The Low Get Lower

Remember Kenneth Eng? He’s the young gentleman whose column in a San Francisco Asian-American paper headlined “Why I Hate Black People” caused a certain amount of agitation back in late February and early March. Though it was that article that led to his column being pulled, it turned out that in previous writings he had also lobbed large quantities of idiotic, racist invective at any number of other ethnic and cultural groups — whites, Latinos, Muslims, working-class people, fellow Asians accused of self-hatred — on grounds, apparently, of some combination of inherent inferiority and complicity with some kind of conspiracy to devalue and degrade Asian people in America.

So then the Virginia Tech massacre happens and, returning to the Eng thread here, commenter “A Black Muse” asks the following question:

Ok, now, I’m just waiting for the Cho/Eng connection. Did you read about the disturbing behavior Cho exhibited prior to his rampage? Did it remind you of anyone? About two weeks ago, Eng posted reply to the FoxNews video to drone on about a concept he has no understanding, and in the middle of it states that the killing of cashiers, teachers and lawyers would make little difference to the world as they are people of limited awareness and impact on the world. (wtf?) [...] The day after the shooting, Eng posted another video LAUGHING about it and congratulating Cho!

Well, now the connection is complete, per this article in the Village Voice today that contains comments in which Eng gives props to Cho for his actions and suggests that Cho may have read Eng’s “works” for inspiration. Behold: Continue reading

The View from Liberty Avenue

SinghRoti.jpgOne of the great pleasures of following the Cricket World Cup this past month has been the chance to spend time with cricket fans and glimpse the global and diasporic affinities that simultaneously connect them and set them apart, in a metropolis like New York, from the mainstream culture of the city. Cricket is a niche sport even in immigrant-rich New York, since, after all, only a fraction of those immigrants come from cricket-playing countries. Yet the diversity of the cricket community, drawn as it is from all corners of the former British Empire, and the fact that all those places have a critical mass of expatriates or immigrants in New York, has produced in this World Cup season a kind of hyper-cosmopolitan sub-culture; one that, in its own way, illustrates the cross-hatching of differences and solidarities that makes life in the city complex and stimulating.

I’ve tried to capture some of that joyous complexity in a radio story that ran yesterday. The reporting (only a fraction of which made it into the piece, radio being like film a craft where most of your work ends up on the cutting room floor) led me to such arduous research environments as the Australian pub 8 Mile Creek, where expats of various nationalities were toasting the home side’s demolition of England with six-dollar bottles of Cooper’s Sparkling Ale. But it also gave me an introduction to the Indo-Caribbean community in Richmond Hill, Queens; and the revelation to my new-to-New-York eyes of the sheer size of that community, let alone its history and apparent present dynamism, will be the lasting memory of this World Cup in my personal experience. Continue reading

Fashion, Victims

It’s Monday morning, tax day, crummy weather, and lots of work to do, so I’m not going to make things worse by posting here the photo that the New York Times splayed across the front of its Sunday Styles section yesterday, and that made me (and probably many of you) go ICK! EWWWW! EWWWW EWWWW EWWWW! At the very least, the photo, which depicts disgraced “fashion designer” Anand Jon in the company of two very, very young-looking models somewhere out on the party circuit, is the kind of woozy tableau that reminds you that the lower rungs of the fashion and celebrity world are saturated in vulgarity and creepiness whether or not actual crimes are committed. Of course, given the multiplying legal charges of rape and molestation that Jon now faces, the photo’s prominent placement, beneath the headline “The Designer Who Liked Models” and accompanying a spare-no-tawdry-detail article by Hollywood correspondent Sharon Waxman, makes for quite the indictment in the court of public opinion. It does so, in fact, to an extent that made me uncomfortable, though I’ll go out on a limb and say that this brother is clearly a grade-A, bona fide creep and I’d be highly surprised, given what’s coming out, if he was cleared of all charges.

