FLAT EARTH

Best of the West

Indians are always obsessed with keeping foreign influences at bay, though I can't imagine why - it is hard to think of any big country less likely to become Westernised overnight. After the first thrill of watching Hollywood blockbusters or drinking Pepsi-Cola, the masses are reported to be going back to Bombay saris-with-songs movies and Thums Up, the local brew.

All the same, some Indians are upset at the high profile of foreign brand names during celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of independence. Western multinationals such as Pepsi, Colgate-Palmolive and Viacom, which owns MTV, have leapt in to sponsor events and pepper local television with advertisements congratulating India on its freedom.

MTV has attracted particular criticism for its logo, which uses saffron, white and green, the three colours of the national flag. "This has to stop immediately," said Deepika Chikhalia, an MP for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. "Imagine watching a Samantha Fox number with the tricolour on top of it."

Samantha Fox? I dimly remember her having a crack at a pop career here, but I didn't realise she was still going strong in the subcontinent. It puts the hatred of things foreign into perspective: if Indians imagine that ex-Page Three songbirds are the best we have to offer, it is not surprising that they want nothing to do with us.

Doggie dinner

Life in la-la land, part 93: Associated Press tells us that Flossie Torgerson, 74, whose beloved Chihuahua, Babette, was eaten by a 7ft boa constrictor before her eyes, has refused all offers to replace the dog and says she'll fight for rules that would keep wild animals out of Los Angeles.

My first reaction was that only in LA could anyone imagine that snakes would take heed of city council ordinances, but of course she was talking about their owners. Read on, though, and you start to wonder whether it might not make more sense to legislate for the pets rather than their keepers.

Mrs Torgerson said a man who identified himself only as Angus phoned her and said the boa was his. "He said he wanted his baby back. I went to pieces, just hearing his voice. I couldn't talk to him any more. He told my friend he would pay for the dog."

It happens!

As THE hapless Mir cosmonauts are debriefed after returning from their disastrous six months in the space station, Russian scientists are telling us that we should stop making such a big thing out of all their mishaps.

The Russian space culture is simply different, they argue. While the Americans rehearse in neurotic detail for their brief sojourns off the planet, the Russians are up there all the time. They are used to doing running repairs when things go wrong; maintenance rather than replacement is the name of the game.

Nonsense, snorts my friend, a long-term resident of Russia. "This is a country where people fly in planes which should have been grounded with metal fatigue 20 years ago, where balconies drop off apartment buildings, killing people below, and everyone just shrugs," she says. "It's summed up by the term Bivaet - 'It happens'. Forget different approaches to engineering: it's just Asian fatalism." I hope the next US astronaut heading for Mir doesn't read this.

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