Trivedi for Congress campaign’s first milestone (updated)

The last day of a month is often a crucial milestone for a fledgling campaign, given that its when the party insiders count up the dough. I would like to use my cousin’s campaign as an illustrative example of what you need to do to break in to a race and then remain in it past the first cut (see previous SM entry on Trivedi campaign here).

Since entering his PA primary race against fellow Democrat Doug Pike, Manan has been trying to raise cash in order to have a respectable fundraising figure by the end of September cut-off. He entered the race late due to the fact that he was barred by law from running until his military service was complete. Since then however, he has picked up a major endorsement from Bob Roggio, the democratic candidate who lost in 2008. On October 1st a lot of local politicians and donors are going to look at the Roggio endorsement, look at Manan’s fundraising totals, and look at what kind of local reaction he has been generating through his policy ideas. After analyzing these three factors a bunch of donors may come off the fence and support him…or throw their support behind Pike. On the policy front Trivedi released a statement earlier today:

Have you been watching all the craziness surrounding the health care reform debate in Washington? The Senate Finance Committee just failed to pass the public option. There are too many lies and not enough reality. This is exactly why I need to get down there, why we need a physician’s voice in Congress. I will fight for a healthcare system that is more efficient, brings costs down and covers all Americans. And, I will not back down from ensuring that everyone has a choice of private insurance or a Medicare-like public health insurance option.

An overwhelming majority of physicians like myself support a public option because we deal with real family members who become sick with real illnesses. These cases aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet or a topic for discussion around a boardroom table. [Link]

On the money front, the campaign has raised over $35,000 the last time I heard. They believe a notable amount of it came from SM originating traffic. I am curious to learn if any SM readers are involved in this race (on either side) and if any have donated (to either side). Manan tells me they are working around the clock on a final fundraising push to make it into the next round. A little more cash may propel them into contention. If you would like to donate or volunteer for the campaign, particularly if you are passionate about healthcare reform, then you can visit Trivedi’s website to learn more.

UPDATE: Remember how I warned in my last post that you should beware anonymous comments singing the praises of a candidate? Pike’s campaign manager just got busted [for anonymous manipulation of blogs](

If you are involved in a campaign for another South Asian American candidate somewhere in the country, please share your experience with me via email (abhi [at] I would love to blog about it.

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Meet a Model: Lakshmi Menon

So naturally the comments in the Oprah/Ash/Abhi thread devolved into an argument about skin color. Naturally. It’s like the Godwin’s Law of all things desi-related.

Lakshmi Menon - Biba August 2008 2.jpg

I don’t know about you, but I’m heartily sick of the topic. But listening to dark-skinned model talk about it? A dark-skinned desi model? A famous international dark-skinned desi model?

[OMG. Before you even think about arguing whether she’s dark or not, just. stop. She thinks she is, mmkay?]

From the MTV Iggy blog archives:

If you’re a non-white woman, how many skin whitening products have you come across? Quick, GO!! (You all thought of Fair & Lovely, didn’t you?) Want to know what a fabulous international supermodel thinks about this?

Meet Lakshmi Menon, runway star, fashion editorial darling, face of Hermès, and a native of Bangalore, India. When it comes skin color and beauty, she would know of what she speaks. And sweet heavens above, does she ever!! Post-colonial hangups, “wheatish” complexions, Lakshmi lays it out:

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Ash and Abhishek on Oprah: “The Most Famous Couple In THE WORRLD!”

Yeah. TMBWITW is now one-half of TMFCITW. Ash and Abhi flew in from Mumbai to chat with the talk show Queen today, and sadly, it was still a clusterf*ck of embarrassment: aishwarya_rai_bachan.jpg

It was as if she didn’t believe in the Bollywood titans’ fame. Or had to put it in terms that Westerners understood.
“They’re the world’s most famous movie-star couple. More famous than Brad & Angelina, anybody…”
Some pictures flashed onscreen of Justin Timberlake skirting paparazzi as he flung himself into an awaiting limo.
“Now imagine that kind of attention times 1000.” She showed footage of them with some Dutch girls in the stereotypical peaked Dutch caps. “They have FIVE! BILL-YON! fans. In Asia, Europe…” etc.
Then, of course, she had to explain that Julia Roberts had called Aishwarya the most beautiful woman in the world, as if only the opinion of a white celebrity could mean anything to her audience. And she couldn’t let them on without mentioning the issue that tickled her last time Aishwarya was on. “Here’s the best part,” Oprah said, gleeful. “They live at home with his parents.”

