Jul 29, 2005


Saurav writes about an internet addiction. I definitely feel him on that, and have to cut down. We're moving to a new place, and will be weaning ourselves off of high speed by putting our wireless router into storage. The next step will be dial up, as we walk backwards our technological advancement, just so that we can stay human.

It's similar to our decision not to get cable television (or satellite, or Direct TV, et cetera), which in Brooklyn, amounted to 5 regular channels, 2 spanish language channels, and a really fuzzy CBS. We still watched a fair share of the boob tube, until our set died and we didn't replace it for months.

But I have much to write... so hopefully I can steal away some time next week.

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Jul 28, 2005


Lost my cell phone somewhere between the West Village and my apartment last night, probably in the cab that I just wrote about. Oh well. I've done this before, and have been able to get my phone back (and even my wallet once) but I don't think I'll be so lucky this time. Easy come, easy go.

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Late Night Cab from Ozzfest

Tonight, I went to Ozzfest, in hopes of catching Iron Maiden for the second time in the same venue (with a span of 6 years between), and Black Sabbath. I won't go into the details of the concert right now, as the hour is late and I have to turn in for a long day tomorrow, but I will mention that I love really late night cab rides home to Brooklyn. My driver tonight was a 43 year old Guinean man who has been driving for 16 years and is hoping to move from yellow cab driving to a bus or some other option next month.

He has 4 kids, the eldest of whom will be 13 soon (though he had an older child who passed away). He lived in the 150s and Broadway up until 8 months ago, at which point he wanted to take his family out of the neighborhood, and did just that, moving 184 miles north to Binghamton. He drives his cab down every week to work in the city for 4 days, during which time he stays with one of his more than 100 relatives who are living either in this city or other parts of the country.

He looked younger than 43, laughed and spoke freely about the difficulty of driving in NYC, and the stress that accumulates if you're not careful. He even told me about how some customers ask him if he's been to the club that is their destination, to which he replies: "I've never been to a club. I don't even eat out at restaurants! My wife cooks, and I eat at home."

Well. Thank you, kind sir, for giving me a safe ride home from Penn Station late at night, and reminding me that there is a path around every barrier. G'night y'all.

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Jul 25, 2005

Bar Rumination on Race Relations

Last night, I was the principal actor in a scene that reminds me not to get too wound up about race and place in the United States. After a long, grueling day of chores and other bores, the two of us, with an old friend, decided to get a drink at a local bar. After having a pitcher of sangria at a fancypants place where we were the sad minority of minorities, save for a happy couple and their adorable daughter, we went to a real local bar for a beer. The spot was quiet, with a number of patrons in the 30-something range who looked less hipster and more... well, I guess they were the less annoying hipster/perhaps some on the fringe of something artistic.

We got our beers, and were urged by the happy barkeep to join in on the quiz game at 8:30 that evening. Her joy about it was infectious, and we decided to do it, even though we were tired. When the time came, we received our page for the "bar exam" (har har), and were surprised to see that it was going to be 50 questions. An hour later, we submitted our sheet, and waited to hear the results, already fearing the worst for the Brown Hornets (our team name, as my tribute to Fat Albert).

Meanwhile, a team behind us, which comprised of 2 white women, a white guy, and a brown desi guy, broke for drinks and a round of pool. The two women looked at me, sitting there near them, and one started to talk to me. "Do you think you won?" I said no way. She then asked me "where are you from?" I wasn't sure of what she meant, but the intonation was right, and I got a bit tight in the face and answered, "I'm American." She seemed a little flustered, but said then "my husband's American too, but I mean, where are you from?"

Not knowing which of the guys were her husband, and for some reason, assuming that she meant the white guy, and taking it to say "you can't be American", I said "I was born here" in a way with enough gusto to shut down her questions. The conversation continued, though, because her sister, next to her, asked me whether we were from the area, and we carried on a bit after that, at which point my teammates rejoined the table.

Ends up that the two sisters were nurses, the brown guy was the first speaker's hubby, a Sri Lankan finance guy, and the sister's boyfriend was a doctor. Ends up that I was rude, abrasive, and defensive about identity with another white person, in a way I seldom am anymore with brown folks. Ends up that I was probably far more aggressive about the whole thing than I needed to be, and I could have answered as I normally do, that "my parents are from India", which gives the asker a little of what they are looking for. If it's another desi, some form of connection, and placement, for who and what I am. If it's another person of color or non-immigrant, a way to connect and let them know that I'm second generation and can answer the question in a way that asserts my Asian American identity.

But instead, I got defensive, and said "I'm American." As if I were infinitely more proud of being called just "American" than any other identity or self that I claim on these pages or elsewhere. As if I had something to prove to this harmless, simple woman who was really just trying to be friendly, and even maybe trying to relate to someone else brown, since certainly, she must have had interesting experiences, and perhaps some challenges, as part of an interracial marriage. Maybe she wasn't looking for some excuse to say "I'm down with brown", as some white folks do (remind me to post up about a Bombay Talkie experience with a white waitress who stated that she'd been to India as a defense against any claim of unequal treatment at her hands of we 3 brown folks). Maybe she was just being friendly, like her sister after her, true to their Connecticut small-town upbringing, and the Mid-Western barfeeling of the joint we were in.

I wonder if the London events and aftermath have somehow caused me to become more paranoid about how people view me, even though there are a heckuva lot of South Asians in New York City, and I'm just one of 2.5 lakh.

Later, the first woman told our friend that her husband had some nice Sri Lankan cousins if she was looking for a hook-up. A funny thing, probably just kidding around (their team name was "3 white people and a brown guy") and trying to make light of something we had in common.

It just makes me wonder if I'm wound up too tightly about race. Why do I have to respond to simple questions as if they are threats, accusations, even taunts or claims of being something less than the person in front of me? Of course some folks have that agenda, and the echoes of being called "camel jockey" and "Saddam" in high school by underclassmen when the first Gulf War was raging on overseas continue to ring in my memory. But why do we, especially those of us who claim to be conscious and conscientious about race, seem to be the most uptight about it?

