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Sunday, 23 July 2017

Small story 'Cheating'

One of my small stories in Kannada Mosa, which means "Cheating" has been published in today's Vishwavani Virama. Here's the link.

Why Iran broke its strict hijab rules for the 'Queen of Math'

Famed mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, who died Friday, was memorialized without the headscarf.

Maryam Mirzakhani will be remembered as a woman who broke glass ceilings in life and in death. In 2014, the Iranian mathematician became the first and only woman ever to win the Fields Medal, popularly known as the Nobel Prize of the math world. And when she died last Friday at age 40, some Iranian media outlets, as well as President Rouhani himself, broke a national taboo by publishing photos in which she appeared with her hair uncovered.

In Iran, women have been required to wear the hijab in public since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iranian women rarely appear without the headscarf in the press. Mirzakhani, who grew up in Tehran but attended graduate school at Harvard and became a professor at Stanford, did not wear the hijab.

When Mirzakhani won the Fields Medal three years ago, Iranian newspapers went to extreme lengths to avoid showing her hair: They either digitally retouched her photo to add a hijab, published dated photos in which she appeared wearing one, or drew a sketch of her wearing one. But this past weekend, when the news that she had died of breast cancer at a U.S. hospital dominated the front pages of most newspapers in Iran, some of them finally allowed her to be pictured as she had lived. Mirzakhani had two things going for her this time: She had become a source of deep national pride. And she had passed away.

“In this case, she is dead,” said Haleh Esfandiari, the Iranian American former director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. “Because she’s no longer around, whether they print a picture with or without a hijab doesn’t make a difference for people. It’s not relevant as a policy issue.”

The centrist state newspaper Hamshahri ran a full portrait of Mirzakhani without a hijab, under the headline “Math Genius Yielded to Algebra of Death.” The reformist daily Donyaye Eghtesad did the same, with an accompanying headline that read “The Queen of Mathematics’ Eternal Departure.”

Another reformist daily, Shargh, showed her wearing a hat and dubbed her “The Queen of Numbers Land.” The Iran daily showed her without a hijab but used photo editing to fade her dark hair into a black background. Only ultraconservative newspapers Resalat and Keyhan didn’t splash her image on the front page, according to PRI; Keyhan printed a photo of her wearing a headscarf on an inside page.

Esfandiari added that the emotion many Iranians felt for their world-famous “genius” and “queen”—pride mixed with grief—was so intense that it overrode modesty rules: “People admire her for her achievements and for who she was … and there is a serious sadness around the country, that a young woman who was so promising died of cancer at an early age.”

Masih Alinejad, a Brooklyn-based Iranian writer known for launching the Facebook page My Stealthy Freedom (the campaign encourages women in Iran to post pictures of themselves without a hijab, and has more than a million followers), suggested there was a different underlying motivation in the way some Iranians are claiming the mathematician as part of their national mythology. She was especially dubious about Rouhani, who was quick to publish a photo of a hijab-less Mirzakhani on Instagram.

“Why didn’t they publish her unveiled picture when she was alive?” Alinejad asked. “Now, when she’s gone, they’re trying to own her, in a fake and disgusting way. They want to publish this to show the world, ‘See, we broke the taboo!’—to use this opportunity to show that they’re moderate.”

A picture taken in Tehran shows the front pages of Iranian newspapers bearing portraits of Maryam Mirzakhani.

Rouhani came under fire from Alinejad and other activists when, in 2014, Mirzakhani’s image was Photoshopped in Iranian newspapers. Alinejad said that her campaign had “named and shamed” the president and the offending media outlets online, and that Rouhani began to feel the heat as he was repeatedly confronted on the compulsory hijab issue over the past few years. In 2015, a journalist in France presented him with one of the My Stealthy Freedom photos and asked if he found it offensive. More recently, at this year’s Oscars, an Iranian TV station’s decision to censor the image of Anousheh Ansari as she accepted The Salesman’s award for Best Foreign Language film ignited social media outrage around the world. The president is facing not only international pressure, but also internal pressure—for instance, in the form of White Wednesday protests, during which women wear white and demonstrate in public against the dress code.

