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Hello From Kolkata [en]

Hello From Kolkata [en]

[fr] En Inde. Des trucs (très) en vrac. Un podcast en français dans les liens.

I’m in India. For a month.

I did it again: didn’t blog immediately about something I wanted to blog about (the rather frightful things I learned about the anti-GMO movement, if you want to know) because of the havoc it wreaked on my facebook wall when I started sharing what I was reading. And as I didn’t blog about that, I didn’t blog about the next thing. And the next.

Steph and Coco

And before I know it I’m leaving for India in two weeks, have students to teach and blogs to grade, and don’t know where to start to write a new blog post.

The weather in Kolkata is OK. The trip to come was exhausting: 20 hours for the flights, add on a bit before and after. I didn’t sleep on the Paris-Mumbai leg because it was “too early”, and spent my four hours of layover in Mumbai domestic airport in a right zombie state. Needless to say there is nowhere there to lie down or curl up, aside from the floor. I particularly appreciated having to go to the domestic airport for my Mumbai-Kolkata flight only to be ferried back to the international airport while boarding, because “Jet Airways flights all leave from the international airport”. But I laughed.

It was a pleasant trip overall. Nearly no queue at immigration. Pleasant interactions with people. And oh my, has Mumbai airport come a long way since my first arrival here over 16 years ago. It was… organized. I followed the signs, followed instructions, just went along with the flow. I’ve grown up too, I guess.

I slept over 12 hours last night. I can’t remember when I did that last. I walked less than 500 steps today, bed to couch and back. I’ve (re)connected with the family pets: Coco the African Grey Parrot, (ex-)Maus the chihuahua-papillon-jack-russel-staffie mix (I can never remember his new Indian name), and the remaining cat, which I’ve decided to call “Minette”, who “gave birth” to two empty amniotic sacs yesterday and is frantically meowing all over the place. Looking for non-existent kittens, or missing her brother, who escaped about a week ago? Hopefully she will calm down soon.

Maus and Minette

I plan to play about with Periscope while I’m here. Everyday life in India seems like a great opportunity to try out live interactive video. Do follow me if you don’t want to miss the fun.

Oh, and don’t panic about the whole “meat causes cancer” thing.

Some random things, listened to recently, and brought to the surface by conversations:

  • Making Sex Offenders Pay — And Pay And Pay And Pay (Freakonomics Radio)
  • Saïd, 10 ans après (Sur Les Docks) — an ex-con, 10 years after, and how hard reinsertion is, when you’re faced with the choice between sleeping outside, unable to get a job, and committing another offense so that you can go back to prison; extremely moving story
  • You Eat What You Are, Part I and Part II (Freakonomics Radio again)
  • When The Boats Arrive (Planet Money) — what happens to the economy when immigrants arrive? it grows, simply;  migrant workers need jobs, of course, but they also very quickly start spending, growing the economy and creating the need for more jobs; the number of available jobs at a given place is not a rigid fixed number

Yep, random, I warned you.

I can now do the Rubik’s cube and have installed Catan on my iDevices, if ever you want to play.

I’ve activated iCloud Photo Library even though I use Lightroom for my “serious” photos. Like the author of the article I just linked to, my iPhone almost never is connected to my Mac anymore. And the photos I need to illustrate blog posts are often photos I’ve just taken with my phone. I end up uploading them to Flickr through the app.

It seems the “photos ecosystem” is slowly getting there, but not quite yet. I’ve just spent a while hunting through my post archives, and I can’t believe I never wrote anything about using Google auto-backup for my photos. At some point I decided to go “all in”, subscribed to 1TB of Google storage, and uploaded my 10+ years of photos there. I loved how it intelligently organized my photos. Well, you know, all the stuff that Google Photos does.

Why am I using the past tense? Because of this: seems automatic upload of a whole bunch of RAW formats has quietly stopped. This is bad. Basically, this paid service is not doing what I chose it for anymore. I hope against reason this will be fixed, but I’m afraid I might be disappointed.

One thing I was not wild about with Google Photos was the inability to spot and process duplicates. And duplication of photos when sharing.

Flickr now has automatic upload and organising. Do I want to try that? Although I dump a lot of stuff in Flickr, I’ve been slack about processing and uploading photos lately. I’m hesitant. Do I want to drown my current albums and photostream in everything I snap? Almost tempted.

I think that’s enough random for now. It’s 10.30 pm and I’m starving, off to the kitchen.

