Archive for 'Culture'

Will the Elderly Bring Down India?

Posted on July 29, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, Health, India, International.

MUMBAI, India — Maqbool Beg has been driving a rickshaw for 42 years. Now, at the age of 62, his children have grown, his beard has turned white, his teeth are red from years of chewing betel nut. And he suffers from high blood pressure. But he keeps on driving.

He needs the money. Thanks to inflation and the high cost of living in Mumbai, Beg has never been able to save. The 4,500 rupees (about $100) he earns a month make him ineligible for even a small government handout. Beg and his wife cannot rely on their sons, who earn even less working as a tailor and mechanic.

“Until I can no longer work, I will work,” he said, waiting outside a mobile health van in Bandra East, a suburb of Mumbai.

Beg is one of India’s 81 million elderly (technically, those over 60). While much of the attention on India’s population focuses on its young, the country also faces a rapidly growing elderly segment.

About half of India’s 1.2 billion people are younger than 25. India’s youth are often touted as the country’s best hope for one day surpassing China in economic growth rates.

Every year, India increases by the size of the population of Australia, and many blame nagging poverty on such stats. In some parts of India, local officials are taking extreme measures to try to curb numbers of children in families. In poor northern states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, an average woman still bears four children over her lifetime.

But, as with many things in India, the problem of too many children presents a contradiction.

It turns out that, overall, family planning efforts and rapid social development have resulted in lower fertility rates in most Indian states. Fertility rates have fallen from about six births per woman in the 1960s and 1970s to about 2.6 births in 2008, according to the U.N. Population Fund.

Smaller families and longer life spans have set India on a path to facing a massive population of elderly, say advocates for the aging and demographers.

Due to changes in social norms and the ongoing breakdown of joint families, much of this population of elderly will not have India’s traditional family system to support them. Furthermore, the state has not put into place adequate services for the aging, say advocates. The elderly — long deeply respected and honored in Indian culture — will be left to fend for themselves.

India’s population over 60 is expected to more than triple by 2050, and its 80-plus population is expected to quintuple, according to an article, “India’s Baby Boomers: Dividend or Disaster?” by David E. Bloom, a professor of economics and demography at Harvard University’s School of Public Health.

Activists and experts fear India is not in a position to handle so many old folks.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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India: The Cheerleader Who Went Too Far

Posted on May 14, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International, women.

MUMBAI, India — A beautiful blonde South African cheerleader came to India, dazzled cricket fans with her glamorous looks and fancy moves, and partied with the players after games. But then, and here was her fatal flaw, she blogged about it.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) reportedly fired the young woman, Gabriella Pasqualotto, and sent her back to South Africa this week after it became known that she was the anonymous writer of a blog detailing cricket after-parties.

The blog, called “The Secret Diary of an IPL Cheerleader,” appears on The Alternative Cricket Almanack website and tells of the parties after matches where “the music pumps, the drinks flow and the cricketers come and go.”

Pasqualotto, who cheered for the Mumbai Indians, writes in her blog, “cricketers are the most loose and mischievious sportsmen I have come across,” and names a few “naughty” Australian players.

The young woman’s blog sheds light on not just what the stars do behind closed doors but also how India’s cheerleaders — virtually all attractive, voluptuous white women in scantily clad outfits — are treated by fans.

“We are practically like walking porn!” she writes. “The men see your face, then your boobs, your butt, and then your boobs again! As we walk, all you hear is ‘IPL, IPL!’ with a little head jingle!”

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Indian Wedding Proposals Meet Bollywood

Posted on January 6, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International.

MUMBAI, India — He hired a helicopter to hover over his girlfriend’s building ($1,300) while musicians serenaded her from below ($335). He threw rose petals from the sky, then proposed with a diamond ring (5 carats). She said yes (priceless).

A typical Indian wedding involves hundreds of guests, days of festivities and countless glittery outfits. But for many of India’s wealthiest young lovers, a traditionally extravagant wedding is no longer fabulous enough. It’s the proposal that really needs to sparkle.

From private yachts to personalized action movie sequences, more and more young lovers are popping the question with increasingly elaborate — often borderline outlandish — theatrics. One groom-to-be got a nightclub to stop the music long enough for him to propose to his girlfriend in front of a crowd that chanted on cue: “Say yes! Say yes!”

