“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers.”

Speech Wars.jpg
I woke up at 6:30 am today, after less than three hours of sleep, unsure of what to expect on Inauguration Day. Well, that isn’t entirely accurate– I knew to expect considerable delays in my adopted home city along with, and partly because of a guaranteed transit nightmare. But aside from that, I had some hazy sense that I’d be witnessing something important, something I’d regret missing since I live here.

I’ve never been to an inauguration, despite my decade in D.C. So, I set out on a special Presidential Inauguration bus route, via my special Presidential Inauguration Metro card, which took me to the security perimeter. From there I walked in frigid temperatures to get to the Presidential Inauguration Metro train which would, it turns out, NOT take me to my intended destination.

Due to crowd control concerns, WMATA quickly shut down two train stations while I was underground, in transit, and packed in so tightly with other would-be attendees, that I felt assaulted every time someone moved an elbow. Everyone was aware of a different station which had been closed earlier; they announced it was unexpectedly reopening just as we pulled away from it. Too late. At this point, they had closed the last three stations at which we could have exited and we were well past the stop we needed. I started to worry about logistics as previously cheery train inhabitants cursed under their breath.

I hastily exited the Metro the moment I was able to, and I still ended up on the wrong side of the Capitol building. I had just over an hour to trudge through brutal, 11 degree weather, while attempting to avoid idling charter buses spewing exhaust, forbidding barricades, chaotic Police checkpoints and of course, thousands of people who were alternately shivering in their Uggs or shouting “Woooo! Obama!”.

The only thing I could think about was how I was thisclose to missing the whole point of the day, the whole point of the last two years, and it was all because of my bad luck with Metro. I tried to be mindful and prepare myself for the worst; if I was too late to get through security or move through the sludge of confused people faster than one mile per hour, I could say that I tried. That I had experienced the cold and the crowds and the optimism which was muffled by scarves, earmuffs and gloves. Que sera, sera…

I barely expected to make it to my rooftop viewing party in time for pomp and circumstance. I certainly did not expect to see a copy of Obama’s speech before he delivered it. And I definitely did not expect to be in tears when our new President recognized a faith which I respect, but don’t practice.

One thing at a time.

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Where Obama gets his desi-ness from

An old college photo of Obama appeared at the NYTimes today. The photo features the man who taught Obama how to cook desi food among other things:

Sohale Siddiqi (also Hal Siddiqi) was the best friend and roommate of Barack Obama while he attended Columbia University in the early 1980s. He is identified as “Sadik” in Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father. Obama describes Saddiqi as “a short, well-built Pakistani” who smoked marijuana and snorted cocaine. Siddiqi was from Karachi, Pakistan and came to America from London on a tourist visa. He overstayed his visa becoming an illegal alien. [1]

Obama first met Siddiqi when he attended Occidental College in Los Angeles. Obama was living with a group of Pakistani students when Siddiqi arrived for a visit. Obama transferred to Columbia University and lived off campus with Siddiqi. Siddiqi was not a student and made his living working in restaurants. Together they lived in a drug-ridden slum apartment on 339 East 94th St. Siddiqi go the apartment by lying, saying he had a well paid job. The apartment was furnished by what they could find in the streets.

Obama and Siddiqi would go out together and enjoy the nightlife of New York City. Siddiqi claims Obama stopped using drugs when he arrived at Columbia. Obama eventually moved out when Siddiqi’s partying began to interfere with his studies. [Link]

More on Siddiqi here.

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“…Stick around.”

The benediction at Barack Hussein Obama’s inauguration was given today by Rev. Joseph Lowery:

Joseph Echols Lowery (born October 6, 1921) is a minister in the United Methodist Church and leader in the American civil rights movement.

Lowery was pastor of the Warren Street United Methodist Church, in Mobile, Alabama from 1952 until 1961. His career in the civil rights movement began in the early 1950s in Mobile, Alabama. After Rosa Parks’ arrest in 1955, Lowery helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott. He headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, an organization devoted to the desegregation of buses and public places. In 1957, with Martin Luther King, Jr. Lowery founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and subsequently led the organization as its president from 1977 to 1997. [Link]

Without a doubt the most striking paragraph of the benediction (the full text of which can be found here) was the following:

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around … when yellow will be mellow … when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen. [Link]

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Guest Blogger: Melvin Durai

The economy is swirling down the tubes. We are fighting two wars with no end in site. The Indian American contestant on Top Chef is bound to be booted off any week now. In short, we are living in a pretty depressing world, even given the exiting events of today’s inauguration. We met in our North Dakota headquarters recently to see what we could do to roll back some of the doom and gloom and bring our readers a pittance of joy for the few moments they log on to SM. The answer presented itself in the form of Canada-based humorist and writer Melvin Durai:

