Thank you, Sepia Mutiny

Dear Sepia Mutiny,

You’ve been a pal. No, seriously, you’re the best yaar a Pakistani-American girl could conjure. That’s why I dedicate Kishore Kumar’s soundtrack, “Chalte, Chalte” to you. The lyrics, “Kabhi alvida na kahna” translate to, “Never say goodbye.” SM, you challenged me. You educated me. You delighted me. You enraged me. And so, I thank you. All of you.

Thank you, Amardeep, my fellow Philadelphian. When I first stumbled across Sepia Mutiny years ago, yours were the first posts I followed closely.  I still go back and reference your eloquent, lyrical writings on music, authors and more. And as I go forward, I hope to keep your last post in mind. Especially this line: “[T]here really is value in spelling out an idea or a perspective at some length, and then giving readers as much space as they want or need to discuss it with you.” Longform writing, ftw! Continue reading

Q&A with Arooj Aftab: “I’m Tired of Exoticized South Asian Music”

Five months ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arooj Aftab, a musician who came from Pakistan to study at Berklee College of Music. I first saw Arooj perform August 2011, at Unification in NYC, where she quickly won over the crowd with her haunting Urdu vocals. After Unification, I went back home and started listening to Arooj’s music. Disclaimer: It’s addictive. One frigid fall night, standing outside her Brooklyn apartment, Arooj, one of NPR’s 100 Top Composers Under 40, shared the story of her musical journey with me via phone.

When did you know that you wanted to sing? After I finished school at Lahore, I started college, but it just didn’t feel right. I had a strange feeling that there had to be something more exciting to do in life. I had always loved music, because of my parents’ love for music and because of the music culture in Lahore. But there were no musical schools in Pakistan, which was kind of annoying.

Now your parents must be pretty cool, to let you come to America and pursue your music. Was there ever a “No beta, don’t do this” moment? It’s such a stereotypically unstable profession. So they always have a “Oh god, why did we let you do this” attitude. But I think secretly they’re excited because they both have great voices themselves and a love for music. In 2003, I made my dad sit down and listen to a cover I did of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and he became really quiet. That was when he started to take  my music seriously. Continue reading

Q&A with Author Sonia Faleiro: “I’m Suspicious of Easy Stories”

A man would protect them from themselves. You could never, ever, said Priya, underestimate what a relief it was to have someone waiting for you when you returned from the dance bar. ‘To be held,’ she said, ‘even in the arms of a thief, is worth something.’ – Beautiful Thing

When reporter and novelist Sonia Faleiro (The Girl) meets a lively, fast-talking 19-year old dancer named Leela in Mumbai, she finds herself intrigued by the characters of the dance bar world and decides to learn more. Over the course of five years, Faleiro painstakingly interviews Leela and her friends and family, as well as other key characters in the Mumbai dance bar scene and captures their stories. The result? Beautiful Thing, a captivating nonfiction narrative full of rich prose and powerful Hinglish dialogues that exposes readers to an underground world where people are mere commodities. A world where relatives sell young girls to the highest bidder and dancers lose their value well before their mid-20s. Continue reading

The Great American 9/11 Novel

For the last four months, I have been trying and failing to finish a book gifted me as a Christmas present, The Submission, the first novel by New York Times journalist Amy Waldman, released shortly before the anniversary of 9/11. I had almost completed it this week (grudgingly) before I was made aware of the depth of its popularity. I must confess, I was shocked. The book that I had considered passing to the thrift-store unfinished has in fact received rave reviews from a handful of the nation’s top papers.

The New York Times noted its “limber, detailed prose.” The Guardian stated: “Waldman’s prose is almost always pitch-perfect, whether describing a Bangladeshi woman’s relationship with her landlady or the political manoeuvring within a jury.” In The Washington Post, Chris Cleave wrote that Waldman “excels at involving the reader in vibrant dialogues. Additionally, The Submission was named Esquire’s Book of the Year, Entertainment Weekly’s #1 Novel for the Year, NPR’s Top Ten Novels for 2011 and the list goes on. NPR’s Maureen Corrigan called it “gorgeously written novel” and went so far as to call it the 9/11 novel. High praise, indeed. Continue reading

Q&A with Daisy Rockwell AKA Lapata

Unsettling. The Little Book of Terror, a slim, brightly-colored book of paintings and short essays by Daisy Rockwell hardly contains standard coffee-table fare. Divided into five sections, this cheeky little volume features your usual gallery of big-name, international rogues. Osama bin Laden. Saddam Hussein. But the feeling of uneasiness comes not from these over-chronicled villain archetypes whose images we’ve all seen scattered over televisions a hundred times over.

Instead, it comes from candid portraits such as that of Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, a 20-year old in New Jersey who was appended by the FBI after he tried to join a militant group in Somalia. In her portrait of Alessa, Rockwell depicts him in bubble-gum pink tones, prone on a floral bedspread, cuddling with his beloved cat, Princess Tuna. Unsettling. The narrative of terror that we often see seldom contains photos of wannabe terrorists cuddling with their kitty cats, or of the underwear bomber as a sullen teenager, posing during a school trip. Continue reading

Q&A with Outdated Author Samhita Mukhopadhyay

When Samhita Mukhopadhyay, executive editor of Feministing, announced she was writing a book on dating, I knew we had to have her on SM. Because as those of us who follow her on Twitter know – Mukhopadhyay is everything dating books are not – i.e. funny and whip smart. (Yes, I may have a wee bit of a girlcrush.) In fall of 2011, Mukhopadhyay released Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life, a humorous take on the self-help genre chockfull of anecdotes from the author’s own love life. Topics covered include: “dating while feminist,” the masculinity “crisis” and more. Apropos to Valentine’s Day, I asked the author to tell us more about Outdated.