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Sleeping in India and Putting My Brain Straight [en]

Sleeping in India and Putting My Brain Straight [en]

[fr] Le silence nécessaire au sommeil, c'est il me semble quelque chose d'acquis. Un segment du podcast mentionné avant-hier parle de l'Inde... je ne pense pas que donner des boules quiès aux indiens améliorera vraiment leur qualité de sommeil. Et sinon, je continue avec intention à reprendre mon cerveau en main, y compris pour l'administratif et la compta!

After writing my post the day before yesterday, I listened to the end of the two-part series on sleep from Freakonomics Radio. I like Freakonomics because they go beyond the easy fluffy questions, and dig down to where things can be uncomfortably unclear. Maybe I should read the book.

Liseron coloré

Anyway. There was a segment on sleep in India (Chennai to be precise), and some of the comments stuck me as a little… ethnocentric and uncritical. Yes, India is noisy, definitely. And we westerners have trouble sleeping in the noise.  But remember that we have had to learn to sleep in the calm. The womb, where we all come from, is a noisy place. It is only with time that noise starts waking us up.

I remember hearing about the miller who will wake up when his mill stops (sound gives way to silence). More recently, I’m sure I read something about a study where they put volunteers in a terribly noisy sleep lab and kept their eyes open to flashing lights, and they fell asleep just fine. (Couldn’t dig it out, if you find it let me know.)

Many Indians, in my experience, have no trouble whatsoever sleeping in the noise. Some cannot sleep without the noise and wind of the fan whirring above their heads, even when it is cold. So, I’m not sure that providing Indians with earplugs will actually help them get better sleep.

Also, one thing that stuck me in India is that a bed is just “a place to sleep”. It seems to be less of a private, intimate place than in the West. In that respect, I’m not sure one should interpret people sleeping in weird places the same way one would here: maybe they’re just sleeping, and not “passed out from exhaustion”.

This Indian sleeping comment aside, I’ve been mulling over my efforts to get my brain back on track. One thing I didn’t mention in my last post was that I am trying to put more intention in things. If I realise I have forgotten something, I make an effort to recall it. I make an effort to be organised and not let things slip. I am making a conscious effort to get back on top of things, and it seems to be working.

Obviously it’s not enough to help me keep track of everything I’ve read, because I can’t seem to find the piece which talked about this guy who made a conscious effort to floss every day as an exercise in self-discipline. If you can’t get yourself to floss each day (less than a minute of your time!), how can you hope to stick to bigger things?

So, I’m flossing. These last two nights, I also went to bed with my phone on airplane mode and in the living-room — just me, the cats and my kindle. This morning, I didn’t touch my e-mail or social media until I had showered, had breakfast, and headed down to the office. Environment design

I’ve also decided to stop being flaky about certain things, in particular around admin and accounting. I have no love for either of them, and like to say that I am with financial stuff like some are with algebra: my brain just blacks out. Well, enough of that. It’s not rocket science. If I was capable of doing Fourier transforms at some point in my life, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to remember which papers I need to bring my accountant for my taxes and accounting each year. Hell, I’m even enjoying listening to Planet Money!

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India, Women, Men [en]

India, Women, Men [en]

[fr] Quelques réflexions sur l'Inde, les hommes, les femmes. Même si la situation est clairement différente d'ici, il est tout à fait possible de voyager en Inde en tant que femme sans que ce soit l'enfer.

I lived in India for nearly a year, and upon my subsequent visits there have tacked on another 7 months in the country over the last 13 years.

Traveler Candace shares her notes on travelling alone as a woman in India. Her article, a reaction to this very dark picture of Indian men written by an exchange student (do also read the counter-piece), made me want to share my experience as a woman in India too. And also because since the highly publicised 2012 rape in Delhi, people ask me: is it really that bad? what is it really like?

Well, honestly, I haven’t had any particularly bad experiences in India. Sure, people stare more in India. And when it’s men or teenage boys, it can be a bit unsettling. But look around — women and children stare too. We’re staring material. People are often genuinely curious about foreigners. Get over it.

I had one guy I didn’t know e-mail me for a “sex date”. A fellow traveller leaning in a little too close on a bus (I swapped places with my male companion). A furtive breast grope at a crowded new year’s party. A friend of mine had somebody mumble “are you interested in a fuck?” while she was hanging out in front of a shop — she had to make him repeat it three times before she understood, I think the guy was more mortified than she was. In one of the hotels I stayed at, the manager came to chat with me during dinner a little too often for my comfort. But maybe he was just honestly curious (I really don’t know).

