Lost in Indian English

You may speak English, but probably not Indian English.

My name is Cyriac and I am balding. For the past few months, I have been getting every haircut with my upcoming wedding in mind. I usually shave my head, but the lady and I agreed that I still have just enough hair to justify growing it back for the big day. We were hoping that years from now, we could sit down with the kids and look at pictures of daddy when he had hair.

Earlier today I went down to my local barber. He sits on the side of the road and shows up every day, even when it’s 46 degrees C (115 F) outside. He’s a nice fellow that speaks broken English comparable to my broken Hindi and we get along well.

Months ago, when asked what it is that I do, I had no clue how to say communications consultant in Hindi so I told him I do writing on the computer. Upon my next visit, he called over his friends from the chai stall a few meters away to meet his engineer friend. I protested that I wasn’t an engineer to which he replied “but you said you work with computers”. OK I said, submitting. My mother would have been proud – at least someone thinks her son is an engineer.

I had decided this morning that it was finally time to get rid of the six weeks of scruff I had on my face. I sat down, held my face with both hands and said the only words that mattered – “shave clean”. He ran his fingers through my hair and asked if wanted anything done up top. I said no and that I didn’t have enough time. “No tension. Twenty minutes only. Finishing only”. Once again I submitted, figuring that it wouldn’t take too long if all he was going to do was do the finishing touches on my hair – a basic cleanup I figured.

He tilted my head down and I felt two scrapes across the top of my head. I leaned forward and touched up top to feel the smooth baldness of my scalp. I looked at him with concern and asked “what is finishing?” “Everything gone. All clean” he said. And then I understood why he said it would only take twenty minutes. At that point I had no choice but to finish my finishing.

So a warning to all those visiting India – if a man with a blade asks you if you want finishing, say no, unless you wish to lose all your hair.bald mrcyriac

The question now remains, can I grow enough hair in the next 47 days…

The Polarization of Remembering Chavez

hugo-chavezI saw Hugo Chavez at the height of his popularity. To the various communist parties of Jawaharlal Nehru University, he was a rock star. It was warm and sunny and thousands of students packed into the stadium seats by the athletic field to hear the Venezuelan President and his translator boast and gesticulate. I wasn’t an admirer or a detractor – I went mainly to see the spectacle. Considering my neutrality, I must admit that it was difficult to not get swept up in the moment. Still, I sat silently just in case there were CIA spies taking notes for future conversations with me (8 years later and still no such chat).

A casual look through my Facebook news feed and you might think that a saint just died. To fully appreciate Chavez’s reception on campus, one would have to compare his visit to that of Manmohan Singh, who was booed off of stage when he spoke to the same students a few months later. I remember the Prime Minister of India trying to calm the students down with his soft voice, saying something along the lines of “I may disagree with you, but I wholeheartedly agree with your right to disagree”. My Uzbek friends were astonished – the leader of the country was not even allowed to make a speech at the university whereas, Chavez, just a few months ago, was treated like a hero.

Needless to say, sentiments are not quite the same in the US. While his opponents are not overtly celebrating his demise, they are certainly not mourning Chavez. Contrary to common belief, the US Government did offer official condolences, but only in a sort of backhanded manner. This from a State Department official:

“We express our sympathies to his family and to the Venezuelan people…Frankly, the way I was raised, when somebody dies you always express condolences… There’s a family involved here, we sympathize with that.”

In other words, we’re doing this because we have to, not because we want to. But what else could be expected when the man who passed referred to your former President as a donkey and the devil, your current President as Continue reading “The Polarization of Remembering Chavez”

Mr Cyriac Goes to Kerala

Rice paddy behind dad's house

I was born in Kerala, but then I left at a young age. I have visited Kerala, but was rarely permitted to venture out of my family’s protective bubble. My sister and I were escorted by the family driver from one auntie’s house to another, sipping endless cups of chai that each tasted sweeter than the last.

It was always strange to listen to stories of friends’ visits to Kerala filled with backwater houseboats and hippie beaches – all of these were foreign to me. It wasn’t until reading about it in a travel book that I realized that I was from the “backwaters”. How provincial my roots were indeed. If Kerala exists in the global consciousness as an ayurvedic elephant paradise, for its displaced children, it’s more reminiscent of beef curry and watered down communism.

Last week was my first time visiting the state as a tourist – staying in a relatively fancy hotel and hiring boats to take us sightseeing. We even went to the beach where, as expected, all the foreigners stripped down and plunged in while most of the Indians, local and otherwise stood around for hours and posed with the horizon in the background.

