The (r)Evolving Kominas

A belated Christmas present for all y’all for this #MusicMonday – our oft written about friends The Kominas have released an (almost) self-titled album called “Kominas.” If you thought the previous albums were too punk/too political/too “taqwacore” for you – then it is time to give the band a second chance – this album might just be for you. With a more Desi-rock sound, gritty riffs, lo-fi vocals and lyrics taking a back seat, the band’s path has turned and taken on a new sound. Gone are the sing-along playfully raunchy hooks, this album is all about the bass line and dirty drum beats.

The band members of The Kominas have shifted to not only to now include the duo from Sunny Ali and the Kid, but also in instrumental roles – three of the four bandmates take a turn on the mic for this album. With multiple talents acting as the driving force between music and lyrics, the album is eclectic and completely different sounding from anything previously released by The Kominas. People have been saying that their sound has “matured” but instead, I feel the new album better reflects the skills and sounds of the new band members trying collaborate and create a new cohesive sound (Basim Usmani is the only original band member that remains from 2005).

Don’t just take my word for it. Follow the link here to the megaupload site to download the album. And if you are too chicken to download the album before listening to a song – here’s the demo to Ren, a song off of the new album.

Frankly put, it sounds like our punks have evolved – they just may be growing up.

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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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 new face of Air India (UPDATE)

There’s something awkward about Air India trying to be hip, sort of like the uncle with the hennaed hair who knows all of the hottest club dance moves. The last time I flew Air India, I was on a 30 year old used Korean plane with an Italian flight crew and Indian flight attendants. Homey, yes. Fashionable and cutting-edge? Hardly.

So when I saw the images from Air India’s award-winning new campaign, I was a bit taken aback. I was used to the fusty maharaja, retro in a very unhip way, a character that was probably dated from its very inception. What was I to make of this mixed race family, desi female sitting openly in her white husband’s lap? (There’s another shot with a desi man, a white woman and a hadesi child)

The Maharaja was from an era of arranged marriages, when nobody spoke of dating, let alone across the colour line. I’ll bet he never looked once at a non-desi air hostess, no matter how flirtatious.

The new Air India, on the other hand, simply says “look, we’re just happy that you’re married and that you’ve given us a gorgeous grandkid! Now please visit more often.” (Yes, the campaign was created in India) It’s not really stylish, but it is most definitely contemporary. Maybe AI isn’t so dated after all. Now if only they could do something about their service, I’d really sit up and take notice.

UPDATE A few comments (thanks El Nino and Rishi ) have argued that these ads were designed just to win awards and haven’t (and wont) actually be used. People also pointed out that the idea is a straight lift from an earlier (proposed?) Air France campaign.

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Maybe India should tie a rakhi on Israel

Because today is both Purim and Holi, here’s an amazing “Bollywood” video made by an Israeli arms company to promote Indian sales which they showed on large screens at a recent government sponsored military trade fair in India. What’s the connection to these holidays? Watch the clip and you’ll come away convinced that the people who made it were both drunk and stoned:

Every element of the promotional film is just plain wrong. The sari-clad, “Indian” dancers look all too ashkenaz and zaftig. The unshaven, hawk-nosed, leather-clad leading man appears to be a refugee from You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. Then of course, there’s the implication that the Indian military is somehow like a helpless woman who “need(s) to feel safe and sheltered.” [link]

The whole thing is amazingly crappy from start to finish, not mention the annoying chorus of “Dinga dinga, dinga dinga, dinga dinga, dinga dinga dee.” I don’t get why they couldn’t have hired a real Bolly composer, choreographer and item girls. It wouldn’t have cost them much.

Despite the cheapness of the video, this isn’t some small time company, and they’re not newcomers to the Indian market. It was Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ Barak SAM missile that was at the heart of the 2000 bribery scandal exposed by Tehelka. Two years ago, they signed a $330 million dollar deal to codevelop the Barak II, and just 6 months ago they became part of India’s biggest defense joint venture with a foreign company.

So why was this video, intended “to help build familiarity between India and Israel and Rafael” [link] both so cheap and so dreadful? My only guess is that they learned from the 2000 arms deal that while symbolic gestures are good, the only thing that really matters are gifts of cold hard cash.

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Flying While Brown…Again.

