Category Archives: News

A Day in the Life of an Ethnically Ambiguous Actor

Actor Cliff Curtis on Gang Related. (Photo credit: Fox)
Actor Cliff Curtis on Gang Related. (Photo credit: Fox)

He plays all of the roles: Slate has a fun interview with actor Cliff Curtis, who is currently starring on Fox’s Gang Related. Curtis, who is a Maori from New Zealand, is regularly cast as every nationality and ethnicity imaginable, including Indian, because of ambiguous looks. (Slate)

The worrisome state of publishing in India: “Publishing in India these days — or at least scholarly publishing — operates in an anxious climate,” according to a piece by Raksha Kumar on It looks like the pulping last year of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus is just the beginning, as many other books that supposedly portray Hinduism in a bad light are under threat. (Time)

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India’s Great NBA Hope and Some Music for Your Monday

The great Indian NBA hope: Could an 18-year-old high schooler one day become the first Indian national to make it to the NBA? The Caravan profiles Satnam Singh Bhamara, a current student at Florida’s IMG Academy. While the 7’2″ center is still a teenager, he’s already being seen as one of India’s best shots to reach the NBA. (Caravan)

Restoring that natural glow: Pollution has long been a threat to the Taj Mahal. A 2010 report by the Indian government found that previous measures to protect the tomb of Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz were failing. The BBC reported this weekend that the monument will “be given a mud-pack to remove yellow pollution stains.” The last time the Taj Mahal received the restorative mud-pack was in 2008. (Gawker)

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The Return of Sanjaya Malakar and More

Sanjaya, all grown up.
Sanjaya, all grown up.

Guess who’s back? It’s been seven years since a 17-year-old Sanjaya Malakar and his hair became the unexpected stars of American Idol. The singer has just released a digital album of covers which includes versions of hits by Stevie Wonder, Imagine Dragons and Tom Petty. (Sanjaya Malakar’s Bandcamp page)

From the mouths of babes: Natasha Badhwar’s latest column in Mint explores identity, the India-Pakistan border and what it’s like to watch Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi with a group of children from Karachi, New Delhi and Lucknow in 2014. (Mint)

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Vivek Murthy’s Surgeon General Nomination is Still Being Blocked by the NRA

Vivek Murthy’s nomination continues to float in limbo: Remember Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General? Back in February the Senate HELP committee gave the good doctor a bipartisan recommendation and it looked like the office of Surgeon General would finally be filled. Unfortunately, the National Rifle Association has single handedly been blocking the nomination from proceeding. The NRA objects to the fact that Murthy was “was one of the authors of a letter saying that “strong measures to reduce gun violence must be taken immediately.” Yikes. (Vox)

 Maya Angelou and Madhur Jaffrey once had the best lunch date ever: As the world mourns poet Maya Angelou, the Guardian’s Twitter feed revisited this wonderful 2005 piece in which Angelou and the actress and cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey had a long detailed conversation about life and food over lunch.

A sampling of their conversation:

Maya Angelou: . . . I somehow knew early on that I would not live my life at someone else’s whim, out of somebody else’s ignorance. My tastebuds are mine and if I’d like to have champagne with a steak then that’s what I want. My question since I was a young person was: Who makes the rules? Was it with me in mind? And if it wasn’t, I didn’t want it.

Words to live by. (The Guardian)
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Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe Become the First Scripps Spelling Bee Co-Champions since 1962

“Ansun, if you spell this word correctly you and Sriram will be declared co-champions.”

That simple declaration from Dr. Jacques Bailey, the official pronouncer of the Scripps Spelling Bee led to one of the most memorable endings to the event in recent memory.  Because contestants Ansun Sujoe and Sriram Hathwar were about to exhaust the list of official spelling bee words, the pair had the chance to create the first tie  since 1962.

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Salman Rushdie’s New Favorite Parody Twitter Account is Hilarious

Hit follow now. The must-follow Twitter account of the week is @RushdieExplains, a new feed that purportedly explains India from Salman Rushdie’s perspective. The account’s Twitter bio proudly notes that it’s “graciously blessed by Sir himself.” You can see Sir Salman’s complementary tweet posted above. (

The Frenchman who fell in love with Urdu. Meet Julian Columeau, a 41-year-old French-born writer who the AFP calls one of Pakistan’s “most innovative Urdu novelists.” Columeau began studying Hindi in the early 90s, but found it too “clerical,” leading him to switch to Urdu. He moved to Pakistan to work in the humanitarian sector over a decade ago. (AFP)

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New Study Says South Asia is The Most Corrupt Region on Earth

