India Insight

Fear, too busy, too ugly: why India’s famous bachelors stay single

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

A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

This verse on marriage from the Book of Genesis in the Bible is meant for men in general.

For Indians, it becomes especially pressing when they reach a certain ‘marriageable’ age, with concerned parents, relatives and friends urging them to settle down.

Still, some decide to take the road less travelled. Rahul Gandhi, the 42-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and perhaps India’s most famous bachelor, hinted this week he may shun marital life to stay away from dynasty politics.

from Photographers' Blog:

Riding India’s railways

Across India

By Navesh Chitrakar

My journey on the great railways of India began on October 23, 2012. The trip not only marked my first visit to India, it was also the first time that I had ever travelled on real trains because my home country, Nepal, does not have a proper rail network.

Everything about the trains was new to me, which made it really exciting. I started out from Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station in Delhi and headed towards Agra with the help of a railway atlas, a train map and a fixer. I had been provided with the fixer’s assistance for a couple of days thanks to my chief photographer Ahmad Masood, one of the generous people who gave me a lot of help to complete this story. It didn’t take me long to get used to train travel; I understand and speak Hindi, and most of the people on the trains were very friendly and helpful. Most of the time I was doing what I was there to do: observing and trying to capture the most significant and fascinating aspects of India’s railways.

In a country that is the seventh largest in the world by area and the second largest in the world by population, the Indian railway network reaches almost everywhere and carries commuters from one end of the country to the other. The network is a lifeline for India and for the Indians who use it. And why not take advantage of it? People prefer trains because they are a cheaper and faster way to travel. When you travel India by rail, everything is going on around you; it seems like the railway has created its own world and the running of that world depends on the running train.

Fare wars over India: You win, airlines lose

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

Indians like it cheap — be it a car, a phone call or airfare. If that plane ticket is about 25 percent cheaper than a train ticket, you can imagine the rush to buy.

Airlines in India are doing just that. Jet Airways, until recently the biggest Indian carrier, offered 2 million tickets at nearly half price in a “goodwill gesture”. Its website crashed soon after, just as SpiceJet’s did when it offered a million tickets for just 2,013 rupees  last month. That led many to believe the offer was a hoax.

I was lucky to book a New Delhi-Guwahati return ticket for March, paying just 3,578 rupees compared to the 13,047 rupees I paid for a one-way ticket as recently as November, and 4,420 rupees for the cheapest round-trip ticket on the Rajdhani Express, India’s premier long-distance train.

Corruption trumps reforms and economics in Kejriwal’s politics

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

The transformation of Arvind Kejriwal from taxman to anti-corruption activist and politician has been hard to ignore. He became something of a celebrity last year when he launched broadsides against rich, powerful people. That in turn gave him a platform to enter politics with his “Aam Aadmi Party” (party of the common man). Now Kejriwal, 44, must build a party in time to contest state-level elections in New Delhi this year.

After an hour-long election speech on a makeshift dais at a bus stand, the novice politician was visibly tired as he climbed into an off-white SUV for the journey home to Ghaziabad. I waited for him to stop coughing and take a sip of water before asking questions. We then had an animated, if one-note discussion about India’s economy and politics. The short story? Fix corruption and you fix everything else. Details about the economy, such as statistics and reports on inflation and economic growth? Just numbers for the media to repeat.

India ponders deficit control after the gold rush

India’s central government in January raised the tax on refined gold imports by 50 percent. This increase to 6 percent from 4 percent is the second rise this fiscal year. Why does it keep making gold more expensive, particularly as the nation enters its prime wedding season when brides will be bedecked with the metal from head to toe?

That’s part of the problem — a large part. India’s cultural attachment to gold is something that anybody who has been to an Indian wedding could tell you about. For those of you who haven’t, consider this report from CBS’s “60 Minutes” TV news program:

“India’s love for gold is almost a religion. Beyond being a symbol of wealth and status, gold is part of worship and culture – a tradition that goes back thousands of years. From birth to death, for men and women, among rich and poor – acquiring gold is a goal for the people of India. All of which has made India the world’s largest consumer of gold and thus a powerhouse in industry … Just as part of the American dream is to own a home, the dream in India is to own gold. For Indians, gold jewelry is wearable wealth, financial security that’s also a fashion statement.”

from Photographers' Blog:

Meet Miss Malini

Mumbai, India

By Vivek Prakash

Where I live is not the India of most people's imaginations or memories, and it's hardly the India I once knew as a kid.

