No strings attached

Happy Raksha Bandhan to those of you who celebrate it, from one who does not. Our family tried to introduce the custom once, when my sister was three, and there are some great photos of her crying and desperately holding on to the rakhi for dear life. There was no way she was going to give the sparkly object and mithai to her brother in return for a promise, merely oral, not even signed and notarized.

I imagine she also thought “I’ll fork over the tinsel you promise to protect me from you, you big bully! You got to stop bossing me around if you want the sweets. You’re not even big enough to protect me from anybody else, that’s mom and dad’s job.” And so the tradition never took hold.

When I got older, and my offer of protection was more credible, I realized that my sisters-at-large would be likely to take offense at my mafia-like offer of protection in return for tribute. After all, these were not simpering ladies, these were girls and women more than capable of kicking my kundi. If one of these women were ever to need protection, the best course would be to buy them a firearm and some range time and get out of their way.

The holiday also came across as both sexist and unfair. Why can’t I be weak and helpless and trade a trinket in return for protection? It seems like men are getting the worst deal since Indians sold Manhattan for a bunch of beads.

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Loving every moment

Today is Loving Day, the celebration of the anniversary of the appositely named Supreme Court decision ever: Loving vs. Virginia. It is because of Mildred and Richard Loving that miscegenation laws were struck down across America, and you can now legally have sex with and marry any member of the opposite sex, regardless of race, anywhere in America.

At the time of the Loving decision, 16 states had anti-miscegenation statutes, and over America’s history 42 states have enforced similar laws. Amazingly though, it took South Carolina until 1998 to remove the anti-miscegenation clause from its state constitution, and Alabama until 2000 to do the same!

Although there weren’t many desis in America before the 1967 Loving decision, they were affected by such restrictions as well:

Anti-miscegenation laws discouraging marriages between Whites and non-Whites were affecting South Asian immigrants and their spouses from the late 17th to early 20th century. For example, a Eurasian daughter born to an East Indian father and Irish mother in Maryland in 1680 was classified as a “mullato” and sold into slavery, and the Bengali revolutionary Tarak Nath Das’s white American wife, Mary K. Das, was stripped of her American citizenship for her marriage to an “alien ineligible for citizenship.” In 1918, there was controversy in Arizona when an Indian farmer married the sixteen year-old daughter of one of his White tenants. [link]

Such discrimination continued into the 20th century. Most desis were in California, which amended its anti-miscegenation statutes in 1931 to prevent inter-marriage between whites and asians. This could have caused problems for Punjabis married to Mexicans since desis had been classified as Asians under the Thind decision and Mexicans were considered white under California state law.

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The Unsinkable Boat

It is Mother’s Day. I was and am extraordinarily mothered; my family is full of remarkable women who love their children fiercely.

I love them back, especially my own mother, who among a great many other lessons, taught me to read. Last week, I read this in The New York Times (italics mine):

An 8-month-old baby, Kuberan, survived only because his mother somehow managed to breast-feed him until just hours before she died….

Early on April 21, [Sivadasa Jagadeeswaran] stepped into the boat with his wife and their two sons. Their eldest, age 4, was among the first to die. They threw the child into the sea. Then, his wife’s father died. Her two brothers jumped overboard, lured by the twinkling lights of what may have been a fishing trawler. His wife held on until the last day. She complained of thirst, but vomited when he gave her seawater. Soon, she was gone.

This afternoon, a single father to an only child, he cooed softly to the baby on the hospital bed. He gave him a bottle of milk. He checked to make sure his diapers weren’t wet. The baby giggled, oblivious to the misery around him.

I am not writing now to dissect the gruesome cadaver of this war. That has been done, and is being done, and will be done. The situation in Sri Lanka is complicated—so complicated. I am writing here because this family’s suffering, and its mother’s love, is not.

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Happy Nuclear Bomb Diwali!

There’s a fascinating set of Hindu Nationalist Greeting Cards from the 1990s over at Tasveer Ghar, with an accompanying essay. All of the cards were made for New Years, and intended to be used used on Diwali and Vikram Samvath. My favorite two are below.

The card on the left is a Diwali card celebrating the first Indian nuclear bomb explosion, and yes, that is a lingam in the center of the explosion.

The poem at the back of the card tells the reader that “Today, the nation’s sleeping pride has woken up …. Shiva’s third eye has opened, and the World-destroyer has woken. … The nation’s sleeping pride has woken up.” [link]

The card on the right depicts “Mother India calling her sons to fight against capitalism, Islam and Christian missionary activities” [link]:

The primary dangers represented in this New Year card are cultural domination (Westernisation); the alleged threat to Indianness from ‘alien’ religious practices of Christianity and Islam (conversion and separatism), and the politics of economic globalisation (capitalism as colonising practice) [link]


p>You can imagine what they must think of Bobby Jindal.

