rant | 1 Comment

Tipping

This is an out-and-out rant, after reading this article on how much should one tip for services rendered. Pure and utter balderdash.

Why would anyone be REQUIRED to tip? For ANY service. It seems like (no – read it as: The norm is) there are certain favourable profession where it is expected – almost mandatory – to tip, to even ensure basic services that we are already paying for.

Let’s see, who do we tip? Waiters/servers, bartenders, home food delivery guy, hair stylists, parking valets, cab drivers. And few more, you get the gist. Do all these professions pay below the minimum wage? Some do, some do not.

Now, let’s have a look at a list of professions which pays comparable, or lower, or are more menial to the ones listed above. Grocery store employees, workers at a fast food joint, janitors, amusement and recreational assistants, dishwashers, gaming and sports book writers and runners, ushers, ticket takers (look at Table 1 and Table 2 here).

How many of these people do we ever tip? Just because they are “behind the scenes”, out-of-sight-of-mind, not very presentable people? A smiling server comes up to us and asks, “How does the food taste tonight?” and we feel the excruciating impulse to please this unknown person, and say “Good”, even though the truth might be a little farther down the road. We leave a tip –  a 10% or 15% or even 18% or top out at 20% – for this person. On top of the sales tax. Read the last sentence. Most people tip on top of the sales tax – the gross amount you are charged in your check – not just the amount the service was rendered for!

Somewhat arbitrarily society have deemed a certain section of the working class as “people who we must provide gratuity”, never mind if there are certain other sections who are more in need or deserving.

Categories: Culture, Economics, Rant | 1 Comment

What do you mean, Racism?

Indians are racist. Or let me rephrase that, most Indians are racist. Whether they know it or acknowledge it, they (or rather we, as I’m an Indian) are. As the dictionary definition goes, most Indians perpetrate acts which would be considered racist when looked from a neutral point of view.

Here is the definition of racism:

1:  a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2:  racial prejudice or discrimination, based on such a belief

There are so many types of racism prevalent in India and among Indians, it is hard to nail them all down!

A very common example: Most Hindus still wouldn’t want their children to marry a Muslim, and vice-versa. They would in fact launch a staunch opposition if their children brought this up. Why? Because they know the other religion to be ‘very different’ (read ‘inferior’) to their own religion. This is religion based racism.

Another – rarely talked about, but ever-present – prejudice, is caste-ism. This is where people from the same religion discriminate against people in their religion but lower social standing; these ‘standings’ based on centuries old traditions and the work that their ancestors once did.

The plethora of ‘whitening’ creams and lotions and magic formula out in the Indian market is proof of colour based racism, where the white skin considered to be a sign of some higher kind of the human species. Looking down at darker skinned people, whether Indians or people from other countries, is still very much in practice.

The inter-state based cultural racism that you see between the Marathi ‘Manoos’ and the Bihari immigrants. The Telengana dispute. Already 3 new states have been formed based on the purported cultural division of the people of the same freaking state!

And then you have the racist behaviour shown against white people, where they are perceived to be ‘culturally deficient’, morally hollow and good-to-have-as-friends-but-never-as-family type mentality. This isn’t just practiced by people living in India, but also Indians living abroad amidst white people.

Most Indians still hold on to some or other type of the prejudices mentioned above, or a mix of them. And here is the best/worst part: most won’t even acknowledge the fact that they are being racists! The racist behaviour is ingrained as ‘fact’ or ‘reality’ and these notions won’t ever be up for any kind of consideration. God forbid if you point out to someone who is clearly being a racist – you’ll be labeled as someone who’s going ‘against values and tradition’ or ‘bringing shame to the family’!

On the other hand, charging more for a bottle of soda or entry to a national monument to white people (in India) are NOT examples of racism. This act is simply because the dollar/euro/pound are valued much higher than the Indian Rupee. Forty, 50, 60 times in value. And a white person, unarguably in the eyes of the common person in India, is not indigenous to India and coming from a place where there is presumed to be greater riches, as their income in dollar/euro/pound makes them rake in more money than a common Indian. Does this make this act justifiable? Of course NOT. But this doesn’t make it a racist act.

[This post developed from a comment I left here.]

