Imaad Wasif’s “The Voidist”

In 2006, Siddhartha profiled Imaad Wasif, after the release of his debut album on Kill Rock Stars Records. I had sort of forgotten about the post — and not really remembered Wasif’s music — until I was in a Barnes & Noble the other day. imaadwasif.jpgThere I found, as an actual CD, Wasif’s third CD, The Voidist. (As a side-note, whenever this happens I’m reminded of how much I miss actual record stores. Music browsing on the internet just isn’t the same!) In between 2006 and now, Wasif had released a second album, Strange Hexes, and also worked with Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) on the soundtrack to Where the Wild Things Are.

Here is a music video from the new album, “Fangs”:

I’ve been listening to Wasif’s music all week this week, and this time I’m feeling it. (What do you think?) By comparison to the first CD, The Voidist feels more like 1970s rock ‘n’ roll, with some songs with big power chords. It’s also less confessional in tone (and less dark), and much more of a collaborative (band) effort than a solo performance. All that said, Wasif’s new CD also reflects less of an impact of classical Hindustani ragas, though I do hear some trace of them in “Redeemer” (see the somewhat mysterious official music video on YouTube. Note: Video is slightly NSFW, with artfully out of focus female nudes).

You can download an early MP3 for Wasif’s “Out in the Black”, which has a clear raga/Hindustani influence, here. It’s actually one of my favorite tracks by Wasif. Another recommended track is “Oceanic“. All of his albums can be downloaded from ITunes, including the collaborative work he’s done on films.

Imaad Wasif is touring the U.S. right now; you can see the dates on his website. He’ll be in New York, Washington, and Philadelphia (@North Star Bar) towards the end of April. Continue reading

Some friendly Census competition

Amardeep has already broached the topic of the U.S. Census in his recent post about question number 9. I’d like to follow up by making an important appeal to all of our readers: PLEASE encourage every South Asian American you know to get this form filled out and turned in as soon as possible. I am serious. When you are at the bar/restaurant/movie this weekend, ask your friends if they have filled it out already. If your mom and dad call and ask how your day was, ask them if they filled it out. Nag. Incessantly. They will all thank you for it later. From the U.S. Constitution:

Clause 3: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. [Link]

The New York Times recently featured an article about the efforts of the Indian American community in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of New York City:

Kulwinder Singh, a 52-year-old Punjabi Sikh who works as a tow-truck operator, approached a young community organizer who was taping a promotional poster for the 2010 census to a wall inside his temple in Richmond Hill, Queens. Mr. Singh looked perplexed.

“Population count,” the organizer, Herminder Singh, 19, explained in Punjabi, before launching into a detailed explanation of the survey.

The older man listened intently, finally declaring, with a resolve that would warm the heart of any census official: “My family has 10 to 15 members. When the form comes, I’ll fill it out.” [Link]

How about the rest of you?

I wanted to survey the progress thus far in census form return rate from the top 10 U.S. voting districts by South Asian American population. But shockingly, nobody can say with certainty what they are. Maybe they will do that analysis for the 2010 cycle because it seems like something important to know. I have decided to pick 5 U.S. voting districts where I know there are a ton of brown folk. Let’s see what’s up using their really cool interactive map:

Edison, NJ:

Fremont, CA

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KKHH goes to the dogs

I saw Kuch Kuch Hota Hai with my family at the historic Raj Mandir theater in Jaipur, India back in the winter of 1998. I generally dislike what Bollywood has to offer but it was really hard to dislike that film. Good music, feel-good plot, fresh samosas at intermission. But Bollywood just can’t help but copy a movie already made. It even copies itself. Karan Johar decided he wanted to remake KKHH almost exactly like the original…but with animated dogs in the lead roles.

This one is called Koochie Koochie Hota Hai. So what do you think 30-something desi parents? Is this destined to become part of the collection of movies you use to distract your kids with? If I ever see this playing in the back seat of an SUV on the road I fully reserve the right to roll my eyes derisively.

