Category Archives: Culture

First SNL Monologue of Trump Era is by Indian-American Comedian Aziz Ansari

The first Saturday Night Live episode of the Trump era aired on 1/21/17, and there couldn’t possibly be a better host for this particular episode than a Muslim-American comedian.  Aziz Ansari is both that and also an Indian-American, and he delivered an excellent monologue (above) that all Americans can appreciate.

Not surprisingly, it was Trump-centric, and Aziz nailed it.  “Pretty cool to know that he’s probably sitting at home watching a brown guy make fun of him though,” he said at the beginning.  Aziz also gave a shout-out to the Women’s March, and described a phenomenon all of us are now witnessing, the kkk (“with a small k”) racism that’s crept up in the last few years, emboldened by Trump’s rise.

Piercing through the laugh, Aziz also voices hope.  We applaud Aziz Ansari for a memorable monologue during a historic time.

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VIDEO: Why Indians and Pakistanis Should Never Talk to Each Other, All India Bakchod

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

One of the great tragedies of our lifetimes is the continued enmity and hatred between India and Pakistan in modern times, despite their having so much in common.  When I went to Pakistan to see for myself what that country was about, I was so shocked by the truth that it changed my life.  Since then I have been on something of an obsessive messianic mission, despite outright impossible odds, to explain to both Indians and Pakistanis that closer friendship would be exceedingly easy and beneficial to both sides.  Too often the media would rather talk about terrorism or “surgical strikes” instead.  And the subcontinent has never recovered from the violence of 1947 and its aftermath.

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The Editor in Lahore.  He didn’t feel unsafe.  He found the ladies to be very nice.

In the above video, All India Bakchod (AIB) did something novel: a film crew in Pakistan and a film crew in India coordinated and had random people in one country talk on the phone with random people in the other country on independence day, which is the same for both nations.  “We found out why Indians and Pakistanis should never talk to each other,” says AIB.  This video pretty much made me laugh and cry at the same time.

Credits:

India Crew

Producers: AIB, Mansi Multani
Production Assistants: Aakash Mehta, Nikhil Pai, Vaibhav
DOPs: Soham Hundekar, Saiyam Wakchaure
Sound: Harish, Gopal
Line Producer: Vikram
Editor – Shashwata Dutta
Online – Mihir Lele

India Participants

Mazhar
Prabtej
Sharanya
Subramanian
Mitakshi
Aditi
Nidhi
Richa
Akash Zala
Sujit Yadav
Joyanto Mukherjee
Malti Naik

Pakistan Crew

Producer – Khaula Jamil (Humans of Karachi)
DOP – Zeest Shabbir
Sound – Huma Murad Shah

Pakistan Participants

(SZABIST & Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture)

Hasan
Gaity
Salman Noorani
Talha Khan
Amjad
Maaz
Fatima
Minza Sajjad
Anosha
Maha Minhaj
Aqil
Soonhal
Hafeez

Why do Indians Hate Root Beer?

th.jpegThere are several things that still separate an Indian-American from an Indian from India even in this globalized world: accents and educational systems come to mind, as do sports or movie preferences.  These differences may be real, but they are also amorphous.  However, we can point to something much more tangible in nature.  Perhaps no single thing in the world is a more perfect epitome of the separation between Indian-Americans and their cousins from the motherland than a dark black, foamy-headed sweet and effervescent liquid drink called root beer.  In my lifetime, I’ve found that Indians categorically hate this drink, while most Americans of all types including Indian-Americans love this drink.

Having grown up in the American Midwest, where we’d call all manner of fizzy soft drinks “pop,” I have loved root beer for as long as I can remember and probably always will.  Widely available commerical brands include A&W, Barq’s, or IBC, and I could drink any of these happily.  What’s more, one can place a dollop of vanilla or other ice cream into a glass of root beer, and you get a magical dessert/drink hybrid like no other, known to most Americans as a root beer float.  And yet, as much as all-American flavors like french fries, ketchup, pizza, and even colas like Coke and Pepsi have exploded in popularity and affordability in India over the last few decades, root beer is hard to come by.   Even Indians who have settled in the United States for decades often won’t ever drink it.

Why???  On the face of it, Indians should love root beer.  It’s spicier than most other American colas or soft drinks (with a notable exception in Dr Pepper).  Root beer’s traditional historic roots are in the delicious extract of the sassafras tree root or sarsaparilla vine root.  As a kid at summer camp, I remember tasting a fresh and hot tea made of sassafras root, an original root beer formula- and it was divine.  Root beer is aromatic and has a number of spicy and subtle hints, much like Indian food itself which draws on fraternal spices like cardamom, anise, and cinnamon.  I have a theory that Indians typically hate root beer for one simple reason: it reminds them too much of medical products, including a soothing balm called Iodex, a common household item in India.  Throughout my life whenever I drank or even mentioned root beer, my Indian-born mother would make a disgusted face, hold her nose and say, “I can’t stand it, smells like Iodex!”  I’ve heard similar sentiments over and over by people born and raised in India.  Which led me to look into this recently.

