Peace and respects

As my month guest-blogging here comes to an end, I offer apologies for the intermittent pace of my posts, and I hope that my interventions have been of some interest to the great diaspora of Mutineers.

The Mutiny was already the only site where I hung out regularly; now, after a month behind the sepia curtain, vibing with the fellow bloggers, fielding the many wonderful and crazy things that come in on the tipline, and generally steeping in the sepia stew, I am only strengthened in my feeling that this is one of the most stellar examples of new media-making and community-building on the Web.

One reason for this, I think, is the group blog format; another, the imagination and spirit of the founders; another, the thematic orientation of the site under an umbrella term – desi – that welcomes multiple voices and interpretations.

On the comments on Karthik’s sign-off post, people asked for more female guests, and I agree; I’d also love to hear more gay and lesbian voices, which strikes me as a weak spot here, and a broader representation of the different cultures that come from South Asia. At the same time, I believe that the more these voices express themselves in the comments, the more they will find their way into the posts. The Mutiny is good that way.

How long will it last? Who knows. The Web is funny that way. But so far, so good. I’ll see y’all in the comment threads. Peace and respects to all, and yo, stay desi. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

The Backlash that Wasn’t

Great little article in Newsweek about the short lived fury around the “giant sucking sound” of American jobs to India. We’re all rediscovering that economics (unlike politics) is almost never a zero sum game –

…Not long ago, what seemed most possible was that India would steal the jobs of American workers. But as George W. Bush visits there this week, he’ll find a maturing economy that is no longer all about call centers and basic tech support. Now big American investment banks and drugmakers are joining tech firms on the passage to India. R&D centers are springing up so fast that there’s now a shortage of Indian engineers. And the stigma of outsourcing jobs to India is disappearing.

…What happened to the outsourcing backlash? It has been muted by the fact that India didn’t suck Silicon Valley dry after all. Actually, U.S. tech employment is growing. There are 17 percent more tech workers in the United States today than back in the bubble days of 1999, says a new study by the Association for Computing Machinery. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the U.S. economy will add 1 million tech jobs over the next decade, a 30 percent increase. “Everyone was worried about the offshoring bogeyman,” says Moshe Vardi, an author of the ACM study. “But the big whoosh of jobs to India never happened.”

Amen.

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Now is the time in Torino when we dance

Check out this video of an Armenian ice dancing couple performing to a Hare Krishna bhajan in Torino (thanks, Masked Tipster). I don’t think the Blue One looked quite like this. Nothing says religion to me like than a half-naked dancer hanging upside down off a man’s shoulders flashing mudras

‘Sex sells,’ said American Jamie Silverstein, 22, referring to itty-bitty costumes… Anastasia Grebenkina of Armenia wore a backless outfit except for a small swath of cloth that covered her bottom. [Link]

For the dance enthusiast, an ice dancing performance is like a five-minute clip of “Strictly Ballroom” – on acid. Incredible holds, tight twizzles and … hydroblading? Hell yes.

For the chick-flick fan, ice dancing is all the drama without the shitty, sub-par dialogue. When Italian pair Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio stumbled into a heap of sheer, neon Lycra, they stood on the ice for almost a minute, shooting each other the classic “f– you and your sequined appliqués” look. They didn’t speak for more than 24 hours after. “Beaches,” “Hitch” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” don’t have a blade to stand on.

And men will find themselves enchanted by the ladies’ bare-it-all, barely there leotards of ice dancing, where salsa meets slutty and strategically placed daisies are the only things preventing Armenian skater Anastasia Grebenkina from landing on the cover of a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue. [Link]

Grebenkina and Vazgen Azrojan didn’t medal with this acrobatic routine. But with only four competitors from India, two from Pakistan and one from Nepal, sadly, it actually increased the Olympics’ sepia quotient. Continue reading

The Buddha of Ruralia

Sploid, the Gawker Media website that offers “news with a tabloid mentality,” reports (shout-out to tipster Aliya) that the state of Minnesota has fined a religious cult led by a 65-year-old scientist from Orissa for illegally undercutting the price of gasoline.

Say what?

Midwest Oil is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology. Samanta Roy, and Indian and former Hindu, was once known as Brother Rama Behera. He leads a reclusive religious organization out of Shawano, Wisconsin, preaching a mixture of Christianity and Judaism.

Apparently Midwest was able to sell gasoline below the minimum price (that the state imposes to protect small service stations from large chains that can sell below cost) because its devotee-employees work for free.

An October 2005 story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tells us more about the life and times of Dr. Samanta Roy:

The reclusive 65-year-old immigrant from the historic Orissa state of India has exerted an influence in Shawano, a North Woods gateway town of 8,300 about 40 miles northwest of Green Bay, since the early 1970s. He is rarely seen and almost never heard from outside his cloistered group of adherents, none of whom responded to interview requests. Public records examined for this story reveal no estimates of the group’s size. …
It all began with the purchase of several acres in adjoining Wescott that served as a worship place for the group transplanted from the Twin Cities area. They were commonly called the Disciples of the Lord Jesus and operated in a style described in The Milwaukee Journal at the time as ascetic and critical of mainstream Christianity.

