Q&A with V.V. Ganeshananthan, author of “Love Marriage”

Sepia’s very own guest columnist V. V. Ganeshananthan’s debut novel “Love Marriage” [book excerpt] is a haunting family drama about the ramifications of decades of civil war in Sri Lanka. [Cicatrix's review is forthcoming.] It hit bookshelves earlier this month, and while on her book tour, Sugi took a few minutes to answer some questions via e-mail about the book, her writing process, and her inspirations.

You began Love Marriage as your senior thesis, I’ve read. Was there a particular image or incident that inspired it, apart, of course, from your own background as the child of Sri Lankan immigrants? No single thing inspired the book. The first sugi.jpg page seemed to write itself, almost by accident. They were just some musings, but then I took them into a creative writing class, and my classmates were very encouraging about it and wanted to hear more from that voice. That voice belonged to a particular character who was starting to realize how Sri Lankan politics had affected—and continued to affect—her family. And therefore her.

Why did you choose to write the novel in these vignettes? Did this form help you accomplish something that a straight narrative could not? The currency of family stories is the anecdote. This is the manner in which most of learn about our families, so in that way it is organic to the story.

Time is dealt with in interesting ways in Love Marriage . There are two sections in the novel that I thought were especially powerful where you describe simultaneous events – they are almost cinematic. For example, while the main character Yalini is being born, Black July is happening in Sri Lanka. Can you address the question of parallels? There are lots of parallels in the book. Some were quite intentional, and others were not. I hadn’t really thought of the birth scene as a parallel until you mentioned it, but I suppose it is. I think of it as the one moment when Murali is in two places at once. Here is this young Sri Lankan couple having their first child, and it’s supposed to be this joyous moment. And it is. And yet at the same time Murali has this singular experience of watching disaster at home through the lens of the news. He is watching it and he is not part of it. There’s the distance of the eye of the camera. And at the same time he is a part of it in two weird ways: He is part of a removed group of viewers, and he can also imagine himself on the screen. He’s powerless, except for the act of viewing and knowing that.

Quite often when we see upsetting news about the developing world, or countries in the East, on the news, it is a strange experience. What does it mean to show violence, and show violence, and show violence?

When I first heard the title of the book, I have to admit that I thought, “Oh, no, another book about love vs. arranged marriages” – but that presumption was very quickly blown away. At the end of the novel, we come to see the notion of marriage as many different things, between people but also between “person and a country.” In light of current political climate, was there a political statement that you wanted to make with this novel? Of course the book is political. It has a range of characters with a range of political opinions. The Sri Lankan diaspora’s political views are sometimes understood as two opposite poles with nothing in between. (As though arranged marriage and love marriage were the only two kinds of marriage.) But there are so many communities and opinions and conversations out there. It’s important to create room for dissent in any dialogue—and this one in particular. Continue reading

Pose Your Questions to Amit Singh…

A few weeks ago, I got a chance to interview Amit Singh who is a currently a GOP primary candidate for Virginia’s 8th District congressional seat. The interview covered a variety of topics and generated some interesting comments & discussion amongst the Mutiny. One specific request was an opportunity for other folks to hit him with questions of their own.

I pinged Amit and not only did he enjoy reading the discussion spawned by the interview but he was pretty interested in doing more Q&A with us. So, we’re going to use this post for other readers to send their questions to Amit.

I do wanna set a few groundrules –

  • STRUCTURE: We’ve all got day jobs (this is a jetlagged-in-a-foreign-hotel blogpost, for ex.) so rather than a Live Q&A (which requires realtime moderation), I’m going to use this blogpost to compile questions from folks and present them to Amit who’ll hit ‘em in a subsequent post. Schedules permitting, we may try to do some Live Q&A afterwards.
  • TIMING: Between Amit’s campaign schedule and my work/travel schedule we’ll give commentor’s here ~1 week to post questions and about a week or so later, I’ll get the responses up and posted.
  • MODERATION: Because politics can bring out the nasty side of a very small number folks, it’s worth being pretty direct here – If your question / comment is a personal attack, rude or insulting, SM Intern will delete it (yep, our busy intern was forced to pounce on a few in the last interview with Amit; others were borderline). If it’s *really* rude or insulting, you get banned. One can disagree without being disagreeable. And, we’ll try our best but, in all likelihood, not all questions will get addressed.

Fire away….

