Charles Dickens in India

“Please, Sir, I want some more.”

Charles Dickens would have turned 200 today. If you haven’t read his books, here is the digested read. At the request of BBC World Service I wrote a brief reminiscence recalling my experience reading Dickens in my childhood. Here is the longer version of what I recorded for them:

Children have lurid imaginations. They don’t need much help imagining misfortune. But if you are aware of poverty, or see suffering around you, Charles Dickens can be a boon. This is because he is so good at populating that stricken landscape with indelible characters outfitted with violent habits and unforgettable names.

I grew up in a small town in India. The novels of Charles Dickens, in abridged form, were required reading in schools. My uncles on my mother’s side worked in prisons. I could look up from a page of Great Expectations and see the convicts working in the house, sweeping a stone courtyard or feeding the cows. Each man, clad in white khadi with blue stripes, would have an iron manacle around his ankle. I went back to the page I was reading, but now troubled by the thought that soon one of them would be beside me, asking me to fetch a file.

In the books that we read, a dramatic pencil illustration would be printed every few pages, with a line from the novel serving as a caption.

“Please, Sir, I want some more.” That line was Dickens’s gift to me.

At bus-stops, in the homes of less well-off relatives, outside tea-stalls, I looked at the faces of other children as they regarded food that was displayed, or that someone else was eating, and I’d think back to the line I had read in Oliver Twist.

In the new shining India, 42.5 percent of its children suffer from malnutrition. The term “Dickensian” evokes cold dark workplaces and cramped rooms. It doesn’t belong to the India of teeming cities with soaring flyovers and glittering multirise buildings. Yet, you can still look at the stunted children and remember, without sentimentality, that old line from Dickens: “Please, Sir, I want some more.”

 

 

 

Brown Finger’s Pointing at You

I think it’s safe to say that today’s #MusicMonday is brought to you by the letters M, I, and A. She might have had only 18 seconds of screen time as a Madonna backup hook girl out of the 13 minute halftime Superbowl show, but M.I.A. made every one of those seconds count.

…a member of M.I.A.’s camp, speaking Sunday night from the Super Bowl host city of Indianapolis, said M.I.A. was struck with “a case of adrenaline.” “She wasn’t thinking,” said the source, who requested anonymity but was with the artist at Lucas Oil Stadium. “It wasn’t any kind of statement. She was caught in the moment and she’s incredibly sorry.” [link]

 

So, it wasn’t a political statement – she was caught in the moment. She has yet to issue an actual apology. The song itself, as I mentioned before, is pretty lame and a brown middle finger was the highlight of that tune. The full SuperBowl halftime show was, on the other hand, pretty awe inducing.

As for M.I.A. and her brown finger. Well, everyone is stumbling to point the blame finger at someone else.

NBC has apologized for airing footage of M.I.A. flipping off the cameras while delivering the line “I don’t give a shit” during Madonna‘s Super Bowl halftime show. “The NFL hired the talent and produced the halftime show,” NBC said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. “Our system was late to obscure the inappropriate gesture and we apologize to our viewers.”

 

The NFL have also issued an apology for the incident, but placed the blame on NBC’s censors. “There was a failure in NBC’s delay system,” spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. “The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing, and we apologize to our fans.” [link]

Continue reading

New Anthem for the Bad Girls

With rumors spinning about M.I.A. appearing at this Sunday’s SuperBowl halftime show to do a song w/ the Material Girl & Nicki Minaj, it’s no surprise that Maya dropped a song on the interwebs for all of us to peep. This morning she released the video for her song “Bad Girls” – with the kind of slow beat that makes you want to drop the seat back in your ride and do the gangster lean while rocking a keffiya.

The song is great, but I absolutely LOVE this video – if only because I can imagine Saudi women blasting this rebellious song as they drive unlawfully through the desert. The stunts are pretty legit and gritty without the Hollywood flair too. I feel as if “Bad Girls” skips over Vicki Leex mixtape and goes back to the world orientalist flavor of the Kala days of M.I.A.. I loved the Kala days.

