So long, and thanks for all the fish

Ahem. (tap tap tap. Is this thing on?)

Hi, everyone. For the last few years I’ve been pretty much fulltime over at our twitter franchise, one of a few people trying to make sure you get all your savory brownness in an 140 character packet. As a result, I’m afraid I’m a bit rusty at this longer-form blogging.

But the truth is, as my exes can attest, I’ve never been any good at final goodbyes. I even skipped the funeral of a close friend because I couldn’t stand the finality involved in watching him get cremated, even though I knew he was already gone. But I’m afraid there’s no way to skip your own wake, and once you’re there, you might as well try to deliver a eulogy, awkward as it is.

Part of the problem is that Sepia was never just one thing, it was many. There were the blog posts, but that was just the tip of the iceberg, the part you could see. There was also everything that happened out of view, so many stories that I don’t think any one of us knows them all.

Continue reading

Community action in Southall, then and now

Yesterday, news agencies all over the world carried stories of Sikhs in Southall standing guard outside of Southall Gurdwaras to protect them from the rioters who had attacked neighboring wealthy Ealing the day before. It was a feel good story with great visual appeal, captured nicely by this picture:


Two things got missed in this simple story, however. First, the story of community self-defense is much larger than just Sikhs or Southall. All residents of Southall worked together, across religious lines, to guard each others’ places of worship (Gurdwaras, Mosques, Mandirs) and businesses. Nor was Southall the only place where this happened. Bangladeshis mobilized in Whitechapel, Brick Lane, and Bethnal Green; three desi men were killed while defending their neighborhood in Birmingham.

There’s another layer here though, which is about a deep mistrust of the police, dating back over 30-40 years. Southall was a place where white supremacists could murder a desi teenager and not get prosecuted, where cops could engage in brutality, and where, in 1979, peaceful protesters fought back after being viciously bludgeoned by mounted police. One protester was killed by police, but nobody was ever held responsible for it. This video clip tells the story well:

So when the police issue warnings against “vigilantism” to discourage community self-defense groups, it’s likely falling on deaf ears. Members of the community will work with the police, but they’re not about to stand down and trust the police to protect them. Continue reading

Ten years later, and we’re still not safe

On Friday, two frail and elderly Sikh men were gunned down in cold blood as they went for a walk in a suburb of Sacramento. Surinder-Singh[1].jpg

Surinder Singh, 67, died Friday afternoon on the sidewalk along East Stockton Boulevard near Geneva Pointe Drive. Gurmej Atwal, his 78-year-old friend, was shot twice in the chest. His family said he was in critical but stable condition [link]

The police are looking for a tan pickup seen leaving the scene and nearly $30,000 in reward money has been pledged by different community groups. One of the first to step forward with $5,000 was the Sacramento chapter of CAIR; I only hope members of the Sikh community will be willing to do the same in return.

Gurmej-Atwal[1].jpgAuthorities have admitted that they have no other motive for the crime (they weren’t robbed, they didn’t pick a fight at the club the night before, they weren’t kingpins of organized crime families), so it looks very likely that this was a hate crime. The FBI have been contacted, and hopefully will be investigating.

What boggles my mind is both the kind of coward who would shoot two old men (both heart attack survivors and frail) and the kind of virulent hatred which would motivate them to single out these two men, in broad daylight, in a quiet suburb. What kind of twisted person would think this was a good thing to do?

Continue reading

That’s Santa Singh to you …

Always remember, as you track Santa’s travels around the world, that Santa is South Asian.

Yes, we’ve posted this before, but I’m going to post it every single year on Christmas Eve.

Seriously, how many of y’all believed in Santa? My parents never pretended he existed, and my classmates all knew better. We had no chimney, no fireplace, and I knew there was no White Man keeping track of whether I was naughty or nice. Whole thing made around as much sense as the Easter Bunny. Were you a Santaphile growing up? If you’ve got kids, do you want them to believe? Continue reading

Pondering Obama and the Golden Temple

Last week, the White House decided that Obama would not be going to the Golden Temple, even though this was tentatively on his schedule for his trip to India in early November.

