Why is there no Yuppie Programming?

October 15, 2008

So what is it about TV that inspired me to write arbit posts defining lalas, yuppies and hippies? Well, it’s like this. Ever since I started watching TV about four months ago (when I moved in with relatives in Mumbai), I’ve realised this about it – all Indian TV (fiction) programming is centred around lalas and hippies. But never yuppies. As far as the people who make Indian TV serials are concerned, yuppies don’t exist.

Now soap operas of the K variety are of course dominated by lalas. From what little I’ve seen of them (fortunately, my relatives in Mumbai are not devotees) they’re centred around gigantic business joint families where everyone is scheming against each other, often for control of the business. Very lala, really. Even when said soap operas are not of the Balaji K-variety, they tend to involve ginormous lala families.

My cousin watched two soap operas earlier in the year. One involved a female who was dark skinned, so she was married off to a spastic guy. As in, literally spastic. I am not making this up. But the spastic guy belonged to a giant lala family and his sister-in-law schemed against this dark-complexioned chick. So full lala fundaes again.

The other soap opera was halfway between hippie and lala. Like I said, these things are intersecting stereotypes on a Venn Diagram rather than properly mutually-exclusive-collective-exhaustive categories. So anyway this one is about a star kid who’s being launched by his bigger movie star (or maybe director or producer) dad. Now being a movie star is as hippie as it gets, but if you’re being launched by your dad than lala fundaes come into play again.

The point is that in all of this, yuppies are missing.

Cut to now. My aunt’s favourite thing on TV these days is this thing on NDTV Imagine called Radha ki Betiyaan Kuchh Kar Ke Dikhayengeen. It regularly scales new heights of hippieness. It’s about this woman from Meerut who packs up and brings her daughters to Mumbai so that they can be successful in life.

What’s amazing is the path to success these daughters take. The accepted path to success is the yuppie one – become an engineer, then become an MBA, then become a finance professional, and pay off your EMIs for the next thirty years. You would think that these daughters would follow it too. But no! The oldest one gets a job at a fashion design house, which is the borderline between hippie and yuppie. But then she quits to enter a dance contest, and abandons all pretensions of yuppieness. And in fact this goes on throughout the show. The three daughters and their mother perpetually have to raise money for some reason or the other. It’s like watching a Sunday morning kids movie every night at primetime. And instead of doing it the yuppie way and becoming management consultants, they do it buy selling songs they’ve written, taking part in dance contests, and providing Hindi tuitions. Something involving Excel, or even maths done with pencil and paper never crosses their minds. It’s amazing.

Then there’s the stuff my cousin watches. There is first this show on Star One about doctors who seem to spend all their time singing and dancing rather than taking care of patients. So you have singing dancing doctors who never worry about the price of bhindi, or how much rent they’re paying. Come to think of it, they don’t seem to have homes – they just sing and dance at hospital. The point is that yuppie concerns of day-to-day minutiae are given the go-by.

Now it would be okay if the total absence of yuppie characters was restricted to television. But it exists in movies also. There are no yuppie characters in Bollywood either. Everyone in a Hindi movie is blissfully unconcerned about where the money is coming from. When will you ever see a Hindi movie character worrying about rent, or who’s going to clean the toilet? Let’s run through some of the movies in 2008:

  • Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na: everyone is hippie or lala. Aditi wants to do a course in filmmaking. I mean, come on. How much more hippie can you get? The guy she gets engaged to has a family business and is lala. Her brother is hippiemax. Even Jai never gets around to being a yuppie. To all indications, his mother doesn’t ever bother about rent because she lives in an owned house – lalaness, again.
  • Drona and Love Story 2050: Ok, the characters in these don’t fit any stereotype, but it’s still yuppie exclusion.
  • Singh is Kinng: Farmer with a heart of gold becomes head of the Australian mafia. Hippie, hippie, hippie.
  • Kidnap: Rich daughter of gazillionaire? Lala.

You see my point, yes?

