Slumdog Millionaire: I am happy for winners but is it realy an India win ?

I knew things had turned a corner when garden-variety Anglo-suburban Americans started correcting my Marathi, which is to say when they started regarding my use of "Bombay" rather than "Mumbai" as denoting an embarrassing lack of sophistication on par with using a fork and spoon, instead of chopsticks, at a Chinese restaurant. Not that I speak a word of Marathi, at least not a word one would use in polite company. And not that these would-be sophisticates do, either, but I'll bet dollars to dosas that it's only a matter of time before American hipsters start eating khichdi with their fingers in trendy Indo-fusion bistros.
Slumdog Millionaire? In the US, it's Slumdog Everywhere.
There were cheers in the South Bronx, where there is hardly an Indian-American to be seen, when Slumdog Millionaire won the best-picture Oscar. In midtown Manhattan's Murray Hill, aka "Curry Hill", the beatific visage of Freida Pinto smiles from shop windows, and India could do much worse than to have her as its current public face, even if many Americans believe her to be of Latin American rather than Indian origin because her name is "Pinto" and not "Muthukumarasamy."
Bollywood, along with its more urbane cousins in Indian art cinema, has long had a cult following here. Arthouse cinemas have Hindi film nights, though it must be noted that Americans take Bollywood much more seriously than Indians do - none of the furtive smoking and less-than-furtive cellular banter that characterise the authentic experience in Delhi or Bom- - excuse me, Mumbai. (Seriously, at the rate it's going, sensitive American tourists soon will be informing Mumbaikar taxi drivers that they really oughtn't to call CST "Victoria Terminus.")
It's not just Slumdog Millionaire, either. Chandni Chowk to China managed to break out of the foreign-film ghetto in its own small way, playing in suburban theatres, benefiting from Slumdog's buzz. Who knows, maybe even Salman Rushdie will start selling again.
My colleague Jay Nordlinger reports a recent brush with the biggest Indian star of them all, and it is illuminating: "On my way from Zurich to London, I see [Amitabh Bachchan] in the airport. In fact, he is on my flight. I approach him and say, 'Sorry to bother you, but I wonder if I could trouble you for a photo.' He says, 'How do you know me?' I say, 'Who doesn't?' Amitabh grins. But what he has asked me is very, very telling. He must not be used to being recognised by non-Indians. He has a strange existence of 100 per cent name and face recognition in India - a nation of more than a billion - and virtual anonymity everywhere else." He further reports that the Big B was flying coach. In truth, Bachchan isn't entirely anonymous in the US - within the past year, I've heard "Eer Bir Phatte" played at an American nightclub. (Yes, "Jai Ho" was the next song.) Never mind that the tune is a decade out of date, some things never go out of style. Yeh hai America, meri jaan.
Nordlinger, who has spent time in India, also makes a more serious observation: It's important for Americans not to romanticise India. (More important, of course, for Indians not to romanticise India, but that's another discussion.) But as India asserts itself in the American consciousness, this is worth keeping in mind: There are only two countries in Asia that matter to Americans right now - India and China. The future used to speak Japanese, but now the future gives you grief about saying "Bombay" instead of "Mumbai." Bombay has all but displaced Tokyo in the American imagination, and Kim Jong Il's North Korea is as much a punchline as a menace. But India and China are no joke. There's a Good Asia and a Bad Asia in American thought. Perhaps there should be room for more Asia than that, but Beijing remains uncontested as the capital of Bad Asia, a 21st-century expression of the "Oriental despotism" of popular lore and anxiety. The capital of Good Asia is not Delhi but somewhere between Bombay and Bangalore; Manmohan Singh may be the most highly regarded Asian statesman in the US, but India's clout remains primarily cultural and commercial rather than political.
Unhappily for India, the US has just elected what may be the most anti-trade administration and Congress since the Depression. A free-trade pact between the US and India would enrich both, but it is unlikely that Obama will pursue any such thing - and New Delhi's irresolute handling of the ASEAN free-trade agreement suggests that there are limitations on their end, too. India will naturally resist being reduced to a mere counterweight - to China, to Pakistan - and, after decades of lectures about its "potential", it finally has the strength to legitimately set its own course.
Strange, then, that India still seeks vindication in the West. An Indian who makes it big in America makes it Very Big Indeed, but saying that an American rock band is "big in Japan" is a joke at their expense. And though Republicans loved the idea of bestowing the Bharat Ratna on George W. Bush, American filmmakers still go to Asian markets seeking profits, not love. Even so, there is something to be made of this moment. Cultural currency is capital - limited, to be sure, but capital nonetheless - and America's intensifying interest in India is an asset waiting to be used.
Our nations have shared interests when it comes to such familiar issues as trade and terrorism, but there is more to international relations than interests, defined narrowly and politically. Americans watching Slumdog Millionaire may marvel at the sensory assault that is Bombay street life and recoil from the squalor of the Juhu slums, but they must also experience a sense, perhaps uncomfortable, of recognition. Multiethnic, multilingual, marked both by fierce entrepreneurial energy and economic anxiety, with both gods and gangs competing for turf, India is a foreign nation that's not so foreign. For reasons of ethnicity and history, and above all language, Americans tend to identify with declining, sparsely populated countries such as the UK and Canada. But the facts on the ground are different: India is the second most populous nation on the Earth, and the US is the third. We both have ruling classes that speak English and underclasses that don't. It is not in the future but in the present that our challenges should be recognised as more alike than different. Yes, India is still poor - for how much longer? Yes, America is surpassingly rich - for how much longer? It's not only young Indian chaiwallahs mooning away in dead-end jobs, dreaming of winning a million on a game show. Americans may not know the word crorepati, but they will. The word is in our hearts, if not on our tongues.

