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W’end Links: White Tiger, Road Safety and the Loony Fringe

18 October 2008 80 views One Comment

First this weekend, a post by Sandeep in which he explains why Aravind Adiga’s ”White Tiger” is award-winning India-bashing.  To Sandeep’s analysis, I would add this nugget (Hat Tip: Sh Kak; emphasis mine)

Michael Portillo, chairman of the five-member judging panel, praised The White Tiger…

“What set this one apart was its originality,” Portillo said. “For many of us this was entirely new territory — the dark side of India.

“It’s a book that gains from dealing with very important social issues — the divisions between rich and poor and the impossibility of the poor escaping from their lot in India.”

Next, a fascinating scheme involving “naked” streets (i.e. streets without road signs, traffic lights etc) being trialled in London which suggests that the apparently mindless chaos on Indian roads may actually be saving lives and increasing road-safety!

Brief excerpts from all the articles below:

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*** Excerpts from When an Award is Not Just an Award ***

…Beating predictions by bookies and others, debutant Indian novelist 33-year-old Aravind Adiga’s book ‘The White Tiger’ was declared the winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction for 2008.

Yes yes, yes, everybody is saying the same thing: he beat the odds/favourites, belongs to the hall of fame graced earlier by Rushdie (does anybody remember he’s still an Indian?), Roy, et al. Good but that doesn’t detract the fact that Aravind Adiga is now a famous, wealthier template-filler. And no I haven’t read the White Tiger. But I persist in my audacity for reasons other than that this post isn’t a review of the White Tiger.
If the following is an accurate rendering of the novel’s plot, it seems to be drawn from the 70s–80s Bollywood movies where poverty played a big part.
Balram considers himself an entrepreneur. His definition of the term, however, may be wider than some: he mentions an “act of entrepreneurship” that put his (fortunately rather blurred) face on wanted posters all over the country. He proposes to explain his entrepreneurial education, in the school of very hard knocks. There is no trace in Balram’s story – himself perhaps excepted – of any rising middle class. He begins in the rural “Darkness”, a world of landlord and peasant. And when he escapes to the “Light” of the cities, it is into a world of servants and masters.

…Balram begins at the very bottom, without so much as a name; his family call him only “Munna”, or “boy”. His mother might have named him, but she was too busy dying of TB. His father was too busy pulling a rickshaw, weakening himself to be claimed by the same disease. A schoolteacher has to name him instead; later, a local official decides on his date of birth in order to facilitate the stealing of his vote.

When luck and a ruthless eye for the main chance land him a driving job in the “Light” of New Delhi with one of the landlords’ families, the moral darkness only increases.
We do meet someone who might almost be a sympathetic character – the idealistic, New York-educated landlord’s son for whom Balram works – but he proves soon enough to be weak rather than virtuous, accumulating a record of betrayal that makes Balram’s route to the top seem almost straightforward.

The White Tiger is a furious and brutally effective counterblast to smug “India is shining” rhetoric – that particular slogan is never mentioned, but the election it lost is crucial to the plot – which also directs hard, well-aimed kicks at hypocrisy and thuggery on the traditionalist Indian Left.

In a sentence, the White Tiger is award-winning India-bashing. Vide the template laid down by the illustrious likes of Pankaj Mishra. Poverty levels in India had decreased during the NDA rule? (I mentioned NDA purposely because the India Shining campaign was their slogan): take a second-class train journey and decree that it hasn’t. Middle class folks are able to afford cars? No problem: show them the millions who can’t afford the money for tickets to travel in public transport. Farmers who used to eke out a miserable living on their lands have suddenly found themselves in the league of the really rich? Point to their employees/servants who still work under the same conditions. India is still a land of darkness. Booker-prize stuff.
*** End of Excerpts ***
*** Excerpts from “Naked” streets are safer *** 
Traffic lights, road signs and white lines would be removed from many high streets across the country under Conservative proposals to improve safety and reduce congestion by giving drivers and pedestrians equal status.
The Conservatives are planning to publish a “green paper” on roads this year which will borrow heavily from so-called shared-space schemes in the Netherlands, where pedestrians, cyclists and cars are encouraged to mingle. Kerbs in several Dutch towns have been removed and the boundaries between the pavement and road blurred deliberately to prevent people from assuming they have right of way.

Traffic lights have been uprooted and drivers must negotiate their way across junctions, forcing them to slow down and establish eye contact with pedestrians.

In the town of Drachten, the removal of traffic lights at one major junction has resulted in accidents falling from thirty-six in the four years before the scheme was introduced to two in the next two years. The average time for each vehicle to cross the junction fell from 50 seconds to 30 seconds, despite a rise in the volume of traffic.

Owen Paterson, the Shadow Transport Minister, visited Drachten and other Dutch towns. He told The Times: “There are some great ideas here which I would like to see in Britain. It’s the opposite of the 1960s ethos of separating cars and pedestrians. By removing road signs and traffic lights and changing the appearance of the road, you avoid the impression that areas are designated just for cars.

“The idea is to create space where there is mild anxiety among everyone so they all behave cautiously. No one thunders along at 30mph on a high street thinking that they have priority.” Mr Paterson said that putting up more speed limit signs and painting more lines on the road had failed to make streets safer. “Instead of the State laying down the rules, we need to give responsibility back to road users. It’s about creating an environment where it just doesn’t feel right to drive faster than 20mph.”

Some aspects of the shared space approach have already been adopted on London streets that have high numbers of pedestrians. At Seven Dials in Covent Garden, the road surface has been altered to give it the appearance of a pedestrian area and kerbs have been lowered to encourage people to wander across the street.

In Kensington High Street, almost 600 metres of railings have been removed to allow pedestrians to cross where they want. The results have discredited the belief that railings prevent accidents: in the two years after they were removed, pedestrian casualties declined three times faster than the London average. Traffic engineers believe that drivers are now keeping a sharper eye out for pedestrians because they know that they may cross at any point.

Martin Cassini, the report’s author, said: “Removing lights removes barriers to traffic flow and improves behaviour. If you observe a junction where the lights are out of action, there is rarely congestion. People approach slowly, wave each other on and filter in turn. Lights and other controls hamper instead of harness human nature, causing untold delay and harm.” 

*** End of Excerpts ***

*** From God save Hinduism from the Hindu lunatic fringe ***

In the two months since the Orissa disgrace began, 50,000 Christians have been rendered homeless, many of their homes burnt. But Mohan Joshi, central unit secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishat (VHP) has been quoted by The Hindu as saying:
 

 

“Christians are setting their own homes on fire to get good compensation. There are rivalries among Christian groups. They are attacking and killing each other.”

60 Christians have been killed in the wave of retaliation that has followed the dastardly murder of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati, but Prakash Sharma, chief of the Bajrang Dal, has been quoted in The Times, London as saying:

“How can you be sure Christians are not killing each other?”

A Catholic nun has told the Orissa police that she had been raped by four men, an incident confirmed by a medical examination, but Subhash Chauhan, Orissa’s chief of the Bajrang Dal has been quoted by The New York Times as saying that:

“…the nun had not been raped but had had regular consensual sex.”

***

 

One Comment »

  • 1. Nimmy said:

    Intersting and diverse thoughts..Thanks for sharing

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