WORLD INTHAVAARAM, 2021–44

About: the world this week, 24 October to 30 October 2021, lighting-up a festival, two unfriendly countries face-off in sport, trying to butterfly a ‘meta’morphosis, and a Princess cherishes her love and marries to become a commoner.

Fabindia is an Indian chain store retailing garments, fabrics, furnishings, and ethnic handmade products of traditional craftsmen in rural India. Established in 1960, Fabindia operates near about 327 stores across India and 14 international stores.

With the Hindu Festival Season of Diwali approaching, Fabindia wanted to try on some new costumes and sewed-up an advertisement to pay ‘homage to Indian culture’- it said so. Models showed them off and we watched. It named the collection ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’ — an Urdu phrase that means ‘celebration of tradition’.

But the celebration generated outrage in culturally sensitive India, on giving an Urdu name, rather than a Hindi one, to the collection. Further, the female models in the advertisement were not wearing the traditional colourful bindi — a dot — that a Hindu woman normally wears on her forehead. Some even thought that Diwali was being stolen — lock, stock, and barrel. Sensing the mood and not wanting to further tear into the Hindu fabric, Fabindia quickly sewed-up and smoked out the advertisement.

Urdu is a language which has its origins in India and is recognised in the Constitution as one of the country’s official languages. Some of India’s most celebrated poems and love songs are written in Urdu. Yet in recent years its use has become increasingly politicised in the public domain, often decried as the ‘Muslim’ language of the rival, neighbouring Islamic country of Pakistan.

Many religious boundaries are invisible, and we need to wear special laser glasses to find them. Certain risks are not worth taking. Let them be!

This week the spotlight is on social media giant, Facebook, which also owns Instagram — the photo and video sharing platform, and WhatsApp — the instant messaging and voice-over-Internet Protocol (well, simply, talking) Application.

Facebook, has been in the news over the past year(s), and quite some time back too, all for the wrong reasons: violating user privacy, selling user data, and making tons of paper with those famous faces printed on them telling and promising you their worth. Most of us were confused on what exactly was happening.

Finally, the pages are turning in the book of Facebook and even the paper is being felt by hand, while the company itself is attempting a makeover by doing the name-change thing. What next, Heartlook, or Mindhook?

An ex-employee Product Manager of Facebook, Frances Haugen, turned into a whistle-blower and she’s blowing a lot of heat and dust, which is being carried by the wind to all parts of the world. And Facebook is scurrying to mask its face.

A clearer picture of how Facebook was vividly aware of its harmful effects came to light, both at Frances Haugen’s testimony in front of the British Parliament and through a series of reports based on internal documents that she leaked, called ‘The Facebook Papers.’ And a collection of news organisations published stories based on the thousands of these documents, after working through them.

The reading is that Facebook puts ‘growth over safety,’ particularly in developing areas of the world where the company does not have language or cultural expertise to regulate content without fostering division among users. Facebook has a ‘strategy’ of only slowing down harmful content when ‘the crisis has begun,’ deploying its ‘glass break measures’ instead of making the platform ‘safer as it happens.’ The ongoing ethnic violence in Ethiopia and Myanmar was mentioned as an example: the ‘opening chapters of a novel that is going to be horrific to read.’ — drink the juices to the bottom and then break the glass?

To summarise, here is what we learnt: Facebook fails to moderate harmful content in developing countries; it’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm fails to accurately detect dangerous content in non-English languages; Facebook labeled election misinformation as ‘harmful, non-violating’ content; Facebook was aware that maids were being sold on its platform in the case when Filipina maids complained of being abused and sold: internal documents show that Facebook admitted it was ‘under-enforcing on confirmed abusive activity’.

Facebook internally debated removing the Like button in 2019. It examined how people would interact with content if it no longer had a Like feature on Instagram, suggesting that the company was aware that this feature could have a negative impact on well-being. According to documents, the Like button had sometimes caused the platform’s youngest users ‘stress and anxiety’ if the posts didn’t get many likes from friends-but when hidden, users interacted less with posts and advertisements, and it failed to alleviate social anxiety as they thought it might. Facebook hasn’t made Instagram safer for children as the company knows ‘young users are the future of the platform and the earlier they get them, the more likely they’ll get them hooked.’

Wow, that’s a whole book coming up. Perhaps a name change might trick us into forgetting the face… and reading many more books of the past?

Facebook has perhaps hit the ‘Dislike Button’ on a certain kind of lawlessness in our social fabric, which we are unable to figure out, but given a face by Facebook. And it seems to be making the best of it — let’s face it — liking and thriving. One of my favourite Western Novels is Oliver Strange’s, ‘Sudden: The Marshall of Lawless’, where a former outlaw turned law-keeper — Sudden- brings to book a lawless Town called Lawless. Let’s call Sudden to Marshall Facebook?Jim Green wears ’em two guns strung low on the thighs and fires at blazing speed from the hip.

