My coffee name is…


For those of us who absolutely hate hearing mangled versions of our names, the simple act of ordering coffee at a certain ubiquitous chain can be unnecessarily stressful.

It turns out that we are not alone. The Village Voice’s Shefali Kulkarni recently had this revelation:

…I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had tired of being asked how to spell a name that people find difficult to handle, at least in the super-busy moment of a Starbucks line.

So, like other people, I came up with a “coffee name.” Something simple that a coffee jockey can scribble on a cup without thinking. And, after taking a survey of the local scene, it’s clear that many others have come up with a similar solution.

At the Starbucks on Eighth Avenue, a grande iced caramel macchiato for “Sean” was really meant for “Chan,” short for Chandani.

“I never, ever give out my name,” Chan says. “And they still don’t get it right, but, hey, it’s what everyone calls me.”

Is anyone surprised that both the author of the article and the first person quoted both have desi names? And do any readers use a nom de cafe while in coffee shops or restaurants? I never do, primarily because I am afraid that I will forget my alias and never get my $4 drink. Continue reading

Beautiful, Binky’d Baby

Via my guiltiest pleasure, “ohnotheydidnt“– behold, Ikhyd Edgar Arular Bronfman (click to enlarge):

Maya and Ikhyd.jpg

I can’t believe Ikhyd is so big! He is almost 18-months old. The last time we showed you a picture of him, it was almost exactly a year ago; Abhi, alarmed by Ikhyd’s onesie, was ardently pleading with PETA to take on the cause of albino ladybugs. No word on whether PETA has made any progress with that, but there are plenty of words about Mathangi’s new album (mixed reviews) and cute offspring (certified hit). Continue reading

Desi Say What?!

From the folks at Cherry Sky Films, here is a video for you. There’s a cameo at the end by a Desi (Neil Sehgal) (h/t to Salil).

Cringe-worthy, no doubt, this short video reflects an inter-racial sub group struggle in self-identity versus external community identity monikers. In other words, the use of the word “nigger”. I thought the video was smart in that their use of the word “ninja” as replacement word and Asians as the replacement community really shifted the perception of the use of the “N word.” Plus, the video was hella funny.

What I loved most is when a brown kid saunters up on the basketball court to a group of Asian dudes and says, “What’s up my Ninjas!” The guys look like they are confused as to whether to accept him or not. But after a quick look to each other, they give him the bro-man hug and you hear “It counts.” As a South Asian, he may not be accepted immediately, but he can be accepted into the “in” group since South Asia is kind of Asian, if you stopped to think about it. Marginalized, a little bit, he can be accepted in the end. It was a simple interaction, but reflective so much of society’s deeper of inter-racial issues I’ve seen in the Desi meets East Asian communities.

As an activist in the Asian American and Pacific Islander movement, this attitude is something I see often, though a lot less brash and satirical as seen in the video. The South Asian community is often accepted into these AAPI space as an after thought, or even worse, as a token. Continue reading

Weird Kitchen Science

IMG_2187.JPGSome old friends of mine were recently in town and came over to make dinner. N, whose family is from Andhra, does lots of cooking stuff differently from me, and it was fascinating to hear her talk about it. We (okay, she; the other two of us mostly chopped and helpfully tasted) made three dishes. One: a South Indian-style daal with veggies in it. (I’ve long plopped frozen spinach in my paruppu, but tomatoes for some reason never occurred to me.) Two: chana with mushrooms from a recipe that we found on the Interwebs… And three: the piece de meat resistance, lamb curry.

We ate and drank and made merry and curry. It was fun, and I learned a lot from watching N. She has a deft hand with spices, and the curry aged well, too. So well, in fact, that I was moved to try some experiments. Continue reading

Indivisibly Yours: Part I

finalcover1-692x1023.jpgThere’s a new collection of poetry out, and it’s the first of its kind. Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry has poems by 49 American writers who trace their roots to Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. In its preface, the editors write that they chose the title–that word you might recall reciting daily as part of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance–”in order to reflect some of the tensions that exist” between unity and pluralism. The anthology’s editors, Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa and Pireeni Sundaralingam, also agreed to take a few questions; I’ll post their responses in Part II.

Before attending one of the Indivisible readings in San Francisco, I wasn’t sure what to expect because the annual Artwallah festival is the only venue where I’ve heard readings by desi poets. As it turns out, some of the poets included in the anthology are familiar from that arts festival, from fiction, and past SM posts on poets. The contributors come from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds and include award-winning writers with well-established careers in literature or poetry as well as contributors who work in other fields like medicine, education and journalism. I tried to find interesting links for each writer to share below, including personal sites, samples of their poetry, videos of readings, or other general information. Continue reading

Boney M, Kutty-fied.

I’m not one to really open the FW-ed e-mails, but I got this in my inbox this week and couldn’t wait for the next #MusicMonday to share. I realize as far as memes go, this may be a little outdated, but funny desi-fied music video covers are timeless (h/t Zaida).

