Don’t you wanna be a blogger too?

Friends, mutineers, countrymen, lend me your ears. There is something that has been bothering all of us here at our North Dakota headquarters for quite some time now. We talk about it often in hushed tones. It is the extreme dearth of fresh new desi bloggers out there. We are ever vigilant and constantly searching for freakishly interesting and smart bloggers to be pulled into the Mutiny and to blog tirelessly for you. We can’t keep doing this forever on our own, especially since many of us are going through transitions in our busy lives. To be perfectly honest, I think that when the time comes we will suddenly and viciously pull the plug on SM. It will be just after the moment we feel that we’ve got no blog left to give and nobody else is capable of picking up the keyboard to mutiny forward. If you like spending time on this website then don’t say we didn’t warn you. I sometimes wonder, if we never existed would more of you be blogging now? Must we burn Rome to save Rome?

So what am I asking? Some of you need to start blogging and do so with a purpose. Almost all of the guests we’ve had were bloggers even before SM was created. Where’s the new blood? We aren’t looking for suggestions like, “Hey what about so-and-so? Why don’t you ask them to guest.” Please don’t use the comments following this post for that. We wouldn’t be worth the ink on our blog unless we were also good scouts. We scout bloggers, sometimes for months, before inviting them to guest for you. Most often we find them by the content of their blogs, especially if they consistently leave interesting comments on SM or expounding on something they read here first. We are scouting several of you right now as a matter of fact.

As you may have noticed SM is very secretive (as all good mutinies must be to survive infancy), but for the first time ever I am revealing the basic requirements we look for in new bloggers (besides being desi). No surprise here:

1) Must be North American or have lived in North America for a significant amount of time.

2) Has a fabulous voice (voice = great writing + interesting perspective) and can cover a wide variety of topics (not just a small range of topics that they know really well). With a little research and a little snark they should be at ease writing about the policies of the International Monetary Fund or Diwali Barbie in under 90 minutes.

3) Have experience with blogging or internet publishing. We are too busy to teach people how to publish something on the web and how to use basic html tags. If you’ve run your own blog for a while then all this should be easy. Thus, if you aren’t already a blogger then you probably won’t be a good fit until you become one, even if you just won the Booker (just kidding Kiran…call me).

4) Be a fearless and passionate writer, not someone who worries how they “sound.”

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For Shame.

May her memory be eternal, may her murderer rot in hell. From the news tab (Thanks, Maurice):

THE plight of India’s untouchables was highlighted again yesterday after a 15-year-old Dalit rape victim was burned alive for refusing to drop charges against her alleged upper-caste attacker.
Asha Katiya reportedly told police before she died of her burns at a hospital in Pipariya, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, that the man had threatened to kill her if she did not change her statement in court.

Raped in July, Asha was a month away from going to court. She was brave enough to seek justice, he was vile enough to react like this:

I will burn you, set your house afire and cut your father into pieces,” Asha’s mother, Shashibai, quoted the 22-year-old man as warning them when she and her daughter were working in the fields near their home the day before the blaze.

Such determination to punish his accuser:

Newspapers reported that late on the day of the blaze, the man rode past Asha’s home on a horse and that night “doused the victim with kerosene from an opening in the roof of a room where she was sleeping and threw a burning matchstick”.

Asha’s family couldn’t save her; there was no easy way to speed her to a hospital.

“The family members alleged that though there are many vehicles in the upper-caste dominated village, no one came to their rescue and they had to call one from Sandia, 8km away,” one local newspaper reported.

The article used all the right language, i.e. “alleged” or “claimed”, but I can’t help but think that if you do something so evil to silence your victim, there’s no need for doubt.

Police said the man named by Asha as her attacker had been arrested.

I hope he doesn’t get away with this. Continue reading

Fashion victims, unite!

Ennis and I swapped a few e-mails the other day, in which, in-between soliciting my opinions on Begum Nawazish Ali and expressing a fear of pigeon-holing me, he offered up some ideas of stuff to talk about—politics, the whole “war on terror”, fashion, South Asian politics, that sort of thing.

Naturally, having all the depth of a particularly shallow puddle, IÂ’ve opted to go with fashion.

Fashion, or what passes for it in Pakistan, really pisses me off. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t somehow find myself at least marginally involved with it, but in the years since I’ve been back, it’s taken on this quasi-mystical status as an “industry”, with a mythical “council” comprising…well, I’m not quite sure who’s on the council at present, but I’m going to go with “senior”, “established”, and/or “reputed” designers, since those are generally the terms that seem to be kosher.

