While American TV Does Bollywood, Bollywood Does….?

Here’s about 1:15 of a song called “Dil Dance Maare” from the new Hindi film, Tashan. The two male leads are the currently ubiquitous Askhay Kumar, and Saif Ali Khan. The female lead is Kareena Kapoor:

The lyrics are a little… well… I don’t really know how to describe them:

White white face dheke dil woh beating fast sasura [When I see a 'white white' face, my heart starts beating fast]
Jaan se maare reeee eehhheeee

White white face dheke dil woh beating fast sasura
Jaan se maare re
White white face dheke

White white face dheke dil woh beating fast sasura
Jaan se maare re
Oh very… oh very…
Oh very happy in my heart
Dil dance maare re
Very happy in my heart, dil dance maare re
Dil dance maare dance maare
Dil yeh dance maare
Oh very happy in my heart
Dil dance maare re

It’s not entirely an arbitrary expression of a self-hating colonial mentality (or, as Fela Kuti said, “colo-mentality”); in the context of the film, the characters apparently come across an American film crew while traveling around India, and join the production — hence the blond wigs and so on. (My wife was watching the DVD in the other room, and she called me in when this song came on: you have to see this.)

Still, am I the only one to find the song/video at once deeply embarrassing and oddly catchy? I’ve been finding myself singing it for comic effect for family and friends this week. Continue reading

So You Think You Can Dance? –> Bollywood

Via a tip on our News Tab (thanks, Tanvishah), the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance?” recently had a Bollywood sequence, brilliantly choreographed by Nakul Dev Mahajan. It’s worth a peek:

What do you think? I think Katee and Joshua rock. The first judge made an interesting comment along the lines of “You know, it’s funny how much this ‘Indian cultural dance’ resembles other dance cultures. When they do this [moves his arms], it’s like hip hop. And that thing with the knees, it’s like Russian dance.” What he didn’t realize is that Hindi film choreographers have been happily ripping off other cultures’ dance forms for decades! Continue reading

Reading Comprehension, and the Nutty Generalizations About India it Inspired (A Guest Post)

I was talking to a Ph.D. student I work with, Colleen Clemens, about her experience working as a grader for the AP English exam. She had been assigned to work on a question about an Indian author, Anita Desai (the passage was from Fasting, Feasting), and she was shocked at how the students tended to use the passage as an excuse to throw out a series of flagrant generalizations about India and Indian culture. Incidentally, Colleen went with a group of first-year students to India last December, so she’s seen parts of the country herself. The following post, then, is a one-off essay by Colleen:

Recently, I served as a reader for the AP English exam. Imagine a room with 1500 college and high school teachers sitting on folding chairs (with no lumbar support) for eight hours a day, seven days straight, reading the almost one million essays written by nervous, twitchy high school students hoping to test out of their first-year college English course. In a stroke of luck and irony, I was assigned Question Two on this year’s exam, in which students were asked to read a passage from Anita Desai’s Fasting, Feasting and do a close reading to glean insight into Arun’s experience as “an exchange student.”

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A mother’s work is never done

For one women it seems, the biological work of mothering continues even well after menopause:

A woman said to be 70 years of age has given birth to twins in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state after taking IVF treatment… The couple were so desperate for a male heir that they spent their life savings and took out a bank loan for IVF.

Omkari Panwar already has two daughters and is a grandmother to five children. “We already have two girls but we wanted a boy so that he could have taken care of our property. This boy and girl are God’s greatest gift to us,” Omkari said. [Link]

That’s right – she got pregnant at age 70 so she could produce a male heir! This boy isn’t even going to be able to take care of its parents in their old age, they’re already there. The sole reason for his conception was so that he could inherit the property.

While I shake my head in confusion at this (why do you care who inherits after you’re dead – you’re dead, right?), is the average American any better? It turns out that they have a strong preference for female children when they adopt:

… there are about 105 boys for every 100 girls in the general population of biological children under the age of 18. Adopted children … [however, have] 89 boys for every 100 girls. What’s more, adopted children under the age of 6 constitute a group where there only are 85 boys for every 100 girls…. the sex ratio of adopted children goes still further off-kilter if you look only at international adoptions… Girls make up about 64 percent of all children adopted by Americans outside the United States. That’s a mere 56 boys for every hundred girls. [Link]

When adopting abroad, Americans have a 2:1 preference for girls over boys. And that’s not a matter of supply, it’s purely demand:

It doesn’t matter if they’re adopting from China, where girls far outnumber boys; from Russia, where the numbers are about even; or from Cambodia, where there is typically a glut of orphan boys and a paucity of girls. Everywhere, demand tends to favor the feminine. [Link]

There are good reasons to tsk over the desi preference for boy children. Should we do the same when it comes to the American preference for girl children when adopting?

