U.S. Marines in India for intensive kabaddi training

Most of us recognize that the growing strategic relationship between the U.S. and India is necessary to counter the increasing influence of China and also to help combat the terrorists that seek to do both our nations harm. In pursuit of such an unstated policy, a contingent of Marines is in Belgaum in northern Karnataka right now for some hard-nosed training:

The joint exercise saw around 160 troops from India and the US train in sharing of intelligence, communication, weapons and equipment.

After a joint anti-terrorism exercise with the Indian Army at the Commando Training Centre here, US soldiers will take back not just experience of rigorous commando training but also a quintessentially Indian sport — kabaddi

Kabaddi fascinated them, one of the American platoon commanders, Lt Lee, said. “My troops are playing kabaddi in barracks too. They are impressed with the game and the agility of the Indian troops.”

The only hitch — as an Indian officer put it tongue-in-cheek — is that the Americans pronounce kabbadi as “cup of tea”. [Link]

Hmmmm. Not as hard-nosed as I assumed at first, but agility is important. What other skills will they learn? Jungle warfare? Hand to hand combat?

Snake charming course (part of jungle warfare).

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Not A Home Makeover Show

LeylaMilani6.jpgThe suspicious-looking individual to the right is a Muslim. Would you feel nervous if you saw her on an airplane?

The reason I ask is that my attention was drawn to the NBC game show “Deal Or No Deal,” which I haven’t actually seen on television, but appears to involve suitcases that may or may not be filled with large amounts of cash, presented to contestants by a bevy of hot models. The show’s website emphasizes the models, and when I checked it out the featured model to appear on my screen was this one, #13, name of Leyla. It struck me from her name and her visage that she might just be, you know, one of them, even though the web bio supplied for her only told me that she came from Toronto. And that she has “the face of an Angel and the drive of a tigress,” and was once a tomboy but is now “no longer a tomboy by any stretch of the imagination,” if you get my drift, phwarrr phwarrr. Fortunately the Persian Mirror was more forthcoming in identifying Leyla Milani and claiming her as one of their co-ethnics, which means in all likelihood she’s Muslim as well.

So, you ask, what does this have to do with the price of chapatis? Well, not much, really, except that the reason I was investigating “Deal or No Deal” in the first place was because of this Craigslist ad that was picked up today by Gawker:

Do you get nervous when you see a Muslim on an airplane? Have your opinions about Muslims changed since September 11? Do you have family or friends that get nervous around Muslims?

A NEW SHOW SEEKS New York families who have traditional family values but are uneasy around Muslims.

The show will profile families in different communities across the country. This one hour documentary-style series from the producers of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Deal or No Deal” will take a look at the people and cultures that make up America.

This series will also explore other issues that families from varied backgrounds face in their day-to-day life and provide opportunities to them that they might not have access to otherwise. This is not a home makeover show.

This is a paid opportunity.

If you are interested or have any questions about this show, please e-mail the following information to AshtonRamsey@Yahoo.com.

I repeat: THIS IS NOT A HOME MAKEOVER SHOW. So even if your closets are jammed full of last year’s hijabs and were decorated in Saddam-era 1980s Arabesque kitsch, do not apply. It’s also not a game show, presumably — or is it? what do the suitcases contain? are there airplanes involved? — although it is a “paid opportunity.” I guess you can email Ashton if you want to know more. Continue reading

Windy City Aftermath

I just wanted to say thank you to everybody who made it to the first ever Chicago Meetup! We had roughly 15 macacas in attendance (more than you can see in that photo) of all varieties: ABD, FOB, Active commenters, Quiet Lurkers, etc. We may not have hit 40, Taz, but I’ll bet there’s never been a sweeter, more easy going, more congenial group of people who’ve shown up.

The event hosted itself, I didn’t have to do a thing other than suggest that we order more food. Oh yeah, and this will appeal to the desi mentality – it was cheap, yo! We ended up $35 over when we collected money, and actually had to hand some back.

Great company, tasty food … really, the only thing that went wrong was that I didn’t take enough pictures, and the two I did take (with Ravi’s camera) don’t really capture the energy of the event.

