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DOCUMENTARY SERIES REVIEW: Wild, Wild Country Perfectly Captures a Bizarre Episode in US History

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

Growing up in the 80s as Indian-American kids with parents from India, many of us often heard rumblings about the mysterious Indian figure Rajneesh, also known as Osho or Bhagwan (God).  At dinner parties and picnics, Indian parents and other adults would talk animatedly about this cult of personality and his myriad followers who forcibly parked themselves on an exceedingly white and conservative part of Oregon in the late 70s and early 80s to form a weird religious cult commune.

The hushed tones and liberal use of the language Hindi by adults in those gatherings, which most of us kids didn’t know very well, always denoted to me that there was something deeply sinister going on in conversation about the Rajneeshis.  My parents thought that they were being discrete, but using Hindi as a covert device was the biggest dead giveaway that the talk was of nefarious things, and probably involved something called sex, and it had gone awfully wrong.  And it sure did make us Indian people look bad throughout that decade on the global stage.

This was an exceedingly unique American story and a touchpoint of its time: mostly white hippy American types by the hundreds falling over themselves to drop everything, move to Oregon, and unconditionally worship the (admittedly interesting) teachings of a brown man from India who presented himself as no less than a God floating around in flowing colorful robes in a fleet of expensive Rolls Royce cars and private jets.   Rajneesh was the ultimate figurehead of an American Mega Church movement, if that person was not only considered a God but also a rock star.  His core message was promoting the guilt-free enjoyment of materialism, pleasure, and spirituality side by side.

Once I was old enough to know a bit more, the Rajneesh story bored me.  It seemed like a typical trope about cultural appropriation of Indian traditions, fueled by Americans and Europeans flocking to ashrams in India to “find themselves” and engage in large sex orgies and liberal drug use in Indian clothes in a misplaced quest for spirituality and personal growth.  When the predictable downfall of the highly suspect cult/commune arrived, it all came crashing down with an avalanche of financial embezzlement, illegal surveillance, threats of violence, and the long arm of the law coming down hard in the form of FBI raids and prison sentences.  Everything about this just seemed so cliche to me, that I never cared to research too much into it below the surface knowledge I had as described above.

As it turns out I was completely wrong, at least in terms of how interesting and intricate the narrative actually was.  Until this spring when I started watching Wild, Wild Country, Whatever little I had picked up about the Rajneeshi cult was more than I cared to know.  I had been dismissive of it all.  But that changed in one fell swoop, further evidence that a lot of what I think I know, I really don’t after all.  It was easy to dismiss these failing sannyasins as a bunch of gullible nutjobs and posers trying to build their own obviously unattainable utopia right here in the United States.

But then a flip switched.  Until I recently watched the Wild, Wild Country documentary series on Netflix out of vague curiosity, I learned there was much I didn’t know about the Rajneeshis.  I had no idea how big they became, with thousands of members at their peak in numerous outposts around the world.  I was especially unfamiliar with the tiny young Indian woman named Ma Anand Sheela, the hand-picked deputy of Rajneesh who effectively launched and then ran the massive communal enterprise of Rajneeshpuram in Oregon with an iron fist.  I mean this chick was feisty, fearless, smart, tough as nails, camera-ready, and a formidable manager and leader by any objective measure.  She was for some reason empowered by Rajneesh to lead the vast religious, political, and sociological experiment, and managed to accomplish large things within a few short and eventful years.

Wild, Wild Country is absolutely fascinating and so is its subject.  It has certainly earned its 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Built upon many hours of original archival footage, it shows not just a commune but an entire city government being built from the ground up in rural Oregon, surrounded by communities who downright despised the Rajneeshis to pieces.  Suddenly an airport, roads, farms, homes, buildings, police force, defense force, city hall, and city council rose from empty land through the sheer will of the Rajneeshis, their collective sweat equity and organizational acumen.  This intrigued the city government official in me.  They built something special.  The cult even began to perpetuate their own laws and justice proceedings, somewhat akin to a Native American tribal reservation, within the United States but somewhat separated from it.  They sure had balls.

And the problems started right there.  Predictably, a minor war ensued between the suspicious locals and the passionate Rajneeshi cult members who were performing all manner of rituals in their little city, and rubbing their newfound wealth, power, and peculiar culture in your face.  Copious amounts of interviews were filmed in the modern day with some of the people involved from opposing angles, including conservative local retirees who hated the foreign influences they were seeing around them, law enforcement personnel who were eventually called upon to investigate the cult, and several key Rajneeshi members including Ma Anand Sheela herself calmly explaining the history of the downright bizarre events that permanently shaped all of their lives during that period some four decades ago.  This stuff is stranger than fiction.

The documentary series spends far more airtime on Ma Anand Sheela, her tight inner circle, and her wheelings and dealings than the overall leader Rajneesh.  After all it was she who ran the nuts and bolts of the movement, while Rajneesh seemed to just float through the scenery sort of above and outside of it all, saying and doing little of consequence.  The filmmakers were wise to do this.  Though I wish I could have seen more about Rajneesh and where the hell he came from, and what the hell it was this fraudulent Indian con man did all day, Sheela is a far more complex, interesting and intriguing character in this play.  She was no doubt a true believer.

Even if you know how the story ends, the journey holds many plot twists, escalating conflicts, outright danger, and thrilling moments leading up to climax.  There is plenty of well-timed suspense.  During some parts of the 6 episodes, it almost felt like I was actually there immersed in the city of Rajneeshpuram during that time in history.  The townspeople splinter amongst themselves.  The Rajneeshis also suffered epic meltdowns and schisms within their ranks, some self-inflicted and others by force of outside influence.  Although many of the key figures come across as batshit crazy at times, on both sides of the war, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for both perspectives as much of the conflict falls into the gray fog between what was right and who was wrong.

