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Chinese take-out and matinees

Are how I usually spend December 25th (unless, like this year, Gurpurab services fall on the same day). When I was younger, my family and I would spend the week of Christmas collecting items for donation, volunteering with the local soup kitchen, and generally reflecting on, and brainstorming, how we could help others during a sometimes lean time of year. I like to think this tradition has morphed as I’ve grown older (into a year-long commitment to service), but something about December always makes me feel more thoughtful.

My parents also went out of their way to explain that as Sikhs we did not celebrate Christmas, but they explained the significance of the Sikh religious holidays that tend to fall around this time of year. I didn’t feel like I had to trade — presents were not really an expectation or feature of the season after I passed the age of 7. Instead we spent loooooong hours at the gurdwara for services.


The Downfall of Us All

bollywood.jpgA recent study by Heriot Watt University (UK) has published some “ground-breaking results”. A group of psychologists that study family and personal relationships studied 40 romantic-comedy rom-coms [always womens favorites] box office hits between 1995 and 2005, including You’ve Got Mail, Maid In Manhattan, The Wedding Planner and While You Were Sleeping [and I am sure many other titles that I have fortunately escaped seeing].

The studies found:

“The problem is that while most of us know that the idea of a perfect relationship is unrealistic, some of us are still more influenced by media portrayals than we realise.”

The study had 100 student volunteers watch the 2001 romantic comedy Serendipity [a rom-com that I did NOT have the fortune to avoid], while 100 others watched a drama [I know which group I would’ve wanted to be in].


Sikh Inaugural Ball

inaug.jpgAs someone who is excited about the incoming administration, I have thought about ways in which I would like to participate in the presidential inaugural, when President-Elect Barack Obama will become the 44th President of the United States. In particular, I thought about attending an inaugural ball — a politically-oriented prom of sorts. As a result, I reviewed this Washingtonian blog post, which contains a list of many of the inaugural balls taking place on or around the date of the inauguration, January 20, 2009.

To my surprise and delight, the list included a “Sikh Inaugural Ball.” The ball is hosted by an organization I had never heard of: the Sikh Community Center. The web site for the ball states:

Here is your chance to make a statement and be seen and heard — in WASHINGTON! — when the entire world will have their eyes and ears on the most important event ever to take place! Don’t you wish you were there?

On January 20th, 2009 the inauguration of Americas 44th President is just such an occasion that you will not want to miss.

You’ll also want to meet other like-minded people so you can make the connections you will need over the next 4 or 8 years!

The Sikh Community Center is proud to announce that the 1st EVER SIKH INAUGURAL BALL takes placejust a few blocks from the White House at Ascot, I-The Indian Experience Restaurant.

Whether or not to attend the inaugural festivities is an undoubtedly difficult decision — because of the exorbitantly high prices for rooms, parking issues, and the limits of public transportation, for example. But if you are considering making the trip to D.C., the Sikh Inaugural Ball is an option.

Please note: I make no representations about the quality of this event — as always, buyer beware!

Bank of America Sikh

bankofamericasikh.jpgLookout New Yorkers! There’s a new Sikh in town! Where is he? Who is he? He’s on your subway wall… representing Bank of America, sporting a NICE pagh with the cleanest layers I’ve seen in a long time. It looks like the folks at Kenneth Cole’s might have some competition…

The designers obviously weren’t Sikh because they messed with his pagh and flipped it- maybe to make it look more original. The inset of the picture on the left shows the model with his pagh properly tied – with the larhs (layers) on the right.

Previous discussions of Sikhs in the media, entertainment and modeling:

1. Raising Awareness or A Turban Commodified?

2. Will the Revolution be Televised? Sikhs and the Media

Every Punjabi Girl

Ok, so on Friday, I write this sort of stupid post. It isn’t meant to be taken too seriously so relax (I’m sure many won’t, but oh well).

Last year, my friend sent me this link from craigslist. It was a ‘rant’ but in so many ways it is sooo true.

So here is my question, why is “Every Punjabi Girl’s” post-college apartment the same as “Every Girl‘s”?