The Rouhani government is facing domestic discontent on another front: Iran’s serious brain drain problem. Mirzakhani left to pursue her studies in the United States, just as thousands of Iranians do every year; despite her having spent her career in the U.S., her death now offers Iran’s government and media an opportunity to symbolically reverse that phenomenon by memorializing her as one of their own.

“They feel that their reputation is ruined around the world, and they want to get it back,” Alinejad said. “Maryam is a big name, so they jump on her to make a name for themselves. It’s a sign of hypocrisy. If you really care about freedom of choice, you have to hear your own women who’ve been shouting for years inside Iran, not a person who has died.”

For her part, Esfandiari doesn’t see the media’s shift on Mirzakhani as hypocrisy so much as understandable self-preservation. “I think the newspapers that [covered up Mirzakhani in 2014] thought they were protecting her and protecting themselves,” she said. “They were probably worried that the newspaper would be confiscated and banned. In some cases it’s a kind of self-censorship by the newspapers, because they don’t want to give an excuse for the censors to come.”

Esfandiari added that some Iranian media outlets use the hijab issue as a way to punish women they have incentive to criticize. She cited Shirin Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work on human rights issues, particularly in Iran. “When the conservative press wanted to go after Ebadi, they published a picture of her taken abroad without the hijab,” Esfandiari said. In the case of the beloved Mirzhakhani, however, there is no political incentive to tarnish her, so the conservative papers barely bothered covering her story.

Alinejad said that she considers the less conservative newspapers’ truthful depiction of Mirzhakhani a small step toward women’s equality—and that it’s important to give credit to the vocal activists who protested “Photoshop hijab” until the government and media took notice: “Some people say that it’s an achievement of Maryam’s. I have respect for Maryam and she’s my hero, too. But Maryam Mirzhakhani didn’t protest. Anousheh Ansari didn’t protest either. This was the voice of Iranian women. They were trying to shame the government. And now they have been heard.”

(Source: The Atlantic)

Google’s weird search results for ‘South Indian Masala’ say a lot about the way we use the internet

Did you see the news about what Google throws up if you search for ‘South Indian masala’? Last week, there were lots of outrage-cum-LOLs about the fact that when you type South Indian masala into the search engine, it shows you pictures of female actors in see-through blouses instead of images of molaga podi or whatever. It was also pointed out that searching for ‘North Indian masala’ throws up pictures of chana masala and garam masala, and not pictures of Bollywood actors in transparent clothes.

Shashi Tharoor was so annoyed that he tweeted to Google CEO Sundar Pichai about the issue.

To which the obvious response is:

Exasperating farrago of distortions misrepresentations & outright lies being broadcast by a showman masquerading as a search engine expert!

Just kidding! Google obviously responded saying that it wasn’t like Google thought this was what South Indian masala meant, but that the search results were based on user patterns and Google’s understanding of user intent and happiness. Hilariously, it also offered what we assume it thought was some kind of consolation prize: that searching for ‘Hindi masala’ instead of ‘North Indian masala’ would also yield similar pictures of actors.

@Google: results reflect understanding of intent as wellas user happiness w/previous results4such queries."Hindi Masala"gives film results 
I mean, it would have been nice if Google didn’t show this as the search result, but I think it says more about us and our search patterns than about Google that this is what it throws up. It also makes you think about how much sexism there is encoded into the internet, all of which is a product of who uses it and how.

Take reusable stock images. Anyone who has had to frequently search for freely available stock images would notice that there’s some sexism and racism, or at least reflections of the sexism and racism that exists in the real word, that show up in the results.

For example, when you search for reusable images of pregnant women, you have literally hundreds of images to choose from. Men cooking? Not so much. At best, you’d able to find some images of white men cooking in professional restaurant set-ups, and almost none of men cooking at home, or doing any kind of household chores at all.

