On Hybrid Vigor, Acceptance and Grace

A banned commenter left the following pain on a thread yesterday:

I cannot stand it when black or hispanic women try to get into the “bollywood” trend. They are so superficially involved with indian culture and dont know shit about the true meaning/history behind why things are done. I doubt they have any respect for the indian culture; they just like the trendy-cool look of things.

I didn’t delete it, nor did I summon the intern to stop fanning me as I lounged on my throne, to do so at my behest. I was too overwhelmed, at how in much the same way a smell can invoke a memory consummately and instantly, bigotry could, too.

ANNA and the Cathedral.jpg

Reading the bitter words in that comment sliced my age in half with the precision of my Mother’s Wusthof carving knife; once my eyes left my laptop screen, I was sixteen again and utterly miserable. It was a Sunday morning, just after church, during the coffee hour, and I was waiting for my Father to finish chatting with one of his acquaintances, a local professor named Dr. Pappas whom he didn’t get to see regularly.

I never felt entirely at home at church, because I was Indian and it was Greek. Though my parents both come from indefatigable Malankara Syriac Orthodox bloodlines, my sister and I were not baptized in the church of our ancestors. The reason for this sounds droll when I narrate it, after I am inevitably asked why I’m Greek Orthodox; personally, however, it is borderline painful, as it created a chasm between me and other Malayalees which can never be closed. I find it bitterly amusing that the only time I was ever “confused” as an American-born desi was when I was trying to reconcile who I was as an Orthodox Christian.

Was I really Indian? I had kicked and whirled through the makellarikos horos since I could remember, but I was never enrolled in Bharatnatyam, despite being fascinated by and drawn to it; the one time I timidly introduced the subject, my mother gave me such a withering look, I slunk back to my books and my room. As an adult, my refrigerator was filled with filo, feta, mizithra and kalamata olives; the only salad I knew how to make was horiatiki. I didn’t take rusk with my kappi, not when there was koulourakia to be had. As much as I crave my beloved semiya payasam, nothing thrills me more than the one time a year I get to dyson down a few dozen loukoumades. Long before I turned up my nose at Starsucks’ obnoxious frappuccino fusterclucks, I greedily slurped up Nescafe frappes. In fact, those luscious, frothy glasses of caffeinated perfection are probably why I choke on what the mermaid serves for $5 a pop.

Sure, most of this has to do with food, but I have always felt that what we eat defines us just as much as where or whom we worship and what we believe, since all of the above are often intrinsically connected. My family is TamBrahm-level vegetarian in our strictness, in part because we always have and will observe a permanent lent. My father was so religious, he felt it was the least he could do to further exercise his faith, especially after being influenced by the eldest of his nine brothers, an ascetic who refused to marry, preferring instead to haunt Parumala and other holy sites. My eldest Uncle had observed a similarly severe, never-ending fast and when he died at age 33, my grief-stricken father, who was then barely six-years old, decided to emulate such dietary self-denial.

Imagine then, what it was like for him in the late 60’s/early 70’s, when he was one of (if not the) first of his kind to settle in strange Southern California. After almost never missing church for the first three decades of his life, having nowhere to worship on Sunday mornings was untenable. So, he picked up the phone book, looked up Orthodox churches and spotted “Greek” before “Russian” and “Serbian”. A Greek Orthodox Church it was, then. And with that unbelievably simple turn of events, lives would be altered forever, leaving me and my sister fractured Malayalees who would never quite fit in anywhere. She and I were the first and perhaps last babies in our family who would be baptized by a man chanting in Greek, not Malayalam or Syriac.

When called out for his concomitantly uber-Orthodox and unorthodox decision regarding the salvation of his daughters’ souls, my father simply responded that to him, it was far more important that we go to church weekly vs. monthly, which was all that could be managed for the nascent Indian Orthodox community of Southern California, who flew in priests to officiate at services which were held at borrowed facilities once every few weeks. What made his choice all the more audacious was the fact that my Father was instrumental in starting what would later become the Los Angeles and San Francisco parishes of his native church; he mailed letters to Kottayam on Saturday while snapping at us to prepare reverently for the following day’s Greek holy communion. The duality which I cannot escape was modeled for me from birth.

So, though I occasionally went to the Saturday services of the Indian Orthodox church (we were borrowing churches, remember? They were never available on Sundays) , it was the Greek Church which nurtured me and taught me to pray each Sunday. I had perfect attendance at Sunday school and was an alto in our junior choir. As mentioned before, I learned Greek folk dance, practicing maneuvers my ancestor never made while preparing for annual folk dance festivals. And while my spoken Malayalam was at a toddler’s level of proficiency, I spoke plenty of Greek, especially since my best friend Demetra and I used it to bitch about our snotty prep school classmates and equally annoying teachers; there is nothing like gossip to motivate you to learn a foreign language. Every night during evening prayers, when my father commenced “Our Father…”in what was his AND my mother tongue, I mentally murmured it in Greek.

All of this was why I was standing in the reception hall next to a huge, beautiful white church, which looked as if it should be on a cliff, jutting out against the unforgettable blue of the Aegean Sea. This was the only spiritual home I had ever truly known, but my skin prickled and my heart rate never dropped to “resting” while I was in it. I was constantly anxious and self-conscious, about not looking a damned thing like anyone else in class or choir, about not sharing their histories or their familial village…about not belonging. I felt as if I barely had any right to be standing there, gazing out at the pretty courtyard where I had hunted for Easter eggs every year since we had moved.

