Quickie Review: “A Mighty Heart”

Though some were quick to declare a flop, Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart is actually pretty good. There are strong performances and interesting characters, and a sense of suspense in the plot that took me by surprise. The standout from my point of view is Irfan Khan’s performance as a fictional pseudonymous Pakistan CID investigator, who pursues Danny Pearl’s kidnappers with a strong sense of purpose and efficiency. Irfan, whom we last saw in The Namesake has a certain presence about him; when he’s on, he owns the screen. (Angelina Jolie also gives a surpsisingly compelling performance.)

Politically, the film does give the wonks out there some interesting bits to chew on. Perhaps the most interesting issue that came up was the obvious schizophrenia within Pakistan’s government in January 2002, during the 10 days of Pearl’s kidnapping. The Pakistan Interior Minister at one point flat-out tells Mariane Pearl (played by Angelina Jolie) that Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping is an Indian plot to discredit Pakistan’s ISI (I haven’t confirmed whether this actually happened or not). Meanwhile, other Pakistani officials are much more helpful in the investigation; even Musharraf, whose televised statements are replayed in fragments in the film, seems to be on the ball.

Visually, the film has a strong desi feel. Most of the exterior shots were done on location in Karachi — which looks suitably chaotic and lively — while the interior shooting was done in Pune, Maharashtra. Also, something like 1/3 of the dialogue is in Hindi/Urdu, which might be a draw in itself. (There’s even a little joke about ABD accents at one point.)

I’m not terribly bothered by Asra Nomani’s criticisms of the film, which seem mostly personal: she wants the film to be a portrait of her friend Danny Pearl, while the filmmakers decided to make a film mainly about his kidnapping and the investigation that followed. Nor am I particularly up in arms about the fact that Angelina Jolie, who is white, is here playing Mariane Pearl, who is biracial (her father is Dutch and her mother is Cuban). For me, the criterion is believability, not finding a direct racial match. (See criticisms of Jolie’s casting at Racewire: here and here)

In fact, my biggest objection to the film was the way it glossed over the apparent use of torture in the investigation of Pearl’s kidnappers. It’s especially jarring given that the message of the film is the urgency of the need to propagate a sense of shared humanity across political and cultural divides. The film seems aware of the torture question — there are montage references to the statements that Pearl’s kidnapping is retribution for the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay — but it doesn’t actually take a stand on it. For me, that doesn’t work: either we support the use of torture, or we are against it. Continue reading

Coolies — How Britain Reinvented Slavery

Via Tipster BNB, a searing one-hour documentary, exposing the 19th-century British practice of Indentured Labour, through which more than 1 million Indian workers were transported all over the world — only to be told there was no provision to return. They were effectively only slightly better off than the African slave laborers they were brought in to replace. The latter had been emancipated in 1833, when the British government decided to end slavery and the slave trade throughout the Empire.

The documentary is brought to you by… who else? The BBC! (“The BBC: Bringing You… Post-colonial Guilt in Excruciating Historical Detail”)

Some of the speakers include Brij Lal, an Indo-Fijian who now teaches in Australia, and David Dabydeen, an Indo-Guyanan novelist who now teaches in Warwick, UK. I’ve watched about 25 minutes of it so far, and it seems to be pretty well designed — some historical overview, but not too much. Most of the focus is on the descendents of Indian indentured laborers, who are now trying to work out the implications of their history.

Incidentally, it looks like this video can be downloaded for free to your PC — in case you’re going to be sitting in a train or an airport for an hour sometime this weekend, and wanted a little “light” entertainment. (You will also need to download Google’s Video Player application.) Continue reading

Maximum Summer Nerdery [UPDATED]

Maximum Cover.gif

UPDATE: In case you didn’t know, you got a 48 hour extension– discussion regarding section one commences WEDNESDAY, the 4th.

A few of you have inquired about SM’s newest misadventure, namely the endeavor I promised to start several years ago, so that the four of you who haven’t read my favorite book of all time could do so, with my fervent encouragement.

