OPINION

Could India Host an Impressive Olympics?

August 21, 2008
mbjesq

India and China. China and India.

Whenever discussion turns to the New World Order, these neighboring giants are always mentioned in the same breath as the up-and-comers. I understand the arguments, but remain deeply skeptical about the prospects for both countries, though for vastly different reasons.

With the Beijing 2008 Olympics drawing to a close, one must concede that China has managed to pull off a fabulously successful advertisement for itself, even though its ugly authoritarianism and environmental shamefulness remained on plain view throughout. So the question nags: Could India hold an Olympics that would flatter, rather than embarrass the nation? I, for one, seriously doubt it.



The Olympics requires the host nation to provide three basic elements: infrastructure, architecture, pageantry. This is no mean feat; just ask the organizers of Athens 2004 and Atlanta 1996. Greece failed in two of the three, just managing to save face, largely as a result of the world’s extremely low expectations. The United States failed across the board.

Infrastructure development takes vision and planning – not areas in which India has distinguished itself. Delhi is the only metro in the country which appears to spend on infrastructure in anything but an ad hoc, purely corruption-driven way – not that Delhi’s version of forethought has made it even remotely the world-class city it purports to be. Sure, it is difficult to remake old cities – although that is, essentially, what Beijing has done – but even its built-from-scratch, nouveaux riches commercial neighbor, Gurgaon, is an almost perfect study in tastelessness and dysfunction.

One of India’s most challenging infrastructural problems, from an international public relations point of view, would be to develop habits and systems of internationally acceptable public hygiene. I suspect that most first-time visitors to India will be under-impressed by the filth and noise of their surroundings, and the television cameras will have a difficult time avoiding the blight of omnipresent garbage, which flows through the streets of India the way water flows in riverbanks.

Perhaps India, like Greece, might shine in the spectacle, even if they would fail in the organizational aspects of building proper infrastructure to host the athletes and visitors in style and comfort. From classical dance to Bollywood, India shines in artistic performance. But would this kind of close-up oriented presentation captivate the world when executed on the scale of an Opening Ceremonies? Perhaps not. Have you ever attended a major pop concert in India (or involving India performers traveling abroad, for that matter)? They are unwatchably cheesy. A.R. Rahman may write world-class music, and Adnan Sami and Asha Bholse may be stars of Indian popular song, but their live concerts are hideously amateurish affairs. They are often accompanied by filmy dancing which, though so attractive on the screen, comes off as a bad joke when the scale of the movements are dwarfed by the live venue.

Architecture is an extremely important element in the Olympic mix if, as with China, the aim is to establish one’s prestige and announce one’s global intentions. It expresses a country’s ambition, accomplishment, sense of style, sophistication, and ability to produce tangible outcomes suited to a major occasion. Most of the world sees the host nation only via satellite feed, and images of the Olympic venues are the ubiquitous “context-establishing shots” which begin the coverage of almost every event. A country can do no better advertising for itself when hosting an Olympics than provide monumental, attractive architecture. This has certainly been a key part of China’s strategy – and it has worked.



China commissioned outrageously wonderful buildings from teams of architects and landscape architects from Switzerland, Australia, France, Germany, the U.K., and China. The superb “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium, the “Water Cube” National Swimming Center, and Olympic Forest Park are the glamorous face of a spectacular Olympics. The subsidiary venue structures each have a degree of architectural merit, even if they are not as jaw-droopingly innovative as the main sites, and the 1,600 unit Athlete’s Village has received LEED “gold” certification for its sustainable construction techniques and energy efficiency. In addition, Beijing has undertaken an impressive array of non-competition-hosting buildings as part of its Olympic face lift, including a spectacular National Theater, a Digital Media Center, a Convention Center, and television network complex.

Now consider India, which has hardly built a worthy piece of major architecture since Independence – I can think of only two possible candidates, one of which was designed by a Canadian, the other by a Frenchman. A couple years ago, a friend sent me this idiotic Business Week slide presentation, touting the greatness of contemporary Indian architecture. I sent him back a note congratulating him on the excellent joke. Awkwardly, it turned out not to be a joke, but an earnest (if blinkered) piece of jingoistic bragging.

Are there great Indian architects working today? Surely there must be. But what are they building? And would insular, foreigner-resenting India consider commissioning high-profile Olympic buildings from international architects? Never. Indian national pride would never allow it to do what even xenophobic China was able to do – what the entire rest of the world does: commission world class architecture from throughout the world.

Then there is the little problem of paying for the infrastructure and new architecture. After the politicians and bureaucrats have siphoned-off their monumental bribes and contractors have been selected on the basis of kick-backs rather than ability, will the bid-winners have sufficient talent and remaining resources to deliver quality buildings, on time? There is certainly plenty of past experience on which to hazard a prediction.

I have tremendous affection for India, and a like degree of antipathy for China. But there is no question which country has announced its presence on the world stage with panache and which can never hope to do so. “I love my India” as much as the next guy, but not because it has a prayer of achieving greatness in my lifetime.

Mark Jacobs is a freelance volunteer, working on service projects in various places around the world. He lives half of each year in India and writes at www.memestream.org.
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Could India Host an Impressive Olympics?

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#1
temporal
URL
August 21, 2008
12:37 AM

mark:

don your armour;)

One of India's most challenging infrastructural problems, from an international public relations point of view, would be to develop habits and systems of internationally acceptable public hygiene.

hmmmmmm


#2
mbjesq
URL
August 21, 2008
01:09 AM

Temporal:

Absolutely! My helmet and body armour were cinched from the moment I hit "save" on this essay. Part of the fun of being provocative is to weather the storm. It's a lot easier in cases like this, where my point is incontrovertible. The jingoists may argue that wallowing through garbage in the streets is an esoteric Indian ritual that foreigners lack sufficient spiritual insight to appreciate, or whatever apologia they might invent; but "from an international public relations point of view" it is doubtful that India's woeful trash situation will win it many admirers.

