Wrong Swastika

The New York Times recently ran a story about a mysterious gigantic swastika in Kyrgyzstan. The swastika in question is 600 feet across, at least 60 years old, and made out of fir trees:

Legend has it that German prisoners of war, pressed into forestry duty after World War II, duped their Soviet guards and planted rows of seedlings in the shape of the emblem Hitler had chosen as his own.

More than 20 years later, the trees rose tall enough to be visible from the village beneath. Only then did the swastika appear, a time-delayed act of defiance by vanquished soldiers marooned in a corner of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

For all the tidiness of legend, however, the tale is not quite true. [Link]

The article then goes on to present various explanations for the swastika, none of which quite click. A major reason why they don’t click is that the swastika in question obviously not a Nazi swastika (based on its orientation) but a Hindu/Parsi/Buddhist/Jain one:

The mystery’s persistence is in its way surprising, given that as a Nazi swastika the symbol is imperfect, whether by design or because of uneven terrain. Hitler’s swastika was tilted 45 degrees; the formation here is almost level. Moreover, the arms do not mimic the Third Reich’s symbol, but its mirror image — a swastika in reverse. [Link]

Left facing swastikas long predate the Nazis and are common in Asia. One explanation for the swastika is that it is in some way connected to Hinduism. The swastika is known as the “Eki Naryn swastika” and is located in a town of the same name. The phrase “Ek Narayan” means “One God.”

However, we don’t know it was Hindus for sure. It could be the Chinese:

[The left facing] swastika is often found on Chinese food packaging to signify that the product is vegetarian and can be consumed by strict Buddhists. It is often sewn into the collars of Chinese children’s clothing to protect them from evil spirits. [Link] [It is a well known fact that Chinese spirits are afraid of children of dyslexic Nazis - ed]

In Taiwan, the swastika is a generic symbol for temple:

On maps in the Taipei subway system a swastika symbol is employed to indicate a temple, parallel to a cross indicating a Christian church. [Link]

Synbols on a Taipei subway map

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Misogyny kills

There are times when I feel desperately ashamed of my community/communities (Desi/Punjabi/Sikh). I realize this is just one side of the story we’re hearing, and that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but it is all too believable and makes my blood run cold.

This is the story of 27 year old Navjeet Siddhu from Southall, who committed suicide by jumping in front of a 100mph Heathrow Express train. Not only did she jump, but she jumped carrying her two children.

She suffered from depression, which began when she gave birth to a daughter rather than a son. Her condition became worse after her husband, Manjit, who left her to return to his native India, said that he would come back home only if he did not have to do any household chores. [Link]

Navjeet Siddhu and her daughter Simran died instantly. Her son, Aman Raj, died in the hospital 2 hours later. To add to the carnage, Navjeet’s mother, 56 year old Satwant Kaur Sodhi, committed suicide at the same spot six months later.

Navjeet Siddhu died back in August of 2005, but the inquest into the incident is just now being held, hence the news attention. The husband comes off as hideously callous in news stories:

The court was told how Mr Sidhu, who arrived six minutes after the incident at Southall station, walked past the bodies of his wife and five-year-old daughter, Simran, to pick up the body of his 23-month-old son, Aman Raj, and take him to hospital. [Link]

It’s possible that his actions had a rational explanation – that Aman Raj was the only one who looked like he would survive – it’s hard to tell without having his side of the story. We really shouldn’t prejudge her husband based on such flimsy evidence. However, even if this account is a media fiction, this sort of thing is far too common and that makes it easier to believe that it might have happened.

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The Love Goat

Imagine, if you will, that the following fictional conversation took place between myself (in my best Jon Lovitz voice) and a girl named “Preeti:”

Abhi: Hey Preeti.

Preeti: Whad up?

Abhi: You know we’ve been together for two whole months now. I just wanted you to know that I’m really excited about us. I think we make a good couple. You complete me. I think we are helping each other grow, both together and as individuals.

Preeti: Uh huh. That’s sweet.

