It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

Well, it seems that my month-long tryst with Mutiny is about to end.  When I first headed up to the North Dakota HQ, I was just a small-town gal with a laptop and a dream of bringing general-interest news stories to the South Asian community.  I leave here with an enhanced appreciation for the bloggers and readers of Sepia Mutiny, and also with scenes of unspeakable North Dakotan depravity seared into my brain. 

Before I turn in my linens and SM-monogrammed guest towels, I just want to thank all you readers for not tearing me to shreds, and for your kind and thought-provoking comments.  And of course, thanks to the Mutineers for being such helpful, hard-working, and gracious hosts.  Finally, thanks to Shakti Kapoor for helping make all of this happen for me. 

See you in the comments section!

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A New Wave of Fear

The New York Times reports on escalating political violence in eastern Sri Lanka.  Much of Sri Lanka’s eastern province is controlled by the LTTE, which has been battling against a breakaway faction of the Tamil Tigers called the TMVP (Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal) for the last year and half.  The group is led by a former LTTE commander called Karuna, and is alleged by some to be operating with the blessing of the Sri Lankan army.  In the past year, abductions and assassinations have increased in the region:  190 documented killings occurred this year between February and November, compared to 60 last year:

There is no sanctuary even at a relief camp here for families displaced by the tsunami. Since February three women at the camp have been widowed.

Dayaniti Nirmaladevi’s husband was gunned down as he fetched noodles one night. Radhi Rani’s husband was shot after a fishing trip. Koneswari Kiripeswaran lost her parents and her only child, age 4, to the tsunami, only to have her husband shot dead at a bus stop on his way back to work in Qatar.

All three women said their men had been active in political organizations opposed to the notorious ethnic separatist group – the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – but had given up politics. It is impossible to verify their claims.

LTTE supporters have been attacked, as well:

Here in Batticaloa the violence is not limited to enemies of the Tigers. One night in late September, Khandasami Alagamma’s husband was eating dinner in the front yard of a pro-Tiger charity where he worked as a night watchman when five grenades were lobbed at the building. He was killed instantly.

A visit to Batticaloa turned up a chilling inventory of violence.

On Oct. 1 a mason hired to repair a Hindu temple was shot to death as he slept on its terrace; the police say they do not know why. The day before, the vendor of a pro-Tiger newspaper was shot dead on a busy street. On the Wednesday before came the grenade attack on the pro-Tiger charity, and on the Saturday before that, a tailor was killed inside his shop just after sundown. He is believed to have been an informer, but for which side is unclear.

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The Empire Kind of Strikes Back

Even as some people are finding more and more tasks to outsource to the subcontinent, a few wily Brits are bucking the trend:

Beyond the four-mile-long driveway, and the shaded path named “Lady’s Walk” and the soft fields of purple rhododendron and grazing Holstein cows, Jonathan Jones walked among waist-high rows of rich green plants. With loving precision, he plucked off two perfect green leaves and a bud and held them proudly in his hand.

“English tea should be grown on English soil,” he said, running his fingers over what he called a victory for horticulture and also for British culture: the first commercial crop of tea ever grown in this tea-mad nation.  [link]

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East is East, and West is West

And maybe one day the twain shall meet and produce a decent film.  I’m not holding my breath, though.  The Hindustan Times reports on a recent spate of Bollywood/Hollywood joint ventures.  First up is Mumbai-based Percept Pictures, which recently announced plans to co-produce Ram Gopal Verma’s first “exclusively American” film, entitled Within:

The English-language film will reportedly be set in a Manhattan apartment peopled only by American characters.

