Touched For The Very First Time

Over at the addictive blog PostSecret, a desi-angled postcard for your procrastination pleasure on a Monday morning [tipster hat tip to Chick Pea].


My active imagination went into overdrive trying to figure out the story behind the image. Usually with most PostSecret cards the inspiration is pretty apparent but for this postcard, the story behind the image left me questioning:

a) Was it a guy that lost his virginity to an Indian woman? Or was it a girl that lost her virginity to an Indian man? Or maybe I was presumptive in thinking this was hetero-normative, and really it’s a queer drama being played out.

b) Was the comment filled with xenophobic hate by a non-Indian to an Indian? Or was it a jilted Indian lover that was upset that the other Indian chose another Indian to lose his/her virginity to?

A concerned reader over at PostSecret e-mailed the following to the site, the comment left underneath this postcard.

Subject: Indians aren’t bad.

I am an Indian American and honestly, I think people should feel honored to have sex with Indians. I mean, we DID write the Kama Sutra.

Amen to that. What do you think is the story, morning glories?

Related Posts: Dearest Pecola, I Want to Weep & Postsecret Isn’t Always Tragic. Continue reading

Posted in Art

Parvathy Omanakuttan: Mallu Mol Just Misses Miss World

Parvathy is pretty.JPG Kerala’s, I mean India’s Parvathy Omanakuttan was almost Miss World 2008; in the end, however, it was Russia’s glamazon who won the crown. Just another instance of a brown girl being passed over in favor of some blue-eyed blonde…KIDDING. Sort of. ;) Here is her biodata, I mean, bio (thanks, nik and mithua):

Parvathy, hailing from Kottayam, grew up in Mumbai. Having graduated in Arts, she has studied Sociology, Psychology & English Literature.
Parvathy’s ambition is to further her studies in Psychology to learn more about human behaviour in depth…The lanky beauty is an ardent sports fan with a special interest in basketball, badminton and swimming.
She has a special talent for whistling. She likes listening to music, singing, reading, glass painting, acting, modelling, dancing (varying from local dances to ballroom and Latin dances) and learning new languages.[zee]

I have to ask, why is whistling important? Apart from being extra-able to hail a cab, re-enact the “Whistle while you work” scene from Snow White or tell some hottie that he or she is foine–in a rather inappropriate way–what is it good for? Never mind , I answered my own question with that list.

Parvathy is also very fond of a beautiful quote by former President APJ Abdul Kalam ‘Dreams are not what you see in your sleep, but dreams are that, which do not allow you to sleep’, hence her motto in life is ‘Dream with your eyes open’. [zee]

She might be fond of that dreamy quote, but I’m fond of the fact that she’s athletic. We at SM love us some sporty brown girls.

Speaking of those of us at SM, feast your eyes on this inter-bunker haterade Ennis sent to me, via G-chat:

4:30 PM Ennis: everybody knows mallu chicks are too short to win a pageant ;)

For your information, HATER, she is either 5’8 or 5’9; I’ve seen both heights listed in the 20+ articles I trudged through for this post (which were all filled with the same lame quotes). Either way, she’s tall enough. Oh, when will the North-South hate end? When, I ask? When? ;)

Reading the following made me smile with recognition:

Prior to witnessing the event on TV, close family members visited a few temples to offer prayers for Parvathy’s success.
Those present couldn’t contain their joy when Parvathy’s name was announced in the five semi finalists.
Then followed tense moments as they waited for the winner to be announced, and when the news came that she was the first runner up, not everyone was happy.

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The Last Victims

Pakistan’s DAWN newspaper features a great investigative piece that details how its reporters tracked down (whereas other major papers failed) the family of Mohammed Ajmal “Babyface” Kasab (who may really be Mohammad Ajmal Amir) and listened to what they had to say. Kasab was, of course, the lone surviving gunman from the recent Mumbai attacks.

Ajmal Kasab…was supposed to belong to the village Faridkot in the Punjab. Media organisations such as the BBC and now the British newspaper Observer have done reports trying to ascertain the veracity of claims appearing in the media that the young man had a home there.

At the weekend, the Observer in England claimed that it had managed to locate the house everyone was looking for so desperately. Its correspondent said he had got hold of the voters’ roll which had the names of Amir Kasab and his wife, identified as Noor, as well as the numbers on the identity cards the couple carried…

However, the man who said he was Amir Kasab confirmed to Dawn that the young man whose face had been beamed over the media was his son.

