What I'm Reading

Photo courtesy of nymag.com (Ari Seth Cohen)

Don't Tell Me to Dress My Age

As a person who is solidly in "old enough for an article like this to apply to" territory, I wholeheartedly identified with it.  I've noticed I'm less comfortable with shorter hemlines without an assist from opaque tights, but care much less about being over-dressed for an event - I love to look polished and put together, and I don't care if that makes me stand out a bit!

Photo courtesy of luvvie.org

I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual

All I can say about this book is that it should literally be required reading for every human being alive today.  Blogger/humorist/all around rockstar Luvvie Ajayi presents practical ways to be an actual better person, all served with a side of her trademark sass to help the medicine go down.

Photo courtesy of Nice Life Recording Company

Meet The Rising Musician Who's Starting A Body Confidence Revolution

Well, I know what I'm going to be streaming in the car on the way to a client appointment this afternoon!  Lizzo's comment that absolutely took my breath away relates to something I've been noodling on for awhile: "I hate when things that are good for people become trendy and people belittle their importance.  That's happened with terms like feminist, activist, and safe space."

And now for something a little different...

My dad sent the following to our little family group yesterday.  My sister, sister-in-law, husband, and I were blown away by the acuity of his observations and the quality of his writing.  I just had to share it with you!

India, Two Weeks In

When Claire and I landed in Delhi two years ago, there was one window for internet-obtained visas and nobody in that line.  Now, with greater awareness, half the plane-load is in that line, but there is still only one window.  Such is India.  The people are modernizing much faster than the state.  The state is going to have to figure out how to get out of the way or get upended.  But, the state is notoriously bureaucratic and slow to change.  It is a tinderbox.

We are told that India today, compared to twenty-five years ago when economic liberalization began, is day and night.  Only that perspective gives me hope that this country can bootstrap its way into the 21st century.  The enormity of the challenge is overwhelming (I find myself using that word a lot but will try to reserve it for the extreme cases).

The country remained agrarian through half of the twentieth century, and 60-70% of the population today still lives in the rural villages that - for the most part - have no electricity, running water, or sanitation. That's nearly a billion of the 1.4 billion population.  The cities are a mash-up of crumbling Raj, tin-roofed stalls, and air-conditioned oases for the business community and the tourists.

Using the vernacular of the day - which is pretty nearly accurate - the top 1% are up to date, most everybody else in the cities is a wannabe techie, and the rest of the country is two centuries behind.  There is precious little industrial base.  The industrial revolution never came here.  Consequently, there is precious little middle class, and those that are earning their way to that level with service jobs rarely have any opportunity to accumulate capital.  Success for most urban immigrants is a motorcycle and a smartphone.

This is Jess's nightmare.  Everything about India is crowded.  Unless you venture out early in the morning, you can't possibly walk in a straight line for more than a few steps.  The sidewalks have long since been taken over - and roofed over - as stalls. People by the thousands, dogs (which have been inbred to the point of uniformity), cows which are sacred and therefore simply worked around wherever they choose to be, and an army of green and yellow tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorized rickshaws) vie for footing on the streets.  Add in a million motorcycles and the habit of all Indian drivers to honk endlessly, and you have a pretty good working example of chaos.

Just when you are getting a grasp on this scene, you realize that you are only dealing with half the population.  You see very few women out and about, even in the cities.  The street is the men's realm, and for many of them it is the sum total of their realm.  Few appear to be seriously employed, in a country where even a full-time job might involve 3-4 hours of actual work on a good day and always includes 144 official vacation days per year (Sundays plus 10 weeks).  And get this:  there are a million Indians reaching age 18 and entering the job market PER MONTH!

Marriages are still arranged by parents in most cases - we hear numbers from 75% to 95% of families - and it doesn't happen until the man has a job to support a family.  (see previous paragraph)   Are you picking up on a growing problem here?   Increasingly, the young Indian men are not only unemployed but unattached into their 30s.  Pre-marital sex is a huge taboo.  Porn is very popular.  Arranged marriages are not, by and large, love matches.  A disturbing proportion of Indians must not ever know what it is to fall in love.

I choose not to adopt the Hindu belief in reincarnation, for fear of coming back as a lower caste Indian.  That would be purgatory (and is regarded as such by Hindus whose goal is to earn exemption from reincarnation).  It is hard to be optimistic for these people, except . . . that they have come so far in the last twenty-five years.

Visitors can't ignore the obvious, but they can escape it.  The top-end hotels - in many cases, former palaces of the maharajas who ruled over 100 separate feudal fiefdoms until the British decided to create India - are truly splendid.  Air conditioned sedans ferry the rich through the rivers of local humanity.  Line-jumping is part of the culture, and the tourist industry knows how to do it for their paying clients.  Being coddled is nice, but being the modern-day incarnation of colonialism and privilege is scary.

There is nothing the tourist industry can do about the polluted air and rivers, so they simply deny the issues.   We have now been in the cities and countryside across a huge swath of northern India, and we have yet to see a spot of blue sky through the gray haze.  You can smell it and feel it; you instinctively want to struggle to the surface to gasp fresh air as when deep in a pool.  We are surprised not to hear more coughing.  Lung disease must be a lingering future epidemic.

The tour guides swear the river water is pure, but they don't drink it.  The rivers drain from the Himalayas and serve as sewers across vast plains, and the accumulation of run-off during the heavy rains is beyond our ken.  We have seen the high water marks and find them hard to believe:  during the monsoon, the rivers rise 30-50 feet and spread to 25-30 kilometers wide in some places.  The Hindu practice of cremation and deposit of ashes in the rivers doesn't help.

There are the usual tourist destinations: temples, forts, palaces, shrines, mausoleums, monasteries, folk music and dance venues.  We allow ourselves to be herded with only a little grumbling.  Frankly, those things are hardly worth talking about.   They are not the story.   You come here to see a significant chunk of the world's population trying to find its way in the modern world, against enormous (dare I say overwhelming?) odds.

-Marshall Milligan