Death by Gulab Jamun, eh?

Oh, this story is so sad (thanks, Filmfat).

Police have charged a Brampton woman who sent hundreds of rambling emails to Premier Dalton McGuinty with threatening a member of his staff – but she contends it’s all a cultural misunderstanding.
Neelam Vir is also prohibited from contacting McGuinty, his family, staff or any other politician, and barred from Queen’s Park.
“I never meant to harm anyone,” says a tearful Vir, 40. “My Canadian dream is shattered. I just want to go back to India.”

The level of misunderstanding in this story is so epic, it could be a script for a comedy of errors. Unfortunately, a confused woman was jailed twice for her inability to negotiate different cultural norms; that’s not really funny-haha.

The charge follows an incident on Sept. 30, when Vir sent a packet of mix for making gulab jamun, an Indian sweet, to McGuinty to express her “love and affection,” dropping it off to staff member Monica Masciantonio.
The same night, she emailed McGuinty, asking whether Masciantonio had given him the mix.
“I said, `If she didn’t give it to you, I’ll kill her.’ It’s just slang,” Vir said. “I use this term all the time with my husband and my kids. In Hindi, it’s, `Mein tumarhi jaan nikal dungi.’”

Well, you can surmise what occurs next…

Vir received no reply but, on Nov. 20, after the election, half a dozen police officers showed up at her door. They confiscated her laptop, cellphone, camera and papers, and hauled her to jail on a charge of conveying a death threat. There she spent a frantic six hours until her husband bailed her out. “I was so upset I couldn’t stop crying. I kept asking, `What wrong did I do?’”

But wait, it gets worse. In a move which inspires forehead-slapping, poor Vir frantically emails the Premier to make amends and proclaim her good intentions…which results in a second arrest, for violating the terms of her release. For her clueless efforts, Vir was gifted with a psych consult. But let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place, to start… Continue reading

Advertising India without pimping it

I’ve never been a big fan of the Incredible India tourism advertising campaign. I find it orientalist and tacky, like the images below:

Coffee Brown? WTF – why are they advertising india based on the “exotic” skin color of the Indians?

Still, I concede that it’s hard to advertise India without being a bit exotic, after all, you’re trying to appeal to tourists based on cultural novelty. They’re not going to India for the skiing, they’re going because the culture is different.

That’s why I was so tickled by the television advertisement below for the 15th International Pondicherry Yoga Festival [via BB]. I thought it did a good job of showcasing some amazing yoga, but doing so as incredible physical activity rather than random freak show. For some reason, I found the video appealing and it didn’t set my orientalism alarm off, even though they were showing some impressive contorsions.

Did they do something different here or did they just do it better? Or perhaps you feel these ads are just as orientalist and exotifying as the GOI’s ads … what say you?

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LA meetup Saturday 7PM @ Redwood

Our meetup has been set – we’re meeting at the desi-owned Redwood Bar and Grill at 7PM on Saturday March 1st. It’s downtown, across the street from a metro station and it’s … pirate themed.

Arrrrr or Arre, you decide

I’ve heard left coasters talk a lot of smack about how the LA meetups are the biggest and best we ever hold, yadda yadda yadda. All I can say is: bring it. I’d love it if we could have the sort of turnout we saw in 2006, as in September 2006 and December 2006.

Here’s the location:

The Redwood Bar and Grill
316 W. 2nd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Vinod, Taz and I will all be there, so there will be a lot of mutiny all in one room. I’m looking forward to meeting the best and brightest that the LA mutiny has to offer.

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Desis Vote

SAMAR Magazine has a new issue up on its website on elections — both within South Asia and here in the U.S. They have essays on the recent election in Gujarat, the Parliamentary elections in Pakistan, the upcoming elections in Nepal, a piece by an SAFO member, and a piece on the Desi vote in New York. There’s also a short essay by myself, on “Skinny Candidates With Funny Names,” which brings together points made in several of my Sepia Mutiny posts on Barack Obama and Bobby Jindal. In the piece I make reference to some Sepia Mutiny comment threads, and I actually quote directly from commenter Neal (Neal, thank you).

