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05/14/2013

Hunting for Nutella in Kolkata...

The first thing we did when arriving in Kolkata was to jump into a taxi and go eat rolls (the paratha roll with chicken and eggs is a local speciality) at Zeeshan at Park Circus. 

This is how we got to think of a Nutella paratha roll... An idea that wouldn’t just pass!! 

We therefore started our way back to the hotel walking and hunting for Nutella. 

 

The guy from the first stall had some! But when he asked me if I wanted india,kolkata,nutella,roll,zeeshanit in seeds or powder, I got confused... Indeed, he wanted to sell me some Nutrela (some kind of soya derivative)! 

 

The guy from the second shop had some Ferrero rochers and Kinder buenos. I could bet everything on him!  

Since he didn’t understand Nutella, I tried "chocolate paste" and his face lit up! And he handed over a tube of Colgate... (from paste he had come up with tooth paste!).

 

The guys from the third, fourth and fifth stalls did not have Nutella nor knew what it was, even in the touristic neighborhood. We therefore concluded that Nutella had not yet reached Kolkata – whether it is a good or a bad thing is not the question...  

 

So we thought of buying some chocolate and wondered how it would melt. And then we looked at each other, soaked with sweat and it hit us!! Two minutes in the ambient heat of the night and we had a chocolate spread!

04/24/2013

About casts and inequalities in India - Illustration

 To continue on the subject of untouchability and castes, I am often asked the question whether it still exists and is still visible. And I answer that either it doesn’t really prevails in my world (personal and professional), either it is too subtle for me – at the same time I don’t really dig because I find it a pretty abominable system – this being a personal point of view. 

However, below is something I witnessed last week.

I was having lunch with an Indian guy, fluent in English, a shrewd sales guy and a manager in an MNC. He is about 35 years old, 1.60m, 90 kilos, the type of guys who impose. Rather silent, he commands respect by his looks more than by what he says (since when he opens up it is often to say stupid things). 

A nice guy but completely devoid of humility (to put it simply, when I told him maybe he could work on his humility he had never heard the word…).

So I was at the restaurant (local joint) with Mister Me-Me-Me and he had just ordered a coke. The waiter brought the can and stood on the side.

My Indian fellow showed him to come closer and with a smile full of empathy asked him whether he was tired. I was amazed: it doesn’t look like him at all to worry about other people’s (whoever) health. Maybe it was an example that only stupid people never change??

The waiter answered he was okay. So my associate pointed at the can and said "so??'' The poor guy had not opened the can for him...

The whole point of this story is that due to the cast system in India there is a real rigor in the task division. There is a guy to wash clothes, one to iron, one to put in the cupboard etc.

End

04/22/2013

About casts and inequalities in India - The big picture

The system of the castes in India dates back thousands of years. Hyper complicated but also quite simple in substance.

There are 4 varnas or “families” of castes (the most famous being the upper caste of the “Brahmins”) and then the out-caste known as “untouchables” and today called "scheduled class”. The varnas, representing the 4 parts of the God Brahma’s body (see diagram), are divided into thousands of castes, called jatis, which each have a specific role (more or less a profession). 

 

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 Every Hindu is born into a caste, shares its culinary habits, gets married within, and died within, hoping to get reborn in a higher caste. And people don't mix. Everyone at their place and the sheep will be well kept as we say in French...

 

The Indian Constitution prohibits discrimination based on caste.

That said it does not belong to the Government to abolish such a system because it is related to religion. As a matter of fact, the last census (2011) included a (optional) question about the caste.

Casteism is a pillar of Hinduism: "the fulfilment of one personal duty to the caste - and not a universal duty - and the system of reincarnation in a higher or lower caste as a reward for your good or bad actions are the two fundamental pillars of this religion until the final liberation and paradise."*). To the point that Dr. Ambedkar encouraged untouchables to convert to Buddhism in the 1950s.

 

To fight this discrimination, the Government has implemented quotas for access to education, civil servant positions, political seats. There even has been an untouchable president (K. R. Narayanan).

The problem is that today it is all mixed up and ultimately these quotas are based on the social status (caste) of people but not on the merit or the income. And as low and out-castes form a majority *, politicians are struggling to change this system...

 

 

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Besides, in the countryside, where 70% of the population still live, the caste system is still very much alive and rigid.

As Sampat Pal says*, " India has been a free and independent country for sixty years: yet the poorest people still don’t know what it is to live in an independent country. Laws are modern, but because of an administration rife with corruption, they are not applied. In sixty years, they have brought neither social justice nor improvement in the standard of living for the poor. Their daily life has not changed one bit." As I hardly go to the country side I can’t really comment on this but every day we can read stories of girls severely injured by their own gang and/or family for having wanted to marry a man of a different caste...

 

* In the shoes of an untouchable, Marc Boulet

* According to the latest census (source: http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census) the “untouchables” and tribes account for 30% of the Hindu population / 24% of the Indian population. And if we add the "feet" (the “kshudras” or lower castes) it gives us 54% of the population.

* I, Sampat Pal, head of the pink sari gang, Sampat Pal

 

To be continued in the next post…