How long, we asked, were his locks? “I cannot believe you asked me that!” he said. “It’s down to the hips.”…He’s removed the turban in movies like The Life Aquatic and Inside Man, but never for a photo shoot. So which fashion magazines would he take it off for? “Purple [He appears in the current issue.]. And I’d do it for L’Uomo Vogue. I believe in art, and I believe in ideas and concepts,” he said. So, no Men’s Vogue? “No.” What about Harper’s Bazaar? Waris pointed to his turban. “They get this.” — “You Can’t Offend Waris Ahluwalia”
Ahluwalia is scheduled to appear on the big screen this fall in vampire flick Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Undead. The film’s myspace page shares interviews with cast members including Ralph Macchio and Waris, who reminisces about his college freshman year interest in the dark arts. The interest didn’t go very far because he wasn’t ready to give up God—”We’re tight.”
Heathrow aiport caterers Eurest UK fired Amrit Lalji, 40, of Stanmore, north-west London, who worked in an airport VIP arrivals lounge, for failing to remove her nose jewelry (BBC). She wore the stud for more than a year before a manager told her to remove it.
Eurest’s official statement includes the following information on the hazards of mixing nath and naan: “Jewellery can harbour bacteria, create a hazard when working with machinery and find its way into the food people eat.” Lalji’s temple, union, and the mayor of London have spoken out against the employer’s decision to dismiss her.
The Stanmore Swaminarayan temple and the Hindu Council UK find the firing unjust and the temple has given “a letter to Amrit, quoting Hindu religious scriptures in order to prove that wearing a nose stud is part of Hindu faith.” Lalji, who came to the UK from Kenya, says “My family is originally from Kutch, Gujarat. As a Hindu, I have imbibed the tradition of wearing the shringar of a married woman from my mother.” (The Pioneer)
Union official Tahir Bhatti states that “this is not a fair way to proceed and must be reversed and dress codes introduced which deal with all religious matters.” (“GMB Member At Heathrow Sacked For Refusing To Remove Religious Nose Pin”) London Mayor Ken Livingstone has described the dismissal as an attack on her right to freely express her religion and on her right as a woman to dress as she wishes. He argued that “the suggestion that wearing a tiny nose stud is a threat to public health and safety is frankly ridiculous. Will this company now be sacking all women with pierced ears?” (The Press Association)
Update: After an internal hearing, Lalji’s employer decided that “the rules relating to facial piercings were mandatory only in catering operations.” She did not engage in catering and has been reinstated. (BBC).
Having Sikhs remove their turbans in public at airports is “like asking a woman to take off her blouse in public,” said J.P. Singh, president of the Sikh Center of the San Francisco Bay Area in El Sobrante. “It’s that bad.” (“Sikh men feel targeted at airports,” San Jose Mercury News)
But a new Homeland Security policy, implemented August 4, allows airport screeners to conduct pat-downs of religious headgear at the screener’s discretion. Previously, travelers wearing turbans were searched only if they failed to clear metal detectors or other preliminary checks.
Kuldip Singh, managing director of United Sikhs, was one of three men pulled aside by a screener on August 12 at the San Francisco International Airport. The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund has heard “dozens of complaints, people being asked to remove their turbans in public and denied the use of a mirror or space to re-tie them” in the last three weeks, according to the group’s director and East Bay resident Kavneet Singh. Read the rest of this entry »
Stuff magazine, not exactly known for its highbrow content, may have crossed a line in its continual quest to whet the prurient appetites of its readership. Alongside a June 2007 quiz entitled “Yoga Pose, Drink or Sex Position?” wherein readers have to decide in which category names like “downward facing dog” and “reverse cowgirl” belong, an illustration labeled “Vice” depicts Hindu deities overindulging in alcohol and having sex.
For me the cartoon is troubling on a number of different levels. Although I support the magazine’s freedom of expression, as a practicing Hindu, I find those images deeply offensive. Also profoundly irritating to me is the obvious ignorance at issue here. While Indian culture today is rather prudish, ancient Hinduism acknowledged and even celebrated sexuality—witness the worship of the obviously phallic Shiva lingam, or the erotic carvings at Khajuraho. But instead of playing on those readily available themes, the artist chose instead to draw Hanuman, noted for his celibacy, having sex.
Read the rest of this entry »
Sunday’s Washington Post profile on Pakistani American high school tennis player Raheela Fazal left me both excited and disappointed. On the one hand, it’s so great to see South Asians in the mainstream press; on the other hand, the story seems to paint Islam and Muslims with one broad stroke. It opens with this:
Raheela’s Muslim peers are baffled by why in the world she would play a sport! Then, the author gives credence to the notion that Raheela’s actions are, indeed, bizarre, by quoting a representative from CAIR:
To be fair, the writer does also quote Maria Massi-Dakake, “an associate professor of religious studies at George Mason University and an authority on Islamic theology,” who says that “views about Muslim women participating in athletics vary within the culture. Taking part, she said, could be interpreted as a violation of modesty.”
I sort of wish that sentiment had been a bit more prominent in the piece, though I do see how, in this case, Raheela and her Muslim peers did come from a background that thought women and sports didn’t necessarily mix, and the modesty aspect is certainly an issue for many Muslims. But in plenty of Muslim countries and households—whether here in North America or “back home”—it does.