In a casual environment, in an environment in which most people do not have the liberty to study, speak, think, breath, and blog about issues concerning diversity, identity, migration, and racism, why can't we engage people with a more open heart and try to find ways to grow together? I know that I felt bad after the exchange, and the woman probably wondered what my problem was, though she smiled while her sister carried the conversation forward. I can only imagine what her husband's response could have been if she mentioned my strong reaction to him:

1) Some people aren't proud of their heritage
2) Some people are too particular about labels
3) Maybe he has a problem with immigrants
4) What an ass!

Of course, perception shouldn't guide our interactions, but it's a shame when we slam doors before exploring the possibilities behind them. What if that other world we allude to in our more optimistic days lay right outside?

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Kaash Music Collective in NYC

Just got this email... if you're in NYC, check it out, though I haven't heard it myself. Pretty cool - though I've cried out about the dearth of South Asian American musicians out there, there seems to be quite a jazz scene developing in NYC, what with Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Sachal Vasandani and beyond.


You are invited to come hear Kaash, a music collective that fuses Indian music with a myriad of grooves and sonic textures.

Date: Saturday, July 30

Time: 8-9pm

Location: Crash Mansion
199 Bowery (between Spring and Rivington)
New York City

Subways: 6 to Sprint Street and walk east to Bowery
J or M to Delancey and walk north on Bowery
F to 2nd Avenue and walk west to Bowery

Cover: $10

Samita Sinha vocals
Sunny Jain drumset and laptop
Jesse Neuman trumpet and effects
Nathan Peck electric bass


Kaash is a music collective conceptualized by vocalist Samita Sinha.
Presenting a new sound, Kaash seamlessly crosses musical genres by
fusing Indian music with a myriad of grooves and sonic textures. In
the short time since their inception, Kaash has quickly emerged as a
force in the vibrant South Asian avant-garde and beyond.

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Jul 24, 2005

Little India and ABC(J)D's

Just received the latest edition of Little India, the free magazine that litters the shelves of restaurants, groceries, and other desi joints up and down the East Coast, although I'm certain that they are shipping boxes of their publication across the nation. The cover story is called "Bar None" and features a triptych of L.A. Law shots of three desi attorneys, in action, with microphones filling the frame of one of them, and a woman with clenched fist and armful of legal briefs in another.

In the pages that follow (8 to be exact) Lavina Melwani, a reporter who has been with Little India for quite some time, and even won a few second place mentions in the Ippies (Independent Press Association - NY Awards) for her ethnic/immigrant journalism in 2004, proceeds to explore the exciting story of how desi attorneys are ripping it up across the United States.

Of course, she takes the boastful auntie angle, parading the best and the brightest as per a very specific set of criteria, and unfortunately, fully missing the opportunity to write about some of the many outstanding attorneys that have been and continue to do really amazing work in the public interest and specifically for desi communities in the United States.

For example, she writes about wunder-barrister Neal Katyal, the Georgetown Professor and lead attorney in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the federal challenge to the military tribunals set up by Bush at Gitmo, but she neglects to mention the tremendous work of desi and other attorneys on the front lines of the detention and deportation work, such as attorneys working with CAIR, Families for Freedom, and Desis Rising Up and Moving, who spent years working with clients directly, spending time with the families, fighting each case that they could even though the odds were against the families that they were representing, and taking the fight to the very last moments before the deportee had to fly back to Asia or the Middle East, and then with the broken families that were left behind.

Melwani mentions the NASABA conference in DC, which was reported on and dissected on Sepia Mutiny, and speaks with Vijay Bondada, outgoing president of NASABA (who presided over the decision to name their public interest award after Congressman Saund, as mentioned previously). Bondada (whose name is mangled multiple times in this article, as Little India seems to do with almost every desi name - perhaps hoping to play with the big boys in corporate media by showing "hey - we can screw up these names too!", or perhaps just refusing to shell over any dough for a decent copy-editor), states smartly:

What really is the question is not just the numbers in the big firms - because we have the numbers - at NASABA about 60-70 percent of the lawyers there are at private firms, some of them at the nation's leading firms. the question becomes how many of them are at the top of their game, on top of the food chain?
Brilliant. You have truly captured the essence of the challenge for young and mid-career South Asian attorneys trying to find their place on the food chain of the marketplace. Considering that a decent percentage of the attorneys are themselves vegetarians, it may be tough for them to achieve this goal - aza! is this another instance of institutional racism, keeping the veggies out of the running for top carnivore in the firm?!

I'll drop the sarcasm - but there's no mention of the need for more attorneys who want to work for the public interest, the growing and diverse South Asian communities, or other issues of social justice, and little to no interest from Melwani to push the issue further. She continues with a who's who of government employees as a list of "other Indians involved in public service." Where are the public interest attorneys?

To her credit, Melwani mentions Vanita Gupta, who has shot up in the ranks of desi stardom through her tireless work in Texas through the NAACP-Legal Defense Fund, but fails to mention attorneys in the midst of great social justice work for South Asian and other immigrant communities. Gupta, the recipient of the NASABA Dalip Singh Saund award (who was up against Neal Katyal and Suhag Shukla from the Hindu American Foundation), will also have her role in the landmark case that she litigated dramatized (and changed sufficiently around) with Halle Berry stepping in to add some star power. But nowhere in the article are other public interest attorneys who are doing amazing work, like Amardeep Singh with Sikh Coalition, Saru Jayaraman with ROC-NY, Deepa Iyer with SAALT, or even Mallika Dutt with Breakthrough, or hell, what about Urvashi Vaid? And there are so many folks who have been leaders in this work in the past as well, like Tito Sinha and Chaumtoli Huq, both formerly with AALDEF, the latter also working with New York Taxi Workers Alliance for at least a year. Where are these names, and the countless others who are changing the face of work concerning immigrant communities, and taking a stand to make certain that our community's voices are no longer marginalized in the courtrooms, or in the laws set out for so long to marginalize, exclude, or unfairly single out our communities? What about their contributions?

