The Indian economy, by all accounts, is at last moving along the road towards a modest prosperity. The hi-tech sector is booming, and property prices in the business area of Mumbai are now said to be the highest in the world. \nIt's a standard tenet of historians that social protest is most loudly heard, not when things are at their worse, but when they begin to improve. Thus Victorian Britain, when the UK's national wealth was growing fast, was awash with novels dealing with the disparities between rich and poor. Today, when a majority of the UK population considers itself middle class, such novels are rare. \nIf this theory is true, then you'd expect novels protesting against social conditions from present-day India. And that is precisely what The Sari Shop is, a grim tale contrasting the hard lives of employees in a shop in Amritsar selling fine cloth for women's dresses with the leisured existence of their affluent employers. It's every bit as harrowing in places as Oliver Twist or Great Expectations, though a good deal more economical. Moreover, a happy ending is no longer considered obligatory in the way it once was. \nOn the one hand you have the Kapoors, the Sandhus and the Guptas, elegantly accommodated business people with interests at the top end of the retail clothing industry. Prominent in the later part of the novel is Rina Kapoor, newly married into the family and a budding novelist. There are other recent brides as well, among them Shilpa Gupta, delighted to discover she is pregnant with her first child. \nStrongly contrasting with them are Chander and Kamla, an assistant at the sari shop and his young wife. Chanda is a heavy drinker and wife-beater from the start, but Kamla, who we first meet as a child in a remote village, is a simple, passive girl who, however, quickly succumbs to the social and domestic pressures under which she has to live. \nThe book's main character, though, is Ramchand, another shop assistant who, after a visit to the Kapoor's house to show them some saris, is struggling to better himself by studying ludicrously inappropriate English phrase-books. He is central to the novel because he is the one character who crosses from one social class to the other, cycling to Rina Kapoor's wedding although not invited, and there attracting the attention of the new bride. Ramchand's education in the injustices of his home town's social system is effectively the story's central theme. \nRamchand is not the only person to see injustice, however. The gentle Kamla, after losing a baby and herself taking to the bottle, stands outside the Gupta's house and yells obscenities as its inhabitants. (Her husband has previously worked for one of their failed companies, leaving him with three months' unpaid wages). The Gupta family quickly call the police, with Mr. Gupta handing out gratuities to the officers in recognition of their prompt action. \nThe tone of the book is remarkably understated, even cool. "While they were having dinner," the author writes, continuing the story, "Kamla was being raped by the two policemen who had brought her in. Then one of the policemen, a married man, went home to his wife, while the other stayed back, drinking cheap rum and listening to film songs on the radio, hoping to have another go at Kamla in the morning before letting her leave." \nBut this time Kamla resists, and as a result is sexually assaulted with a police baton. Ramchand discovers her alone at home and bleeding when he is sent by the shop manager to find out why Chander hasn't shown up for work. \nNeedless to say, the book's quiet, ironic tone makes the horrors when they arrive all the more shocking. It's as if you're reading a novel by a Victorian lady novelist, only to find yourself catapulted into a 21st century society lurching towards change, but still mired in traditional cruelties on every hand. \nThe affluent characters, however, only perceive the sufferings of the poor as "filthy goings-on," which they, as the "respectable classes," don't wish to hear about. Simply to know such people is sufficient to deny anyone entry into their circle. The attitudes are, of course, close to those that were characteristic of the newly rich in the fast-developing West in the 19th century. \nIn essence, Ramchand aspires to upward social mobility, yet his experiences bring him ever more in touch with the fate of his fellow employees. The plot's pressure forces him towards a choice, details of which it would be unfair to reveal. \nRamchand is also friendly with a family of Sikhs whose two sons, by an unlucky chance, fell victim to the Indian army's assault on Amritsar's Golden Temple in June 1984. This comes over as an event that merely adds to the sense of a tragic fate for ever waiting to overtake vulnerable areas on life on the subcontinent. \nThere are also some incidental, quietly ironic insights. An extract from an essay on the police Ramchand is struggling to read states: "A policeman is a very useful and important public servant ... He guards our life and property. He helps in tracing out the culprits and getting them booked." The slightly incorrect English Bajwa introduces here ("tracing out") subtly displays the satirized writer's double incapacity -- he's as ill-educated as he is blind to social reality, she suggests. \nIn addition, the novel Rina Kapoor pens features a village girl with almond-shaped, kohl-lined eyes, jasmine in her hair and a bewitching smile, plus an old sadhu who helps a young man (a character she's patronizingly based on Ramchand) win her hand with the aid of magic herbs. This is clearly Rupa Bajwa's parody of the species of fiction, wilfully blind to the realities of Indian life, that is the opposite of the kind of novel she herself is writing -- sensitive, intelligent and very alert to the hypocrisies and injustice that, in her view, and despite the new prosperity, still pervade modern Indian society.
The second expedition of Commodore Matthew Perry of the US to Japan in 1854 sent ships to Formosa on the way back to the US to assess Keelung’s potential as a coaling station. Far-sighted, Perry recommended that the US establish a presence on Formosa, as Taiwan was then known. His suggestion went unheeded, but others were watching, few more closely than Prussia. The Prussians had wanted to follow up the Americans with an expedition of their own. In 1858, when William I became regent, the idea of entering the colonial race in the Far East began to take shape in the
June 27 to July 3 “The Sacred Tree (神木) is on fire!” Tseng Tian-lai (曾添來) didn’t believe it at first as it was pouring rain, but he sensed the urgency in the caller’s voice. The Alishan Forest Railway station master stepped out and saw smoke billowing from the direction of the beloved 3,000-year-old red cypress. The tree was struck by lightning in the afternoon of June 7, 1956, and a fierce blaze raged inside the eroded trunk, requiring nearly 200 people 20 hours to put it out. The authorities were especially nervous, according to a 1997 Liberty Times
In the space of a few decades, Taiwan has changed from a place where characterful old buildings were thoughtlessly bulldozed to make space for wider roads or bigger homes, to a society much more likely to cherish physical reminders of the past. The authorities have poured money into restoration and renovation work. According to a Nov. 10, 2020 post on Tainan City Government’s Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage Web site, in the first nine months of 2020, the Ministry of Culture’s (MOC) Bureau of Cultural Heritage approved 13 such projects in the southern city, setting a total budget of NT$281.6 million.
Born in Aldershot in 1959, Russell Foster is a professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford and the director of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology. For his discovery of non-rod, non-cone ocular photoreceptors he received numerous awards including the Zoological Society scientific medal. His latest book — the first he has written without a co-author — is Life Time: The New Science of the Body Clock, and How It Can Revolutionize Your Sleep and Health. The Guardian: What is circadian neuroscience? Russell Foster: It’s the fundamental understanding of how our biology ticks on a 24-hour basis. But also it’s bigger than that —