Categories: Culture, Demystify | 2 Comments

Name

I find it incredible that my name has a greater chance of being pronounced correctly by an American than an Indian.

Krishanu is not a common Indian name. It is intrinsically a Bengali name, and it is not even a common Bengali name. For this reason (not that it is justified), most Indians who hear my name for the first time somehow automatically processes it as one of the similar sounding name listed below, without registering what I just told them. Two seconds ago.

Krishna – I hate this the most. Specially when they ask me, if my name is derived from this. It is not.

Krishnu – A combo of Krishna and Vishnu, or what?

Krishnanu – What? How?

Krishnau – This is mostly South India specific.

Krishnendu – This is very specific to Bengalees as this valid Bengali name is more popular than mine.

Ok, if this happens the first time ever you are talking to me, I’ll grant you the benefit of doubt. But for this to happen not only the first time I’ve corrected them, but also in subsequent conversations, or even the same one, is not pardonable.

Americans on the other hand take a few seconds to play back in their mind what I told them and make an effort to make it sound right. Most of the time they get it. If my name is printed on paper or on the screen, it becomes easier as I just have to tell them, “It is pronounced just the way it is spelt. Kri-sha-nu”. Done.

I was talking to this Indian guy from work on the phone the other day. We have worked together before, though not recently. We have exchanged emails. He addressed me as Krishna when I called him. First time, I thought, I’ll let it pass. During the conversation he kept the Krishna going. Just before hanging up, I brought up what my name really is. He was flustered and said, “Oh I’m sorry, Krishnu!”

Really? If you are, you’ll send me 500 written lines of “I will call you Krishanu“.

Or take the example of this person who e-mails me back, changing my name to Krishnau and insists on calling that. So I replied back to him with letters in his own name juxtaposed incorrectly, deliberately. That got his attention! Next time when we talked on the phone, he asked, “I think I’m not saying your name right ..” and I corrected him. Again.

Now compare this with the numerous Americans who I have interacted with at work and while playing football (soccer). They might require a second hearing, but when they say it loud, most get my name first time. Some ask me if there is a shorter version – like Kris or Krish – but then get on.

Not that I haven’t had Americans calling me variations of my name, mostly Krishana. The association is then with the more common Chrissana (which is a girl name!).

In college and subsequently in my work life in India, which were out of Kolkata, I have had more instances of people – Indians – mispronouncing my name, than I’ve encountered in my life in the US.

Is this a cultural thing where something as important as a name is not given a second thought and people take it on themselves to say it whichever way they please to? Is it because the US is such a melting pot and people are cognizant of so many variation and forms of names that they make it point to say it out correctly?

Footnote: I am very comfortable with my name and I thank my parents for coming up with something so unique. Krishanu is a synonym of ‘fire’ in old Bengali.

Categories: Culture, Language, Rant | 5 Comments

First among equals?

Steve Jobs was probably among the top 5 most influential technological pioneers in the last 30 years or so. But was he the greatest among them all? How does he compare to inventors and visionaries of the past?

To answer question 1, he wasn’t. He doesn’t come close to Thomas Alva Edison, let alone Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton. Heck, he doesn’t even come close to contemporaries such as Dennis Ritchie – the principal designer of the C programming language and co-developer of the Unix operating system – who died last week.

But have you heard of Mr. Ritchie or even his death? Chances are, you haven’t. But Mr. Jobs – his aura seems to transcend the very world he used to live in! Why? Because Mr. Jobs made inventions sexy. That’s his sum total contribution to the technological development – make products sexy, so that owning one becomes THE in-thing.

Don’t get me wrong here. Steve Jobs was a great man. But a great inventor or profound visionary, he wasn’t. You can argue that he was a visionary in the sense that he could package products which were seemingly cool to a lot of people, but he did little to improve the lives of people  or figuring out some profound truth of the universe. So to compare him to Da Vinci, as this article here has done, is as close it gets to blasphemy to an apatheist like me.

A man with acute business acumen, certainly. A visionary, to an extent. But a great inventor? A good one, but I have great reservations on the ‘great inventor’ moniker.