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Tagore as dance music, ‘round the world

By now, almost all of you will have seen the video below, the third in a series where Matt Harding does a peculiar little jig in 69 scenic locations around the world. It’s one of the web’s most popular videos and for good reason; it’s both incredibly catchy and deeply moving. One friend I sent this to burst out crying, another decided to plan a 3 week trip to Latin America as a result.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.


p>What you probably didn’t know is that the music being played is a poem by Tagore, set to music by Garry Schyman, and sung in sung in Bengali by 17 year old Palbasha Siddique (originally from Bangladesh, now living in MN). The music is a key part of the appeal of the videos, tying together the vignettes as neatly as the visual editing does. This is funny because the music was applied after the fact; at the time Matt was just dancing to the snapping of his own fingers.

The music has catapulted Siddique, who is still a senior in high school, into the spotlight:

At the moment, she is one of the most heard singers in the world…”It’s crazy,” said Siddique, who lives in Northeast Minneapolis with her mother and brother. “Right now it’s number one on amazon.com in the soundtrack [category], and number six overall, so that’s a really big accomplishment, because even ‘American Idol’ is number nine right now. I just never knew this would turn out so incredible. People are making ring tones out of it. Everyone on Facebook is adding me, and I had no idea there are so many Bengalis in our community, and they have all heard the song…” [Link]

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Bye, Bye, CPI — Update on Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal

As has been widely reported, the Communists and other left parties in the Indian Parliament are withdrawing support for the coalition UPA government. They are doing it in protest of PM Manmohan Singh’s decision to go forward with the July 2007 deal known as the 123 Agreement, which for now means going to the IAEA to neogotiate approval with that body (India also has to get approval from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and the U.S. Congress before the deal can be put into effect).

The Communists have 59 seats in the Indian Parliament, but luckily the Congress Party has been able to get the agreement of the regional Samajwadi Party, which holds 39 seats, to support the government in the event of a vote of no confidence. They only need the support of 44 MPs total to keep the government together, so things are looking good for both the Nuclear Deal and the UPA government. (Regular elections are scheduled to be held in May 2009; who knows what will happen then…)

Since this controversy first came up last year, I’ve been struggling to understand what the CPI is on about. Going to the CPI(M) website, the most detailed statement I can find at present is this one, which is itself more an enumeration of recent events than it is a substantive critique. The CPI claims to be greatly troubled that Manmohan Singh hasn’t released the details of the agreement it has submitted to the IAEA, but it seems hard to take this seriously, since the text of the 123 Agreement has been published, and is pretty clear on the mechanics of the deal. Every other objection falls along the lines of, “you aren’t listening to me!” To which one is tempted to respond, “Yes, and I’m the better for it.”

From DNA/Asian Age, I was able to find more coherent objections here. But most of those 9 points are arguable too, or based on a misreading of the actual text of the 123 Agreement. (See this blogger’s refutation of the 9 objections.)

I can’t help but think that the only meaningful objection, which trumps all of the Left’s other reasons, is the fact that the deal “required India to pursue a foreign policy congruent to that of the US.” In fact, that is not at all true. It is true that the deal marks a new level of cooperation (and strategic alignment) between the U.S. and India, but I don’t see why that would be a bad thing as long as India is free to work out its own position on issues like Iran.

I wrote a post in support the Nuclear Deal last summer, and I stand by it. India stands to benefit from the access to more nuclear fuel and technology, and the limitation the deal places on nuclear weapons testing is not onerous (as I understand it, India doesn’t really need to test any weapons anytime soon). Some valid objections were raised to the deal in the comments to that post, along the lines of environmental cost and general safety issues related to the use of nuclear power:

Why IS there a power shortage in Indian cities and villages?
IS nuclear power the solution?
What about the environmental costs?
What about the economic costs of nuclear power? (link)

But as far as I’ve seen — and I admit I am not really an expert on the utterances of Indian Communists — those are not the issues being talked about by Prakash Karat and company.

[Update: See Prakash Karat talking about the deal on YouTube here... I've only watched a few minutes of it thus far] Continue reading

Izzat? It isn’t

I’ve never quite understood what “Izzat” means, since it covers behavior I think of as thoroughly dishonorable and fails to cover other things that I think of as being quite honorable. But now, thanks to two tragedies in Georgia that have recently been in the news, I think I understand. Izzat means kill the bride.

Exhibit A: Chaudhry Rashid and his daughter Sandeela Kanwal

Rashid is accused of having killed his daughter because she wanted to get out of her arranged marriage:

Authorities allege that Rashid killed his daughter because he feared that her resistance to a recently arranged marriage would disgrace the Pakistani-American family… “She was very unhappy with the marriage, had not seen the husband in three months and was seeking a divorce,” … “The father felt like the he had to uphold his family’s honor…” [Link]

Let’s ignore for a second the fact that in Islam marriage is a civil affair and divorce is allowed. And let’s ignore the fact that if the marriage broke down, some responsibility must reasonably lay with the person responsible for choosing the groom. And let’s ignore the fact that the father was married to an American, so he clearly had not had an arranged marriage himself.

