Stand by your (arranged) man

Globalization has made many things possible including the efficient exchange of all sorts of goods and services. Among these are ideas; scientists think nothing of collaborating across borders, and musicians can lay down tracks in one city and have them a genius producer someplace far away rearrange them overnight.

Some ideas don’t travel as well, however. What makes sense according to laws and customs in one place might be absurd or abhorrent somewhere else. Advice columnists — or as the British beautifully call them, agony aunts — have yet to globalize their business. But what if there’s demand? Today in Salon (thanks, Scott!), an Indian-in-India sista seeks to outsource her relationship counseling to Cary Tennis, the online mag’s advice-giver. And Tennis… almost punts, but not quite. Check it out. Here’s the woman’s situation:

… Arranged marriages have seen a resurgence in India and I suspect it is propelled by young people’s desire to shield themselves from heartbreak. I was one of those and I agreed to marry a doctor I met just once after I returned home from the States. I thought I was taking a very sane and levelheaded decision. He came from a good family and was well liked and respected in his hospital (all this info gathered through the extended family network that goes into operation for marital missions). He had no known addictions, was reasonably good-looking according to Indian standards (not my standards, I must point out, because I like muscular, clean-shaven men and he is neither). We came from similar backgrounds and our life goals seemed to match — raise kids, earn a lot of money and make our parents proud of us.

Three months into our marriage we had our first fight. It was nasty. We are still living apart.

Now I am not sure marrying him was such a great idea. He seems immature and his anger was shocking. Staying on in a marriage just because he is a doctor seems wrong now. I thought my decision would be right because it was dispassionate. But now I think the lack of passion should have been a warning sign. The fact that I wasn’t physically attracted to him should have been enough to decide against marrying him.

How do I know if I made a huge mistake? Divorce is a big deal here, especially in my religion. But I figure the sooner we break up the easier it will be. Then again, who am I kidding? I probably won’t muster up the courage to break up the marriage until he does something really horrible…

And here are excerpts from Tennis’s reply:

I do not know what it is like to be from India but I know what it is like to live with the choices I have made. … I do not know what it is like to be in an arranged marriage but I know that all marriages are in a sense arranged — by relatives, by the rain, by smiles and secret dances; by children whose arrival can no longer be postponed, by the intersection of ripening desires, by thirsty hope meeting cool water.

So you ask an American what to do. To do what an American would do would be disastrous, I fear. …

I would try to live within what you have already done. I would attempt to carry out the plans you had when you decided to marry: Have lots of children and make a lot of money. Absent one of the limited general grounds for divorce available to you under Indian divorce law … I would try to see this thing through. …

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Meetup Mania! (2 Updates)

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I’ve been a bit busy, so I haven’t been able to ask you about SM Meetups, but I promise I’ve wanted to do so for several weeks. Those mutinous, offline melas are very much on my mind these days, as I contemplate the end of summer and where I will spend it. You see, not only do I think it’s high time for the second-ever live mutiny in DC, it seems that excessively homesick-me will be in the golden state for much of early September (w00t Northern California!!!). I think it’s time to overwhelm Greco once again; let’s take that possibility from tentative to definite, shall we? Let’s also hope the wifi works this time, as it usually does. ;)

Amardeep inspired me (yet again) to post once he issued his gentle invitation to Philadelphia-area readers to join him for that city’s first meetup, before a very cool-sounding concert he just blogged about. Even if you don’t take him up on his tempting offer, I want you to know that it won’t be an anomalous event– Philadelphia is a great city and I’d love to hold regular meetups there, as well as NY and SF. What say all of you, and when I type that I mean ALL of you, wherever you are. Depending on how much demand and notice we get, we may be able to coordinate sepia soirees elsewhere, since many of us travel, some of us, far too much. :D

DC: When should We Chocolate City mutineers will have our next carb-laden, veg-friendly fiesta on August 19th? August 26th. Who knows, if we don’t tell Abhi, we might be able to facilitate a “Yo Dad” appearance which ISN’T moderated! Imagine the possibilities for information-gathering!

SF: What about you, oh citizens of Baghdad-by-the-bay? How many of you will be around for Labor day weekend? I was assuming your answers would be a sea of “not me”s, so I was tentatively glancing at September 9. Thoughts?

Finally, as for you New Yorkers, any weekend you want to shriek and giggle until the Manager yells at us (cough LaLanterna cough) is fine with me. ;)

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Update #1: The people have spoken. DC’s meetup will be on August 26th. :)

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Zimbly Fantastic

Update # 2: NYC’s loveliest saves the date and suggests something fantastic to meet up for– SummerStage at Central Park with a whole lotta brown choons. Pack your pick-a-nick baskets for Yogi and Booboo to plunder; New York’s meetup will be on August 13th! Continue reading

The Mouse wants more of India’s cheese

The big news from the business world today is that Disney is going to be establishing a couple of new children’s entertainment channels in India as a way to strengthen its foothold on the subcontinent. Forbes reports:

What? It could happen.