I looked back at my father impatiently. He was laughing raucously at something wicked the good Professor had just said and I sighed with a melancholy acquiescence; I wasn’t going anywhere, not anytime soon. I wandered over to the table which had been picked over by the hundreds of adults who were drinking coffee while eating butter cookies. Picking up karidopita, I was about to return to my father’s table when I heard hissing, about me. I froze.

I cannot stand it when stupid Indian girls think they’re Greek. They are so superficially involved with Greek culture and don’t know shit about the true meaning/history behind why things are done. I doubt they have any respect for Greek culture; they’re just wanna-bes…why isn’t she worshipping a cow or something?

Before Alexandra had finished uttering her final insult, I was crying. There. There it was: finally out there, and uglier than I had ever anticipated it could be. The hideous, dreadful sentiment which I was certain lingered behind every glance which lasted a second too-long, was out and proudly unpleasant. Whenever I had gingerly broached the subject with the few people who mattered–like my erstwhile Sunday school teachers who wanted to know why I, consistently the most knowledgeable student of church history, cycled between participating in and withdrawing from class discussions–they had immediately dismissed my insecurity, often pointing out that there were Copts, Palestinians and Ethiopians who also attended our church; they’d always close their pep talks with, “they’re not even baptized Greek! You are!”, as if that somehow helped my cause. I timidly refrained from pointing out the obvious, that yes, we had such families at our parish— a whopping one of each and NONE of the three ever felt welcome enough to stay and mingle, let alone Hoover all the air out of the room like my flamboyant, unapologetically comfortable father.

I tried to stare at a wall to stem the saltwater which would further humiliate and differentiate me from the cheerful crowds, bedecked in their tweeds and chalk-stripes, quilted bags with interlocking Cs dangling from the arms of women attired in the former. While my classmates were wearing starter Chanel suits, I was trussed up like a six-year old in Jessica McClintock’s Gunne Sax. On that ignominious Sunday, I was wearing lilac cotton, trimmed in JM’s signature lace, ruffles and giant bows. Mein Gott in himmel, could this get any worse?

Yes, yes it could. A younger child of about eight, whom I had never spoken to, was staring at me without even attempting to hide it. I spun away on one suitably conservative heel and rushed back to my window, where I could be alone with the emotional maelstrom that Alexandra, that vicious girl with the piliferous face and arms had caused. Now, upon reflection, I know she was ostracized for being morbidly overweight and well, mustached. Whom else could she pick on, being at the bottom of the svelte, outrageously well-clad and perfectly manicured Greek food chain? Ah right, the sad Indian girl.

I numbly stared at my cake, which I couldn’t eat. I just wanted to go home. I looked at my dad again; he was oblivious to all of it. I was relieved; if he had discovered what had transpired, he would have installed a new anal orifice on Alexandra’s father’s rear, as he blazed through a speech my sister and I now had memorized, about how in 52 A.D., St. Thomas himself converted MY ancestors while most of ____’s were burning animals for Zeus’ pleasure. No, better that he not know. Perhaps it would be best if I trudged to the girls’ bathroom and washed my face…

“Anna.”

There was a huge, warm hand on my left shoulder; it belonged to our massive, barrel-chested priest who had the most commanding, thrill-inducing voice I had ever heard. I let him turn me slightly, until we were facing each other.

“Are you okay, koukla?”

I mutely shook my head and soon it was buried in his chest, just above the giant, jewel-encrusted cross which he always wore.

“I know what happened,”

At this, I yanked my face back out of his cassock, out of shock. How…? I looked to my right…there, about thirty feet away, the eight-year old who had stared…he was still watching me.

“I don’t want to come here anymore, Father. I don’t belong here.”

A bear paw yanked my chin up so that I was making eye contact with a man who was 6’3, 300+ lbs.

“Don’t you ever say such things again, not in my church, not ever. You are like my own child; I see no difference between you or Costa, Maria or Eleni. If they come to church here, so will you. Don’t you listen to things said by an ignorant child. She doesn’t run this place; I DO.”

“But Father, I’m not Greek…and she’s not the only one who thinks that way…”

“It’s a sin to think that way. I know the priest who carried you around the altar at the cathedral. Presbytera tells me you know every chant and hymn better than anyone else in the junior choir and I, I have watched you grow up here, just as worthy of blessings if not more so than any other child, because of the purity within you.”

“Father…I know you and Presbytera love me, but that doesn’t mean other people will ever accept me. I wonder if I should…start attending the Indian church with my mother…”

My mother had stopped accompanying us to Sunday liturgy, because she hated the scrutiny; conveniently, her schedule “changed” so that she had to work most Sundays anyway. She preferred to worship with her own, “where I don’t get stared at for being in a sari.”

He placed a considerable hand on each of my shoulders and clasped them firmly. “Anna, if you stop coming to this church, I will be very upset. God doesn’t want you to leave us and neither do I. This is your home. Don’t let anyone, no matter how much they upset you, push you out of it.” And with that, he kissed the top of my head, patted my cheek and smiled before walking away.

