Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Law Breaker

Anjali Gopalan won the battle against India’s homophobes this year
by Elizabeth Flock | Dec 26, 2009

Read it at Forbes

She is: The founder of the Naz Foundation
Work: Has given HIV positive people a chance to live with dignity through Naz
Big day: Campaigned for homosexuality to be decriminalised in India. After eight years, she achieved a victory when the court said the law did not extend to consenting sex between adults

Anjali Gopalan has been thrown out of court, out of women’s groups, and out of NGOs for children. She’s been told she’s not gay or lesbian and so homosexual harassment wasn’t her problem; that she was wasting her time working in the fields of HIV and AIDS; and that condoms weren’t necessary.
Eight long years were spent challenging the Section 377 of the Indian penal code, which had been used by the police to go after same sex behaviour among consenting adults. As a result, Gopalan received threats from people around the world bearing the same message: You’re destroying the fabric of society.

“Anyone else would have given up. But she has this incredible persistence, and she took up the case on behalf of the organisation,” says Anuradha Mukherjee, who left a 13-year-long stint at the Center for Advocacy and Research to become programme manager at Gopalan’s organisation, the Naz Foundation.

“With Anjali, even when what she says goes against what many others say, somehow, eventually everyone finds that they agree,” says Mukherjee.

It was 1994 when a man came into Gopalan’s office in Delhi and abandoned his HIV-infected nephew there, saying there was nothing he could do for him; Gopalan’s response — “Well, this is it, now we start a care home.” And so was born

Friday, December 18, 2009

Phoenix Rising

A year after 26/11, the Taj Mahal Hotel is not just reclaiming a past, but also creating a new identity — room by room
by Elizabeth Flock | Dec 11, 2009

Read it at Forbes

When terrorists entered the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower heritage wing and sprayed the grand staircase with gun fire, the Sea Lounge and Ballroom on either side were devastated. In the centre of the staircase, the iconic hotel’s founder Jamsetji Tata looked on stiffly. But throughout the entire ordeal, the marble bust of the man remained unscathed.

“If you had seen what the place looked like, you would not have believed it,” says Ajoy Misra, senior vice president, sales and marketing at Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), Taj’s parent group. “There are many legends among the staff that Tata is the protector and preserves the Taj. The bust adds to that legend.”

While Tata’s bust was left untouched, most of the rest of the Palace heritage wing was decimated on 26/11 and the days after. The hotel that had withstood a great earthquake in the early 1900s, a fire and bomb in the port areas in the early 1940s, and acted as a hospital during the First World War could not withstand this sort of attack.

Historic Moorish and Florentine architecture, hundred-year-old and 1960s art deco design, as well as notable artworks were damaged beyond recognition. The country’s first licensed bar, first Sichuan restaurant, and most iconic sushi joint were badly hit. The art deco ballroom, elaborate suites given to top industrialists and heads of state, and the sixth floor that housed the general manager, too, were burned or otherwise destroyed.

The Taj senior management’s first reaction:

Blades of Glory

From Switzerland to Colaba, the Swiss Army Knife has come a long way
by Elizabeth Flock | Dec 1, 2009

Read it at Forbes

Open a beer bottle. File your nails. Even tighten a screw. The Swiss Army Knife, born 125 years ago from one man’s nationalism, has since been widely used by armed forces, boy scouts and the common man alike. Celebrated for its ability to function in a hundred different situations, a single knife tool soon evolved to include a screwdriver, magnifying glass, and some ten other tools. Today, one avatar includes an MP3 player, USB flash drive, digital altimeter, LED light, and digital clock.

That’s a far cry from where the knife started. Before World War I, a lowly surgical equipment maker in Switzerland, Karl Elsener, found out that the Swiss army’s pocket knives were made in Germany. Elsener’s patriotism was offended and he decided to manufacture his own from Switzerland. He chucked out many of his original models until he found a spring mechanism — the pivot point — which allowed double the tools to fit inside that just nine centimetre-long red handle. The first knife had a wooden handle, large blade, screwdriver, can opener, and reamer. The Swiss armed forces loved it.

When Elsener’s mother Victoria died two decades later, he decided to name the company that soon manufactured not just knives but also travel gear, cutlery, and watches, after her. And because the knives were made of stainless steel, or ‘inox’, the company was aptly christened: Victorinox. The knife itself originally had a name that was much harder to pronounce — Schweizer Offizier Messer. US soldiers couldn’t say it, and simplified its name to just the Swiss Army Knife.

When World War II rolled around, the knife became a turncoat. Elsener found himself