Cheers,

MBJ

#3
Sanjay
August 21, 2008
01:22 AM

Yup, much of India is an open sewer. Thanks to our Left, who have made poverty an industry. They don't want to kill the Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs. They certainly try to maximize their umbrage in response to any constructive criticisms.

I'd say Bangalore or Gujarat could probably be capable of hosting an Olympics in about 20 years time, if they had a responsible ruling party like BJP continuously in power until then.

#4
mbjesq
URL
August 21, 2008
02:03 AM

Sanjay:

No question, the Left is lame. But the state of garbage in India is not the fault of the Left. I see very much the same disregard for public littering among the affluent, educated, "well-socialized", and presumably more conservative as among the poor -- and the poor have far fewer systems with which to deal with their trash.

Given the arc of destruction which Bangalore has been tracing for itself over the last ten years, it may be nothing more than a post-apocalyptic petrified traffic jam in twenty years. And, with all due respect for my dear friends in Ahmedabad, Kachchh, and elsewhere in the state (all liberals and lovely people, Sanjay, you'd hate them) can you really imagine the world wanting to visit Gujarat, for any reason?

Seems to me the BJP had plenty of time in power to demonstrate that they are as corrupt and ineffectual as Congress, Sanjay. And politics alone don't answer all the questions I raise. Sure, some of the issues involve political vision; but others involve broader questions of art and culture.

Cheers,

MBJ

#5
Chandra
August 21, 2008
01:04 PM

I am sure we can host an olympics - In 15-20 years. However, I am not sure if it is worth it. With respect to filth and hygiene, I am sure we can manage that as well. Not all of India is filthy and dirty and not all Indians are filthy and dirty. If we could build an excellent quadrilateral and two quality airports I donot understand why we cannot do more. In fact, I think we can. However, this can be done if our friends in Bihar and UP curb their fertility rates from 4 to 2. I dont know why a poor state like Orissa does 1.9 but an equally poor state like Bihar does 4 per mother. Then they export all this poverty to the metros.



#6
mbjesq
URL
August 21, 2008
01:40 PM

Chandra:

There is no question: not all Indians are mindlessly throwing their trash wherever they happen to be standing. More and more people are becoming part of the solution, rather than part of the problem of India's ubiquitous garbage. But the numbers of miscreants vastly overwhelm the conscientiousness of those who look for dustbins for their rubbish.

You may be literally correct that "not all of India is filthy" -- but, based on my travels, I'd have to conclude that the areas of India that are litter-free are astonishingly few and far-between. The idea that my-garbage-is-someone-else's-problem is utterly pervasive, and afflicts the rich (who should know better and who have the resources to behave differently) and poor alike. Indeed, some of the tidiest places I've seen in India are the remote agricultural villages, where the economy does not support the use of plastic carry bags, mylar pan wrappers, and other single-use products that decorate most of the Indian landscape.

But this was supposed to be about putting on an Olympics, not just the garbage issue, so I should address your point (and Sanjay's) that India could host an impressive Olympics in 15 - 20 years. Personally, I think the myth of India's ascension will be proven false long before 15 years has passed. Because India insists on developing along mid-twentieth century lines, rather than taking advantage of its twenty-first century opportunities, I expect India to be much further behind in the game of global prominence in twenty years than it currently finds itself. If it couldn't do it now, I seriously doubt it would be able to do it in the future.

This is all crystal-ball gazing; and the question of hosting the Olympics is a frivolous one. But the exercise is interesting and instructive insofar as it forces us to look at the opportunities and weaknesses of India's development path.

Cheers,

MBJ

#7
Chaitanya S
August 21, 2008
01:47 PM

Mark, The 2010 Delhi Commonwealth games will be India's litmus test. If these games are successful, we'll have something positive to build on. South Korea's progress after the Seoul games could serve as an inspiration.

As for India's civic sense is concerned, that's another matter altogether. Building infrastructure is a million times easier than changing a country's mindset.

You can check out my blog post on the civic sense of "educated" Indians.

http://chaits4u.blogspot.com/2008_06_01_archive.html

#8
mbjesq
URL
August 21, 2008
03:53 PM

Chaitanya:

The Commonwealth Games are, indeed, an interesting small-scale test-case. With the games more than two years away, it's a bit too early to say how progress is going and I won't prejudge the situation. After-all, Athens pulled off its Olympics by the skin of its teeth after it looked like they were never even going to complete construction of the venues.

The proposed venue designs, though not particularly distinguished, appear from the published drawings to be a significant improvement on any other post-colonial construction in Delhi. And it's about time that the horrendous Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium got a face lift. I haven't been able to ascertain who the architects were for any of the projects. Any idea?

Construction seems to be starting behind schedule on some of the venues, and that at least one of the contracts - for development of the Athletes' Village - was given on a single bid, which is generally not a good sign.

The Athletes' Village, being constructed on the previously off-limits Yamuna flood-plane, has sparked controversy among environmentalists, who charge that approval of the development amid the hoopla of preparing for the Commonwealth Games has shortsightedly opened the door to full exploitation of this environmentally sensitive area. The charge seems to be buttressed by the fact that the environmental approvals were passed through furtive government channels with an absolute minimum of transparency, so as to avoid publicity. Delhi High Court Justice Gita Mittal, writing recently for the court in an advisory opinion agrees: "This amounts to illegal conversion of a natural resource and gift of nature for private ownership and commercial gains."

After the games, the 1,168 luxury apartments of the Village will provide a supply of new housing stock to the city. In 2006, more than 11,000 slum dwellings were dismantled on the very same ground after the Delhi High Court the cited encroachment on the Yamuna flood-plane. Whatever one may think of slum demolition, the double-standard is a bit gaudy.

In typical Indian metro fashion, the solution to the infrastructural problem of ground transportation for the games is the construction of flyovers, which are expensive and generally boast a high ratio of kick-back to contract price, even if they represent a generally unsustainable and myopic solution to the problem of traffic congestion. Many of the planned flyovers are mired in approvals problems, with the developers claiming they have all necessary environmental clearances and officials saying they have not.