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Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles: 2008 line-up

One of the things I miss most about living in Los Angeles is the IFFLA that takes place at the ArcLight in Hollywood every April. There was just something cool about being one of the first desi kids on the block to be able to see some smart films that are typically overshadowed by the usual Bollywood fare. Granted, there are a few flops but for the most part you can be pretty sure that you will walk away satisfied at having seen one or two memorable flicks. This year’s film festival is THIS WEEK, April 22nd to 27th.

As I pursued the line-up I noticed a few films I’d really like to check out if I was still there. The first one reminds me of my childhood vacation in Ahmedabad where I became a feared kite-killer over the course of several months, Under The Ahmedabad Sky. Eventually, my own kite, with dozens of confirmed kills, went down. I learned an important lesson that day. No matter how bad, powerful, or smart I am, there will be someone “more badder” to eventually take me down:

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Caption This

The Washington Redskins’ cheerleaders recently performed in Hyderabad Bangalore, during an Indian Premier League cricket match. A Washington Post reporter took the following photo:

redskins cheerleaders india.jpg

(Click on the photo to see the faces of the men a bit more clearly.)

There is also a detailed Washington Post article about the event here. Also, we wrote about the rival Twenty20 cricket league, the ICL, here; cheerleaders seemed to be a part of the mix there as well. Continue reading

Too Many Desi Docs

Regular SM Commentor Razib has a great post on one of his blogs about the racial mix of doctors in the USofA. What instigated a fresh take on the classic question was an article in SFGate decrying the lack of “minorities” in the medical profession -

A new study on physicians in California shows a glaring gap between the number of doctors of color compared with the state’s ethnically diverse population, especially among African Americans and Latinos.

At the same time, the state has a disproportionate number of Asian and white doctors, according to the UCSF study, which focuses on doctor ethnicity and language fluency.

The linear implication, of course is that if one group is under-represented, it must mean that other groups are over-represented and therefore must get penalized to address the imbalance. Advocates of measures to address this directly assert that minority under-representation is the product of historical transgressions by the over-represented majority. So, the penalty is a form of inter-generational justice. Continue reading

Maoist Victory in Nepal — A Good Thing?

Journalist Siddharth Varadarajan was in Nepal for the past couple of weeks, covering the recent Constituent Assembly elections there first-hand, and he’s written some marvelously informative articles about where the country seems to be going at this decisive moment of reformulation.

In a piece published in The Hindu on April 16, Varadarajan argued that the recent Maoist victory in Nepal might end up as a good thing for both Nepal and India:

By the time of the Jan Andolan of 2006, it was the Maoist demand for an end to the monarchy and the election of a Constituent Assembly which had captured the imagination of the people, even if the Maoists were not at the head of the mass movement in Kathmandu.

Over the past two years, the Maoists succeeded in pushing the envelope further, winning popular acceptance for their slogans of an inclusive, federal republic as well as for a more equitable voting system. Nepal’s political elite and sections of the Indian establishment who feared losing control of the entire process sought to derail the momentum the former rebels had built up. The proposal for a fully proportional election system was blocked and the Madhesi agitation encouraged as a means of weakening the Maoists. None of these efforts succeeded. The Maoists contested the CA election as the creators of the new mainstream. And it is hardly surprising that the people of Nepal should have chosen them to lead the process of writing the country’s constitution. (link)

This goes against the conventional thinking on Maoists, who in other parts of Asia have tended to be more comfortable as guerilla fighters/terrorists than as fair leaders in democratic republics. From the rest of the article, I gather that Varadarajan trusts them because 1) the other political parties in Nepal have thoroughly discredited themselves over the years (read the article for more), and 2) since coming above-ground, the Maoist leadership (Prachanda) has behaved in ways that suggest it really is committed to the democratic process, including cooperation with other parties. I must confess that despite Varadarajan’s work I remain uneasy about this — Maoists just do not have a good track record in terms of human rights, anywhere in the world. (I first wrote about the Maoist ceasefire in December 2006.)

I would also recommend an earlier article by Varadarajan from just before the elections (April 6), where he explains the ethnic/communal tensions that are part of this story. (The Maoists have traditionally supported the Madhesis, who are ethnically ‘Indian,’ but who have in the past been the victims of discrimination by the Nepalese majority. Recently, however, there have been conflicts between the Maoists and armed/militant Madhesi groups.) Continue reading

The Truth about Cancer

Hey Mutineers – 1H’08 biz travel has me on the road so I missed the first airing of a documentary that many of you will be interested in.