So in all of this, do yuppies get seen at all? Well, yes. But only in the ads, which most people just surf away from. Now, let’s look at this in detail. With YouTube examples!

Usually, the category with the maximum yuppieness is life insurance. Which makes sense. Lalas don’t need life insurance because they’re already rich and have enough assets to take care of their dependents. Or if they do buy life insurance, they’ll buy whatever their CA-moonlighting-as-insurance-agent will sell them, not on the basis of advertising. Hippies don’t make financial decisions and just leave it to their private banker or lala family’s accountant. So you have to pitch to yuppies, who actually live on a month-to-month basis and have to worry about this shit. So it makes sense to have yuppie-focused advertising.

For a long time, the HDFC Standard Life ad was the yuppiest in India:

Consider! It has a daughter buying her father a car, which is the antithesis of regular lala relationships. Buying their parents stuff is probably what every yuppie dreams of. Plus look at all the other yuppie indicators – personalised checkbook from a new age private bank, shirt and pants instead of salwar kameez or sari, hair let down instead of plaited. In fact HDFC Standard’s slogan – Sar Utha Ke Jiyo – is the sort of thing that resonates more with yuppies than anybody else.

So yes. For a very long time, nothing could beat HDFC Standard Life in the yuppieness stakes. And then Airtel unleashed Madhavan and Vidya Balan. First, they established the young and urban part by showing them at an apartment building’s lift:

Having established yuppieness, they then set out to reinforce it:

Once again, we have the yuppie aspiration of giving money to parents instead of the other way around. Plus, check out the furniture. It screams yuppie. But in case you had any doubts at all, the next ad in the series set out to bury them once and for all:

Now prepaid recharges may not seem very yuppie. After all good yuppies have postpaid corporate connections. But set that aside for a while. And look at everything else in the ad. You have Vidya Balan telling Madhavan to make salad and do the household chores. This is the pinnacle of yuppieness. Hippies have domestic help to do the household chores. As for lala families, the woman telling the man to do stuff around the house is an exercise in futility.

But anyway. So there are yuppie characters in ads. But even this is in a very small set of ads. Usually for services, especially the financial sort. FMCG ads are dominated by celebrity endorsements (i.e., hippies). So are laptop ads for some bizarre reason. Confectionary ads have fantasy characters, and Fevicol actually goes so far as to show poor people. And like I said, people mostly surf away from ads, so it doesn’t really count.

So clearly the situation is grim for us yuppies. We get no representation in popular culture, and now the financial crisis is making the real world dark and depressing too. Now, we can only hope that the recent spate of yuppie suicides will mean that Sainath will give us some love. But honestly, who wants that?

PS1: I realise I’m only looking at lalas, yuppies, and hippies and ignoring poor people. But that’s pretty much because there have been no poor people in movies or on TV since the 1980s. People who watched Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and encouraged the secular trend in movies about hippie kids of lala parents, this is your fault.

PS2: Actually, even when there were poor people in the movies, they weren’t really poor. Even if they lived in chawls, rent never seemed to be a factor. Indian cinema and television is a fantasy world where everyone owns their house, no matter how poor or unemployed they are. (Insert subprime crisis/ NINJA mortgage/ Congressman Barney Frank joke here.)

PS3: Actually, there is one Hindi movie this year which has acknowledged the presence of yuppies. In fact it has covered all three stereotypes. But that will be discussed in the next post.

Another Unbottled Genie

September 20, 2008

Along with mobile banking, another sector got a little freer this week. Foreign news magazines can now publish Indian editions:

In a significant further opening up of the print media, the Union Cabinet on Thursday approved a revised policy that would allow Indian editions of foreign magazines in the news and current affairs category.

The review of print media policy permits Indian publishers entering into such agreements to include local content and carry domestic advertisements, both of which were forbidden under previous guidelines.

(Financial Express)

Because I am an impractical libertarian I will now find fault even with this welcome opening up. As the Financial Express also points out, FDI is restricted to 26%, which means that the true benefits of foreign money coming in and setting up professional news organisations will be limited. (At this point, my skeptical alter-ego intervenes and points out that what with the currrent financial crisis, and foreign media organisations not exactly sitting on mountains of cash, there wasn’t going to be a huge amount of money coming in anyway.)

