That’s All Folks!

So I’ve finished up all the popcorn and the lime soda here at the North Dakota headquarters. I looked for Ennis’s magic mirror, but the only one I found cracked. I broke into Abhi’s weight room and accidentally dialed up the poundage–hopefully he’s as prepared for two gees as zero. I rifled through Sajit’s files but could not find the combo to the safe and ended up breaking the drawer. I tried to steal Anna’s cranberry pickle, but just ended up leaving finger prints all over the mango. I snuck into Manish’s marble bathtub, but spilled his sandalwood oil all over myself.  I tried to nap in Vinod’s comfy bed, only to realize he has surveillance cameras. In other words, I better get the hell out of here before they paddle me again.

But not without leaving a present for the gracious hosts and readers. There’s one blog that I never managed to mention in a post. I just never found the right hook. But it’s a great blog and it’s got a lot of South Asian talent on it. It’s called 3 Quarks Daily, and it’s edited by Pakistani-born Manhattanite Abbas Raza. Much of the time it’s just a filter blog, citing amazing articles with one line comments. Very geeky, very worldly, very artistic, and veddy veddy good.  For that alone it’s valuable. On Mondays, however, they post all original material. This last Monday, for example, Abbas’s sister Azra wrote up part I of a report on the War on Cancer. Azra and Sughra Raza figure in a moving tale of Desi American collaboration which is described here and here

On Halloween Abbas remembered a scary return to JFK from Pakistan three years ago. It doesn’t quite go where you think it’s going.

Hmm, that sounds like Abhi pulling in with the pick-up. And I think Manish has caught the trail of escaped perfume. I better run! Tata, hosts and readers, and thanks for all the spicy snacks!


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Don’t Cut My Hyphen, S’Il Vous Plait

 French Sikh Boys Expelled From SchoolLike a lot of Americans, I’ve been keeping an astonished eye on the car-burning in Paris and France that is approaching the fortnight mark. Saurabh at Rhinocrisy has noted that a certain segment of the blogosphere, headed by Internment-Cheerleader-In-Chief Michelle Malkin, is having a field day.  What an opportunity to clumsily conflate France’s antipathy towards  certain war policies with imagined Gallic championship of any and every liberal cause as articulated in America. Just because the French have embraced the same notions of universal health care that some American liberals have, obviously they epitomize the multicultural state American liberals champion. Since Democrats like French bread and wine they must love French cultural policies.  /sarcasm.  But as those of us who actually pay attention to identity politics in France know, the French model is not quite the California-cuisine tossed diversity salad that American cultural purists love to hate on. Saurabh and the Francophilic Phoebe Maltz call a spade a spade:

I hate to be trite, but this picture is simply at odds with reality. France has been anything but multiculturalist, and in fact has been quite uniform in demanding that its Muslim minority conform, damnit, to the standards of French culture.(Link.)

Despite its shunning of hyphenated identity and insistence that all of its citizens are equally–and nothing butFrench, France has a problem: whenever a minority group in country is involved in a conflict–one its members started, of which its members are victims, or a combination–the possibility of that group up and leaving is immediately brought up.(Link)

(It is, of course, as absurd to lump together all of France as to lump together all of India–the land that gives us LePen also gave us Zola.) Many observers  warn that it is a mistake to view these (so far relatively non-injurious) rioters as Islamic or Arab or Brown or Immigrant so much as poor  and unemployed. But I have to wonder if, by shunning the hyphen, France has forced the French children of immigrants to make an overly stressful choice. We affiliates of Sepia Industries might be considered connoisseurs of the hyphenated life-style. A hyphen is a useful prop, like a towel, that you can move about and rework as the situation demands. Sometimes you want it out, front and center, and sometimes it can stay in your purse. Immigration is hard, and tools can help. It was Hyphen Magazine’s blog which reminded me of the South Asian connection to the Parisian riots.

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Brown on the Board of Education

Mukul Datta is running for the School Board in Charlotte, NCA bit of cyberhypercavicunicucunctatalinkus* (I’m sure you can figure out what kind) revealed to me that there is another local candidate of South Asian descent running for office this Tuesday.  In Charlotte, North Carolina, Mukul Datta is far from a sure bet for  District 2 seat of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Board of Education–two other people are running for the seat: the incumbent Vilma D. Leake and Sheila Jackson,  receiver of the Charlotte Observer endorsement. Because this is a tiny race in the grand scheme of things, it’s difficult to find anything substantial about Datta that he didn’t write himself. This article on the race includes a candidate who has since thrown her weight behind Jackson–among the other three, Datta seems to be most focused on reassessing spending priorities and tackling the issues that persist after Charlotte’s federally mandated desegregation order was dissolved 4 years ago.

