Sunday, August 27, 2006

My archeology experience

Once upon a time, I was an archeologist. For those of you who do not know, (I don't even know who you would be, since everyone reading my blog knows me...well...I guess all you potential flat mates who I tell to go to my blog don't really know me and anyone coming over from DesiCritics), my sister is an archeologist and is in the process of writing her dissertation. And it is indeed, a fucking process. Everytime I talk to her (four times a day) I tell her, don't worry, it will get done. When I live with her, I just scream it out to her from my permanent residence on her couch and I try to do so on the hour every hour. I tell her this so that I can believe. I think it is vital that we all keep hope alive. She is putting together all the research she did in India, Rajisthan. That was three short years ago. She is still going through all the stuff and fell upon some photos (no, she does not procrastinate..its research, god dammit!) which she forwarded to me. Posting here since I feel that me and water buffaloes and peacocks are important for you all to know about.

It starts with me and John. John was a student of my sisters who used to be my work study student when I worked at the New School for Social Research. I hooked him up with a job with my sister and it was his first time in India. He was amazed that beer cost a dollar and cigarettes were even less. I think I ruined his health totally by hooking him up with the job. I was amazed that he left India alive since he was constantly going off with kindly strangers who would feed and inebriate him who knows what and sell him who knows what.

I was out in the field with my sister for about five days and it was only working in Sri Lanka were I realized, wow, I learned a bunch in those five days. It was my first field work experience and it turned out to be priceless in the way I observed (and who knew actually retained) the ways in which my sister worked with the communities there. Her work is looking at pottery from that region and the pottery shards she is looking at are WAY old but are mixed in with current stuff that people living there right now are using. It is literally littering the ground but once you get the hang of it, you can tell the difference between the old and the new stuff. One of the types was called OCP (ochre colored pottery) and I would run around colelcting it, singing, OCP, Yeah you know me!

Since I obviosuly love cameras. and after a while even a gazillion year old pottery loses its stagnant charm, my sis took photos of me hanging with the locals. It was the first time that I was hanging out with random livestock that roamed the areas we worked in and I decided we should make friends. John would work like a serious archeologist should and I woudl make friends with sheep. Or goats. Water buffaloes are a dime a dozen there and I woudl run around making horns on my head saying Tatonka! Tatonka! re living one of the only things I retained from Kevin Costners movie Dances with Wolves. I think he was talking about bison but they all look the same to me. I didn't really want to make friends with the Water Buffaloes since some of them are HUGE (even in then rain starved, drought laden Rajisthan) but under pressure of a camera, I thought I should at least attempt and I found the most malnutritioned, anemic, child Water Buffalo and pretended to want to be his/her friend. S/he was more into my sunglasses. Well, to be fair, both of us were.

In all my time in South Asia, I had never really been to the rural parts till this experience. Good thing since then I spent a year in Ampara in Sri Lanka which though a town by some standards was still rural to me. Going out in the field with my sister was...interesting. I didn't think I was the kind of person who could survive a rural life.

I don't knwo what that sentence means anymore. I did survive. And not just survive but have a lovely time. Part of the lovely time was complaining about it. I suppose I got lucky that when I did live in a rural area, I had others there, like me, who were also living it. We all bonded over that (over many things). If I had to be the only person, yeah, not sure if I could hack that. But who knows. Anyhow. Enjoy the photos and send good dissertation vibes to my sister. We need them.

A priceless lesson learnt, by the way on this trip was that getting heat stroke SUCKS ASS. I didn't cover my head one afternoon on a cloudy day and the morning was great, but as soon as the afternoon hit, after lunch, I had a headache that nearly killed me and dehydration that again, nearly killed me. Black hair in hot areas is a bad combination and I might not burn with my dark skin but god damn, that heat stroke was awful. My sister pumped me full of water (she made me drink so much water and salt and sugar in an hour that my veins were popping everywhere) and then she massaged the water into my body somehow. I peed clear water the whole next day...amazing. I don't really know what she did since I felt like death but what ever it was, it sho as hell helped. This is why in Sri Lanka when I was running surveys out in the field and had twenty kids (young adults...we made sure to not let the appearance of a sweat shop come through) to look after, I would badger them to keep their heads covered (hats, scarves, umbrellas, whatever, I didn't care) and to keep drinking water. As I told them, I don't care if you get sick, I care that one of you might not come to work tomorrow and my survey won't get done. Now cover your head, take a sip of water and get back to work!

