October 25, 2007

Celebrating Heritage?

September 15 to October 15 is the designated period to celebrate the heritage of yet another ethnic minority in the United States. Why are we compelled to celebrate things that we have yet to be comfortable with? Why does heritage make us look backwards while we consciously evade the here and now. Earlier in the year we also celebrate the Black Heritage Month, that over the years has become but a lip-service ritual in the name of tolerance and equality.

Heritage is a continuum, one that connects the past with the present; we cannot therefore celebrate it by glorifying merely the past of a people. For instance, slavery is as much a part of the American heritage, as is entrepreneurship; the glory of desegregation is a part of our young heritage as is the embarrassing Japanese American Internment. The tragedy of 9/11 has become embedded in our heritage along with the united healing that followed this catastrophe. A people's heritage is a work in progress and makes for mixed emotions, and it is insincere, unfair, perhaps impossible to present or celebrate it in entirety, so why even make these naive attempts!

A friend's mother wrote the following piece after she witnessed one such attempt to celebrate her heritage:

"In the 80's we talk about a raising tide of mediocrity. Now what we have is a tsunami. This is in response to the exhibit in commemoration of Hispanic Heritage Month at Cumberland County Library.

Hispanic cultures are not a can of Vitarroz or Goya products. We are the result of the Latin expansion in what now we call Europe, we are eight centuries of Arabic domination; we are the magnificent body of knowledge translated by the Jewish. We are the African influences. We are the heritage of the Mayas, Aztecs, Incans and Tainos among others. We are Indian languages still spoken in our times and European influences too. One of the most powerful influences is the Spanish language we all share. We are the Golden Age of literature. We are Cervantes, the picarest novel. We are Lope de Vega and Calderon de la Barca with his glorious "Life is a Dream" We are Luis de Góngora, Tirso de Molina, We are Duque de Rivas and Gustavo Adolfo Becquer. We are Benito Perez Galdos and Unamuno. We are Antonio Machado. We are Pio Baroja and Garcia Lorca We are "Facundo" and "Martín Fierro" and La Avellaneda. Do you know her poem "Al Partir" bring tears to my eyes every time I read it? We are Issacs's "Maria" What about "Doña Barbara"?. Yes, we are "Doña Barbara". We are Jose Marti one of my role models. We are Eugenio Maria de Hostos and Lola Rodríguez de Tío. We are the great Mexican novel "El Zarco" and the great Colombian writer Garcia Marquez. We are from the left and from the right. Librarians from Cumberland County Library we are not a can of Goya products. We are Francisco Goya the great painter consider the father of modern art. We are the magic realism of Isabell Allende and the feelings of Julia de Burgos and the passion of Nicolas Guillén. We are the music of Beny More and Tito Puente. We are Celia Cruz. We are salsa, merengue, bachata and tango. We are La Celestina and "Viaje a la Semilla" of Alejo Carpentier. We are regeton and contemporary writers such as Hijuelos or Cisneros who are part now of the United States literature.

Does Che Guevara have space in our culture? Yes. For many of us he was a terrorist, a mass murder and opportunist who executed many people. We do not want the library to become a center for communist propaganda. We want the library to be a sanctuary of ideas. All ideas. Do not remove the picture of Che. I do not want censorship in the United States. Let the trust come out. Display books about him from all points of view. I do not have problem talking about him. I have a problem displaying his picture without an explanation. Yes, we consume rice and beans, pastels, arepas or tequila but we create beauty for the world to enjoy and the library is the place to find it. We are not a can of Vitarroz or a picture of a terrorist without an explanation. He is an enemy of free markets. He is an enemy because his ideas are still alive. Do you want firing squads executing Americans because they like Ben Franklin? That is exactly the ideas Che will bring to the United States. We do not want that and we do not want a library to represent us with a bottle of tequila."

R. Hernandez

October 13, 2007

Man Booker Prize for Mohsin Hamid of 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' fame?

Mohsin Hamid is short listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2007, the UK’s annual celebration of the finest in fiction! Look out for the winner on Tuesday.

I read Hamid's 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' earlier on this summer, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Here's the post on it from the archives:

June 25, 2007

Janissary Debriefed by Mohsin Hamid in "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" ?

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an enchanting monologue that strips the east-west divide to its barest. Mohsin Hamid has written a very engaging piece of literature that captures the essence of what it means to be a Muslim in the USA in this current day and age. It is to be noted that Hamid wrote the first draft of this novel while living in London, a few months before the September 11 tragedy.

There are two outstanding things about this novel: its language and its structure. The language of the novel makes it come alive, and some of the images that Hamid conjures are remarkable. For instance, the one about recruitment time on the Princeton campus where "Princeton raised her skirt for the corporate recruiters ... and showed them some skin... I was something special. I was a perfect breast... tan, succulent, seemingly defiant of gravity...". What a rousing description that is! Hamid certainly has a way with words to capture a readers imagination into willing submission. Hamid's narration of the story, a monologue, is another stroke of genius where the reader is lead up alleys to explore and experience the illustrious past of this mellow sounding, yet eerie narrator, Changez; also the chief protagonist of the novel. The fact that: the monologue is taking place in a small cafe in Lahore, the narrator is a bearded Pakistani educated at Princeton and a one time resident and lover of New York, and the listener is a fidgety and nervous American visitor, lends a sense of uncertainty and suspense to the entire proceeding, which is but a few hours long. The reader is at edge by the end of the novel wondering whether the narrator, a Janisarry of sorts, is a predator or the prey.