Also, the requirement of five years of prior circulation of at least ten thousand copies means that if News Corp decides to launch a new magazine worldwide, they can’t do a simultaneous launch in India. Oy vey.

It’s a start, though.

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Re-engineering the IITs

August 19, 2008

Sorry, couldn’t resist that title.

Andy Mukherjee has a column about the IITs making the admission criteria public, how coaching factories are skewing the results, and how there’s no readily apparent way to get through this.

It doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said in Indian newspapers, but it puts everything together much better.

Mirror Images of Greatness

August 8, 2008

An edited version of the article below appeared in the New Indian Express today. They cut a few lines, and I prefer my own paragraph breaks, but I have to give them credit for coming up with an awesome headline. Anyhow, here’s the article in its unedited form:
Read the rest of this entry »

From His Mother’s Womb Untimely Ripp’d

June 9, 2008

While I’m in favour of Indian newspapers doing more feature stories that go more in-depth than five hundred words and two soundbites, this Mint article on Caesarean sections is not the way to go. It’s poorly researched, inconclusive, meanders all over the place, and does too much New York Times level balancing of opposing opinions, even when the opposing opinions don’t necessarily have equal relevance or weight.

I am an MBA and not an MBBS. Also, I am unlikely to ever receive a C-section (though the possibility can never be ruled out). As both a producer and consumer of C-sections, I lack experience and expertise. However:

  1. I am a smartarse who likes to call out wonky reasoning even when I know nothing about the underlying facts the reasoning is built on.
  2. I also have a personal interest in infants as sacrifices to Elder Gods and a food source.
  3. I was in Section C in IIMB and I feel this obliges me to defend all C-sections. In fact, Kodhi and me wanted to use ‘I was reborn by C Section’ as the class tshirt slogan but Bubbly shot down the idea because she thought it was too gross.
  4. Defending C-sections has the added advantage that it may piss off the Mad Momma.

Right. So here we go. First, the article. As I alluded above, it’s mostly a collection of sound-bites without any solid analysis, and so doesn’t really qualify as good feature journalism. It takes quotes from every possible party concerned, and doesn’t develop any of them. But such is life.

Then there’s confusing correlation and causation:

The burst in numbers is also inextricably linked with the advent of “corporatized” private health care in India.
Birth is big business; delivery rates vary from city to city, but a large private hospital in Delhi can earn up to Rs70,000-80,000 for a Caesarean package (including room and OT charges), whereas a normal delivery package brings in around Rs44,000, according to numbers collected by a team of doctors at Sitaram Bhartia hospital.

Yes, fine, but a Caesarean delivery would cost more than a normal delivery even at a non-corporatised hospital or clinic. The rise of corporatized health care is due to rising affluence and a preference for reliability. The preference for C-sections is also due to rising influence, as the article itself points out:

Urban Indian women are now marrying later, conceiving later in life, and having fewer children. Every child is so precious that parents are averse to taking any risk and are increasingly viewing the Caesarean as a reliable option.

Rather, the growth in C-section numbers, he says, is better explained by changing urban lifestyles, busy obstetrician schedules and the convenience of planned procedures. “Many women try to schedule Caesarean procedures on special days such as birthdays or festivals,” says Barua. On some of these days, women line up for Caesareans,” he adds.

Just because affluence leads to corporate health service, and affluence also leads to a preference for C-sections, doesn’t mean corporate health service leads to C-sections. Or vice versa.

OK, but what about the actual medical risks? Those are important too, right? Well, here the article goes into this, that, but on the other hand again:

There is no denying the fact that Caesarean sections routinely save lives. In the event of certain serious pregnancy-related complications, the surgery can be a mother or baby’s only hope. At least two studies have also shown that scheduled or “elective” C-sections—as opposed to an “emergency” Caesarean section in which a mother or child is already in distress—may even be safer than vaginal deliveries. Some scientists also argue that the procedure can help reduce the risk of problems such as incontinence in later life.