Meanwhile the article has raised hackles in other quarters, as I discovered while checking our news page to see if anyone had posted it. Indeed: an anonymous tipster linked the story as “NY times ignorant report,” quoting this line from the piece: “Mr. Jon is well known in his native India, and national newspapers like The Hindustan Times and Calcutta Times follow every development with interest,” and commenting in response:

Actually he is unknown in India.The is no newspaper called Calcutta Times. And this Jon story has never appeared in The Telegraph. Indian media has not any given attention to Anand Jon.

Now the “Calcutta Times” thing tripped me up too; I chalked it up to shoddy Googling by Waxman to make a point that, while tangential to the story, might give it some extra oomph. I maintain that view, especially upon finding that “Calcutta Times” is the name of the Times of India’s Calcutta supplement (similar to those it runs in other cities); Waxman must have just grabbed something that ran there to support her claim.

But of course, the tipster had to go and assert that the Jon story has not even despoiled the virginal eyes of the Indian newspaper reading public, and that, of course, is a load of bollocks. In fact, the very Telegraph, which the tipster claims has never run a story on Jon, did exactly that on March 14, with a piece by K. P. Nayar that begins as follows:

Washington, March 14: Anand Jon, whose Indian-American success story is the stuff of dreams, is in a Los Angeles jail, arrested on rape charges.

So even if Waxman’s technique was shoddy, you can hardly fault her for claiming that Indians are paying attention to the case given this kind of treatment.

Anyway, this is inside baseball, and I would like to explain for the benefit of any mainstream media or bloggers coming here to find the “official” desi reaction to the latest developments in the Jon case, that the point I’ve just raised is totally tangential to the case itself, and that as far as I know, reaction among American desis remains the same combination of “innocent until proven guilty… I guess” and “EEEEWWWW ICK ICK ICK” that it’s been from the beginning. Continue reading

Bangladesh Gets The Party Re-Started

ashraful-big.jpgI’d like to give massive props to my Bengali brothers for their epic smacking of South Africa yesterday. “When the Banglas bat well, they’re just briliant,” wrote the Guardian’s over-by-over commentator toward the end of Bangladesh’s innings, in which they scored 251 led by a fantastic 87 from 22-year-old Mohammad Ashraful, pictured here doing his thing. That set up South Africa with a sizeable target to chase in the afternoon, and instead they disgracefully folded, surrendering four wickets by the 20th over and two more in the 27th, and playing out the rest without spark nor art to a total of 184 all out.

The win not only confirms that Bangladesh are no longer by any standard “minnows” of the game — in case their win over India at the start of the cup and previous successes hadn’t already made that clear — but it also injects some new excitement into a competition that was first quieted by the early exit of two of the main contenders with the largest and most enthusiastic global support, India and Pakistan; then stunned and embarrassed by the death of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer (still unresolved officially, with no theory ruled out, including that of an accident); and then dulled by the tudding superiority of title holders Australia and the emergence right behind them of New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa, outclassing everyone else and hurtling toward the semi-finals.

No longer. Now with the eight-team round-robin Super Eights about halfway through, the remaining matches have regained excitement thanks to the Bangladesh victory, as South Africa no longer look inevitable semi-finalists, and three sides — England, Bangladesh, and host West Indies — are all very much back in the tournament. Which means that we are looking at several huge games coming up. Today, England go up against titanic Australia, a tall order but not out of the question; Tuesday, West Indies face South Africa with the winner taking a serious option on the semi-finals, and most of the world will be rooting for the hosts, who are due for a breakout performance; and Wednesday it’s England versus Bangladesh.