Don't get me wrong, she mentions some great folks with great accomplishments, but many are the obvious choices for this article (and some have large enough egos without the overexposure). Someone like Melwani, who has spoken with many people working in the desi communities of New York City for one story or another, and written some great pieces about the community over the past decade+, should have reviewed her own articles from the past to come up with other folks to highlight and to balance out the story.

Instead, she missed the boat, and repeated the same tired "model minority" story that is tiring, and not at all inspirational for someone about the begin a legal education. And most infuriating for someone who has actually seen and been inspired by the work of so many community-based lawyers who aren't mentioned in the article at all.

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Jul 23, 2005

The Aftermath of the London Shooting

Ends up that the shooting victim was actually Brazilian, and not South Asian, as was widely reported in the coverage immediately after the take-down/shoot-down. London police took the plain-clothes approach that has cost lives in New York City and elsewhere, just as it, I'm sure, also thwarts would-be felons and worse. They showed that they aren't afraid to use extreme force to stop enemies of the people, the state, or the British way of life.

But what's going to happen next? Will it be treated as another case of "collateral damage" in the War Against Terror? Or will it be viewed as crossing the line in a city where the history of violent attacks and the lines of privacy and rights are clearly different from in the United States?

It is such a public attack and killing, and there were many witnesses. I wonder if the case of mistaken identity, if that indeed is what it was, will cause more or less of an outcry from the general public in the UK? For instance, will this create the polarizing debate of "good immigrant", in this case, English speaker from Brazil, vs. "bad immigrant" - the South Asian masses, breeding extremism and fanaticism in their neighborhoods cordoned off from the rest of London? Will the public speak out against the new tactics taken by the law enforcement agencies in the nation, or will they think, well done - what if that were really someone trying to blow-up the tube?

I'm writing without enough context about the way that conventional wisdom, and unrest, work in the United Kingdom. I don't even know if I can fully place the way that they work in the United States anymore, the cold blank stares of Americans who are not affected by the countless incidents and tragedies that are fodder for the small minority who pay attention to these things. The automatic response, sometimes repeated verbatim from an invisible teleprompter linked to the top list of the President's favorite catch phrases about "resolve" and "freedom" and "not letting the terrorists win."

But who knows if that's what the response will be in Britain. I don't expect an outpouring of sympathy, the nation still reeling from what could have been another tragic catastrophe on 7/21, save for the full-on explosions that never came. I don't know if one mistaken casualty will be grieved. We will have to see.

Previous post: 1

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Jul 22, 2005

South Asian Man Shot 5 Times in London

Things are getting pretty crazy in London. Two weeks after the first attack in London, and 1 day after the second attack, the london police have shot a man near the tube for "wearing a large coat" and fleeing when pursued. They shot him 5 times, apparently at close quarters, once he fell down.

The developing story can be tracked here and here. There's an eyewitness report on BBC here. This is pretty crazy, and if he was truly trying to blow something up, that's one thing, although this seems pretty gruesome, and to my knowledge, London police were famous for not carrying guns, so this is indicative of a much more aggressive, and perhaps extremely dangerous, approach towards Homeland Security. We haven't even had a shooting by officials in the United States in 4 years since September 11th, so, this is pretty severe.

Not to mention that if it ends up that he was not a bomber, or up to anything wrong, then this is a new level of state-sanctioned violence that has to be stopped. I am not very familiar with the British system of justice, but I do hope that this is sorted out soon, and that we have more news about this dreadful development.

I just hope that commuting while brown isn't the new terror in Britain, and I hope that copycats don't have a field-day with this example. Let's sit and wait for more news.

But regardless, this feels eerily reminiscent of the Amadou Diallo case, with multiple shots to take down a suspect, though this was in the middle of the day, in front of witnesses. Actually, we'll have to wait for the facts on this one, but I don't want to make the mistake of drawing analogies that shouldn't be drawn.

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Jul 21, 2005


For the first time in my life, I've been called a "coconut" (see comments to the previous post). It's pretty funny, actually. But maybe a reminder that I should temper the funny little shit with "bigger" topics so the folks who stumble upon the site are reasonably entertained. Then again, given how many folks are blogging about the most mundane desi topics imaginable, and I don't find half of them interesting, maybe I should just focus on more in-depth analysis of whatever kind I can muster. Or maybe, I should continue to stare at my belly-button and enumerate the endless variety of lint thereupon found.

But you know what? I don't have to prove myself here. Please. My rep isn't built on ramblings in a blog.

But sheesh. A coconut!

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Why Harry Potter is Dangerous

Okay - so we're still in the midst of our experiment of reading Harry Potter collaboratively at home, but I thought this a good time to reflect upon my personal daemons with regards to Ms. Rowling's epic tale of good, evil, and Quidditch. While the debate of the literary merit of the series, and even the sad state of the world when we applaud that a child is actually picking up a book to read, rages on, I have my own issues to deal with concerning the $1 billion+ industry of Potterdom and my tenuous grasp of reality.

No, it is not the cliched fear that books that portray magic in any light other than equation with the devil are poisoning the minds of good, Christian boys and girls. Please - if you parent well, and teach your kids the difference between right and wrong, reality and fantasy, what's the big deal?

Nor is it the feeling that Ms. Rowling has not created anything new, but rather borrowed from this, that, and the other storyteller of yore to create her own McFantasy with limited if any literary merit, originality, innovation, or staying power. Time will tell, but that's not my issue either.

Put quite simply, I think that I'm falling prey of the dangerous misconception that attending law school will be like attending Hogwart's School of Wizardry. I have been trying to shake this feeling, which arose strongly ever since I started reading the 5th book in the series (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), which coincided with my decision to hand off 3 years of my life to an institution of higher torture learning. Since that time, I have oddly equated my time in law school with Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest of the crowd's adventures in Hogwart's.

