Why Do So Many...... ?

Dear Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani,

Reading your article "Letter from Africa: The culture of sharing the cake" <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30447166> reminded me very much of the situation here in the Philippines (which is similar, I suspect, to many other cultures).

In the Philippines, the smallest socio-political unit is the "barangay". Traditionally, it is supposed to have derived from a possibly Viking like boat crew. The "Barangay Captain" was presumably literally the captain of the boat and the (male) members of the Barangay the crew. Presumably, the crew and the family of the crew all looked after each other.

Unfortunately, at present, I am having arguments with my Filipina wife: She says I do not "look after her" properly -while my (Dutch) daughter believes that she should "look after herself".

Perhaps nothing could illustrate more graphically the (personal) consequences of a clash of cultures: My wife is probably correct: I am British -so I expect people to "be themselves" and this is the basis for our interpersonal relationship. On the other hand, I remember when moving to Holland, I had great problems with a simple question like "What do you want?" -because it assumed that what I wanted was separated from a whole nexus of social commitments.

"Looking after oneself" -or "Looking after each other" seem to be two totally different (and perhaps incompatible social modes).

For a long time I have thought about the  Barangay system -and the way it is possibly reflected in what is often called the "corruption" endemic in Pinoy society. However, to me, it reflects a rather efficient way of organizing resources: It is not the individual -but the "team" that is important. The team member support the leader and the leader supports the team...... The more efficient the leader is in accumulating resources -the more the team benefit and perhaps become more able to gain more. When "authorities" cannot be trusted -it is perhaps a remarkably effective system.

So perhaps it is the colonial process that has imposed a different (and perhaps extremely inappropriate) social structure on societies -perverting them -because local values are only seen through foreign (cultural) eyes.

 Indeed, the whole question of "culture" has been reduced to a commercial "lifestyle" issue within the post colonial global system,

Interestingly, Gary Swartz, in his book on Rembrandt -talks about the Dutch "maagshap" (stomach-ship) system -which placed the painter as an apprentice by a distant family member...... So perhaps we have corrupted our own social system -before we have corrupted others....... 

So was Max Weber correct in associating capitalism with protestantism?
I suspect that one cannot be a capitalist (in the Marxist sense) without accepting many protestant values...... ( although perhaps not the entire belief system)

So perhaps we should look at cultures more closely -in terms of socio-cultural aesthetics.
Between Tears and Laughter <http://tebatt.net/PROJECTS/PROJECT_HOMEFARM/Inspirations/tearsandlaughter.html>
" In this book Lin Yutang has given up his traditional Chinese patience and replaced it with a barbed sarcasm which is little short of devastating. Winston Churchill and his not-so-passive resistance to the movement for Indian freedom receive the most effective thrusts, but "mechanistic psychology" also has its day in the pillory. As no modern psychologist seems willing to accept the label of "mechanistic" and Dr. Lin's formal education in psychology appears to have stopped with Freud and J. B. Watson, there will be little resentment stirred by his attacks. Yet, despite a few criticisms, I found this book stimulating and exciting. It raises questions which every psychologist and every citizen should consider carefully. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)"

After decades of living in towns and cities, I now live in a poor rural area. The difference between town and country is enormous -but difficult to see/understand from a "city" perspective. So I am rather interested in the global rise of our current consumerist mindset -which seems to have grown naturally out of the industrialization process (married in subtle ways to the colonial process too -no doubt).
 Only Yesterday
An Informal History of the 1920s,
1931 book by Frederick Lewis Allen.
"I. PRELUDE: MAY, 1919

IF TIME WERE SUDDENLY TO TURN back to the earliest days of the Post- war Decade, and you were to look about you, what would seem strange to you? since 1919 the circumstances of American life have been transformed-yes, but exactlyhow? " <http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/allen/ch1.html>"

While living in Holland, I began to suspect that bourgeois individualism is a strain that even its stoutest believers feel hard to bear. I believe Erich Fromm also wrote on that subject too.

Thanks for your stimulating article -I hope soon to add it to my store of news articles on my website. I hope you will not object -it provides valuable evidence for me.

Best wishes and good luck,

trevor batten

Why so many Indians flock to gurus


I don't think many people were aware of the controversial Hindu guru Rampal before Tuesday's violent clashes between his supporters and the police.

But then India is a country of more than a billion people and tens of thousands of gurus.

There are gurus for rich and poor. Many of them command huge followings at home and overseas counting politicians, film and cricket stars, bureaucrats and ordinary people among their devotees. The world's best known cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, is a follower of Sai Baba, whose mystique and influence lasted long after his death in 2011.

Gurus also peddle influence as politicians run to them for advice. Proximity to a guru legitimises a politician and adds to his power, says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan. India's most powerful prime minister, the late Indira Gandhi, would often turn to her yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari for advice.

Many of the gurus are also successful entrepreneurs and run massive business empires, selling traditional medicines, health products, yoga classes and spiritual therapies. They run schools, colleges and hospitals. Some of the gurus, according to Dr Vishvanathan, can make India's best-known companies "sound like management amateurs". A guru from Punjab, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who heads a popular religious sect, even performs at rock concerts and acts in films. Some gurus are adept at yoga, others are better known for their discourses, while somebody like India's most famous woman guru, Mata Amritanandamayi, has made a name for herself by hugging people as a blessing and therapy.

The gurus also believe in what big companies call "corporate social responsibility", or investing in communities and caring for the environment. So they supply drinking water to parched villages, run rehab programmes for prisoners and drug addicts, organise blood donation camps and open schools for poor children. Some of them build cricket stadiums and promote vegetarianism.