As for Ma Anand Sheela, she goes through a long and most wonderful metamorphosis worthy of comparison to a butterfly, and the series documents this arc well.  It is in fact near impossible to reconcile what she was, to what she later in life became.  And this may be the best part of all for those who believe self-improvement is possible.   It is a phenomenon within the Rajneeshi phenomenon that I came to learn more about them despite my own chauvinistic blinders.

I encourage all of you to drop everything else in your queue and enjoy Wild, Wild Country.

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VIDEO/EDITORIAL: US FAST FOOD CHAINS NEED TO STOP OVERLOADING INDIAN CONSUMERS

usindiamonitor true to its name has been monitoring in fascination the wild growth of fast food franchises, many of them American, in Indian cities.  When I was a kid visiting or living in India in the 80s and 90s, American fast food was one of the things I missed the most about America.  It was so vastly different from what was being served in Indian households and restaurants- of course, that food was healthy and delicious in its own right but something would be missing.

But fast food has gone gangbusters in India since that more isolated, innocent, idyllic time in India.  McDonald’s India was perhaps the canary in the coal mine, even though the corporation has of late been mired in massive legal troubles with its local business partners.  In the past we wrote a business case study about McDonald’s India on these pages.  Now we also have Pizza Hut, Domino’s, KFC, Subway, and many other brands making deep inroads with Indian consumers.  And this was to be expected.  As we repeat every single day, American corporations MUST have an India strategy to survive.  The market is too huge, and the economic growth is on too high a trajectory to be ignored.

One the one hand, it’s great to have access to quick, cheap, and admittedly tasty food for working Indian families.  As with fast food in America and around the world, things have taken a decidedly darker turn though.  India’s obesity epidemic is crushing the nation’s youth, with much of the responsibility falling on America’s food and soft drinks.  And now, we have news that fast food companies are dumping saltier, fattier, and more calorific food on the Indian market as compared to the US market, with at times, MULTIPLES of the sodium and fat content of the exact equivalent food item in America.

This is just not right at all.  It’s actually evil, and my bet is that the joints are trying to addict a new market of people with this salty behavior.  WE CALL ON ALL US FOOD CORPORATIONS TO STOP OVERLOADING INDIAN CONSUMERS WITH TOO MUCH JUNK IN THE JUNK FOOD.  Sure, we all know it’s junk food and we make the choice to eat it freely.  But this targeted overload is an outrage and the Indian government and people should not stand for this highly unethical behavior.  All that we ask is that you don’t make the Indians eat junk that’s junkier than the Americans do.  You don’t have to trust me- just watch this video here.  It should make you sick to your stomach.

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

 

Meet the Biggest Indian-American Traitor in US History

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Indian-Americans tend to be loyal to the United States.  They generally work or study, raise their families, and peacefully go about their business as doctors or cab drivers or hotel owners.  Some sign up to be in government (like me) or the military.  They tend to be liberal, but they do float across the political spectrum.  They win almost every spelling bee.

Rarely will you find an Indian-American shooting up a school, joining a gang, starting a supremacist militia, or getting recruited by ISIS or Al-Qaeda.  While these things might occur, they happen at far lower rates than with other diasporas.  Most people credit education and family structure for these things, like with other successful communities.

Therefore, when someone from our diaspora commits active treason against the United States, it becomes sort of a big deal because such cases are so few and far between.  Dig and scrape through the archives back to 1776, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find what’s right in front of our faces today.  I present to you Exhibit A, the deplorable White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary, Raj Shah, a traitor not just to Indian-Americans like Bobby Jindal is, but to the United States itself.

Unsurprisingly for a Trump appointee, Raj is reckless.  His DWI conviction for a booze-soaked BMW ride in New Mexico got him fired from a political job in 2010.  Want to bet that the time he got caught was the only time Raj went a-boozin’ and a-drivin’? Perfect fit in this administration full of boozers, wife-beaters, racists, traitors, misogynists, money launderers, gangsters, and perverts, right?

Now we don’t use the word *traitor* lightly, and not all of those cursed souls in the White House deserve that label.  Only the ones outright lying to cover up crimes against the United States, like Shah’s disgusting boss, Sarah Huckaberry Colonel Sanders whom the guy must have learned so much from.   He has been fortunate to learn from the very worst.  On February 8th, Shah gave her the day off and fumbled through a press conference about the administration’s extremely poor handling of wife-beater Rob Porter’s employment, and worse, personally defended Porter himself repeatedly.  Shah embarrassed all Indians around the world that day.  On top of it all, he was an overmatched, unprepared blathering idiot on the podium: he was not even good at being a bad human being.

But the treason against the United States has taken place in relation to Russia.  Shah is knee deep in the #TrumpRussia scandal, defending his boss’s illegal activities time and again, hyping up the obstructive Devin Nunes memo, casting aspersions on the Steele dossier, and repeating wing nut nonsense about FISA warrants, all of which smells very much like obstruction of justice.

Congratulations, Raj.  You are the biggest Indian-American traitor in US history.  I hope you go down hard along with your false idols Colonel Huckaberry and Captain Bonespur.

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

PS: Nikki Haley today saved herself from joining the Indian-American treason this week by squarely blaming Russia for the chemical terrorism in the UK.  Raj, it’s not too late to get on the right side of history.