Retiree Mukul Datta spent more than two decades as a teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. He gives the district a failing grade.”To me, more and more, it is separate and unequal – divided by class and race,” he said.”Many of the board members are saying they do this for the children, but the first question that comes to my mind is ‘If you love the children, why are you talking their money from the classroom and spending it on retreats?’” he said. He says CMS wastes money that could be used to boost teacher pay, citing board member travel and high-priced retreats as areas that can be cut back.(Link.)

Up in Connecticut, Satish Chandra is seeking reelection to the Amity Board of Education, and here in California Ranjit “Ricky” Gill had been appointed as the student representative to the State Board of Education by Schwarzenegger. Scanning the Indian American Center for Political Awareness newslist, I see that in Santa Clara Ric Singh, Kuldip S. Mahal, Stuart Johnson, and Subash Bhatt have lost previous bids for school boards seats. Continue reading

“It’s My Duty To Help Them Out”

Desai Praying Going over a package on poverty in the New Jersey Herald News, completed a couple weeks ago by my friend and former classmate Tom Meagher, I just realized that Tom had done more than write policy analysis and work and live as a temporary laborer for a month–he had also profiled several more regular members of the working-class poor, including two immigrants. One is a Peruvian father and husband named Julio, who has left his family behind in Lima. The other is a 20-year old son named Priyank Desai, arrived from India at the age of 16 and determined to help out his family:

Every week, Priyank Desai carries his paycheck home to the Passaic apartment he shares with his family, sets it before a makeshift shrine and prays to his Hindu deity.

“No matter how much money I make by working hard, it will all belong to you.”

Only after praying will he cash the check, which usually amounts to no more than $80 for two days of temporary work. He gives half to his parents to help pay for phone cards to call their extended family left behind in India, and for rides to work. The rest he spends on movies or lunch. He also pays for transportation to classes at Passaic County Community College that he hopes will lead him to a career as a Spanish teacher.(Link)

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Zindagi ka Zinfandel

If you had spent  yesterday afternoon strolling through sunsoaked downtown Sonoma, a nerve center of California wine country, you might have had your Mediterranean reverie broken by an extremely conspicuous member of desi America: one blue-silk-clad, bejewelled and beflowered Bharat Natyam dancer, desperately trying to find the stage of the Kathmandu Fall Festival.  I can assure you I did not blend in. This is a good thing, because the woman who finally helped us had never heard of Depot Park by name, but took one look at me and remembered that “there’s some kind of colorful festival in that park behind us? That must be what you’re looking for.” Saheli Dances in Winecountry

After the set, I looked around the stage for the usual cooler full of water bottles, and was instead greeted by a vision of wine. The usual festival array of Tibetan flags and bells  mixed with bottles and glasses  everywhere, the regular sound of corks popping interlacing with the flute and mrdangam music. Despite booths of frying samosas, the smell of vintage was stronger. Since my family doesn’t drink, we decided to complete the evening with a visit to the video store, and got ourselves the documentary Mondovino. If you’re at all interested in trade, globalization, agriculture, mercantile tradition, France, Italy, Northern California, or, of course, wine, I highly recommend it, though it is a bit long. It’s a film squarely set in Europe and the Americas, featuring titans like the Mondavi family, the ancient Florentine clans Frescobaldi and Antonieri, and a charming elderly Bordeaux gentleman named Hubert de Montille who can’t stand “monolithic thinking.”
Michel Rolland Points to India in the film Mondovino
It prominently features a travelling consultant, “the flying winemaker,” who, along with Maryland critic Robert Parker, makes and breaks wines. Michel Rolland caught my attention with a throwaway line when he was pointing out the spread of his clientele on a map,

 ”Hungary, Italy, France, Argentinia, Chile, Mexico, The United States, and oh–I forgot one over here–India!”

India?! That’s right, India. The October 17 issue of India Today has a three page spread that, at first glance,  doesn’t bode well for desi oenophilic journalism–even I know that “Brewing the Indian Dream,” is a headline directed at the wrong beverage. But what growth the article reveals within!

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Third I’s Third San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival

Soon it will be time to get your filmi on–Third I, the Yay Area’s own promoter of South Asian independant film–has put Third I San Francisco International South Asian Film Festivalout the schedule for it’s third film festival, bringing desi masala, fine art, and social commentary to The Roxie and The Castro. Here are some of the descriptions that grabbed my interest:

Junoon's Salman Ahmed: It's My Country Too

What does it mean to be an American Muslim? This revealing and engaging documentary follows Pakistani American Rock star Salman Ahmed of Junoon, as he explores stories from a community as diverse as the progressive “Allah made me Funny” comedy troupe, to a prominent family that founded the “Muslims for Bush” campaign. (Link)

Komagata Maru and Indian-Canadian Immigration

On May 23rd, 1914, the Japanese shipping vessel Komagata Maru, chartered by Sikh businessman Gurdit Singh, arrived in Canada’s Vancouver Harbor. Aboard were 376 migrants of Indian origin, citizens of the British Empire who believed it their right to move and settle freely within its domain. Upon anchoring, however, the passengers were prevented from disembarking by local Canadian officials, whose decision reflected a growing nationwide resistance to non-white immigration. (Link.)

