On Reasons for Holi

The LA Times has an article on a Holi festival that took place in southern California last weekend:

About 150 people from Southern California gathered Saturday at Arcadia Park to celebrate Holi — the Pan-Indian “festival of colors,” a holiday celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and some Muslims that rejoices in the coming of spring and the triumph of good over evil. It is considered a major Hindu festival.

According to whom? I’m a Southie, and as far as I know, playfully throwing water balloons and colored powder at one another isn’t really our thing.

The reporter also gives a run-down on the history of Holi:

One version of the tale tells of Prehlad’s father, Hiranyakshipu, an evil man who wanted Prehlad to worship him, not the Hindu god Vishnu. After many attempts to change his son’s mind, Hiranyakshipu decides to burn him to death, and his aunt, Holika, is to help. In the end, Holika is burned to death and Prehlad is saved.

A woman is burned alive to save her nephew — what a wonderful reason to celebrate!

Another story is about the Hindu god Krishna, who is said to have lived 5,000 years ago. He enjoyed dalliances with the milkmaids, especially Radha. On Holi, Krishna asked his mother why his skin was darker than Radha’s. His mother told him to rub paint on her. She retaliated and eventually, all the villagers joined in. Since then, Holi has also been celebrated with colors.

I always thought Holi had little religious significance and had more to do with celebrating the beginning of spring and the harvest. But maybe that’s just the Chicago grad in me talking. In any case, Professor Vinay Lal of UCLA has his explanation of Holi:

Holi is something anybody can take part in because you do not need anything, just water and color. You can go to the home of an upper-caste person and throw water at them and rub color on them. But the following day, everything reverts back to normal.

So it’s really all about having a day to whoop some upper-caste ass. On a lighter note, the last part of the article made me smile:

In the United States, celebrants said it was a good day to take time off from hectic days of work, relax with friends and family and to renew friendships. “If you are on bad terms with someone, you don’t need to speak words to them,” said Sonia Anand, 35, of Arcadia. “Sometimes the words hold you back, and all you need is some color and a hug.”

Sounds more like the Holi I know. Continue reading


Two years ago when Aishwarya was promoting Bride and Prejudice in the US, we were subjected to this idiocy on Oprah. (My favorite part of the interview: Do Indian women practice the Kama Sutra?)

Now Fox Searchlight provides us with a tongue-in-cheek promotional interview with Kal Penn on The Namesake. Although this clip is staged, something tells me that Kal will be fielding similar questions from media personalities in the coming weeks. According to IMDB, the film opens this Friday, March 9. Brace yourselves, I’m sure we’ll have fodder to blog about. Continue reading

Banking on Chris Rock

We’ve heard of Hollywood investing money in the Indian film industry. Now it looks like the cash money is already flowing in the opposite direction.

Last night when I was flipping channels, I paused to see the trailer for Chris Rock’s I Think I Love My Wife. Now, it wasn’t the trailer itself that made me stop flipping (it doesn’t look anything I’d pay ten dollars to watch). No, it was the fact that the UTV logo flashed on the screen, billed as the movie’s producer. Yes, that UTV. The same Indian production company that made Rang De Basanti, Don, and Chalte Chalte is apparently cranking out Hollywood movies now, too.

Although I couldn’t find any mention of ITILMW on UTV’s website, a few google searches confirmed my suspicion. According to Rediff:

UTV inked co-production deals with Fox Searchlight and Will Smith’s production company Overbrook Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment [back in 2006] to create and distribute films worldwide – making it the largest co-production deal out of South Asia worth $37 million. The $14 million production, I Think I Love My Wife, starring Chris Rock, will be UTV Motion Pictures’ second venture with Fox after Mira Nair’s The Namesake.

According to Variety, UTV provided half of the budget for ITILMY, with the intention of distributing it in India and sharing in the rights. In return, Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment will co-produce a film for $10 million that will have its backdrop set in India. (I’m thinking a song-and-dance version of Hitch.) Continue reading

Hari the Comic on Kimmel (UPDATE: Kimmel Clip Found!)

A friend emailed me over the weekend, notifying me that desi stand-up comedian Hari Kondabolu was going to appear to on Jimmy Kimmel on Monday, February 19. Unfortunately, I was out of town and didn’t get to check my email in time (drat!) so I missed the whole thing. And I’ve been scouring the internet since then, trying to find the clip for this post but I have yet to find it. (If anyone can point me to it, I’ll upload it here.)

UPDATE: My friend emailed Hari and asked him for the clip, and he was nice enough to send it to her. Here you go. I love it!

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White Parents, Indian Baby

Bizarre and strange were the words that came to mind when I first started reading this article…

Wendy Duncan and her husband Brian are white. Nineteen months ago, the Lincolnshire housewife gave birth to a beautiful, healthy, Indian daughter. Freya, brown-skinned and dark-eyed, is not a medical miracle after a long and fruitless quest through IVF and adoption, but the product of a booming industry in India that is offering embryos for adoption.

