Monday, June 7

Exit stage left

Folks, I’m dissolving this merry band of blog travelers here at Ultrabrown. We’ve had a great four-year run.

I’ve found the blog is highly distracting from the day job (tech startups). It feels like leaving IM open all day- an erudite, fascinating chat room, but one pulling constantly at my easily distracted brain. I’d also like to channel this creative energy, nearly a million words from ‘00 to ‘10, into finishing my first novel. Cranking down the posting frequency didn’t really work, as blogging seems to use the same creative muscle.

If you use Twitter, do follow me at @Manish_Vij. I may return to writing at after the book is done. Also check out my co-bloggers’ work at their respective sites:

I remain a huge fan of their work and am deeply grateful to them for letting me share it with a wider audience. Many weeks I’ve been blissful about the salon we’ve run. It’s been one of the best South Asian literature and arts blogs out, in my humble opinion. And as readers, y’all have been fabulous. I’ve learned incredible things from you. Thank you.

· · · · ·

Who would’ve guessed six years ago that an awkward, skinny brown man would become governor of a Southern state, or that another awkward, skinny brown man would host a major awards show and land a three-picture deal; that a brown woman could well become the second desi American governor; that a woman who didn’t look like a model could become a force on The Office; that one summer, desis would feature in the top book, movie and TV show in America; or that we’d have a biracial president by 2009?

My fondest wish with all desi blogs is that they eventually no longer need to exist, because their topics are well-covered in the mainstream, and issues of racism, stereotyping and prejudice reduced to vestigial rumps. We’re a long way from that goal, but a good deal closer than when I started on this trip, working on a black-and-white zine called Hum (Us) in 1994.

I always thought our community would eventually be as integrated as desis in Canada and the UK, where you can’t turn a channel without running into a brown anchor. I didn’t foresee it happening this quickly. For all the ways in which America remains deeply tribal, it is also beautifully and pragmatically open to an Aziz Ansari or a Nikki Haley in a way that few other countries seem to be. One grew up Muslim, the other Sikh; Aziz strutted around in a white tuxedo last night and never even bothered with a stage name.

My father’s tech generation often Anglicized their goodnames, started their own businesses because they couldn’t get promoted, and were forced to hire white CEOs anyway because nobody would buy from a desi. And now the former PM of Britain is asking Vinod Khosla for a job. Mindblowing.

Can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m making popcorn.

· · · · ·

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Saturday, June 5

It’s Saturday Dance Time.

Today's SDT is a good depiction of what my summer life looks like.

A sexified version of "Chariots of Fire" plays in the background; I frolic by the poolside with my elderly, bearded lover; his homely heiress wife looks on in horror after returning from facial reconstruction surgery that was deemed necessary because she was thrown from a rowboat during her honeymoon and a crocodile ate her face, and now she's vowing to become a model and steal her husband back from her best friend (me) in order to kill him.

My uncle took me to the cinema to watch this film and I dragged him back for a second showing a few days later. I think it was the first female-led Hindi film I'd seen and I enjoyed how it made me want to scratch Kabir Bedi's dutty face. Happy Friday!

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Friday, June 4

The Gobi Manchurian Candidate

[South Carolina state senator Jake] Knotts says he believed Haley has been set up by a network of Sikhs and was programmed to run for governor of South Carolina by outside influences in foreign countries… “We got a raghead in Washington; we don’t need one in South Carolina,” Knotts said more than once. “She’s a raghead that’s ashamed of her religion trying to hid it behind being Methodist for political reasons”…

Knotts says he believes Haley’s father has been sending letters to India saying that Haley is the first Sikh running for high office in America. He says her father walks around Lexington wearing a turban. “We’re at war over there,” Knotts said. Asked to clarify, he said he did not mean the United States was at war with India, but was at war with “foreign countries.” [Free Times]

Ladies and gentlemen, state senator Jake Knotts, elected representative of Lexington County, South Carolina. And lest you think he’s an ignorant asshole:

“She’s a f#!king raghead,” Knotts said. He later clarified his statement. He did not mean to use the F-word. [Free Times]

To superpatriot Jake Knotts, we’re at war with Eastasia. We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

By the way, the South Carolina flag looks awfully Moroccan. Just sayin’.