Soon he was talking to Alexandra’s father, who probably agreed with his daughter, and who was not enjoying the conversation one bit. The man turned and gave me a dirty look mid-verbal-castigation from our priest. Just as Father could be a cashmere teddy bear (like he was most of the time, like he had been to me five minutes before), he could also be a fearsome, formidable man when necessary. No matter how ignorant or racist a parishioner wished to be, they would never cross or disobey a priest. Alexandra’s father grabbed his daughter by her arm before dragging her outside, cursing her in Greek all the while. The priest watched them leave, then glanced my way and smiled at me.

I wanly smiled back, but the gooseflesh didn’t go away. It never really has.

::

When I eat thayirsadham, it’s with this, and there isn’t a damned thing wrong with it. That simple, anomalous combination is the perfect metaphor for who I turned out to be.

No one has the right to be the arbiter of who does and does not get to participate in their culture. Such judgmental “guardians” had the genetic fortune or fate to be born in to what those whom they look down on are drawn to, but that doesn’t endow them with any priveleges like the one our banned commenter wishes she could exercise on all those “black and hispanic women”.

This is why I am especially protective of Nina and her kundi, Preston and his camera, Asha’s dad and his…sick taste in tunes, Andrea and her voice, Maurice and his linguistic pursuits, T-hype and her blog and every other genuinely down-with-the-brown white, black, blue or pink non-desi. I love them for coming here, for staying, for sitting at a table that can often be intimidating if not nearly unwelcome, due to the utterly unnecessary hostility of the few. I’m not kissing the white devil’s ass, but I am like gang recognizing gang in this bloggy bang bang; I feel just as Greek as I do Indian, if not moreso, and no one shall invalidate that. Nor will anyone get away with that here, not while my memory of similar hatred is so fresh and so unclean.

Nina has been to Kerala far more recently than I have; my last visit was back in the dark ages of 1989. In fact, she lived there, which is something I’ll probably never be able to claim. Who the hell am I or anyone else for that matter, to pull rank over that? As long as someone isn’t skeeving me out like Pardesi Gori with her sketchy, spicier-than-thou Indophilia–and it’s just something I can sense, that weirdness which makes my spider sense tingle as I consider that something ain’t right..and I know, several of you might disagree with me about it, but it’s just how I feel about her– as long as someone’s heart is pure, their contributions are respectful and their affection runs deep for this culture which is not “officially” their own, then they are one of mine.

Miss Banned-and-deleted:

If you’re going to tell Deevani that she shouldn’t sing or participate in the culture which she is lovingly and sincerely invested in, for the sake of not just herself but her three, half-brown children, then you’re no better than Alexandra. And she was a vile bitch. Aim higher, won’t you please? You’re bigger and better than that. We all should be.

183 thoughts on “On Hybrid Vigor, Acceptance and Grace

  1. Hi Anna, as a Syro Malabar Catholic who has lived in Cyprus and the Middle East, I too had a bit of difficulty explaining how St. Thomas Christians of Kerala is different from Goans and Anglo Indians in India. Hopefully, my book later this year will go some way in making things clearer. You might be interested in reading this.

  2. Anna, that was a really nice post. It’s unfortunate that some people never get out of that clique-ish mentality that they develop as kids in 3rd grade, and are always looking for an opportunity to say “I belong here but you don’t.” Really, all you can do is feel sorry for them for their limited perspectives on life and the world around us.

  3. I thought I was gonna like my new neighbors until they tried to impress me and my roommate with how much Marquez they had read(Ooo, he’s so difficult!)kept asking me to try her latin recipes for authenticity (Bitch, I wuz born here. Ask my grandma.) and then all the commentary on my ungrammatically correct/street Spanish just about did it for me.

    Coach – a colleague of mine who is Puerto Rican but doesn’t fit people’s stereotype of what that should look like, was once covering a story somewhere in rural Minnesota, and stayed with local folks who thought she was white until, at some point, it came up that she wasn’t. They were quite taken aback — not in an rejectionist way, but as if they’d been misled and the burden of correcting their impression was on her, not on them. Anyway, once they got past that, the woman in the couple she was staying with started telling her about how she’d recently learned to cook tamales…

  4. I think Nagasi and Kusala make good points that it is probably in the interests of Desis to self-advocate against cultural exploitation and subordination multidirectionally, without Desi representational elites (such as featured bloggers of sepia mutiny)rendering invisible or framing negatively certain forms of desi sel-advocacy and complaint. Thus, like Kusala wrote in the first comment, I don’t think it’s inherently racist or bad to have complaints of how some black and hispanic women may use desi culture, style, and imagery. Mainstream segments of whites and blacks have no problem criticizing asians for trying to “act white” or “dress black”, so I think it’s subordinating to brown people to say similar complaints can’t be formulated about either some whites or some blacks in America. I recognize that the banned poster went beyond that. I think Nagasi and Kusala calibrated this point perfectly.

  5. A very nice post, ANNA!

    As a long-time admirer and student of many things South-Asian who recently married a desi boy, I have been wondering about other people’s perceptions of my involvement with his culture. So far, so good, but I’ve mostly been “in the closet” as a desiphile … this is also my first post here, even though I’ve been reading for almost two years.

    My problem is that my knowledge is academic, while my real-life experience is pretty minimal at the moment. My skin color has made me feel even more insecure, and I thank you, Anna, for pointing out that these feelings are something all of us struggle with.

