Like No Business I Know

projectorroom3.jpg Technics aside, a perfect photograph usually involves both, an absorbing subject matter and an image that leaves an imprint as if it were a memory of one’s own. Take these qualities and wrap them around India’s filmi phenomena, turn the roll into a series and what you have is the stuff that dreams are made of. Bollywood dreams, to be (slightly inaccurately) exact.

Jonathan Torgovnik‘s extensive travels throughout India in the early 90s led him to rural India’s nomadic cinema halls and the masala movie sets of Chennai and Mumbai. On the way he managed to create a completely riveting contribution to the study of Indian cinema in the form of Bollywood Dreams (Phaidon Press, 2003). This (unbelievably perfect coffee table) book feels like a deeply personal photo essay as well as a tribute to Indian cinema’s grass roots. All seen through the eyes of a former combat-photographer for the Israeli army.

Online exhibitions of Torgovnik’s work with the Indian film industry can be found at Digital Journalist and foto8. A short (5min.) self-narrated clip of his photographs can be found at Google viddy. His website too is chock full of goodies, like the Mumbai laughing clubs series, which is reducing me to fits of giggles just thinking about it. Or the Satosh series, which is pure breaking my heart. Either way, I can’t stop looking. Continue reading

A Rush of Blood to the Head

As some of you may have seen on our News tab, a Hindu temple in Minnesota was recently vandalized pretty severely:

The severed head of Andal Devi

Two 19-year-olds were arrested May 10 and charged with vandalising a partially completed Hindu temple in Maple Grove, MN, on April 5.

Maple Grove Police arrested local resident Paul Gus Spakousky and Tyler William Tuomie of Andover, MN, and charged them with first-degree criminal damage to property and third-degree burglary, both felonies…

Several of the deities were damaged in the attack, forcing the organisers to postpone the scheduled June 4 inauguration of the 43,000 square feet temple built at a cost of $9 million (about Rs 40 crore). [Link]

Punkistani follows up with more details [via Sanjay]:

That’s the head of Andal Devi, and just one of eight sacred likenesses that were defiled in a Hindu Temple set to open on June 1st. By defiled, I mean the statues were decapitated and dismembered…

It’s pretty damned recent. The scoop is that vandals punctured walls and broke into a Hindu temple, ruined some Hindu Gods and left. Property destruction is never that focussed unless it’s a deliberate attempt to intimidate. Nearby Churches went untouched.

Six hundred people attended the community meeting that followed, where reports of neighborhood Indians having their houses vandalized and egged were exchanged. The attending Police Captain, Tracy Stille, verified these stories. [Link]

The Kominas, a Muslim punk band that we have previously blogged about, have decided to rush to the aid of the temple and their fellow South Asian Americans. They are putting on a concert to raise money for rebuilding the temple and it would be cool if our New York readers could represent. Continue reading

Arundhati Roy’s Suicidalism

As the eminent Arnold Toynbee pointed out, “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder”. Here, Arundhati Roy carries her Far-Left Post-Modernism to its logical suicidal ends –

…the longer you stay [in places like Iraq], the more you’re enforcing these tribal differences and creating a resistance, which obviously, on the one hand, someone like me does support; on the other hand, you support the resistance, but you may not support the vision that they are fighting for. And I keep saying, you know, I’m doomed to fight on the side of people that have no space for me in their social imagination, and I would probably be the first person that was strung up if they won. But the point is that they are the ones that are resisting on the ground, and they have to be supported, because what is happening is unbelievable.

So, it seems she’d rather cast her lot with the barbarians who’d “string her up” than implicitly support the Western hegemony responsible for her material well being, freedom of speech and physical security. So be it.

(hat tip – DesiDudeInGotham whose submission to the News page roused me from my blog slumber)

[previous SM coverage on Roy – “Back the Resistance” and “Tunku vs. Arundhati“] Continue reading

Brown, Like My Coffee

After almost an hour of traffic, I’m nearing work, though I’m furious that this succession of delays means that by the time I get there, it will be too late to get fresh breakfast. Now that I’m off donuts, there’s not much left in the “continental” spread that I feel like eating.

WasnÂ’t there an amazing indie coffee place around here? I remember grabbing something hurriedly before my pre-wedding mani/pedi a few days agoÂ…I hadnÂ’t expected much, but after my first sip of perfectly brewed espresso, I was a believer. The place had a cutesy nameÂ…there it was: The Bean Counter. Unfortunately, parking was not allowed in front of it. Fortunately, I snagged a coveted “zone two” spot right around the corner. Go me.

I knew they were famous for a Cuban sandwich or similar, i.e. something I could never eat, but I wondered if they served breakfast. As yummily necessary as coffee was, it wasn’t a proper meal. I started to read the menu which was framed to the left of the front door—

“Just go in, I’m sure it’s fine.”

I slowly turned and found a very well-dressed older black man smiling at me. In my peripheral vision I noted a gleaming black town car, illegally parked.

I started stammering, I had been in my own little world before he yanked me out of it.

“Um, yes. It, um is. It’s good—really good actually. Excellent espresso.”