Within will obviously be a significant first for RGV, but it is likely to be quickly followed up with Ek, a sweeping espionage thriller featuring Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan with a clutch of Hollywood actors. [link]

A Manhattan apartment peopled only by American characters?  Do they have to pass a citizenship exam to enter the building?  According to Verma, “Within will revolve around the fear factor that is present within each one of us, while Ek will be based on nuclear terrorism.”  I personally had no idea that a “fear factor” was present within me.  I hope it doesn’t make me eat cockroaches or something.  Verma said that casting has yet to be finalized, and did not name the Hollywood actors involved.  Will he be able to land a Hollywood heavyweight like Ali Larter? Continue reading

Majority Rules

Since the Indian restaurant next door to my apartment went out of business, I’ve been coming home to find unclaimed stacks of Little India magazine strewn all over the sidewalk.  While stepping over a copy the other day, I noticed the cover story:  “Only U.S. Town with an Indian Majority.”  Naturally, I was curious.  Where is this town?  In the Bay Area?  Jersey?  Or is it in the great state that brought us weather-forecasting groundhogs and chipped ham?  (The answer is #3.)

Millbourne is a tiny Pennsylvania borough with an estimated population of 994.  At the time of the 2000 Census, Indian-Americans constituted 40% of its population; current “Little India projections” bring that number up to 63%, compared with a national average of less than 0.6%.   

The 2000 Census outlines the broad contours of Millbourne’s Indian community. The gender breakdown is about even: 53 percent to 47 percent women. Five percent are mixed race. The median age of the Indian community is 32. Only 13 percent of the Indians are native-born. Almost two-thirds migrated to the United States within the previous decade. Like the other residents of the city, Indians in Millbourne are principally blue collar. The median household income for the 102 Indian households in the borough was $36,000, higher than the borough average, but substantially below the national median Indian household income of $64,000. However, only 7 percent of the Millbourne Indians were below the poverty line, as opposed to 9 percent of Indians nationally. Just 10 percent of Indians in the borough owned their home, which is less than a quarter of the home ownership rate among Indian Americans nationwide.

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The other day I was reading a rather ho-hum review of the new Steve Martin movie Shopgirl when this sentence caught my eye:

Tweely narrated by Martin (not as Ray), directed with a dose of barbiturates by Anand Tucker, underscored with a plaintive cello and piano, this is among the most noneventful romantic triangles ever committed to celluloid.

It appears that Shopgirl, that seemingly whitest of whitebread romantic dramedies, was directed by an international jetsetter with desi roots:

Tucker, the son of an Indian father and German mother who was born in Thailand, grew up in Hong Kong and has lived in London since he was 18.

Rediff features a recent interview with the director, who is probably best known for directing the art-house hit Hilary and Jackie.  Tucker (his father changed his last name from Thakkar) has also been tapped to direct a big-budget adaptation of The Golden Compass, the first book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

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Apu’s got a blog!

When I read Anna’s recent post on the desi celebrity blogger of the moment, the comments of Chick Pea and Jai Singh caught my eye:

what’s next… apu and manjula’s blog from the kwik-e-mart life?

That would be a fantastic idea for another new-topic thread here on SM — we could all just keep adding fictitious “diary entries” by Apu. Manish, Abhi etc — do you guys want to make this happen ? I think it would be a lot of fun and potentially hilarious too.

Inspired by their comments, I decided to scour the internet to determine if that most redoubtable of Indian-American television celebrities, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, was indeed a blogger.  And, um, turns out he is.  (Sorry if that was anticlimactic.) 

Of course, it’s possible that the aforelinked blog was not actually written by Apu, but rather by some sort of sick Apu impersonator.  In which case, would the real Apu Nahasapeemapetilon please stand up?  Please stand up?  Please stand up? 

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Rub a Dub Dub

One of my goals in life is to figure out a way to get paid to watch Bollywood movies and yell at the TV screen.  According to an article in Salon by Sumana Harihareswara, someone (actually four someones) has beaten me to it:

“Uncle Morty’s Dub Shack,” which just finished its first season on the ImaginAsian cable network, is the “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ of bad Asian films, and like its predecessor with the then-unknown Comedy Central, it could help put the obscure iaTV on the map. The conceit of the show is that four loser friends — Trevor, Aladdin, Jimbo and John — earn a little extra cash dubbing martial arts, action and Bollywood films into English at the Dub Shack, run by an old crank named Morty. Uncle Morty doesn’t have the translated scripts, so the friends turn the movie scenes into sketch comedy. For those of us who didn’t warm to MST3K, “Uncle Morty’s” is easier to love, because it’s only half an hour long (the films are significantly, and mercifully, edited down), and the writers create believable alternate narratives for the flicks instead of merely smirking at them.

