Simon Cowell, Meet Tigerstyle

Chickpea has been sending us tips for this video:

This is way better than Sanjaya, or that Pakistani dude who was on “America’s Got Talent” last year. And it has to be the widest exposure that Tigerstyle track (“Nachna Onda Nei”) has ever gotten. (I wonder who, if anyone, is getting royalties — since they’re sampling both Michael Jackson AND Vanilla Ice/David Bowie).

Simon’s question at the end is prescient, though. There’s not many Bhangra/pop/hip hop tracks that work as well as this one. (I seem to remember another Tigerstyle track that channels Bell Biv Devoe — perhaps that’s what these guys should do next…? Any suggestions for Suleman Mirza and Madhu Singh on how to keep up the surprise in round 2?) Continue reading

Posted in TV

Metallic Identity

When I was in India in January, I ended up hanging out at Mumbai airport for about 4 hours while waiting for a domestic flight. In one corner of the terminal was a group of twenty-something year-olds – mostly boys and two girls or so — all dressed in jeans and tee-shirts, all with longish flippy hair. One of them was carrying a guitar and they were all sitting in a circle, close together, humming, strumming, and singing English songs that sounded like a cross between David Byrne and Bon Jovi. I tried to park myself near them and kept trying to figure out their story. I never did–it was the middle of the night and I was an unabashed victim of jetlag–but in my mind, I’d made up a story about them — they were college buddies traveling together (probably to Goa); maybe they were even a band, getting amped to sit on the beach around a campfire singing their songs after a full-moon rave at Anjuna Beach. …

I was reminded of this scene when I read Akshay Ahuja’s feature essay on the Indian subculture of heavy metal in the April issue of Guernica, a print and online magazine of art and politics. In “Death Metal and the Indian Identity”, writer Akshay Ahuja is asked to carry a guitar to India for his father’s colleague’s son. The guitar is to be delivered to Pradyam, who is part of “a semi-pro death metal band” called Cremated Souls (now defunct).cremated souls.jpg

A simple guitar delivery leads Akshay Ahuja into the vibrant subculture of heavy metal in India, as he becomes friends with Pradyam and his band members, many of whom work at call centers.

There are several sections in the piece where the author makes small observations about the little differences and nuances between India and America, cultural and otherwise. These gave me pause, not only because some of them rang true, but also because I enjoyed the way they were being articulated in a very specific context.

For example:

A few days later Pradyum came to my parents’ house on a black Royal Enfield motorcycle, wearing a leather jacket. He was strong and well-built. I found out later that until a few years ago, he had been serious about track and field before a scooter accident had crushed his leg. Pradyum would drop me off several times after this, but this was the only time he came inside. He was always afraid that he smelled like cigarettes (he smoked constantly) and that this would offend my parents. Once in the house, he complimented my mother on her beautiful home—and such a nice garden! This immense politeness was strangely incongruous. Looking just like James Dean, he had all the American gestures of rebelliousness, but without the appropriate American attitude.

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A “moderating effect” from the Hajj?

Last Friday’s Slate had an article summarizing a yet-to-be-published study titled, Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering, that examined two groups Muslims from multiple countries. The only difference between the two was that one group had been to the Hajj in Mecca and the other hadn’t:

So does the Hajj open minds, or does it expose Muslims to radical views that unite them against the non-Islamic world? To find out, researchers David Clingingsmith, Asim Khwaja, and Michael Kremer surveyed more than 1,600 Pakistanis, about half of whom went on the Hajj in 2006. In a recent, as yet unpublished study, they report that those who went to Mecca came back with more moderate views on a range of issues, both religious and nonreligious, suggesting that the Hajj may be helpful in curbing the spread of extremism in the Islamic world. [Link]

It might be more conventional for one to assume that Muslims who travel to a country in which the ultra-conservative Wahhabi Islam is practiced might come back more conservative (or radicalized). However, the true point of going to the Hajj is the pilgrimage, or the journey there. It therefore makes sense that a journey in which you’d come across people from many walks of life might enlighten a Hajji or make them more accepting of different or more mainstream views.

