A long time ago I lived in an old London warehouse with a guy called Steve, who was a questionable character and a cocktail of mental illnesses. Steve and I were both penniless; I worked full-time for a respectable fashion label but got awful pay for incredible PR, sales, and marketing skills, whereas Steve was a bum and deserved to be broke. On the outside of our building, near our front door, was some graffiti: a Banksy rat. The most famous of Banksy’s work, the one in all the coffee table books, the one that drew in hipster tourists every day to photograph it. I liked the rat. It made me smile a little each morning as I left the house.
One night Steve’s drug dealer came over. He was also some kind of art collector. While snorting blow or some kind of flour mixed with bleach or whatever it is that dirty coke dealers give you now, he started telling Steve and I about how much the small graffiti rat on the side of our building was worth. Then he told us that if we get it off the wall all in one piece he can sell it for us for “about £50,000,” he says. And now I’m thinking, fuck, I could live off that money for a long time. I could be one of those people who gets their hand blown off when the printer in the office explodes and gets a lump sum of compensation money, except I don’t even have to have a fucked-up hand: I just have to sell out and be a bad person. At the time that sounded just fine.
The dealer left and Steve and I discussed our moral dilemma. “Well, I mean, I’m sure Banksy himself would be fine with it because it would be like we were preserving it in a way, selling it to an art dealer and all.” I looked at him and we both knew I was lying.
As the guy walked past me and down the stairs, the only tool I could see was a red plastic bucket, and that worried me a little. I asked Steve what was going on and he told me that the guy had successfully been given detailed instructions of what he was to do. “So he speaks English?” I asked. Come on, I had to check. Steve assured me that yes he did in a annoyedly self-satisfied voice. He was on the computer trying to look all work-like, proud that he had, in his eyes, found “The Builder” for the job. He said he was researching Banksy but I knew he was on MySpace.We decided that we needed a truly expert builder to survey the situation and see if it would be feasible to even attempt to remove the rat all in one perfect piece. I left Steve to find this builder on account of I was too busy and important, seeing as I was the one with the job. I came home that evening and there was a Polish guy in our apartment. He had one of those creepy faces that did not belie his age: he could have been 20 or 50, for all I knew. He looked like he was drunk and bad-smelling but I didn’t go close enough to find out because my sense of smell is my strongest sense and it probably would have upset me.
I sat down to eat and heard something that made me run outside. It was horrifying. Clearly not the sound of a piece of art being carefully removed from a wall. I went outside and the alcoholic builder was there chipping the rat off the wall in tiny bits into the red bucket. All that was left was his rat head. The rest of the famous landmark was in splinters of stone and paint in the bucket. I shouted at him to stop and he made some noises that confirmed to me that he couldn’t speak English. I wanted to cry but I didn’t, I just told him to stick some paper over the rest of the rat’s head and fuck off. I took the red bucket inside, cradling it as if the shards of graffiti rat were ashes of the deceased. And, in a way, they were.
I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was about to have an epileptic fit (I really do have epilepsy). I can’t remember what happened next but after a while Steve came upstairs with the rat’s head all in one piece, which made me mad as hell because it proved that it should have been such a simple process to remove the graffiti in one piece.
We didn’t say anything to each other. I sat the red bucket of guilt and grief in the corner of the sitting room, took lots of valium, and went to sleep.
The next day I go to work and found a crazy amount of hate mail in my inbox from people that had witnessed the catastrophe. Stuff like: “I live opposite you and saw your housemate pouring the remains of the Banksy rat from your wall into a bucket last night. What the fuck is wrong with you you dumb bitch, that was an urban landmark.” Apparently all of my details were online due to my being the main contact for the fashion label I work for.
I replied to the first couple, trying to explain that it was simply an accident, but then as more come flooding in I gave up. Damn the Fashion Council with their helpful list of contacts. That night I came home to discover Steve had plastered up and painted over the hole in the wall, which made some of my bad feelings disappear.
Days passed and the red bucket was still in the corner, haunting us like the body we murdered but didn’t bury. I’m very good at ignoring it because I have a true talent for repressing bad memories and experiences. More days pass. Steve eventually got a big tray and a bag of sand and a plan to slowly try to piece the rat back together, as if he were a special archeologist mapping together a dinosaur’s bone from fossil fragments and I were his assistant. But we weren’t: we were just a failed bum and failed fashionista who had done a bad thing.
I spent the whole weekend sitting at the sandbox trying and trying to find just two pieces that would match. But every time I put my hand in the stupid red bucket, the pieces seemed to become smaller and flakier. I knew that soon it would just be a pile of dust, my hopes and dreams of living my sweet life of luxury over.
The first thing that struck me about Benjamin - indeed it was characteristic of him all of his life - was that he never could remain seated quietly during a conversation but immediately began to pace up and down in the room as he formulated his sentences. At some point, he would stop before me and in the most intense voice deliver his opinion on the matter. Or he might offer several viewpoints in turn, as if he were conducting an experiment. If the two of us were alone, he would look me full in the face as he spoke. At other times, when he fixed his eyes on the most remote corner of the ceiling (which he often did, particularly when addressing a larger audience), he assumed a virtually magical appearance. This rigid stare contrasted sharply with his usual lively gestures.