I shudder at the thought of finding out who the creepy professors are, loathe the prospect of hours of confounding riddles and passcodes embedded in the study of Occlumency Jurisprudence, and just caught myself anticipating my first year schedule/course list and wondering when I'll have the opportunity to visit Diagon Alley and collect my school supplies for the coming term.

I don't think that it's healthy to equate the two, and perhaps I need some help, but maybe this explains why I'm looking forward to law school in a way most students don't. And perhaps this explains why I'm going to be really disappointed when I don't get letters delivered via owl, meals that materialize in front of me, or even a simple bottle of butterbeer.

What an infernal bummer.

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Supreme Court Rhymes With...?

While I've not really been tracking the Supreme Court nomination, nor do I have a particularly strong feeling about the conspiracy theory that's quickly arisen as a result of the bait-and-switch that has seemingly occurred with John Roberts chosen as the nominee over the perceived chosen one1 (Emily Brown Clement).

However, as per my interest in the least understood branch of the government, the SCOTUS (as opposed to POTUS), I have found a new blog that tracks all things SCOTUS related. (is it just me, or is SCOTUS too close for comfort in the "sounds like an anatomical reference" department? Or is it a PAC the likes of USINPAC? Not to mention that I feel like we should talk about HAGUS (sic) if we're talking about all these other -USes).

Anyway - if you're interested in the High Court (i.e. Sith council), check out this blog about all things SCOTUS... or you could just skip it and get off SCOTUS-free. Sorry, I just had to do it.

[1] This is a Hari Puttar reference, but not a spoiler. I don't think. Or is it?

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Jul 20, 2005

Sudoku: My New Obsession

I don't have a lot of time for obsessions right now, but I'm definitely hooked on this puzzle from Japan called the Sudoku. The concept is simple: a crossword-like grid is half-filled with numerals randomly picked between 1-9. Your task is to fill out the rest of the grid, using numbers from the same range. The trick is, every 3x3 square, as well as every 9-character row and column, must contain the full, non-repeating sequence of digits between 1-9. It sounds easy, and some of it is easy, but it's quite addictive, and I find it more appealing as a logic-driven person, rather than a vocabulary buff (which is why I have a difficult time with most crosswords. I use small, common words).

Check it out if you're bored, or anxiously awaiting the confirmation hearings for SCOTUS. If you're trying to do the one in this post, you can click it to get to the solution.

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Jul 19, 2005


All this talk about sweets reminds me that I should be promoting healthy nutritional choices. So given that, here's a link to the Dept. of Agriculture's nifty interactive Food Pyramid program, which can actually be downloaded for easy access on your phone, PDA, or peecee. Sadly, my Mac self must resort to more analog sources.

Knock your crazy selves out, if the heat doesn't do it first.

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Man. All this talk about cookies has me craving something sweet. Maybe I can go and get myself some kulfi from somewhere. Argh. But I'm in Brooklyn, and it's gelato, icies, or ice cream galore, but alas, no kulfi.


Hope that someone out there - somewhere - is having kulfi. Have some more on my behalf.

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Learning While Black.

Here's another one for the profiling docket: Middlebury College student O'Neil Walker, an honors student from the Bronx who was attending the college on a prestigious full scholarship from the Posse Foundation has been suspended based on the allegation that he "entered a classmate's dorm room last winter without permission."

Are you kidding me? Read the full article to see how this is panning out for Walker, and how the justice system seems to have failed him within this particular example.

I don't know either way about this particular case, but I remember a number of incidents of blatant profiling of African American and other students in the SUNY system when I was a student. I remember in 1992, when a 77-year old woman in Oneonta was burglarized, and she claimed that it was a black man. The scale of profiling, from turning every black man in town into a suspect to the handing over of a list of all black male students at SUNY Oneonta to the local police, was horrific.

I remember in 1994, when a college freshman at SUNY Albany claimed that she'd been cornered, attacked, and otherwise trespassed upon in her dorm room, and that it was a black male who did it. The level of frenzy that was created as a result of her bombastic statement, which was later disavowed (it was her father who had attacked and beaten her), was ridiculous.

And I'm sure that this is only the tip of the iceberg. When will it end? When will students who are not white or privileged in some other way (ie: I definitely think that I was privileged in my ability to transcend my small white-town upbringing and come into my own in relative freedom and safety) be able to enjoy the same feeling of safety on campus from the harsh, bigoted, and just plain wrong treatment that so many folks face in the non-academic world?

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Jul 18, 2005

Got Peek Freans?

Digital Rotation
Shakira: Fijacion Oral [get it here if you're interested]

It's more humid than a hippo's armpit in NYC today. Sweating bullets, but blogging nonetheless. Just a quick note about something extraordinarily mundane to the casual reader in search of something more substantial about diasporadic dilemmas. Sorry, but I can't think in this oppressive climate. I'm all for green buildings and renewable energy, but I really need to partake in some deep, energy depleting A/C saturation right about now. I am not a big fan of fans.

Anyway, bring on the trivial!

I have noticed in the past 2 years of grocery shopping that an old favorite cookie of mine, the Peek Frean fruit creme, has disappeared from the shelves of all area grocery stores. I don't know when this happened, or why, but I can't find their standard, butter cookie surrounding red fruit center with delectable creme filling (of a kind unparalleled in any other cookie I've had, even my other favorite, Vienna Fingers). In recent years (before the untoward disappearance), I found Lime, Mango, and Lemon variations on this theme, and discovered that a co-worker was also a huge fan of the cookie (though she preferred to refrigerate them, turning the center into a harder, chewy substance that rivals most candies of the same consistency).

What happened to these cookies? I can't find anything from the company on the shelves in Brooklyn, and I don't know if they have stopped supplying companies here, or what the deal is. Thanks to the internet, a few passing moments of realization and then contemplation are now replaced with overzealous fixation, resulting in some partial answers, but still no cookies.

