DC: Subcontinental Drift 2008- January 28

1355204385_205b65bc91.jpg Straight Outta Compton my inbox, an invitation to the first Subcontinental Drift of 2008. This event/collective is one of my favorite things about living in DC. Come find out why for yourself:

2007 sure brought some of the district’s talents out of the basement and into the spotlight. It was nothing less than inspiring to witness the expressive potential of our collective South Asian community.
Subcontinental Drift is excited to be back with the first open mic night of 2008 on Monday, January 28th at 7pm. Come bless us in this new year with your art, your thoughts, your ideas, your presence. The mic will be open from 7-9 pm (to sign up for a spot, shoot an email with your name and performance genre to subdriftdc@gmail.com). And stay for the after party with some chill beats and groovin’.
Bohemian Caverns, at the corner of 11th and U. We’ll be upstairs. www.bohemiancaverns.com
Doors open at 6:30pm.
More info?
myspace.com/subcontinentaldrift or email subdriftdc@gmail.com

I never go out on Mondays or Tuesdays because those are my most challenging (read: no lunch) days at work, but I’m about to do some serious juggling in order to attend this– THAT’S how amazing Subcontinental Drift is. It is worth the stress and exhaustion. ;) If you are in DC, please come out so that you, too, can babble beatifically about all the awesomeness. And if you are not in DC, remember that it is a new year; resolve to start something similar where you are. Abhi did it fabulously in Houston, so can you. Everyone deserves to drift. Continue reading

Another DBD PhD Student Murdered

Mahato.JPG On Friday night, a doctoral student in the engineering program at Duke University was shot to death in his off-campus apartment (thanks, Zuni123). The parallels of this tragic crime to the LSU murders cannot be ignored; like then, our tip line is the conduit for confusion and frustration over another senseless murder. Via The Raleigh Chronicle:

The victim has been identified as Abhijit Mahato, age 29, a Ph.D. engineering candidate who was from India and was studying in the United States, Duke University officials said on Saturday afternoon.
“He was found by friends who came by the apartment to check on him Friday night,” said Kammie Michaels of the Durham Police Department. Mahato was pronounced dead on the scene when police arrived, say police.
Durham Police said they do not yet have a motive for the shooting. Their investigation is continuing…
Mahato, originally from Tatangar, India, was studying for an engineering doctorate degree focused on computational mechanics at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. He was in his second year in the program, says the school.
Larry Moneta, Duke’s vice president for student affairs, said the university has begun “reaching out” to Mahato’s friends and to his family in India, as well as to Indian and other international students on campus. It is offering counseling services and has begun considering appropriate ways of commemorating Mahato’s life.

One way they didn’t commemorate it was by finding it a happy opportunity to test a school safety feature.

Here’s how the victim’s adviser, Tod Laursen described him:

“He made friends very easily and always had a smile on his face,” Laursen said through Duke University. “Our research team was particularly close to Abhijit. He was very well read in both poetry and literature, and enjoyed conversation with others about what they were reading.”

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Nandi Ethics: When Newkirk Found Jallikattu

For those who are aware of it, this past week (specifically January 14th and 15th) was generally a time for celebration–Thai Pongal Usually, in my own family, this just means pongal rice, a “Happy Thai Pongal, darling!” from various overseas relatives and thus it remains one of those ever-dwindling, absolutely pure links to my childhood. Or so I thought. Another part of the festivities in India, aside from thanking Bhumi Devi for the year’s bounty, involves the snatching of treats and trinkets from the body of a bewildered bull by people one could only describe as foolhardy. Continue reading

“Distressed Desi Disputatiously Decries Dragooned Digit in Derriere”

Fust things fust: I did not come up with the title of this post; DJ Drrrty Poonjabi did when he added this story to our news tab. Talk about dedication– he got a TypeKey account just so he could submit this! His efforts were appreciated by all, in fact, one of you voted for the tip just because of all those “D”s. Since whimsy seems to be in the air right now and I like to give the mutineers what they want, I’m borrowing that wacky title. Capiche? As for the actual story:

A visit to a hospital for a bump to the head turned into a big pain in the posterior for a Brooklyn construction worker.
Brian Persaud ended up in handcuffs and under arrest when he loudly protested that doctors at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell didn’t need to give him a rectal exam after a piece of wood clocked him on the forehead. [NYDN]

The injury/invasion actually occurred back in 2003. Speaking of threes, what does this mean:

