October 26, 2005

Cultural Diversity

That there is tremendous cultural diversity in the University of Warwick is not in doubt. It was in full display last evening at the IDLHR party that had probably the most amazing variety of food that could be cooked up by about 30 people. The ones that I can name first: rajma chaval, puri bhaaji, prawn curry, houmus and pitta bread, haleem, chinese fried rice, fried chicken wings among others. i cant name the other food, tho am quite certain that I did try to learn them then!

There is just so much to learn from so many different perspectives and so many different view points that it is just a fascinating journey. I wish I had more time to engage with the stories that are carried by people. The diversity of their experiences outside of the formal structures and the busy routines within a classroom!!

But, its also such a challenge to move outside your comfort zones. To actually engage (or at least engage) with people different from yourself. With not just different nationalities and cultures but often with little or no understanding of your own. Its often quite a challenge to explain things to people who know a little bit about your culture in a broad sense. Often, what is portrayed by the media.

Sometimes, identities fashioned by the work of just over fifty years including the idea of India. That a nation with such a plurality of systems, customs, traditions, languages etc can actually exist as one administrative unit (as is the case for the last fifty odd years).

However, that brings me to the “popisation“ of culture and the idea of culture that is identified by certain symbols. Is that really a culture? Or is it just a construct that is developed for various reasons including as a pressure against the forces of globalisation. The idea of the Indian for example itself is a recent invention… not more than one hundred years (if you look at the freedom struggle as the first time a pan-Indian identity was charted out). Within that identity lie many different layers and differences that gradually get subsumed by the pan-Indianness and also re-emerge in various other forms. Getting to grips with it is probably the most difficult part of being an Indian! Add to it the assault of globalisation and you have a complete “avial“ of cultures that are created.

Watch this space!


Depoliticisation

Follow-up to Handling Empire from Jacob's blog

The big comment yesterday was the relevance (or the lack of it) of the national. Is the State symbolic or is it significant? Do the powers of globalisation rely on the State for its functioning through hierachies and networks like local government, local authorities, police, provincial governments and national governments?

At the surface, there seems to be this unholy alliance that exists between the State, various actors within it and the forces of globalisation. This then creates situations where some people are more equal than others and a small but influential minority control and monopolise decisions. This is done through a variety of ways including the logic of economics (let the market decide), activism (through the co-option of various NGOs), civil society (I dont know what that is too well) and various other forces.

The interesting thing about this alliance is that it embraces the ideas of apolitical decision making as well as use some idea of fairness and justice in the propogation of its ideas. Standards, methodology, process, indicators etc etc all become crucial in this world of depoliticised decision making. All of us have heard of the reputation that statisticians have and the phrases that are used for them. However, this is precisely the kind of people that we turn to in order to solve our problems in this new age where being “unbiased“ and being seen as unbiased are crucial.

Little else on Empire right now. More as the mind clears up


October 25, 2005

Handling Empire

There seems to be different ways of handling Empire (the book… not the concept). The first seems to be to sleep with it under your pillow and wait for all the information to gradually seep in to your head. That I think is a fantastic way. Another way is to use it as a wonderful bedtime reading book. it works like a charm!! Both of these have been used to good effect by me in the last four weeks.

The more hardworking ways are to actually read it!! And sometimes (God forbid) make notes on the side. Scribble till it makes no sense anyways to you! But that actually means that the book makes some sense to you at all! I“m not sure if I can say it does yet. Its just so complex and just when I thought I understood the first line, it gets kind of shattered right before my eyes! Completely and thoroughly.

I move to the second line, undaunted by the fact that the first line and its explanation lie in tatters. I come back to the first impression of Empire as a colonisation of ideas. Is that what it is about? Is that the reason why today, not a single person was able to identify the national as being an important entry point to “solve issues arising out of the Iraq war“. Is it because we have reached a stage of such utter and total despair, that the national does not seem to hold any hope at all?

At some level, that probably is very true. But is that this mystical beast called Empire that is causing it? Is it just a way of explaining away things like apathy of the voter, general disinterest in politics and no engagement in political struggles with this idea of “Empire“ that has now been created? Does that mean that countries that are poorer and therefore less touched by economic development and growth have less of the beast of “Empire“ to deal with?

While at the surface, the idea seems compelling that it is Empire that is pushing us to think in a particular way, we need to recognise that the question was phrased so that it takes on a global scope and it needed to be handled in thirty minutes. Within that time, something that is thought through at a local, national, regional and global level. is that realistic? Wasn“t it also implicit in the phraseology of the question that you would get responses like the ones that were given? Or did I just miss the questions completely (as I was out of the room) and there not pick up the questions in their fullness.