Melvin Durai is an India-born, North America-based writer and humorist. His humor columns, acclaimed for being both funny and thought-provoking, have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines in several countries. An award-winning feature writer, Melvin also distributes his weekly columns through an email list that reaches thousands of people in more than 90 countries, including a few countries Melvin is still trying to find on the map…

Melvin was born in the town of Tisaiyanvillai, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India, and spent much of his childhood learning how to pronounce “Tisaiyanvillai”. (He still hasn’t quite got the hang of it.)

He grew up in Zambia, Central Africa, where he attended Kansenshi Primary and Secondary Schools in Ndola, and Kamwala Secondary School in Lusaka. Both his parents, Mrs. Hepzy Durai and the late I.V. Durai, were math teachers and, as a result, Melvin grew up hating math.

Melvin moved to the U.S. for college in 1982. He attended Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, where he double-majored in Accounting and Natural Science, giving him the unique ability to file tax returns for hamsters. Then he earned an MBA from York College of Pennsylvania, before following his heart and enrolling in the journalism program at Towson State University in Maryland. He loved it and did well enough to land a job at the Chambersburg, Pa., Public Opinion, the best and most widely read newspaper in the entire town of Chambersburg. (Motto: We’re better than that rag in Waynesboro.)… [Link]

Yes, we’ve added another nerd to the bunker corp. You can also check out his blog here. Please join me in welcoming Melvin to SM! Continue reading

India’s Israel Envy

Former UN USG Shashi Tharoor recently published a provocative piece titled “India’s Israel Envy” exploring the seemingly unlikely sympathy for Israel from India –

Shashi Tharoor

As Israeli planes and tanks exact a heavy toll on Gaza, India’s leaders and strategic thinkers have been watching with an unusual degree of interest – and some empathy.

India’s government has, no surprise, joined the rest of the world in calling for an end to the military action, but its criticism of Israel has been muted…

Both countries face terrorists launching attacks from neighboring, ostensibly sovereign territory and both suspect that authorities lend different shades of support to the behavior. With Israel biting the bullet and invading Gaza to (hopefully) curtail the rocket downpour, India might be tempted to do something similar to Pakistan. However, Tharoor argues, India has far more effective international leverage to bring down upon its misbehaving neighbor than the Israeli’s do and hence could / should make use of that avenue first.

Perhaps due to his UN heritage, I think Tharoor overly focuses on geopolitics as the source of the “empathy” – e.g. both India and Israel are in similar transnational situations. I’ve done some work in Israel over the years and have personally noted a far more broadbased alignment between Israel and India. One response to Tharoor tracks this shift over the last 50 yrs-

Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) — Israel hasn’t won much praise for invading the Gaza Strip. This unpopularity abides even though Israel is bombing Gaza to stop Qassam rockets from hitting its own towns. Still, Israel has at least some supporters in what might seem an unlikely place: India. Not official support, mind you.

…Still, a growing mutual admiration between India and Israel is showing up at levels both commonplace and lofty…This Israel-India link is a change. Born at the same time, the two nations at first stood out for their differences…Over the next decades, a shift commenced. India discerned that it had little to gain by keeping Israel at a distance, since Arab nations would surely back Pakistan over India regardless of the latter’s policy on Jerusalem.

My assertion is that beyond the strategic relationship to Islamic states, both countries have also become surprisingly socio-politically aligned internally and thus the “envy” runs far deeper than the current situation.

How so?

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MLK’s Address on All India Radio, March 1959

Martin Luther King, Jr. visited India in 1959, an event which is described in detail at the King Encyclopedia (a site that has been linked to before at Sepia Mutiny). King, as is well known, modeled his approach to civil rights in the United States on Gandhi’s successful mass non-violence/civil disobedience campaign for Indian independence.

On NPR last week, there was a story about how All India Radio has recently discovered in its archives the recorded version of the address given by Dr. King at the end of his visit to India.

Through a little bit of digging on Google, I found the actual recording posted on the internet, at the website of the Indian Consulate of Chicago.

For me the highlight of the address is the closing, which I’ll take the liberty of including here:

Many years ago, when Abraham Lincoln was shot – and incidentally, he was shot for the same reason that Mahatma Gandhi was shot for; namely, for committing the crime of wanting to heal the wounds of a divided nation. And when he was shot, Secretary Stanton stood by the dead body of the great leader and said these words: “now, he belongs to the ages.” And in a real sense, we can say the same thing about Mahatma Gandhi, and even in stronger terms: “now, he belongs to the ages.”

