Posts for category ‘radio’

Interview on NHPR: Word of Mouth
| March 25, 2010 | 2:32 pm

This month Mother Jones published a story of mine about surrogate mothers in India. Today I New Hampshire Public Radio interviewed me about the article on their show “Word of Mouth.” Listen to the interview here

I’ll post a link to the story in Mother Jones once they post it online. In the meanwhile you can check it out on newsstands across the country.

Two Radio Appearances for Adoption Story
| March 13, 2009 | 3:28 am

The response to “Meet the Parents: The Dark Side of Overseas Adoption” has been overwhelming. People from all over the world have been writing in expressing their support for Nageshwar Rao and Sivagama and wishing for a positive ending. Several people have pledged money, and an adoption agency in New Mexico has offered to help with legal services. I saw Nageshwar Rao and Sivagama two days ago and they were very happy that the story had come out, but were still very sad that they have had no contact with the family in America. “We just want them to call,” he told me again.

In the next week I’m going to post an update on Mother Jones about the case and show how the adoption agency in Amercia has been invovled in several questionable adoptions here in Chennai. In 1999 an adoption agent in this city is said to have been involved in as many as 20 similar cases. These children are presumably all across America.

In the meanwhile, I’ve done two radio appearances that you might enjoy listening to.

The first, was on Here and Now, a nationally syndicated program across the United States that devoted a full half-hour to the topic.

The second, was a shorter (and unfortunately, less coherent) piece that aired on Free Speech Radio News.

(photo: funkypancake @ flickr)

Back to India for the Children of Immigrants
| March 6, 2008 | 3:58 am
Preetha Narayanan moved back to India for a year and a half on a scholarship.

Thousands of Indians born in America have found a new home in the land that their parents abandoned. This week for NPR I reported on a new trend among second generation Indians to return to India in search of opportunity. Part of the draw is that Indians born and raised in the states often feel conflicted over their identities–on one hand they feel like they feel set apart from the American mainstream, while on the other they aren’t sure how well they they fit into India, either. Inevitably, when they move to India, many in the second generation find that they have more in common with other Americans than they do with local people. And some people, find that disheartening.

But there are some clear advantages to moving. In addition to new visa schemes like the PIO and OCI cards that allow people to cross borders and work without too much government hassle, returning Indians also find that they can seriously advance their career. S. Mitra Kalita, a newspaper editor at Mint in Delhi, says that simply moving to India threw her into the ranks of senior management almost immediately. It would have taken her years to get to the same position working at newspapers back home.

And it’s not just the second generation moving back. I’m increasingly meeting people here in Chennai and Bangalore who have been educated in the United States and even worked there for a few years who have decided that moving back makes a lot of sense. In the 1970s and 1980s most people assumed that moving to America would lock them into the west–returning wasn’t even on the table. Now, it seems, many people are able to bridge both worlds.

Here’s the story on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=87884391

Can a tattoo stop a bullet?
| November 13, 2007 | 12:50 pm

Today NPR is running a story a trip I took to Thailand last week where I searched out several famous tattoo artists who have mastered the art of Sak-Yant. The tattoos they put on people’s back are said to be able to stop bullets. At the end of one interview with Ajarn Sua blessed me. Then he took out a standard issue box cutter and started slashing away at my arm saying that his blessing had protected me from harm. When I left there were lots of cat-like scratches on my arm, but no blood.

Click here to listen to the NPR story

Click here for more photos

For centuries Thai soldiers have covered their bodies in protective tattoos called Sak Yant. Today, the ancient ritual is booming and thousands of people, in Thailand and beyond, are flocking to master artists to have the powerful designs inked on their bodies.

The Wat Bang Pra Buddhist temple, about 30 miles west of Bangkok, is one of the most highly esteemed locations for Sak Yant. Dozens of monks and master artists, who have spend years perfecting the art, can be found there.

