Despite government, public complacency, appalling pollution leading to “airwakening”

Globally, China and air pollution remain synonymous. I lived in Beijing between 2002 and 2009, when visits to India invariably included conversations with aunties delightedly commiserating about China's toxic air. "Oh ho! Such terrible pollution. Tch! Tch!" This tone of schadenfreude stemmed from the fact that after years of marveling at China's economic ascent, Indians…
More

The Fortune Teller: Weighing machines and chance encounters

Nostalgia transforms ordinary objects into talismans. The constituents of the material life of one’s childhood can, just by the feel of their names rolling in the mouth, evoke pathos: a longing for the past, its innocent excitements and vast promise. I grew up in the pre-liberalisation Delhi of the 1980s. Childhood in those days meant…
More

Delhi, where even China’s pollution fades into insignificance.

Having grown up in perennially polluted New Delhi, smoggy skies were so unremarkable to me that I didn’t even notice anything was awry in Beijing for years after moving there. Till a spring morning in 2006. It was an ordinary start to the day in most respects. I ate a quick breakfast of jian bing,…
More

Moving between Beijing and Brussels, “Choked” draws parallels for Delhi

A month after the Olympic Games, our baby boy was born in a Beijing hospital. First-time parenthood engendered a siege mentality in us. We moved out of the charming but less-than-hygienic hutong neighbourhoods we had lived in for six years, and bunkered down in the double-glazed safety of the Diplomatic Compound. We began to navigate…
More

The Foreign Correspondent

My first foreign posting was in Beijing, for the Hindu. This was from 2002 to 2009, when the city was remorseless in its embrace of a glass and chrome version of modernity. A steady stream of friends from India used to visit. I’d pick them up at the airport and take them by cab down…
More

Indonesia Falls for an Indian TV remake of the Mahabharta: Love of God

ON A SATURDAY AFTERNOON in late September, gaggles of hijab-clad women, many with young children in tow, swarmed outside the closed gates of an auditorium in Taman Mini, a popular recreational park in east Jakarta. A brawny, black-maned figure wielding a bow and arrow pouted suggestively from a phalanx of promotional banners that lined the…
More

Forget China, India Should Look to Indonesia

Indians rarely agree on much, but they do tend towards an uncommon consensus about the belief in Indian exceptionalism. Rightists, Leftists and Opportunists find themselves on the same page in espousing the idea that as a country and civilization, India is uniquely diverse, contradictory, large, tolerant, and complex. Having been educated into a strong emotional…
More

Leftover Women by Leta Hong Fincher

I lived in China for seven years between 2002 and 2009. My first impressions of the capital city, Beijing, were a mosaic of images and scents: dazzling sheaths of glass and chrome that reared up into the sky; the whiff of jasmine rising from steaming cups of tea; old men in Mao jackets taking caged…
More

Super Power? The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare And India’s Tortoise By Raghav Bahl

The one constant in the surfeit of recent India-China comparisons is the abundant use of animal-related cliches—tigers, dragons, elephants and peacocks, dancing, lumbering or prancing about. Media guru Raghav Bahl’s debut book, Super Power?, adds to this pantheon by framing his analysis as a race between China’s hare and India’s tortoise. The purpose of Bahl’s…
More

China Through Indian Eyes

FIVE years was a decent slice of time to spend in a country and I had used it relatively well: travelling and asking questions. But as I geared up to draw a curtain across my China-life, I was increasingly being called upon to answer a few questions as well. ‘Where was China heading?’ people would…
More