Indeed there’s a basis for it.  Iodex utilizes methyl salicylate, made of oil extracted from a group of plants __57called wintergreens or their synthetic equivalent.  Commercially produced root beers also use extracts of wintergreens, or very similar plants.  Interestingly, just like Coca-Cola, the modern form of root beer was invented in the United States in the 1800’s for medicinal purposes.  So, we have come full circle here.

It’s too bad that Iodex has ruined root beer for potentially millions of people in India and other parts of the world.  Now you know why.  So you say, this isn’t a scientific analysis after all?  You must be forgetting that this is Trump’s America now.

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

 

 

 

VIDEO: Dr. Anuj Shrivastava’s Batshit-Crazy Conspiracy Theories

I saw this video making the rounds on WhatsApp, and the premise of this gentleman Dr. Anuj Srivastava’s little lecture is intriguing: why are Indian media outlets so derogatory?  That they spew lots of hatred is certainly true.  And the video starts out with a calm and intelligent tone that led me to believe this might be an interesting few minutes and I might even learn something.

However, the good doctor’s explanations are absolutely batshit crazy!  To take just one example that really caught my attention, he claims without any evidence that CNN-News18, the CNN India partnership formerly known as CNN-IBN, is funded by the “Southern Baptist Church,” and that is why the channel is anti-Indian, anti-Hindu, liberal, and leftist.  One by one, he claims that all of India’s major news outlets, including NDTV, the Times group, the Hindu, and India Today are all totally compromised by foreign governments or religious groups.  Just a tiny bit of research would show that the Southern Baptist Church has nothing to do with CNN-News18.  Why in God’s name would they want to sponsor that news channel?  Also, this doctor does not practice in the US though the video would have you believe he is based there.  I am not doubting his medical abilities here.

You must watch this video, and not just for a good laugh.  There is no doubting Dr. Srivastava’s sincerity.  There is no better example of the Indian society’s biggest faults on display: a penchant for batshit crazy conspiracy theories, whining, and blaming anyone else except themselves for India’s massive problems 70 years after the British abandoned India.

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

MOVIE REVIEW: One in a Billion, the Satnam Singh Documentary

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via ESPN

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

Imagine the extraordinarily low odds for any poor American rural kid to be able to make it to the NBA.  Those odds need to be multiplied many times over for a rural kid- even a gigantic one- from the state of Punjab in India to achieve the same goal.  And yet Satnam Singh Bhamara now stands on the cusp of finding a roster spot in the National Basketball Association.  The 7-foot-2 gentle giant was drafted in the second round of the 2015 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks, and currently plays in the Developmental League.  His epic rise, and the massive challenges he has had to overcome, are well-documented in the documentary film, One in a Billion, available as of this month on Netflix.  By no coincidence, Netflix is making major inroads into India.

One in a Billion does a fantastic job of laying out this story of someone who most basketball fans in the United States have not even heard of yet, a story whose ending is not yet written as Singh is just 21 years old.   The filmmakers gained access to a diverse bunch of people, including Singh’s family members, youth coaches, trainers, and teammates in both India and the United States, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, and Indian hoops journalist Karan Madhok.

The hero of the story could not possibly be easier to root for, regardless of your interest level in basketball.  Satnam’s relentless focus on improvement and positive energy in the face of obstacles, coupled with his desire to make family and country proud above all else is nothing short of inspiring.  He had to learn not only basketball but also English at a late age, which caused him major academic troubles in America.  The gym where he learned to play the game in India had a leaky roof and pigeons interrupting practices.

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via sportskeeda.com

Satnam also faced inordinate amounts of homesickness and culture shock coming from a remote North Indian village to Florida for high school, leaving all of his friends and family far behind.  In the film even the NBA, which is a giant profit-making machine, shows that it has a bit of heart despite the fact that high-level institutional support for Satnam is very much about tapping the 1.25 billion person India market for money.

There are moments that I really loved.  The Indian farm scenes are poignant and sad, despite the upward trajectory of one of the village’s favorite sons.  At one point Satnam’s black high school teammates at IMG Academy in Florida joked around with Satnam about dancing and impressing girls, and probed him about what India was like.  There are moments where Satnam’s high school coach praises him, and others where he yells at him.  Satnam’s workouts, drills, and game footage are also interspersed into the documentary and show his progression.  Satnam gets fitted for his first suit and then the draft-day hijinks are very intense, and well-shot.  I got chills in the scene where Satnam shook hands with Larry Bird, who runs basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers, my favorite team.  Satnam in a Pacers uniform would be My. Dream. Come. True.