One afternoon, a group of men – many already covered head to toe with tattoos — discuss, in the courtyard, how best to use the canvas of their skin. The dirty, dilapidated campus, covered with cobwebs, may not immediately invoke an aura of prestige, but these Sak Yant devotees are less interested in the buildings than the designs that will soon cover their bodies. Many have traveled from far reaches of Thailand. A tattoo from this temple, they say, can protect them from danger or even death.

Chakkrapad Romkaew, one of the devotees, says that his first tattoo altered his outlook on the world, made him braver and encouraged him to become a soldier. His back is covered in elaborate geometric patterns and Buddhist prayers. In a week he’s being sent to the south of Thailand as part of an anti-terrorist squad. He wants to get another tattoo so, he says, he will be more fully protected before the bullets begin to fly.

“There are so many dangers waiting down there,” he says. “Before I got a tattoo, I never wanted to be a soldier. But when they got into my skin, my desire to be a soldier got stronger.”

The Process

Master artist Ajarn Sua prepares to place a tattoo on the young soldier by sharpening a two-foot-long needle. Often, the tattoo is simply a series of dots created when the needle passes through the skin. After the pattern has been drawn, the monks rub ink into the wound and say a prayer to empower the charm hidden inside the tattoo.

There are hundreds of traditional designs, many of which revolve around animal figures. One of the most powerful, according to the tradition, is a tiger that spans the whole of a person’s lower back. An unprepared person can suddenly find that their whole life is turned around after being inked, a monk named Suntotn Prapagaroe explains.

“If a person has a tiger spirit, he will act like a tiger. He cannot control himself, the spirit controls him,” Prapagaroe says. “He will spread his hand like this, and roar.”

Although the tattoos may ultimately protect believers from suffering, pain is an inherent part of the process.

“It’s like being jabbed by a needle a thousand times,” says Paul Davies, a British Internet entrepreneur who also has come to the Wat Bang Pra temple for a tattoo.

Modern Technologies

Not all Sak Yant masters rely on the traditional needle methods. The master Ajarn Sua, who has a studio just north of Bangkok, says that a number of people coming to him for tattoos have urged him to adopt the electric tattoo needle.

Modernization does not necessarily mean canceling out tradition, however. After inking one man’s back, Sua places his hand over the man’s face and forces his head backwards. He draws a ritual knife across his neck and then stabs him lightly in the back.

“No person with this tattoo will ever be hurt by bullets or knives,” he says.

The Parlor to the Stars

Although Sak Yant has existed for thousands of years, it began to expand in new directions several years ago due to one extremely famous devotee: Angelina Jolie. In 2004, the actress flew to Bangkok to meet with venerated tattoo master Ajarn Noo Kanphai, who placed a large tiger on her lower back — and a string of Thai script on her left shoulder.

Ajarn Noo’s studio — known as the parlor to the stars — contrasts sharply with the Wat Bang Pra temple. Simple worn walls are replaced with photos of high rolling Thai celebrities and American CEOs. One recent afternoon, two well-known Thai comedians and an actor from the Cannes film hit Om Bhat waited for designs.

Tattoos, Kanphai says, can give a person courage to face the difficulties of their life. They can multiply wealth and protect from harm. “Many people have come to me with drug problems, but after I give them a tattoo, the problems go away,” he says. A tattoo can really change your life.”

Vannakkum You’re on Rainbow
| August 7, 2007 | 1:22 pm


I love the radio in Chennai. When I’m driving around the city I always tune into FM rainbow and listen to a daily game show called Aantakshri. The game is really simple. One caller starts singing a few bars of a song. They stop and then repeat the last sound from the last line of the song. The second caller starts singing some other song that starts with that last sound. It’s sort of like musical chairs, but with singing.