No wonder then that devotees are manic about their gurus. Ashutosh Maharaj, a guru from Punjab, was declared clinically dead in January this year, but his supporters have kept his body in a deep freezer confident that they will return to life to lead his flock. Although many are accused of sexual offences, shady property deals and even murder, they remain immensely popular with their faithful devotees.

So what accounts for India's enduring relationship with gurus?

For one, in a fast-urbanising country bristling with ambition, frustration and confusion, gurus are like placebos for the uncertain masses. People flock to them, thinking that they can help give them the next big break in their lives. They look to them for miracle cures for their severely ill family members. In Gujarat's Sabarkantha district, there is a guru who has thousands of sick followers and promises to cure them with magic. Many of them die, but the faith persists.

Also, most Indians believe in magic, miracle and faith healing. Sociologist Dipankar Gupta says Hinduism depends on magic more than other religions as "Hinduism does not have a single book and communion". "If you are in a communion, you pray together, you have other kinds of solace," he says. So many Indians depend on gurus to produce miracles and improve their lives.

"Gurus are essentially seen as magicians who promise miracles. You go to a guru hoping he will deliver things to you. Religion, as we know it, is just a gloss and doesn't draw Indians to gurus in the first place," says Prof Gupta. As long as belief in magic and miracle survives and times remain uncertain, India's gurus are assured a place in the sun.

What is driving French nationals to join Islamic State?


Two Frenchmen that have been spotted in Islamic State's latest execution video are reported to be recent converts to Islam, sparking fresh debate in France about what's driving the appeal of Islamic State, and how to tackle it.

With delicate features and an unkempt beard, Maxime Hauchard, 22, helped to carry out executions in the arid Syrian landscape.

He was once, according to his uncle, a calm and happy little boy. "He was never even naughty as a child," Pascal Hauchard said.

But this week, Maxime became the latest name in the roll-call of Western recruits fighting alongside Islamic State.

He had already given a Skype interview to French television, describing life in Syria and his desire to become a martyr.

It's an odd kind of celebrity for a French boy from rural Normandy who, according to local reports, converted to Islam at the age of 17.

But converts appear to make up a striking number of the French citizens attracted to the militants' cause, and generate a huge amount of interest back home, as shown by the case of the British militant nicknamed "Jihadi John".

The second Frenchman has been named by prosecutors as Mickael Dos Santos, 22, from a small town just south-east of Paris.

Propaganda value

"They do it on purpose, of course they do," says Professor Jean-Pierre Filiu, from the School of International Affairs at Sciences-Po.

"Western recruits have no military value [to militant groups] at the moment; they have no training or expertise. Their value is in propaganda and recruitment. Militant leaders want to use European Muslims as hostages for their own propaganda, to generate fear of a fifth column back home. And it's working."

Responding to the latest video, President Francois Hollande said that more must be done to warn French families of the dangers of militant recruitment campaigns, which he said could touch people from every background, including converts.

Converts do appear to make up a substantial portion of those attracted to IS from France.

One recent survey by the French Institute, CPDSI, found that 90% of those who adopted radical Islamic beliefs had French grandparents, and that 80% came from atheist families.

Over half of all phone calls to a government helpline, set up to combat jihadist recruitment, concerned teenagers without any Muslim or Arab background. Those figures may not be representative of all French recruits in Syria, but they give some context to stories like Hauchard's.

Attraction of the cult

Pierre N'Gahane, who is a member of a government de-radicalisation team working on the issue, says the profiles of those attracted to IS ideology are hugely varied.

"You have the young girl who got high grades at school, and went to dance lessons, who in the course of a single day rejected her friends, and changed her dress and diet," he explained.

"Or the serial delinquent, always in trouble with the law, who dropped out of the army. Or the young student who was already isolated, and tips into radicalism during one moment of fragility."

Prof Filiu believes that the reason these young people have such hugely diverse profiles is partly a reflection of the tactics used by IS.

"Any recruits that arrive are brutalised in a kind of initiation ceremony," he told the BBC, "and then they are forced to recruit four or five of their buddies through Facebook. That's why you have profiles that are so unpredictable, and why converts bring in more converts."

But, he says, it's also precisely because most of them don't come from a Muslim religious culture and aren't looking for religion at all.

Instead they are isolated teenagers, "fast-tracked" into an extreme ideology, "a cult", whose appeal is very different to the piety and purity promised by organised religion, Mr Filiu adds.

"If you look at the images sent home," he told me, " it's all pizza and guns and sunsets over the Euphrates. It's an offer to join 'the winners'. Anybody who wants to become famous knows that if he goes and kills a hostage, he'll become a star, and be splashed across the front page of the newspaper back home."

'Victim narrative'

Pierre N'Gahane agrees. "Converts to radical Islam are very different to those converting to Islam," he says.

"They don't go through the mosque. They're fragile people who are drawn to a sectarian version of Islam, and really any other kind of sect would have done just as well. The attraction is a narrative that gives them an identity as victims of Western society, and as somehow special and chosen by God."

That has clear implications for how the government here should be tackling the problem.

Imams and mosques have little influence on recruitment drives which happen almost entirely on Facebook or via other internet sites. And there are few easy ways to tackle a network with such intimate connections and such disparate appeal.

Some have blamed France's social inequality or lack of integration, but surveys have suggested that many converts are from well-integrated, middle-class families.

But with more than 1,000 French citizens now either fighting with groups like IS, en route to join them, planning to do so, or returning to France, the government is under pressure to curb the flow of recruits.

