Houston’s Gandhi District

For those of you who have been there, you know that the entire portion of Houston outside the 610 loop, and between the 6 and 9 hand of the clock, is Asian. Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani. Asian. Hillcroft street is where all the South Asian businesses are concentrated, much like Chicago has Devon St.

Businessman Aku Patel watched as two workers installed the orange-trimmed Mahatma Gandhi District signs atop a Harwin Drive street sign.

The owner of Karat 22 Jewelers on Hillcroft Avenue and other members of the South Asian community have waited seven years for these temple-shaped signs to go up in southwest Houston.

“It’s a great feeling,” Patel said proudly as he stood in the drizzling rain and watched Zane Frazar and Ron Mitchell install some of the 31 signs that will decorate street signs along Hillcroft Avenue, Harwin Drive, Fondren Road and Westpark Drive.

Leaders of the India Culture Center and Indian merchants have long wanted to rename Hillcroft Avenue Mahatma Gandhi Avenue, but municipal rules require 75 percent of commercial property owners on a street to sign a petition in support of changing the name before the City Council can consider it.

More than 76,000 people of Indian descent live in the Greater Houston area. [Link]

Two weeks ago I was in Mexico City. A waiter realized my companions and I weren’t Mexican and he said, “Indios como Gandhi, no?”

“Si, como Gandhi,” I thought, silently defeated. Don’t get me wrong. I admire Gandhi greatly. He’s my om boy. But how many Indians have lived on Earth since the dawn of man? And yet the most expedient way to describe us is that we are “como Gandhi.”

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Super Secret Supper Club

This will be my second SM post exposing an underground eating establishment. Part of the allure of an underground restaurant is that it remains somewhat hush hush, hidden from the hordes of hipsters waiting to overrun it and then subsequently Facebook about it. Last weekend I went to my favorite Vietnamese sandwich shop in Houston. Tofu, carrots, and greens inside a hot 8″ French bun for only $2.95. Magical. But on this visit, for the first time, it was packed and they were playing Jay Z and L. Fiasco over the sound system. The always empty parking lot was full so I had to park on the street and a bird shit on my car. So then, why would I ruin it for the select few D.C. residents who already know about this supper club I am about to expose? Because that’s my job. I see brown and I expose it, wherever it may be.

HUSH is a secret supper club in the U Street neighborhood of Washington, DC, offering Indian vegetarian meals you won’t find in any restaurant. At HUSH, the meals are sumptuous, fresh and organic. At each supper, the chef will give a spice tour and explain the origins of each meal.

Both the salon and dining room are designed to please the eye and relax the mind. Reserve a seat at the social table where strangers become friends, or request a table in the Salon for an intimate meal. [Link]

How it Works

Hush is run by a chef named Geeta who claims to be well versed in topics such as Jainism, anthropology, and food politics (a topic that combines my two favorite…topics). That’s all she is willing to reveal, although if you follow her tweets you may uncover more.

NEXT SUPPER CLUB DATES
Saturday, February 6 at 8 PM – FULLY BOOKED
Saturday, February 13 at 8 PM – FULLY BOOKED
SINGLE HEARTS – Sunday, February 14 at 7 PM [Link]

I like her Single Hearts concept:

‘Single Hearts’ – Sunday, February 14 at 7 PM open only for singles unburdened by love or lawful bliss (No married cheats on the prowl, please) Noah’s Ark Style – one man for every woman at the table.

Alright hordes. Go do your thing. Book her solid. And while your at it, ask her what she thinks about blogs.

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Zardari Tells Crowd to Shaddup

There’s an amusing YouTube video going ’round the Interwebz that I thought you mutineers might enjoy. It shows the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari addressing a crowd of supporters. In the middle of a speech about democracy he interrupts himself to shout “Shaddup” to the noisy crowd. As the blog CHUP put it, “maybe the President should consider being a little nicer to people, especially those who show up at his rallies.” Hmm, somebody’s momma didn’t teach him manners. My little cousins (who aren’t allowed to say the word) would be appalled. Or perhaps Zardari is just plain sick in the head? Either way, the clip makes for a good remix, don’t you think?

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How you doin’, Kamaljeet?

Jay Sean, the brown (whom we’ve known about for years) who crooned “Down”, was on The Wendy Williams show two days ago. Behold:

After he performed “Down” and “Do you remember , Williams exclaimed to her guest, “You are, STUNNING!” She followed up with “You’re exotic and spicy, what is your background??”. Mr. Jhooti let her know that his “heritage” was Indian and immediately clarified that he did not, in fact, live in a “wigwam”, i.e. that he wasn’t THAT kind of Indian.