The video, directed by Romain Gavras (see: M.I.A.’s “Born Free”) was shot in Ouarzazate, Morocco, and premiered exclusively on VICE’s new music channel Noisey. The short features daring car stunts that had M.I.A. terrified the entire time.[huffpost]

 

“It was dope to have so many people from so many different backgrounds speaking so many different languages come together to create something that we believed in,” says M.I.A about the video. “I thought I was gonna die on the shoot when I saw the drifting.  It was a four day shoot so everyone was on edge the whole time specifically ME when I had to do bluesteel singing to the camera while the cars did doughnuts on the wet road ten feet away. In my mind I was thinking how I was gonna deliver the video to Vice with no legs.” [bizjournals]

 

But, yo… this track that just premiered with Madonna and Nicki Minaj though leaves a bad taste in my mouth. They dress Nicki and MIA to be cheerleaders and give them a two line rap? And what’s with the blonde wigs to make them look like Madonna/Marilyn? Oh so bad. Video after the jump. Continue reading

ACK tribute in NY

Almost a year after the passing of the Father of Indian comics Anant Pai, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop pays tribute in New York on February 16 to the comic series he created.

Amar Chitra Katha: Monica Ferrell, Chitra Ganesh, Keshni Kashyap, and Himanshu “Heems” Suri of Das Racist Does your knowledge about the Ramayana come entirely from comics your mom brought you from Jackson Heights? Or are you a comic book fan interested in engaging with one of the bestselling comics in both Asia and the world? Party down with the Workshop’s tribute to Amar Chitra Katha, the beloved Indian comic that’s sold more than 90 million copies, often featuring lovelorn maidens, fearless saints, and mythical kings romping around a half-toned South Asian fantasia, tinted yellow, blue and green.


I’ve read the Ramayana and enjoyed the comic versions too. I’ll also admit that much of my knowledge of the Bible comes from the colorful, engaging Amar Chitra Katha comics. For more details on the event, visit aaww.org.

A quick look at Lahore

After completing school at the University of North Carolina, Nushmia Khan spent time traveling abroad. In Lahore, Pakistan, the recent grad with a background in multimedia journalism visited family and took over 5,000 photos. She shares some of them in a short film called “Time in Lahore.”

The music is by Basheer & The Pied Pipers. Visit Nushmia.net for more about Khan and her trip to Pakistan (“Leaving Pindi is always hard” and “It’s a man’s world”).

Redistricting in Nehru Jackets

Himanshu Suri of the infamous Das Racist is stepping out from behind the microphone, kind of. He’s teaming up with his childhood friend Ali Najmi (of Desis Vote) and joining the board of Queens based SEVA-NY to bring awareness to a very heated issue, redistricting in immigrant heavy Queens because the plans that are being drawn up will make you want to yell, “Das RACIST!”

Prominent Queens-bred rapper Himanshu Suri is adding his voice to the contentious redistricting debate, joining the board of directors of SEVA, a Richmond Hill-based immigrant rights group.

 

Suri’s childhood friend, Ali Najmi works for SEVA and introduced him to Gurpal Singh, one of the founders of the group and also a music producer. Within two hours of meeting one another, Singh and Suri were tinkering with tracks and discussing local politics. SEVA has an “army” of volunteers, Singh said, but Suri adds some much needed star power to the organization. [link]

 

Himanshu is at a SEVA community meeting performing right now (Monday night). It just so happens that his solo album titled after his very popular tumblr site Nehru Jackets also just dropped online on SEVA‘s website (thx for the tip, Pardon My Hindi!). For your #MusicMonday pleasure, you can find the link to the download here. Continue reading

Curry leaf flavor in the LA Times

Flickr photo by Tatiana Gerus

A recent Los Angeles Times article, “Curry leaf tree, a touch of India in the backyard,” reminds me that my dad’s old office had a curry leaf tree growing just outside his window. From time to time, while he was working, he would see desis drive or walk up to his office building and step up to the elevated garden area to grab a bunch of the fragrant leaves to go. My grandma lived next to his office and she planted the tree many years ago. Of course she wasn’t the only one to do so in sunny southern California.

