Tuesday, April 19, 2022

From ‘The Subtle Art of Not giving a Fuck. A counterintuitive approach to living a good life’ by Mark Manson

There is a bluntness to Russian culture that generally rubs Westerners the wrong way. Gone are the fake niceties and verbal webs of politeness. You don't smile at strangers or pretend to like anything you don't. In Russia, if something is stupid, you say it's stupid. If someone is being an asshole you tell him he's being an asshole. If you really like someone and are having a great time, you tell her that you like her and are having a great time. It doesn't matter if this person is your friend, a stranger, or someone you met five minutes ago on the street……….

I remember discussing this dynamic with my Russian teacher one day, and he had an interesting theory. Having lived under communism for so many generations, with little to no economic opportunity and caged by a culture of fear, Russian society found the most valuable currency to be trust. And to build trust you have to be honest. That means when things suck, you say so openly and without apology. People’s displays of unpleasant honesty were rewarded for the simple fact that they were necessary for survival - you had to know whom you could rely on and whom you couldn't, and you needed to know quickly.

But in the “free” West, my Russian teacher continued, there existed an abundance of economic opportunity - so much economic opportunity that it became far more valuable to present yourself in a certain way, even if it was false, then to actually be that way. Trust lost its value. Appearances and salesmanship became more advantages forms of expression. Knowing a lot of people superficially was more beneficial than knowing a few people closely.

This is why it became the norm in western cultures to smile and say polite things even when you don't feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don't actually agree with. This is why people learn to pretend to be friends with people they don't actually like, to buy things they don't actually want. The economic system promotes such deception.

The downside of this is that you never know, in the West, if you can completely trust the person you're talking to. Sometimes this is the case even among good friends or family members. There is such pressure in the West to be likable that people often reconfigure their entire personality depending on the person they're dealing with.

 

Monday, April 18, 2022

From ‘Undiplomatic Incidents’ by Apa Pant

 

President Nasser of Egypt …… As Indian ambassador in Cairo I was once involved in organizing a charity show of the Indian Film Mother India for the Egyptian Red Crescent movement.

Knowing how busy the president’s schedule of engagements was, I indicated, while inviting him to grace the charity show, that he need not actually stay for more than a few minutes, particularly since Indian films were, in any case, far too long

…….. When Nasser arrived at the theater, I thanked him profusely …… I reminded him that he need only stay for ten minutes ….. Nasser turned to me and asked me whether I had seen Mother India. Outraged at the suggestion that I wasted my time on Indian films, I replied, ‘Of course not, Your Excellency.’

Nasser said softly, ‘Mr Ambassador, I have already seen the film twice and I want to see the whole of it again for a third time!’

From ‘India My Love’ by Dominique Lapierre

 

 

तन्नश्तम् यन्न दियते

tannashtam yanna diyate

 

“All that is not given is lost”

Indian Proverb

 

I soon learnt the habit of indicating ones religion immediately is typically Indian. It takes precedence over all other forms of identification.

 

Five sovereigns - those of Hyderabad, Kashmir, Mysore, Gwalior and Baroda - were granted the supreme honor of a twenty-one gun salute. Then came the states with nineteen then seventeen, fifteen, thirteen, elevan and nine gun salutes. For four hundred and twenty-five more modest rajas and nawabs who ruled over small principalities almost forgotten on the map of the subcontinent, there was no gun salute. They were the forsaken princess of India; men for whom the guns were not fired.

 

“If only you knew what these whims of Gandhi cost the British treasury!” Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, revealed to us. “We were so worried he might get assassinated that all his co-travelers in his third class compartment – untouchables, beggars and lepers - were police inspectors in disguise.”

 

What bliss! My beloved India, had gratified Larry and me with the most exhaustive documentation ever collected on the fall of the British Empire in India and the partition of the subcontinent into two sovereign nations, India with the Hindu majority and Muslim Pakistan. We had collected more than two thousand unpublished accounts and about five hundred kilos of material. The documents in our treasure trove were almost entirely original, rich material that constituted the basis of the narrative for one of the greatest epochs in the history of the 20th century.