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Watch What Happened, at the State Dinner

Salahis and O.jpgI admit it. I watch two of the Real Housewives series [to be clear, I mean NY and NJ— no ATL for me, that’s alll mutineer Vinod ;)]. When it comes to mindless entertainment with which to while away time on a cardio machine, this reliable train-wreck is mesmerizing to behold.

Earlier this month, when Bravo introduced their newest programming, it looked as if my adopted hometown would not be the next player in the RH cesspool. After all, Bravo proudly announced that Beverly Hills would be the next frontier for fame-whoring, with nary a peep about boring, old DC. And yet…

Today, the Daily Beast has confirmed from two sources that the so-called White House gatecrashers, whose prank ultimately cost presidential Social Secretary Desiree Rogers her job, are poised to take center stage once again as the most visible members of the upcoming Bravo series “The Real Housewives of D.C.” After one of the most visible reality series auditions in history–yes, Bravo cameras were on hand as the Salahis arrived for that ill-fated White House event–the couple has now been fully embraced as the focal point of the series, expected to premiere in July.

A source close to the series tells the Daily Beast that Bravo executives were more than relieved to learn the Salahis wouldn’t be prosecuted. In-house viewing of the audition footage and sample programs made it obvious that it would have been next to impossible to edit out the commanding presence of the statuesque platinum blonde, Michaele. [db]

Oh, good! They won’t be punished for their dangerous antics. Whew, that’s such a relief. I mean, let’s focus on what matters– good television!

According to Gawker, footage of Tareq and Michaele crashing the State Dinner which was held in honor of Indian PM Manmohan Singh will be shown during the DC season finale. Bravo’s slogan is “Watch What Happens”, and I probably I will. Am I rewarding bad behavior? Yes, but if I had the self-restraint required not to gawk…I wouldn’t read Gawker. Or enjoy Bravo. Continue reading

A more intimate look at the President’s spirituality

Yesterday I asked for help from SM readers (also known affectionately as the “Great Brown Horde”) to ascertain the identity of the man on Obama’s “lucky charm.” Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader we now have a definitive answer. It is Paramahamsa Prajnanananda, the current spiritual leader of Kriya Yoga International.

Paramahamsa Prajnananandaji is the president of Kriya organizations started by Baba Hariharanandaji Maharaj and the current head of a great lineage of Kriya Yoga Guru Parampara.

Paramahamsa Prajnanananda is based in Puri, India, and travels up to 300 days per year, holding seminars and retreats all over the world. He runs the main Kriya Yoga ashrams in Balighai, Cuttack, Vienna, Holland , Miami, and the centers world-wide. He is also the founder of Prajnana Mission, which provides free medical assistance units and centers, residential schools for unserved areas, and many other charitable and educational activities.

Paramahamsa Prajnanananda is known as a powerful and loving teacher, author and speaker on world religion. On August 10, 1998, the highest title, Paramahamsa, a designation reserved for monks and saints who have attained the summit of realization was conferred upon him by his Master Paramahamsa Hariharananda. [Link]

Here is a brief background on the history of Kriya Yoga (from Wikipedia):

Kriya Yoga is described by its practitioners as the ancient Yoga system revived in modern times by Mahavatar Babaji through his disciple Lahiri Mahasaya, c 1861, and brought into popular awareness through Paramhansa Yogananda’s book Autobiography of a Yogi. The system consists of a number of levels of Pranayama based on techniques that are intended to rapidly accelerate spiritual development and engender a profound state of tranquility and God-communion. [Link]

My post yesterday was meant to be light an humorous. Today’s is not. In posting this picture I am exposing an intimate detail that was probably (almost assuredly) never meant to be revealed. I feel like I am violating the President’s privacy. There is nothing more private than one’s spirituality. I have little doubt that some extremists that believe he is a Muslim, a socialist, a Nazi, etc. may just latch on to this as more evidence of his “otherness.” So what? In my view you cannot combat ignorance by hiding truth. I have made the conscious decision to shed light upon and pursue this and so now feel compelled to explain why…

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PSA: Yo Desi Ladies, Did You Date This Guy?


