The Challenges of Parenting A Mixed-Race Child

I came across this interesting article in Harper’s Bazaar by an Indian-American journalist, Nandini D’Souza who talks about the challenges about having a mixed-race daughter, who bears very little resemblance to her. The author being Indian, is medium to dark brown complexioned while her husband is Irish German and the polar opposite…white, with blonde hair and blue eyes. Their daughter Asha has gone completely on the father’s side leaving Nandini to often face the question of whether she is her daughter or be mistaken for the nanny.

The article also raises some interesting questions about race and color and the assumptions that go along with it, as is conveyed in this excerpt:

“When Asha was born, it seemed as though I had to start explaining myself again and, harder still, explaining how this beautiful child fit into my world. I’m not the only one, I told myself. Assuming your name isn’t Angelina or Madonna, this must be how parents who adopt feel. It starts with a stranger’s double take, followed by a mental calculation of whether the circle fits in the square. Yes, it does.

At first, I tried taking it in stride, believing that the comments weren’t malicious: the mother on the playground who asked me my weekly rate. The dry cleaner who asked if Asha’s parents lived in the building and if I liked working for them. An elevator passenger who curiously looked from Asha to me to Myles before asking him, “Is she yours?” It was the first time Myles had been on the receiving end. “Did that guy think you were my mistress or the nanny?” he joked. We laughed it off together.

And yet a few instances hit a nerve and brought up a greater concern of how I could protect my daughter from the insensitive things people say. One day in music class, while I was trying to get Asha to pay attention and return a toy she had swiped, another mother snapped at me. “Can’t you see she’s tired? Leave her alone!” she said loudly in front of the whole class. “That’s the mother,” her friend whispered. I was equal parts infuriated and humiliated.”

Target comes to Manhattan

Have you heard? Today, Target will officially open its first store in Manhattan, in East Harlem. Well, this news makes me extremely happy. As I recall, the last time I stepped inside a Target, I was decked out in a sari as I happened to be attending an Indian wedding in New Jersey. But even making a spectacle of myself couldn’t keep me from staying away when I found out that there was a Target in the neighborhood. (And I have a picture to prove it)

But never mind my sari shenanigans, Target has been promoting the fact that this store will carry “thousands of multicultural items” to cater to the predominantly Spanish and African American residents of  East Harlem. Here’s a snippet from an NPR article:

Target’s first store on the New York island officially opens Sunday — with merchandise tailored to the neighborhood, including Spanish-language greeting cards, multicultural dolls, religious candles and renowned Southern food produced locally. It’s a key step in the discounter’s push into urban markets to fuel its growth.

“This is the (company’s) largest single investment on any single project,” John Griffith, executive vice president of property development for Target Corp., said during a press tour Wednesday.

I find this completely impressive that Target would make such a large investment in understanding the needs and preferences of its multicultural audience and would serve up the right selection of products and accessories. Go Target!

Get your dosa and cowboy boots on…Quick Gun Murugan

Quick Gun Murugan was one of the most memorable ads I’ve ever seen on Indian TV. It was a character created for television promos for the launch of a music channel called Channel [V] in India in the 1990s, but the character of Murugan was so successful that they spun it off in various Bollywood films and finally in 2009, a feature length film was released.

It’s a fusion of the unlikeliest genres, South Indian over the top melodrama, and an American western genre. If that sounds weird and outlandish, it is! Quick Gun Murugan is a south indian Tamil cowboy, and you have to see this to believe it. It was a completely brilliant concept since Channel V was actually heralding a new wave of blended cultural art at the time, a mix of western music and for Indian audiences, and Quick Gun Murugan was the perfect spoof that embodied this blend.

With that I bring you the initial Channel V promos of Quick Gun Murugan.

Indianisms…Please don’t mind it

In case anyone was wondering what the title of my last post on Bollywood was about “But it is like this only”, well, that’s just a classic Indianism. Yes, Indians are notorious for speaking a unique version of the English language, which is largely a mixture of the old-fashioned British English and an influence of the many languages spoke in India.

Here’s a list of some of the delightful ones I came across.

A tendency to overuse idioms

What is your good name?

Progressive tense blunders

I am liking it very much.

Colloquialisms

I am here only.

Let us prepone the meeting.

Do the needful and revert back.

Rhyming words

Let’s go out for some ice-cream-vice-cream (translation: Ice cream and stuff).

Sometimes, there’s a slight variation on the rhyming, which could go like this:

Let’s go out for some shopping-shooping.

Short forms

I am a nonveg. She is a veg.

My birthday is in Feb.

Now, if you want to put this all together into this classic howler.

