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”).

Traveling with the Dewarists

The hunt for the perfect song never ends and I remember last time I was traveling South Asia, I was trying to connect with local musicians in every city I went. On today’s search for #MusicMonday, I found a online series that wasn’t just traveling and highlighting songs of India, it was documenting that beautiful moment when collaborations are made. The Dewarists is eight episodes in and I’m pretty surprised this is the first I’m hearing about it.

In this latest episode, we take a beautiful trip to Goa where Humble to Poet, Midival Punditz and the host of the series Monica Dogra create a song together, No I.D. Required. If you want to go directly to the song, it’s at 32:15, though the whole show is beautifully shot and I would recommend watching it fully through. I knew that Humble was traveling India, but I had no idea that he was pairing up with legends like Midival Punditz while there. It’s so out-of-the-box to put a hip-hop poet with a legendary electronic/dance duo, but I think it totally worked.

The series pairs Imogen Heap with Vishal-Shekar to sing a Tagore poetic classic in Rajasthan; classical singer Shubha Mudgal with folk rock band Swarathma in Mysore; and  Karsh Kale travels with guitar virtuoso Baiju Dharmajan in Kerala. Funded by StarWorld, this documentary web series is a brilliant idea and I’m excited to see what comes out of this project. Best of all, it’s all viewable on YouTube!

Seeing Ghosts in the Air

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikerollinger/

Browns on a Plane is an American horror story not featuring Samuel Jackson and not coming to a theater near you, though it did make its way onto a Detroit-bound flight yesterday and may be replayed on select 9/11 anniversary flights as long as brown people continue to fly the fear-filled skies. To learn more about the plot of this real-life tale, read Shoshana Hebshi’s personal account of being on one of the two flights that were escorted by fighter jets to their destination yesterday on September 11–“Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit.” Hebshi is a self-described “half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife” from Ohio who sat next to two Indian men on the Frontier Airlines Flight 623, two men who used the restroom at some point during the flight.

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30 Mosques 2011

This year the 30 Mosques guys–Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq–continued their annual Ramadan journey that started out in NYC in 2009 and expanded across the USA in 2010. The duo is celebrating Eid after wrapping up their 2011 Ramadan travels that took them to mosques and Muslims around the nation. If you’re celebrating too, I wish you and your family a joyous holiday. Eid Mubarak!

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

In their PBS interview with Hari Sreenivasan, Tariq described the 30 Mosques trip as an opportunity to see how people are living the religion of Islam. Ali highlighted a Muslim community in San Francisco called Ta’leef Collective that impressed him with its inclusive attitudes and “come as you are” philosophy. Continue reading

Got to be taught

airport.line.jpgImagine you work for the TSA. You might be all too aware of public criticism of airport security procedures like pat-downs and removing shoes. You might feel proud to serve your country. You might be glad to have a job in this economy.

Being brown, you might also be required to play the role of terrorist in a training drill, taking a mock bomb up to a Minneapolis-St. Paul airport security checkpoint. And, oops, your boss might forget to tell airport police that the drill is happening, prompting an armed response.

According to information released Monday by MSP airport police, the May 12 security test included a device in a shaving kit made to look like a bomb. It was a cylinder with wires connected to a wrist watch. The device was brought to a passenger security checkpoint, according to airport Police Sgt. Mark Ledbetter, one of the responding officers.

“Upon arriving [at the checkpoint],” Ledbetter wrote in his report, “TSA [Transportation Security Adminstration] screeners were out with a male who appeared to be Middle Eastern in descent or Indian/Pakistani.” (StarTribune) Continue reading

Your Customs Is Foreign To Us

for Aseem Chhabra and my fellow travelers

Something Aseem Chhabra said this weekend made me think of this.

Several months ago, I was detained at the Michigan-Canadian border because I had loose, unlabeled spices from Toronto, which the Lords of U.S. Customs did not recognize and needed to submit to agricultural inspection, a request I did not consider unreasonable until I saw how it was to be done. We were removed from our vehicle and did not have even visual contact with our property while they searched it.

(Who will inspect the inspection? They could take something! I said.

They could PLANT something, said someone else.)

As far I could tell, the only person of color in the office where we waited was Barack Obama. I found his picture on the wall comforting.

Our vehicle when we returned to it looked ransacked, but to the best of our knowledge, they took (and planted) nothing. Still, I have learned to prefer the airport. Or the New York border, where my loose Sri Lankan spices flummox no one.

Had a customs experience you loved? Hated? Share below. Continue reading

Slumgod Mandeep Sethi Drops the Boom Bap Rap

Poor Peoples Planet.png This past Friday, Bay Area Sikh-American hip-hop lyricist Mandeep Sethi dropped his latest album Poor Peoples Planet, a concept album produced by X9 of Xitanos Matematikos that weaves in the teaching Jiddu Krishnamurti, Punjabi gypsy origins, and classical elements of hip hop. At only 22 years old, Mandeep has already developed a strong base of followers having appeared on stage with artists such as Ziggy Marley and Dead Prez and having jumped on the mic with folks I’ve written about before such as Humble the Poet, Sikh Knowledge and Ras Ceylon. You can get Poor Peoples Planet on iTunes later this week and if you visit Mandeep’s BandCamp you can download the album now. Still not sure? Check out the single below Moving Swiftly, Guerrilla Tactics.