A number of you folks have emailed me with information regarding a possible con artist who has been allegedly accused of trolling desi matrimonial sites and hitting up desi networking events for women, then stealing their identities. According to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Police say the man they know as Jay. D. Singh but who holds several passports romanced his way into the bank accounts of at least three Philadelphia area women, ages 26 to 28, taking them for about $40,000.”

Authorities believe Singh may have also contacted Hindu and Sikh women in other states. One of his alleged victims sent me the following: “He targeted Indian women between the ages of 25-34 living in NYC, Philly, DC and there is high likelihood that he has victims in Boston, Chicago, Detroit. Hawaii and London as he often traveled to those places.”

View more news videos at:

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More proof from Obama’s pocket

In the past I have been accused by unruly commenters on this blog of being obsessed with President Barack Obama. No. That is false. Admiration is not obsession. I am however, endlessly fascinated (perhaps obsessed) by what is in the man’s pockets. In June of 2008 I cited this photograph in Time Magazine. I openly (but with tongue-firmly-in-cheek) wondered, “is Obama a secret Hindu?” In his pocket he carried a Hanuman good luck charm.

This morning I was on the WhiteHouse Flickr feed. I went there because I wanted to savor some of the images of a hard won health care reform victory. This was a “big f*cking deal.” There was a picture of Obama demonstrating an okey-doke. Another one that captured the exact moment history was made. But for me, none of them compared to this one, which had the following caption:

President Barack Obama holds a lucky charm given to him during the campaign, while on the phone with a Member of Congress in the Oval Office, March 21, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) [Link]

So what is that lucky charm you ask? I blew it way up to find out for myself:

First, I don’t belive that is an icon of Jesus Christ. The face is atypically wide and the beard too wild. I also very much doubt it is a Geico caveman (as one of my friends offered). That, to me, looks like a yogi or Hindu spiritual leader of some sort. I can kind of make out saffron robes, a garland around the neck, and perhaps, just perhaps, a bindi closer to the right brow. Am I just smokin’ something or do you guys see it too? Continue reading

In the Army Now

These two guys are officers in the U.S. Army:

kamaldeep kalsi tejdeep rattan.jpg

In USA Today: Dentist Tejdeep Singh Rattan (right) is the first turbaned Sikh to graduate from U.S. officer basic training since 1984. (He is pictured with Kamaldeep Kalsi, who is doing basic training this summer.)

We heard about them last year, when they were first granted the exemption. (The Langar Hall had a post on the subject here.)

As I understand it, this is not a permanent policy change — in the future, observant Sikhs joining the U.S. military will again need to apply for a special exemption to uniform requirements to be allowed to serve while wearing a turban and unshorn beard. The fact that both Kalsi and Rattan have medical training makes me think that things might be different for someone applying for the same waiver at the ground level. That said, this still seems like a significant shift on a symbolic level, and I would fully expect there to be at least some controversy about it.

Predictably, some of the reactions I’m seeing online to this change are not exactly positive. The following comment on the story at USA Today is pretty typical:

This is an utter disgrace to the United States and the United States Army. How on God’s green earth did they allow this? It never ceases to amaze me the stupidity in our governments leadership. A civilian made this call on allowing this “individual” (that’s what he is not a trooper), to graduate.

But another commenter responded to that statement much more supportively:

He’s a Captain in the US Army. I find your disrespect for our military disgusting, ignorant and anti-American.

What kinds of reactions have people been hearing to this news?

(Incidentally, the Amardeep Singh quoted in the USA Today article is not me.) Continue reading

Deconstructing Question 9 on the 2010 Census

Here is question 9 in the 2010 U.S. Census:

census 2010 question 9.jpg

The ‘boxed’ options for race include several different kinds of Asian. “Chinese,” “Vietnamese,” “Korean,” and “Japanese” are fairly predictable Asian nationalities, rightfully listed. The census uses “Asian Indian,” presumably to differentiate from “Native American” or “American Indian,” but interestingly, hints that “Pakistani,” (and by extension, “Bangladeshi” and “Sri Lankan”) would go under “Other Asian.”

