A Name to Remember

The New York Times reports that the placement of Mohammad Salman Hamdani’s name on the National September 11 Memorial obscures his bravery that day. Lauded by the mayor, police commissioner and other government officials, including Rep. Keith Ellison, as a hero for trying to save lives at the World Trade Center on 9/11 before he died, 23-year-old Hamdani had been an EMT and a police cadet.

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Maharajas, maharanis and more

Today marks the start of a new exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco,  Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts running until April 8, 2012. The museum’s assistant curator of South Asian art Qamar Adamjee writes that the exhibit is more than a chance to look at beautiful objects.

The two principal narrative arcs around which the exhibition is organized bring to life the complex and fascinating worlds of India’s great kings. They help us to understand the real people behind the objects that were made for them. The first goes behind the scenes to analyze the roles and qualities of kingship in India. The second traces the ways the institution of kingship shifted against a rapidly changing political and historical backdrop from the early eighteenth century through the 1930s, a period that saw a change in the maharajas’ status from independent rulers to “native princes” under British colonial rule.–Decoding Images of Maharajas

The exhibit is free this Sunday, October 23, when the museum will also offer a family fun day. In the process of rebranding the Asian Art museum has taken on a new logo, an upside down A (a symbol with a meaning of “for all” in mathematics) in a move to be more inclusive.

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I Want the World To Know

Today is National Coming Out Day and when I used to live in L.A., I’d join the annual parade of South Asians walking down Pioneer Blvd. chanting, “We ‘re here! We’re queer! We’re on Pioneer!” As you can imagine, the South Asian community is not quite so accepting of ‘The Gays” in the community. I supported as an ally because I wanted to be a supporting Desi face even when their family members couldn’t be.

But sometimes, coming out to your family may not be right for everyone. I came across a touching story from Nancy Haque titled Coming Out About Not Being Out from the Western States Center. It addresses the complexities of understanding your parents enough to know when and what to share with them. Despite the fact that mainstream LGBTQIA community may encourage coming out, it may not be the best thing for every family, particularly immigrant Desi parents.

I’m not out to my parents – the gold standard of being out. I haven’t done it and don’t actually plan on doing it. The truth is I have a very complicated relationship with my parents. I’m not particularly close to them and haven’t been since early childhood. I’m the youngest of four and was raised by my sister and two brothers as much as I was by my parents. I came out to my siblings 14 years ago and have always been supported by them. I love and respect my parents, but beyond my sexuality, they don’t understand the work I do, don’t know my hopes and dreams, don’t know the majority of my friends, and have never visited the home I purchased three years ago.


Yet my relationship to them is important. It’s important for me to be able to go home. I know in my heart my parents can never accept me having a female partner. It’s beyond their life experience to understand it. It’s not because they’re bad people, it’s just the way it is. I don’t feel like I’m living a lie because I’m not. Yet by not telling my parents, I’m taking a very unpopular stance in the general queer community…. I know that I’m not alone, that we all find our own ways to navigate our lives. I know that being queer and being raised Muslim is who I am, and it’s a complicated way to be. That’s why it was important to me to share my story… [westernstatescenter]

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Backlash is Part of the Story

Everyone has a story about 9/11, including desis. South Asian American Leaders for Tomorrow (SAALT) has been working to make desi voices a part of the national tenth anniversary commemoration and conversation about 9/11. SAALT’s campaign called An America for All of Us was mentioned in the SM post “It’s Been Ten Years”.

A recent interview with Mou Khan, a SAALT program and communications associate, gives more information about the kinds of stories SAALT is seeking to share and highlight. To listen to or read the full interview, visit Center for American Progress.

E: …what are the unique experiences of the South Asian community and their stories in the post-9/11 America?

M: South Asians, like all Americans, experienced 9/11 primarily as the violent, tragic attack that it was. Our story since then is also in the distinct and different ways that our community—along with other communities like Muslims, Sikh, Arab Americans—has been targeted by a post-9/11 backlash.

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Digital Diaspora: The South Asian American Digital Archive


I love me some primary sources/historical material, so imagine my delight when I discovered the South Asian American Digital Archive, which I first heard about from a friend of Vivek’s. You can get lost on this site for many hours, looking at everything from the Gadar Party to old SM favorite Dilip Singh Saund (and by the way, I would like a dollar for every time he has been mentioned on SM).

It turned out that Vivek’s pal, SAADA President Samip Mallick, was working on SAADA with, among other people, a friend of a friend of mine, Manan Desai. The two of them agreed to do an interview about it for Sepia. This interview was conducted via the standard Interwebs. Continue reading

Do You Miss Colonialism?

I know I do! Which is why I was thrilled to find out about a new computer game that lets you relive that amazing period of history as the glorious nations that helped to shape the world into the great success that it is today.


