Jan 31, 2007

Book recommendation: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

I recently read "The Namesake" by Pulitzer prize winning author, Jhumpa Lahiri, the lady pictured below. I picked it up at Penn Station in New York City last Saturday and started it while traveling back home to Jersey. It was difficult to put down and I ended up finishing it at one sitting.

It's about this Indian family from Calcutta who settle down in Massachusetts. It follows their lives across 40 odd years, from the time the patriarch, Ashoke Ganguli, first comes to the US, attending MIT to pursue his PhD. He travels back to Calcutta during this time, to get an arranged married to Ashima. The couple live in Cambridge and eventually have two children, Gogol and Sonali, at which point, the book begins to focus on Gogol's life.

The main character is Gogol, however we experience a lot of the story, and the family's life events, through every one's eyes. That helps us understand the Ganguli's as a family and their Bengali culture on the whole, a lot better.

I liked that I could relate to the son and the dad at times. Naturally, there was the usual conflict between being Indian and the West, but it didn't seem regurgitated this time. As a result, the tale wasn't boring or frustrating as it usually becomes in American Desi type situations. I found that aspect to be quite fresh, perhaps because its through the eyes of an Indian Bengali family, rather than North Indian or Pakistani, which I can relate to better. It was also fun to read the names of familiar streets in the Cambridge area!

However, I felt the story was a bit 'filmy' at times. A little too exaggerated and I suppose it was easier to just move past those parts.

Needless to say, a movie based on this book is coming out in March 2007 starring Kal Penn and directed by Mira Nair. Penn is an uninspired choice to play Gogol Ganguli, but I suppose he is the most recognizable actor of Indian origin in Hollywood. I enjoy Mira Nair's work, and the author, Jhumpa Lahiri has a cameo in the film, so I assume she had plenty of input in the screenplay. I suppose there is a chance that the movie can pull it off.

You can find the book at Amazon...

Jan 28, 2007

And sometimes I get irritated when carded...

Just imagine how this gentleman felt! From BBC.com...
An 87-year-old man was asked to prove he was over 21 when he tried to buy a bottle of sherry in a York supermarket.

The former Lord Mayor of York, Jack Archer, said he was shocked - but flattered - when asked the question by staff at Morrisons in Acomb.

A Morrisons spokesman said: "This is done with the best of intentions and we would hope it is taken in good humour by those obviously over the age of 21, as we do not wish to cause offence and no disrespect is intended.

Jan 25, 2007

Video of rare shark filmed off the coast of Japan

A bit of the background from Zee News...
A species of shark rarely seen alive because its natural habitat is 600 meters (2,000 ft) or more under the sea was captured on film by staff at a Japanese Marine Park this week.

The Awashima Marine Park in Shizuoka, south of Tokyo, was alerted by a fisherman at a nearby port on Sunday that he had spotted an odd-looking eel-like creature with a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth.

Marine park staff caught the 1.6 meter (5 ft) long creature, which they identified as a female frilled shark, sometimes referred to as a "living fossil" because it is a primitive species that has changed little since prehistoric times.

The shark appeared to be in poor condition when park staff moved it to a seawater pool where they filmed it swimming and opening its jaws.

"We believe moving pictures of a live specimen are extremely rare," said an official at the park. "They live between 600 and 1,000 meters under the water, which is deeper than humans can go."

"We think it may have come close to the surface because it was sick, or else it was weakened because it was in shallow waters," the official said.

The shark died a few hours after being caught.
For the sake of science, its interesting to capture such interesting footage. I am horrified of sharks anyway, and this one, in particular, looks scary as hell. But I can't help but wonder if its eventual capture lead to its demise....

The Church of Google?

