No strings attached

Happy Raksha Bandhan to those of you who celebrate it, from one who does not. Our family tried to introduce the custom once, when my sister was three, and there are some great photos of her crying and desperately holding on to the rakhi for dear life. There was no way she was going to give the sparkly object and mithai to her brother in return for a promise, merely oral, not even signed and notarized.

I imagine she also thought “I’ll fork over the tinsel you promise to protect me from you, you big bully! You got to stop bossing me around if you want the sweets. You’re not even big enough to protect me from anybody else, that’s mom and dad’s job.” And so the tradition never took hold.

When I got older, and my offer of protection was more credible, I realized that my sisters-at-large would be likely to take offense at my mafia-like offer of protection in return for tribute. After all, these were not simpering ladies, these were girls and women more than capable of kicking my kundi. If one of these women were ever to need protection, the best course would be to buy them a firearm and some range time and get out of their way.

The holiday also came across as both sexist and unfair. Why can’t I be weak and helpless and trade a trinket in return for protection? It seems like men are getting the worst deal since Indians sold Manhattan for a bunch of beads.

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Joint SM / UB meetup, Sunday August 16th

As several of us will be in town for a wedding-shedding, come enjoy a joint Ultrabrown + Sepia Mutiny meetup Aug. 16. We’ll hold it at our usual spot, Verlaine in Lower East Side, the place with $5 lychee martinis and a comfy sitting area. From 5pm on. Mark your gCalendars!

Joint meetup, Sun Aug. 16, 5-8pm at Verlaine, 110 Rivington St. between Essex/Ludlow. Take F,J,M,Z to Essex/Delancey, walk north 1 block.

p.s. special guest: Manish’s mustache!

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The snack is sacred but the idiocy divine

It seems that Burger King decided that Carl’s Jr had a good thing going using (Padma) Lakshmi to advertise hamburgers, so they ran an ad in Spain using Padma Lakshmi to advertise … Ham Burgers with the tag line “The Snack is Sacred.”

I don’t know about you, but even as a non-Hindu I found this pretty offensive. Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth and learning, and they’re using her image in an ignorant way to promote a pretty cheap foodstuff. I mean, if you’re going to be offensive and use a Hindu Goddess to sell a meat product, why not go all the way and get your forbidden foodstuffs right? Hindus are most offended by beef and Muslims are most offended by pork. It’s like they couldn’t even be bothered to tell their non-Christian religions apart, even though Spain was ruled by Muslims for hundreds of years.

Of course, when news got out, a holy ruckus was raised, and BK issued a rare apology:

“We are apologising because it wasn’t our intent to offend anyone,” said spokeswoman Denise T Wilson. “Burger King Corporation values and respects all of its guests as well as the communities we serve. This in-store advertisement was running to support only local promotion for three restaurants in Spain and was not intended to offend anyone. “Out of respect for the Hindu community, the limited-time advertisement has been removed from the restaurants,” she added. [link]

At BK, we offend you our way.

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The new face of Air India (UPDATE)

There’s something awkward about Air India trying to be hip, sort of like the uncle with the hennaed hair who knows all of the hottest club dance moves. The last time I flew Air India, I was on a 30 year old used Korean plane with an Italian flight crew and Indian flight attendants. Homey, yes. Fashionable and cutting-edge? Hardly.

So when I saw the images from Air India’s award-winning new campaign, I was a bit taken aback. I was used to the fusty maharaja, retro in a very unhip way, a character that was probably dated from its very inception. What was I to make of this mixed race family, desi female sitting openly in her white husband’s lap? (There’s another shot with a desi man, a white woman and a hadesi child)

The Maharaja was from an era of arranged marriages, when nobody spoke of dating, let alone across the colour line. I’ll bet he never looked once at a non-desi air hostess, no matter how flirtatious.

The new Air India, on the other hand, simply says “look, we’re just happy that you’re married and that you’ve given us a gorgeous grandkid! Now please visit more often.” (Yes, the campaign was created in India) It’s not really stylish, but it is most definitely contemporary. Maybe AI isn’t so dated after all. Now if only they could do something about their service, I’d really sit up and take notice.

UPDATE A few comments (thanks El Nino and Rishi ) have argued that these ads were designed just to win awards and haven’t (and wont) actually be used. People also pointed out that the idea is a straight lift from an earlier (proposed?) Air France campaign.

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RIP Michael Jackson

Tonight, some of us in the bunker are feeling a bit shell shocked by the news of Michael Jackson’s death. Rajni in particular is taking it quite hard. She was a huge fan and had spent years learning to moonwalk which is actually pretty hard for a monkey.

There was a lot of love for Michael Jackson across South Asia, leading to things like this (Kollywood Tollywood) restaging of one of MJ’s greatest music videos:

And we’ve shared this Bhanga/Breakdancing mashup version of Thriller (set to Tigerstyle’s Nachna Onda Nei) before:

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A turbaned executive? Priceless

First there was Indra, then Vikram, then Sanjay and now there’s Ajay: the new President and COO of Mastercard. Ajay Banga will be the number two man at the number two piece of plastic;”the heir apparent to Chief Executive Robert Selander.”