Abhi: Well, since it is our two-month anniversary I thought I would get you something special.

Preeti: Cool, did you get me a brown Zune?

Abhi: No darling. Check this out though. I just had a star named after you. I wanted you to know that my love for you will shine brightly forever.

Preeti: Forever?

Abhi: Foreva-eva. Just think! Every time you look up there in the sky at the star formerly known as ZX56C92 you will think about how much I burn for you!

Okay, has anyone vomited yet? I am willing to bet that at least one reader out there has had a star named after them or named a star after someone. Admit it! We’ve all done things we are ashamed of. This is definitely not how I’d go about declaring my feelings for someone. Then again, I’m not sure I have ever developed a really good method for showing someone I care. The fictional conversation above leads me to a real conversation that took place over this past weekend.

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

So, where the hell is Osama bin Laden, anyway? Depends who you ask:

In a memoir that was released yesterday, “In the Line of Fire,” President Musharraf of Pakistan suggests that the leader of Al Qaeda is still in Afghanistan. “The fact that so many Saudis are in the Kunar area perhaps suggests that this is where Osama bin Laden has his hideout, but we cannot be sure,” he writes in the new book, published by Free Press.

But over the weekend, President Karzai of Afghanistan said Mr. bin Laden could be in the border region of Pakistan, but that he is definitely not in Afghanistan. “He is not in Afghanistan. I can tell you that for sure,” Mr. Karzai said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

And, where the hell is Mullah Omar, anyway? Depends who you ask:

The Afghan leader then suggested that Mr. bin Laden is in Quetta, Pakistan. The Taliban warlord, Mullah Omar, is believed to be living there.

In his memoir, General Musharraf said the idea that Mr. Omar is running an insurgency from Quetta is “ridiculous.”

With these diametrically opposed views, no surprise that it’s gotten personal:

“As soon as president Karzai understands his own country, the easier it’ll be for him,” General Musharraf said in an address to the Council for Foreign Relations think tank in New York.


Karzai has been no less testy this past week in his public comments, saying what Pakistan is doing in Afghanistan is akin to training snakes and the snakes would one day come back to bite Pakistan.

Well, tomorrow night Messrs. Karzai and Musharraf will enjoy dinner together, hosted by their great mutual friend and ally George Bush, who had this to say earlier today:

BUSH: Tomorrow, President Karzai and President Musharraf and I will have dinner. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be an interesting discussion amongst three allies, three people who are concerned about the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Should be interesting, indeed! No word from the White House yet on the menu, but we’re thinking there’ll be more red zinger than humble pie. Musharraf has an unfair advantage: he gets to practice his best lines tonight on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The world is truly strange. Continue reading

Burnt Cork and Grease Paint

bamboozled.jpegThere’s a powerful scene in “Bamboozled,” Spike Lee’s most difficult and underappreciated movie, in which the street-actor characters played by Savion Glover and Tommy Davidson, having been recruited into a scheme that involves staging a deliberately outrageous, racist pilot for a TV show, find themselves in the dressing room applying blackface. The camera lingers as the cork burns and the grease paint is prepared, and pulls back to show us the characters as they see themselves in the mirror, watching their natural brown hues turn to a shiny, oily black.

Blackface was both insult and injury. Used by white actors, it offered literal cover for the most offensive caricature; used by black actors, it represented a negation of oneself that was demanded to earn a living as a performer, and worse, the prerequisite of dehumanization in order to represent those portrayed as one’s own community, one’s own self. More than any law or repressive policy, it sent the message that black people were simply not human.

kate_1.jpgOver the weekend, I was shown a tube of grease paint of a make used back in the blackface heyday. A small, banal object, yet one invested with so much and so troubling a meaning. Well it turns out that just a couple of days earlier, the British daily The Independent ran this front-page image in honor of its “Africa issue” with half of the day’s revenues to help fight AIDS on the continent. The depiction is of Kate Moss, the decidedly non-black British fashion model and alleged onetime cocaine/heroin fiend, not only blackened but Blackened — bigger lips, thicker brows, fleshier cheeks. “NOT A FASHION STATEMENT,” the headline blares, while an inset on the sidebar promises a poster of the image inside.