Related posts: Antidisestablishmentarianism, J’accuse, Nikki Haley

Thursday, June 3

Aakash Nihalani

I've been following Aakash's work for some time now, it's been great to see his progression. He lives in Brooklyn and does this thing called "street art." He works in different mediums including, tape, paint and wood. Here's his latest piece titled ‘Stop Pop + Roll' that he put up in NYC, diggin it. Make sure to check out the process...


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Wednesday, June 2

Sexy Time.

I shot this great hand-painted billboard on my last trip to Bangalore, shit's hot. I'm pissed that I didn't go inside to check out the flick, I might've pulled a Pee-Wee.

"See The Picture, Learn The Matter, Win the Sex Life!"
(bottom right of billboard)


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Cloudy vision

Over the past month, there's only been one thing to do while skin turned into something like soggy velcro to which everything clung uncomfortably: stare and the sky and wish for clouds. Of course, if and when the rains do come, we'll all be cursing the waterlogging that makes us wade through all the icky muck of this city. Right now, however, the clouds that will be source of future misery are the one thing that makes the spirit soar just a little. Armed with my little camera, I've been counting clouds as they came over Bombay — first, thin and wispy and then, plumping up little by little — and building cloud castles of rain.

Click to see slides.

Last night, a little past the witching hour, it rained. One moment, everything was stuffed with sweaty silence and suddenly with a whoosh, there was rain. You had to peer past the darkness and look for the occasional glint in the orangey streetlights to believe that it had finally, finally rained. And within minutes, it was over. Today, the clouds were fleshier and more dimpled than ever, as though they'd all fattened themselves overnight on our hopes that today would be just a smidgeon cooler. It wasn't.

Tuesday, June 1

Thoughts on Blaft’s Tamil pulp fiction

Blaft’s second pulp-fiction anthology is out and it’s every bit as enjoyable as its predecessor. Thicker too. It doesn’t quite have the variety of the first book, which included many short, short pieces – this one has just seven stories (including a pictorial thriller starring “Karate Kavitha”) spread out over 500 pages, which means most of them are novella-length. But Pritham K Chakravarthy’s translations are excellent, and there are more of the eye-popping jacket images and smatterings of trivia that held many of us in thrall when the first anthology came out.

The things you can learn from these books. Did you know, for instance, that the Coimbatore-based writer Rajesh Kumar is trying to dethrone L Ron Hubbard as the world’s most published writer in the Guinness Book of Records? Apparently Kumar has written nearly 1,500 pulp novels – crime stories, science fiction, romance – since the 1960s. I thought his detective story “Hello, Dead Morning!” was one of the highlights of the new anthology. You wouldn’t expect a prolific, mass-market writer who produces at least 10 pages every day to concern himself too much with form and structure, but this is a genuinely well-crafted tale, interspersing a murder/suicide investigation with other events whose chronology (or connection to the main plot) is not made clear until the end. I thought it was a more than satisfying miniature whodunit (or, more accurately, whadhappened).

In the best tradition of racy, populist writing, some of these stories inhabit a puritanical moral universe of their own. There are traces of sexism, even misogyny, in a couple of them: in Kumar’s story, for instance, a young woman’s interest in “blue films” leads to a thorough degeneration in her character, and an eventual punishment that’s grossly disproportionate to her “sin”. This ties in with the orthodox notion that women must be upholders of familial and societal morality, and that they will face severe consequences if they stray from the course appointed for them. (A very telling short story by Kumar in the first anthology had a female astronaut sabotaging an experiment meant to determine whether she and her husband could conceive in outer space. “I do not want my child to be born like some guinea pig in a laboratory, without my family around me,” she said. In her Translator’s Note, Chakravarthy mentioned that the first of these novels dating back to the 19th century were ultra-moralistic tales about “the dangers of a hedonistic lifestyle”.)