When I reflect on what it was he had in common after these first encounters, I can cite a few things that are not to be overlooked easily. I can describe them only in general terms as a resoluteness in pursuing our intellectual goals, rejection of our environment - which was basically German-Jewish assimilated middle class - and a positive attitude toward metaphyiscs. We were proponents of radical demands. Actually, at the universities the two of us did not have any teachers in the real sense of the word, so we educated ourselves, each in a very different way.
Associating with Benjamin was fraught with considerable difficulties, though on the surface these seemed insignificant in view of his consummate courtesy and willingness to listen. He was always surrounded by a wall of reserve, which could be recognised intuitively and was evident to another person even without Benjamin’s not infrequent efforts to make that area noticeable.
Violence at Noon (Oshima, 1966): Aesthetics triumph. Oshima aggressively shoots black and white Cinemascope in almost exclusively close-ups or wide shots, most of them quite short, and combined with a dissonant orchestral score (not familiar with the composer, but it is in line with Takemitsu’s excellent film scores of the period), the film builds up momentum through craft alone. Which is good, because the plot is a mess. It’s the story of a love triangle (or square) in which one of the men has killed himself and the other has begun sexually assaulting and killing women. The two female characters provide varying degrees of rationale for his actions and not much else. That they all lived on a collective farm years before the main plotline implies some kind of political message, but next to Night and Fog in Japan, it’s pretty weak stuff. There is more analysis of the plot at Strictly Film School, which does more for it than I can do. Technically brilliant but morally questionable.
Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (Oshima, 1967): Not to be confused with Masahiro Shinoda’s beautiful but completely different Double Suicide from 1969. Here Oshima abandons realism completely and tells the story of two youths, a boy who just wants to die and a girl who just wants sex (this is Oshima, remember), who get mixed up in some sort of allegorical gang war and end up hiding out in a barn with a bunch of cowardly thugs. Not as technically impressive as Violence at Noon, there are still some gorgeous and abstract scenes on some odd sort of beach. The vaguely apocalyptic plot and characters throw off sparks without ever really gelling (think of Godard’s Les Carabiniers), but it keeps your attention, particularly the ending, which involves an American sniper who does not speak one word of Japanese.
Death By Hanging (Oshima, 1968): Humor, not especially noticeable in the earlier films, shows up here and it’s surprisingly effective. A Korean man is hanged but instead of dying suffers amnesia, and so the warden and others have to cause him to remember his crime so they can hang him again. Ostensibly a parable about the death penalty, Oshima can’t stick with one subject and things spill over into Japanese colonialism, racism, and bureaucracy. It’s effective satire; even when you can’t figure out what point Oshima is exactly trying to make, it’s biting anyway. It’s the colonial message that is clearest for me, making depressing observations on Japanese discrimination against Koreans and the alienation forced on them. Not as visually striking as the two above films, it still has some of the strongest content of any Oshima film.
The Ceremony (Oshima, 1971): Another nasty parable, this one telling the story of the extended family that constitutes part of Japan’s ruling class. Everyone is corrupt; redemption is impossible. The younger generation listlessly follow in the vile footsteps of their megalomaniacal parents, acting out all the self-absorbed and reprehensible pageantry funded by imperial and capitalistic thuggery. The famous setpiece is a wedding that goes ahead even though the bride has failed to show, but the film has a consistent brute-force power, and the actors convincingly portray hollow, soulless aristocrats. Appropriately gloomy and typically good score by Takemitsu.
NEW DELHI — When 7-year-old Shiva Ayyadurai left Mumbai with his family nearly 40 years ago, he promised himself he would return to India someday to help his country.
In June, Mr. Ayyadurai, now 45, moved from Boston to New Delhi hoping to make good on that promise. An entrepreneur and lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a fistful of American degrees, he was the first recruit of an ambitious government program to lure talented scientists of the so-called desi diaspora back to their homeland.
“It seemed perfect,” he said recently of the job opportunity.
As Mr. Ayyadurai sees it now, his Western business education met India’s notoriously inefficient, opaque government, and things went downhill from there. Within weeks, he and his boss were at loggerheads. Last month, his job offer was withdrawn. Mr. Ayyadurai has moved back to Boston.
In recent years, Mother India has welcomed back tens of thousands of former emigrants and their offspring. When he visited the United States this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personally extended an invitation “to all Indian-Americans and nonresident Indians who wish to return home.” But, like Mr. Ayyadurai, many Indians who spent most of their lives in North America and Europe are finding they can’t go home again.
About 100,000 “returnees” will move from the United States to India in the next five years, estimates Vivek Wadhwa, a research associate at Harvard University who has studied the topic. These repats, as they are known, are drawn by India’s booming economic growth, the chance to wrestle with complex problems and the opportunity to learn more about their heritage. They are joining multinational companies, starting new businesses and even becoming part of India’s sleepy government bureaucracy.