My sister badgered me to keep my head covered. I ignored her, esp since she is my elder sister. Lesson Learnt.

Friday, August 25, 2006

I am Aamir Khan from Rang De Basanti...with boobs.

So, the good thing about short hair is that it changes from week to week so I don't get bored. I showerd today and put on yet another long lost t shirt and went about my day and then while microwaving something, caught my reflection. Holy shit, I thought...I am Aamir Khan from the movie Rang De Basanti (for those of you who have not seen this film, GO SEE IT!!). To prove my point...some photos. I'm not saying I am his twin. Just saying..we could be long lost siblings from the movie.
Aamir kahn photos from my private photo album since we are best buds. (private vault can be found at:


The Jungle Monkeys that I am related to

Ok, how could one not love the jungle monkeys that I am related to? These photos are probably about 6 weeks back when I could barely get any of my hair to bunch up in my hand and still, they made me little pony tails that stuck out from all angles. They are going to KICK my ass for putting photos of them up but I would like to point out that I am the one who looks MOST fucked up and therefore, an ass kicking is not in order.
I love my sisters.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Marrying career women

The Forbes story making the internet rounds. Noer wrote a controversial piece about how it sucks to marry a career woman. It was pulled off the internet VERY quickly and then is up again with a rebuttal right next to it by Corcoran.

Check it out. You will have to cut n paste it since I am too lazy to link it up.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Recluse, part 187434 of a 8745948758 series.

OK, I admit it. I haven't left the house in about a week, mebbe more (what day is it today? what month? what year?). I have no idea what fresh air smells like (unless it's through the bathroom window) even though my parents have about an acre of land, a closed swimming pool and a lovely deck. I have felt no need to go outside and instead, hang out with my mom, where the two of us pitter potter around. When she asks me what I am doing, I tell her I am writing a book. I say the same thing to my sisters, both of whom, I think are convinced I am depressed or have lost it.

I feel great. The hunter in the house, my dad, goes out everyday to work and brings us, the gatherers, groceries. It's tons better than Fresh Direct since I don't have to wait for them at home (moot point since I am home all the time, but what I mean more from that is that I don't have to answer the door, or shower, or change my clothes or make my hair, which I am now despairing about. The stupid thing will only grow 6 inches in one year!!). My mother has decided to share her cigarettes with me, the one reason I would have to leave the house, and in a recent conversation last week when I was planning on leaving the house, to buy cigarettes, she said, oh don't worry, I have another carton. Great. We never have to leave.

I have been in NYC for the first two and a half months of being home and I felt, frankly, a little lost there. My friends were no longer there and I was so NOT into the idea of meeting new people and being friends with them. I like the friends I have. If you don't have to offer what they have to offer, fuck off and leave me alone. I was tired of answering stupid questions about Sri Lanka and what I really wanted to do was sit on a couch and read or write and not do anything but when you do that in NYC, a vibrant, lively, wonderful city with a million and one things going on every second, everyone, including yourself (peer pressure) thinks you are a loser. Also, everyone talks about themselves, they will ask questions but not really listen to answers, which pisses the shit out of me. Everyone should shut up, listen to me and ask prescient questions having only to do with me.

I came to NJ to hang out with my parents, I thought for about three or four days but then realized, OMG...these two people will lavish all sorts of attention on me and I don't have to do shit in return. Genes rule and I don't ever have to leave NJ. I feel cocooned like the twin babies of my friend,

I have been home (USA) for about three months. In Sri Lanka, working the hours I was and with the intensity I was, I felt as if I were living under a rock. A whole WORLD was happening out there and all I really knew about was the intricacies of housing policy or lying cheating bastard fishermen in the East of SL. Hurricane Katrina took place and I had no idea what the fuck was going on and thought, it's the US, they will take care of it. I suppose, we have, in the manner that we are taking care of everything else in the world at the moment.

