The Wicked Within

The last few days I have been tweeting about a set of unfortunate circumstances surrounding young Rubina Ali, the young girl that played the child Latika in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. First, a British paper engaged in some investigative reporting and alleged that Ali’s parents were attempting to sell her off for a high bid (in order to buy their way out of the slums or just out of plain greed). Then it appears that Indian police began investigating this serious allegation. Finally today, a vicious cat fight occurred between Ali’s mom and step mom as the poor girl watched on in tears. This is of course a really sad story born from a seemingly happy one. There aren’t a lot of details I can add to this that you can’t simply read in the three articles I linked above. Instead, the focus of this post is in about a single sentence from the third article which caught my eye:

After seeing Munni [the step mother] talking to reporters, Khushi [the biological mother] launched a verbal attack, accusing Munni of using black magic to control Rubina. [Link]

Allegations of witches and witchcraft are not new to India and at least a few times a year the western media highlights them. They also occur quite regularly in the U.S. and all around the world for that matter. It is a phenomenon that spans borders, cultures, and time. A must-read piece at Slate today highlighted two new books (The Enemy Within and The Last Witch of Langenburg: Murder in a German Village) on the subject of witch hunts and why vulnerable women or young girls are most frequently the victims of these sort of hunts which seek to expunge “evils” from within a group.

The allure of witch hunting can grip any of us if we abandon our adherence to reason and evidence. As a tribal, poorly evolved species, we are very vulnerable to believing that we are surrounded by secretive, wicked people who might seem like us at first glance but who are, in fact, conspiring against us–and must be rooted out and destroyed. John Demos explains how this differs from other forms of persecution: “Witch-hunting alone finds the other within its own ranks. The Jew, the black, and the ethnic opposite exist, in some fundamental sense, ‘on the outside.’ … The witch, by contrast, is discovered (and ‘discovery’ is key to the process) inside the host community.”

We know that witch hunts break out most ferociously at times of trauma and stress. There was no concept of child witchcraft in Congo until the war began and 6 million people were killed. Now a broken and terrorized population has turned on its own children in a desperate, futile attempt to find some way to regain control. The first great witch hunt in Europe came after the Black Death killed one-third of the population. The second came between 1580 and 1650, when the climate cooled and crops failed. Similarly, witch hunting erupted in America–on the dirt-tracks of Salem, Mass.–at a time when 10 percent of the colonists were being killed and all lived in constant fear of the American Indians who were trying to defend their civilization from extinction. [Link]

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Dating advice from…Al Qaeda

An unintentionally hilarious (to me) story on NPR Monday morning. It seems that West Point researchers stumbled upon a terrorist recruitment “how-to” manual:

Researchers at West Point recently stumbled on the 51-page manual while they were visiting a jihadi chat room, called Ecles. It’s a Web site that allows members to have interactive discussions, post videos and download manuals. Ecles is the second most popular jihadi chat room on the Web, and al-Qaida often posts things there. Because of that, it is a place counterterrorism analysts track regularly.

So when the West Point analysts discovered a step-by-step primer called “The Art of Recruiting Mujahedeen,” it got their attention. On one level, the manual might be an early indication that al-Qaida is trying to identify new sleeper terrorists. On the other hand, the book is so basic it seems to suggest al-Qaida is getting desperate for new members. [Link]

What is it in the manual that suggests desperation to some? Well, if I were to slap a different, more pleasant cover on the book and then re-name it to, let’s say… “The Art of Seducing Desi Boys” I think I could make big money by marketing it to some SM readers. Behold the advice, straight from the manual [with my suggested modifications]:

Here’s how the manual, as translated by the CIA, suggests a recruiter build a rapport with a recruit:

“This stage lasts approximately three weeks [unless it overlaps with March Madness in which case it may take longer],” it says. “You must do something important at this stage [such as letting him go past first base]. You must identify his interests and relations with people [especially with his overprotective mother] and how he spends the whole 24 hours, meaning you study him secretly to be reassured about your choice [and make sure he does not talk about finance, medicine, or Battlestar Galactica too much...well definitely not finance or medicine].”

This section touches on such things as being nice to the recruit. It suggests the recruiter pretend to be his friend, perhaps even buy him small gifts [like the Wii]. It ends with a questionnaire to assess progress. “Is the recruit [more] anxious to see you [than Jamal was to see Latika]?” it asks. You get one point for “no” [because he probably doesn't have many options anyways] and three points for “[hell] yes.” Does he accept your advice and respect your opinion [about how he should smile like Sanjay Gupta more often]?… “If you have received less than 10 points, you are on the wrong path [and need to try again on Shaddi.com, or a speed dating event], repeat the stages from the beginning. From 10 to 18, you are on your way [to achieving your Bollywood Dreams].” [Link]

I’m telling you. There is money to be made in this book idea of mine.

