You liked that book? Pretentious crap. Get out of my bed.

Discussion over an article published Sunday night on the NY Times website dominated my email inbox today. Given the fact that so many SM readers are hyper-literate (or at least think they are) this simply had to be shared, discussed, and dissected to death here as well. Ready yourselves:

We’ve all been there. Or some of us have. Anyone who cares about books has at some point confronted the Pushkin problem: when a missed — or misguided — literary reference makes it chillingly clear that a romance is going nowhere fast. At least since Dante’s Paolo and Francesca fell in love over tales of Lancelot, literary taste has been a good shorthand for gauging compatibility. These days, thanks to social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, listing your favorite books and authors is a crucial, if risky, part of self-branding. When it comes to online dating, even casual references can turn into deal breakers. Sussing out a date’s taste in books is “actually a pretty good way — as a sort of first pass — of getting a sense of someone,” said Anna Fels, a Manhattan psychiatrist and the author of “Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives.” “It’s a bit of a Rorschach test.” To Fels (who happens to be married to the literary publisher and writer James Atlas), reading habits can be a rough indicator of other qualities. “It tells something about … their level of intellectual curiosity, what their style is,” Fels said. “It speaks to class, educational level.”

Pity the would-be Romeo who earnestly confesses middlebrow tastes: sometimes, it’s the Howard Roark problem as much as the Pushkin one. “I did have to break up with one guy because he was very keen on Ayn Rand,” said Laura Miller, a book critic for Salon. “He was sweet and incredibly decent despite all the grandiosely heartless ‘philosophy’ he espoused, but it wasn’t even the ideology that did it. I just thought Rand was a hilariously bad writer, and past a certain point I couldn’t hide my amusement.” (Members of, a dating and fan site for devotees of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” might disagree.)… [Link]

I confess, I went to to see if Vinod had posted a dating ad there. The article goes on to conclude that you must be incredibly shallow if you dump someone based openly (or secretly) on the fact that their taste in literature sucks compared to yours. In fact, it wasn’t until I read this article that I wondered, for the first time in my life, if I was shallow. Am I destined to be “Baioed“? Not only would the pre-32 year old Abhi break up with a girl if she had ever in her life waited in a line for a Harry Potter book, he may also have dumped her if she didn’t like Mos Def The Cure (yes, I am a music snob as well). However, the new Abhi is reflective about the depth of his shallowness, mostly because he had been completely unaware of it until recently. The new Abhi wants to change. There have always been hints. Let me tell you all about one recent break-up. Well, it still feels recent but I guess it has actually been a while. Continue reading

I Don’t Want to Blow You Up

Ricardo Cortes and F. Bowman Hastie, the authors of children’s coloring book, I Don’t Want to Blow You Up, were sitting on a pier along the Hudson River last summer, with their buddy Naeem, when they came up with the idea for their recently published children’s book which has been receiving a fair amount of attention (good and bad). blow.jpg

WHAT? A coloring book for kids and adults. [preview the book]

WHO? In an age of yellow, orange, and red terror alerts, the book draws attention to the myriad people of different colors and cultures who are living peaceful and meaningful lives. It’s narrated by Naeem, a political artist. (“Hello, my name is Naeem. I was born in London. I grew up in Pakistan, Libya, and Bangladesh. Now I live in Brooklyn, New York. I blow up tires on my bicycle, but I don’t want to blow you up. Now let’s go meet some people …)

WHY? To counter the terrifying messages transmitted in the name of the “War on Terror.”

WHEN? In a post 9/11 society. In the words of the authors, “We really just wanted to so SOMETHING to try to temper the terror hysteria that has gripped this country, and especially New York, since 9/11. We also wanted to address the epidemic of identity profiling that affects not just Muslims and Arabs, but an entire suspect community that has developed based on people’s appearance, name, country of origin, or faith.”

WHERE? At the airport, on the subway, in a shopping mall, on the school playground, in New York City, in the United States of America, in the world.

HOW? There are children in the U.S. and other western countries who are taunted as “terrorists” and “osama bin ladin” simply because they look Middle Eastern or have an Arabic name. It is the authors’ hope that kids might feel empowered when reading the stories of other inspiring and impressive people like themselves. At the same time, the children out there who have been enlisted into perpetuating the terror myth might gain some new perspective by seeing some of their heroes in a different light, or by discovering new heroes in unexpected places.

I just finished writing a reading guide for parents and educators for this book [available for free online here], which the authors envision “as a tool for addressing a difficult and sensitive topic of discussion with kids who have already indicated some degree of concern or fear themselves, or who have had the experience of being the “suspect.”