For the next few minutes, the fifty-something man of medium build agonized over the reality that took time sinking in, amid sobs complaining about the raw deal the fate had given him and his family. [Dawn]

I have commented before on SM about how much I disagree with using the term “evil” to describe men like Ajmal Kasab. To call them “evil” or “insane” (without clinical proof of insanity) in my opinion gives society an undeserved excuse. It allows us to isolate them as others, as subhumans. It allows us to feel superior in thinking that we were born good whereas these men were born bad. Their “affliction” is seen as having zero probability of transmission to good people like us. It just cannot spread. You are born evil. Then you go and talk to their parents and you realize the difference between how we were nurtured and how they were nurtured can’t really be pinpointed except for a few wrong turns and bad decisions that cascade into fanatic acts. The father continued:

‘I was in denial for the first couple of days, saying to myself it could not have been my son,’ he told Dawn in the courtyard of his house in Faridkot, a village of about 2,500 people just a few kilometres from Deepalpur on the way to Kasur. ‘Now I have accepted it. This is the truth. I have seen the picture in the newspaper. This is my son Ajmal…’

Indian media reports ‘based on intelligence sources’ said the man was said to be a former Faridkot resident who left home a frustrated teenager about four years ago and went to Lahore…

After his brush with crime and criminals in Lahore, he is said to have run into and joined a religious group during a visit to Rawalpindi.

He had asked me for new clothes on Eid that I couldn’t provide him. He got angry and left.’ [Dawn] Continue reading

Bedi, Bhatt and Nayak

Sounds like the name of a law practice right? Instead it’s the surnames of the three (brown) stooges in low places who figure at the heart of the Blagojevich pay-for-play scandal, key actors in the attempt to auction off the IL senate seat vacated by Obama to the highest bidder as if it were nothing more than a suitable boy from a “respectable” but dowry mad family.

This is how it allegedly went down, at a lunch meeting at India House, of course:

Businessmen with ties to both Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson discussed raising $1 million for Blagojevich as a way of persuading him to appoint Jackson to President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat. [Link]

Blagojevich made an appearance at an Oct. 31 luncheon meeting at the India House restaurant in Schaumburg sponsored by Oak Brook businessman Raghuveer Nayak… Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi privately told many of the more than two dozen attendees the fundraising effort was aimed at supporting Jackson’s bid for the Senate. Among the attendees was a Blagojevich fundraiser already under scrutiny by federal investigators, Joliet pharmacist Harish Bhatt.

“Raghu said he needed to raise a million for Rod to make sure Jesse got the seat,” the second businessman said. “He said, ‘I can raise half of it, $500,000.’ The idea was that the other two would help raise the rest.” [Link]

I know that our generation often tries to persuade the older generation to get involved in American politics, but this is not what we have in mind! Legal campaign contributions can be good, but getting busted trying to buy a senate seat is bad.

(For the record, “Jackson’s attorney said while Jackson discussed the Senate seat with Nayak, he never asked him to do anything.” [Link] It really isn’t clear at this point whether Nayak was acting for Jackson or just freelancing, but Jackson’s seems unlikely to gain the senate seat now. )

So who are these jokers? (profiles and pics after the fold) Continue reading

Driving substantive health care reform

While we are busy debating the merits of one potential Obama appointee and fawning over another (ok, I know, I am the only one fawning), there is a third that might end up having the most substantive role of all in Obama’s administration. Neera Tanden, who I first wrote about back in 2004, in all likelihood is about to occupy a position that will greatly influence this nation’s health care policy. First, remember that Tom Daschle will serve a new dual role. He will not only be named as the cabinet level head of Health and Human Services, but will also be director of a new WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF HEALTH REFORM. This essentially gives him the powers of a Health Czar and indicates that we will see a major legislative push in the direction of comprehensive health care reform. Tanden is a member of the transition team’s health advisors, having come over from Clinton’s campaign. She is a battle-hardened survivor of Hillary-care and knows the lessons learned and can be a great asset to Daschle. Here is an interesting footnote about Tanden’s role at the inception of Hillary’s campaign:

On a cold midmorning in January 2007, Hillary sat in the sunny living room of her house on Whitehaven Street in Washington, a well-to-do enclave off Embassy Row where she lived with her mother and, on occasion, her husband. She was finishing a last round of policy prep with her aides before getting on a plane to Iowa for her first big campaign swing. In a moment of quiet, she looked around the living room and said, to no one in particular, “I so love this house. Why am I doing this?”

Her policy director, Neera Tanden, and her advertising director, Mandy Grunwald, laughed, a little too lightheartedly. Clinton went on. “I’m so comfortable here. Why am I doing this?”

Tanden spoke up. “The White House isn’t so bad,” she said. [Link]

The New York Times had a good article on Tanden way back in 2000 [via Manish]:

How smart is the smart kid in Hillary Clinton’s Senate bid?