As the story was reported, the White House pulled out because Obama was told he had to cover his head with a bandana rather than a baseball cap, and White House Staff were afraid this would make it look like Obama was wearing “Muslim garb.” [See NYT, Daily Beast]

The problem is, I find that story absurd. I’m pretty sure it’s wrong, and here’s why:

  • Sikh religious authorities have said outright that a baseball cap would be fine:

any covering, even a baseball cap, would be acceptable. “We would welcome President Obama as long as he covers his head while inside Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple). Caps or hats are not barred by Sikh dharmik maryada (religious code of conduct). After all even Queen Elizabeth wore a western hat when she came to the temple”

  • The Queen of England wore a hat when she visited the same site. (Photo is of Anadpur Sahib not Harmandir Sahib, but her garb was the same in both places)
  • MiriPiri-QueenVisit[1].jpg
  • People wear all sorts of hats to the Golden Temple, including baseball caps, and this has never been a problem. 
  • The President would look dopey wearing a baseball cap to a religious site. He could, however, have worn a cowboy hat, something which seems to have been OK with everybody, and which would have looked marginally more dignified.

But here’s my biggest issue with this narrative: a bandana on Obama’s head would have made him look gangster or hipster, but certainly not Muslim.

Continue reading

Brownstar at NYC Fringe

Brownstar NYC Fringe Festival

This Sunday I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Brownstar’s “Faster than the Speed of White” at the NYC Fringe Festival. There are two remaining performances, today from 3:45-4:55 PM and tomorrow from 8:45 to 9:55 and if you’re in NYC you really should go see them.

Brownstar is a theatrical performance duo, comprised of NORTHSTAR (Pushkar Sharma) and SOUTHSTAR (Sathya Sridharan). Their style is a hybrid of improv sketch comedy, like the Second City troupe, old school spoken word, and Hip Hop. This is not your parents South Asian theater by a long shot. [See our earlier post about them here for more about their background, origin story, and influences]

FTTSOW is a compilation of their earlier shorter sketch comedies into a single 70 minute show, the story of Captain Northstar and Ensign Southstar’s voyage on the Brownstar Galactica to the alcove of answers. As you would expect from the Fringe Festival, this isn’t a traditional play, it’s more like a concept album, a mashup and weaving together of several different sketches that share a set of common themes: South Asian American Identity and what it means to be a desi artist in America. The hybridity of their performance genre reflects the hybridity of their subject, like browns in America, their style reflects a variety of different influences.

Although these are weighty themes, the show is comic rather than somber. When you see the ode to the squat toilet or the mashup of Midnights Children with Kal Pen’s biography, you’ll see that Brownstar don’t take themselves seriously. Their work is thought provoking and consistently surprising and definitely worth a look for yourself.

TICKETS: Available online from NYC Fringe

Continue reading

Teaching children the joy of sox … using Bhangra

This is from a Canadian-American TV show called The Backyardigans:

The show is an animated musical-adventure series aimed at children between the ages of 2 and 5.[4] In each episode, the show’s five friends–Pablo, Tyrone, Uniqua, Tasha, and Austin–rely on their vivid imaginations to transform their backyard into completely different worlds, in which they go through many sorts of stories and adventures…The episodes focus on music and dancing as much as they do on the stories, with each one featuring a different music genre [Link]

The Bhangra episode had three other songs (Socks, Wonderful Socks, That’s My Job, That’s My Job, and Gotta Get the Pencil) but this is the best one.

It doesn’t really make much sense to me, but then I don’t think that shows intended to amuse kids under five should really make sense to adults. Either you like it or you don’t, but trying to understand it … begs the point. Continue reading

What better film for a dance sequence?