In 2006, nearly 140,000 applicants vied for 80,000 visas through the Pakistan government’s Hajj program. In order to decide who gets to go, the government holds a lottery. As a result, among the visa applicants, there’s a group of people randomly selected to participate in the Hajj and a comparison group of would-be pilgrims who applied but didn’t get to go. The two groups look very similar–the only systematic difference is that applicants in one group won the lottery and those in the other group didn’t. If the Hajjis come back from Mecca more tolerant than those who didn’t get to go, therefore, we know it’s the result of the Hajj, not something else.

Six months after the Hajjis of ’06 returned home to Pakistan, Clingingsmith, Khwaja, and Kremer had a survey team track down 1,600 Hajj applicants, half of whom had been selected to go to Mecca and half who hadn’t. The Hajjis were asked questions on topics ranging from religious practices (frequency of prayer and mosque attendance, for example) to women’s issues. Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that after a monthlong immersion in communal prayer, the pilgrims were 15 percent more likely to report following mainstream Muslim practices, such as praying five times a day and reciting the Quran. This came at the expense of local Pakistani religious traditions–Hajjis were 10 percent less likely to follow local rituals like using amulets or visiting the tombs of local saints. [Link]

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Reminder: Jindal on Leno tonight

As I mentioned last week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal will be on Leno tonight in a show he taped earlier. If Leno is on past your bedtime then you can read the full transcript here:

Leno: So, tell us Bobby. If John McCain came asking or begging you to be vice president, you’re telling us you will say “no”.

Jindal: Jay, again, I would be honored but I have a job to do and that is to be the governor of all of the people in Louisiana, republicans and democrats, rich and poor, young and old.

Leno: Spoken like a politician Bobby. You are learning fast. But, getting back to the question. Would you say absolutely say I would not serve as Vice President if asked. Remember you would be a heart beat away from the Oval Office and McCain is no “spring chicken”. Are you telling the nation tonight you would not serve no matter what?

Jindal: Jay, I have a job to do. I was voted into office by a large majority. I want to be the best Governor Louisiana has ever had and we have really had some real colorful clowns in the past.

Leno: So, that is the best we will get from you tonight, right.

Jindal: I have spoken repeatedly about this issue explaining my feelings, so let’s talk about how Louisiana is becoming a major force to be reckoned now and in the future.

Leno: Governor, first, I’ve been wondering. Tell me. How did an Indian American become Governor of the same state that almost put David Duke in the mansion a decade or so ago? Did you buy his list or something?

Jindal: (laughs) Well, Louisiana has changed so much in the past decade and will do so even more during my administration. I am pleased that the son of an Indian immigrant could become Governor in the Deep South. I was born in Baton Rouge, am an American and am dedicated to turning Louisiana around after years of neglect and poor leadership. [Link]

I have to say, he is saying all the words a person who’d accept and invitation to be VP should be saying. I don’t think you’d HAVE to resign your Governor’s job to be a Vice Presidential running mate. I guess it is in his advantage to keep his name in the spotlight by not dismissing the idea. I’ll link the video once its up.

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Notes From a Punjabi Literature Conference in Vancouver

I was recently in cool Vancouver to give a talk at a conference on Modern Punjabi Literature. The conference was at the University of British Columbia, and it was hosted by the Asian Studies department (where they have a strong program in Punjabi language instruction, part of which includes the study of literature in Punjabi).

The community was invited in, and they most definitely came — including a number of poets and novelists in Vancouver’s surprisingly large Punjabi language writers’ community. One of the best-known Punjabi poets in Vancouver is of course Sadhu Binning, who has also taught the Punjabi language at UBC for more than 20 years (he’s now retiring, sadly). His collection, “No More Watno Dur” is one of the very few collections of Punjabi poetry I’ve seen to be published in a bilingual edition (which is especially helpful for someone like me — a person who reads Punjabi only haltingly, and always with reference to a dictionary).

Among the many other writers in attendance, it was great to meet, for instance, the Punjabi-Pakistani-Canadian poet, Fauzia Rafiq (who didn’t mention she had a blog!). Another writer who seems well worth checking out is Ajmer Rode.