MILITARY PARADE? NO. WE NEED A US CYBER FORCE.

We spend upwards of $600 billion annually on our military, and yet we do a subpar job in protecting our business and political interests from the Chinese, Russians, and others robbing us blind, hacking our elections, stealing the plans from weapons systems and federal government personnel files, etc.

The problem is structural.  No entity is accountable for our cyber arena threat matrix- both offensive and defensive capabilities.  There’s the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Pentagon, Homeland Security, CIA, FBI, NSA, and the list goes on.

Whose fault was RussiaGate?  Whose job is it to respond?  WE ARE AT WAR.  We should be going on the offensive.  And the future isn’t tanks, and jets, and carriers, and missiles.  We already dominate those categories, and we are still left unprotected and vulnerable.  We can’t even run a clean election or a free and truthful press, those most basic tenets of democracy.

The United States must create, ASAP, a new military branch on par with the Army, Navy, and Air Force called the United States Cyber Force.  It’s not just land, air, and sea anymore. It must have cutting-edge technical and personnel resources to show overwhelming AND disproportionate force if any nation or terrorist group or criminal organization ever decides to attack America’s cyber infrastructure.

I’m writing a novel about this.  But this is more important than that.  It’s about patriotism, and it’s not partisan at all.  We need to make it reality. Today.  The clock is ticking, and no less than our democracy is at stake.

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

Michael Jackson’s Love Affair with India

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2016 MJ Statue Unveiling Ceremony in Chennai.  via indiawest.com

We now know that American Empire reached its peak in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s before the inevitable downward slide we’re now stuck on.  While American power was bringing the USSR or Iraq to its knees (a favor those Cold Warrior Comrades and ISIS monsters are paying us back in {//:spades//} this moment), it was also ripping the existing world’s popular music scene playbook to shreds and tossing it into the ocean.  Michael Jackson, the foremost cultural artifact that America produced at the apex of its very highest peak, romped freely across the Earth to sold-out stadiums and crying adult fans who urinated themselves and thought suicidal thoughts paradoxically stemming from uncontrollable pure love and joy emotions.  People didn’t know how to feel the feelings they were feeling around the King of Pop.

That transition from 80’s into 90’s was also MJ’s peak as far as we can tell on all objective metrics except what was in this bizarre and gifted human’s mind.  Physically he was indisputably in top dance and voice form.  He was simply the greatest entertainer to ever live.  Not only was he pair bonding with the attractive spawn of Elvis Presley himself, MJ was as yet unstained or unsullied by charges of child molestation and other uniquely weird and mysterious life trajectories which would dog him around until his premature but perhaps merciful death in 2009 (on usindiamonitor‘s wedding day).

In the neverland that time forgot, before Internet and social media, MJ went more viral than a vicious flu outbreak.  His raw and sexual tentacle porn tentacles tickled everything and everywhere.  Virtually all of India’s youth knew Michael Jackson, the endless child.  In this the nation was truly unexceptional.  India was just another domino in the collective soul of North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Australasia to fall for Michael Jackson’s dance moves and inimitable androgynous silken voice despite thousands of years of glorious indigenous music tradition.

Michael Jackson’s torrid love affair with India was the song and dance- the very pillars of the mutual admiration society.  Here’s Michael Jackson dancing Bharatanatyam in the Black or White Video! And we couldn’t hate him for it despite its canned and ambitious theme of racial tolerance, which Indians were in desperate need of in the United States and India and everywhere else.  Here’s Michael Jackson emerging on a stage in Bombay from a f***ing spaceship in a f***ing spacesuit!  In an alien world, Michael Jackson fit right in, right as rain during monsoon season.

India was all in for MJ.  If you peer close enough, the various shades of MJ’s skin over the years exactly matched those of different Indian gene pools.  Lookalikes and lounge acts sprouted up from Kashmir to Kannyakumari, from Bajagoli to Bengal, from Chennai to Chowpatty Beach to Chandigarh.  Kids and adults at home, in the streets, at wedding halls, in the slums and on the riverbanks danced joyously to MJ’s music as only Indians can.  College students dressed up and jerry-curled like him, riding their BMX bicycles to class like it wasn’t no thing.

At many a nadir in US-India relations, MJ was a far superior and more effortless US diplomat, friend, and representative than any government official could hope to be.    He represented so much that was great about the American story.  In a land littered with brutal racists, religious bigotry, misogyny and caste chauvinism, Indians loved this black man as their own.  In this, again, India was no exception.  MJ’s blackness is almost an afterthought in society, so transcendental was the King of Pop.

There will never be another Michael Jackson in pop music, just as America will never be great “again.”  There will be an endless parade of mediocrity and self-absorbed pop tarts grabbing their 15 minutes of fame until the next generation completes their first menstrual cycles and nocturnal emissions just in time to grab the frame and assault our sensibilities on what is good in this world.

Michael Jackson lives on in India.  In 2016, a 10-foot statue cut from a single black stone from my home state of Karnataka (like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial) was dedicated to Michael Jackson utilizing an unmistakably Indian sculpting method, the star forever frozen in a hot place to the soundtrack of Beat It.  In a meta-story for the ages, at the unveiling was the Tamillionaire Prabhu Deva himself (pictured above), India’s answer and living homage to Michael Jackson.  The sizzling Indian dancer owes much to his spiritual mentor, just as Martin Luther King, Jr. did to Mahatma Gandhi on the time/space bridge of black and brown. The statue of Michael looks suspiciously like an Indian holy man.  And that suits us just fine.