Plans drawn-up by the Delhi Police to incarcerate beggars during the games has also drawn fire.

According to a recent study by the Hindustan Times, the incompetence and tardiness of the DDA has rendered the timely development of desired new hotels all-but-impossible, leading to an estimated shortfall of 40,000 rooms for the games.

On the plus-side, 82 roads around the CWG venues are scheduled to get facelifts - and some will even get cycling lanes!

The organizing committee and Delhi government clearly understand what needs to be done to pull off the games. More than Rs. 7,000 crore has already been earmarked for the infrastructure, architecture, and operational details. That's a hell of a lot of money. Now, let's see how well they spend it.

By the way, I liked the piece on your slovenly roommates. I think that's more a problem of guys living together than any specifically cultural issue. If I were to over-simplify and judge against international norms (if such things could even be calculated), I'd say that Indians are generally ultra-fastidious when it comes to private hygiene - keeping themselves and their private spaces pure - but have little regard for the impact of their behavior on the cleanliness of the public domain. The selfishness I'm describing is different that the messiness of your roomies, which is simply male laziness.

Cheers,

MBJ

#9
mbjesq
URL
August 21, 2008
03:53 PM

Chaitanya:

The Commonwealth Games are, indeed, an interesting small-scale test-case. With the games more than two years away, it's a bit too early to say how progress is going and I won't prejudge the situation. After-all, Athens pulled off its Olympics by the skin of its teeth after it looked like they were never even going to complete construction of the venues.

The proposed venue designs, though not particularly distinguished, appear from the published drawings to be a significant improvement on any other post-colonial construction in Delhi. And it's about time that the horrendous Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium got a face lift. I haven't been able to ascertain who the architects were for any of the projects. Any idea?

Construction seems to be starting behind schedule on some of the venues, and that at least one of the contracts - for development of the Athletes' Village - was given on a single bid, which is generally not a good sign.

The Athletes' Village, being constructed on the previously off-limits Yamuna flood-plane, has sparked controversy among environmentalists, who charge that approval of the development amid the hoopla of preparing for the Commonwealth Games has shortsightedly opened the door to full exploitation of this environmentally sensitive area. The charge seems to be buttressed by the fact that the environmental approvals were passed through furtive government channels with an absolute minimum of transparency, so as to avoid publicity. Delhi High Court Justice Gita Mittal, writing recently for the court in an advisory opinion agrees: "This amounts to illegal conversion of a natural resource and gift of nature for private ownership and commercial gains."

After the games, the 1,168 luxury apartments of the Village will provide a supply of new housing stock to the city. In 2006, more than 11,000 slum dwellings were dismantled on the very same ground after the Delhi High Court the cited encroachment on the Yamuna flood-plane. Whatever one may think of slum demolition, the double-standard is a bit gaudy.

In typical Indian metro fashion, the solution to the infrastructural problem of ground transportation for the games is the construction of flyovers, which are expensive and generally boast a high ratio of kick-back to contract price, even if they represent a generally unsustainable and myopic solution to the problem of traffic congestion. Many of the planned flyovers are mired in approvals problems, with the developers claiming they have all necessary environmental clearances and officials saying they have not.

Plans drawn-up by the Delhi Police to incarcerate beggars during the games has also drawn fire.

According to a recent study by the Hindustan Times, the incompetence and tardiness of the DDA has rendered the timely development of desired new hotels all-but-impossible, leading to an estimated shortfall of 40,000 rooms for the games.

On the plus-side, 82 roads around the CWG venues are scheduled to get facelifts - and some will even get cycling lanes!

The organizing committee and Delhi government clearly understand what needs to be done to pull off the games. More than Rs. 7,000 crore has already been earmarked for the infrastructure, architecture, and operational details. That's a hell of a lot of money. Now, let's see how well they spend it.

By the way, I liked the piece on your slovenly roommates. I think that's more a problem of guys living together than any specifically cultural issue. If I were to over-simplify and judge against international norms (if such things could even be calculated), I'd say that Indians are generally ultra-fastidious when it comes to private hygiene - keeping themselves and their private spaces pure - but have little regard for the impact of their behavior on the cleanliness of the public domain. The selfishness I'm describing it different that the messiness of your roomies, which is simply male laziness.

Cheers,

MBJ

#10
Lakshmikanth
URL
August 21, 2008
05:03 PM

I kind of respected this article until I stepped on this bullshit of a paragraph.

Now consider India, which has hardly built a worthy piece of major architecture since Independence - I can think of only two possible candidates, one of which was designed by a Canadian, the other by a Frenchman.

Mark, do you remember that pile of dog shit you vomited on DC a few months ago when the TATA-NANO was out? And why I reasoned you to be a racist. The above lines are justify the reason why. That time you were barking out loud that a single Indian innovation was absent in Tata Nano, and that it was a heinous invention for which technology was borrowed from foreigners who somehow have better technological intelligence than Indians. You contradict that exact statement in the rest of the bull crap that you have written and I outline it here:

Are there great Indian architects working today? Surely there must be. But what are they building? And would insular, foreigner-resenting India consider commissioning high-profile Olympic buildings from international architects? Never. Indian national pride would never allow it to do what even xenophobic China was able to do - what the entire rest of the world does: commission world class architecture from throughout the world.

Again a lot of Indian companies are doing just that, borrowing technology and building whatever products they seem fit.

For some reason your brain has etched into itself the inferiority of Indians in technology. While I respect you as a person for your "sacrifice" of leaving your 10 figure income and living in cheap-ass conditions in India. I do certainly think your opinions stink racism.

#11
kerty
August 21, 2008
06:04 PM

India does not see sports as a national priority and that won't change any time soon. Our national experience with cricket has not been a positive one - all it has bred is lazy spectatorship, crass commericialism, filthy celebrity-hood of handful of players, and waste of immense productive men-hours.

