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Nepal: Can Sherpas compete with North Face?

Locally manufacturered Sherpa Adventure Gear aims for elite status
Apa Sherpa, who recently won the Guinness World record for scaling Everest 21 times, says that the lack of snow on the mountain due to climate change may one day make it unclimbable. (Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)

As Nepal celebrates the 60-year “Diamond Jubilee” of the first successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 this week, Tashi Sherpa is celebrating an anniversary of his own.

Ten years ago, he was in the import-export business, when, as he was walking down the street in Manhattan, a magazine cover honoring Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Staring back at him from the cover was his uncle, Ang Gyalzen Sherpa, whom Tashi soon learned had been one of the porters on the historic expedition. Soon after, Sherpa Adventure Gear was born. 

“When I started this brand it was a tribute to all the unsung heroes of Everest, the ones who have sacrificed years and their lives making it easier for people to climb and supporting them,” Tashi said. “Essentially, we are the story.”

The word "Sherpa" has become synonymous with the word "guide" or "porter" on Mt. Everest, though it refers to an Indo-Tibetan ethnic group numbering around 150,000 in Nepal. 

More from GlobalPost: Mt. Everest: Sherpas getting a bad rap

Today, Sherpa Adventure Gear is Nepal's own answer to world famous mountaineering apparel brands like Patagonia and The North Face. And even in Kathmandu, the brand competes successfully against the Chinese knockoffs sold in the backpacker ghetto of Thamel – where a Gore-Tex shell with The North Face label costs less than a third of Tashi's made-in-Nepal originals.

Made in Nepal – because we make 80 percent of our production in Nepal – has been one of our big assets,” said Tashi. “People love the fact that we make our stuff in Nepal. We're very original, we're very authentic.” 


India: Armed and dangerous -- Update

Teenage school boy shot dead by four classmates in northern Indian state
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Indian police officers display a recovered weapon, a US-made .32 revolver and 20 rounds of Czech-made ammunition with five empty cartridge cases, during a press conference in Mumbai on June 27, 2011, which are alleged to have been used to kill a prominent Mumbai crime journalist. Indian police said they had arrested seven people for the murder of Jyotirmoy Dey and revealed that the hit was believed to have been ordered by an underworld boss. (INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

India's battle with gun violence hit another milestone over the weekend, as a group of schoolboys allegedly shot and killed a classmate in Rohtak, Haryana.

Though the alleged incident took place at a religious function, rather than on school grounds, the age of the victim and suspects recalls India's first school shooting, the 2007 killing of 14-year-old Abishek Tiagi in nearby Gurgaon.

In the latest incident, a 15-year-old Class 10 student was allegedly shot dead by four classmates during a religious function in Meham, a town about 50 miles from New Delhi, early on Sunday, CNN/IBN quotes local police as saying. 

As GlobalPost reported in India: Armed and Dangerous, schoolyard gunplay remains rare around here. But thanks to a strange coincidence of Americanization and traditional machismo brought on by rapid economic growth, India has developed a gun obsession that makes Charlton Heston look like Gandhi.


India's motivation problem: From the Kumbh Mela to the Jaipur Foot

The World Bank sees reason for hope in the 'pop-up megacity' built for the Kumbh Mela. Here's why it just confirms my despair.
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ALLAHABAD, INDIA - FEBRUARY 12: Hindu pilgrims walk across a pontoon bridge as others bathe on the banks of Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, during the Maha Kumbh Mela on February 12, 2013 in Allahabad, India. The Maha Kumbh Mela, believed to be the largest religious gathering on earth is held every 12 years on the banks of Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. The Kumbh Mela alternates between the cities of Nasik, Allahabad, Ujjain and Haridwar every three years. The Maha Kumbh Mela celebrated at the holy site of Sangam in Allahabad, is the largest and holiest, celebrated over 55 days, it is expected to attract over 100 million people. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) (Daniel Berehulak/AFP/Getty Images)

Everybody from Harvard researchers to the World Bank (not to mention the World Hindu Council) found reason for hope at this year's Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. Here's why their findings just drove me deeper into despair.

