So Long, Farewell

Well, my blogging time at Sepia Mutiny has come to an end, and it was both entertaining and challenging. I was first approached by the Bloggers-That-Be at SM after my little rant about the other Viswanathan girl, Kaavya. Soon after the plagiarism scandal of How Opal Mehta Blah B Blah hit, I set up a news alert to figure out if there was a story there. Most of the Kaavya V. news alerts were from Indian newspapers, who seemed to be taking this much harder than the American publishing industry. It has even prompted an intelligent if slightly endless letter from desi author Tanuja Desai Hidier, who criticized the idea there’s only on way to talk about the desi experience. You can read her letter here.

One might ask why Hidier feels the need to comment. My guess is that she feels she doesn’t have any choice. I have just signed with an agent for my latest book, a pop history of wicked women, and she has already made one thing clear to me: I am the “Other Viswanathan” in publishing, not Kaavya. For better or worse, she has made her mark, and the rest of us desi authors–even those without her last name–are following her checkered trail. Continue reading

The Freedom To Write

He may be the “muslim Martin Luther” but author and activist Tariq Ramadan has been the object of controversy in the post 9-11 climate. In 2004, his visa was revoked by the department of homeland security because of the fear that he would use his

“position of prominence…to endorse or espouse terrorist activity.”

Despite all the suspicion, most evidence pointed to Ramadan being a scholar, not a terrorist. Furthermore, Ramadan is a Swiss citizen, and taught all over Europe, including at Oxford, with no mishaps or accidental bombings. So why the stall on the visa? Obviously, the feds didn’t enjoy Ramadan’s vocal criticism of the war against terrorism.

Recently, however, federal Judge Paul A. Crotty ordered the government to stop stalling on Ramadan’s visa for teaching at the University of Notre Dame. I went to school with Judge Crotty’s daughter and vaguely remember hearing him speak at a conference, but my respect for him doubled with this decision, but he is clearly not immune from the dreaded Legalese Virus.

Allowing the government to wait for ‘possible future discovery of statementsÂ’ would mean that the government could delay final adjudication indefinitely, evading constitutional review by its own failure to render a decision on RamadanÂ’s application. The Court will not allow this…

crikey. basically, the decision also slaps the knuckles of the DHS for assuming that there would be no judicial review of the visa denial. translate, if you will:

While the Executive may exclude an alien for almost any reason, it cannot do so solely because the Executive disagrees with the content of the alienÂ’s speech and therefore wants to prevent the alien from sharing this speech with a willing American audience.

Take that, Patriot Act! And Professor–welcome to Indiana. Enjoy the football.

More about the decision can be read at PEN American Center, an organization which works to preserve the freedom to write and be read all over the world. For the hardy, here is Judge Crotty’s full decision in its technical, DHS-bashing splendor.

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Apu-calypse Now!

It’s probably not a surprise that I’m a Simpsons fanatic, and have been since the first days (we collected Matt Groening cartoons in junior high) but it was the evolution of the character of Apu that really clinched it for me.

Now, the first reaction upon encountering or hearing about Apu Nahasapeemapetalan is invariably a groan–yet another stereotypical 7-11 manager/operator–whether when he debuted, or today. But Apu evolved, as most Simpsons’ characters, into someone complex, worthy of both ridicule and empathy. He has a PhD, entered into an arranged marriage (but not before a stint as Springfield’s most happening bachelor, Trans Am and all) with the witty Manjula, sired octoplets, revealed his veganism and his illegal immigrant status, which he fixed by getting that long-awaited H-1 Visa. His worst sins are quirky saying in accented English, his two instances of infidelity to his wife and a tendency to overcharge (nothing compared to miser Mr.Burns or desperate Moe). Despite repeated attempts to run away from the overwhelming demands of his family of octoplets, Apu remains an excellent vehicle for Simpsons writers to explore desi issues. I highly recommend Wikipedia’s detailed biography of Apu here.

But Apu was absent in the most recent Simpsons exploration of desi culture, when Homer gets outsourced to India. Desi culture has become too big even for Apu. Continue reading

Computers Without Words

I have numerous jobs in addition to my writing, one of which involves working with new technology. I know it’s a stereotype to say that Indians are good with computers, but I welcome it in my case, mostly because it’s hilariously untrue. I’ve avoided technology as much as possible–I didn’t have an email address until 1996, and it’s still a crapshoot if my cell phone is working–despite coming from a family of technophiles. What they actually do to these computers, I have no idea, but despite being voted Most Likely to Spill Coke On the Keyboard Again, I find myself reasonably skilled at this new IT-oriented gig. Nature or nurture? Or dumb luck? Discuss.

But what about those who are not just computer illiterate, but actually unable to read or write? Microsoft has a plan: make computers that don’t depend on words. This March 2006 USA Today article talks about how a new breed of computers can help often-illiterate domestic servants:

Working with a local advocacy group, Microsoft has developed a prototype of a system that would connect illiterate domestic workers in India with families seeking their services. The system uses pictures, video and voice commands to tell women what jobs are available, how much the jobs pay and where they are.

Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? For one thing:

they [the domestic workers] had trouble seeing why a computerized system for finding work was better than traditional word-of-mouth

Additionally, the computer’s images and pictures had to bridge language and cultural gaps, such as this one:

the women associated neighborhoods with landmarks rather than addresses, so an interactive map and verbal directions had to be tweaked to represent that.

