Caught in Carrie’s Web

Shyamala Moorty by Jen Cleary.jpg If you are in Los Angeles and looking for something to do this weekend, might I suggest getting caught in Carrie’s Web.

Written and performed by Shyamala Moorty [of Post Natyam Collective], directed by D’Lo with video by Sangita Shresthova. Carrie, a body-conscious, high heel-loving spider is spinning out new moves when she inadvertently snares a young human woman who’s dealing with a terrible family secret. A fantastical web of entanglement is woven with classical and contemporary Indian dance and theater.[indiacurrents]

I had the chance to check out the play a few weeks ago and was mesmerized by how a one person play was able to interweave issues of South Asian culture, sexuality, domestic violence and dance expression so eloquently. To develop her script, Shyamala worked closely with the local domestic violence group NISWA. At the show I attended, several young South Asian teen girls from NISWA that Shyamala had worked with on her script were in the audience.

In 1991, NISWA opened a “helpline” to provide counseling support and resource referrals…In addition, NISWA established a shelter for Muslim battered women in 1996. Since then, the shelter has housed many women and their children, providing them with counseling, and job placement.[niswa]

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YaliniDream / An Artist, Constantly Evolving

I first met performer/poet/dancer YaliniDream when I moved to New York three years ago. I was hunting for a profile subject for my Arts & Culture journalism seminar, and wanted to write about a Sri Lankan artist. A friend directed me to one of YaliniDream’s collaborators. I headed to a performance, thinking: wow, I live in a town where there are Sri Lankan/diasporic artists!

The performance was cool–and funny, and dark, and raw, touching upon issues related to the conflict in Sri Lanka. The combination of dance, music (particularly the exquisite, keening cello of Varuni Tiruchelvam), spoken word/poetry and visuals was deeply transporting and complex. Foolishly, I hadn’t expected a show–any show, really–to pull such an intense reaction from me. I left the show almost (okay, who am I kidding, actually) in tears at the power of what the performers had done, and their sheer bravery. (After all, I chose a profession where I spend most of my time alone in a room with a computer.)

While the blogosphere is a poor substitute for live performance (sorry, Internet, it’s true), here are some snippets.

Momma’s Hip Hop Kitchen Vol. II: YaliniDream from Jennifer Hobdy on Vimeo.

This work seems newly relevant now, and YaliniDream has a slew of performances coming up—-New Yorkers can check her out this weekend (including tonight, in the Bronx), and on other upcoming dates (see website). (Keep reading for an audio clip with the cello.) Continue reading

The play’s the thing! A new collection of plays from the South Asian diaspora

beyond bollywood broadway.jpg

For those of you who are still looking for something interesting to read this summer, I’d like to call your attention to a fantastic new collection, Beyond Bollywood and Broadway: Plays from the South Asian Diaspora. I learned about this collection after having the editor, Neilesh Bose, as my colleague in Colorado this past year. (You should know that although he’s not that much younger than me, Neilesh has distinguished himself as being the only person Stateside who calls me Nilanjana didi to my face, which is mildly annoying but also endearing.) Neilesh bhai moonlights as a modern South Asian historian focusing on Bengali Muslims from the 1920s through Partition, and leaving his elder "sister" behind in the alpine desert, he’ll be joining the history department at the University of North Texas next fall.

Beyond Bollywood and Broadway: Plays from the South Asian Diaspora will be officially launched August 10-11 at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center (CUNY) in New York with many of the playwrights in attendance, so do save that date if you’re in the city.

