Mukhtar Mai in Sacramento


Mukhtar Mai is scheduled to appear in Sacramento on December 11 for an event presented by the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the California Credit Union League (see site for event details) and the Pakistani American Association of Greater Sacramento Valley. “An Evening with Mukhtar Mai: Building Schools of Hope Fundraising Event” includes a private dinner, public reception and opportunities to ask questions of Mukhtar Mai. Proceeds of this event go to the Mukhtar Mai School Fund to support the expansion, staffing and ongoing education of her schools.

Sentenced by tribesmen in Pakistan to be gang-raped because of an infraction supposedly committed by her brother, Mai rose to international acclaim in the years following by fighting back and testifying against her attackers and using her compensation to open schools in her village. She travels internationally to speak on behalf of women and continues to expand her schools.

Related: Mohammed Naqvi’s documentary on Mai, Shame, illustrates the international reception Mukhtar Mai has received as a cause célèbre. In this interview, Naqvi takes questions about the implications this international attention has had for her personal privacy and safety, as well as her mission of educating children in rural Pakistan.

Comments Off on Mukhtar Mai in Sacramento         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   December 4, 2007

Guggenheim Glory

Mahanthappa (Jazz Museum in Harlem)

The names of the 2007 Guggenheim Fellows have been announced. And this year, five desi Americans are on the list of the 189 chosen scholars and artists.

The Fellows are selected on the “basis of distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.” Achievement in 78 different fields (“from natural sciences to the creative arts”) is considered. Among the awardees: computer scientists Dr. Sanjeev Khanna of the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Salil Vadhan of Harvard University.

Suketu Mehta, a writer from New Jersey was recognized for his work (remember his Pulitzer Prize-finalist book Maximum City?). Rudresh K. Mahanthappa (a Brooklyn-based composer and jazz musician) and Dr. Arjun M. Heimsath (an earth scientist at Dartmouth) were also given fellowships for success in and dedication to their respective fields.

The Guggenheim Foundation has given out $256 million in fellowship monies since its founding in 1925.

Previous recipients have included Henry Kissinger, Martha Graham, Ansel Adams, Vladimir Nabokov and Linus Pauling.

Congratulations to all awardees (and here’s hoping next year we’ll have some female representation).

Comments Off on Guggenheim Glory         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   April 18, 2007

Look Who’s Talking … Hindustani?

Do you know your Hindi from Hindustani? If not, we’ve got a primer for you. Some of our readers have taken issue with Mira Nair’s statement that her family speaks “Hindustani” (rather than “Hindi”) at home. So asked the experts to get to the heart of the matter.

Turns out, the meaning of the term “Hindustani” has changed over the decades. Dr. Ulrike Stark, Assistant Professor of Hindi Language and Literature at the University of Chicago, notes that originally, Hindustani was used to refer to Urdu and was the official language chosen by the British for the northwestern provinces in the 19th century. At that time, says Stark, “Urdu was still very much a lingua franca spoken by the educated, whether Hindus or Muslims.” And the decision by the Brits to choose Urdu—with its Persian alphabet and Nastaliq script—meant that anyone who knew that language would have an advantage when applying for positions within the civil service and administration.

Mira Nair knows her Hindustani
Mira Nair has been quoted as saying she speaks “Hindustani.”

But that decision backfired. Those Hindus in the civil service who knew Hindi—that is, the Sanskritized script—wanted in on those jobs. They won a victory in 1900, when Hindi, alongside Urdu, also became an official language of the northern provinces.

Fast forward to the Indian independence movement—and the changing of the meaning of the term “Hindustani.” The Hindu nationalist movement grew, and its members decided to frame sanskritized Hindi as the “mother tongue.” Stark explains: “They stylized Urdu into the foreign language … even though it was the language spoken very much by the elite.” As a result, “Urdu was increasingly identified with Muslim culture and Hindi with Hindu culture,” even though Hindustani/Urdu had been the language of the elite and educated—Hindu and Muslim alike—in the 19th century.