This documentary explores the little known ethos of neighborhood photo studios in Indian cities, discovering entire imaginary worlds in the smallest of spaces. Tiny, shabby studios that appear to be stuck in a time warp turn out to be places throbbing with energy. As full of surprises as the people who frequent these studios are the backdrops they enjoy posing against and the props they choose – affording fascinating glimpses into individual fantasies and popular tastes. (Link.)

And of course there will be some Bollywood—our man Shah Rukh in a really big turban: Continue reading

Earthquake Benefit in New York City

Anna wants to know what we can do. If you live in New York City, you’re in luck–you can support the arts for a good cause!

SAWCC Earthquake Relief Fundraiser: Performances & Silent Art Auction
Friday, October 21, 7pm
Asian American Writers Workshop
16 West 32nd Street, 10th floor
(btw. 5th & 6th aves, NYC)

Please join the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) to help raise funds for earthquake victims in South Asia. 100% of proceeds will be donated to the Edhi Foundation and to community members giving direct aid at the grassroots level. Please bring in-kind donations of painkillers, blankets, and warm clothing*. Home-made food will be served.

For more information on in-kind donations:

 Musical Guest: Falu – “Hidden Gem” hot pick in Pop Montreal Festival, September 2005; Performances by: Alka Bhargava, Edward Garcia, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Tahani Salah, Suneet Sethi, Saba Waheed, Kron Vollmer’ Visual Art for auction donated by: Jaishri Abichandani, Amanda Cartagena, Chitra Ganesh, Swati Khurana, Maxwell Fine Arts, Saeed Rahman, Chamindika Wanduragala

Directions to Asian American Writers’ Workshop
N, R, Q, W, F, B, D, V, 1, 2, 3, 9 to 34th Street; 4, 5, 6 trains to 33rd Street

*Please do take a look at the information on the in-kind donations as the request for clothing has been cancelled for now. As of this posting they still say they need: Tents (New is best); Blankets (Used or New); Sleeping bags (Used or New) &
UNOPENED Over-the-counter Painkillers and Stomach Medicines (Tylenol, Advil, Immodium, etc).

(Forward from Saurav.)

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Bird Flu, Indian Reverse Engineers and Mangosteens, Oh My!

I sometimes hang out at Brad DeLong’s blog, where apparently Razib thought I was a dude. Yesterday DeLong wrote a Cipla's Chief, Yusu Hamiedpost about Tamiflu, the Roche patented drug which is the one of the only plausible defenses against the dreaded Avian influenza or Asian Bird Flu. DeLong was mostly concerned with the domestic policy and economic ramifications of nationalizing a patent in times of emergency and stockpiling a drug ahead of time, but as with Sepia Mutiny, the comments can be most educational–and that’s how I found out that clever Cipla is at its Robin Hood reverse engineering tricks again. Bird flu is, of course, a global issue:

Cipla, an Indian producer of generic drugs, is preparing to become an alternative producer of oseltamivir phosphate, an antiviral drug better known by the brand name Tamiflu.Cipla plans to offer Tamiflu in the Indian market and in 49 less-developed countries where the company already sells AIDS treatments, Hamied says. The legality of the introduction in India, where pharmaceutical patents started to be recognized this year, is uncertain.

Hamied says he will withdraw Tamiflu from the Indian market if Roche’s patent is recognized.  (Link.)

A Roche spokesman, Terry Hurley, said that the company ”fully intends to remain the sole manufacturer of Tamiflu.” . .Making the drug involves 10 complex steps, he said, and the company believes that it’ll take another company ”two to three years, starting from scratch,” to produce it. Hamied dismissed that claim, saying that he initially thought it would be too hard but that his scientists had finished reverse-engineering the drug in his laboratories two weeks ago. He said he could have small commercial quantities available as early as January 2006. Asked if he thought Hamied was making an idle boast, Hurley declined to comment. Hamied said he would sell generic Tamiflu ”at a humanitarian price” in developing nations and not aim at the US or European market. ”God forbid the avian flu should strike India,” he said. ”There is no line of defense.” (Link.)

What does this have to do with mangosteens? I’m glad you asked!

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Synthesis In Surinam

Glancing away from the usual topics in Amrika, Britain, Canada and the Subcontinent–long before Microsoft was filling out H1-B forms, and even before Sputnik inspired the 1965 Immigration and Nationalization Act*, indentured laborers were crossing from South Asia to South America. At the age of 24 Munshi Raman Khan brought with him a love of all things Indian,  particularly the Ramayan, on which he lectured the children of his Hindu brethren. Why do I have a feeling this guy could have had a great blog if he was around today?

