Last Call

It was my intention to go out in Style&Snark, involving some kind of LiveBloggingEvent or Recap of Priya&Divya’s Super Sweet 16. But in light of Tuesday’s gripping events on a subcontinent where the Innocent&Hardworking cram 15-per-square meter traveling to and from work in order to put food on the table in the pursuit of better tomorrows, the trivial voyeuristic judgment of affluent, ill-mannered, hyphenated-American teenagers and the parents who indulge them suddenly seemed all the more irrelevant.

In my Sepia denouement, it seemed appropriate to disclose one small confession: I’m scared of Indians. Like, terrified. Like, if everyone in the last comment thread was standing together in a room, it would take me several cocktails to muster the courage to enter. And one of those cocktails would probably have to include some ratio of 151.

Seriously. Continue reading

When the Joneses Snort Cocaine

Move over Louis, there is a Fat White Lady working your corner on the streets of New Delhi.

The AP reports that “Cocaine May Be the New Status Symbol in India“.

Says Kiran Bedi, good cop extraordinaire:

“Cocaine is expensive. You’ve got to have money for it, and now more people have money. It becomes a matter of keeping up with the Joneses.”

Among all the things that it is, it is another great example to add to the Class Matters series The New York Times did last year of how the material ways once used to define class have both changed and stayed the same.

And though I would argue that the social ripple effects of designer handbags and addictive stimulants are decidedly different, I suppose there is some parallel between Louis Vuitton and Lady Caine. Continue reading

An Ode to My [Least] Favorite Auntie

I always ran into you on the days I least wanted to. You knew how to cut to the core of me, of everyone, of the weak- and strong-willed alike. Your bullshit detector was unsurpassed.

Foolishly, for a time, I thought I could anticipate your moves and quickly learned I would never be fast enough: you were always one step ahead. I tried valiantly to dodge your never-ending stream of inquisitions over standardized test scores, cumulative grade point averages, class rank, college major, graduate school, first job, starting salary, rent payment, home purchase, and potential spouse — I always failed miserably, stuttering, shot down and wounded on topics I would have never even thought to imagine. Like how much my student loan payments were. It always seemed easier to surrender immediately to your poison bite than to fight it and prolong my own demise, snared and tangled in a weak web woven of my own lies.

I always suspected you knew the color of my underwear, how much I’d paid for it and strongly disapproved.

I avoided Indian functions my entire senior year of high school because of you… Continue reading

An Ode to My Favorite Auntie

With a wave of your hand, the acquisition of some spare folding tables and the procurement of 15 plastic table cloths, you could turn any room into a dining hall in under two minutes. At Costco, you never over- or under-bought, rather knew the exact number of bags of potato chips, 2-Liter bottles of Coke, containers of Dannon and bags of hard candies to feed a crowd of any size, plus any last-minute, non-RSVPed guests.

Those who didn’t prostrate before the altar of your vast knowledge of crowd control before birthdays, graduation or anniversary parties often paid the price in more ways than one. Functions without your fingerprints were never as good.

You weren’t scared of anyone. You had a PhD from the School of Hard Knocks and when you spoke, everyone listened. I’ve seen you go head-to-head with everyone from mess hall cooks to American wedding planners, janitors to Hindu priests, elected officials to Indian musicians, usually within the same afternoon. You always won. He who dared doubt you often felt your ire and disgust for years on end.

You never forgot the rigatoni. You were a visionary and realized early on that it was the appropriate side to every imaginable combination of Indian cuisine.

You also never forgot the thair chadamContinue reading

Ritu Beri: Help Me Understand

I read this article: “We Have No International Designers” in the Times of India.

First, I was annoyed that Ritu Beri seems to be chasing the ideals of a postmodern colonialist landscape.

The West doesn’t even recognise the Indian fashion industry, just individual designers…

Then, I felt like she might have a point…

In fact, Ritu feels that the West wants fashion with a distinct Indian edge from us. “We should restrict ourselves to Indian wear because we do that best…”

Then, I was annoyed again:

Her take on the Indian fashion weeks is also quite dismal. “Indian fashion weeks will not take the industry anywhere as we don’t exactly know what is happening outside our four walls…”

Then I wondered why I’m ever surprised that India still gets so exotified by the West for its spiritual swamijis and silken sensuality and, now, ruffled cotton petticoats:

So, that’s why Ritu herself prefers phoren to Indian fashion weeks. “For them, India is a very exotic land. From spirituality to people – everything attracts them. For them, even a petticoat and a saree is Indian fashion,”says Ritu.