Further complicating matters? During the fight for independence, Gandhi decided to promote his own concept of Hindustani: a sort of “middle-ground spoken language that is neither too Persianized nor too Sanskritized.” Unfortunately, Gandhi decided to leave out the issue of script (the written language) altogether, essentially resolving nothing, since as Stark notes, you have to choose a script. Not to mention that this put him at odds with the Congress Party, which was pushing a Sanskritized Hindi—now known as “High Hindi.”

Now you’ve got the backstory—but what does Hindustani mean today? Read the rest of this entry »

8 Comments         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   March 29, 2007

Penn is Penn Professor

Soon-to-be Professor Penn

The Asian American Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania has just revealed that Kal Penn (The Namesake, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle) will join the faculty next spring as a visiting professor.

The decision was announced Saturday night at a banquet celebrating the program’s 10th anniversary. Penn expressed interest in teaching at the school after a campus visit last November, where he spoke about the experience of being desi in Hollywood.

The actor will teach two courses: “Images of Asian Americans in the Media,” and “Contemporary American Teen Films.” (via)

Comments Off on Penn is Penn Professor         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   March 26, 2007

Spreading The Prakash

Sinha (Nature.Com)

Four years ago scientists discovered SRD, a 32-year-old Ahmedabadi woman born into blindness.

Now her case, published recently in Psychological Science, is forcing scholars to reconsider their approach to the disability.

Neuroscience dogma says little can be done if a blind child isn’t operated on by age six.

But SRD’s case is turning that doctrine on its head–her sight was restored at age 12, and her brain, in strong defiance of theory, “learned to interpret visual information.” The findings provide hope that the brain can learn to see later on in life.

“There is a critical period for perfect acuity,” Pawan Sinha, the study’s primary investigator, and a neuroscientist at MIT tells Time Magazine. “But there is not a critical period of learning to do complex visual tasks.”

Sinha is the founder of Project Prakash, a humanitarian and research effort aimed at expanding access to proper eye care in India.

Project Prakash
Prakash featured in MIT news mag
The Sinha Lab at MIT
Pawan Sinha’s profile on Indian NGOs

Comments Off on Spreading The Prakash         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   March 7, 2007
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Impersonation & Identity In India


UCLA’s Center for India and South Asia sponsors tomorrow’s lecture-cum-visual presentation by Purnima Mankekar, an associate professor in Asian American Studies and Women’s Studies. Extracted from a larger project on the role of transnational mass media in the production of South Asian public cultures, “Unsettling India: Impersonation, Mobility, Identity” juxtaposes impersonation in different contexts—by employees of call centers in Gurgaon, India, and by Bunty and Babli, the leads in a Bollywood blockbuster—to explore how it might provide a lens to understand contemporary Indian identity and cultural production.

Manekar is the author of Screening Culture, Viewing Politics: An Ethnography of Television, Womanhood, and Nation in Postcolonial India, an ethnography of TV viewing focused on the responses of upwardly mobile, middle-class urban women to state-sponsored entertainment serials (including Ramayan, Mahabharat and Hum Log).

More: Purnima Mankekar

Comments Off on Impersonation & Identity In India         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   February 26, 2007

Prashad Promotes

Darker Nation
Photo courtesy of The New Press

Vijay Prashad groupies rejoice!

The author and Trinity College professor will be in NYC tonight, promoting his latest book The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World.

You can catch Prashad, who also wrote The Karma of Brown Folk and Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting, this evening at the Asian American Writers Workshop (16 West 32nd Street).

Publishers Weekly calls The Darker Nations scholarly but accessible, saying the book “offers a vital assertion of an alternative future, grounded in an anti-imperial vision.”

The reading/launch event begins at 7PM.

A $5 donation is suggested.