Aishwarya was wearing a sari and was gorgeous, etc. Abhishek was his handsome self in a velvet suit. Behind them, Oprah’s set background showed an image of shooting stars, upon which the phrase: “Famous Around the World” had been printed. It looked like the banner you sign at someone’s bat mitzvah. When she tried to make a big deal of how this was their first American national TV interview, Abhishek wasn’t buying it. “We sit together all the time.”

He explained how he had proposed to her on the same balcony where he had first longed to marry her. You could hear the “ahhhh…cute” sighs in the audience.

For some reason, the host thought it would be a good idea to keep talking not about the content of their work or Bollywood versus Western cinema types, but just about how amazingly famous they are.

More on the Oprah Bachchan segment on the MTV Iggy blog, and a full recap of the show (the Julia Roberts/Daniel Craig of every country!) in a second post. Continue reading

Dussehra: Some Celebrate Ravana

Nearly simultaneously, it’s the High Holy Days, Eid (last week), and now in the Hindu tradition, Dussehra, the celebration of the defeat of Ravana by Rama. (For my “Bong” friends, I believe it was also just Durga Puja over the weekend.) But not everyone celebrates religious holidays the same way. Case in point:

ravana icon dussehra.jpg

I was intrigued to see a headline from an Indian newspaper offering a surprising twist on Dussehra: “Dalits celebrate ‘Ravana Mela’ to oppose ‘Dussehra’.” There isn’t a whole lot there to explain how this has come about, or how widespread it is (the article only indicates that the group involved is the “Dalit Panther” organization in Kanpur, and that it’s been going on for about ten years). Another big question that remains unanswered from the news coverage I have seen is how the local community reacts to the pro-Ravana interpretation of Dussehra these folks are presenting. Is there active opposition, or is it tolerated? (Wikipedia lists a number of Ravana Temples in various places throughout India, including Kanpur, though it’s not clear whether caste is a factor in Ravana worship in general.)

Though I haven’t been able to find very much information about the “anti-Dussehra” practitioners, they do raise some interesting issues. One is their premise that the Ramayana is a caste narrative.

There is a hallowed tradition of differing interpretations of texts like the Ramayana in India. For instance, I know from reading Paula Richman’s work that there has been a long tradition, going back to the 1950s, of Tamil/Dravidian activists interpreting Rama’s quest as an anti-Dravidian crusade. In an article from the groundbreaking anthology, Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition, Richman wrote about a Tamil activist named E.V. Ramasami, who published a Ravana-centric Anti-Ramayana in 1956, and actually went to jail for it. (See more about E.V. Ramasami’s later years at Wikipedia). However, the main focus in E.V. Ramasami’s approach, if I remember correctly, was regionalism: he saw Ravana as a defender of the “South” against Rama’s “Northern” incursions (caste was, admittedly, also a major factor for him). The Dalit Panthers are doing something a bit different.

But I wonder whether the caste interpretation is just in the mind of Dalit activists, or whether it goes the other way as well. Is there also a tradition amongst high-caste Hindus of interpreting the conflict between Rama and Ravana along caste lines? If so, that might help explain where the Dalit activists are coming from. Then again, if Rama vs. Ravana is really just a broader “good vs. evil” struggle, the injection of caste might be seen as idiosyncratic and unproductive. Continue reading

Bean Town Meetup = Epic


“Epic” is such an overused word. Thinking back on last night’s mutineer meetup in Boston, however, it’s the only word that comes to mind. Because what else do you get when 30 plus Bostonian mutineers take over the better part of Harvard Square’s Finale dessert restaurant? Perhaps I’m still buzzing from the combination of chocolate martinis and scintillating conversations, but I have to say my first meetup ever already has me awaiting the next one.

I was blown away by the diverse backgrounds that were represented by our Boston peeps. During the course of the evening, I met a mutineer originally from a Southern state, who told our table about his experiences growing up South Asian in the same town in which Emmett Till was killed, and how united the Asians in his small town – whether they were Pakistani or Chinese – were. (“I grew up being physically and verbally abused every day – and that was just by my parents.”) I was thrilled to be able to talk punk rock with Michael Muhammad Knight, author of The Taqwacores and Basim Usmani, lead singer of The Kominas. (Not that I know anything about punk rock, but no matter.)


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Teacher Absenteeism in the Desh

A few months back, I pointed mutineers at a new book – The Beautiful Tree – which documented the surprising success of very low cost, unchartered, private schools in India. Although some charged as little as $1-$2 per child, per month and they solidly outperformed their government counterparts –

It ain’t pretty but it works…

The results from Delhi were typical. In mathematics, mean scores of children in government schools were 24.5 percent, whereas they were 42.1 percent in private unrecognized schools and 43.9 percent in private recognized. That is, children in unrecognized private schools scored nearly 18 percentage points more in math than children in government schools (a 72 percent advantage!), while children in recognized private schools scored over 19 percentage points more than children in government schools (a 79 percent advantage).

