Onam Aashamsakal.jpg

Take an extra long bath, put on your prettiest mundum neriyathum, look forward to some Kaikottakali and smile brightly– Mahabali is coming home, and we don’t want him to know we are forlorn without him.

What’s that you say? You have no idea what I’m talking about? Fret not, almost no one ever does. The tale of Onam and Kerala’s most beloved King is available for your edification, below.

The story goes that the beautiful state of Kerala was once ruled by an Asura (demon) king, Mahabali. The King was greatly respected in his kingdom and was considered to be wise, judicious and extremely generous. It is said that Kerala witnessed its golden era in the reign of King Mahabali. Everybody was happy in the kingdom, there was no discrimination on the basis of caste or class. Rich and poor were equally treated. There was neither crime, nor corruption. People did not even lock their doors, as there were no thieves in that kingdom. There was no poverty, sorrow or disease in the reign of King Mahabali and everybody was happy and content.
It may be noted Mahabali was the son of Veerochana and grandson of Prahlad, the devout son of demon King Hiranyakashyap. Mahabali had a son called Bana, who became a legendary king in his own right and became popular as Banraj in central Assam. Mahabali belonged to the Asura (demon) dynasty but was an ardent worshiper of Lord Vishnu. His bravery and strength of character earned him the title of “Mahabali Chakravathy” or Mahabali – the King of Kings.
Looking at the growing popularity and fame of King Mahabali, Gods became extremely concerned and jealous. They felt threatened about their own supremacy and began to think of a strategy to get rid of the dilemma.

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“Nawabdin Electrician,” in The New Yorker

There’s a very interesting short story in this week’s New Yorker, by a new Pakistani writer named Daniyal Mueenuddin. It’s about an electrician working on a large farm in rural Pakistan, more or less taking care of his business until something dramatic happens. I won’t say much about the dramatic thing that happens to Nawabdin (read the story), but here’s a teaser to give you a sense of the writing style:

The motorcycle increased his status, gave him weight, so that people began calling him Uncle and asking his opinion on world affairs, about which he knew absolutely nothing. He could now range farther, doing much wider business. Best of all, now he could spend every night with his wife, who early in the marriage had begged to live not in Nawab’s quarters in the village but with her family in Firoza, near the only girls’ school in the area. A long straight road ran from the canal headworks near Firoza all the way to the Indus, through the heart of the K. K. Harouni lands. The road ran on the bed of an old highway built when these lands lay within a princely state. Some hundred and fifty years ago, one of the princes had ridden that way, going to a wedding or a funeral in this remote district, felt hot, and ordered that rosewood trees be planted to shade the passersby. Within a few hours, he forgot that he had given the order, and in a few dozen years he in turn was forgotten, but these trees still stood, enormous now, some of them dead and looming without bark, white and leafless. (link)

Anyone want to discuss the story as a whole? Did you like Mueenuddin’s writing style? Do you think he does a good job capturing a poor electrician’s point of view? Do you think Nawabdin is a sympathetic character in the end? And finally, what is the story all about?

Incidentally, Mueenuddin also has another story online, at the literary magazine Zoetrope. It’s quite different from “Nawabdin Electrician”; I think it will be interesting to anyone who has been in a serious cross-cultural or interracial relationship. (I’m happy to discuss that story too.) Continue reading

The Mask of Mother Teresa

Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love–and now become as the most hated one–the one–You have thrown away as unwanted–unloved. I call, I cling, I want–and there is no One to answer–no One on Whom I can cling–no, No One.–Alone … Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart–& make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them–because of the blasphemy–If there be God –please forgive me–When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven–there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul.–I am told God loves me–and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?


Upon her death in 1997 it was revealed that Mother Teresa had asked that her private letters and confessions to her confessors (apparently she went from one to the next like a person in search of the right therapist) be burned so that they would never see the light of day. The Church, probably recognizing Teresa’s importance as the holiest woman in the world, overruled her request. They were also aware that any surviving notes or correspondence might be a useful part of the background investigation needed for her potential Sainthood (which there now is). Those letters have finally been revealed to the public in a new book titled Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. They are so startling in their rawness that many are now wondering if anyone really knew Mother Teresa. Time Magazine has a great dissection of the revelations in the book and indicates how Teresa might now become a saint to both the faithful and those who don’t believe in God.

On Dec. 11, 1979, Mother Teresa, the “Saint of the Gutters,” went to Oslo. Dressed in her signature blue-bordered sari and shod in sandals despite below-zero temperatures, the former Agnes Bojaxhiu received that ultimate worldly accolade, the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance lecture, Teresa, whose Missionaries of Charity had grown from a one-woman folly in Calcutta in 1948 into a global beacon of self-abnegating care, delivered the kind of message the world had come to expect from her. “It is not enough for us to say, ‘I love God, but I do not love my neighbor,’” she said, since in dying on the Cross, God had “[made] himself the hungry one–the naked one–the homeless one.” Jesus’ hunger, she said, is what “you and I must find” and alleviate…

Yet less than three months earlier, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. “Jesus has a very special love for you,” she assured Van der Peet. “[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,–Listen and do not hear–the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me–that I let Him have [a] free hand…” [Link]

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SF: See Y’all @ Greco


p>Meetup starts in a few hours. Can’t wait and perhaps this time around, I’ll bring my camera.