List of necessary items:

  • Everything ever made from Ikea and Pier 1
  • Candles
  • Cats
  • Pictures on the Fridge
  • Papizan chair

Anything missing? What does ‘every Punjabi Guy’s room look like? Basketball posters, swords, what else?

Well have a great Friday as you eat left-over turkey (or tofurkey), watch football, or whateverelse you do. Do read the humorous‘rant’ from a very ‘bitter boy’ if you get a chance. Here’s a look at a different Punjabi girl in a different Punjabi world.

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A Look at the Spinning Wheel

I spent the past weekend surrounded by Sikh Art and Film at the annual Spinning Wheel Film Festival in Hollywood. I usually attend these events with high expectations, hoping to be inspired and moved and there are always one or two films that provide that sustenance. The films were creative, such as The Making of Liverpool – an artistic animation inspired by a painting by The Singh Twins which explores 800 years of Liverpool’s history. The films were educational, such as Cultural Safari – directed by Sandeep Singh and produced by the Kaur Foundation – describing the basics of Sikhi for children of all ages [I have to say that this is one of the most impressive educational films I have come across]. The films were also daunting, such as Warrior Boyz – made by Baljit Sangra which touched upon the root causes of gang violence in the Punjabi community of Vancouver. A favorite of the crowd was Kuldip Powar’s Unravelling – a poetic inter-generational dialogue between the film director and his grandfather about the experience of war all posed in Urdu poetry.

There were many other well-made films such as 35, Kabaddi Cops, and Right to Turban which rightfully deserve mention (and have been discussed or will be discussed in future posts), however what I appreciated most about the weekend was the final day of the festival – which was devoted to lectures on Sikh Art and History. Staff from the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail and other UK-based organizations presented the attendees with a glimpse into the historical legacy of the Sikhs. One of the lectures was titled the Epic of Saragarhi and discussed the 21 soldiers of the Sikh regiment who defended a remote post against an estimated 10,000 hostile tribesmen. Michael O’Keefe from the British Library discussed Sikh artifacts and paintings and detailed an image of Maharani Jindan Kaur’s Gutka of the Sukhmani Sahib (see picture to the left). The day ended with a panel showcasing Sikhs in Theatre and Music, including traditional music and also hip-hop. Mandeep Sethi and Jagmeet Singh, rappers from LA, ended the festival with amazing performances showcasing their incredible talent of telling stories through hip-hop.

While the film festival brought together a plethora of Sikh art mediums – what it did seem to be missing was the representation of women and the voice of women in these films. The films were predominately made by men and the issues discussed were predominately issues affecting men. This brought several issues to mind – do young Sikh women not feel encouraged to enter the field of Film? Do the current male Sikh filmmakers not feel comfortable telling the story of Sikh women? It seems to be of vital importance that as we develop and promote Sikh films, we ensure that the stories we tell are representative of the entire Sikh panth and pay particular attention to the stories of Sikh women.

I will leave with this quote, mentioned by Harbinder Singh of the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail, but also very pertinent to the theme of this weekend’s film festival.

Until lions tell their own history,
History will always glorify the hunters.
– African Proverb

Slumdog Millionaire

A movie you might be interested in, Slumdog Millionaire, is being released in major cities today and most other North American cities throughout the next few weeks. The plot might sound corny to the skeptical (it involves some romance), but if it’s as well done as it seems to be from the trailer, it could be one of those poignant, moving films that only come along once every few years (in the genre of Born into Brothels). The trailer gives away a lot, so if you like to be surprised, don’t watch all (or any) of it. (The skeptic in me is hoping it’s not a touristy, voyeuristic ride into areas that most movie-goers will only go to through the movie…)

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An interesting theme that came up in the making of the movie is product displacement. Apparently Mercedes and “a well known soft drinks company” objected to their products being shown in a slum and demanded that their logos be removed, which was done digitally, costing tens of thousands of pounds. Yet, the Benz folks were perfectly happy having their logo appear on a gangster’s car when it was parked outside his mansion. So it’s ok to engage in mass (probably violent) crime as long as you’re wealthy. Mercedes will hang with you. But if you want to try to earn an honest living, and just can’t make it out of poverty- sorry, no such luck. [Timesonline]

The car manufacturer and a well-known soft drinks company believed that their brands would be sullied if their products were shown in one of Bombays shantytowns. [Timesonline]

Hey, Mercedes and fizzy drink company- you may have missed one of the points of the movie-you know, here’s the human struggle and spirit, from the eyes of someone you didn’t realize you had so much in common with??… Never mind. (I’m trying to not let their stupidity ruin the movie for me.)