It has launched several programmes designed to target those at risk. One of the most recent, says Mr N'Gahane, focuses on offering psychological support to those wanting to leave France to join the group.

The police now also have the power to confiscate the passports of anyone believed to be about to flee.

Prof Filiu says societies may always harbour a radical fringe, ripe for cults to tap into.

What makes this recruitment drive so effective, he believes, is the way it harnesses the internet for a simple but effective propaganda campaign. The only way to counter it, he says, is to ignore the European faces in its execution videos, and its use of Islamic symbols, and focus on the victims.

But so far, he says, "they're winning. And we're just following each red herring they throw at us".

UK fighters in Syria 'not mercenaries'


A British man fighting with Kurdish troops against Islamic State militants in Syria says he is not a mercenary.

Jamie Read, from North Lanarkshire, and James Hughes, a former British soldier, are reported to be among 15 Westerners with the YPG militia group.

Mr Read said they were helping the Kurdish people in their efforts against the jihadists and were not being paid.

The government has warned against going to Syria and more than 500 Britons are said to have fought for IS.

Mr Read and Mr Hughes, who saw service with the Army in Afghanistan, have been pictured on social media with US national Jordan Matson. He previously talked to the media about his involvement with the YPG on the frontline in Syria.

Mr Read spoke to BBC World Service Radio's Newshour programme via a field radio.

Asked if he and Mr Hughes were mercenaries, he said: "No... [there is] no factual evidence to support that accusation."

He said they became involved "to help the Kurdish people, the YPG - support them in their fight" against IS.

But he declined to say where they had been fighting and if any other Britons were attached to the YPG group.

A statement has been placed on a Facebook page associated with Mr Hughes and Mr Read in response to newspaper stories about them.

"A mercenary is a person who takes part in an armed conflict who is not a national or a party to the conflict and is 'motivated to take part in the hostilities by the desire for private gain'," it says.

"That is clearly not the case for those of you who know or have met James Hughes and Jamie Read.

"They are volunteers... whose conscience has motivated them to apply their skills to assist innocent people who have been left to their own devices in the face of terror from IS and to report their experiences so that western European audiences can understand the imperative of assisting the Kurdish nation resist IS."

No salary

A freelance journalist helping the YPG with their media relations told the BBC the foreign fighters "regard the IS as an international terrorist group and they believe this international fight should not just be fought by the Kurds".

He said the YPG provides weapons, uniforms, food and accommodation but does not pay a salary and the fighters make their own way to Syria.

"I cannot speak with 100% authority about their motivation but the... impression I got was that these people have served in the armies of their own countries and have strong feelings against terrorism.

"They see our struggle as a struggle between good and evil."

The Foreign Office says anyone fighting in Syria is likely to be arrested on their return to the UK but for them to be charged with an offence depends on whether they are deemed to have taken part in acts of terrorism.

More than 100 Britons suspected of involvement with IS in Syria have been arrested this year.

#BBCtrending: Why some Arabs are rejecting Sharia law



A growing social media conversation in Arabic is calling for the implementation of Sharia, or Islamic religious law, to be abandoned.

Discussing religious law is a sensitive topic in many Muslim countries. But on Twitter, a hashtag which translates as "why we reject Sharia" has been used 5,000 times in 24 hours. The conversation is mainly taking place in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The debate is about whether religious law is suitable for the needs of Arab countries and modern legal systems.

Dr Alyaa Gad, an Egyptian doctor living in Switzerland, started the hashtag. "I have nothing against religion," she tells BBC Trending, but says she is against "using it as a political system". Political Islamists often call for legal systems to be reformed to be consistent with Sharia principles, and some want harsh interpretations of criminal punishments to be implemented. Dr Gad says she is worried about young people adopting the extremes of this kind of thinking. "You see it everywhere now, the Islamic State is spreading mentally as well as physically" she told BBC Trending.

One of Dr Gad's tweets compared what action is taken against those who commit crimes under strict interpretations of Sharia law to those who do so in Western societies.

Many others joined in the conversation, using the hashtag, listing reasons why Arabs and Muslims should abandon Sharia. "Because there's not a single positive example of it bringing justice and equality," one man tweeted. "Because IS and Somalia and Afghanistan implement it, and we've seen the results," commented another. A few Saudis who joined the online conversation shared their experience of coming from a country that adheres to Islamic law. "In Saudi Arabia we tried implementing Sharia, and know first-hand the bitterness of being ruled by a religious power," a Saudi man living in California tweeted. And a Saudi woman commented: "By adhering to Sharia we are adhering to inhumane laws. Saudi Arabia is saturated with the blood of those executed by Sharia".

However a large proportion of those tweeting were less critical. They argued that the problem was not religious law per se, but a flawed understanding and interpretation of it. An Egyptian living in Bahrain tweeted: "There has never been anything wrong with Sharia, but it's how we implement it". Another Egyptian commented: "There is no singular understanding of Sharia. The Muslim Brotherhood have one understanding, the Salafis have another and so do IS, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda".

Others found the hashtag to be offensive to Muslims. Dr Gad, who started it, was called a "non-believer". Another commented: "You don't want Sharia because you want homosexuality, alcohol and adultery".

Dr Gad, who has a popular YouTube channel that discusses sexuality and health issues, says she is used to this kind of reaction to the topics she initiates. She says one of the reasons she started the hashtag is because she values her right to speak out - a right she says her friends back in Egypt don't have in the same way. "If I were living in Egypt I would not be half as courageous as I am now," she says.

Reporting by Mai Noman

Matthew Miller: Trying to get jailed in North Korea


In April 2014, American Matthew Miller travelled to North Korea as a tourist. He damaged his visa on the flight and attempted to claim asylum - and he has now told a specialist website covering North Korea that he did his best to get arrested. Why?

