Inhale to visit a “Garden After the Monsoon”

Is it really possible to bottle the scent of a place? The House of Hermès is trying to do just that — capture the scents of the southern Indian state of Kerala with its new fragrance “Un Jardin Après la Mousson” (A Garden After the Monsoon). hermes.jpg The result, after 300 drafts, according to “Liquid Assets” by Phoebe Eaton in the current NYT Travel Summer 2008 magazine is a perfume that is “confected with vetiver and kahili ginger, which isn’t a ginger at all but a white flower that gusts like a rogue hybrid of jasmine, tuberose and gardenia.”

I really enjoyed reading about the process of developing this perfume — the trials and experiments that Jean-Claude Ellen has undergone as he has struggled to “bottle the fantasy” of … well, let’s just scream it, EXOTIC KERALA! India is hot in the House of Hermès, apparently. Its the theme for 2008 and and “silk scarves are vivid with raw pinks and fleshy mangoes, elephants harnessed to carriages and tigers rampant.” Continue reading

Of miniskirts and mental health

We all know the endless debate within our community between “traditionalists” and “modernists” about assimilation. Post 9-11, this debate became broader and more politicized, especially w.r.t. British Muslims. In the UK, public figures argued that Muslims need to be more fully assimilated into British society if further violence was to be avoided. A variant of this argument claimed that the hijab and niqab should be discouraged or banned outright.

A new study out undermines the broad claims of the assimilationists, claiming that Brit-Bangladeshi girls (between 11 and 14 years old) “who wore traditional clothing were significantly less likely to have mental health problems than those whose style of dress was a mix of traditional and white British styles.” [Link]

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p>Interestingly enough, they found no effect of clothing choice on boys at all. To clarify, that means that a boy’s clothing choice didn’t influence his own happiness. I’m sure girls’ clothing choices have a strong impact on the happiness of an 11 to 14 year old boy . The “Brick Lane” hypothesis found little support.

Professor Kam Bhui, one of the study authors, said that the result was “surprising” - he had expected that girls who were less fully integrated to show signs of greater strain. “Traditional clothing represents a tighter family unit, and this may offer some protection against some of the pressures that young people face. What it suggests is that we need to assist people who are moving from traditional cultures and becoming integrated into Western societies, as they may be more vulnerable to mental health problems.”

Professor James Nazroo, a medical sociologist at the University of Manchester, said that the findings meant that “notions of Britishness” should be dealt with in a sophisticated way. “There are many ways in which people can be British – these girls who have good mental health, and still have a strong traditional culture, are by implication settled and comfortable with their identities…” [Link]

The article does not explain what researchers meant by traditional clothing. I think it means salvar kameez rather than the hijab/niqab, but am not sure. If so, it doesn’t really inform the debate about the veil at all. Nor does it speak directly to terrorism, or even to social alienation by adults.

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p>Most importantly, I want to reassure all our readers that no matter how overwhelming the evidence collected, no matter how many studies pile up, I’m sure that Gurinder Chadha’s films will have exactly the same trite hackneyed plot that they did before.

The paper is available here. [Thanks Razib]

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It isn’t even April 1st yet!

I love wearing saris. Trouble is, the more unique a sari is, the more memorable it will be. If you wore this to a wedding in May, people will still remember it in June. For those of us who are 3,ooo miles from home and Mama’s saris, that doesn’t leave us with many options, especially if shopping at ISP in Murrland isn’t a palatable idea.

Since I haven’t been back to the pind since 1989 (insert cringe here), and I feel like I’m getting massively ripped off if I buy something on Devon or University Avenue, that only leaves me with one way to get my pleats on; every year, some relative returns from Kerala with a few gifts which my much-adored Chinamma chose for me. She knows that I favor Kanjeevaram…and that her older sister, my Moms, is very conservative. [See: my blouse sleeves, for proof.] Chinamma always sends me something beautiful, and because of her, I haven’t needed to purchase something silky or slinky online. And that, dear mutineers, is why I didn’t see this (click, to enlarge…if you dare):

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Prêt-à-Porter for Boyz

Quick, when was the last time I wrote a blog entry on the topic of high fashion for SM? Do some of you view me as a mere niche blogger who only writes about Antarctic exploration or freaky kids? These days, bloggers must remain sufficiently versatile so as to compete in a cut-throat business, one where the profit margins are razor thin and the trolls are out with knifes. And so I bring you news of designer Marc Jacobs’ spring/summer 2008 line (thanks for the tip “Meenbeen”):

Marc Jacobs can do anything he wants now. He’s even feeling confident enough to open up about a troubled private life that he once kept very private. And one expression of that confident spirit is the injection of willfulness he’s given to his collections. It’s a definite boon to the menswear in his second line, which can occasionally seem a little too close to the contents of College Boy’s closet. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but Jacobs has proved himself a virtuoso at distilling the talents of his various collaborators, and he has some keen ones at M. by M. We could rightly expect a little more. With this latest effort, we got it.

