Take Five: Sachal Studios-Style

You know how I like the jazz… Above, a Lahore-based wonder currently going viral (h/t Frederick N., who sent to a list I’m subscribed to). I love the above, as I love the original. What a great synthesis of tabla, sitar, guitar, strings… My favorite parts: the guitar stuff around the two-minute mark, plus the sitar on the main melody. Continue reading

Kuzhali Awesome Is the Most Fun Kind of Awesome

Kuzhali Story Image.jpg

Dude, yes, I mean this, and I mean it in a Bill and Ted’s 3 kind of way. Like, totally. Be excellent to each other and READ THIS WRITER, Kuzhali Manickavel. Her writing is like familiar + familiar = delightful strange, and will leave you with the best kind of unsettled in the pit of your stomach.

A long time ago I joined Sepia Mutiny and saw Kuzhali Manickavel’s website (not necessarily in that order, although I think probably). And then I read her blog a lot, and then I laughed and laughed, and sometimes felt like crying, because she is so very funny but in a way that is also sad. And then I became the interim fiction editor of The Michigan Quarterly Review, and got her to give me a fabulous (FABULOUS) story called “The Underground Bird Sanctuary.” And then I got her to e-chat with me for Sepia. Kuzhali Manickavel is the author of a dark, hilarious collection of short fiction called Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings, which you should RUN OUT AND BUY BECAUSE OF IT BEING JUST WIZZOW. I do not use CAPS LOCK or WIZZOW lightly. Please do this in an independent bookstore, if you still live in one of the places on earth that has one. And if you don’t, via the Amazon link (above), which will support the Scoobybunkergang in a teeny tiny way.

The story in MQR begins:

Kumar’s bones were pushing up under his skin like silent hills. His ribs rippled up in hardened waves while his shoulders and wrists stood out in knotted clumps. In the afternoons, I would count Kumar’s bones while he tried to sleep. [continued] Continue reading

Your Customs Is Foreign To Us

for Aseem Chhabra and my fellow travelers

Something Aseem Chhabra said this weekend made me think of this.

Several months ago, I was detained at the Michigan-Canadian border because I had loose, unlabeled spices from Toronto, which the Lords of U.S. Customs did not recognize and needed to submit to agricultural inspection, a request I did not consider unreasonable until I saw how it was to be done. We were removed from our vehicle and did not have even visual contact with our property while they searched it.

(Who will inspect the inspection? They could take something! I said.

They could PLANT something, said someone else.)

As far I could tell, the only person of color in the office where we waited was Barack Obama. I found his picture on the wall comforting.

Our vehicle when we returned to it looked ransacked, but to the best of our knowledge, they took (and planted) nothing. Still, I have learned to prefer the airport. Or the New York border, where my loose Sri Lankan spices flummox no one.

Had a customs experience you loved? Hated? Share below. Continue reading

Sri Lanka’s alternatives abroad

I co-authored an article with two other members of Lanka Solidarity for Himal Southasian’s special December issue on diasporas. You can find it on the Himal site here: Sri Lanka’s alternatives abroad

We believe members of Sri Lankan diasporas with alternative politics must reassert their claims to space in the conversation about Sri Lanka’s future. For us, this article was one step toward that. We look forward to your feedback, ideas, and yes, arguments–

Cross-posting it here.

Sri Lanka’s alternatives abroad

Are the island’s diasporas to be seen as a source of remittance, a threat, or legitimate sites for political engagement and critique?

By: Kitana Ananda, V V Ganeshananthan & Ashwini Vasanthakumar

There is no such thing as ‘the Sri Lankan diaspora’. Sri Lankan communities exist in the plural. And yet, nearly thirty years of conflict have rendered a nation with multiple minority communities and religions as though it has only two groups. If you generalise about what you read at all (and most people do), you are likely to believe that Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority are pitted against each other, not only inside the country but in diasporas all over the world.

