Jeever Madness
As a huge fan of Mindy Kaling, I was excited to hear that Fox would be previewing the pilot of The Mindy Project online before the show premieres in September. While the episode has many of the expected downfalls of a pilot, there’s definitely quite a bit of potential. As a South Asian American, there is something particularly promising about the character of Mindy Lahiri. While time will still tell if and how the show confronts its star’s race (beyond a throwaway joke in the pilot), it’s quite refreshing that nothing about this character seems predestined by her Indian American background. While it is still perfectly possible to have conversations about race in the show and what it means for the way South Asians are being represented in American popular culture, it’s also possible to discuss the show without mentioning Kaling’s background at all. Mindy Lahiri is not a stereotype, but just as importantly, she’s not just a device disguised as a character whose sole purpose is to launch discussions of race. This subtly dangerous practice is often ignored because its usually such a relief to see characters of color on TV, but in terms of expanding the types of opportunities nonwhite actors have in the entertainment industry, it can be almost as restrictive as character credits like “convenience store worker” or “cab driver.”
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with having characters of color who confront the realities of race. In fact, when this does happen on mainstream television in ways that feel organic, complex, and honest, it’s a reason for celebration. However, there is something extremely problematic about the notion that characters of color must confront race, and The Mindy Project makes major progress in challenging that expectation. Though I doubt it will keep people from using reductive labels, this is no more “a show about an Indian girl” than The New Girl is “a show about a white girl;” while technically accurate, both of these characterizations are insufficient, although for many viewers, such a description would unfortunately be more identifiably lacking in the case of the latter than the former. I will continue watching The Mindy Project to see how it develops, but for the time being, I hope nobody will ask me if I checked out “that show about the Indian girl.”

As a huge fan of Mindy Kaling, I was excited to hear that Fox would be previewing the pilot of The Mindy Project online before the show premieres in September. While the episode has many of the expected downfalls of a pilot, there’s definitely quite a bit of potential. As a South Asian American, there is something particularly promising about the character of Mindy Lahiri. While time will still tell if and how the show confronts its star’s race (beyond a throwaway joke in the pilot), it’s quite refreshing that nothing about this character seems predestined by her Indian American background. While it is still perfectly possible to have conversations about race in the show and what it means for the way South Asians are being represented in American popular culture, it’s also possible to discuss the show without mentioning Kaling’s background at all. Mindy Lahiri is not a stereotype, but just as importantly, she’s not just a device disguised as a character whose sole purpose is to launch discussions of race. This subtly dangerous practice is often ignored because its usually such a relief to see characters of color on TV, but in terms of expanding the types of opportunities nonwhite actors have in the entertainment industry, it can be almost as restrictive as character credits like “convenience store worker” or “cab driver.”

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with having characters of color who confront the realities of race. In fact, when this does happen on mainstream television in ways that feel organic, complex, and honest, it’s a reason for celebration. However, there is something extremely problematic about the notion that characters of color must confront race, and The Mindy Project makes major progress in challenging that expectation. Though I doubt it will keep people from using reductive labels, this is no more “a show about an Indian girl” than The New Girl is “a show about a white girl;” while technically accurate, both of these characterizations are insufficient, although for many viewers, such a description would unfortunately be more identifiably lacking in the case of the latter than the former. I will continue watching The Mindy Project to see how it develops, but for the time being, I hope nobody will ask me if I checked out “that show about the Indian girl.”

…Up in New York City’s Washington Heights, I saw white men with small U.S. flags make the rounds of the immigrant-owned small grocery stores. They banged these flags, which retailed at about $1 each, on counters and said things like “Aren’t you going to be a patriot and buy this flag?” The flags cost the immigrant workers $5 each, but they were far too scared to refuse. The test of loyalty provided a business opportunity for the young white men, and it forced the small shops to fly as many flags as possible. Patriotism is not, in this instance, the refuge of scoundrels. It is an act of desperation.

Vijay Prashad, Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today

Prashad’s follow-up to The Karma of Brown Folk arrives at a hugely significant moment, as its subject matter is startlingly relevant to the recent shootings at the Oak Creek Gurdwara. The book also covers the post-9/11 rise of Islamophobia among American Hindus, as well as the political strategies adopted by the rising Hindutva lobby in the United States. For those interested in the South Asia diaspora, Prashad’s book is a must-read!

"We are not Muslims" hasn’t been so effective for our community, has it? Even if we do so in a positive way that does not condone attacks on Muslims, simply educating the public about the fact that we are a distinct community and that we in fact "are not Muslim" will not get to the root of the problem. As long as we live in a country (and world) where an entire community (in this case, Muslims) is targeted, spied on and vilified, we will not be safe, we will not be free.