Mohsin Hamid may have gotten lucky with the timing of this novel, the subject of which is instant fodder for an Islamophobic world. What he intended the protagonist to be, would be interesting to know because Changez the chief protagonist of the novel appears rather fickle and rash for all his academic and corporate astuteness. The turning point in the novel seems all too sudden and implausible in the light of who Changez is. It is this that made me wonder about the changes, if any, Hamid may have made in the novel to accommodate the September 11 tragedy. Did the author bring about changes such that he could ride upon the hysteria of a post 9/11 world?

The title is pretty well chosen in that Changez is perceived a 'fundamentalist' in more ways than one. Also, the reader is compelled to revisit the meaning of the word 'fundamental', and what it constitutes to be a 'fundamentalist', and there is plenty of enlightenment to be gained by this search; the findings of which may be scary. One of which may be that the world has a large number of non-Muslim fundamentalists, many of who are not 'reluctant'!

Mohsin Hamid has repeatedly been asked whether this novel is autobiographical; a question I believe shows blatant disrespect to Art. This query, it is argued, carries some credence because there are many similarities between the author and the chief protagonist Changez: both are Pakistani, are Princeton alumni, have worked in corporate America, and are disillusioned by what's currently happening in the USA. However, Hamid's ending of the novel would put to rest all such questions; it's an ending that opens up a whole new horizon just as the curtains are coming down.

A compelling read that took me less than three hours to read.

October 09, 2007

Save the Environment !

endangered species, acid rain, weather changes, temperature gains
why is nature all a muck? It isn't the way it used to be
Ronald saw it coming, Carter warnings threw; Gore took the reins
meant to fix it too; will he, won't he? That the future'll see.

In the meanwhile...
Save the environment !

October 07, 2007

The Deepak Chopra Effect ?

How and why do readers get attracted to titles like ' The Power of Positive Thinking', 'How to Stop Worrying and Start Living', "How to Win Friends and Influence People", "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success"...!?

Recently, I came across Robin Sharma's inspirational novel The Monk who Sold His Ferrari , and that got me thinking. Why has this genre of inspirational writing become so popular and so hard to resist in the recent years? What makes the likes of Deepak Chopra, Robin Sharma, and Norman Vincent Peale into icons of the reader world overnight? Given that their writing does not have the lure of fiction, what is it about their writing that draws hordes of people to buy their books?

Not wanting to replace a novel on my 'to read' list by one of the aforementioned inspirational novels, I decided to read " Top 200 Secrets of Success and the Pillars of Self Mastery" a short piece in the same genre, and written by Robin Sharma, the author of The Monk who Sold His Ferrari. I could have put all of the 26 pages of the article here, but decided otherwise, since many among the 200 'secrets' are actually truths you already know, or else wisdom that you've heard often enough to be able to say it backwards; what is even worse is that some of those 'secrets' are repeated more than once in the 26 pages.

" Soak in a warm bath at the end of a productive day..." is one of the 'secrets' in this article, which makes me wonder whether these 'secrets of success' are aimed only at those who have the luxury of a tub in their bathrooms.

"Read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey..." is yet another secret Mr. Sharma shares with us, and that makes me wonder if this is how these writers promote and ensure the sales of each others books. There are a couple of others, like James Allen and Dennis Wholey, Mr. Sharma recommends you read, to ensure your 'success' and 'self mastery'.

There are many more of these 'secrets' that I'd like to draw your attention to, if only for some comic relief, but that would be attributing importance to a piece that doesn't inspire literary respect. In fact, a serious reader would be appalled at the sheer presumptuousness of the content of this piece, and at the audacity of the writer for having penned it.

I wonder whether to read The Monk who Sold his Ferrari...

October 01, 2007

'Dosa' Claims New York's "Best Street Food" Award!


Thiru Kumar, 'Dosa Man,' presents one of his delicious spicy, potato-filled pancakes.

Thiru Kumar, 'Dosa Man,' presents one of his delicious spicy, potato-filled pancakes.

Bragging rights for New York's top sidewalk chef went to Thiru Kumar last night for his street cart's vegan Indian food delights.

Known as the "Dosa Man," Kumar, 39, won the top prize, The Silver Vendy Cup, in the third annual Vendy Awards held in Manhattan's Tompkins Square Park.

Kumar serves up dosas - spicy, potato-filled pancakes - among other veggie concoctions at Washington Square South and Sullivan St. in the West Village.

"I made a lot of vegans happy today," the Sri Lanka native said while noting his large following among college students. "There is even a dosa fan club at NYU."

Manning his street cart for six years, Kumar has been dubbed the "Susan Lucci of the Vendys" because he's been a finalist three times.

The event raises money for the Street Vendor Project, a nonprofit organization that supports the city's more than 10,000 sidewalk chefs.

Hundreds of New Yorkers paid $60 to eat - and vote - for their favorite streetcorner cooks.