Medical records state Persaud was “alert and oriented times three” when he was taken to the hospital’s emergency room… [NYDN]
According to a lawsuit he later filed, Mr. Persaud was then told that he needed an immediate rectal examination to determine whether he had a spinal-cord injury. He adamantly objected to the procedure, he said, but was held down as he begged, “Please don’t do that.” [NYTCityRoom]

Everyone’s favorite line of the story, which will be on away messages, premium super-pokes and tacky, homophobic bumper stickers, soon:

The revelation about the rectal exam set off Persaud, who smacked a doctor during a struggle and yelled, “Where I came from, you don’t put anything in someone’s a——!” [NYDN]

Yes, and that’s why prostate cancer doesn’t get diagnosed, but hey, your kundi hymen is intact and that’s all that matters right?

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A Public (Government) School in Bihar

From a recent New York Times article on India’s public education system, is a public school in Lahtora, which I believe is in the state of Bihar:


Ouch. (Click on the photo to see the original, larger version at the Times.)

Interestingly, the article (again by Somini Sengupta), shows that the problems in the system aren’t necessarily simply created by a lack of funds. Quite a bit of money is being spent by the central and state governments to improve government schools — this particular village had been allotted $15,000 to build a new school. The problem is that the funds often remain unspent, sometimes because of the famously thick and impenetrable Indian government bureaucracy, and sometimes simply because of corruption and nepotism at the local level.

Sengupta does sound some positive notes along the way. The sheer scale of the effort to improve the schools is mind-boggling:

India has lately begun investing in education. Public spending on schools has steadily increased over the last few years, and the government now proposes to triple its financial commitment over the next five years. At present, education spending is about 4 percent of the gross domestic product. Every village with more than 1,000 residents has a primary school. There is money for free lunch every day.

Even in a state like Bihar, which had an estimated population of 83 million in 2001 and where schools are in particularly bad shape, the scale of the effort is staggering. In the last year or so, 100,000 new teachers have been hired. Unemployed villagers are paid to recruit children who have never been to school. A village education committee has been created, in theory to keep the school and its principal accountable to the community. And buckets of money have been thrown at education, to buy swings and benches, to paint classrooms, even to put up fences around the campus to keep children from running away. (link)

It doesn’t always help. The free lunch program in this village, for instance, doesn’t work because the principal says the rice he’s been sent (lying in stacks in the classroom) isn’t “officially reflected in his books.” But the recently released Pratham study finds that free lunch is working in 90% of schools, which is pretty good — again if you consider the scale of the project.

Incidentally, some Indian newspapers have also covered the findings of this year’s Pratham survey, in somewhat rosier terms — and, needless to say, no reporters or photographers going out to see actual village schools. The Economic Times, for instance, is impressed that teacher attendance has improved from 38% in 2005, to 53% in 2007. Improvement is great, but it’s still hard to imagine children learning very much when their teachers only show up every other day!

Finally, the full 2007 Pratham Survey is here (PDF); I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet. Overall, Pratham looks like an important NGO; I’m considering donating something to them to support their efforts. Continue reading

India Is Florida

How? Well, through some random web surfing, I came across this map which renames US states based on the countries whose total GDP’s they most resemble. It’s a fascinating visualization of how wealth is distributed in this country & around the world –

India isn’t pictured but, with a GDP just shy of $800B, it would come in at roughly the same computed GDP as Florida (Florida’s the #3 US State ahead of NY? that doesn’t seem 100% right but oh well). As the map maker notes, this is strictly a $$$ calculation -adjusting this on a per capita basis would likely create a pretty sparse map and turn up some interesting comparison points –
Pakistan, for example, has a GDP that’s slightly higher than Israel’s – but Pakistan has a population of about 170 million, while Israel is only 7 million people strong. The US states those economies are compared with (Arkansas and Oregon, respectively) are much closer to each other in population: 2,7 million and 3,4 million.

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Falu on FOX

I reviewed Falu’s recent CD back in August. Now, she and her band have been featured in a Fox show called Fearless Music, which generally airs late at night on Saturdays (this may vary, depending on where you live). This is the song “Rabba,” from the show:

(I like the Hindi + rock sound… Though I wonder how it will play, as it were, in Peoria?)

