Monday, July 1, 2019
Data analysis of the day

A new analysis of a set of large-scale national surveys shows that vegetarians are a minority in India—ranging from 23-27%, depending on which dataset you look at. The differences between regions are fairly predictable. More interesting is the considerable variation within communities across these regions. Example: 7% of Muslims eat beef in Rajasthan compared to 67% in West Bengal. (The authors have a strong point of view—which you may not share—but the numbers are worth checking out.)

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Donald and Kim’s third date

President Trump made history when he strolled into North Korea to greet

its ‘supreme leader’ Kim Jong-un. And that’s about all he achieved.

A love ishtory recap: Trump and Kim have a stormy relationship, replete with angry spats and delirious reunions—usually conducted via letters. 

  • In May 2018, Trump called off a planned summit in an angry letter complaining about Kim’s “tremendous anger and open hostility.” 

  • Then they met in June in Singapore and looked all loved up. But they were back to bickering right after. 

  • By October, however, Trump was saying stuff like, "I was really being tough. And so was he. And we'd go back and forth. And then we fell in love. OK? No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they're great letters. We fell in love." 

  • Then they met in Vietnam and wandered around hotel lawns. It all looked peachy until… everyone suddenly walked out the door.

Er, what’s this all about? The US has been trying to ink a deal with North Korea which will force it to give up its nuclear program ASAP.  Pyongyang has been stringing Washington along -- sometimes promising to negotiate, and at other times, testing its missiles just to make a point.

So what happened now? In May, Kim wrote yet another “beautiful letter”. So while he was at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Trump decided (on Twitter, of course) to pay a “surprise” visit to the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea --“just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”.

How was this historic? When Trump took 20 steps across the border into North Korea to shake Kim’s hand, he became the first US President to set foot in the country. 

So what now? They spoke for about an hour but there was no announcement or agreement. The global media, however, was agog at the optics of it all. Experts called it a “thrown-together; last-minute; made-for-TV; driven by T’s lust for optics & drama (of the DMZ) rather than substance; in pursuit of a photo-op for the 2020 election. What a clown-show.”

The bottomline: Umm, what he said? 

Learn more: BBC offers the most detailed explainer on the US-North Korea relationship. The best photo-gallery of the summit is here. USA Today captures the ups-and-downs of this rollercoaster ride of a bromance. Associated Press (via Economic Times) has an excellent read on Trump’s style of “personal diplomacy.”

In related global diplomacy news: The G-20 summit wrapped up over the weekend, and there were no big diplomatic breakthroughs there either. But, hey, the confab had its moments:

  • Trump sharing this cute joke about meddling in US elections with Putin. Oh, they also joked about getting rid of journalists… these guys are hilarious!

  • Ivanka was front-and-centre as part of Trump’s ‘Take Your Daughter to Work’ tour of the G-20. Our favourite: this awkward moment when she tries to butt into a convo between Emanuel Macron, Theresa May, Justin Trudeau and IMF chief Christine Lagarde. Also: she was front row in the group photo (yup, all the world leaders plus daddy’s little girl).

  • Modi-ji had this very special moment with the Australian PM on Twitter.

  • And no one wanted to talk to Justin Trudeau at dinner. Like, no one.

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being very disappointed with the Dalai Lama

Your World Cup update is here: and it includes the following:

  • India finally lost its first World Cup 2019 match to England by 31 runs. Indian Express has an excellent recap headlined, ‘Two horsemen and apocalypse’.

  • The biggest losers, however, were Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka—who were hoping for a semi-final slot if England maintained its losing streak. The Pakistanis were crushed and some cried ‘conspiracy’.

  • The other big loser: Mahendra Singh Dhoni who was roasted for his lack of “intent” by Sourav Ganguly and others. The most subtle and funny diss was this one.

  • Also not a winner: India’s new blue-and-orange uniforms—which drew unflattering but accurate comparisons to Indian Oil petrol bunk attendants. Kashmiri politician Mehbooba Mufti even blamed it for India’s defeat.

  • Meanwhile, Times of India decided to assemble a World Cup 'Flop XI'—kinda the anti-Dream Team. Because you can never shame failing athletes enough.

Is Kamala Harris too ‘foreign’ to be ‘black’? The presidential candidate dominated the latest Democratic debate. Her reward: this viral tweet which read, “Kamala Harris is *not* an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamaican. I'm so sick of people robbing American Blacks (like myself) of our history. It's disgusting.” Yup, it’s like Obama all over again. (Daily Beast)


Has the Dalai Lama lost the plot? In an extended BBC interview, he warned that if refugees were allowed to remain on the continent, “the whole of Europe [will] eventually become Muslim country—impossible. Or African country, also impossible.” To clarify: he thinks the countries should offer temporary refuge, but eventually make these migrants return to their home countries. Just as dismally, in the same interview, he repeated his previous assertion that a female Dalai Lama ought to be "very attractive, otherwise not much use." Why? If she were unattractive, people would prefer not to “see her, that face." See: the full interview here.