For today’s match England have won the toss and decided to bat first. The Guardian’s over-by-over is here. Just like their football live commentaries, it’s funny and worth checking out whether you understand the game or not. If you want to geek out with the technical details you’ll want to follow the Cricinfo OBO here, but in that case you probably know that already. If you’re at all curious about the game and eager to understand it with a little context, today is Sunday and a fine day to head to your local desi, Trini, Guyanese, Jamaican, English, Australian, or Kiwi pub, tavern, lounge, jerk shack or roti spot and check out the game on television. If you’re in New York chances are Eight Mile Creek is already packed with soon-to-be-inebriated Ozzies. But Brooklyn and Queens have numerous Caribbean and desi joints that are showing the matches. I’m sure that in any of the major US cities you can find a spot without too much sleuthing. Feel free to pass on tips in the comments! Continue reading

Dancing for Chicken

hammertime2.jpgThen:

KFC Popcorn Chicken using MC Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit”
This commercial ran during the early 90′s on american television. It puts Hammer in a back stage stand-off. Hammer refuses to go on stage for some reason, then someone holds out a box of popcorn chicken to Hammer. Hammer takes a piece, flicks it up, catches it in his mouth and says “Now that’s popcorn”. Hammer then takes the stage performing “2 Legit 2 Quit”.

Now:

An open letter to Sanjaya Malakar:

Congratulations on catching America’s ears…and eyes.

Over the past month, you’ve wowed the world with your original performances. And, your ever-changing hairdos have made you almost as famous as KFC® Original Recipe® Chicken and Colonel Sanders himself.

On behalf of Kentucky Fried Chicken®, I want to serve up to you a tasty offer. If you don a bowl hairdo during one of your next nationally televised performances, KFC will grant you a free lifetime supply of KFC Famous Bowls®. We’re sure America will be as ‘bowled-over’ by your take on this classic look as they are by our KFC Famous Bowls.

From wavy to Mohawk to now the classic bowl – who knows, your bowl cut could start a trend as big as KFC Famous Bowls, which consumers ranked as THE most memorable new product of 2006.

In addition to free KFC Famous Bowls for life – if you sport a bowl cut, KFC will cut a check in your name to Colonel’s Scholars, a charity providing young people with much needed college scholarships. We’re confident that helping students afford college is something that even the toughest of judges would stand and applaud.

Your Fan,
Gregg Dedrick
President of KFC

Join the legacy. [Thanks, tipster Sonia!]

Continue reading

Rock Out With Your Gall Bladder Out

In today’s New York Times, this recollection of a classic desi coming-of-age dilemma:

Both his parents are physicians, he added — his father a urologist and his mother a pediatrician — and growing up in Athens, Ohio, he tried hard not to follow in their footsteps. “This idea that a bright Indian kid is supposed to be a doctor — I resisted that,” he said. “I wanted to be a rock star. I played guitar and wrote songs and even had a couple of club shows. I was just terrible.”

So Atul Gawande became… a surgeon. A celebrity surgeon, in fact, thanks to his side practice as a writer; he’s a regular presence in the New Yorker, his book Complications came out last year to critical acclaim — Amardeep wrote about it here — and a new book, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, is out this week.

So now that he’s, like, this author, we get to accompany him into the operating room where we learn that the brother never gave up his love for music; indeed, he gets to inflict his musical taste on the O.R. personnel, though, he allows, “You can’t play anything hard-hitting if there’s anyone over 45.” Thus:

On a recent day, when he took out a gallbladder, two thyroids and what was supposed to be a parathyroid gland but maybe wasn’t, the playlist included David Bowie, Arcade Fire, Regina Spektor, Aimee Mann, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, the Decemberists and the Killers.

My favorite bit in the article, however, isn’t about the music but rather about how Gawande found himself becoming a writer, shaking off a dismal experience in college when a writing instructor, in a moment of brilliant teaching technique, “told him that he could write a sentence but had nothing to say.” At some point Gawande started contributing to Slate, and his characterization of writing for that particular outlet is a masterpiece of damnation with faint praise:

“Slate was perfect for me,” he explained, “because it enabled me to fly under the radar. It was just like going through surgical residency. I did 30 columns for them, and it was like doing 30 gallbladders. Then I had to learn how to get comfortable with 4,000-word and then 8,000-word essays for The New Yorker.”