Let’s put this in context, though: like most women, I get unwanted attention in the West too. See #shoutingback. So this is not limited to India. Now, true, despite all the kamasutra and tantra idealisations, India is more sexually repressed than Switzerland. And more male-dominated. And it’s big. So yes, there are creepy guys, and there are definitely issues that need to be addressed. And there is risk, too. The Delhi rape didn’t just come out of nowhere. Years ago I read Bitter Chocolate, a book on child sexual abuse in India, which is quite chilling.

All this doesn’t mean that each woman’s trip to India will necessarily turn into a horror story. It’s quite possible to spend time in India without feeling like a sexual object at every turn of street. Being “sensible” is a part of it, just like it is in the West.

I’m careful how I dress, knowing that as a white woman I’m likely to start off with higher “sex capital”, so in doubt I might dress a little more conservatively than my Indian peers. I use the ladies’ compartment in the Delhi metro, the ladies’ side of the bus when there is one, the ladies’ queue — specially if I’m unaccompanied. I don’t feel like I’m driven by fear: one part is “do as Romans do”, and the other is that it just makes things more relaxed and avoids potentially annoying situations.

In her article, Candace points out one piece of “advice” that was given out to students going to India: “don’t smile at people”. I spent most of my time in India glaring at people, to be honest. A few years ago, I realized I spent most of my time in Switzerland glaring at people. I started smiling more to people I didn’t know, and trying to approach strangers in a more friendly mode rather than defensive. It changes things.

Sure, a smile is an invitation to some kind of interaction. If you have huge boundary issues you might prefer to lock yourself up in a scowl to prevent anybody from approaching. Interaction can indeed lead to unwanted attention, but it can also lead to friendly interaction. My life in India was (and is) filled with friendly men, and yes, having friends is something that will increase your safety — and your feeling of safety. For example, I travelled all the way to Chennai in sleeper class with my friend Shinde, something I would not have done on my own.

So, here’s a quick selection of some Indian men I met along the way.

Shinde and his wife Nisha, whom I stay with when I go back to Pune:

20040201_eating_out8_2

Madhav, who helped me find hotels to stay at when I kicked myself out of my pay-guest place, and remained a close friend for many years:

20040201_tennis13_2

Mithun and his family, who helped me out when I arrived in India, hosted me and helped me find a flat so many years ago:

Pune 125 me and Mithun's family

The “Delhi Boys” plus my host Sunesh’s family in Kerala:

Goodbye Family Pics Karivellur 14.jpg

Satisha, one of the helpful staff at Hillview Farms:

People of Hillview Farms 42.jpg

Thanks to Claude for sharing the article that got me started on The Life Nomadic.

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Off to India [en]

Off to India [en]

[fr] Départ pour l'Inde. Programme.

My bags are packed, all is set, the plane takes off at 8.50am tomorrow morning.

The Painter of Signs

Why India? The short answer is that I have lived there, have friends there, enjoy the food and the place. And like a sunny warm break in winter. And a good break in my working year — no e-mails for me during my trip.

What’s the plan?

  • Pune (25.12-02.01)
  • Madgaon (Goa) where I’ll be going back to Arco Iris (03.01-06.01)
  • Kannur (Kerala, 06.01-09.01)
  • Mysore, back to Hillview Farms of course (09.01-15.01)
  • Bangalore for a couple of days with Anita (15.01-18.01)
  • Kolkata (18.01-01.02)

Off I go!

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Vacances annuelles de Noël à mi-février [fr]

Vacances annuelles de Noël à mi-février [fr]

[en] Annual vacation coming up, from Christmas to mid-February.

Ceux d’entre vous qui me connaissent le savent: je prends depuis quelques années un “gros break” en hiver. Ça me permet de me ressourcer pour être plus productive et créative le reste de l’année. Et ça m’évite aussi de passer un mois de janvier en Suisse à déprimer dans la grisaille.

Concrètement, cela signifie que je ferme boutique entre Noël et mi-février — je reprends après la conférence Lift, qui a lieu du 6 au 8 février.

Je vais consacrer les deux semaines qui restent avant Noël à mettre de l’ordre dans les divers dossiers en cours. Certains d’entre vous attendent des réponses à des e-mails, et vous devriez les avoir d’ici là. Pour tout ce qui peut attendre mon retour, on verra ça dans deux mois!

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Here We Go Again [en]

Here We Go Again [en]

[fr] Des nouvelles du front.

Here we go again. My last post dates back to November 19th. This would seem to say the after-effects of the Back to Blogging challenge were short-lived! Not quite, though, because I’m writing today, and nearly wrote Tuesday, and am still focused on writing shorter.