Sports can promote national pride, team spirit, personal achievement, physical fitness, mental toughness - but most competitive sports breed winners and losers mentality, and people seeking any edge to win and get ahead at any cost - it creates an antithesis of spirit of cooperation and harmony that large society like India needs. As it is, Indians already suffer from an incurable tendency to pull each other down, and mow down anybody who grows more than an inch - competitive sports, I am afraid, are not going fill any voids. That is why, they are not likely to become national fads, and will remain confined to tiny, fragmented, niche fan base. I can also make another prediction - if something like Olympics were to be staged in India, our home-grown jehadis and terrorists and maoists would find perfect stage to showcase their popular sports.

#12
mbjesq
URL
August 21, 2008
06:08 PM

Lakshmikanth:

The better counter-argument to my point about the dearth of accomplished post-Independence Indian architecture would be to identify a single counter-example. But maybe you can't think of any either.

Another acceptable rebuttal might be to point-out the growing number of successful, innovative small-scale architectural projects coming up lately. And this approach would have the added benefit of being true.

Calling me a racist, however, is neither effective argumentation, nor accurate. But neither is it the end of the world since, after-all, you don't really make the case. Finding India to be wanting in discrete aspects of imagination is not exactly a litmus test for racism. But don't fret; I'm sure it's not the first thing about which you've been wrong.

By the way, giving up affluence was not in any way a "sacrfice", as you have labeled it; and I quite like living in India.

Cheers,

MBJ

#13
mbjesq
URL
August 21, 2008
06:42 PM

Kerty:

As someone who had a major event (a cross-border 60th anniversary Independence Day concert at Attari - Wagah) canceled as a result of a terrorist threat, your comments about the attractiveness of these kinds of events to homicidal maniacs, home-grown or international, certainly resonate.

Your comments about the Indian sporting experience are interesting -- a bit off my point, but worthy of development into an essay, if you have the energy.

Cheers,

MBJ

#14
Lakshmikanth
URL
August 21, 2008
07:09 PM

Mark, you seem to contradict yourself quite often... learn to do it gracefully.

The better counter-argument to my point about the dearth of accomplished post-Independence Indian architecture would be to identify a single counter-example. But maybe you can't think of any either.

You contradict that RIGHT in the next paragraph:

Another acceptable rebuttal might be to point-out the growing number of successful, innovative small-scale architectural projects coming up lately. And this approach would have the added benefit of being true.

The above rhetoric does not change my opinion about your racist mentality. You "classify" all Indians to be inferior in designing technology that fits them. You "think" that your understanding of India is better than "any" Indian. And last but not the least from all your articles that you have written: you think "no" great technology can ever originate from an Indian mind. I dont care what you consider yourself to be, but I think I can safely call you a racist.

The need for spectacular architecture is not the need of the hour in India, however the need of the hour is utilitarian architecture.. which you yourself agreed is happening.

Finding India to be wanting in discrete aspects of imagination is not exactly a litmus test for racism. But don't fret; I'm sure it's not the first thing about which you've been wrong.

I dont find anything wrong in finding India to be wanting in discrete ways. And for that matter I am actively working on fulfilling some of them. You may not consider such work technologically good enough because according to you there are no good indian technologist :), but who gives a shit about what you think. I just want to make sure my fellow Indians see you for what you are.

I DO find something wrong in consistently "classifying" all Indians as incapable of fulfilling those wants, and consistently considering Indians to be incapable of anything technologically "great". The word great is in quotes because I think you have your own wierd definition of it.

Again, none of this changes the fact that your opinions stink of racism, and you have very contradictory opinions :)

#15
kerty
August 21, 2008
07:11 PM

Prince Charles once lamented the death of architecture in the post-colonial industrial age of modernity.

Moderns rulers have no need for palaces and forts and musoluems of the dead - they are forced to heed to the needs of their constituencies and would rather spend on modern needs of welfare, infrastricture and defense projects instead. In old times, kings patronized architectures, but they both have become relics of the past.

Constructions by businesses and corporations tend to follow utilitarian principles. So one is not going to see any fancy stuff come out of corporate offices unless one considers fancy malls and head-quarters to be piece of architecture - some of them can indeed be owe-inspiring. Our artisan and craftmens have dropped their hereditory trades and joined the McDonald and Pizza Hut crew - now you know why they taste so good.

Religious bodies can mobilize large resources and have very limited secular role in the society to spend it all - so they have historically pursued mighty construction projects to leave their marks for the posteriority - but in the age of sexularism and materialism, their patronage and coffers have dwindled too. They can barely upkeep what they already have. There are exceptions here and there though - I have seen a DVD of Swami Narayana Temple in Delhi and it does look owe inspiring - some people have compared it to be as beautiful and perhaps more beautiful than Taj Mahal. I have personally visited neither, but I have seen similar Swami Narayana temples in Atlanta and Chicago and they do leave one breathless. I believe London has declared the swami Narayana Temple as national monument. But overall, the temples and churches have been out of Achitecture scene.

When it comes to residential designs, I have been very impressed with the kind of ideas and designs one can see in India. Having seen monotonous and cookie-cutter residential constructions in Europe, UK and USA, what I see in certain parts of India is mind blowing. But against the backdrop of vast tracts of slum lands, they stand out as eyesore and sign of filthy rich self-indulgence. Grim reminder that all notable monuments of outstanding architecture stand on the sweat and blood of millions of forgotten surfs. Age of egalitarian means we should all live life less extra-ordinary. The architecture and excellence has to go, replaced by commercial utility.

#16
mbjesq
URL
August 21, 2008
07:25 PM

Laksmikanth:

You simply misrepresent me. I don't think the positions you have invented to attack necessarily add up to racism; but I sure as hell know they are not mine.

I have never said that "'no' great technology can ever come from an Indian mind." (That you were able to put quotation marks only around the word "no" adequately demonstrates the fraud in the purported attribution.) Indeed, I know exactly the opposite, which is one reason why I find India's retrograde development path so perverse and distressing.