While lying down and reading a magazine, a particularly plump group of aunties insisted on standing about 2 feet behind me. “This is nothing compared to Marina Beach” one said authoritatively. I wonder if she swims in Chennai.

If the first half of my trip was an introduction to the Lonely Planet version of Kerala, the second was gloriously familiar, perhaps so because it was juxtaposed with the former. The food was good in the first half, but spectacular in the second (I remember this one time a few years ago when I had to explain to my cousins and aunt what paneer was – they had never heard of it and assumed that I was just making things up). Lots of tourists in the first half and lots of mundus in the second. And green – there was green everywhere.

No big point or political statement in this post – merely wanted to share my trip and some pictures. Enjoy.

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Mexico – Wealthier Than You Think

MexicoAs an American, it’s easy to think of Mexico as our poor and violent neighbor. And while there may be significant poverty and violence south of the border, it pays to take a step back and think of Mexico in a global context rather than a local one.

Mexico is always in the shadow of its wealthier and more powerful neighbor, in a way that hides how wealthy and powerful it really is. If Mexico were located anywhere else in the world, it would be perceived as a major international power. Adjusted for purchasing power, Mexico has the 11th largest economy in the world. Fareed Zakaria’s blog recently pointed out that although Mexico has a higher adjusted per capita income ($15,300) than Brazil ($11,700), China ($8,500) and India ($3,700), these other countries are always in the international economic limelight. Apparently the bad press has affected domestic sentiments as well – Mexicans see themselves as worse off than residents in these other countries even though Mexicans are significantly wealthier. Also, the Mexican economy continues to grow even as most of the advanced economies of the world has slowed to a standstill.

Mexico is the Scottie Pippen of international geopolitics – not a superpower but definitely a power to be reckoned with, and constantly in the shadow of the superstar teammate. There are of course those who say Pippen was as good as he was because he played with Jordan. The same can be said of Mexico’s wealth and power being aided by a close economic relationship with the US – but that’s a whole other blog post.

What’s in a country’s name?

Will Mexicans rename their country Mexico? What do Chinese people call China? Just how Bolivarian is Venezuela?

You may not have known it but Mexico’s official name is the United Mexican States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos). Following independence from Spain in 1810, according to outgoing President Felipe Calderòn, Mexicans were emulating their neighbors to the north who were seen as a beacon of democracy and liberty breaking away from European colonialism.

In the last days of his Presidency, Calderòn has sent a piece of legislation to the Congress to officially change the country’s name to “Mexico”. The country’s official name is seldom used – only for official documents and diplomatic protocol. The President feels it’s time to make official what everyone already calls the country and stop emulating the USA.

Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen, but it got me to wondering, what other countries are commonly known by something other than their formal name. Plenty of countries have a longer formal form:

  • UK: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • Venezuela: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
  • Bolivia: Plurinational State of Bolivia
  • Macedonia: former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Virtually every country in the world has the common name preceded by “Kingdom of” or “Republic of” or god forbid, “Democratic Republic of”, or anything with the word “People” in it – those last two usually means you’re in a bad place.

What interested me more were those instances in which the English version of a country/territory’s name was totally different than the one used in indigenous language(s). Here are some that came to mind.

  • Bhutan: Bruk Yul
  • China: Zhunggua
  • Egypt: Miṣr
  • Finland: Suomi
  • Germany: Deutschland
  • Greenland: Kalaallit Nunaat
  • India: Bharat (or something similar) and sometimes Hindustan
  • Japan: Nippon
  • Korea: Han Guk
  • Scotland: Alba
  • Switzerland: translated into English as the Helvetic Confederation
  • Tibet: Bod

If you know of others, leave them in the comments section below.

Also, a special shout out goes to Barbuda. Everybody always forgets about it. It’s not just Antiga people – it’s Antiga and Barbuda. Poor Barbuda, always in the shadow.

How to drink beer in India

As many of you know, I live in Delhi now. In case you ever visit, here’s a little tip for drinking beer that I wrote for my lady’s Delhi blog.

Delhi Days

Anyone who has been to India, or any developing country for that matter, can attest to the difficulties and pleasures of having a nice cold beer. Drinking in India is more complicated than it is in the North America or Europe. Although it’s certainly possible to have a good beer here, one is much more likely to get a bad brew.

The single most important factor when purchasing beer in India is deciding between bottles and cans. In the US, bottled beer is typically more expensive than canned beer – it is also supposedly tastier and of better quality. The reason for this is that the aluminum used for making most cans oxidizes and slowly contaminates the beer with which it is in contact (sidenote: stainless steel cans and beers using nitrogen gas instead of CO2 (think Guinness) avoid this problem, but are much more expensive). Usually this is not…

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