Samanta Roy called himself Brother Rama and had conversations with the prophet Elijah while sitting on the toilet: Continue reading

Mmmmmmmangoes!

For me, the sweetest fruit of Bush’s bisit to India is that finally, after 17 years of trying, Indian mangoes will soon be available in the US. Thus far, desis in the US have had to settle for Mexican mangoes, which are neither as sweet nor as juicy as what one can get back in the sub-continent.

Perfection in a golden wrapper

While India is the largest producer of mangoes (41% of the world produce), and the US is the largest importer (29% of all imports), there was no convergence between the two. The gainer was Mexico which only produces 5 per cent of the world’s mangoes and has 25 per cent of the mango export market. [Link]

The cause of the decades long mango moratorium was a fear of alien invasion, a (legitimate) concern about nasty creepy crawlies that might infest America’s fecund farmlands. This concern has now been allayed via the miracle of modern science – Indian mangoes will be nuked, neutered and neutralized before they are allowed to immigrate:

Preventing Indian mangoes from entering US supermarkets was the strict Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) conditions imposed by the US. Pests like pulp weevil and fruit fly are alien to US conditions. And the US was never confident about India’s capability to make the harvest pest-free… Several meetings later, the clincher was irradiation, the method to be now adopted to make mangoes pest-free. Earlier, it was limited to vapour treatment and quarantine. [Link]

How sweet it is. M-day is roughly 18 months away and I can hardly wait!

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Update/Art Advisory: “Disappeared”

A note on the tipline from desi academic extraordinaire Amitava Kumar reminds us of Disappeared in America, an ongoing multimedia project that began by documenting the round-up of immigrants in the post-9/11 hysteria and has now expanded into a web of collaborations among America- and Europe-based artists. Together they are tackling the rise of suspicion and xenophobia in all these countries, the climate of secrecy and fear, the intended and unintended consequences of actions by governments and their foes. (Manish mentioned the project last February here.)

… While our work started in the American context, we have expanded to look at Europe & the Middle East, in recognition that anti-migrant xenophobia, coupled with Islamophobia, is not a new or uniquely American phenomenon.

The collaborative has several new “interventions” in the next couple of months in New York, Houston and San Francisco that Mutineers in those cities might find interesting.

This is also an opportunity to point folks to tipster Amitava’s work. Now a professor at Vassar College, he’s one of those desi polymaths who covers politics, art, culture, discourse, sociology with even analytical poise and great literary verve. He’s also perhaps the most prominent and interesting discussant of matters Bihari on the web. Indeed, if there’s a thematic connection here, it’s that he is actively engaged in un-disappearing Bihar from the collective consciousness, a Sisyphean task that he handles with aplomb.

Recent posts on Amitava’s blog include one featuring photos from the arrival in Bihar of the avian flu; a mock letter from Lalu Yadav, Bihar’s “supremo” (as an Indian newspaper might say) to George Bush; and a joyful announcement of the upcoming U.S. edition of Upamanyu Chatterjee’s comic classic English, August, 18 years after its original publication. Continue reading

Posted in Art

Baby steps

The recent verdict in a scandalous Delhi killing argues the well-connected can still literally get away with murder. Our Most Favored Flatulation Guy Trebay summarized the case in the Village Voice in ’99:

A man refused a late-night drink at a tony hot spot pulls out a gun and fires it twice… the alleged killer was the son of a former cabinet minister, his victim was a onetime model, the bar was in the most stylish shopping complex in the city, and the murderer waltzed away in front of hundreds…

Demanding whiskey, Sharma was told by Malini Ramani that he could have a sip of her drink for 1000 rupees, or about $35, her sister claims. “It was a normal remark, and I guess only a madman would react in such a violent way,” Malini would later say. Sharma apparently approached Lal next and, when she told him the bar was closed, pulled out a .22 and fired. It was the second bullet that caught Lal in the forehead. Sharma then walked to the courtyard and smiled his way out through the crowd. [Link]

Seven years on, it’s not that the tabloids beat the broadsheets, it’s that every broadsheet has turned into a tabloid:What India lacked until lately: a headless body in a topless bar

Since liberalizing its trade policies in the early ’90s, the vast subcontinent has become a kind of dumping ground for Western culture. It’s a phenomenon observable in everything from the upper-class vogue for New Age anodynes (reiki and Viennese voodoo are currently the rage) to the more obvious glut of MTV.

