... in india

Internet here (fast and cheaper)

Came across this installation in front of a small internet cafe/phone shop in Psiri in the center of Athens yesterday:

When i took pictures of it a guy the indian shopkeeper of a mini market across the street came out of his shop and asked me why i was taking pictures of this ‘ugly piece of crap’. Before i could even answer him the owner of the internet cafe came out and responded to him that this was ‘creativity’ not crap, to which i agreed. During the resulting conversation with Rana (the owner) which for some reason centered on the fact that he liked Amsterdam a lot (no not because of the legal dope or any of the usual reasons people have for liking Amsterdam, but because he had perceived Amsterdam as a place without the racism he encounters in Athens, which given the xenophobic tendencies in Holland in the last couple of years i found quite remarkable) he mentioned that he was a Bengali from Kolkatta. This sparked another round of insults from the mini market shop keeper, who insisted that Rana was in fact not a Bengali but from Bangladesh adding extra flavor to the earlier complaint about racism in Greece.

Mike Davis: Fear and Money in Dubai

15 Dec 2006 | 550 words | dubai emirates bombay india terrorism cities

Coming back to the Waag i found the printout of Fear and Money in Dubai by Mike Davis on my table (placed there by the invaluable Patrice, who seems to have never heard of such things as emails and hyperlinks, but then you can read printouts in your bathtub, which is not a bad thing either). The article turns out to be an excellent piece about the state of affairs in Dubai, with a number of interesting observations about piracy/smuggling/terrorism/falcon-hunting:

The platform for Dubai’s extraordinary ambitions has been its long history as a haven for smugglers, gold dealers and pirates. […] Pearl fishing and smuggling were the mainstays until oil wealth began to generate increased demand for Dubai’s commercial savvy and port services. Up to 1956, when the first concrete building was constructed, the entire population lived in traditional ‘barastri’ homes made from palm fronds, drawing water from communal wells and tethering their goats in the narrow streets. […]

Following Khomeini’s revolution in 1979, it also became the Persian Gulf’s Miami, providing refuge to a large community of Iranian exiles, many of whom specialized in smuggling gold, untaxed cigarettes and liquor to their puritanical homeland, and to India. More recently, Dubai under the tolerant gaze of Tehran has attracted large numbers of wealthy Iranians who use the city “more like Hong Kong than Miami” as a base for trade and bi-national life-styles. […] Building on such clandestine connections, Dubai in the 1980s and early 1990s became the Gulf’s principal dirty-money laundry as well as a bolthole for some of the region’s most notorious gangsters and terrorists. […]

Indeed, since 9/11 a huge investigative literature has explored Dubai’s role as ‘the financial hub for Islamic militant groups’, especially al-Qaeda and the Taliban: ‘all roads lead to Dubai when it comes to [terrorist] money’, claims a former high-ranking us Treasury official. Bin Laden reportedly transferred large sums through the government-owned Dubai Islamic Bank, while the Taliban used the city’s unregulated gold markets to transform their opium taxes, paid in gold bullion, into laundered dollars. In his best-selling Ghost Wars, Steve Coll claims that after the catastrophic al-Qaeda bombings of the us embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, a cia scheme to target bin Laden with cruise missiles while he was falcon hunting in southern Afghanistan had to be aborted because he was in the company of unnamed Emirati royalty. […]

In addition, al-Maktoum for almost a decade provided luxurious sanctuary for Bombay’s Al Capone, the legendary gangster Dawood Ibrahim. His presence in the sheikhdom in the late 1980s was hardly low-key. ‘Dubai’, writes Suketu Mehta, ‘suited Dawood; he re-created Bombay in lavish parties, flying in scores of the city’s top film stars and cricketers as guests, and took a film starlet, Mandakini, as his mistress’. In early 1993, according to the Indian government, Dawood, working with Pakistani intelligence officials, used Dubai as a base for organizing the infamous ‘Black Friday’ bombings in Bombay that killed 257 people. Although India immediately requested Dubai to arrest Dawood, he was allowed to flee to Karachi, where he is still sheltered by the Pakistani government […]

Read the full article here. Also 2 clicks away from endnote 48 is one of the most deadly restaurant critiques i have ever read (especially if you are british!)