A great inventor possesses ideas and brings them to reality that are hard to conceive, emulate and which have long-lasting (if not ever-lasting) effects on the general populace. When compared to epoch changing inventions like the steam engine (James Watt), light bulb and a host of other inventions (Edison), flight (Wright brothers) even cars (Henry Ford), what Jobs churned out (from poorly maintained Chinese factories, which is another story) were merely toys for the rich, though granted Apple products have formed a cult following which now transcends the wealthy. $600 for a phone (without a contract that is) IS a very expensive piece of 4.35″ by 2.31″ metal/plastic.

Let’s take a look at the conceive part. Most Apple products are not the first ones of their type. The personal computer existed since at least 1968, and the first Apple computer, Apple I, came out in 1976. Neither the mp3 player nor the tablet (the concept, that is) were babies of Apple, though, again, they gained popularity when iPod and iPad were introduced in the market. The iPhone is probably the only path breaker.

Emulate – For any Apple products out in the market, there are 10 available alternative, and some with better specifications and usability.

Long lasting effect – The only thing that recent Apple products have done is to make technology incredibly available on the go, courtesy the iPhone and iPad. But how much has these devices increased actual productivity? Very little, in my opinion! In fact, I believe they have actually decreased productivity, for most users! Most people who I know, primarily use these devices for content consumption or leisure (e.g. games, music, video, social media interaction) and some good-to-have-but-nothing-lost-if-I-don’t-have-it information (e.g. weather, maps, stock market). Not a whole lot of content is created using these devices apart from taking photographs and videos.

And if the iPhone were truly such a game changing product why the necessity to have 4 or 5 version in the same number of years?

General population – How many people outside the first world countries can afford any Apple products? Even in the rich countries, an Apple product cost almost twice as much as the nearest competitor, with comparable specs, thereby limiting the potential consumers. To say nothing about the fact that the Mac still does not run certain very common softwares.

This article gives the (over the top) obituaries and remembrance some perspective.

First among equals? Not quite so.

Clarifying point, if it is not already clear: In this post I’m just talking about Steve Jobs as the founder/leader of Apple and NOT about (or comparing) how he was as a person, how he treated his co-workers, how much he gave to charity or any of his personal life.

[This post was developed from the comment I left on this article]

Categories: Culture, Life and Times | 2 Comments

Now, that’s multicultural!

It’s 2:30 am on Saturday morning. I came home half and hour ago from a adda session involving the following people:
1. Batur – A Turkish guy living in Minneapolis for over 20 years, with 2 daughters aged 10 and 13
2. Paul – A Brit living here for at least 30 years
3. Oscar – A Mexican, living here for an awful long time. He doesn’t remember the last time he was in Mexico
4. John – 3rd generation Irish/Polish American
5. Katharina – A German woman, working here as an Au Pair
6. Suna – A Turkish/German woman, working as a an Au Pair
7. Pete – A Swiss living here for at least 20 years
8. Bob – A true blue Minnesotan
9. Maggie – Bob’s daughter
10. Ash – From Trinidad
11. Igor – An Ukrainian

Beat that!

Let me go back a bit. I play on 2 recreational football (soccer, for the benefit of my American friends) leagues in Minneapolis. One runs on Friday evenings and the other on Sunday – no specific times on Sunday, I’ve had games at 8 in the morning to 9 at night. The team that I play on Fridays is a motley crew. And after every game, we either go to a) Applebee’s b) John’s place c) Batur’s place – for drinks, snacks and adda. After the game tonight, we were at Batur’s place, drinking beer, snacking on chips and salsa and generally having a good time.

Today’s topics ranged from the Turkish empire, to the Bundesliga (German 1st division football), to the beaches of Cancun, to the commute on 100, to the animosity between Sweden, Norway and Finland and to the Honeywell offices in Frankfurt (Germany), Golden Valley (Minnesota,US) and Bangalore (India) [I’ve physically been to the latter 2 locations and might have seen the building in Frankfurt]

Just another Friday night.

Categories: Culture, Life | 2 Comments

Durga Pujo


Being in the US, the 5 days of Pujo are generally sandwiched into the weekend. Here, it is being held from Oct 15 to 17. Vivian and I are going to be there today. We will be attending Vivian’s Bangla class from 10 to 11 and then going to the Pujo directly. She has already picked her outfit for the day, while I, with only 2 options, am still to decide on my attire.

Categories: Culture, We | 4 Comments

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