India Insight

A Twitter high five from the Pope? Maybe someday

As a practising Catholic, I was eagerly waiting to read Pope Benedict XVI’s first tweets. I didn’t expect to be blown away by the first few, but interest was building on the Internet, and I was part of that. Not many in India or my home state of Goa seemed to care very much. Perhaps they didn’t even know that the Pope had joined Twitter. But the small step by Pope Benedict on Wednesday, marks a dramatic change in the way the Church communicates to its faithful.

No one expected the Vatican, usually conservative by nature, or the 85-year old Pontiff, to say anything path-breaking or revolutionary. As expected, the first tweet was bland, and the event anti-climactic. Pope Benedict XVI also proved himself initially incapable of tweeting on his own.

Nonetheless, when a pope does something for the first time, it’s impressive anyway. He has more than a million followers, and his messages will be tweeted in eight languages (Hindi isn’t one of them). More impressive is the idea that you can talk to the pope. The German pontiff’s first few tweets raised various responses, ranging from child abuse cover-up accusations, people calling him a Nazi and Satan, and others offering him encouragement and prayers, and someone who asked him to pray that she gets a new iPhone 5.

The question now is whether Pope Benedict will find it challenging to get any real, meaningful message across in less than 140 characters (brevity not being the Vatican’s usual style). And the Pope will not be following anyone else on the account, nor will he send the tweets himself. Tweets would also mainly be spiritual messages, and you wouldn’t find the Pope tweeting about what he ate for breakfast or what he’s watching on TV. (Though one does wonder… does Pope Benedict eat breakfast? What does he like? Does he watch TV? What’s he watching, anyway?)

The event wasn’t front page news in India nor did it probably need to be. But for the Catholic Church, which until the 1960s celebrated Mass all over the world mainly in Latin, this is a milestone in its attempts to being more in touch with its followers. Anyone, anywhere with a Twitter account can reach out to the Pope. Neither can anyone cover up comments on Twitter nor could any gaffes go unnoticed.

Ravi Shankar and the West’s search for the lost chord

There is a moment in the beginning of the Concert for Bangla Desh live album when sitar master Ravi Shankar and his fellow musicians play some notes on their Indian instruments. When they stop, the audience at Madison Square Garden applauds and cheers. “Thank you,” Shankar said. “If you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more.”

He and his band members then begin playing the piece called “Bangla Dhun.” At the end, the crowd cheers just as lustily as they did for the warmup.

That was 1971. Forty-one years later, and a day after Shankar’s death at the age of 92, I’m not sure that most of the western world is any more hip to the difference between tune-up and performance in Indian music than the people who filed into Madison Square Garden that August to hear the show. I wasn’t when I heard the album in the 1980s, and I am not now. (If that’s a tune-up, I’ll listen to tune-ups for hours)

Ravi Shankar, a song more felt than heard

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

As the world pays tribute to sitar master Ravi Shankar, who died on Tuesday at the age of 92, it’s worth reflecting on his greatest contribution to the world: his attempt to bridge the gap between “eastern” and “western” music with the likes of the Beatles and violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

But what will Indians remember him for? Teaching George Harrison to play the sitar, perhaps. But what’s the song he wrote that no Indian can forget? What’s the Indian equivalent of the concert for Bangladesh that Harrison organized, and at which Shankar played?

from The Human Impact:

Dial-a-maid, get-a-slave in middle class India

When I arrived in India some years back as a single mother and full-time journalist, there was one thing I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about – finding domestic help.

Maids, nannies, drivers, cooks and cleaners are ten-a-penny amongst the urban middle classes here.

In New Delhi’s neighbourhoods, for example, most families employ full- or part-time help, who do everything from feeding and bathing babies and cooking family meals to sweeping and washing floors.

Window closing on Prime Minister Singh’s planned visit to Pakistan

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

It is eerily quiet on the fenced border between India and Pakistan in the southern plains of Jammu and Kashmir. Farmers are planting paddy, you can hear the sound of traffic in the distance from both sides of the border, and sometimes the squeals of children. Overhead in high watchtowers that can be seen from a mile, soldiers peer through binoculars at the enemy across while in the rear just behind the electrified fence with its array of Israeli-supplied sensors, soldiers are strung out in a line of bunkers. It’s a cold peace on one of the world’s most militarised frontiers.

Now the young chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, wants to change that, by cracking open the border and allowing the movement of people and trade through a road and rail route that have been shut since Partition in 1947.

Kejriwal names his party, now it’s agenda time

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

Now that we know the name of India’s newest political party, launched by social activist Arvind Kejriwal, let’s look at what else it might deal with aside from the annihilation of corruption.

Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi party (AAP) – the name means “common man,” with “aam” meaning “ordinary” (and also “mango”) in Hindi – hasn’t said much so far about the bread-and-butter political topics of the day. While Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption has spoken on a few topics such as the hanging of Mumbai attacks convict Ajmal Kasab, how would he deal with a hostile nation with nuclear weapons? In fact, what is his foreign policy platform?

Photo gallery: From Haridwar to Rishikesh, why you don’t stick to the itinerary

You may be ready with the camera equipment and travel gear, but what if the first sight of your destination doesn’t appeal to you? That happened to me when I reached Haridwar. The dirt and grime appalled me, and I wasn’t up for an “exotic India” photo op. Worse, the manager of an ashram refused to provide accommodation because I was a single male. The other lodging house guy I spoke to over the phone was equally reluctant and for the same reason.

Walking past the innumerable beggars and the drying Ganga river, I found a spot where a man was resting under a tree.

 

Disgruntled, I hopped into the next autorickshaw and reached Rishikesh, about 20 kilometres from Haridwar. The view cheered me up.

Zee News editors arrested in Jindal extortion case

(Updated with response by Zee News)

Two senior journalists of Hindi-language channel Zee News were arrested on Tuesday night in an extortion case filed by Congress lawmaker and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd Chairman Naveen Jindal.

Jindal released video recordings last month that he said showed the journalists trying to extort money from the industrialist in return for not airing negative stories on coal block allocations involving his company.

Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) was among the companies named in a state auditor report as one of the beneficiaries of controversial coal block allocations which came to be known as “coalgate”.

from Photographers' Blog:

Meeting a modern-day Gandhi

Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

"I am Gandhi!" he says firmly. "His soul resides inside me," he announces, smiling unwaveringly.

I stare blankly at the man who is wearing a dhoti wrapped around his waist, thick black oval glasses and carrying a cane just like Mahatma Gandhi.

GALLERY: MODERN-DAY GANDHI

Two weeks ago, I called this man asking to meet him and he politely told me not to say "hello."

from Money on the markets:

Subbarao goes against his panel, again

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

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram is not the only one walking alone.

Duvvuri Subbarao, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) chief, also seems to be on a solitary, and one hopes, contemplative walk.

It's not just the government putting pressure on the central bank to act and cut rates.

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