rags-to-riches-to-brothel : It happens only in India.

When A R Rahman walked up to receive the golden Oscar statuette, her eyes misted over. Preeti Mukherjee knows exactly how it feels. Four

years ago, she was on the same stage at Los Angeles’ Kodak Theatre, where she, too, had hugged the statuette and cried tears of joy. She hasn’t missed a single awards ceremony since. On Monday, she woke up in the wee hours to catch the live telecast — before starting the day’s grind at Sonagachhi.

Preeti, who goes by the name Puja in Asia’s largest red light district, had got sucked into the sex trade just a year after her brush with the Oscars.

In 2005, Preeti was part of the Oscar-winning documentary Born Into Brothels, directed by Zana Briski. The child cast of nine had cheered so loud that it still rings in her ears. And she still remembers the warmth of the hug Zana gave her as the award was announced.

“It seems like a fairy tale now. I still see it in my dreams. I get goosebumps when I remember the heart-stopping moment when the award was announced. All of us kept screaming with joy. Zana aunty made sure we, too, went along to collect the statuette. My head was swimming, there were so many eyes on us, the deafening applause, so many cameras flashing...” Preeti recalls.

In 2002, when not yet into her teens, Briski and Ross Kauffman chose her in the cast of nine to teach them photography and get a close-up view of their world and that of their mothers. The film was completed in 2004 and went on to win about 20 international awards, capped by the Oscar.

When the film was nominated, the directors flew the kids to Los Angeles. Life was happy for some time and the directors tried their best to rehabilitate the kids. Preeti, who was in high school, and the rest got an offer to stay back in the US and study. Some did. She backed out.

“Aunty (Zana) gave a lot of money by cheque to my mother and asked her to release me, but she was unwilling. I am a girl and an only child and my mother wouldn’t let go. Call it family pressure if you will. It’s quite simple, really,” Preeti said, with a dismissive shrug and a short laugh. “So, you see me here.”

Abhijit, one of the kids in the film, now studies in New York University. Another girl goes to school there. Preeti is in touch with both of them. Two others are studying at Future Hope, run by a charitable trust. One has got married while another girl, who was with an internationally funded NGO, has disappeared.

Dressed in jeans and a trendy shirt, Preeti could pass for any other collegegoer, until the whiff of smoke and alcohol in her breath hits you. And you look at her eyes — beautiful, aggressive and defiant.

“At this age, I have a flat in Salt Lake, a laptop, costly phones and plenty of money. What do I lack?” she looks you square in the eye. “Zana aunty and I are in touch by email. She was upset that I, too, had joined the trade like my mother, something she wanted to save me from. But this trade has really paid off for me.” A sign of her ‘prosperity’ — she has hired rooms in Prem Kamal, one of the most expensive Sonagachhi buildings.

Mother Rakhi lives in the opposite building. Preeti pays for her living expenses. Rakhi says she wanted a “normal” life for Preeti. She still has a fading photo of Preeti with the Oscar statuette stuck on a wall. “That is all I have left of her..,” she says, tears in her eyes.