“People may look back on that date, and say that was the tipping point for basketball in India,” says Silver about Satnam’s drafting in the film.  I tend to agree.  India is too big to have just one major sport.  It’s possible that at some future date, basketball might one day give cricket a run for its money in India.  Personally, I can’t wait for that day to come, and for Singh, the Bhullar brothers, and others to pave the way for more Indians in pro basketball in the NBA and around the world.

In the meanwhile, this movie is the definitive account of how it all started.  Credit director Roman Gackowski and the whole crew for that.

Goodbye, America. It was Good to Know You.

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Arthur Morris / Birds as Art

2016 will always and forever represent a goodbye to the United States of America that we know and love.  Not necessarily a literal goodbye in the sense that we will leave the country to go live overseas like the Pilgrims doing a Brexit.  No, this goodbye is much more bitter than that. There is no escape, and no ability to flee the pain by hiding in any dark corner of this earth.

America is more than a country.  It is an idea.  Now, that idea has become unrecognizable.  2016 is my death of innocence.  It is the adult equivalent of eagerly waking up on Christmas, only to find out that there is no Santa Claus, and those toys weren’t made by elves, but by little child slaves at a factory in Asia.

Now that’s a rude awakening.  Today I bid farewell to the optimism that powered my belief in the United States of America for nearly four decades despite its faults.  No matter what happens, I will never fully get that optimism back again.  It’s gone.  And perhaps this is the silver lining in all of this: I should have been more cynical all along, for my own good.

I’m an American by choice. I raised my arm and took the oath of citizenship inside a judge’s chambers in the Midwest, at age 9.  It’s also the day that I proudly swore aloud, “I will fight for my country if called upon to do so.” Indeed, today I would still fight to protect my country if it was needed.

But the most important fight to be joined now is not really against any external threat, such as garden-variety terror cells or tin-pot dictators.  It does not require weapons or violence in the literal sense.  The real war is now against something far more dangerous, nebulous, and nefarious: the enemy within, this undeniable and accelerating decline of the United States of America right before our eyes.

I will probably mope around until (how appropriately cliche) Thanksgiving about this.  Then, I will stand and fight the decay however I can, as I know many patriots will.  But for the first time in my life, I’m not sure if the good guys will win.  This feeling is the most devastating of all.  From whence came the motivation to fight for Rome during its fall?

 

Interview with Classical Indian Singer & Producer, M. Balachandra Prabhu

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Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

Last week, I was able to conduct a Skype interview with M. Balachandra Prabhu, a highly talented Indian classical musician based in Mumbai, and a fellow Konkani.  I saw him perform this summer in Atlanta, and was impressed by the range and depth of his voice, which quite obviously had a mesmerizing effect on the entire crowd.

Like many of you, I am not an expert in Indian classical music and saw this as an opportunity to learn more about it.  But at its best, such as when it comes from Prabhu’s lungs, it can be nearly trance inducing.  Among other topics, we discussed the survival of Indian classical music in the future, its effect on the mind, how Prabhu got his training, his intense practice regimen, who his influences are, and aspects of his personal life.  Please click on the audio file below.

Balachandra Prabhu is staying busy this year, recording Western fusion songs, movie songs, and also learning how to produce and arrange music.  We are expecting great things from this young musician in the future.unnamed-479x240

Thanks to K. Rajesh Pai, a seasoned tabla player who often accompanies Prabhu and other top Indian musicians as they tour the United States, for helping me to arrange this interview and provide background information.  I hope that you enjoy the interview as much as I did.  Below are links to some of his music as well.

Jaby Koay & Priyanka Chopra: YOU Can Help them get Married & Make Babies

unknownMahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

Recently I came across some YouTube videos by Jaby Koay, an American dude with a channel focused on movie trailer reaction videos.  What makes this channel special is an impressively wide collection of Bollywood reactions.  Basically, he and his lovable co-hosts watch trailers and react in the types of humorous and perplexed ways you would expect for Americans to react to Bollywood as they dig into India’s bizarre, disturbing, unique, and entertaining film industry: with a combination of WTF? / OMG she’s hot! / why?! / don’t!?!

While some Indians may find this patronizing, I would argue to the contrary.  Jaby’s channel is creating a virtual bridge between American millennials and the wonderful world of Bollywood.  It also gives Indian folks a window into how Americans might view Bollywood.  This is exactly the kind of disarming “soft diplomacy” the two countries need.  Beyond all of that, there is also a cause.  And YOU can join this cause.