As the Financial Times points out, Onno Ruhl, the head of the World Bank in India, observed in Allahabad that the otherwise incompetent authorities of Uttar Pradesh are able to build an efficient "pop-up megacity" every three years for the massive religious festival. This year, for instance, they built a tent city for 2 million people in less than three months, "complete with hard roads, toilets, running water, electricity, food shops, garbage collection and well-manned police stations."  All things that the government has by and large failed to provide the population of its permanent cities, towns and villages over many decades.

Inspiring? To me, not so much.

The conclusion that Ruhl and others draw from this experience is that India is capable of solving its notorious infrastructure problems. But that is self-evident. Anything that America can do, India can do. The issue is not one of ability, but of will. And that's where I get depressed. India CAN solve problems, but it WON'T. And the reason is hidden in the throwaway "explanation" that the bureaucrat in charge of the project gives for its success.

"First, the authorities ensure that all those working on the project are accountable for their actions and the money they spend. Second, those involved are highly motivated," the FT cites Allahabad divisional commissioner Devesh Chaturvedi as saying.

“They feel it’s a real service to all these pilgrims who have come here, the sadhus [holy men] and the seers, so it’s a sort of mission which motivates them to work extra, despite difficult working conditions,” Chaturvedi says.

This is the same non-explanation that I have received time and again when I've visited "success stories" like the cleanup of Surat, Gujarat -- which was inspired by a bout of the plague in 1994 to reinvent itself of one of India's cleanest cities. Things happen because somebody actually cares and takes responsibility. Or, what is the more depressing flip side, apart from an occasional blip on the radar, every public activity in India is a complete and unmitigated failure because nobody cares and everybody would rather, for example, steal from the public distribution system than ensure that starving people get food.

Take the Jaipur Foot, a remarkable low-cost prosthetics project profiled in this month's Forbes India. Again, everybody from Harvard Business School on down has examined the project to see how they've managed to provide prosthetic limbs to 1.3 million people for free. But all they've been able to come up with is that it is the result of the efforts of a single man, a former bureaucrat named Devendra Raj Mehta. And now that he's getting up in years, the very real fear is that the project may well die with him.


India's hanging judge: President lays foundation for flurry of executions

Recently inducted Indian President Pranab Mukherjee has already okayed more executions than his predecessors did over 15 years -- and he's just getting started.
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All India Anti Terrorist Front (AIATF) activists shout slogans as they celebrate the execution of Mohammed Afzal Guru, in Amritsar on February 9, 2013. A Kashmiri separatist was executed Saturday over his role in a deadly attack on parliament in New Delhi in 2001, an episode that brought nuclear-armed India and Pakistan to the brink of war. (AFP/Getty Images)

With fat-frame spectacles and a cherub's face, India's president doesn't look like a bloodthirsty killer. But in his first seven months in office, he's already set the local speed record for sending prisoners to the gallows, and it looks like he may just be getting started.

According to the Times of India, Mukherjee has already presided over more executions than his predecessors managed in 15 years.

In November 2012, Mukherjee quietly okayed the secret dawn execution of convicted Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab, caught on camera during the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Earlier this month, he approved the secret dawn hanging of convicted Kashmiri terrorist Afzal Guru, who was convicted of plotting the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament based primarily on a confession made in police custody. On Thursday, Mukherjee reportedly rejected the mercy pleas of four associates of the famous bandit Veerappan -- clearing the way for the execution of the men, who were convicted of killing 22 people, including policemen, in a landmine blast in 1993. And there are reportedly eight more convicts whose mercy pleas are pending.

Human rights activists have condemned the executions that have already been carried out on moral grounds, disputing the government's right to kill its citizens for any reason. But whatever your views on the death penalty, the timing and manner of these hangings is deeply troubling. 

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Like? Unfriend? Message? At one homeless shelter, New Delhi street kids use Facebook to live vicariously -- with invented identities. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Weird wide web?  Definitely.

The Globe and Mail's Stephanie Nolen reports that India's savvy street kids have taken to Facebook to make new friends -- and new identities.