I came home and was glued to I passed a quiz they have on current events with flying colors. I felt all proud of myself to be caught up with the world. Watching American news shows has just become less painful. Well, with the JonBenet Ramsey case opening up again, it is still painful. Watching Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld is now less painful since I know I will see them at night on the Daily Show with John Stewart, which I watch religiously every night since it gives me relief.

What I have decided however is that I know nothing about the world. I suppose more precisely, the world that I live in. That right now is the USA.

We will treat this post as a choose your own adventure since I have two veins in which to take this conversation. First is the political rant and then I will get to the other one at a later date using the same intro. Spoiler: Neither is leading you to any light at the end of any tunnel.

This is my country. I love America. I feel like I have to say that all the time now in case people get the wrong idea. I hate what our current government is doing and I am shocked that Americans will not get up and pull out their hair and scream and shout. I don't and just bide my time since I am leaving soon. That is no excuse. Another more plausible excuse is that I am terrified of speaking out. I have been wanting to write about this for a while.

I am indeed terrified of being a brown (macaca), Muslim, Pakistani descent American living in America. I feel terrorized by America, my own god damn country right now. I need to go to London soon and I have no idea which sniveling passenger is going to decide that they don't want to sit near me, or next to me and thus force me off the plane which everyone encourages them. In the stories out here right now about planes being turned around or bearded men or arab looking men not being allowed to board planes because of fears of the other passengers, my question is....where the fuck are the people who will stand up and say, enough is enough?!?! That person, unfortuantely, cannot be me. I am (as in 'my people') the one being terrorized, harassed and marginalized so my standing up for this means shit. It's the others out there (basically you white, black, east asian, anyone not brown peoples) who have to stand up for my rights.

After 9-11, my parents, immigrants in this country (who the INS would come and beg for them to become citizens, anad even then, my mom took her sweet time to become one), said to us, their daughters, stop protesting, stop yelling and shouting. They will lock you up and we will never be able to find you. I won't speak for my sisters but I recall, vividly, scoffing and saying with great confidence, *I* am a born and bred American citizen. No one can take away my rights away from me. If I see my country, this democracy doing something I disagree with, I will not stand by and watch this. In this vein, I took part, among various other forms of protest, in a NYC wide protest against the Iraq war on March 27th of 03 and was arrested for civil disobedience. At no point did I feel fear and I went through the whole entire process calmly and unscathed. I was proud of being part of a great American tradition, 60's style, of peaceful protest to bring about change. It didn't bring about change but it was an act that mattered to me.

I am afraid to protest now.

This makes me very sad.

I don't know if this is because I am out of NYC for the time being. NYC is a big ole bubble. I feel most protected there in a strange way. Stranger still, with all the protests going on in the whole world with Lebanon, I don't feel as if NYC represented in a big way. Maybe I am out of the activist loop but that too is a good perspective to have, especially in NYC where we feel as if the world revolved around us. If I, someone who does follow things like this, had trouble seeing that representation, forget about the rest of America and the rest of the world seeing it. That is problematic.

Besides not being in the bubble of NYC, I am out in suburban NJ where like most Americans, I now get an overexposed dose of the news. I don't even need to go into how terrifying that is, and in fact, after 9-11, I had written a piece for that spoke about my parents watching news 24/7 and being terrified of going out. My mother wears a scarf and my father is a big (really big) bearded man. Again, I had written about this in some derision and implied that they were slowly going mad. Their sanity right now seems more intact than mine.

For someone who has just spent the last year and half advocating for change in another country, how hollow and false does my work now seem to me? VERY. I feel frustrated, helpless and a odds with what I should do with my feelings of fear and love for a country that is by all accounts, my country.

I hope to God to not find myself in a position to have to defend a fellow brown person from being allowed on a plane. I will do it. It matters to me (and chances are, he, and chances are it will be a he, has been quinteplet checked) I just don't know what the outcome will be. It seems almost pointless for me to be the one protesting now.

Why can't we as Americans just take the isolationist stance we had taken under....was it Wilson? All the problems would go away if we leave the rest of the world alone. It really is that simple.

Well, I would like it to be that simple.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sri Lanka 101.