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Shine, Coconut Moon Shines Light on Post 9/11 Sikh Experience

Soon after 9/11, a friend of mine told me that her college roommate’s home had been visited by the local police in their town in upstate New York. The police wanted to search the home of this family because they’d heard they had a picture of Osama Bin Laden hanging in their living room. The cops were mistaken. This was the home of a pious Sikh family and the picture was of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion.

I’ve often thought about this story. There are so many more like it — incidents of mistaken identities, faulty detentions, stereotyping, and violent acts in the wake of September 11th. We’ve read about them in the press and slowly, literature is beginning to tackle this dark period of recent American history as well; a time that unfolded in what Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic artist, Art Spiegelman, described so aptly as “in the shadow of no towers.”shinecoconut.jpg

A few years ago, Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos was one of the first young adult offerings to address the challenge of growing up South Asian and Muslim in an America altered by 9/11. First time novelist Nisha Meminger takes on a similar theme in her new YA novel Shine, Coconut Moon, just published by Simon & Schuster.

When her turbaned uncle appears at the doorstep of her suburban NJ home just four days after the 9/11 attacks, 16 year old Samar is caught off guard. Raised in a single-parent household by an Indian-American mother who cut off ties with her Sikh family many years before, Samar has no connection to her cultural roots and traditions. She is skeptical of this man, Uncle Sandeep, who claims to want to reconnect with his estranged sister because “we’re living in different times now … and I want to be close to the ones I love. The world is in turmoil–we’re at war. Anything could happen at any moment.”

As Samar gets to know her uncle, she begins to learn about Sikhism and gets to know her grandparents. She even visits a gurdwara for the first time in her life. This prompts her to start questioning her mother’s decision to raise her to think of herself “like everyone else.” She begins to question her identity; wondering whether she is a coconut — someone who is brown on the outside and white on the inside–someone who may physically appear to be Indian but doesn’t know who she really is. At the same time, she is shocked and saddened by a series of troubling events in her community that affect her personally: her uncle is attacked by a bunch of teenage boys who goad him to “Go back home, Osama!” and the local gurdwara is set on fire.

In his compelling Guardian article “The End of Innocence” Pankaj Mishra writes, “‘Post-9/11′ fiction often seems to use the attacks and their aftermath too cheaply, as background for books that would have been written anyway.” Shine, Coconut Moon does not fall into this category. Most definitively shaped by the effect of 9/11 on minority immigrant communities, this is an ambitious coming of age novel for young adults that seeks to demonstrate the effects of fear mongering on the lives of ordinary minority teens who saw themselves as American before 9/11.

Below the fold is an excerpt from the novel, as well as a Q&A with, Neesha Meminger where she talks about her novel writing process and the real-life incidents that inspired it. And, for those in the NYC area, there is a book launch party and reading this Saturday, March 14th at 7 pm at Bluestockings Bookstore. Continue reading

Cyberabad 2047

I grew up reading almost exclusively sci-fi and fantasy books, sometimes one a day during the summers. I was like the main character in Oscar Wao except I wasn’t fat or bad with the ladies (well…I wasn’t fat). To this day, even though I blog for Sepia Mutiny and am surrounded by talented co-bloggers, some of whom are authors, I have never read a single book of desi-fiction. Ever. I have no excuse at all. It just hasn’t happened yet. I read books to escape into worlds that I can never be a part of, or to get smart on something that I want to know more about before I die. Desi-lit, no matter how far removed from my experiences, just seems too close. Every time I pick up a book of desi fiction I tell myself that this time I will read it, this will be the one…only to push it aside once again. Nobody has to tell me, I already know that it is my loss. I have a theory about books. I believe the right book falls into your hands when you are meant to read it. You don’t pick books, they pick you. I haven’t read a science fiction or fantasy book in at least a decade by the way.

The other day while reading Boing Boing I came across a book review that might just become my first desi fiction book. I say “might” because I can’t guarantee it until it happens given my fickle history. The book is titled Cyberabad Days: Return to the India of 2047 and is a collection of science fiction short stories:

Cyberabad Days returns to McDonald’s India of 2047, a balkanized state that we toured in his 2006 novel River of Gods, which was nominated for the best novel Hugo Award. The India of River of Gods has fractured into a handful of warring nations, wracked by water-shortage and poverty, rising on rogue technology, compassion, and the synthesis of the modern and the ancient.