So yes, there will definitely be another Chicago Meetup, but from what people said, maybe we should wait until the spring? And for those lurkers who were too shy to attend – come on in, the water’s fine!

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NYC Meetup Advisory – November 18

People of the tri-state area and visitors from afar, mark your calendars! Hot on the heels of the successful meet-up that Ennis convened this past weekend in Chicago, we’re taking things to the next level with a New York City meet-up Saturday, November 18, co-sponsored by Vinod and myself. That’s right! With the two of us setting the edges, there will be room for all at this one: libertarians and leftists, old heads and young bloods, sushi snobs and beer swillers, geeks and freaks, lawyers and miscreants, wheatish and homely, cisgendered and transgendered, atheists and mystics. Caste no bar!

Now, we haven’t yet selected the location, but this will be a late afternoon/early evening meetup, so that all you macacas can stop by en route to whatever fabulousness your Saturday night portends. You have plenty of advance notice, so no typical New York prior-commitment bullshit. Expect a 5 PM start time, a centrally located venue that serves a decent glass of wine, and a gathering of sepia-toned luminaries the likes of which the world has rarely seen. Ya heard! Continue reading

Connecting Desis Everywhere

It seems that it is time to add another woman to my original list of ‘Desi Women Under 30’, and am honored to add my homegirl and fellow Bangladeshi-SoCal woman Sumaya Kazi (Thanks, Nirali!).

In its second annual search for the best young entrepreneurs, BusinessWeek.com selected Sumaya Kazi, a Bangladeshi American woman from California, as one of its “Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25” for 2006. At 24, she is the youngest manager in her marketing department at Sun Microsystems and co-founder of online media publishing company The Cultural Connect.

Sumaya is one of two women in the Top 25, for the magazine’s US, Europe and Asia lists combined.

Readers are encouraged to vote for their top entrepreneur — the top five will be published in the business magazine’s print edition. You can read about Sumaya and vote for her at BusinessWeek.com. [nirali]

The Cultural Connect, started last year as The Desi Connect, before they expanded to include other cultures. I’ve been following their movement since Sumaya first interviewed me for their inaugural issue of The Desi Connect last year. Since then it has grown tremendously with now over 30,000 subscribers and 30 staff members all under the age of 35.

Last summer, she realized […] networking was a huge and untapped resource that could help solve two problems: the fact that she and other young Americans of south Asian descent rarely read or hear about themselves in the media, and that these successful young minorities could give back to their communities, if only they knew whom to call.

That’s partly how Ms. Kazi and two others dreamed up The CulturalConnect, a free online magazine catering to people from four different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The magazine comes in four editions: “The DesiConnect” (“Desi” refers to a person with South Asian roots), “The MideastConnect,” “The LatinConnect,” and “The AsiaConnect.” [cbs]

Being nominated for a the Top 25 under 25 for BusinessWeek.com is a big achievement. Other desis have made it to this year’s nomination as well: Adnan Aziz (licking paper for flavor), Karen Goel and Avichal Garg (online SAT prep course), and Sudhin Shahani (digital media company). I may be a little biased due to my love for all things with desi in the title, as well as in my favoring young desi female breaking “ism” barriers, but my vote goes to Sumaya. Top five make it to the print edition and voting will only be open for a couple of weeks — go place your vote today!

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Right to Information

This Saturday, I had the opportunity to listen to Arvind Kejriwal, founder of Parivartan, speak about his work on the Right to Information (RTI) Act of India.

Arvind Kejriwal is an Indian social activist and crusader for greater transparency in Government. He was awarded Ramon Magsaysay Emergent Leadership award in 2006 for activating India’s Right to Information movement at grassroots and social activities to empower the poorest citizens to fight corruption by holding the government answerable to the people.

[He] devotes full time to his work as the founder-head of Parivartan – a Delhi based citizens’ movement trying to ensure a just, transparent and accountable governance… [Kejriwal] campaigned for the Right to Information Act, which was passed in 2005. In July 2006, he spearheaded an awareness campaign for RTI across India. [wiki]

As we all know, the government agency bureaucracy in India is wrought with a culture of bribery and no real citizen accountability. The Right to Information Act has provides a way for Indian citizens to hold their government accountable, and has been doing so effectively.

