Monday, September 23, 2019
Number of the day: 0

The Guardian released its list of ‘The 100 Best Books of the 21st Century’. It includes a Harry Potter book, Bob Dylan’s memoir, even Indian American authors like Siddhartha Mukherjee (‘The Emperor of All Maladies’). But there's not a single Asian author or novel. As Patrick French drily noted, “Astonishing. Asia has 60% of the world’s population, but produced none of ‘The 100 best books of the 21st century.’” Salman Rushdie added: “And 90 of them were written in English.” 

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The PM’s rockstar concert in Houston

Fifty thousand Indian Americans showed up for the ‘Howdy Modi’ event. The star guest line-up included Donald Trump and a number of prominent members of Congress—including Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Here’s a quick round up of what you may have missed:

The delirious crowds: The atmosphere and crowds were truly remarkable. See this clip and this one to get a sense of the reception Modi received.  And this clip captures the size of the crowd.

Modi’s speech: was notable for the following:

  • He vigorously defended the suspension of Article 370—in the presence of America’s most prominent leaders—and it was met with a standing ovation from the crowd.  

  • He underlined the shared fight against terrorism: “Now, the time has come to fight a decisive battle against terrorism. And I want to say strongly that President Trump is standing against terrorism.”

  • He answered the question ‘Howdy Modi?’ with this declaration: ‘Bharat me sab achha hai” (Everything is good in India)—and repeated it in multiple Indian languages. Watch it here.

Trump’s speech: was all sweetness and light praising what he described as “a historic event.” 

  • His most striking quote was addressed to the immigrant crowd: “You uphold our values, you uplift our communities and you are truly proud to be American and we are truly proud to have you as Americans.” That’s something coming from a president who has made hostility to immigrants—legal and illegal—a centrepiece of his politics. 

  • But Trump also seemed to draw a parallel between his policies and the National Register of Citizens: “India and US also understand that to keep our community safe, we must protect our borders. Border security is vital to the United States. Border security is vital to India, and we understand that.”

Modi fans’ fave photo: was this one with Trump.

Striking a different note: Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer struck an odd—and perhaps unwelcome—note when he praised Nehru: “India, like America, is proud of its ancient traditions to secure a future according to Gandhi’s teachings and Nehru’s vision of India as a secular democracy where respect for pluralism and human rights safeguard every individual.” And he spent a lot of time talking about democracy and the Constitution.

Another weird note: American ushers who greeted attendees with ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Watch that here.

The protests: outside the stadium were small but no less noisy. Watch an example here. A bunch of indie South Asian artists had planned a ‘F*** Modi’ event in New York—but there’s no news on how that one went.

The bottomline: It was a fantastic party and great fun was had by all who attended. But it likely didn’t shift or change very much—though hope springs eternal. Modi has always been hugely popular with NRIs. Trump isn’t going to drop his demands on trade in an election year, especially for zero tariffs—which no Indian government is going to concede. And Indian Americans don’t much like Trump. His job approval rating is an abysmal 28% with Indian Americans—80% of whom voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. And none of the band, baaja and baraat is likely to significantly move that needle. 

Learn more: The Telegraph offers a succinct overview of the highlights. Mint profiles the Indian Ambassador, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the man who made it all happen behind the scenes. Politico analyses the event in the context of US politics. Vice has more on the South Asian groups rallying against Modi. Times of India explains how Modi used Trump to take aim at Pakistan.

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Wondering what it will take for Indians to flood the streets

An amazing global climate strike: took place over the weekend. Millions of people around the world demanded immediate action from their governments to avert catastrophic climate change. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The protests were spread across 185 countries, but the most significant took place in Australia (300,000), Germany (1.4 million) and the United States (250,000 in NYC). The Guardian has the best round-up. It also has the best photo gallery. The funniest is this one—referencing Leonardo DiCaprio’s penchant for very young women. Quartz has more on the far smaller protests in India.

  • It all started when a 15-year old schoolgirl named Greta Thunberg skipped school on a Friday last August to stage a protest outside the Parliament. Here’s the iconic photo of that singular and lonely act of resistance. She continued to do so every Friday thereafter, gaining support and followers. She is now a Malala-like symbol, but for the global environmental movement. Watch the powerful speech she delivered in New York. Want more Greta? Wired offers a long profile of Thunberg.

  • Why now? Over 60 nations will attend the UN Climate Action Summit this Monday in New York. The hope is that the world’s leaders will agree to take extraordinary measures to cut their country’s carbon emissions—a hope that remains rather slim despite the unprecedented protests.