In Cyberabad Days, seven stories (one a Hugo winner, another a Hugo nominee) McDonald performs the quintessential science fictional magic trick: imagining massive technological change and making it intensely personal by telling the stories of real, vividly realized people who leap off the page and into our minds. And he does this with a deft prose that is half-poetic, conjuring up the rhythms and taste and smells of his places and people, so that you are really, truly transported into these unimaginably weird worlds. McDonald’s India research is prodigious, but it’s nothing to the fabulous future he imagines arising from today’s reality. [Link]

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Inheriting…a bunch of dating problems

The Washington Post featured an article this morning about ethnic dating patterns, primarily those in the Asian and South Asian American communities. At first I assumed, “here we go again, another hackneyed piece about arranged marriages or something.” While there were a few clichés in the article, it did feature an intriguing revelation (to me at least). 2nd generation South Asian Americans (like some other ethnic groups), are increasingly marrying within their race. The magnitude of the trend was somewhat shocking to me since South Asian Americans are better assimilated than our European counterparts, and truly homogeneous ethnic enclaves which would foster such trends are very rare in the U.S. I thought for sure there would be a minor slope in the opposite direction:

The number of native- and foreign-born people marrying outside their race fell from 27 to 20 percent for Hispanics and 42 to 33 percent for Asians from 1990 to 2000, according to Ohio State University sociologist Zhenchao Qian, who co-authored a study on the subject. The downward trend continued through last year, Qian said.

“The immigrant population fundamentally changes the pool of potential partners for Asians and Hispanics. It expands the number and reinforces the culture, which means the second generation . . . is more likely to marry people of their own ethnicity,” said Daniel T. Lichter, a sociologist at Cornell University.
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Increasingly, singles are turning to a growing number of niche dating sites on the Internet, such as http://Shaadi.com and http://Persiansingles.com. [Link]

A recent book titled Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age also tracks the dating and marriage patterns of 1.5 and 2nd generation South Asian Americans and finds similar results:

Researchers spent a decade following 3,300 children of immigrants in the New York region as they navigated adulthood, which led to a study published last year called “Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age.” They followed both the “second generation” children born in the United States and the “1.5 generation” — children of immigrants who came as youngsters — who were Dominican, Chinese, Russian Jews, South Americans and West Indians.

Researchers found that their subjects were constantly struggling with the desire to be open to people of all backgrounds vs. family expectations, and their own desires to sustain their culture. Most paired with others who shared similar racial or language backgrounds. [Link]

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Q&A: Interviewing Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri and her work (and its film adaptation!) have long been a subject of discussion here at the Mutiny. And this Friday night, I am interviewing her as part of the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective’s Literary Festival, “Stranger Love.”

I just checked, and the Lahiri event is sold out (!), but I thought that this might be an opportunity for SM readers get two cents in. Got a question? Put it in comments, and I may ask it… She’s been much interviewed, obviously, so I’d like to try to ask her things that haven’t been asked before, as well as things that relate particularly to the festival theme.

One question that I usually like to ask writers: What are you reading now? The answer to this changes, and is usually pretty interesting… I’m rereading Unaccustomed Earth right now, and will ask some questions about specific stories, too. If there’s a character or story that made you think longer than the others, please let me know!

(If I ask a question submitted here, I’ll mention that it came from SM. If you put something resembling a real name on it, I’ll try to credit you specifically.) Continue reading

It wasn’t just Lupercalia yesterday

I know most of you were too busy yesterday celebrating the orthodox feastday of Saint Brigid of Kildare to think of anything else, but it was also the 20th anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

Back then Rushdie was already a literary hotshot, having won the Booker in 1981 for his second novel, Midnight’s Children. This was long before Padma, when Rushdie was newly married to Marianne Wiggins and could walk down the street without being recognized.

However, it was the 1988 publication of The Satanic Verses that really put him on the map, making him both notorious and a cause celebre all over the world, granting him immortality while putting his own body and that of others into mortal peril.

Although Rushdie had always courted controversy, having mocked Indira Gandhi, the Bhutto family, and American foreign policy in previous books, he claims that he had no idea what a hornet’s nest The Satanic Verses would stir up:

Rushdie … said “I expected a few mullahs would be offended, call me names, and then I could defend myself in public… I honestly never expected anything like this.” [link]

Instead the book was banned within a month in India, followed by Bangladesh, Sudan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia, Singapore and lastly Venezuela in June 1989. A large number of threats were made to bookstores in the US and UK. Daniel Pipes claims that “[t]he bombings meant that hardly a single bookstore sold Rushdie’s novel openly in the UK” [link]

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Contest: Write a Six-Word Memoir of Love or Heartbreak for V-Day (and win a free book)

It’s almost that time of the year when big pink hearts take over storefronts, over 190 million cards are exchanged, and the average U.S. consumer will spend $103 on gifts, meals, and entertainment,. Yup, St. Valentine’s Day. The day of L-O-V-E.