  6. Just wanted to say that while I do like Nina as a commenter here, and have enjoyed her contributions to various discussions, I agree with Nagasai’s assessment of her work. Visually, some of it is beautiful, but thematically a lot of it is hard to stomach (for me). This is based on a cursory perusal of her website a long time ago after which I have not been back. But obviously I recognise her freedom or right to do as she wishes.

  7. Amitabh

    I’m Greek Orthodox and as far as I know the answer is no. She could just go to a Syriac church — the question would be would she want to. From my knowledge of Orthodoxy the line of thinking is once you’re baptized you’re good for all eternity (it doesn’t matter what flavor of Christianity you were baptized into). That being said some churches would quibble over how you were baptized. The Greek Orthodox Church I went to as a child required you were emersed in water in your baptism not just sprinkled with it or anointed. Basil and olive oil are involved as well…but that’s an other story and I don’t want to make anyone hungry.

    I guess you will also have to deal with Yayas and Ayahs with competing remedies for the evil eye: faux spitting vs. marking baby’s cheek with kohl.

    Ahahahahah. You know. For me it comes down to just enjoying the other culture. Yes I have had stressful times at various Pujas but I try to just sit back and enjoy them. Maybe that’s why people are offended they don’t feel the Latina, Greek, Black woman is taking it seriously enough.

    Anywho. I’m sorta bemused and shocked to read through the replies on this topic. Perhaps I’ve just run into nice people but I’ve never really got much flack from the Indian community for marrying an Indian boy. Most of the aunties and uncles are shocked that I study several Indian languages — not to turn into a Greek Indian but to be able to speak with my relatives and to have a leg up while traveling in India.

    I suppose our children will suffer more — for reasons discussed here.

    Sad.

  8. WHAT AMAZINGLY ELOQUENT CRAP.I thought of writing a nice long post but anyways it would have been deleted by the censor happy admins of this blog watever.Well I’ll just summarise what I wanted to say by saying that everyone is racist and thereby ignorant at some level.NOTICE HOW ANNA COMPARES HERSELF TO A TAMIL BRAHMIN LOL.THESE MALAKARA ORTHODOX THINK THEY’RE BRAHMIN CONVERTS.FUCK EVERYONE IS A FUCKEN RACIST PERIOD.STOP WHINING LIKE A BITCH AND TRY DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT .GET BETTER FOR INSTANCE.

    SO WHY ARE INDIAN AMERICANS ABCD’s? The problem with you guys is that you lot live priveleged lives coccooned up in your silicon valley holes.A recent surveys says indians make up 30% of NASA scientists,30% of microsoft engineers ,all those jobs typically considered wimpish.If Indians want credibility it has to come from the street,we need more indians as Firemen,Cops,Masons and the like or else you’ll always be thought of as oppurtunistic brownies who go to america to make a quick buck and then leave for their homelands.

    BTW ANNA thanks for posting your pics.You look mighty sexy and i cummed a lot.I just don’t understand why mallus in India are so hairy and lacking in sex appeal.Its only when mallu girls leave India they become such sex bombs.Okay maybe i’m just getting carried away a little.

  9. Censor happy, eh? I have no intention of deleting your comment, that way everyone knows what an asshat you are.

    Also, if you’re going to put me in your spank bank, I demand royalties. Now leave intelligent, cogent comments or shut up, thank you. Also? Wash your hands, naaree.

  10. Should he pay the “foreign” price at the Taj Mahal while I sneak in on the “Indian” rate? (I hate that system a lot because its purely based on looks.)

    Sorry, this is a little OT but I wanted to respond to this comment (about the system of charging foreign nationals a higher admission to Indian monuments on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list). I don’t think it’s based purely on looks, because I look Indian alright, but they could still tell I was American too, and demanded to see my passport when I tried to pay just the Indian rate. I was a little miffed at first, but then I realized that the money was going to a good cause, i.e. the upkeep of the Taj. The whole scheme, as far as I know, was actually suggested by the UN and is in effect in other countries (I could be wrong about this, but that’s what I was told elsewhere). In Mahabalipuram, my aunt (a Chennai native) bought tickets to the Shore Temple for the whole family, and was asked to show proof that she was a local before she was allowed to bay the “Indian rate”. Every non-Indian tourist I talked to about this was okay paying $25 to see the Taj–after all, they had just spent a lot more than that coming to India.

    I see your point about your friend being Indian, but my answer to you question would be: He shouldn’t have to pay the “foreign” price if he meets whatever criteria the government has for paying the lower price, don’t know if it’s citizenship or residence; and you should not be sneaking in at the lower price, but paying the “foreign” one. I spend more than that on a mediocre meal at an Indian-American restaurant, so why not for the maintenance of one of the world’s most beautiful buildings.

  11. while i understand this is a private site for those of you who started/blog for it and control what is deleted, may i suggest that chosing to delete an opinion not in sync with your own is just as discriminatory as the nature of that very opinion itself.

    if i had to guess, i would say most of this audience strays to the left with respect to their social politics, which is wonderful. nothing wrong with tolerance of diversity and acceptance – my life in the u.s. is better for it. however, perhaps this tolerance should extend to those who hold more conservative views? the comment that was deleted was written crudely, but it wouldn’t suprise me if many conservatives actually agreed with it, though they may have chosen to express it with more finesse. surely you can see the irony of spouting tolerance and acceptance…but limiting it only to those who agree with your view of the world.

    the truth is that as a non-desi, this artist’s experience of desi culture will be very different from our own experience with our culture. and the truth is that no matter how much a greek orthodox knows or values the religion, she will never be greek to the greeks. this is simply a fact (not a NEGATIVE fact, just a fact) which i believe pardesi gori was attempting to state, though the manner in which she did it lacked political-correctness. and though i do not agree with the content of her post, i do value differing opinions. my experience in the u.s. is better for that, too.