Trump’s phone call revives impeachment risk: A whistleblower within the administration filed an official complaint about a conversation between the president and a foreign leader. According to recent reports, it involved a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—where Trump pushed him to dig up dirt on Joe Biden’s son. FYI, former Vice President Biden is a leading presidential contender for the Democratic nomination. So that has made the Dems very, very angry. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff revived talk of impeachment, saying, "He may force us to go down this road. I have spoken with a number of my colleagues over the last week and this seems different in kind. And we may very well have crossed the Rubicon here." Point to note: Trump made this call in July. Washington Post reports, “Legal experts said it is extraordinary that Trump allegedly sought political assistance from a foreign government after a tortured, nearly three-year national conversation about the illegality of doing so. 

Trouble at Jadavpur University: The Kolkata uni made headlines when BJP MLA Babul Supriyo decided to attend an event organised by a rightwing student organisation. He claims that the students blocked his entry and physically assaulted him. The students insist that Supriyo was spoiling for an ugly confrontation—and made nasty, sexist remarks aimed at the women present. The upshot: The Bengal governor swooped in to rescue Supriyo from campus. A BJP leader called for a Balakot-style “surgical strike” on Jadavpur. A Muslim student (not even involved in the confrontation) was mercilessly targeted and threatened on Facebook. The other low point: Supriyo called and tried to intimidate the editor of The Telegraph, screaming, “Are you sold out? Are you f***ing sold out?” The latest: The student union has filed a police complaint against Supriyo. Quint has a detailed account of the events which places the blame on all involved.

The unhappy truth about Chandrayaan’s lander: is that it has likely been smashed to bits—contrary to ISRO’s claims. A respected expert estimates that it crashed on the surface of the moon at the speed of 184 miles/hour, adding: “Expecting Vikram to function after free fall is a false hope similar to a 'dead person' coming alive. Pulling the plug on 'brain dead' is the right attitude. Expecting divine intervention is very much cultural phenomenon in India." In related news: Scientists are criticising ISRO chief K Sivan for claiming that the Chandrayaan 2 mission was a 98% success.

Which airline makes Air India look good? PIA, of course. An audit shows that the airline operated 46 flights without a single passenger—not including 36 empty Haj flights. Total loss to the company: Rs 10 million (in Pakistani rupees). (NDTV)

Which nation’s media makes Doordarshan look good? The Chinese state media, of course. Thousands of journalists and editors will now be required to take a nationwide exam which tests their loyalty to President Xi. (South China Morning Post)

Zoya Factor’s reviews are out: and they are not flattering. Mint points out that “romantic comedies live and die by their wit”—but only to note that the script possesses none. The Telegraph declares it is “not even consistently watchable.” India Today dismisses it as “a rather bland and dreary film that stretches on for ages.” Our romcom hopes are crushed.

About that ‘wearable chair’: On Friday, we made fun of a portable chair describing it as something that the world definitely doesn’t need. But both our subscribers and folks on Twitter pointed out how invaluable it is to the differently abled. That’s an excellent point we did not consider. Though in our defense, neither did its creators who made the original video that went viral. So now we’re left wondering why their promo video ignores those most likely to benefit from their invention. 

Help kickstart this awesome film: Broadsheet Ambassador Yogini Mukund Oke is part of the team working on an animated short film titled ‘Kitchen’. It takes a look at women’s lives in the kitchen through a magical tale of a dutiful housewife Rama, who befriends a giant 200-year-old sperm whale, Mushi. The filmmaker, Abhishek Verma, is a National Award winner. The team needs to raise Rs 10 lakh to make the film—and have about a third of that amount so far. So please donate and/or share widely in your networks to help this worthy cause. Their Wishberry crowdfunding page has lots of details, and check out their Instagram

Weekend reads you might have missed: include the following:

  • The Telegraph profiles a retired IIT professor who spreads awareness by personally distributing pamphlets on the streets—and his one-man campaign on Kashmir.

  • LongReads offers an excellent feature on steamy fan fiction featuring US politicians. Think slash fic romance between Trump and Shrek or Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi.

  • On Shondaland, Roshani Chokshi explores the terrifying experience of trying to make new friends as an adult.

  • Scroll tells the moving story of a Muslim man from Muzaffarnagar who died after being lynched in faraway Tripura.

  • Quartz looks at why women are punished for being nice at work.

  • Artsy explores the diminishing value of personal photos in the era of the smartphone.

  • Everyone’s talking about this brave and unflinching New York Times interview with Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness.