My mother, for example, grew up in a very conservative Muslim household in Pakistan, yet she played just about every sport she could: volleyball, basketball, even shot put (though the image of my mom participating in such an activity is even bizarre to me). She never lets us hear the end of how she was the “champion” in all these events in college. I, on the other hand, can’t walk two feet without tripping over myself, so sports were out for me, though not for lack of encouragement from my family (I can scream about basketball louder than any superfan, though). My younger sister seemed to inherit the athletic prowess in our clan and was quite the soccer star in her youth.
Still, it’s lovely to hear Raheela’s story—here’s wishing her continued success as a tennis star in high school and beyond.
I didn’t know today (April 13) was World Turban Day until I heard about it this morning on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show (arguably one of the best shows on public radio—if you don’t live in NYC, listen to it online).
The 17-minute segment was entitled “The Sikhs of New York” and offered a quick and dirty introduction to Sikhism courtesy of Lehrer’s guest, Harsimran Kaur, staff attorney at the Sikh Coalition.
Kaur talked about the five Sikhs who won seats on the Queens County Democratic Committee last fall, making them the first to win elected office in New York. The segment mostly focused on what Sikhism is, why Sikhs wear turbans, the discrimination they faced after 9/11, etc. Most South Asian listeners will find it pretty basic, but there was an interesting moment when a caller named Afreen from Queens asked this question:
I had never heard this crazy misconception, but Kaur clarified that it had no basis. She also reminded listeners that tomorrow is Vaisakhi, the most significant Sikh holiday that commemorates the anniversary of when Sikhs were bestowed their five Ks or articles of faith (Kesh, Kanga, Kara, Kaccha, Kirpan).
So, Happy Vaisakhi to all our Sikh readers! And happy World Turban Day, as well.
Listen to “The Sikhs of New York” segment online
Traditionally forest dwellers, the indigenous Gond people of central India believe that the lives of humans and trees are closely entwined. Trees contain the cosmos; when night falls, the spirits they nurture glimmer into life. It’s not hard to imagine glimmering spirits being nurtured inside the beautifully intricate and luminous trees depicted by award-winning artists Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai and Ram Singh Urveti in The Night Life of Trees book and exhibition, currently showing at the University of Hawaii. Each painting is accompanied by narratives from the artists describing a legend, myth or folktale associated with each individual tree.
Durga Bai is the illustrator of counting book One, Two, Tree! and her work also combines traditional symbols and stories with a contemporary focus on women’s issues and experiences. The work of Bhopal-based Bhajju Shyam includes The London Jungle Book, a striking visual travelogue of his first visit to a western city, a visit undertaken along with internationally-shown artist Ram Singh Urveti to paint the interiors of an Indian restaurant called Masala Zone in London. Elaborate textures filling the figures in the paintings are characteristic of Gond art, which is mostly painted on the walls of homes, and Urveti’s work is said to be identifiable by the motif he uses to fill figures, an arrowhead.
Born in Hyderabad and raised in the UK and the USA, Rishi Reddi is one of the hottest authors in the South Asian community today. A former environmental attorney for the state of Massachusetts, Reddi made her fiction-writing splash two years ago, when a short story of hers published in the Harvard Review was selected by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon to be included in The Best American Short Stories 2005.
After signing a contract with HarperCollins to publish two books, she released her first set, Karma and Other Stories, this past month—to rave reviews. The stories in Karma, set in the Boston area, track the life of an interconnected lndian American community. With her nuanced prose, she wonderfully depicts the depth of her characters and demonstrates the negotiation of their cultures. Check out Nirali‘s May issue for a review of Karma and an interview with Reddi.
The Kerala chapter of PETA India is ringing in Easter a different way this year. The group is interested in seeing eggs banned in the southern state and has been protesting publicly.
“We are showing that eggs signify life and that we should not be eating eggs because chickens also feel the pain,” activist Roshini D’Silva, told the press.
In Thiruvananthapuram, a human-sized chick (not what you’re thinking) burst out of an egg earlier this week and began handing out leaflets. PETA members spoke in front of the Secretariat building, distributing pamphlets that read:
Access this link for a brief history on eggs and the Easter holiday.
I’ve been invited to be a guest writer over at the South Asian Journalists Association weblog, and I’m so honored! My first post is up today—I hope I can do the folks over at SAJA justice. A bunch of awe-inspiring smarties in that bunch, I tell you.
Anyway, I thought I’d re-post my little musings here:
Being a Muslim woman in the West isn’t easy—and if you practice some form of purdah (covering), it can be especially tricky. You want to fit in and assert yourself as a proud, educated, modern woman, but throw on some extra clothes and a headscarf and you might as well be sporting a neon sign on your head that screams, “I’m Muslim! I’m DIFFERENT!” And there are plenty of people who add another meaning to that sign—“She’s oppressed! She can’t think for herself!” (In 2004, Michigan Radio profiled Zoe Piliafas, a college student who donned a burqa for a few months and decided that it did make her feel oppressed. Some Muslim women disagree with her assessment.)
So I was excited to see today’s New York Times piece, “We, Myself and I,” on the challenges Muslim American women face when it comes to merging modesty and style. I’ve been there—I practice purdah, but I also don’t want to leave the house looking like I could not care less about my appearance. Read the rest of this entry »