The world media are buzzing with news of “Dear Friend Hitler” a new bollywood film about the romance between Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun, starring Anupam Kher as Hitler and former Miss India, Neha Dhupia, as Eva Braun:

The director of the film characterizes it as a “romance,” and … “[r]eports have suggested that the script includes a scene where Hitler and Miss Braun are in bed–although this has not been confirmed. [link]

The movie’s title comes from letters sent by M.K. Gandhi to Hitler, which addressed him as “Dear Friend” [link]. As we’ve noted previously, Mein Kampf has long been popular in India, most lately as a management book in the same mold as “Who moved my cheese” so nobody in India will object to the idea of Hitler as friend to the nation.

Kher has been cast for his supposed resemblance to Hitler, and Dhupia for the scintillating wisdom and insight she brings to bear, such as this product of her extensive research:

“How do you marry the most hated man in the world? I think it’s by taking each day at a time,” [link]

Luckily, we already know how Hitler feels about Bollywood:

Lastly, all the news stories agree that there are no plans for any dance sequences in this film, which is a shame because (a) I suspect that the dancing is the only thing that would make this film watchable for me and (b) I’d love to see the love dances from this movie performed at a wedding. (Mutineers, you are warned!) Since there’s no word yet about whether there will be any songs (without the dance) I remain hopeful. Continue reading

The Manchurian Gobi Candidate

There is so much to love about Senator Knott’s recent ode to ragheads in America. I mean this seriously.

I adore how he’s open about this feelings for “f#!king ragheads.” This guy is a Southern Conservative straight out central casting, he’s racist, bigoted, xenophobic and stupid although not uninformed. He actually knows who Sikhs are and where India is, that just doesn’t stop him from saying “We’re at war over there,” demonstrating he’s not a bigot because he’s ignorant, he’s ignorant because he’s a bigot. This can’t be cured by education. All ragheads are the same to him, and before the non-Sikh readers get too smug, he probably hates you as well.

But all of this is just the sundae. The cherry on top, my absolute favorite part is this:

Knotts says he believed Haley has been set up by a network of Sikhs and was programmed to run for governor of South Carolina by outside influences in foreign countries. [link]

ZOMG! She’s the Manchurian Candidate, the sleeper Sikh!

What I can’t figure out is what he’s so afraid she’s do once she’s activated. After all, the original Manchurian Candidate tried to whack the POTUS, and something tells me you wouldn’t be unhappy about that at all.

What will she do that would make you unhappy? Will her father attend her inauguration in a turban? Will she take down the confederate flag and replace it with the Indian one? Will she start teaching evolution in schools? Will she refuse to be sworn in with her hand over the bible and hold an ardaas instead?

Or maybe … she’ll invite DJ Rekha to the Governor’s mansion to play … Bhangra! Whoops, sorry Senator, the Raghead-in-Chief has already done that in the White House, the nations’ political bhangra-virginity has already been lost:

“I want to thank DJ Rekha who’s been spinning a little East Room Bhangra for everybody mixing a hip-hop beat with the sounds of her heritage; making a uniquely American sound that may not have been heard in the White House before,” Obama said amidst laughter and applause. [link]

Although, maybe you do have a point. That first Bhangra in an executive residence was soo good, that we want to do it again and again, promiscuously, with different executive residences, in all fifty states around the country! Next stop, Louisiana, where Piyush is going to Bhangra the BP blues away!

Sorry Senator, you lost the civil war and you’re going to lose the culture war too. In fact, your raghead comment just caused the former county GOP chair to declare her 2012 challenge to you [link]. But thank you for playing, and thanks for all the laughs! Continue reading

SM’s paper bag test

I would think it’s obvious that Nikki can pass much better than Jindal can. In case you need convincing, look at the two images below. They’re grabbed at random to show each candidate side by side with somebody white.

Here’s Bobby, clearly much darker than Kenneth the Page:

Here’s Nikki in a girl scout troop:

Nikki pretty much fits in, while Bobby stands out.

Continue reading