Enter the Mumbai company that offers to help its clients make their wildest wedding proposal dreams come true.

“We’re giving you what you dream,” said Bhabesh Mehta, the 28-year-old founder of MyGenie, which he describes as a personal occasion management company. “You tell me the weirdest thing; I can make it happen for you.”

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Touring the Old Bandra Villages in Mumbai

Posted on December 31, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International, travel.

Mumbai’s popular suburb Bandra today boasts a happening night life, cosmopolitan feel and abundance of shopping choices. But Bandra was originally a collection of 25 quaint villages, traces of which can still be found.

Travelers to Mumbai can take a walking tour of these villages and see the charming lanes, Catholic churches and picturesque cottages that remain — but face the threat of decay and demolition, thanks in part to new high-rises.

A recent tour, led by Father Larry Pereira, a local priest, began at Bandra’s oldest church, St. Andrew’s (at the corner of Hill and Chimbai roads), which Portuguese Jesuits built in the 16th century. We then walked east on Hill Road and made a right into Varoda Road, directly across from Apostolic Carmel High School. Ranwar village begins at St. Jude Bakery, which was originally a traditional home.

The villages were built on rocky areas surrounded by fertile farmland, according to Father Pereira, who grew up attending St. Andrew’s. The homes were built huddled together without care for order or symmetry. “Haphazard is the old and planned is the new,” he said.

Continue reading at NYTimes.com.

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In Mumbai, Finding the Perfect Fit

Posted on October 31, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International, travel.

Walk through a market in Mumbai, and the brilliant colors, intricate designs and variety of fabrics on sale at even the smallest stall will captivate you. India’s clothes — like the countries’ bangle-clad women — sparkle and dazzle.

And luckily for travelers, with its low cost of labor and raw materials, Mumbai is an ideal city to have high quality clothes made at a fraction of what they would cost in the West. Here’s a short guide to finding your perfect fit.

For custom-made formal wear, try the designer Rahil Raja (B-205, Raj Mahal Building, Off Yari Road, Versova, Andheri West; 91-986-724-3355). Mr. Raja specializes in making traditional Indian outfits like saris and tunics with Western touches such as ruching or asymmetrical necklines. When he designs Western evening gowns, he often uses Indian fabrics.

“I kind of blend both to create something more contemporary and chic,” said Mr. Raja, who also designs costumes for Bollywood productions. His eveningwear creations begin at 10,000 rupees (about $220) and take about 10 days to make.

Continue reading at NYTimes.com.

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Behind Mumbai’s Conspicuous Consumption

Posted on October 31, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International.

MUMBAI, India — In a city where the majority of people lives in slums, the world’s fourth-richest man has built a 27-floor house.

It is an act most global media outlets have touted as a symbol of India’s robust economy on the upswing. News outlets have pointed to the dramatic increase in the number of billionaires (69) and a rapidly growing middle class. A McKinsey Global Institute report predicted that India’s 22 million middle-class urban households could increase to as many as 91 million in the next 20 years.

But inside India, the response has been more varied. Some news commentators have called Mukesh Ambani’s mansion, which cost $1 billion and is the most expensive in the world, distasteful and even vulgar.

From the average Mumbaikar, however, there has been very little resentment despite an awareness of the contrast between this one home’s splendor and the rampant poverty that surrounds it.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Bandra Diaries: What’s in a bikini wax for an Indian woman?

Posted on October 14, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International, women.

MUMBAI, India — Swati Karan prefers to wear one of her many colorful salwar kameezes, the traditional Indian tunic and loose pants. She says they’re comfortable, and her mother tells her she looks best in them.

But six days a week Swati, 26, pulls on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt or button-down and begins the two-and-a-half-hour journey to work. Though born in a small village and now living on the outskirts of Mumbai, Swati has arguably one of the most modern jobs in all of India — though it may not be the most glamorous. Swati works at a beauty salon giving young women Brazilian bikini waxes.

Swati lives in a one-bedroom apartment with nine family members in Dombivli, a suburb northeast of Mumbai that is only slightly calmer than the city itself. Every morning, she walks 15 minutes to the train station, past women on mats selling fresh vegetables and busy stalls offering everything from fried samosas to plastic buckets.