The collection includes three plays from the United States, two from Canada, three from the United Kingdom, and three from South Africa. Even if I hadn’t met Neilesh this year, I would consider the collection a must-read for those of us who groan at the news of yet another novel evoking the heady scent of mangos. The plays from the United States include a seering sendup of two desi academics (identity politics, the postcolonial condition, etc.) in Anuvab Pal’s Chaos Theory and an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice set in 21st-century SoCal by Shishir Kurup. The other plays cover broad territory including the Bhopal disaster, absurdist theater, the hypothetical meeting of epic heroes Odysseus and Ram, domestic violence, Gujarati British youth culture, South African apartheid, and Indo-African relations. The plays are divided into sections by country, and for each country, Neilesh provides a detailed (but very readable) introduction to the historical, social, and cultural factors that distinguish South Asian migration and settlement there. There are also helpful comments on the development and role of theater in each setting. I’m always suspicious whenever people start talking about the South Asian diaspora as something that can be lumped together in a coherent whole, so I particularly appreciated these introductions. At the same time, there are recurring themes across these different diasporic locations, and these introductions direct our attention to them.

What I was however most eager to read at the outset was Aasif Mandvi‘s play, Sakina’s Restaurant. (Yes, that Aasif Mandvi, the brown guy on the Daily Show). Continue reading

Timberlake in a banana hammock? I’m there!

Behold, the trailer for “The Love Guru” (tagline: His karma is huge). I have mixed feelings, because I really lurve Mike Myers; I quote something from Goldmember almost daily. But, as familiar and fun as the shrimp/gnome scene in this trailer is (“Moleee Moleee Moooole”, anyone?) seeing Myers travel around on a pillow, flying carpet-ishtyle made me want to smack someone.

Plot nugget below:

Pitka (Mike Myers) is an American raised by gurus who returns to the USA in order to break into the self-help business. His first challenge: To settle the romantic troubles and subsequent professional skid of star Toronto Maple Leafs hockey player Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco) whose wife Prudence (Meagan Good) left him for rival skater Jacques Grande (Justin Timberlake). [wiki]

We should totally do a meetup on June 20th, so we can shriek about what offended us, afterwards. ;)

p.s. Thank you to lion and astrosmurf, for the tip! Continue reading

DC: Subcontinental Drift 2008- January 28

1355204385_205b65bc91.jpg Straight Outta Compton my inbox, an invitation to the first Subcontinental Drift of 2008. This event/collective is one of my favorite things about living in DC. Come find out why for yourself:

2007 sure brought some of the district’s talents out of the basement and into the spotlight. It was nothing less than inspiring to witness the expressive potential of our collective South Asian community.
Subcontinental Drift is excited to be back with the first open mic night of 2008 on Monday, January 28th at 7pm. Come bless us in this new year with your art, your thoughts, your ideas, your presence. The mic will be open from 7-9 pm (to sign up for a spot, shoot an email with your name and performance genre to And stay for the after party with some chill beats and groovin’.
Bohemian Caverns, at the corner of 11th and U. We’ll be upstairs.
Doors open at 6:30pm.
More info? or email

I never go out on Mondays or Tuesdays because those are my most challenging (read: no lunch) days at work, but I’m about to do some serious juggling in order to attend this– THAT’S how amazing Subcontinental Drift is. It is worth the stress and exhaustion. ;) If you are in DC, please come out so that you, too, can babble beatifically about all the awesomeness. And if you are not in DC, remember that it is a new year; resolve to start something similar where you are. Abhi did it fabulously in Houston, so can you. Everyone deserves to drift. Continue reading

A Mutinous Look Back at 2007

There is no point to this picture except to consider it a reminder of how INSANE this year was.

Unlike many of you lucky bastards mutineers, I am at work today, so this might be one of the most compendious posts I will ever write (stop applauding, haterz).

For the last week or so, I kept hearing variations on “I can’t believe the year is almost over!”. I was feeling that way myself until I started to pore through our archives. Now I feel like this has been a very long year, one which lasted at least 365 days.

Can you even conceive of a time before Sanjaya? Believe it or not, there was, way back in the beginning of 2007.

Let that sink in.

NOW doesn’t it feel like January 17th–the last day that the mutiny was papaya-free– was a long time ago? Speaking of Sanjaya, he’s on the list. What list? The list I made of interesting, notable or significant posts from this year.