A few weeks ago I convinced the good people at NPR that it would be a good idea to let me play parts of the show on American national radio. I interviewed the show’s host and a couple other people around the city about why a show like that would become so popular. I also dropped in on a sound studio in the Amirami Mega Mall in Purusawakkam that lets people come in off the street and get a a quarter of an hour of studio time to hear themselves sing. I took some photos of the sound booth, it’s pretty professional, check it out.

The show aired today all across the United States. If you missed it you can download it off the NPR website here. One word of caution for the Tamil purists who read this blog: when I was setting up the sound for the piece I didn’t have any popular Tamil music on my computer, so the background music is all Hindi.

Dadua Slain. Is Banditry on the Wane?
| July 27, 2007 | 12:41 am
The only known picture of Dadua

I did a short interview for NPR yesterday on the last stand of the feared bandit Dadua in Uttar Pradesh last week. Special forces surrounded the dacoits position and lobbed grenades at him and ten of his armed colleagues.

I’m interested in doing some more research on banditry in India. Unlike the various revolutionary movements across South Asia, there is something romantic–if unnerving–about the dozen or royal dacoits who have spend decades resisting the government. Unlike the Naxals men like Dadua, Veerapam, and Man Singh didn’t have grandiose political aims, but were unwilling to live by conventional morality. It almost that the most powerful dacoits in India are the inheritors of India’s long dead feudal traditions.

Dadua survived in the ravines and jungles of Uttar Pradesh for so long because he fashioned himself as a patron of the rural downtrodden. He got the vote out for political parties, and paid dowry money for families who could not afford to get their daughters married off. He was half-magnanimous monarch and half cold blooded killer with over 150 murder cases attributed to him by the police.

Man Singh, the notorious bandit king who was gunned down in a similar manner by the police in the 1950’s, has risen to god like status in Madya Pradesh. Today a score of temples in rural areas include his bust along with the pantheon of Hindu gods. Even 60 years after his death local people see him as a benefactor.

Yet the central government seems to be stepping up operations against bandits and I wonder if soon there won’t be any place for these sorts of figured in India’s IT future.

I’d like to find out more about Dadua. Perhaps I’ll take a trip up to UP and visit the temple he consecrated.

Listen to the NPR story here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12255575

We’re up to our Ears in E-Waste
| June 20, 2007 | 9:17 pm

There is an E-waste problem in Chennai. For the last year I have been poking around back alleys where half naked people break old computers, cell phones and electronic gear into small bite-sized pieces in order to harvest the gold and precious metals inside. When they burn the junk in huge piles in Guindy and Velichery everyone downwind gets exposed to a potentially toxic cocktail of lead, cadmium, mercury and dioxin.

Yesterday afternoon a story I wrote on the issue aired on NPR. It’s my first full-fledged radio story and it looks like I’m going to be covering quite a bit of India with a microphone in the next year or so. You can listen to the story here.

I’ve written on E-waste before for .net in a story titled “India’s Great Techno Trash Heap” and have another version of the piece that should show up in the UK some time this month.

I’ve also taken a ton of photo of the computer smashing industry that you might want to check out.

Here’s a gallery from last week that I took for NPR.

Here are about a dozen pictures from last year that I took while working for .net.

Radio Spot on NPR
| June 8, 2007 | 2:05 pm

For those of you who just can’t get enough of me talking about the kidney trade, check out my recent appearance on NPR (National Public Radio, for those of you tuning in from India).

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10863697

Radio Story on Thumbprint Banking
| February 6, 2007 | 1:58 am

If you couldn’t get enough of reading the stories that emerge from my fingertips now is your chance to hear me talk about technology and consumer affairs on New Zealand Radio. A few weeks ago a radio host from ThisWayUp New Zealand contacted me about speaking to him on a the stories I’ve been writing for Wired and Wired News. We only did one take and it was a little early in the morning for my tongue to shed the “um”‘s, “err”‘s and inarticulate pauses, but hey, it was my first stint on radio. Next time I promise to do better. If they weren’t too aghast with my performance I might turn into a regular contributor.

Check out the radio story here.