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Monday, May 31

The Cycle of Car-ma

Here's what I learnt today. If you're in rented accommodation and you want to buy a car (no, I'm not buying one but someone I know is) you have to provide photographs, your PAN card number, a copy of your passport and proof that your landlord owns the flat you live in. So it isn't enough to provide the agreement signed between tenant and landlord, which is a perfectly acceptable proof of one's residential address, but you've got to prove that your landlord owns the place. Why not ask for a letter from the original builder to prove they constructed the building too, while we're at it?

Interestingly, what they don't ask for is a copy of a driving licence. Because if you can afford to buy a car, then surely you can also afford a driver. Either that or you run a taxi service. Whatever the situation bringing you to a car showroom, the driving licence is a superfluous detail when buying a car. In any case, it doesn't really mean anything. The chap who was buying the car has a driving licence and can't tell the clutch from the accelerator. His driver has one too and, while he does know the function of the different pedals at his feet, to say he drives is like saying me walking in circles on my tippy toes is equivalent to a pirouette.

However, Honda showroom girl had her real moment of glory when she began organising the test drive. The car could be brought to a preferred address, she said, and at whatever time was suitable to the buyer. His driver could whizz around in it. I got a withering glance but no answer when I asked if there was a time or kilometre limit to the test drive. Everything seemed set and the buyer said (pointing to the one he'd chosen), "Ok, so you'll send this model on Wednesday to my address?"

"No, sir," replied Honda showroom girl. "I'll come personally with this model." She was pointing to a completely different model.

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The scorching winds of change: rediscovering Garm Hava

I’m sitting in my favourite DVD-browsing space – the shady, lizard-ridden attic of the Palika Bazaar shop that sells “original copies” of world-cinema titles at Rs 150 – when the salesman leans across and whispers, “Saab, mere paas ek bahut special film hai. London mein copy banaaya. Poore India mein aapko sirf iss dukaan mein milegi.” (“I have a very special film, copied from a London print – you won’t get it anywhere else in India.”) So saying, he unwraps a DVD of M S Sathyu’s Garm Hava.

It’s a strange little moment, incongruous to the setting; normally, the man would be using this hushed tone to hard-sell a porn film. More bizarrely, just a couple of days earlier I was speaking with an aunt about the puzzling unavailability of Sathyu’s film in the Indian market. (She saw it a couple of times on its initial release in 1973 and has never been able to get it out of her mind – especially the haunting soundtrack with the “Maula Salim Chishti” qawwali. I saw it as a child on TV and was unable to appreciate it then but was keen to see it again.) For a movie that’s considered one of the key works of the “Indian New Wave” of the early 1970s, it seemed to have gone underground, never to resurface.

Naturally, I bought the DVD. The print was poor – faded colour, spots and scratches, a couple of seconds of film missing here and there – but not as bad as I'd feared. (I wouldn’t have minded subtitles because the Urdu spoken in the film gets a little dense at times; but again, given these experiences, maybe not.)

Garm Hava's opening montage of images about the Freedom Movement and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi is followed by a lengthy shot of Salim Mirza (Balraj Sahni) photographed from a waist-high angle at the Agra railway station, waving at a departing train. His sister is leaving for Pakistan and he’s seeing her off; they’ve spent their whole lives in close proximity, now they are being parted in their old age.

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On Vijaydan Detha’s Chouboli and Other Stories

Every reader of literature makes a conceptual distinction between a folktale and a short story. Folktales have protagonists who are often generic, distinguished by their birth (a prince) or their profession (a potter). In the world of the folktale, creatures change form or come back to life from the dead, the characters are buoyed by boons or buffeted by curses, and good usually wins over evil in a way that is narratively satisfying.

