Odalarevu Diary


I am wallowing in the utter despair of being paid to loll around on a beachfront sipping beer, making my way through The War of the End of the World (Mario Vargas Llosa) and not being able to put any of it up on Facebook. Or do anything online, for that matter. Or charge my iPad, which refuses to acknowledge that it is being charged even if you connect it up and the little red light on the USB-power adapter blinks bright enough to disturb my sleep.

My grandmother thinks I should write some barebones description of the places that I travel to for work, so here goes:

Assam is wet and green and pot-holed and populated entirely by paan-chewers. Abu dhabi is dry and sandy and glitzy, even if it’s less glitzy than Dubai. The Krishna-Godavari basin in Andhra Pradesh, currently being developed (exploited, if you prefer) for oil at a feverish pace, is also green, but less pointedly so. It has very long bridges across very wide rivers. And some very nice, empty beaches with jack-up rigs dotting the horizon.

Mumbai is Mumbai and enough has been said about it elsewhere. Stick to the western suburbs if you want some semblance of livability, else find some expensive wholly redeveloped area, carved out and separated from the rest of the city, like the one my company crams us into.

Going back to parts of Kerala from most indian cities one has the feeling that one is going to an altogether different country, not because of any geographical distinctness- this Andhra beach is as white, as studded with coconut palms, and the fields around as green- but because the culture and general prosperity, not to mention idleness, seems akin to, say, the south of France (which I should point out i have never actually been to.) It’s a little enclave from the rest of this “developing country”, really, some half-baked realization of Keynes’s hope of a prosperous future where people work only 20 hours a week and use the productivity gains from technological advancement (in this case, technological advancement elsewhere, and the oil in the middle east that fuels it, and the double shift working non-resident keralite who forms the backbone of that economy) to live a comfortable if not luxurious life. You could point out that we have virtually no industry, that easily 20% of the economy consists of remittances, and that youth unemployment typically hovers around 25%, but that’s really just a problem with your metrics, counting all the young men taking several years off before they find their fortunes in “Gelf” as unemployed.

Aside from Meg Cabot’s oeuvre of teenage romances, over the past several weeks I read Neal Stephenson’s “In the Beginning was the Command Line”. It’s a slim booklet explaining the history of and differences between Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and BeOS, which was actually a contender at the time; according to Neal and many others, it seems to have been really worth trying, and I regret that I didn’t have the chance before it went bust for good. The book is rather dated, but it is worth reading for precisely that reason: it was written at an interesting time in the history of Operating Systems, and should prove fascinating to even the least geeky member of my audience. As with anything else written by Stephenson, it zooms in and out an pans all over the place over the course of completing its central narrative. Excerpt (yes, endorsed):

“The global anti-culture that has been conveyed into every cranny of the world by television is a culture unto itself, and by the standards of great and ancient cultures like Islam and France, it seems grossly inferior, at least at first. The only good thing you can say about it is that it makes world wars and Holocausts less likely–and that is actually a pretty good thing!

The only real problem is that anyone who has no culture, other than this global monoculture, is completely screwed. Anyone who grows up watching TV, never sees any religion or philosophy, is raised in an atmosphere of moral relativism, learns about civics from watching bimbo eruptions on network TV news, and attends a university where postmodernists vie to outdo each other in demolishing traditional notions of truth and quality, is going to come out into the world as one pretty feckless human being. And–again–perhaps the goal of all this is to make us feckless so we won’t nuke each other.”

Makes sense, right?



4 thoughts on “Odalarevu Diary

  1. Very nice post! I especially liked the last paragraph. (Your description is not that far from Zizek’s, actually. Though he might disagree that our fecklessness reduces violence.)

    To run with it…the self-organizing system we find ourselves in establishes stability by facilitating docility…thereby allowing resources to be allocated towards rooting out the maladjusted by overwhelming force. 🙂

    “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”

    • 🙂 thanks. Have you read much of Neal Stephenson? You might enjoy his works. Start with Snow Crash or the Diamond Age if you haven’t, though, not the epics.

      There is, obviously, an undercurrent of elitism behind this particular viewpoint, but I sincerely think the de-fanging of religion and other forces that served to bind together populations in a “smaller” world by setting them against all others is, in fact, a very good thing in our more “globalised” world, and worth a fair bit of “culture loss”, so to speak. it would be wonderful if we could find a more coherent (and more than simply coherent, something that induces the same level of fervor) moral system that preserves Enlightenment values, but I’d rather have what we have in the interim than a world torn apart. This is my big fear about the rise of China, btw.

      • Really wish I could read some fiction…I even have Snow Crash on my bookshelf! But I’ve been locked in nonfiction mode for some years now. It can get overwhelming, but it’s a positive feedback loop I think!

        Re: the spread of enlightenment values. Very interesting and probably intractable debate! Some thoughts:

        That James Scott lecture partly deals with the potential and actual negatives of universalization. There are definitely emancipatory goals lurking in standardization and globalization, but the downside is that people who are already weak have their cultures and lands converted into commodities that can be bought and sold. They might have peace and security if they accept the status quo, but this often goes together with a lack of autonomy. And it rarely guarantees better material wealth. So there is the possibility of massive cultural destruction — everyone buys into North Atlantic values because they are cleverly marketed as universal.

        I guess the idea is that any universalizing ideology is totalitarian in that it does not admit other points of view, and the world becomes poorer for it. We put all our eggs in one basket that is controlled by affluent unelected experts in faraway places. It’s a fair society only because the people in charge or deciding what fairness means are quite well fed. 🙂

        None of this is to say that I want a return to the patriarchies of old. But the democratic impulse in me suggests that societies should be allowed to change without the crushing force of the army or of glorified bribery. And also…it seems that capitalistic globalization is just too rapid, and too much of a stress on the environment to be wholeheartedly supported.

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