Your water crisis update is here: And none of it is comforting… except for this silver lining: all our current woes were preventable, and therefore may be reversible. 


  • First up is Chennai. The Hindu did a big splash on the city’s water crisis—the extent of which is scarily summed up by these satellite images of its lakes. Also a must read: this article on how Chennai’s Day Zero is mostly a man-made crisis. As one environmentalist points out: “We have always had enough water—let’s not forget that just a few years ago, Chennai was in the throes of a flood and had to release excess water from the reservoirs.”

  • Next, Bangalore and the unethical and disastrous plan to divert water from the river Sharavathi in Shimoga to supply the water-starved city. Shimoga is already water-stressed. And the diversion would be “environmentally suicidal because it involves linking two ecosystems and large-scale felling in the Western Ghats to lay the pipeline.”  

  • Finally, this Twitter thread courtesy Joanna Slater, Washington Post's India Bureau chief. Remember the widely reported ‘fact’ that 21 Indian cities were going to run dry by 2020? Well, Slater decided to track down its source… and uncovered the perfect example of a ‘zombie statistic’! 

Three newspapers feel Modi’s wrath: In India, it is a time-honoured tradition for the ruling party to punish errant media houses for daring to report on its missteps. The Modi government’s weapon of choice: freeze on government ads. The targets: Bennett, Coleman & Co which owns Times of India and The Economic Times; The ABP Group which publishes The Telegraph; and The Hindu newspaper group. How much does this hurt? Government contracts constitute 15% of the Times group’s ad sales. Apparently, the freeze started in the lead-up to the elections. (Reuters)


Europe is red hot right now: France had the hottest recorded day in its history—45.9º. And the soaring temperatures are driving the entire continent a little batty. There now are jaguars in swimming pools, melting roads on the German Autobahn, and heated debates over how much public nudity is acceptable in such overheated conditions. (Washington Post)


A customs crackdown on sex toys: Between January 2017 and January 2019, Mumbai Airport customs officials seized sex toys worth Rs 8 crore. These are mostly imported from China to be sold on the streets. But here’s the strange thing: it is perfectly legal to sell sex toys in India. But their import is banned as goods that “cause grave injury to maintenance of public order and standards of decency or morality.” 🙄Also, this quote from the head of sexual medicine at a prominent hospital: “I had visited a sex toy market in the USA. These toys are very harmful and may even prove to be fatal at times.” This would be true of pretty much any household item that is improperly used. For example, cucumbers. (Mid-Day)


Statue of Unity is leaking: but its administrators insist that a flooded viewing gallery is part of the monument’s clever design. No, we are not making this up. (Quint


Weekend reads that you might have missed: include the following:


  • Indian Express has a moving read about a two-year old rescued after days beside her mother’s decomposing body. Why we recommend it: in the midst of horrific stories on orphanages, the love of her caretakers is unmistakable.

  • This fascinating National Geographic article on the sand mafia in India notes, “Illegally mined sand does not conjure the dark romance of, say, blood diamonds, or the pathos of trafficked wildlife.” And yet sand is now an equally precious commodity. We learned many new things thanks to this quick read. 

  • LA Times on how Sikh drivers are transforming the face of American trucking. One unintended effect: American 'dhabas' that serve parathas.

  • This excellent Scroll essay looks at the psychology of the super-rich. Why do they choose a place like Auli to hold their super-duper, super-destructive wedding? Related read: Himalayan cities are looking like garbage dumps, courtesy The Print

  • Love ‘Chernobyl’ currently streaming on Netflix? Forbes wants to you to know that it has no clue about radiation. 

  • A meditation on the Tamil Brahmin’s name—or rather many names—and its caste connotations in The Telegraph

  • Excellent read in the Columbia Journalism Review on foreign correspondents who “parachute” into countries, and file stories thanks to experienced and talented local journalists who are designated as ‘fixers’. 

  • What we enjoyed even more: CJR’s cutting piece by Pakistani novelist Mohammed Hanif on his experience with Pakistani intelligence—though that may be the wrong word. 


Your Monday morning pick-me-up: includes the following:


  • Dogs behaving very poorly—which is always very, very amusing. 

  • This funny series of New Yorker cartoons which sums up what happens when we first discover the gym. 

  • A rare, likeable clip of Salman Khan NOT behaving like a frat boy. 

  • The perfect gif that sums up what your Monday morning feels like right now.

  • The good news that the guy who created the app which turns women’s photos into nude shots has decided… maybe not! He pulled the plug, saying, “We don’t want to make money this way.”

  • If you’re ever planning to quit your job, this is how you must announce the news.