Lola Kutty, the bespectacled woman in the front, is a VJ on Channel [V] and the alter ego to Anuradha Menon. Ultrabrown linked to some kitschy posters of Lola Kutty back in ’07. I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of Lola sooner. Then again, maybe there’s a little part of Lola Kutty that exists within all of us and I’ve always known her.

Lola Kutty is a bespectacled Keralite lady who speaks English with a heavy Malayali accent. Unlike other VJs, she has curly oily hair sporting a gajra and wears silk saris. Unlike Jassi of Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin, Lola has no plans for a makeover[3]. She is a huge fan of Abhishek Bachchan[9]. Her assistant is Shiny Alex, who wears fluorescent shirts, matching slippers, and mundu folded up. [wiki]

And of course, Boney M needs no introduction. Right? Riiiight? Continue reading

The hills of Switzerland are alive…with Desi tourists.

The New York Times published an article on Indian tourism to Switzerland, today. The most jarring thing about it was seeing DDLJ’s title translated in English; I’ll spare you that. ;) Sangam.jpg

For years, Bollywood’s producers and directors have favored the pristine backdrop of Switzerland for their films. The greatest of the Bollywood filmmakers, Yash Chopra, is a self-professed romantic who has made a point of including in virtually all his films scenes shot on location in this country’s high Alpine meadows, around its serene lakes, and in its charming towns and cities to convey an ideal of sunshine, happiness and tranquillity.

In the process, they have created an enormous curiosity about things Swiss in generations of middle-class Indians, who are now earning enough to travel here in search of their dreams.

“The moment you cross the border it is something else,” Mr. Purohit said, “where the scenario changes.”

“No noise, no pollution, no crowds,” said Kamalakar Tarkasband, 72, a retired army officer. [nyt]

No, just pretty scenery as a picturesque backdrop for photo ops wherein they imitate their favorite celluloid moments.

Raj Kapoor may have been the first Indian director to use foreign sites for shooting on location — in Venice, Paris and Switzerland — when he filmed his 1964 hit, “Sangam.” But the entire bus knew the story of how Mr. Chopra spent his honeymoon in the Swiss resort of Gstaad. [nyt]

SANGAM! That’s one of the dozen or so fillums I’ve actually seen; it was one of my father’s favorites. I loved it.

Here’s something interesting and overwhelmingly sweet, much like a gulab jamun, the round, syrup-laden dessert which often graces Indian buffets (see? I can write like a gora):

“He promised his wife on his honeymoon that every movie he made would have to have one romantic song or scene in Switzerland,” said Rajendra Choudhary, 24, who also studied management in Pune and joined the Enchanted Journey. Mr. Chopra, now 77, kept his promise. Most of the Swiss sequences are dream scenes in which lovers dance or romp on Alpine meadows strewn with flowers or roll in the snow in unlikely flimsy Indian garb on wintry slopes. [nyt]

Obligatory negativity:

But not everyone shares the dream. In June, the Zurich newspaper Tages-Anzeiger featured an article with the headline “Into the Luxury Hotel with a Gas Cooker,” noting that “in some hotels an entire caste of guests is no longer desired: the Indians.”

The article catalogued the complaints of hotel managers: guests who cook curry dishes on camping stoves in their rooms; guests who use bath oils that blacken tubs; guests who book for a husband and wife, only to show up with the entire family. [nyt]

The first complaint makes me wonder if a lack of vegetarian options is the issue. I just asked my most well-traveled friend what he ate in Switzerland and he said his most memorable meal was a repast purchased from a farmhouse; he waxed blissfully about cured meats, cheese and a good baguette. My mom can eat one out of those three. She hates cheese. She wouldn’t be knocking out some Ulli Theeyal in her room, but she’d probably be hungry. I’ve never been, so I don’t know. Maybe Switzerland is littered with veggie noms. Continue reading

America is increasingly going Deep

As we all move forward in this brave new era of increasingly visible South Asian influence in America (an era henceforth referred to as Post-Sepia, or Post-Sepiaism), I would like to point out the kudzu-like ubiquity of Deep Brand foods. In the last 2-3 years in particular this stuff has just exploded. In the early 80s South Asian Americans were relegated to going to the lone Indian store in town when they wanted to get their samosa or “Hot Mix” on. Now this stuff is everywhere. I dare any of you to find a reasonably sized grocery store that doesn’t have multiple lines of Deep branded food. Hot Pockets, shhmott pockets. Why not Babu pockets? Yes, I know I am going to hell for pointing people to processed packaged food that I myself will hardly ever touch. Still, there is something comforting knowing that in the future “Abhi junior’ will have the option of having a Babu pocket as an after school, pre-dinner snack. Deep Brand in particular (among all other brands of packaged Indian food) bares mention as it seems to be aggressively cornering its market in the U.S. It is also a rather interesting success story:

Deep Foods, Inc. is a family-owned and operated manufacturer of authentic all natural Indian cuisine since 1977

In the early ’70s Mrs. Bhagwati Amin’s passion for good authentic cuisine gave birth to a hobby. Mrs. Amin had a passion for sharing the cuisine and culture from her homeland. She served up delicious food to friends and neighbors. Soon, small Indian storeowners sought her abilities. As she worked in a clothing mill on weekdays, she would work nights and weekends to satisfy her desire to make and serve high quality foods for the community. Many advised her to open a restaurant. She knew that the time required to run a restaurant would detract her from the family’s need. For this reason, she opted not to start a restaurant.