Yep. It sounds like a scam. But it's not. These are ambitious young homeless kids with big dreams. And they're practicing on Facebook. Here's Nolen:


Inside Baseball: Why Nandy's mistake matters

An Indian sociologist's remarks on caste and corruption should shine a light on stereotypes
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Mad or what? Sociologist ignited a firestorm by suggesting that India's lower castes are responsible for most of the country's corruption. (AFP/Getty Images)

When the inside baseball of Indian politics makes it to the pages of the New York Times and the website of the New Yorker, it's time to weigh in. Leaving the background to the hyperlinks, here's my take:

Indian sociologist Ashis Nandy's remarks at Jaipur, and his later clarification, are not important simply because the attempt to prosecute him for insulting Indians from lower castes represents yet another attack on freedom of speech in the name of “sensitivity,” as Manu Joseph aptly lampoons in the New York Times and Basharat Peer ably explains for the New Yorker.

The main issue is the content of his statement, which sneakily confirms as “fact” a widely held public perception for which there is no hard evidence, and, in truth, seems patently false based on common sense.

The statement in question?

“It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes and as long as this is the case, Indian republic will survive.”

Much has been made of the context for that statement, which you can read in full here. But in my reading of it nothing undercuts the essential assertion.

Nandy is sincere and sympathetic. He is saying that the corruption of India's lower castes is justified, even desirable. And Nandy admits that corruption of a kind is common among the elites. But it's interesting, to say the least, that he compares the assistance of an old boys' network in getting into Oxford or Harvard to the “millions of rupees” amassed by “the only unrecognized billionaire in India today” Madhu Koda – which were allegedly earned through illegal manipulation of the mining laws and perhaps selling his support, by turns, to the Bharatiya Janata Party and later the Congress. (So much for the context).

Nevertheless, whether Nandy means well or not is immaterial. So is whether or not he suffers from some unwitting prejudices, even as he thinks he is being radical. The most important thing here is that he claims something as “fact” for which he offers no evidence and that he cannot support. Namely, he says that most of the corruption in India can now be attributed to the lower castes, which comprise the mid-level Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and the formerly untouchable Dalits or Scheduled Castes. (Yes, there's also the Scheduled Tribes, but only so much inside baseball for one blog post).

This is a widely held perception that I suggest is based solely on a handful of high-profile prosecutions: the notorious “fodder scam” case against Bihar's Lalu Prasad Yadav, the “Taj corridor scam” case against Uttar Pradesh's Kumari Mayawati and, more recently, the “2G telecom spectrum scam” case against former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja.

That's called “believing is seeing” – you only process the evidence that suits your preconceptions, if you bother with evidence at all.  Surely there were corruption cases against high-caste Indians as well.  And if they didn't generate as much heat, one might say with equal authority that Mayawati & co were targeted for serious criminal investigations, and the others ignored, precisely because of their respective castes.


Pakistan: Coup likely averted with fresh election date, opposition backing

Surprisingly resilient Zardari may make history by completing his full term.
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Supporters of Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri wave flags on the third day of the protest rally in Islamabad on January 16, 2013. Pakistan's opposition parties on Wednesday backed the government against any "extra-constitutional changes," and the government announced it will hold fresh elections on May 15, likely staving off any threat of a soft coup engineered by the military. (AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan's opposition parties agreed to back the government against any “extra-constitutional changes” to prevent the country from holding elections this spring and the government announced Pakistan will go to the polls on May 15 – developments that will likely prevent the army from engineering a “soft coup,” if that was indeed ever on the cards.


India: Is the justice system broken?

Rampant human rights violations, dismal conviction rates, skyrocketing crime, and nearly 400,000 inmates in prison--only a third of whom have actually been convicted. Justice, Indian style.
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Is India's justice system broken? Its prisons house nearly 400,000 inmates, only about a third of whom have ever been convicted of a crime. And more than 1,000 have spent five years in jail without ever seeing the inside of a court. (AFP/Getty Images)

A wag once remarked that a trip through the Indian court system is as near to experiencing eternity as a living soul can get. But it's not just slow. Despite well-written laws and legions of well-intentioned cops, lawyers, judges, and activists, the Indian justice system is abusive, arbitrary, and above all ineffective.

In short, it's badly broken. And the only answer that seems to gain any traction is to make it tougher, or more arbitrary.  

The current arguments run that the death penalty to be meted out to rapists, or that juveniles should be tried as adults, or, as a cop friend pointed out, that the police must be freed from petty concerns about human rights, to strike fear of law and order into the hearts of criminals.

But consider some stats put together this week by the Wall Street Journal's Real Time blog, as part of a seris on the justice system.