The main actors:

GoSL: Government of Sri Lanka. The president and prime minister posts tend to circulate between four or five political families.

LTTE: Liberation Tamil Tiger Eelam. Allegedly the only voice of the Tamil resistance. Leader V. Prabhakaran. Offical LTTE site

Karuna Faction: Split off faction from the LTTE said to represent the eastern Tamils. Led by Colonel Karuna

SLMM : Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission. Nordic truce monitors who are now in trouble since many EU countries have banned the LTTE and the Tigers refuse to have members of those countries serve on the SLMM (Finland, Sweden, Denmark are out, only Norway and Iceland are in). Norway is the big player in this having brokered the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) to begin with in early 2002.
Eric Solheim is the Norwegian star of the peace process.

The country is definitely back to war. I was working there for a while (year and a half) and therefore have something to say about this but first and foremost, a short history lesson. I want everyone to know that this is just stuff I picked up and it is not, by any means, a definitive history (can history really ever be?) and I feel it is necessary to know this background information to really understand where the country is at now.

The Tamils want a separate homeland and have been fighting in this regard for a while now. Everyone knows that. The Tigers are now supposed to be the sole voice of the Tamil people and they claim that ALL Tamils belong to the Tigers, which is not true but they like to think it is and in this vein, coerce villagers, students, young women, old women, young men, old men, kids etc to learn how to defend themselves. For those Tamils that do join the resistance (ah, and I said I would be objective), it is like joining a gang. You don't get jumped in (unless you are a child soldier) but you do get jumped out.

No one should underestimate the power of the Tigers. You could be part of the huge Tamil diaspora, but you will not break the code of silence once you have left. You will be killed, regardless of where you are. An excellent documentary dealing with this can be found at the BBC website here, called No More Tears Sister about Tamil activist, Ranjani Thiranagama, who did belong to the LTTE and then left but continued working in Jaffna.

The Tigers have an interesting history in that there have been lots of internal struggles and to get an idea, read the book, Inside an Elusive Mind – Prabhakaran by M. R. Narayan Swamy. Swamy goes through the two decades of history detailing the rise of Prabhakaran, the leader of the resistance movement. The book stops short of mentioning Colonel Karuna, a recent thorn in the side of the Tigers at the moment. The Tigers want a separate homeland that is in the north and the east of the country. The northern Tamils are seen as the elite Tamils and the eastern Tamils are marginalized within their own movement and in this vein, we have the Karuna Faction split within the LTTE.

Karuna split from the LTTE since he felt that the eastern Tamils were not getting full pieces of the pie and I have no information on how valid his claim is. Karuna has, in a cyclical Sri Lankan pattern, joined forces with the government to take the Tigers out of power. This is very reminiscent of the Indian government in the late 80's, early 90's joining forces and supplying weapons to the LTTE to get the Indians out who had originally come in to help the government rid themselves of the LTTE. The Karuna faction is being armed and trained by the Sri Lankan Army (SLA). It has been one of the demands of the LTTE at recent peace talks (February was the last one, the ones for March were postponed and then dropped all together) that non-state actors be disarmed. In a blatant slap in the face, the Karuna faction opened up a "political office" in Batticaloa (the eastern district bordering north of Ampara) in April.

A hardliner government was voted in November 05. Mahinder Rajapakse ran a hardliner campaign and was backed by the JHU (militant monk party…don't ask but these monks in complete Buddhist monk ensembles are some of the most angry men I have ever seen…real rabble rousers who will go on hunger strikes, incite hatred and march in protest. There seem to not be enough meditation practices to keep them busy otherwise. Hunger strikes and protests are fine. It's the hatred incitement part I can't get over ).

Ranil Wickramesinghe, famous for being the PM when the CFA was signed in early 2002, and loosely speaking, a candidate for peace, was running but the Tigers in an interesting development, asked Tamils not to vote. They didn't and the hardliner won.