  12. Devils Advocate said:

    may i suggest that chosing to delete an opinion not in sync with your own is just as discriminatory as the nature of that very opinion itself.

    If you choose to equate overt racism with intolerance of racism, that’s your choice. The commenter said this:

    In my opinion, indian men that date black women should realize that it is a DOWNGRADE, not an upgrade. I cant imagine what their child’s hair will turn out to look like. yuck.

    That’s overtly racist. We spell it out in our comment policy quite clearly. And as I said in comment #38:

    That’s disrespectful too many ways to Sunday to even start to count. Racism may sometimes come from ignorance, but being disrespectful is a choice.

    If you still think that banning somebody who thinks that black women are inferior is simple political correctness, I have no idea how to explain it further.

    As a matter of fact, I’m done defending the decision. Either people haven’t read the first few comments where it’s explained, or they have, and they think that I should allow dinner guests in my own home to spew racist nonsense.

  13. ANNA, this is a really beautiful post. I’m always amazed by how much I learn from your experiences, so thank you for that :)

    It seems that many of us have a hard time defining the thin line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. I myself don’t know what it would be, but the back and forth is refreshing.

    Aside: I also think it is totally fair for “foreigners” to pay more to see the Taj, myself included. To a degree it controls socioeconomic access, you know? How awful would it be if only the rich were allowed to tour/visit something as beautiful as the Taj?

    I am tired of the “oh woe is me don’t delete posts” crowd. Many regular posters on this site consistently disagree with one another, but they do it politely or cogently. I think it is perfectly fine for people on a private website to say that the rules of conversation include not being a total dickweed and not posting vehemently racist crap. I also think it is totally possible to have cogent discussions around race without letting it devolve into racist pandering.

  14. The deleted post was about taking a step down on the racial ladder when a desi marries a black person. Thats not liberal or conservative, thats a racist comment. It could obviously be allowed in the name of free speech, but I guess this site isn’t about debating racial superiority/inferiority.

  15. surely you can see the irony of spouting tolerance and acceptance…but limiting it only to those who agree with your view of the world.

    Right, and like a dog chasing its tail, we could go round and round about that faux-clever argument which holds that our intolerance of the intolerant is ironic. My point is, well-stated, credible opinions are welcome; hate speech is not.

    Maintaining the atmosphere of this site is a constant challenge which grows ever more difficult. It’s impossible to please everyone, to patrol everything, to be perfect. Still, when smart, kind people who have been with us for 2+ years bluntly tell us that they can’t stand to be here anymore, that’s a little bit heartbreaking; it’s a gut and sanity check which should be taken seriously.

    If taking out the trash means that more thoughtful voices are heard in this space, then that’s exactly what we will continue to do. You can pooh-pooh that all you like, but it’s entirely possible that YOU wouldn’t be here if we didn’t engage in such “intolerance”; if this site had devolved in to a place that wasn’t worthy of your time, you wouldn’t have paid us a second visit. So while I appreciate the beautifully respectful tone of your opinion, I will also disagree with it. And that sort of polite intersection of views is EXACTLY what we want here, not an echo chamber.

    It’s sad that our attempts to preserve the quality of this site are inaccurately and unfairly tarred with the “dissent-isn’t-allowed” brush.

  16. Can we please get back on topic? As one of the administrators of this site I have first hand knowledge of how often we delete comments or ban commenters. It is in fact very rare. It’s not like we are sitting around here shutting people down. The vast majority of deleted comments are straight-up spam: commercial messages and gibberish. We remove outright bigotry and inflammatory statements, just like our comment policy clearly states right above the box where you type your comments. And when someone trolls by popping up over and over again repeating themselves and hi-jacking a conversation, we remove the extraneous repetitions and if need be, bar the person from the conversation.

    How often does any of this happen? VERY RARELY. When I look at virtually any other well-trafficked website that takes comments, I am stunned at the vast amount of ignorance, illiteracy, racism and vulgarity that people seem to feel free to express from behind the anonymity of a web handle. And I am amazed and grateful at how greatly the population of commenters here differs from that. By and large the SM commenter community is, as Joe Biden might have said, “articulate and clean” and that makes it a pleasure to write here. People seem to like to get into debates about censorship, but the truth is, there’s very little censorship here. Very, very little, and always for clear violations of the clear policy posted here. Again my main point: This is a remarkably courteous and thoughtful community, rare for a website that has no restrictions or pre-qualifications for commenters, and we appreciate that, and we are trying to keep it that way.

    That’s all I have to say on the topic. Have a good day y’all — and Anna, that was a superb post.

  17. Awesomely said Ennis!

    I’m totally for free speech, and I even support (though find horrible and evil) the rights of hate groups to speak, BUT, this is your guys’ house, we just get to party here. And if you want to boot some gaandu for the crap he says, have at. I, for one, am happier that you did.

  18. Perhaps I am being overly critical of Nina Paley, but NOT solely because she doesn’t have the “requisite blood line.”