 

From ‘Toujours Provence’ by Peter Mayle

 

 

The doctor began to scribble like a poet on heat…….he passed over a wad of hieroglyphics

 

…….. The Anglo-Saxon custom of the orderly queue has no place in French life.

 

……… why French drains behave and smell the way they do, which I found to be a topic of common curiosity among English expatriates. Isn't it strange, they said, that the French are so good at sophisticated technology like high-speed trains and electronic telephone systems and Concorde, and yet revert to the eighteenth century in their bathrooms. Only the other day, an elderly lady informed me, she had flushed her lavatory and the remains of a mixed salad had surfaced in the bowl. Really, it was too bad. That sort of thing would never happen in Cheltenham.

 

He ordered a glass of champagne and showed us some baby melons, no bigger than apples, that he had just bought in the market. They were to be scooped clean, dosed with ratafia of grape juice and Brandy and left for twenty-four hours in the refrigerator. They would taste, so Regis assured us, like a young girl's lips. I had never thought of melons in quite that way before, but I put that down to the shortcomings of my English education.

 

I remembered being turned away from restaurant with airs and graces in Somerset because I wasn't wearing a tie, something that has never happened to me in France.

 

He was unused to speaking into a microphone and, being a Provencal, he was unable to keep his hands still. Thus his explanation came and went in intermittent snatches as he pointed the microphone hopefully at various parts of the field while his words disappeared into the breeze.

 

People are attracted to an area because of its beauty and its promise of peace, and then they transform it into a high-rent suburb complete with cocktail parties, burglar alarm systems, four-wheel-drive recreational vehicles and other essential trappings of la vie rustique.

I don't think the locals mind. Why would they? Barren patches of land that couldn't support a herd of goats are suddenly worth millions of francs. Shops and restaurants and hotels prosper. The macons, the carpenters, the landscape gardeners and the tennis court builders have bulging order books and everyone benefits from le boum. Cultivating tourists is much more rewarding than growing grapes.

 

Sooner or later, as we now expected, every conversation in Provence seems to turn to food or drink.

 

Every time it rains we are delighted, which Faustin takes as a promising sign that we are becoming less English.

 

The time that elapses in Provence between planning a rendezvous and keeping it can often stretch into months, and sometimes years…..

 

‘Tomorrow morning at eleven,’ he said. ‘In the caves at Chateauneuf. Eat plenty of bread at breakfast.’

I had done what he suggested and, as an extra precaution, taking a soup-spoonful of neat olive oil, which one of the local gourmets had told me was an excellent way to coat the stomach and cushion the system against repeated assault by young and powerful wines. In any case………. I wouldn't be swallowing much. I would do as the experts do, rinse and spit.

 

…..Frenchman with an empty stomach drives twice as fast as a Frenchman with a full stomach (which is already too fast for sanity and speed limits)

 

There is something about lunch in France that never fails to overcome any small reserves of will-power that I possess. I can sit down, resolved to be moderate, determined to eat and drink lightly, and be there three hours later, nursing my wine and still open to temptation. I don't think it's greed. I think it's the atmosphere generated by a roomful of people who are totally intent on eating and drinking. And while they do it, they talk about it; not about politics or sport or business, but about what is on the plate and in the glass. Sauces are compared, recipes argued over, past meals remembered and future meals planned. The world and its problems can be dealt with later on, la bouffe takes priority and contentment hangs in the air. I find it irresistible.

 

….. Marseille itself didn't enjoy the best of reputations among its neighbors. (even today, a Marsellais is regarded as a blaguer, an exaggerator, a man who will describe a sardine as a whale,  not entirely to be believed.)

 

….. monks, for some reason, I have an affinity for alcoholic invention, from champagne to Benedictine……..

 

I remembered being told not to handle the vegetables in a London greengrocer’s. There would have been outrage here if the same miserable ruling were introduced. No fruit or vegetables are bought without going through trial by touch, and any stallholder who tried to discourage the habit would be pelted out of the market.

 

I had once heard a Frenchman express his opinion of Italian food in a single libelous phrase: after the noodle, there is nothing.

 

It is impossible to live in France for any length of time and stay immune to the national enthusiasm for food…….