There is a ritual to be gone through when North Korea imprisons the citizens of the United States. They are, after all, behind bars in one of the most despotic countries on the planet where the methods of punishment, as described by a UN inquiry, include "extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence".

Every US president would move heaven and earth to get the captive freed. Personal envoys get sent - including, in the past, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

But what if the American captive wants to be there? Matthew Miller who was freed on 8 November is proving to be an intriguing case of the man who chose to defect - though he later changed his mind. He sought imprisonment even when the North Koreans wanted to put him straight on a plane to send him home.

NK News, a respected website which interviewed Miller over several days by email, paints a picture of a "curious tourist" who went on an extreme holiday. He told the website he wanted to find out what North Korea was like beyond the tourist trail. He said he "just wanted to have a face-to-face with North Koreans to answer my personal questions".

He didn't explain how getting arrested would help him meet North Koreans.

"My main fear was that they would not arrest me when I arrived," he said. As well as damaging his visa, he also produced a set of confused and confusing notes. "I wrote the notebook in China just before going to North Korea," Miller told NK News. The notes said, among other things, that he was a "hacker" intent on "removing the American military from South Korea".

"Perhaps the notebook was a little too much over the top, they instantly knew it was false and wanted to know my true purpose of visiting." In the interview, Miller also said he told officials he possessed military secrets, and that the North Koreans knew his brother was an F-35 test pilot for the US Air Force but didn't seem to care.

When the North Koreans agreed not to deport him, he was held not in some Stalinist gulag but at a big hotel, and then in a guest house - admittedly, under lock and key - where a number of other people including fellow American Kenneth Bae were also living. It was only after he was sentenced in September to six years' hard labour that he was transferred to a more conventional prison facility - "kind of a farm place" as he put it, to NK News.

Shortly after the sentencing, a Reuters report revealed that Miller - aged 25, and originally from Bakersfield, California - had an obsession with Alice in Wonderland, the great work of Lewis Carroll, and had spent two years in South Korea. He had an alter ego - Preston Somerset - a name he used when he commissioned art works illustrating scenes from Carroll's book.

"He recruited a gaming programmer to produce music for him, artists to draw men dressed as Cheshire Cats, and a ghostwriter to help piece the whole thing, named 'Alice in Red', together, according to posts on the deviantArt website," Reuters reported.

Miller cited steampunk, a genre of science fiction, as a favourite of his. As well as Lewis Carroll, he also admired George Orwell and Oscar Wilde.

So Miller was immersed in a fantastic underworld, but it's more Mad Hatter's Tea Party than James Bond.

Most Americans who get arrested in North Korea are missionaries who weigh up the risks of spreading Christian belief in an aggressively atheistic state and who get caught - for example Robert Park, who entered North Korea illicitly in December 2009, and was released two months later, protesting he would rather be martyred. He says he was tortured, and continues to suffer serious mental trauma to this day.

North Korea's policy on visitors
  • Most of the country's tourism comes from neighbouring China
  • Most travel operators say visas are granted freely to any Westerner who is not a journalist
  • Tourists' visits very strictly regulated
  • In 2013, officials loosened some curbs by allowing visitors to bring their mobile phones into North Korea, but mobile phone calls between foreigners and locals are prohibited

There has also been at least one case of an American blundering into the country. According to North Korea Travel, which documents arrests of foreigners in the hermit state, Korean-­American Evan Hunziker swam across the Yalu river from China in 1996 for a bet and was found drunk and naked by North Korean famers. He was released after his family paid the authorities $5,000 (£3,200).

Miller seems to be in a class of his own.

He told NK News that he repented his escapade, which came to an end after he appealed for help and the head of the US national intelligence services, James Clapper, arrived in the country to intercede.

"I do feel guilt for the crime. It was a crime. I wasted a lot of time of the North Koreans and the Americans," he said.

On the other hand, he said, he spent five months having conversations "with various people" and did achieve his goal of seeing more of North Korea.

"I think it was a mistake, but it was successful."

It was, in a way, a trip to Wonderland - though not the kind most travellers would want.

More from the Magazine

North Korea is a difficult place for journalists to visit, but tourists are welcome so long as they do what they are told. In 2013, Juliet Rix found an organised tour allowed her a glimpse of daily life under the secretive regime.

Why furious fightback sisters gripped India


Two sisters who were filmed beating up men who were allegedly sexually harassing them on a bus in India, have been met with a chorus of adulation on social media. Within 24 hours the sisters became celebrities.

Here campaigners and commentators explain why the raw anger of the footage ignited India.

The video puts you in the bus

The perspective of the footage puts the viewer right inside the bus, another onlooker. The scene is shockingly intimate as the sisters begin lashing out at their alleged tormentors.

"Suddenly on your screen you are confronted with what happens every day," says Hanif Lakadawala, visiting professor of mass media at Mumbai University.

"The women who experience these humiliations are watching it, their parents are watching it," he says.

It happens to you - or you see it happen - all the time

"Eve teasing" - where women are harassed in public by men - is all too frequent. Alisha Sharma and four fellow students began the Chappal Marungi campaign years ago, encouraging women to boldly resist.

"It is part and parcel of our lives. We cannot escape it. It often happens in crowded places: stations, buses, places where people are around," Ms Sharma told the BBC.

"If I raise my voice, there are people around to support me. If you don't stand up for yourself, nobody will."

Although the campaign uses the symbol of a slipper as a weapon, she says it is only a metaphor for resistance and does not condone violence.

