khargosh's blog

Dispatch from Jaipur: Playing Dress Up

By: on 20 Jun 2008

So this little khargosh managed to hop across the pond for the summer for the AIIS Hindi program in Jaipur.  So far I can't recommend the program enough.  Jaipur is gorgeous, my home stay family is wonderful, and my professors are a dream come true (and that is no small compliment coming from a highly critical doctoral student in education and former public school teacher).

Tidbit: American Immigration Policy in Perspective

By: on 3 Jun 2008

Although, as you all know by now, I'm no fan of the New York Times, I was pleasantly surprised by this editorial on American immigration policy published today.

Apparently Inconspicuousness is the New Enemy

By: on 2 Jun 2008

While virtually hopping through the BBC South Asian page, this little Khargosh came across the following articles that left me... well... twitching my nose in puzzlement. 

Article #1 claims that Nato (which, in this article, is used interchangeably with the word "West") is "concerned" about Afghanistan.  Reading between the lines, though, it appears that Nato is actually "concerned" about Pakistan - not the country, so much as its policy:


The US and other Western countries have also expressed concern about the deals with militants near the Afghan border.

The west is worried that if such agreements lead to the wholesale withdrawal of the Pakistani military from the tribal areas, militants will have even more freedom to slip across the border into Afghanistan.

Not to be upstaged by Nato, our own Chertoff makes clear in Article #2 that the US is not afraid to "push back" al-Qaeda in South Asia the way they've pushed back al-Qaeda in Iraq.  However, they seem less concerned with military maneuvers than with infiltration of the civilian kind.

Review: Unaccustomed Earth

By: on 19 May 2008

Jhumpa Lahiri's first book, The Interpreter of Maladies, came out when I was in college. I didn't have many desi friends at the time, ad I was skeptical when my non-desi friends raved about the book and insisted that I try to read it. The title and the cover made me skeptical - I was sure that the stories would be full of weeping women in saris lamenting the lack of romance in their lives while the scent of frying cardamom hung heavy in the air. And although there were some saris, and there was more than a little bit of cardamom, there was also something else, something I devoured hungrily and eagerly: there, on the page, was my life. I am not Bengali. My father is not a professor from New England. We do not eat fish. But in some inexplicable way, the characters on the page might as well have been members of my family, both real and adopted, here in the United States. It was the first time I had seen myself in a book, and I sat in the library and read the whole thing in one sitting.

When The Namesake came out, I was pretty sure that it would be annoying at best, and cloying at worst. I heard about the male narrator and suspected that the voice that worked so well in Lahiri's short stories would devolve into self-pitying nonsense in a novel. Instead, once again, I found myself and my family between the pages, and once again, I read the whole thing in one sitting.

Last night, I started Unaccustomed Earth with the same trepidation with which I had approached Lahiri's other books. Would it be full of whiny stories about how awful it is to be an immigrant? Would there be cable knit sweaters and chicken curry and all of the other classically Lahiri elements that, in most other work, would be irritating beyond redemption? Would I read it and think that it deserved its place at the top of the best seller list?

As predicted, I picked up the book at 6 p.m. and went to bed after finishing it at 2 a.m. Also as predicted, I loved it, despite my initial doubts.

Times Blames Pakistan for Blasts in Jaipur, (The) Hindu Begs to Differ

By: on 14 May 2008

I awoke this morning to a slew of nearly identical emails in my inbox. All of them contained a link to this morning's article in the New York Times about the seven bombs that went off in Jaipur last night. "Did you hear about this?" Most of them said. (Not until this morning.) "Isn't this where you're going this summer?" The less South-Asia savvy emailers asked. (Yes, I am.) "Hope your parents don't read the paper," some of them said. (Of course my parents read the paper. Who do you think trained me to be so vitriolic about the Western press?)

(Speaking of the Western press...) Perhaps predictably, the coverage of the bomb blasts in the Times was remarkably different from the coverage in the other sources I checked. Specifically, author Somini Sengupta was quick to allude to the possible Muslim-terrorist angle, and to imply that the Muslim-terrorists were from (you guessed it) Pakistan, the punching bag of the current election, the Republicans' and the Democrats' favorite new source of terrorist threats. Sengupta's article groundlessly and irresponsibly supports Pakistan's image as the new haven for Bin-Laden-wannabes.

Review: Rushdie at the Pen American Festival

By: on 5 May 2008

This Friday, a friend and I braved the crowds at the 92nd Street Y to see Mario Vargas Llosa, Umberto Eco, and Salmaan Rushdie say smart things on stage.  The event was part of the Pen American Festival, an annual New York City gathering of Writers Who Care About Stuff.  The center was founded to promote freedom of expression and to celebrate courageous authors who stand up for their right to write.  Rushdie shows up at the festival every year - undoubtedly as a result of his authorial history - ready with his sharp jokes and blunt comments.  I had seen him speak once before in college, and had been impressed, and was excited to see him again, particularly because he has a new book coming out next month.

Pesky Priya, What Have You Done?