Enemy against all mankind: Dr. Liang

21 Oct 2006 | 183 words | piracy terrorism war india

Last weekend saw the third edition of dictionary of war. this project is currently collecting 100 concepts on the issue of war, which are presented by scientists, artists, theorists and activists at four events in Frankfurt, Munich, Graz and Berlin. Among those presenting in Graz was Lawrence Liang of the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore who did an absolutely stunning presentation titled ‘Hostis Humani Generis‘ in which he links concepts developed in the fight against piracy in todays wars against terrorism and piracy (as in file-sharing). here is the abstract…

Abstract wars demand abstract enemies, and the Hostis Humani Generis (or the enemy against all mankind) is a title that has been bestowed on a host of figures; starting with the pirate and now the terrorist, I seek to understand the links between property, piracy and terrorism and propose that the concept of Hostis Humani Generis helps us understand the idea of war as a continuation of property by other means.

… but you should absolutely download the 30 minute video of the presentation (and of course watch it once it is downloaded).

The heat ...

27 Aug 2006 | 76 words | sarai india delhi

… has been close to unbearable in the last couple of days. Daytime temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s and high humidity do not really constitute an enjoyable atmosphere. The fact that yesterday night’s garden reception that was hosted by sarai on the occasion of the launch of the Sarai reader #06 was surrounded by an array of ventilators pretty much sums the situation

Ventilators in the garden, at 2100h in the evening! jay!

Delhi metro

While not being as efficient as the São Paulo metro system (efficiency being rather absent from public services in india in general), the delhi metro system – which has been growing from one 5 station line to 3 lines with more than 40 stations in the last 3 years – is quite an experience as well:

First there are those constant recorded security reminders that are either unrivaled in their directness (‘do not touch abandoned objects as they might contain explosives’) or simply absurd (‘do not befriend strangers’). These messages are on more or less constant replay in all stations and trains and give the impression that the Delhi Metro Corporation is even more paranoid than the mindless, racist idiots that are running the British airports (but then they do not really hassle you when you take the metro in Delhi).

So unfortunately one has to bear these nonsense announcements in order to experience the wonderful experience of ‘Chawri Bazaar’ station: located smack under the middle of Delhi’s Old City this station embodies fractured modernity in its most tangible form. The metro station in all it’s stainless steel, polished stone, glass and RFID based turnstiles glory is extremly 21st century (if one manages to ignore the security guard with his 1920s winchester rifle, which definitely is the weapon of choice when engaging terrorists within a crowded subway station).

While even in other parts of the city these metro stations feel strangely detached from the rest of the city fabric, exiting Chawri Bazar station this sensation is almost overwhelming: The polished stone stairs take you in the middle of a busy intersection in the old city, where cycle rickshaws and push-carts represent the state of the art when it comes to transport, the sky is being covered by a multitude of telephone and electricity cables and the smell of countless open air food stalls is competing with the stench of garbage and excrement from the various live animals lingering around.

If you ever have the chance to visit Delhi make sure that you take the metro to Chawri Bazaar in the evening, then get into a cycle rickshaw and ask the riksahw wallah to take you to Karims to have a bit of mutton.

Teach yourself german

21 Aug 2006 | 130 words | delhi germany india traffic

Usually i do not really like being recognized as a german when i am in a far-away-country, but todays encounter somewhere on a road just west of Delhi’s old city was kind of hilarious. the auto rikshaw we were traveling in was overtaken by a small white car and when the guy sitting next to the driver saw that the passengers were Westerners he immediately asked me ‘are you german?’ while showing his ‘how to teach yourself german’ course-book. my reply that i was indeed german seemed to make him profoundly happy:

When they managed to come next to the rickshaw again he pulled out his mobile phone to take a similar picture of me and my Delhi street map book. We should have really exchanged those pictures via bluetooth…

On passport photos

31 Jul 2006 | 156 words | india travel

Today i applied for my 5th indian visa in 3 years or so. Apart form having to pay a €50 fee you also have to include 2 recent passport pictures with each application. That means that the G.O.I now has no less than 10 passport photos of mine, which makes me wonder what the hell they are doing with them.