That’s something all to familiar to many of us, I’d venture to guess. For as long as I could remember, throughout my childhood, my father had a beard. Then one day, around 1990, I woke up and came down for breakfast, and there was Papa, eating his cereal, completely clean-shaven, not a trace of hair on his face, for the first time in my life. “Oh no, Papa, why did you do it?!” I exclaimed. “You don’t look like yourself anymore.” Continue reading

Vegas Baby

Hey folks – I’m shipping off to Las Vegas this week for the annual CTIA wireless show. As much as I hate trade shows, they are FANTASTIC at bringing together an interesting mix of people from all across the world (while we’re at it, I’m not a fan of Vegas either but it has grown on me a bit over the years).

Tech shows, in particular, tend to pile a LOT of desis together. In the past I’ve run into so many old friends & mutineers that I’ve had to explain to my coworkers that “yep, most desis really do know each other.” For ex., and on a somewhat sadder note, Sameer & his lovely wife Reena were a couple of those CTIA “regulars.”

This time around, I got a note from mutineer Chi_Diva that she was planning to hit CTIA as well so I figured we should get ahead of things and try to do the first ever Las Vegas SM meetup.

So, 3 questions for the mutiny –

  1. Who else is gonna be there?
  2. Given tradeshow chaos, and perhaps in grand Vegas tradition, I think our best bet is to try to do the meetup late Wednesday night, Apr 2 around 10 pm or so.
  3. Anyone got a recommendation for a bar, ideally at a hotel in the middle of the strip, that we can meet up at?


p>Since we’re in Vegas, of course, we oughtta make sure this is the most Glam meetup ever .

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Caption This

The following image was sent to me by email; it comes from the Times of India; I don’t know the artist or the original context in which it was printed:

okrishna radhillary.jpg

Please provide a caption or title. avoiding the use of the word “kala.”

I should acknowledge that at least one conservative Hindu website has declared that they find the above image offensive. Do readers agree?

(As I understand it, images of deities in the Hindu tradition are widely appropriated and reinterpreted in the culture. They don’t have the same “forbidden” status that they do in, say, Islam. While I can definitely see how a nude image of a Hindu deity not normally represented as nude might be offensive, I think a comic or satirical gloss on a revered story from the tradition, as in the image above, isn’t that uncommon. I am, as always, open to hearing other points of view…) Continue reading

Poetry Friday: Rupa Marya’s “Une Américaine à Paris”

To mark Women’s History Month, I’ve been featuring works by desi women poets in a “Poetry Friday” series all month long. Here’s the last of four installments (1, 2, and 3.)

Songs are poetry, and singer-songwriter Rupa Marya has been on my radar for the past couple of weeks, ever since I found out about her world music band Rupa and the April Fishes (think the Indigo Girls meets traces of rupa.jpgNatalie Merchant meets “classic French chanson, Argentinean tango, Gypsy swing, American folk, Latin cumbias, and even hints of Indian ragas”). [It turns out that Abhi wrote about them last year. link]

The group’s debut album “Extraordinary Rendition” has been picked up by Cumbancha, a record label founded by the head of music research and product development at Putomayo World Music, Jacob Edgar. It releases on May 1, and Rupa and her gang are in the middle of a North American tour that includes NYC and the Montreal Jazz Festival.

A musician, songwriter, and (yes!) physician, the American-born daughter of Indian immigrants spent part of her childhood in France. Many of the songs on the band’s new album are in French. From an article in the SF Chronicle:

The years between the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 and the 2004 presidential election changed her outlook on life and prompted [Marya] to alter her sound completely, by writing in French.

“What happens if you communicate … in a way that people who don’t speak that language can understand what you’re saying?” Marya says. “Especially when the world was becoming much more afraid of differences. That’s when everything sort of took off into another place.

Her song Une Américaine à Paris, I think, conveys some of her post 9/11 reflections. The lyrics (reprinted with permission of Rupa and the April Fishes) follow, both in the original French and in Rupa’s English translation.

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In Memory of Sameer

Sameer Bhatia passed away peacefully this morning.

On his wedding day

The words of Kumar Bhatia, Sameer’s father:

It was difficult to see him suffer like this…It seemed to me that all the prayers, blessings and love form everyone were allowing him to ride the ship of prayers and blessings through turbulent waters which otherwise he would have had to swim through on his own. ~

Sameer, his bride, his loving family and his battalion of devoted friends are in our thoughts and prayers. Continue reading

Lee Kuan Yew Speaketh

Looks like it’s defend-a-dictator week here at Sepia Mutiny… So it’s pretty convenient that the IHT just published a great interview with the grand-daddy of modern benevolent dictators, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. Lee tackles several topics that should be of interest to mutineers, starting with his long term prognosis for India –

India’s economy can grow to about 60-70 percent that of China. I see that as the long-term trend. They’re not going to be bigger than China – on present projections.