The short story is a more modern form, and can be seen both a response and a rebuke to the folktale. It privileges psychology and interiority, believing that the drama of the human mind is just as striking as that of worldly action. It also disdains magic, although it frequently invents fantastical and imaginative premises of its own. Morally, the short story is not committed to upholding virtue or goodness; narratively, it is not committed to always finding a clear resolution. A folktale is something that can be repeated and retooled; a short story, if its essence is to be kept, can only be read, privately or aloud, because it is the linguistic creation of an individual imagnation.

Can a piece of narrative prose then be both a folktale and a short story? To have done so seems to be one of the achievements of the octogenarian Rajasthani writer Vijaydan Detha. As Detha’s splendid American translator, Christi Merrill (who works on Detha in tandem with the poet, folklorist and translator Kailash Kabir, who has himself translated Detha's works into Hindi), observes in her introduction to Chouboli and Other Stories, Detha’s writing involves both conservation and creation, notation and invention. For decades, as part of the work his organisation called the Rupayan Sansthan, Detha has been bringing together, as AK Ramanujan did, all the folktales he found told around him, and writing them up in the same language – Rajasthani – rather than the Hindi of which Rajasthani is often considered a poor cousin, thereby preserving and dignifying not just a corpus of oral literature but also the language in which it has been passed down over time. Chouboli asks us to understand it as a double act of translation: first by Detha from oral Rajasthani into the written, and then by Merrill and Kabir from the written Rajasthani into English.

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Saturday, May 29

The ABCD’s of cooking

Last night I donned an apron and made my mudda-fadda proud. Mr. Moustache introduced me to this wicked cooking blog called The ABCD’s of Cooking. The all-veg recipes looked great but now that I’ve got my hands dirty I can also say that they work great. Chitra’s recipes take a heavy dose of Indian and mix it with other worldly influences for recipes that are thoughtfully designed and easy to prepare. The shahi paneer I tried is hella good. Mr. Moustache can vouch for the palak paneer. I also like to drool at pictures of the supper club she hosts at home.


Chitra and her friend, Sabra — AKA Masala Loca — are share their delicious wares at the Greenpoint Food Market. Go get ‘em.

Photo Credit: Sheng Wang

[by Unibrow]

Thursday, May 27

In stores soon

The year-end short-story special that I co-edited for Tehelka in 2008 has just been published in book form, by Hachette India.

The book contains 10 of the original 15 stories, as well as two newly commissioned ones (by Brinda Charry and Ahmad Saidullah), and I’m very pleased to see it out after all this time. Do look out for it and spread the word.
Wednesday, May 26


Have a look at the closing ad Nikki Haley’s running in the GOP primary for governor of South Carolina: ‘It’s no longer about electing Republicans, it’s about electing conservatives,’ ending in a booming endorsement by Sarah Palin.

Catch that? Haley, like many members of Congress this term, is running on a Tea Party message against the establishment. I’m not like those other Republicans, says her ad. I’m a true believer, just like you.

For a GOP base obsessed with ostensible authenticity, this is a remarkably disingenuous message. On what grounds can Haley plausibly be an outsider? She’s currently a state representative. She’s the longtime protégé of the current governor of South Carolina. She’s endorsed by the state’s current first lady and by Mitt Romney, who nearly became the GOP’s nominee for president. She’s also backed by the former VP nominee whose engagement contract specifies chartered jets and high-end hotels and who claims to be a populist.

In the ways in which Haley’s genuinely an outsider, she’s run in the opposite direction, away from emphasizing her gender, ethnic background or religious heritage at birth.

In a poll before Affairgate, Haley’s lead surged from 11% to nearly 20%, making her far and away the leader for the next governor of South Carolina. Are desi Americans’ first two second-gen governors going to be hard-right wingnuts? Really?

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Kiing of my domaiin

Naming a new Internet startup the other day, I suddenly realized the value of doubling up vowels and consonants. It’s less numerology, like the ever-annoying Delhii Heights, more about finding an address not already farmed by domain speculators and spammy ads.