At the poetry reading on the last night of the conference, Nadeem Parmar sang a ghazal in Punjabi. I Googled him today, and was surprised to find that he’s written lyrics for many well-known singers, including Jagjit Singh. I also Googled Darshan Singh Gill, and was intrigued to find that he had actually been featured in a CBC documentary about new immigrants in Canada, back in 1958. And those were just a few of the names.

I met a Dhol player who plays for a “world music”/fusion group called “Delhi To Dublin”, which seems worth checking out. He also plays Dhol for a “pure” Bhangra group called En Karma. (There might be another post about these Vancouver bands once I’ve had a chance to listen to the music.)

Those are some links to start off. After the jump, I’ll discuss some of the more substantial issues discussed at the conference.

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On Unhardening the Heart

A guy wrote the following letter to the “Dear Prudence” column at

I am a 25-year-old Indian-American who has been in this country since I was 5. I started dating a Caucasian classmate four and a half years ago in college. The romance bloomed, and we are still together. She is kind, loving, beautiful, and a great inspiration. I see us together for the rest of our lives. There is only one problem: My parents are very traditional Indians and have told me since I was a young boy that they wanted me to have an arranged marriage, and if I did “bring home an American girl” that they would disown me. After two years, I told them about the relationship, and they were rightfully hurt and upset I’d kept it a secret. They say now that they were “joking” about disowning me and that I should have come to them. But it is close to three years later, and my girlfriend has still never met my parents. I greet holidays with a sense of dread because I feel pulled in two different directions. Even when I bring her up in conversation, they quickly change the subject or just walk away. They say that my relationship is just “a phase” and that I will “come to my senses.” I also feel a sense of embitterment from my girlfriend for being completely shunned by her potential in-laws. My parents have told me that they will accept my girlfriend when we become engaged, but by then I fear that their attempt to build bridges will be too little, too late. I know that my parents love me and want the best for me, but is there anything I can do to unharden their hearts? (link)

Prudie’s advice in response to this was pretty good, I thought (read the column to see). But I was wondering — what would you tell this person? Would it be better for him to push his parents, and demand they accept his girlfriend, or is it better to kind of wait and see (until, say, getting engaged)? Do parents really mean it when they say “we’ll disown you,” or is it just something they say?

Finally, do people have experiences of their own along these lines they want to share? Continue reading

Floating the Jindal balloon

With respect to the question of whether or not John McCain will tap Louisiana’s Governor Jindal for his VP, I have been quoted on this website as saying, to paraphrase, “when pigs fly in hell.” I just don’t see the strategic value in such an arrangement. Why would Jindal want to give up the best possible job in the world (executive experience in a state which he can only make better…since it can’t possibly get any worse) in order to run with a nominee with tough odds (its forecasted to be a bad year for Republicans)? If he has ambitions he should strategically wait until 2012 or 2016 to act upon them. On the flip side, why would McCain pick someone who is young, intelligent, brown and relatively inexperienced to take over for him if he keels over while in office (he’s kind of old you know)? It undermines the very arguments he will need to make against Obama. But today we saw these pictures as the straight talk express rolled through New Orleans:

McCain illustrates the current administration’s popularity trend in Louisiana.

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Conquest, Culture, and India

I’m in the midst of biz trip hell and one book I’m plowing through is Thomas Sowell‘s Conquests & Cultures. The book is part of a trilogy where Sowell brings his considerable scholarship to the relationship between culture and socio-economic outcomes across a wide span of history & the globe. This is a mighty controversial topic, to say the least, and one which Sowell engages with aplomb.

Clearly, one factor which has shaped the fate of groups over time is, of course, Conquest. And Sowell isn’t afraid to discuss how this dynamic played out for both Worse *and* for Better.

Now, we need to be very clear that by pointing out the Better, Sowell is emphatically NOT making a case for future Conquests of Cultures. Nor is he delving into whether Conquests are / were Morally Good. And, for that matter neither am I (just to forestall some of the comments a post like this generates – let’s try to keep the discussion Type C rather than descend into Type M. One can credit how the K-T extinction helped give rise to Humanity, for example, without calling it Good or “wishing” for another one; same with the British Empire).