Now, at the risk of back-tracking, let me just mention for the record that I know most of the designer community in Pakistan. It’s all a bit of the little pink mafia, with most designers either being gay men or straight women (I’m sorry, they’re not always gay, some of them are “bisexual”, or “bi-curious” snort; I’ve yet to meet a larger group of individuals who have managed to make what they describe as a “phase” last well over a decade or two). And then the photographers, stylists, event managers and “choreographers” all tend to fall into the same gay man/straight woman alliance, so when you combine the somewhat incestuous socialising with a severely limited pool, and then further refine it into an industry dominated by fags and their hags, it’s not hard to meet them all—and be declared their new best friend—within a matter of hours. And while I’ll admit that there’s a certain amount of glitz to the whole thing, to socialising with the crowd that everyone knows (of) and being dragged from one party to another, the realisation that it’s tinsel and not actual stardust comes rather rapidly.

I know, what a shocker, right? Fashion, shallow and superficial? Never! Continue reading

Aishah, You’re Fired.

The debate over multi-culturalism is back in the news ‘cross the pond, in the land of the pickled: Niqab.jpg

An Indian origin Muslim teaching assistant in west Yorkshire, suspended earlier for refusing to remove her veil during school hours, has now been dismissed from the job.[link]
Aishah Azmi, 24, lost a discrimination and harassment case at an employment tribunal last month, and saw support collapse among parents at Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, over what was seen as an uncompromising stand.[link]

That “lost the support of parents”-angle is extra interesting, considering

The school where Azmi was teaching had 530 students, aged seven to 11, and 92 percent were Muslim, mainly from India and Pakistan.[link]

A bit of backstory:

Mrs Azmi, who was awarded £1,000 by the tribunal in Leeds because of mishandled disciplinary processes, was dismissed yesterday after a hearing at the school. She started work a year ago but was suspended in the spring when she refused a male teacher’s request that she remove the veil when helping children in her role as a bilingual support assistant.[link]

This latest controversy comes on the heels of a column written by Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, which provoked international debate about veiling and identity:

Straw wrote in a newspaper column last month that he asks women who visit his district office wearing veils that cover almost their entire face to remove the garment when they meet with him…
He said the piece he published in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph newspaper had been thoughtful and respectful, and that he had never challenged women’s right to wear a veil.
He emphasized that he only requested — and never demanded — that women remove the veils in his office and said he did not support banning the coverings.
He said those living in Britain should have a stronger sense of shared identity based on the country’s democratic values.[link]

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Kazakhstan: Not Nice?

borat.jpg Jagshemash. I’ve seen Borat twice and I’m enchanted; I’m also aware that many of you aren’t. Some of you worry that Kazakhstan is being exploited and humiliated in a huge way, since the movie is so popular. I understand, especially since the movie is depicting a country that is more fictional than real– the “village” scenes were filmed in Romania and neither Russian nor Kazakh are ever spoken (Borat speaks Hebrew mingled with a few other things to Azamat, who replies back in Armenian).

Anyway, since “Borat” isn’t about the real Kazakhstan, I thought I’d find out more about the quondam Soviet republic:

Kazakhstan is the largest and one of the wealthiest of the countries in the Central Asian region. Although it was considered a liberal society, there have been allegations of harassment of religious minorities like protestant Christians, non-state-controlled Muslims and Hindu sects.
Kazakhstan is not a signatory to the UN’s International covenant on Civil and Political Rights or to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.[link]

Well that just proves that Borat has nothing to do with the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan– he picks on Jews and Gypsies but says nothing regarding Hindus. Meanwhile, in the land he was supposedly acquiring cultural learnings for…

The Hindu Forum of Britain alleged that 60 riot police and bulldozers assembled inside a Hindu temple in Kazakhstan and allegedly demolished five Hindu houses…[link]

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55Friday: The “Thank You” Edition

What, like you expected somthing else, after all this? :)

Due to one memorable mindfulness class I took in 2003, I have spent the last few years growing more conscious of how we are surrounded by opportunities to be grateful. It’s been such an eye-opening experience, to the point where I feel horrible about the past, because I know I was oblivious to so much goodness which I didn’t acknowledge. I can’t do anything about that, but I’ve tried to incorporate gratitude in my daily life, because the truth is, the act of appreciating something or someone can be transformative and beyond that, it’s just the right thing to do. 294638412_005769f1fb_m.jpg