When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton famously replied “Because that’s where the money is.” Andy Bird has a similar rationale for The Walt Disney Company’s move into India: “If you’re in the children’s business, you want to be in the place where there are more children than anywhere else in the world,” the president of Walt Disney International explained in a telephone interview from Mumbai.

Bird has just handled the $30.5 million acquisition of Hungama, a children’s television channel in the country that broadcasts in Hindi, and that joins the Disney Channel and Toon Disney on the subcontinent.

Part of the deal will see The Disney take a 14.9% stake in UTV Software Communications, an Indian conglomerate that owns film and television assets, including – until now — Hungama. It means the next step for Disney could be into India’s glitzy movie industry. “We are actively working in the film business and looking for Disney branded movies in the Bollywood market,” said the British-born Bird. [Link]

This moves seems like a good one for Disney for exactly the reason mentioned in the first paragraph above. The growing middle class has a lot of children and children love being exposed/corrupted by western culture (even wholesome western culture). Why not be part of the delivery device, especially given that the advertising dollars that follow could end up being quite lucrative?

Time Warner has already benefited from first-mover advantage among U.S. media companies in India, controlling half the market share for children’s TV with its Cartoon Network and Pogo Channels. But Bird is not worried. “The Walt Disney Company is looking at a broader perspective in growing in India,” he said. “We’re more focused on building up franchises and brands across different sectors than in what our competitors are doing…” [Link]

Personally I hope that the possibility of domestic “foreign” competition will make Bollywood movies watchable better. I have to believe that the scripts that Disney backs will be a little better than the usual stuff I am exposed to out of Bollywood (*Abhi tries to stifle laugh*). Before you point it out I realize that I am a Bollywood curmudgeon. Please don’t recommend any films to me.

Bollywood, the popular name for the Hindi language film industry, also beckons as Disney will now co-produce UTV’s films.

“We have access to an important film-making capital, which is exciting because Bollywood’s family values resonate with Disney’s,” said Andy Bird, president, Walt Disney International. [Link]

Public Radio’s Marketplace has a nice summary of this deal as well as its implications. It also mentions that India isn’t yet ready for a Disney World-Delhi. Phew!

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Mumbai Blasts Update: Putting the Pieces Together

I’ve been trying to make sense of the progress of the Mumbai blasts investigation, and it’s not easy going. The latest news is the arrest of a local Mumbai man named Tanvir Ansari. Ansari is a traditional Muslim healer who practices ‘Unani’ healing in Mumbai. The Mumbai Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) claims he went to Pakistan in 2004, where he received training in bomb-making. He also has a criminal record — for an earlier arrest for possessing an AK-47 from some years ago.

Ansari’s arrest has led to the arrest of two associates, Suhail Sheikh and Jameer Ahmed. Like Ansari, Jameer Ahmed seems pretty unassuming: he owns a key shop in Mumbai city. Suhail Sheikh lives in Pune; I haven’t been able to find out what he does for a living.

Last week, the arrest of a man in Kenya is looking a little confusing. The man arrested there is not Said Abdul Karim (‘Tunda’), but a British national of Nigerian descent named Ismoila Olatunde Rufai. Rufai is still wanted by Kenyan police on suspicion of involvement with terrorism, but he’s not the person the Indian government was looking for. ‘Tunda’ worked for Dawood Ibrahim, and is known to have lost a hand from a bomb-making accident. Ismoila Rufai has no connection to ‘D’, and has both hands intact.

The three men arrested earlier have similarly complex identities (one of them had even worked as a police informer!). Two are Bihari villagers, and one lives in Navi Mumbai (New Bombay). Though one of the three has stated that he received training at an LeT camp in Pakistan, police are suggesting their main contacts are in Nepal and Bangladesh, and only “indirectly” in Pakistan. (This last point is somewhat vague in the news reports I’ve read.)

For columnist Rudroneel Ghosh at India Enews, the pattern of arrests thus far just doesn’t add up, which could mean one of two things: Continue reading

Hindi-Hong Kong-Bhai-Bhai

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I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the lameness we possess insiiiiide. Give them an over-developed sense of pride, to make it easier. Let the children’s prejudice remind us how we ought not be…

From the news tab, an anonymous tipster points us to a blog which took an amusing and slightly dil-warming look in to what tweens and teens in Hong Kong think of other Asian people:

When you think about Filipinos, what comes to your mind?