Without further contradiction of my use of the word “compendious”, here they are, for your procrastination and pleasure:

• Obama
• Sanjaya
• Gigi
• Aish
• Gogol
• Neyyappam
• Grace
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Review: “Queens Boulevard — the Musical”

(Debargo Sanyal and Amir Arison)

Over the weekend we caught a matinee of Queens Boulevard (the musical) at a small, off-broadway theater in New York. The play has already been covered at both SAJAForum and Ultrabrown; this is my version.

The cast of Queens Boulevard has three people of South Asian descent in it, and Charles Mee, the playwright, mentions in the script that “Queens Boulevard (the musical) was inspired by the Katha-Kali play The Flower of Good Fortune by Kottayan Tampuran.” The central plot of the story is partly a reworking of the Shakuntala myth, and partly a version of Homer’s The Odyssey — and sometimes both at once.

I had a number of problems with the play, but I want to start with the positives.

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The Subcontinental and the Furious: D.C. Drift

Is it already that time again? As if my weekend couldn’t get any better, Subcontinental Drift, DC’s singular South Asian music/dance/open mic night, is back this Sunday.

If Subcontinental Drift sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote about this rapture on SM before, here. If you live in DC, you are fortunate that your comrades in browndom have come together to create such a fantastic event; support their considerable efforts, come out and play, you’ll be thrilled you did.

For Vinay.jpg

This Sunday night a recently-hatched event is descending again on the district. If you’ve been before, you know it is not to be missed; if you haven’t, don’t miss it. It was born early in 2007 when a handful of the District’s desis (Mona, Munish, Nabeel, Nina, Sophie, Surabhi & Vishal) graciously took it upon themselves to fill an artistic void in our community. Thus was born Subcontinental Drift: a creative experiment in open space(s) where artists, poets, songwriters, lyricists & others can share and showcase their talents with the local South Asian/South Asian American diaspora.
Join us this weekend. Observe, absorb, listen, learn, encounter, experience, perform (really, you can – email! Indulge. [quoted from an awesome email]

Every edition of SD is precious, but this one is more so– Seema Patel, a.k.a. SM commenter “SP”, a.k.a. one of the forces behind Team Vinay (and the heart of their DC operations) is leaving the right coast to go home. Join me, Sunday, as I gnash my teeth at our misfortune. Baltimore/D.C.’s loss is California’s gain. Sigh.

Subcontinental Drift
Sunday, September 9, 2007
6 PM – 11 PM – (Cost: Free)
Bohemian Caverns
2001 11th St. NW
Washington, D.C.
Metro: Green + Yellow- U Street station

It wasn’t just standing room only, last time– we took over the street. This event, let’s do the same. Finish your Art…there are kids starving in cities with less Desis. Continue reading

Songs of struggle (updated)

If I were an intelligence analyst for a top secret government agency, I would be levelling forests writing memos that said one thing — Musharraf is in trouble now. Why is he in trouble, you ask? Because the opposition has an anthem, and it’s a catchy one.

Any good revolution needs a good song. It’s probably not enough to win; I’m sure there have been revolutions with great anthems that were flattened by the state. And it may not be necessary either, but I’ve gotta tell you, it really helps. A good song serves to rally people around. It provides a constant reminder of the cause, of the struggle. It sneakily undermines the authority of the state every time somebody hums a few bars and is overheard, and it gives courage to those who are wavering. In short, it’s a mistake to underestimate the importance of song when making a revolution. I mean this in a painfully earnest way, there are no smileys here.

The title of the song is “Why doesn’t uncle (i.e. Musharraf) take off his uniform and go home.”

Sung a cappella in Punjabi, it was recorded by religious students in the style of a Punjabi folk song, but its tongue-in-cheek refrains are popular from Karachi to Islamabad, whether its listeners are religious or speak Punjabi or not. [Link]

It’s a funny song, at least if you understand Punjabi, and it was stuck in my head all day. [Updated] The lyrics are quite interesting, and troubling in bits. Some of it calls for Musharraf to leave the Army and retire, but it’s hardly a liberal song. Not only is it pro-Islamicist and anti-American, it’s also anti-women in shorts and pro-Kashmiri separatist. That’s the problem with non-democratic countries, opposition movements often encompass a wide variety of different elements who might not otherwise have found common cause in an open society. The song picks up the sentiment on the street and brings together a variety of different anti-Musharraf feelings, all set to a catchy and easy to sing tune.