If the police account is correct (and Rashid has been charged but not yet tried, so the facts are not all out and there is no verdict), Rashid saw his daughter’s behavior as bringing disgrace to the family, and believed that the only way to set things right was to kill his daughter.

Exhibit B: Chiman Rai and his daughter-in-law Sparkle Michelle Rai

In this case, it’s Chiman Rai’s son, Ricky, who the father feels has stained the escutcheon by marrying a black woman, Sparkle Reid. The son is the one who has dishonored the family here, right? So what does the father do? Disinherit him? Kill his son? Nope – he hires hitmen to kill his daughter-in-law: Continue reading

A Brown Girl in Italy

My book tour is (mostly) over. But I wanted to share a little bit about what it was like in one of the most exciting spots I hit: Torino, Italy. I traveled there for four days in mid-May, for the Torino book festival, where I spent most of my time hanging out with Tahmima Anam, the author of A Golden Age.ItalianTV2.jpg

Tahmima and I have the same fab Italian publisher, Garzanti, and the same fab editor, Elisabetta. Getting to know Tahmima was unexpected and awesome! She is one of the nicest and funniest people I met on tour—and she was also generous with her advice. I am reading her book now, and it’s fantastic. (Previous Sepia coverage here.) Anyway, she’s also a Sepia reader, and when I told her I wanted to blog about our time in Italy, she readily agreed.

We spent a fair amount of time giving interviews. As far as Tahmima and I could tell, there were four female South Asian authors at the Torino festival. It took hardly a moment before someone wanted all four of us in the same spot. Two of us wore saris. Nope, it was the other two.

Left to right: Tahmima Anam, Sunny Singh, Stefano Bortolussi, Selina Sen, and me.

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Where’s the brownz?

Recently, Fuerza Dulce buzzed me on IM to ask me if I was going to the conference on “Blogging while Brown.” A BwB conference? I’d not heard of such a thing, but website masthead was promising, claiming that this was a conference “for, by and about bloggers of color.”

I eagerly looked to see who they had invited as panelists, expecting to see some of my favorite desi bloggers mentioned, and perhaps some new ones I had not yet encountered. But there was not a single desi name listed of any sort, neither ABD, DBD, IBD, PBD, BBD, SLBD, NBD nor BVD.

Nor were there any Arab or Latino bloggers, another possibility for a conference on “brown bloggers.”

In fact, every single blogger listed was African-American. Blogging while brown may well have been true in terms of skin color, since “black” is a misnomer when describing the hue of African-Americans, but in all colloquial meanings of the word, the conference would better have been described as “Blogging while Black.” And while the bloggers on the panel were all bloggers of color, they represented only one slice of the “of color” spectrum.

What puzzles me is why the promoters of the conference aren’t be honest about what they’re doing. Why not just call themselves Blogging While Black? Are we so cool now that even black folks want to be brown?

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The Rabbi Shergill Experience

Three years ago, Indian singer-songwriter Rabbi Shergill exploded on the Indian alternative pop scene with “Bulla Ki Jaana,” a distinctively spiritual — and yet extremely catchy — hit single. The song was unusual because it took the words of the Sufi poet Bulleh Shah, and gave them a modern context. And Rabbi Shergill was himself unusual (even in India) to be a turbaned, unshorn Sikh, making a claim on popular music with a sound that has nothing in common, whatsoever, with Bhangra. From my point of view Rabbi has been a welcome presence on many levels — most of all, I would say, because he seems to aspire to a kind of seriousness and thoughtfulness in the otherwise craptastic landscape of today’s filmi music (think “Paisa Paisa” from “Apna Sapna Money Money”; or better yet, don’t don’t).

After a few years of silence (disregarding, for the moment, his contribution to the film Delhi Heights), Rabbi finally has a follow-up album, Avengi Ja Nahin (which would be “Ayegi Ya Nahin” if the song were in Hindi). The album is available at the Itunes store — so if you’re thinking of getting it, it should be easy enough to resist the temptation to download it illegally off the internets.

The video for the first single, “Avengi Ja Nahin”, can be found on YouTube:

I’m personally not that excited about it. The good part is, Rabbi has moved away from his earlier image as a kind of Sufi/Sikh spiritualist, and is here singing about a much more earthly kind of longing (i.e., for a girl: “Cut the crap/ Will you come or not? / Shade my face with your tresses/ Will you or not?”). But the bad part is, the song just isn’t that exciting.

Fortunately, the rest of the album has some much more provocative material.

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