According to people who had lived there for a while and were neither Muslim, Tamil or Singhala, the Tigers did this since they wanted to go back to war. The CFA was already falling apart right before the tsunami, tsunami happens (Dec 04) and luckily, the whole country turns to relief and recovery efforts. The relief and recovery is also fraught with political problems (aid sharing with the north and east of the country where the damage was severe, and even more so since basic infrastructure was already war ravaged), and accusations of the Tigers using the opening of the borders as an excuse for bringing in more weaponry. The government did hold back funding and the Tigers probably did bring in weaponry and money for the war chest. We were constantly compared to Banda Aceh in Indonesia, for many reasons (their construction efforts seemed to be MUCH faster than ours in SL), the one reason most talked about was how Indonesia took this opportunity and worked with and found a peaceful solution to their separatist/rebel issue.

To get an idea of how there are indeed two states within a state right now, to get to the Vanni (Tiger controlled areas north central in the country) there is a demarcation line where in order to get anything to the other side, you first have to get checked by the SLA and then 100 meters down the line, by the Tigers. So bringing in cement or sand for reconstruction means having to unload your entire truck (and this is Sri Lanka so it's not like this is in bags) first on the government side and then on the LTTE side. There is an ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) monitor who sits on the lines and just watches what is going on. There is lots more to say about the work of ICRC, but not in this post. Nothing happens in the Vanni without Tiger permission. There is no SLA there…there is no GoSL there. For a while, the tiny country of Sri Lanka had two time zones. This changed in April of this year where the rest of Sri Lanka went to Tiger time (also Indian time). This was not political. It had to do with electricity consumption and also the monks looking for karmic calm. You can read more about that here.

The second part of the BBC newspost on the time change is funny since resident bigwig literati man science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke decides it is inconvenient for him to now make international phone calls.

In his annual Hero's Day speech last year on November 27, 2005, 10 days after the National Election, Prabakharan talked about waiting to see how the struggle for Tamil independence would progress under the CFA and also that if things were not to the satisfaction to the LTTE, the new year would bring changes and they would intensify their struggle (the Tamil and Singhala New Years were on April 13th and 14th). It was not to his satisfaction. (surprise surprise…this megalomaniac has said time and time again, he will NOT stop till there is a Tamil Eelam). There had been a shadow war for a while there and over the past weeks we have come to a full on war. Neither side is well equipped but neither side will back down. Over a water dispute in Trincomalee (a once gorgeous harbour), we have moved to the holy grail of Sri Lanka, Jaffna. Everyone loves the Northern peninsula of Jaffna and everyone will keep bombing it till they get a piece of it. It has been under both SLA and LTTE control, one of the most cultured places in the world in its heyday and now a bombed out military spoil for whichever side is occupying it at that time. Right now, it happens to be the SLA.

The GoSL is training and equipping the Karuna faction. The GoSL is made up of hardliners who have required all Tamils in Colombo and other areas to register with the police. They do marginalize the Tamil people and are being bitches about meeting basic demands of the Tamil people. The LTTE forcefully recruits people and is ruthless in fighting for its Tamil homeland. They do recruit child soldiers. They have one of the highest rate of suicide bombers of all guerilla outfits in the world (last I checked) and have no qualms at all in using them. They are bitches for ruining the lives of ordinary Tamils.

When I first went to SL, I was sympathetic to the Tamil cause. Of course I was. A majority power oppressing a minority. I worked with Tamils in Ampara and my field officer, a young man of 20 wanted to just study. Get his college degree, a Masters and then a PhD. One of the most able young men I have worked with who was actively being recruited by the LTTE and actively harassed by the STF (Special Task Force who roam the streets of conflict areas to keep the peace, i.e. tote guns and attitude and harass all ordinary Tamils). He wanted nothing to do with either and just wanted a life. He has lived his entire life under war.

In my opinion, both sides suck ass and I wish I had a solution, but of course, I don't. I loved working in Sri Lanka and I met lovely (mostly racist to the other side) people but never have I seen a country so stubbornly sticking to war. Well, Palestine and Israel, I suppose.

Me and the team in Ampara at my going away party. A mix of Tamil, Singhala and Muslim. I want to say that we can get along. I don't know about that.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Old photo

An older photo of me that I found on my sisters cell phone. Me in the studio when we used to the weekly radio show. It was great. We called it the banana chutney mix. If I had to hazard how old this photo is, my guess would be...2 and half years ago. I don't look all that different. Except for the hair now.