What he is noting, however, is that just as many of the leaps and bounds of progress in tech can be traced to conflict & competition (WWII and the Space Race, to pick a few quickie examples), cultures are similarly fluid and subject to evolution. Proof of this & a tremendous source of historical experiments to this effect is Conquest [pg ix]-

The underlying theme of all these books is that racial, ethnic, and national groups have their own respective cultures without which their economic and social histories cannot be understood. Modest as this claim may seem, it collides head-on with the more widely accepted visions in which the fates of minority groups are determined by “society” around them, which society is therefore both causally and morally responsible for the misfortunes peculiar to the less fortunate of these groups — though apparently not responsible for the good fortune of more successful minority groups. This trilogy also collides head-on with prevailing doctrines about “celebrating” and preserving cultral differences. Cultures are not museum-pieces. They are the working machinery of everday life. Unlike objects of aesthetic contemplation, working machinery is judged by how well it works, compared to the alternatives.

In other words –> Culture is a moving target & is responsible for much of our socio-economic fate(s). One source of Punctuated Equilibrium in Culture’s evolution is/was Conquest. Let’s learn how it got us to where we are today & use those lessons + our volition to further evolve moving forward…

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Harold and Kumar 2 — An Early Review

Well, Cicatrix and Sandhya have given us much of quality to chew on today with their posts on Love Marriage, so leave it to the English professor to do a review of a gross-out comedy, the much-anticipated (well, by me) Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. The film opens nationwide this coming Friday, 4/25.

My wife and I saw the film for free — thanks to an invite to a press screening/sneak preview in downtown Philadelphia. (I know the serious journalists in the house must cringe every time a blogger gets thought of as equivalent to “press,” but oh well.)

My first thought is — I wouldn’t be surprised if the film opens at #1 in the U.S. box office over the coming weekend. I’ve been seeing quite a number of ads for the film on TV this past week, suggesting that New Line Cinema thinks the film will open big (bigger, anyway, than Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, four years ago. Bigger than Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in Baby Mama? I’m not sure).

As for the film itself, there my response might be a bit more idiosyncratic.

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When Every Happy Plot Doesn’t End with a Marriage Knot: Love Marriage

Hello dear SepiaReaders, it’s that girl with half a face again. I’ve been absent from the bunker for a while but fresh air is vastly overrated so I wormed my way back in. I hope to hunker down in the bowels of our concrete barracks and start posting furiously. Whether this is promise or a threat greatly depends on how drunk you are while reading this. Cheers!


To kick things off, I’m delighted to discuss the debut novel by non other the mutiny’s own V.V. “Sugi” Ganeshananthan, Love Marriage. Published recently by Random House U.S., the book will also be available in Canada, the U.K. Italy, France, Romania, and Germany. So GO BUY IT, wherever you are. Sugi’s posts on Sepia introduced us to a eloquent writer unafraid to tackle to thorny issues surrounding the Sri Lankan conflict with even-handedness and humor. In Love Marriage she pulls off the astonishing feat of writing about Sri Lanka with an honesty that doesn’t simplify, tackling issues without a trace of polemics, and a love that still remains clear-eyed.

Super full disclaimer: it’s proved incredibly difficult for me to distance myself enough to write a fair review. I know and adore the author as a person, she’s a fellow Sri Lankan, instead of some Kaavya Viswanathan-style American Desi fluff, she wrote about Sri Lanka. And instead of a pretty “beaches and jungles” treatment, she delves into a sticky thicket of diasporas, internecine warfare, generational drift, ‘ethnic’ identity creation, politics, love, nostalgia, loyalty…

(Uh, wait. The book is a fun read, I swear!)

To continue disclaiming: I wrote a review a while ago and kept revising it. Then Sandhya’s awesome Q&A was in the works so I sat on the review so we’d get both pieces up simultaneously. Then I found out that the dastardly speedy Ultrabrown posted a review today (with mistakes!!) so to juice things up a bit, this review was rewritten to go head-to-head with the fearsomely logorrheic (or, to use my favorite made-up word for him, verbacious) Manish.

Prepare to duck as the verbal darts (or in my case, coconuts) fly! Continue reading