Here’s a British term: BOLLOCKS! That’s also the view of Sunny from Asians in Media and Pickled Politics, our sister-from-another-mother site from across the pond, who puts it succinctly:

Could they not find a black model to represent Africa?

A particularly typical example of liberal guilt “we-feel-sorry-for-you” racism. You see they would have liked to to put a black model on the front but she just would not have sold as many copies. So they used a druggie.

It would have been better for the Indy to not even bother.

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That’s NOT How You Do The “Head Thing”

never do that again please.JPG Dear Nidhi M.,

Thank you very much for sending Sepia Mutiny a story idea via our tipline three hours ago. It was so kind of you to think of us as you went about your day.

Since you have demonstrated your generosity already, I feel emboldened enough to wonder if you’d be willing to go a bit further in showing your devotion to this mutinous cause. Do you bleed Sepia? If so, would you graciously consider donating one of your eyes to me? I lost mine when I clawed them out, after watching the link you helpfully enclosed with the following succinct statement:

Nike teaming up with 24 hour fitness mixing and mucking up classical indian dances with bollywood and strange robotic aerobic moves.

Mein Gott, that’s almost poetic. You were right. And now, I am in so much pain because of it. I’d gouge away at the intern’s face, but she took one look at me and ran screaming to Rajni the lemur’s room. At least she didn’t have to watch Jamie King train three mostly wooden dancers in his “Rockstar workout” of “far-East funk”. Nor did she have to hear his priceless wisdom, which I feel I must contradict fervently after watching this entire fiasco:

There are no rules. If you’re feeling the music, you can’t go wrong.

TRUST me. You can indeed go wrong. Especially when you employ that uber-abused cliche which has appeared on browndating dot com so many times, my friends have turned it in to part of a drinking game (“OMG, he prefaced it with ‘good blend of’…DOUBLE SHOT!”).

Of course, I am referring to that bi-cultural, directional claptrap which automatically disqualified all otherwise-promising candidates from suitable debauchery; Mr. King’s spin on it didn’t prevent the gagging, not after what I saw. “East meets West on the dance floor”? Come to any random desi party and you can abuse “South” as well, i.e. “when East meets West on the dance floor, two rabidly horny underage hormones often move South in order to simulate an act which MummyPapa would spank them unconscious for, for even pondering”. Anyway. When this man who has choreographed Madge exhorts us to “just get out there and show your Bollywood style!”, I don’t think he realizes what fresh hell he is inviting the world to suffer through by doing so.

Chick Pea? Are you out there? Have you done your surgical rotation yet??? That faint, scratchy squawking you hear is Abhi, frantically paging you to the bunker’s painfully rustic OR. Go, scrub your hands already! My anesthesiologist Dr. Walker is already prepping me for surgery. As for the rest of you, just know this and remember it well– when you dance like that, you make the baby Jesus cry. Worse than that, you also piss off our Desidancer.

Blindly yours,



(more pictures after the jump, click to enlarge them…if you dare) Continue reading


Borat_happy_time.jpgSo maybe this is a stretch, but surely those who hold that Vedic civilization stems from nomadic people from Central Asia will accept that we desis therefore have a vestigial family tie with Borat, the absurd, allegedly Kazakh TV reporter who’s a creation of British comic Sacha Baron Cohen. As you may know, Borat’s movie, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, opens in a few weeks, after a rapturous welcome at the Toronto Film Festival and at various sneak previews.