Mahanth Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor.   He is OK with sharing initials with the more famous person in this case.

Trump’s Pakistan Aid Threat is Not so Easy

Donald Trump’s first tweet of 2018 made a huge splash around the world.  It was that rare sort of Trump foreign policy statement that didn’t deny collusion with Russia, or taunt North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.  It was about withdrawing US aid to Pakistan.

My first instinct was to agree with the premise.  I was shocked by positive truths while visiting Pakistan, but I have long thought that the United States should predicate the billions in military and civil aid to Pakistan on effectiveness and measurable progress towards eliminating terrorism and increasing economic development, respectively.  It would be fair to take some of that aid away at this point.  Pakistan’s government has proven over and over again that a large chunk of US aid will go to build up its armed forces against India and twist the spigot of American blood in Afghanistan to and fro.  This dirty double game has been going on ever since 9/11.

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credit: Pfc. Cameron Boyd

Ending the double game is a noble goal.  But it’s not so simple.  The Trump administration is ramping up the US military presence in Afghanistan by thousands of troops, even as yet another American soldier was killed and four others critically injured there on the day of Trump’s above tweet.  The longest war in American history continues even further into Year 17.  We are in endless territory when it comes to US blood and treasure and the suffering of the Afghan people.  We hardly know or understand who we are fighting and why.  The media hardly bothers to cover that war anymore even when Americans die.  It’s the textbook definition of mission creep.

Pakistan has been a beneficiary of this war’s largesse from the start, from Bush through Obama to Trump, partly because the US military supply lines run heavily through Pakistan’s ports, airspace, and roads.  America pays dearly for the right to use Pakistan’s resources.  Cutting off US funds to Pakistan could also result in an explosion of fire and fury as terrorists are unleashed from Pakistani territory and other parts of the world in retaliation by dark networks we aren’t very good at tracking.

Like most half-cocked Trump policy prescriptions, the foreign policy establishment in the United States has no plan prepared to follow through on the threat.  The Tweet was poorly timed.  How can you cut off aid to Pakistan when you need them for your war?  Without winding down the war in Afghanistan, or being able to control Pakistani terrorists or nukes minus the local government’s help, Pakistan still has America by the balls.  Even drone strikes in Pakistan require local human intelligence.  These things cannot be separated.  India’s rejoicing may be premature, and I’m not the only one saying so.

We shall watch now how it all unfolds.

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

 

VIDEO: Does the Simpsons’ Apu Need a Do-Over?

Comedian Hari Kondabulu gave millions of Indians around the world a voice by tackling the subject of Apu from the multi-decade hit cartoon sitcom, The Simpsons.  He decided to make a documentary film called “The Problem with Apu” on TruTV which asks some fundamental questions about Apu and why he has to be the way he is.  As we all know, Apu is a minstrel with a fake accent and his appearances comprise an unending parade of unforgivably unfunny stereotypes of an Indian convenience store owner in any town USA.

So ingrained is Apu on the world’s consciousness that when I went to a remote region of Brazil where they never see any Indians, many of the locals nicknamed me Apu for the week.  This is literally the first thing that people who have never met Indians think about when they see an Indian.

The documentary is worth watching, whether you believe Indians are being way too sensitive about Apu, or you are outraged by the minstrel portrayal of Indians by white voice actor, Hank Azaria.  Above you will see the TruTV trailer.

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

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USINDIAMONITOR Dabbles in Sci-Fi Cyber Warrior-Spy Fiction with ‘Subterfuge in the Septagon’

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

As some of you know, I entered the following draft first chapter of a potentially longer work into the Katha Fiction Contest 2017 run by India Currents and got second place.  You can read the whole chapter and the other winning entries at the contest website.  Hope to have the complete novel out soon with help from the Wellstone Center.

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The first time that I met her was in the conference room on the top floor of the Septagon.  Well, top floor sounds a bit misleading when you work in a secret bunker somewhere deep underground below Silicon Valley, California.  Even those of us who work down there have no idea exactly where it is.  Not only are the coordinates classified, it also takes a hyperloop vacuum tube ride through a labyrinth of underground tunnels to get to the Septagon, from any of some 35 hidden ground level entrances equipped with retinal and fingerprint scanners.  The entire subterranean system was designed and built by free-thinking construction robots and 3D printers that were immediately wiped of all data and decommissioned for scrap as part of the grand opening ceremony for the building in 2024.  I’ve read several credible Russian spy-hunter blogs on the Dark Web who somehow conjectured we work directly under the seventh hole of Shoreline Golf Links.  I don’t know, comrades, your guess is as good as mine; try digging around that seventh hole putting green and if someone blows your head off, there’s a good chance you’re right.

Uncle Sam seems to be into the number seven these days.  Seventh hole.  The Septagon, for a bunker with seven walls.  Only seven living people at any time know exactly where the United States Cyber Force (USCF) Headquarters is, and the executive suites are on the top floor, which is- you guessed it- the seventh floor.  Maybe that’s because Uncle Sam’s luck had been running real low.

The USCF (pronounced “uskeff” for those in the know) was formed after several crippling cyberspace debacles for America that helped level the playing field of asymmetrical warfare, including China’s cyber theft of every single U.S. conventional weapons system by 2014, including detailed plans for the F-35 joint strike fighter jet (since discontinued), Russia’s successful hack of the U.S. Democratic Party during the heavily compromised 2016 presidential election cycle, the time a still-unidentified group blew up the international space station in 2019 through an elaborate climate control systems hacking operation, and the time Al Qaeda brought down the entire Internet for two agonizing days in 2021.  This of course wrought more havoc on the United States and the world than any day since 9/11.  I was in college at the time.  It was terrifying to be amongst 7,000 college students with useless smartphones and smartwatches and zero idea how to function in real life without a working Internet.  Those were dark days.

