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]

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Desi Say What?!

From the folks at Cherry Sky Films, here is a video for you. There’s a cameo at the end by a Desi (Neil Sehgal) (h/t to Salil).

Cringe-worthy, no doubt, this short video reflects an inter-racial sub group struggle in self-identity versus external community identity monikers. In other words, the use of the word “nigger”. I thought the video was smart in that their use of the word “ninja” as replacement word and Asians as the replacement community really shifted the perception of the use of the “N word.” Plus, the video was hella funny.

What I loved most is when a brown kid saunters up on the basketball court to a group of Asian dudes and says, “What’s up my Ninjas!” The guys look like they are confused as to whether to accept him or not. But after a quick look to each other, they give him the bro-man hug and you hear “It counts.” As a South Asian, he may not be accepted immediately, but he can be accepted into the “in” group since South Asia is kind of Asian, if you stopped to think about it. Marginalized, a little bit, he can be accepted in the end. It was a simple interaction, but reflective so much of society’s deeper of inter-racial issues I’ve seen in the Desi meets East Asian communities.

As an activist in the Asian American and Pacific Islander movement, this attitude is something I see often, though a lot less brash and satirical as seen in the video. The South Asian community is often accepted into these AAPI space as an after thought, or even worse, as a token. Continue reading

#Untrendy Topics: Modern Hindi Poetry

I’ve been doing some research on Indian writers from the 1930s-1960s for a long-term scholarly project, and in the process I’ve been learning a bit about Hindi and Urdu writers I didn’t know about earlier. In Hindi in particular, I’ve been interested in the “New Poetry” (Nayi Kavita) Movement, with a small group of experimental writers adapting the western, free verse style to Hindi. (I may talk about some other topics later in the summer if there is interest.)

For a little background on Hindi literature in the 20th century, you might start with Wikipedia; it’s not bad. The New Poetry movement came out of a general flowering of Hindi poetry from the early 20th century, a style of poetry known as Chhayavad (Shadowism). Mahadevi Verma is one of the best known writers in this style; another notable figure is Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan’s father (and actually quite a good poet).

For me, the Chhayavad poetry sounds a little too pretty (“precious,” as they say in Creative Writing class), though I must admit that part of the problem is that I simply don’t have the Hindi vocabulary to be able to keep up with the language the Chhayavad poets tend to use. I prefer what came after, especially the New Poetry movement. The “New Poetry” style roughly resembles the modernism of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Hilda Doolittle in English literature. The language is stripped down and conversational, rather than lyrical. Some poets, like Kedarnath Singh, focus intently on conveying, with a kind of crystalline minimalism, pure images. Others are somewhat more conventional.

Below the fold, I’ll give some examples of a few favorite poems from the “New Poetry” movement, with several poems in both transliterated Hindi and English. [UPDATE: Look in the comments for three poems directly in Devanagari] Continue reading

Switching it to the higher side

speak english.jpgIf you have a business and are looking for content writing services, you may want to consider Muneek Shah’s company in Gujarat. According to its website, the company “has assembled a team of the best writers from around the India.” If that isn’t impressive enough, here’s the sales pitch on the home page of the website:

Professional copywriting service is the way to feel customers confident about their business and switching it to the higher side by the words. So those who really want to stand out different and innovative among all others choose us or effective and strong web presence.

When a potential customer gone through your writing, you have just a seconds to prove you’re self by catching their attention. Though the literature has same fonts, color and style, it should be eye catchy. They should be attracted and convinced them to stay to read what you have to say. Along with the best service marketing tool is essential to target the perfect mass and capture the business.

Choosing a professional copywriting service can really make all the difference on the business world. It takes a special kind of skill and experience to create a winning writing, whether it is an online presence, articles, marketing campaign, or any other type of collateral. In fact, good copywriting is critical to the success of your business.

Here at our team, that is what we do. Our professional writers dedicated to providing you authenticated, informative and heart winning copies that will attract the potential customers. They just hypnotized the customers in favor of yours by the ornamental words. [Link]

So what are you waiting for? Switch it to the higher side.

And while you’re at it, please tell these guys that they’re spoiling it for all the Indians who communicate well in Engish and are trying to market their services worldwide, as they should. (There you go, Kerala Cookies.)

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A New State in India: Telangana

The biggest story in India this week appears to be the central government’s agreement to allow a new state to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh, called Telangana. The new state will include the tech-powerhouse city of Hyderabad, and will be predominantly Telugu-speaking. One news article I read put the estimated population of the new state at 35 million people.