And if this age is to survive, it must follow the way of love and non-violence that he so nobly illustrated in his life. Mahatma Gandhi may well be God’s appeal to this generation, a generation drifting again to its doom. And this eternal appeal is in the form of a warning: they that live by the sword shall perish by the sword.

We must come to see in the world today that what he taught, and his method throughout, reveals to us that there is an alternative to violence, and that if we fail to follow this we will perish in our individual and in our collective lives. For in a day when Sputniks and explorers dash through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war.

Today we no longer have a choice between violence and non-violence; it is either non-violence, or non-existence. (link)

Perhaps the meanings of King and Gandhi’s respective messages have changed as times have changed. India is no longer a country with a colonial chip on its shoulder, and minorities in the U.S. have a shining example of success in President Barack Obama (among many other signs of progress). It is probably a bit too easy and nostalgic to simply savor those past struggles without continually seeking to apply them to our messy current situations; with too much familiarity and Big Talk, these two icons of struggle risk becoming bloated relics. (For example, by the 1970s, Gandhianism in India had become an easy symbol, devoid of substance — one thinks of the overweight Congress politicians in homespun, happily siphoning off crores of Rupees for Swiss bank accounts.)

Also, it may be that rigorous non-violence cannot mean the same thing for us today as it did for African Americans who demanded a seat at the American table, or Indians who demanded sovereignty (a seat at the table of nations). Perhaps King and Gandhi’s shared dream of a total, worldwide movement away from a social order based on violence (active or potential) is one we’ll have to put away for the foreseeable future, as simply not in keeping with human nature. Satyagraha is a brilliant strategy for mobilizing the Indian masses to defeat the most powerful, thoroughly armed Empire the world has ever known, without bloodshed. But in my view it is neither effective nor appropriate as a response to Jihadists on the streets of Mumbai, or Maoist rebels in eastern India, to name just two examples. (I am not a pacifist myself for this reason.)

And yet, is it not still chastening to hear these words, even in these times? (Listen to the speech.) As I say, some of the diacritics may have changed, but I think King’s warning still stands: “they that live by the sword shall perish by the sword.” Gaza. Sri Lanka. Iraq. India-Pakistan. Isn’t that still the truth we need to hear? Continue reading

The Kerala Model – At Risk?

The “Kerala model of development” is often cited as a path for developing nations to secure strong human development indices (literacy, health, etc.) but without first adopting the “Washington Consensus” (essentially higher, per capita GDP via free markets). Today’s Economist Blog has a brief update on the model and the risk posed to it by the global economy and it reminded me of an old-ish article I never got around to blogging…

Back in September ’07, NYT described the Kerala model and its adherents this way –

TRIVANDRUM, India — This verdant swath of southern Indian coastline is a famously good place to be poor. People in the state of Kerala live nearly as long as Americans do, on a sliver of the income. They read at nearly the same rates.

With leftist governments here in the state capital spending heavily on health and schools, a generation of scholars has celebrated the “Kerala model” as a humane alternative to market-driven development, a vision of social equality in an unequal capitalist world.

…It also gained a reputation as a place hostile to business, with heavy regulation, militant unions and frequent strikes. There are fishing jobs but little industry and weak agriculture. Government is the largest employer; many people run tenuous businesses like tea shops or tiny stores.

However, if there’s one thing economists of all stripes agree on, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. They further note –

…far from escaping capitalism, they say, this celebrated corner of the developing world is painfully dependent on it.
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So many big balls

Washington D.C. is all a twitter this weekend, anxiously awaiting the multitude of inauguration balls to be thrown in honor of Obama’s swearing in ceremony (which is a mere afterthought). Everyone I talk to is just ready to get their party on. At least two Mutineers (Ennis and Anna) will be on hand. There is an unspoken competition underway as to who will throw the biggest and best ball. The Huffinton Post for example has been bragging non-stop about lining up Sting, Sheryl Crow, and other big names. It turns out that there is even a Sikh Ball you can hang at:

When a Barack Obama campaign volunteer offered to help Gulshan Gachoke attend the Sikh Inaugural Ball in Washington, her response was: What is an inaugural ball?

Although it has been more than 30 years since Gachoke and her husband left their village in India’s Punjab province for Northern California — and 18 years since she became a U.S. citizen — the 63-year-old speaks halting English, doesn’t know how to use the Internet and almost never ventures beyond her Fremont neighborhood’s Indian shops, lest someone mistake her for a Muslim and insult her.