Since the 2012 gang rape and murder on a Delhi bus, gender issues have come to the fore and some women won't remain silent.

The humiliation of harassment was reversed

"There is something about how quickly people are thrilled by the idea of on-the-spot justice," says women's rights campaigner Kavita Krishnan.

"I think these girls showed great courage. Most of us have experiences of having reacted on the spot. I think it's all too common - and it is not just India."

She points to the satisfaction women get from the Stieg Larsson Millennium series of books which have now been made into Hollywood films.

It tells the story of a woman who nobody expects to act responding through vigilante action and with spectacular success.

And nobody stood up for the sisters

There was a sense of deja-vu in that most fellow passengers did nothing, says BBC Hindi's Rupa Jha who has had similar experiences,

"Twenty years down the line… it's exactly the same. People do nothing.

"I was coming back in a bus and I got down at a very busy road in Delhi in the early evening. There was a young guy and in a very posh English accent, he asked me something. I got closer and then I realised what he was saying:

"'Do you know what ejaculation is?' He repeated his question.

"It was very infuriating and very scary.

"I slapped him and then he slapped me back. I held him by his collar. When the scuffle started, there were 50 people - not a single one intervened. I was hitting him and he was hitting me.

"Ultimately I called the police."

But it also showed how society doesn't work

"The ease with which we are willing to hail this vigilante action is matched only by our unease as a society which acknowledges autonomy for women in every day circumstances," says Kavita Krishnan.

This speaks to a failure in society, in social and institutional processes, she argues. The fact that they had to resort to violence shows something isn't working.

"I'm not one of those who is comfortable with vigilante action, especially when women aren't doing it for themselves."

Why India’s mobile network is broken



Claire Verhagen's first encounter with India was at the end of November when she landed in Delhi and switched her phone on.

"I tried every network repeatedly for 15 minutes," she says. "I finally connected to Airtel. I got a full signal, but I couldn't call. I borrowed another passenger's mobile to call my hosts."

She had better luck on the drive to her hotel. She managed to call her husband in Belgium. The call dropped twice, though.

For a generation of Indians brought up on mobile phones - many of them haven't ever used a landline - poor call quality and call drops are part of life.

It wasn't always so.


When the mobile phone came to India in the mid-1990s, call quality was good. Mobile service quality was better than landlines, and dropped calls were rare.

There were few subscribers, and the service was expensive - up to 16 rupees (about $0.25 today) every minute.

Fast forward to today, when calls are 20 times cheaper, and mobile telephony powers the economy, with 915 million mobile subscriptions. Every second Indian carries a handset.

Here's what those mobile phone users deal with every day:

  • Can't connect: Connecting when "roaming" can be a struggle. If your flight has just landed, several hundred devices power on and try to connect to an overloaded network. On a train, users find it difficult to hold a conversation even when passing through areas with moderate cellular coverage. It's the same on inter-state highways.
  • Network busy: You have a full signal, but can't call - common in busy areas such as Delhi's airport, Gurgaon's Cyber City (an office area near Delhi), and elsewhere in India's large metros. Many users keep retrying on auto-redial, which adds to the problem.
  • Call drops: When you, or the person you're calling, are on the move, it's common for the call to drop. Often, both of you will try re-dialing, and fail to connect. If one of you moved into an overloaded network area, you may not be able to reconnect easily.
  • No internet: Mobile data is patchy in India. 3G isn't everywhere, but even where you get a strong 3G signal, you might find no data activity. This is a problem for a country with 240 million mobile internet subscribers - that's 92% of its total internet subscriber base.
  • Poor signal: A weak mobile signal is common in urban India's high-rise office and residential areas. The upscale condominium complex in Gurgaon where this writer lives has virtually no mobile service.

So why is the mobile network powering modern India so broken?

"The top three reasons are spectrum, spectrum and spectrum," says Shyam Mardikar, chief of network planning and strategy for India's top mobile operator, Airtel.

Spectrum, the radio waves that carry phone signals along with television, radio and all wireless communications, is a scarce resource that's controlled globally by governments.

India allows relatively little spectrum for mobile communications, and splits that up among a dozen operators. A lot of radio spectrum is blocked for defence use.

How bad is the spectrum crunch?

Sample this: Delhi's top operator has roughly the same number of 3G users as its counterparts in Singapore and Shanghai (about 3 million), but it has about a tenth of their spectrum.

And that's the problem, Mr Mardikar says.

Towering Crisis

A spectrum auction is on the cards in 2015, but the government will largely re-auction "expiring" spectrum now held by top operators Airtel, Vodafone, Idea and Reliance.

In an open letter to India's telecoms minister in late November, the global GSM Association chief Anne Bouverot said the spectrum crisis threatened Prime Minister Narendra Modi government's Digital India vision.

Telecom towers, with their antennae, are the ubiquitous symbol of mobile telephony in India, yet there are too few of them with just 425,000 for the entire country.

The Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (Tipa) says India needs at least 200,000 more.

But towers take up real estate, and there are mounting fears about radiation and its health hazards. Protests in residential areas have resulted in towers being pulled down, affecting mobile service quality.

Telecom industry experts protest the "misinformation" about radiation, saying that towers in India exceed World Health Organisation (WHO) safety standards.

They point out that shutting down towers increases radiation from handsets, which then transmit at higher power due to weaker signals from distant towers.

India's telecom user profile adds to network stress.

Nine out of 10 are pre-paid users, with a monthly billing of less than 120 rupees ($1.9), one of the lowest in the world - but they have high expectations and low patience.

When they're unable to connect, they keep redialling, which keeps the network busier.

