Saturday 15 January 2011

All French are racists...

I land in France. Among the first things I notice is that most French have a lighter complexion than me, though there are black, brown and yellow people too. I decide that the France has distinct races, and are probably racists, that is, they do not interbreed.

It takes me some time to notice that there are significant variations within the seemingly distinct complexions, which undoubtedly result from interbreeding.

My first conclusion owed much to the contrast to my own self that I originally noticed. I saw them as a group, and grouped what I saw. Later, I observed them as individuals, and discerned differences I had, deliberately or inadvertently, glossed over. Most probably, my second conclusion is closer to the truth than the first.

So why can’t a westerner fall into the same trap? Isn’t it possible that a Westerner, when he comes to the East, first notices how easterners are different from him, as a group; it’s only later that he comes to differentiate between easterners. And is it not conceivable that the initial observations, hurried and subjective, can lead the westerner to presume that easterners are homogenous, with ‘collective concepts of self’, a conclusion that would surprise most easterners? For all we know, had easterners would have seen westerners as collectivists too, had they not be trained to think of westerners as individualists!

Of course, it is well-established that easterners and westerners fashion the self differently. But then Aristotelian physics and racist anthropology were well established too. Why can’t loaded questions be asked, uncomfortable facts be ignored, and those who question conventional wisdom be dismissed as ill-informed, radical and silly?

PS: It’s ironical how quickly collectivist tendencies wear off in the east. No sooner than easterners have made a neighborhood in a hamlet, they are at each other’s throats. By the time they reach sub-castes, we have a full-fledged civil war on our hands. In contrast, westerners require evident differences in complexion before they start enslaving and massacring. There are wars between westerners too, but those were fought in pre-history, that is, pre-1945

Friday 14 January 2011

A little imagination, please

The blurb for the article The coffee king of modern India by Amy Kazmin in the Financial Times on 11 January said, “V.G. Siddhartha's Café Coffee Day has caught the mood of the country where changing social rules and rapid economic growth are new opportunities for social mobility.

Inside, the article expanded, “With its slightly suggestive slogan, ‘a lot can happen over coffee,’ the chain has captured the zeitgeist of young, modern India, where conservative social rules are gradually eroding and rapid economic growth is creating new opportunities for social mobility. The cafés are a place where backpack-carrying students, laptop-toting young professionals, amorous couples and affluent sari-clad women all come to conduct meetings, keep romantic assignations or hang out with friends. ‘It’s a comfort zone,’ says Latika Arora, a 21-year-old MBA student and a regular Café Coffee Day patron.”

I have often wondered which cuckoo-land journalists come from. When in living memory were teashops and coffee houses not hangouts for India’s poor and middleclass? Pick up any novel or old movie, and you’ll find the young men, and sometimes, young women, socialising in these places. Alternatively, they and their elders are getting drunk in taverns and bars.

Go to any village, town or city, and you’ll find the picture unchanged. So what does the erosion of conservative social rules have to do with Café Coffee Day’s success?

Anyway, why pick on poor Amy. Starbucks sold the ‘third place’ baloney and we bought it in droves. Yet, these retailers essentially make money by renting space, with the beverage, usually undrinkable, being the billing contrivance. Their business model is identical to the one many cafes and taverns have used for centuries. By now, the story should have been dead: It’s surprising it isn’t.