Drawing a Line to Your Heart

summernight.jpgBy now you must have noticed the newest art banners adorning Sepia Mutiny. They are the creations of Nidhi Chanani, an illustrator and designer living in San Francisco. The first time I spotted one of these scenes at the top of the page it captivated me with cuteness, and I kept clicking to reload the page and see all of them.

I continued clicking on over to her website, and with each view the charming characters populating her illustrations–often smiling, sometimes pensive, but always sweet–quickly worked their way into my heart. I checked in with Chanani to find out more about her and her work. Keep reading to learn what inspires her, which illustration is a favorite, and the details of her award-winning recipe for mattar paneer. Continue reading

Posted in Art

How to Write About Pakistan …

The last time the venerable literary mag Granta focused on the subcontinent was when India turned 50. I’ve saved that issue as I will be saving the current one which is all about Pakistan and features fiction, reportage, memoir, contemporary art, and poetry by recognized authors such as Mohsin Hamid, Kamila Shamsie, Fatima Bhutto, and Daniyal Muennudin, as well as voices lesser known here in the West.

The issue’s themes and cover art by truck artist Islam Gull is brought to life in this cool short video

I’m still working my way through the issue, but How to write about Pakistan, an online collaboration between Mohsin Hamid, Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Muennudin, and Kamila Shamsie caught my eye. Inspired by Granta’s most popular feature Binyavanga Wainaina’s satirical piece, How to write about Africa (“Always use the word “Africa” or “Darkness” or “Safari” in your title’,” it begins), here are the the top ten rules for novices keen to write about Pakistan:

  1. Must have mangoes.
  2. Must have maids who serve mangoes.
  3. Maids must have affairs with man servants who should occasionally steal mangoes.
  4. Masters must lecture on history of mangoes and forgive the thieving servant.
  5. Calls to prayer must be rendered to capture the mood of a nation disappointed by the failing crop of mangoes.
  6. The mango flavour must linger for a few paragraphs.
  7. And turn into a flashback to Partition.
  8. Characters originating in rural areas must fight to prove that their mango is bigger than yours.
  9. Fundamentalist mangoes must have more texture; secular mangoes should have artificial flavouring.
  10. Mangoes that ripen in creative writing workshops must be rushed to the market before they go bad.

[Don't stop here. Do read the whole piece.]

Those of you who have been long-time SM followers will surely remember Manish’s Anatomy of a Genre from back in the day.

Here’s my question: If you were amending this list into an “How to write about India” or “How to write about Sri Lanka” or “How to write about Bangladesh” what would you change? What would you keep the same? Continue reading

Bant Singh Dub-ified

Earlier this year, I was traveling in South Asia collecting stories for a project I’m working on. Along the way, I met Taru Dalmia aka the Delhi Sultanate at a BASSFoundation drum and bass party in New Delhi. A dancehall/reggae/dub MC, I was surprised when he jumped on the mic. I didn’t even realize there was a reggae scene in India. For someone who hadn’t been to The Islands, he had a sick patois on the mic. At the time, he was telling me about a project he was heading out to start working on – a collaboration with a revolutionary singer out in a village outskirt of Delhi.

The project is complete. But after watching the video, it feels like maybe it’s just started. Check out the 12 minute short film, titled “Word, Sound & Power” about the dalit singer Bant Singh.

Amazing, right? The film production is so clean and the musical sounds are fresh and tightly merged.

Bant Singh from Jabbar Village in Punjab is a legendary singer and activist of Kisan Mukti Morcha… The film critically examines the need for the voices of dissent in todays capitalized urban society. Also a deeper look into Bant Singhs background, his lyrical inspirations, 20 years of the unsung dalit struggle in Punjab, followed by the mash up of genres between Chris, Delhi Sultanate and Bant Singh. A bold attempt to fuse socially relevant issues and lyricism across two different languages. [wordsoundandpower]

No word on if there are plans to turn this into a full length or if there is going to be a full length album to come out of this project. It seems that the film is making the rounds at screenings in India, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets picked up on the international film festival circuit. Keep an eye on their website at Word Sound and Power – I get the feeling the music should be downloadable there very soon. As soon as it is, I’ll be downloading it ASAP. I have a feeling you might too. Continue reading

Commercializing the Dahi Handi festival

The BBC South Asia had a video short last week about the Dahi Handi festival (each September) in Mumbai. Click on picture for video:

The charming local gentleman they interview in the video vociferously makes the case that they $hould commercialize the heck out of the festival. You know, like La Tomatina in Spain.

Dahi Handi generally takes place on the second day of Janmashtami. An earthen pot containing a mixture of milk, dry fruits, ghee is hung around 20-30 feet high in the air with the help of a rope. Silver coins are hung along with the rope,which are later distributed as prize to the winners. Enthusiastic young men, form a human pyramid by standing one on top of the other, trying to break the pot. Onlookers throw water on the young men in order to prevent them from breaking the pot. Breaking of the pot is followed by prize distribution. Devotees believe that the broken pieces of earthen pot will keep away mice and negative powers from their homes.