Those user numbers will grow - faster than spectrum availability. And more people will use data, especially video, stressing the network further.

Will things get better?

Off the record, industry insiders say: No.

India's mobile network experience will probably get worse in the near future.

Prasanto K Roy (@prasanto) is a technology analyst in Delhi

Myanmar's pirated pop: Burmese copy-songs dominate market



One of Myanmar's most famous popstars Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein stands at the bow of a ship, her arms aloft.

She's belting out one of pop culture's most unforgettable, some would say unforgiveable melodies. But this is a bit different. And it's not just that the ship is a few sizes smaller than the Titanic.

"Seeing, hearing, all your feelings will be touched deeply by my presence," she warbles in Burmese.

This is no longer Celine Dion's classic My Heart Will Go On but the local standard Achit Myar Lat Saung, which means "My love is a present to you."

It's one of Phyu Phyu's extensive repertoire of copy-songs, a phenomenon that has come to dominate the Burmese music industry.

The formula is simple. Take an international hit, add some fresh lyrics and then release to an eager public.

Presented with a tried and tested, toe-tapping tune the fans lap it up, often having no idea that the music was written many miles away and that the original composer is getting nothing.

"When I started my career, I had no idea that we were stealing the songs," Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein tells me.

"We were never taught in our school curriculum any rights. Intellectual property rights, copyright, human rights we've never heard about all that."

Burmese 'copy songs'

After more than 10 years in the business, Phyu Phyu says she's now seen the light and is trying to move away from the copies that made her name.

Her latest album, Main Kalay Tayauk Athe Kwe Nayte (A Girl with a Broken Heart), was a sign of intent, with all the songs original.

"My new album has made new hits," she says ruefully. "But all the songs that they (the fans) are more attracted to are the copy-songs.

"I still have to sing the copy-songs (at concerts) because they won't let me get off the stage without singing those songs."

In most countries, if you want to use someone else's tune, you pay them royalties, but under Burmese law Phyu Phyu and her fellow artists are doing nothing wrong.

The only legislation that relates to intellectual property is an archaic British law from 1914.

It's written more with literature rather than music in mind, and only protects works that were published first in Myanmar.

That means tunes written abroad are fair game for the likes of Myint Moe Aung. We watch as he sits in his small apartment, hunched over a smartphone.

He's analysing a video of the American star John Legend singing his hit All of Me. Every few seconds, he presses pause and scribbles something on his notepad. A new copy-song is taking shape.

The working title for this Burmese version is "I'm worn out by loving you" and it's going to be sung by one of the newest stars, Irine Zin Mar Myint. We're told it's going to be a tweak rather than a full re-write.

"Sometimes we just translate and make a few minor alterations," he says. "For example, when a song talks about the winter and the seasons, that makes no sense here - as it's always hot!"

Mr Myint has written more than 300 copy-songs over the last 20 years and tells me that role of the lyricist has evolved alongside Myanmar's political landscape.

One of his most popular re-workings is the Scorpions' Wind of Change, which celebrates the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Under the heavy censorship of the military regime in the 1990s, both the contents and that title were unacceptable, so it was released with new words as Wild Winds.

"Everyone was aware of what it really meant," he says with a smile.

"When I first started writing in 1992, most of our lyrics were trying to subtly reflect the political situation," he says. "Now people aren't so into that, so we write mostly about love."

For each song he writes, Myint gets about $400 (£255) which he says helps him work with a clear conscience.

"As a Buddhist, I do feel bad about taking other people's music without asking," he says. "But the money we make isn't much. So in a way, we are doing this to promote western music."

Academic analysis

The copy-song has even attracted the attention of academics who have interpreted its pre-eminence as a sign of an inferiority complex in Burmese popular culture.

Writing in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Dr Jane Ferguson argues that it comes from Myanmar having a "'receiving... rather than a 'sending' culture".

Dr Ferguson ascribes the rise of the copy-song in the 1960s in part to the realisation by the Burmese authorities that this prevented catchy rock and roll tunes reaching the public.

Instead of allowing the records of Elvis Presley and the Beatles to be imported, local artists were given tacit approval to rework their tunes for a Burmese audience.

At the dusty headquarters of the Myanmar Music Association, they're fed up with the copy-songs but in despair about the levels of piracy.

Few functioning Burmese record labels are still in business, leaving almost all the the artists to produce and publish their own material.

Typically they now sell just a handful of legal albums at about $2 (£1.30) a time before the pirates take over, flogging copied CDs for as little as $0.30 on street corners. The only way musicians can make money is to play concerts.

In theory there is a law from 1996 that outlaws piracy. It stipulates that you could be sentenced to up to three years in prison or fined up to $100. But it's rarely enforced.

Fed up with the lack of official interest in combating piracy, the Music Association has employed its own private investigators and say it has identified more than 1000 cases.

"Fewer than 10 resulted in jail terms," Yay Aye says. "The small fine means the pirates are just not afraid."

There is supposed to be new legislation on it's way, both to tackle piracy and to bring Myanmar in line with international standards on intellectual property.

But only the musicians seem to want to push it forward. The bill is currently on its 11th draft and many are now wondering when, or even if, it will make it to parliament.

"They don't want to do it," artist Thxa Soe tells me with a shrug. He's become famous mixing traditional Burmese songs with modern electronic music and is also a leading member of the Myanmar Music Association.

"My last album sold about 20,000 copies legally - the pirates sold millions," he says. "It's big money and the government doesn't want to take them on."

Overwhelmed by piracy and crowded out by the copies, the few purists left in Myanmar's music scene are struggling to be heard.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner: Have we always eaten them?