  • ESPNCricinfo offers a great read for cricket nerds on MS Dhoni’s talent and career as a limited-overs batsman.

  • With the huge backlash against opioid prescriptions, The Economist asks the more pressing question: Will there ever be a cure for chronic pain?

  • The Atlantic takes aim at WeWork and “the great unicorn delusion.”

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • The best purse-snatching video ever—this woman is a rock star!!

  • This bizarre ‘Sleep & Glow’ pillow bra that fights “cleavage wrinkles. ROFL!

  • Chef Nigella Lawson being trolled by Indians for touting her ‘Coriander and Jalapeño Salsa’.

  • The surprising discovery that the man who invented the Rohrschach test (that inkblot quiz) was seriously hot. Yes, it takes very little to make us happy.

  • This brilliant super-short poem by 13th century Sufi poet Amir Khusro. He clearly understood what women want.

  • This lovely follow-up on 47 dogs who were rescued 12 years ago from a professional footballer’s dog-fighting ring. It will restore your faith in humanity and the power of compassion.

  • This curious baby rhino discovering that the world contains all sorts of odd things like giraffes and antelopes.

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The best place for the best advice

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How to deal with jerks at work

There are nasty people everywhere and the office is no exception. Your boss, colleague, even employee, can be an ass***e. And here’s how you can stop them from ruining your work life.

Name the problem: Here are three questions to ask before you do anything.

  • One, does this person make you feel bad about yourself each time you interact with them? If so, they are behaving like a  jerk.

  • Two, do they behave like this all the time? All of us can be evil sometimes—in which case, a respectful conversation will usually do the trick. 

  • Three, do they behave like this only with you? Then, maybe it is a case of bad chemistry. Or perhaps you are the problem—humans who act like jerks are the least likely to know it. So first discuss your problem with someone you trust to be honest.

Let’s assume that you are stuck with a bona fide, full-time ass***e. What can you do now?


The colleague: When a co-worker is rude or a plain old bully. 

  • Keep your distance. Literally, so. As per research, if you’re at least 100 feet away from someone at all times, you might as well be in a different country. Get within 150 feet, and the toxicity will start to rub off on you. So pick the farthest cube, and minimise all communication with the person, unless strictly necessary.

  • Organise the resistance. If someone is an all-round low-life, they typically bully everyone else into appeasing them. Instead, turn the tables and form an anti-jerk alliance. For starters, shut the person out. Making someone a social pariah is highly effective in taking away their power. Also: craft a group strategy to shut them down when they behave poorly in meetings or during project work. 

  • Document the bad behavior—whether you’re doing it alone or as a group. If the above strategies don’t work, you may have no choice but to take it up with HR. Ass****s become very vengeful when called out as ass****s. So it’s wisest to maximise your chances of success if you plan to file an official complaint.


The boss: This is a trickier proposition, and also far more life-and happiness-sapping.

  • Get out. Power brings out the worst in already awful human beings. So, there’s no good way to manage an abusive boss. Plan A should be to get another position in the same organisation—you generally know what you’re getting into and avoid the possibility of a saucepan-to-fire outcome.

  • Quit. Yes, really. If you can’t change bosses, then it is best to change jobs. A toxic work environment—especially where you are at the mercy of a bully—has serious effects on a person’s physical and emotional well-being. It’s best to leave as quickly as you can.

  • Try a Jedi mind trick. Ok, so you’re stuck with the boss from hell...for now. The way to survive mostly unscathed is to remind yourself (over and over) that this misery too shall pass. Because you will leave (you have to!) be it in six months or a year. And when you look back, years and years later, it will seem no more than a brief interlude of misery. 


The employee: This one has the easiest solution of them all. It’s simple: don’t hire or retain a jerk. It doesn’t matter how brilliant or experienced they are, the upside is never worth it in the end. They will infect your company culture, sap employee morale, drive away the best talent, and inevitably create serious issues for management. Aiding and abetting jerks never pays off (See: #MeToo).


Learn more: Here’s more advice if you want it.

  • Business Insider has the most comprehensive list of tips.

  • Fast Company also covers dealing with clients and customers who are jerks.

  • Vox interviews Stanford professor Robert Sutton, the author of ‘The Ass***e Survival Guide’, who is most commonly cited on the subject of workplace ass****s.

  • Harvard Business Review tells you how to deal with the passive aggressive variety of jerk.

  • Jezebel keeps it real—and basically undercuts everything we just told you—with this hilariously honest guide to dealing with dicks at work.

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