“Vote Both”: Sam Arora

Many people have been dismissive of a Democratic “dream ticket,” with Barack Obama as the presidential candidate and Hillary Clinton in the VP slot. For example, DailyKos, which is strongly pro-Obama, has been sharply dismissive of the idea, for a number of reasons. First, Obama has been putting himself forward as the “change” candidate, and the Clintons represent the opposite of “change.” Second, as a Senator from New York, Clinton doesn’t deliver “geographically” the way someone like Governor Bill Richardson (New Mexico) might [but what about Arkansas?]. Third, she is way too big a personality to be comfortable sticking to whatever message and strategy the Obama campaign is likely to devise. Fourth, all this talk of Hillary supporters defecting to McCain seems rather suspect — when it comes down to it, are committed Democrats really going to vote for someone who is pro-Life, pro-Iraq War, etc.? And finally, most people presume the two of them, by now, can’t stand each other.

Sam Arora thinks otherwise. Sam-Arora.jpg He was, until recently, a spokesperson for Hillary Clinton, and is still described as a “Hillary-ite,” though he is no longer with the Clinton campaign. He and some other Hillaryites have started a site called “Vote Both,” to promote the idea of a Democratic dream ticket, with either of the two candidates on top. Their project has gotten some media attention, and profiles in articles like this one. Sam Arora was also interviewed on TV here (check it out — he’s a pretty smooth talker!).

SM had a post on Sam Arora (the same Sam Arora?) here, when he was a contestant for a reality TV show. Sam was also one of the “50 Most Beautiful People on Capitol Hill” a couple of years ago (see this). (I will leave it to others to ascertain whether Sam Arora really is, in fact, “hot,” as he has often been described.)

I was earlier skeptical about the joint ticket idea, but now I’m starting to think it could work, as long as the two of them can come to agreement on strategy and message (and agree that Bill should go back to Chappaqua, and stay there until January 2009). Obama is still a “change” candidate, but after Reverend Wright, he no longer seems quite as fresh or revolutionary as he once appeared, and I don’t think working with Clinton will tarnish his image. Finally, any personal bitterness the two of them might feel for one another would undoubtedly go out the window if they were to win the election in November. Continue reading

I.C.E.D better than GTA-IV

I really wish I could have been playing the new video game Grand Theft Auto IV this week. Unfortunately I don’t own a gaming system. I used to be an obsessive gamer as a kid so its best that I don’t go near one now that I have real responsibilities (like blogging). I can however, get my fix online. I’ve been trying my hand at a game that looks similar to GTA-IV. Instead of smacking hos and jacking cars, I’ve been learning about “my” rights as an immigrant child. The game is I.C.E.D. (I Can End Deportation):

Breakthrough’s video game, ICED, puts you in the shoes of an immigrant to illustrate how unfair immigration laws deny due process and violate human rights. These laws affect all immigrants: legal residents, those fleeing persecution, students and undocumented people.

ICED has been featured in overwhelming amounts of press including: MTV News, Game Daily and has been covered on popular blogs including, Gothamist and The Huffington Post. To get a full list of media, please look at the left-hand tool bar.

How do you play?


Game Play:
As an immigrant teen you are avoiding ICE officers, choosing right from wrong and answering questions on immigration. But if you answer questions incorrectly, or make poor decisions, you will be detained with no respect for your human rights. [Link]

Is your knee jerk reaction that you think this game might exaggerate the plight of immigrant kids, especially those brought over by undocumented parents? Think again. More about that later, after the fold. Continue reading

Hell in the time of the Junta

The news out of Myanmar/Burma keeps getting worse. On Thursday evening the British paper The Sun is blaring the following headline: THE death toll in cyclone-ravaged Burma could hit 500,000 – more than TWICE the total killed by the Boxing Day Tsunami. The biggest problem right now is that the effort to fly in precious water and food are being thwarted by the paranoid military junta that runs the country and is too suspicious and inept to grant visas to aid workers:

With up to 1.5 million people in Myanmar now believed to be facing the threat of starvation and disease and with relief efforts still largely stymied by the country’s isolationist military rulers, frustrated United Nations officials all but demanded Thursday that the government open its doors to supplies and aid workers…

