The Karma of Capitalism

Harvard Business School Ain’t What It Used To Be….

BusinessWeek is currently featuring a story on the purported influx of Desi inspired ideas into cutting edge American capitalism. Paint me a cynic but the piece takes a simplistic view of 1) what really happens in business or 2) what’s really uniquely desi philosophy or 3) both. The result is a mass of ethnic feel-goodness but not enough of a structured explanation to satiate a, uh, cynic like myself.

Our no-doubt well-intentioned writer christens the movement “Karma Capitalism” –

You might also call it Karma Capitalism. For both organizations and individuals, it’s a gentler, more empathetic ethos that resonates in the post-tech-bubble, post-Enron zeitgeist….while it used to be hip in management circles to quote from the sixth century B.C. Chinese classic The Art of War, the trendy ancient Eastern text today is the more introspective Bhagavad Gita.

BizWeek quotes different folks who take stabs at identifying what “it” is –

…One key message is that enlightened leaders should master any impulses or emotions that cloud sound judgment. Good leaders are selfless, take initiative, and focus on their duty rather than obsessing over outcomes or financial gain. “The key point“The key point is to put purpose before self”,” says Ram Charan, a coach to CEOs such as General Electric Co.’s (GE ) Jeffrey R. Immelt, “is to put purpose before self. This is absolutely applicable to corporate leadership today.”

…”The best way to describe it is inclusive capitalism,” says Prahalad, a consultant and University of Michigan professor who ranked third in a recent Times of London poll about the world’s most influential business thinkers. “It’s the idea that corporations can simultaneously create value and social justice.”

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Bollywood Fugly


A very happy one-week anniversary to “Ugly, Ugly, Bollywood Fugly,” a brand-new and already fabulous blog that aims to chronicle and record for posterity the more egregious cosmetic and sartorial effects of Bollywood film. But of course it’s fabulous: Sepia friends DesiDancer, t-HYPE, and Filmiholic are all involved! Just one week and it’s already a treasure trove of gems like the one above. With material like that, there’s nothing else to say… except for the fantastic captions that our fearless hunters-of-ugly have composed. Welcome! Continue reading

Brahman Pimped My Site

An item in the November print issue of Wired drew my attention to the work of Dr. Smita Jain Narang, who has developed WebVastu, a system to design websites in balance and harmony with cosmic principles. According to the article (page 72 in the print edition), “Narang reports that on the 500 sites she’s redesigned, three-quarters received an imediate boost in traffic.” I took a look at Narang’s own site to learn more about this path-breaking technique:

We all know that the five elements that comprise the human and the world are called the “Paanchbhootas”. Similarly every website has its own “paanchbhootas” and a balance has to be maintained to achieve a desired result. Any disturbance in any of the element may result in negative consequences.

This is especially important for commercial sites, as you can imagine. Negative energies are never good for the bottom line:

For the websites to bring business the element in each quadrant must be honored and they should be kept in balance as this creates powerful and beneficial conditions, which draw business towards the owner. On the other hand, an imbalance of the elements can create negative energies, which may have an adverse effect on the websites.

Wired asked Narang, who is 30, to “diagnose one of our spiritual haunts,,” and her assessment was mixed at best. It scored well for its address and graphics (good Water flow), but poorly on structure (too much Air), lead-off (inauspicious header), page length and footer, which should have been “brown, fawn or copper.”

Copperish colors must be extremely auspicious, as Narang’s own site involves white lettering bathed in a glowing, brown-yellow background that is nearly overwhelming to my bleary morning eyes. Then again, I haven’t been up since 3 AM performing austerities and contemplating the Divine. The site also lacks navigation; perhaps such tools only breed maya, and we must instead move about the site in an organic way. So should you, but if you don’t mind the spiritual shortcuts, here are a few highlights.

WebVastu takes its place in humanity’s long process of spiritual and material advancement:

Man has endeavoured to improve from time immemorial. Starting from the Stone Age to the 21st century, mankind has only improved and is keeping their step toward modernisation. But as we are becoming modern we are leaving our culture far behind and are overburdened by sorrows, unhappiness, mental tensions and what not. Thus all kinds of sufferings are taking place in the life and in order to get all the things back, we are trying to follow the path showed by our ancestors. In my book I have tried to formulate some principles for designing the websites on the fundamentals of Vastu science, so that the person can achieve the maximum benefit in totality.