Right to Information Act 2005 empowers every citizen to; ask any questions from the Government or seek any information; take copies of any government documents; inspect any government documents; inspect any Government works; and take samples of materials of any Government work. The Central RTI Act extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir… All bodies…which are owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government are covered.

If concerned officer does not provide information in time, a penalty of Rs 250 per day of delay can be imposed by the Information Commissioner. If the information provided is false, a penalty of a maximum of Rs 25000 can be imposed. A penalty can also be imposed for providing incomplete or for rejecting your application for malafide reasons. This fine is deducted from the officer’s personal salary. [link]

It was interesting to hear about the grassroots tactics around the RTI implementation Kejriwal used. This past July they ran a 15 day media campaign where they trained 1,500 volunteers and worked with 700 organizations across India. They worked with all of the major media outlets, and during that two week period 2,200 RTI reports were filled out. They coordinate with volunteers to stand outside of government agencies to inform citizens that if the agency tries to bribe them inside, to come return outside and receive help on filing an RTI report. They even have a blog to spread the word on RTI activities. Continue reading

The rituals of voting

Early on Monday morning I am making my way over to city hall to cast my ballot in the 2006 election. Election day is for chumps and for political novices, all of who wait in a line because they just don’t know any better. Almost every major metropolitan area has an extended early voting period where you can go in and vote at designated locations OR fill out and mail in an absentee ballot (even if you aren’t really absent but just lazy). I believe in voting early and voting often (although I don’t vote often in the same election because that would be illegal and would come back to screw me someday when my opponent reveals my sordid past to the electorate). The truth is I am fairly certain that I am currently on voter rolls in Michigan, Maryland, Colorado, Texas, and California.

Voting is a multi-step process. You can’t just show show up and start punching holes or touching screens willy-nilly. Democracy would collapse if that’s all it took. Some would say it already has. Here is my process in several steps:

1) Research: I tune out every television and radio advertisement and delete any voice messages that campaign workers have left on my phone. Rubbish. All of it. Lucky for us voters, every state has a voter education website(s) that can teach us about each issue and candidate from scratch. The California ballot has about 30 elected positions, a dozen state measures and a few local measures. What I thought would be a daunting task of researching, only took me 45 minutes. The website I used was The California Voter Foundation. I am sure that Taz will leave a comment soon that will help you find similar websites for each of your states (although Google might work as well). This website had a brief synopsis of each proposition including a non-partisan analysis and pro and con arguments from each side. It also showed me what prominent figures were for and against each proposition and who the financial backers were. Follow the money.

2) Talk to friends and family about what they think of the issues: Voting is supposed to be fun and build a sense of community. We can practice here on SM if you’d like. Forget all the desi candidates across the country for just a minute. Ballot measures are as important as candidates. Are there any issues local to you that you wish more people knew about? Out here Proposition 87 is the big headline grabber:

Former vice president Al Gore came to Berkeley Monday to support the “Yes on 87” campaign.

Prop. 87 promises to end California’s dependence on foreign oil with cleaner, cheaper alternatives such as wind, solar and biofuels that will improve the economy and reduce air pollution that causes asthma, lung disease and cancer. At the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park rally, Gore emphasized that half of California’s foreign oil comes from the Middle East. [Link]

A couple weeks ago former President Clinton was in town for a Prop 87 rally. My mom really wanted to go see Clinton so we went to the rally.

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“Don” – Paan + Tae Kwon = Long

Actually, the new Shah Rukh Khan movie Don isn’t as bad as you might expect, given all the negative reviews (for instance). It’s also shaping up to be a box office success.