 

………. to bewilder foreigners. Where is the logic, for instance, in the genders given to proper names and nouns? Why is the Rhone masculine and the Durance feminine? They are both rivers, and if they must have a sex, why can't it be the same one? ………. he went on to the masculine ocean, the feminine sea, the masculine lake and the feminine puddle. Even the water must get confused.

……. genders are there for no other reason than to make life difficult. They have been allocated in a whimsical and arbitrary fashion, sometimes with a cavalier disregard for the anatomical niceties. The French for vagina is vagin. Le vagin. Masculine. How can the puzzled student hope to apply logic to a language in which the vagina is masculine?

 

It is perhaps because of these perplexing twists and turns that French was for centuries the language of diplomacy, and occupation in which simplicity and clarity are not regarded as being necessary, or even desirable. Indeed, the guarded statement, made fuzzy by formality and open to several different interpretations, is much less likely to land an ambassador in the soup then plain words which mean what they say. A diplomat, according to Alex Dreier, is ‘anyone who thinks twice before saying nothing’.

 

From ‘Close Encounters’ by M V Kamath

 

 

In course of covering these meetings I have met, conversed with, exchanged jokes with practically every President and Prime Minister world over. I had one of the most engaging conversations on, of all things, Indian curries - believe it or not - with Stalin's foreign minister Molotov.

 

Jawaharlal was known to be particularly snooty. He had no use for mere reporters, especially the Indian variety. He would be available to foreign (white) correspondents as I was later to know more painfully in 1956 but not to Indians

 

Dr. Ambedkar……… had some awful things to say about the Free Press Journal ……. said some uncharitable and unprintable things about Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru and then he lit up on me in no uncertain terms..

 

One, never let go a chance to talk to a celebrity, even at the risk of being snubbed. Two, never pretend to be knowledgeable. If you don't know something, admit to the fact. Never pretend to knowledge you don't have. The real expert would always be willing to enlighten the ignorant. Three, pay respectful attention to the one person in front of you.

 

…….a brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Col Fitzpatrick whose tribute to Gandhiji on his assassination remains one of the finest pieces of drawing, even beating Bill Maudlin’s cartoon on assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

 

The interview went off well. I had never met Krishna Menon before. I was taken aback by his haughtiness. It was as if he was bestowing a favor on me by the very act of answering my questions…….. Menon behaved like a petulent child……… He wanted to be considered as someone special….. I could not fathom Menon. He was a different kind of Indian who had lived all his adult life in Britain and had his ups and downs. He was probably more at peace with the British than his own countrymen.

I had heard a good deal about him, how he fought for India's independence in his own way through the India League, how he lived a frugal, even ascetic life, how he often went out of his way to help Indian students stranded in London etc. etc. and I was full of admiration for him……… Intellectual arrogance is something hard to put up with. And that seemed to be Menon’s main fault.

 

One may say anything about Morarji Desai, but he appreciates a person who stands up to him and is truthful.

 

Mr M.C. Chagla…….. was a man of guts though not always distinguished for diplomacy. He reminded Pakistanis that when they attacked Hindus, they were attacking their own ancestors, since many of them were converts. That could not have gone down well with Muslims in Pakistan. He refused to go to the mosque to pray in Malaysia, insisting that he did not believe in such matters. That embarrassed the Government of India, but Chagla was not the one to be a token Muslim - in any cabinet. He asserted his right to have his own views on religion and religious observances and was not to be browbeaten either by the government or by the press to play the role of compliant Muslim.

 

One predominant trait in Bhutto was his discomfort when challenged. He was not accustomed to being questioned by anyone - least of all by an Indian correspondent. What he said had to be accepted as indisputable truth.

 

Kissinger is a third rate diplomat, his smartness vastly overvalued. He has given a lame excuse for calling Indians bastards saying that this was done at the height of the Cold War. He is a sycophant……. A man utterly without any principles, he was the right man to work for Nixon whose devotion to principles was even less.

 

The Nehrus must have lived under the belief that they are above most of us ordinary human beings………..

 

I have fond memories of justice Hidayatullah. In my galaxy of truly noble men he is one of the brightest stars.

From ‘Riding Towards Me. A thousand-day journey from Chicago to Delhi’ by Jay Kannaiyan

 

 

… riding through Mexico, I realized I was being taken for a Mexican whenever I spoke Spanish.