But after a volunteer, Reena Johar, who shares Gachoke’s Sikh religion, explained that the ball will be the first-ever inaugural gala sponsored by Indian Americans, Gachoke eagerly signed on. [Link]

Hmmmm, I wonder if she will get mistaken for a Muslim and be insulted on her way to the ball. WaPo better follow up on this. It seems like Gachoke was able to work up the courage to go because she too believes that Obama counts as a desi:

But more than anything, she was drawn by the sense that she shared something fundamental in common with the young man whose skin color was so close to her own that Gachoke initially thought he might be Indian.

“He is one of us, you know,” she said. “He feels the pain.” [Link]

After attending the chaos that was the DNC I am going to watch the events of these next several days on television and not worry about finding a place to pee. For those of you in DC, the tickets to the ball may be a bit pricey, but how many times in your life do you get a chance to be treated like a Maharajah?

Product : Maharajah | Maharajah VIP Ticket | Price/Unit : 250.00 USD

$250 per person VIP Level (from 7 p.m. onward, includes no waiting, sit-down reception, complimentary tickets to open bar, passed hors d’oeuvres, butler service from 7-8 p.m., a sumptuous and a Very Presidential Buffet Dinner, entertainment, gift bag, and a commemorative gift to mark this historic occasion) [Link]
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The Force is Strong in the Young One

The chessworld is “all agog” about the youngest player to ever upset a Grand Master – 9 year old Hetul Shah

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” – Mark Twain

New Delhi (IANS): Nine-year old Hetul Shah created history in the first round of the seventh Parsvnath International Open Chess tournament, defeating Grand Master Nurlan Ibrayev of Kazakhstan on Sunday.

…Hetul was a class act Sunday afternoon as he not only recorded his biggest victory but also ensured a name in the record books. Hetul is the youngest ever to beat a Grandmaster, bettering the Indian record set up by Parimarjan Negi by more than a year.

The Hindustan Times gives us this player profile –

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Pam Anderson: “Take their balls, not their lives!”

Am I the only one who thinks of an infamously disturbing Borat quote whenever Pamela Anderson is mentioned: “She had golden hairs, teeth as white as pearls, and the…”. I am? Sigh. Okay, fine.

Via the Beeb:

Stray dogs in India’s financial capital, Mumbai (Bombay) should be sterilised not killed, says former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson.
Animal lover Ms Anderson intervened on the dogs’ behalf in a letter to the city authorities.
“Dogs cannot use condoms but… they can be ‘fixed’ painlessly,” she wrote.
The star learnt of the dogs’ plight after Mumbai’s High Court recently said strays should be killed as they were a “permanent nuisance” to the public. [BBC]

Hmmm. That same BBC article states that “Despite several sterilisation programmes, the population of strays has not been controlled”, so I’m not sure if the Baywatch Babe’s solution is an effective one.


The court gave the ruling in response to a public interest litigation filed by a Mumbai-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), In Defence of Animals, challenging the validity of certain provisions of a law that permits killing of dogs under certain conditions. It said animals had as much constitutional right to life as humans and had a “right to expect compassion from Indian citizens”.[ST]
The court interpreted “nuisance” in this instance as “anything that endangers life or is injurious to the health of the public at large”.
While it noted that mere barking could not be cause for killing a dog, “dogs that have the habit of chasing moving vehicles, especially two-wheelers, may be treated as a public nuisance as they could lead to accidents”. [ST]

If all else fails, they could consider one Delhi politician’s innovative solution to his city’s problem with strays. ;) But back to Bombay.

Animals rights activists say that as many as 70,000 strays in Mumbai and many more across the states of Maharashtra and Goa may be disposed of if the High Court’s ruling goes ahead.
The decision has been stayed until the end of this month.[BBC]

According to the Straits Times article I quoted, those 70,000 stray dogs are responsible for 25,000 dog bites, annually. So while some fed-up residents have taken to poisoning dogs, animal activists caution that cleaning up the city is a better solution, since the dogs tend to forage through the garbage for food.

I’ll close with a quote from “Medical professional Samir Guliyani”, whose name delights me to no end, and who went beyond the obligatory, understandable and predictable “Who does she think she is?”-sentiment:

“The way they suddenly pounce on bike riders is dangerous. Something has to be done and they have to be off roads.”
On the subject of Pamela herself, Mr Guliyani said: “She is hot but why is she writing to the municipal commissioner[BBC]

Duh, that’s what hot people do. Continue reading