Am I missing something? Why would you want to adopt an Indian embryo when there’s plenty of Indian children to adopt?

Embryo adoption was the culmination of an 18-year journey for the Duncans during which their attempts to become parents were frustrated by nature and bureaucracy. Being white and already having a mixed-race child (from Mrs DuncanÂ’s previous relationship) meant that they failed the criteria for a normal adoption.

Seriously? Having a mixed-race child limits your chances of adopting in the UK? That’s racist!

IVF was unsuccessful and expensive for a family relying on Mr DuncanÂ’s income as a lorry driver. The older Mrs Duncan got, the less the chance there was of any fertility treatment working. Their options were running out until they stumbled upon a website for the Bombay clinic. It was an easy choice.

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Homophobia Trumps Racism

Rick Kamdar, a senior at American University, has been expelled for calling another student a gay slur.

But there’s more to the story (reg required)…

Kamdar said the incident began when he asked a student on the quad for a light, and the student’s friend told Kamdar to “Go back to India.” Kamdar then used an anti-gay slur against the student and the two began pushing each other. The fight was quickly broken up by Public Safety.

Although Kamdar was expelled, the student who allegedly started the whole thing faces no disciplinary action whatsoever.

Kamdar is appealing the decision, hoping that he will be allowed to finish his last semester or at least have the dismissal removed from his transcript. “After three years of fighting cancer, I was only going to graduate a year late,” he said. “I would not throw [my education] away.” Kamdar said he is planning to sue the university over the hearing.

Before I go any further, I’d like to acknowledge that I couldn’t find much else about this case. So my comments are limited by what I know from this article (and if we have any readers from AU who are more familiar with this story, feel free to let me know if there are any factual errors in this post).

First, it’s never ok to use a gay slur. I don’t care what the context is — even if you’re surrounded only by straight people and you say it in jest, it’s still not ok. I’m not going to defend Kamdar’s use of it, nor am I going to defend this silly excuse of his:

“The word fag is a very common word; it doesn’t always mean gay,” Kamdar said. “Did I know he was gay? No. Apparently American University has concluded that people can look gay.”

That being said, why is he being disciplined and not the person who provoked him in the first place? Why the double standard?

And is an expulsion really necessary? If Kamdar had committed a hate crime, or had verbally harassed a gay student for no reason, then yes, I would think that an expulsion is appropriate. But this situation is a little bit more complex. And I also have to wonder: has every person who has ever used this word at AU been expelled? I assume not. If the university wants to make an example of Kamdar, fine — sentence to him community service or put him on probation. Expulsion, on the other hand, seems pretty extreme. (And yes, I would argue that if someone were to use a racial slur in a similar situation, then an expulsion wouldn’t be warranted, either.)

I’d be interested to see how this story develops. Again, feel free to let me know if you’re more familiar with this case and/or there are details that I’m unaware of. Continue reading

Desis and Philanthropy

I read this article in the Cultural Connect (thanks, Sumaya) on desis and philanthropy that I’ve been mulling over for the past few days. NYU law student Maneka Sinha argues, among other things, that: a) South Asian Americans are more likely than other Americans of color to engage in international philanthropy and less likely to donate to American causes, b) the reason for this trend is because most South Asians identify as brown first rather than as American, and c) brown people should donate to domestic causes in order to assert our American identity to the mainstream population.

I have many thoughts on the article. But first, let’s go through Sinha’s arguments:

The national US population only donate to international causes at a rate of 2.2% of all charitable activity. Minority groups, on the other hand, tend to “give back” on an international scale at a higher rate of 13%. Though as a whole minority groups focus on international giving at higher rates, there are discrepancies between these rates among different ethnic groups. While all minority groups demonstrate a strong tradition of giving at home and abroad, African Americans tend to focus a large degree of their charitable activity on domestic efforts supporting community churches, other community organizations, and education. Asian Americans place the least emphasis on international giving, focusing a majority of charitable efforts on the Asian American community and education. The Latino community gives internationally at a level somewhere between those of the Black and Asian American communities and also tends to focus its charitable efforts on its own community here in the US as well as on education. However, South Asian Americans in particular often give back to communities tied not to their own upbringing, but to their parents’ upbringing – namely, communities in South Asia.

And that’s a problem because…

Though it may be hard to swallow, the truth remains that we are American – we’ve been raised, trained, and educated here. If we don’t establish ourselves as an active force investing in the development of our communities and in aiding those members of the American population less fortunate than our own “model” South Asian community, our kids won’t either. And not only that, we will continue to remain somewhat isolated in a nation that benefits from our skills, talents and brainpower. Cringing at the thought of being “American” without addressing the underlying reasons why we shy away from that label is not an option – it is necessary to give back to the communities where our future generations will be raised in. Showing the mainstream population that we identify as American and are fully invested in the betterment of our local communities will help the general population appreciate us as such and ultimately allow us to shatter some of those glass ceilings.