A newly arrived immigrant from India would try to speak “chaste English” with people he would meet, ask their “good name” and how many “issues” they have, and insist that they do not “observe formality’, but “have a beer bottle” or two with him. They cannot meet his “better half”, because she is having “a head bath”, but being “newly married”, he is “cent-per-cent” sure that she is “carrying”. Since he is not “a busybody” today because he has had his “offs” changed to Sundays by “oiling” his boss, he might offer them a ride in his new car, but will make sure there is a “stepany” in the “dickey”, otherwise they might have to “foot” it in case of a “puncture”.

Of course, this can go to the next level when it comes to signage, something that I have derived endless entertainment from on my visits to India.

Bollywood! But it is like this only

Most Indians all over the world have grown up on a staple diet of Bollywood. It is a peculiar film genre, a potpourri of many genres all rolled into one…musical, (melo)drama, action, suspense, comedy, tragedy, and of course romance. (Shakespeare would be baffled). In fact, mainstream Bollywood has always been and will continue to be an unapologetic escape for the masses, the working man who just wants to be entertained.

Bollywood apparently has its roots in various ancient Indian theatrical art forms, including storytelling of the great Indian epics such as the Ramayana, and traditional folk theater of ancient India. But I would say that the largest influence on Bollywood in 21st century is MTV.

To illustrate this, I have to run through a list of what I think is defines the new Bollywood.

1. Still light on the plot, but a tad more realistic. Once upon a time, Bollywood films were pretty much based on some version of a poor boy falling in love with a rich girl (or vice versa). It would be love at first sight, after which the two would get transported to rolling hills and meadows for a song and dance routine (often in the rain). Of course in time, the villains would appear and separate the lovers, until the hero would channel his inner superpowers and come to the rescue of his beloved and they would live happily ever after. Now, Bollywood makes films about dyslexia, terrorism, coming of age, and a whole slew of topics, including song and dance routines.

2. But enough of realism. Switzerland or rolling meadows somewhere in  used to be THE destination for song and dance sequences. But that’s so 1990s. Today Bollywood is all over the map from Australia to the Amalfi coast in Italy.

3. Glamming it up. The last decade has also seen a an explosion of outrageous looks borrowing from the most ‘avant-garde’ designers from the east and west. If you want to see some of the most outrageous looks go here.

4. The appearance of abs and pecs. Any Bollywood actor worth their salt will have at least a 6 pack and will be proud to show it off. Aamir Khan debuted his 6 pack in the movie Ghajini.

5. High octane action scenes. Yes, if you thought only Tom Cruise could ride a motorcycles with one hand while dodging bullets you’re wrong. Our very own Abishekh Bacchan wowed the crowds with his motorcycle stunts in Dhoom 2.
6. Bringing sexy back. Instead of twee songs, Bollywood could give Britney a run for her money with its new generation of music videos.

There’s a ton of more things to add to this list. Would love to hear other thoughts and observations, on Bollywood.

This one’s for the World Cup, Bend it like Beckham

The soccer world cup has finally come to an end, and Paulie the octopus can resume his peaceful existence in his fish tank. But besides Paulie’s amazing gift of divination, it was also fascinating to see just how unifying this event was on the global scale. Suddenly everyone was a soccer fan whether they watched soccer before or not.

One of my favorite films happens to be about soccer, Bend it like Beckham, directed by Gurinder Chadha a British Indian director. It started out as a low-budget movie which went to become a huge hit and was even promoted as “the best British comedy since ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary.” In fact many say it was the launch pad for Parminder Nagra, Kiera Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers the lead actors.

The story is about the main character Jesminder “Jess” Bhamra, a dutiful young girl who lives with her traditional Punjabi Sikh family in London, but secretly dreams of playing soccer like her idol,  David Beckham. The movie humorously portrays the cultural and generational gaps between Jess and her traditional parents who expect her to be perfecting her cooking skills in the kitchen, instead of running around on a soccer field. Jess gets an opportunity to pursue her dream  of playing soccer and joins a women’s soccer team, but she can only do so by hiding it from her parents, and so the comedy ensues. The soundtrack is also a perfect blend of UK and Indian melodies, and is one of my favorite movie soundtracks ever featuring everything from Spice girls to Puccini to Bally Sagoo.