My own piece aside, I would recommend people start with the piece by Ali Najmi on the Desi vote in New York. It’s informative, for one thing, and Najmi makes reference to a new organization called Desis Vote, which aims to mobilize participation in the South Asian community:

Unfortunately, a consistent and widespread attempt to register and sustain participation on the local level has not occurred. Believing in the importance of this potential, a team of us have started Desis Vote, an organization focused on registering and mobilizing as many South Asian voters in New York City. At the moment, there is a unique opportunity to tap into the social momentum and hype created by the 2008 presidential election, as seen through the Democratic primaries, in order to create a South Asian American political voice. South Asians who are registered to vote could empower the entire community by flocking to polling stations in all upcoming elections and showing the importance of the South Asian ballot in the contest. (link)

This is something we’re always talking about at Sepia Mutiny, but I’m not convinced it’s actually happened yet. Maybe 2008 is going to be the year…

(I would also recommend the piece by Luna Ranjit on the upcoming elections in Nepal. Ranjit explains why the planned elections last year were postponed, and explains why the upcoming elections will be historic for Nepal. In addition to addressing the Maoist question, she talks about some of Nepal’s ethnic/tribal problems, with groups such as the Terai.) Continue reading

Malaysia’s Indian Challenger

sivanesancover.jpgAt the town of Mentakab, about a ninety-minute drive east of Kuala Lumpur, A. Sivanesan is scheduled to speak at a temple around noon. The car arrives late, so the crowd is ready, coming out to greet him like a visiting celebrity, a role he plays with ease. Stepping out of his black Mercedes sedan, with his designer eye wear, salt-and-pepper hair, and embroidered kurta over slacks, Sivanesan is the picture of urban sophistication. There is the hush of deference and respect when he moves among the crowd, shaking hands and making his way to the center of a pavilion where some 400 people are sitting on the concrete floor. The men are one side, women on the other. The children are dutifully quiet, and toddlers are passed from lap to lap. As he speaks in Tamil for about an hour, Sivanesan’s tone is alternately humorous and determined, his manner is engaging, and the audience is rapt.

A prominent labor lawyer in private practice, Sivanesan spends his weekends driving the length and breadth of peninsular Malaysia, speaking to groups of Indians about the events of November 25th, 2007 and collecting money for the families of the HINDRAF Five. On that date, HINDRAF (the Hindu Rights Action Force) organized a rally in Kuala Lumpur, drawing tens of thousands of Indians for a peaceful protest in defiance of the Malaysian government, which had denied the request for a permit. Riot police deployed tear gas and water cannons shooting skin-burning chemicals. Many were injured in the melee. Soon thereafter, the five men who are HINDRAF’s leaders were detained indefinitely without trial under the Internal Security Act. They remain in prison.

After the crackdown, the two-million-plus Malaysian Indian community (which is predominantly Tamil) and minorities everywhere were shocked. So was the Malaysian government, a coalition of ethnic parties called the National Front (known by its Malay initials as the BN). One key pillar of the BN is the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). The government had not expected tens of thousands of Indians to march on Kuala Lumpur. Continue reading

Shekhar’s Oscar Shout-out

Elizabeth The Golden Age.jpg

If you, too, are watching the 8oth Annual Academy Awards, you might have noticed that one of the first people thanked in an acceptance speech was a Desi. The inaugural Oscar of the night went to Alexandra Byrne, who was nominated for Best Costume Design. Byrne won for her work in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which is why she said “Thank you, Shekhar” during her brief, graceful remarks.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the Academy Award-winning 2007 film sequel to the film Elizabeth. It stars Cate Blanchett and is based on events during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Written by William Nicholson and Michael Hirst and produced by Working Title Films, The Golden Age is directed by Shekhar Kapur. The film has music composed by Craig Armstrong and A. R. Rahman. [wiki]

You may not have caught it, because she said “SHAKer”. I almost didn’t catch it, because I was still swooning over presenter Jennifer Garner’s flawless gown and dimples (I’m a sucker for dimples). The only reason I snapped out of my reverie is because of my crack training here in the bunker, which has given my kundi magical abilities to notice potentially bloggable topics (see what I did there? HA!).