Unfortunately, iaTV is not offered by my satellite provider, so I had to make do with the clips on Uncle Morty’s website.  (Of the Bollywood clips, I enjoyed “Goatman” and “Chicken Members” the most.)  The episode guide lists Dushman Duniya Ka, Dand Nayak, and Soch among the cinematic treasures given the Dub Shack treatment.  (The channel has also been airing the intriguingly-titled Duplicate Sholay.)

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Is The SSF Gonna Rock You?

Mephistopheles1981, eagle-eyed observer of the Sri Lankan diaspora, writes in with a tip on L.A.-based rock band The Slow Signal Fade.  The quartet features Sri Lankan-born Marguerite Olivelle as its lead singer, and a bunch of other people that I don’t care about because they’re not Sri Lankan.  (Just kidding, Ron Ulicny, Chris Walters, and Christy Greenwood!  You guys seem nice, too.)  According to a cached Google page from their website-in-progress, the band “formed in fall of 2002 through an array of failed alliances, random acquaintances, circumstance and numerous ads in the LA based classified paper The Recycler.”  They went on to record a five-song E.P. called the “Kindling E.P.,” setting some sort of land-speed record in the process:

Their first demo turned into their first album, “Kindling E.P.,” and was recorded in only eight hours.

“We had to pay studio time and didn’t have enough time to listen to the CD before we released it,” Walters said. 

I don’t know that I would necessarily want to advertise that aspect of my debut album, but fair enough.  This year they released a second E.P. called Through the Opaque Air.  So what does The Slow Signal Fade sound like?  Lots of stuff, apparently:

Armed with a vast collection of esoteric and sometimes conflicting influences, they have crafted a unique sound….a delicate blend of power and intimacy that sits comfortably and transcends genre.

Their musical influences vary from the likes of classic rock bands including Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Doors….through early post-punk and pop like The Cure, New Order, The Police, and U2… the modern sonics of Mogwai, Tool, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Fugazi. The SSF’s evocative style, colorful melodies, and engaging percussions provide the foundation for the beautiful, timeless and ethereal vocals that draw inspiration from singing legends ranging from Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington, to Chrissie Hynde, Sinead O’Connor and Cat Power. This band provides a musical journey that leaves an indelible mark on the listener, a refreshing balance of musicianship and candor. [Link]

And what do people who aren’t in the band think they sound like?  From Popmatters:

It’s Disintegration-era The Cure as done by The Cranberries, all epic slow tempos and one-note guitar lines fronted by Marguerite Olivelle’s lovely, pitch-perfect, urgent vocals. It’s a combination that shouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable as it is, but the wall of sound on display is exotic, acid-washed, and somehow really accessible. [Link]

A quick listen to a few of their songs, especially “Push Pull Push,” leads me to think the Cranberries comparison is particularly apt.  However, as the great LeVar Burton once said, “You don’t have to take my word for it!” since free MP3s are available at their website.

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Amrikan Gothic

Apart from Kal Penn’s little brother’s five-minute Goth phase in the movie Where’s the Party, Yaar?, South Asian Goths seem to be largely absent from the desi cultural landscape.  While doing some extensive research on the topic, I learned that a Google search for “South Asian Goths” yields no results, that “Indian Goth” leads largely to porn links, and that half of Google’s “Desi Goths” results point to some guy’s profile on RateDesi: the Desi Hot or Not.  (His average rating is a 7.7393.)  But there’s also this guy:

Shumit Basu designs custom corsets and other items for his label Underground Aristocracy, which has been “hand-crafting corsets for the discerning corset enthusiast since 1997 using a range of materials from fine silk to leather.”  Basu studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the London College of Fashion, and has been designing for over ten years. Underground Aristocracy currently offers a large selection of corsets for sale, and also promises that more items including bridal wear, accessories, skirts, and cats (?) will soon be available online.

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