Towards the end of this week, founder Mark Zuckerberg, found his voice, showed his face, lifted an alphabet from the Google book, and rebranded the holding company as ‘Meta’ — with a blue infinity symbol — meaning beyond. The mother chicken is called Meta while the chicks under its wings, such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp…hold on to their original names.

Who remembers the mother anyway, with the chicks around? Google, we remember all the time, but Alphabet? Strange indeed are the winds of change. Reminds me of the often used Chinese way of explaining change, ’same same, but different’.

Royal families all over the World sit upon rich thrones of wealthy traditions, which rather than make meaningful change, they keep alive, scrupulously following them for fear of losing their identity, ‘royalness’, and for reasons we may never really know. Guardians of ‘wealthy’ traditions?

In Japan, female members of the Imperial Family are not allowed to marry a commoner and if they choose to do so they forfeit their royal status and title, and become an ordinary citizen. Male royal members have household names and female royals only have titles. Further, Japanese law requires married couples to use only one surname, almost always the husband’s.

The current Emperor of Japan is Naruhito who has just one child — a daughter. The male-only succession tradition of the Japanese Royal Family leaves the Emperor’s younger brother, Prince Akishino — declared heir to the Throne and Crown Prince- and his son, Prince Hisahito, in line for Japan’s Royal Chrysanthemum Throne.

This week, Princess Mako, the first child and eldest daughter of Prince Akishino married a commoner, Kei Komuro, who she said had won over her heart with ‘his bright smiles like the sun’. She will now be simply know as Mako Komuro.

Mako skipped the usual rites associated with a royal wedding, and turned down a traditional payment of about USD 1.3 million given to a female member of the imperial family upon their departure from the household. It was another break from tradition, as Mako became the first woman to do so.

Mako and Komuro had met five years earlier when they were both university students, and shared their plans to get married, the following year.

The former princess initially followed royal tradition and attended the elite Gakushuin School, where members of the Japanese imperial family usually study. But she broke with custom by leaving and joining Tokyo’s International Christian University, where she studied art and cultural heritage, and spent a year at the University of Edinburgh. Later, she earned a master’s degree at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.

The Newly-Weds are expected to move to the United States, where Komuro works as a lawyer. The move has drawn comparisons with British royals Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, earning the newlyweds the nickname ‘Japan’s Harry and Meghan’.

Before the couple got to this stage there were media reports of fishy money dealings in the Komuro family, but Mako stood by Komuro saying the reports were incorrect. There was another ‘tale’ added when Komuro return to Japan sporting a pony-tail and the media saying he was unfit to marry the princess. Whatever, the pony-tail got chopped off at the Wedding and they indeed made a handsome couple.

“Kei is irreplaceable for me,” gushed the Princess. “For us, marriage is a necessary choice to live while cherishing our hearts.”

Mako is expected to remain in Tokyo for some time preparing for the move, which includes applying for the first passport of her life.

I admire the princess for giving up her royal status for the love of her life: that makes her more royal than ever!

The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Men’s T20 (a match of twenty overs each for the two sides) World Cup 2021, which is held every two years, is underway in the United Arab Emirates. It started on 17 October 2021 and is scheduled to end on 14 November 2021.

Six T20 World Cup tournaments have so far been played: the last Tournament was held in 2016 and there were delays on the start of the next Tournament, which was further amplified by the pandemic. And here we are at the seventh edition.

The inaugural T20 World Cup was staged in South Africa, and won by India — defeating Pakistan in the Finals. The current title holder is the West Indies who beat England in the 2016 Finals and claimed their second Title win. We have had five champions from the six tournaments: India, Pakistan, SriLanka, West Indies, and England.

This Sunday traditional arch rivals India and Pakistan played each other, in their opening game, and India lost, which generated all kinds of extreme reactions in many parts of the country, with religion being bowled — spin, googly, and fast — and smashed across the media, in addition to showing knee-support to the Black Lives Matter Movement. Many argued that other issues such as the Kashmir Pandits being targeted in killings in Kashmir should have taken a better knee. That’s a pot-boiler in one match!

I would always support my National Team as they represent us in the sporting arena. And find it disgustful that some in India supported and celebrated the Pakistan win — standing on the podium of religion. Religion should have no place in sport. The way I look at it, do admire the talent of a player of another country and enjoy his performance, but when the National Team plays we should alway be behind them, cheering them on to beat the best talent of the opposition. In the process we grow and become better — on the playing ground and maybe off it too!

More uncommon princess stories coming up in the weeks ahead and about breaking and keeping traditions. Grow with World Inthavaaram.

Happy Diwali — be the light that you want to be!

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Kumar Govindan

Once an Engineer, now a Make-in-India Entrepreneur; Wordsmith; Blogger; maybe a Farmer!