Research, however, challenges these claims, and throws light on the problems that can complicate a surgical birth. Bleeding can be severe and the surgical wound can get infected. Recovery time is weeks longer and more painful. And, after one C-section, a mother faces serious risks during her next delivery, including the chances of uterine rupture or her new baby’s placenta attaching itself to her scar.

So what we have here is a choice of risks, yes? When the mother is in distress, it’s not really a difficult decision – the risk of infection, and of not being able to control bleeding is much more easily dealt with than the risk of something far more complicated like upside-down breech babies (mentioned earlier in the article). But yep, what about next delivery risks? This study conducted in South Australia mentions them. It measures what the odds of particular illnesses or complications in a mother’s second birth are, when the first birth is a C-section. 95% of the time, the increased risk compared to a normal birth are:

  • Head not coming out first: 65% to 106% more likely
  • Placenta previa: 30% to 111% more likely
  • Hemorrhaging: 8% to 41% more likely
  • Placenta accreta: 2.28 to 864 times more likely
  • Prolonged labour: 3.91 to 8.89 times more likely
  • Low birth weight: 14% to 48% more likely
  • Emergency C-section: 8.98 to 9.67 times more likely

Which sounds scary, except for two things. First, the study itself makes a disclaimer: Cesarean delivery is associated with increased risks for adverse obstetric and perinatal outcomes in the subsequent birth. However, some risks may be due to confounding factors related to the indication for the first cesarean. In other words, the first C-section may have been caused by medical factors which also led to increased risks in the second birth. Secondly, the risks are already small: placenta accreta occurs once in every 2500 births. Even if the chance of placenta accreta goes up a 100 times, it’ll only happen 4% of the time. Not vanishingly small odds, but small enough that you can trade-off the increased risks with the comfort and security of a C-section the first time.

What about the study the article mentions? The one about increased risk of respiratory problems?

In a study reported last December in the British Medical Journal, researchers studied 34,458 live births in Denmark—of these, 2,687 were elective Caesareans—and found that C-section babies were up to four times more likely to have respiratory problems.

Here’s a link to the study in question. Elective C-section babies are four times more likely to have respiratory problems. However, when you break down the odds by when the C-section happens – it turns out that while the odds are even higher than four times if the C-section is early – when the C-section happens in the same week the natural birth would have; there is no significant difference in the risks. The study is not an argument against C-sections, but against scheduling early C-sections – which is very sensible.

What really makes me angry in the article is this quote:

“We’ve come to believe that C-sections are safe but it’s an urban myth,” says Ruth Malik, 38, who co-founded Birth India, a natural childbirth advocacy group in Mumbai, last year, after having gone through two Caesarean procedures she now believes weren’t necessary. Ruth, who recently filed a suit against her doctor in Mumbai, says: “Birth is not an illness. We don’t need a surgeon to help us have babies. It’s a natural function, it’s something our bodies simply know how to do.”

OK, safe C-sections being an urban myth is something that makes me want to scream out ‘citation needed’. Safe in what context? How safe or unsafe? Natural birth isn’t 100% safe and neither are C-sections. The question is, are they safe enough? For negligibly less safety, is a lot more convenience worth it? Why not let the mother decide?

The scary thing about the ‘nature never intended this!’ argument against C-sections is that it can go down a slippery slope. If you argue against C-sections because they were never intended by nature, you can also argue against abortions. Or pacemakers or kidney dialysis. In fact, to contact lenses and spectacles.

Readers (especially Ritwik, probably) will now rush in to point out that the slippery slope argument is absurd. There is a ‘yuck’ factor about abdominal incisions that is not there in spectacles. And pacemakers are lifesaving devices while elective C-sections are largely about convenience.