Naturally it took two years of bureaucratic nut flexing, study groups, investigations, commissions, and Congressional committee hearings to figure out that the United States needed a new military branch, a Cyber Force on par with the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard to have some capability to defend from and retaliate against folks in the cyber arena threat matrix.  It took another year to decide to place its headquarters somewhere in the sub-vicinity of Silicon Valley, which to me was always a no-brainer as I followed along the debates in the news in high school and college.  Why in hell would you put it anywhere else?

In a predictable sequence of events and affairs, the USCF had steadily gained in stature, to the point where it was considered the most prestigious and critical of all of the branches of the military- and also most secretive, and least understood by an American public that mostly didn’t even know what HTML was.  That’s why I decided to enlist, along with thousands of other intelligent patriots.  It’s why the USCF commander was considered the most important military leader of our time.  Rumor has it that during a heated argument at the White House in the presence of the President, USCF General Nirupama “Nero” Patel was being dressed down by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff over something.  Within minutes, irate as hell, she had orchestrated the power-down of every single US Army tank in every single corner of the globe simply by typing orders into her USCF smartphone while sitting there getting yelled at, and wouldn’t power the tanks back up until she received a satisfactorily profuse apology.  I can neither confirm nor deny that I was involved in that friendly little US Army tail-pulling exercise.

Now back to the original subject.  I was summoned to the fancy oak-paneled conference room with huge computer screens that spring day in 2025, having no idea what was in store.  Here I was, an Indian-American, a fresh-faced Cyber Force geek recruit straight out of boot camp, 24 years old, 33 days on the job, attending my first 7th floor meeting.  These usually only include the honchos unless something major was going down.  Two seats away from me was a very pretty Indian girl, with long jet black hair tied into a tight ponytail, a form fitting gray suit, and that caramel tone I tend to like on my candy and on my women.  The seat between us was empty.   I stared at the ceiling, concentrated on keeping my heart rate down, and bravely pretended not to notice her as we all waited for the emergency meeting to start.

“Hi, I’m Manisha,” she said with a sultry Indian accent.  I looked over.  She was looking right at me with her hand extended in my direction.  Stay calm, dude.  Compute?

 “I’m Bart,” I replied, taking her hand.  Man, it was a strong grip. What was this pretty young foreign national thing doing so deep in the Septagon?

“You’re… Indian, no?” she asked after a pause, doing that Indian head shake thing where you can’t tell if it’s a yes or a no, approving or disapproving.  A no with Indians can be a yes, as in, she could be saying, “You’re Indian, right?”

“Right, I’m Indian-American.  Real name my parents gave me is Bharat,” I stammered, guessing that the name Bart threw her off.  Either that or she was wondering if I was named after Bay Area Rapid Transit.

“Nice to meet you.  I’m representing India on the new inter-agency task force.”  Wait, there’s a new task force?  And this Indian chick knows about it before I do?

The USCF General walked in the door, and everybody shut up and stood.  There were about 30 people in the room, including the General, two Lieutenant Generals, and the rest of the brass, along with a few drones like me.  General Patel began to speak.

“I’d like to welcome Manisha Gayatri from India here today,” she began.  “Manisha is on special assignment with us.  She was hired by the Indian Cyber Army after graduating first in her class from the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai, and top scored her Indian Cyber Army training class as well.”  Whoa.  Pretty impressive resume to go with those looks.  IIT and the Indian ICA are both considered top-notch globally these days.  I was nowhere near the top of my own USCF class (insert sheepish face emoticon here) or my Georgetown class.  Too busy socializing with the other recruits, while playing and designing video games.  Perhaps shockingly to you, designing video games is a hobby of mine.

General Patel continued.  “As you know, the Russia-China alliance was able to successfully shut down an entire US Navy carrier group on patrol in the Indian Ocean last week, and the Indian Navy stepped in and helped us keep the carrier group secure during this episode while we got back up and running.”  There were some snickers in the room.  Ah, the Navy.  The seamen let a carrier group go dark over basic sixth-grade malicious code. Should have had a few of us USCF boys on board.  The U.S. government tried hard to keep the situation under wraps from the public, but some excitable Sri Lankan fishermen in the area started a ginormous global Twitter storm with photos of six powerful US warships and a nuclear submarine just drifting around in the water like sitting ducks without even their lights working.

“I just got off video conference with the President and the Defense Secretary.  As you know, President Gabbard considers this an act of cyberwar and wants us to retaliate, exceedingly quietly and with extreme prejudice.  There will be zero public mention of a retaliation, or even acknowledgement of the Navy incident.  The Indian government was pretty pissed that this happened in their own backyard as well, and so have offered their utmost assistance.  I am here to brief you on the mission, which will entail a secret joint US-India offensive operation to hack into and disrupt all Chinese military base activities on the islands in the South China Sea, over a long time horizon.”  The room seemed to let out a collective gasp.  I nearly choked on my latte and almost fell out of my seat.  But Manisha sat there, perfectly calm with a self-satisfied smile on her face.  She already knew.  Before most of us.  Including me. “Agent Manisha Gayatri will be leading the Indian side of the task force,” General Patel continued amongst the murmurs, “and Officer Bart Joshi will be running point for the US side.”  At that point, I did really choke on my latte.  And BJ never chokes.

