Om sweet om

We have trained several of our jet-setting friends to bring back newspapers & magazines. Not any one journal in particular: rather, whatever they happen to pick up along their way, & find still in their litter upon return to the Greater Parkdale Area. From childhood we have had a fascination for such things; for ephemera of any sort. Often one learns much about some strange place by reading a local paper front to back (or back to front if it is in Urdu), especially the classified advertisements. Alas, the Internet has smooshed the small ads almost everywhere, thinned newspapers generally, & for indirect reasons we’re too bored to explain, is imposing an homogenous glossiness on the magazines, & an asphyxiating sameness on “mainstream” typographical design, all over the world. Typographical error is also in decline, thanks to these infernal spellcheckers; although, by way of compensation, grammatical & syntactical mistakes are trending upwards.

We lunched Thursday with a couple of old friends who kindly supplied us with a recent number of Business India, from their plane ride home.

As the editor of a business magazine ourself, in Asia one-third of a century ago, we don’t expect much from such publications. Most were modelled on the Economist, including the Economist itself (see last post). The problem is fundamental & actually insoluble. Business is a tedious activity, & when you’ve seen one balance sheet you’ve seen them all. Moreover, the decline of the art of banknote engraving has made even the accumulation of large sums of money deeply unsatisfying. It gets harder & harder to trade for real silver & gold. The world is awash in ill-designed silver & gold paper notes, but only a tiny fraction of the denominated amount is actually backed by the substance, & the last time we tried to exchange a gold note for the gold it specified, we were gawped at by the bank manager as if we had stepped from a time warp in ancient Sumerian clothing. There really is no alternative to collecting old coins. But hardly any business magazine contains articles on numismatics. (The one we edited was an exception.)

Notwithstanding, we were able to find one mildly interesting article in the Nov. 11th Business India — just opposite a full-page, full-colour ad headlined, “Let’s talk Sex.” (“Let’s not,” we inwardly responded.) It was a semi-literate review of a new book by one Akash Kapur — son of Dilip, the big name at the high end of the Indian leather handbag trade. The book is entitled, India Becoming. It does not seem to propose an answer to the question, “Becoming what?” — but we’re promised some sort of “microcosm.” The lad has returned from a decade in the West, to find his country changed. The roads are improving, there are more cars, land prices are rising, & more women in the workforce. Hurrah.

“Veenah from Jaipur is a determined young woman, rapidly rising up the corporate career ladder. Divorced, she has a live-in boyfriend, & is open about her sexual needs.” We are already hoping not to meet Veenah. “In many ways she was like a lot of women I had known in New York,” writes Kapur. (We also have them in the GPA.) But wait for it: “Diagnosed with cancer, she realizes her need to have children, do yoga, & write stories instead of emails.” One wants to go into a dark place & scream.

For 599 rupees we can read, apparently, dozens more stories like this about the New India, & the New Indians. And for nothing, we can skip the lot. Mercifully, the review provides the author’s conclusion, thus sparing our time. He has noticed a common thread runs through the personal stories. Almost everyone’s life has been destroyed. “I wasn’t convinced anymore that any amount of money, any increase in salaries or GDP or the number of cars or billionaires was worth the damage.”

We think he may be on to something there.