Here is what the new state will look like

telengana map.jpg

I have known of agitations for a separate Telangana state for awhile, though I must admit I do not know the history in depth, and would be glad to be enlightened by readers who know the region better than I do. However, Wikipedia does offer a few helpful background facts. First, the region that will become Telangana was, during British colonialism, part of the Princely State of Hyderabad, and was only formally merged into Andhra in 1956 — and even then, the merger was controversially imposed by the central government. The agitations for a separate state have been going on for at least 40 years; in 1969, 400 people were killed in agitations for a separate state of Telangana.

I had earlier thought that language was a factor in the demands for Telangana, but in fact language is not mentioned by supporters of this movement, since Telugu is spoken in the other half of Andhra as well. Rather, the focus seems to be on access to irrigation and economic opportunity (see this interview). Are there other factors that people know of?

The news has resulted in the mass resignation of Congress Party-allied MLAs in the other part of Andhra Pradesh, suggesting that the Central Government may not be able to easily sustain its promise to create Telangana without making lots of new promises to the other half of the state. That, or we might see one of those major regional political realignments in Indian politics that can cause seemingly strong governments to fall. (Incidentally, the BJP had promised to create a Telangana state when it was in power, but was unable to do so. However, during the BJP’s five years in power it did create three new states in northern India.)

The news is also expected to give a new boost to other statehood agitation movements in other parts of India; Gorkhaland is one that is often mentioned.

Do you support the creation of Telangana? Isn’t it possible that acceding to these statehood movements in India might lead to a further weakening of an already weak central government? Also, do you think these movements might feed a sense of monoculturalist ‘separateness’ that could make the region a less inviting place for people from different ethno-linguistic backgrounds who happen to live there? Continue reading

It May Only Be A Board Game But He Can Strike Fear Into Your Heart

Do not tell me you thought the Agarwalla brothers were the only brown in town on the Scrabble board! Witness Mehal Shah, he of the deceptively friendly face and evil Scrabble strategery. (H/T to my awesome webmistress, who sent me this link to an Ignite talk, which she got via mentalfloss. They rightly dub Mr. Shah “Jedi Master.” Because of his Jedi mind tricks.)

Watching “Fighting Dirty in Scrabble: How To Beat Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere, and At Any Cost” will take only five minutes of your life! Your living room competition will never be the same! (This is an important note: these are not your Stefan Fatsis-level tips; these are for people who, like Shah, “love to play Scrabble and really, really hate losing.”)

What won’t he do? No cheating, no stealing tiles–but I’ve gotta laugh when I hear Shah talk about aggressively making up words. I haven’t forgotten that a certain British relative of mine made up T-R-A-X a few years ago when I wasn’t looking. (“It means… You know. Trax,” she said when I looked again.)

I will admit, I am part of the Scrabble Rabble. With the demise of Scrabulous, I took to Scrabble Beta over Lexulous, and I play “live” whenever time permits. (As fate would have it, this week I am teaching Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to my contemporary political fiction class at the University of Michigan. Scrabble even makes a fateful appearance in that novel! It’s a good board game for some literary analysis.)

Now, how much of what Shah says is applicable beyond the board? I tremble in fear. 🙂

Follow Shah on Twitter

Previous word nerd coverage here. Continue reading

“Talk Hindi To Me”

Doubtless many readers saw the recent article in the New York Times, profiling Katherine Russell Rich, author most recently of a book called Dreaming in Hindi — a memoir of a year spent in Rajasthan, learning Hindi.

Something about the article in the Times bugged me, starting with the following passage:

One store owner insists in English that she is not actually speaking Hindi; when Ms. Rich explains, in Hindi, that she studied the language for some time in Rajasthan, he retorts, in English, “They don’t speak Hindi in Rajasthan.” (This happens not to be true.)

When Ms. Rich returned to New York from abroad, she spontaneously spoke Hindi to a friend of a friend. “He told me that when I spoke Hindi to him, it was like a body blow,” Ms. Rich said. “I think to Indians, sometimes it feels like I’m eavesdropping on a private conversation, like I’m breaking the fourth wall.” (link)

Wait, couldn’t it also be that the people Rich has been accosting, taxi drivers and convenience store clerks, might simply find this persistent American annoying, and have refused to speak Hindi with her mainly to make her go away? Lady, I’m sorry if your being in New York means your newly-acquired Hindi is going to start getting rusty. But I got a job to do, and that involves speaking English to patrons as I sell them stuff, not teaching you how to pronounce “lajawab” correctly. Next in line, please?

The question has to be asked: why does Katherine Russell Rich want to learn to speak Hindi? Is it to communicate with Hindi speakers while living in India? That would be a perfectly fine reason, indeed, an admirable one. But I suspect that sadly her real desire was to a) get paid for writing a book where she can talk all about her Hindi lessons and her impressions of Rajasthan, only to b) promptly move back to Manhattan, where she’ll irk Hindi speaking New Yorkers with her persistent demands that they speak Hindi with her?