I am only trying to smoothen the people business by making it more harmonious and thereby having gradual increase through websites. Destiny always prevails, but by implementing the Vastu concepts, one can enhance the business provided by websites. Therefore, it is advisable to follow Vastu to open the gates to a happy and prosperous life.

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All religions suck … except Jainism

Militant atheist Sam Harris has been making quite a stir lately with his best-selling polemics against religion and his in-your-face public appearances:

… [while] debating a former priest before a packed auditorium… he condemns the God of the Old Testament for a host of sins, including support for slavery. He drop-kicks the New Testament, likening the story of Jesus to a fairy tale. He savages the Koran, calling it “a manifesto for religious divisiveness…” [Link]

He goes beyond the usual attacks on fundamentalists to attack moderates for being “enablers” and apologists for more extreme actions:

Religious moderates, Harris says in his patient and imperturbable style, have immunized religion from rational discussion by nurturing the idea that faith is so personal and private that it is beyond criticism, even when horrific crimes are committed in its name. [Link]

He sees all religion as fundamentally dangerous, especially in the post 9/11 world:

… he demonstrates the behavior he believes atheists should adopt when talking with Christians. “Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you,” he writes, addressing his imaginary opponent, “dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living. But we stand dumbstruck by you as well – by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God…” [Link]

The worst part, Harris says, is this: Because Christians and Jews cling to their “delusions,” they are in no position to criticize Muslims for theirs. And, as he italicizes it in his new book for maximum effect, ” most Muslims are utterly deranged by their religious faith. ” [Italics his] [Link]

Despite his deep and abiding enmity to all religions, he finds one acceptable:

He endorses Jainism, a religion-philosophy from India that finds God in the unchanging traits of the human soul. But everyone who organizes his or her life around an ancient text that purports to convey the words and sentiments of God — Harris would like you to surrender your prayers, history and traditions. You are welcome to check out Jainism, but Harris recommends that you accept his conclusion, which is that we live in a universe without God. Deal with it. [Link]
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Asra Nomani, Daud Sharifa, and the Women’s Mosque

Congratulations are due to Asra Nomani, who won this year’s SAJA fellowship for a planned project to go to Tamil Nadu to report on movement to build a women’s mosque there. The project has been initiated in the town of Pudukkottai, as a reaction against male-dominated mosques and local, male-only Jamaat boards, that have the power to decide many personal and marriage-related disputes in India’s Muslim community.

The movement is being spearheaded by a woman named Daud Sharifa, and has already received a fair amount of coverage in the past two years from major news organizations such as the BBC. (More stories can be found here [Outlook] and here [New American Media]). Despite getting quite a bit of attention, the project is years away from completion owing to fundraising difficulties.

However, as one reads more about Daud Sharifa, the symbolic project of actually building a women’s mosque (which would be the first one to be built anywhere in the world) begins to seem somewhat secondary to what might be her main goal: building a broad-based, national movement to support the rights of Muslim women. Since the government has done little to help (and sometimes much to hurt) the cause, Sharifa and her NGO, STEPS, have gone ahead and created a women-only Jamaat (“Congregation”) to arbitrate family disputes using a feminist slant on Islamic law. They have been in operation since February 2004, and get a steady stream of cases to resolve (according to this article, they get about 15 petitions a day).

Daud Sharifa’s justification for the project seems strong:

“The male jamaats are unlawful kangaroo courts that play with the lives of women. A mosque-jamaat axis is a power centre that controls the community. When women are refused representation here, we have no choice but to have our own jamaat. And since a jamaat is attached to a mosque, we have to build our own mosque.” (link)

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South Asian via Africa Diaspora

Ever notice how sometimes there are certain themes in your life? This month it was the theme ‘everything is related to the South Asian diaspora via Africa route.’ Chick Pea’s mother fed me fried mogo w/ tamarind sauce, Yo’ Mom told me stories of her life in Africa as a child, and a friend of mine just got back from a summer social work stint working in the desi townships of Durban, South Africa. I’m very interested in the creation of political ethnic identities in the South Asian diaspora and was intrigued by hearing these stories, and seeing the different diaspora perspectives.