A few years ago I found myself on a ski holiday in Vermont with several glossy Delhi girls who thought the appropriate attire for four feet of snow was stiletto-heeled boots. On the ride up, my companions spent hours talking about shopping. Our cozy bed ‘n breakfast was run by a sweet old gay man who didn’t react well to upper-crust Delhi assertiveness.

Alternately fascinated and repelled by this scene from Sex and the Gurgaon City, I was interrupted by increasingly urgent messages from my ISP.

‘Sir, your domain is about to expire. You have to renew it today,’ urged the phone rep. ‘It’s quite valuable. Three-letter domains haven’t been available for years. I’d also strongly recommend you lock it from being transferred.’

I’m not sure what kind of oddball product could be sold in Amrika under my non-Anglo surname. But I have it on good authority that my rather truncated appellation is a real asset when wooing a Vyjayanti Venkataraman or a Subhashini Chattopadhyay. That’s right, ladies. Size matters. And everyone hates typing.

As for Web domains, I’ve bowed to the logic of Ekkta Kapoor: my next one is short and purposely misspelled. Please forgive me. There was no other wayy.

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction Vol. II

Post news
(Bit) Coke Studio returns with amazing music by Abida Parveen, Arif Lohar & Meesha Shafi, Zeb & Haniya, Arieb Azhar, and Karavan.
(Express) 25 yrs after the world’s worst industrial disaster (over 15,000 people killed), a local court convicted former Union Carbide India Chairman Keshub Mahindra and 7 others — $2,100 fine+ max 2 yrs jail. All were granted bail. [via]
(MTV Vid) Aziz is Zach Galifianakis’ swagga coach.
(MTV Vid) Aziz’ opening monologue at MTV Movie Awards focuses on ‘Twilight.’ More: [via]
Previously: aziz ansari, twilight
(Publicpolicypolling) Haley’s lead’s barely budged, but most disbelieve the allegations and say she should drop out if they’re proven.
Previously: nikki haley
(NYT) ‘Ginger and Ganesh’ is Eat Pray and Love Punjabi Jailbait. (via @soniafaleiro)
(Twitter) Italians in green bindis and sweatpants did interpretative dance to ‘The Impressionist.’
Previously: hari kunzru
(Vid Trailer) American version of ‘Bheja Fry,’ ‘Dinner for Schmucks’ (Carell, Rudd, Wilmore).
(Telegraph Pic) Tory chair Sayeeda Warsi wore pink salwar, not suit, to first meeting of UK coalition cabinet. (ht: S)
(NYT) Ex-Time exec Vivek Shah has bought former PC Mag publisher Ziff Davis, which filed for bankruptcy in ’08.
Previously: vivek shah, ziff davis
(NYT) Hindu Pandits starting to return to Kashmir after facing either militancy or cultural suicide.
Previously: kashmir
(NYT) ‘Raajneeti’: Ranbir Kapoor, the Michael Corleone figure, becomes entangled in the internecine wars of the Pratap clan.
(Nyti) US paying Afghan warlord to protect vs. Taliban he pays to attack US. After 8 yrs of war, this is where we are.
(ToL) ‘A Passage to India’ author stopped writing decent books when he started getting laid (via @shashwati). So nothing’s changed then.
(Vid) Tamil version of ‘Raavanan’ looks much better than Hindi (ht: Lea). See this one.
Previously: raavan, mani ratnam
(Vid) On ESPN, spelling champ from Ohio ask Cavs to keep LeBron James.
(ABC) Speller Anamika Veeramani studied 16 hrs/day since she was 7. Better use of time?
(Hindu) Goa Tourism Minister Mickky Pacheco resigned on Saturday and went underground. He is wanted in connection with the death of a woman and is also facing cases of extortion, assault and a case of bigamy, stemming from a complaint by his former wife.