At age 24, Rehman M. Khan (1874-1972), a young Pathan arrived in Suriname in 1898 on the steamship Avon.  . . .this young Khan knew the Qur’an as well as the Ramayana very well. He soon became popular in his plantation and among the surrounding Indians of the other plantations as a Ramayan specialist. He started propagating the Ramayana ideology and taught Hindi to the children of the Indian community. . . .there are many manuscripts available which he wrote in Suriname dealing with the Muslim problems in Suriname, the language issues and his own biography in four volumes. Coming from a middle class Pathan family, Khan was very educated. His knowledge of Urdu and Hindi helped his literary prose. He was also a poet and could compose poetry in standard Hindi “with a flavour of Braj”. . .He used his knowledge to educate the Hindu and Muslim community and to reconstruct the “Indian identity”. Khan kept in touch with India constantly and was also craving for news from his homeland. (Link.)

Khan wrote an autobiography, apparently in Hindi or a related dialect, that was previously only translated into Dutch. (According to one review in The Hindu,  he was even knighted by the Dutch Queen Juliana for his merits.) A translation into English has been popping up in reviews in The Hindu, IndoLINK, and The Tribune. The Autobiography of an Indian Indentured Laborer, by Munshi Rahman Khan, looks to be a fairly new release and seems available for purchase in dollars from Bagchee

*Of which we sadly missed the 40th anniversary.

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Trespassing at Your Own Public University?

When the basic AP article about the swearing in of the new Joint Chiefs of Staff has a lede that casually tosses off  May 2005 Doonesbury Storyline: "I can practically guarantee you'll be fighting terrorism from behind a desk!"recruitment shortfalls” in the same breath as Iraq and disasters, you can be assured it’s one of the military’s biggest concerns. Ace mil-blog Intel-Dump frequently highlights the number crunch being faced by the army, and Armchair Generalist analyzed the recent lowering of the educational bar.  I sympathize with the recruiters greatly–we need a military, regardless of whatever goose-chase this or that administration might lead them on. It’s not really their fault that teenagers who don’t need a ticket out of town may question the extent to which the military is really about defending American freedom. That is, it’s not their fault until they start physically harassing a student-veteran for quietly protesting and then get him arrested on his own campus:

More than 100 George Mason University students and faculty members gathered on campus yesterday for a teach-in, six days after an undergraduate was arrested in a confrontation with military recruiters there.

Tariq Khan, 27, said he was standing near the recruiters’ table in the multipurpose Johnson Center at lunchtime last Thursday, holding fliers and wearing signs, including one on his chest that read “Recruiters Lie, Don’t Be Deceived.” One of the recruiters, plus another man who said he was a Marine, began yelling at him, he said, adding that the Marine ripped off his sign. Khan said that after a campus police officer asked for identification, which he didn’t have with him, he was arrested, taken to the Fairfax County police department and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Khan, a Pakistani American who grew up in Sterling and served four years in the U.S. Air Force, said the recruiters, and later the campus police, made disparaging comments to him about Middle Easterners.

Daniel Walsch, a university spokesman, said that Khan “was considered to be distributing literature,” which requires a permit, and that he was asked to leave the building.(Link)

The ACLU of Virginia wryly notes that the arrest occurred “at a public university named after the person who may be most responsible for the Bill of Rights.” Whether or not recruiters lie, George Mason U. is being patently untrue to its namesake’s ideals if it fails to urge the Fairfax D.A. to drop charges against Mr. Khan. (Link.)

The ACLU is defending Khan, who has a court date of Nov 14. (Link). Last week he gave a speech at the rally:

First of all I want to say that what happened to me last Thursday is not an isolated incident. . At at least three different colleges in the last week alone – the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts, and here at George Mason University – students engaged in non-violent counter-recruitment were met with police repression. . .And here at GMU I was harassed and assaulted by police and right-wing vigilante wannabe’s simply for standing in the JC with an 8×11 sign taped to my chest that said “Recruiters lie. Don’t be deceived.” Then I was charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. While the police and vigilantes were brutalizing me, other right-wing students were cheering them on and shouting “Kick his ass!” . .Officer Reynolds, the goon who arrested me told me that he had to handcuff me because of 9/11. He said, “I didn’t know who you were, and what with 9/11 and all, there’s no telling what you’d do.” So because he didn’t know me, he had to assume that I’m a terrorist. Another officer at the GMU police station shouted at me, “You people are the most violent people in the world! You’re passive aggressive!” What does that mean? Who are “you people”? 

Besides the fundamental issue of preventing a student from engaging in free speech on a public campus, which I thought was settled over 40 years ago, there is the issue Khan brought up, a crystalized example of why we need first amendment rights to debate public policy and government actions in the first place–do recruiters lie?

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