Raise your hand if you are surprised that South Asia is the most corrupt region in the world. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Raise your hand if you are surprised that South Asia is the most corrupt region in the world. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Surprise, surprise! A new report by the watchdog group Transparency International has found that South Asia is “the worst region in the world when it comes to corruption.” Sigh. (Associated Press)

Attention: Pat Sajak. The longtime Wheel of Fortune host recently said that he believed that global warming was fake. Tell that to the people of Pakistan. The organization Climate Asia found that the Pakistanis they surveyed were deeply concerned about the Earth’s rising temperature, despite the fact that many of them were unfamiliar with the term “global warming.” (The Guardian)

An avoidable statistic. India leads the world in newborn deaths, with a large number taking place within 24 hours of birth. Most of these deaths are avoidable, a study in the Lancet and public health officials say. (NYT)

Meet the teenager at the center of #handlegate: As you may have heard, the @PMOIndia Twitter account was recently a victim of the power battle between India’s two biggest political parties. In the midst of all of the confusion, 19-year-old Qaiser Ali was briefly able to register the handle before his parents “scolded me and told me to apologise to all the people of India.” (BBC)

Save the date.  Narendra Modi’s swearing in as the new Prime Minister of India is all set for Monday and,as a somewhat unexpected gesture of goodwill, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is on the guest list. (CNN)

Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.

Vijay Seshadri Becomes the First Asian American to Win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry


Vijay Seshadri became the first Asian American poet to win the Pulitzer Prize yesterday for his book 3 Sections. In its citation, the Pulitzer committee hailed the work as “a compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless.”

Reviewing the collection for The American Reader, Bhisham Bherwani wrote that Seshadri’s characters found themselves, “in situations that compel them—even as they remain inevitably attached to reality—to grapple with the domain of their disassociated selves.”

Born in Bangalore in 1954, Seshadri moved to the United States with his family five years VijaySeshadrilater and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. In this 2004 interview with Jeet Thayil for Poets and Writers magazine, Seshadri said he began writing as a teenager:

I think I conceived of myself as a writer before I started writing, and I started writing poetry when I was 16. I was in college. I had become interested in poetry and that first January I heard Galway Kinnell read from The Book of Nightmares, which as yet was unpublished. I loved that reading. I remember it clearly; it made me want to go home and start writing. I was never one of those writers who knew from the age of six that they were writers, who lisped in numbers. In my early twenties I wrote, or tried to write, a novel that was much too ambitious for me. I’d been influenced by the French new novel, and by Pynchon, and John Hawkes. They were radical novelists and I felt I had to write a novel like theirs. I probably had a novel in me, but it was much more a conventional novel that a person in their early twenties would write, a coming-of-age story; but I had modernist and postmodernist models. Around the time I was also reading Beckett’s trilogy and thought that’s what novels had to be. An impossible model, really. In my mid-twenties I went back to poetry.

Seshadri’s 3 Sections is his third book. It was preceded by 1996’s Wild Kingdom and The Long Meadow, which was published in 2005. He is currently a professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

High School Student’s Article on Rape Culture Sparks Free Speech Debate

High school senior Tanvi Kumar.
High school senior Tanvi Kumar.

High School Newspaper Article Sets off Free Speech Discussion: A high school senior has found herself at the center of a debate on free speech in schools after publishing a piece on rape culture.

It began when Tanvi Kumar, a senior at Wisconin’s Fond du Lac High School, published a piece titled “The Rape Joke” in a student-run magazine. According to the Fond du Lac paper The Reporter, Kumar’s article “documents a prevailing rape culture within the school and its impact on students who are survivors of sexual abuse.” (All of the students quoted were given aliases.)

In reaction to the piece, Fond du Lac’s principal Jon Wiltzius announced that all future newspaper articles would have to be approved by the administration and could be rejected if they did not meet official standards. “This is a reasonable expectation,” Wiltzius told the Press-Gazette. “My job is to oversee the global impact of everything that occurs within our school and I have to ensure I am representing everyone and there was some questionable content.”

The school’s student journalists promptly launched a petition to stop the censorship of the paper and the school’s English teachers have asked district administrators to drop the censorship policy, releasing a 22-page statement in support of the students’ right to free speech.

For its part, the Fond du Lac community has for the most part been rallying around Kumar and the rest of the student newspaper staff. As one alum wrote in this letter to the editor, “When a courageous student like Ms. Tanvi Kumar publishes an article seeking to expose a culture of sexual abuse and violence among fellow students and friends at Fond du Lac High School (FHS), such a student deserves the highest praise.”

Kumar told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she was inspired to write the piece after hearing rape jokes while walking through the hallways of her school. “I was appalled by that, and it upset me to the point that I felt like I had to say something or do something about it,” Kumar told the paper.