Not even sure how I came across this website representing the Church of Google - which obviously has no official affiliation with Google. It's hilarious or sacrilegious, depending on your point of view. I surmise it started out as a joke, and then when people starting taking note of it, and becoming hostile, the creators (no pun intended) added some more serious dimensions and literature to pad the site, including 'Proof' that Google exists, an FAQ and even some prayers. The religion is called Googlism. Some excerpts from the FAQ that I found interesting...
Does Google perform miracles?

Why, yes She does.

Last year a Minister within our Church procrastinated on a University essay he had due. It was the day before said paper was due and he HAD to clamp down and start researching. He, as always, consulted Google and Her vast index of knowledge. Sure enough the mighty Google provided him with the information he needed. The essay was done in a little under five hours and he ended up getting an "A". Definitely something many would consider a Miracle, all thanks to Google and Her mighty Algorithms.

What is the Google Trinity?

The Google Trinity consists of the Internet, Google Search Engine and the Web Browser (Such as Firefox, Opera & Safari but NEVER Internet Explorer) Alone they are nothing, but combined they form a powerful entity.

...and from their arguments page...

So, if Google told you to go jump off a bridge, would you do it?

If someone told you that after you die, you're going to live 'forever' in peace and harmony in the sky, would you believe them?

You're wasting your time on an idiotic and bogus religion (Googlism).

Assuming you subscribe to Christianity, Islam, Judaism or any of the other major religions: "Right back at you". Worshiping an invisible, nonexistent being who lives in the clouds is an equal, if not greater, waste of time.

Be sure to check out their Hate Mail page!

Jan 11, 2007

The NY Times recently published a piece entitled "Questions Couples Should Ask Before Marrying", that was pointed out to me by a friend. Here are several of their pointers...
Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?

Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?

Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?

Will there be a television in the bedroom?

If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?

Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?
How ridiculous are some of these? Call me old fashioned but marriage is about going through life's obstacles together and dealing with them when the time comes. The 'television in the bedroom debate' is certainly doesn't cause any divorces. Either way, most people live together before marriage. If not, then they understand each other's habits beforehand, and have a general idea of what to expect. Marriage is just the next step in an already established relationship.

No one in the real world asks these fickle questions of their partner. Which is why I find these lists and questionnaires so amusing. Its understood that problems will be dealt with. I'll be honest, though I have no experience on marriage itself, I know one is supposed to compromise in relationships. And this compromise is reached only after endless discussions, arguments, withdrawal, fights and so on. That's part of the game and part of the package. All in all, the article presented amusing, if not practical suggestions.

Jan 10, 2007

Hilarious Onion article pokes fun at Indian dance troupes in college

The College I Attend Has Just The Right Number Of Indian Dance Groups

The Onion

The College I Attend Has Just The Right Number Of Indian Dance Groups

I'm really glad I decided to go to my current school. I can't think of an American college with such balanced and complementary diversity. While...

It's at the Onion but it isn't a news headline. So it might be someone's true opinion right? The Onion does post articles and commentaries, I believe. Anyway, I think this is was amusing. My college had no official dance troupes, but we had about 10 dances at the annual South Asian show. Most of the criticism was directed towards the sheer number of dances. After the show, the non South Asians probably believed that song and dance were the only thing people did back home.

I believe even Rutgers has a bunch of established Indian dance troupes and 2 bhangra teams associated with it. Though its likely these different groups are created and driven more by rivalries, and different groups of friends, rather than by demand. I love how the article ends...
It's about integrity. I don't know what I'll do if this school just turns out to be one of those liberal, wishy-washy places that feigns interest in cultural diversity and throws around a lot of open-minded-sounding bullshit to appear cultivated and make itself feel better about its inherent whiteness and insecurity
Ah - That spells Brandeis!