What India lacked until lately… was Amy Fisher­-Joey Buttafuoco­-style saturation coverage. It lacked a headless body in a topless bar. In the weeks since Lal’s shooting, the capital’s major papers have printed dozens of stories daily under headlines that wouldn’t be out of place in the Post… In a country where Hindu newspapers still print pages of ads for traditionally arranged marriages, and where such stop-the-presses headlines as “Pachyderm Tramples Tigress” are commonplace, there’s an unfulfilled hunger for the Dynasty-style dross of the West. Not since the days of serial killer Charles Sobhraj has a crime so deliciously fit the bill. [Link]

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Posted in Law

Holy hai

The Beeb is running some absolutely gorgeous photos of a major Jain festival which only comes around every 12 years. Jains from all over India and the diaspora gathered in Shravanabelagola, Karnataka for the Mahamastakabhisheka festival. They washed and anointed a 58-foot-high, 1,000-year-old statue of Bahubali with haldi, kumkum and rice flour.

[Bahubali] is considered to be the originator of the concept of ahimsa or non-violence by the Jains, the basic tenet of their religion… he was the first to have attained salvation…

One thousand and eight small metal vessels containing water are placed neatly in the courtyard below the gigantic sculpture, considered divine. At day break, a select group of priests, chanting hymns, arrange the pots in a traditional geometrical pattern. Devotees then lift these vessels and climb up the 600 stairs to the top of the enormous statue… The statue is bathed with unending quantities of milk, sugarcane juice, pastes of saffron, sandal wood, and therapeutic herbal lotions. Powders of coconut, turmeric, saffron, vermilion and sandal wood are then sprayed on the statue. Precious stones, gold, silver, petals and coins are offered in reverence. The spectacular finale to this 10-hour ceremony is a shower of flowers from a helicopter. [Link]

The digambara (nude) form of Bahubali represents the complete victory over earthly desires… [Link]

Perhaps it was to prevent these charismatic scenes of religious ecstasy that the Puritans to the west took a rocket launcher to the Bamiyan Buddhas.

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Three-ring circus

The press now has accounts of the extraordinary security measures that are being enacted in preparation for Bush’s visit to India:

About 5,000 personnel including snipers, commandos and U.S. marines using helicopters, bomb detectors and electronic jammers will protect President George W. Bush during his visit to India this week, officials said on Monday.

The personnel would be part of a three-ring security cordon around the U.S. president and First Lady Laura Bush who are due to arrive in New Delhi for their maiden visit to the subcontinent on Wednesday, they said.

“He is a much-threatened VVIP. We are fully geared,” Manish Agarwal, a top Delhi police officer involved in security operations, told Reuters…

Besides the inner-ring of security forces, an outer cordon would be deployed “as deep as possible” to thwart any attack by a rocket launcher, Agarwal said.

A rocket launcher normally has a 1,000-metre (3,300 ft) range so we would be deployed in forests around venues,” he said. “We will have 360-degree rooftop surveillance around all the venues…” [Link]

I would hate to be a Secret Service agent on this trip. My brother once got a chance to meet Clinton but he was stopped by an agent while his two female companions were motioned forward. Another time an agent warned him that a sniper on the roof of the Chinese embassy had him in his sites. Just imagine being an agent in a whole country full of brown people! :)

There are already protests in India. Where will these people be with respect to the “three rings.”

Traffic in many areas in the capital will come to a near standstill on March 2 when Bush travels to his engagements from the Maurya Sheraton hotel to Hyderabad House, where he will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Rashtrapati Bhavan, where President A P J Abdul Kalam will host a dinner for his American counterpart.

Traffic is also likely to be affected by the proposed demonstrations against the Bush visit planned by the Communists, the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal-Secular.

The Maurya Sheraton, where Bush and his entourage will stay, has been converted into a fortress with the US Secret Service screening every visitor.

Hotel employees have been issued special passes, which have to be produced along with their identity cards when they arrive on duty. [Link]

All the security precautions are sure to rub local law enforcement the wrong way. Even when Bush went to Britain a few years ago the local authorities felt bullied by his security detail:

An unconfirmed report claims that American security officials wanted to handle Air Traffic Control themselves when Air Force One, the Presidential aircraft, arrives in New Delhi but the bizarre proposal was turned down. Indian engineers, they’ve been told, are capable of handling the situation but it would not be surprising if American officials are allowed to be around.

See related posts: Media Roundup: The Trip Part 1, Media Roundup: The Trip Part II

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Bye bye, and back to earth

A few years from now, when posterity comes ambling around, I will be known as the guest blogger at Sepia Mutiny that got away. Got away with not visiting the North Dakota headquarters ever, got away with missing the traumatic initiation party (I definitely didnÂ’t want to be paddled by a guy, even a guy with great hair) that the mutineers reportedly throw and got away with maintaining the laziest guest blogging schedule on Sepia Mutiny ever, because I had Siddhartha to cover for me. Not too lazy though – at this rate I could’ve hit Manish’s weekly post count in just under three years, and that’s way more than most bloggers can claim.

But then, like all good things (please, keep the snickering down, it hurts me when you do that) this little stint must come to an end as well, and I must now go back to my own blog, where the sitemeter stats will be much easier to monitor. Thank God for that.

So here it is: Thank you all for a great time, and good bye. Continue reading