Interested in reading the piece at the center of the controversy? It can be found on page 13 here. [American Bazaar, India West]

Photographing Life in a South Indian Queer Community: Photographer Candace Feit spent a year documenting the lives of members of Tamil Nadu’s queer “Kothi” community. According to Feit, the community consists of a wide variety of people, including “married fathers who have male lovers, people born male who wear female dress and male-born people who wear traditional women’s clothing only during religious festivals or celebrations.” [Buzzfeed]

The Beauty of Pakistan: Historic sites like Lahore’s Shalimar Gardens and Minar-e-Pakistan and Islamabad’s Faisal Mosque all make The Culture Trip’s list of beautiful places that you should see. [The Culture Trip]

A Portrait of India in Portraits: Mumbai’s Delhi Art Gallery‘s new exhibit “Indian Portraits: The Face of a People” traces the history of 250 years of Indian portraiture. [Wall Street Journal]

A Conversation With Ritesh Batra, Director of ‘The Lunchbox’

Ritesh Batra, center. on the set of The Lunchbox with some of the cast (including Irrfan Khan at right).
Ritesh Batra, center. on the set of The Lunchbox with some of the cast (including Irrfan Khan at right).

The Mumbai portrayed in The Lunchbox, director Ritesh Batra’s latest film, is one that’s very different from what fans of Indian cinema are probably used to. This isn’t a glossy story about glamorous people — instead it’s a subtly elegant story of two lost souls — a middle-aged civil servant preparing for early retirement (Irrfan Khan) and a housewife struggling to save her marriage (the wonderful Nimrat Kaur) who are brought together completely by chance when one of the city’s famed dabbawallas makes a rare mistake. The film opens tomorrow in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

After its debut at the Cannes Film Festival last year, several critics and moviegoers were convinced that The Lunchbox would be India’s submission to the Oscars — with many believing that the film could have possibly even taken home the Best Foreign Language Film award. Alas, the Film Board eventually selected the Gujarati film The Good Road (which did not receive the Oscar nod).

I had the chance to talk to the director earlier this week about the film, working with the dabbawallas and, of course, the Oscars controversy.

Congrats on all of the success of the film. Why do you think that so many viewers had such an emotional connection to it?

You’ll have to answer that question yourself. Going to a film, you just bring yourself to the work. I just put myself into the work, the actors brought themselves to their roles and really put themselves into the characters. I think that’s why people have responded the way they have.

I read that you got the idea for the film when you wanted to make a documentary and then came up with the story of this film instead. Can you tell me more about that?

I was trying to make a documentary about the dabbawallas, and in the process we became friends. They had all of these stories about the people they worked with and would say things like ‘this housewife does this’ and ‘one time this happened.’ And so I got the idea for the film and I started writing.

My favorite little moment in the film was when Ila tells a dabbawalla that her husband’s lunchbox is going to the wrong place and the man insists that the dabbawallas never make a mistake and points out that researchers from Harvard came to study their efficiency. How have the dabbawallas reacted to the film? Did anyone say anything like ‘we don’t make mistakes’?

Well, there are many dabbawallas in the film — every one you see in the movie is an actual dabbawalla. When I watched it with them recently I said, “it’s not about a mistake, it’s about a miracle.” Because only one in six million [lunchboxes] go to the wrong place. That’s not a mistake, it’s a miracle.

One of the most striking things to me about the film is that it takes place in Mumbai, but the characters are so isolated. Ila rarely leaves her home, Sajan doesn’t really have any friends or confidants. Were you trying to make a statement about life in big cities?

I don’t think I was trying to make a statement. Of course, urban loneliness is a real thing, but I’ve always lived in big cities — I’ve lived in Mumbai, I’ve lived in New York — and that loneliness is in all big cities.

While I was watching your film, I thought a couple of times about Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation — it had a similar theme of an older man forming an unlikely emotional connection to a younger woman and there were other little things that were similar. Do you agree?

I love that movie a lot and the movies that you love kind of stay with you. Another movie people have said it reminds them of is In The Mood For Love. I thought of the character of Ila first when I was writing and was thinking of a character who tries to fix her life through cooking and food. And that’s how it started.

And this is Oscar season, we’re just a few days away from the ceremony, I know that many people were upset that The Lunchbox wasn’t selected by India to be nominated. Have you moved on from that?

You have no choice but to move on. I think it’s really a tragedy for Indian filmmakers — there are a lot of filmmakers out there that could really shine on a bigger stage but they don’t have the support they need. I think my team and I were also naïve about the process. We thought the film would do well on its own merits.