From all appearances — including a law degree from Yale — very.

It was Ms. Tanden, signing on with the exploratory committee in July 1999, who moved to New York from the White House and worked with Mrs. Clinton, researching and developing policies. She was 29.

It was Ms. Tanden — with, she wants you to know, her staff of six — who challenged Rick A. Lazio’s first major policy proposal, a tax-reduction plan, in August. In two hours Ms. Tanden prepared a detailed financial response. Finding the facts and figures to defend her candidate’s position is a large part of her work.

Watching Ms. Tanden in action at the Hillary 2000 headquarters on 34th Street is not permitted.

But you can accompany Ms. Tanden, informal, fast-talking, connected to her cell phone as to a body part, across the street to the restaurant she frequents these days, the cafeteria in Macy’s basement. She works 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. Her husband hates her work, Ms. Tanden allows in an unguarded moment. She makes a quick, politic adjustment: he doesn’t hate the work; he hates the way she brings the work home, the stress. [Link]

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Having to think twice about reporting a burglary

About a week ago the Houston Chronicle ran a story about a burglary here in Houston. A Sikh family (the Tagores) came home one night to find that their master bedroom had been ransacked and that a window was broken. They did what anyone would have done: called the police to report the crime. Then the story becomes not so routine:

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is investigating allegations that deputies harassed a family of Sikhs whose home was burglarized last week.

Family members say the deputies handcuffed them, roughed them up and taunted them instead of taking a report on the break-in.

One deputy reportedly asked them if they’d “heard about the bombings in Bombay.” Another allegedly said he had been to Kuwait and “knew about Muslims…”

“The allegations, if they’re true, are certainly intolerable and inconsistent with our policies,” said sheriff’s spokesman John Legg.

The deputies could face anything from disciplinary action to termination, Legg said. He declined to release their names pending further investigation. [Houston Chronicle]

This incident occurred on November 26th. On November 27th, a film crew from San Antonio-based Sach Productions was already in Houston to interview the family.

The idea behind the birth of Sach Productions is the creation of an agency that uses the film media to further the Sikh cause. The intention of Sach Productions is to introduce Sikhs to the world and then bring forth issues that concern them.

The initial projects are short documentaries that introduce Sikhs to the Western world. The intention is to then bring issues relating to Punjab, Human Rights, Arts and Culture to the people. [Sach Productions]

By December 5th, as the local news began to pick up on the story, Sach Productions had already filmed and uploaded a documentary about the incident on to the web:

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Live from Good Stuff Eatery- IT’S TOP CHEF!

I’m back on the right coast and that means that I’m at the hottest possible spot for Top Chef watching– Chef Spike’s Good Stuff Eatery, here on the Hill, in Washington, D.C. By the way, I’m sitting right next to the bad boy himself…ah, being a blogger. It does have its privIleges. ;)

It’s the “palate” test! Spike likes.

I think we can all agree that Padma’s hair looks great. ;)

“Actually, this challenge is kind of stupid.” Can I quote that, Spike? Laughs. “Yeah.”


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Posted in TV

“I am an American”: Sonal Shah’s New and Improved Statement

Let me start by posting Sonal Shah’s newly-released statement in full, as one goal of this post is to let readers judge her words for themselves:

I was recently maligned by a professor at a college in Connecticut who wrote an article in CounterPunch accusing me of association with Hindu extremism. Then, a few days ago, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, published an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, to which this site linked, that echoed the CounterPunch accusations. These attacks sadden me, but they share one other thing in common: the accusations are false.

In reaction to these attacks, my closest friends — and many strangers — have rallied to my side. I am touched by this outpouring of support. And as painful as this episode has been for me personally, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue with the seriousness that it deserves, but the conversation should proceed on the basis of verified facts and reasoned argument, not innuendo and defamation.

Indian politics and history are contested and emotive, but also unfamiliar to most Americans. I understand why so many Indians and Indian-Americans feel strongly about religious extremism in India, because I share the same concerns.

I am an American, and my political engagements have always and only been American. I served as a U.S. Treasury Department official for seven years, and now work on global development policy at And I am honored to serve on the Presidential Transition Team of President-elect Obama while on leave from

I emigrated from India at the age of four, and grew up in Houston. Like many Americans, I remain proud of my heritage. But my engagement with India has been exclusively cultural and humanitarian. After the devastating earthquake in Gujarat in 2001, I worked on behalf of a consortium of Indian-American organizations to raise funds for humanitarian relief. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP-A), an independent charity associated with the eponymous Indian political group, was among these organizations, and it was the only one to list my name on its website. I am not affiliated with any of these organizations, including the VHP-A, and have not worked with any of them since 2001.

