India Insight

Book lovers in India lap up myths with a makeover

Mriganka Dadwal knows everything about the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic that tells the story of warrior-god Rama and the abduction of his wife Sita by the powerful demon king Ravana.

The journalist-turned-entrepreneur says she would love to read the epic from the point of view of the vanquished Ravana. And now she can.

With several mythological tales getting a modern makeover and imaginative retellings crowding bookshelves, Dadwal and millions of urban, educated Indians who prefer to read in English have more choices than ever before.

The trend spells good times for bestselling Indian writers such as Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi and Ashok Banker who are wooing readers with characters cast in a human mould amid a masterful weaving of mythology and suspense.

“They talk about Indian mythology, they talk about stuff which has hitherto been unheard of,” says Dadwal, 32. “It’s different from the palette which was already available.”

Samsung Galaxy S4 lands on Bangalore, hundreds get in line

By Sayantani Ghosh and Supantha Mukherjee

“I’m very excited. I’ve been waiting a couple of hours; I couldn’t get any sleep last night,” said Arif, an employee of UK retailer Tesco. He was near the front of the line of hundreds of people to line up at the UB City Mall in Bangalore to buy the new Galaxy S4 smartphone.

The phone went on sale at the Samsung store on Saturday, and Arif waited for about two hours for the privilege of spending 41,500 rupees, or about $763, on the new model, which comes with a 5-inch screen and 13-megapixel camera, and runs on Google’s Android platform.

Samsung is trying to increase its lead over Apple, a possibility for the South Korean company, considering the preference of many Indian shoppers for a good discount over products priced at the top of the line compared to their competitors. Both companies are now handing out discounts on some of their older models. The S4 also is competing with other phones on sale in India such as the HTC One and the BlackBerry Z10, not to mention Apple’s iPhone 5 — its primary rival.

Ponzi scheme in West Bengal flames out, embers linger

Suicides, thousands of duped investors, hundreds of laid-off journalists, bickering politicians, protests slack regulation, one suspected mastermind arrested: it’s Ponzi scheme time in West Bengal, and it looks likely that little will change after the drama ends.

The latest fleecing of poor and middle-class investors brought in an estimated $730 million, according to media reports, though public interest litigation filed in the Calcutta High Court by one lawyer says the amount is as high as Rs. 300 billion. ($5.5 billion) The head of the Saradha Group and accused mastermind of the scheme, Sudipta Sen, was arrested in Kashmir on April 23 after two weeks as a fugitive. He has maintained his innocence, and reportedly threatened suicide, saying he might not be able to repay investors.

Sen started out as a small-time property dealer in the late 1990′s in Kolkata. His Saradha Group in the past decade had interests in real estate, tours groups and newspapers and television stations, and eventually owned nearly 100 companies.

Shamshad Begum: A tribute to a voice long gone

(Hindi translations by Ankush Arora, with help from Havovi Cooper and Uzra Khan. Punjabi translation by Vineet Sharma.)

How do you pay tribute to a singer who faded from public memory, only to revisit the headlines when she died? I was wondering this today after learning that playback singer Shamshad Begum died in Mumbai on Tuesday, just 10 days after her 94th birthday.

I heard her voice for the first time not too long ago: her duet with Lata Mangeshkar in “Mughal-E-Azam” (“Greatest of the Mughals”) – Teri mehfil mein qismat (“My destiny in your court”) — is my favourite song of hers. In this song from the 1960 blockbuster movie, the two greats lent their voices to Anarkali (played by Madhubala) and Bahar (Nigar Sultana), who are vying for Prince Salim’s (Dilip Kumar) affections. The tension between the two characters is almost palpable, accentuated by Mangeshkar’s softness and Begum’s unorthodox, mature voice.