“That’s what I heard from the woman down the street. Thought I’d check it out. Well, I don’t want to crowd you, so…”

“Thanks you, I mean, thank you.”

My goodness I was an idiot first thing in the morning. Fine, second thing, too.

I went back to the menu but the only thing which appealed contained nutellla, which IÂ’m staying away from, since IÂ’m weaning myself from sugar. Just coffee then, I guess. I went in and walked all the way to the back of the narrow space, to the register.

“How many shots are in a large?” I asked, slightly ashamed that I knew exactly how to order my desired drink in Startwat lingo. I didn’t want to betray my shameful secret, so dumb questions were in order.

“Three.” She had a rather thick accent I couldn’t place.

Madre de Dios, thatÂ’s a lot. I remembered my junior year at Davis, when I went to Roma off A street right before a final exam and ordered a triple shot drink. I spent the majority of our two hour test period puking my brains out, leaving me a whopping 20 minutes to fill a blue book with my suddenly very shaky handwriting. Thank goodness it was just poli-sci. 😉

“Large, single-shot latte then.”

“Single? You single?”

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Love Makes the World (Record) Go Brown

While you Amreekan desis are out winning your spelling bees and geography bees, we Canucks are out here breaking records. World records, people! club dj 030s.jpg Sri Lankan-Canadian Suresh Joachim is at it again and this time he’s partaking in one of my favourite activities, karaoke. Starting at 11:00 AM on the 31st and continuing on for fifty hours…:

Suresh Joachim will be singing his way into the record book. This electrifying record is organized by M.M. Robinson high school in Burlington. Suresh Joachim and the students are joining to raise fund for the Canadian Red Cross. The current karaoke world record is 25 hours & 45 minutes and was performed by Mark Pearson (U.K) in 2004. [Link]

Joachim currently holds 33 world records and since Cicatrix introduced us, Joachim has run a hundred klicks on a treadmill, crawled one mile in thirty six minutes, worked a pair of turntables for seventy six hours, moonwalked for twenty four hours, and gone on a thirty one hour couple dance marathon. [Link]

Joachim wants to break the record for holding the most current records, he’s doing it for the children:

The most remarkable demonstration of SureshÂ’s commitment to help suffering children will be the World Peace Marathon. This incredible journey will begin at 12:00 a.m. on December 25, 2007 in Jerusalem and end at 5:00 p.m. on June 24, 2008 in Sydney Australia. During his voyage, Suresh will travel through 88 major cities, in 54 countries passing a symbolic peace torch to dignitaries in each place. [Link]

With this marathon Joachim hopes to petition to make June 24 ‘World Ceasefire Day’ and raise $1 billion for the Universal Fund for Suffering Children. Continue reading

Indo-Pak Coalition

Take a deep breath. This is not a political post. It’s another post about music.

Indo-Pak Coalition is a current trio project that includes Rudresh Mahanthappa on saxophone, Rez Abbasi on guitar, and Dan Weiss on tabla. It’s just one of a number of fascinating, adventurous collaborations taking place on the creative-music scene these days. Along with his longtime collaborator, fellow-desi and piano genius Vijay Iyer, Rudresh is a regular on this scene and his work, whether in straight-ahead jazz or cross-genre collaborations, never fails to fascinate. He’s got a wonderful tone and attack that place him in the Coltrane legacy, and he’s done very thoughtful work that injects classical Indian concepts and themes into forward-looking contemporary jazz. Read more about him here, and about Pakistani-American guitarist Abbasi here.

Indo-Pak’s new suite “Apti” premieres tomorrow night, 5/31, at Joe’s Pub in NYC, and I encourage local Mutineers to join me there.

About the new project, Rudresh says this:

Mahanthappa is excited about his upcoming gig with the Indo-Pak Coalition: “It has this weird twist to it because, okay, you have this trio and the two brown guys are playing western instruments and the white guy’s playing an Indian instrument! [laughs] So it’s kind of funny and it’s interesting because Dan is an amazing drummer, but he’s also Samir Chatterjee’s most prized student; he’s a really monstrous tabla player, but he came out playing the tabla after playing drumset. And here we [Mahanthappa and Abbasi] are: we play these western instruments. So our perspectives are very different. It’s been really great to work with that group because we can talk about everything in very Indian terms—whether it’s Karnatic or Hindustani or whatever—and then we can turn around and talk about it in totally Western terms.”

This promises to be a great show. I hope to see you there! Continue reading

Going Multitone: Desi Ska Music

Laila k sonic boom six.jpg I was saddened hear about the death of Desmond Dekker, one of the pioneers of the original Jamaican ska music scene (hear some of his music at Myspace). Ska, which Dekker and a handful of others invented in the early 1960s, is a kind of double-speed form of calypso that is generally upbeat and celebratory. It was a pop fad in Jamaica in the early 1960s that was reborn as a kind of multicultural pastiche in England with bands like Madness and The Specials in the late 1970s. Those bands were self-consciously racially integrated — often with black lead singers and white bandmates — and they were hugely commercially successful. The lead record label in this second wave of ska bands was 2 Tone Records, which got its name from its distinctive checkered logo, though “two tone” also clearly referred to the label’s multicultural, racially inclusive vibe.