I was totally posing for the camera phone.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Yay for my laptop

I am very happy my lap top is back with me. I was very sad that it had gone for repairs. I don't like blogging on anything else but this. Which is silly, but that is how I am. Besides my rush to want to blog, I am looking for London Apts like a mad woman. I think it gives me something to do and somehow, miraculously, I seem to think that I will find a place to live. A place which will be to my liking as in a nice space. A pretty, cosy, funky but not too funky space with an honest to goodness kitchen table and an honest to goodness kitchen. I have realized that a good kitchen is such a priority for me. What the hell? I haven't cooked once...oh no, wait, I have only cooked once since I got back from SL. Much to the horror of Appie and M who I am living with and who are used to me cooking up a storm. And they have a cool, totally equipped kitchen. I am hoping the cooking thing is not lost to me forever and that I will still want to. I feel the urge every once in a while. The urge to sit on my ass however and watch Appie cook instead is stronger. She is just so pretty while she makes my tea, brings me snacks and makes me breakfast, lunch and dinner, esp in the new kithcen which frames all her actions so I feel like I am watching a Food TV special, "To Z with love, Appie".

So some new things for you all. Ummm....hmmm.

I am less obsessed with Sri Lanka. Just as the fighting intensifies, I am less obsessed. It has taken 3 months for that to happen. So, in fact, it can happen that once you leave the Island, you leave.

There is a new blog that I would like to draw everyone's attention to. It is, for some reason, being fucked up and not joining the other blogs in a line on the right side of the page, but whatever. I am not a computer genius...actaully, I am just able, genius is a far cry, so we will just say it is being special and hanging out by itself on the bottom of the blog column. It is written by a dear friend who is the mother of twin baby girls. Check it out. I like it lots. It is brand spanking new and already, I am hooked. I am going to make the cookie recipe on there...even though it is for teething babies, it sounds yummy.

Also, an update on existing blogs. It seems Mr Byron Pakula of Melbourne Aus has time at work so he now updates his blog more regularily with weekend escapades which is awesome. I miss the Colombo Plaza champagne brunches. Ah well. Emma continue to diss the blogging world and maybe, if we are lucky, will write another entry before she leaves.

Alka and David's Romanian doc blog is more up to speed now. That is great news since there are some AWESOME photos on there now of their project. I love it.

Bill is still being lazy. No updates there since he is naughty and doesn't care and won't update his blog while the rest of us worry if he is ok. Esp with the country going to hell in a hand basket.

There are days when I wish my hair grew faster. I don't like it short today. I want to put it back and not think about it. It will not allow me to do so.

In all the listings that I respond to on gumtree, loot or craigslist for housing in London, I refer everyone to the blog. One woman read my blog and said we could never live together which I was SO amused by and emailed all my friends about since I thought it was so hysterical but it turns out that I mis typed a word and she ended up on a bible thumping site. Once I have found a place to live, I will post an entry on the wonderfully bizarre responses I have received from potential flatmates. I say words like flat and let now. Not apt and rent.

An annoying thing that I am discovering about LSE and SOAS is that ALOT of Americans are going to be there. And the bitches are all looking for a place to stay. There are some, and good for them I say, who already have places...seems they have been living there for a while but then there is a whole plethora of early 20's Americans looking high and low. Things may get ugly with all of us caliming to be less American than the other...

It's bed time now. My head hurts from all the apt hunting. It's fucking annoying.

Dear perfect place with perfect roomates, find me.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The DJ me.

Some older fun stuff for all of you. I wrote this a while back. I like it. I actually wrote this when I was in SL before moving to Ampara and I was a columnist for That ended real soon since I barely had time to do much, esp write. My column was called Zehra Crossing. I thought that was really cute. My editor came up with the name. If I were a super girl, I would have kept on it and submitted stuff regularly. I am not so super.

I have lots to write now especially since my lap top is now fixed and back with me. Yay.


Somehow, there I am. In a black sari, head phones on and Sree is handing me the microphone, encouraging the 800 people in the room to accept me as their DJ for the evening. I know there were some emails involved before this handing over of the microphone but it had all seemed so far away and in theory a great idea.