Do they all keep them in one file and some clerk occasionally checks how i am developing (like the notary i had to visit today to confirm ‘that the photograph [in my passport] is a reasonable likeness’ of mine who remarked that i had gotten ‘fatter’)? Do they just throw them away? and what do they need them for anyway? to identify my remains in case i become a victim of a tsunami/erthquake/train bombing?

As i can’t come up with a plausible use/storage scenario myself feel free to enlighten me in case you have a clue…

The sudden stardom of the third world city

23 Mar 2006 | 417 words | europe colonialism delhi urbanism modernity india

Rana Dasgupta has just published an essay of the same name on his site in which he explores the devellopments behind the recent rise to media stardom of cities like Johannisburg, Bombay, Caracas, Lagos and Nairobi. from the essay:

Dismissive talk of Chinese “sweatshops” that would never meet EU regulations does nothing to dispel the sense of a stupendous fertility, for the contents of every western household are “Made in China”, and most Europeans and Americans are so entirely ignorant about how things are made that the production of the objects in their lives seems a kind of Asian alchemy. There is more: the Third-World city has many economies, not just one, and even this they are exporting. Large parts of western cities are now gleefully given over to an international pirate economy of CDs, DVDs, computer software and branded goods manufactured in Lagos or Shenzhen at almost the same time as the Parisian and Californian originals, and almost to the same quality.

[…] The happy fiction of Europe’s robust liberalism is in severe doubt as it fails even to accommodate a single group of dissenters: politically articulate Muslims who wish to assert a different vision of social life and law. Compared to this, my adopted city of Delhi, which has its own disputes and violence, seems positively tranquil when one reflects that it must balance the life demands of 15 million people with so many languages and cosmologies, and such varied notions of commerce, law, healthcare and education, that they are not a “population” in the European sense at all. “When will all the camels and cows depart, when will all these strange human varieties finally be banished and India become modern?” tourists ask. They forget two crucial truths - first, that Europe’s centuries-long project to banish all life forms it could not understand or empathise with was a destructively violent process; second, and most importantly, that Delhi already is modern, and this - all this - is what it looks like. It is an alternative kind of modernity: a swirling, agglomerative kind that seems, at this point in history, to be more capable than the western version of sustaining radical diversity - to be better equipped, perhaps, for the principle of globalisation.

This brings us to the most perverse suspicion of all. Perhaps the Third-World city is more than simply the source of the things that will define the future, but actually is the future of the western city.

Go read the entire text here.

How to get fired from a callcenter

12 Feb 2006 | 121 words | labor india movies film berlin

Yesterday i saw john & jane, a film about call center workers in new bombay by Ashim Ahluwalia, which is running as part of the berlin film festival. The film is an impressive, beautifully shot (but sometimes slow) portrait of six persons working in a call center (‘4th dimension’) which provides a range of services to callers from the US.

Of the six call agents only one, Glen, is unhappy with his job. in fact he seems to hate it. Glen was present for the Q&A session after the screening and i made a crappy phone recording of him explaining how he got finally got fired from the call-center ‘because he was stoned’ (click here for the 1.1mb mp3 file).


Women empowerment

16 Dec 2005 | 94 words | politics public transport bombay india

So apparently the government of Maharashtra (the same idiots who came up with the brilliant idea to rename Bombay into Mumbai) thinks it can improve the position of women by stenciling ‘women empowerment’ on the back of every second rickshaw in the state (the other half has ‘if a girl studies progress will happen’ stenciled on them in Marathi). To me it is not really clear how this is going to work, and most of the time the inside of the rickshaw makes it even harder to believe in this kind of symbolic politics:

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: