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The WT! story today December 27, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in culture, weird.
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 From a Times article on the Apple retail experience:

Two years ago, Isobella Jade was down on her luck, living on a friend’s couch and struggling to make it as a fashion model when she had the idea of writing a book about her experience as a short woman trying to break into the modeling business.

Unable to afford a computer, Ms. Jade, 25, began cadging time on a laptop at the Apple store in the SoHo section of Manhattan. Ms. Jade spent hours at a stretch standing in a discreet corner of the store, typing. Within a few months, she had written nearly 300 pages.

Not only did store employees not mind, but at closing time they often made certain to shut Ms. Jade’s computer down last, to give her a little extra time. A few months later, the store invited her to give an in-store reading from her manuscript.


Whats there in Bangalore November 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in culture, india.
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As MINT launches in Bangalore, it appears they have timed it well to have a special feature on “Why we love Bangalore” (other than that it makes business sense 😀 ). That page there, with famous Bangaloreans singing paeans of Bangalore City.

All that is fine until someone asks you “what is there in Bangalore to see ?” Or to make it sound even worse, what is there in Bangalore for someone who has seen every other Indian city ? Maybe its an unfair question – for a city is more than its monuments, museums and galleries. Yet it only means that Bangalore does not have something to offer to everybody.

I would take someone to the IISc campus – it comes with an attached botanical garden, a bookstore, a coffee shop for some obesity inducing vada sambhar where if you are lucky, you may occasionally catch an eccentric researcher talking to his tea cup. (And if you are not so lucky, a tree may fall on you as you take in the samosa at teaboard.) But then not all friends would appreciate this (would any??) – so maybe it will be Vidhan Souda and Lal Bagh.

City notes and Ben’s blog November 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, blogging, culture, people.

Cities have personalities sure. Here is about Los Angeles. Here about San Francisco (10 reasons why someone hates it !)

I spent barely a few hours there ( LA ) and I did not really take to the place too well – it was like one big warehouse/shop floor. Or maybe I saw all the wrong places. Now I think I just want to go there once, check out the landmarks and be done with it !

On a related note, you kind of get tired of people talking of how the city they grew up was unique and the best place ever. Yes, the best it was, for them. Rest could not care less. Topics to avoid in conversation arguments with Mumbaikars – Mumbai, Madras-ites – Madras, so on and so forth.

I linked to the articles above from Ben Casnocha’s blog. Ben is “an entrepreneur, writer, and college student currently based in Los Angeles county. I’m 19 years old.” Do sample from his list of what he thinks are his best writings. Incredible range and depth for someone that young.

Assorted links now October 28, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, culture, people.
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Here is Chandrahas Choudhury’s review of Shashi Tharoor’s latest book.

…. Shashi Tharoor’s The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone, a ragbag of columns and op-eds in which gassy generalities, second-hand insights and witless witticisms are foisted upon the reader with breathtaking conviction. Tharoor’s unwise (but in some ways perfectly characteristic) decision to gather up his jottings only serves to render more clear his considerable shortcomings in the realm of both thought and expression.

And no, I am certainly not in a minority. From my post of May 27th, 07 where I drew up a little wish-list under the title “Wanted”.

The Shashi Tharoor column replaced by another that deals with, at least once every 2 columns, fresh ideas rather than those that have been beaten to death by other columnists or that which is public knowledge. I can hardly recall one time that his article made me think real hard  or think new thoughts.

There is him and there is Tom Friedman, some of the most over-rated writers of our generation.


Joy links to this very interesting article on “the extravagant overrepresentation of Jews, relative to their numbers, in the top ranks of the arts, sciences, law, medicine, finance, entrepreneurship, and the media.”

For example, only a handful of the scientists of the Middle Ages are mentioned in most histories of science, and none was a Jew. But when George Sarton put a high-powered lens to the Middle Ages in his monumental Introduction to the History of Science (1927-48), he found that 95 of the 626 known scientists working everywhere in the world from 1150 to 1300 were Jews—15 percent of the total, far out of proportion to the Jewish population.

To get a sense of the density of accomplishment these numbers represent, I will focus on 1870 onward, after legal emancipation had been achieved throughout Central and Western Europe. How does the actual number of significant figures compare to what would be expected given the Jewish proportion of the European and North American population? From 1870 to 1950, Jewish representation in literature was four times the number one would expect. In music, five times. In the visual arts, five times. In biology, eight times. In chemistry, six times. In physics, nine times. In mathematics, twelve times. In philosophy, fourteen times.

From my limited experience of watching Jewish families conduct themselves in restaurants and airports, I will not underestimate the role of the family structure/values that influence Jewish upbringing that eventually plays a huge role in what the author calls “Jewish genius.”

Same by reading books like these.


Follow-up post on NRI women September 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, culture, india.

Sorry guys, I had been traveling and hence have not been able to reply to your several comments to my previous post. Thanks for all those comments – and quite a windfall at that – and Proses Anonymitus’s very informative and humorous post. Let me try and distill your comments and add a little bit that occurred to me since I wrote the post and which was not touched upon in the follow-up posts/comments so far.

Firstly, the topic of returning to India per se has been often discussed and much has been written on it by people at all points in the spectrum – those who did return and those who did not and everyone in between (see Vishnu’s links here). We are talking about how differently (if ever) women and men approach this question, with the hypothesis being that women have more compelling reasons and show more conviction when it comes to staying back abroad.

Abi, in his post, suggested that it is likely that once we have an opinion on this issue, we are primed to think of examples and no counter-examples, a sort of confirmation bias. We should probably keep that in mind when we think of candidate examples. But once we have sufficient number of people thinking this issue through, we will have a sizable number of both examples and counter-examples. Ideally, this will still be in the ratio of how the initial opinion is and hence, not a random sample. Nevertheless, I believe just having enough cases provides some insight into what are issues out there. So Abi, I am glad you linked to the post and helped initiate this discussion.

Let me address the issues raised in the comments. There appear to be several trails leading out from this topic as complex as this. But as I read each comment, it occurred to me that most of these trails lead to a single underlying reality. That no matter how much India has changed over the years, marriage still changes more things for women than men. This is no secret and is probably true in most societies to varying degrees. The consequences of this phenomenon are as wide-ranging as its prevalance.

From the discussion, a few factors that determine whether women choose to stay back or return appears to depend on –

– Upbringing (from Natasha, Aparna)

This is indeed interesting. On one hand, there may not be any relative improvement for women (relative to men) who already have been brought up in a liberal setup and so that aspect of the appeal is not really there. But as Aparna suggested in-laws not being similarly liberal would deter them from returning to India. Besides, issues relating to extended families and that of colleagues’ (who increasingly comprise social circles) and the general neighborhood that Proses Anonymitus raised are also relevant, no matter how liberal the parental upbringing has been. Women have to adjust more to their in-laws and general neighborhood than men to theirs (do they?).

Whether they came here of their volition (studies, work etc.) or if they came here after marriage (Joy’s comment)

There is little contention one can have with Joy’s comment here. Women who have come here for studies have already made that leap of faith, in terms of leaving behind ties to motherland (in some sense) and heading to an anonymous location thousands of miles away. While homesickness may still be there to start with, come what may they are here at least until completion of their studies (1-2 years). By the time they have completed studies, they are likely used to the system. And several of them have taken loans and would likely want to work here to help repay loans. Those who have no such financial commitments would want some international experience. By the time its all done, they are even likely married to guys here. Why would someone want to disrupt a well-settled married life to head back? Call it status-quo bias !

Of course, much of the above is true of men as well. But there is one aspect of the above that is not yet the same. And it comes down to the fact that the difference between the married life in India versus outside is more often than not, larger for women than for men.

Whether they are married at all and if so, the chemistry with their in-laws (from Sailatha, THE_GIRL_FROM_IPANEMA)

The “Chemistry with the in-laws” comments from Sailatha are critical and take us back to where we started – women have to adjust to their in-laws, men seldom need to. If they are married with dependent visas, then Aparna’s argument – “The class of women that come to the US on dependent visa after marriage are the ones that experience sudden freedom, self-expression and independence. These are the kind of women that would want to stay abroad considering purely these factors.” holds in a large number of cases. If they were here anyway, then we are back to Joy’s point.

This may even depend on more complex attributes like whether the groom has male siblings and if so, whether he is the eldest of the male siblings (especially in communities where the in-laws often stay with eldest son). As a slight digression, we need a freakonomics-like study which must investigate the dependence on families returning depending on the birth position of the man in question and presence of male siblings. 😀

– How supportive their husbands are (Panjumittai Porivilangaurundai, from here)

Panjumittai warned Indian women without supportive husbands to not return to India. That is sane advice, except of course it begs the larger question (but not dealt here lest we digress) of why should anyone put up with nonsupporting husbands spouses in the first place? 🙂

– How long they have been outside India (Achala)

True, along with the (somewhat amusing) corollary being that if the husband is keen on returning to India, he should do so before his wife is acclimatized to the place.

Some points not raised earlier :

Whether it was a love marriage or an arranged marriage.

I have known women who think that inter-caste/inter-religion marriages have a better chance of success for couples abroad. Apparently, men have more confidence about ‘making it’ back home, but women somehow think distance helps cool off things or make them matter less. I don’t know how much of this is really true, but just floating ideas I have heard.

Any ideas ?

– Career-orientation/employability of the women in question

Career-oriented women (or men for that matter) who are not professionals (like doctors/engineers/MBA) have a hard time getting a work-permit as long as the spouse does not have the PR status. This can be frustrating and should lead to the woman arguing for a return to India. ( See this article from the Post ) But how often does that happen ? Does it indicate that workplace issues are really less of a concern than family issues ? Interestingly none of the comments elaborated on workplace differences between India and the US for women. Are there none? ( I have never had a job in India, besides I am a guy  …so no sarcasm there).

Selection Process

For arranged marriages, when alliances are sought for the girl, some parents prefer grooms who are already abroad (some only consider grooms abroad). Their assumption and expectation is that the guy is well-settled abroad and their daughter will have a good future, employed or otherwise. This is a trivial case – a lady in such a marriage already has a strong preference to stay abroad, irrespective of whether the husband changes his mind. The way this process is structured, it ‘selects’ (statistically) girls who intend to stay abroad.

I suspect the reason this might be less applicable for guys is that women who have already spent some time and are currently abroad prefer grooms from more liberal backgrounds and are familiar with her expectations as a married working woman abroad. My guess then is that they are more likely to choose guys already abroad or who have spent some time abroad. It’s a signal (who reliability is debatable, in my opinion) of one’s liberal credentials to have lived and prefer to live abroad.

Some form of selection bias, if you will. Any thoughts from single, studying/working Indian women abroad ?


As an aside, a lady friend of mine has so far rejected several proposals because grooms intend to settle in the US or at least are non-committal either way. It appears that finally she is getting engaged on the pre-condition that they return to India within 3-4 years. All (my) eyes are now on how this plays out. 🙂