I found out that Peek Freans was a British company established in 1857 (what a year), and that there is in fact a desi connection (their first "international" factories were created in Calcutta in 1924. Great. Even in my hazy, sugar-craving dizziness, I can't believe that this was a "nice" company to the local folks). Anyway, they've since been swallowed up by Nabisco.

I haven't asked my local grocers what's up (though I don't remember seeing the cookies on these shelves at all, so I may have to see if they ever carried them). I plan to email the company to see what gives, but meanwhile, I've found that they are not available on Fresh Direct or Peapod, either, so I'm fresh out of ideas. Got any to spare?

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Jul 16, 2005

Don't be a Muggle.

The new installment of Harry Potter was just delivered to my doorstep by owl post. The only real question is, should I finish reading Jane Jacob's latest, Dark Age Ahead (no, Saurav, it's not about you), or should I just plunge into the book that's breaking the world record for first printings with an initial run of more than 10 million?

I'll be out of touch for a while.

Warning: There are spoilers in the comments below! (You've been warned)

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Jul 14, 2005

Revisiting "South Asian" Identity

I have tried to stay away from this very basic topic for as long as I could, but in the wake of the London: 7/07 revelations that second generation Britons of Pakistani descent are responsible, and the requisite fallout in desi circles (virtual or otherwise) concerning the "lumping together" or "meaningless" South Asian meta-label, I feel that I should at least put some of these thoughts out there, for better or for worse.

This was fueled by two long and winding threads on Sepia Mutiny (linked above), a wonderful source for news, trivia, and commenters with keyboards and boring/no dayjobs. The blog collective runs in the benign to quite clever range, but the commenters are all over the map. Regardless, some trolls, daemons, and otherwise bored internet junkies are insistent on smacking down the "South Asian" grouping. Is it insecurity? Is it legitimate? Is it missing the point altogether?

Personally, I am sick of explaining South Asian American identity to people (generally folks who didn't grow up in the States/Canada, go through the education system here, and have a massive chip on their shoulder about non-subcontinental born brown folk), and who feel so threatened by it that they have to rant in some of the few spaces where we can actually critically look at these issues through this lens. I use "South Asian" as a political identity. I recognize the differences between the different groups, and hope to learn more about them while recognizing what we share together.

I wish people would recognize that "South Asian" - like the hotly contested "Asian American", "Latino", "Black" - are all political identities. They should be affirmative identities, not fallbacks just because outsiders (racists, governments, etc) feel that we should all be grouped together. If someone doesn't agree with the political identity, that's fine. But if they fear that a South Asian identity disallows more specific cultural, religious, sexual, national (not a personal preference) identities, I think that they are missing the point. In the previous thread on this topic, there was a call to "try to go back to South Asia" but that misses the point too: we are Diasporic populations with converging experiences as a function of those migrations, be they first migrations from South Asia, second migrations via London, or much more complex migrations via Fiji, Uganda, Guyana, Trinidad, or some other place.

"South Asian America", to me, is a space where I can explore my solidarity with folks who I actually do feel distinct closeness with, as well as being able to safely (I hope) explore my personal identities as a Jain, as a Gujarati, as a man, as a second generation American of color. We each represent the intersections of identities, and that's what makes it so wonderful to be conscious, and to embrace these differences even within ourselves. Why isn't that obvious to everyone? Why do folks have to turn this into an "either/or" conversation? It's like the old debate of "are you Indian or are you American?" which I still hear. Shit, man, I'm me, and I'm all of these things. I can take the complexity. If you can't, that's not my problem.

I am not confused about my identity - I'm refusing to resort to jingoism, knee-jerk reactions whenever something unpleasant happens, or even pro-"South Asian" folks who essentialize the real and challenging diversity within our communities into a new and hip version of "Indian." We still have some ways to go, but we can still create solidarity amongst folks with subcontinental roots, when it makes sense. As I've explored in these pages before, I'm certainly not convinced that race-based organizing is the only, nor even moderately effective way to attack issues of social injustice. But it's such a good way to begin the dialogue with some people, especially educated, curious, and sheltered young people who haven't stepped outside of the ideology, assumptions, and inherent biases laid out for them by their upbringing.

And for some folks, South Asian America (or Canada?) is a safe space where they actually feel like they can belong. I've had numerous conversations with people who don't feel comfortable with an ethnic identity, or are exploring where they fit in (as minorities of religious, Diasporic, language, multi-ancestral, national origin, orientation, gender, etc.). They feel that "South Asian America" is a safe space where they can belong, and that should be reason enough to justify its currency with those invest in it.

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Sweetwater Festival [Latifah, Badu, Scott]

Tuesday night I had the chance to see Queen Latifah, Jill Scott, and Erykah Badu at Jones Beach all on one bill, for the low cost of $20.00 for my ticket, plus $5.90 for TicketMASTER. I had been very excited about the show, and it didn't disappoint, save for the shorter than anticipated (and desired) individual sets. But a lot of highlights, and definitely more fodder for the blogger.

We got to the venue about 20 minutes before the listed curtain call of 7:00 PM, took in the environs of beach, sun, and water, and walked to security. I had realized that in the many shows that I'd seen at Jones Beach over the past 10 years, this was the first in which the crowd was more earth-toned than lily white. My metal shows have always been painfully mono-chromatic, and I have become obsessed with racial dynamics instead of the music. I felt more comfortable in this crowd, though it seemed that the venue itself wasn't as welcoming; the lines to get through security seemed to be far slower than, say, the Sting/Annie Lennox show that we attended last year, even though the throngs were larger in the latter.

The crowd at the concert was actually far smaller than I'd expected, and though people drifted in over the course of the evening, it was still only 65 - 70% full. Perhaps the location of the venue, distance from NYC, and virtual inaccessibility by public transportation factored into this, but I was definitely surprised. I jumped at the chance to see Badu and Jill Scott, so I don't know what others were sleeping on this one.