“The situation is profoundly worrying,” said the United Nations official in charge of the relief effort, John Holmes, speaking in unusually candid language for a diplomat. “They have simply not facilitated access in the way we have a right to expect…” [Link]

The Tsunami was unimaginably bad…BUT at least the rest of the world wasn’t as impotent then as we are now. Considering the massive devastation in 2004, the world actually responded relatively quickly to minimize deaths after the actual event (certainly faster than the Hurricane Katrina response). This however, is just frustrating. Children are dying of thirst because visas aren’t being granted! For my part I am doing what I can. I found out that the relief organization CARE International was one of the first to have boots on the ground in Myanmar since they had an office there. They are actually disbursing aid. I also know that the first of the checks that our Uncle Sam is sending our way to help with the U.S. economic recovery will be hitting our bank accounts this week. I know it flies in the face of a sound economic strategy to send money meant to boost our economy straight overseas, but I’m willing to upset those “elite” economists. I just sent a chunk of change to CARE. I’ll just pretend there was no rebate. UNICEF is a good bet too. Continue reading

The Strange, Twisted Tale of Priya Venkatesan, PhD

The blogosphere is alight with the story of a (former) professor at Dartmouth named Priya Venkatesan. Teaching is a tough job and I have the highest regard for some of the amazing teachers I’ve had the privilege of learning from over the years. Priya, however, is apparently not quite in that class (pun intended).

The WSJ provides one summary of the case

Priya Venkatesan taught English at Dartmouth College. She maintains that some of her students were so unreceptive of “French narrative theory” that it amounted to a hostile working environment. She is also readying lawsuits against her superiors, who she says papered over the harassment, as well as a confessional exposé, which she promises will “name names.”

The trauma was so intense that in March Ms. Venkatesan quit Dartmouth and decamped for Northwestern. She declined to comment for this piece, pointing instead to the multiple interviews she conducted with the campus press.

What praytell were these unruly students doing to our poor teacher? And, aside from her personal ethnicity, is there a desi angle to the story? Continue reading

Fareed Zakaria’s Latest: “The Post-American World”

Though I’ve often disagreed with Fareed Zakaria on specific policy questions, I’ve always been challenged and interested by his way of thinking about big issues. Like some of my colleagues here at Sepia Mutiny, I found his book The Future of Freedom stimulating, if imperfect. Zakaria seems to be especially good at synthesizing complex issues under the umbrella of a signature “big idea,” without choking off qualifications or complexities. He still may a little too close to the buzzword-philia of Thomas Friedman for some readers, but in my view Zakaria’s book-length arguments are a cut above Friedman’s “gee whiz” bromides. (Zakaria’s weekly Newsweek columns do not always rise to this bar.)

Zakaria’s latest big concept is The Post-American World, a just-released book whose argument he summarizes in a substantial essay in this week’s Newsweek. The basic idea is, the world is becoming a place where the U.S. is not a solo superpower, but rather a complex competitive environment with multiple sites of power and influence. Even as China and India (“Chindia”?) rise, it’s not clear that the U.S. or Europe will fall; rather, everyone can, potentially, rise together — or at least, compete together. Zakaria argues that despite hysterical anxieties figured in the mass media regarding the threat of terrorism and economic crisis, the world has rarely been more peaceful — and that relative peace and stability has created the opportunity for the unprecedented emergence of independent and rapidly expanding market economies in formerly impoverished “Chindia.”

There’s more to it (read the article), but perhaps that is enough summary for now. There are a couple of passages I thought particularly interesting, which I might put out for discussion. First, on India:

During the 1980s, when I would visit India—where I grew up—most Indians were fascinated by the United States. Their interest, I have to confess, was not in the important power players in Washington or the great intellectuals in Cambridge.