 

America is a place where your origin isn't as important as what you are capable of doing and who you are as an individual.

 

… the well known beauty of Medellin women became apparent to me….. they all possessed a glowing, inherent grace and beauty. I later learned that plastic surgery is very popular in Colombia and neighboring Venezuela. Regardless, the wide smiles and pronounced cheekbones brought out the natural beauty in these women. Their features were in sharp contrast to the men, who were comparatively average-looking. One can easily pass time over a beer pondering Columbia’s evident gender ‘imbalance’; a fate shared only by a few nations. That evening, I mused on stories about travelers who had reached Columbia and not ventured further because they had been trapped by the beauty of the women.

 

Being brown, I felt like I could mingle with the indigenous population of Peru…..I was intrigued by the fact that chillies had actually originated in Peru but are hardly used in their local cuisine nowadays.

 

My reason for leaving Chicago in the cold of March was so that I could cross the Amazon in August, the driest month of the year in the rainforest and the safest time to make the crossing solo.

 

Eudaimonia, found at the intersection of what's true, good and beautiful, is an oft-forgotten philosophy from Socrates’s time.

 

I had seen people bathing in public by leaving their underwear on and found it strange……….. it was perfectly normal, at least in rural parts of South America, to strip naked if it was to bathe yourself. This whole continent is quite conservative since Roman Catholicism is the major line of faith, Primarily in the urban areas. In rural areas, privacy is a luxury that not many can afford, and people go about their business without putting much thought into coming across as prudish.

 

Each positive experience in Brazil was helping me build a very friendly impression of the country…… the development of the roads with proper tarmac and regularly spaced distance boards confirmed that Brazil is much more advanced than Bolivia…….. the road…..the legendary TransAmazonica….. this road is mythical in the adventure riding community and as I later found out, even amongst the locals. it was built in the 1970s by the then military government of Brazil to bring development from the Atlantic Coast deep into the vast Amazon region. The construction was treacherous as a rain forest is no easy place to clear a path and then keep it clear. The initial plan was to pave the whole stretch from West to east, but thankfully to adventurers, it is yet to be done…… the utmost difficulty in traversing this route. it is an unpaved road through not just any rainforest, but the Amazon rainforest, which means the road surface is primarily clay…… it rains eleven months of the year in the Amazon, being the heaviest around the beginning of the year. Of course, it was quite intense during the other months as well since it was a rainforest…… I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Amazon was not a flat plain, as one might imagine while seeing satellite pictures, but it is instead quite hilly………. My admiration for good-natured Brazilians was only increasing with each interaction…. There was something about the openness among Brazilians I had come across so far that I found very comforting.

 

Maybe Brazilians have an understanding of how important a bath is at the end of the day since it is always so humid and hot. This was my kind of place. …. We walked back to his little hut as I wondered why he had sat there looking at me while I bathed. But I knew that Brazil was more open than most cultures and nudity was really nothing special.

 

At the end of the tour, Mauricio, in a spontaneous act I had come to love and expect in South America, invited us to a street party in the evening.

 

The blinding white salt surface of the Salar de Uyuni raced ahead of me all the way to the horizon….. This is a 10,582 sq km…. flat, dry salt lake at 3,656 m (11,955 ft) that doesn't vary by more than a meter across its whole surface. Due to its near uniform geological flatness and high reflectivity (being white), the Salar has been used for many decades to calibrate the altimeters of earth-observing satellites. It's also an easy place to get lost…… The brine is a solution containing large amounts of different salts ranging from sodium, potassium, lithium and magnesium. Of those, lithium has the most economic value. Bolivia harbors about 50 per cent of the known reserves on this planet and most of these are under the Salar de Uyuni. This rare substance already in very high demand because lithium batteries power almost all electronic devices today………. The flatness has been attributed to its annual flooding, which levels out any changes in the malleable topography.

 

….. I knew from other travelers that Argentina was a safe country with an established damping culture….. Argentines are very friendly people…..

 

To avoid paying for a doctor, most cargo ships around the world have welcome no more than twelve passengers on their voyages across the sea. It's a niche travel sector known as freighter cruises.