The experience with the Gujarat earthquake did, however, teach me an important lesson. It pointed up a lack of dedicated infrastructure to help alleviate suffering in India, so together with my brother and sister, I founded Indicorps, an organization modeled on the U.S. Peace Corps that enables young Indian-Americans to spend a year in service to marginalized communities in India. The fellows come from every religious background, and have worked among every religious community in India. Indeed, some Indicorps fellows focus on inter-faith dialogue as part of their projects.

In 2002, Gujarat suffered one of the most profound tragedies in its long history, when extremist political leaders, including some associated with the VHP, incited riots that resulted in the deaths of thousands. Had I been able to foresee the role of the VHP in India in these heinous events, or anticipate that the VHP of America could possibly stand by silently in the face of its Indian counterpart’s complicity in the events of Gujarat in 2002 — thereby undermining the American group’s cultural and humanitarian efforts with which I was involved — I would not have associated with the VHP of America.

Sadly, CounterPunch and Senator Santorum have suggested that I somehow endorse that violence and the ongoing violence in Orissa. I do not – I deplore it. But more than that, I have worked against it, and will continue to do so. I have already denounced the groups at issue and am hopeful that we can begin to have an honest conversation about the ways immigrant and diaspora communities can engage constructively in social and humanitarian work abroad. (link)

I was happy to see a believable account of how Shah’s name appeared on the VHPA website as a coordinator for earthquake relief in 2001. Shah doesn’t specifically address the statements from a VHPA spokesman to the effect of “she was part of our leadership council for three years,” but there is a clear and convincing account of what she now believes about the VHP as an organization in India, as well as a clear statement about Gujarat 2002. I think we should also not overlook the statement “I am an American” that is here: she considers her personal political commitments to be first and foremost oriented to the American political landscape. I think this fact is important to remember whenever we talk about 2nd generation South Asian Americans’ relationships to specific political issues within South Asia.

After the fold, some thoughts following a personal meeting I had with Anand Shah, Sonal Shah’s younger brother, today in Philadelphia.

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Sweets for the Sweeties

Eid Mubarak! Monday marked the end of pilgrimage for millions of Muslims in Mecca, and here at my home we celebrated the only way Bengalis know how to celebrate – with Bengali sweets. The table was heavy with juicy plump roshugullahs, creamy shemi, sweet gager halwa, and moist pistachio burfi. And of course, pecan pie.

With mishthi fresh on my mind, my ears particularly perked up this week when I heard on NPR a story about how a couple of food scientists played with making the classic birthday cake better.Varak

An electrified, edible birthday cake with LED light bulbs instead of candles is just one of the concoctions that Patrick Buckley and Lily Binns have dreamed up for The Hungry Scientist Handbook. The wiring is edible, but Buckley says figuring out how to make it wasn’t easy.

“We went through filtering gold out of Goldschlager and trying to lay traces of gold leaf on top of the frosting, which just wasn’t quite robust enough,” he says.[npr]

Have you guessed the desi angle yet?

Eventually they settled on Twizzler Pull-n-Peel licorice rolled in varak, a silver foil used as a garnish in Indian cooking. The foil is edible, Binns says, but only in small amounts.

These wires are essentially the inverse of a traditional wire, Buckley says. “The electricity’s getting conducted on the outside.”[npr]

The perfect desi-American fusion mishthi. For nerds. Continue reading

Fear of a blue turban?

Recently, I saw the image above, taken from a screenshot of the webpage of a Los Angeles talk radio station [via sullivan]. The show it mentions is the “top rated morning program in the Los Angeles market, with over 1 million listeners.”[wiki] I was struck by the blue turban which, it turns out, the wingnuts think is part of Nostradamus’ prediction about Antichrist III:

Out of the country of Greater Arabia Shall be born a strong master of Mohammed, He will enter Europe wearing a blue turban. He will be the terror of mankind. Never more horror. [freep!]

Now if they think that Hawaii is part of Greater Arabia, I’m worried what they’ll think when they see a photo of the Indian Prime Minister! Or worse, one of Sikh peacekeepers, since we know how they feel about the UN … (images below the fold)

I’m tempted to gather together a whole bunch of friends to stand outside a wingnut gathering, all of us wearing blue turbans, staring at people as they enter and exit. It would be worth it for a laugh, that is, if they didn’t call the FBI and accuse us of suspicious behavior. One step at a time, I guess. Maybe I should start with that cool forehead tattoo instead …

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