Okay, so he’s had a charmed life; I know plenty of writers who would die for a Slate commission, and the “advance directly to New Yorker” scenario is not exactly commonplace. Oh, did I mention he also has a MacArthur grant? Still, in my book at least, anyone who likens writing for Slate to extracting a gallbladder — and can back it up with actual experience — earns a toast of love, not Haterade. Continue reading

Boy Can Sing!

At a time when a desi male singer is in the news for all the wrong reasons, it’s good to remember that there’s such a thing as the art of the song, and nice to come across a desi brother who is honing his craft like a devoted apprentice: slowly, steadily, and with growing success.

vasandani.jpgSachal Vasandani, 28, has been singing on the New York jazz circuit for a few years now: he’s performed with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Wynton Marsalis, and he has a regular early-evening gig at Zinc Bar in Greenwich Village. That’s where Manish heard him almost two years ago now, which resulted in this post; and the fact that it’s taken this long for Sachal to drop his first album, which comes out tomorrow, and that the disc features the same core trio (David Wong on bass, Quincy Davis on drums, and Jeb Patton on piano) that Manish heard that night, tells you a lot about the consistency and hard work and constant plugging away that it takes to develop your sound and make your move in the real music world, as opposed to freakshows like American Idol.

The album is called “Eyes Wide Open” and is out on Detroit label Mack Avenue. It’s really an album of songs, by which I mean, songs with lyrics, verses and refrains, melody and exposition — this is not free jazz, in fact it’s not even what most listeners would consider edgy, and that centrist disposition makes it eminently accessible, perhaps more so than some heads would be willing to cop to liking. Three of the compositions are Vasandani’s own; the remainder divide among standards and covers from sources as diverse as Sade and Iron & Wine.

I sat down with the brother recently for a story that you can find here. It will give you the rundown on his life story and all the usual profile elements. Here’s a little excerpt that will give you an idea of his approach and sensibility: Continue reading

Don’t Bother: You’ll Never Get It

I’m still processing the bilious sortie by Shashi Tharoor, the Indian diplomat and author, outgoing undersecretary-general of the United Nations and failed candidate for the top job, in the opinion pages of last Friday’s New York Times. It’s the one where he announces that America and Americans are congenitally incapable of comprehending cricket, that the condition is incurable, and that after valiantly performing such educational mitzvahs as diagramming cricket play possibilities on bar napkins for baseball fans during breaks in World Series games, he has now given up; and hereby retreats to the world of connoisseurs who will gather, he tells us, to watch the final at the home of an expatriate where “of course there will be no Americans.”

Here’s his parting shot:

So here’s the message, America: don’t pay any attention to us, and we won’t pay any to you. If you wonder, over the coming weeks, why your Indian co-worker is stealing distracted glances at his computer screen every few minutes or why the South African in the next cubicle is taking frequent and furtive bathroom breaks during the working day, don’t even try to understand. You probably wouldn’t get it. You may as well learn to accept that there are some things too special for the rest of us to want to waste them on you.

Lovely! Elegant! Thoughtful! Um… diplomatic! Ever considered working for the United Nations?

Alright, so everyone has an off day. And sure, yeah, most people in the U.S. don’t get cricket. Not exactly a novel observation. So why not leave it at that? Instead Tharoor decides to actually argue the case, justifying his dismissal of this thing called “America” with an array of absurd statements. Americans, he says, “have about as much use for cricket as Lapps have for beachwear.” They follow baseball instead, which “is to cricket as simple addition is to calculus.” Tharoor has “even appealed to the Hemingway instinct that lurks in every American male by pointing out how cricket is so much more virile a sport.” All to no avail. But thanks to satellite television and the Internet, now “you can ignore America and enjoy your cricket.” After all: “Why try to sell Kiri Te Kanawa to people who prefer Anna Nicole Smith?”

But all of this is mere appetizer for the main dish, the Comparative Analysis of National Character. Take it away, maestro: Continue reading

The Great Achar of Wigan

limepickle.jpgBehold: The lime pickle. Not the chili pickle, the mango pickle, the garlic pickle, the eggplant pickle, or any other kind of pickle. And certainly not that abomination, the “mixed pickle.” This here is lime pickle, the greatest and more exalted of all the pickles.