There’s something else going on when you search for images of Indian women too. There are plenty of images of women in rural set-ups, doing things like elegantly carrying multiple matkas of water on their heads, and almost none of women hanging out with their friends, working in offices or exercising. Of course, a significant number of pictures of rural women are posted online for free commercial use by what seem to be foreign tourists, and the pictures are often in folders with names like ‘Rajasthan Delhi Agra Goa Trip 2015’.

What does it all mean? Well, it could be a reflection of the fact that more stock images are created outside India than in, and that we need to up our representation in the virtual world, given that these images influence how Indian women are portrayed online in thousands of different place. It also shows that the internet, often considered a new, gender-equal playing field, actually clearly reflects the real world’s power imbalances, and that the nature of technology is a function of who creates it and how it’s used, and so it isn’t immune to sexism and racism at all. Remember when Google Photos tagged black people as gorillas through facial recognition software, as it was programmed to recognise white people as humans?

(Source: The Ladies Finger)

French moms aren’t superior parents - they just have it easier

The world has long been plagued by the myth of French women. We can’t seem to get enough of what makes them so effortlessly beautiful, impossibly fashionable, and perfect in every way.

Reverence for la femme française is on high, now that France has elected a pro-female president who wants to engage the world, not insult it, to tackle climate change, not question its existence, and who sees women for who they are, not what they look like.

Add best baby makers to the list of France’s accolades: French women are the most prolific baby producers in Western Europe, recent data show. While Danes have to try and lure couples to hotels with special deals to spark procreation, French women are producing nearly two kids—1.96 to be exact—per mother, which is just shy of the magical number needed (2.1) to keep its population steady. That compares to 1.35 in Italy and 1.7 in Denmark.

The more children French women have, the better they seem to do. They are sanguine, slim, and well-rested mothers. Their kids eat haute cuisine iPad-free in restaurants, they don’t snack, and they don’t throw temper tantrums.

Explanations for all this typically boil down to cultural differences—which implies that any woman could achieve the same if only she glommed onto France’s elusive cultural codes.

But the reality is, simply revamping our kids’ diets and our sense of joie de vivre wouldn’t make up for all the institutional support French women enjoy. So before latching onto the next do-it-like-the-French checklist, we should acknowledge the following:

French women get paid to have babies. Unlike in the US, new mothers don’t have to take unpaid disability leave to have their kids. They get 16 full weeks of paid leave for the first and second child, and 26 for the third. They also get a government allowance for having kids based on their income, including supplements if they want to go part-time or hire a nanny.

French women get affordable and available childcare. Women can take their babies to a crèche, or high-quality day care center, from about six weeks of age (granted, there are often waiting lists), which helps mothers to go back to work. Families pay on a sliding scale based on income and the centers are highly regulated with national standards. And, perhaps most importantly, the staff are well-paid and have very low turnover, unlike in the US, where child care is treated like the wild wild west.

French women have access to full-time baby chefs. The food in the crèche and school systems is notoriously excellent, which takes the pressure off parents to get it all just right at home. Rather than indulge in rubbery chicken nuggets, kids eat three course meals. They are even introduced to foods in a scientifically proven way to make them less picky. A typical Tuesday? Fresh bread, cucumber salad with cream fraiche, veal sautéed in olives and broccoli, goat cheese, gâteau de semoule fait maison au caramel.

French women send their kids to school at age 3. When the crèche ends, school begins, and it doesn’t have to end at 3pm! Kids in France can start school by age 3. There are three years of preschool and a year of kindergarten, all of which are free. When kids start real school, they can go early to a garderie and stay late, from 4:30pm usually until 6:30pm, according to Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bebe. (At one school in Normandy, the cost for that is €17 ($18.62) a month.)

Meanwhile in the US, families struggle to choose between unaffordable nannies, suboptimal daycares, and the charitable child-minding of close relatives and friends. Women who work long hours are left to choose between squeezing in a home-cooked meal or going to the gym. Parents trade off time with their kids for high-pressure jobs that offer employee-based healthcare, higher earnings to save for college, and little to no vacation time.