The week before last was module 2 of the course on social media and online communities that I direct at SAWI. That means 4 days in the classroom, although I’m not teaching all the time (about two-thirds of the time I’m watching somebody else teach, and learning stuff!), with a conference and networking event by Rezonance on the Thursday night. (Needless to say I had other stuff going on the other evenings.)

The module went great, I was very happy — and from what I heard the students were too — but it was utterly exhausting.

Early this week I finally managed to extract myself from the nightmare of dealing with IRCTC Customer “care”. This is the blog post I started writing, and might finish at some point. Endless to-and-fro e-mails, disastrous user experience, crappy website, ridiculous security rules… I’ll spare you the details for the moment. Weeks of frustration were suddenly solved when I accepted I would get nowhere through official channels. An Indian phone number from a friend in Delhi and a few confirmation codes by IM later, I was finally booking train tickets for my January holiday.

I’m heading to Paris tomorrow for LeWeb, like each year. I’m looking forward to it! Maybe tomorrow or later today I’ll write a post on how to pitch me (or how not to pitch me). Short version? Do your homework. Know that I’m not interested in breaking news. I like cool new toys but what is cool for you is not necessarily cool for me. The main thing that interest me? People. What I’ll do for a friend, I won’t for a stranger. My contact page is harsh, but still stands.

Other than that I’m having some drama with the cats and the concierge. Three cats in my building go out. Tounsi, Quintus, and my neighbour’s Salem. (All the others are indoor cats.) One or more cats are spraying in the corridor. We don’t know who it is. All three cats know how to sneak into the building in between somebody’s feet when they walk in. So there are regularly cats hanging out in the corridor. I clean any markings I find with water, but unfortunately they leave stains (attack the flooring?). So my concierge is asking me to “make an effort” but won’t tell me exactly which effort I’m supposed to make (yeah, prevent my cats from being in the corridor; I’m already doing that).

 

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Amit Gupta Needs You, and Other South Asians Too (Join the Marrow Registry!) [en]

Amit Gupta Needs You, and Other South Asians Too (Join the Marrow Registry!) [en]

[fr] Amit Gupta, celui qui a démarré Jelly et Photojojo (entre autres), court le risque de mourir de leucémie aiguë s'il ne trouve pas un donneur de cellules souches du sang. La chance de trouver un donneur pour quelqu'un d'Asie du Sud est très faible -- c'est pourquoi l'entourage d'Amit (et tout internet s'y met) remue ciel et terre pour encourager un maximum de personnes du même groupe ethnique de s'enregistrer comme donneurs.

I should have blogged about this weeks ago. I’ve been anxiously watching the countdown of the time that was left to find a bone marrow donor for Amit Gupta.

I’ve been checking Facebook and Twitter in the hope that I would see good news announced.

The countdown now says 0.

Amit Gupta Needs You!

It doesn’t mean it’s too late, but it means that if there is no good enough donor amongst the people currently in the registry, Amit will have to take his chances with extra rounds of chemo (with possibly lasting damage) to survive the acute leukemia he was diagnosed with only mid-September.

If caucasians have a roughly 90% chance of finding a matching donor should they need one, chances are much slimmer if you’re South Asian (1 chance in 20’000 of finding an exact match). The reasons, it seems:

  • the huge variety of HLA profiles (a set of genes) amongst South Asians
  • a general reluctance to register and if matched, to donate (50% or more of South Asians back out once matched).

Heck, if the Ugly Indian can keep a street clean in Bangalore, can he not join a marrow registry and possibly save a life?

I have to say that when I first heard that Amit needed a marrow donation, I imagined the procedure was something like a spinal tap. It isn’t. The donor’s stem cells are usually taken from the blood stream directly, or if needed from the hip or pelvis, not the spine. All in all, the procedure is close to giving blood. Not a huge deal, to be honest.

Team Gupta’s next move, Clark tells Wired.com, is to make sure people are aware of how simple and painless the donation process is. Marrow is extracted from the arm and generally takes six hours or so. The procedure is about as invasive as donating blood — it just takes longer.

And to join the registry, all you need to do is send back a cheek swab. It’s really easy.

Here’s how to help if you live in India.

Even if you’re not a match for Amit, you might be a match for somebody else whose life depends upon a bone marrow donation.

As for me, well, there’s little chance I may be a match for Amit (obviously). I looked up the Swiss Marrow Registry to sign up, and was quite disappointed to see that my heart operation seemed to rule me out. I checked with them, though, and it’s on a case-by-case basis. In my case, there’s happily no reason to rule me out on the basis of the operation I had over 30 years ago.