The menswear took the mixed-up, mumbled-up, shook-up world that Marc presented for his signature Spring collection and toned it down to one key discombobulation: asymmetry. [Link]

The above review was written during 2007′s Fashion Week in NYC. Since the majority of the clothes-buying-public didn’t attend Fashion Week, they will mostly base their opinion of his men’s clothing line on print ads seen in prominent men’s magazines, and based on the reviews of prominent fashion bloggers like myself. Some of you may recognize one of the models he has chosen to show off his new men’s line: the musician M.I.A. Below each photograph I will comment on the effectiveness of these ads from the perspective of a male with a disposable income.

In the above picture M.I.A. poses like that one potential child molester uncle in the family who the relatives all shield their kids from. Her clammy skin and disheveled hair seem to scream, “what!?” and I imagine that in the next frame (had it been published) her head and chest would have been lurching forward as she said just that into the camera. This look would suit a stockbroker or I-banker, the kind who will never be the best in his field, but has some cocaine to party with after work…so its all good. And those hands. Greedy, clutching, talon-like hands that will find a way to collect what’s coming to them. All things eventually find their way into those hands so you may as well just “give it up” without a struggle. Belt not needed for a look like this (in case you were wondering). The man wearing those pants shouldn’t have to be bothered with a belt anyways. Those pants need to be easy to pull down and easy to put on in a hurry when he needs to sneak out. And he sneaks out often. The tie? The subliminal message being sent by this ad is that even if you think the tie is ugly, you can still use it for something else. Like to tie something in place. Utilitarian clothing is in for 2008. [As a side note, this is the most attractive I've ever seen M.I.A. look, and I've seen her up close. I kept looking to see if there was a wire leading from one of those red sockets at the bottom left of the photograph, into her, to make her so electric].

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Stocking stuffers for the Orissa government

The opposition Orissa Congress Party is pissed off and they ain’t going to take it no more. Surely I am referring to some local matter (perhaps involving bauxite), right? Nope. They are pissed off at the online (mostly T-shirt) store CafePress and want to lodge a formal complaint with the United States government so as to put a stop to the highly offensive insanity I am about to describe. We’ve heard this all before from American Hindus, but this one just escalates the absurdity to a whole new level:

Is that a Nehru in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?

Insensitivity towards foreign cultures and sentiments has plumbed new depths. A US-based online shop has kicked up a storm by printing images of the Tricolour, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru on undergarments.

The Orissa Congress on Saturday condemned the “cheap publicity stunt.” “This is stupid on the website’s part to malign a world leader like Gandhi and a great national icon like Nehru in such a disgraceful fashion,” Opposition leader, J B Patnaik, said, adding, “They should be told through proper channels to stop it. Since the website is US-based, I urge Indians there to lodge strong protests…” [Link]

Did you hear that? “They should be told…to stop it.” I beseech you my fellow Indian Americans to heed the call of this nobody politician from Orissa and demand that we protest against the First Amendment of these United States. If you remain unconvinced then I must point out that the reputations of Gandhi, Nehru, and the Indian Flag are not the only ones at stake. There is far greater disrespect involved here:

Youth also protested against the derogatory portrayal of Bollywood icons, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, on similar products. Now, it’s the turn of freedom fighters to air their grievances against the “offensive attacks on national leaders”. [Link]
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Two Things I Think We Can All Agree On

1) Padma Lakshmi may not be the sharpest tool in the shed:

“Padma Lakshmi,” she hoped, might one day be on as many food labels as “Paul Newman”—“a big hero.” Soon there would be Padma jewelry and fashion, “like Jennifer Lopez,” she said, and television and cookware, “like Martha Stewart.” In September, she sealed a major deal with IMG, the sports-and-entertainment marketing giant. “She has a global image and no end of ideas,” said John Steele, a senior V.P., “so we have multiple agreements.” “Like,” Padma said, “Tiger Woods.” How amazing was it that she, the daughter of a single mother who fled India to escape the stigma of divorce, was poised to become the first Indian woman with an American brand—perhaps the first to self-brand. “I’m as American as anyone else,” she has said. (link)

Ah yes, comparing yourself to Martha Stewart, Jennifer Lopez, and Tiger Woods in a single paragraph. Why not also go for P Diddy, to round out your own private Macy’s commercial of utter delusion? (Read on for more wince-worthy quotes…)

2) But she knows how to work the hair:

padma-lakshmi-vanity-fair.jpg

(Thanks for the tip, KXB. I know you read Vanity Fair for the articles, too.) Continue reading

Keep the Gold, I Want a New Nokia for Diwali

I had a relatively traditional Punjabi wedding 4+ years ago; gold was involved. Not a lot, mind you (we’re no Chatwals). But my wife did get some heavy-looking gold necklace-and-earring ‘sets’ from both her own family and my extended family at the time of the wedding. Later, I came to wonder about the point of it all, since the majority of that jewelry simply can’t be worn ever again. (You’d look silly wearing such heavy jewelry at anything but your own wedding.)