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In Tune with Holi Memories

It’s rainy and cloudy in NYC, and quiet in my apartment, but I’m determined to transform my morning into a Holi celebration anyway. How? By listening to this awesome playlist of Bollywood Holi songs. holinyc1.jpg

The music is bringing back vivid, colorful memories of my childhood in Pune where I could hear music blaring over LOUDspeakers from the early morning hours to late at night. I’d stand in the balcony of our apartment with my sister and cousins and we’d fill up balloons with color water and drop them down on passersby. That was tame, believe me. In the opposite balcony, teenage boys would fill up buckets and pour out steady streams of red, yellow, green, and orange water! Below, people dressed in white shrieked in delight and emerged from the surprise bath with their hair, clothes, and faces completely soaked in all the colors of the rainbow. And, of course, there was the powder that, if you weren’t careful, would be smeared all over your face when you least expected it, getting into your nose, mouth, and ears. (Yes, bathing at the end of the day was always an ordeal!)

I’m not sure about Holi celebrations in the US, but in India, sales of the colored powder–which are mixed with starch and topia before perfumes and scents are added to give them a fragrance–are in the six-figure digits and grow at the rate of 15 percent per year, according to Reuters. In recent years, manufacturers have been responding to concerns about their safety (some contain lead) and expanding into the business of producing organic colors made out of fruits and vegetables.

During my college days, I helped organize a few Holi celebrations on campus. There was something immensely empowering about seeing a whole bunch of brown folks taking over one of the main quad lawns, playing loud Bollywood music (we even had a dhol player one year), dancing, and throwing colored powder all over each other. Sure, it attracted attention, but in those days (the mid 90s) when Indian students had less of a visible and active presence on the college campus, it was also an opportunity to share a unique cultural festival that transgresses religion with our peers and professors. By the end of the afternoon, the lawn would be packed with desis and non-desis alike and it was nearly impossible to recognize one another!

Although I don’t play much Holi these days (my celebration is limited to a few smears of color rubbed gently and affectionately on my cheeks by family members and vice-versa), I do miss the days of carefree abandon, masti, and rang. And to fill that gap, I turn to music which helps me relive my memories (until I figure out how to make new and better ones).

Even the Big B, who is not celebrating Holi in memory of the recent attacks on Mumbai, is aware of how closely the holiday is associated with “Rang Barse,” his signature dance and song from the film Silsila. Without it, this day is somehow not complete.

The Hindustan Times has a nice feature on musical Holi memories of various Bollywood music figures. What kinds of Holi memories do you have? Was it a festival you celebrated during your childhood or that you somehow celebrate today? Continue reading

Everyone Loves A Winner: V-Day Contest Results

Hey y’all,

I appreciate your indulging my travel and jetlag. Here, without further ado, are the results of our V-Day contest. I was excited to see so many entries. Seems like you guys really got into it. This was hard to judge. Thanks so much for participating!

Some thoughts on my judging process. I read what Sandhya had written, and realized I was looking for verbal inventiveness and something that touched multiple emotions—not just funny, but funny and sad; not just angry, but angry and funny; etc. etc. How much did the entry achieve in six words?

This decided, I waded in. Now, before I announce the winners, a few comments on the other entries. Continue reading

It wasn’t just Lupercalia yesterday

I know most of you were too busy yesterday celebrating the orthodox feastday of Saint Brigid of Kildare to think of anything else, but it was also the 20th anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

Back then Rushdie was already a literary hotshot, having won the Booker in 1981 for his second novel, Midnight’s Children. This was long before Padma, when Rushdie was newly married to Marianne Wiggins and could walk down the street without being recognized.

However, it was the 1988 publication of The Satanic Verses that really put him on the map, making him both notorious and a cause celebre all over the world, granting him immortality while putting his own body and that of others into mortal peril.

Although Rushdie had always courted controversy, having mocked Indira Gandhi, the Bhutto family, and American foreign policy in previous books, he claims that he had no idea what a hornet’s nest The Satanic Verses would stir up:

Rushdie … said “I expected a few mullahs would be offended, call me names, and then I could defend myself in public… I honestly never expected anything like this.” [link]

Instead the book was banned within a month in India, followed by Bangladesh, Sudan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia, Singapore and lastly Venezuela in June 1989. A large number of threats were made to bookstores in the US and UK. Daniel Pipes claims that “[t]he bombings meant that hardly a single bookstore sold Rushdie’s novel openly in the UK” [link]

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USA + India = BFF, y’all

A few hours ago, a mutineer who covers the Executive Branch sent me this:

For Immediate Release
January 25, 2009
Message on the occasion of India Republic Day
As the people of India and people of Indian origin in America and around the world celebrate Republic Day on January 26, I send the warmest greetings of the American people to the people of India. Together, we celebrate our shared belief in democracy, liberty, pluralism, and religious tolerance.
Our nations have built broad and vibrant partnerships in every field of human endeavor. Our rapidly growing and deepening friendship with India offers benefits to all the world’s citizens as our scientists solve environmental challenges together, our doctors discover new medicines, our engineers advance our societies, our entrepreneurs generate prosperity, our educators lay the foundation for our future generations, and our governments work together to advance peace, prosperity, and stability around the globe.
It is our shared values that form the bedrock of a robust relationship across peoples and governments. Those values and ideals provide the strength that enables us to meet any challenge, particularly from those who use violence to try to undermine our free and open societies. As the Indian people celebrate Republic Day all across India, they should know that they have no better friend and partner than the people of the United States. It is in that spirit, that I also wish Prime Minister Singh a quick recovery.

Incidentally, if you were unaware of the latest regarding the health of Prime Minister Singh, here you go (thanks, Manoje):

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday successfully underwent a coronary bypass surgery at the All India Institute of Medical Science in New Delhi as doctors removed 10 blockages in his heart…
Dr Ramakanth Panda, the chief of the Asian Heart Institute in Mumbai, headed the surgical team comprising doctors that performed the beating heart surgery. The prime minister had undergone his first heart surgery in 1990 and then had an angioplasty in 2004. This week, he complained of chest plain and the angiography revealed 10 blockages, which prompted the doctors to opt for a surgery. [rediff]

I am ridiculously delighted to learn that the surgical team was headed by a panda. I love pandas.

For those who crave some learnin’ about the reason for the thoughtful press release: Continue reading

In 2009, I Resolve to be More Mutinous.

banana republic ad.jpg I thought it would be cute and fun to do a “resolutions” post on December 31st, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it. After all, just asking you what you plan on not accomplishing in the new year seemed rather bleh. So, imagine my glee when I discovered a frothy fashion article about this exact subject with no less than 1.5 brown connections to exploit! Problem solved.


We asked some of our favorite women what they hope to do (or do a little bit better)—from family to food and fashion—in 2009.

I’ve only quoted about half of the resolvers here:

Vera Wang, designer “Work more and work out more.”
Venus Williams, tennis player “I think it’s time to give up leggings and add more prints to my closet in 2009. I also think it’s time for more accessories, but I want to avoid those big chunky pieces.”

While she is a tennis player, Venus isn’t our “0.5” connection. 😉

Chanel Iman, model “Step back into my closet and re-create the things I haven’t worn in a while and do wardrobe swaps with my friends. After the swap, you can go shopping for that one item that will make the trade pop. It’s kind of a green way to go.”
Sophie Buhai, designer, Vena Cava “Monochromatic fashion that feels elegant (but is almost boring) paired with an eccentric large metal necklace is what I am wanting to wear. As far as giving things up, I’d say it’s time to give up flashy designer bags. The new year and a new economy are all about buying vintage Ferragamo and Bottega on eBay.”
Coco Rocha, model “Wear more jackets. This is the time to bundle up, and a girl cannot have too many coats because it is what you are seen most in during the winter season.”
Marina Rust, contributing editor, Vogue “I know if I squeeze a lemon into a cup of hot water and honey every morning I will actually feel and look better. Maybe this year I will remember to do it.”
Tory Burch, designer “Keep things in perspective and not sweat the small stuff. I always try to focus on the big picture and remember if my family is happy and healthy, nothing is worth getting too stressed about.”
Chiara Clemente, filmmaker “Eat at home as much as I can. Maybe it’s because I am Italian, but you have to start with the basics. And that’s food.”

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A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

One of my little sister’s Air Force buddies in Colorado sent me an urgent email with the following important information:

I have been following Santa on NORAD via Twitter, to make sure my little cousins in every time zone got spoiled, but I managed to miss this part of his journey, so I’m grateful for the message. Maybe it all went down while we were distracted? Matters not.

Do you know why NORAD tracks Santa? It’s one of my favorite stories:

The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement for children to call Santa misprinted the telephone number. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief’s operations “hotline.” The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born…
In 1958, the governments of Canada and the United States created a bi-national air defense command for North America called the North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as NORAD. NORAD inherited the tradition of tracking Santa.
Since that time, NORAD men, women, family and friends have selflessly volunteered their time to personally respond to Christmas Eve phone calls and emails from children. In addition, we now track Santa using the internet. Last year, millions of people who wanted to know Santa’s whereabouts visited the NORAD Tracks Santa website.
Finally, media from all over the world rely on NORAD as a trusted source to provide Christmas Eve updates on Santa’s journey. [link]

Isn’t that sweet? Fifty-three years ago, I’m sure Colonel Shoup and his staff could’ve done without the incessant phone calls thrown their way thanks to a printing mistake, but I love thinking about the moment when he realized what had happened and stepped up, and didn’t let a child down. What a mitzvah. Continue reading