Four years of recording the minutiae of brown everything have passed, but I still perk up and think, “hey!” when I recognize something Sepia, especially when I do so during a program I am watching for the dresses…speaking of which, it’s time for me to get back to the show…SHAKer’s star, Cate Blanchett is taking the stage… Continue reading

Calling All Wedding Detectives

Via Manish’s News Tab, here’s an article about Indian detectives who research potential spouses on matrimonial sites in the Washington Post. The best example in the article of a wedding detective’s intervention is probably the first one:

Judging by his online profile, the groom was suitable and eager to be a good spouse: a quiet, stay-at-home kind of guy who never drank and worked as a successful software engineer. Perfect, thought the bride, a shy 27-year-old computer engineer.

Too perfect, according to Bhavna Paliwal, one of India’s wedding detectives, who are being hired here in growing numbers to ferret out the truth about prospective mates.

“These days, you need to check the facts. And in India, it’s the servants who will tell you 100 percent everything,” Paliwal, 32, said in her office, located in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood of New Delhi. “The key is talking up the drivers, the cooks and the housekeepers. They are busybodies and aren’t afraid to tell you.”

In the case of the computer engineer, Paliwal found out that the 29-year-old groom-to-be had been less than honest. He had been having an affair with his housemaid. He spent many of his “quiet” nights straddling barstools around town, drinking heavily. There were signs he could be prone to violence, having been in an altercation that left him with a knife wound on his stomach.

As far as Paliwal was concerned, he was busted. The marriage was called off. (link)

(Oh, snap!)

Interestingly, it’s women detectives who are better at this work than male counterparts. According to this article at least, it’s women who are better able to get the scoop out of servants and doormen.

Reading articles like this makes me think that the internet matrimonial system is really quite flawed. It’s a cross between the old arranged marriage system and an internet personals ad on Craigslist. In the old system, one’s parents would do much of the work because they “know better”; they know people who know people, who might be able to speak for a seemingly suitable suitor… In the new internet matrimonials universe, family networks that build trust are of little relevance, and this becomes especially dangerous when people are trying to find partners in distant countries. It pretty much comes down to the “biodata” people post on the internet (perhaps matrimonials sites should start incorporating some of the elements of social networking, which might be another way to build up a sense of trust?). In short, internet matrimonials are an uneasy hybrid of old and new social forms, which potentially preserve some of the bad parts of the arranged marriage system (i.e., fetishization of caste), without giving potential couples any of the benefits of the western system of dating, where one make a strong effort to get to know one’s potential partner.

Still, if this wedding detective thing is here to stay, people in India will definitely be looking for people who can do the same work in the U.S., Canada, and the UK. (Entrepreneurs, take note!) Continue reading

The future of American foreign policy in South Asia

The current online edition of Foreign Affairs contains a detailed essay written by each of this year’s U.S. presidential candidates (some going back to last summer). The only three essays that still matter are those penned by John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. Naturally, the one South Asian nation they all mention is Afghanistan. What I wanted to do was highlight their thoughts on India and Pakistan and then end this post with the latest developments in Pakistan, which will play a pivotal role in how each of these candidates would be able to actually implement their stated policy (note: I’ve recently learned that quite a bit of the blogosphere anxiously waits for this ignorant American to blog about Pakistan again on SM).

First up is John McCain, the Republican nominee:

Success in Afghanistan is critical to stopping al Qaeda, but success in neighboring Pakistan is just as vital. We must continue to work with President Pervez Musharraf to dismantle the cells and camps that the Taliban and al Qaeda maintain in his country. These groups still have sanctuaries there, and the “Talibanization” of Pakistani society is advancing. The United States must help Pakistan resist the forces of extremism by making a long-term commitment to the country. This would mean enhancing Pakistan’s ability to act against insurgent safe havens and bring children into schools and out of extremist madrasahs and supporting Pakistani moderates. [Link]

Well, it seems that events on the ground have already upstaged McCain’s foreign policy. We won’t have Musharraf to kick around much longer (more about that at the end of this post). I would like to know more about what he means by “long term commitment.” That does sound like a good idea, although historically out-of-line with how we operate. America usually does not make long term commitments unless it has a stable leadership to work with that believes in (or a leadership that has been installed by us and coerced to believe in) our goals. As for India, this is all McCain has to say:

As president, I will seek to institutionalize the new quadrilateral security partnership among the major Asia-Pacific democracies: Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. [Link]
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55Friday: The “Luchini AKA This Is It” Edition

No, it's not in Newpark Mall but whatevs, yo Facebook status messages are amusing, but when they borrow from long-forgotten Camp Lo lyrics, they are empyreal for their ability to summon Mnemosyne, who then sets up her projector for an impromptu mental picture show entitled “nostalgia”.