The Darker Nations
The Asian American Writers Workshop
Catch Prashad at the YSS birthday celebration this April

Comments Off on Prashad Promotes         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   February 22, 2007

Shia Revival Author Gives Lecture

shia revival

Vali Nasr speaks on the topic of “How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape The Future” at the World Affairs Council of Northern California on Wednesday, January 31. He is Professor of Middle East and South Asia Politics at the Naval Postgraduate School and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Senior Adjunct Fellow on the Middle East.

Nasr’s Shia Revival has been described as worthwhile reading for those seeking a primer on the second-largest Muslim sect. His account offers an introduction to the history and theology of Shia Islam and its relations with the dominant Sunni strain. Nasr also argues that the so-called Shia Crescent—stretching from Lebanon and Syria through the Gulf to Iraq and Iran, finally terminating in Pakistan and India—is gathering strength in the aftermath of Saddam’s fall, cementing linkages that transcend political and linguistic borders and could lead to a new map of the Middle East. The author believes that the sectarian divisions between Shia and Sunni will come to play a large part in determining our collective future. (Publisher’s Weekly)

World Affairs Council
Dr. Vali R. Nasr
Nasr’s interview on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Comments Off on Shia Revival Author Gives Lecture         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   January 30, 2007

Working Toward Affordable Vaccines

Henry Daniell
Professor Henry Daniell (UCF)

In a university ad lauding them for their research awards, Professor Henry Daniell and two of his colleagues (Karen Dow, Peter Delfyett) take a victory walk around campus, fist-bumping and giving a thumbs up along the way. According to VOA News, Daniell, from the University of Central Florida, has come up with a way to make inexpensive vaccines that would be affordable for the world’s developing communities. “Scientists inject plants, like tobacco, lettuce or carrots, with vaccine genes. They are then planted in a greenhouse before being crushed and put into capsules to be taken by patients. The method skips a number of traditional processes involved in producing the therapeutic proteins needed to make vaccines—cutting the price of the final product.” (VOA)

Motivated to work on the vaccines by seeing the impact of diseases like cholera and amebiasis in his native India, Daniell has created vaccines for those diseases as well as anthrax, plague and rotavirus. The next stage is human clinical trials. Thanks to his anthrax vacine, which earned him a congratulatory call from the Director of Homeland Security, his bioterrorism vaccines “are on fast track approval” for the trials. The professor is also working on vaccines for tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis and diabetes.

In an interview with the Discovery Channel—“Turning tobacco into the tonic that ails you”—Daniell discusses his vaccine work with tobacco plants. The interview mentions that the professor’s work is not funded by the tobacco industry, and that the vaccine is not delivered through smoking.

Daniell Lab

Comments Off on Working Toward Affordable Vaccines         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   January 25, 2007

Princeton Parody Goes Too Far

Princeton's Sethi
Sethi (New York Times)

“Hi Princeton! Remember me? I so good at math and science. Perfect 2400 SAT score. Ring bells? Just in cases, let me refresh your memories. I the super smart Asian. Princeton the super dumb college, not accept me.”

So begins a recent editorial in The Daily Princetonian’s annual parody issue.

“What is wrong with you no color people?” it continues. “Yellow people make the world go round. We cook greasy food, wash your clothes and let you copy our homework.”

The column presumably pokes fun at Jian Li, the Asian American man who, upon being denied admission to the school last year, filed a civil rights complaint against Princeton.

But many members of the campus community aren’t laughing.

Chanakya Sethi, editor-in-chief of the paper, said his intention was to spark a dialogue on race. “Obviously that’s happened,” says Princeton senior Belda Chan. “But hate crimes spark dialogue too, and that doesn’t mean they are good things and that we approve of them and that they will help in the long run.”

About thirteen percent of Princeton’s undergraduate population is Asian American.

The paper’s editors have recently released a statement addressing the community’s concerns. Go here to read it.

Comments Off on Princeton Parody Goes Too Far         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   January 25, 2007