This is an important article from earlier this year that clearly resonates with today’s tragic events. This is a significant point both for the media and South Asians responding to the horrifying violence in Oak Creek.

Promotional stills for Deepa Mehta's upcoming adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight’s Children.

Adapting Midnight’s Children seemed like an impossible task, and I was doubtful that this film would actually happen until production actually started. There seemed to be far too much in the novel for an easy film adaptation, and Rushdie’s style seemed especially difficult to translate to the screen. That being said, I’m not one to get up in arms about a film’s fidelity to its source if the film can stand on its own merits. Even if much of the novel had to be cut to allow for a running time under three hours, I’ll be happy if the adaptation can both capture the spirit of the novel and find originality and innovation as a work of cinema.

ReRecord (2009) by Ajit Chauhan 
Via the Saatchi Gallery:

American born Ajit Chauhan, based in San Francisco, is an artist attempting to subvert our sense of perception by reorganizing existing visual languages. For one of his most recent body of works entitled ‘ReRecord’ Chauhan uses old vinyl albums. The work is composed of 160 erased record covers pinned together onto a wall, forming unresolved and slightly faded portraits that recall and highlight the ephemeral nature of things. The record covers can be seen as a marketing tool & a form of expression. They are an expression of marketing, which is playfully undermined. Chauhan’s unresolved portraits are rendered abstract and a reoccurring absence of detail unsettles any sense of something more substantial. Chauhan’s playfulness, upon what already exists, amounts to a work of delicate resolve and mild amusement.

ReRecord (2009) by Ajit Chauhan

Via the Saatchi Gallery:

American born Ajit Chauhan, based in San Francisco, is an artist attempting to subvert our sense of perception by reorganizing existing visual languages. For one of his most recent body of works entitled ‘ReRecord’ Chauhan uses old vinyl albums. The work is composed of 160 erased record covers pinned together onto a wall, forming unresolved and slightly faded portraits that recall and highlight the ephemeral nature of things. The record covers can be seen as a marketing tool & a form of expression. They are an expression of marketing, which is playfully undermined. Chauhan’s unresolved portraits are rendered abstract and a reoccurring absence of detail unsettles any sense of something more substantial. Chauhan’s playfulness, upon what already exists, amounts to a work of delicate resolve and mild amusement.

"At the Museum"

But in 2500 B.C. Harappa,

who cast in bronze a servant girl?

No one keeps records

of soldiers and slaves.

The sculptor knew this,

polishing the ache

Off her fingers stiff

from washing the walls

and scrubbing the floors,

from stirring the meat

and the crushed asafoetida

in the bitter gourd.

But I’m grateful she smiled

at the sculptor,

as she smiles at me

in bronze,

a child who had to play woman

to her lord

when the warm June rains

came to Harappa.

-Agha Shahid Ali, anthologized in Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry.

After seeing the author read last week, I finished I Am Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran, a fantastic debut collection that demonstrates incredible range and depth. From a lovesick tiger fighting his instincts to a production designer having an affair with the wife of one of India’s most celebrated “parallel” directors,I Am An Executioner cannot be characterized easily, though it becomes clear quickly that the subtitle of “Love Stories” is quite unexpectedly accurate. Be warned, these stories often get graphic and gruesome. My favorite story in the collection “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan,” which features a man who decides to open a medical practice based on knowledge from borrowed library books, is quite disturbing in its detail, but incredibly powerful nonetheless. I highly recommend Parameswaran’s collection, but if the title wasn’t a tip-off, understand that these are not the types of love stories that Nicholas Sparks might write.

After seeing the author read last week, I finished I Am Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran, a fantastic debut collection that demonstrates incredible range and depth. From a lovesick tiger fighting his instincts to a production designer having an affair with the wife of one of India’s most celebrated “parallel” directors,I Am An Executioner cannot be characterized easily, though it becomes clear quickly that the subtitle of “Love Stories” is quite unexpectedly accurate. Be warned, these stories often get graphic and gruesome. My favorite story in the collection “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan,” which features a man who decides to open a medical practice based on knowledge from borrowed library books, is quite disturbing in its detail, but incredibly powerful nonetheless. I highly recommend Parameswaran’s collection, but if the title wasn’t a tip-off, understand that these are not the types of love stories that Nicholas Sparks might write.

Delhi 2 Dublin- “Nightstep”

This is by far my favorite Subcontinental-Celtic fusion lullaby.

Oil paintings by Shibu Natesan.