The Truth About Cancer is a PBS documentary highlighting the current status of the War on Cancer and conveys the personal stories of several cancer patients including our own Vinay. Some of Vinay’s program segments are viewable on the web here, here and here.

VINAY CHAKRAVARTHY: This is to donor ID 068842004. Don’t know who you are, but you’ve just done something great for myself and for humanity by giving a life back, and I really, really, really am grateful to you and indebted to you forever.

Thankfully, my trusty Tivo has found at least one more airing of the entire program in the Bay Area and the program’s website lists repeat showings in other markets. Set your DVR’s.

The Truth About Cancer

Filmmaker Linda Garmon documents stories from patients, doctors, researchers and patient advocates at the same hospitals where her husband was treated for cancer.

Sat 4/19 3:00 AM


It’s a tiny bit of a non-sequiter but not quite worth it’s own post; as long as your setting your Tivo’s etc., Kal Penn is on Leno tonight! Continue reading

Posted in TV

Of miniskirts and mental health

We all know the endless debate within our community between “traditionalists” and “modernists” about assimilation. Post 9-11, this debate became broader and more politicized, especially w.r.t. British Muslims. In the UK, public figures argued that Muslims need to be more fully assimilated into British society if further violence was to be avoided. A variant of this argument claimed that the hijab and niqab should be discouraged or banned outright.

A new study out undermines the broad claims of the assimilationists, claiming that Brit-Bangladeshi girls (between 11 and 14 years old) “who wore traditional clothing were significantly less likely to have mental health problems than those whose style of dress was a mix of traditional and white British styles.” [Link]


p>Interestingly enough, they found no effect of clothing choice on boys at all. To clarify, that means that a boy’s clothing choice didn’t influence his own happiness. I’m sure girls’ clothing choices have a strong impact on the happiness of an 11 to 14 year old boy . The “Brick Lane” hypothesis found little support.

Professor Kam Bhui, one of the study authors, said that the result was “surprising” - he had expected that girls who were less fully integrated to show signs of greater strain. “Traditional clothing represents a tighter family unit, and this may offer some protection against some of the pressures that young people face. What it suggests is that we need to assist people who are moving from traditional cultures and becoming integrated into Western societies, as they may be more vulnerable to mental health problems.”

Professor James Nazroo, a medical sociologist at the University of Manchester, said that the findings meant that “notions of Britishness” should be dealt with in a sophisticated way. “There are many ways in which people can be British – these girls who have good mental health, and still have a strong traditional culture, are by implication settled and comfortable with their identities…” [Link]

The article does not explain what researchers meant by traditional clothing. I think it means salvar kameez rather than the hijab/niqab, but am not sure. If so, it doesn’t really inform the debate about the veil at all. Nor does it speak directly to terrorism, or even to social alienation by adults.


p>Most importantly, I want to reassure all our readers that no matter how overwhelming the evidence collected, no matter how many studies pile up, I’m sure that Gurinder Chadha’s films will have exactly the same trite hackneyed plot that they did before.

The paper is available here. [Thanks Razib]

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Bye Bye Nalgene?

We may be seeing the end of the ubiquitous Nalgene bottle, like the one sitting on the corner of my office desk that I drink from continuously throughout the day. The Canadian government is about to declare bisphenol-a, or B.P.A, a toxic chemical:

The Nalgene is dead.

B.P.A. is widely used to make polycarbonate plastics, which are rigid and transparent like glass but very unlikely to shatter…Because animal tests have shown that even small amounts of the chemical may cause changes in the body, however, researchers have focused on food- and drink-related applications of B.P.A., like the popular Nalgene brand beverage bottles. [Link]

The US government may be moving in the same direction, albeit more slowly:

… a draft report from the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program endorsed a scientific panel’s finding that there was “some concern” about neural and behavioral changes in humans who consume B.P.A. [Link]

The debate about the health impact on humans will probably continue for a while, but one way or another, Nalgene’s days as the dominant water jug are over as people decide that they’d rather be safe than sorry. I’m probably going to be one of them, since I don’t have the expertise necessary to evaluate the health claims myself.

So how will I keep myself hydrated? Well, I’m thinking of rocking it old school. What would be better than a stainless steel jug and tumbler to keep in my office? You know, the kind with the rough edge that you can feel on the underside of your lip as you drink the water with the slightly metallic tang? Nalgene never induced nostalgia like this.

Now if only I could replace my office chair with a charpoy …

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