Another annoyance in the article is the presumption that people refuse to acknowledge a white woman who speaks Hindi because we desis like to gossip about Americans in our secret language:

To some people from India, Ms. Rich learned, it is insulting to be addressed in anything other than English, a language of the privileged. And for some immigrants, domain over a language unfamiliar to most Americans must feel like one of the few riches they can claim. (link)

I really don’t know where the author of the article got this idea. (Why not ask an actual Indian, Hindi-speaker before making the speculative statement that “domain over a language unfamiliar to most Americans must feel like one of the few riches they can claim”?)

Finally, there is the obligatory dis on second-generation, “heritage” students who take Hindi classes at their universities:

“A lot of Indians who were born here or moved here when they were very small want to rediscover the language,” he said. (Ms. Rich said that she had overlapped with such students at New York University, and that many were already proficient in the language, less interested in their heritage and more interested in an easy A.) (link)

I’ll have you know, Ms. Rich, that most second gen, Indian-American college students do not take Hindi for this reason. I myself took Hindi at Cornell, and my professor gave me a “B” in intermediate Hindi (I deserved it, but it still smarts: certainly not an “easy A”).

In fact, most Indian-American college students actually take Hindi to meet, and flirt with, other Indian-American college students. So there. Continue reading

Valare Upakaram, Google

Indic_screenshot.jpg Via the “web clips” which perch above my 5,090 unread GMail messages, news that Google’s email is now down with some brown languages:

Until now, there hasn’t been a good way to send email to friends and family in Hindi, my native language and their language of choice. That’s why I’m happy to announce a new feature for Gmail that lets you type email in Indian languages. If you’re in India, this feature is enabled by default. If not, you’ll need to turn it on in the “Language” section under Settings. Once enabled, just click the Indian languages icon and type words in the way they sound in English — Gmail will automatically convert them to their Indian language equivalent. [link]

3410684214_542408482e_m.jpg Oh, if only there were some way for me to type Malayalam words the way they sound in English to me…and have GMail (or anything else, for that matter) automatically convert them to the correct Malayalam-in-English spelling equivalent.

For example, sometimes while I’m writing, blogging, tweeting or commenting on your Facebook crap, I feel the compulsive need to refer to the side dish I loved most as a small child: a fried, potato-y concoction which I’d spell “oorelkarunga merehkwerty or in a similarly butchered fashion.

Do you know how that shiz is actually spelled?

urulakizhangu mezhukkupuratti

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“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers.”

Speech Wars.jpg
I woke up at 6:30 am today, after less than three hours of sleep, unsure of what to expect on Inauguration Day. Well, that isn’t entirely accurate– I knew to expect considerable delays in my adopted home city along with, and partly because of a guaranteed transit nightmare. But aside from that, I had some hazy sense that I’d be witnessing something important, something I’d regret missing since I live here.

I’ve never been to an inauguration, despite my decade in D.C. So, I set out on a special Presidential Inauguration bus route, via my special Presidential Inauguration Metro card, which took me to the security perimeter. From there I walked in frigid temperatures to get to the Presidential Inauguration Metro train which would, it turns out, NOT take me to my intended destination.

Due to crowd control concerns, WMATA quickly shut down two train stations while I was underground, in transit, and packed in so tightly with other would-be attendees, that I felt assaulted every time someone moved an elbow. Everyone was aware of a different station which had been closed earlier; they announced it was unexpectedly reopening just as we pulled away from it. Too late. At this point, they had closed the last three stations at which we could have exited and we were well past the stop we needed. I started to worry about logistics as previously cheery train inhabitants cursed under their breath.

I hastily exited the Metro the moment I was able to, and I still ended up on the wrong side of the Capitol building. I had just over an hour to trudge through brutal, 11 degree weather, while attempting to avoid idling charter buses spewing exhaust, forbidding barricades, chaotic Police checkpoints and of course, thousands of people who were alternately shivering in their Uggs or shouting “Woooo! Obama!”.

The only thing I could think about was how I was thisclose to missing the whole point of the day, the whole point of the last two years, and it was all because of my bad luck with Metro. I tried to be mindful and prepare myself for the worst; if I was too late to get through security or move through the sludge of confused people faster than one mile per hour, I could say that I tried. That I had experienced the cold and the crowds and the optimism which was muffled by scarves, earmuffs and gloves. Que sera, sera…

I barely expected to make it to my rooftop viewing party in time for pomp and circumstance. I certainly did not expect to see a copy of Obama’s speech before he delivered it. And I definitely did not expect to be in tears when our new President recognized a faith which I respect, but don’t practice.

One thing at a time.

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