British people - and many others across the world - have been brought up on the idea of three square meals a day as a normal eating pattern, but it wasn't always that way.

People are repeatedly told the hallowed family dinner around a table is in decline and the UK is not the only country experiencing such change.

The case for breakfast, missed by many with deleterious effects, is that it makes us more alert, helps keep us trim and improves children's work and behaviour at school.

But when people worry that breaking with the traditional three meals a day is harmful, are they right about the traditional part? Have people always eaten in that pattern?


Breakfast as we know it didn't exist for large parts of history. The Romans didn't really eat it, usually consuming only one meal a day around noon, says food historian Caroline Yeldham. In fact, breakfast was actively frowned upon.

"The Romans believed it was healthier to eat only one meal a day," she says. "They were obsessed with digestion and eating more than one meal was considered a form of gluttony. This thinking impacted on the way people ate for a very long time."

In the Middle Ages monastic life largely shaped when people ate, says food historian Ivan Day. Nothing could be eaten before morning Mass and meat could only be eaten for half the days of the year. It's thought the word breakfast entered the English language during this time and literally meant "break the night's fast".

Religious ritual also gave us the full English breakfast. On Collop Monday, the day before Shrove Tuesday, people had to use up meat before the start of Lent. Much of that meat was pork and bacon as pigs were kept by many people. The meat was often eaten with eggs, which also had to be used up, and the precursor of the full English breakfast was born.

But at the time it probably wasn't eaten in the morning.

In about the 17th Century it is believed that all social classes started eating breakfast, according to chef Clarissa Dickson Wright. After the restoration of Charles II, coffee, tea and dishes like scrambled eggs started to appear on the tables of the wealthy. By the late 1740s, breakfast rooms also started appearing in the homes of the rich.

This morning meal reached new levels of decadence in aristocratic circles in the 19th Century, with the fashion for hunting parties that lasted days, even weeks. Up to 24 dishes would be served for breakfast.

The Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th Century regularised working hours, with labourers needing an early meal to sustain them at work. All classes started to eat a meal before going to work, even the bosses.

At the turn of the 20th Century, breakfast was revolutionised once again by American John Harvey Kellogg. He accidentally left some boiled maize out and it went stale. He passed it through some rollers and baked it, creating the world's first cornflake. He sparked a multi-billion pound industry.

By the 1920s and 1930s the government was promoting breakfast as the most important meal of the day, but then World War II made the usual breakfast fare hard to get. But as Britain emerged from the post-war years into the economically liberated 1950s, things like American toasters, sliced bread, instant coffee and pre-sugared cereals invaded the home. Breakfast as we now know it.


The terminology around eating in the UK is still confusing. For some "lunch" is "dinner" and vice versa. From the Roman times to the Middle Ages everyone ate in the middle of the day, but it was called dinner and was the main meal of the day. Lunch as we know it didn't exist - not even the word.

During the Middle Ages daylight shaped mealtimes, says Day. With no electricity, people got up earlier to make use of daylight. Workers had often toiled in the fields from daybreak, so by midday they were hungry.

"The whole day was structured differently than it is today," says Day. "People got up much earlier and went to bed much earlier."

By midday workers had often worked for up to six hours. They would take a quick break and eat what was known as a "beever" or "noonshine", usually bread and cheese. As artificial light developed, dinner started to shift later in the day for the wealthier, as a result a light meal during the day was needed.

The origins of the word "lunch" are mysterious and complicated, says Day. "Lunch was a very rare word up until the 19th Century," he says.

One theory is that it's derived from the word "nuncheon", an old Anglo-Saxon word which meant a quick snack between meals that you can hold in your hands. It was used around the late 17th Century, says Yeldham. Others theorise that it comes from the word "nuch" which was used around in the 16th and 17th Century and means a big piece of bread.

But it's the French custom of "souper" in the 17th Century that helped shaped what most of us eat for lunch today. It became fashionable among the British aristocracy to copy the French and eat a light meal in the evening. It was a more private meal while they gamed and womanised, says Day.

It's the Earl of Sandwich's famous late-night snack from the 1750s that has come to dominate the modern lunchtime menu. One evening he ordered his valet to bring him cold meats between some bread. He could eat the snack with just one hand and wouldn't get grease on anything.

Whether he was wrapped up in an all-night card game or working at his desk is not clear, both have been suggested. But whatever he was doing, the sandwich was born.

At the time lunch, however, was still known "as an accidental happening between meals", says food historian Monica Askay.

Again, it was the Industrial Revolution that helped shape lunch as we know it today. Middle and lower class eating patterns were defined by working hours. Many were working long hours in factories and to sustain them a noon-time meal was essential.

Pies were sold on stalls outside factories. People also started to rely on mass-produced food as there was no room in towns and cities for gardens to keep a pig pen or grow their own food. Many didn't even have a kitchen.

"Britain was the first country in the world to feed people with industrialised food," says Day.

The ritual of taking lunch became ingrained in the daily routine. In the 19th Century chop houses opened in cities and office workers were given one hour for lunch. But as war broke out in 1939 and rationing took hold, the lunch was forced to evolve. Work-based canteens became the most economical way to feed the masses. It was this model that was adopted by schools after the war.

The 1950s brought a post-War world of cafes and luncheon vouchers. The Chorleywood Process, a new way of producing bread, also meant the basic loaf could be produced more cheaply and quickly than ever. The takeaway sandwich quickly began to fill the niche as a fast, cheap lunch choice.