Flying While Brown.jpg It shouldn’t be any surprise to people that we are ringing in 2009 with another one of these stories. (via RaceWire)

Nine Muslim passengers on a New Year’s Day flight on AirTran were kicked off a flight after others flying reportedly heard remarks about airport security. Because of the confusion, that was eventually cleared up, no one was able to fly.[RaceWire]

What could these “dangerous” remarks be? Did they say one of the handful of words that as brown people we are not allowed to say within a ten mile radius of an airport, including but apparently not exclusively, the following words: bomb, terrorist, Bin Laden, explode, die, Bush, fire, shoe, fertilizer, Allahu Akbar?

Mr. Irfan turned to his wife…wondered aloud where the safest place to sit on the airplane would be — the front? The rear? Over the wing?

But passengers sitting behind them evidently overheard the remark, saw Mr. Irfan’s beard and his wife’s head scarf, and grew concerned…The worried passengers contacted flight attendants, who contacted Transportation Security Administration officials, and soon, Mr. Irfan and his wife were off the plane and being questioned in the jetway.[NYT]

Oh! The trigger word was ‘safest.’ How ironic.

Before long…the F.B.I. concluded that the incident was obviously just a misunderstanding, and told AirTran officials that the family was cleared to travel. But he said AirTran still refused to rebook them, offering only to refund their tickets. The F.B.I. agents helped the family get on a later USAirways flight to Orlando, but those seats cost them twice as much.[NYT]

It took me a while to get to posting this up because frankly, this is a dime a dozen story. In 2008 alone, the Transportation Department reported 87 cases of complaints alleging discrimination by airlines and only four were security related. Flying while brown stories happen all the time. I’m tired of blogging about stories like this and that these incidences are still happening. These stories are a part of our lives on the margin and being brown. I’m not implying that we should stand by the wayside and merely accept the injustice. Which is exactly what Mr. Irfan didn’t do. Instead he got organized. Continue reading

India Heading to the Moon

nyt chandrayaan.jpg

India is sending an unmanned space-ship to the moon, with take-off possibly as soon as Wednesday morning, Indian time [UPDATE: Take-off was successful!]:

The launch of Chandrayaan-1, as the vehicle is called (it means, roughly translated, “Moon Craft-1”) comes about a year after China’s first moon mission. The Indian mission is scheduled to last for two years, prepare a three-dimensional atlas of the moon and prospect its surface for natural resources, including uranium, a coveted fuel for nuclear power plants, according to the Indian Space Research Organization, or I.S.R.O. Allusions to an Asian space race could not be contained, even as Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, was due for a visit to China later in the week. (link)

Most of the Times article on the event focuses on the “Asian space race,” between India and China. Some more coverage in the Indian newspapers here, here, and especially here. The ExpressIndia story has the most technical information about the trip I’ve seen:

Earlier in the day, Prof J N Goswami, director of the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, who is also the principal scientist for the Chandrayaan-1 mission, spoke about the possibility of finding helium-3 on the lunar surface. “Although generating power through nuclear fusion of helium-3 is a distant dream, but the possibilities are immense,” he said. The samples brought to Earth by the Apollo mission have indicated that Iron titanium oxide traps helium-3 molecules on the lunar surface, he said.

Goswami said he-3 content is very low. For every 100,000 helium-4 molecules, there is only one helium-3 molecule on the lunar surface. Besides, the scientific community is yet to simulate the conditions necessary for nuclear fusion. But, if Chandrayaan-1 is able to locate probable areas for finding helium-3, that in itself will be a very big achievement. It will help eliminate the two stages of producing deuterium from hydrogen and then producing helium-3 from deuterium, he added. (link)

Though I can hardly claim to be an expert on the science, from what I’ve been reading I’m skeptical at the outset about the search for uranium or helium-3 on the moon, mainly because I’m not sure what they would do with these materials even if they were to find some — build a lab? Bring it back? (Can anyone find more detailed accounts regarding the specific scientific goals for this mission? What exactly is going in Chandrayaan-1′s various payloads?)

One could argue — and I’m sure some will — that it’s hard to justify spending lots of money on a mission to the moon, when India obviously has lots of other issues to contend with right now.

I can see the objections, but I still think it’s pretty cool. Events like this can have huge symbolic significance, and I hope the launch tomorrow goes well. [UPDATE: It did. The rocket is supposed to reach the moon in fifteen days.] Continue reading

Maybe they were sleeping off the booze

Indian aviation just can’t seem to catch a break. First there was a story about the number of pilots who get grounded because they are have had too much to drink:

Around 50 pilots each year in India are being grounded because they had consumed alcohol before taking a flight, the country’s civil aviation authorities said Tuesday… Civil aviation rules specify that pilots and cabin crew cannot consume alcohol 12 hours before taking a flight… India is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world with dozens of new airlines competing with each other everyday, often resulting in pilots forced to fly at short notices. [Link]

Notice that this is meant to be a positive story. Even if pilots are boneheaded, they’re getting caught before they get into the cockpit. If they’re actually catching all the tipsy pilots (and that’s a big if), then oversight authorities have done their job well.