It’s an oldie but a goodie, and if you haven’t seen it as yet, you’re missing out.  Check out the trailer here:

Unleash your inner desi, Chor bazaar ishtyle

Mainstream Indian culture in the west is often limited to kitschy or religious connotations…images of Bollywood, an Om symbol, or a many-armed Hindu deity.  Umang Shah, a RISD trained architect, born in Massachusetts decided to redefine these stereotypes using the all-American medium of the T-shirt. Along with his brother Yash and a friend, Umang has created Chor Bazaar, an “Indie-Indian-fused t-shirt label”, based in Brooklyn, NY. As a first generation Indian American, Umang, a designer and visionary at heart has always been passionate about expressing his identity with relevance and integrity.  His first foray at this was at RISD, where for this final thesis project he attempted at redefining Hindu architecture in the US. After his collective experiences and travels through cities all over India, Umang came up with the idea for Chor Bazaar.

At the core, Chor Bazaar is all about  a fun and authentic take on Indianness with an American twist, a simple T-shirt.

What are some of the inspirations behind the designs? Look deep into this Rorschach image, what do you see?

This design is the Psychology of traffic, a clever way to reminisce about the chaos and jumble of traffic in India. Keeping with the transportation theme there’s Muh Kala (or blackened face).

This is a nod to the memorable signage found on the back of Indian trucks, which is partly superstitious, partly a threat warning tailgaters to stay away.

For some with a more historic flair, there’s Gadar (Mutiny). This is an homage to the Rani of Jhansi, a fearless Indian queen who took on the British during the early fight for independance. In this design the script of a famous letter written by the Rani is superimposed on the weapons of war.

There’s a range of designs available for both men and women and the T-shirts retail for $20 a piece. All T-shirts are silk screened and fashion-fit, made of vintage soft, 100% ring-spun cotton.

Get your indie-indian tee today!

Indian latin fusion cuisine, a match made At Vermillion

When I first heard about At Vermilion, an Indian Latin fusion restaurant in Manhattan it conjured up some discordant images. Guacamole served with papaddum? Chipotle chiken tikka masala? Fortunately, I decided to free my mind and palate and  to check it out…and boy, am I glad I did. The menu was like an education in itself, with some of the most interesting dishes I had ever seen in a fusion restaurant. Blue corn crusted scallops with a kali mirch calabasa goat cheese puree, a kashmiri mirchi chimichurri new york strip steak with sweet potato, a brazilian seafood stew with tomato rice…my head was spinning. I also realized that perhaps Indian Latin is not such an outrageous fusion after all, being that India has its own twist on Portugese food predominant in Goa, an Indian state on the west coast of India which was once a colony of Portugal. In addition, both cuisines hail from tropical regions and share common condiments such as chilies, tamarind, cilantro and lime.

Being a seafood lover I went with the blue corn crusted scallops, and another amazing dish called Crab konkani. My first bite of the blue corn crusted scallops dispelled any discordant images, and how! The sumptuous  scallops cooked in a delectable tamarind chili marinade melted in my mouth, and the blue corn crust added delightful crunch and texture. When I tried it with the kali mirch (black pepper) flavored goat cheese puree, could barely contain myself from yelling “This is brilliant!” The crab konkani is delicately seasoned with mustard seeds, chilli and curry leaves typical of Konkan cooking, wrapped in a crepas de huitlacoche (a corn crepe from Mexico) smothered in a coconut milk sauce.

For dessert, we tried the Vermillion hedonism and the Coconut Saffron Creme cocktail, which were both actually as hedonistic as they sounded.

At Vermillion was started in Chicago where it has been critically acclaimed, but New York has proven to be a tougher sell. Creating a successful restaurant in New York, let alone a great fusion concept is incredibly difficult and I congratulate the intrepid team behind At Vermillion for doing so. I hope to see this restaurant succeed in New York, and encourage you try it out!

And if you’ve ever had any memorable fusion food experiences, I’d love to hear about them.

Recycled saris and the birth of a blog

As I weaved through the crowds at another street fair in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side, I thought I had pretty much seen it all. Then I saw the Magic Skirt. It was on a mannequin and it looked like an interesting summer strapless dress. But as I took a closer look I realized this was like nothing I’d seen before. The material was made out of a collage of silk prints but there was something else vaguely familiar about it. The enthusiastic sales girl soon solved the mystery. It turned out that the Magic Skirt was made in India, from pieces of old saris. True to its name it can be worn as a dress or a skirt in about 10 different styles! Before I could say “How much?” she had already started teaching me how to wear one, and after a few quick twists, knots and ties I was preening in the mirror in my Magic Skirt (style #004). It was at that moment that I realized I had the topic for my blog.

The Magic Skirt is just another of the many inspired creative ideas we see today representing the fusion of eastern and western elements. Each skirt is made out of recycled saris and is totally unique, but with the use of a few clever straps and layers it can be worn as a halter, to strapless, and a sarong.

To me this is the quintessential example of a Culture Melange, where the romance of an Indian sari is infused into a trendy summer dress.

A trendy summer dress made from Indian sari pieces

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