Jan 9, 2007

Pakistani talk show host stretching boundaries

The New York Times recently published an interesting article about Ali Saleem, (a guy) who dresses up as a woman and hosts a TV talk show. The lady he portrays is named Begum Nawazish Ali. (Begum means Madam in Urdu)

The show is a big hit, and though this is the first time I've heard about him, my friends back home say he's quite popular and that his success is well warranted. Why is this so newsworthy you may ask? From the NYTimes.com...
Ali Saleem may have devised the perfect, if improbable, cover for breaking taboos in conservative, Muslim Pakistan. In a country where publicly talking about sex is strictly off limits, Mr. Saleem has managed not only to bring up the subject on his prime-time television talk show — but to do so without stirring a backlash from fundamentalist Islamic clerics.

And he has done so as a woman.

When Mr. Saleem takes to the airwaves, he is Begum Nawazish Ali, a coquettish widow who interviews Pakistan’s glitterati and some of its top politicians.

A real woman could not possibly do what Mr. Saleem does. In the unlikely event a station would broadcast such a show, the hostess would be shunned. And taking on the guise of a married woman — whose virtue is crucial to her whole family — would be equally impossible.

But apparently a cross-dressing man pretending to be a widow is another matter entirely.
Its great that he's popular, and I hope this show continues to gain attention and fanfare within the country. I posted this story because in this day and age, no day goes by without Pakistan not being mentioned in the world media. Its a strategic country and the past few years have really propelled it into the limelight - for reasons both good and bad, mostly the latter. So if Pakistan is truly on the path to secularization and liberalization, as we are being led to believe, then Ali Saleem's shows is a small step towards that goal.

Though a good sign, the show is in fact an indicator, of the chasm in Pakistani society. Even while I lived there, I felt the deep disconnect between the urbanites and the rural communities, which the author mentions. In fact, there is no real way of telling just how many rural communities watch this show. Perhaps its just driven completely by the urbanite viewers and that word hasn't spread to the rest of the country yet.
It is true that Pakistan is, in a sense, two countries. There is urban, and urbane, Pakistan, where Western mores are more accepted, although nudity would never be seen on television or scantily clad women on billboards. And then there is rural Pakistan, where Islam is generally practiced with more fervor.
As far as the show goes, though Mr. Saleem is very confidant of his shows continuity, its quite possible that its popularity will breed opposition. I sincerely hope that may not be the case.

Jan 4, 2007

Killer Kites

It occurs every basant, an annual festival celebrated in South Asia. The thread of the kite, sometimes reinforced with shards of glass or metal, injures hundreds and kills dozens of people, mostly children.

In 2005, as reported by news24.com...
At least 20 people were killed and nearly 200 injured overnight in the Pakistani city of Lahore while celebrating the kite-flying Basant festival to mark the arrival of spring, news reports and hospital officials said on Monday. The deaths, mainly of young children, were caused by the use of metal-wire for kite-flying, aerial firing, and people either falling from rooftops or killed in road accidents while chasing kites.
The government banned kite flying in 2006 but now the ban is being lifted for this years event.

Its tragic that such an innocent fun-filled festival causes so many fatalities. Though, instead of banning kite-flying, the government should crack down on the kite makers who utilize glass and metal to make the threads. That's where the problem lies. Banning an age old tradition, passed down for centuries, would just simply be a further kill joy in a society already starved of entertainment.

Jan 3, 2007

"Little Mosque on the Praire" debuts next week

A new show called "Little Mosque on the Praire" debuts in Canada next week. I've been reading quite a bit about this on entertainment and media websites. Seems like its quite anticipated, and its debut will surely spark some controversy. It's about Muslim immigrants in the middle of nowhere in Canada interacting with their white neighbours. How exciting is that?

From CNN.com...

Zarqa Nawaz, creator and writer of the groundbreaking show, insists she's an equal-opportunity satirist taking dead-aim at both Muslim and Canadian stereotypes in a post-September 11 world. "I expect both groups will be wondering if the other finds the show funny," says Nawaz.

There are predictable jokes about Muslim beliefs clashing with Canadian traditions. In one scene, a father wearing a kufi, or a knitted cap worn by devout Muslims, protests that his Canadian-born daughter wearing a revealing tank top looks "like a Protestant."