Around this time of year, it’s even easier to say “Thank you”. :) After all, you get time off from work to do it! I’m not sure if some of you partook in that ritual last night where you go around the table and state whatever you’re thankful for, but if you did, I’d love to hear what bullet points you offered to your family and the turkey carcass. Perhaps you can contain what thrills you in exactly 55 words, but because it’s a holiday, I’ll be just as appreciative if you haiku it. I’m just grateful that you kids play along with my inconsistent flashes of silliness and I’m delighted that a few of you mentioned how you are thankful for “55s” in the comment thread of my last post. It’s nice to know you care. :)

This week, our theme song is extra flexible, because I can’t decide if I’m referring to the Dido version of “Thank You” or Alanis Morissette’s much-mocked take on the phrase. I know, the fact that the latter contains the phrase, “Thank you, India” might militate in favor of choosing THAT as our tune du jour, but then, if we invoked the Manish-Vij-anti-exotification clause… ;)

So, write about flavor-free poultry, family, cranberry sauce, gratitude, popular female singers (one of whom was naked!) or whatever else you are loving right now. While you do that, I have to go remind my Mom to make her famous cranberry pickle while the berries are still available, because that exquisite hotness is ridiculously yummy. Unlike the rest of you foodies, I didn’t stuff my strict-vegetarian face yesterday so I’m still hungry. I could totally go for some chor, mor and pickle right now and you’d best believe I’d be thankful for how good rice, yogurt and an extra-spicy condiment always taste. :D Continue reading

It’s TMBWITW Time…Again

It has been some time since we’ve mutinied over Ms. Aishwarya Rai, the Bollywood bombshell who in her past couple of film ventures hasn’t had too much luck conquering the western film market. Rai, who made her Hollywood debut in the somewhat successful English ode to Bollywood, Bride and Prejudice and flopped in the poorly executed (yet visually exciting) Mistress of Spices, may have scored a nice role and hopefully a better foray into the west with her role as Mira, a sword-wielding warriorete, in Doug Lefler’s, The Last Legion. The film, which stars Sir Ben Kingsley and Colin Firth –Rai impressively receives third billing — is the story of twelve-year-old emperor Romulus Augustus, who in the midst of the fall of the Roman Empire, escapes to join up with a small band of survivors who make their way to Britain in search of the chotu ruler’s ultimate legion, one of which I take is Miss Rai.

“Dare to Be Daring”

I have to say after seeing the trailer (I know, it is just the trailer) Aishwarya’s performance looks quite good (link). The role is completely different than anything she has been in before, the cast is stellar (Ben Kingsley was Gandhi!), and Ash as an ass-kicking, sword handling fighter is a nice contrast to the usual, happy-go-lucky, Bhangra-circle dancing Ms. World that we are used to seeing. It can only be a good thing that she is moving away from doing the strictly desi themed film and towards playing a non-ethnic role. A well-received performance here, in an actual mainstream film, has the potential to really catapult her to the Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz levels, and on top of all that, Rai has extra incentive for this film to be successful, she bought the Indian rights. The Last Legion rated PG 13 is being distributed by MGM and the Weinsteins, and is set to release sometime in 2007 (I’ve seen both January 19 and April 27 as potential release dates).

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Today, I am Thankful for YOU (Updated…AGAIN)

59826608_14facb2cd2_m.jpg I have often said that Sepia Mutiny is the best thing I’ve done with my life during the past two years. Thanks to this blog, I have been given ridiculously cool opportunities (BlogHer, NPR, starring roles in academic papers) as well as a platform to say anything. That latter truth still knocks me over and leaves me breathless. I get to speak to thousands? Who am I? NO ONE. And yet, you trust me, you like me, you respect me enough to listen to me, even when you know you probably won’t agree with me. That’s love, yo. Every single day, when I wake up and hit my SM bookmark, I’m filled with a little bit of awe that this is real, that this community exists, and that you’ve allowed me to be part of it.

I am so thankful for all of you, commenters, lurkers, haters alike. :)

I know I tend to express it whenever there’s a meetup, because that’s the logical moment to do so, but I feel this way all the time. What a dynamic, accomplished, enlightened, fascinating group you all are! What a community you have helped create! I hear it time and again, “I never had desi friends, I didn’t do SASA in college…but I love SM.” I always reply, “it’s like we collected you and your counterpart, from every school in America, katamari-like and brought all of us ‘different’ desis together…which is why we seem to get along.”