Man, me and lime pickle go back a long, long way. You see, in all my mixed-up, tri-continental, ruthlessly secular upbringing, desi food always held its rightful place. Now we lived in France, not a major center of desi culture either then or now, and this was before the globalization of so-called ethnic gourmet cuisine made the basic spices and ingredients available in all the world’s major cities. But we made do, and the key to our survival, desi food-wise, was the one line of prepared foods, spice mixes and achars on the market, which was inevitably Patak’s. So there was always a bottle of curry paste around — not to serve as the sole ingredient, of course, but to accelerate the process. And whether the curry was prepared from a paste or from scratch, there was always lime pickle on hand to give it the necessary je ne sais quoi.

To this day lime pickle is one of the essential condiments in my refrigerator — that and Dijon mustard (the proper smooth kind, not the grainy stuff), a combination that I guess pretty much encapsulates the flavors of my childhood. I find uses for lime pickle that other people don’t have — or so I think. Except I know that now, as I confess to you that I add lime pickle to my tuna fish salad, a whole bunch of you are going to reveal that you do the same. Continue reading

“Herewith, Some Names To Learn”

I don’t need to tell y’all that brown people are taking over the world. Hell, desis been taking over for a minute now. One place where you would have thought this would be apparent is here in New York City, where our people are running things across the board, from academia to media to cinema to art to finance to medicine to law to activism to philanthropy to — oh, yeah, fruit vendors and taxi cab drivers (but we do not speak of these). And yet, there remains a class of benighted New Yorkers who have yet to recognize the ever-browning brownitude in which they bathe.

Who are these poor souls? Why, they’re the readers of the New York Observer: the pink-papered weekly with the highbrow preoccupations and the arch headlines and the Upper West Side noblesse oblige; the original fount of the Candace Bushnell column that begat Sex and the City; the paper that crows to advertisers that it “delivers the top of the market: a well-educated, affluent audience of highly influential consumers.” Indeed, according to the sales kit, median household income among Observer subscribers is $162,500; median net worth is $1,546,200; the average numbers are much higher.

Well, in what must be confirmation that we have finally arrived, this lofty set has been officially advised of our existence as of the current issue of the Observer, which features a series of short profiles penned by Nicholas Boston, under the (highly original!) title “India, Inc.” The reduction to India of a group that actually mixes FOBs (or whatever we’re calling them now), ABDs, 1.5s, and people of Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani and even half-Dutch origin is but one of the various conflations that y’all sensitive types might bridle at but that, let’s face it, shouldn’t really matter all that much given that we all look the same.

Anyway, now that we exist, at least as some kind of highly literate brown blob, we also need a name. What would it be? Desicrats? Macacarati? No! We are… the Bollypolitans! “A Bollypolitan elite is the newest creative class to kick into New York with art, fashion, literature,” the subtitle announces. And in the first sentence we meet our leader:

In 2000, the Indian-American Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with The Interpreter of Maladies, making her the first South Asian—and, at 33, among the youngest of any ethnicity—to be named in that category. She appeared on The Charlie Rose Show, wearing crimson, her hair gelled back into a chignon.

Charlie Rose! Crimson! Chignons! Shit, this desi thing must be for real. Indeed:

Ever since then, twenty- and thirtysomethings of South Asian descent—that would be Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan—have emerged in a very public way on New York’s cultural stage, and we’re not talkin’ Kaavya Viswanathan. Art centers have been chartered, dance ensembles formed, fashion companies founded—and many more books, both fiction and nonfiction, written and published. Herewith, some names to learn.

So, quick: If you had to pick 12 desis-you-need-to-know in the New York “creative class” (and don’t pick Cicatrix or myself, that would be too easy :P ), who would you choose? You can compare your results with Mr. Boston’s incredible advanced sociological sampling analysis here. Discuss! Continue reading