Continue reading

Female Infanticide + $$$ + Orwellian Recalibration = Designer Babies

If anyone was wondering what exactly it takes to transform female infanticide from the morally judgmental, ethically reprehensible “evils of sex selection” into a kinder, gentler “medical tourism for designer babies,” this week — somewhere between the crossed wires of the Associated Press and the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer — we had the answer printed for us in black-and-white typeface on crisp, clean newsprint:


:::Insert eyeroll here::: Continue reading

The Insider’s Maharaja

Maybe it’s just me but when you travel to foreign locales isn’t there some kind of charm to having the “commoner” experience? Of going somewhere and moving (as my father says) “with the people”?

The Wall Street Journal called it “VIP Travel on the Cheap” but I think a better name might be (with all due respect to the anonymous maharaja in question) “People Who Want To Visit Foreign Countries Without Having to Interact with Anyone Who Actually Lives There”.

One of the hottest concepts in travel right now is the “insider” experience, where travelers are promised a chance to hobnob with celebrities, go behind the scenes where other tourists are barred and be treated like visiting dignitaries.

Companies are selling tours of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s entertaining room, visits with Olympic athletes and drinks with an Indian maharaja — complete with an elephant parade.

Now, I’m not saying you have to go to India and tan in the Dharavi slum or drive an auto rickshaw around Queen’s Necklace during rush hour or do a load of whites under the oppressive third world sun. But, if you’re going to sit in a plane and make the commitment and fly all the way around the world to India, shouldn’t you actually try to see some of it? Continue reading

The Curves of Cheating (Or Can A WonderBra Help You Pass A Maths Test?)

Ladies: Sure our bras can push-in, push-up and push-out…create curves and decolletage where there might not have been otherwise…support us steadfastly through athletic events, bad days at work and first dates alike…and, by sheer ergonomic design, make us sinfully sexy seductresses in the crucial moments when it matters most but, as ever-prepared, forward-thinking members of the Mutiny, let’s get down to brass tacks — what can it really do to help advance our studies?

Just ask Ashish, a telecommunications graduate from India’s Pune University. He was caught cheating on his final-year exam – he diagrammed an elaborate electronic circuit on the underside of his calculator – and kicked out. But he returned and passed the next term, and freely admits to cheating on most tests at university.

“Cheating sounds too grave,” he says, insisting that his family name not be printed. “Everyone does it.” He has written formulas on his ruler and smuggled notes up his sleeves and inside his shoes. Women have it easier, he claims, as modesty affords protection. “If I were a woman, I’d try smuggling them in my bra,” he says.


I find this great for several reasons. Continue reading

Backstory: Don’t Mix Your Saffrons With Your Whites

I realize that CSM staff photographer Andy Nelson was trying to make the outdoor laundries of New Delhi romantic and palatable to a highbrow, upper-crust Western audience. I do.

And when the Monitor hits the stands tomorrow, complete with the colorful photographic spread of hard-working countrymen like Harichand Kanojiya…


…I’m sure there’s part of me that will feel thrilled that these manual laborers who comprise such an essential vertebrae in India’s backbone got their due by way of a clever title and a thoughtful profile in a National Geographic kind of way.


Continue reading

The Mutiny Always Rings Twice

And when, late on a weeknight, you are wakened by short, meaningful raps at the door and open it to find Anna in a hooded, velveteen robe, eyes dark and mysterious, blindfold in hand: you know your time has come and you follow without question.

She picks up your laptop and waits for you at the door, reminding you not to leave home without ample snark, a few good literary jabs and shimmery, sparkling eye makeup.

Your heart races. You swallow down parental warnings to avoid using fuck as a verb, drinking homemade punch out of crystal goblets handed to you by good-for-nothing “bois” and bringing sepia-colored Shame on the family.

You are sweaty-palmed and slightly nauseous over urban legends about hazing, mutinous readers and the potential for an unruly comment thread to turn into an impromptu session of Circle the Fat.

But mostly, you feel jittery and excited. Hoping against hope as she blindfolds you, that when the cool, silky fabric is ultimately removed you’ll find yourself at the intersection of Good Storytelling, Meaningful Prose and Cultural Context, but that until it is you have to go out on faith, friendship and sisterhood because you won’t know for sure till you get there what’s in store for you down the road ahead. Continue reading