The Borat character is quite brilliant, as you can see on any of the video clips here. Of course, if you were Kazakh you might not feel the same way. Unfortunately, Borat had to come from somewhere, and it seems that Kazakhstan drew the short straw. I feel bad for the Kazakhs; Borat tests their patience and sense of humor, and now, with the movie about to open in the US and Europe, the Kazakh government is highly agitated about the prospect that Borat will become their country’s global image. Here’s the spokesman of the Kazakh Foreign Ministry:

“We understand that Borat is a kind of satire, but it is just a pity that Mr Cohen chose Kazakhstan as the origin of his hero,” Mr Ashykbayev told The Times. “As far as I know, he has never been to Kazakhstan, although there have been efforts on the part of some people here to invite him so that he can see what our country is really like.” …

Mr Ashykbayev said that there were no plans to ban Borat from Kazakhstan. But he added: “I hope the companies responsible for screening this movie will show some responsibility and not show it.

“It is quite insulting to the people of Kazakhstan and it may create some accusations from the public against the Government for letting such things come to our country.”

That’s from an article today in The Times, which reports that the Kazakh government is bankrolling a film of its own, Nomad: Continue reading

Pandita Ramabai’s Book on America (1889)

ramabaibw.jpg In a class I’m teaching this fall, we’re looking at Pandita Ramabai’s book on America, which has been recently translated by Meera Kosambi as Pandita Ramabai’s American Encounter (2003). The original book was written in Marathi in 1889, and published as United Stateschi Lokasthiti ani Pravasavritta, which translates to The Peoples of the United States. It’s an intriguing book — part of the small group of “Easterner goes West” books published in the 19th century, coexisting uneasily alongside dozens of conventional, Orientalist travel narratives that describe the mystic, masalafied “East.” What Ramabai has to say about America is interesting partly for the oblique criticisms of colonialism and racism one finds at various points, and partly because of her staunch, unapologetic feminism.

Meera Kosambi has a thorough introduction to the book and to Pandita Ramabai, which is the source of most of the information in the post below. First off, the basic biography: Pandita Ramabai was born to a Brahmin family in Maharashtra in 1859. In a personal memoir she writes that her father (known as Dongre) went out on a limb and taught her Sanskrit, and also taught her to read and recite from the Puranas — considered completely off-limits to women at the time. But both of her parents died in in 1874 [approximately] because of famine, and Ramabai and her brother wandered around India until they ended up in Calcutta in 1878. They impressed the local Sanskrit experts (Calcutta, being more progressive, didn’t shun a female Sanskrit scholar), who granted Ramabai the name “Pandita,” in honor of her learning. Unfortunately, her brother died soon afterwards, and Ramabai married one of his friends, a lawyer from the Shudra caste named Bipin Behari (also known as Das Medhavi). The couple was ostracized for the cross-caste marriage, and tragically, Medhavi died just a couple of years later (in 1880), leaving Ramabai to raise their daughter Manorama, completely on her own. Continue reading

Allen’s Cavalier remarks surface

On Sunday Salon.com published a very provocative article about Sen. George Allen of “Macaca” fame (thanks for the tip Subodh and “Sparky“). To those people who have been defending him, including members of the Indian American Republican Council (IARC) and some Indian American business men in Virginia, I am sure this story will be of interest:

Three former college football teammates of Sen. George Allen say that the Virginia Republican repeatedly used an inflammatory racial epithet and demonstrated racist attitudes toward blacks during the early 1970s.

“Allen said he came to Virginia because he wanted to play football in a place where ‘blacks knew their place,’” said Dr. Ken Shelton, a white radiologist in North Carolina who played tight end for the University of Virginia football team when Allen was quarterback. “He used the N-word on a regular basis back then.”

A second white teammate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retribution from the Allen campaign, separately claimed that Allen used the word “nigger” to describe blacks. “It was so common with George when he was among his white friends. This is the terminology he used,” the teammate said.