Sunday, August 26 San Francisco

3pm — ???

Café Greco
423 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 397-6261

I’ll try to stake out a claim to the “side room” @ Greco & we’ll use our numbers to reinforce our control over this strategic territory.


PS- some logistics info here.

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Working for the Pat Down: TSA turban policy

On their classic album London Calling, the old punk band The Clash had a song with some lyrics that always puzzled me:

What are we gonna do now?
Taking off his turban, they said, is this man a Jew?
‘Cause they’re working for the clampdown (link)

I get the gist of the song — it’s a critique of the trend of rising fascism amongst British youth in the 1970s — but “turban”? Quoi?

Anyway, this past week I learned that Sikh travelers with turbans can expect not the clampdown, but the pat-down, as the TSA has changed its security policies yet again. The BBC has the details (thanks DJ Drrrty Punjabi):

US Sikh organisations have expressed anger over changes allowing airport security staff to “pat down” turbans.

Until now turbans have been searched or removed only to resolve an unexplained alarm from an airport metal detector.

But now security will have greater discretion to inspect turbans so that they can be manually checked for objects such as non-metallic weapons.

However Sikh groups have responded to the new measures by describing them as outrageous and discriminatory. (link)

Personally, I’m not so much outraged as annoyed and worried. I’m annoyed because I’m not sure how this is a rational or necessary change: metal detectors work pretty well. You couldn’t hide a gun, a knife, or explosives inside a turban without it being pretty obvious. But the TSA has a long history of arbitrary and sometimes irrational policies — like the nutty restrictions on baby formula, which have caused problems for me several times this past year. (Haven’t they heard? NEVER get between a hungry baby and his formula!) Continue reading

“Crook! Deport her! We’re not ignorant at all!”

rajinder kaur.jpg Mutineer Umair alerts us to a case of lottery fraud in Sacramento, via our news tab. Apparently, a cashier at a Roseville-area 7-11 tried to keep a winning “Mega Million” ticket for herself. Here’s the backstory:

the customer whose ticket was stolen was unaware he’d won more than half a million dollars when he went to the store Aug. 16.
The man, who officials said has a language barrier, purchased five sets of numbers at the 7-Eleven market at 1900 Douglas Blvd. two days earlier and had used his own numbers to play.
He handed his winning ticket to the clerk to run through a validation machine to determine the amount won, Currier said.
However, after running the ticket, Kaur told the man, “You’ve won four dollars,” and paid him that amount, Currier said. The attorney said Kaur kept the winning ticket, apparently with designs to cash it later.
Currier said that in the ensuing days, the victim saw news reports about the prize money being unclaimed and that the winning ticket had been purchased at the 7-Eleven in Roseville.
On Tuesday, the man called the lottery office, which referred his complaint to its security and law enforcement division.
Working with Roseville police, the lottery agents, who are sworn peace officers, went to the store to investigate, Currier said. [SacBee]

Yeah, I bolded that last bit because I had no idea that lottery agents are sworn peace officers!

Getting back to the news and the tip which introduced me to it: the link Umair left was for a local television station, whose story had “comments” enabled, much like a blog. I read the entire thread, which at this point includes 40 comments. My, my…what a stunning display of hate. Some of the best remarks follow, for your enragement and edification.

BlueBlood, in Charlotte, NC pithily said:

one way ticket to the border

BOOMER of Tampa, FL charmingly declared:


Booboo of Sikeston, MO has some interesting views:

Sorry, but the name sounds Hindi, and I am not surprised. Every time a hotel Patel or shop clerk has tried to rip me off to my face it was an Asian Indian. Muslims might kill you but won’t rip you off….

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On Wing and a Snicker

Mihin-Lanka.gif My apologies to all for a long absence. As the Governator once said, I will be back. Just needed a little time off to rest my bloodshot eyes, straighten my keyboard-cramped fingers, and un-kink my turtling neck. Also, Mr. Cicatrix promises to make an honest woman of me soon.

Anyway, I’ve been so out of commission, I let my inbox clog like open pores on a teenager. In a mad zit-popping burst of clearing up (go extended metaphors!), I finally read blog posts that at least four Sri Lankans had forwarded to me about Sri Lanka’s new budget airline, Mihin Air.