India's rape protests reflect disenchantment with democracy

Indians feel betrayed by a democratic system that has entrenched extortion of its citizens, argues Prem Shankar Jha
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Anti-rape protests in New Delhi, following the vicious gang rape of a 23-year-old student, reflected a growing disenchantment with India's failing democracy, argues Prem Shankar Jha. (AFP/Getty Images)

They weren't really protesting against rape, Prem Shankar Jha argues in a persuasive and thought-provoking column in Tuesday's Hindu.  They were really protesting extortion.


"Barring a few lapses, the Central and State governments acted promptly, and with commendable efficiency," Jha writes. "The Delhi police captured the alleged rapists within hours and the government spared no expense in its attempt to save her life."

So why were people so angry?

"The answer is that the rape acted as the trigger for an older, and deeper, anger in people — one that has been smouldering for years in their hearts. This stems from a profound sense of betrayal. Democracy was meant to empower them. Instead, in a way that few of them understand even today, it has done the exact opposite."

I'm not entirely convinced. But as I wrote in my article on the protests, it does seem clear that anger over violence against women dovetailed with disgust over corruption and the government's many failures in service delivery.

More importantly, Jha draws out some interesting observations in arguing his point.

(1) Indians aren't mad about bribery, they're mad about extortion

Every Indian worth his salt has paid a bribe to get preferential treatment. But extortion isn't voluntary.

"It requires no contract; no negotiation; and therefore no element of consent. It is a simple exercise of brute power by an employee or representative of the state over the citizen. Its commonest form is to deny the citizen the services to which he is entitled until he agrees to make a ‘private’ payment to the functionary in whom the power of the state is vested. Every act of extortion is a fresh reminder to the citizen of his or her impotence. This becomes complete if he or she is denied redress for the abuse of power."

(2) Democracy hasn't empowered the people

"One set of figures illustrates the impunity with which civil servants can break the law. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s annual report Crime in India 2007, between 2003 and 2007 citizens filed 282, 384 complaints of human rights abuses against the police. Of these only 79,000 were investigated; only 1,070 policemen were brought to trial and only 264 — less than one in a thousand — were convicted."


India: Life of Pi, a touch of frivolous whimsy

Here's why I haven't seen Ang Lee's latest, and don't plan on it.
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Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (R) and Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (2nd R) pose next to cast members during a photocall to present his film 'A Royal Affair' (En Kongelig AffÊre ) at the Berlinale International film festival on February 16, 2012 in Berlin. The film was nominated in the Best Foreign Film category for the 2013 Oscars. (GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Booker choice all at sea
Life of Pi, By Yann Martel.

By Jason Overdorf
(This book review appeared the Far Eastern Economic Review in November 2002).

LIFE OF PI, the winner of the 2002 Man Booker Prize, is a delightful little book--and I mean that in the worst possible way. Author Yann Martel and the British-based committee that chose the winning book made much of the novel's supposed religious overtones. But Martel's claim that this is a book that will make you believe in God, or at least question why you don't, is a gross exaggeration.

Life of Pi is no Moby Dick. By choosing to award the Commonwealth and Ireland's highest literary prize to Life of Pi, the Man Booker committee has rewarded the most irritating characteristic of contemporary literary writing: whimsy.

The plot summary is itself discouraging. A young Indian boy, Piscine Molitor Patel--named after a Parisian swimming pool--cutely adopts Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. A shipwreck strands him on a lifeboat in the Pacific with a 205-kilogram Bengal tiger. Relying on nothing but his wits and an amusingly frank survival guidebook, "Pi" must find a way to collect water and catch fish. Pi must also tame the tiger, which has its own name to inspire a collective groan, Richard Parker (which was also the name of a victim in a notorious case of cannibalism at sea in the 1870s).

Reviewers and publicists have described this story as a boys' adventure for grown-ups and as a fable of magical realism. But it lacks the seriousness to rank among either. Because the tale is told tongue in cheek--precluding readers' suspension of disbelief--it fails as a boys' adventure story. Nor does the novel have the historical sweep and philosophical depth on which magical realism depends. Life of Pi gives you the feeling the author is just fooling around. Moreover, and this is its worst failing, Pi's sojourn in the lifeboat--with no speaking companions--feels about 50 days too long.