While conflict and geographic dispersal present real challenges to Sri Lankan diasporas, this image of Sinhalese versus Tamil is far from the whole truth. Although the war ended with a decisive victory by government security forces over the LTTE in 2009, the reductive image remains: Sri Lanka, a nation with Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher communities, rarely appears that way. The media is not the only culprit. In the wake of that resounding military victory, both the Sri Lankan government and its critics have failed to engage Sri Lankan diasporas and to understand their complexity. Indeed, their collective actions have excluded diasporic populations. Continue reading

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Caption Contest: I Was Going To Make A Sari Pun, But My Better Self Rose Up And Prevented Me

Longest-ever post title? I dunno, friends. So, you may have heard a teensy weensy leetle bit about the Indian ambassador to the U.S. getting singled out for some TSA TLC because she was wearing “the traditional Indian garment.” If you didn’t, read Pavani. I’m not here to comment on the Mississippi Masala. (Oh, come on, no one’s said that one yet and my better self gets tired sometimes.)

Anyway, I’m here for THIS:

alg_clinton_meera.jpg Look at it. Blink. Yes, it’s really there: THAT is the photo the NY Daily News used to illustrate their sari patdown story. I don’t know which is better–the expression on Hillary Clinton’s face or the expression on Meera Shankar’s. Either way, it made me laugh out loud. Well spotted, Vivekster. And well chosen, NY Daily News photo editor.

Caption contest time! “Surely you can think of some puns yourself,” you say? I want yours. And don’t call me Shirley. Continue reading

Humor is Not A Foreign Country

On Thursday, of all days, I called customer service. A man picked up. He spoke to me in what seemed like South Asian-accented English, but as usual, I didn’t ask him where he was, even when he said my name almost flawlessly. I generally don’t ask customer service representatives where they are. Sometimes it’s because I think that question would put them on the defensive; sometimes it’s just because I’m in a rush. On Thursday, I was in a rush. Why would I want to connect with another human? I’m BUSY. Um, right. What Vivek might call Badmoodistan. But even though I was Unfriendlyananthan, he was not. And he was the first customer-service representative I’ve ever spoken to who asked me where I was from.

HIM: Are you from Tamil Nadu? [notable tone of excitement]

ME: [taken aback by unwarranted kindness] No, my parents are Sri Lankan. Where are you?

HIM: I’m in Mumbai, but I’m from the South.

ME: Oh!

HIM: Well, madam, except for your accent, anyone would say you are an Indian.

ME: [laughs] Yeah, I was born in America.

And then: Lucky girl! he said. And suddenly, I was not in Badmoodistan any more.

I know that he’s right–I am a lucky girl. But America! America! Sometimes you have crappy sitcoms. Continue reading

Picturing War and Peace: Sri Walpola (Photos)


This may look like it’s from a picture postcard, but it was a surprise for me to see a lone fisherman in the Jaffna lagoon where fishing had been totally banned during most of the past two decades. The ceasefire, despite its problems, had added a ray of hope for many people of the Northern & Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.

–photographer Sri Walpola on “Jaffna Fisherman”

This is the episode in which we are on Staten Island! Because a friend recently tipped me off to this:

War & Peace in Sri Lanka Photos by Sri Walpola (Click for the show’s official description. Thanks, Deepti! I am not posting any of the photos here, for obvious reasons … but if you scroll to the end of the post, you’ll see two ways to see some of them much of the rest of the show too. EDITOR’S NOTE/UPDATED 8/11: Sri Walpola and I have been trading messages, and he generously offered to send me pictures to put up here. I have interspersed them with the text that I originally posted, and included his captions.)

Unless you are already lucky enough to live on Staten Island, head to the ferry and take the boat over there. Staten Island has a substantial Sri Lankan community, and indeed, if you find your way into the St. George Library Center (not far from where the ferry docks) and a kindly library staffer thinks you look Sri Lankan and/or confused, he may not even wait for you to ask where the show is before he points you downstairs, toward the reference room. It is possible that this is the warmest reaction you will ever have to being profiled.