Obviously, for Sepia Mutiny, which has always defined itself as an inclusive blog for the “South Asian” diaspora, this divison of the South Asian community is a little frustrating. How am I, whose family all originate from what is now Pakistan, of a different racial background from a Mohajir Pakistani, whose family all originated in what is now India? What does it mean to ask a question concerning “race,” and then lists three definite categories that might be understood as “racial,” only to then list nine further options, most of which are clearly nationalities, not “races”?

This is a discussion post. I am curious whether readers have read any backstory on how the census might have arrived at this rather idiosyncratic way of dividing up the communities from the Indian subcontinent? (The Census has a “Race and Ethnicity Advisory Committee” with an “Asian” sub-group. However, I haven’t been able to find much evidence of discussion over categories at Census.Gov. Most of the committee’s focus, perhaps rightly, seems to have been on making sure everyone has the opportunity to fill out a census form.)

Another discussion-related question: anyone want to speculate on how or whether this division on the census form might matter for the South Asian community down the road?

Finally, for readers from Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or Sri Lankan backgrounds, who have received the census form — are any of you thinking of checking “Asian Indian”? Since the census allows us to fill out more than 1 box under race, is anyone thinking of filling out both “Asian Indian,” and “Other Asian”?

UPDATE: A nice op-ed by Susan Straight on the evolution of Census race categories is here. She doesn’t focus on the “Asian Indian” question in particular, but it’s a good read. Continue reading

Raj Thackeray vs. the Russian Bollywood Dancers Mafia

One of the greatest unintentional jokes of all time in Bollywood is for me the music video to “Desi Girl.” Behind Priyanka Chopra, who more than amply fits the bill, the video features some fifty blond, caucasian backup dancers. They stay in the background some of the time, but by their sheer numbers they suggest that the object choice celebrated in the song — the eponymous “desi girl” — might actually be an endangered commodity onscreen.

where are the desi girls.jpg

Now Marathi nationalist Raj Thackeray, nephew of the infamous Bal, has started a campaign to try and kick the foreign “junior artists,” as backup dancers are called, out of Bollywood. Normally, one feels a kneejerk hostility to opportunistic populists named after famous Victorian novelists, but in this case I can’t help but hope that the results of this campaign might actually be some constructive reevaluation of the Bollywood obsession with gori backup dancers.

Most of the politicians and Bollywood types named in the Telegraph article say pretty predictable things. Rakhi Sawant is in classic classless form (“These white girls are like lollipops that only last for two days.”) The one foray into partial intelligibility might be Jag “Night Eyes” Mundhra, who for some reason is identified as a “leading Indian film director.”

Leading Indian film director Jag Mundra last night criticised the campaign and said it could push up costs and force film-makers to shoot more scenes overseas. To save money, directors usually hire attractive backpackers passing through Mumbai and shoot dance scenes in local clubs or film sets.
“The reason producers pick white girls is because a lot of them have better figures and are willing to expose them,” he said.
“If you need a bikini shot, not many Indian girls are willing to turn up in a string bikini. But most white girls will not have an issue with that. Titillation has been an important part of Bollywood.” (link)

On bikini shots and the demand of the mass audiences for titillation, yes, maybe (the man knows his titillation). But on “better figures,” is he really saying that with a straight face in this day and age?

To be clear, I’m not agreeing with Raj Thackeray; hell, I’m one of those old school Pinkos who continues to insist that the name of the city, when we’re speaking English, should be “Bombay.” I’m not offended by non-desi backup dancers, just embarrassed for the filmmakers who feel they need to go this route when there’s no narrative justification within the films they’re making. I’m also surprised we haven’t seen much controversy on this issue before — it’s so obvious. Continue reading