So what? Cosmetic surgery is about convenience and not lifesaving, but there are no advocacy groups against it. So is LASIK surgery for that matter. And what about ear piercing and tattooing? Those are invasive body modifications which are not necessary at all, and also come with risks of infection, but nobody sensible argues against them on the grounds that they’re unnatural. (For more comprehensive and better written articles about biological enhancement, naturalism, and dignity, read this and this)

Yes, it is sensible to make informed choices about whatever you do – take out a home loan, go driving instead of taking a bus, or getting a C-section instead of a natural delivery. But this should be based on the risks to you personally, not vague platitudes about whether it was intended by nature or not. We can trust mothers to make the right decision about whether C-sections suit them or not, without bringing in conspiracy theories about corporate healthcare, or whether caesarean sections are ‘natural’ or not.

What Happened to Republicanism?

May 31, 2008

No matter what the outcome of tonight’s semi-final is, the final will be an all monarch affair. The Rajasthan Royals will go up against one form of Kings or the other (though I’m hoping it’s the Super variety).

Is it to much to hope for a team named the Punjab Parliamentarians or the Sennai Strict Constitutionalists?

This Pwns Vajpayee’s Knee Replacement

April 9, 2008

Reuters Headline: Pope aims to heal sex abuse wounds on U.S. trip.

More toilet humour: that story also features a quote from ‘the Vatican’s number two’.

Yakov Smirnoff Lives

April 9, 2008

The New Indian Express is relaunching (which I suppose will make it the New New Indian Express). They are running an ad campaign to announce this fact. The campaign has intentionally or unintentionally become an In Soviet Russia joke. Look!

In South India...

In South India, New Indian Express reads you!

H5N1 and Raj Thackeray

February 9, 2008

This has all the makings of another headless-chicken-gate:

Without naming Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the Shiv Sena on Friday made a scathing attack, calling them “bird flu affected poultry, that has no market value”.

Referring to the recent trouble in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra by MNS, the editorial in ‘Samana’, the Sena mouthpiece said, “in an attempt to project as crusaders of Mumbai, these boys behaved in a manner that is nothing but a desperate attempt to get free publicity”.


Also, the Shiv Sena as the voice of (relative) reason? Who would have thought the day would come?

The Importance of Cities

January 22, 2008

This Indian Express anchor story on how Bihari migrants send 18 crore (180 million) rupees home through money orders every year gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. The money (heh!) quotes:

Noida’s post offices send out over Rs 36 crore a year through nearly 3.65 lakh money orders.

The rise in money orders shows the growth of Noida and its migrant population. Officials say migrant workers send 95 per cent of these.

Santosh Pradhan, who runs a paan shop in Sector 33, has been sending Rs 5,000 home every month. Noida has been good to Pradhan who has to look after a family of eight.

For a saada-paan I would get just a rupee in Bihar, whereas I sell it for Rs 4 here. The profit is more and that’s the reason my whole family is doing well now,” (emphasis mine – Aadisht) he says. Pradhan claims he has been able to repay all debts in his village and is now planning to buy some land there.

When he came to the city eight years ago, he could send only Rs 10,000 a year. Two years ago, he brought his wife and two children to the big city so that “they get better education and learn English and Maths and study among the children of rich people.”


Arising out of this:

  1. This is yet more real evidence against the widespread subconscious illusion that ‘India lives in her villages.’ The problem with that is that India makes a living in her cities, and most villagers would rather live in the cities.

  2. On that note, an Urbanisation Feeds poster on the lines of Samizdata’s Socialism Kills poster would be fun.

  3. And arising out of point 1, the whole motivation behind the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is flawed, forget the structure and the implementation. It’s easier to generate wealth in cities and then send it to villages – so what public policy should be doing is creating cities – as Atanu Dey has repeatedly been pointing out.

  4. 1.8 crore commission on 36 crores of money orders works out to 5%. SBI charges 30 rupees on a demand draft, and 0.15% on electronics funds transfer (with a minimum of Rs. 100). According to the Boston Globe article I linked yesterday, Basix charges 2%. The post office is ripping people off, but that’s because they have to cover the costs of their brick-and-mortar infrastructure. In Basix’ case, they aren’t dragging overheads around. Mobile banking matters.