Capture of the Guardian’s totally accidentally misleading headline.
You’d be forgiven for thinking, given the above picture, that the Panama Papers had something to do with Vladimir Putin. Maybe he was a kingpin of the whole thing. Maybe he was, at least, among the 12 world leaders implicated in various shady financial practices – along with Petro Poroshenko, the saviour of Ukrainian democracy, and the King of Saudi Arabia (dad of the recent Légion d’Honneur winner).
Luke Harding, a bastion of ethical journalism (and not at all a paranoid lunatic), has churned out 2 articles totaling over 5000 words, each using the word “Putin”, almost as often as they use the phrases “allegedly”, “speculation suggests”, “has been described as” and “may have been”.
Neither of his articles mentions by name any of the 12 world leaders, past and present, actually identified in the documents, nor do…
It’s more than a week since I arrived in England, from a three-week holiday in India. Friends and colleagues alike have been curious to know more about the holiday. Some having travelled before love to engage with their experiences, citing mostly great weather, historic sites, friendly locals, beaches and succulent kebabs. Others, still wary, wonder if you’ve been attacked by a stray dog or have contracted an illness.
Not surprisingly, a question that tops the list is “Did you have Delhi belly?” For which my answer is invariably ‘no’, and leaves them looking rather baffled.
I often wonder where, how and on what basis were these preconceptions founded upon? Was it the hippies of the yester years, travel guides like Lonely Planet or just a matter of the accumulated historical assumptions of the West about the East, the kind Edward W. Said has catalogued in his book ‘Orientalism’.
Certainly, India is a nation of 1 billion people and still growing, lacking in rail networks, infrastructure and basic amenities. However, that doesn’t imply, if you travel to the sub-continent, you will be ill.
My travels from Goa right through South India on trains, buses, and rickshaws took us through some of the most taxing roads and rail networks. Nevertheless, we encountered friendly locals, smiling faces, delicious train food for as little as 65p, and grubby loos if you were in a sleeper class. I can almost assure you 2AC for a higher price, is much more luxurious and the experience will be different.
Through my journeys and interaction with people in different places, it was not uncommon to hear fellow travellers whine about the lack of hygiene, poor sanitation, and strange men. While some of it stands true, others I believe are misconstrued ideas about the country built over a period of time.
For example – the term ‘Delhi belly’ is pejorative and borderline racist, and originates from travellers to India who have sustained themselves, understandably on cheap street food for lengthy periods. The term implies that there is a natural link between upset stomachs and life in India – when, of course, the link is as a result of the travel habits of frugal visitors. ‘Delhi belly’ will always carry a vaguely judgemental connotation that is as false as if I were to give up home cooking for a diet of McDonalds in London, and then blame the resulting upset stomach on some innate quality of the West.
Apart from ‘Delhi belly’ there are a few other misconceptions I’ve had to deal with in recent weeks, which I hope to clarify in my blog here:
# 1 Accommodation is filthy
People travelling for four – six weeks are on a budget and would naturally like to maximise value for their money. Who wouldn’t? I have several times while travelling across Asia. However, one has to recognise the price that comes with staying in budget accommodation (i.e. 1 – 2£ per day) – will be having to put up with lizards, frogs, salamanders, scorpions, beetles and perhaps even snakes to keep you company at night.
Be warned, sometimes mattresses are often infested with dreadlocks from another backpacker, and if you are wise enough – a sleeping bag and mosquito net will be indispensable to your travel kit.
That said, not everywhere in India is like that. Infact the country is home to some of the finest hotels and unique ‘themed’ earth resorts, cave houses, tree houses, and bamboo beach huts. My advice is book in advance to avail of good deals. If you feel like you have the money to spend, go indulge yourself and try something new.
# 2 ‘I’m on a journey to self-discovery in India’
It is common practice among most westerners to assume India as home to a place for ‘self realisation’, ‘self-discovery or embark on ‘truth-seeking’ journeys. Perhaps, it’s movies such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or even life experiences and blogs by previous travellers such as Abigail Butcher and Mariellen Ward that have inspired others.