We missed almost all of Floetry, the opener, as we looked for drinks, our seats, and some semblance of comfort in the increasingly chilly night. The next performance was a trio, with Queen Latifah, Erykah Badu, and Jill Scott doing an old song (I think) and bringing the crowd to their feet. Queen Latifah took over, bringing a great energy, heart, and dynamism that got the crowd excited. The elder of the group, the Queen also had more currency with the 30-somethings who remembered her breakout hits like "Unity" and "Ladies First". I didn't know much of Latifah's music, but I have so much respect for her as a pioneer: in her work as a woman in hip-hop, in her series "Living Single", in her performance in the musical Chicago, which gave her a nod from the Academy, in her selection as Maybelline covergirl and Curvations spokesperson, and finally, in her latest album of jazz.

The Queen was comfortable, happy to be in the NYC area, and rolled out a mix of her old skool hits and her newer stuff. She just looks like she's having fun, and I have to give her credit for going out with these ladies, who are known for their singing chops. She was confident, positive, and charming, and her old songs carried really well with the crowd. Her new stuff, which she revealed intermittently throughout the set without her trademark temerity, was more of a mixed bag. It felt like she was feeling her way around the new material, trying to fill this amphitheater on the ocean with sounds that were more personal. It was heartening to see how earnest she was, and her voice is strong and unwavering, which leads me to believe that if she continues in this direction, albums that follow could be stronger, with more variation. But the energy of these songs, no matter how much I love the sound, was hard to swallow next to her hip-hop songs. It's just very difficult to change gears that quickly for me as an audience member, so I think that at some point, she'll have to choose when she performs.

There was one clear misstep, though. The choice of reinterpretting "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and Papas as a jazz standard, was ill-advised. The original is too well-shaped and distinct. It is too difficult to deconstruct the song and reenvision it as anything else. Which makes the work of the songstress that much more difficult as she is trying to suspend our skepticism and paint a picture of longing, across the space of the theater, and the span of 3 minutes. Though her singing was fine, it didn't work for me. But she closed out the set with a stand-up, walk through the crowd version of "Unity", and there was no way that a few hiccups could dissuade us from feeling that she'd done a great job of this performance.

Jill Scott was next, and with her opening salvo of "Golden", you knew that she was at home on the stage, a diva by nature, and absolutely in control and loving it. Jill has the mind of an improvisational genius, an ageless voice, and the flair of the spoken word poetess that she was when she first started to perform. Her tone was spot-on, her command of the music breathtaking, and her comfort a joy to watch. She was all about love at this gig, and I started to realize that I love her, but her music focuses on the subject of love more than most of the artists that i listen to. Good relief, yet you need some diversity too (especially since I'm on my quest to find more conscious music). Jill is conscious, and her positivity is really infectious, but I felt like her set list didn't reflect the full range of her lyrical prowess. Still, her performance rocked my world - she can make shit up on the fly, and it's really amazing that she can reimagine a song that already has so much life to it (like "A Long Walk") and turn it into something completely different, and yet still so beautiful. She went positively operatic on that number, and I can't even relate it to anything. She has a divine command of her chops, and I am so happy that I got to see her live in Jones Beach. I just hope that I'll get to see her again, when she headlines and has more time than the short 45 minutes that she was on.

I will always remember how I came across Jill Scott, during a car trip upstate, I tuned into my favorite radio station, WVKR (Vassar College Radio), and heard the DJ introduce "Gettin' In The Way." It was a refreshing sound, and I absolutely loved it the minute that I heard it, but couldn't remember the artists's name. I spent much friutless time trying to find it, and finally, figured out that it was Jill Scott. Quickly picked up her album and realized that the single was not a fluke, but only the tip o the iceberg. Haven't looked back since.

Set List: [1] Golden, [2] The Way, [3] Whatever, [4] Cross My Mind, [5] Do You Remember, [6] Gettin' In The Way, [7] He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat),
[8] A Long Walk

Thirty minutes after Ms. Scott left the stage, Erykah Badu's band, led by a fabulous flautist started a great jam, and Badu came on. I've liked Badu's stuff since Baduizm, having gotten into it from the first single, "On and On", the video of which was in heavy rotation on MTV for about 2 months. Her first album was good, and I got Mama's Gun quite late, but it was fantastic, absolutely a gem of an album, and I felt, more developed than the first. But it was Worldwide Underground, the most recent disc (which is actually billed as an EP, though it clocks in at more than 40 minutes), which is the most revealing of Badu's ability to transcend the "neo-soul" mania that swept her, Maxwell, Macy Gray, D'Angelo, and a bunch of others under the same rug. WU is one park funk, one part soul, and one part crazy, improvisational MUSIC, music that we should be dancing to - exploring the world to - loving to - living to. It's not revolutionary, but it feels like it has broken with the confines of traditional song structure.

Back to the show. Badu took the stage, and immediately showed us a different stage presence from what we'd seen with the other women. She was confident, but in the zone with her music, and in control of all elements, from the band to the singers. She was intense, driven, and not at all mopey, which, I have to admit, is a bit of what I was expecting. She had command of her singing in a way different from Scott: she has chops, but she has something else driving her, and I could feel the Brooklyn boheme/gangsta, the Black August Collective activist, the soul diva all come together in one amazing package.

Early in the set, she started "Next Lifetime" and stopped within a minute, telling the band, the audience and everyone else that she wasn't feeling it. She must not have felt it all night, as she didn't revisit the song during the rest of the set. She broke down "Danger", explained what the line "brother's got a complex occupation" means - that it was about the dope game, and what was happening to people as a result of the police state that we live in. She got so into the moment, so into the performance, that after the last note faded and the lights shut off, she spoke crisply into the microphone. "Fuck the police." So powerful to hear from her, an artist spoken in the same breath as someone like India.Arie.

Badu was like a soulful, conscious version of Bjork - ecclectic, eccentric, yet still and always in control. Badu was the star of this night for me - and I can't imagine that her shows are at all the same night after night. I would see her again in a heartbeat.