MBJ

#17
mbjesq
URL
August 21, 2008
07:59 PM

Kerty:

Prince Charles is something of a stuffy curmudgeon. Sure, most building is crap -- it probably always was. But there are brilliant designers working in all corners of the globe, on large-scale projects, small projects, and residential designs.

While much great architecture has a soaring artistic presence, ostentation is unsuccessful design per se. Taste, sadly, cannot be legislated.

Cheers,

MBJ

#18
commonsense
August 21, 2008
10:01 PM

Mark:

""Taste, sadly, cannot be legislated.""

True!! Another quote to complement what you say:

"Fashion and passion cannot be governed", Jonathan Swift.

#19
Morris
August 21, 2008
10:15 PM

Indian architects enginees etc are as good as any in the world. Therefore, Indians do possess necessary skill to prvoide infrastrucure, architecture and pageantry. What they lack is the necessary discipline to allow capable people to work. Historically they lacked organizational skill and discpline. Now they may have set up a very good buraucracy but it is stymied by lack of discipline. China on the other hand has highly disciplined authoritarian regime.

#20
Lakshmikanth
URL
August 21, 2008
11:03 PM

Mark,


Now this is what I call intellectual dishonesty.

Sigh... apart from the fact that you contradict yourself and reek of intellectual dishonesty and show all signs of racial bias, you want to impose your version of utopia which you consider to be superior. Good for you mate!!! Karl Marx version 2. I will pray for India.

(That you were able to put quotation marks only around the word "no" adequately demonstrates the fraud in the purported attribution.)
I hope you remember the discussions you had with me and Sujai out in this post:
http://desicritics.org/2008/01/11/014031.php

Here are some notable quotes repeated in nauseating detail in this post as well:
I do not "discount the power of innovation"; I fail to see true innovation in this instance.

and this one takes the cake:
The breast-beaters seem to have no I.DE.A (forgive the pun) who created this car, hailing it as a reflection of Indian innovation.

The more complicated question is: do we credit the Swiss or the Italians?


Notice the similarity of the above with the following:

Now consider India, which has hardly built a worthy piece of major architecture since Independence - I can think of only two possible candidates, one of which was designed by a Canadian, the other by a Frenchman.


An Intellectually dishonest racist... Yes sir.. i certainly think so! I would be surprised if [EDITED - PERSONAL ATTACK]



#21
Chandra
August 22, 2008
12:54 AM

Mark-6

Good, that you agree that more and more people are clean and not anti-hygiene as you seemed to originally suggest. As I said before, as much as it is difficult to accept, India is only getting better on many of these aspects. Are we there where we should be? NO! Will we be where we want to be in 15-20 years? ABSOLUTELY!!

Again, on the basis of my travels I disagree with your assessment that most of India is dirty. I would totally agree with you when it comes to large cities but coming from a very small town in orissa and having travelled across India, I would not agree with you. We are not born dirty and over time this public display of filth will only come down both in our cities and villages.

I dont know about the myth of India's ascension but I am very confident we will be many times better off 10-15 years from now. I see improvements already happening in education and infrastructure and the pace of change is picking up. Obviously, with better leadership we can do even better. I do have concerns on water and population. But here again, I expect changes in next 5-10 years. Obviously we are not going to be America or may be even china in 15-20 years but I am very confident that significantly fewer people will sleep hungry in 2020 than they do now. All this will happen with a lot of effort on the ground and I am sure like minded Indians like you will put in that effort (even if it is for half a year :-)). BTW, are you Indian?



#22
mbjesq
URL
August 22, 2008
01:43 AM

Chandra:

I work awfully hard during my six months each year in India on issues of solid waste management, and have made one-on-one, good-natured pep-talks with litterers one of my informal pet projects. I only approach folks who drop their trash within sight of a dustbin -- otherwise, these friendly confrontations would be my sole, full-time project -- and to-a-person, they all acknowledge that they know it is unethical to throw their garbage in the street. I remind them that if they do the right thing from now-on, and tell their friends to do the same, and if their friends tell their friends, and so on, the country will be spotless in no-time.

It's hard to remember now, but America was a shit-hole (litter-wise) as recently as the late 1960s. Suddenly, out of nowhere, environmental consciousness took root, and the country is relatively clean now. One of the major influences was a now-famous public service television commercial which played repeatedly, with an Italian actor in the part of the "Crying Indian" (American First Nations "Indian", not Hindustani Indian). Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7OHG7tHrNM. It is difficult to convey the impact of this one cheesy ad. But it has lead me to develop a PSA advertisement for the Indian media, for which I will try to find funding this fall. Who knows, maybe lightning can strike twice!

I'm not Indian; you could say I am NIR. Someone has to go the other way, I guess. If you had any doubt, you should have just asked Lakshmikanth, who seems to believe he has me pegged. I don't pretend to have encyclopedic knowledge or understanding of India or Indian culture; but I find that, sometimes, the dispassion of a third-party perspective serves me well.

Cheers,

MBJ

#23
Lakshmikanth
URL
August 22, 2008
01:57 AM

I don't pretend to have encyclopedic knowledge or understanding of India or Indian culture; but I find that, sometimes, the dispassion of a third-party perspective serves me well.

Yet another gem.

Now people usually dont pass judgements on any culture like you do without having encyclopedic knowledge about it.

Its an social engineering problem which you are trying to solve without understanding it completely as your contradictory statements imply. Genious of an Engineer, I must say :). A genious who passes judgement on something he agrees that he does not have a complete enough idea about and then gives us an utopian solution that HE thinks would fit.

Again.. good luck Karl Marx 2.

#24
Chandra
August 22, 2008
04:17 AM

Mark

Thanks for clarifying you are not Indian.

#25
Lakshmikanth
URL
August 22, 2008
11:07 AM

[Conjecturing]

#26
Lakshmikanth
URL
August 22, 2008
11:29 AM

Conjecturing: Inference or judgment based on inconclusive or incomplete evidence; guesswork.

