In 2009, I Resolve to be More Mutinous.

banana republic ad.jpg I thought it would be cute and fun to do a “resolutions” post on December 31st, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it. After all, just asking you what you plan on not accomplishing in the new year seemed rather bleh. So, imagine my glee when I discovered a frothy fashion article about this exact subject with no less than 1.5 brown connections to exploit! Problem solved.

Via Vogue.com:

We asked some of our favorite women what they hope to do (or do a little bit better)—from family to food and fashion—in 2009.

I’ve only quoted about half of the resolvers here:

Vera Wang, designer “Work more and work out more.”
Venus Williams, tennis player “I think it’s time to give up leggings and add more prints to my closet in 2009. I also think it’s time for more accessories, but I want to avoid those big chunky pieces.”

While she is a tennis player, Venus isn’t our “0.5″ connection. ;)

Chanel Iman, model “Step back into my closet and re-create the things I haven’t worn in a while and do wardrobe swaps with my friends. After the swap, you can go shopping for that one item that will make the trade pop. It’s kind of a green way to go.”
Sophie Buhai, designer, Vena Cava “Monochromatic fashion that feels elegant (but is almost boring) paired with an eccentric large metal necklace is what I am wanting to wear. As far as giving things up, I’d say it’s time to give up flashy designer bags. The new year and a new economy are all about buying vintage Ferragamo and Bottega on eBay.”
Coco Rocha, model “Wear more jackets. This is the time to bundle up, and a girl cannot have too many coats because it is what you are seen most in during the winter season.”
Marina Rust, contributing editor, Vogue “I know if I squeeze a lemon into a cup of hot water and honey every morning I will actually feel and look better. Maybe this year I will remember to do it.”
Tory Burch, designer “Keep things in perspective and not sweat the small stuff. I always try to focus on the big picture and remember if my family is happy and healthy, nothing is worth getting too stressed about.”
Chiara Clemente, filmmaker “Eat at home as much as I can. Maybe it’s because I am Italian, but you have to start with the basics. And that’s food.”

Continue reading

Tahmima Anam on the Bangladesh Elections

Since we have been on the topic of corrupt South Asian leaders who go on to have a second chapter in their political careers, it seems worth pointing out that Sheikh Hasina, leader of Bangladesh’s Awami League Party, has been elected back into office in that country.

Naheem Mohaiemen has his enthusiastic take here, and his account of voting (for the first time) at The Daily Star.

But since I recently reviewed Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age, here is her response, published in The Guardian’s Comment is Free:

The BNP were at the helm of power in the last electoral cycle. During this time, Khaleda Zia promoted cronies to high positions of power, corrupted the courts with political appointments, and oversaw the theft of government funds on an unprecedented level. In 2007, the party orchestrated a coordinated effort to rig the elections, leading to the army’s intervention and two years of military-backed rule.

In this election, the BNP allied themselves with the Jamaat-e-Islami and conducted a campaign of fear-mongering, with slogans decrying the corruption of religious values and predicting a threat to Islam through foreign influence. By contrast, the Awami League ran a campaign that was purposefully secular and progressive. Though no stranger to allegations of corruption, the Awami League cleansed its party of much of the old guard. In the end, it campaigned on a platform of change, promising jobs and economic regeneration. The result was not only victory for the Awami League, but a near annihilation of the Jamaat-e-Islami. (link)

I’m certainly pleased whenever parties (in any country) advocating Sharia are soundly defeated like this. But I wonder why the silence on Sheikh Hasina’s own poor performance in her earlier term in office? Anam’s optimism and enthusiasm seems to be the consensus amongst progressive Bangladeshis from what I can tell; there is simply great relief that the rising tide of Islamism seems to have been reversed.