I’m not one to make a big hoopla about this holiday – I’m one of those people who prefers to receive flowers or a gift on random days rather than on a day when there are such high expectations. But, a handwritten card or a poem, ah, that I will never turn away. swm_love.jpg

This year, my Valentine’s Day gift to my husband is a copy of SMITH magazine/Harper Perennial’s Six Word Memoirs of Love and Heartbreak: By Writers Famous and Obscure. It’s a pocket-sized paperback (4X6, a little smaller in size than your average Valentine’s Day Card, but chock full of so many more wishes and reflections on matters of the heart).

This book is the second offering from SMITH Magazine whose initial invite to writers two years ago was a simple one (inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn): Everyone has a story. Can you tell yours in six words? The submissions poured in like crazy and soon enough they had published the NYT bestselling Not Quite What I Was Planning. (

The book features my very own six word memoir on page 13:

Sleeping, our foreheads touch. Fates mingle.

As I was flipping through the book, I came across another one-liner by our very own mutineer V.V. on page 70:

My book title makes dating awkward.

There were several more six-word desi memoirs that made it into the book:

Girl beautiful. No Mercedes. No love. – Sujoy Kumar Chowdhury
I fixed him but broke myself. – Amal Khairul
Proposal. Dowry. Bethrothal. Marriage. Children. Love. – Mitali Perkins
Arranged marriage now sounding pretty good. – Saleem Reshamwala

Add your own six word memoir (consider it your Valentine’s day greeting to the world) in the comments section before midnight on Sunday, February 15th. V.V. (author of the Washington Post choice for one of the best books of 2008, Love Marriage will pick two winners who will each receive a free copy of Six Word Memoirs of Love and Heartbreak. And, that’s our V-Day gift to you.

Below the fold, check out a book trailer for inspiration. Continue reading

Boy don’t try to front…

William Dalrymple has a must read book review of Ahmed Rashid’s “Pakistan in Peril Descent into Chaos,” in the New York Review of Books that I should summarize for SM readers. Man Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga has published a short story in The New Yorker this week titled, “The Elephant” that I should also critique. Finally, Foreign Policy magazine has an article about how India scuttled Richard Holbrooke’s potential involvement in the Kashmir conflict that I know would make for a great debate on our site. But honestly, I am just tired of trying to front like I am smart or something. Instead, I just want to blog this trashy clip from my girl Tyra Bank’s show earlier this week. It features a desi guy that now goes by the porn-king sounding name “Shawn Valentino.”

Part 1

Part 2

The first thing I am going to do is to re-do my SM business card now and put a picture of me blogging shirtless on it. I’ve “traveled the world.” I am “open minded.” I just want to “teach other people to be comfortable with themselves,” too! This guy really is a guru. He has convinced me too stop pretending to be something I am not. From here on out its business time all the time.

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Rushdie on Religion and the Imagination

Last Wednesday night, I had the chance to sit in on a fascinating conversation on “Religion and the Imagination” with Salman Rushdie. The author of Midnight’s Children [soon to be adapted for film by Deepa Mehta], The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and East, West was, of course, the perfect person to launch Columbia University’s newly founded Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life. The Institute’s mission is to “bring together scholars and students in various fields to reflect and respond to the issues brought about by the “resurgence of religion and, with it, religious and cultural intolerance and conflict [that] are emerging as powerful forces in the new century.” Rushdie2.jpg

Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 Nobel Laureate in Literature, introduced Rushdie as someone who has been “fighting religious intolerance with humor, proving that we can fight moral seriousness with humor.”

The stage in Columbia’s always inspiring (and very crowded) Low Library Rotunda was set simply with two arm chairs–one for Rushdie, who was was all suited up, and the other for his “interviewer” Gauri Viswanathan, Professor of Religion and Comparative Literature, dressed as always, in a sari. The conversation was an intellectual one peppered with doses of Rushdie’s subtle (and sometimes pointed) humor and the topics of conversation ranged from everything to his relationship with religion and his hopes for robust religious debate to his thoughts on Obama’s win earlier that week.

“We don’t live in a world of drama, dance, and love… We live in a world of death, destruction, and bombs… I’m hoping something happened on Tuesday that will change that,” Rushdie said, referring to the election of Barack Obama. “I have no utopian tendencies. I’m good at seeing what I don’t like. But this week, I do feel optimistic,” Rushdie laughed. “It’s an odd feeling, one I’m not familiar with. The last time I felt like this was after the election of Tony Blair and look what happened!” Rushdie paused as the audience chuckled at his dark skepticism, then added, “ I hope it’s not that way this time. Actually … I don’t think it is.”

More on the evening’s highlights below the fold. Continue reading