“He wanted people to know who they were…”

Tejinder Sibia (sacbee.com)

Known for his web site www.sikhpioneers.org documenting the history and culture of Punjabis and Sikhs in California and the Pacific Northwest, Tejinder Singh “Ted” Sibia, who recently died of leukemia at age 70, also took an active role in promoting the inclusion of Punjabi history in state textbooks and Punjabi language study at UC Davis. While heading UCD’s Shields Library research unit for biology and agriculture until his retirement in 2006, Sibia, who immigrated from Punjab in 1960, mentored Punjabi students and served as an ambassador of Punjabi culture on campus. “He wanted people to know who they were, what they were about,” said Carrie Rushby, his library assistant for 12 years (The Sacramento Bee).

His work online documenting Sikhs and Punjabis in North America is an extremely valuable resource that includes rare historical photographs of the Komagata Maru incident, the Gadar Party, an old photo of Sibia himself working in California’s peach orchards as a young man, and more recent photos of a group research trip to Angel Island in San Francisco bay, where his wife Manjeet, who with their daughter survives him, translated several words scratched in Punjabi on a wall of the historic immigration detention center.

Comments Off on “He wanted people to know who they were…”         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   March 10, 2008

Views From Under the Dragon


Photojournalist Lonny Shavelson and co-author Fred Setterberg took notes and and photos over three years of exploring the Bay Area from San Francisco to Fremont and its community events, neighborhoods and religious centers. The result is Under the Dragon: California’s New Culture, an illustrated look at the complicated and changing ethnic experience in the Bay Area with a focus on individuals and stories—seven stories with accompanying images, and 80 photographs with detailed captions.

Andrew Lam writes in Dragon‘s foreword

Many of the photos and stories in this book are of what I call California moments, events in which something astonishing and marvelous in the experiment of cohabitation in California is revealed.

Examples abound: an African devotee of Krishna praying to the sky; a Filipina playing the role of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi; Jesse Graham, the white preacher at the African American Mount Zion Baptist Church in West Berkeley, whose preaching moves spirits; and my favorite story, the Iranian psychotherapist who finds roots in America by attending to Cambodian refugees—a novel in the making.

a cool interactive map of the photographs
more photographs from the book
SF Chronicle review

Comments Off on Views From Under the Dragon         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   December 3, 2007

The Hilsa Alive (But They’re Fading Fast)

This week, Salon’s regular Eat and Drink series features a piece by Cambridge-based food writer Chitrita Banerji. Banerji, who has written for Gourmet and The Boston Globe, delicately turns the piece from general, “Mrs. Sen”–style musings on her Bengali roots and their connection to her craving for freshwater fish, to a contemplative examination of the ilish, or hilsa, the species most central to the Bengali culinary imagination. Industrialization and over-pollution of Bengal’s major rivers have played hard and devastating with hilsa populations; the likelihood that the fish will retain its powerfully symbolic stature, notes Banerji, fades with each season that the number of fish plummets.

Hilsa [Wikipedia]
Review of Banerji’s Life and Food in Bengal [The Hindu]

2 Comments         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   July 3, 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

Gandhiji is 25


It’s been twenty-five years since Academy Award-winning director Richard Attenborough put the story of Mahatma Gandhi on celluloid.

On February 20th, Gandhi will be released as a special (anniversary-edition) DVD. You can expect additional features (although it’s unclear what these will be exactly–vintage newsreel footage? Photos taken behind-the-scenes?).

The two-disc collector’s edition set has been digitally remastered, and is currently available for pre-order at BarnesAndNoble.Com.

1 Comment         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   February 13, 2007
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What Would The Mahatma/King Do?

MLK and Gandhiji
MLK and His Portrait of Gandhiji. ForUSA.Org

He was introduced to the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi (by Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University) while still a seminary student in Pennsylvania.

It would profoundly shape his philosophy of nonviolent social protest.

“As I read, I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance,” King would later write. “As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform.”

“The Christian doctrine of love, operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence, was one of the most potent weapons available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom.”

Today we celebrate the great legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the Reverend’s noble, unwavering commitment to passive-resistance.

Check with your local area civic centers to find out how you can make it a day of service.

Comments Off on What Would The Mahatma/King Do?         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   January 15, 2007

Vorenus Hearts Varma

Indira Varma
Promotional photo: Courtesy of HBO

Indira Varma (Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love; Bride and Prejudice) returns to the small screen tonight, for Season Two of the award-winning HBO/BBC series Rome.

She might not say much in tonight’s episode, but you can catch her in a burgundy tunic, looking completely fab while bleeding all over a concrete floor (major bummer).

The British-born actress plays Niobe, Plebian and wife of Lucius Vorenus.

The end of Season One saw Varma, who has recently starred in Basic Instinct 2, jumping off a second-floor balcony in attempted suicide. As the episode ended, it remained unclear whether she was injured or had, in fact, died.

Will you be tuning in tonight?

HBO’s Rome

4 Comments         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   January 14, 2007