 

Feeling very much at home across South America, I wondered if my skin color had played a part in that. I have been surprised, time and time again, at how curious people were about India.

 

….’ Oh, I'm sorry, you are too late, come again on Monday.’ ‘But Sir, the boat is leaving on Monday!’ I pleaded as I thrust my clutch of documents towards him. He saw the Ashoka emblem on the cover of my passport and exclaimed, ‘Oh, you’re from India? Amitabh Bachchan is great! I'll help you out, one second.’ The reference to one of India's Bollywood greats momentarily stumped me, and I stared at the officer for a second with the papers held out in my hand before he took them and swept into action. My Indian passport had worked in my favor…….

 

Even while Sudan happened to be in the world’s consciousness for all the wrong reasons, such as the conflicts in Darfur and Abyei and for it's authoritarian president, other travelers had informed me that the people of Sudan were one of the most genuine they had encountered in all of Africa………… Just like Egypt, it [Sudan] was expensive to enter, but once inside, travel was cheap….. I asked him about his time in India and he said that he loved it, besides the occasional racial slur that is strangely common against black people in India

 

Zambia are being one of the few African countries never to have had a coup or military dictator….. Unlike Indian migrants who went to South Africa or other parts of the continent, Indians who came to Zambia (or Northern Rhodesia as it was known before independence) were not indentured laborers, but artisans and business people. Contrary to the uneasy relations between Indians and locals in other African countries, such as Uganda in the 70s, Zambia has been good to its Indian community, which is maybe why so many stayed and prospered

 

…… The popularity of Indian food in South Africa….. it was intriguing to witness how Indian food had spread into the local cuisine. Chapati and samosas were very much a part of the staple in a lot of areas…

 

….. The Hoba meteorite site….. A massive boulder that didn't look like any rock I had ever seen before. Squat, square, shiny and most certainly, other-worldly. It had excavated a shallow crater as it crashed into earth 80,000 years ago…… What remains is the largest known meteorite and lump of naturally-occurring iron on earth.

 

The only word of caution they gave me was to remain in the campgrounds. The risk of snakes and other animals was just too high in Namibia………. The Namib desert is considered the world's oldest desert. It formed around fifty-five million years ago and has been arid ever since. In comparison the Sahara is only around seven years old

 

Surrounding Deadvlei were the largest sand dunes I had ever seen. Bid Daddy at the far end of the vlei, soaring almost 325 m (1067 ft) above, is one of the largest sand dunes in the world. It is an enormous wall of rust orange sand rising from the desert floor….. This was one of the strangest places in the world.

 

in all my travels, I have seen a greater sense of civility in rural areas then in urban areas…….. unlike the aggression that is so typical of the plains, people in the hills are a lot friendlier and more amiable, almost certainly a result of the climate.

 

……. like most places in India, pollution came with the passage of people. Alas, it is something I have found be far more pronounced in India than in most other countries I have visited. The mindlessness with which I would see people throw empty bottles, candy bar wrappers and plastic bags, regardless of the national beauty they were in the midst of, remains an Incomprehensible affront to our country. This bothered me even more because I know that Indians don't behave the same way abroad. Lamentably it is getting steadily worse amongst the younger travelers whose lack of shame was all too evident……. India's attitude towards its environment has become a national shame

 

Manali-Leh highway is one of the most incredible rides on the planet and its popularity is well deserved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

From ‘Asian Absences. Searching for Shangri-La’ by Wolfgang Büscher

  

My first impression remained. This town had none of the anarchy of Indian towns with their intense spiciness and sweetness, their absolute physicality and pervasive dampness. No betel spit, no beggars showing off their bodily defects in dramatic poses. No children, who immediately surround a stranger and start massaging his legs quickly and roughly, breaking off to make equally quick and rough eating signs. Grab leg, rub tummy, grab food.

 

Arabia’s sun was not the friendly son of our songs. It was naked, red-hot violence. Now the flaming ball shot up angrily, the terror of the world. In minutes it had asserted it's despotism - everything bowed its head and covered itself.

 

You don't stare at people in Tokyo. You don't do it anywhere, but in Tokyo no one does it.

 

The night didn't fall like a black cushion suffocating everything- the day took its time leaving.