Manisha slapped me on the back patronizingly while I coughed.  “Time to put your big-boy pyjamas on,” she said sweetly.  Leave it to the Indians to screw up how to say pajamas.  OH, and how in the world was I chosen to co-captain one of the most important military missions that the USCF had ever taken on in its brief yet important history? 

* * *

Talk about a tall order.  Or: how my life was practically guaranteed to be a failure from between the next few years to the rest of my life, assuming I even survived this perilous mission.  The artificial islands in the South China Sea had turned into a beastly network of real and virtual fortresses.  Close to 10,000 Chinese troops and an unknown quantity of cyborgs were stationed on them in a series of naval and air force bases.  These assets had been under construction basically since I was born in 2001 in order to deter China’s neighbors like Vietnam or the Philippines from making competing claims on the rich resources of the South China Sea.  Russia had a bunch of troops, cyborgs, ships, aircraft, tanks, and drones based there too, and the whole thing was wrapped in a tight cybersecurity net manned by several hundred bad hombres.   While neither China or Russia was officially an enemy state, their 2023 formal military alliance had been seen as an act of hostility by the United States, and set the stage for the US-India treaty alliance of 2024, the same year the USCF was formed.  And just like that, there was a new bipolar world between the two axes of power forged just before the US carrier group was hacked into and shut down- the first major “hot” incident of the new 21st century Cold War.  While the Indian Cyber Army (ICA) and USCF had an active personnel exchange program going, I hadn’t yet had a chance to work with one of my subcontinental cousins on anything.  Manisha was to be the first.  Fate and all of that.

It’s probably pretty obvious already, but I instantly developed a sort of thing for Manisha in that seventh floor conference room.  Right off the bat, I always loved the Indian accent.  It reminded me of Bollywood, my dear grandparents who immigrated to this country, and chicken biryani.  Or a good day, during which I watched Bollywood on TV with my grandparents while eating chicken biryani as a kid in Fresno.  Totally unfair to use that accent on me, right?

Of course, I had to play it cool.  I had to prove to her that Indian-Americans were cool.  Plus, national security and the new world order and stuff were at stake, so I couldn’t be focused on playing tongue hockey with my co-captain.  It would be too big a distraction.  We had an example to set for the interagency task force, which was to include over 300 full time cyber-warriors from both countries.

Apparently I had been chosen for this leadership role based on a sophisticated analysis of my keystrokes on the job.  A UCSF computer program called Keystroke Analysis & Integrated Fusion (KAIF) took every single thing I had ever done on any device at work, including the speed at which I wrote emails, wrote code, hacked through systems, scrolled through reading materials, called, video conferenced, messaged or emailed other people, and even the pauses between activities, to determine my aptitude to lead and to take on a cyber mission versus everyone else.  Creepy, right?  I’d be more comfortable knowing that I was just being chosen as a patsy for an impossible mission that needed a fall guy.  Which is what it still felt like this was, not KAIF.

We weren’t just all geeks all the time, though.  In USCF basic training we had to do the physical stuff too, like running, swimming, obstacle courses, wilderness survival, making beds, and firearms training just like the other branches of the military.  The difference being, we had by far the lowest physical requirements, and by far the most difficult IT skills testing.  We came to be known throughout the services as Geeks with Guns.

Manisha asked to join me for lunch that first day, a get to know you sort of thing, and I obliged.  The Septagon cafeteria wasn’t half bad, featuring a team of Indian chefs making authentic subcontinental chow in real tandoor ovens for the some 25% of the USCF headquarters staff of Indian origin, and whoever else.  These guys spent the days pounding Johnnie Walker Black Label in the kitchen and making killer food.  Don’t ask me how they get their security clearance, or avoid burning the naan.

“So you grew up in California?” she asked me as we munched on some bhel puri.

“Right.  Fresno.  Pretty standard upbringing. Gamer.  Hacker.  Tennis player. Went to Georgetown for college.   Enlisted in USCF pretty soon after.”

“Similar to me.  ICA recruited me out of IIT with a bunch of my classmates,” she said.  “I won’t tell you my age, but I’m a bit older than you are.”  Nice.  I liked older women.

“How’d they pick you for this mission?”

“They put a few of us on a plane to the United States with very little notice, and said we’d be briefed when we got there.  I spent some time at the Pentagon, Indian Embassy, doing a bunch of Washington meetings.  Some other members of my team stayed on in Washington to do some other things.”  Wait.  What was that?  Was she?  Yes, champ, that WAS her foot rubbing up on my leg.

“Co-captains…can’t focus tongue hockey…on 300 cyber warriors,” I stammered.

“Want to get a beer with me after work tonight?”

“Um…yes, sure.”

***

Um, Om? WHAT Hindu Heavy Metal Music Scene?

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Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

India isn’t exactly a hotbed of heavy metal.  The airwaves over there are packed with film-style dance numbers derived from Bollywood, bhangra, and various poppy Western influences.  There’s a millennia-long tradition of music in India, but it’s usually been slim pickings for those of us lifelong heavy metal fans.  On the occasions where rock music is even to be found anywhere in India, it’s almost always soft in nature.  To be fair, most Indians have never properly heard heavy metal.  However, I’ve thought for some years now that this could all change- that India is even becoming ripe for a heavy metal revolution!

It’s only appropriate.  India is hardcore, man.  India is a sensation seeker’s dream, with a vibrant and colorful spiritual culture, an exceedingly wide range of flavor profiles and smells, rollicking cities overflowing into breathtaking landscapes, ancient and modern architecture on top of each other, oppressive political ferment, and the crush of people and traffic in every direction.  It’s hotter than hell in most of India most of the time.  India is an assault on your senses.  What can possibly be more METAL than that?