Seeing SM commenter Yeti’s “Yeti thinks this is it, what” took me back to 1997 at Formula One speeds, when “Luchini” lived in my car stereo (and my driving of a non-McLaren Mercedes was about as sloppy as Schumacher’s at Jerez). Luchini was a prominent part of my soundtrack in the late 90s; the tape it was on (ha!) flipped constantly via auto-reverse as I roamed from the legendary-but-now-defunct Green Planet in Davis to Newpark Mall’s then-revolutionary Forever 21, for hoochie ‘fits to wear to San Francisco’s Sol y Luna (and inevitably and regrettably, Steps of Rome* immediately after that) in North Beach. 1997. Sunroof always open, speeding down 880, being 22…that was it, what.

Obviously, since this song has been on auto-reverse in my head for the last 24 hours, you know what’s coming next: it’s our Flash Fiction 55Friday theme! This week, as you ponder participation pensively, get inspired by Sonny Cheeba’s** Dadaist lyrics and blaxploitation fetish. Alternately, you could choose your own “damn, it’s been years since I heard that”-joint for a starting point or write about something unrelated to excellent hip-hop entirely.

If you’re newer to the Mutiny or you have already forgotten what we did with Radiohead two weeks ago, allow me to refresh your drink.

Flash fiction, also called sudden fiction, micro fiction, postcard fiction or short-short fiction, is a class of short story of limited word length. Definitions differ but is generally accepted that flash fiction stories are at most 200 to 1000 words in length. Ernest Hemingway wrote a six-word flash: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” Traditional short stories are 2,000 to 10,000 words in length.[wiki]
One type of flash fiction is the short story with an exact word count. An example is 55 Fiction or Nanofiction. These are complete stories, with at least one character and a discernible plot, exactly 55 words long.[wiki]

So, craft a story with exactly 55-words (no more, no less) about anything even remotely related to our theme and leave it in the comments below. If you’re still not convinced that this is a worthwhile timesuck OR you can’t wrap your head around how a story so tiny would even work, peep this, my favorite 55 from our previous, election-themed edition:

I crawled from the wreckage of the cab, dazed. I couldn’t feel my left side.
“You okay?” a man asked.
I lurched toward the crowd of onlookers, my leg dragging.
“I… vote…Obama!” I gasped.
His face registered alarm. “Buddy, you gotta get to a hospital!” he said.
I shoved him aside.
“Fuck… you… Clintonite!” [srsly]

Excellent 55, Saurabh. Your submission made me laugh out loud. :) Continue reading

Amit Varma on Indian Econ History

Regular SM favorite Amit Varma has a great, highly readable article on Econlib tracing modern Indian economic history -

‘Free’ India’s early leaders distrusted profit and free enterprise. They fought long, courageous battles to gain political freedom for their countrymen, but did not have quite the same respect for economic freedom.

India’s history of colonialism was one reason for this. Trade brought imperialism to India. First, the East India Company arrived, ostensibly as peaceful traders. Then, with just a flip of the page in a book of history, the British took over. After a long and bloody freedom struggle, who could blame Indians for being distrustful of trade?

Amit Varma recently won the Bastiat prize in economics at a ceremony in New York. Modulo the recent popularity of Freakonomics and the like, way too much economic literature tends to be PhD’s talking to other PhD’s. The Bastiat award, on the other hand, recognizes econ writers who reach out to the intelligent EveryMan with a day job rather than the Ivory Tower. And Varma’s latest piece delivers on this promise well.

For example, he captures well the underlying emotional / philosophical biases many have with market vs. government action -

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