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

Ameen Chef-testant Competes for Just Desserts

malika.ameen.jpgThe latest desi entrant to the reality TV world, Chicago pastry chef consultant Malika Ameen, has a spot on the premiere season of Top Chef: Just Desserts. The series is a Padma Lakshmi-less but pastry and pompadour-laden spin-off of the popular Top Chef.

In its initial quickfire challenge, Ameen’s meringue was all wrong, mostly because she didn’t complete the coconut concoction in time. But the cookie couturier to the stars hustled for the next round, producing a decadent and bittersweet chocolate dessert for the elimination challenge. It made the cut and kept her on the show for another week. Continue reading

GonjaSufi: Singing up from the stomach

I have recently been enjoying the sounds of GonjaSufi and thought I’d share his stylings with Sepia Mutiny readers. You can clearly hear the South Asian influence in his music:

Gonjasufi (born Sumach Ecks, aka Sumach Valentine, c.1978) is a rapper, singer, disc jockey and yoga teacher from San Diego, California and currently living in Las Vegas, Nevada.Ecks was born to a Mexican mother and an American-Ethiopian father. He has been releasing music since the early 1990s among the San Diego Hip Hop scene, notably with the Masters of the Universe crew. Ecks gained notice from Warp Records in 2008 after an appearance on Californian musician Flying Lotus’ album Los Angeles, where he sings on the track “Testament”. His Warp debut album, A Sufi and a Killer was released on March 8, 2010. Ecks’ voice was described by Pitchfork Media as “a scraggly, scary, smoked-out croak that creeps like the spiritual offspring of George Clinton and Leadbelly”. He attributes his singing voice to his day job teaching yoga when he had to “to project from my stomach more”.[3]… [Wiki]
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Converse throws out its new shoes

Only someone in a Purple Haze could have come up with a design like this [thanks for the tip Ankur]:

Converse is longer selling a pair of Chuck Taylors that depicted guitar legend Jimi Hendrix as a colorful, multi-armed Hindu deity.

The company says the shoe–a part of a fall collection in memory of Hendrix–will no longer be sold because it offends Hindu culture. [Houston Chronicle]

The shoe company said that the inspiration for the design came from the 1967 album “Axis: Bold as Love.”

My take on this is the same as always. This stuff (taking artistic license with religious iconography) doesn’t insult me in the least as long as the intent behind it isn’t explicitly malicious or to stir up trouble. I’ll admit, I may have even bought a pair. I know many of you will disagree (and some will secretly want a pair too).

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Barrymore goes to Bollywood

The floodgates are opening and more Hollywooders are going slumdogging:

The Lifestyle is a Bollywood movie that will be managed by an Indian production house and produced by first-time writer and director Santosh Kumar Jain. “I really liked her performance in Charlie’s Angels and decided to cast her in my film. Fortunately, she liked the script and agreed instantly,” director Santosh Kumar Jain told the Times of India.

The Lifestyle will talk about three women who are all trying to find their identity. “The film is about three women from different walks of life, trying to assert their identities. Drew plays the role of a foreigner in the film. The other two will be top Indian actresses. The river Ganga is in the backdrop throughout the flick,” Santosh Kumar Jain added.

The flick is set to start shooting in November and will probably only hit theaters in 2012. The Lifestyle’s cast and crew will travel to Haridwar and Benaras, but will mainly work in the U.S. So who will be the lucky B-town artists who will get to work with the popular Hollywood star? [Link]

I still can’t decide. Is there really a profit motive/viable business model here or is this just a novelty such that some of these Hollywooders can have a chance to put on nice Indian clothes? Someone convince me it’s the former.

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Interview: The Animal Days Are Gone for Tasneem

It started to drizzle as I waited for Tasneem on the Santa Monica Pier early on a July summer day. I couldn’t believe it. It never rains in Southern California but here it was, middle of summer and it had started to rain. Luckily, by the time Tasneem arrived, guitar and all, it had turned into a beautiful day for a ferris wheel ride.

Tasneem, otherwise known as Jungli, is back for a brand new edition with a whole new sound. A New York transplant to California, she’s taken the coastal change and reinvented herself and her singer-songwriter sound into a new Cali-vibin’ freshenss. She’s working on a new E.P. The Animal Days Are Gone set to be released in the next few months. Check out my one-on-one ferris wheel interview with the infamous Tasneem. She talks about why she makes conscious music, how she loves Bat for Lashes, and how her dad would make them listen to Afro-Pop on the drive to weekly prayer.