A third white teammate contacted separately, who also spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of being attacked by the Virginia senator, said he too remembers Allen using the word “nigger,” though he said he could not recall a specific conversation in which Allen used the term. “My impression of him was that he was a racist,” the third teammate said. [Link]

Here is one more tidbit:

Shelton said he also remembers a disturbing deer hunting trip with Allen on land that was owned by the family of Billy Lanahan, a wide receiver on the team. After they had killed a deer, Shelton said he remembers Allen asking Lanahan where the local black residents lived. Shelton said Allen then drove the three of them to that neighborhood with the severed head of the deer. “He proceeded to take the doe’s head and stuff it into a mailbox,” Shelton said. [Link]

I am interested of course in what these former teammates have to say about Allen as it has bearing on the whole “macaca” incident. However, I am equally blown away by how similar this is to when former Presidential candidate John Kerry got “swift-boated” during the 2004 campaign. At that time it was some of Kerry’s former Vietnam war comrades that cast aspersions on his character from their interaction with him decades before. Here it is Allen’s former teammates on the UVA Cavaliers. Are we about to see political karma played out before our eyes? Another Presidential hopeful’s ambitions thwarted? I am going to predict so. Many macacas are known for their belief in karma after all. :)

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The original Indian American lobby

We’ve had a few posts in the past on the growing influence of the Indian American Lobby (see 1,2,3), particularly with regards to the U.S./India nuclear deal. However, a new book set for release stateside next month takes us old school. Long before Indian Americans were lobbying for a nuclear deal with India they were lobbying for the basics, such as civil rights here and freedom for India. Indolink.com has a very informative review:

Sikhs, Swamis, Students, and Spies: the India lobby in the United States, 1900-1946” is the title of a new book, authored by veteran South Asian scholar Dr Harold Gould, of the University of Virginia, and scheduled for release later this month by Sage Publications.

The subtitle suggests that it deals with the pioneers who confronted racism and opened America to South Asians, reflecting, as Joan Jensen informs us in her earlier classic study ‘Passage from India,’ “The story of how Indian immigrant pioneers settled in a hostile land and struggled to enjoy rights equal to those of Euro-Americans.”

That’s certainly a part of the historical confrontation between desis and non-desis in North America. It should be remembered that this was a time when the process of becoming an American citizen was one from which Indians were excluded through an increasingly complex maze of laws and regulations. Indeed, Indians were the only class of people whose citizenship was revoked because they did not neatly fit into the then commonly accepted racial categories of Caucasian, Mongolian, and Negro.

This was also a time when the chief of the bureau of naturalization notified all United States attorneys to oppose actively the granting of naturalization to “Hindoos or East Indians” and to instruct clerks of courts in their districts to refuse to accept declarations of intention or to file petitions for naturalization. Attorneys were also asked to file motions for orders to cancel declarations of intention already filed by Indians.

That’s why, in 1907, when Bengali student Taraknath Das was refused an application for citizenship in San Francisco, he wrote to the attorney general: “May I ask you if the Hindus who belong to the Caucasian stock of the Human race have no legal right to become citizens of the United States, under what special law the Japanese who belong to a different stock are allowed to declare their intention to become citizens of the United States.” [Link]

By that last paragraph I can see that solidarity with other Asian Americans definitely wasn’t in vogue at the time. According to review, the book takes a very close look at the efforts made throughout North America to drum up support against the British occupation in India:

Most of the India associations had high aims and objectives. For instance, the Hindustanee association of United States, founded in Chicago in 1913, stated its aims as follows: “To further the educational interests of the Indian students, to gather or disseminate all kinds of educational information, to seek help and cooperation from people at home and in the country.” As I.M.Muthanna observes in his book ‘People of India in North America,’ “Though outwardly it posed as a cultural organization, the real aim of this association was to preach sedition against the British.”

The ‘Hindu’ Associations organized in the U.S. had the following objectives: ‘Receipt of vernacular papers from India in order to keep Hindus fully informed of the events in their country, importation of youths from India to America for their education and for preparing them for developing their nationalist outlook, and to hold weekly meetings and discus politics.’

Apart from the Ghadar weekly, some of the pamphlets that were widely circulated include New Echo, Gadar di Goonj, Gadar di Karak, Gadhar Sandesh etc. The editor Ram Chandra wrote: “The ghadar conveys the message of rebellion to the nation once a week. It is brave, outspoken, unbridled, soft-footed, and given to the use of strong language. It is a lightning, a storm and a flame of fire ..we are the harbinger of freedom…” [Link]

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