Like many Americans, Jaby has been exposed to Bollywood megastar Priyanka Chopra thanks to her work on the American TV series, Quantico.  He also did a reaction video to one of her films Jai Gangaajal, which is a great representation of why these are fun, whether you like Bollywood or not:

Jaby took things a bit further by expressing an (understandable) desire to marry Priyanka and have her babies.  He even created a 5-step plan to make this goal a reality.  The first step: he wants to grab her attention with 1 million subscribers.  You can help!

And just for giggles, watch the hilarious response (and response-response) to the 5 step plan from a YouTube threesome called Obnoxious Indians:

Ah… to be young, in love, and connected in a globalized world.  When I was a kid all we had were pen pals.

 Thanks to Komal Keni for bringing this channel to my attention.

Brooklyn Raga Massive Jazz Messengers Recital was a Delicious Musical Treat

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Photo by Andrew Mendelson

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

Brooklyn Raga Massive (BRM) is a talented collective of “like-minded, forward thinking musicians rooted in Indian classical music.”  BRM performed to a packed house at the BRIC House Ballroom in Brooklyn on October 11th as part of BRIC Jazzfest, and I went to see them there for the first time.   They gave all of us in the audience that evening a delicious musical treat- after doing the same for elementary school kids earlier in the same day.

South Asian-Western fusion has become trendy in music, food, fine art, cinema, architecture, or fashion.  However, attempts at getting it right often fall disappointingly flat.  For every superb example such as Slumdog Millionaire, there could be a Bride and Prejudice type of disappointment.  Or a real hot mess, such as Trump Taj Mahal, which finally was put out of its misery this month.

Fusing jazz and raga, two radically divergent musical traditions into something that sounds good and makes sense is an extremely difficult feat.   Brooklyn Raga Massive Jazz Messengers pulled off this feat with aplomb.

The set included instrumental numbers that can very broadly be placed into three categories, the first being American jazz classics covers with a hint of Hindustani or Karnatik influence including Indian instruments such as tabla (Indian hand drums) and bansuri (Indian flute) performing side by side with piano, bass, Western drum set, saxophone, and violin.  The second category is adapting both jazz and Indian musical theories into originally written BRM songs.  Thirdly, and in my opinion easily the best category, the group jammed out to primarily Indian raga music with Western influences on the edges, such as energetic drum set solos and string instrument strumming.

While not exactly a band, the ethnically diverse members of the collective who performed together were very much on rhythm as well as on tune.   Having played both the tabla and drum set in my day, I could feel how tight the sections were with each other.  I cannot reiterate how difficult and impressive it is to pull this disparate group of forces and people into a cohesive whole.  The audience itself, as you can expect, was also quite the mixed group of people.

Many fans of rock, jazz, or raga would be able to enjoy BRM’s work.  I was joined by a motley crew of multicolored friends and everyone had fun.  There is something for just about everyone in BRM performances, and I expect to attend more.   It doesn’t hurt that they play in very cool venue spaces such as the Pioneer Works gallery, museum atriums, SXSW, and elegant concert halls. I commend the sponsors NYC Media & Entertainment, TD Bank, and 88.3fm WBGO.org for putting on the show to expose new and old listeners alike to free and fantastic live music which cannot easily be heard elsewhere.  Isn’t there something nice to be said for an inclusive, collaborative music effort in these times of political vitriol?  Could it mean that just maybe, the good guys are winning?

Performers at the recital:

Sameer Gupta – drums
Pawan Benjamin – saxophone
Arun Ramamurthy – violin
Jay Gandhi – bansuri
Sharik Hasan – piano
Rashaan Carter – bass

Just a few of many BRM videos for you to enjoy:

Why is Team India so Pathetic in the Olympics?

Prime_Minister_Narendra_Modi_meets_Indian_Contingent_for_Rio_Olympics

Team India & Modi, Wikipedia Commons

Yesterday was the last day of the 2016 Rio Olympics.  After the closing ceremony ended, India left Brazil with just two measly Olympic medals thanks to P.V. Sindhu’s inspiring run to silver in the sport of badminton, and backup freestyle wrestler Sakshi Malik unexpectedly bagging bronze in the 58kg weight class.

The glory of these two extraordinary ladies aside, this has been yet another pathetic Olympic games for the Indian contingent.  Here are a few numbers that tell the entire story.

India’s population:     1.252 billion, or 17% of all humanity

Rio Olympic medals:  2, or .095% of all medals awarded

Olympic gold medals since 1980: 1

The 2016 performance was more or less another disappointing par for India.  Why is Team India so pathetic in the Olympics?   Much has been said on the topic and there is some disagreement on this.  There are certainly multiple explanations for the lack of success, and nearly all of it can and should be corrected in the coming decades.

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