Incidentally, Falu will be teaming up with DJ Rekha for a new, hybrid live music + DJ dance party at Canal Room, on January 31. The event is called “Bangles and Backbeats.” Continue reading

Once you go Pak …

What is it about Princesses and Pakistanis? First Jemima Khan converted to Islam to marry Imran Khan. Then there was a whole drama between Princess Diana and her one true love, “Mr. Wonderful”, Dr. Hasnat Khan. Diana was reportedly considering conversion and possibly even a life in Pakistan. And now, the ever reliable Sun reports that Britney Spears is also considering converting to Islam and moving to Pakistan to be with her current boyfriend, paparazzi Adnan Ghalib.

But let’s back up to the Diana story first, because it’s the most interesting. According to her butler, Diana begged Khan to marry her:

“This was her soul mate,” he said. “This was the man she loved more than any other. It was a very deep and spiritual relationship.” Khan would often visit Diana and her boys at Kensington Palace, Burrell added, because the Princess was “adamant” that William and Harry get to know and grow to like Khan.

Burrell revealed that he and Diana discussed giving Khan his own quarters at the Palace and that the Princess was so serious about marrying Khan she asked Burrell to find out if it was possible for them to have a private wedding.[Link]

She even met his family in Pakistan and kept in touch with his mother:

[Said Khan's mother] “She was so nice, so friendly and down to earth. She met my mother, Hasnat’s grandmother, my nephews and nieces, all the family.” [Link]

Meanwhile she stopped speaking to her own mother because of her mother’s opposition to the relationship:

“She called the Princess a whore and said she was messing around with eff-ing Muslims and she was disgraceful and said some very nasty things.” It was after that conversation, he said, that Diana decided she didn’t want to speak to her mother ever again. [Link]

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An Affirmative Action Casualty (Updated)

It’s fascinating how topsy-turvy this case is-

Barred by the color of her skin… And saddled with lofty expectations…

January 14, 2008 — A year after the city’s racial quotas kept their daughter out of an elite public school, an Indian couple from Brooklyn is filing a class-action lawsuit to make sure it doesn’t happen again to her or any child.

Did racial preferences prevent a high scoring Indian kid from getting into a school that other, lower scoring, kids did? Well yes, but this time around, the lower-scoring “others” were white –

For decades, the school has enforced racial double standards on its tests to maintain a 6-4 white-to-minority ratio to comply with a 1974 federal court desegregation order.

…Officials said Nikita, who is considered a member of a minority group, had to score at least 84.4 score to be accepted. But white students needed to score only 77.

And young Nikita? She only pulled down a 79 – much to the delight, I’m sure, of the uber-competitive desi moms down the street. Her dad channels MLK for us –

“Children should be judged on the content of their character, not on the color of their skin,” said Dr. Anjan Rau, the girl’s dad, about the quotas at Mark Twain School in Coney Island.

In a different report, I loved how dad keeps his eye on the prize –

“It could hurt her chances of going to Harvard, Yale or Princeton.”

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Back to nature

As you know, we like the rustic life out here in our bunker in North Dakota. We’re off the grid, we get our internet via satellite and we generate half our electricity by making Abhi run on a treadmill. We find our lifestyle … bracing, especially at this time of year.

However, my relatives in India share little nostalgia for simpler times, so I was surprised to read that just as Bangalore is transforming itself into a replica of Silicon Valley (traffic jams and all), a village just outside of Bangalore is selling the experience of rural life to harried city dwellers:

Some of India’s richest people are paying $150 a night to live like peasants at a “native village” in the southern state of Karnataka. The village, Hessargatta – just outside India’s IT capital, Bangalore – is designed to encourage the preservation of some of India’s rural traditions. It offers visitors the chance to qualify in tasks like milking cows and looking after the other animals. [Link]

Like Tom Sawyer, they manage to sell the arduous tasks of daily life as a privilege rather than a hindrance:

Transport around the village is by bullock cart ride – “probably the slowest ride you’ll ever go on”. …Because of the slow pace, you notice so much more of life. It’s quite philosophical in my view,” [Link]

That’s right – the antidote to the aggravation of travelling slowly in traffic jams is … travelling slowly in a bullock.

This sort of idealization of rural life is nothing new, either in India or elsewhere. Gandhians have long argued for the “greater purity of rural life“, modern Americans have dude ranches, and Marie Antoinette had the Petit hameau de la Reine where she played at being a milk maid. Still, it’s a bit jarring to see rich Indians shell out big bucks (far more than the poor make in a month) for a Disneyfied version of the very life that the poor are trying to escape.

Still, if this floats your boat, you can book your vacation here.

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