“Portable Homes” at the New Yorker Festival

Orhan Pamuk and Salman Rushdie. (Andy Friedman/New Yorker)

“The Indian experience is becoming a diaspora experience as well as a national experience,” said Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie, in a conversation with the 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Orhan Pamuk. The discussion, titled Homeland, was part of this year’s New Yorker Festival and is now available online. Moderated by New Yorker Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman, the conversation revolved around issues of identity, diaspora, and community. Forging a connection between a people and their language, Pamuk asserted, “I have a portable home with me all the time and that’s the Turkish language.” Rushdie and Pamuk also offer other insights into writing, perspective, and existing in America. Both authors are full of witty observations: Rushdie, in an anecdote about his family, said, “My mother was the Garcia Marquez of gossip.” You can watch other videos from the 2007 New Yorker Festival here.

More: Critical Mass, the blog of the national book critics circle board of directors, offers up its take on the talk.

1 Comment         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   October 16, 2007

Now You Too Can Blog in Hindi

Attention, bloggers who use, um, Blogger: Now you can impress your friends by sharing your thoughts in fancy Devanagari script. How is this possible? Well, the wonderful folks at the Google blog have introduced a feature that “allows you to type out Hindi words using phonetically equivalent English script, and see the words getting transformed into the corresponding Devanagari script.”

How well does it work? Well, I can barely read Urdu—what my family speaks at home—so I wasn’t able to test out the accuracy. But according to Google, Blogger’s transliteration feature will supposedly adapt to the way you spell Hindi and remember your writing style. So—those of you out there who can read Devanagari, let us know how well this works in the comments!

2 Comments         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   April 17, 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


Stand-up star Hari Kondabolu’s late-night debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live made waves last week (Sepia, The Stranger , NerdNYC).

But the comedian’s day job is actually far from being “funny.”

Kondabolu, a Bowdoin College graduate, recently spoke to his alumni magazine about working in Seattle for Hate Free Zone, a non-profit, founded after 9/11, to help immigrant communities cope with intolerance and backlash. Kondabolu describes the work as “depressing and tiring, but inspiring when it works out.”

Kondabolu’s routines are often based on what it means to be desi in America. Check out his take on speaking Telugu:

1 Comment         Facebook   RSS 2.0   Permalink   February 26, 2007