It does throw up the whole issue of how we are conditioned to listen and also conditioned to think. It also shows that we might even be accepting that change is something is EXTERNAL and therefore, it is something that needs to happen “out there“ rather than here and now. In us first and then through us to others. Creating the next revolution?

However, the discussion today did highlight that there are a lot of things that can be agreed upon including the reform of the United Nations and the production of knowledge. The need to access multiple sites in a trans-national way is probably one way of looking at this issue! But at the same time keeping the local and nationl relevant at all times.

I wish that there was a good fiction library on campus. There are many times that you do not want to read Empire and the like. And something like a nice cartoon at those times would certainly not hurt!!

Thats it from me in the blog today.

Other things that might interest those who are around Coventry:

For bus time tables:

http://www.travelwm.co.uk

To book rail tickets:

http://www.trainline.co.uk

To book bus tickets

http://www.nationalexpress.co.uk OR

http://www.megabus.co.uk (fares really cheap… but there“s no way you can get a connecting bus into U of Warwick after you arrive on this bus)


not a single old tree

Follow-up to Lazy Sunday from Jacob's blog

I need to clarify that by not a single old tree, I did not mean that there is not a single old tree. It is more like a statement, that there are very few!! Probably less than twenty in the built up area of the university…

October 24, 2005

Lazy Sunday

I usually decide that I need to do a lot of work on Sundays. Does it usually happen? Well, today certainly did not. What I finally did was go to go to chapel in the morning after doing a bit of reading in the morning. Then, spent the whole afternoon with Jiti who cooked some super dinner. More than made up for my last nights dinner. And my crankiness as a result of that!! Chatted till late and then had to go to see Manish in Kenilworth.

Spent about an hour or over that talking about his business plan. Just generally talking about the business that he was in and gave my tuppence worth. Not sure if it was of any use. Then had a super dinner beginning with starters cooked by Jiti (again) and then kebabs and nan and dal. Was really nice!! Hd a really good time at dinner.

Came back late and am riting this blog.

Seperate observation is that on the University of Warwick, there is not a single OLD tree. Most of them have been planted not more than ten-twenty years ago. There“s literally a handful of trees that are present here in the university that are at least sixty/ seventry years!! Wonder why they did not plan to build a university without cutting the trees. Some say that it might not have been a wood and might have been pasture land. But looking at the thick woods surrounding the Uni with old trees etc, that does not seem to be the explanation. There should be a better one!

Thats it for now on the blog. Thinking about next week and the things that I need to do… Lots of course. First of all is to get better!!


October 22, 2005

Travel in England

One of the things that you do not take for granted in Coventry and areas is public transport. Unlike London, where access was always so easy to public transport, Coventry area has poor public transport and the University of Warwick area has even worse transport. However, these are things that you learn to live with. And manage.

I“ve done well in terms of travel around England so far. I“ve been to a lot of places including Foleshill (Indian Market), Leamington Spa and also now to Rugby. Always new experiences and new insights to be gained. One of the big ones is that the creation of the super market.

The logic of the super market has been that things can be cheaper as there is bulk buying and therefore things can be much cheaper than with a small shop. However, Foleshill butcher is almost half the price of Tesco when it comes to chicken. Why? Coz he really is a tiny operator and I don“t see him having huge amount of bargaining power at all Same with the vegetable vendors in Foleshill who are significantly cheaper.

However, there was a new super market called Aldi set up in Rugby. This place is almost half the price compared to Tesco. Why is it that this supermarket is able to sell the same thing (bread in this case and most branded stuff) at half the price? It kind of gets you thinking of supermarket strategy. Are lower prices purely an entry gimmick for the super market to drive the small players out of the market? And is the resurgence of the small corner store in England a reflection of what economists refer to as super-normal profits? What about the proliferation of the one pound shops. What is the reason for their emergence? Anything to do with supermarkets overpricing small items in order to rip people off? What about the strategy of the supermarket to counter these one pound items by introducing a “value“ range?

I“ve also now been on the train for the first time. To know how much it costs to travel on one of them needs like a PhD!! It is sooo difficult! Messy I tell you! So, finally I was told that the cheapest way to get to London would be through the Leamington to London Marlyborne route at ten pounds. Also, will pick up the cycle from Nikhils place and then take it to Coventry. That should really reduce significantly my own expenses and also use it in London. I think its a good plan…

Will be staying at Gauri“s house most of the time in London. And it is eminently cycleable to get to LSE.