Alas, we will NOT be starting off our Brown Book Club with a “suitable” anything, our first book is Maximum City and in case you missed the various comments scattered about the blog regarding it, section one of it is “due” this Monday, July 2 this Wednesday, July 4. You were warned. 🙂

Why are we doing this, you might not ask? Well, if you’ve spent any amount of time avoiding work, school or familial obligations with the Mutiny, you’ve probably noticed that many of our commenters are an intelligent, well-read bunch. Ek problem: the books that many of us “take for granted” and assume everyone has read, like A Suitable Boy or Interpreter of Maladies or, indeed, Maximum City HAVEN’T been digested. Well, it’s okay to admit that you had your nose buried in For Matrimonial Purposes (or is it?) instead of a tome which won a prestigious prize. There are others who have avoided literature and significant works of non-fiction, just like you. And all of us are going to get through these gosh-darned “important” books together.

On July 2 4th, I’ll put up a post about part one of Maximum City, and then you can each chime in with your thoughts on what we’ve just read. We’ll finish the two remaining sections by the week after, by July 9. It’s roughly the same number of pages, per week.

Thank you to Chachaji, who inspired this brief, yet necessary post with this comment:

BTW, is this still on, or have we moved it forward by a week? I just got my copy of Maximum City yesterday, and read a few random pages out of order last night. Just now I discovered it does have 3 sections! Anna, will you be flagging us off, and give us a suggested reading schedule, so we can get started in earnest? 🙂 [link city]

Do I need to “move it forward by a week?” SLACKERS. 😀

No, really, let’s hash out details below, so all of our planning and disagreement occurs on ONE thread. Continue reading

Set Adrift on “SubcontineNtal Drift” in DC Tomorrow

Subcontinental Drift- I House.jpg

I recently emailed five questions to Sophie, who is part of the force behind D.C.’s Subcontinental Drift.

Several Mutineers discussed SD’s last event at the most recent D.C. meetup— in fact, a few of you even performed at it! I get the feeling the rest of you would be VERY interested in what Sophie and her dynamic crew are trying to do– so I thought I’d post a wee reminder that your next chance to marinate in creative splendor is tomorrow night, June 29. But first, some essential information:

Subcontinental Drift is ____?

…an effort to bring out the “basement talents of the District’s desis.” Basically, we’re trying to provide a creative space for people who are artistically-inclined (that’s a broad term and encompasses pretty much anyone from professional artists to people who like to watch other people read poetry) to connect with each other and share each other’s work.

What inspired it?

A few of us “D.C. desis” felt like there was a void in the South Asian community –in a place like D.C. where there are soooo many talented people, there wasn’t a cohesive group or space that was encouraging or nurturing that talent. The need was something that was floating around in the air, and we just grabbed it. Specifically though, the catalyst for me was when I was with Munish and Vikash at Bossa lounge in Adams Morgan and we watched Vishal Kanwar play tablas there. We’re like, wow, this is cool..let’s do more cool stuff. Something like that.

What’s the best thing about it?

The best thing is watching new artists get up in front of nearly 100 desis, and coming more and more into themselves. When you see people willing to get up there, be vulnerable, share a sacred part of themselves, and the audience is so warm and appreciative–it is the most beautiful thing.

What if someone wanted to get involved with it?

They should email us at subdriftdc@gmail.com .

What if a mutineer who isn’t lucky enough to live in D.C. wanted to emulate such awesomeness– any advice for them?

Get a few like-minded people together who are committed to the same thing you are, pick a venue, and go to the ends of the earth to SPREAD THE WORD about it. If your community doesn’t have a creative space for people, chances are people are hungry for it. As long as word spreads, people will come. And especially in the beginning, keep the vibe pretty informal and verryyy welcoming–human connection is the key!