But I’m curious if there are other perspectives. One articulate dissent I’ve come across so far comes from a commenter on Anam’s article at The Guardian, who identifies himself (or herself) as SMohamed:

As a British Muslim of Bangladeshi decent it has been disheartening to often hear the land of my forefather denigrated as corrupt and ‘dirt poor’. In my opinion the ‘ladies’ in question are the main reason for the corruption through the incompetence and downright disregard they have for the peopple of Bangladesh. Dynastic politics do not work. The ladies in question lead only in name with far better players pulling the strings. I would be proud if Bangladesh actually had a lady in power who was not associated to previous leaders. She may actually have a mind of her own and bring about the change that is so desperately needed in a country on the verge of natural annihilation. (link)

Is Bangladesh now going to be in a better position on the global stage, or will it be stuck where it has been for years? Is there evidence that Sheikh Hasina might be a more effective, less corrupt leader of her country this time around? Continue reading

Getting to Know Goa, Slowly

Though it is undoubtedly one of India’s most popular tourist destinations, it might be surprising to readers that Goa most definitely is not being overrun with big-time real estate development projects. There are some large resorts around (the “Taj Exotica”), in both north and south Goa, and a really insistently Philistine foreign tourist could potentially stay in Goa and never leave one of those places. But as far as I can tell, Goa is not in the process of becoming another Dominican Republic or Jamaica, with mega-resorts so dominant they threaten to eclipse local populations and culture. The best beaches are still, by and large, open to the public, and while some are quite crowded (Calangute), many of the public beaches we’ve visited seem perfectly tranquil, with a mix of foreign (largely Russian) and Indian tourists enjoying the sun and sand.

It’s also worth pointing out that the state has a substantial economic, industrial, and cultural life that has nothing at all to do with tourism. (To give just one example, Goa is apparently popular with pharmaceutical companies, because the low levels of pollution in the air and water make it easier for pharma factories to achive high levels of purity in manufacturing medicine. The local Cipla plant makes the Indian/generic version of AIDS cocktail drugs that are sent to sub-Saharan Africa, and delivered to patients at a cost of $1 a day.)

This resistance to outside money and mega-tourism projects is not for want of trying. This New York Times article from March 2007 is a good introduction to some of the debates over the direction of Goa. The short version is this: the state government was more than ready to implement a “regional plan” that would open doors to major development projects, but a popular “Save Goa” protest movement emerged in 2006-7 that forced them to drop the plan. As a result, you do see some pockets of new tourist development, but it is measured and limited. (The article foregrounds the story of an investor whose focus is on finding distinctive individual houses in Goan villages to renovate and then market in a limited way.)

The emergence of a movement to protect Goa’s distinctively laid-back, but fluid cultural heritage does not come without some problems and dangers. Yesterday, we had the distinct privilege of meeting a local Goan writer and journalist named Vivek Menezes, who had a lot to tell us regarding both the history and current status of Goa.

One article Vivek published in 2006 details the tensions produced by the boom atmosphere that was prevalent at the time:

Chakravarti continued, “Piece of the action is …driving Goa to the edge,” and writes movingly about tears at his friend’s funeral marking “a sense of loss for a Goa we pine after but can no longer recognise.”

It’s a sentiment that’s nearly universal in 2006. Long-stayers, relative newcomers and locals all describe a sensation of being under siege.

This feeling is particularly strong at the fringes of Goa’s burgeoning tourism marketplace, in the decades-old long-staying communities that developed from the hippie phenomenon of previous decades. On the heels of a series of directives from the centre, officials from half a dozen different state agencies are turning up at people’s doorsteps, checking the ownership and legal status of homes and businesses, and denying licences and permissions required to et up shop in Goa. (link)

I would recommend reading the rest of Vivek’s article, where there is some great material from people abroad who have come to the state not as tourists, but to live and settle here.

My preliminary outsider’s sense is that the feeling of “crisis” Vivek was referring to in 2006 may be at least temporarily at bay with the collapse of the regional plan. Some people still seem to have a sense of nostalgia for the lost “old Goa,” but in a region with history as rich as this one, it’s not always clear whether they are talking about the 1990s (Goa NRG/rave culture), the 1970s (“Dum Maro Dum”; western hippies), the 1920s… or the 1570s.

Vivek lent me a book called Reflected in Water: Writings on Goa (edited by Jerry Pinto; Penguin India), in which I’ve been encountering some interesting essays that address some issues relating to Goa’s earlier history. More about that below. Continue reading

Lalu Prasad Yadav, Possibly India’s Next Prime Minister

For the past four and a half years, India has had a classy, educated, honest Prime Minister in Manmohan Singh. He’s often been criticized for not seeming forceful enough, but he did score a major success against both left and right in the nuclear deal and subsequent vote of no-confidence, and will probably join a relatively small number of Indian PMs in finishing out a complete five-year term. (Quick quiz: how many have there been?)