Other scintillating bits from the show included Jay swatting down rumors about Ashley Tisdale, a mention of how the New York Post named him one of NYC’s most eligible bachelors and Sean’s confirmation that he’s already got a bird. So all you single ladies (all the single ladies)…and single men (all the single men), if you were in to him…you’re tatti out of luck. :) Continue reading

Working the prefrontal cortex since the Gupta Empire

There were two stories relating to human cognition today that really had me thinking about the way we…think (how appropriate). The first involves the game of chess. You know, the game of kings invented so long ago in India:

Chess is commonly believed to have originated in North-West India during the Gupta empire, where its early form in the 6th century was known as caturanga (Sanskrit: four divisions [of the military] – infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariotry, represented by the pieces that would evolve into the modern pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, respectively). The earliest evidence of Chess is found in the neighboring Sassanid Persia around 600 where the game is known under the name became chatrang. [Link]

Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion (the current is India’s Viswanathan Anand) has penned a brilliant (absolute must-read) essay/review of the new book, Chess Metaphors: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Mind. The title of his essay could have easily been, “How I Learned to Stop Battling and Love the Computer.” It chronicles his victories over the machines, followed by his losses, followed finally by a type of brutally efficient partnership. Let the human worry about strategy and the machine about tactics.

…I narrowly defeated the supercomputer Deep Blue in a match. Then, in 1997, IBM redoubled its efforts–and doubled Deep Blue’s processing power–and I lost the rematch in an event that made headlines around the world. The result was met with astonishment and grief by those who took it as a symbol of mankind’s submission before the almighty computer. (“The Brain’s Last Stand” read the Newsweek headline.) Others shrugged their shoulders, surprised that humans could still compete at all against the enormous calculating power that, by 1997, sat on just about every desk in the first world.

It was the specialists–the chess players and the programmers and the artificial intelligence enthusiasts–who had a more nuanced appreciation of the result. Grandmasters had already begun to see the implications of the existence of machines that could play–if only, at this point, in a select few types of board configurations–with godlike perfection. The computer chess people were delighted with the conquest of one of the earliest and holiest grails of computer science, in many cases matching the mainstream media’s hyperbole. The 2003 book Deep Blue by Monty Newborn was blurbed as follows: “a rare, pivotal watershed beyond all other triumphs: Orville Wright’s first flight, NASA’s landing on the moon….” [Link]

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Freedom to enjoy empowered women

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Freedom of speech. It’s not something I take for granted. I grew up in Zambia during an era when you could say anything you wanted about the country’s president, as long as you had already started the engine of your getaway plane. That’s what I love about countries like America and Canada — freedom of speech has no bounds, as long as you don’t scream “Fire!” in a crowded theater, threaten the president or profess your undying love for Osama bin Laden. Okay, so it does have bounds, but you get the point. I don’t remember the last time a journalist or author had to run away from an angry mob. It’s just not the way things are done, as I learned several years ago when I tried to assemble a mob to chase Ann Coulter.

India allows a great amount of free speech, compared to many other countries. But just ask fans of Savita Bhabhi how free they are to enjoy her sexcapades. The cartoon seductress has been banned in India, perhaps to the delight of many a wife, who remembers the good old days when her husband got his thrills out of Asterix. As S. Mitra Kalita writes in the WSJ, Savita joins The Da Vinci Code, The Polyester Prince, and Royal Magazine as “examples of India’s hindrance of free speech.”

You might never have heard of Royal Magazine, but it’s an example of the squelching of free speech in India that seems more common–preemptive and driven by fear. Editor in chief Ronak Vyas wrote to me and said, “I have been publishing an online magazine that features nudity and had my share of problems in India. To be honest I feel like you can get away with anything as long as you don’t offend a particular person or group on a personal level.”

This being India, offending someone is a given. This being India, also the world’s largest democracy, the government needs to weigh what’s more important and whether it draws the line too soon, too early.

Consider this comment from Gaurav Jain: It’s “not about the internet or Savita alone, its (sic) a general lack of freedom in being able to criticise or comment on our holy cows (leaders, gods, other religious figures) … some mob somewhere will have a reason to protest most likely in a violent manner.”

Like me, he wonders whether the controversy stems from Savita being an “empowered woman making her own choices, perhaps this is a threat to certain sections of society that prefer to see their wives as creatures who should stay indoors and rear the kids (which is ACTUAL subjugation).” [Wall Street Journal]

Savita was banned because she’s an “empowered woman”??? Watch out Indra Nooyi, you could be next.