We resign ourselves to these big pressures, and focus on the small stuff we feel we can control: the most effective Lego organizers, the best baby food makers, the toddler soccer teams. But it’s the ability to go to work and know your child is safe, and that you can afford that care and even look forward to a real vacation, that’s mind-bendingly life-changing.

To be clear, the French school system is hardly perfect. Andreas Schleicher, head of the education and skills directorate at the OECD, said that there is no research to support the fact that early schooling, rather than free play like in Finland, is what kids need (the OECD is trying to conduct that research). France, he notes, performs poorly on PISA, the test given to 15-year-olds around the world, which is considered a useful measure of critical thinking skills, and has one of the most rigid education systems in the world.

But having an affordable option is worth a lot to parents. And it matters to governments, too. The more women work, the more babies are born. A higher birth rate keeps up the needed balance of people who work and pay taxes to support older people on social security. It’s a “paradoxical situation,” demographer Richard Jackson told Science of Us: “The more traditionalist a culture is about gender roles, the fewer babies people have.”

Rather than idolizing French women for all they do, we should start idolizing French policies that allow for exercise, work, and the personal grooming that make the myth seem like reality.

(Source: Quartz)

Sunny Leone, Daniel Weber adopt baby girl, Nisha Kaur Weber from Latur

The 21-month-old baby has been adopted by actor Sunny Leone and her husband, Daniel Weber; Sunny says it was ‘love at first sight.’

Meet Nisha Kaur Weber, the 21-month-old who is lighting up the life of actor Sunny Leone and her husband, Daniel Weber. The baby girl from Latur, Maharashtra, has been adopted by them, and Sunny says it was love at first sight.

What does parenthood feel like?

Sunny: Right now, it’s all so brand new because it has just been a few days. The moment we got the picture (of Nisha); I was so excited, happy, emotional and [experienced] so many different feelings. We literally had three weeks to finalise everything. Usually, people get nine months to prepare (laughs).

Daniel: Our life is always so crazy. There are no nine months for us. For me, it has just been lots of paperwork for two years and then one day, that’s it. You get an email that you have been matched with a child. It’s so crazy.

When was the decision to adopt taken?

Daniel: We applied almost two years ago, when we went to an orphanage. Those people are doing amazing work. But we thought it would be great to help. Of course, you want to help them all but you can’t. Maybe, one at a time, and that’s how things may start.

Sunny: I truly believe that Nisha chose us, we didn’t choose Nisha.

Daniel: Never in my life did I think that I want to adopt a child. [People] doing such amazing work at the orphanage changed my mind.

What made both of you have a baby at this particular point?

Sunny: We didn’t decide. The Indian government and Cara agency decided when we were ready (smiles). We didn’t know that you don’t get to choose the ashram or orphanage that you adopt from, the ministry chooses for you.

Daniel: There is no right time if you are in the entertainment field because you are always on the road. So when are you going to find nine months or a year to have a child? If someone wants a day of shooting with Sunny, I say, ‘Okay, let me find one hour in the next four months.’ Why we’ve adopted is a different reason but we were ready almost two years ago.

Sunny: I don’t know about everybody else, but for us, it didn’t matter even for a second whether it was our child or she not being our biological child. For us, it was about starting a family and I might not [have a biological child] because of our schedules and so many other things but we both thought, ‘why don’t we just adopt?’

Who thought of the name, Nisha?

Sunny: We didn’t do that.

Daniel: That was her name. They told us that we can change and we had our minds filled with names but she is who she is. Every time, we called her by other names, it just didn’t fit her.

Sunny: We like the name. Her name is Nisha Kaur Weber. It’s Kaur since I am Punjabi, as my real name is Karenjit Kaur. I always wanted that whatever names we choose, the middle name be Singh or Kaur. When I looked up the meaning of Nisha, it’s the Hindu goddess of night.

How was your first meeting with your daughter, Nisha?

Sunny: The day we picked her up, she was great in the car; dancing and having fun.