I went to the last Subcontinental Drift and I’ll be at tomorrow’s, as well. The atmosphere that Sophie, Munish, Nina, Mona, Nabeel, Vishal and Surabhi create is extraordinary; upon being dragged to last month’s event, a friend of mine from out of town was actually envious of us DCists, because he thought the open mic/dance performances/live music/stand-up comedy/ridiculously good sangria made for one fantastic night. I agreed and immediately grew mindful of how lucky I was to live here, where creativity manifests like this. I’m telling you, the very air in that room pictured above felt charged, different, exhilarating. You should go, and see for yourself. 🙂

Subcontinental Drift
An open mic for and by South Asian Americans.
-experiments in words, sound or art
-spoken word
Friday, June 29, 2007
Cost: FREE and we have drinks and snacks!
La Casa Community Center
3166 Mt. Pleasant Street NW
3 blocks from the Columbia Heights metro stop.
(Green or Yellow Line)

Continue reading

Sometimes, There’s a Match.

Meenu Bedi is saving a life she’s never met…

The posts about Vinay and Sameer make it worthwhile to highlight and remind people that there *are* success stories out there. As many nonprofit volunteers can tell you, the single best cure for donor fatigue is a tangible example. For Vinay & Sameer, our local SF press highlighted this very recent one

Bedi said she was “honored and ecstatic” when she found out her stem cells were a match.

“It was a privilege to do it for someone,” she said. “I would hope that they would do the same for me, if I was in their shoes.”

…”I know she’s 54 years old and that she has leukemia,” Bedi said. “They won’t release her ethnicity, but, yeah, she’s East Indian.”

Meenu was registered via a Team-in-Training program sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

As rare as matches are, what’s even more sad is the occasional response to a match (a problem which, sadly, Vinay appears to have run into) –

“We often get a lot of people to sign up,” [Program Director] Vlume said, “but the unique problem is getting people to say ‘yes’ after we’ve made a match.”

She said that sometimes, as many as 70 percent of people deemed matches decline to go through with the process.

“They want to look like they’re doing a good thing, they want to show they support the community, but in the end they never really wanted to do it in the first place,” Vlume said.

Sometimes, attitudes are a far worse problem than numbers. Good luck Vinay & Sameer.

Continue reading

Chaplains go multi-religious

When I went to college, there were only 3 chaplains – a Protestant minister who was the University Chaplain, a Catholic priest who was the Catholic chaplain and a Rabbi who worked for Hillel. Beyond that, the only on-campus resource was the person hired to run a weekly interfaith service.

Now things are different – both universities and militaries have started to add non Judeo-Christian chaplains. The biggest change is the addition of Muslim chaplains, which actually first started in the US at a Catholic university:

Brown’s brown Muslim chaplain

In 1999 Georgetown University hired Yahya Hendi – the first full-time Muslim chaplain at an American university. Today [article was written in 2005], the Muslim Students Association (MSA) estimates that 14 institutions of higher education provide for a Muslim chaplain. [Link]

Now even Yale (whose founders split from Harvard because it was too religiously lax) has a Muslim chaplain. Many of these chaplains are younger and from more untraditional backgrounds compared to mosque imams because there is no standard career path:

At 24, Sohaib Nazeer Sultan could easily be mistaken for a graduate student as he walks the campus of Trinity College… A former freelance journalist in Chicago, Sultan began studying in the Islamic Chaplaincy program at Hartford Seminary last year. It is the only program in the country that trains and certifies Muslim chaplains for work in hospitals, prisons, universities and the U.S. military… In May, his book, “The Koran for Dummies,” was published as part of the “Dummies” reference book series. [Link]

Similarly, the Yale university chaplain is a 35 year old Pakistani-born, UT Austin trained engineer who is working on his Ph.D in Islamic studies. (There are also Hindu and Sikh chaplains, although fewer of them. Swami Yogatmananda at UMass Dartmouth was the only Hindu chaplain I could find at a US university, although there is one at University of Toronto as well. The only Sikh chaplain I found in North America was Manjit Singh, the first non-Christian director of Chaplaincy services at McGill University. All of these chaplains are considerably older than their Muslim counterparts.)

If you’re non Jewish, Christian or Atheist, would this have made a difference to you in college? Would you have gone to more campus services if they had been of your faith?