One person who is being talked about as a viable candidate for India’s next Prime Minister couldn’t be more different — Lalu Prasad Yadav. Yadav is the ex-Chief Minister of Bihar, where he rose to power in the “Mandal era” by mobilizing what are referred to as backward caste voting blocs in the state. Once in power, Yadav became nationally notorious as a rampantly corrupt figure, who embezzled at least $267 million in the “Fodder Scam”. He was eventually forced out of office, but was able to continue effectively running the state after he installed his wife, Rabri Devi, as Chief Minister in his stead. Starting in the late 1990s, Lalu Prasad Yadav became the punchline of many Indian jokes; even saying his name in some circles leads people to start smiling, in expectation of the joke to follow. (Another quiz: what are the names of his nine children?)

During the current UPA (Congress) administration he has had a second political life as the National Railways Minister — and he’s had remarkable success in turning around a huge government operation that had for decades been dominated by inefficiency and losses for the government. During its tenure (1999-2004), the NDA (BJP) had even been making noises to the effect that the only solution would be privatization, or failing that, raising ticket prices aggressively. But under Yadav, in 2008 alone the Railways earned profits of $6 billion — without raising passenger ticket prices at all. He may have been incredibly corrupt (and may still be corrupt), but he has been remarkably effective at turning around a major government agency.

I mention Lalu Prasad Yadav as a Prime Minister possibility as a reflection of the chatter I was hearing, mainly from relatives, as I was traveling in northern India last week. I have no idea whether it’s a real possibility, and I’m certainly far from thrilled about the possibility of someone so corrupt becoming Prime Minister. But it would nevertheless be interesting, partly because it would involve the country making a clear departure from the Nehru family and western-educated elites, in favor of someone with a strikingly different profile.

He may or may not become Prime Minister, but it does appear that while Lalu Prasad Yadav is still the butt of a few jokes, many Indians are starting to utter his name with newfound respect.

Continue reading

A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

One of my little sister’s Air Force buddies in Colorado sent me an urgent email with the following important information:

I have been following Santa on NORAD via Twitter, to make sure my little cousins in every time zone got spoiled, but I managed to miss this part of his journey, so I’m grateful for the message. Maybe it all went down while we were distracted? Matters not.

Do you know why NORAD tracks Santa? It’s one of my favorite stories:

The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement for children to call Santa misprinted the telephone number. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief’s operations “hotline.” The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born…
In 1958, the governments of Canada and the United States created a bi-national air defense command for North America called the North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as NORAD. NORAD inherited the tradition of tracking Santa.
Since that time, NORAD men, women, family and friends have selflessly volunteered their time to personally respond to Christmas Eve phone calls and emails from children. In addition, we now track Santa using the internet. Last year, millions of people who wanted to know Santa’s whereabouts visited the NORAD Tracks Santa website.
Finally, media from all over the world rely on NORAD as a trusted source to provide Christmas Eve updates on Santa’s journey. [link]

Isn’t that sweet? Fifty-three years ago, I’m sure Colonel Shoup and his staff could’ve done without the incessant phone calls thrown their way thanks to a printing mistake, but I love thinking about the moment when he realized what had happened and stepped up, and didn’t let a child down. What a mitzvah. Continue reading

Happy Holidays from the Bunker!

Christmas Palms.jpg Slow blogging time as many of the Mutineers are traveling far and wide to celebrate the holidays with loved ones while I am stuck holding down the fort with only Rajni to keep me company. I would like to take this time to wish all of you a Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Here in cold bunkers of North Dakota, holiday seasons pass rather uneventfully. Many books will be read. Movies will be watched. Rajni the monkey may toss a turd or two. And I suspect, with the cold weather, staying warm will be high priority. Maybe because the holiday season passes mutely in our home, I’m curious, how are you spending your holidays? Any particular foods or drinks that remind you of this season? Any fusion traditions that come up this time of the year? Or have you fought the snow storms and are spending your holidays in a warm tropical vacation spot? I’d love to hear how you plan to spend holidays.