If it is the weekend, neighborhood residents will be reading, or perhaps checking e-mail. Comfy chairs and tables are scattered about. Card catalogs, tables. The people leafing through newspapers or working quietly on laptops will not look up to watch you scan what hovers above their heads: the photography of Sri Walpola, a former presidential photographer in Sri Lanka. His pictures of the civil war in Sri Lanka are on display here for the first time in the U.S.

The twentysome pictures on the walls range from heartbreakingly hopeful pictures of the ceasefire to devastating portraits of families separated by fences and displays of military and militant firepower. Some of the pictures are printed in a high gloss; others are matte, so that they appear almost like oils, or old movie stills. A friend describes one as especially painterly–a Jaffna fisherman standing in his boat, the blue of the background dark and pure behind him, the line between water and sky nearly seamless.

(ED 8/11: Obviously that’s the photo up top. Click for more of his pics.) Continue reading

Nimmi² + D’Lo = Awesome

A week and change ago I blogged about the awesome Nimmi Harasgama and her invented auntie: netta, a dame with a mouth blunt enough to make even your amma’s honesty look as soft as rasmalai.

Speaking of Amma, one of the videos I linked to in that post included part of netta’s collaboration with D’Lo, who referenced an “Amma” character. Herewith, a few more of those joint sketches, including appearances by Amma herself… and if the tickets haven’t all gone yet and you are in New York, then, you lucky reader, you can get a ticket and see D’Lo live tonight at D’FunQT : A BIG D’Lo SHOW. (You can pronounce it “defunct.” Did I mention TONIGHT? It’s part of Dixon Place’s 2010 HOT Festival.) Wish I could go! I met D’Lo a few years ago through mutual friends, and… what an actor! what a mimic! what a riot!

The show is described as “a stand-up story show with tales from the QT side mixed in with a Sri L.Ankan twist. D’Lo the artist explores topics relating to South Asia, transgender social justice, hip-hop culture, loneliness, and the resilience of the human spirit.” I’m struck by the mention of loneliness; one of the most touching things in the videos I’m linking below is the genuine sweetness of D’Lo’s attempt to alleviate auntie netta’s loneliness.

Here’s some more D’Lo / Nimmi stuff, and then, below the fold (can I say that on a blog?), Nimmi answers questions about a few things, including their collaboration.

Continue reading

Sumi, So Close

Dear folks,

This is just a brief update to let you know that Sumi Kailasapathy lost her Democratic primary on Tuesday, to Ann Arbor City Council incumbent Sandi Smith. I ended up spending a few hours knocking on doors in support of Sumi, and it was really cool to spend time encouraging people to vote and meeting other people who were excited by what she had to say.

Although Sumi lost, she made a great showing–her race was the tightest of the county’s four races in question. She got 45 percent to Smith’s 55 percent. (from the Ann Arbor Chronicle)

Hopefully she’ll make another go of it at some point!

You can see my previous post about Sumi here, and her statement after the election here. (You can also see the endorsements she racked up–including AnnArbor.com.) Continue reading

Sepia Meets Sumi: Sri Lankan-Born Candidate for Office in Ann Arbor, MI

So, I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Recently, I’ve been walking around town and seeing signs that say


To Google or not to Google? Like that was the question. :) These signs are encouraging A2 residents to vote for a Democratic candidate for First Ward, Ann Arbor City Council. (The primary election is August 3, and since the Democratic candidates here are heavily favored in the general election, the primary is crucial.) This particular candidate grew up in Sri Lanka, came to the U.S. 19 years ago, and has been living in Ann Arbor for 13 years.

Imagine how verklempt I was to discover this.

In Jaffna, Sumi was a student activist, and was involved with Poorani, a women’s organization. She’s now a CPA; she previously taught at Eastern Michigan University. I contacted her and asked if she’d chat with the Mutiny about her background and candidacy. She agreed, and so here, in four parts, her filmed conversation with me. Continue reading