  • More adorable puppies enjoying their time on a ‘slide’. Think of it as doggy ASMR for your brain.

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The best place for the best advice

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How to find the right apartment to rent

You’re single and in a new city. Your first task is to find a place to live. It’s usually the most daunting and stressful part of any fresh start—especially if you’re going to be a first-time tenant. But the recipe for success is simple: be methodical and thorough. Here is a checklist to help you find the flat that is right for you in every way.


Set a realistic budget: The standard rule-of-thumb is that rent should never exceed more than 25% of your salary. It’s pretty hard to stick to this rule if you’re just starting out in a major metro, and need to stay in a reasonably safe area located close to civilisation. So be ready to make trade-offs. And you will need to budget for the following:

  • Security deposit, which typically vary from 6-10 months.

  • Monthly maintenance charges levied by your building society—lots of landlords expect tenants to pay for these. 

  • Cost of furnishing the apartment. Yes, you can opt for a fully furnished variety but these typically cost a lot more. And then you have to worry about paying for damages from daily wear-and-tear.


Narrow down your location: Given the appalling state of traffic in any major city, limiting your commute is usually a priority. But other factors may weigh more. For example: 

  • Staying close to bars and restaurants which is key to your social life and safety at the end of a night out. 

  • Living in a safe neighbourhood, which is hugely important for women. 

  • How close are you to friends or relatives if you need help?


We highly recommend neighbourhoods which are already popular with young working women. These are usually close to social hubs, relatively safe and offer lots of rental options. For example, Koramangala in Bangalore, South Delhi (Defence Colony, Greater Kailash) in Delhi, or Bandra, South Mumbai in Mumbai. 


Now, find that flat: Your personal network of family and friends ought to be your first, best option. Other routes include:

  • Facebook groups like ‘Flats & Flatmates’ and ‘Flats Without Brokers’ (just type in the title and add the city in the search bar). There are also city-specific groups such as House/Flat for Rent in Bangalore without Brokers. Consult your network for the best options in various cities.

  • Websites. We recommend you check out and NestAway. They offer better choices than the mega-sites like 99acres etc.

  • Brokers. Yes, you have to pay a commission but you also have more choices. Never use a broker who has not been recommended to you. You don’t want to end up with someone who will cheat you or waste your time. And don’t rely on just one. Work with as many as you can juggle.


Making a choice: Every time you look at a property, keep this checklist in mind:

  • Structural damage. Identify every crack, leaky tap and broken window latch. If you like the flat, ask if the landlord will make the repairs *before* you move in—and make it a condition in your contract. Also: check for termites, always!

  • Safety. Does the building and the street have CCTV cameras? What about a night guard? Check all possible ways to break into the flat. Insist on window grills etc. if needed.

  • Convenience. Is there a local grocery within a short distance? What about a 24/7 pharmacy? How far is it from the metro or train station—and is that route safe? Most importantly: will the neighbourhood wine shop deliver?

  • Neighbours. Get a sense of the culture of the building. If you like throwing parties and having friends over, you don’t want neighbours who will call the cops the moment you turn up the music.  And if you eat meat, make sure this isn’t a shuddh vegetarian community. In some buildings, they won’t even let you order in non-veg dishes from Zomato.


Ink the deal: Once you’ve made your pick, move quickly to seal the deal. Pay a token amount to reserve the apartment. Next step is to vet the contract. There’s a lot of legal verbiage, but these clauses are key:

  • Lock-in period. This is where both parties are ‘locked into’ the contract for a certain amount of time, typically a year. The clause gives you peace of mind, but it isn’t a good idea if you’re not sure about sticking around in the city or in that flat. It may be a better idea to opt for a two-month notice period instead. 

  • Repairs. Landlords are typically responsible for any kind of structural issues with the property that affect your ability to live there—a leaking ceiling, broken geyser or air conditioner. But tenants have to fix damage caused by daily wear-and-tear. For example: a wall you dinged while moving your furniture. 

  • Advance deposit. These range anywhere between 6-10 months, and depends on the landlord, the property, and the city. And almost always, the owner will deduct a painting fee (a month’s rent) from the deposit when you move out. But you need to establish a clear understanding—in writing via email—as to what other possible deductions the landlord is likely to claim. Be clear that all such deductions must be limited to ‘wear-and-tear’ repairs (see above).

  • Rent increase. This is typically limited to 5% per year, and should be written into the contract. 

  • Maintenance charges. Who is going to pay for them? Make sure it is clearly spelled out in the contract.


Learn more: The Better India has a great primer on your legal rights as a tenant. Nestaway has an excellent house-hunting cheatsheet for a first-time tenant—a concise infographic that sums up all the gyaan. A must-watch: Bachelor Girls on Netflix—a brilliant documentary which tracks a bunch of single women looking for housing in Mumbai. 


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