Adonis Diaries

Archive for June 10th, 2013

Turkish Erdogan Obsession? Why? and how sit-in progressing?
On a normal day, Taksim Square in Capital ISTANBUL is a mess of buses and crowds, a tangle of plazas, streets, shops and taxi horns.
Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is determined to clean it up and make it into a pedestrian zone, with a new mall, mosque and tunnels for traffic to move underground.
The outrage in response has filled the square with noisy, angry, determined protesters. At midday, the muezzin’s call to prayer now mixes with the chants of union workers and bullhorn speeches from the Anti-Capitalist Muslims. At night, drummers and singers agitate the throngs until dawn.
 Published on June 7, 2013 in the NYT: “In Istanbul’s Heart, Leader’s Obsession, Perhaps Achilles’ Heel”
After Tahrir Square in Egypt and Zuccotti Park in New York, Taksim is the latest reminder of the power of public space. The square has become an arena for clashing worldviews: an unyielding leader’s top-down, neo-Ottoman, conservative vision of the nation as a regional power versus a bottom-up, pluralist, disordered, primarily young, less Islamist vision of the country as a modern democracy.
“Taksim is where everybody expresses freely their happiness, sorrow, their political and social views,” said Esin, 41, in a head scarf, sitting with relatives on a bench watching the protest in the square. She declined to give her surname, fearing disapproval from conservative neighbors. “The government wants to sanitize this place, without consulting the people.”

So public space, even a modest and chaotic swath of it like Taksim, again reveals itself as fundamentally more powerful than social media, which produce virtual communities. Revolutions happen in the flesh.

In Taksim, strangers have discovered one another, their common concerns and collective voice. The power of bodies coming together, at least for the moment, has produced a democratic moment, and given the leadership a dangerous political crisis.

“We have found ourselves,” is how Omer Kanipak, a 41-year-old Turkish architect, put it to me, about the diverse gathering at Gezi Park on the north end of Taksim, where the crowds are concentrated in tent encampments and other makeshift architecture after Mr. Erdogan’s government ordered bulldozers to make way for the mall.


Kitra Cahana for The New York Times. Turkish protesters have concentrated in tent encampments at Istanbul’s Gezi Park, on the north end of Taksim Square. More Photos »

And there’s the hitch.

The prime minister has emerged as the strongest leader Turkey has had since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the republic — but he remains not much of an architect or urban planner. Like other longtime rulers, he has assumed the mantle of designer in chief, fiddling over details for giant mosques, planning a massive bridge and canal, devising gated communities in the name of civic renewal and economic development.

The goal is a scripted public realm. Taksim, the lively heart of modern Istanbul, has become Mr. Erdogan’s obsession, and perhaps his Achilles’ heel.

And it’s no wonder. Taksim’s very urban fabric — fluid, irregular, open and unpredictable — reflects the area’s historic identity as the heart of modern, multicultural Turkey. This was where poor European immigrants settled during the 19th century.

Taksim was a honky-tonk quarter into the 1980s, a haven to gays and lesbians, a locus of nightclubs, foreign movie palaces and French-style covered arcades. Gravestones from an Armenian cemetery at Taksim that was demolished in 1939 were used to construct stairs at Gezi Park, a republican-era project by the French planner Henri Prost that is like the jumble of high-rise hotels, traffic circles and the now-shuttered opera house on the square, named after Ataturk. It is a symbol of modernity.

The prime minister’s vision of a big pedestrian plaza, with buried traffic, is intended to smooth out the square — to remake it into a neo-Ottoman theme park. Mr. Erdogan has lately backed away from installing a mall in the faux Ottoman barracks that will go where Gezi is now. But he intends to raze a poor neighborhood nearby called Tarlabasi and build high-end condominiums.

Yet another of his projects envisions a hygienic parade ground on the southern outskirts of the city, designed for mass gatherings as if to quarantine protests: the anti-Taksim.

The real Taksim is an unruly commons in the middle of the city. Mr. Erdogan has already demolished a beloved cinema and old chocolate pudding shop on Istiklal (Independence) Avenue, the main street and neighborhood backbone into Taksim.

This is why it has come as little surprise to many Turks that Gezi Park was the last straw. “We need free places,” Pelin Tan, a sociologist and protester, explained.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 8, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: In Istanbul’s Heart, Leader’s Obsession, Perhaps Achilles’ Heel.

10 things you might not know about India. What exactly did you think you know about India?

For many people writing about India, the common cliches of Delhi belly, lengthy traffic jams, bureaucracy, corruption and yoga retreats are the subjects that fill the column inches.

I posted a couple of years an article showing that poor Bangladesh is outperforming mighty India in the UN human development indicators (infant mortality, primary education, health care…)

Rajini Vaidyanathan posted on BBC News this June 5, 2013:

Here are 10 other observations.

Clockwise from left: Overweight man, man with limes in his moustache, baby girl, men on plastic chairs

1. Hardly anyone pays income tax

Only 3% of Indians pay income tax, in a population of 1.2bn. One explanation for this is that agriculture is exempt and two-thirds of Indians live in rural areas. A large chunk of the economy is also informal, unorganized labor, for which it’s harder to collect taxes. Many argue that some of the country’s financial problems would be solved in one fell swoop, if this massive tax hole could be filled.

What can be done about India’s tax black hole?