"Tak-shing Building!"
"They know how to sweep the floor!"
"I see them in Central all the time."
"Bun-bun.  Filipina girls.  But I have never met a Filipino guy yet."

Do you feel that you disrespect them by calling them such names?

"Hey, they come here to work.  We have more money than they have.  They are getting paid, so wouldn’t you say that they can be ordered around?"

Someday, you will be working and earning money too, and you will give spending money to your mother.  Does that mean that you can order your mother around?

"But how can that be the same?  My mother is not a Filipina."

Awesome. And now, on to the germane part (aside: does anyone know what “Ah Cha” means?):

When you think about Indians, what comes to your mind?

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Musafir, A Rajasthani Band; and Philly Meetup?

Musafir is a band from Rajasthan (and France!) who just performed with A.R. Rahman in Hollywood, California last week. This week (Wednesday), they’re coming to the prestigious Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, to headline a show with local DJs Darshana and Chetana Borah in a supporting role.musafir band.jpg

According to the product review at Amazon, Musafir originally formed with the idea of reconnecting European Gypsy (Roma) music with the South Asian folk music it derived from hundreds of years ago. (There is very strong linguistic evidence that the primary language spoken by the Roma, Romany, has specifically Indic roots. According to Wikipedia, Punjabi is the strongest influence.)

But in recent years, Musafir appears to have moved away from the “Gypsy” theme, and now they seem to perform a potpourri of traditional Rajasthani folk styles (with a little filmi music thrown in for good measure). From what I’ve heard it isn’t clear that Musafir is necessarily “authentic,” but whatever they are, they have been doing a good job in recent years entertaining music festival crowds in the U.S. and Canada, judging from notices here, here, and here (that last link has a couple of MP3s available).

Unfortunately, none of Musafir’s music appears to be available via ITunes, though you can listen to songs for free at Rhapsody, as well as here and here. (The song available at the Kimmel Center website actually comes from the unrelated Hindi film Musafir; a bizarre mistake.) Continue reading

Lankan evacuation from Lebanon stalled

Fewer than 300 Sri Lankan domestic workers have made it out of Lebanon so far, and the effort seems stalled at this point:

Sri LankaÂ’s Lebanon ambassador M.A. Farrok admitted in a BBCÂ’s Sinhala language service interview that the steady dispatch of war refugees to Sri Lanka has broken down after the first batch has been flown home.

He said after sending nearly 300 people home monetary difficulties faced by an international organization in sending them home, prior engagements of Sri Lankan Airline planes for different jobs and difficulty of reaching Southern areas of Lebanon have all contributed to the break down of dispatching refugees to Sri Lanka.

Several hundred women have taken refuge at the Sri Lankan embassy. Some of the women don’t have valid papers, either because they overstayed their contracts or because they couldn’t get their documents back from their employers. Some employers refuse to release their workers, while others have fled leaving them high and dry:

Terrified Sri Lankan maids who spoke to Gulf News from their embassy in Beirut said they had no alternative but to run away from their sponsors’ houses.

A few among them said they had been left behind by their sponsors, who were either on vacation or had fled the country.

“The Lebanese family for whom I used to work fled leaving me behind. I asked them to help me get out of the country as well but they just gave me $75 (Dh275) and asked me to get in touch with my embassy. I am scared. I want to go back to Sri Lanka where I have a four-year-old daughter and a husband. I am unable to keep in touch with them. The last time I spoke to them was eight days ago,” said Jayanti Gunasekara.

The Ambassador is keeping busy:

With roughly 400 stranded Sri Lankan women sleeping in his offices as they try to escape Lebanon, Amanul Farouque, the country’s ambassador was out yesterday morning, going from bakery to bakery to buy them bread. “This is an unusual assignment, but we are in an unusual situation,” he said wryly.

The embassy promises that it will give travel documents to all Sri Lankans regardless of legal status. But how many will be able to get to the embassy, let alone leave the country? Continue reading

If you can foot the bill

nagranisocks.jpgMy favorite fashion writer, Robin Givhan of the Washington Post, has a story on the desi entrepreneur who has devoted his life to solving the following problem:

“I see a guy with a great suit on and nasty socks, I think, ‘Come on, finish the job!’” he says.

Great suit, nasty socks: truly one of the great fashion missteps of our time and one that many of our gentlemen readers will surely recognize. You know the feeling when you’re getting ready for a big meeting and realize all you have is holey, lumpy or mismatched socks? Well, Vivek Nagrani is here to help, at a mere $125 a pair. Hey, that’s only $62.50 per sock!