I was a big fan of this type of music in high school and college, though I grew up during the ‘third wave’ of ska — after it had been reborn yet again as a kind of offshoot of American punk rock. As I bounced along to Operation Ivy in high school, I wondered: what about desi ska? The upbeat rhythm you find in The Specials (or earlier, in Desmond Dekker himself) is also key in Bhangra, and the two genres seem almost made for each other.

In fact, there was some ska-bhangra fusion back in the day, and there still is some today. If the mainstream record label was called 2 Tone Records, the desi version was Multitone Records, and it was founded in the early 1980s, just around when Brit-Asian Bhangra bands like Achanak and Premi were first starting to make records. (This was also, coincidentally, just after the peak of the 2-Tone Records era on the British music charts.) Continue reading

ARTWALLAH is back- Los Angeles, June 24th

ArtWallah ’06 is now less than a month away in Los Angeles. SM readers have heard me sing the praises of this organization and its annual festival before. I appreciate what they do and what they are about so much that I have been wallahnteering to help run the festival for the past three years. This year I decided to retire and actually cool out to all the artists and just enjoy myself…or so I thought. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. I’m the new “CashWallah.” I will leave it to your imaginations what that job entails.

Last year I decided to entice SM readers to come out to the festival with a little multimedia tour which made it pretty obvious why anyone within a hundred miles of L.A. (at least) should show up. I hyperlinked to some new musicians, artists, dancers etc. This year the ArtWallah Press Team has saved me the trouble and made a detailed program FULL of interesting hyperlinks to artists many of you have never heard of. It took me an hour to click through them all and appreciate what I saw. It was an hour well spent.

…this year’s ArtWallah festival [at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center] will present the works of over 40 artists through dance, film, literature, music, spoken word, theater, and visual arts – showcasing the personal, political, and cultural celebrations and struggles of the South Asian diaspora (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).

Click on “Continued” below for a quick lick.

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Arnold: "Must be a cultural thing"

Recently Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California spoke at the 2006 TiEcon conference in front of a large group representing the Indian American business and entrepreneurial community. The conference was held in Silicon Valley and dealt mostly with the intersection of California, business, and Indian Americans. A mash-up clip featuring the highlights of his talk are available on the internet. It is worth seeing (scroll down just a bit on the linked page) especially for the zinger that Schwarzenegger unleashes about a quarter way through the clip when he notices that all of his co-panelists are men. What’s up with that?

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Affirmative action: Here and over there

Over the tipline we are often asked by Indians living in India why we (as individuals) don’t blog more about certain Indian issues (especially those dominating the Indian media). The simple answer is that you most likely wouldn’t want to read what we have to say about many Indian issues. We aren’t Indian nationals, we all reside in North America, and we are all U.S citizens (except for our current guest blogger who runs our Canadian operations). This means that our opinions, at best, would provide some with a broader perspective on a given topic, and at worst could come across as ignorant or ill-informed. There are better places to read about Indian issues if that is what you are looking for. And yet, those of us who write for SM have definitely felt some resentment at times from parts of the Indian blogosphere, both when we blog an “Indian issue,” and when we don’t.

I know that the current hot topic in the Indian media is the battle over a quota system in Indian universities. I wasn’t going to write a post about it because the Indian educational system doesn’t affect me in any way. However, my mom mentioned the debate to me over the phone and we got to discussing it. I realized how similar and how different the debate in India is as compared to the affirmative action debate in the U.S. Being a graduate of the University of Michigan, the central battlefield for affirmative action in the U.S., I have some definite opinions on the subject and am generally in favor of affirmative action and the type of educational environment it leads to when implemented and executed properly.

My mom opined that she kind of supported the protestors in India. I pressed my mom on the matter a bit since I am more inclined to support a quota system of some kind. What about 3000 years of class oppression? You can’t just erase that with pithy protest slogans like:


Time Magazine Asia breaks down the central arguments in the debate:

“Modern India should be built on merit, not caste,” says Dr. Sudip Sen, 34, a Ph.D. student in biochemistry at AIIMS. “What’s next — are we going to let a slow runner represent India in the Olympics? No, we are going to send our best runner out for the 100 meters, no matter his caste. It should be the same for all fields.”

Countless other Indian medical workers who have gone on strike this week feel much the same as Sen, which is why India’s sudden battle over affirmative action makes the ongoing divide in the U.S. over racial preferences seem tame by comparison. Public hospitals across the country have shut their doors to all but emergency services; private hospitals in some Delhi suburbs are following suit; trade unions have called for a morning of civil disobedience; and students at India’s elite business schools are meeting to plan their own protests. In spite of the disruption, the government has sworn that it will not back down, regardless of who resigns or how many protest. Increased quotas, it claims, are the only way to foster social equality at the institutions that are driving the Indian economy forward.

That fast-growing economy often makes it easy to forget India’s rigidly stratified past. But any country hurtling along the path to modernization is at risk of being occasionally slowed down by the weight of its own history, and in this case, India has been yanked to a crawl by 3,000 years of a strictly codified social pecking order. [Link]

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