So, who is this Amit? I don’t really know him, though I had a couple of e-mail exchanges with him when I started the eclau Jelly. Yup, he’s behind that. And he also started Photojojo, which you should definitely join if you’re into photography.

But this goes beyond Amit: it’s an issue for the whole South Asian community. If you are South Asian, in India or elsewhere, please do see what you can do to help.

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10 Years Ago [en]

10 Years Ago [en]

[fr] Il y a dix ans, le 9 septembre 2011.

10 years ago I was in Rishikesh with other Hindi students. The internet connection was really bad, and I saw a post on Dave Linabury’s blog about the attacks. I didn’t know whether to believe it or not.

I went down to the hotel rooms, a bit shaken, to see if the woman from our party with a radio could tell me anything. She was thinking it was a horrible hoax when I arrived, and it took us less than 10 words between the two of us to realize it was for real.

It was the evening in India. We huddled in a hotel room with a TV to follow the news. I remember thinking very hard (it would have been praying if I prayed) “I hope Bush doesn’t do something really stupid like invade Afghanistan”.

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Eat, Pray, Love: Damn You, Elizabeth Gilbert [en]

Eat, Pray, Love: Damn You, Elizabeth Gilbert [en]

[fr] J'ai aimé Eat, Pray, Love plus que ce à quoi je m'attendais. Le trip "spiritualité indienne sauce occidentale", je m'en passerais, mais il y a plein de bonnes choses -- outre l'écriture, que j'aime beaucoup. Pour plus de détails... lire l'article complet en anglais!

Damn you, Liz Gilbert. I didn’t want to like your book, but I did. I even like you (well, the narrator you). Yeah, of course I can relate: 30-something heartbroken woman finds peace and love. Which single woman in her mid-thirties wouldn’t?

It annoys me, though, that you found them through faith, because I can’t do that.

I don’t doubt that you had a life-changing experience. I’m not either against religious or spiritual paths journeys per se, as long as they actually serve to grow us as human beings. But like the friends you mention near the end of your India book, I *cannot* believe anymore — believing there is a God or some other power, personal or not, is too incompatible with my worldview. A part of me would *like* to believe, so that I could find the peace you found. But I’d be faking it, right? Because another part of me is *certain* that there is nothing up there — or in there, aside from ourselves.

Bangalore 016 Gandhi Bazaar.jpgTo your credit, you do not proselytize, nor try to tell us that your way is The Only Way, and that we should all be doing it too. You bear witness of your own personal path, which involved a spiritual adventure in an ashram in India. I can appreciate that. But I have trouble relating to that aspect of your journey. (There is the Siddha Yoga issue too, which bothers me, but that I won’t delve into here.)

Also, whether you want it or not, your spiritual journey is coloured by a very specific — and modern — Indian school of thought (and by that, I don’t just mean Siddha Yoga). You acknowledge that, but in some respects you are blind to it, for example when you serve us truths about Indian spirituality or religions in general — you are talking from the inside of a specific religious tradition, not giving us access some kind of general truth. It’s a mistake many make, and I guess I can forgive you for it.

I personally believe that our conversations with God are conversations with ourselves. I believe we are much bigger than we think, and probably much bigger than we can ever know. And I say this not in a “mystical” or “magical” or “supernatural” sense, but in a psychological one. So for me, any religious or spiritual path is no more than a path within and with ourselves, using an exterior force or entity (“God”, “energy”) as a metaphorical proxy for parts or aspects of ourselves which are not readily available to our consciousness. Yes, it’s sometimes a bit complicated to follow for me too.

So what I can relate to, clearly, are your conversations with yourself in your notebook. I know I am a good friend. I’m loyal. I can love to bits. If I open the floodgates, I can love more than is possibly imaginable — just like you say of yourself. But I do not let myself be the beneficiary of so much love and care. “To love oneself,” not in a narcissistic way, but as a good friend or a good parent would. I know this is something I need to work on, I knew it before reading Eat, Pray, Love, but your journey serves as a reminder to me. It’s also reminding me that meditation (even when it’s not a search for God or done as religious practice) has benefits — and that I could use them.

So, thank you, Liz Gilbert. We may differ in our spiritual and life aspirations, but your journey has touched me, and inspired me. I didn’t expect it to. Thank you for the nice surprise. And damn you, because now I can’t look down quite so smugly anymore on those who rave about your book.

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