I’ve put the video below and the translated lyrics below the fold.

UPDATE: I was looking at the comments and reflecting on other examples of similar songs. The defining song for the North in the US Civil War was “John Brown’s Body” which later evolved into the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The US Civil Rights Struggle had We Shall Overcome. The anti-Apartheid struggle had Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, and there is a great movie about the use of song and dance in the struggle, called Amandla. The 2002 Kenyan elections had Unbwogable (listen here).

Can you guys suggest other great strongs of struggle? And if possible, can you give links to either the music or youtube clips? I’m sure there are lots of great songs I missed.

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Set Adrift on “SubcontineNtal Drift” in DC Tomorrow

Subcontinental Drift- I House.jpg

I recently emailed five questions to Sophie, who is part of the force behind D.C.’s Subcontinental Drift.

Several Mutineers discussed SD’s last event at the most recent D.C. meetup– in fact, a few of you even performed at it! I get the feeling the rest of you would be VERY interested in what Sophie and her dynamic crew are trying to do– so I thought I’d post a wee reminder that your next chance to marinate in creative splendor is tomorrow night, June 29. But first, some essential information:

Subcontinental Drift is ____?

…an effort to bring out the “basement talents of the District’s desis.” Basically, we’re trying to provide a creative space for people who are artistically-inclined (that’s a broad term and encompasses pretty much anyone from professional artists to people who like to watch other people read poetry) to connect with each other and share each other’s work.

What inspired it?

A few of us “D.C. desis” felt like there was a void in the South Asian community –in a place like D.C. where there are soooo many talented people, there wasn’t a cohesive group or space that was encouraging or nurturing that talent. The need was something that was floating around in the air, and we just grabbed it. Specifically though, the catalyst for me was when I was with Munish and Vikash at Bossa lounge in Adams Morgan and we watched Vishal Kanwar play tablas there. We’re like, wow, this is cool..let’s do more cool stuff. Something like that.

What’s the best thing about it?

The best thing is watching new artists get up in front of nearly 100 desis, and coming more and more into themselves. When you see people willing to get up there, be vulnerable, share a sacred part of themselves, and the audience is so warm and appreciative–it is the most beautiful thing.

What if someone wanted to get involved with it?

They should email us at .

What if a mutineer who isn’t lucky enough to live in D.C. wanted to emulate such awesomeness– any advice for them?

Get a few like-minded people together who are committed to the same thing you are, pick a venue, and go to the ends of the earth to SPREAD THE WORD about it. If your community doesn’t have a creative space for people, chances are people are hungry for it. As long as word spreads, people will come. And especially in the beginning, keep the vibe pretty informal and verryyy welcoming–human connection is the key!

I went to the last Subcontinental Drift and I’ll be at tomorrow’s, as well. The atmosphere that Sophie, Munish, Nina, Mona, Nabeel, Vishal and Surabhi create is extraordinary; upon being dragged to last month’s event, a friend of mine from out of town was actually envious of us DCists, because he thought the open mic/dance performances/live music/stand-up comedy/ridiculously good sangria made for one fantastic night. I agreed and immediately grew mindful of how lucky I was to live here, where creativity manifests like this. I’m telling you, the very air in that room pictured above felt charged, different, exhilarating. You should go, and see for yourself. :)

Subcontinental Drift
An open mic for and by South Asian Americans.
-experiments in words, sound or art
-spoken word
Friday, June 29, 2007
Cost: FREE and we have drinks and snacks!
La Casa Community Center
3166 Mt. Pleasant Street NW
3 blocks from the Columbia Heights metro stop.
(Green or Yellow Line)

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