But 60-70 percent of China with a population which will be bigger than China by 2050, is something considerable, and they’ve some very able people at the top. I draw this historical lesson which I believe will be repeated, though not in exactly the same way, but will manifest itself in a similar pattern.

Given India’s current real, per-capita GDP of $1000 vs. China’s $2800, and an overall GDP of $1T vs. China’s $2.8T, Lee is projecting some pretty rapid gap closing by India. Still, it’s interesting that he doesn’t think it will close the gap completely and he certainly doesn’t see India overtaking China anytime soon.

Other parts of Lee’s interview dive rather directly into the Liberalism vs. Capitalism vs. Democracy question that’s got some mutineers riled up…

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A Book With “@” in the Title

There’s a profile in the New York Times of Chetan Bhagat (thanks, Pocobrat), author of One Night @ The Call Center, which was released in the U.S. on paperback last year. Bhagat, an author few in the west will have heard of, has now become the biggest English-language author in Indian history:

But he has also become the biggest-selling English-language novelist in India’s history, according to his publisher, Rupa & Company, one of India’s oldest and best established publishers. His story of campus life, “Five Point Someone,” published in 2004, and a later novel, “One Night @ the Call Center,” sold a combined one million copies.

Mr. Bhagat, who wrote his books while living here, has difficulty explaining why a 35-year-old investment banker writing in his spare time has had such phenomenal success reaching an audience of mainly middle-class Indians in their 20s. The novels, deliberately sentimental in the tradition of Bollywood filmmaking, are priced like an Indian movie ticket — just 100 rupees, or $2.46 — and have won little praise as literature.

“The book critics, they all hate me,” Mr. Bhagat said in an interview here. (link)

Yes, it’s true, we do hate him.

I read One Night @ The Call Center a few months ago, when the American publisher sent me a review copy. Some parts were so bad, they made me cry. I was particularly bored by the chapters detailing the protagonist’s unrequited romance, which are set off in bold type for some reason (though the fact that they are set off in bold is actually useful — the font makes it easier to identify the chapters to skip!).

That said, the novel does have some amusing cultural commentary scattered here and there, and I suspect it’s the book’s candor on the grim–yet economically privileged–experience of overnight call center workers that has made Bhagat so popular. That, and the book is so easy it could be read by a stoned dog on a moonless night.

Here is one passage, on accents, I thought interesting: Continue reading

Your Indi-Pop Fix: Raghu Dixit

Every so often I link to musicians I learn about via MTV India, a desi TV channel I subscribe to at home. Sometimes readers groan in horror at my taste (“God this is a horrible song”), but for some reason I persist…

Today, meet Raghu Dixit, whose song “Hey Bhagwan” is starting to show up in the rotation on MTV India:

The sound quality in the YouTube upload is poor, but at least you get a sense of what the music is like (you can hear a higher quality preview of the song here; also, another video sharing site, Vimeo, is carrying the video). I also like the lyrics (My rough translation of the chorus: “Hey Bhagwan, give me life all over again”).

Raghu Dixit also has a blog, with a detailed account of the shooting of this video at Mehboob Studios in Bombay.

In the U.S. Raghu Dixit’s CD is on sale at CD Baby, where you can also preview the other songs on the album (check out “Mysore Se Ayi”). Continue reading

In Defense of a Dictator – Pt II

With Musharraf’s days in office now numbered, folks have been taking stock of his time in office and what the future holds for Pakistan. Amardeep’s piece talks about the New Guy coming in and raises the disturbing possibility that he might be too much like the Old Guy. Not Mushie but even worse, the guy(s) he replaced. And thus, the potential that Gilani is just the latest in a long string of popular leaders who’ve made up Pakistan’s checkered history with Democracy.

“A military dictatorship is a military dictatorship, and a democracy is a democracy. And the latter is always automatically better than the former.” …or is it?Via 3Quarks, I came acros an excellent piece from S. Abbas Raza titled “Defending Dictatorship: Another View on Pakistan“. Raza’s article takes a provocatively contrarian view of what’s possible in Pakistani politics (as opposed to what’s desirable) and readily recognizes the limits of dictatorship –

A military dictatorship is a military dictatorship, and a democracy is a democracy. And the latter is always automatically better than the former. It is safer to agree with this statement and to look at every particular complex political situation through the lens of this cliché than to risk having one’s liberal-democratic credentials questioned. But as a friend of mine once remarked, “All arguments for democracy in Pakistan are theoretical. For dictatorships, the greatest argument is the actual experience of Pakistani democracies.” Very similarly, another friend recently commented that “There are of course no theoretical arguments for a dictatorship, only practical ones.” In the case of Pakistan, the last two civilian democratic governments were sham democracies, and while I by no means support everything Pervez Musharraf has done, especially recently, there are various things for which his government deserves praise.

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