Today was a good day in that I did organise all my papers and files first thing in the morning and then went to Rugby. And did do a bit of reading. Right now however, am waiting for Jiti“s dinner call. It“s been a while and the one thing that I cannot do is rely on her to ever provide me dinner. Coz she always eats late! Not a good idea for me.


Initial Impressions of Empire

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

This has to be one of the most provoking books that I have read. As the authors suggest in the first chapter, it is meant to generate a discussion on what really is Empire. At one end is the possibility of a single unitary power that predetermines everything that is going on in the world. At the other, is this giant conspiracy theory. The authors clearly articulate that the reality is somewhere in between these two.

However, you cannot but help feeling despondent on the first read of the book. It paints such a gloomy picture of the world that it appears as if any sort of activism and intervention is a futile exercise against the force of “Empire“. What it is is never clarified in the book with different people taking different positions on whether it is a giant power, or a monopoly of ideas/ ideology or something else.

The book looks extensively at networks of power. Of the networks of resistance. Of the world no longer being operated as if it had a centre, but multiple nodes out of which alliances emerge and people and institutions form strategies to live with Empire or counter it.

Thoughts of mine that emerged out of a reading of empire included the nature of globalisation and the nature of coporate strategy. While the economic logic of outsourcing is what is driving a large percentage of work to India, one wonders, if it is also a part of a strategy to fragment worker power around different centres.

What about the emergence of the large corporation as the saviour of developing countries? Especially in the way it relates to basic services like water, electricity and other services.

Other thoughts including responses of the World Trade Organisations to protests like that in Cancun. Did the change of venue after that to Doha suggest the work of Empire? Are sites like Singapore and Doha deliberately chosen in order to minimise dissent? There are just so many questions that emerge out of the reading of this book.

The other big one is whether Empire is something that is really an alliance of middle class interests? Or is it the victory of a particular way of life. Much like the victory of a particular lifestyle as suggested in Ishmael? Questions Questions.

The book overall is a bit difficult to read. But worth it and over cups of tea provides hours and hours of restless questioning!


October 21, 2005

Working weekend

Today was a long day. I woke up in the morning with a bad cold and the plan to go to Coventry was therefore scrapped. Thanks in part due to the fact that it was raining. Was supposed to go to Foleshill and not sure if I had the energy to do that. Anyways, thats something separate.

I also need to now do a few things for tomorrow. One of these things is to organise my own life vis a vis the essay for the Global Economic Governance. I should probably give an outline of the same to Prof. Paliwala on Monday and also start working on an outline for the Approaches to Global Justice class so that an outline is ready BEFORE reading week. Then, I could actually work on the outline during reading week rather than have to wait for the comments till after that.

Also, need to organise a few things including food from foleshill (the food did last me two weeks… which is excellent) and also arrange for any other misc things that I need from there! In that time, it might also be a good idea to get my young persons railcard sorted out tomorrow if possible at Coventry Railway station. However, it needs to be signed by the department which is a pain. Anyways, I will need it especially if I plan to go into London by bicycle more and then ride around London on the bike. Then, the total cost to me at most times would only be the ten quid i have to pay for the train. No underground/ bus charges etc etc. Which can be quite stiff sometimes!

Anyways, leaving off now. But will meditate for a bit to get some more clarity in head. Right now, its a bit of a mess. But in a good sort of way!!


End of Week 4

If my room reflects the state of my head, it is extremely confused. Right onw, however, it is much better than I thot it would degenerate to. However, still do need to tidy up and generally be a little more careful vis a vis my own room. It would allow me to be clarify thought a little better.

This week has been hectic. Probably the most hectic so far. I think this is the first week that I took my week seriously. Which meant that I did try to do all the work that I had originally set out to do. It was not easy to negotiate all the articles and do all the readings. However, I did make a good start with the first course in Global Economic Governance. However, I need to go much faster through books and at this point of time, I am just plodding through them. Engage with the text as Upen said today. Write notes, fill up the sides. Comment on it. It is probably going to be much faster than the method that I use which turns out to be quite slow as I end up reading and re-reading it without much focus. Not a good idea at all!

The Global Economic Governance module is turning out to be an interesting module. Really fascinating for a variety of different reasons. The first of course for me is that I can actually understand some portion of the module itself. That in itself is nice! Apart from that, all are challenging courses. I attended my third course for this year on Thursday and it was thoroughly confusing! Wow! However, towards the end, I realised that it was because he did want to raise issues and highlight that law does not operate in a vaccuum that he was raising all of them. The worst part of it was that by the end of it, I was exhausted. And sill kind of recovering from the exhaustion. However, tomorrow, should be a better day.


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