But a study by Mr. Wadhwa and other academics found that 34 percent of repats found it difficult to return to India — compared to just 13 percent of Indian immigrants who found it difficult to settle in the United States. The repats complained about traffic, lack of infrastructure, bureaucracy and pollution.
For many returnees the cultural ties and chance to do good that drew them back are overshadowed by workplace cultures that feel unexpectedly foreign, and can be frustrating. Sometimes returnees discover that they share more in their attitudes and perspectives with other Americans or with the British than with other Indians. Some stay just a few months, some return to the West after a few years.
Returnees run into trouble when they “look Indian but think American,” said Anjali Bansal, managing partner in India for Spencer Stuart, the global executive search firm. People expect them to know the country because of how they look, but they may not be familiar with the way things run, she said. Similarly, when things don’t operate the way they do in the United States or Britain, the repats sometimes complain.
“India can seem to have a fairly ambiguous and chaotic way of working, but it works,” Ms. Bansal said. “I’ve heard people say things like ‘It is so inefficient or it is so unprofessional.’ ” She said it was more constructive to just accept customs as being different.
Sometimes, the better fit for a job in India is an expatriate who has experience working in emerging markets, rather than someone born in India who has only worked in the United States, she said.
While several Indian-origin authors have penned soul-searching tomes about their return to India, and dozens of business books exist for Western expatriates trying to do business here, the guidelines for the returning Indian manager or entrepreneur are still being drawn.
“Some very simple practices that you often take for granted, such as being ethical in day to day situations, or believing in the rule of law in everyday behavior, are surprisingly absent in many situations,” said Raju Narisetti, who was born in Hyderabad and returned to India in 2006 to found a business newspaper called Mint, which is now the country’s second-biggest business paper by readership.
He said he left earlier than he expected because of a “troubling nexus” of business, politics and publishing that he called “draining on body and soul.” He returned to the United States this year to join The Washington Post.
There are no shortcuts to spending lots of time working in the country, returnees say. “There are so many things that are tricky about doing business in India that it takes years to figure it out,” said Sanjay Kamlani, the co-chief executive of Pangea3, a legal outsourcing firm with offices in New York and Mumbai. Mr. Kamlani was born in Miami, where his parents emigrated from Mumbai, but he has started two businesses with Indian operations.
When Mr. Kamlani started hiring in India, he met with a completely unexpected phenomena: some new recruits would not show up for work on their first day. Then, their mothers would call and say they were sick for days in a row. They never intended to come at all, he realized, but “there’s a cultural desire to avoid confrontation,” he said.
The case of Mr. Ayyadurai, the M.I.T. lecturer, illustrates just how frustrating the experience can be for someone schooled in more direct, American-style management. After a long meeting with a top bureaucrat, who gave him a handwritten job offer, Mr. Ayyadurai signed on to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, or C.S.I.R., a government-financed agency that reports to the ministry of science.
The agency is responsible for creating a new company, called C.S.I.R.-Tech, to spin off profitable businesses from India’s dozens of public laboratories. Currently, the agency, which oversees 4,500 scientists, generates just $80 million in cash flow a year, even though its annual budget is the equivalent of half a billion dollars.
Mr. Ayyadurai said he spent weeks trying to get answers and responses to e-mail messages, particularly from the person who hired him, the C.S.I.R. director general, Samir K. Brahmachari. After several months of trying to set up a business plan for the new company with no input from his boss, he said, he distributed a draft plan to C.S.I.R.’s scientists asking for feedback, and criticizing the agency’s management.
Four days later, Mr. Ayyadurai was forbidden from communicating with other scientists. Later, he received an official letter saying his job offer was withdrawn.
The complaints in Mr. Ayyadurai’s paper could be an outline for what many inside and outside India say could be improved in some workplaces here: disorganization, intimidation, a culture where top directors’ decisions are rarely challenged and a lack of respect for promptness that means meetings start hours late and sometimes go on for hours with no clear agenda.
But going public with such accusations is highly unusual. Mr. Ayyadurai circulated his paper not just to the agency’s scientists but to journalists, and wrote about his situation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. India is “sitting on a huge opportunity” to create new businesses and tap into thousands of science and technology experts, Mr. Ayyadurai said, but a “feudal culture” is holding the country back.
Mr. Brahmachari said in an interview that Mr. Ayyadurai had misunderstood nearly everything — from his handwritten job offer, which he said was only meant to suggest what Mr. Ayyadurai could receive were he to be hired, to the way Mr. Ayyadurai asked scientists for their feedback on what the C.S.I.R. spinoff should look like.
To prove his point, Mr. Brahmachari, who was two hours late for an interview scheduled by his office, read from a government guide about decision-making in the organization. Mr. Ayyadurai didn’t follow protocol, he said. “As long as your language is positive for the organization I have no problem,” he added.
As the interview was closing, Mr. Brahmachari questioned why anyone would be interested in the situation, and then said he would complain to a reporter’s bosses in New York if she continued to pursue the story.