    I do feel that I have the right to be critical of this work, as well as the creator of the work – especially given that she is a white, American woman.

    How does the second line reconcile with the first?

    I do feel that if you are a non-desi working extensive with desi images and representations, that you do have a responsibility to be as intelligent and accurate in your work as possible.

    If you’re desi, do you have that same responsibility, or does your desi-ness absolve you?

    I used to think that if I were desi, I’d enjoy fewer attacks. However, reading sepiamutiny over the long haul has disabused me of this notion. I remember the extremely amusing April Fool’s Day parody here a few years ago (samosa-tronic. heheh). That the bloggers who created the parody were all desi made no difference. In fact, some of the attacks on them – from other desis – were nastier and even more racist than what I’ve gotten. They got the whole “self-hating” bit, they were told they had a “responsibility” because they were desi. They were bold and funny, and they were attacked. I love them.

    I’m dealing with “hot” subject matter in “Sita Sings the Blues”, and trying to handle it honestly, rather than reverentially. It’s never been my specific intention to provoke or offend, but I have always known that, if I keep my work honest, it will provoke and offend anyway. And it turns out that when many people are provoked and offended, they go straight for the race card.

    But that doesn’t discount the sizeable number of people (I can only assume) who find some of her work offensive (images of Kali holding a penis), as well as some of her comments about her work (i.e. saying that American-born desis don’t seem to have a problem with her work, yet those from India do – almost creating some sort of englightened American v. ignorant foreigner dichotomy)

    If I ever wrote that all American-born desis like my work, I’m sorry. You could help me (seriously!) by pointing out exactly where I wrote it, so I can put a correction and apology in its place. For the first year my clips were online, almost all of my positive feedback came from American and UK desis, and most of the hate mail came from India. That’s gradually changed, as I’ve gotten more and more positive notes from Indians, and more hate mail from outside India. If my mentioning that Americans have been fonder of an American cartoon with an American sensibility than Indians have, has created an “enlightened American vs. ignorant foreigner dichotomy,” that wasn’t my intention, either.

    All of what she describes is not untrue. But to paint SUCH a broad brush of Trivandrum society and by extension Keralite society demonstrates a MAJOR knowledge gap about gender dynamics in Kerala. I was born in Cochin, and like many other Keralite families, my mother was in charge of the household, and was by no means a ‘second-class citizen.’ There is ample literature out there which describes the matriarchial positioning of many Keralite households and families.

    I’ve read the ample literature for years, which made my actual experience in Trivandrum all the more shocking and disappointing. We could get into details – virtually no women on the streets after dark, women’s college dorms locked by 7:30 pm while men’s open all night, never being able to have dinner with my unmarried girlfriends whose families demanded they be home by 7:30 but my male friends were of course available, women complaining about sexual harassment at work and having no legal recourse – but I will continue to stand by my own experiences and my perceptions. I also make it clear I lived in TRV only a short time. I take pains to not position myself as an “expert.” Someone who grew up there has far more authority about Trivandrum, Kerala, and India than I do. But I saw what I saw, I experienced what I experienced, and my responsibility as an artist and a human being is to be honest. It’s not to promote other peoples’ ideologies. It’s not to shut up. And it’s not to apologise, over and over again, for being a white American woman.

  19. I find most of you trying to find polite ways to accept your identities or justify your identities without appearing territorial, uninformed, or biased etc. Go ahead and use whatever principles or reasons you would like to advocate but do understand your propensities for feeding holistic and connectedness fantasies even if they might be persistently ripe for awkward surprises.

  20. gogol

    Why does it bother people like you so much that people who post here are the way they are? I mean, it takes a lot of internal fission to mount spamming campaigns like a castrati and launch cyber jihads against a bunch of bloggers who hang together and discuss things, and squeal as if they are being oppressed when a racist scumbag has their post deleted. Why do you and others feel threatened by Sepia Mutiny? So much so that you act like freaky stalkers projecting your demons onto the people here? What’s up? Why the determination to turn Sepia Mutiny into just another cesspit of unmoderated racist piss and bile? Do you have nappy rash or something?

  21. Do you have nappy rash or something?

    I want to abandon SM, which is becoming a bilious cesspit. But the question is: can I live without the Red-Snapperian aperçu?

  22. Red-Snapperian, it’s like Pinteresque and Kafkaesque, only better.

    But seriously, what’s up with the sudden bout of nappy rash and testicle excema amongst the sulking racists? Can’t you just get some cream for it and not blame Sepia Mutiny for your sense of being miniscule and persecuted? Have you joined all the porn sites available to beat out your bitterness? Surely not.

  23. “Also, while Keralite Syrian Christians may be Orthodox in the apostolic sense, their ritual practice is substantially different from other Eastern Orthodox churches, is it not?”

    –”Actually not. Their liturgy is pretty much identical to the syrian-orthodox churches of the middle east, and so is their garb (yes, cassocks and hats unfit for the tropics). You could say that there are some architectural elements and rituals (in weddings etc) borrowed from hinduism.”