In a blog post over at the ever-excellent Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok provides some detail on one of the reasons for the utterly poor government school performance, teacher absenteeism –

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“Couples Retreat”: Soundtrack by A.R. Rahman

A.R. Rahman scored big in Hollywood last year with the soundtrack to Slumdog Millionaire, though of course those of us who have been listening to him since the 1990s know that in fact Slumdog was far from his best work (my favorite, Dil Se… was actually my first; those songs completely changed how I thought about Hindi film music). In the wake of all the Oscar love, I was fully expecting Rahman to get some calls from prominent American directors for upcoming films.

Well, Rahman is going to make his debut with a Hollywood soundtrack this fall. But he’s not working with Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg, or Clint Eastwood. Instead, his debut soundtrack is for a Vince Vaughn comedy called Couples Retreat.


The soundtrack hasn’t been released yet, but you can listen to the tracks on the Soundtrack website: here.

As a partial relief, the soundtrack sounds great. I think “Sajna” sounds especially nice, but even some of the instrumental tracks are cool (try “Undress”). Tamil-speakers might also like “Kuru Kuru Kan,” [update: track removed]. (Anyone want to do some translation help?)

I’m still trying to digest the decision to debut with what looks like a second-rate sex comedy. From what I have heard from the soundtrack so far, it sounds like Rahman has made some great music for this film. But will anyone be paying attention? Continue reading

2 Thumbs Up

I was in India earlier this month and while celebrity endorsements are all over the place, these posters for MacroMan Underwear with Hrithik Roshan were particularly, uh, eye catching –

Having lived in the SF Bay Area for over 10 yrs, I probably read too much into the posters & tagline (“Excitingly Male”). However, more interesting & prominently featured in the ad was Mr. Roshan’s polydactyly – long the subject of giggles and hushed tones but proudly displayed for a billion desi’s to proudly gawk at –

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3 New Geniuses

This year’s MacArthur “Genius Grants” have been announced and, as usual, the award committee has tried to recognize a wide variety of human endeavor and scholarship

A papermaker dedicated to preserving traditional Western and Japanese techniques; a scientist developing theories of global climate change; and a journalist who helps uncover details of unsolved murders from the civil rights era are among the 24 recipients of the $500,000 “genius awards,” to be announced on Tuesday by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation….

Mutineers might be particularly interested in 3 of the award recipients who have a desi flavor –

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“Cattle Class”: Shashi Tharoor’s Tempest in a Tweetpot

I have been following Shashi Tharoor’s Tweets since the run-up to the Indian election, and have found him reliably interesting. The fact that he has been using Twitter is to some a gimmick, but it has been a bit of fresh air to people who want politicians to be accessible to ordinary people. (Melvin wrote a parody of the Twittering Minister back in June.)

But recently Shashi Tharoor’s Tweets have landed him in hot water. On September 14, he posted the following 12 words on Twitter:

@KanchanGupta absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!

Kanchan Gupta is an editor at The Pioneer; Tharoor was answering a Tweeted question. The question came in response to a recent directive that government leaders should take austerity measures — don’t stay in 5 star hotels, take the train instead of fly, etc. (Tharoor himself has been living in a luxury hotel in Kerala; as I understand it, he pays his rent out of his own pocket, not Indian government funds.)

Within a day, the throwaway line was all over the Indian news and print media, with opposition leaders demanding an apology and Congress party leadership trying to figure out how to explain Tharoor’s apparent contemptuous elitism. PM Manmohan Singh himself had to intervene, stating that he felt the phrase “cattle class” was just a joke.

A boilerplate example of the outrage over the line, and Tharoor’s Twittering in general, can be found here.

Tharoor subsequently posted the following:

learned belatedly of fuss over my tweet replying to journo’s query whether i wld travel to Kerala in “cattle class”. His phrase which i rptd

it’s a silly expression but means no disrespect to economy travellers, only to airlines for herding us in like cattle. Many have misunderstd

i’m told it sounds worse in Malayalam, esp out of context. To those hurt by the belief that my repeating the phrase showed contempt: sorry

i now realize i shldnt assume people will appreciate humour. &u shouldn’t give those who wld wilfully distort yr words an opportnty to do so

What do people think? Tempest in a teapot, or some legitimate issues here? Should Tharoor either stick to Tweeting “straight,” or ought there be some room for humor for Indian politicians? Continue reading

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