By: on 30 Apr 2008

Snarkers, start your engines. My friend sent me this link about one of our own suing her students for, as the headline states, "being mean to her." The article includes a couple of embarrassing emails and some classic Gawker snark.

I have to admit, my first reaction was, "Now that's what I call privilege." Just some background: I have spent approximately five years teaching students of various difficulty levels, and have had stuff chucked at everything from my face to my soul by students who harbored varying degrees of anger at the fact that they had to learn chemistry at all / the fact that they had to learn chemistry from me / the fact that I was giving them a failing grade (which I'd like to think they earned, but they might argue otherwise) / the fact that I existed. While some of what they did was definitely mean, and while my time in the public school system was also the time when I had the lowest self-esteem EVER, I would never have sued these kids. Education in this country can be a nightmare, particularly in the places where I was teaching (or, more accurately, attempting to teach with questionable success). Suing someone else for pain and suffering generated from my inadequacy in the classroom seems whiny and spoiled, the kind of thing you do if you have too much money and not enough humility.

Add to that our recent discussions on race on this very blog, and I kind of wanted to give it to comrade Priya good. The giving it would go something like this, excessive punctuation included:

"What are you doing?! People already think of us as the race without the street cred to complain about racism. Why are you giving them more evidence? Why are you making us look like we're the weenie minority? For the love of god, woman, cease and desist! BUS! BUS!"

But then I thought a little harder, and I wasn't so sure if my first reaction was the right one. Maybe (gasp) this is not a time for snarkiness, but for contemplation.

The Separation of Reason and State

By: on 28 Apr 2008

My first teaching job here in the city was at a small high school begun with the aid of a new visions grant. Although ultimately I lacked the chops to stay in the public school system, I have only great things to say about the New York City small schools movement, and, in particular, about the small school where I taught. Most people I met who wanted to start small schools had visionary ideas about education, and were willing to take risks to create non-traditional spaces where all kinds of learning could take place.

Of course, some schools were riskier than others: just ask Debbie Almontaser, who was just forced to resign from her school amid a storm of accusations questioning her patriotism and intentions. In some ways, the article tells the now familiar story of a progressive Muslim woman who critics attack based on poorly-substantiated stories about her ties to radical jihadist and terrorist organizations simply because she wears a head scarf. Naturally, this story infuriated me. But what I found even more maddening were the anecdotes in the article that critics used to prove Ms. Almontaser's radical bent, mostly because I've experienced all those things in the public school system...from Christians.

Resist This

By: on 25 Apr 2008

I showed up at a sparsely attended anti-war protest on my campus today, but only managed to stay an hour before I gave up. I'm not sure whether it was the unexpected heat, the decidedly un-riled-up-crowd, or the post-proposal-defense paperwork I had waiting for me, but I just didn't have the attention span to listen to another well-spoken, courageous professor rant brilliantly about America's absurd foreign policy and conservative campus insanity. I found it particularly discouraging to compare the small group of us huddled around the speakers' podium to what seemed like endless amounts of students haphazardly strewn across the lawns. Although I'm not convinced that protesting is always the most effective form of activism (yes, I know, sometimes it is, I'll give you that), I'm completely convinced that educating oneself is necessary for responsible citizenship.

Perhaps because I'm an educator, I've long been fascinated with the question of why people get involved in resistance movements (which is why I found Rehana, a certain deshi character in a certain 'Deshi book, fascinating). How high do the stakes have to be? Who has to be affected? If middle class kids hadn't been drafted in Vietnam, would there have been a national protest movement? If mainstream media had devoted their attention to the Black Panthers instead of Martin Luther King Jr., would privileged kids have become freedom riders? How could Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi, men with similar missions and radically different ideas about how India (which then also included modern Pakistan and Bangladesh) should overthrow the Raj, both inspire so much loyalty and passion? What kinds of issues and leaders make people care deeply enough to take action, and what kinds of issues and leaders fail to do so? What would've turned the protest I went to from crowdless to crowded?

Land of the locked up, home of the brave

By: on 23 Apr 2008

The New York Times this morning ran an article about the US's latest dubious honor: we are now officially the country with the most prisoners. That's per capita, total, and however else you choose to do your statistical parsing. We may have 5% of the world's population, but we have 25% of the world's prisoners. Over achievement, conservative style.

And, of course, we can always rely on our friend the Times to take a colonial & colorblind perspective on all things formerly colonized and eternally racial. Take this curious tidbit of attempted explanation:

"Indeed, said Vivien Stern, a research fellow at the prison studies center in London, the American incarceration rate has made the United States 'a rogue state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western approach.'"

Hmmm. My graduate-school-going, diaspora-studying, theory-imbibing hackles rose at the juxtaposition of "normal" and "Western," and the implication that (of course) a Western approach to imprisonment is superior to all other approaches. Because clearly it's non-Western nations that perpetrate the worst human rights violations on their prisoners, right? (If those links weren't enough for you, I'm sure I can find you 4,000 more.)

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