    Actually, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is an apostolic Orthodox church in all senses, and we belong to the Oriental Orthodox communion (Syrian, Ethipiopian, Coptic(Egyptian), Armenian, Eritrean, Indian churches). The Oriental Orthodox churches are not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox churches (ie. your Greeks, Russians, etc.) The fundamental difference between these two Orthodox families is that the Byzantine or Eastern churches and the Oriental churches split from each other in the fourth century when the Oriental Orthodox churches did not accept the Fourth Council of Chalcedon. The Indian church, while adopting many Syrian liturgical practices, has elements of Hindu culture effused in it; however, more importantly it has its services in Malayalam, and is populated and run by Indians for Indians of a distinct endogamous community within Kerala society. It has its own history, legends, saints, hypocrisies, traditions, practices, idiosyncracies…culture. The good, the bad, and the borrowed, all make up a distinct community. It is unfair and plain wrong to equate it with either the Eastern Orthodox Greeks or its sister Syrian church.

  24. We could get into details – virtually no women on the streets after dark, women’s college dorms locked by 7:30 pm while men’s open all night, never being able to have dinner with my unmarried girlfriends whose families demanded they be home by 7:30 but my male friends were of course available, women complaining about sexual harassment at work and having no legal recourse – but I will continue to stand by my own experiences and my perceptions. I also make it clear I lived in TRV only a short time. I take pains to not position myself as an “expert.” Someone who grew up there has far more authority about Trivandrum, Kerala, and India than I do. But I saw what I saw, I experienced what I experienced, and my responsibility as an artist and a human being is to be honest. It’s not to promote other peoples’ ideologies. It’s not to shut up. And it’s not to apologise, over and over again, for being a white American woman.

    Right, we could get into details. Because, Virtually no women after dark = ‘Second class citizen’. Forget about what the women really wants. It is about what you as an American thinks is more important, hostel must not close at 7:30. Forget about the millions of women in Kerala who have their husbands laboring over in middle east leading their own lives. women complaining about sexual harassment at work and having no legal recourse. Really?. No legal recourse, huh. Interesting. There is a lot of difference between legal recourse not available and legal recourse not being properly used. Here is an interesting tidbit for you. Kerala has 100% literacy rate. Yes that includes women. Don’t you think an educated women can think for herself. No need for you to “educate” them on your “culture” of partying after midnight and appearing on Girls Gone Wild to prove you are not a second class citizen.

  25. So if we were to hang out on, say, Stormfront or Free Republic, I’m sure we’d be given total license to talk about diversity, tolerance, encouraging immigration (ESPECIALLY from the developing world!) and the great benefits of multicultural integration right? I mean obviously moderators are always shutting down free speech to preserve the liberal Sepia Mutiny conspiracy and all, so the freedom-loving winger sites absolutely must not have them…

  26. Here is an interesting tidbit for you. Kerala has 100% literacy rate. Yes that includes women. Don’t you think an educated women can think for herself. No need for you to “educate” them on your “culture” of partying after midnight and appearing on Girls Gone Wild to prove you are not a second class citizen.

    I think once the 100% literacy rate gets trotted out, it’s like the fat lady sang. ;) Beyond that, your argument is lame. Nina isn’t advocating that the tender, naanam-rich maidens of TVM whip up their kameezs in order to flash the GGW camera and you accusing her of that reeks. If you can’t argue properly, don’t.

    {That’s my nice way of saying MADHI, pillaru. Stay on topic, too, while you’re at it. Thanks.}

  27. Kerala has 100% literacy rate. … Don’t you think an educated woman…

    Literacy != Education, ergo, Literacy != Liberation/Freedom

    Most Arab countries have 100% literacy for women, in Arabic! I don’t need to tell you how “liberated” they are.

    It’s what you study that counts, not whether you can study or not. Although agreed, this is a good first step. Now only if Keralites studied the right stuff….

    M. Nam

  28. nina,

    you give specific details:

    virtually no women on the streets after dark, women’s college dorms locked by 7:30 pm while men’s open all night, never being able to have dinner with my unmarried girlfriends whose families demanded they be home by 7:30 but my male friends were of course available, women complaining about sexual harassment at work and having no legal recourse
    • which demonstrate to a reader (who has no experience in india) that you feel that women are 2nd class citizens in Kerala, but then say

    I also make it clear I lived in TRV only a short time. I take pains to not position myself as an “expert.”

    your descriptive examples (“never being able” and “no legal recourse”) strike a cord with people who have had experiences different from you … it is only more irksome that after that you say, “but i’m no expert” …

    i understand what it is you are trying to say, but i also empathize with those who are angered by your statements … those people are not trying to make you be dishonest, promote their ideology, or make you shut up, but are angry that you only present one side of the coin …

    as someone who is a malayalee, has lived in kerala (though briefly like yourself), and visits every few years, i do not see women as being 2nd class citizens, but i do feel the role of men and women in daily life is vastly different than in the US

    i’ll stop rambling now

  29. Literacy != Education, ergo, Literacy != Liberation/Freedom Most Arab countries have 100% literacy for women, in Arabic! I don’t need to tell you how “liberated” they are. It’s what you study that counts, not whether you can study or not. Although agreed, this is a good first step. Now only if Keralites studied the right stuff…. M. Nam

    Then can I also infer from this, hostels closing at 7:30 != Second class citizen. and virtually no women after dark != Second class citizen. Or is it the other way around?

  30. Neal, Mr. K, Red Snapper:

    Re: banning commentors

    Glad to see you defending property rights. you must be taking up moornam’s reading suggestions. The 1st ammendment does not apply to private citizens, only government, or else it would collapse within its own contradictions.