Swati waits with the other women on the train platform to secure her space in the ladies’ compartment of the train, standing room only. She takes the train for an hour to Dadar, where she transfers to another train on to Bandra. There, she waits another 30 minutes for a bus to Pali Hill, a posh Bandra West suburb known for its tree-lined streets and Bollywood mansions.

And finally, Swati arrives at work: an upscale beauty salon where men in designer jeans get manicures and women in three-inch heels have their hair straightened. It’s a far cry from her home back in Dombivli, but in her black eyeliner and kitten-toe heels, Swati fits right in.

In a place as dynamic as Mumbai, sometimes old and new, Western and Indian, coexist in parallel universes. Other times they occur within the same person at the same time. On a daily basis, Swati lives amid these layers of modernity and tradition.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Ganesh Goes Green

Posted on September 16, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International, Religion.

MUMBAI, India — At a line of stalls in Mumbai’s Matunga East, men sit on wooden stands and others crouch underneath, their hands working fast as they tie flower after flower together to make garlands of every size and color combination.

On another street, men and women line up down the block, waiting to buy incense that will be used as an offering. Mumbai is geering up for Ganesh Chaturthi, a celebration of the Hindu elephant-headed god Lord Ganesh and one of the city’s most elaborate festivals.

But all is not merry. As the festival has grown in popularity and become modernized and, some would argue, commercialized, its traditional practices have developed into a strain on India’s environment. The state government for Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, and local NGOs and activists have responded with a campaign to give Ganesh a makeover — of the green variety.

“It’s an effort to make the whole festival eco-friendly because it results in a lot of water pollution at the end of the day,” said state environment secretary Valsa Nair Singh.

Read more at GlobalPost.

Follow Hanna on Twitter @Hanna_India.

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The Bhojpuri Boom (Video)

Posted on June 20, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International.

MUMBAI, India – Twenty-year-old Darbanga Lalit Yadav left his village in the north Indian state Bihar two years ago and moved to Mumbai in search of a job. He works as a cook in a family’s home and earns 4,000 rupees ($87) a month. When he gets a day off about once a month, he said he spends it by wandering around the city and then going to the movies.

But Yadav does not waste his time watching Bollywood films that typically show wealthy, jet-setting Indians in modern outfits living around the world. He can’t relate to those movies. Instead, he goes to the latest Bhojpuri film. In these movies, the characters speak the Hindi dialect Bhojpuri, which is spoken in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and among many of Mumbai’s migrants.

“They’re from my Bihar,” Yadav said of Bhojpuri films as he stood in line to buy a 30-rupee ticket at a single-screen theater in Andheri, a northern suburb of Mumbai. Men repairing the cinema stood above Yadav on bamboo scaffolding. “Bhojpuri films are more interesting,” he said, “because they belong to my own village and language.”

Regional cinemas like Bhojpuri have seen a surge in growth in India over the past decade as a result of Bollywood films increasingly catering to more modern, wealthy and cosmopolitan Indians, according to Kathryn Hardy, a University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. candidate in South Asia studies who is working on a dissertation on Bhojpuri cinema.

Continue reading and watch the video at GlobalPost.

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India: Streetwise Kama Sutra?

Posted on June 4, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International.

MUMBAI, India — Every weekday morning 23-year-old Muskaan gets ready for work in an apartment she shares with her mother in Chembur, a suburb in Mumbai. Muskaan’s mom thinks her daughter will catch a bus to her office in Powai.

Instead, she meets her boyfriend, 24-year-old Dilip, and he gives her a ride to work on his motorcycle. Muskaan and Dilip have been together for a year, but their families do not know. The young couple fear their parents would disapprove of them dating before marriage.

They both still live at home and since they are not allowed to bring a member of the opposite sex over, they see each other in secret. Whenever they have free time, Muskaan and Dilip leave their own neighborhood and ride Dilip’s motorcycle to one of the few public spaces available in Mumbai.

On a recent Saturday, they sat shoulder-to-shoulder on a promenade, admiring the sunset over the Arabian Sea in Bandra, another suburb. “We normally sit here because this is a very beautiful place,” said Muskaan, who wears thick black eyeliner, black hoop earrings, silver sparkling sandals and a traditional Indian outfit called a salwar kameez.

Asked if they take their intimacy a step further and kiss or do other personal acts while sitting on Carter Road, Muskaan says in a matter-of-fact tone: “Obviously. Why would people come here?”

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

Follow Hanna on Twitter @Hanna_India

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