Whatever we have done, it is magic. Our meetups are proof of this. Ever expanding, multi-hour-spanning, shimmering parties where disappointment and boredom are impossible, where we fall a little more in love with each other and thus weave this mutinous web tighter, which we leave with aching faces because we have smiled and laughed so much. As I look back on 2006, a truly difficult year for me and my family, I am struck by how the majority of good memories I take with me involve this blog and all of you who live within it. You who refresh SM constantly, you who show up, you, who care.

Have I told you how much I dig all of you? :) If it’s not clear yet, read on…this is a list in progress, I’ve typed it during breaks from my cousins’ traditional drunken Thanksgiving feast and it is by no means complete.

This is what I am currently, mutinously thankful for:

• absolutgcs- for being a regular and for your encouragement, at a moment when I truly needed it.

• Al Mujahid- for being comfortingly familiar, for sticking to your guns, for employing sarcasm to great effect, for being pro-debauchery!

• Amitabh- for being so devoted to language (I sweat that, I’m the same way), for leaving memorable comments (one is still stuck in my head, it may inspire an entire post), for being here, for forgiving my senseless omission of you during the first two rounds.

• Arzan- for hosting one of the most cozy meetups, ever. for cooking all of us yummy Parsi food, for being one of my favorite regulars (back when you were still here), for being so veg-friendly. :)

• Asha’s Dad- for sick taste in music and even sicker skillz with the comments. Your 55s give me chills and your mere presence makes this space better. Continue reading

Will no one think of the bacchas?

So moving right along, the other thing that has me alternating between “amused” and “seething with badly suppressed rage” is the gay scene—or lack thereof—in Karachi. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. The socialising angle of being homosexual in Pakistan is an issue in and of itself, but the serious drama ensuing from the social angle is enough to make me start hurling kitten pumps right, left and centre at any and every queen unfortunate enough to cross my path. BegumNA.jpg

When I was growing up in Pakistan, being gay went beyond just being taboo; it was one of those “don’t even think the word” concepts, kind of like Dubya, only with, you know, actual concepts and not all conceivable mental processes. And over the years it started getting a bit better, but that coincided with growing up, with getting to know other gay men (and one and a half lesbians), with a slightly more liberal government regime, that sort of thing.

But regardless of anything else, there was a substantial lack of a sense of entitlement, of feeling that your parents, friends etc., were obligated to accept and tolerate your particular peccadilloes, whatever those may have been. Drinking, smoking, partying, fucking men—they were all lumped together in an odd smorgasbord of “if you’re going to do it, you make damn’ sure that no one in a position of familial authority finds out”, although the first three occasionally got a free pass, depending on how “fast” and “liberal” the family in question was. [In case anyone’s interested, there were a fair number of such clans.] Continue reading

Mahmood the Atheist

Mahmood Farooqui is among the bloggers signed on to a new group blog project called Kafila, which I discovered via DesiPundit. (Other names on the roster include Shivam Vij, the omnipresent progressive blogger/journalist, and Nivedita Menon, a well-known, Delhi-based academic).

For his first post at Kafila, Farooqui reprints an essay he had published in Tehelka, on the uncomfortable position he finds himself in as a secular — indeed, atheist — Muslim intellectual in today’s India. The place to start might be where he lays his cards on the table:

Let me explain my locus. I am an atheist, I follow none of the Islamic taboos, but I live in a locality in the capital that can only be called a ghetto. I lived here for five years, when I was a student, when I was very self-consciously opposed to the Indian Muslim stereotype. I had grown up on Chandamama and Nandan, Holi was my favourite festival, Karna my hero, Shiva the great God, Hinduism a highly tolerant religion and I had dreams of attaining martyrdom fighting Pakistan. I was studying history and detested medieval Muslim rulers; I would expatiate on the reasons why Islam had trouble with modernity; I admired Naipaul and Rushdie; supported Mushirul Hasan during the Satanic Verses controversy — a novel I deeply admire in spite of its undoubted blasphemies — and I detested many things about Indian Muslims, except, predictably, Urdu literature and Sufism. I was, in short, a model Hinduised-Indian-Muslim, who always put India before Islam. I was desperate to leave Okhla. (link)

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