Today the average time taken to eat lunch - usually in front of the computer - is roughly 15 minutes, according to researchers at the University of Westminster. The original meaning of lunch or "nuncheon" as a small, quick snack between proper meals is just as apt now as it ever was.


Dinner was the one meal the Romans did eat, even if it was at a different time of day.

In the UK the heyday of dinner was in the Middle Ages. It was known as "cena", Latin for dinner. The aristocracy ate formal, outrageously lavish dinners around noon. Despite their reputation for being unruly affairs, they were actually very sophisticated, with strict table manners.

They were an ostentatious display of wealth and power, with cooks working in the kitchen from dawn to get things ready, says Yeldham. With no electricity cooking dinner in the evening was not an option. Peasants ate dinner around midday too, although it was a much more modest affair.

As artificial lighting spread, dinner started to be eaten later and later in the day. It was in the 17th Century that the working lunch started, where men with aspirations would network.

The middle and lower classes eating patterns were also defined by their working hours. By the late 18th Century most people were eating three meals a day in towns and cities, says Day.

By the early 19th Century dinner for most people had been pushed into the evenings, after work when they returned home for a full meal. Many people, however, retained the traditional "dinner hour" on a Sunday.

The hallowed family dinner we are so familiar with became accessible to all in the glorious consumer spending spree of the 1950s. New white goods arrived from America and the dream of the wife at home baking became a reality. Then the TV arrived.

TV cook Fanny Cradock brought the 1970s Cordon Bleu dinner to life. Many middle-class women were bored at home and found self-expression by competing with each other over who could hold the best dinner party.

The death knell for the family dinner supposedly sounded in 1986, when the first microwave meal came on to the market. But while a formal family dinner may be eaten by fewer people nowadays, the dinner party certainly isn't over - fuelled by the phenomenal sales of recipe books by celebrity chefs.

Letter from Africa: The culture of sharing the cake

In our series of letters from African journalists, Nigerian writer and novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani looks at the clamour for assistance that accompanies a politician's rise to office.

The political party primaries in Nigeria have drawn to a close and voters now have a clearer picture of whose turn it might be to divide up the national cake after the elections in February 2015.

But the winning candidates won't be the only ones taking their share of the country's riches.

In Nigeria, news of a person's success in an election often travels at the speed of lightning, over rivers and mountains and past fields and forests, to his kindred in all corners of the globe.

Those with no jobs believe their days of unemployment are coming to an end; those with no education think it will soon pose no barrier to climbing the corporate ladder; those in faraway lands begin plans to return home.

Soon, these kith and kin launch their pilgrimage towards the successful candidate.

They ring his phone; they send text messages; they knock at his gate.

They offer to help his campaign in any way they can; they organise prayer sessions for his victory, usually late at night in his living room.

'Bitter tongues will wag'

A friend of mine who lives in Lagos told me last week that he was travelling to Benin state.

His friend had just "picked up" a spot in the House of Assembly there. Another person he knew was set for another top position.

"He's a good friend of my elder brother in Florida," he said. "I've already told my brother: 'You'd better come down and rub minds with him and introduce us to him.'"

Another friend whose husband is a close associate of a winning candidate in one of Nigeria's choicest states told me her phone did not stop ringing after his victory was announced.

People had been calling to offer congratulations. Indeed, even I had called for that very reason.

In Nigeria, the culture has always been that anyone who gets into power, who suddenly finds himself holding a knife with which to cut the national cake, must invite his clan to both slice and eat it with him.

The most unforgivable sin a politician can commit is to forget "his people" after he assumes office.

He must "remember" his sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces, nephews, in-laws, friends, schoolmates, and so on.

Preferably through contracts, appointments and jobs.

Failure to do so will lead to taunts and ostracism and on the day his tenure expires, he will find himself completely alone.

Long after his funeral, the bitter tongues will continue wagging.

Local history will forever record him as having denied his kindred their turn.

I have heard several amusing stories regarding the influx of people from the Niger Delta region into Abuja, the Nigerian capital, after their kinsman, Goodluck Jonathan, was elected president in 2011.

Outstretched palms

One of my favourite tales was told by my British-Nigerian friend who teaches in one of those Abuja schools where the children pay stupendous fees in dollars and make fun of their teachers' cheap mobile phones.

She was shocked when a particular pupil, during a science lesson, seemed to know more about crustaceans than you would expect of a child his age in the city.

This child stood before the class and described in great detail how the creatures are caught, cleaned and cooked.

At the end, my friend called the boy aside and asked how he knew so much about the topic.

The child explained that he had grown up in the creeks, where his family petty-traded crustaceans for a living.

That is why the news of a candidate's potential ascension into political office stirs such joy.

In many parts of the world, it requires years of steady progress for one's economic circumstances to radically transform.

Here in Nigeria, all it takes is an election, and a new political appointment. Suddenly, a child goes from capturing crustaceans in the creeks to an exclusive school in Abuja.

Voracious kith and kin are the main force behind Nigeria's corruption problem.

Imagine the thousands lined up with outstretched palms behind each political office holder.

Try telling them that you intend to reform the system now that it is finally their turn to eat.

Notes on Global Politics

Systems of Ideas and Power

It's the Stupid Economy
Fighting for Rights?
King Client
Truth Or Dare?
The Right to Dissent
Guns Or Roses?

Introduction to Cross Media Mapping
Manifesto on Aesthetics

Between Tears and Laughter
Only Yesterday

News Reports
Project Machiavelli

Intelligent Systems
The New Industrial State
The Age of Automation

Project Land
Project HomeFarm
Garden Diary

Trevor Batten

 <trevor at tebatt dot net>
 Baclayon 2014