Natesan was born in Kerala and currently splits his time between Britain and India, though his paintings cover multiple geographic and cultural contexts.  Ranging from work that explores the representation of non-Western women to the deification of public figures like Bob Marley, Natesan’s paintings identify the ways that spectacular imagery is increasingly naturalized in global visual culture. Deeksha Nath writes of Natesan in Voices of Change: 20 Indian Artists:

Natesan’s paintings while appearing lifelike are not limited to a visual representation of the world but in an intriguing way blur the distinction between illusion and reality, fiction and truth, by the unlikely juxtaposition of visual characters. (184)

[…]

In the interplay between plausible images and implausible juxtapositions Natesan’s is a visual language to which we are accustomed and simultaneously from which we are distanced. One may take a familiar detour into the role advertising has played in creating multiple subterranean narratives and nuanced references for images that masquerade as documents. (188)

Last night, I had the chance to see Tania James read from her new collection Aerogrammes and Other Stories. Ranging in genre from diasporic fiction to historical fiction and fantasy, the collection demonstrates what a talented and versatile storyteller James is.  James discussed her ambivalence towards being compared to other “female Indian lady writers” (as she put it), and her fiction itself resists the pigeonholing experienced by so many “ethnic” writers. Though I’m not quite finished with the collection, I strongly recommend it so far!

Last night, I had the chance to see Tania James read from her new collection Aerogrammes and Other Stories. Ranging in genre from diasporic fiction to historical fiction and fantasy, the collection demonstrates what a talented and versatile storyteller James is.  James discussed her ambivalence towards being compared to other “female Indian lady writers” (as she put it), and her fiction itself resists the pigeonholing experienced by so many “ethnic” writers. Though I’m not quite finished with the collection, I strongly recommend it so far!

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Blue Lindeberg and Waris Ahluwalia at the annual Sikh Parade in New York last Saturday.
Jeans Shirt 5

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Blue Lindeberg and Waris Ahluwalia at the annual Sikh Parade in New York last Saturday.

Jeans Shirt 5

Thought Catalog recently featured an article entitled “NBC’s Smash Takes on the Misappropriation of Indian Culture" that truly bothered me in its simplistic engagement with notions of Orientalism and postcolonial theory.

For many people who have casually read the introduction of Said’s Orientalism, there’s a way that that any  type of cultural production having to do with the “East” produced within “West” can be critiqued as Orientalist, neocolonial, racist, and as a form of cultural appropriation. It’s an easy argument to make that requires relatively little critical engagement, and one that can appear legitimate by using Said’s vocabulary without actually confronting the complexity of his theory. However, reading Thought Catalog’s response to this incredibly minor moment in American popular culture somehow upset me more than the scene itself, which I honestly found fairly insignificant. There’s something strikingly condescending about the way that postcolonial theory is misappropriated to defend “Eastern” cultures without fully engaging with the complex processes of self-fashioning, local modernity, and transnationalism within these cultural forms. Again, it’s pretty easy to point out that the scene conflates Arab culture and Indian culture. It’s a lot more difficult when you have to grapple with the fact that Hindi cinema has a deeply cosmopolitan aesthetic that defies any claims of authenticity. Islamic courtly aesthetics like those found in the Smash scene are an established feature of contemporary Bollywood cinema, and often, Hindi films borrow other cultural aesthetics in a way that can easily fall into the language of “appropriation.” But having to contend with the appropriation of appropriation might complicate easy claims of Orientalism, so obviously that has no place in the critique. Calling something Orientalist has huge stakes. The article features this particularly damning conclusion:

In the scope of three minutes and eleven seconds, Smash’s “One Thousand And One Nights” lambasts the legitimacy of the non-Western world, summons the centuries-old tenets of the colonial mindset, and “allows” the (mis)appropriation of culture. 

Such a sentence is much more disempowering than anything contained in the scene itself. It comes from a mindset so firmly entrenched in the notion that “Eastern” culture is in need of protection from Orientalism that it fails to see the way that Bollywood aesthetics regularly ironically engage with what many can only identify as Orientalist discourses. Ultimately, if you’re going to critique the exoticization of a culture, you better know a lot about the culture that you claim is being exoticized. This article’s failure to see the complexly modern and positively cosmopolitan nature of Bollywood musical scenes ends up reading as incredibly patronizing for those who know these texts, and isn’t that exactly what this article is trying to critique?

I am, however, totally open to any criticisms of the dance itself. As any Desi can tell you, we’ve seen better dancing at most weddings.

"OH I KNOW, IT MUST BE TILDA BASMATI"

This is still my favorite commercial of all time.

Also, considering that the dog knows how to put on sunglasses by itself, that mom should probably treat it better.

Dil Se Re” from Dil Se, performed by A.R. Rahman, Anuradha Sriram, and Anupama.

As I imagine most of my fellow millennial Desis would agree, this is THE defining soundtrack of our youth, yes? There are very few songs I can turn to from my childhood and still fully appreciate in new ways, but every single piece on this soundtrack still continues to impress.