Nagrani makes a “Gatsby” sock with the image of a woman sipping a martini, strategically resting along a man’s Achilles’ tendon. “She’s holding him up,” he explains. Another pair of socks named “Luther” have a floral pattern winding up the inside of the calf; the flowers are revealed only when a man sits down and crosses his legs. He named another pair of socks “Brian,” after a customer who is attached to his dog Bottle Cap. The socks have stylized paw prints all over them.

You can read all about Nagrani in Givhan’s article. Meanwhile, I took a look at his corporate website, to learn more about this captain of industry, and found this description of the Nagrani brand:

The V.K. Nagrani label is privileged to create products for the diplomatic, scientific, military, artisanal and financial elite. With no surprise, men who define themselves by their distinct character rather than their possessions remain our most loyal customers and become our revered friends. Whether named by collection or by connoisseur, we grace such men of influence with our name. After all, the spirit of V.K. Nagrani is a sine qua non of any depiction of the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie or, quite simply, a life of luxury and elegance.

The day you see the “Churchill” — “lemon yellow with stripes of coco and blue” — haughtily peeking out beneath the impeccable cuff of my bespoke pantaloons, you’ll know that I no longer have time for plebeians like you. Continue reading

Summer Hindi Film Music: “Omkara” Stands Out

I found Krrish and Fanaa entertaining enough to watch, though I instantly forgot the songs to both films, and haven’t had reason to go back for a second listen. I’ve also been sampling some of the other Hindi film music this summer via Raaga, and with a couple of exceptions the songs all sound like they were produced by robots who hate music. The Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna songs in particular are atrociously bad. (Kabhi Repeat Naa Karna.) omkara still3.jpg

One big exception from what I’ve heard are the songs to Omkara, the new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello by Vishal Bhardwaj. Bhardwaj directed another rendition of Shakespeare in Maqbool (Macbeth). Maqbool (Irfan Khan, Tabu, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri) was artfully done and well-acted, though I was a little confused about the obsessive focus on religion in the film. In Omkara, Bhardwaj is working as both director and music director, and the soundtrack benefits from the close attention to detail he evidently paid to it. The title track (“Omkara”), with Sukhwinder Singh’s vocals, is wonderful: it has that early A.R. Rahman happiness, the “Chaiya Chaiya” magic: Sukhwinder has a lot of power in his voice, and this tune celebrating the warrior “Omkara” allows it to come through. “Beedi” is also quite catchy — with a Qawwali sound — as is “Naina” (with vocals by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan). I’m a little less enthusiastic about the album’s slow songs, “Jag Ja,” and “O Saathi Re,” though they are still good — folksy and semi-classical rather than simply slow and pseudo-emotional (as in most Bollywood slow songs these days).

In short: sounds like A.R. Rahman, but much better than Rahman has been lately. Continue reading

“Racial harmony” in Preston, Lancashire

In the previous post I commented on the story of an apparent racist incident, that things are not always what they seem. On the other hand, sometimes things are very much what they seem. Today British authorities are trying to determine whether the stabbing death of an Asian man in a public housing estate after a pitched battle between whites and Asians armed with knives and baseball bats could possibly have had a racial component:

Police and community leaders in Preston, Lancashire, appealed for calm last night after 20-year-old Shezan Umarji was stabbed to death amid running battles between white and Asian youths early yesterday.

The young man was attacked outside his home in Fishwick View, on the city’s deprived Callon housing estate.

Racist abuse was involved:

Det Supt Graham Gardner, of Lancashire police, said racist abuse was used during the confrontation.

“There are racist elements to this murder. As such it has been declared as a racist murder investigation.”

But community leaders seem eager to downplay the racial dimension:

Community leaders played down any suggestion the attack may have been racially motivated but police sources said it appeared the battle was between Asian and white youths, some armed with baseball bats.

Councillor Taalib Shamsuddin denied racism was involved. ‘There were two groups. It was a hot night and there were people who were drunk. It’s as simple as that … The early indications are that this wasn’t a systematic racial issue. It was a disagreement between two guys that got out of hand.’

And this:

Ch Insp Cath Thundercloud, head of community relations for Lancashire Constabulary, insisted Preston was not troubled by racial disharmony, despite figures which placed it at the top of a chart for incidents of racial abuse. …

“We’ve got a lot of mixed races on that estate, and they live together in harmony all year long, and they’ve grown up together and they live together, so this is very rare indeed.”

In a sense they have a point: to reduce this incident to a hate crime risks diminishing the importance of other factors in play, such as poverty, joblessness, depressing housing conditions, and a generalized culture of booze and violence. Still, deploying the idea of “a lot of mixed races” “living together in harmony” seems quite a preposterous move at this time. I’d love to hear from the British massive on all this. Continue reading