More absurdity, synopsis and release dates below the fold.


You Can Vote However You Like YouTube Preview Image

As the end of election season nears, the months of intense election coverage can get overwhelming. Hearing basically the same messages from both sides gets old. But one thing that’s been remarkable for me to see this election season is the level of civic engagement from a broad spectrum of civil society. For example, the kids in the above video sing a non-partisan song. Check it out. Half of them sing and dance for McCain and the other half for Obama (except for one stanza where they all sing for the Left, not sure why). These 7th grade students from the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta just made election season enjoyable.


Obama on the left
McCain on the right
We can talk politics all night
And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah


Sikh outreach through theatre

Some ideas are just better communicated through modes other than writing. Theatre, through the unfolding of a story and through the body language of its actors, can sometimes convey meaning and ideas more effectively than just written words alone.

Some Sikh youth from Rockland, MD have decided to use theatre to engage non-Sikhs in learning about Sikhs- a wonderful idea.

bullah__theatre.JPGTwo plays are being planned for the fall expressing themes of diversity, mutual respect, interfaith and justice. They will both be staged on Saturday December 13, 2008 at the Wooten High School in Rockville, Maryland.

Where did this idea come from?

Last fall, Guru Gobind Singh Foundation had some of its kids take part in a play The Lorax, a musical adaptation from the famous Dr Seuss story book which was staged by kids from many different faiths. This play, adopted to create awareness about environment, was coordinated by the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and was staged by the Childrens Theater Company of New York.

After going through this experience, GGSF decided to form the Rockville Chapter of Childrens Theater Company last May to explore the possibility of staging a play depicting the concepts of Guru Granth Sahib. Dedicated to Building Character Onstage, the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) of New York develops in children and youth a keen sense of citizenship while introducing them to the incomparable magic of theatre through their full participation in the creation and performance of musicals and plays. [link]


Sikhs: turning religulous?

Last week Bill Maher was a guest on the Daily Show, promoting his new movie Religulous and offering a clip. The clip happened to show a sardar in a London park, which was the extent of any Sikh’s appearance in the movie.

The name, ‘Religulous,’ is a portmanteau blending the words 1) religion and 2) ridiculous, and examines the overlap of those concepts. The movie’s proclaimed purpose is to promote doubt in the minds of those who have blocked doubt in religious teachings completely and subsequently hold totally irrational beliefs (i.e. reject evolution), though those who actually go to watch the movie probably wouldn’t be completely opposed to such doubt to bereligulous.jpggin with. Of course at some point the explanations of rationality end, and there is the unknown. The point of the movie is to admit that it actually is unknown, and show that those who claim to know, really don’t.

In the movie, Bill Maher interviews people from a variety of backgrounds and religious faiths (from a former head of the Human Genome Project and the former Director of the Vatican observatory to a British rapper). Some hold more nuanced views than others. He listens and asks questions of people who staunchly believe in literal translations of age old texts even when their beliefs scientifically absurd, and has some interesting (and comical) conversations. My favorite interview by far was with a very rational Vatican priest who happily admitted that Jesus’ birthday is not on December 25th and the Catholic church has absolutely no idea when it really is.


Spinning Wheel Festival: A Celebration of Sikh Arts

Heads-up friends, the season of the Spinning Wheel Festival is about to begin across North America this autumn. Celebrating Sikh films and art, the first stop will be in New York City on Saturday, October 04, 2008 at the Asia Society & Museum (p.s. thats next Saturday). Buy your tickets NOW! The wonderful Rabbi Shergill will be performing at the opening gala (yes I am really biased here I heart Rabbi Shergill) and DJ Rekha will be literally spinning at the after party.