An airline that aims to “provide affordable services to less affluent travellers, people leaving for overseas employment, particularly in the Gulf and Asian countries, and to promote regional tourism,” (link) has to be a good thing, right? Although it would be great if the goverment could provide alternatives – local jobs – for the women who work as maids in the Middle East.

But this is also a government-owned airline, supposedly the baby of Sri Lanka’s Donald Trump-like President, Mahinda Rajapakse. As the blog Broken News put it:

Reports indicate that the name ‘Mihin Air’ was selected after the alternative name – ‘All Hail Mahinda, May He Rule For A Thousand Years’ – was deemed too long for inclusion in company stationery.

One of the most unnerving aspects of this new airline was highlighted (as a positive) by the carrier’s CEO Sajin Vaas Goonewardene: “it took only three months to become a reality from a mere concept.” link to full interview. Three months? Really? Seriously?!

Maybe that’s why so many Sri Lankans themselves are casting a rather sardonic eye on the whole affair. A Sri Lankan business site had this to say:

A cursory examination of the profit-and-loss reports of the world’s airlines will show that the airline business is quite volatile, with the low-cost segment being more volatile and risky. For example, India’s biggest low-cost airline, Air Deccan reported a net loss of INR 3.40 billion for the 15 months ending June 2006, on turnover that increased 322 per cent to INR 13.52 billion. Air Deccan claimed that it will be profitable by 2008-2009. link

Ah, yes. Nothing like plunging a country exhausted by 25 plus years of a terrorist conflict into volatile business ventures. Why play safe now? I welcome commentors who might know more about the nuances of Sri Lanka’s latest aviation adventure, but until then, here’s my favorite satire of the affair, full of the best in Lakan gallow’s humor:


Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. This is your captain Wijepala, welcoming both seated and standing passengers on board Mihin Air. We apologize for the four-day delay in taking off, it was due to bad weather and some overtime I had to put in at the bakery.

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Countdown to SF: T-Minus 3 Days

After a very well attended meetup in NYC, the Meetup Road Tour makes its way to San Francisco this weekend.

Sunday, August 26 San Francisco

3pm — ???

Café Greco
(A N N A’s favorite!)

423 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 397-6261

Parking’s a pain in North Beach but, Brimful (bless her soul) pointed out a nearby parking garage for the folks driving in. Other places to find a spot include the many garages in Union Square and / or street parking in SOMA / Fin District. From there, it’s easy to walk / taxi / cable car it over. It ain’t that far.

Incorporating some cues / feedback from NYC, we’re going to experiment a bit with the format of the SF meetup…

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Are you in an Aviyal Relationship?

sindoor.jpg My baby cousin at UCLA still hasn’t forgiven me for joining Facebook. His objection is not that I’m too old for it or that I lessen its “cool factor” with my elderly presence—he just hates the program and apparently I was the last person he knew and cared about, who was not on it. That had more to do with pragmatic causes than most anything else; I was happy on Friendster and consummately preferred it to MyAss or the more “global”/Brazilian Orkut. I didn’t have time to maintain profiles on a plethora of time-sucks. And most relevant of all, I couldn’t be bothered to get an “alumni” email addy from either of the schools I managed to graduate from…and once upon a time, you needed such official stuff to participate in the Facebook-orgy.

Not anymore. And so a few of you began inviting me to join it and I pointedly ignored such requests…until one of you was Facebook-stalking a guy you thought was sooo cute.

“What’s his friendster link?”, I asked.

“He’s not ON friendster…he’s only on Facebook!”

“Well, then I can’t see him.”

“But you just HAVE to see this one picture…I have a feeling you know his friend.”

“You know how I’ve never been a bridesmaid?”

“Yeah what does that have to do with anything??”

“I’m signing up for this bullshit right now, so A) you best marry his ass and B) I best be in some sort of poufy outfit, twitching out of boredom on an altar in a year or three.”

“Omg, whatever you want, just SIGN UP” Continue reading

SRK is Fair & Handsome

Via the News Tab, mutineer Dari points us at FT coverage of Shah Rukh Khan’s ad for Fair and Handsome skin cream -

Strong enough for a wheatish woman but made for a man…

Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood’s biggest star and corporate India’s most ubiquitous brand ambassador, is coming under pressure to abandon his controversial endorsement of a men’s skin-lightening cream.

Television commercials for Fair and Handsome, airing in August, show Mr Khan (or “SRK”) lauding a product that many see as entrenching discrimination based on skin colour by encouraging people to bleach themselves a lighter hue.

…Mr Khan urges a dark-complexioned and depressed-looking young man, struggling to attract female attention, to stop using skin-lightening products designed for women.

“Why are you secretly using a cream for girls?” Mr Khan asks. “Their skin is soft. Yours is rough and tough.” Several shades whiter and visibly more self-confident by the end of the 40-second commercial, the young man duly snares the girl of his dreams.

The commercial, of course, is up for all to see on YouTube –

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