From our bunker to yours – stay warm, safe travels, and wishing you and your family all the best for this holiday season! Continue reading

Hello from Delhi (and Dehra Dun, and Chandigarh)

We’ll be returning to Goa in a day or two, but meanwhile there was some family visiting to attend to in the north.

First up, Delhi. My dominant impression of Delhi this time around is of seeing construction everywhere for new Delhi Metro stations. In a couple of years (when Delhi hosts the Commonwealth Games), I’m sure it will all be wonderful, but right now it adds to the traffic headache. That said, I was impressed by the new domestic airport terminal (the old one was hopelessly insufficient), and by what I took to be preliminary attempts at revamping the central train station.

We were happy to get to meet Jai Arjun Singh at a Crossword book store (Jai, thanks for waiting for us) in Saket, south Delhi. The bookstore was in a massive, opulent new mall called “Citywalk Select,” which has designer boutiques everywhere (Indian, European, and American), and the general feel of the massive King of Prussia mall near our house in suburban Philadelphia. It was certainly surreal, after seeing continuing signs of poverty elsewhere in the city, and Samian wondered how there could be enough Delhi-ites who can afford to pay $500 for Kate Spade purses to support these stores. Also surreal in such a place was the presence of the writer Ruskin Bond, who I think of as an R.K. Narayan-type writer (simple, elegant, and compelling storytelling), not someone you would ever expect to see in this kind of place. In this case, he was doing a book-signing at the bookstore, which was surprisingly packed.

When you’re traveling with a two-year old, you don’t get to read quite as much as when you’re either alone or with other grown-ups. Still, I’ve been reading bits and pieces of Carlo Levi’s Essays on India here and there, and I thought some passages from his essay “The Invisible Capital” (1957) might be of interest:

The city of New Delhi appears, as you drop suddenly down towards it out of the sky, as something unreal and abstract, an immense placeless space, a utopian place. It doesn’t really seem like a city; there is no centre, no cluster of houses, only a vast expanse crisscrossed by immensely broad boulevards that seem to stretch out endlessly into the distance, and dotted here and there by monumental buildings, isolated in the greenery. Much as in the shapeless, ameboid city of Los Angeles, the distances are so vast that you can only move around by car (this modern conveyance that ensures medieval isolation). It is also reminiscent of Washington, with its plan of an administrative capital, silent and reserved; to an even greater degree, it is reminiscent of London, in the attempt to blend a sense of power with a yearning for the earthly paradise prior to the original sin.

I think the comparison to Washington is probably the most apt (I don’t see the comparisons to London or Los Angeles at all). More from Carlo Levi on Delhi below: Continue reading

Don’t Make me Take my Chappals off…

shoe at you.jpg The shoe-throwing incident. People love the shoe-throwing incident. Now, I’m blogging about it here, despite the fact that it was an Iraqi who did it to a non-Desi. I am doing this for three reasons:

1) It brought back bad memories of my last trip to Kerala (more on that, after the jump)

2) We think of shoes as dirty and thus, disrespectful as well (AFAIK)

3) The Lobb-ber has received a marriage proposal for his act of bravado:

An Egyptian man said on Wednesday he was offering his 20-year-old daughter in marriage to Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush in Baghdad on Sunday
The daughter, Amal Saad Gumaa, said she agreed with the idea. “This is something that would honor me. I would like to live in Iraq, especially if I were attached to this hero,” she told Reuters by telephone.
Her father, Saad Gumaa, said he had called Dergham, Zaidi’s brother, to tell him of the offer. “I find nothing more valuable than my daughter to offer to him, and I am prepared to provide her with everything needed for marriage,” he added.
Zaidi’s gesture has struck a chord across the Arab world, where President Bush is widely despised for invading Iraq in 2003 and for his support for Israel. [link]

Disrespecting someone with a shoe AND a potential “alliance” of families? Oh, that’s so brown, even if it’s not technically brown. Whatever mang, I’m down with the spirit and the letter.