[Moving Swiftly::][GuerillaTactics][POORPEOPLESPLANET by mandeep.sethi.music

Full disclosure, I’ve been helping get the word out for Poor Peoples Planet and am excited to support a young Desi American whose lyrics are smart, conscious, and inspired by the hyphenated identity. But in the course of hanging out with Mandeep this week, I was really impressed to find out that he is one of the co-founders of Slumgods. Based in India, Slumgods was founded in 2010 as the first B-Boy collective in India bringing together emcees, breakers, artists of India and America. The Slumgods are bringing it hard and fresh using the the five elements of hip hop as a tool of empowerment for the slum youth in the Dharavi slums with a community center called Tiny Drops Hip Hop Center.

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Air Pollution: Is Not Flying a Solution?

Thumbnail image for globe_west_172.jpgTech geek Anirvan Chatterjee and landscape architect Barnali Ghosh were surprised to learn that their carbon footprint was bigger than 90 percent of Americans, despite their green efforts which included living without a car. They found that air travel was to blame and challenged themselves to spend a year without flying. In words that might resonate with many desis, Chatterjee wrote about why it would be hard to give up flying, just before embarking upon the Year of No Flying project.

Growing up in a family of post-1965 transnational immigrants, our history is deeply connected with the democratization of air travel — countless flights to and from India, Canada, Nigeria, and the United States. Our stories begin and end in airports. (Last flight) Continue reading

The hills of Switzerland are alive…with Desi tourists.

The New York Times published an article on Indian tourism to Switzerland, today. The most jarring thing about it was seeing DDLJ’s title translated in English; I’ll spare you that. ;) Sangam.jpg

For years, Bollywood’s producers and directors have favored the pristine backdrop of Switzerland for their films. The greatest of the Bollywood filmmakers, Yash Chopra, is a self-professed romantic who has made a point of including in virtually all his films scenes shot on location in this country’s high Alpine meadows, around its serene lakes, and in its charming towns and cities to convey an ideal of sunshine, happiness and tranquillity.

In the process, they have created an enormous curiosity about things Swiss in generations of middle-class Indians, who are now earning enough to travel here in search of their dreams.

“The moment you cross the border it is something else,” Mr. Purohit said, “where the scenario changes.”

“No noise, no pollution, no crowds,” said Kamalakar Tarkasband, 72, a retired army officer. [nyt]

No, just pretty scenery as a picturesque backdrop for photo ops wherein they imitate their favorite celluloid moments.

Raj Kapoor may have been the first Indian director to use foreign sites for shooting on location — in Venice, Paris and Switzerland — when he filmed his 1964 hit, “Sangam.” But the entire bus knew the story of how Mr. Chopra spent his honeymoon in the Swiss resort of Gstaad. [nyt]

SANGAM! That’s one of the dozen or so fillums I’ve actually seen; it was one of my father’s favorites. I loved it.

Here’s something interesting and overwhelmingly sweet, much like a gulab jamun, the round, syrup-laden dessert which often graces Indian buffets (see? I can write like a gora):

“He promised his wife on his honeymoon that every movie he made would have to have one romantic song or scene in Switzerland,” said Rajendra Choudhary, 24, who also studied management in Pune and joined the Enchanted Journey. Mr. Chopra, now 77, kept his promise. Most of the Swiss sequences are dream scenes in which lovers dance or romp on Alpine meadows strewn with flowers or roll in the snow in unlikely flimsy Indian garb on wintry slopes. [nyt]

Obligatory negativity:

But not everyone shares the dream. In June, the Zurich newspaper Tages-Anzeiger featured an article with the headline “Into the Luxury Hotel with a Gas Cooker,” noting that “in some hotels an entire caste of guests is no longer desired: the Indians.”

The article catalogued the complaints of hotel managers: guests who cook curry dishes on camping stoves in their rooms; guests who use bath oils that blacken tubs; guests who book for a husband and wife, only to show up with the entire family. [nyt]

The first complaint makes me wonder if a lack of vegetarian options is the issue. I just asked my most well-traveled friend what he ate in Switzerland and he said his most memorable meal was a repast purchased from a farmhouse; he waxed blissfully about cured meats, cheese and a good baguette. My mom can eat one out of those three. She hates cheese. She wouldn’t be knocking out some Ulli Theeyal in her room, but she’d probably be hungry. I’ve never been, so I don’t know. Maybe Switzerland is littered with veggie noms. Continue reading

If You Go to Patna

1308438910_a04794597c.jpg

So readily recognizable, so readily wearying, are the woes of the expatriate Indian on a trip to India. But bear with me, gentle reader. My hometown is the place about which the writer Upamanyu Chatterjee, who was born in Patna, has said, “I can’t efface that from my history, it’s in my passport…” Here is my brief travelogue published today in Tehelka:

Going to Patna for a vacation sounds a little bit like going to the bus-stop for a martini. But my parents live there, and Patna is where I visit for the holidays. I find myself reciting the familiar woes of the NRI in the motherland, the endless clichés about the heat and dust, but a part of me also believes that a trip to Patna offers a glimpse of the real India. I’m not talking of “poverty tourism” here, but something quite specific. A report from the UN stated that in India it is easier to have a mobile phone than to have access to a toilet. Well, ladies and gentlemen, come to Patna–you’ll see that the rickshaw-puller has tucked into the little pocket of his torn ganji a small phone, while on both sides of the street, as you ride the rickshaw into the market or the station, arises the distinct aroma of drying urine.

[The fab painting above, of a rickshaw-puller in Patna, is by my yaar and Patna star, Anunaya Chaubey] Continue reading