Zubeen Garg: not Assamese enough for separatist group

(Note: paragraph six contains graphic language)

When in Assam, sing like the Assamese do. That was the message from the separatist group United Liberation Front of Assam to singer Zubeen Garg. The 40-year-old singer, born in Jorhat in Assam, irked ULFA last week when he sang Hindi songs at a Bihu festival.

That’s a poke in the eye for the rebel group. Bihu is a major cultural festival in Assam, taking place three times a year. It’s a big deal for the most populous largest state in northeast India, and ULFA didn’t like Garg’s decision to sing in Hindi (check his song “Ya Ali” here) because its leaders consider doing that an erosion of Assamese culture.

“Zubeen is a talented singer but that does not mean he should consider himself an ambassador of Hindi and go all out to promote it. If he continues to do so, we shall not be responsible for any consequences,” the group wrote in a letter to the Press Trust of India wire service.

Delhi rape case reignites police reform debate

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

I live in India’s rape capital where rape cases are as common as power cuts used to be a few years ago. Even reports of police misbehaviour have become routine.

While all rape cases do not get media attention, the recent rape of a five-year-old girl is in the limelight, especially because of the way the police handled the case.

Journalist Sardesai sours on Twitter: “Had hoped to interact; failed.”

(The following post contains some essential Hindi translation help from my colleagues Arnika Thakur, Suraj Balakrishnan and Havovi Cooper. Any remaining errors or lack of precision are my fault as I reviewed and participated in all translations. Additionally, any opinions here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

From the desk of Rajdeep Sardesai, editor in chief of Indian news network IBN Live (I stitched these sentences together from his Twitter account):

My timeline suggests little space for healthy debate/discussion on twitter. So will no longer raise any political issues on the medium. Will continue writing/talking on issues of natl interest in print/tv, but not on twitter. Will continue to write in print/speak on tv. But will no longer seek twitter as a medium for public debate. Had hoped to interact; failed. A journalist has only his integrity/credibility. That has been abused on this medium for too long by unknown people. Time to switch off.

Thirty-three percent of world’s poorest live in India

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

India has 33 percent of the world’s poorest 1.2 billion people, even though the country’s poverty rate is half as high as it was three decades ago, according to a new World Bank report.

India reduced the number of its poor from 429 million in 1981 to 400 million in 2010, and the extreme poverty rate dropped from 60 percent of the population to 33 percent during the same period. Despite the good news, India accounts for a higher proportion of the world’s poor than it used to. In 1981, it was home to 22 percent of the world’s poorest people.

Should India ban Internet porn?

(This commentary reflects the thoughts of the author. It does not reflect the views of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

Neighbours China and Pakistan do it. Guyana in South America and Egypt do it. Even South Korea, where 81.1 percent of the population is online, does it. Should India make Internet pornography illegal too?

The Supreme Court has asked the government to respond to a public interest litigation which seeks to make watching online porn a non-bailable offence.

Suffering and apathy in Jaipur: drivers ignore hit-and-run victims

“Murderously selfish India: Woman, baby die in terrible accident in Jaipur as husband, son beg passersby for help.”

Shiv Aroor’s dispatch on Twitter says it all. Other people in India tonight are echoing the theme: people racing through their day in modern India, too busy or too wary to get involved when they see people in distress. In this case, a truck struck a family of four riding on a motorcycle in Jaipur on Monday, killing a woman and her eight-month-old daughter. The woman’s husband and son escaped. The family was riding the motorcycle through the Ghat Ki Guni tunnel on Sunday afternoon when the truck struck them, according to the Hindustan Times and other Indian news organisations.

Here is more from the HT:

CCTV footages showed that the woman’s husband and his four-year-old son beseeched passers-by for help for almost 10 minutes. However, no one stopped to help them, police said. The survivor, Kanhaiyalal Raigher, tried to call relatives from his mobile, but failed as there was no network connectivity in the tunnel. Raigher, a resident of a village on the outskirts of Jaipur, was on his way to his in-laws’ house with his wife Guddi Devi, 26, daughter Arushi and son Tanish.”

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