Why did you feel you had to write Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life? And why this particular title?

I wrote Outdated because I couldn’t believe how profoundly ignorant mainstream books on dating were and I couldn’t believe that no one had already written a book discussing how deeply problematic the assumptions about gender and love were in them. I felt the young women in our generation deserved something better. Continue reading

UPDATED: On Lurve: SM’s Second Annual Valentine’s Day Contest

“All thoughts, all passions, all delights, Whatever stirs this mortal frame, All are but ministers of Love,  And feed his sacred flame.” Thus wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his 1799 poem “Love.” And what better time to celebrate love in all its shapes, forms and torments than in the days leading up to St. Valentine’s Day? Find your fanciest pens and papers ladies and gentleman, because it’s time for our second annual Valentine’s Day haiku-writing contest.

For you poetry noobs, a haiku is a Japanese verse form that employs sentences in the 5-7-5-syllable pattern.  Last year, we received a number of heartfelt entries from our readers. (And quite a few deliciously cheeky ones. Amitava, I’m looking at your “Size does not matter, you say. This small haiku in place of my — uhmmm — love” piece.) Come on, you can do it, mutineers. Give it a shot. Your Valentine will thank you.

Deadline: Submit all Valentine’s Day haikus in the comments below by 1PM on Friday, February 10. Please include an email address in your comments so that we can notify the winner.

2012 Theme: Love, ishq, pyar, mohabbatein, kadhal, prema, premam, et. al.

Winner: Winner will be announced in the comments on Tuesday,  February 14, 2012.

Judge: Amitava Kumar – writer, journalist and professor of English at Vassar college.

Prize: Winner gets a copy of The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Time, along with a personalized, handmade Valentine containing their haiku – mailed to the person of their choice (mom, dad, sis, BFF, bf, gf, yourself, etc.) by Valentine’s Day.

Lowes Protects All Americans from Dumb Reality Shows

Dear Lowes,

I am writing to thank you for pulling advertising from TLC’s All-American Muslim. On behalf of myself and all other dumb-reality-television-hating folks, I want to express my gratitude for your efforts to make American reality television as transparent as possible. As a longtime Lowes consumer, I am proud to know that my hardware store cares enough about the community to influence the content of its television shows. You’re making history by taking home improvement to a whole new level.

I fervently hope you are the first in a long line of businesses to protest the Kim Kardashianesque shows that constitute American programming. (I mean honestly, if All-American Muslim mother-daughter Lila and Suehaila get into any more wedding-planning shenanigans about Shadia’s nuptials, I’m gonna scream.) For far too long, ‘reality television’ has been attempting to force-feed us citizens a brand of dumbed-down reality that simply doesn’t exist.  I admire you for taking a stand and saying, ‘No more fakery! No more family drama! No more idiotic reality shows!’

When I learned that the Florida Family Association sent out an email alert on December 6th that stated, “All-American Muslim is propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values,” I never imagined you, my hardware store would cave in be influenced by the voices of a small number of ordinary Americans.   Continue reading

Q&A with Bikram Singh: “Bhangra… Keeps Me Sane”

If you’re a student of bhangra – you already know Bikram Singh from his work on the Where’s the Party Yaar soundtrack and his hit single, “American Jugni/Kawan.” But even the most fervent of bhangra aficionados may not know that in addition to breaking it down on stage, Singh has a second career – as an esquire. In celebration of his third full-length album, BIK I AM, which released on Thanksgiving Day, SM asked Singh a few questions.

How does your lawyering help your bhangra-ing and vice versa? There is a creative aspect and business aspect to music. Lawyering helps the business aspect of music. Bhangra helps relieve any stress lawyering may have caused over the week! It keeps me sane.

Explain to me how you balanced your music during law school. It required a lot of hard work. I often briefed my cases on the plane. Law school is not necessarily hard in terms of the content. It is the voluminous amount of material that you have to manage in a very limited amount of time. I had to become better at time management. Whatever time I had, I had to use it wisely. I also slept very little. Continue reading

Of Writings, Marriages and Giveaways

(L-R) Hisham Matar, Amitava Kumar and Zohra Saeed at the “War and its Representations” panel discussion at last Saturday’s AAWW event. Photo Credit: Preston Merchant

Today is exactly six days after Sugi sent me to the Asian American Literary Festival and four days into National Novel Writing Month. What better than a poetry contest with a literary giveaway and some photos of your favorite Asian American writers to inspire you fervent scribblers?

Here’s the deal. This week marked the end of a pop culture era. I’m talking about the anti-climactic marital misadventures of E! darling Kim Kardashian. Frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn. But Sir Salman Rushdie obviously thought it worth a Tweet or three. Here’s his limerick about the sex-tape starlet:

“The marriage of poor kim #kardashian / was krushed like a kar in a krashian. / her kris kried, not fair! / why kan’t I keep my share? / But kardashian fell klean outa fashian


But guess what, mutineers. You can do better. Leave your entries in the comments along. Winner gets a copy of Amitava Kumar’s award-winning book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb. We’ll announce a winner in the comments next Friday, November 11th.

Writer’s block? Check out another lovely photo from the Asian American Literary Festival below from the Mutiny’s own Preston Merchant along with some writing advice. (Thanks Preston!) The accompanying quotes were tweeted on the day of the event through the SepiaMutiny account. Continue reading