Set List: [1] Green Eyes, [2] Cleva, [3] Otherside of the Game, [4] Danger, [5] ...And On & On, [6] Woo, [7] Bag Lady, [8] Back in The Day ,
[9] Shining Star (with Queen Latifah and Jill Scott)

They closed out with another song together, Shining Star, which went over really well (and devolved into a beatbox session in which Badu showed her street cred, and Scott laughed at herself for being a poetess, but not an MC). I have to admit, I was hoping for more recognition of the crossovers that the different artists have had over the years, from Latifah guesting on Badu's "Love of My Life Worldwide", to Badu's vocal silk on "You Got Me", written by Scott and tracked to perfection by the Roots. But it was a little wishful, and may have been too contrived (though this line of thought reminds me of the medley that Nelly Furtado did in which she paid homage to her many collaborations with diverse folks in the past 3 years).

Between Latifah, Scott, and Badu, you realize that there are a lot of other singers out there who couldn't do half of what they can, and there are a lot of singers out there who are getting compared to them but shouldn't be. These are artists, and it made me feel really wonderful to know that there are some folks who I can listen to as they create art, who will be on par with some of the greatest over time, if they continue what they have been doing. This show was a special celebration of that fact.

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Gujarat's Legacy and Jains

In a recent post on Sepia Mutiny, blogger Abhi mentioned the violent roots of communalism and bigotry that are deep in the soil of Gujarat. One commenter took issue, and while I don't have enough information on history (though this article helps), I would also say that Gujarat has also been a center for the Jain community, which focuses on the central tenets of non-violence and acceptance of many viewpoints.

However, it seems that most active Jain adherents focus on overcoming personal evils and senses rather than societal ills. Or in an interesting extension of their strict vegetarianism, in the recent generation there is an almost activist mentality concerning animal rights/seva (although it was this commitment more than a millennia ago that helped to convert Hindus from their wanton carnivorism to vegetarianism).

I find that to be admirable, but strangely missing the point of social justice, which is so much more interesting to me, and still justifiably in line with the tenets of non-violence. Structural, institutional, and systemic violence against people and peoples exists, and operating as individuals in a world that treats us as members of a group seems like a very American, non-human rights focused, thing to do.

When I raised this point at a JAINA conference, I was told that Jains believe in detachment from world affairs and even relationships, with the ultimate goal of reaching moksh and ending the cycle of reincarnation. But if this is the case, then why are they getting so involved in promoting vegetarianism and saving animals, especially in India? I would love to see more Jains take up liberation struggles, or at least issues like capital punishment, political prisoners, hate speech, or a whole list of other issues that fit within an expanded interpretation of ahimsa.

Perhaps then, Gujarati Jains can offer an alternative to the "Gandhi: Man, Myth, or Monster?", and Hindu-Muslim riots/conflicts/ conflagrations that overpower any debate about Gujarat's contributions to the nation and to the world, and the place of Jainism within the the pan-ethnic rubric of "Gujarati."

As a side note, while looking up references for this post, I found this interesting take on vegetarianism and Islam that includes an analysis of Jainism, as well as a brief summary of the meat-eating history of Hinduism. On another flip of the coin, here is a Jain scholar looking at some basic tenets of Islam. I wish we would hear more of this discourse than the divisive, useless rancor that people take up immediately without thinking about their professed beliefs.

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OT: Our Town

I've been on a documentary binge lately, after seeing March of the Penguins in the theater, we rented Super Size Me and OT: Our Town last night.

March of the Penguins was awesome - nature, drama, even humor in this story about the perseverance of life on the precipice of earthly extremes.

Super Size Me was a great introduction into the evil fast food economy, or at least how awful the food itself is for you. I was really tickled by the fact that it took place in NYC, which I didn't expect, and some of the candid on-the-street interviews were quite enlightening. The style of filmmaking is very straightforward, not nearly as convoluted as Michael Moore's films (though, admittedly, not quite as amusing as watching the walrus of a Michigan'er knocking on people's doors in Toronto). The best part didn't make the actual final cut of the movie, though - "The Smoking Fry", which is part of the DVD package. You have to check it out to believe it. It could have been a documentary of its own.

Now watching OT:Our Town, which I've been meaning to pick up for a while, but finally got around to doing so in light of my desire to see Rize soon, and my interest in the neighborhoods in parts of the country that I that I don't know much about. Basic premise: it traces the staging of Thornton Wilder's Our Town in Dominguez High School, in Compton, where a play hasn't been staged in more than 20 years. Still watching it, but it's just so important to see these young adults who are so much more aware of the stereotypes, challenges, and realities of living in Compton than most adults who are outside of this community. Seeing the students struggle and make this play their own is really amazing. Realizing the privilege I had of choosing not to be in a play in my high school reminds me to keep myself in check when I think about identifying with folks who have struggled.

Any other suggestions for docs that I should watch? I really love When We Were Kings, and am hoping to see Genghis Blues and Amandla! soon.

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Jul 12, 2005

DC: Not all Wily Wonks

Saurav mentioned a really cool DC cafe of which he was a patron (and we were not). In light of that revelation, and on a quest to disprove the assumption that the DC area is all about the lawyers, wonks, and power junkies, I started to do a little digging. I've found so far that there is a critical mass of conscious and progressive people in the District and surrounding areas, and there are quite a few interesting developments around the metaphorical corners where the mainstream lives (such as Adams Morgan, DuPont Circle, the Great Lawn Mall. Some great examples of this that I've found so far:

World Arts Focus/Joe's Movement Emporium
: World Arts Focus is a non-profit organization that brings artists and communities together to study the arts, experience performances, and encourage the preservation of cultural performance traditions. Joe's Movement Emporium is our studio facility. [from their website]

Provisions Library: a Radical Resource for Activism and the Arts. I have not yet visited this space, but just reading the website was very exciting, and I love that they have board games around for folks to chill out and play. We don't have a space like this in NYC, or at least, not one that I know of.