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Meanwhile, Hinduism probably lends itself better to the all-out thrash power of metal than it’s generally credited for.  The sitar, tablas, bhajans, mantras, and shlokas of Hinduism can entrance, hypnotize, and more at their best.  The mythology is filled with colorful characters, moral conundrums, epic battle scenes, powerful weapons, gruesome demons, sexual symbolism, and savage animalistic imagery such as many-armed Goddesses carrying the bleeding heads of vanquished foes as souvenirs, or the lion-headed avatar Narasimha ripping an enemy in half with his bare hands.  Imagine imagining this bloody milieu with raw metal guitar, bass, and drum power behind it.  Again I ask you, what could possibly be more METAL than that?

TDT 16-02-13 © ANOOP B VYAS PHOTOGRAPHY  (3).jpgFinally, we have the demographic bulge.  It’s no secret that metal is a young person’s game. India is a young country, with 845 million people under the age of 35, many of them jumping on the Internet or television for the first time to partake in Western influenced culture, including music.  The best American import is arriving in force.

And thus, an earnest, nascent Hindu/Vedic heavy metal scene has formed in India and abroad.  It took your correspondent a few forays down the Internet rabbit hole to discover it, but it’s definitely there.  There’s a long way to go for Hindu metal to fill more than a nook in the niche cranny.  Particularly missing in my view is enough melodic singing to match the guitar riffs.  The scene is far from mature but more than anything, I see potential and opportunity.  Below are some of the bands you can find along with example tracks for a pretty elaborate curated survey.  No matter what you think of the music, these bands are truly pioneers, merging the great traditions of Hinduism and hard rock.  If there are others I missed, please mention them in the comments below!

The Down Troddence.  These guys flat-out rock.  After I came across this song today, I couldn’t get enough of their music.  Not surprisingly, there’s many a Shiva themed song on our list, with this one simply titled, Shiva.  The Down Troddence is a six-piece that hails from Kerala.  I haven’t heard all of the songs by all of these bands yet but as of now I consider this the most technically competent band among the lot.

 

Motherjane.  A bit less heavy, and a bit more classical influence than the others on this list, Motherjane is an eminently listenable band with a melodic and well-orchestrated sound.  Chasing the Sun as a bonus also features an excellent video which could only be made in India.  They remind me a bit of the excellent Pakistani band Junoon.  I wish I had heard of Motherjane sooner.

 

Moksh the Band Fronted by a woman named Ishrat Rajan on vocals, and managed by lead guitarist/singer Ashish Wilson, this Shimla four-piece has been kicking around its incarnations since 2003.  In recent years the band decided to take on a ditty about Shiva the Destroyer himself with Shiv Tandav Stotram.  In keeping with the spirit of Hinduism, the video is meant to provoke awareness of those who lost their lives in natural disasters.

 

Rudra.  This foursome of bad boy Hindus hails from Singapore, and has been jamming out since 1992.  They are quite likely the first band to have earned the so-called Hindu metal mantle.  There are unmistakable hints of ancient India in the song Now Therefore including a conch call to start the proceedings.  I like more melody in my metal vocals, but this style should appeal to many of you metal heads out there and the instrumentals are solid.         

 

Millennium.  To be honest, Millennium was formed as an 80’s hair metal band with Christian members and no Hindu influence.  The song Only be One in fact uses overt Christian imagery such as crosses and coffins.  That being said, this band formed in Bangalore in 1986.  They are considered to be one of the first, if not the first, successful metal band from India.  Props!  Rock out!

 

Indus Creed.  While Indus Creed straddles the line between pop rock (not exactly my jam) and hard rock, they deserve mention as one of the indisputable giants in India’s rock music history.  Rock ‘N Roll Renegade was one of their early hits from their debut album of the same name in the 80’s, and helped launch them into the pantheon of India’s rock stratosphere.  In fact, Indus Creed helped pave the way for all of the other bands in this list.  Respect.

 

Cult of Fire.  Hinduism is for all, and this Czech Republic band proves that Hindu metal is a globalized phenomenon.  The song Kali Ma is mostly instrumental, but it shows the range of talent possessed by Cult of Fire.  The below video splices a bunch of Hindi Hindu film footage into the song.  Judge for yourself whether Kajol and Sridevi dressed like Goddesses with heavy metal in the background actually works…


Dying Out Flame.
  OK, first of all, this band looks absolutely hardcore.  Right?  They also rock righteously, they’re co-ed, plus they have cool album art (see top).  Formed in 2011, this band hails from the Hindu majority nation of Nepal, adding more to the international flavor of Hindu metal.  Shiva Rudrastakam pays tribute to Lord Shiva- in case you aren’t noticing a trend here?

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Demonic Resurrection.    This particular band was formed by four teenagers at the start of the new millennium.  The Mumbai band has kept on, and helped bring other metal bands into the fold through singer Sahil Makhija’s Deamonstealer Records.  Of particular interest in the song Matsya- The Fish and others is a seamless and welcome integration of sitar into the metal.

 

Dhwesha.  This band’s punishing style puts the death into death metal.  Another Bangalore band, Dhwesha actually sings in Kannada- though it’s nearly impossible to tell.  In their self-titled song from 2014, you can choose to witness the see-saw between uplift and despair.  It’s worth it.

