The Devil Bangs a Gavel

Erstwhile Sepia blogger and fanatical culture vulture Manish would be so proud! A book by a desi author with a desi protagonist without saris, bindis, mehndi, mangoes, spices, or faux indic fonts on the cover!


Cast your eyes to the right, my friends. Behold the cover for Chambermaid, by Saira Rao. Kinda boring, no? Eh…we’re a fickle bunch.

So what’s this assimilation sensation about, you ask? Well, I have no idea. The book hits shelves in July and the publicists didn’t send a review copy to the bunker (ahem) but given the pre-launch reviews I’ve spotted, this should be decent beach reading. Especially for all you desi lawyer types reading this site. Especially since Ms. Rao clerked for a Federal Appeals Court Judge in real life.

Quick summary:

Sheila Raj is a recent graduate of a top-ten law school with dreams of working for the ACLU, but law school did not prepare her for the power-hungry sociopath, Judge Helga Friedman, who greets her on her first day. While her beleaguered colleagues begin quitting their jobs, Sheila is assigned to a high-profile death penalty case and suddenly realizes that she has to survive the year as Friedman’s chambermaid — not just her sanity, but actual lives hang in the

Ooh la la! Le Scandale!!

Will this become the next Prada? Who could this eeevil Judge Friedman possibly be? Where have you heard of Saira Rao before? These, and many more of life’s mysteries, will be answered after the jump. Continue reading

Winners or a Disgrace? Prime-time shall reveal (live-blogging)

You didn’t think I’d just sit on the sidelines while the Greatest Show on Earth was unfolding did you? The Annual Scripps National Spelling bee wraps up in prime-time tonight! Meet the last of the brown hopefuls (who we must all now pray for as they represent the best of desi-dom):

Name: Kavya Shivashankar

Favorite movie: Spellbound

Favorite TV show: The View (she reportedly got into it with Rosie when she went on)

Abhi’s Scouting Report: She has experience under her belt and stormed into the final rounds last year. Not to mention she plays the violin. A victory by her would also resurrect the name “Kavya” from its current place in infamy.

Continue reading

Stop Your Hooking

Because Akka loves you, she feels like nagging your misbehaving kundis about something you should not do (via the AP and one anonymous tipster on the news tab):

Smoking a hookah may be as dangerous as cigarettes, the World Health Organisation said, adding that more research was needed into the link between the use of the water pipe and several fatal illnesses. It said that a person can inhale a hundred times more smoke – a mixture of tobacco, molasses and fruit flavours – in a hookah session than in one cigarette. Hookah, or shisha, smoking is a tradition in North Africa and the Middle East. [Linkaya]

I’ve heard so many people declare that smoking a hookah is “nowhere near as dangerous” as “regular” smoking, I had to post this. I hope those delusional darlings are reading this and realigning their thoughts accordingly.

Also, while the blurb states that Shisha is popular in North Africa and the Middle East, it is also popular with brown people, especially the annoying ones who won’t quit staring at Prince Cafe in Georgetown, at 3am when all a girl is trying to do is innocently get her mirchi Aloo Chole on. What is it with our people and the shameless gawking?

It would be one thing if this were Iowa circa 1968 and two lonely Namesake-era desis were curiously gazing at each other in a room full of Amreekans, the desire for recognition, i.e. that knowing “gang recognize gang”-moment apparent on their homesick visages, but this is D.C. and out of the sixty people at Prince, the only white guy is the Romanian Orthodox dude behind the counter. We have taken over. The “Arrrre you Yindian??”-bit is thus uncalled for in this uberdesi day and age.

Wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah. QUIT EFFING SMOKING. That hacking cough ain’t attractive, y’all. Back to your regularly scheduled troll-baiting, spelling bee-dissing and witty comment-making then. Continue reading

Ask a Desi

Gustavo Arellano runs a nationally syndicated column titled “Ask a Mexican” which began three years ago (first as a joke) in the OC Weekly. A while back, over the tip-line, someone suggested we run a similar column. I think it’s a good idea. I think I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna be the “Desi” with the answers. So…if you have any questions for a Desi (or Indian, South Asian, whatever you prefer) I am now your man. Send them my way at abhi [at] sepiamutiny dot com. I will try to answer at least one question a week and I will only tackle questions sent via email and not via the comments. I will more than likely ask my bunker mates to opine on certain inquiries, especially if they are more qualified desis for a particular question. To get you in the mood, here is the latest “Ask a Mexican” column:

Q: Is it true that there are a lot more Mexicans hooking up with East Indians now? I know a few mixed Mexican-Indian couples, and I’ve heard that in some parts of the country, there are communities full of Mexican Hindus (products of Mexican-East Indian intermarriage). Is it true that this is a rising trend? If so, do you have any advice for young Indian-Americans interested in attracting Mexican girls or guys?