[Edited]

#27
Lakshmikanth
URL
August 22, 2008
11:51 AM

[Edited: trolling AND conjecturing]

#28
Chandra
August 22, 2008
01:41 PM

Mark

We Indians are beyond hearing what we are not capable of doing. That too from non-Indians like you. Firstly, because it is totally unhelpful. Secondly, because most of us have lived in India all our lives, we know where we were and where we are now. Twenty years ago, the problems were even more unsurmountable, thirty years ago, even more so. What will happen 15-20 years from now, nobody knows. It is best you donot waste your time in these forums trying to be an oracle, it is pointless.

#29
Deepti Lamba
URL
August 22, 2008
02:03 PM

Laks, the Indian infrastructure sucks, us holding Olympics in Delhi where the roads currently are no more than river beds would be a laugh

Bangalore holding the Olympics? We still have electricians getting electrocuted on rainy nights doing their jobs trying to get the power back on.

Roads are left dug open, clogged sewers etc

I don't care about Olympics nor do I care about what the world thinks about us. We have our good points but we stink of corruption.

Where does all the tax payer money go?

My educated neighbors' kids shit and pee in front of my gate and throw trash on the side plot which on a windy day it blows into my yard. Thats India for you.

I know someone who used to do government housing projects for the poor. He was an architect who lost his contract because he refused to part of the corrupt shenanigans.

Long story short in the global environment if we can take over the call centers why can't they build our buildings? Let the best win.

As far as Mark is concerned I don't think he is racist. If you have been following his blog regularly you would find him praising those who are trying to make a change in India.

He just doesn't mouth off in some expat club but has been part of the few who are working to help bring awareness in this country.

His frustration is understandable because he works with the poor. I live amongst the poor and its bloody frustrating not to get even something as simple as clean water to drink from the government while no more than few kilometers away the posh localities enjoy all the amenities.

Its down right shitty!!

I've had enough of these chest beating India is great slogans despite facing something as horrendous as a little child banging away on our car window or not giving a rat's ass about a man left dying on the road.

Capitalism in India has a new mantra- build gated communities and let the shitty poor people live and die in their own filth.

Of course we have good architecture- replicates of hacindas and little British cottages being built in gated communities;)




#30
Lakshmikanth
URL
August 22, 2008
02:11 PM

Dee,

My arguments were not about the problems in India.

I am not claiming India would reach anywhere in the next 100 years, and I dont give two hoots about the chest beaters who claim India would be great.

It was about the attitude of this particular individual, whose opinions I find to be racist and condescending. Now if the editors here are smart enough to construe that as conjecturing, then its upto them... only that they have their own "definition" of it.

#31
Lakshmikanth
URL
August 22, 2008
02:30 PM

Chandra has explained it way more mildly than I did.

I second that.

I will add to it that, we were never had a strong national identity and this socio-economic fact would keep us an anarcho-capitalist nation for some time to come.

Whether this will change or not, I am not sure. Whether this will be our downfall, I think so and I am working hard from my side to do the little of what I can do. Since I grew up all over India, I sure as hell KNOW what won't work.. and thats where many, if not all, of Mark's ideas fall. So I dont debate them, and let him be.

What bothers me.. as I mentioned before is a belief that no good technology can come from India.. that has been the consistent theme in most of his articles. I think this kind of generalization is crass and stupid, and it smells of the phrase "my way or highway"... or in other words.. my way of defining what is good technology or its not a good technology. Somewhat matches with the editors way of defining conjecturing.

#32
AnArch
URL
August 22, 2008
02:30 PM

How is it racist when he says it and ok when a desi says it - if there's trash in your yard, perhaps you should be cleaning it up instead of looking at the mud on the whistleblower's shoe.

#33
Lakshmikanth
URL
August 22, 2008
02:34 PM

How is it racist when he says it and ok when a desi says it

Again.. i did not debate the CLEANLINESS of india... its positively the WORST in the world.

My beef was with the attitude, please read my comments and then comment on what i commented.

Thanks

#34
mbjesq
URL
August 22, 2008
02:43 PM

Chandra:

I'll take your advice.

My mistake is a product of my background. I come from a country where we value self-criticism; and one where the full diversity of opinion is taken into the mix -- from aboriginals, long-established American families, naturalized citizens, new immigrants, residents, and visitors. It is a place of diversity and, while not every ear gives equal credence to every point-of-view or is unbiased concerning the background of the speaker, there is not the insularity or xenophobia of which I fail to take adequate account in India.

It is no wonder that the deluded Lakshmikanth sees me as a racist, when his jingoism necessarily breaks down along racial lines as well as political. Either one is Indian -- racially and by citizenship -- or one is not. If not, one's opinions, if critical, are not worthy of consideration. Indians may judge India, all others shut their mouths -- unless, of course, you have something saccharine and flattering to say. It's sad, but I accept the reality as you describe it and Lakshmikanth displays it.

I will continue to give my service to India and her people. It is my part-time home and a place of my deep affection. I will simply share my opinions with others.

Over-and-out to DC. Good luck to Aman, Dee, and the rest of you.

Cheers,

MBJ

#35
Deepti Lamba
URL
August 22, 2008
02:47 PM

Laks, we imbibe technology well just as the Chinese do and more so the Japanese and there is no shame in that. We are not taught to think out of the box nor does our society encourage it. That is the truth.

The Americans are way ahead of us when it comes to technology. Its a fact that even Friedman talked about.

While I was in the US I found enough reasons to criticize the country but none of the Americans ever told me that I had no business voicing my frustrations because I was an outsider. Thats a weak argument and does not hold water.

Shut up because you are not an Indian? Thats the crux of Chandra's argument and no Mark is not an outsider just as while I lived in the US and thought of it as my home made me the country's well wisher.

There are those who bitch about India without doing shit for this country. Well Mark has done enough for this country and in my books despite his 'gora' skin color that gives him ample right to bitch about our country and for us to counter his viewpoint by giving concrete examples and not getting personal.