Several travel websites like IFRE Volunteers Abroad are responsible for creating this delusion ‘travel to India and it will expand your soul’. This can be quite commonly witnessed along the beaches in Goa at several ashrams and monasteries – Sun worshippers, people dressed in Indian tat, practising yoga, and on herbal diets akin.
As expected, as a tourist for the first time you want to immerse yourself into the experience wholeheartedly for fear of missing out (aka F.O.M.O.)
However, because of the endless propaganda in the west from holiday websites and tour operators – to think of the country as a place solely for spiritual journeys and troubled people, is frankly misleading. At worst, it’s a fallacy, if you travel to India – its all going to be okay.
Certainly, it is a spiritual country, with many religions, beliefs, monasteries, festivals and cultures, however, its blasphemy when you try to combine that with alcohol and drugs.
# 3 Will I get Ill?
There is no shortage to the variety and quality of food one can find whether its North, South, East or West Indian cuisine. With all its shortcomings, India can still proudly boast of some of the finest ‘tandoor tikkas’ and vegetarian food in the world.
Like in any country known for their signature dishes, India has several – Tandoor tikkas, parathas, naan, masala dosas, fish curry, samosas etc.and the list goes on. However if you choose to drink water from unhygienic sources or consume food from unreliable eateries covered in flies, you are asking for trouble.
Obviously, you would like to steer of foods like rare steak or meats. Unless, it’s a place recommended by a local or its often frequented by other locals
Leo Batchelor, who visited India for the first time and has Crohn’s disease, ate everything from vegetarian biryanis, grilled fish, and samosas on trains. He said, “I feel better than ever. A little bit of spice goes a long way for the experience.”
# 4 Why is India so poor?
I’m often left dumbfounded when someone asks me ‘Why is India so poor? Either you consume too much television media; or solely rely on western media films like ‘ Slumdog Millionaire’ to shape your opinions.
I’m not going to defend the country’s worth, by arguing about the number of billionaires or how entrepreneurs such as Tata and Wipro, have been responsible for creating jobs in a recession struck European economy.
Undeniably, our politicians are corrupt and bureaucracy and red tapism is inevitable. Our leaders don’t camouflage the poverty by building favelas or high-rise walls or evicting people to other regions. Plain and simple, it’s evident, what you see is what you get.
And in big cities, people sleep rough, just like they do in London and New York. With a growing population of more than a billion people, without a welfare state and social housing by the government, this doesn’t stop people from being optimistic and trying to make ends meet.
# 5 Indian men stare
You are in a country that encourages conservative dress if you choose to travel by public transport. If you decide not to honour this, you will have to put up with the consequences – endless staring from men. I did.
The reason being, many Indian men are still not used to anything other than women dressed in a saree or a salwar kameez. You can get away with it in cosmopolitan cities, however in rural areas and public transport platforms, be prepared for some stares.
Now one might question, the way Indian actors are portrayed in Bollywood, however, that’s another argument in itself.
# 6 Is it safe?
Which brings me to the next question – Is it safe? To be fair, I don’t feel safe walking the streets of London.
At best, we didn’t encounter someone who stuck a knife in our face demanding valuables. That said, I am speaking strictly for places we visited in South India. At the time, we were travelling, news about the rape in New Delhi was relentless, both from local and international networks. What called for intense media attention was the victim’s death.
In late November, eleven year-old had been raped in Jubilee Park, on her way from school in London. However that didn’t make the international news headlines. Rape cases dealt by police officers in London are just as bungled up, as the ones in North India. So what makes people think London is safer than India? More recently, acid was thrown on 21-year-old Naomi Uni, by a stranger, when she was returning home from a late night shift.
My experience living in different countries over the years has been one where you have to take responsibility for your personal safety.
# 7 Entry-fees to public monuments is unfair to tourists
When visiting palaces and museums in South India, the disparity in entry fees for Indians vs. Non Indians is obvious. During our visit to Mysore Palace, the entry fee for Leo was £3 (240 INR) and for me 30p (40 INR).
Understandably, its something many European visitors don’t take too well, with many stating it’s chauvinistic. However, if one were to compare the annual average British income i.e.£ 26,500 (2223135.35 INR) to the annual average Indian income i.e. £716.02, (60,000 INR) – the difference is beyond belief.