Films a the NYC festival will range from documentaries on Pahelwani (i.e. Panjabi wrestling) and Kabaddi-playing Canadian police officers to issues affecting the Sikh community from 1984 and post-9/11 hate crimes. There will also be short and feature films. For example, one on a young boys struggle to keep his hair while his family fears the obstacles he will encounter and another on a young Sikh doctor struggling with the inequities of the American Health System and ultimately his own identity. The Holy Duels of Hola Mohalla is a film looking at the Khalsa Panth.

The films seem interesting both in content and presentation. The stories are grounded in the realities many of us encounter everyday. You can get a full listing of the films and their synopses here.

In the past, I have attended the Spinning Wheel Festival at one of its many North American stops and found it a great space for artists and art-enthusiasts to be exposed to Sikh creativity. I remember there being a panel discussion with the directors and the audience. We dont have too many of these creative opportunities in our community even though we spend plenty of time and space advertising foreign medical schools in Poland, China, and the Caribbean.

I have found that some films are really hit or miss at these festivals, but its expected sense the focus is on cultivating and inspiring creativity; while, building a permanent Sikh film festival for years to come. Cash prizes are awarded to the bests in various categories. I have been told that the listing and quality of films varies across the different North American stops.

At the end of the day why not go, especially if its close by. I personally think its worth a visit as an act of supporting Sikh arts and learning about the various issues affecting our community. Sometimes we get too caught up in our own worlds and dont realize these issues are taking place or we are in amidst of them and they become normal parts of our lives leaving very little room for reflection or exposure to others perceptions. Thus, its an opportunity to get a fresh/new look at various issues.

Lastly, the arts, from painting and photography to films and music, are our communitys soul! They help us speak in ways we cant always articulate. So go save your soul and attend a Sikh artistic event! :)

Okay, enough of the attempt at convincing the other North American stops will be:

  • Toronto, Canada from October 10-12, 2008 at the Isabel Bader Theatre.
  • Hollywood, California from November 14-16, 2008 at the Writers Guild Theatre.

Are yall thinking of going? What have your experiences been at the various Spinning Wheel Festivals? Does anyone know of other North American stops?

p.p.s. The Toronto and Hollywood poster is really interesting isn’t it … a conversation in of itself!

Here we go again….

JoeBiden.jpgOnce again, Indian-Americans have been unwillingly thrust into the heart of a contentious American political battle. For those of you who don’t remember, in 2006, incumbent Senator George Allen singled out and subsequently called an Indian-American, S.R. Sidarth, “macaca” while on the campaign trail. See video here. As The Washington Post’s national political reporter noted, Allen’s use of that slur was a “turning point” in his failed reelection bid, and became “an everlasting part of the political landscape.”

Just a few days ago, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama selected fellow Senator Joe Biden to serve as his running mate. In 2006, Senator Biden said, “In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian-Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.” See video here.

Senator Obama’s decision has generated renewed interest in the 7-Eleven gaffe. See, e.g., here and here. The question is, should we care? In this post, I argue “yes.”


Short Films to See

While the young Sikh filmmakers are probably preparing for the annual Sikhnet Youth Film Festival (have you seen their ad on satellite television, it is very impressive!), I recently came across some internet announcements for a list of fascinating Canadian-produced short films that I hope will galvanize future discussions.MeMasiMrClean2C.jpg

Although I must confess, at this point, I have NOT seen any of them, still, I wanted to highlight them and hear back from the Langa(r)eaders about their thoughts. Hopefully some of our more vocal Canadian Langa(r)eaders will give us first voice about the films: P.Singh, yes even kaptaan, and others.

Me, Masi, and Mr. Clean
The description from the films website is quite poignant:

Eleven year old Seema has issues with her skin colour. Surrounded by the white kids of her community, and inundated by her masis (aunt) opinion that fair skin is better, Seema resorts to drastic measures to bleach her skin.