Appropriately, I saw an early screening of the movie “Catch a Fire” last Thursday, and haven’t been able to stop talking about the movie since. Starring Tim Robbins (as the German Afrikaner oppressor), and Derek Luke (as the freedom fighter Patrick Chamusso), the movie is beautifully crafted, telling the story of a South Africa man who gets caught up in love, betrayal and the fight for freedom.

Catch a Fire is based on actual events that occurred in the 1980s. While Nelson Mandela was locked up for treason in the Robben Island prison, the banned and exiled ANC was engaging in sabotage against the Apartheid government. Patrick Chamusso, on the other hand, had found a job at the Secunda Oil Refinery, the largest coal-to-oil plant in the world. He preferred his simple family life to the underground movements. His wrongful arrest and subsequent interrogation and torture by the South African Special Branch forever altered his outlook and led him to Mozambique where he joined the ANC and received his military training. He volunteered to single-handedly carry out the operation to blow up the Secunda Oil Refinery and as per specific instructions, only property was damaged by the explosion.

Robyn Slovo, who is one of the film’s producers, and Shawn Slovo, who wrote the screenplay, are actually daughters of Joe Slovo and Ruth First, pioneer white activists who stood up against the Apartheid government. Joe and Ruth joined the ANC, while in exile. [link]

Maybe I’m just a sucker for movies with men who play roles as fighters against injustice, like The Motorcycle Diaries. Or maybe it’s because in reality, Luke is paying for his on-screen daughter’s real-life education because she is the daughter of an HIV positive African woman. I’m not sure, but both reasons make my heart melt for this story, both on and off screen.

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Chicago Meetup Reminder

Beans but not bean on Devon Ave, I know.

There will be a meetup this Saturday, 2PM at Udupi Palace on Devon Ave.

I’m really looking forward to meeting our midwestern readers this Saturday! We shifted the date from last saturday to accommodate both Diwali and people’s schedules. I really hope this date works for people since I am shlepping my kundi a reasonable distance in the hope of meeting y’all.

Gamemaster-G9, Ravi, Ashvin, Dasichist, Chicago Brownie, Chi-Diva, Masale.Wallah, Ravneet, Windy City, “new to chicago” and others – I expect to see you all there, especially if you said this was the better time for you.

This is going to be our first meetup that isn’t on one of the coasts. A healthy turnout will ensure future Chicago meetups, which hopefully is a good thing

Everybody is welcome, commentors, lurkers, people who are just curious … whatever!

Please RSVP by Friday Noon in the comments (Chicago time, of course) so that I can make reservations!

Previous posts: Chicago meetup 10/28? [Was 10/21]

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Let Alpana Select The Wine, Please

alpana singh.jpg

A little while ago, Taz mentioned Alpana Singh in a post on influential desi women under 30. I recently discovered that Alpana, in addition to being the youngest person ever to pass the Master Sommelier exam, hosts a show called Check, Please! on Chicago Public Television. AND she has a book out: Alpana Pours: About Being a Woman, Loving Wine, and Having Great Relationships. The general vibe she’s going for in the book might be described as “Shiraz and the City”; the idea for it came from watching couples order wines at upscale restaurants:

Singh cringes when she thinks about the drop-dead gorgeous woman who dined at Everest with an equally great-looking date. The guy proceeded to order a $490 bottle of Champagne — and the unsure woman asked for a Diet Coke. That’s when she knew it was time to birth Alpana Pours.

“I may not be a relationship expert, but I saw five years of relationships” by advising couples on wine. “It was like [having] ringside seats,” says the Monterey, Calif., native.(link)

To sum up (ladies, are you listening?), Alpana declares: “Looking super hot in a really expensive dress can be immediately undermined if you order a diet cola.” (The book also has chapters with titles like, “Pairings: Wine, Hooking Up, and Dating” and “What Wines Go With Bingeing?”) While I’m definitely not the demographic Alpana is, um, catering to, I guess I’m fine with it as long as no one is serving Tunatinis anywhere, ever. Continue reading

Amjad Ali Khan & Co. (featuring a desi discount)


As SM loyalist (if a mutiny can have loyalists, that is) Janeofalltrades spotted, I was part of a conversation on the radio yesterday about Gandhi-giri, the trend of “Gandhi-ness” that’s developed in India this year and that Amardeep blogged a couple of weeks ago.