It didn’t just strike a chord across the Arab world. A Professor of Technocultural Studies at my alma mater, U.C. Davis (go ags!), published the following thoughts in the Huffington Post (via Sunaina Maira of ASATA, the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, whose website seems to be down):

Know what Bush was saying when al-Zeidi threw his shoes? “The war is not over. But . . . it is decidedly on its way to being won.”
And Muntadhar al-Zeidi lost it. Threw both his shoes, yelling that shoe #1 was ” a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people!” His second shoe was “for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq!”
This was a gift to the entire world. We all owe a debt to this 28-year old journalist who, for one beautiful moment, letting go of all rational calculation of the possible consequences, stood up and spoke truth to power.
He is currently being held by Iraqi security forces and faces an unknown fate. I would not want to be in his shoes right now. [link]

I’m not sure any of us would want to be in his position, right now: Continue reading

Hello from Goa; Poem by Daljit Nagra

I’m always nervous about being too personal in this space, and anyway when you’re traveling with a two-year old your travel experiences tend to revolve around him, so I’ll boil it down to this: Goa sure is nice this time of year. (I’m visiting in-laws, who live here now.)

We were also in London for a couple of days, where I was happy to get to meet Sunny Hundal. Again, let’s keep details to a minimum, and say the highlight of our London experience was a restaurant called Imli, serving Indian Tapas (nice idea, huh).

In a London bookstore I found a book of poems by Daljit Nagra, Look We Have Coming to Dover! (the title poem is a postcolonial answer to Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”). My favorite poem so far is “Rapinder Slips into Tongues,” and I hope the poet won’t mind if I share the poem here, in hopes of provoking discussion. It certainly resonated with me:

Rapinder Slips into Tongues…
by Daljit Nagra

Dad and me were watching the video–
Amar, Akbar, Anthony. It’s about three
brothers separated after the family is parted
by gangsters. You can get it with subtitles, Miss.
When Anthony, who grows up in a Catholic home,
begged Christ for the address of his real parents
then crossed himself, I jumped off our royal red
sofa, joined Anthony with his prayer:
Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary,
four-quartering myself then curtseying a little.

Dad just stared at me, knocking his turban side
to side that I almost thought it would come off
which it normally does when he’s doing his press-ups
and his face goes mauve. Instead he took off
his flip-flop (the one with a broken thong),
held it in the air, shouting in ‘our’ language,
Vat idiot! If you vant to call on Gud,
call anytime on anyvun of our ten gurus,
Do you tink is white Gud’s wife your mudder?


Dad’s got a seriously funny way Miss,
sometimes he cries, and says he’s going to give me
to a Sikh school, a proper school. That’s why
I did what my cousin Ashok does at our local
temple — while you were all doing hail mary
to end registration, I first locked my hands,
knelt down, prayed with this ditty we do on Sundays,

imagined the Golden Temple and our bearded gods
to your up-on-the-cross one, then roared:
Wahay Guru!
Wahay Guru!
Wahay Guru!
Like that.

A critic named Ben Wilkinson has a brief take on the poem, and Daljit Nagra’s poetic style as a whole, here. Continue reading

Education like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq

Since I’ve had beauty pageant winners on the brain, I thought I’d share this video with the five of you who haven’t seen and rolled your eyes at it yet. I mean, that’s what I did once I realized what she meant by “condone” (way to kinda fake us out on the News Tab, oh person with unintelligible TypeKey handle).

Natasha Paracha is Miss Pakistan World 2008. She’s an alumna of U.C. Berkeley (go bears!), where she majored in Poli-Sci and started an association for Pakistani students. When she’s not confusing important words which commence with the letter “C” ;) , she’s thinking about current events, about which she had the following to share:

The recent tragedy in Mumbai was the work of misguided individuals who do not represent a specific religion, creed or nationality…The fact these young men may have links to Pakistan is in no way indicative of the culture and caliber of people that represent Pakistan. It is my hope the world views this tragedy with those thoughts in mind as we all mourn for the victims and their families. [link]

More:

The tragedy in Mumbai has left us all in shock. It is difficult to understand that such violent acts are taking place in metropolitan regions. First, the attacks that were carried out at Marriott in Islamabad and now this…I have family and friends that live close to the Taj and Oberoi and my heart goes out to all those innocent people involved. [link]

All right, now which one of you (or ten of you) went to Cal with her and have stories about that one time she got her belly pierced at Zebra on a dare, and it, like, totally got infected? Oh, snap…that was me. Carry on, bear cubs and mutineers… Continue reading