Banga comes to Mastercard from Citibank, where he had been in charge of their Asia-Pacific business and had been considered by the board for CEO before they turned to Pandit (one of the 20 worst CEOs EVAH!). Given that Citibank shares are down 85%, Banga must feel like he dodged a bullet by ending up at a smaller ($5 billion vs. $50 billion in revenues) but profitable company. While business is much harder for credit card companies than it used to be, Mastercard is just a middleman collecting fees by processing transactions and so it less likely to be affected than the banks and investors who hold now questionable credit card debt.

I’m also quite chuffed to see that a man in a turban and beard can phase through the corporate glass ceiling, especially in banking. In that respect, I think it helped that Banga’s career has been mainly international. In the US, minority executives and white executives follow different tracks (HBS study), but 14 years ago Banga was Marketing Director for Pepsi in India where he would not have been an outsider.

I saw my very first episode of Mad Men last night (while working on this post) and I found myself unable to empathise with the characters because I couldn’t relate to any of them. That was a world that I and most of my white friends (who are non-WASPs) would have been excluded from instantly, no matter what our credentials. Nor was this permeating predjudice limited to the 1950s: I heard Dershowitz recall that he couldn’t get a job at a top law firm in the mid-60s after clerking for the Supreme Court because he was Jewish!

So here’s to Ajay Banga and the others who will come after him, because a crack in the glass ceiling … is priceless.

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No no no, she’s too fair for my parents …

Inter-racial couples face some very real obstacles but does anybody think that this guy’s conservative parents are going to be fooled at all by this “desi makeover”?

If turnabout is fair play, should she ask him to go blond when he meets her parents?

I hope y’all have some funnier, far less lame “Meet the Parents” stories. I know that most of what we see on reality TV is super-lame and hyper-toolish behavior (a combination of the people who are selected and the type of actions encouraged and edited for), but this clip gives me the serious heebie-jeebies. HT to Chick Pea for almost making me lose my lunch. Continue reading

South (West) Asia

I’ve been transfixed for the last three days by the news coming out of Pakistan’s neighbor to the west, Iran. And I’ve really really wanted to blog it, but honestly, there just isn’t a desi angle.

Unlike Burma, which is similarly just outside the region, South Asian countries don’t play a large role in Iranian politics, and what’s happening in Iran is unlikely to have direct consequences for either Afghanistan or Pakistan. While Surinder Singh Karkar played an important role in the Burmese democracy movement, there seem to be no desis involved in the Persian protests; a difference most likely due to the fact that there are close to 1 million Burmese desis and only a few thousand desis in Iran:

Between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many wealthy Parsis began to travel to Iran to revive the Zoroastrian faith and traditions among the stagnating Zoroastrian community in Iran at the time … In 1950s, more Indians migrated to Iran and settled primarily in Tehran. They consisted Sikhs and some Gujaratis. In the 1960s and early 70s, about 10,000 Indian Doctors, Engineers and Teachers moved to Iran as a response to the open policies initiated by the Shah of Iran, but most of them left Iran after the Iranian revolution.

Now, there are several hundred people each concentrated in and around Tehran and Zahidan, primarily engaged in various businesses. A majority are still Indian citizens. They continue to maintain strong links with India, especially in matters of children’s education, marriage and property acquisition. [link]

Over at Ultrabrown, Manish does a better job of connecting to recent events from a South Asian perspective, including this useful observation:

Mir-Hossein Mousavi is the political hero of the moment. But he’s recycled, and his reform credentials are suspect, like Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan. He served as prime minister in the ’80s, during which he was implicated in a massacre of 30,000 political opponents, supported seizing hostages from the U.S. embassy and wanted Salman Rushdie killed. [link]

but honestly, there’s still not a lot of brown in these recent events. If you’re interested, I suggest The Lede and Andrew Sullivan’s blog (The Daily Dish, but nobody calls it that) for breaking developments. Juan Cole’s blog has some good analysis, and I suggest FiveThirtyEight for a fairly geeky analysis of why the official election numbers are fairly improbable. Lastly, the best photos I’ve seen (warning, some are quite graphic) are at the Boston Globe.

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Loving every moment

Today is Loving Day, the celebration of the anniversary of the appositely named Supreme Court decision ever: Loving vs. Virginia. It is because of Mildred and Richard Loving that miscegenation laws were struck down across America, and you can now legally have sex with and marry any member of the opposite sex, regardless of race, anywhere in America.

At the time of the Loving decision, 16 states had anti-miscegenation statutes, and over America’s history 42 states have enforced similar laws. Amazingly though, it took South Carolina until 1998 to remove the anti-miscegenation clause from its state constitution, and Alabama until 2000 to do the same!

Although there weren’t many desis in America before the 1967 Loving decision, they were affected by such restrictions as well:

Anti-miscegenation laws discouraging marriages between Whites and non-Whites were affecting South Asian immigrants and their spouses from the late 17th to early 20th century. For example, a Eurasian daughter born to an East Indian father and Irish mother in Maryland in 1680 was classified as a “mullato” and sold into slavery, and the Bengali revolutionary Tarak Nath Das’s white American wife, Mary K. Das, was stripped of her American citizenship for her marriage to an “alien ineligible for citizenship.” In 1918, there was controversy in Arizona when an Indian farmer married the sixteen year-old daughter of one of his White tenants. [link]

Such discrimination continued into the 20th century. Most desis were in California, which amended its anti-miscegenation statutes in 1931 to prevent inter-marriage between whites and asians. This could have caused problems for Punjabis married to Mexicans since desis had been classified as Asians under the Thind decision and Mexicans were considered white under California state law.

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