Fortunately, I’ve already downloaded hundreds of Indra’s pics to my hard drive. Let me know if you want any. And please indicate your preference: business suit or sari.

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Tea with Chachaji

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Himanshu from the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC) passed on information about an event I thought mutineers around NYC and Stanford would find interesting. Tea with Chachaji is an off-Broadway family musical based on the the book “Chachaji’s Cup” by Uma Krishnaswami and directed and choreographed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj. It tells the story of a boy, his great-uncle and a teacup. Produced through a partnership between IAAC and Making Books Sing, the musical stars Raja Burrows as Neel, a young boy whose great-uncle, played by Tony Mirrcandani, teaches him valuable lessons about life through stories about a teacup brought over from India. Continue reading

Could Scott Brown be any Browner?

Did anyone catch the speech of Massachusetts’ new Senator-elect, Republican Scott Brown last night? I just saw the video of his speech and I think I was as shocked as anyone when he veered off-script to pimp out, I mean talk about his two daughters. But it did sound awfully familiar. Hmm, could Brown be ‘browner’ than we all thought? Who among us hasn’t heard a desi parent laud the virtues of their single child on the marriage market?

Brown, during his jubilant acceptance speech on Tuesday night, did the right thing and paused to acknowledge his family.

“As always, I rely on Gail’s love and support, and that of our two lovely daughters. So I want to thank Ayla and Arianna for their help as well,” Brown said, turning to his wife, TV reporter Gail Huff, and their daughters, Ayla, 21 – a one-time “American Idol” finalist – and Arianna, 19.

But then Brown went horribly wrong, at least in the Dad department – adding that his daughters were both “available.”

“Just in case anyone who’s watching throughout the country, yes they’re both available,” Brown shouted. [Link.]

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Peter Jackson and Patrick Christopher Sing ‘Indian Girl’

Warning: Video = NSFW unless your boss is the kind of person who is okay with explicit lyrics…

Ennis tipped me off to ‘Indian Girl,’ a song by 24-year old Canadian rapper Peter Jackson (no, not the LOTR guy) featuring Patrick Christopher. From what I recall of my childhood trips to Canada, desis had all but taken over certain parts of the communities I visited. When we strolled down the streets of Toronto, I felt like I was more in Pakistan than Canada. So it’s hardly a surprise that a song like this would emerge from Canada. Continue reading

Shah coordinates U.S. response to Haiti earthquake

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While many of us are contributing what we can to help the victims of the devastating earthquake in  Haiti, one Indian-American doctor is playing a major role in the relief effort — and I don’t mean Dr. Sanjay Gupta, though he’s doing his usual fine job of surgery-porting.

WASHINGTON — A few weeks ago, Rajiv Shah was an obscure if well-regarded young bureaucrat laboring in the bowels of the Agriculture Department.
 
On Wednesday, six days after he was sworn in as the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Shah, 36, stood before the country on live television as the coordinator of the U.S. response to the Haiti earthquake, one of the worst natural disasters in this hemisphere in recent history.

“He’s really gone from obscurity to the front lines,” said Robert Perito, a Haiti expert at the U.S. Institute for Peace.

A medical doctor who also holds a degree in economics, Shah is the highest-ranking Indian American in any presidential administration, according to the Press Trust of India. Plucked from his perch leading agricultural department research programs, Shah was still finding his way around USAID’s headquarters in the Ronald Reagan Building when the earthquake struck. His agency, which is in charge of development and foreign aid, plays a lead role in international relief efforts. [Link]

The photos from Haiti are just heart-wrenching, reminding me of the Gujarat earthquake of 2001.

While the U.S. is donating at least $100 million and sending 10,000 troops, India is giving $5 million, and Bangladesh is sending medical teams with medicine, clothes and tea. A number of policemen from South Asian countries are serving as peacekeepers in Haiti and helping with the relief efforts. 

If you haven’t already, here are a few of the ways you can donate to the relief efforts:

1. Text “HAITI” to the number 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross. It will be added to your next cellphone bill. You can also donate online through the Red Cross website. Some readers recommend donating to Doctors with Borders and Partners in Health.

2. You can donate your Delta Air Lines SkyMiles to transport CARE aid workers to Haiti or give money for relief funds through its website.

3. Haitian-American rapper Wyclef Jean’s foundation to rebuild Haiti, Yéle, is also accepting text-message donations. Text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5, which will be added to your next phone bill. (Before donating to Jean’s foundation, you may want to read this Smoking Gun report.)

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