Finally–the big hurdle: implementation. This CNET article discusses the difficulties poorer areas of India have getting computer literate. Apart from the most obvious issue of languages, there is problem of power:

To save power, the PCs run on car and truck batteries. Unfortunately, the batteries regularly need recharging and the public electrical power system can’t always handle the demand.

and crime:

Three weeks ago, the village transformer blew because too many people tapped into it illegally, a chronic problem here. The government refused to rebuild the transformer until the villagers promised to punish anyone who stole power.

and bad freakin’ luck:

The day after it was rebuilt, the transformer blew again.

Continue reading

Indian Woman Marries Snake

Look, I love animals. I mean, I really love animals. I grew up with a dog, I have cats, and I walk some of the dogs in my neighborhood to break up my writing day. But I draw a line at this: Indian woman marries cobra.

Now, all phallic jokes aside, let’s take a look at this. This woman was sick. She started feeding the snake and got cured. Perhaps this was psychological, or coincidental, or perhaps it was indeed a religious sign. But basic questions are being ignored here.

For one, how did the snake propose? I’m assuming this Bimbala Das is a nice Indian girl who didn’t spring the question on it/him? Also:

Priests chanted mantras to seal the union, but the snake failed to come out of a nearby ant hill where it lives,

Then how do you know it said yes? What if it has a little cobra wife and babies already? You mean the incredible racket of an Indian wedding isn’t conducive to luring snakes into matrimony?

Second, what are the snake’s rights? Does he know own her property? Did he provide some kind of dowry? And, perhaps most important from the cobra’s point of view–does the snake have any conjugal rights? I mean, I’m just asking here, it’s a logical question.

“I am happy,” said her mother Dyuti Bhoi, who has two other daughters and two sons to marry off.

Eeeeeeeenteresting. Perhaps a trip to the zoo is in order? I’ve heard penguins mate for life….

a traditional Hindu wedding celebrated by 2,000 guests in India’s Orissa state

This is the most shocking of all. A cobra can get 2000 guests to come to its wedding in the heat of India in June and I can’t get half my guests to come up past 14th street on a weekday. Continue reading

Silencing the “Code”

Oh dear. Andhra Pradesh is the seventh Indian state to ban The Da Vinci Code. Why?

“We have taken the decision because the release of the movie could have led to demonstrations and trouble,” Paul Bhuyan, the special chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh, told The Associated Press. More here. Apparently, the chief secretary took Tommy Lee Jones seriously in Men in Black: “A person is smart. People are dumb, stupid animals and you know it.”

Now, I have not seen the movie, nor have I read the book. I tried, but I didn’t like the writing. Thanks to the combination of hype and Wikipedia, I know the whole damn story, right down to the mad albino monk’s favorite method of self-flagellation. Everyone I know who has seen the movie has thought it stuffy and boring, but I will quote only my mother “That Indiana Jones was much funnier.”

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Desi Goth Manifesto

Up until recently, I had always assumed that I was one of the few desis who seriously considered herself a goth. No, I don’t walk around in black lipstick and white powder–and that’s one of the misconceptions that I want this post to refute. The Desi Goth is a rare, largely nocturnal species that does not always associate with other desis, or goths. Here are a few simple guidelines.

  1. I do not claim to universally define “Desi Goth.” I leave that to the comments section of this post. In my experience, both desis and goths are very touchy about labeling, which leads to some interesting problems of self-identification. That said, if you’re a Desi, and you find yourself influenced, moved or interested in goth culture, welcome aboard.

  2. A brief history of goth culture here. There are an infinite number of types of goths. Marilyn Manson is not considered goth culture, but don’t tell that to his followers. Victorian goths, with their affinity for cognac and opium, their penchant for wearing ruffles and velvet in summer, their gramaphones and their oil paintings, have very little in common with the punk goth, who wears torn tee’s, squats in a basement apartment, plays in a death metal band, and is covered in Celtic tattoos.

  3. Goth culture never goes away. It goes underground. From the tortured antiheros of Byron’s poetry, to Goethe’s Faust, to tecno-goth masterpieces like Blade Runner and Metropolis, to Noseferatu, Lestat, Dracul and all the other famous vampires, goth culture pops up in cycles in art, literature, pop culture and public consciousness. Particularly in troubled times. (The term gothic originates from the late 18th century, to describe popular and high culture reacting to political and social uncertainty. An excellent resource to the history of the gothic .; note the limited information from a Desi perspective. here

  4. Misconception One: Not all goths work in video stores. There is such a thing as corporate goth. They work from within the system. Admittedly, their attire is restricted, but you do what you can. Continue reading

Greetings and Salutations

Well, thanks to everyone for the lovely welcome, I’m very happy to be here–if a little nervous about suddenly bloggint to a large audience. My blog the lawyerwriter seems to generate a few hundred hits a day, which pretty much sums up my known friends, enemies, family and ex-boyfriends. From what I can tell, Sepia Mutiny gets about 16,000 hits a day. So this is a little like having a spotlight thrown on you while you’re singing in the bathub. You’re glad for the attention, of course, but you really wish you’d had a few more lessons to prepare yourself for the sudden publicity. Continue reading