Pride of Nations is a turn-based historical strategy game set in the colonial era of the 19th century, where the player takes control of a country and guides it through industrialization, military conquest, and colonization. This upcoming release from AGEOD follows such successful historical strategy games as Birth of America, American Civil War, Napoleon’s Campaigns, and Wars in America [linkocricy].

What? What’s that I hear you say, friend? You feel slightly more ill now than you’d otherwise feel on a Monday morning because there’s about a 0.0001% chance that Pride of Nations in any way addresses the awful things these countries did to colonies and their people? Well rest assured!

Fight against a strong AI through a number of new game mechanisms

Yes! Strong AI will represent your ancestors and their struggle for freedom!

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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

India Currents Turns 25


If you’re on the west coast, more so in California, then you might have grown up in a home that got India Currents in the mail, a monthly magazine with an Indian-American point of view. Or maybe you’ve picked up a free copy at a desi grocery store or restaurants. And of course today its award-winning content is published online too. This month IC celebrates a quarter-century of continuous publication.

Mercury News profiled the publisher and co-founder of the magazine, Vandana Kumar.

Vandana Kumar was an arranged-marriage bride, lost her husband to cancer, has a gay cousin, knows techies who came to Silicon Valley on H-1B visas, is friends with Chinese “tiger moms,” and struggled through the college application process for her twin sons.

Since 1987, she and a team of writers have delved into all of those stories — and more — in the pages of India Currents, the oldest and largest Indian-American magazine on the West Coast, which is celebrating its 25th year of publication this month. (Mercury News)

The article mentions that IC’s mission of providing information about cultural events was “inspired by Kumar’s brother-in-law, Arvind Kumar.” I didn’t realize he was a co-founder too until I read another article in IC itself, Sandip Roy-Chowdhury’s piece about the magazine’s origins. Roy-Chowdhury shares the story of IC’s founding by Vandana Kumar, Arvind Kumar and Ashok Jethanandani, a story that seems to start with Trikone, a publication for LGBT South Asians. Continue reading

Before He Was Osho

Rajneesh.jpg Last month, a group of us were sitting at Currylicious drinking chai and discussing the recent article that had come out about Bikram Choudhury of THE Bikram Yoga. Bikram, apparently, is prone to a “free-loving” nature with his yoga followers or as stated in the title of the article, it is an “Overheated, Over-sexed Cult.”

“Well, that’s not too surprising…” someone mentioned. “It sounds like the Osho Ashram in India where you need to get STD tests before entering.” That’s when our conversation took an interesting turn. The Osho Ashram they were talking about is located in Pune, India. Established in 1974, it was the place where Osho made his eventual return in the 1980s and his final resting spot when he passed away in 1990. But before Osho was known as Osho the “sex guru” of India, he was known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh the “Rolls-Royce guru” of Oregon.

That’s right, I said it. Oregon. In the early 1980s Rajneesh and his 2,000 followers set up camp in the ranch lands of Eastern Oregon at a place they named Rancho Rajneesh. The story that ensues has all the twists and turns of a Hollywood big screen hit. This past weekend, The Oregonian wrote up a fascinating five part expose of the Rajneeshees rise and fall, 25 years later. They have colorfully eerie photos from the days of the city’s hey days and have a great collection of documents archiving this bizarre story. I’ve always known that there has been a rich history of traveling gurus coming to America, but this was hardly what I had in mind.

Thousands dressed in red, worked without pay and idolized a wispy-haired man who sat silent before them. They had taken over a worn-out cattle ranch to build a religious utopia. They formed a city, and took over another. They bought one Rolls-Royce after another for the guru — 93 in all.

Along the way, they made plenty of enemies, often deliberately. Rajneeshee leaders were less than gracious in demanding government and community favors. Usually tolerant Oregonians pushed back, sometimes in threatening ways. Both sides stewed, often publicly, before matters escalated far beyond verbal taunts and nasty press releases. [theoregonian]

The story started when Osho/Rajneesh escaped India after a crackdown on his smuggling and tax fraud. His chief of staff was the 31 yr old Ma Ananda Sheela. Continue reading

Tagore makes a (uncredited) Congressional cameo

Actor Martin Sheen (The West Wing, Apocalypse Now) spoke before a Congressional briefing last week in favor of funding for drug courts.

The Washington Post’s Reliable Source column singled out this section of Sheen’s “heartfelt, yet grandiose oratory”:

“A dream that helps lift up this nation and all its people to a place where the heart is without fear and the head is held high and knowledge is free, where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls where words come out from the depths of truth and tireless driving stretches its arms towards perfection where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way to dreary desert sands of dead habit.”

Sound familiar? As the Reliable Source pointed out in a follow-up column, Sheen forgot to note that he was quoting from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali.

It looks like the mistake was inadvertent. Sheen quoted the same Tagore excerpt during a 2008 speech at Notre Dame and promptly devoted the next paragraph to explaining who Tagore was.

Sheen first became familiar with the poem while filming the movie Gandhi in 1981.

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