Rishi Kumar’s grandmother brought curry leaf seeds from India, and his mother planted them 18 years ago at her home in Diamond Bar. Now the curry leaf has filled out into a mini-grove of slender stalks, bushy with the pointed leaves essential to Indian cuisine.
After graduating from UC San Diego in computer science, Kumar came home to his parents’ house and started gardening seriously. He started a community-supported agriculture project, or CSA, called the Growing Home and Learning Center, based out of the 2,500-square-foot garden around the house. He put in a series of cinder-block terraces, heavily mulched with forest humus and horse stable bedding, and started planting. An Ayurvedic garden is out front, where the lawn used to be; in the back, plants reflect his family’s Punjab roots: holy basil, neem (a tree believed to have medicinal properties), Indian jasmine. (LAT)


For more information on the curry leaf tree read the rest of the article. It’s part of a Tuesday series called the Global Garden.

Jindal kids at the ball

The MSNBC PhotoBlog thinks the Jindal kids–Selia, Slade and Shaan–stole the show at their father’s inauguration for his second term. In the blog’s photo picks, the young threesome make a red-carpeted entrance at the inauguration and peer into a canister presented to their father during the ceremony. Nola.com includes another image of the kids on the dance floor with their parents in its gallery of the inaugural festivities.

Gov. Jindal spent a good portion of his speech yesterday (full text) on the topic of education and ended with cheers of Who Dat! and Geaux Tigers! in support of the state’s sports teams.

The (r)Evolving Kominas

A belated Christmas present for all y’all for this #MusicMonday – our oft written about friends The Kominas have released an (almost) self-titled album called “Kominas.” If you thought the previous albums were too punk/too political/too “taqwacore” for you – then it is time to give the band a second chance – this album might just be for you. With a more Desi-rock sound, gritty riffs, lo-fi vocals and lyrics taking a back seat, the band’s path has turned and taken on a new sound. Gone are the sing-along playfully raunchy hooks, this album is all about the bass line and dirty drum beats.

The band members of The Kominas have shifted to not only to now include the duo from Sunny Ali and the Kid, but also in instrumental roles – three of the four bandmates take a turn on the mic for this album. With multiple talents acting as the driving force between music and lyrics, the album is eclectic and completely different sounding from anything previously released by The Kominas. People have been saying that their sound has “matured” but instead, I feel the new album better reflects the skills and sounds of the new band members trying collaborate and create a new cohesive sound (Basim Usmani is the only original band member that remains from 2005).

Don’t just take my word for it. Follow the link here to the megaupload site to download the album. And if you are too chicken to download the album before listening to a song – here’s the demo to Ren, a song off of the new album.

Frankly put, it sounds like our punks have evolved – they just may be growing up.

The Donkeys Rock

It always surprises me when I find a band that is really good that should have been on my radar a long time ago. The Donkeys are on their third album release, Born with Stripes. The song below, Don’t Know Who We Are, is a single off of this album and my selection for today’s #MusicMonday.

But like California, the real-life Donkeys (best friends from Southern California, Timothy DeNardo, Jessie Gulati, Anthony Lukens and Sam Sprague) are much more… real. If their backstory contains those top-down cars and suntanned utopian surf tableaus, it also contains the malaise and the escape fantasies familiar to all suburban kids of the 80s and 90s. Miraculously, the music manages to comfortably communicate both moods at once. [deadoceans]

Turns out the making of this album was side tracked just a little bit when guitarist Jessie went to India for sitar lessons. The influence can now be heard on sitar influenced tracks “West Coast Raga” and “East Coast Raga” peppered throughout the album.  Check out The Donkeys on facebook and at their site. And let me know what you think!