“Millions of Iraqis Vote in Relative Peace,” says a news headline. President Bush and the American newspapers are busy congratulating themselves for having brought democracy to the Middle East. This notion that Americans are loudly proclaiming—that without them Middle-Eastern societies are incapable of democracy—is an insidious lie.

In 1951 Mohammed Mossadegh won an election to become prime minister of Iran. He was very popular and was progressive and secularist. However, he nationalized Iran’s oil industry. The British government did not like that and blockaded the Persian Gulf with its ships to prevent Iran from exporting any of its own oil, and also urged the American government to engineer a coup to oust him. America obliged. America’s CIA and Britain’s MI6 funded a campaign to oust Mossadegh from power. The CIA allocated $1 million specifically to oust Mossadegh. Thus Britain and America snuffed out the growth of secular democracy in Iran in the early 1950s. Robbing Iran’s oil was more important to them.

Arul Francis, San Francisco, Calif.



I read Radhika Kumar’s article (“A Window Open Doors,” IC, November 2005) with a great deal of interest. With the mortality rate that existed six or seven decades ago in India, and early marriages, becoming widowed at a young age was fairly common. Many of those women who shouldered the responsibilities of raising a family were indeed living lives infused with a strong sense of duty. Kumar’s grandmother’s story serves to represent the strength of these countless women and the simple courage that guided their lives.

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan, Fremont, Calif.



I truly enjoyed Radhika Kumar’s article (“A Window Open Doors,” IC, November 2005) describing her family saga and the courageous stand her grandmother took not to have her head shaved in the Ootacamund ceremony when her husband died prematurely, and she was left to care for her children.

As a Westerner who loves India and who has visited three times, there was one occasion when I spent 12 days at the Herakhan Ashram in northern India in 1983. People were getting mundan—having their heads shaved. I was scared to do it, very scared, not even knowing why I was so scared. One reason was because I was getting married upon my return to the United States. It was because I was so scared that I finally decided to face my fear. I learned so much about myself in the process. First, having my head shaved immediately took away the vanity that most women have about their hair, especially Westerners. I felt very vulnerable being so exposed. However, hair grows back. When I got off the plane in the United States, my husband-to-be was appalled and immediately took me to a store to buy a wig. But I only wore it to the wedding, and now that I don’t have the husband, I can laugh about that. My experience with mundan was life-changing.

Congratulations to Kumar’s grandmother, and also to herself, and her daughter, Anjali, who is now a surgeon in Oakland.

Judith Bloch, via email



The mundan ceremony at the Herakhan Ashram that Bloch describes sounds very similar to the ones at Thirupathi in South India. We take our toddlers to Thirupathi for their mottai, or mundan ceremony in gratitude for their birth and with prayerful hope for their lifelong health. Adult devotees go to shave their heads as fulfillment of their covenants with God—the hair is a solemn offering of gratitude and, as Bloch perceptively observes, a sacrifice of their vanity.

However, lifelong tonsure for a Brahmin widow of my grandmother’s generation was more scapegoating than sacrifice. It was choiceless, compulsory, and continuous. The tonsure was done to stigmatize the woman as a widow and force her to remain recused. Paradoxically, the tradition forced widows to come in contact with barbers or men they would never have encountered had they not lost their husbands. A barber would come every few months to shave the stubble off the widow’s head. Some of these men were not above groping the helpless women, several of whom were child-widows, or young like my grandmother. By eschewing the barber my grandmother ensured that no man came near her except her husband and sons. Yet society vilified her for not adhering to tradition.

Radhika Kumar, Federal Way, Wash.



I am writing this letter as a public service to unsuspecting IT professionals contemplating a move to an Indian company.

Here is the scenario: you are 40-plus, you have children (maybe two) who are in elementary school, and you are an IT specialist. Your job has been offshored to Bangalore and you are contemplating an offer from one of the Indian Big Four companies—TCS, Infosys, WIPRO, or Satyam. It looks pretty good … you see visions of moving back to India, the smell of food you ate growing up comes wafting through the door, you picture nice evenings chit-chatting with relatives. My friends, beware! It is not all that rosy.

After almost 20 years of working for American corporations I took the bold step of entering one of the Big Four, except that I was hired here in California as an onsite employee, and did not move to India.

Here are my observations about Indian companies:

1. You need to be young and flexible—they call it fungible. I hate that word! Sounds like you have to be a fungus to survive! Ugh!

2. You must have a stomach for rudeness in the workplace. It passes off as Indian warmth and friendliness. Excuse me, but this sort of rudeness I will not even tolerate from my wife of 20 years!

3. Be prepared for internal meetings to start after the boss arrives five minutes late even though he was politely reminded by his pet about the meeting.

4. Do you have a novel idea you would like to bring up in a meeting? Be prepared for the idea to be shot down rudely and then reappear in a PowerPoint presentation by one of your (warm and friendly) colleagues.

5. You are an American citizen, comfortable with the customs and mores of your adopted country. Very good. One minor detail … you are still the same color as your fellow Indians and it would have helped if you were white! Yes, reverse discrimination is what you will face here. I have had conversations where the (Indian) sales guy actually thought he could win the deal if he took a white guy along!

Caveat emptor! Enjoy the pani puri from the hygienic cart.
Vidura, Sunnyvale, Calif.



The U.S. intelligence director, in conjunction with the State Department decides to revamp the Cold War funding of certain foreign languages for Americans. Goal: to secure a supply of foreign-language trained Americans for a range of duties from spying to translation, and from government work to academic surveillance of foreign suspects and activities. The idea is to study the “other”—a very important activity that Indians don’t understand. Read their announcement and it’s clear. There is nothing wrong with doing this, and it is to be expected of any large superpower concerned about external threats.

Then read the Indian media, which frame this news as an indicator of how much Americans love Hindi!

Rajiv Malhotra, via email

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