SALSA: The Social Action and Leadership School for Activists. Just click. It's that cool.

Vegetarian Guide to DC: It's not all steaks in the District.

Historic Mt Rainier, MD
: Mount Rainier is one of the cooler places in the Beltway. Very progressive, very diverse, very cool. Very not gentrified. Yet.

Sticky Fingers Bakery: I've been there for ice cream, but didn't realize the vegan side of the coin. What a great place. They even bake animal treats.

More to come...

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Jul 9, 2005


As of this account in the BBC News online, there are at least 2 desis amongst the 10 - 15 folks listed as still missing since the near simultaneous attacks in London on July 7th. The picture is of 20-year old Shahara Islam. The other desi listed is Neetu Jain. Let's hope that they and the others are found safe and sound.

UPDATE: According to this account in CNN, Shyanuja Parathasangar is another missing, bringing the total that I've seen up to three. If you're in London, if you know anything, please help to relieve the horror of not knowing for their families. This whole scenario is so reminiscent of the days and weeks after September 11th. In the beginning, hope remains, but until something is found, the process of grieving cannot begin.

FINAL UPDATE: Sepia Mutiny is tracking this list and the stories here.

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In the aftermath of 7/07.

Another tragic, senseless, coordinated attack. Another series of questions about what/where/why/when/how (but no longer who, even though the perpetrators haven't been identified). Another speech about resolve and not letting the terrorists win. Another collection of opinion-whores spewing out angry diatribes and asking where the moderate Muslims are to prove that this isn't indicative of the violence that must be inherent in their religion. Another community/faith/opinion leader from a beleaguered and tired community who must come onto the airwaves proclaiming love of nation-state, love of freedom, love of peace, and declaring that these terrorists, these perpetrators must be stopped, conduct acts against humanity, and are part of a fringe group.

I don't understand why the mainstream press doesn't tackle this issue. I don't understand why people can't see how humiliating, and sometimes self-defeating, it is to have so-called Moderate Muslims (as if they are a rare breed) parade on television and proclaim their outrage.

First, do people really think that the perpetrators of these crimes are truly of a faith? Or is this racial and ethnic stereotyping in the guise of religious branding?

Second, does it really quell the anger and resentment of white and other citizens to have someone come on television with a damnation of terrorism when they are only seeing red, or brown, and looking for someone to blame?

Third, why does everyone expect them to come out, anyway? Do we just take for granted that everyone should be a public apologist and dartboard for the actions of fringe extremists who claim to share your faith? If so, there are a whole lot of Christians in the United States who should be hemming and hawing about all the handiwork of the Cross burners continue to do around the nation.

Finally, engage these communities more deeply, and stop asking questions with the hope of trying to get someone to admit that they were rooting for the fringe few. These are not foreigners amongst us, if only we open our hearts more fully to them. In the carnage strewn upon our broken streets, dreams, and skyscapes, our bloods mingle, our ashes are spread together to the wind.

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Jul 7, 2005


It has been a harrowing 2 weeks, first with my brother-in-law's very serious accident, and then the sudden and unexpected loss of my Masa. With other life events pushing their familiar heads up to remind me that time marches on, I feel like I haven't had the time to really process all that's happened.

Death is never an easy thing to process, and with my Masa being in India, it still feels very distant, very unreal. Unlike other relatives, I've been quite close to him over the course of my adolescence and adult life, and his example has helped to shape my aspirations of a life worth living. He went through tremendous hardship while growing up, made a life and a name for himself through his own business, raised 4 intelligent and loving children, and supported both the full extended family and the general community in Ahmedabad. He actually knew my father while they were in college, which connected him to my Mom beyond the fact that he was married to her sister for nearly 50 years. My father had respected him so much, and I will always remember the times that they were able to spend together, and the things that Masa told me about my Dad after he passed away years ago.

Masa was the kind of person who would ask you about your family if you were Gujarati, and almost always come up with someone who is either related to you, or would know your family well. He was even able to do that with non-Gujaratis. His grasp of current events, his ability to stay in touch with current developments in his neck of the woods and abroad, his incredible ability to stay in touch with everyone via phone, email or letter, even at 70, and his clear vision concerning Jainism and seva for community members who weren't as fortunate as he are all things that I will always remember.

Masa had a booming voice that filled a room almost as much as his laughter, which came from deep inside. He was the first person to explain the Namokar Mantra to me, going syllable by syllable to explain this central piece of Jainism to me. He was a gentle soul, one who would shed tears when he heard of others' pain, had a legendary temper before he conquered it, and organized a great deal of social good on a small scale in Ahmedabad.

I will miss him so much, from his periodic emails in large typeface, to his Yahoo! Messenger notes that just let folks know that he had logged on. I associate my trips to India with him. Sometimes it felt like he would be more concerned about my schedule and making sure that I was all set with my agenda than I was. He took such care of us, and welcomed us into his home and heart as if they were our own.

Previously, I've written about my family in a tone that isn't altogether positive, but it's at times like this when I realize how much I value having a network of relatives who care for one another the way that they do. Politics will always be a difficult area to traverse, and political consciousness has to grow gradually, but that bond that comes from blood is very hard to replicate with friends or other acquaintances.

Losing someone close to you is never easy. But when it's someone who has touched so many members of your family, and touched you in so many profound ways, it almost feels like you're in a collective mode of disbelief, waiting for the dawn of the next day to break, waiting for the sudden realization that you are a little more alone now. Waiting for the cold empty feeling that comes when you realize what you've left unsaid.

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Jul 2, 2005

While I spent some time in a tranquil space dedicated to Tibetan art, a very dear and important member of our family passed away. I am sad, but also trying to be reflectful, and recognize that he would not have wanted us to grieve for him, but rather to commit our time and energy to making this world slightly better for those that we care about, and conquering our own selfishness, anger, and egos on our paths to enlightenment. I have so far yet to go, but his example must remind me.

Peace to y'all for a while.

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