Amongst urban Indians, gold is going out of fashion in general:

“My daughters keep saying, ‘Nothing yellow, nothing yellow.’ For them, gold is old,” Bhardwaj said in her living room while sporting three gold rings, bangles, a chain and earrings. A painting of a 16th-century Mughal empress embellished with 24-karat gold decorated the wall.

Her 21-year-old daughter, Sonam Bhardwaj, has had it up to here with gold. “I think it is too gaudy and chunky,” she said with a look of disgust. “Look at my mother.”

In India, where an economic boom has taken hold and tastes are noticeably shifting, Sonam represents one of the newest consumers on the block — a young urban woman who has distanced herself from India’s deep-rooted gold tradition.

Today there are legions of young Indians whose eyes twinkle not at the sight of gold but at the sight of luxury goods. Sonam, for example, is hoping for a new Nokia Nseries phone next month for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. She already has a pair of Versace sunglasses and a Guess bag in her collection of fineries. (link)

For me, this transition seems to be an interesting case of a changing economic structure leading to unconscious changes in cultural values and practices. Insofar as most Indians used to be suspicious of banks and credit, gold was the central denomination in life’s most important rituals. New brides were given jewelry in gold partly because the gold itself was a rock-solid economic asset, and I gather the jewelry was usually considered a part of the dowry ‘trousseau’ as well. In a more “liquified” consumer driven system, on the other hand, gold seems dull — static and dusty, like the Gold Standard itself.

Am I speculating too much here, or is there really some sort of unconscious connection between the psychology of the change in fashion and the changing macroeconomic paradigm?

Secondly, does anyone want to defend gold wedding jewelry, and the traditionalism it represents? (Would you rather have gold, diamonds, or something entirely different — say, a Blackberry ‘Pearl’ — as a wedding present?) Continue reading

Model Minority

Yesterday I received an email from the Sikh Coalition, letting me know that there is an opportunity for a Sikh model (male) in or around New York City:

If you are interested in modeling for Kenneth Cole, here is what they are looking for: A Sikh male, about 25 to 35 years old, who is “attractive.” If this works for you, please e-mail your picture to xyz@xyz.com at the very latest by 10:00 a.m. on Thursday morning [Update: The deadline is passed now]. As an incentive, the person they choose will get a “couple thousand” dollars. The shoot will be half a day, here in the city and will be on either the 18th, 19th, 25th, or 26th of this month.

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p>The email got some funny reactions from friends, including one woman who asked if it was a hoax organized by a very desperate and resourceful New York City sardarni .

Obviously I like the basic impulse – standards of beauty are drawn in such a way as to usually exclude Sikh males: clean shaven, waxed chests, short hair, etc.

I know of only a few cases where Sikh men have tried to make a career of modelling in the west – one was Vikram Chatwal who had a spread in Vogue, another was a caucasian Sikh who modelled with his hair open. Both were from wealthy families, and in neither case did their modelling career last long. This isn’t surprising – if African female fashion models are still struggling, Sikh men will have a far harder time.

Still, for all my enthusiasm, there was a part of this effort which brought me up short:

A casting director, working for Kenneth Cole, is looking for a Sikh male to be part of an advertising campaign that dispels stereotypes about marginalized people in our society.

My response to this was pretty clear: “Dang – why we always gotta be exotic? Can’t we just be you know … gorgeous men without qualification? Why we gotta be marginalized?” It’s better than nothing, but we’re a far way from having our “look” accepted. [More photos after the fold]

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Maybe when Diesel makes one?

denim-saree.jpg

I keed. Despite my erstwhile devotion to all things Italian and denim, I do not think that there is ANYTHING which could persuade me to wear this unfortunate schmata– and that’s not because I’m conservative or unwilling to experiment for the sake of fashion.

Kanjeevaram, my beloved, politically incorrect, guilt-inducing Kanjeevaram, is heavy and inflexible enough; so how on earth does this thing WORK? Even if it is one of those new-fangled, “lazy saris” (as my Mother calls them), which is essentially a wrap-around, pre-pleated bottom with pallu attached, it’s still not easy enough.

I’d feel mummified.

Swaddled.

Slow.