–El Otro Tipo de Indio

A: Dear Other Type of Indian: I try not to answer questions about interethnic amor (that’s more of a Dan Savage thing), but I’ll run yours because it allows me to plug Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans. This fascinating 1994 ethnography by University of California Irvine anthropology professor Karen Leonard studies Mexican women in the United States who married men from the Punjab region of what’s now India and Pakistan during the first half of the 20th century. There are muchos similarities between Mexican and Punjabi cultures — a love of flatbreads (tortillas and rotis), spicy cuisine and loud, drum-based music (banda and bhangra, respectively) — but Leonard concludes that American immigration policies barring most Asian women from entering this country inspired many of the unions, and that both Mexican and Indian-American communities (never mind the gabachos) discriminated against these families… [Link]

Please, ask this macaca all kinds of questions and not just cheesy relationship questions. I just want to heal. Like Dr. Phil. Or Frasier Crane.

Continue reading

It wasn’t me

Paranoia or Art? Bangladeshi American Hasan Elahi has decided to pre-emptively prove to the FBI (or any other shady wire-tapping federal agencies) that he is not, cannot possibly be, has never been, a terrorist. In order to do so he is doing the FBI’s job for them (quite convincingly):

Hasan Elahi whips out his Samsung Pocket PC phone and shows me how he’s keeping himself out of Guantanamo. He swivels the camera lens around and snaps a picture of the Manhattan Starbucks where we’re drinking coffee. Then he squints and pecks at the phone’s touchscreen. “OK! It’s uploading now,” says the cheery, 35-year-old artist and Rutgers professor, whose bleached-blond hair complements his fluorescent-green pants. “It’ll go public in a few seconds.” Sure enough, a moment later the shot appears on the front page of his Web site,

There are already tons of pictures there. Elahi will post about a hundred today — the rooms he sat in, the food he ate, the coffees he ordered. Poke around his site and you’ll find more than 20,000 images stretching back three years. Elahi has documented nearly every waking hour of his life during that time. He posts copies of every debit card transaction, so you can see what he bought, where, and when. A GPS device in his pocket reports his real-time physical location on a map.

Elahi’s site is the perfect alibi. Or an audacious art project. Or both. The Bangladeshi-born American says the US government mistakenly listed him on its terrorist watch list — and once you’re on, it’s hard to get off. To convince the Feds of his innocence, Elahi has made his life an open book. [Link]

Ok, I’ll be honest. The first thing I thought of was whether or not this project is helping Elahi’s love life. I mean, I could just imagine some girl coming up to him and saying, “Wow, isn’t it funny how we just keep running in to each other like this? Must be fate!” (Abhi curses himself for not thinking of this first). Elahi’s logic for starting the project is flawless:

The government monitors your movements, but it gets things wrong. You can monitor yourself much more accurately. Plus, no ambitious agent is going to score a big intelligence triumph by snooping into your movements when there’s a Web page broadcasting the Big Mac you ate four minutes ago in Boise, Idaho… [Link]
Continue reading

How to Save A Life

vinay and rashmi.jpg

A tragedy, in five lines;

This is Vinay and his wife Rashmi.

They were married in 2005.

He was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 2006.

He is 28.

He needs a bone marrow transplant, in the next six weeks.

If you aren’t already part of the National Marrow Donor Program registry, please consider what you would be going through if this were your little brother, childhood friend or husband. Wouldn’t you want as many desis as possible to be in the database? Vinay’s greatest hope lies with someone like him, but the number of us who are registered is so low, it’s pathetic.