People would often ask me about … Donald Trump. He was the very symbol of the United States—brassy, rich, and modern. He symbolized the feeling that if you wanted to find the biggest and largest anything, you had to look to America. Today, outside of entertainment figures, there is no comparable interest in American personalities. If you wonder why, read India’s newspapers or watch its television. There are dozens of Indian businessmen who are now wealthier than the Donald. Indians are obsessed by their own vulgar real estate billionaires. And that newfound interest in their own story is being replicated across much of the world. (link)

This last insight seems dead-on to me, and it’s the kind of thing I think Zakaria appreciates precisely because he was raised in India (no matter how many times he says “we” when talking about American foreign policy, he still carries that with him). This is one of the spaces where Zakaria’s status as an “Indian-American” is a real asset, as it gives him a simultaneous insider-outsider “double consciousness” — he has the ability to see things from the American/European point of view, but also know (remembers?) how the man on the street in Bombay or Shanghai is likely to see the world. [Note: I did an earlier post on Zakaria's complex perspective here]

(As a side note — for the academics in the house, isn’t the narrative Zakaria is promoting in the passage above a “pop” version of what postcolonial theorists have been talking about for years — what Ngugi called “The Decolonization of the Mind”?)

Secondly, another passage, which I think addresses what might be the biggest hindrance to the multi-nodal global society Zakaria is interested in: Continue reading

Blurring Borders in Ramchand Pakistani

In their book Borders and Boundaries, editors Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin write: “As an event of shattering consequence, Partition retains its pre-eminence even today, despite two wars on our borders and wave after wave of communal violence. … Each new eruption of hostility or expression of difference swiftly recalls that bitter and divisive erosion of social relations between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, and each episode of brutality is measured against what was experienced then.”

This statement speaks directly to the premise of Pakistani director Mehreen Jabar’s debut film Ramchand Pakistani, which recently premiered in NY at the Tribeca Film Festival. Based on a series of true events which took place in 2002—during a period where India and Pakistan were on the brink of war—it is the story of one innocent Hindu Dalit family which became a victim of the national hostilities that have permeated Indo-Pak relations since partition. Ramchand at the border.JPG The story begins in a small, dusty border village in on the Pakistan side of the Thar desert. Ramchand (Fazal Hussain) is the willful, naughty son of a Hindu Dalit farmer Shankar (Rashid Farooqi) and his wife Champa (played by Nandita Das). One morning, when Ramchand gets into an argument with his mother, he skips school and goes for a walk in the desert terrain bordering his father’s farm. Without realizing it, he crosses over into Indian territory. His father follows him to bring him back, but it’s too late. Indian patrol officers, suspicious of their motives (“Are you Pakistani spies?”) take both of them into custody.

For the next five years, Ramchand and his father are trapped in a bureaucratic prison system in India, where despite the lack of evidence that they did anything wrong, it is impossible to release them because of a longstanding battle of wills between the Indian and Pakistani governments. The film follows Ramchand’s coming of age in a prison where he and his father share a cell with Indians and Pakistanis, many of whom made the mistake of “crossing over” and have gotten lost in the shuffle. Continue reading

Hot Breads = Teh Yum

A few weeks ago we were in North Jersey, and went with friends to a new restaurant called “Hot Breads,” in Parsippany. I thought the idea of a cafe style restaurant along these lines was great, and I immediately thought, “hey, someone should open one of these down in Philadelphia!” When I got home, I hit Google, and discovered there are already two within 20 miles of my house, not to mention numerous franchises in California, Georgia, Maryland, Illinois, New York, Texas, and Virginia. [UPDATE: Abhi also gave his own take on this place two years ago, in this SM post]

Hot Breads specializes in stuffed croissants (tandoori chicken, paneer, etc.), but also offers a menu of other light foods (wraps, chaat, desi-style pizza) as well as dessert pastries. (See a typical menu here [PDF].) The format itself is a nice change from a typical Indian restaurant — with the year-round Christmas lights and sometimes shoddy service.

After the Parsippany experience, we went to the one in Lansdale/North Wales, and liked it even better. I particularly liked the Dabeli, a kind of Gujarati version of Vada Pav. I also found my Chicken Tikka wrap quite satisfying, and the chutney free version of the “Bombay Sandwich” we got for Puran was also good. We got stuffed Croissants to go, though perhaps they suffered a bit by being not quite as fresh when we actually ate them the next day. Next time, I’ll be curious to try the “Alu Chilli Pizza” — or perhaps the “Pav Bhaji Pizza.”

Oh, and everything tastes better with Limca!