"Don't you mean prostitute?" the daughter asks.

"No, I meant a Protestant," the father replies.

In another scene, a young man of Middle Eastern origins with a Canadian accent is heard in an airport check-in line telling his mother via cell phone that his father shouldn't think his choosing to stop being a Toronto lawyer to become an imam in Saskatchewan amounts to career "suicide." "This is Allah's plan for me," the young man says in passing, before an arresting cop appears suddenly and tells the surprised lawyer that he won't be making that appointment in Paradise.

Nawaz, a British-born Muslim and mother of four who settled on the Prairies with her family a decade ago, downplays the idea that the homegrown comedy may spark widespread controversy.

She insists her comedy springs from a relatively uneventful life in multicultural North America, unlike Europe, for example, where relations between Muslims and the wider Christian community are often a powder keg. "North America should be the first place where a comedy like this would come about, where Muslims can be comfortable in their own skin and questions of Canadian identity can produce a sitcom," she says.

To ensure it doesn't cause unforeseen offense with "Little Mosque on the Prairie," the government-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) has hired an independent Muslim-Canadian consultant to comb through the sitcom's creative elements and suggest possible alterations. Kirstine Layfield, CBC executive director of network programming, says recent preview screenings with select Muslim audiences elicited encouraging results -- laughter.

"Just doing the series is a risk in itself, but one the public broadcaster should take on if we're to help communicate authenticity of living in Canada," Layfield adds. Mary Darling, one of three executive producers shopping the Canadian comedy stateside, says a U.S. airing may help break down barriers between faith communities. "It won't do any harm, and maybe it can do some good," she says.

I certainly hope US audiences get a chance to watch this show. The 2 clips posted on the shows website seem quite promising. This show is a great idea, and I hope it turns out to be successful. Its impressive that Canadian government owned CBC television is airing this pilot series.

Humor transcends boundaries and the world really needs to look at the lighter side of life as a Muslim in North America. The aim of the show is to build bridges between cultures and religions and I hope it stays on track. People may be afraid of a bit of controversy, but Islam shouldn't have been a delicate topic in the first place. Nothing should be immune to criticism and there is plenty of humor and hypocrisy within all religions, including Islam. Most non-Muslims are wary of Islam and view it as being stubborn, violent, and backward. The show will surely focus on these stereotypes. Poking light-hearted fun can only help foster understanding between communities. A show like this can stretch the boundaries of what is allowed to normalcy.

Jan 2, 2007

Nightmare vacation due to typo

From CNN.com....
A 21-year-old German tourist who wanted to visit his girlfriend in the Australian metropolis Sydney landed 13,000 kilometers (8,077 miles) away near Sidney, Montana, after mistyping his destination on a flight booking Web site.

Dressed for the Australian summer in T-shirt and shorts, Tobi Gutt left Germany on Saturday for a four-week holiday. Instead of arriving "down under", Gutt found himself on a different continent and bound for the chilly state of Montana.

"I did wonder but I didn't want to say anything," Gutt told the Bild newspaper. "I thought to myself, you can fly to Australia via the United States." Gutt's airline ticket routed him via the U.S. city of Portland, Oregon, to Billings, Montana. Only as he was about to board a commuter flight to Sidney -- an oil town of about 5,000 people -- did he realize his mistake.

The hapless tourist, who had only a thin jacket to keep out the winter cold, spent three days in Billings airport before he was able to buy a new ticket to Australia with 600 euros in cash that his parents and friends sent over from Germany. "I didn't notice the mistake as my son is usually good with computers," his mother, Sabine, told Reuters.

That's just nuts. What an unfortunate mistake to make! I feel sorry for this chap. I'm always scared that something like this might happen to me. One really needs to be really careful when dealing with tickets, locations and dates. In fact, I mistakenly bought airline tickets for the wrong weekend once.