All it takes is a few minutes of your time. A swabbed cheek. And maybe, with that selfless gesture, you increase the chances that this person who probably has so much in common with you goes on to live the life we all deserve.

This is what Vinay’s parents have to say:

We cannot express in words what this is like. All we can do is implore you to close your eyes for a moment, and imagine that this is your son, your brother, your best friend. We are guessing you would move heaven and earth to help save his life…
Vinay is the world to us – he is warm, funny, loving. We have watched him grow from a little baby, to a young boy playing sports, to a fine young man determined to be a doctor, to a man marrying the girl of his dreams. Please help us help our son have a chance to live – to be with his wife, with us, and his friends. [Hema and Partha]

Drives are planned in Fremont, Cerritos, Anaheim and Livermore; additional information may be found here. Speaking of additional information, when I numbly surfed through Vinay’s website, the following three points made me cringe:

When a Caucasian is looking for a match they find 15 matches on an average where as opposed to an Indian they might find one match or none.
This can happen to anyone at any age and god forbid if you get into similar situation then this will be the only registry that will come to rescue.
There is no such registry in India and when an Indian kid is looking for a marrow match this registry is the only resort. []

We’ve written about others whose lives were similarly threatened by our failure to represent in such a vital way. What would it take to move you to get involved? Would it matter if I told you that like every 8th desi, he’s from Fremont?

That he went to Ardenwood and eventually UCB (though not this UCB)?

That his favorite books were The Hobbit and Midnight’s Children?

That he liked The Godfather (but only 1 and 2), Garden State and Million Dollar Baby?

That he’s Seshu “Tiffinbox” Badrinath’s cousin?

He listens to Coltrane, Miles Davis and 2pac?

And yes, like every male I know, he likes to watch Scrubs and Sportscenter?

Do you identify with him yet? I pray you do. Because one of you could be his match and that would be the sweetest thing. My Uncle died of Leukemia and I’m sure each of us knows someone else who has been similarly affected. Continue reading

Gurcharan Das on Hydaspes River

As usual, biz has me on the road accumulating airmiles… and the usual upside is some unbroken reading time — most recently with Gurcharan Das‘s India Unbound. The book is well written and covers a wide span of Indian history and issues both from Das’s direct (and apparently quite privileged) experience as well as his clearly thorough research. Emotionally laced with optimism for the future and regret for the past, this nonfiction book struck a chord in a way I imagine some find in escapist lit. Call it Bridget Jones for the econ-minded. Amartya Sen’s comments on the book are particularly interesting.

Das tackles the age old, highly politicized question of “Why was India rich, why is it poor, and when will it be rich again?” In the dozens of cases Das presents, one particularly unique example is a famous battle of antiquity and the first large scale military interaction between Desi’s and the West – the Battle of Hydaspes River in 327 BC.

The battle pitted Alexander the Great’s Macedonians against Porus (the Hellenic version of “Rama Puru”), leader of the Kingdom of Paurava in what is now the Pakistani section of ancient Punjab. Beyond the general intrigue and war narrative – feints, maneuver, logistics, and so on – Das finds a nugget of explanatory wisdom to his question – Teamwork.

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do – Samuel HuntingtonDepending on your proclivities, Hydaspes may have marked the beginning of Western colonialism in India and thus the beginnings of all that ailed its 20th century history. In Samuel Huntington’s famous aphorism — “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do” — Alexander was perhaps the capstone ancient example. Thus, the Battle of Hydaspes River may have set the imperial template for hundreds more, longer lasting incursions over later millenia.

Continue reading

Rape of the Lock: Brown on Brown Hate Crime?

Our tip lines have been exploding about a New York incident involving a Sikh high school student who was assaulted; his turban was ripped off and then his hair, which had never been shorn, was cut against his will. Unfortunately for those of you who kept submitting the story, there were crickets chirping in the bunker this weekend. Our delay in blogging it was not a reflection of whether we feel the issue was important or not.

Here are the facts I have gleaned from the various links sent in:

  • The Sikh boy was trading “Yo Mama”-like insults with two others
  • Things got out of hand
  • He tried to apologize
  • He was informed that the only way to do so would be a haircut (WTF?)
  • That’s when he was dragged in to a bathroom and cut
  • Two other boys served as “lookouts”
  • All the boys may or may not have been friends
  • The teenaged defendant is a Muslim of Pakistani descent
  • Other desi students said this was anomalous for their school.