Secondly, the locals are taxpayers. Given that some of the tax-money is used for the upkeep and refurbishment of these areas, it’s only too fair for them to have easy access at reasonable rates.
I was listening to BBC Radio 4 this morning and there was no dearth of angles to the their coverage on the story about London Metropolitan University’s licence being revoked as part of British government plans to reach its target in reducing international students.
While most news organisations emphasised human-interest case studies about the future of these students jeopardized, and a further £12.5 billion economic impact on UK’s education industry, what caught my attention was Radio 4’s Thought for the Day by Reverend Dr. Michael Banner, Dean and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.
Citing a passage from the Book of Acts, he focused on how it could serve as a mission statement for the admissions policy of universities. In the 13th century, he reflected, the University of Paris was founded on the principles of universal education advocated by the Book, offering a universe of subjects to students displaying a commitment to truth and wisdom rather than national loyalties.
An international student myself, I arrived in England two years ago to pursue Broadcast Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University. I never experienced any hostility and lack of communication from admission officers, on the contrary they transcended all expectations in trying to ensure my arrival and stay and that of many international students was a memorable one.
However, what I couldn’t understand is that despite the stringent criterion for English fluency, there were students in my modules that struggled with comprehension and fluent communication. I’m not entirely sure if they understood the lectures, or if at all they ever cleared the semester, but I would expect that the university would have done the necessary checks to admit them to a Masters programme. But I also thought: was this something that was disregarded in order to secure international funds? Perhaps an endemic failure in most universities? This is a question many politicians fail to ask.
Another report from BBC Asia Correspondent Rajni Vaidyanathan on Radio 4’s Today Programme highlighted the views of a 22 year old Mumbai resident Mohit Basir, who is looking for a specialisation in renewable energy overseas, however isn’t very keen on universities in Britain as a result of recent events.
Despite Britain being a hub for education, with a host to some of the best universities in the world, the trend is changing. At a time when the country’s economic growth forecasts are at a standstill, the country needs to look beyond immigration. If it wishes to attract the brightest and the best, tighter immigration policies and procedures will do nothing more than dissuade exceptional talent from entering this country. There are endemic failures in its admission procedures which universities need to tackle.
As Dr. Banner points out: “The irony then is that the insecurities and conflicts of modern times, which lead us to police our borders and our universities ever more robustly, are themselves the products of the divisions, suspicions and misunderstandings against which universities originally stood.”
Understandably, the country is trying both to get its people back to work and to protect the interests of British citizens, however if this is to be done by raising international barriers, the country has only set itself up for further decline.
From a business point of view the implications for foreign investment and international trade relations are huge. At a time when David Cameron is on his knees to attract international investors and create jobs and growth, as seen in his speech at the British Business Embassy on the eve of the Olympics, events such as these serve as a deterrent for investors.
Britain has already seen a surge of international investors, mergers and acquisitions in the past decade – Jaguar land Rover ( India), Asda ( U.S.), MG Rover (China), P&O Ports (Dubai), the British Airports Authority (Spain), Corus (formerly British Steel, to India), British Energy (France), and lottery operator Camelot (Canada).
A few years from now, some of these international students are likely to be the next generation of entrepreneurs, decision makers and business leaders in business. Mohit in the interview goes on to say, “This isn’t good for Britain, when we grow up we will remember this, it will be fresh in our minds that when we wanted to study and were looking for options, for a mutual benefit, a country like the UK denied us because they assumed we wanted to settle in and infringe upon their economy.”
Again, as Dr. Banner points out, it goes beyond the financial impact on British universities. “There is however more than just money at stake in ensuring that even with appropriate regulation our universities remain international – for me it’s a matter of keeping alive that vision and spirit of universal human cooperation and community just at a time when borders, and consequently suspicions, seem to be getting stronger, ” he said.
When all else fails where do politicians and economists turn for inspiration? – The Olympics.
The tag line ‘Inspire a generation’ seems to have worked well for the host Team GB, but more importantly it is a message for our politicians. If the UK’s athletes can bring back the gold, why can’t we replicate the same for the economy?