Seema mistakenly believed that using Mr. Clean on her skin will lead to a fairer, more beautiful colour. When Seema ends up in the hospital an unsuspecting character helps her understand skin colour isnt what defines the person – its whats beneath that counts[link]


Sex-selection, pop culture, and the tipping point

Is the tipping point (the level at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable) approaching for a change in attitudes towards the value of women and need to have sons?

There has been a widespread, public movement condemning sex-selection by the government, ngos, and others in the community for some time now (this hard-hitting song by Sarabjit Cheema is a must-see). Since Amartya Sen’s articulation of ‘missing women,’ the rights of women in developing countries have been at the forefront of international agendas. In a recent development, Sunita Rao, an Indian pop singer, has released a song condemning sex-selective abortion and become the spokesperson for the LAADLI campaign, funded by the United Nations Population Fund.

Suneeta Raos latest album WAQTs press conference was held in Hotel Palace Heights, New Delhi. It was on behalf of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The singer is the official spokesperson of the Laadli campaign of UNFPA that focuses on the pleasure and pride of having a daughter and motivates people to fight injustice against the girl child. The video of the first song in my album ‘Sun Zara’ is a dedication to all girls, Suneeta said, UNFPA has gratefully supported in making the video of this album. According to United Nations Population Fund, This video has been made for the Girl Child, to address the issue of Sex Selection and to help stop female feticide. [link]

The song mentioned above, Sun Zara:


Hard Kaur (Revisited)

Updated and extended, August 9
I try not to do this too often, but I realized I may not have adequately contextualized what I was getting at when posting on Hard Kaur. I’ve tried to extend the analysis and conversation below:

Taran (Hard) Kaur Dhillon
I’ve been thinking about Hard Kaur (Taran Kaur Dhillon) a lot lately, primarily because I’ve been flirting with the idea of buying her debut album, Supawoman. Hard Kaur is a tricky personality for me. On one hand, girlfriend has overcome the adversity of her hard knock life as a pioneer in her field. On the other hand, her conflation of Sikh and Punjabi identity, her often unimpressive rapping, and her totally not-Sikhi-friendly lyrics make me reconsider her as a role model. Is she an emblem for Sikh women’s empowerment, or perhaps just a symbol for women of color artists? Her moniker and image are dramatically at odds with one another. So what do we embrace, or eschew, from her, and can we negotiate how this works for young Sikh women?

Many point to HK’s intense image and claim that she is not a Sikh role-model, and others would claim she’s not a particularly good role model for other young women, either. I agree with the former and disagree with the latter (more after the jump).


Is Snoop Dogg Singh Kinng?

This post is just for fun.Aweek ago, a fellow langa-(w)riter askedwhichSingh was really King? As the buzz for the upcoming “Singh is Kinng” movie continues, many had heard the news that Snoop Dogg had donned a pagh for a promotion with Akshay Kumar.

snoop_turban.jpgWhile many that were looking for Snoop Singh ended up finding this convert, my guess guess was thatthe peoplehad something else in mind. Many people have emailed us asking if we had seen the picture of Snoop Dogg (for me he will always be Snoop Doggy Dogg) with the pagh. To make it easier for all of you internet hunters, here is the picture of Snoop with the turban,sitting like a king with Akshay.

For a link explaining how Snoop came to don the turban in Chicago, you can read a link here.

Sources revealed that the rapper dressed exactly like a Sikh with a turban on his head while recording the track. They even said that the rapper was to have his own crew and clothes, but Akshay convinced him to wear a turban. [link]

Is this Singh king?

There’s been some controversy over the upcoming film, ‘Singh is Kinng,’ [sic] starring Akshay Kumar and a host of other Indian actors I don’t know, scheduled to hit theatres on August 8th.SinghisKinng.jpg

Singh is Kinng is a story about Happy Singh, a Punjabi Sikh. He is very mischievous and gets involved in a number of disastrous situations, so the villagers plan to send him to Australia to bring back his fellow villager, Lucky Singh. It is then revealed that Lucky is a underworld Don in Australia. Then, in a accident, Happy saves Lucky but still Lucky becomes paralysed. Hence, Happy becomes the new King of the Australian Underworld. [link]

For those who haven’t been following the controversy- the problem revolved around the portrayal of Sikhs in the movie (physical appearance as well as particular scenes). I haven’t seen much information on the scenes, but am assuming that they involve explicit conduct that was found offensive to screeners’ moral sensibilities. As for the the physical appearance, I can’t exactly blame critics after seeing what “Singhs” look like in the movie… (see picture on right). Um… I don’t know who tied his pag or what it’s made of or what type of fashion statement the movie is trying to make, but I don’t think any Singh I know would ever wear that.