#36
Aaman
URL
August 22, 2008
02:49 PM

Mark,

your missives are critical to what we at Desicritics are endeavoring to express - hang in there, keep the Roman Forum abuzz and don't let the hecklers get to you.

There are more than enough people who care deeply about what this region can achieve if it pulls its socks up and we have too few saints of the gutters to get us out of our morass.

#37
mbjesq
URL
August 22, 2008
03:10 PM

Thanks for the kind invitation, Aman, but I'll pass.

As you know, I love the give-and-take and even take perverse pleasure in the provocation, counter-provocation, and general banter in the battle of ideas and clever expression. But there is something far deeper driving my fundamental faith in casting a critical eye on society: that its perfectibility can be realized only when we recognize and analyze our shortcomings.

The point of engaging in that discussion evaporates in an environment of closed-minded insularity, and becomes intolerably ugly in a climate of ironic, self-reflexive appeals to the barriers of racism. I trust you guys to keep the well-reasoned discussion flowing in my absence.

Cheers,

MBJ

#38
temporal
URL
August 22, 2008
03:48 PM

mark:

your presence both here and in india is far more welcome, crucial and critical than the cynical ramblings of legends-in-their-minds

you have displayed far greater patience than i could...i'd have just thanked the legends for their comments and moved on...besides as you know already....no one is authorised to speak on behalf of the billion plus last i checked;)

#39
commonsense
August 22, 2008
03:49 PM

Mark,

Just hang in there! Your so-called critics would not bat an eyelid if the same comments came from a fellow-desi and some of them may not hold back when generalizing and judging Americans. But they sure cannot handle a critique from an amost-outsider. Much of it has to do with the in-group, outgroup thingie, overlayed with a sense of unacknowledged inferiority and self-denial hammered in deep during colonialism, even though some of these folks will claim they are fighting colonial thinking. It's a neurosis that devours the holder of such views even though the holder himself/herself feels she/he is "defending the dignity" of India or perhaps some other project that is even more pompous and vaingloriously grandiose. Just hang in there and write more on DC to expand the domain of basic commonsense :)

#40
smallsquirrel
August 22, 2008
04:16 PM

mark, don't run away from these trolls. ignore them if you have to, but do not let their insecurities and rhetoric silence you. seriously. laks is always crying racism and it's tiresome. please don't go away....

#41
Lakshmikanth
URL
August 22, 2008
04:41 PM

oops... Now i became the troll....

Mark, my man.. I really dont mind you talking about trash in the streets of India... infact smallsquirrel does that quite a lot and I dont criticize her or you on that... I dont mind that sort of criticism, i infact welcome it.

However, as I mentioned before what I got riled up about was your consistent berating of the "Indian technological mind" if there is such a thing, which to a large extent I don't agree with. India's development has been organic so far, and if you think you can make a dent in it, go for it I would only appreciate you more, but passing judgement like the way you do, and to expect no criticism is pretty naive.

I apologize for being harsh. As others have called me a troll :) I accept that (even though i dont agree with) for getting this riled up on this issue, however, I encourage you to write on this forum and I will try to criticize it from a more "humane" angle.

Again my apologies.

Also as a note: if any desi just told me that Tata Nano has NO innovation, I would have gotten equally riled up.

#42
Lakshmikanth
URL
August 22, 2008
04:45 PM

Commonsense: Good attempt at describing the fantasy troll image that you have in mind :) I absolutely love it. These are golden words for us to live by:

Much of it has to do with the in-group, outgroup thingie, overlayed with a sense of unacknowledged inferiority and self-denial hammered in deep during colonialism, even though some of these folks will claim they are fighting colonial thinking.

We are all... as they say Maculay's children.

#43
smallsquirrel
August 22, 2008
05:00 PM

the point is laks, when you disagree with ANYONE who is not a desi you call them a racist, and it's pure crap. you almost never debunk the argument on it's merits, and you usually manage to twist words and add things that were never said. that is not sportsman like or appreciated by anyone

#44
kerty
August 22, 2008
05:37 PM

"But there is something far deeper driving my fundamental faith in casting a critical eye on society: that its perfectibility can be realized only when we recognize and analyze our shortcomings"

Brilliant. To be perfect society, we should all become gutter inspectors and constantly look for shortcomings and criticisms - more the merrier no matter where we have to look for them. No news should be good news, we should look for ways to trash it so our sense of accomplishment does not get the better of our sense of shortcomings which we need for our perfection. Surrounding ourselves with the sense of shame, guilt and shortcomings, we would not only improve the moral health of society, but also grow out of inferiority complex and become perfect. I am all for shortcoming police and gutter inspectors.

#45
blokesablogin
August 22, 2008
08:35 PM

interesting perspective. If we allowed private enterprise in India to develop infrastructure- without political interference and kickbacks, we just can wing this!

#46
commonsense
August 22, 2008
08:59 PM

Lakshmikanth:

""Also as a note: if any desi just told me that Tata Nano has NO innovation, I would have gotten equally riled up.""

I note you avoid saying that you would call this person a "racist"

#47
commonsense
August 22, 2008
09:49 PM

LS:

""if any desi just told me that Tata Nano has NO innovation, I would have gotten equally riled up.""

interesting perspective! so all our sense of who we are is tied to tata nano! i bet if there were a zillion car makers in india, some of them would have said exactly that.

#48
Chandra
August 23, 2008
12:59 AM

Mark

It is not your criticism that I am bothered about. It is your judgement I am worried about. To say India is unclean is not a problem, to say we cannot be clean is a serious problem. To say we cannot host an olympics today is not a problem, to say we cannot do it in 20 years is a problem. To say, we will not do well 20 years from now is an even more serious problem.

Why are these serious problems?

Because nobody knows what will happen 15-20 years from now. As an Indian, we have been told a million times by many - internal and external folks about what we cannot do. Your own presidential candidate talks about hope. I would like to hope too like many other Indians that things will get better. On the evidence of change in the last 10 years, there is no reason to feel negative. Lastly, but not the least, you are a legal guy working with an NGO, it is better to leave this forecasting business to professionals.

