Mile High Meetup! – September 23

The wonderful city of Denver, Colorado is exactly 5280 feet above sea level. (And you thought we were talking about something else? Chhi!) We’re holding our first meetup in the Mile High City this coming Thursday the 23rd. Sepia’s web wizard Kunjan will be in Denver this week, and though it’s a school night, I promised him I’d drive an hour north on I-25 to see him.

Date: THURSDAY, September 23rd, 2010

Time: 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Place: Indiä’s Restaurant

We’ll be meeting at Indiä’s Restaurant because it satisfies some minimum requirements: decent food, easy access from I-25, plenty of parking, and a respectfully stocked bar.

I was half hoping that one person would join us and then go next door for a 2.5-hour Hindi/Telegu/Tamil cinematic extravaganza— so we could crown that person the brownest person in the room, but it doesn’t look as if anything is playing that night. We’ll still take nominations though. I’m rooting for the person who figures out why our restaurant has an umlaut, which means that it should be pronounced “Indi-yehs.” (But maybe it’s more like Häagen Dasz).

When I first moved to Colorado, I thought it was the whitest place I had ever been. Then I got stuck in the airport at Salt Lake City. Now that I have lived here a while, I know there are many of you around. I’ve met a fair number of South Asian American 2nd-gens like me in Colorado, but I’ve also met people from every single South Asian country (including the Maldives) except Bhutan– though I know you’re around too.

Come on out, and say hi! If you can join us, let us know by leaving a comment, and I can book a table for all of us before we arrive. Continue reading

Saxophones and Seduction

One of my favorite film songs of all time is “Roop Tera Mastana” from the 1969 Hindi film [Aradhana]( The song appears just before a dashing young Air Force pilot, Arun (Rajesh Khanna), spends his first night with his new bride, Vandana (Sharmila Tagore, with her bouffant and perfect liquid eyeliner ). Arun and Vandana have just been married by a priest in a small temple because Arun has to leave to fight, and they’re in a rush to get married before he leaves. Unfortunately now it’s raining, and they’ve been drenched, so they huddle together in a rustic wooden cabin for warmth. Because they’re married, their isolation shouldn’t be a problem. But they’ve jumped the gun by getting married without their families’ presence. And now they’re getting closer and closer, to the point of no return…

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Denver, Show Me Your Jalwa!

Yes, Denver has jalwa. Hey, we’ve even got the original Dhak Dhak girl in our midst! (And yes, I know some of you are Bollywood haters. Go wreak havoc on another post, ok?) When I moved to Colorado a few years ago, I was amazed to discover that I could watch many Bollywood films on opening night. There’s tea and samosas at the concession, and hoots from the girls whenever Salman takes off his shirt. They hoot. I cringe. If he had better moves, he would refrain from such tasteless exhibitionism.

And that’s where Renu Kansal comes to the rescue.

Bollywood West.jpg

Old-timers may recognize her from her previous avatar, but over the last three years, Renu has enrolled over 630 students at her studio, Bollywood West, and now serves as the semi-official Bollywood ambassador of Colorado. Continue reading

Perrier, Evian, or B’eau Pal?

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A few days ago, I received a press announcement for a new line of luxury bottled water: B’eau Pal. (Oo la la!) But the fine print was a little less enticing:

The unique qualities of our water come from 25 years of slow-leaching toxins at the site of the world’s largest industrial accident. To this day, Dow Chemical — who bought Union Carbide — has refused to clean up and whole new generations are being poisoned.

An explanation? Suffice it to say that The Yes Men have been at it again. Continue reading

Farewell to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (1922-2009)


Yesterday Indian classical music lost one of its greatest, master sarod player Ali Akbar Khan. Those of you from the Bay Area will recognize his name in association with the school he founded in 1967, the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, CA, which has taught North Indian classical music to more than 10,000 students. Along with sitar player Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan was the face of North Indian classical music in the United States and influenced countless musicians around the world.

Guitarist Carlos Santana once said that a single note of Khan’s sarod "goes right to my heart," while classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin – who prompted Mr. Khan to first visit the United States in 1955 – once called the sarodist "the greatest musician in the world."

Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, who took drum lessons at Mr. Khan’s college the first year it opened, said …, "All the people who studied there – it changed all our lives. Khan embodies the pure spirit of music; it’s not just the notes, it’s the spirit. Every time I listen to him, he takes me there."(link)

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The play’s the thing! A new collection of plays from the South Asian diaspora

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For those of you who are still looking for something interesting to read this summer, I’d like to call your attention to a fantastic new collection, Beyond Bollywood and Broadway: Plays from the South Asian Diaspora. I learned about this collection after having the editor, Neilesh Bose, as my colleague in Colorado this past year. (You should know that although he’s not that much younger than me, Neilesh has distinguished himself as being the only person Stateside who calls me Nilanjana didi to my face, which is mildly annoying but also endearing.) Neilesh bhai moonlights as a modern South Asian historian focusing on Bengali Muslims from the 1920s through Partition, and leaving his elder "sister" behind in the alpine desert, he’ll be joining the history department at the University of North Texas next fall.

Beyond Bollywood and Broadway: Plays from the South Asian Diaspora will be officially launched August 10-11 at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center (CUNY) in New York with many of the playwrights in attendance, so do save that date if you’re in the city.

The collection includes three plays from the United States, two from Canada, three from the United Kingdom, and three from South Africa. Even if I hadn’t met Neilesh this year, I would consider the collection a must-read for those of us who groan at the news of yet another novel evoking the heady scent of mangos. The plays from the United States include a seering sendup of two desi academics (identity politics, the postcolonial condition, etc.) in Anuvab Pal’s Chaos Theory and an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice set in 21st-century SoCal by Shishir Kurup. The other plays cover broad territory including the Bhopal disaster, absurdist theater, the hypothetical meeting of epic heroes Odysseus and Ram, domestic violence, Gujarati British youth culture, South African apartheid, and Indo-African relations. The plays are divided into sections by country, and for each country, Neilesh provides a detailed (but very readable) introduction to the historical, social, and cultural factors that distinguish South Asian migration and settlement there. There are also helpful comments on the development and role of theater in each setting. I’m always suspicious whenever people start talking about the South Asian diaspora as something that can be lumped together in a coherent whole, so I particularly appreciated these introductions. At the same time, there are recurring themes across these different diasporic locations, and these introductions direct our attention to them.

What I was however most eager to read at the outset was Aasif Mandvi‘s play, Sakina’s Restaurant. (Yes, that Aasif Mandvi, the brown guy on the Daily Show). Continue reading

Not another girl band!

I read about this “Pakistani girl band” a while ago last December but only got my hands on their album Chup a few months ago. Mutineers, Zeb & Haniya is not a girl band.

Zeb and Haniya are two Pakistani women cousins, Haniya Aslam and Zeb (Zebunissa) Bangash, who make fantastic music. Two weeks ago, they were awarded “Best Live Act” in the MTV Pakistan Music Awards. They are Pashtuns (Pathans) whose families are based in the town of Kohat in the North West Frontier province.


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An update on Sri Lanka

I woke up this morning stunned at the following news:

Sri Lanka last night scored a major propaganda coup when the UN human rights council praised its victory over the Tamil Tigers and refused calls to investigate allegations of war crimes by both sides in the final chapter of a bloody 25-year conflict. In a shock move, which dismayed western nations critical of Sri Lanka’s approach, the island’s diplomats succeeded in lobbying enough of its south Asian allies to pass a resolution describing the conflict as a “domestic matter that doesn’t warrant outside interference”.

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Bought any Indian art lately?

Last summer, a friend pointed me to Saffronart, an online auction site that features artwork by both better and lesser-known modern and contemporary Indian artists. You can browse for works based on the artist, how much they cost, or look at specially organized collections. It’s addictive enough for those of us who are suckers for eye-candy, but it’s very interesting to see what you can get for your money, or somebody else’s money.

As most of you probably already know, over the last decade, the market for Indian art exploded, to the extent that it was considered a “sensible investment.” (Snarky aside to all those artsy types snickering at the thought of bankers, engineers, and doctors suddenly interested in Indian art: they paid your rent.)

8341_Gaitonde_Untitled.jpg V.S. Gaitonde, Untitled, 1973

Of course, we’re in a different world now. Continue reading

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