Giddha Pao Kuriyoo!

Is it just me or are we seeing Giddha increasing in popularity these days?

giddha.JPGGiddha was the folk dance of choice for our Grandmothers and Mothers. It allowed them a platform to get together with other women, and through boliyan talk openly about their daily lives. I asked my Mum if this was a form of therapy for them, and she said “yes”. It was a release for these women to be able to have this time for themselves and openly release supressed feelings in a joyful manner.

We see a great number of young women in Universities joining the “Bhangra” team and peforming these rather masculine dances at Bhangra competitions. Where is our traditional Giddha? I found this video which shows a performance by the UC Davis Giddha Squad at a competition this year. It was nice to see that these girls decided to create some uniqueness to the monotony these Bhangra competitions have began to display. Hopefully this will be a continuing trend and we will see more incorporations of Giddha for women at University levels. There is a sense of elegance and femininity that Giddha has, and which Bhangra lacks for women.

I look forward to the day when young girls are able to immerse themselves in Giddha and learn Boliyan and truly appreciate what our culture has to offer. Maybe we will see a Giddha Academy some day? I am hopeful.

With Teeyan season upon us, we can take the first step in going and attending these events in our areas. In the California we have these events scheduled annually and it’s become larger every year. Please make sure to attend if you know of Teeyan happening in your area. It would be a great way to take your Grandmothers, Mothers, Aunts, Sisters, Daughters, and Friends out to spend an afternoon together. (And it’s a great workout!)

How do you all feel about this subject? How can we begin to make a progressive change towards incorporating Giddha into the lives of younger women?

Panjab’s Got Talent

So this week, I blogged about two unfortunate murders in the community. Maybe as a release, maybe just to cheer everyone up for the weekend, I am returning to my Friday lite post.

We’ve seen the talent in Britain, with Suleman Mirza and Madhu Singh together as Signature. And as brilliant as they may be, I have a partiality towards Sardool Sikandar.

Sardool Sikandar is often known more for his marriage to the beautiful Amar Noorie than for his own singing talent. However, hits like Tor Punjaban Di and Mittran Nu Margiya still remain some of my favorites.

Here is a recording from the mid 1980s at Doordarshan’s Amritsar studios. It was this performance that launched the Sufiana classically-trained Sikandar’s career. Here he does various impressions of Mohammad Siddique and Ranjit Kaur’s classic “Aagay Roadways di lari, na koi sheesha na koi bari….

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While I am partial to his amazing Kuldip Manak and Yamla Jatt, do you have a favorite?

UPDATE: Signature’s Finale

In a day of updates, I figured I should update this one as well.

Although losing out on the 100,000 pound grand prize, the dynamic duo of Suleman Mirza and Madhu Singh have been invited by Michael Jackson to join him on his comeback tour in the UK. The newspaper report is a bit ambiguous suggesting that Signature may also perform with MJ in Las Vegas as well. Amazing job fellas! I am sure they are on cloud 9.


We’ve been following Signature over the last few months. From their audition appearance, to their semi-final Thriller, to even an interview with me highlighting their place in British Bhangra, before we all suffer from Signature overkill here is Suleman Mirza (often misspelled as Suleiman ) and Madhu Singh’s final performance.

Our dynamic Muslim and Sikh duo finished second on Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) to the dancing talent of George Sampson. While I was hoping for a “Beat It” performance, Madhu’s busy work schedule at PC World may not have allowed him to come up with a new routine. They stuck to their bread and butter of Tigerstyle’s Nachna Onda Nahin. A fine performance fellas. You even got Simon Cowell and the rest of the dorky judges to dance in their chairs.

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