There is no clear answer as to how and why Preeti became a sex worker. Police records say she was rescued from a racket while a minor, sent to a juvenile home from where she was handed to her mother by the state child welfare committee.

Police say she’s now part of a major sex racket that involves extremely powerful people, who will never let her escape into a sunnier world. Behind the I-care-a-damn stare, you can see a fleeting longing in her eyes — a longing for freedom.

Why IIM lads only find easy solution to social issues...

Example-1 :
He is perhaps the smartest vegetable seller around with his IIM degree.
Kaushilendra, the 2007 batch topper of the IIM, Ahmedabad, became a vegetable vendor “to earn money and ensure quality prices to farmers and quality product to citizens”.
His light pushcart is made of fibre, can carry 200kg and keeps vegetables fresh for six days, for it is ice cool.
It has computerised weighing machine that “guarantees a proper calculation.” Even the customers are impressed. “Computerwaala taraaju dandi nahin mar sakta (A computerised machine is not exposed to manipulation),” a woman told this reporter.
Encouraged by the initial response, Kaushilendra is now the owner of 50 such carts that are selling vegetables in “right measurement and right rate”.
“I plan to buy more (carts) to spread the business. This is just the beginning. My venture will spread in the entire country in the years to follow,” Kaushilendra said with enthusiasm so infectious that one would want to believe him.
His fascination with the vegetable trade is understandable. Born to modest vegetable farmers’ family in central Bihar’s Ahmad Nagar village (Nalanda), Kaushilendra received his education in a rural government school while assisting his family in farming. Nalanda, incidentally, is known as the “vegetable bowl” of Bihar. “Though a bright student, Kaushilendra loves working in the field,” says father Narendra Prasad. He moved to Navodaya Vidyalaya in Nawada to complete his high school.
Then, he cleared CAT to enter IIM, Ahmedabad, after passing intermediate from Patna Science College.
“I am and have been fascinated with farming since my childhood,” the IIM topper said, adding: “I have planned to develop a Bihar brand of vegetable and popularise it in the country. Bihar has a potential to feed the nation,” he said
“The B-school product has challenged billionaire Reliance Fresh venture though small means and innovative mind. He can emerge as a vegetable tycoon in future,” remarked Ajay Kumar, an economist and CEO of a private portal,
Kaushilendra’s effort is similar to the one of the fibre rickshaw that was developed by another B-school graduate, Irfan, from Begusarai of Bihar. Like Irfan’s Samman Foundation, he, too, has floated Kaushalaya Foundation.

“A number of farmers from Nalanda have approached me to buy their products as they found our foundation’s rates reasonable. I am getting more than enough supply. But we will be in a position to buy in bulk only after our business grows.”

Initially, the family was perplexed by their boy’s decision. “Now I am receiving all the support from them, my customers and the state.”
Example-2 :
An auto ride to remember :
AHMEDABAD: This is some auto. An English-speaking driver, range of newspapers and magazines to browse through and a phone at your disposal!
G-Autos are going to hit the city streets on Thursday. The service will be launched by Chief Minister Narendra Modi at Khokhra.

They're an initiative of an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), Nirmal Kumar from the batch of 2007. Kumar's company, Nirmal Foundation, works towards social and economic upliftment of autorickshaw drivers.

"Sitting in a G-Auto is going to be a pleasantly different experience. These autos have been made more passenger friendly with minor design changes. For first-time visitors, the autos will have a map of the city and list of must-see places. Also, they will be equipped with dustbins.

Moreover, if the driver tries to act smart with you, there is a helpline number which you can call and lodge a complaint. These autos are all about safe and transparent travel. There are over 1,000 G-Autos registered with us, says Kumar.

But, G-Autos are not meant just for passenger comfort. "We have initiated hospitality training for drivers. We plan to teach them spoken English - 50 basic sentences. We'll prepare a customised dictionary for them with Gujarati words and their English equivalents. After all, many times autorickshaw drivers are the first people outsiders meet when they visit the city," he elaborates.

All drivers are given insurance cover of Rs 2 lakh, medical cover of Rs 50,000 and a monthly sum for school fees for their children. Each G-Auto driver will become a bank account holder with debit cards at his disposal.

"We want them to start saving and are introducing pension plans for them, where they have to save Rs 15 every day and invest it on a monthly basis," adds Kumar.

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