2. The rise of the ‘wedding detective’

A friend of mine told me that, before his arranged marriage, he had a hunch his prospective in-laws had hired a private detective to check whether he’d had a girlfriend in the past. The answer was that he had, but the snoop (thankfully for my friend) failed to find out, and the wedding went ahead.

The growth in companies offering the service is huge, with 15,000 operating. “It’s not spying,” says one woman who’d used the service to check out a prospective bridegroom for her sister. “He told us he was from a good family, but we needed to ensure he was telling the truth.”

3. Read all about it:  India’s print industry is booming

Boy reading a newspaper

While Western countries are mourning the demise of the newspaper, India’s print industry is in fact booming. A growing literacy rate, relatively low internet use, and the large number of languages in the country, mean more people want to pick up their daily rag. It’s also very cheap to buy a newspaper, which is widening newspaper readership among all social classes.

Another reason why smaller, community newspapers are also on the rise, is because with a growing economy, more people are taking out classified ads, which helps to fund publications. What’s also remarkable is the market in second-hand newspapers and magazines. You can sell your magazines to a man at a roadside stall, who will buy them off you and sell them again – there are people who are more than happy to read a year old copy of the Economist, if it’s more affordable than the current issue.

4. Horn noise = pneumatic drill

Horn, OK, sign

Painted on the back of almost all lorries and trucks are the words “Horn OK, please“.

Honking is encouraged in India for drivers who are coming up behind another vehicle. The problem is that they’re not used sparingly.

One rickshaw driver told me he honked his horn at least 150 times a day, a fairly conservative estimate, given that in heavy traffic they can be sounded at least once every 30 seconds. The average rickshaw horn produces a sound of around 93 decibels (close to that of a pneumatic drill), with the general sound of traffic equivalent to a jumbo jet taking off. A deafening sound, quite literally.

5. It’s a young country

Young people in India are using music as a way to express self-confidence

India is a young nation. More than half of its 1.2 billion people is aged below 25, and two-thirds below 35. Many young Indians are feeling a sense of self confidence about their nation, no longer looking to the West.

Mumbai has a hipster scene to rival Brooklyn’s and home grown musical talent is flourishing, with many more shunning traditional professions and taking up a career in the arts. A music festival circuit has gigs held in fields and deserts, while major cities such as Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai are becoming hubs for live concerts.

6. Everywhere you go, you see plastic chairs

Plastic chairs of India
Plastic chairs of India
Plastic chairs of India
Plastic chairs of India

7. They’re piling on the pounds

“Oh you’ve put on weight,” said my bank manager with a smile on her face. Initially aghast, I eventually got used to the fact that gaining a few pounds is considered a compliment, a sign that you’re looking healthy. What surprised me was that India is now on the brink of an obesity epidemic, (not just with humans but animals too).

Stop at any service station and you’ll see queues of Indians gorging on McDonalds or other processed foods. It’s always been usual to see the older Indian man sporting a fat tummy (known lovingly as a paunch), and while large swathes of India still battle malnourishment, with millions starving every day, there is a general widening of waists in the cities.

8. The scourge of spit

“We cannot believe that people don’t spit. It (spitting) is an inherent character of our people. ” Justice PB Majmudar High Court judge, Mumbai

Mumbai has introduced a spit inspector to fine those who share their saliva in public. Many people spit after they’ve had paan (a mix of betel nut and areca, and sometimes tobacco – which is chewed but not swallowed). This produces a reddish stain which can be seen on the side of many white walls.

It’s common to see “do not spit” signs in taxis, on the back of rickshaws and on the front of buildings. But there’s concern the falling phlegm is responsible for the spread of tuberculosis. There’s even an anti spit campaign in the country.

9. Roadside ear cleaners

Close-up: India’s unusual street-side services

Anyone who has been to India, even for a few days, will be well acquainted with the street-side economy which is a dominant part of life the country. The inventiveness and resourcefulness of people in the country is like no other – there are people who will sell or serve you in all kinds of ways.

Broken an umbrella? There’s a man who’ll fix it. Need your shoes re-heeled? There’s a man who will come to your house to do it. How about a haircut from a kerbside cutter? Then there’s the serious stuff – the roadside bone setters, who will repair fractures, plus the ear cleaners and the corn and bunion removal men. What’s remarkable is how these centuries old traditions are still going strong.

Some fear these traditions are under threat, with future generations choosing to pursue an education and a different path rather than follow the family business, and because some authorities are trying to move them off the pavements.

10. Don’t wear new clothes on a Saturday

An Indian man gets his new car blessed before it is driven

India might be home to some of the world’s best scientists and engineers, but a lot of that rational thinking can go straight out of the window when it comes to observing ancient superstitions. Different people observe different things, such as – don’t wear new clothes on a Saturday, don’t clean the house at night for fear of scaring the Goddess Lakshmi away…

 It’s bad luck to give or accept anything with your left hand. For so many in India – rich and poor – observing these customs is still part of today’s society. Brand new cars have a floral garland hanging on the bonnet because it’s considered good luck to get your new vehicle blessed before you drive it.

Chilli and limes hang in cars or above front doors to ward off evil. A lot of planes don’t have a row 13, to avoid any association with the unlucky number.

A few Indianisms

Prepone – To bring an event or meeting forward

Revert – to get back to someone

Only – added to the end of sentences

Out of station – Out of town

You’ve pulled down – You’ve lost weight

I’ll do the needful – I’ll do what’s required

They expired – They died

I’m going to office – articles routinely dropped

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What have you noticed about life in India? A selection of comments will be published




June 2013

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