However, there’s no good way to spin this next story other than to point out that at least nobody got hurt:

An Air India flight headed for Mumbai overshot its destination and was halfway to Goa before its dozing pilots were woken out of a deep slumber by air traffic control, a report said…

“After operating an overnight flight, fatigue levels peak — and so the pilots dozed off after taking off from Jaipur,” … The plane flew to Mumbai on autopilot, but when air traffic there tried to help the aircraft land, the plane ignored their instructions and carried on at full speed towards Goa. “It was only after the aircraft reached Mumbai airspace that air traffic control realised it was not responding to any instructions and was carrying on its own course,” the source said.

Finally air traffic control buzzed the cockpit and woke up the pilots, who turned the plane around, the report said. [Link]

Air India has strenuously denied the story, saying that it was merely a communications glitch:

“The report is absolutely incorrect, devoid of facts, misleading and irresponsible. It is a figment of imagination,” Air India spokesman Jitender Bhargava told AFP by telephone from Mumbai. [Link]

Note that a shutdown in communication still doesn’t explain why the pilots neglected to land the airplane as they were supposed to in Bombay. At best Air India is saying that its pilots simply … forgot, and there was nobody to remind them. Maybe they had a bit too much to drink.

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The end of the flying Beefeater

In a rather surprising move, British Airways announced this week that it will no longer be serving beef aboard its (often Hindu-filled) flights in economy (a.k.a. “cattle”) class:

What will become of me now? What will they pay me in if not in beef?

British Airways has ditched beef for economy class passengers this summer in an attempt to appeal to a more international passenger base.

The familiar cabin crew inquiry of “chicken or beef?” will not be heard in economy after the airline ditched the national dish in favour of what it calls a lighter, healthier option.

Critics will suspect that the relentless pressure to cut costs that all airlines are facing is behind the move, although BA said cost was not a factor…

“We can only serve two options and beef and pork obviously have religious restrictions,” the spokesman added. BA’s second-biggest long-haul market, after transatlantic routes, is to India. [Link]

As might be expected, many Brits were not happy about this. For one thing, what the hell are all the Beefeaters going to do?

The decision to scrap the nation’s favourite fare was described as a “great shame” by the English Beef and Lamb Executive, formerly part of the Meat and Livestock Commission.

A spokesman said: “It is regrettable that Britain’s flag carrier is not proposing to serve Britain’s national dish.

“It is a meal we are rightly proud of. Roast beef and beefeaters are symbols or Britain used to promote tourism.

“Our beef is also much in demand overseas. It is predominately grass fed and highly praised for its flavour. [Link]

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DesiDeals.net

Like many desis, I love me some deals. I know I am playing into stereotypes here, especially because I am Gujarati, but come on EVERYONE likes good deals. The enjoyment for me isn’t just finding a good deal, but the whole process: it is the hunt, the chase, and the glory in opening the mail and finding that rebate check that you thought might not ever come. Suffice it to say, I spend a good percentage of my time on the internets perusing some favorite deal sites.

But while I like finding good deals, one of my pet peeves is really poor customer service and the feeling that I have been taken advantage of. So when I was visiting one of my new favorite deal/consumer rights blogs, The Consumerist, (part of the Gawker family of blogs) I was a bit dismayed to hear the tale of our desi brethren, Mahesh, who reported on his parent’s really poor experience on United Airlines.

Mahesh’s parents flew from Omaha, Nebraska to Colombo,Sri Lanka, but at LAX, United Airlines (UAL) refused to honor their tickets, saying that they had not “been approved, authorized and authenticated.” The family ended having to pay $2860 extra to complete their journey. Apparently, Sri Lankan Air Lines, a United code-share partner, could not find the reservation Mahesh’s parents made. Mahesh wrote three letters of complaint to UAL and so far his parents have only received two $300 coupons in return. When Mahesh scoffed at the sum, United wrote, “our policy does not permit us to respond with the generosity you had anticipated. (link)

It seems that instead of writing letters, which I am a big fan of, now when desis are wronged, we blog. So as a good South Asian, Mahesh has started his own blog detailing his battle with United Airlines’ Customer service at evilunitedairlines.blogspot.com. His story is really messed up and I hope the airlines eventually do the right thing and refund the extra three grand his recently operated-on parents had to hand over to get home.

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