#49
Chandra
August 23, 2008
01:10 AM

Deepti: Shut up because you are not an Indian? Thats the crux of Chandra's argument and no Mark is not an outsider just as while I lived in the US and thought of it as my home made me the country's well wisher.

Chandra: Your arguments are without basis and lies. My concern is with long range forecasts. Who knows what will happen in 15-20 years. That is the crux of my argument. He is being pessmistic and I am being hopeful, that is the difference.

#50
bd
URL
August 23, 2008
01:53 AM

I was quite interested to read that we seem to be struggling with architecture in the post independence period. Gosh, guys, you need to look around the country. Where do you want me to start? Executive Buildings? Take a look at every newly built executive building, 5 times out of 10, its good and perhaps 1-2 will be quite good. Let me just take my city for example, Bhopal. Take a look at its New Parliament Building.

Cultural buildings? Sure, again look at Bharat Bhavan or the Museum of Man or the open air zoo.

Government Buildings? Sure, look at Satpuda, pretty imposing government bureaucrat blocks.

Home dwelling architecture? Perhaps the most vivid, widely distributed and chaotic building styles anywhere in the world. With the biggest number of private dwellings and with nothing even closely approximating dwelling or any kind of construction rules, you get as pure an architectural market as you can get anywhere in the world. And that shows, pure architecture as possible.

And its not that dirty either, its clean(ish), green(ish), etc. town planned(ish). Old Bhopal still is well, like old cities anywhere, but dont rule out architectural gems in India, there are plenty of great examples all over the country.

#51
Desh
URL
August 23, 2008
02:06 AM

Marc:

You make a valid point about Indians not respecting the environment in the country. But to start your rant on architecture while comparing with China is a little over the board.

Here is why:

1. FYI, World's "Most Environmentally Friendly Building" as per US Green Building Council and USAID was inaugurated in 2004 (link). Karan Grover of KGA Associates who prepared the design concept for the building of that building (CII-Godrej Business Center).

Although this one is not strictly an "Indian innovation" but at least the thoughts on skyscrapers of this type is in the right direction = it will be one of the "greenest skyscraper in the world".
Now, what is YOUR definition of "Innovation" in architecture???

2. As far as i can see most of the construction in China is being handled by foreign contractors. It has nothing to do with Chinese "innovation" per se. So how do you make such lofty claims? Halo effect??

3. Innovation is dependent on context. In my opinion, Delhi's Metro is perhaps THE most complex project of similar proportions undertaken anywhere in the world. To do such a thing - just create it - in a democracy is a miracle.. but to do it successfully and under budget and time is "Innovation"!

4. Besides Great Wall of China, what single Architectural marvel have the Chinese created? Specifically in the last 10 years?? If building downtown buildings in Shanghai is what you are talking about, then you need some better course in architectural know-how.

As a rule most of us Indians have low expectations from our ownselves. When Asiad in 1982 was coming up, I still remember how many doubted India's ability - at THAT point in time to even come up with a decent stadium - but we did in record time. I had performed in the Opening ceremony and we used to go to JNS for rehearsals very near the Asiad, and the work never seemed to end. But miraculously it all worked out in the end.

Admittedly that was puny compared to Olympics, but I am confident that Commonwealth will completely surprise many.

To even compare a totalitarian country with a democratic is crass intellectualism... but to make sweeping statements, and ignorant and baseless ones as well just shows your lack of basic rigor.

Anyways.. better luck next time..

-d.

#52
Ledius
August 23, 2008
04:09 AM

Buildings in India don't last long. Even a 30-year old flat depreciates in value (unless it is in Bandra) so much, it makes no sense buying one. In contrast, apartments in the US, in Manhattan and Boston that are almost a 100 years old still hold their values and seem to have better amenities than those built in India barely 20 years ago.

Everyone talks of elevated highways as the solution to urban congestion in Indian cities. However, a major elevated flyover in Bangalore on Mysore road which is barely 10 years old is in such a bad shape that it can collapse soon if the present state of affairs continues. This was a major story in the TOI some 4 days ago.

Most of the public buildings built post independence in India are in such a bad shape (with green slime on the exterior walls). The concrete awnings of many housing projects barely 30 years old have already collapsed.

In Bangalore, people are investing in the so-called luxury apartments. For some weird reason, they invariably have some concrete arbors/trellises on the roofs. The builders thing they look great. I think they look stupid. Besides, I can almost guarantee they would never get maintained properly and within 20-30 years would crumble and fall down. God forbid someone stands under them when this happens.

It can be safely assumed that the useful lifetime of any architectural project in India is only one-third to one-fourth of what it would be in a western country.






#53
Desh
URL
August 23, 2008
10:18 AM

Yes, you are right... just as bridges in US also fall unexpectedly out of the blue...(link)

just as the levees cant stand the water of the sea

and most of the dams are made of wood in small towns and cities in the US!

My own house was built in 1924 - it didnt fall! My Mom's parental house was built in 1800s and its still there..

The government projects are definitely suspect but most of the private works are not as bad as you are making them out to be....

Ledius.. you are giving examples... dont make it a generalization!

#54
Aaman
URL
August 23, 2008
11:55 AM

An article on Indian architectural trends and styles would be interesting

#55
Cathy Chadwick
August 25, 2008
08:53 PM

The initial question was"Can India Host an Impressive Olympics" I hope not. I believe India has better sense. The physical facilities that China had built were wonderful. They were the product of firms like Arup (Water Cube). They and the other things, just cost a lot of money, an estimated $40,000,000,000. It was estimated that 1 million "volunteers" spent the better part of a year getting ready. I hope India makes better uses of the money and effort.

India did not win many gold medals. Aren't you happy that India does not take thousands of infants, some as young as 3 years, to train to be gymnasts , divers, swimmers,etc.

It is being estimated that Michael Phelps will make a $100,000,000 on endorsements during the next year. Maybe, I am missing something

#56
Abdul Atiq
February 15, 2009
10:52 PM

I dislike India

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