My Mumbai has easygoing cafes, organic markets, swish malls, expensive restaurants serving great food and wine, fabulous nightclubs and raucous house parties. The idea that this India is any less "real" than bad infrastructure or the world of Slumdog Millionaire is misguided.

India has many crosses to bear - I acknowledge that. I'll be the first one to complain about crumbling roads, horrid traffic, corrupt politicians, impossible bureaucracy and the gulf between rich and poor. But you'd better get used to the idea that slowly but surely, generational change is taking place. My Mumbai is probably the India of the future.

‘Nobody can stop you if you engage in art with dignity’: Zila Khan on singing and Islam

The members of Praagaash, an all-girl band in Kashmir, split up this week after an influential cleric deemed their music un-Islamic. Zila Khan, one of India’s most popular sufi singers and daughter of sitar maestro Vilayat Khan, spoke to Reuters about how singing is closest to worship and meditation and how children should be allowed to sing.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Questions about Grand Mufti of Kashmir and Islam are best answered by experts in the field of religion. I am an expert in music, it will be no use pondering on subjects that I am not an authority on. There will be more experts to say better things on this issue. I can, however, talk about music, on my journey as a singer and the issue of women’s rights.

Obviously, I feel children should sing.

I feel the art of music and especially singing is the highest form of art in the world and in the cosmic cycle. To have the ilm (idea) and knowledge of this art is itself a blessing because it is much higher than any other form of art or work as such.

‘Vishwaroopam’ and Tamil Nadu’s cinema of politics

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

The most unfortunate aspect of the censorship controversy over Kamal Haasan’s new movie “Vishwaroopam,” which came out on Thursday, is that it is happening in Tamil Nadu. India’s southernmost state has a history of using cinema as a tool of political dissent and expression, particularly regarding the Dravidian movement, but that spirit seems to have vanished with the decision to release a truncated version of the film after Islamic groups said certain scenes offended them.

First, a recap: “Vishwaroopam” (background on that name here) is a spy thriller about a Muslim man living in New York, masquerading as a Hindu. He must thwart a plot by a group of Afghans to blow up the city. The film came out on Jan. 25 except in Tamil Nadu, where Muslim groups objected to the portrayal of some characters as bearded, wild-eyed “terrorists.” The state banned the film under India’s criminal code, and chief minister and former actress Jayalalithaa said she could not guarantee police protection at cinemas that showed the movie. She also said that the ban was a move to preserve “law and order.” Haasan agreed to remove seven scenes to mollify the groups.

Turning a Bangalore shanty town into a mall

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

The Bangalore city government and a private developer kicked more than 1,500 poor families out of subsidised housing in January, razed their neighbourhood and left them homeless. The reason? They want to build new, better housing – and a mall.

The flattening of 15 acres in the neighbourhood of Ejipura is another step to refurbish India’s information technology capital, where rents and property values have risen thanks to foreign companies pouring into the city and people from all over India seeking good jobs. As is often the case when there is money to be made, poor people are in the way.

Narendra Modi follows his roadmap to Delhi

The Narendra Modi charm offensive showed up in full force in India’s capital on Wednesday. Modi, the main opposition party’s likely prime ministerial candidate gave a speech on progress and development at one of Delhi’s premier colleges, the youthful audience greeted the 62-year-old politician with gusto, news outlets called his speech a “roadmap for India,” protesters showed up en masse and Twitter went bananas.

If not a direct declaration of grand political ambition, the nearly one-hour speech at the Shri Ram College of Commerce sounded like a pitch for a national role: here was the chief minister of Gujarat talking about development to more than a thousand students in New Delhi, staying away from the usual and divisive political overtones, repeatedly referring to the youth of the country (future voters), and outlining his vision for India.

“The whole world is looking at India as a big marketplace. Why? Because they (other countries) think they can sell here easily. It is the demand of our time to make India a leader in manufacturing and dump our goods in the world market,” Modi said, according to our report on the Reuters news wire.

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