From the Queens D.A.’s press release:

District Attorney Brown said that, according to the charges, just after 12:00 noon on May 24, 2007, the defendant, armed with a pair of scissors, approached 15-year-old Vacher Harpal in the hallway of Newtown High School, located at 48-01 90th Street, and stated, “I have to cut your hair.” When Harpal asked, “For what, it is against my religion,” the defendant allegedly displayed a ring with Arabic inscriptions and stated, “This ring is Allah. If you don’t let me cut your hair, I will punch you with this ring.” It is alleged that Harpal initially refused to go into the bathroom with the defendant because he feared that the defendant would hurt him with the scissors.
Once inside the bathroom, it is alleged that Harpal removed his dastar while crying and begging the defendant not to cut his hair, which had never been cut and fell past his waist. The defendant is then alleged to have used the scissors to cut Harpal’s hair to the neckline and thrown the hair into the toilet and onto the floor. [link]

Is this a hate crime? Or just juvenile stupidity and roughhousing gone too far? Continue reading

Benetton Takes on Bruises – UPDATED


Just got back home from the long weekend to see the Benetton advert above. It was in my inbox, posted at SAJA’s ad-savvy blog and mais oui, on our news tab, via an Anonymous Tipster who wrote:

Benetton’s Colors of Domestic Violence campaign features desi survivor? On the one hand, nice effort. On the other: color-coordinating the bruises with the sweaters? Tasteless.

I don’t know if the woman is a DV survivor or a model, but I think the image is opinion-provoking. I want to know how many of you agree with the nameless mutineer who had mixed feelings about the execution of a very important public service announcement. As a DV witness and survivor, I think anything which draws pain out in to the light where it can be confronted is a good thing.

Domestic violence is a concept in constant rotation on this blog; I can grimly recall how many of you have come forward to reveal in our comments section how you have experienced DV yourselves, either directly or indirectly. That’s not to say that this is a horror we brown have a monopoly on by any means; to that end, Benetton does have ads with other “bruised” women of various ethnicities, which you can see here.


On a less serious tangent: how does this make you feel about Benetton? Positive, negative, no change? Is this just more un(desi)red P.R. stunting?

I’ve worn and loved them since back in the day (16 years!) so I’m a bit biased, especially since they make my current favorite little black dress (worn to the infamous man-harem meetup, no less), but I think that even if I didn’t already sweat those United Colors, I’d be positively disposed towards a brand which tried to address DV in such an unflinching fashion. What about you?


THIS IS NOT A BENETTON AD CAMPAIGN! Not only did one of you direct us to a Salon blurb about this intriguing development, the original link submitted to our news tab had the following statement in its comments section:

Dear All,
this is NOT a United Colors of Benetton advertising campaign. Please don’t be deceived, see the official Benetton Group website

Best regards,
Federico Sartor
Direttore Stampa e Comunicazione Istituzionale
Benetton Group
Tel. 39 0422 519036
Fax 39 0422 519930

Curiouser and curiouser… Continue reading

Maltreated H-1B Workers Begin to Find a Voice

There was a thought-provoking article in the SF Chronicle Sunday on the current quandaries faced by high-skilled foreign workers on H-1B Visas in the U.S. A very large proportion of these are Indian (49%), and in high-tech and computer fields (45%).

Currently, the system has problems on every side: first, representatives of software companies (chief among them Microsoft’s Bill Gates) have loudly asserted that they need for the number of available H-1B visas to be increased, as there are currently significant numbers of unfilled positions in many computer related fields (and this is even despite the explosion of outsourcing in the past five years). Secondly, there is confusion about whether H-1B should be understood as a temporary visa, or the first stage on the path to a green card; most Indians I know presume it’s the latter, while the government still seems to think it’s the former. And finally, the system clearly hasn’t been working very well for the immigrants themselves: it currently takes between 6 and 12 years for an Indian on an H1-B to be given a green card, even with employers willing to sponsor them. Confusingly, it takes much less time for H-1B workers from other national backgrounds to be given a green card once they find sponsorship. Continue reading