    Now you understand why goldwater oppossed the ’64 civil rights act (sorry, that was naughty and provocative).

  31. I don’t have a clue about your references or what you’re talking about Manju

  32. I don’t have a clue about your references or what you’re talking about Manju

    I’m just saying, those who complain that their free-speech is being violated b/c SM bans them, don’t understand the concept of free speech. But you do. I think.

  33. Oh right Manju, sorry! I though you were attacking me or something, I didnt understand your references. Cheers mate.

  34. Manju is referring to the fact that just like Goldwater was against the 1964 Civil Rights Act because he believed that it was an encroachment on the property rights of business owner to do as they deemed fit (including discriminate against blacks etc.) likewise Red Snapper etc. are defending the property rights of SM bloggers to shut down speech because they own the place and can do as deem fit on their property.

    So Civil Rights Act/ First Amendment versus Property rights.

    At least thats what I think Manju was saying.

  35. the more conscious we become, the more insidious racism will be. i have no problem admitting my dynamic racist tendencies and impurities in general. And nor should anyone if they are extremely honest with themselves. Fortunately, intention at best mitigates these tendencies from erupting.

    now you all keep lying to yourselves because you have to.

  36. Rani writes: >>as someone who is a malayalee…i do not see women as being 2nd class citizens, but i do feel the role of men and women in daily life is vastly different than in the US

    Your argument is amazingly similiar to that of HVF’s in the California textbook debate where they said: “Women in ancient India were not second class citizens with fewer rights – they had different rights because their roles in daily life were vastly different than that of today’s times.”

    Don’t mean to threadjack, but I wanted to point out how the same argument when made in a similiar context elsewhere results in the person/organisation being labelled as “fundamentalist”, “sexist” and what not.

    Sam:>>Then can I also infer from this, hostels closing at 7:30 != Second class citizen. and virtually no women after dark != Second class citizen. Or is it the other way around?

    The only inference I can make is that the hostels heed the concerns of the girls’ parents to be more protective of their daughters, because a woman is more likely to be a victim of violence than a man. That does not necessarily make them second class citizens.

    In my ride to NY everyday I notice that most women tend to stick to the center of the train/subway where there are more people rather than at the ends where the compartment has fewer people, even though it means that they have to stand. It is common knowledge that muggings etc happen on the isolated ends of the platform – so they protect themselves. In India they have to protect themselves in other ways.

    M. Nam

  37. AMFD: correct. i always knew u understood me.

    Red Snapper: no attack. just a little snarkiness w/ the goldwater ref. i always stand with those who oppose testicular excema.

  38. Manju is referring to the fact that just like Goldwater was against the 1964 Civil Rights Act because he believed that it was an encroachment on the property rights of business owner to do as they deemed fit (including discriminate against blacks etc.) likewise Red Snapper etc. are defending the property rights of SM bloggers to shut down speech because they own the place and can do as deem fit on their property.

    Except that there is a difference between a business and other forms of private property. Even those who opposed Goldwater never argued that you couldn’t throw somebody out of your home for being rude. Business are regulated, at least in part, by the state. You have customers who are buying something from you. Our racist guests haven’t paid me a dime so I have no problem kicking them out.

    Furthermore, neither side said business owners couldn’t eject somebody for bad behavior on their business premises, as long as that bad behavior was clearly defined and race neutral. Bars do it all the time, or does Manju think that bars can’t eject patrons for behaving poorly?

    Manju – for shame, fallacious analogy.

  39. Our racist guests haven’t paid me a dime so I have no problem kicking them out.

    Ennis: So if it were a pay-site, you believe you should be forced to serve them?

  40. Anna, your original post brought tears to my eyes. That was really beautiful.

    Second thing: I have participated in websites and discussion forums that allowed all manner of racist garbage in the name of free speech (things that were far more vicious than the quote that originally touched off this discussion). It did nothing but poison the atmosphere and drive the good posters away in frustration. I really don’t have words to express how TOXIC things became, how intelligent discussion was choked out by inflammatory rhetoric and defensivness.

    So anyway, in this lurker’s humble opinion, I think whoever chose to delete the comments referenced in the original post made exactly the right decision.

  41. Note: Please don’t feed the trolls. Requests for celebrities’ contact info or homework assistance; racist, abusive, illiterate, content-free or commercial comments; personal, non-issue-focused flames; intolerant or anti-secular comments; and long, obscure rants may be deleted. Unless they’re funny. It’s all good then.

    So this policy applies only on us poor commentators and not bloggers:(

    If you’re going to tell Deevani that she shouldn’t sing or participate in the culture which she is lovingly and sincerely invested in, for the sake of not just herself but her three, half-brown children, then you’re no better than Alexandra. And she was a vile bitch. Aim higher, won’t you please? You’re bigger and better than that. We all should be.
  42. Ennis: So if it were a pay-site, you believe you should be forced to serve them?

    Manju – I replied to that argument too, and asked you a question. You’re ignoring it. My point was that there are two important areas of difference between the Goldwater claim and the SM claim.

  43. So this policy applies only on us poor commentators and not bloggers :(

    But of course. You obviously didn’t catch the SECOND sentence of this very post:

    I didn’t delete it, nor did I summon the intern to stop fanning me as I lounged on my throne, to do so at my behest.