On a related note [thanks Salil]:

For what is believed to be the first time in its history, the U.S. Senate will on July 12 be opened with a Hindu prayer, the Senate Chaplain’s Office confirmed Monday. For more than 200 years, the Senate has opened each workday with a prayer usually delivered by the Senate Chaplain, currently Barry Black, a Seventh Day Adventist. [Link]

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Help Vinay & Sameer – SF

Unfortunately, Vinay isn’t alone in needing your / our help. Sameer Bhatia has also recently been diagnosed with AML, needs a bone marrow transplant, and is joining forces with Vinay to get South Asians registered. Mutineer Anna’s been fantastic about getting the word out for NYC and DC marrow registration drives, but West Coasters should know about an upcoming drive & fundraiser in SF — TONIGHT.

When: Thursday, June 28, 7pm to 10pm

Where: Dolce in San Francisco


Contact: Deepa Prasad and Harini Madhavan; deepaprasad@hotmail.com or hvmadhavan@hotmail.com

At the second event, we will be holding a donor drive as well as raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. We would love to see you there as well. Please spread the word and bring as many people as you can to both events. It should be a great time as well as an important and meaningful cause.

If you can’t make it up to SF, there are other drives tonight in Sacramento, Seattle, Sunnyvale and NYC and a LARGE LIST of future drives all across the country. With 1 in 20,000 odds of finding a suitable match, every little cheek swab helps. Continue reading

Just when you think you’ve seen it all

I’m utterly speechless.

One of YouTube’s commentors tries to explain things –

This is a rite of passage in India. It has not fangs and it’s mouth is sewn shut. Also, it has no constricting force so it’s less dangerous then a dog or cat.

… And discussion on urban-mythbusting website snopes.com seems to concur. Any mutineers have insight here? I mean it’s one thing to teach a baby not to fear *this* snake but rue the day he should start fearing all snakes.

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Indian-American Student in Desegregation Crossfire

nikita rau.jpg A tipster named Shireen alerted us to the unusual situation of 11 year old Nikita Rau, who had earned entry into a “gifted and talented” school in Brooklyn, called the Mark Twain School, or IS 239. Nikita was denied admission to the school based on the school’s archaic racial quotas, established in 1974, which require that exactly 60% of the school be white, and 40% be composed of minorities. At the time, the quota reflected the demographics of the area; today, minorities comprise more than 40% of the local population — and have little trouble getting the test scores to earn admission to the school. The 40% minimum has, over time, become a maximum quota.

The New York Post covered the story yesterday in sensationalistic terms: “NOT WHITE ENOUGH: Brilliant Girl Cheated By School Quota.” And today they follow up with a story on the Chancellor of Schools, Joel Klein, who has indicated that he supports Nikita Rau’s right to study at IS 239. (They also have a colorfully written editorial on the subject, entitled, “Cockamamie Quota”.)

Despite his opposition to the quota, Chancellor Klein has thus far declined to act, mainly because the Supreme Court is about to rule on two major desegregation cases elsewhere in the country, which could potentially vitiate federal programs aimed at achieving racial balance or diversity in primary and secondary schools. If government-enforced racial diversity is thrown out (and many commentators think it will be, given the current conservative leaning of the Supreme Court), it will be relatively straightforward to throw out the old quota in Coney Island.

Of course, one could argue that the quota at this school should just be thrown out irrespective of what the Supreme Court decides in the cases in Seattle and Louisville — simply because excluding Nikita Rau was never the intention of the judge who made the 1974 ruling that set up the quota in the first place.

Finally, it does strike me as an interesting irony that at the college level, East and South Asians are not considered “underrepresented minorities,” while in this case, Nikita Rau is clearly being defined as a “minority” student.

I’m curious to hear where readers are on this issue of quotas, desegregation, and diversity, specifically with regard to how it affects South Asian students in primary and secondary schools (K-12).

[I should also link to a couple of earlier SM posts on Affirmative Action, here and here] Continue reading