(Vid) Teaser for Mani Ratnam’s ‘Raavana’ with Aishwarya, Abhishek. More: [via]
Previously: raavan, mani ratnam
(Vid) The Bangladeshi King Kong, with songs. Genius. (ht: Nilanjana)
Previously: king kong, bangladesh
(Newsweek) Knotts shows you can’t be publicly racist about blacks, but you can about Indians, Muslims and Arabs.
(NYT) Knotts compared his racist comment to SNL, but SNL has a script. Also: never go on air inside a saloon.
(NYT) Sonia Gandhi is preparing to install Rahul as PM despite his lack of policy stands. [If Pakistan is an army with a country, India is a single family with one sixth of the world.]
(MoJo·L) In ’30, nat’l bee words included ‘concede’ and ‘license.’ The game has been raised.
Previously: spelling bees
(AP) Shantanu and Anamika sat nervously. Once again, an Indian-American was going to win the National Spelling Bee.
(AP) Anamika Veeramani of Ohio wins National Spelling Bee on ‘stromuhr,’ 3rd desi in a row and 8th in 12 yrs.
(TO Star) Guy murdered his daughter in law to save the family honor(sic). Initially said that the D-i-L wanted to sleep with him and the altercation started when he turned her down. Now he says SHE was having an affair. [So she had to die].
(AP) Shaq challenges bee winner Kavya: ‘I’m ready to go.’ Kavya: ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ She beat Jimmy Kimmel last year even after a 2-word handicap.
(Yale) Jindal’s oil spill berms will start eroding immediately and will be wiped out by a hurricane. [via]
(Physorg) U.S. hacker allegedly stole data from Delhi hacker who got it from U.S. online software store Digital River.
(TPM·L) Globalization hasn’t obliterated the Southeast’s aboriginal racist cracker subculture. Knotts seems to be grasping for Haley as stalking horse of global jihad. Only her parents aren’t Muslim.
(Atlantic) Hirschberg denied similarities between M.I.A. story and her ’92 story on Courtney Love (via @vasugi).
(Cjr) @vasugi: Slamming M.I.A. for being rich and grandiose was a cop-out vs. explaining Sri Lankan politics.
(Greenvilleonline) Like Palin, Jenny Sanford doubles down and keeps backing Haley.
(AP) Protesters at the national spelling bee think simplr speling rools wud be al rite. (ht: harbeer)
Previously: spelling bees
(NYT) ‘Parks’ hired Aziz before they had Amy Poehler or even had decided the concept. (via @soniafaleiro) ‘Human Giant’ was his big break.
(TPM·L) Bauer hinting at attack on Haley’s religion as crypto-Sikh, claims TPM.
Previously: nikki haley
(Free Times) State sen called Haley ‘f- raghead’ and said ‘we’re at war over there,’ accused her father of ‘walking around in a turban’ and Haley of being Sikh Manchurian candidate.
Previously: nikki haley
(MoJo·L) Corruption in Afghanistan so bad, you have to bribe tax guy to file your tax return so you can give them money.
Previously: afghanistan, bribes
(Postandcourier) Bauer challenges Haley to dual polygraph tests, Fox station offers to pay: [via]
(Daily Show Vid) Aasif Mandvi, Olivia Munn argue over whether Indians are Asian, have fun with greenscreen.
(NYT) NYT review of ‘Get Him to the Greek.’ Paul Krugman, Aziz Ansari have cameos.
(Anniezaidi Feb) As soon as the Delhi metro web gets wider, Delhi becomes safer. Women’s safety has so much to do with infrastructure and so little with ‘culture’.
Previously: delhi metro, delhi
(Kalpanasutra) Kalpana photographs glassy noodles Chihuly-style, and Cincinnati.
Previously: photos
(WaPo) Less nerdy kids at the nat’l bee ‘randomly snatched some kids from their parents’ to join a party. ‘We call it the Ambush Crew.’
Previously: spelling bees
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