Farhan Akhtar is probably the most hyped director in the new wave of Bollywood film directors. Though he comes from an old B-wood family (his father Javed co-wrote the script of the original Don), Farhan’s first film, Dil Chahta Hai showed no signs of film dynasty nepotism. Dil Chahta Hai was considered a stylistic breakthrough because of the realistic (well, relatively) plot and its rebellious attitude, and it became an anthem of sorts for the post-liberalization generation. That sense of clarity or mission is missing here: in his remake of Don, Farhan devotes most of his writer-director energy into matching western action flicks, fight-for-fight, and stunt for stunt. On this he succeeds: I liked the first car chase, and I think the skydiving fight scene is probably a first for Bollywood. There is also a certain amount of Kill Bill theatrical viciousness here that’s novel in the Bollywood hero-villain iconography.

What most of the film’s critics have missed, I think, is the basic problem of identity this film symbolizes, a problem which is broader than just this film. Farhan Akhtar seems to be torn between two approaches: on the one hand, he could do a slightly tweaked version of an outdated version of India, from a “disco” gangster movie that wasn’t all that great to begin with. (Yes, I said it.) The upside is you get the warm-and-fuzzy nostalgia atmosphere, but the danger is the mindless perpetuation of the myth of the “glory days” of Bollywood and Amitabh Bachchan, as if we need any more of that. Or: he could make a slick, essentially imported style of action movie, with a few “traditional” songs added to appeal to the folks in UP (the “Mourya Re” and “Khaike Paan Banaraswala” numbers). This film flirts with both but doesn’t fully commit, which shows it fundamentally doesn’t know what it wants to be.

It may be a false choice, but the question continues to nag: will the real, contemporary Indian film aesthetic please stand up? Continue reading

Brangelina to Adopt India

I so called this story (thanks, Jai!) a few weeks ago and not one of you Mutineers took me up on the friendly wager…!

Angelina Jolie is adopting an Indian baby to add to her growing international brood, according to US reports.

Sources say the big-hearted actress and partner Brad Pitt have already applied to adopt a tot from an Indian orphanage. An insider said: “They hope to be able to bring the child home by Christmas.[…] She has said: “I want to create a rainbow family. That’s children of different religions and cultures from different countries.” [link]

And the disturbing cherry on top…

The source told US magazine Globe: “Whichever they end up with, they’d like to name the child India to honour its homeland.” The pair are rumoured to have visited the Priva Darshini orphanage in the last month. [link]

Seriously?!?! It’s not like they went around and named the other kids ‘Cambodia’ and ‘Ethiopia.’ How come they get cool names like Maddox, Shiloh and Zahara, and you want to name the desi kid ‘India?’ Like she isn’t going to be teased enough…

I once had this girl in my class, a Latino woman, whose name was Asia. I found it confusing. Now that I think about it, I may have met an India or two in my lifetime and I was always left feeling a little … put off. Being named after a country just never seemed, um, meaningful. But INDIA, really? Brangelina, don’t you think you could name the desi kid something else, while still honoring his birth land? Those poor children will be raised with such identity issues…

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Each Friday NPR’s Morning Edition features a StoryCorp Project interview. You may recall that I had previously blogged about an interview between a Sri Lankan American husband and wife. This morning’s interview featured a really cute story (only ~1 minute long) from a Sri Lankan woman who came to the United States in 1969. I recommend that you guys stop reading this post right now and listen to this clip first. For those of you too lazy to follow my recommendation I will give you the lead in below:

Two friends interview each other in Pittsburgh

When Juliet Jegasothy came to the United States from Sri Lanka, she had already heard many stories about what life was like in America.

“We came to America in 1969, we were just newly married, and we came to Brooklyn, New York.” Jegasothy recently told her friend Sheena Jacob.

“I was so terrified to even open the door, because I had heard all these horror stories about crooks, and gangsters, and guns, in New York.

Jegasothy soon encountered an American tradition that she was not prepared for… [Link]

I realize that I am jumping the gun and that Halloween isn’t until next Tuesday. However, most of you have probably been invited to some Halloween party this weekend (unlike some grad student I know who will be writing alone in his apartment dressed up like a blogger) and if you are a procrastinating slacker like me you could really use some costume advice STAT! After the jump I will provide you with some last minute ideas.

*WARNING* There is some scary sh*t past this point.

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