Continue reading

“The Age of Shiva” — a Review

I was surprised by how much the others in my book group didn’t like Manil Suri’s The Age of Shiva. The biggest complaint was from the mothers in the group (including my better half), who didn’t like Suri’s use of a first/second person narrative method (the novel is written in the voice of a woman named Meera, addressed to her son, Ashvin). Several people said they didn’t think Suri really pulled off the trick of writing about the intimate space of family life from a woman’s point of view.

Reading as a man, I didn’t notice anything implausible or false, though obviously I can’t be the judge. Certainly, some of the intimate passages regarding things like Meera’s breastfeeding of her son are quite risky (starting with the opening paragraphs of the novel; you can hear Suri read them aloud here). I find the opening a bit stylistically overwrought (the novel quickly shifts to a more conventional style), but it’s still, I think, plausible.

(Chandrahas Chowdhury, reviewing the novel in the Guardian, wasn’t bothered by this aspect, but by the novel’s use of Indian history. Jabberwock, whose opinion I respect greatly, loved the novel, and found Suri’s attempt at a woman’s point of view convincing. Then again, both reviewers are men. The only review of the novel by a woman I’ve come across is by Caryn James, in the New York Times — and she doesn’t take issue with Suri along these lines. Still, I wonder what readers thought?)

Though I suspect some other readers may share my book group’s distaste, I did think The Age of Shiva had some real strengths. Continue reading

You Will Go To “Nether Region” For Watching “The Love Guru”

These people are actually quite serious, when they inform us of the punishments we are likely to receive for making, viewing, or thinking about the upcoming Mike Myers’ comedy, The Love Guru. One of the groups leading the protests is the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti, which has, based on the trailer, judged the film as offensive to Hindus because it mocks the sanctity of the Guru-Shishya relationship. They have drawn up an open letter of protest to the MPAA, and sent out press releases, generating straight-faced coverage like this (thanks, PremiumSchlock).

Unfortunately, while many news organizations have been attending to the budding protests against The Love Guru, few news stories have been paying attention to other creative documents by the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti relating to the film, such as the following table:




Making the movie, ‘The Love Guru’

30 units

2nd region of Hell for 1000 years

Watching it for entertainment without knowing the spiritual science/significance

2 units

Nether region (Bhuvaloka) for 100 yrs

Watching it for entertainment even after knowing the spiritual science/ significance

5 units

1st region of Hell for 100 yrs

Being a seeker of God/on the spiritual path, knowing about the Movie, but doing nothing to stop it

5 units

1st region of Hell for 100 yrs

(Source for the above table.) And how many demerits do I get for finding this table hilarious? (I must admit, I am rather curious about this “nether region” idea.)

Their open letter to the MPAA is also unintentionally comic:

The trailer released by Paramount pictures shows utter disrespect for the deep spiritual significance of the Guru. It shows the Guru in a very poor light and encourages the audience to laugh at the Guru. I could not believe my eyes when the trailer revealed Mike Myers playing a Guru through a whole range of denigrating scenes, some of which are quite lurid, such as the Guru wearing a chastity belt, having an erection, involved in bar brawls, accepting money to playing cupid, etc. In the trailer the character Pitka is proclaimed as the second best Guru in India. Was this a calculated statement or was this pulled out of some juvenile script writer’s repertoire? For a country that has produced revered Gurus and Saints such as Swami Vivekanand, Ramkrushna Paramhansa and Yogi Arvind, does Paramount Pictures actually believe that Mike Meyer’s portrayal of a Guru will join the ranks of the most illustrious Saints/Guru’s of India? Was your research team / script writer not aware of the sanctity of the Guru prior to making the movie? Did they even consult leaders in Spirituality (apart from Mr. Deepak Chopra of course) if the script was potentially hurting? (link)

“The script was potentially hurting” — indeed.

The protests to this film might turn out to be funnier than the film itself. Continue reading

Thrown Your Baby off a Building Lately?

Yet another “bizarre ritual” from the desh…but to be honest, I’ve never heard of this at all before. Have you? Anyone know anything about this?

Muslims in western India have been observing a bizarre ritual – they’ve been throwing their young children off a tall building to improve their health. The faithful have been observing the ritual at a shrine in Solapur, in western India’s Maharastra, for more than five hundred years. They believe it will make their children strong and say no accidents have ever happened. link

Continue reading