Daniel: She must have thought she was on a road trip or something or that it’s one day at the circus. Nisha had an eight hour trip (from Latur to Mumbai) and she was perfect. I thought, ‘wow, this child is amazing.’

Sunny: When she came home, I think that’s when it dawned upon her, ‘oh, wait I am not going back.’ But we have read up and consulted our friends about how to cope with her at this stage, and we have accepted that it’s going to take her some time to adjust in this new environment.

Daniel: We are trying to introduce things to her every hour but it’s overwhelming for any human to have new things as until now, she was raised in a different manner. But we have been told that it’s an easy age to be programmed because kids’ minds at this age are like a sponge.

At the orphanage, she was spoken to in Marathi. So, English must be an alien language for her?

Daniel: Till now, she has only been spoken to in Marathi so I think that also needs to be reprogrammed. I am sure whenever I speak to her, she must be thinking, ‘Dude, what are you talking? Speak some legitimate words.’ I can only imagine that.

Sunny: A few days back, she learnt her first English word which was bye bye (smiles).

Would life — on a day-to-day basis — change from now on?

Daniel: We will still be busy (laughs).

Sunny: Of course, we are going to have to adjust a lot of different things but I do believe that God brings people in your life and does things for you only when you are ready for it. She has come to us at 21 months, so she is mobile, can function, and going to be able to communicate with us. Also, we have a great network of people and family around us. She is still a tiny baby right now, so we can structure our lives and figure out how we are going to move forward with projects.

Daniel: You know, we didn’t know that Nisha was coming to us so Sunny’s schedule was completely planned till the end of the year. But it is okay, so now, Sunny has to go to London, and though I would have liked to go with her but I will stay with Nisha here.

Sunny: Well, she doesn’t have her travel documents yet but until that happens; we are so blessed to have this moment.

Do you guys ever feel, ‘it’s a huge responsibility’…

Sunny: It’s a responsibility for the rest of our lives. But we have been ready for that — physically, mentally and financially. We were working really hard because we wanted to start a family, and this is the way it’s going to start, so it’s amazing.

Daniel: We don’t do anything through the normal route or in an orthodox manner. When people ask, ‘why did they adopt?’ our counter is, ‘oh, why not?’ That’s normal for us.

Sunny: We were not brought up here but certain things, on an everyday basis, breaks your heart. While going to the airport, you cross this overpass and see little kids with no clothes, no shoes or no food, and it’s heart-breaking. Maybe, we can’t save every child but can do it for one little girl. They (the ashram) gave her everything that they could but she is still underweight, and still needs a lot of care. And we are ready. Also, we have great people around to help us with everything. I don’t know what her struggle was, and I don’t think I ever will, but I know she was probably starving at some point, and maybe there wasn’t enough food.

Were you guys discussing it (adoption) for a while?

Sunny: Yes, we spoke about it. I have actually always wanted to adopt a child. I just didn’t know that I will find the right partner to do that with and it’s great that it’s Daniel. I believe God sent her to us and said, ‘this is going to be your baby.’

Daniel: At first, we were told that our profiles will be matched with three children and we could look at their medical records etc. But she was one child that was sent to us. They said, ‘if you want her, okay or else she goes back in the system.’ And we immediately agreed. I don’t think you will ever know you are ready for it. So, if two years ago, we were in the middle of a million things, when are we not handling million things?

Sunny: We now live in a generation where parents work and you might have help at home but older-generation parents worked and their kids went to school. They were fine and still got the same amount of love.

Has life undergone a complete transformation?

Daniel: It has just been about a week that Nisha has been with us but I feel like I know her for a month. We are both figuring her out, and I am sure she is doing the same. She has had a certain kind of life till now, so, she’ll take her time to understand that we are her parents. Things are changing on an hourly basis. For us, it’s mind-altering.

Sunny: She is so cute. The moment she looks up at you and smiles, it just melts your heart. I look forward to her growing up to become an independent and being her own woman.

(Source: HT)