In the past two weeks, guts, determination, commitment and hard work are some of the key elements that resonate with the success of eam GB, and now everyone from the Prime Minister to the Governor of the Bank of England, are not only revelling in the success of British athletes but seem to have found inspiration themselves in trying to find solutions for an economy in continuous decline.
In recent weeks, news of a shrinking economy, falling GDP rates, and slashed economic growth forecasts for the next two years has led even the Bank of England Governor Mervyn King to look to the Olympic triumphs to find some motivation.
“Unlike the Olympians who have thrilled us this week our economy has not yet reached full fitness but it is slowly healing,” he said two weeks back, after the release of poor economic growth forecasts for the next two years.
“It is to our Olympic team we must look for inspiration. They have shown what total commitment is before reaching our goals, which may lie a few years ahead,” he added.
Assessing the London 2012 Olympics in his end-of-Games speech, David Cameron said, “I only think you need two words to sum up these games, ‘Britain delivered.’ “We showed the world what we are made of, we reminded ourselves what we could do. And yes we have demonstrated you should never ever count team GB out,” he added.
When Chancellor George Osborne was quizzed on BBC news about the triple AAA rating , shrinking economy and plans for growth, he deflected his attention to the Olympics. He said, “Well we’ve had disappointing GDP data and of course we are in these very challenging economic conditions round the world, but actually in Britain unemployment has been coming down. Seeing businesses exporting more to new emerging economies, the China and India’s which we need to do as a country, and frankly I think the Olympic games has shown the world that Britain can do things well and get things right and deliver enormous projects on time and on budget and of course deliver some gold medals as well.”
And no one could feel more triumphant than the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson himself, as he delivered an amusing speech to thank Team GB and London 2012 volunteers. He reiterated that the Olympics showed the capital could “dazzle the world”.
Perhaps hinting at the recent economic situation and decline in growth forecasts, he added, “You have won more gold medals per capita than any country in the world.”
‘From boxing to cycling, you have brought home the great truth about this country that when we put our mind to something, there is absolutely nothing this country cannot achieve,” he added.
What have we learnt from this – Like the athletes who relentlessly train for four years to achieve the desired results, maybe it’s time politicians turned to making concrete long-term solutions, instead of short fixes of a period of a few months to a year, to revive growth for the economy.
Some may argue finding solutions or hope through Olympics is wishful thinking, but with no end in sight on where the economy is headed, it would be a hopeful start.
With exactly a week to the Olympics, everything from transport inefficiencies to security glitches and Small Medium Enterprises capitalising on Olympic branded items, has been making the front pages.
In the first week of July it was G4S security shortages, yesterday Guardian ran a story about former Slum Dog Millionaire Director Danny Boyle embroiled in a tug-o-war with Olympic Broadcasting Services trying to have cameras installed in specific locations.
And today, the UK Border forces have ceremoniously called for a strike a day before the start of the Olympics. It’s turning to be an Olympic shambles of all sorts with more media publicity on events in the build up to the games than the event itself.
A week ago Boris Johnson was trying to assure the International media and members of the public at the Olympic Media centre about British weather and food, saying, ‘There are more Michelin restaurants in London than Paris, and it rains more in Rome than here.’
One person who has been in the spotlight is Home Secretary Theresa May. In the wake of a series of tumultuous events from security to UK border force, she might be spending many sleepless nights. Daily Mail always a step ahead, with an angle more unusual than the rest.
And if that was not enough, the Middletons’ have come under fire again, as the family firm has published images featuring Olympic festive bunting and party kits, said to be a breach of law unless they are official sponsors of the event.
Well, I checked Amazon sports website, who aren’t official sponsors and are retailing 2012 and Team GB branded sportswear. Inside sources have confirmed LOCOG permissions have been sorted. Who knows, that might be a similar case for the Middletons?
Oh well, just can’t wait for the games to begin now, atleast the focus will be on the games rather than all the drivel in the build up to it. As Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey put it two weeks ago in the House of Commons, “I am worried the security is overshadowing the sporting nature of the Games.”
Of all the woeful bits, one that had me in laughter was the Olympic tattoo on the arm of an American national, which was spelled as “Oylmpics”. In an interview with BBC news, she confessed she hadn’t noticed until her friend brought it to her attention.