I realize the interview is kind of long, but I had a hard time editing it down. We had a lot of fun on our quasi-date and Tasneem is very personable. Conducting interviews on ferris wheels are my new favorite thing to do, and getting a personal concert while in a ferris wheel bucket was one of the highlights of this summer. Check out the following video where Tasneem sings “Mark Wahlberg” and you’ll see just what I mean. Continue reading

Talking About Terror


[Amitava Kumar and Lorraine Adams will be in conversation today, August 27, at 6.30 PM at the Aicon Gallery in New York City. Admission is free.]

I have just received a letter from a man in prison. His name is Hemant Lakhani. Lakhani was a women’s clothing salesman who, in 2005, was convicted of selling an Igla missile to an FBI informant posing as a member of a jihadist organization.

Lakhani is one of the people I write about in my new book A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm A Tiny Bomb. He learned about the book’s publication by reading a review in the New York Times.

Mr. Lakhani writes to congratulate me but also to invite me back. There is more to tell, he writes. If I listen to his story, and write about it, he promises me that the book will be a bestseller. I will be interviewed by the mainstream press, including Charlie Ross (sic).

The Times review had also mentioned that I had visited a strip-club outside the Missouri high-security prison where Lakhani is incarcerated. I had a conversation there with a dancer about the man I had come to meet in Missouri. This didn’t sit well with Mr Lakhani and he writes in his letter that I must promise him that I will not go back to the strip-club again. Continue reading

Brownstar at NYC Fringe

Brownstar NYC Fringe Festival

This Sunday I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Brownstar’s “Faster than the Speed of White” at the NYC Fringe Festival. There are two remaining performances, today from 3:45-4:55 PM and tomorrow from 8:45 to 9:55 and if you’re in NYC you really should go see them.

Brownstar is a theatrical performance duo, comprised of NORTHSTAR (Pushkar Sharma) and SOUTHSTAR (Sathya Sridharan). Their style is a hybrid of improv sketch comedy, like the Second City troupe, old school spoken word, and Hip Hop. This is not your parents South Asian theater by a long shot. [See our earlier post about them here for more about their background, origin story, and influences]

FTTSOW is a compilation of their earlier shorter sketch comedies into a single 70 minute show, the story of Captain Northstar and Ensign Southstar’s voyage on the Brownstar Galactica to the alcove of answers. As you would expect from the Fringe Festival, this isn’t a traditional play, it’s more like a concept album, a mashup and weaving together of several different sketches that share a set of common themes: South Asian American Identity and what it means to be a desi artist in America. The hybridity of their performance genre reflects the hybridity of their subject, like browns in America, their style reflects a variety of different influences.

Although these are weighty themes, the show is comic rather than somber. When you see the ode to the squat toilet or the mashup of Midnights Children with Kal Pen’s biography, you’ll see that Brownstar don’t take themselves seriously. Their work is thought provoking and consistently surprising and definitely worth a look for yourself.

TICKETS: Available online from NYC Fringe

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Party on the Food Network!

After several months of waiting, the “Next Food Network Star” has been announced, and it is none other than fellow desi Aarti Sequiera! Lakshmi did a brief write up on Aarti as the competition to select the Food Network’s next celebrity chef began, and now we can see the results come full circle. Aarti’s show, currently titled “Aarti Party,” will be the first cooking show on national American television to focus on Indian food, and be hosted by an Indian American.

I consider myself to be an amateur foodie, and between tasting new cuisines, learning how not to starve to cook, and avidly reading others’ food blogs, I always make time to enjoy the veritable smorgasbord of culinary shows. If there are any other foodie mutineers out there, you will know that the Food Network is often mocked for its commercial drive, and celebrity chefs who are more celebrity than chef. I usually don’t watch the Food Network unless I feel like listening to Paula Deen’s comforting southern drawl, but in between seasons of “Top Chef,” “The Next Food Network Star” keeps me satiated.

I have been watching “The Next Food Network Star” since its start, and the Food Network for even longer, but it wasn’t until the third season of TNFS that I noticed something about the Food Network…its lack of diversity in both food culture and the ethnicity of its hosts. One of the contestants on that season, Joshua “Jag” Garcia, was disqualified from the competition after it had been revealed that he lied about some of his culinary experience. In his exit interview, he mentioned how the Food Network has no Latino chefs or shows featuring Hispanic cuisine, and he had hoped he could be the first to bring his culture to the channel. Shortly after, Food Network produced “Simply Delicioso.” Around the same time, the first African-American hosted cooking show premiered, “Down Home with the Neely’s.” Continue reading