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It’s Actually Not That Racist

A friend forwarded me this Julian Baggini article on racism in the UK, which appeared in the Guardian last week. If I could give an award to someone for coming up with the most horribly written piece of drivel I’ve read in a while, it would surely go to this Baggini guy. No, seriously. I’m not being sarcastic.

Baggini tries to argue two things. Well, he rambles on and on and ON endlessly, but I’m taking the liberty to condense his points here. First, he argues that when some white Britons refer to us brown folks as ‘Pakis,’ they don’t really mean any harm. Second, he argues that if only we were to integrate and tolerate one another more, then people wouldn’t use the word ‘Paki’ so often. My response to him is, you’re dead wrong and, it’s not that easy.

This is how Baggini sets up his argument:

The mainstream British mind is not so much misunderstood as not seriously considered. To rectify this, 18 months ago I set out to examine the national “folk philosophy” – the set of beliefs and assumptions that informs how we live and how we think. To help me do this, I found the area with the closest match of household type – young and old, rich and poor, single and married – to the country as a whole. And so I ended up living for six months in S66, on the outskirts of Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

Then comes the subject of the P bomb:

Almost everyone [in Rotherham] used the word “Paki” when referring to British Asians, yet of everyone I got to know, only Neil – happy to be described as somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun – would merit the charge of being truly racist.

First of all, how on earth do you judge whether “no one in this town except X person” is “truly racist?” Did he go around Rotherham with some special racism-detecting gadget that instantly identifies individuals as “truly racist,” “somewhat racist” and “not at all racist?” Continue reading

Skin Color Matters

Like many other people, I cringe whenever I’m routinely mistaken for another brown person. When I attended graduate school in the midwest, people repeatedly confused me with another desi woman in my class, Sheila, who looked absolutely nothing like me — the obvious difference being that Sheila was much lighter-skinned than I was. At least, to me, it was obvious. To other white people, it was apparently not. Never mind that Sheila was from India and a had a bourgeois Mumbai accent, whereas I was from southern California and talked like a valley girl. As far as other people at school were concerned, we were interchangeable.

And so, because of repeated instances like that, I had figured that brown folks were just more sensitive to skin tone differences than white people were. But apparently, that’s not the case. When I was at work yesterday, I caught this news blurb:

Light-skinned immigrants in the United States make more money on average than those with darker complexions, and the chief reason appears to be discrimination, a researcher says. Joni Hersch, a law and economics professor at Vanderbilt University, looked at a government survey of 2,084 legal immigrants to the United States from around the world and found that those with the lightest skin earned an average of 8 percent to 15 percent more than similar immigrants with much darker skin. “On average, being one shade lighter has about the same effect as having an additional year of education,” Hersch said.

While I don’t think her findings are entirely improbable, I’m curious as to what she defines as “one shade” of skin tone.

What’s also interesting that it seems the researcher compared skin tones within immigrant groups:

Hersch took into consideration other factors that could affect wages, such as English-language proficiency, education, occupation, race or country of origin, and found that skin tone still seemed to make a difference in earnings. That means that if two similar immigrants from Bangladesh, for example, came to the United States at the same time, with the same occupation and ability to speak English, the lighter-skinned immigrant would make more money on average.

So what does this mean? Contrary to my earlier beliefs, it seems that other people are able to distinguish between darker and lighter-skinned browns.

I also wonder why Hersch used immigrants as her subjects, and not second, third, or fourth generation Americans. Would the results be the same? I don’t know. I wasn’t able to find this particular study of Hersch’s online, and I usually prefer to link to original sources rather than the newspaper, but still, this is food for thought. Continue reading

What Brown Connections Can Do For You

Just saw this over on Beliefs, Blackness, and Bollywood…apparently Mira Nair has signed on to direct the big-budget film Shantaram, with Johnny Depp as the lead and Brad Pitt’s Plan B as producer. Shantaram — for those of you unfamiliar with the title — is based on a Gregory David Roberts novel of the same name. The story revolves around an Australian heroin addict who escapes prison, sets up a medical clinic in the slums of Mumbai, and finds himself immersed in the city’s underworld, which consists of smuggling, gun running, and working in the Indian film industry.

I haven’t read the book yet (I’m just going by what I read in wikipedia and elsewhere on the internet), so I’m withholding judgment on the project for now. However, the details of this film so far are quite fascinating.

Take, for example, the story of how Johnny Depp managed to snag the lead role. According to this article, both Russell Crowe and Johnny Depp wanted the part, but Gregory Roberts ultimately chose Depp. Apparently it came down to the fact that…

“Johnny Depp has a lot of Indian friends,” Roberts said. “The way he spoke about them has made me realise that he was the best actor who could bring that love to the film.”

I can just picture all these struggling actors now trying to emulate Johnny Depp, re-writing their resumes so that they read: John Doe. Film, television, and theater actor. Also knows people who are [insert relevant minority group here], and holds them in very high regard. Continue reading