We were discussing Gandhi’s legacy and the music that celebrates it with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, who as many of you know is perhaps second only to Ali Akbar Khan among living practitioners of the sarod. The connection? Khansaheb has been taking part in the centenary commemoration, this year, of Gandhi’s satyagraha movement of non-violent resistance, which he launched in South Africa in 1906 and brought back to India on the eve of World war I.

A few weeks ago, Amjad Ali Khan traveled with prime minister Manmohan Singh to a commemoration in South Africa and gave two concerts in Durban. Like Ravi Shankar before him, Khansaheb has composed ragas dedicated to Gandhi and has also adapted some of Gandhiji’s favorite folk and light classical songs.

This Saturday, October 28, Amjad Ali Khan gives a similar concert honoring Gandhi’s legacy at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The concert begins at 8 P.M. Tickets range from $25 to $90. Sepia Mutiny readers may purchase tickets at half price: charge by phone at 212-247-7800 or in person at the Carnegie Hall box office mentioning the promotion code “PrimeArts.” The discount applies to all tickets in all seating categories; it is not available through online booking.

I should also mention that performing with Khansaheb will be his two sons Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan. The two are in their late twenties and I can report that not only are they excellent sarod players in their own right but they are also rather easy on the eyes. In fact they were jointly named “Most Stylish Person in Music” at MTV India’s 2006 Style Awards. They have their own non-classical recordings that I hope to report on shortly once I get hold of the CD. In the meantime, I hope to see many of you on Saturday. [Photo credit] Continue reading

The Exotic

Let it go down in The Historical Archives of the Mutinous that I have officially posted way too many Paris Hilton references in this Mutiny-Wallah stint for my own good. But, gosh darn it, she makes it so easy!

The 25-year-old heiress to the Hilton hotel fortune will shoot for her friend, Anand Jon, an American fashion designer of Indian descent who is introducing a line of high-end evening wear for India’s stylish elite.

“For her, India is the land of exotica and beauty. In fact, her response was: ‘I finally get to visit the exotic’. She loves Indian culture and the Indian influence on clothes,” he said. [link]

Ugh. She used the ‘E’ word. Ironically, as I had posted earlier, even though we’ll be able to see her model clothes for India’s stylish elite, they still cannot watch her music video on TV….

In August, Indian censors issued an “Adult” certification — which means it cannot be broadcast on any TV channel — for the blonde socialite’s new music video “Stars Are Blind.”

Although she hasn’t visited the country before, Hilton is well known in trendy Indian social circles and CD copies of a notorious sex romp involving her and an ex-flame can be bought locally for as little as $2. [link]

Who is this desi man that runs in Hilton’s party circuit? First and foremost, he’s a blogger. Anand Jon is also a famous ‘American fashion designer of Indian descent,’ though a quick glance through his Spring 2007 collection didn’t exactly blow my LA-fashionista-mind. Maybe if Paris Hilton’s wearing it, or one of ‘India’s stylish elite,’ it would be more appealing…? Frankly, I find the gratuitous use of the word ‘exotic’ in describing his fashion as well as without seeing a brown skinned woman wearing his gear on his catwalk a little irksome.

Mr. Jon developed a passion for metals and fabrics growing up in South India, under the tutelage of master artisans and his grandmother, one of the most influential women in his life. During these formative years, his deep involvement in the Yogic disciplines set a metaphysical yet playful flavor to all of his creations. Anand Jon often pays homage to his heritage, while also embracing the cosmopolitan vibe of New York City and the raging progress of modern technology.

We can be sure that of one thing- that with Brangelina in India this year, and Paris Hilton going to Mumbai next year, that the Indian paparazzi are hitting jackpot on the tabloid photo front. I wonder if all this means Paris Hilton post-India will get inspired to add ‘exotic Hindu beats’ on her next album release… I can hardly wait.

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