Dahi Handi is celebrated with fervor, especially in the twin cities of Mathura – Vrindavan, Dwarka and Mumbai. Young men in Mumbai yell ‘Ala re ala, Govinda ala’ during the ceremony. [link]

What say you? Shall we put together a team of Sepia Mutiny readers?

Continue reading

Greenspotting: Race and Ethnicity maps of the U.S.

The blogosphere has been buzzing this week over a…Flickr set with ten year old information. And with good reason. Eric Fisher’s use of ten year old census data helps us visualize the segregation we already know exists in our major cities:

[Eric Fisher's] taken a look at the way that the residents of major American cities assort themselves. Inspired by Bill Rankin’s map of Chicago’s racial and ethnic divides, he took census data from the year 2000 to see how other cities stacked up in terms of how citizens identify themselves and where they live.

Each dot in the plot above represents 25 people. The red-green colorblind among you may see a nearly monochrome map since those two colors represent self-identified whites and Asians. The cluster of blue dots … represent African-Americans. In and of themselves, the findings are hardly shocking, but since it’s Flickr, the map has already become interactive as users chime in with notes and comments to explain the city’s patterns. Even if you aren’t a sucker for information graphics, there’s something interesting in comparing and contrasting our city with the others in the photoset. [Link]

Here is the map of my area in Los Angeles. I make up the green right where the Red, Blue, and Orange intersect on the westside:

Use the search bar on Eric’s page to look for your city. I thought the picture of DC showed one of the clearest divides. Can’t wait to see how the demographics change when he uses 2010 data.

Continue reading

Humor is Not A Foreign Country

On Thursday, of all days, I called customer service. A man picked up. He spoke to me in what seemed like South Asian-accented English, but as usual, I didn’t ask him where he was, even when he said my name almost flawlessly. I generally don’t ask customer service representatives where they are. Sometimes it’s because I think that question would put them on the defensive; sometimes it’s just because I’m in a rush. On Thursday, I was in a rush. Why would I want to connect with another human? I’m BUSY. Um, right. What Vivek might call Badmoodistan. But even though I was Unfriendlyananthan, he was not. And he was the first customer-service representative I’ve ever spoken to who asked me where I was from.

HIM: Are you from Tamil Nadu? [notable tone of excitement]

ME: [taken aback by unwarranted kindness] No, my parents are Sri Lankan. Where are you?

HIM: I’m in Mumbai, but I’m from the South.

ME: Oh!

HIM: Well, madam, except for your accent, anyone would say you are an Indian.

ME: [laughs] Yeah, I was born in America.

And then: Lucky girl! he said. And suddenly, I was not in Badmoodistan any more.

I know that he’s right–I am a lucky girl. But America! America! Sometimes you have crappy sitcoms. Continue reading

Outsourced…. It was OK

DVR’d Outsourced and watched it this afternoon and…. I guess I mostly agree with the New York Times. The show wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I was certainly expecting a much less flattering portrayal of desis, crude jokes about accents, and the like. Instead, most of the show was a traditional fish-out-of-water comedy with the joke often on the opey white guy.

The variety of supporting cast sorta intrinsicly ensure that desi portrayals aren’t unidimensional and at least a couple of the characters have room to emerge with some sophistication. Todd, the lead, has got potential white and desi love interests, a back stabbing nemesis, a project, and a budding protégé.

My main problem with the show….it just wasn’t that funny. Todd’s the most developed character and most of his jokes are just too cliché to really hit. The writers appear so eager to avoid simplistic desi characters that they make Todd the simplistic “fresh from Kansas” character instead (does he really expect everyone on the planet to understand a Packer Cheesehead?)

Still, you can see how it takes the Office formula, shakes it up a bit, and tries to create something new. But while so much of the Office is about capturing character nuance (we’ve all worked with or known someone like Dwight), it’s tough to do the same with comparatively alien characters. At least in an initial, 30 minute episode. So, I plan on DVR’ing the upcoming episodes and giving the show a chance to dig out of the laughter deficit it’s currently in.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Ameen Chef-testant Competes for Just Desserts

malika.ameen.jpgThe latest desi entrant to the reality TV world, Chicago pastry chef consultant Malika Ameen, has a spot on the premiere season of Top Chef: Just Desserts. The series is a Padma Lakshmi-less but pastry and pompadour-laden spin-off of the popular Top Chef.

In its initial quickfire challenge, Ameen’s meringue was all wrong, mostly because she didn’t complete the coconut concoction in time. But the cookie couturier to the stars hustled for the next round, producing a decadent and bittersweet chocolate dessert for the elimination challenge. It made the cut and kept her on the show for another week. Continue reading