In a short time her products became popular. Mrs. Amin’s husband, working as an accountant in AT&T at the time, was always eagerly supporting her endeavors. In 1977, he helped Mrs. Amin Incorporate her hobby into a fledgling business.

As the business grew, she never lost sight of producing authentic, quality products. No short cuts were taken that would compromise the quality of the products. Her concern and personal interest for the well being of all her employees earned a great deal of respect from them…

From the humble beginnings of a home kitchen, to the state-of-the-art production facilities and multiple distribution centers, Mrs. Amin has adhered to the original principles of quality and authenticity following a traditional family code of ethics. Today, Deep Foods Group has approximately 1800 employees through its seven locations and over 500,000 square feet of production and distribution space. The company follows her philosophy and believes that there can be no compromise between people, quality, and innovation. Staying within the roots of why Mrs. Amin formed the company, she and her husband Arvind have formed a Non Profit Foundation in India. Out of the success of Deep Foods has grown a foundation that helps the children of India to obtain an education where it would not be possible without their help. Deep Foods, Inc. produces the finest quality foods seeking to provide authentic taste experiences for customers while providing a sound environment and growth opportunities for its employees. [Link]

Maybe the big boys are starting to notice. I learned this past week (perhaps way after most of you) that Costco sells a 30 pack of uncooked whole wheat roti. Just fire up the pan and serve up fresh roti. Can’t be as good as my mom’s but with my long working hours I won’t complain too hard. Have any of you tried it? Is it any good? Pillsbury has been serving up this stuff for a while now.

And now for the fun part. It is time once again to share your Indian packaged food hacks. Take one part packaged food and one part home cooking and tell me about a dish I should be occasionally serving.

Sepia Surgeon General’s Warning: Abhi strongly advises against buying too much packaged food. Never let more than 15% of your weekly grocery bill be attributed to food that comes in a package. Stick to the perimeter of the grocery store. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other ailments are rising too quickly in our community.

Continue reading

55Friday: The “Waka Waka” Edition

Zakumi in DC.jpgI have to take this opportunity to praise a small, dedicated sub-set of you mutineers who patiently continue to ask for a 55Friday, even though it’s no longer a regular feature here at SM. Your devotion to crafting stories with exactly 55 words, no more, no less is to be commended. This edition of the Mutiny’s Flash Fiction Festival is for you.

What’s Flash Fiction, some of you newer kids ask?

Nanofictions are complete stories, with at least one character and a discernible plot, exactly 55 words long. [wiki]

If you look through our “Haiku” archives, you can see plenty, many of them are quite good!

I admit it; I was more inspired than usual to try to answer your requests for 55ing because my last post (about family and identity) was such an affirming, delightfully troll-free experience. Thank you for reminding me of how lovely the comment threads here could be. :) Why NOT celebrate such stellar civility with a few fine, fake stories.

At first, I couldn’t think of a suitable theme for you beyond the heat. Oh, the HEAT.

No, not THAT Heat. F that Heat. I’m a Pistons fan. I’m talking about the wilt-worthy weather. Right now, in DC, “Heatmageddon” is trending on Foursquare. NPR runs local stories cautioning pet owners to not leave their dogs in their cars, under any circumstances. And of course, I am sitting here in my office, wearing a sweater while typing this, because our air conditioning seems to think that the way to keep us comfortable is to turn us in to human popsicles. It’s going to be lovely to walk out in to a swamp from this freezer. Maybe I’ll write a short-short story about THAT.

Nevertheless, the heat may be on and it might be Summer in the City, but the song I’m thinking of has nothing to do with weather. It is, however, surely a favorite of Fozzie Bear: “Waka Waka“, the official theme for the only sporting event which currently matters! The 2010 World Cup ends this weekend, taking with it a massive time suck with which to avoid work AND loads of hawt guys with impressive hair who are prone to ripping off their jerseys after simulating war via footie. Damn, damn, damn, James. That’s somewhat depressing.

Oh, well. Write fifty-five words about FIFA, the World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo’s baby boy or anything else that strikes your fancy. The only reason I provide a theme is so that you don’t mope about writer’s block; “Waka Waka” is the official anthem for this international event AND a Muppet catch-phrase, but it’s no straightjacket. Write a piece of micro-fiction about anything (as long as it has exactly 55 words!) and then treat the rest of us to it by leaving it in the comments below. Waka waka waka! Continue reading