Uncomfortable, and reminded of what it feels like to get x-rays, with that heavy protective blanket on top of me. Except at least when I’m getting x-rayed, I’m perfectly still. GAH. Yes, this is freaking me out, man. Must increase the drugs…

Said one fantastically-named blogher:

After color changing saree, pocket saree, it’s now turn for a Denim Silk Saree.
Sri Kumaran Stores, once a leading name in the garments business now seems desperate for market share. So out comes thinking caps (or is it cowboy hats) and innovation for the sake of it. In contrast to the appealing RMKV’s 50,000 color/ reversible saree, the concept as well as communication is a mild put off!

Incidentally, she has a pic of a very public version of this ad; a billboard which has some serendipitous placement, with regards to local greenery. Wait a second, what the– there’s a reversible sari?

My Mother is a disgrace I tell you. A disgrace. I’m always the last to know about such sartorial innovation. How someone who wears no makeup and has never thought to read a fashion magazine bore me, I have no idea. I’m terrified that whatever it is she has will skip a generation though, and that MY daughter will be a fearsome, dreaded rapscallion of a tomboy. Obviously, my Mother is praying for exactly this, as divine revenge for having to put up with me for 32 girly, glittery, glossy years. But I digress (and I must, for truly, it isn’t a post of mine, if I don’t!).

One final note: how the hell is this suitable for elders? Because they don’t move much? Give me a set sari over this isht, any day.

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Via Maisnon, Lizzie and Yindia Uncut…thanks all. Or, um, in this case, y’all. Continue reading

Who is SKINNY? [Updated]

Yes or No.JPG

I wrote a post this weekend which questioned certain commenters’ assertions regarding how “hot Desi girls seem to end up with White guys”. We discussed that misconception as well as…well, a few dozen other subjects, but that’s natural over the course of 1,349 comments. One sub-thread which I followed avidly involved I-bankers and their (for some) elusive prey: the skinny, hyper-maintained, hot brown girl with stick-straight hair.

Some of you compassionately responded to your banking brethren, when they plaintively admitted that they weren’t sure where to locate their loins’ fondest desire; instructions, right down to locations, days of the week and yes, auspicious times of day (yo, are we brown or are we BROWN) were offered and happily accepted. Much like the original exchange which inspired my post on interracial dating, which is where this comedy of heir-ers was going down, what I noticed was that these weren’t one-off sentiments. To me, that made them difficult to dismiss.

The one word which kept surfacing, repeatedly, insistently, was skinny.

Predictably, evolved mutineers were outraged and immediately broadcasted it; even more predictable than that, the obligatory, “I can’t help it, it’s just what ruins my boxers”- volley occurred, so that there was essentially a stalemate. Around skinny. While all of them pondered if it was okay to come out and say that “skinny” was a requirement, and whether such a requiring was nothing to be ashamed of, I was transfixed by something else which was related, but not discussed.

What did skinny mean in this context?

To some, Kate Moss defines skinny. To others, the woman who is pictured on our left qualifies.

I like to know exactly what I’m offended by, before I gift someone with a new orifice, so I couldn’t get my outrage-on– not until this question was answered. Yes, yes…we should all eschew superficial everything and it’s terrible that we’re judging female books by their covers, but it’s also a gross reality. And I wanted to know how realistic these I(yer) bankers were.

There was another snag—we were discussing Manhattan.

It’s a rarified world and understandably, the benchmarks are different. Everything is relative (and apparently, if you are an Iyengar reading SM, YOU are all relatives…oy, how I wish that I could actually link to relevant comments from MY OWN POST, which would make my attempts at wit successful vs. inscrutable).

In most cities, D.C. included, my 450 sq ft studio is tiny. In Manhattan, my friend is thrilled to have that much space for her ONE-BEDROOM. In most cities, making six figures is awesome. In Manhattan, it barely affords the afore-mentioned shoe-box, rent-wise and that’s if you limit your methods for self-intoxicating to PBR (note: life is too short for PBR, my darlinks). Anyway, if everything is tougher, better, more competitive, more expensive and more EVERYTHING in Manhattan, then…do brown guys expect brown girls to be skinnier, too? And does skinny mean fit? Or just skinny?

My guy friends (the unManhattanites, if you will…I’m not counting the Murray Hill dwellers et al for the purposes of this fluffy post) would line up giddily for a shot at the gorgeous girl above. Would our I(yengar) bankers? I think we have a bit of a vested interest in all this; the majority of the Desi vomen whom I am privileged to know are curvaceous, if they’re out of their teens. For most men, that’s a good thing. My male buddies don’t like straight lines—on the roads they’re about to break laws on or…uh…you know.

Curves are good. Right? Left? Those are definitely curves, on the left.

So, as I said memorably (and almost 1,700 comments ago!), out with it then. Let’s have the truth. What do you want? Is the woman I’ve wrapped this post around zaftig or is she just right? Err, left? You know what I mean. And this ain’t no heteronormative joint. I’ll be the first to tell you that she could inspire me to discover a love that dare not speak its naam. ;) What about you? Continue reading