 

This list of course cannot do justice to the entire music library each of these bands has, nor is it meant to be a complete listing of Hindu or Vedic heavy metal.  Hopefully you have been exposed to a world you didn’t know about, and enjoyed it as much as I have.

There’s a musical revolution under way, and you have gotten in on the ground floor.

 

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Picture credits:

  1. Dying Out Flame album art
  2. Demonic Resurrection album art
  3. Down Troddence concert by Anup B Vyas
  4. Dying Out Flame album art
  5. Om guitar pick, Zazzle.com

usindiamonitor Applauds Nomination of Kenneth Juster for US Ambassador to India

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via sputniknews.com

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

usindiamonitor was overly underwhelmed that the position of US Ambassador to India had been left vacant for many months since January 2017.  That’s when former Ambassador Richard Verma last roamed the halls of the US Embassy and left behind not only the hot air of New Delhi, but also a legacy of forward progress in the US-India relationship.  Obama’s pick was also much appreciated by many Indians worldwide as the first Indian-American to hold the post.  Trump promised less than one year ago that India would be America’s best friend as he lit up a Hindu diva in New Jersey, stoking the hopes and dreams of innumerable Indian-American voters along with a wonderful lamp.

Do best friends leave Ambassador posts to one another unfilled for that long, especially if the relationship is as superlatively non-controversial and bipartisan as the US-India nexus today?  Maybe not.  But in June, promising murmurs circulated about a certain Kenneth Juster being appointed to the post, an unexpected announcement which nearly served to make up for the time lapse.  Senate confirmation based on Juster’s qualifications seemed a given due to his tried and true negotiations with India.  Opposition either domestic or bilateral seemed unlikely to cause real impact.

Yet several more long months of silence on this matter followed, as the White House and its attendant media were consumed by other, baser affairs.  On September 5, Juster was finally nominated to be the 26th US Ambassador to India.  We urge rapid action by the US Senate to confirm Juster without delay when he comes up to vote this week.

So, who is Kenneth Ian Juster?

***

Juster had overseas proclivities generally, and toward Asia specifically from an early age.  As a Harvard undergraduate he studied abroad in Thailand, and served as a research assistant to Samuel P. Huntington, one of the foremost political science gurus in United States history.  Juster’s resume includes substantive stints in both the public and private sectors, and in each area the work took him beyond the water’s edge.  He came to know the levers and pipelines of federal bureaucracy at the White House, State Department, Department of Commerce, National Security Council, and National Economic Council.  On the other side, Juster was respected by private sector colleagues at entities such as salesforce.com, power law firm Arnold & Porter, and private equity shop Warburg Pincus, all of which have global operations.

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via Wall Street Journal

When it comes to US-India diplomatic relations, Juster is among the limited pool of Americans who have found themselves deep in the arena over the years- and yet became accepted as true friends of India by Indians.  This pool is relatively small, shared by members such as previous Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, the aforementioned Richard Verma, the late Congressman Stephen Solarz, and former Ambassador Robert Blackwill.  Unlike many in the US foreign policy establishment and particularly in the US State Department, these figures generally didn’t condescend towards their counterparts even if they had to play hardball.  Indians have never viewed this as a given.  Small wonder that Narendra Modi and his team approved of Juster’s nomination.

Juster is known for helping initiate a High Tech Cooperation Group between the two countries in the early 2000’s, at a time when technology trade and transfer were nowhere near the powerhouse level they have now reached.  Today, it’s impossible to keep up with the daily flow of US-India tech deals, mergers, and acquisitions.  Some of this is finally creeping into the military realm, including the potential for big-ticket US toys such as the Marine One helicopter and the F-16 fighter jet to be made in India, while American drones and other cutting-edge hardware may be sold to the Indian military, all for the first time.

Juster is even better known for what followed, playing a key role in the multi-year negotiations that culminated in the 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal, to this day a jewel in the crown of bilateral trade, but one which still has a long way to go to fulfill its promise.  Nuclear exchange is nowhere near where it could be.  Even so 2008 represented the end of a long and difficult climb since 1998, a year when India secretly tested nuclear weapons in the sands underneath the Pokhran desert, angering the United States, prompting sanctions against India, and setting the relationship back by years.  There has been a steep climb since 2008 as well to address a myriad of concerns with the deal.

It won’t hurt that Juster has Trump’s ear and has for some years especially on economic matters.  There are many challenges in play.  A rising China and the bitter escalation with North Korea are going to affect the entire Asian neighborhood for the foreseeable future in this, the Asian Century.  The nuclear exchange could stall on matters such as liability.  Reduction in the flow of Indians coming to the United States to work and study  under the Trump administration should be of serious concern to both countries.  Intellectual property and the monitoring quality of drug manufacturing in India for US sales are in need of mutually agreed upon swim lanes.  Afghanistan, which has been in turmoil for 40 years will rely heavily on US-India cooperation if it’s ever to stabilize.  Future cooperation will also depend on how the United States and Pakistan deal with each other, an issue that India will study more closely than all others.

It is possible that Juster will be part of a much anticipated seismic shift, toward the first mutual defense treaty between the United States and India, befitting for the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest.  There are many steps and pitfalls along the way, but we consider this eventuality to be inevitable the way things are going.  Might as well get on with it.

Juster will have his hands full upon arrival in New Delhi.  But for now, it’s time for the Senate to do its job and confirm the qualified nominee.  This is also a very good time to thank Mary Kay Loss Carlson, the US Charge d’Affaires in New Delhi, for holding down the fort during the long interim period.  We also applaud the Trump administration for making a good decision in this critical area of foreign policy.  If only there were more of them.

 

 

 

 

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