The groom himself is a DJ, which in itself is nerve wracking, but he wants to give me a chance since I’m young, new and inexperienced. A chance at DJ-ing…his WEDDING!?! Our songs lists were almost identical since I’m really an aunty under this young body and know better than anyone how to groove a desi wedding. I’m already sweating profusely and wondering if a sari was the best idea. I take the mic and say:

Hi, I’m Zehra, your DJ for the evening.

DJ’s should be given chelas who do all the talking. I am by no means a shy person but when competing with food, beautiful women, beautiful clothes and a festive atmosphere, and being a connoisseur of such events, I know for a fact, the DJ is the last person they want to pay attention to. But maybe I was hasty in deciding that. I get some looks from the young men prowling the floor and decide again, the sari was indeed a bad idea.

Dinner music is Asian underground. Karsh Kale, Talvin Singh, Cheb-I-Sabbah type stuff. Easy enough. All of a sudden I have nothing to do but need to look like I’m earning my money and fiddle around with some dials with no idea of what they do. Bad idea. I flip through some CD books instead. I think back to the two female DJ’s I know, Rekha of Basement Bhangra fame and Ashu Rai of the wonderful Desilicious parties. They always look busy and professional.

I put some pep into the way I flip through my CD’s. I also think longingly of the Brooklyn lounges I’ve played in and really just how different this mass scale experience is. People come up and even though I haven’t started really playing the good stuff, ask for my card, which I lie and say I’ve forgotten to bring since I don’t have any and I really just get looked up and down by all the desi aunties who are having weddings soon.

I can see them assessing me as an accessory at their child’s wedding. If I can play nominally good music, I’ll have more gigs lined up. Fine with me. I got this gig off an email list where the bride said she wanted a DJ who didn’t answer to a Tony or Johnny. Someone basically normal, looking to make some extra cash.

Dinner is over and the party needs to get started. It is the time to disco.

Sakina is with me and thank god for her. We are used to each other’s styles and eccentricities having been sisters all our lives and more recently, two of the three co-hosts at a 2 hour weekly show on Dhoom.FM. I am the calm one and she is the one who snarls at people. Again, somehow there I am, snarling at someone. There were, I think, three little kids and two young men involved who were touching my CD’s and asking me what kind of crap I was playing.

This is why DJ’s have booths. To get away from all the requests and the general ill will of people who want to hear bhangra since they are a half Punjabi wedding. They are at a half Punjabi wedding where I was specifically told by the groom’s family that yes we are Punjabi and yes we hate bhangra so stay away from it and stick to film-y music.

‘Don’t you have any bhangra’ and when I say no, he rolls his eyes at me and huffs. Him: Straw. Me: Camel’s back. I turn to Sakina and clip the words,

Get Him Out Of My Face Before I Shove These Headphones into His Ears And His Face Into The CD Mixer And Yell: Play What You Want Motherfucker. You Think This Is Easy? Bajaow Music! BAJAOW!

God bless her, she does.

I am told this is how desi DJ’s start. A rites of passage of sorts. Just make sure it is a passage and not the end of the hall. You play at a desi wedding. You watch the drunk uncles swing around the aunties and come and ask you for the 7th time that evening to play It’s the time to disco. Uncle, I just played it, I can’t.

You deal with him in his drunken state, taking out a $20 bill and handing it to you and saying, play the song. It makes me want to be dressed in a bright pink peshwas, covered in gold, adaab-ing him smiling through my eyelashes.

He returns to the dance floor and even though I’m not going to play It’s the time to disco, the question remains: Do I take that 20 bucks or not? Is there anyway, in the spirit of how it was given to me, that I can quickly pick it up without anyone noticing and stick it in my sari blouse? Or is that really cheapening myself? What are my limits to self cheapment?

$19 is the carefully calculated figure I come up with and the $20 till they aren’t soaked in my sweat, itch a little inside my blouse. I need the money and he obviously doesn’t. The sari was a good idea after all.

The dancing crowd has thinned out to those who are enjoying my mix. It really is the other way around. My mix is accommodating those people that I like on the dance floor. Runners talk about a high and with DJ-ing there is absolutely one. Everything is in sync and you absolutely control the fervor of the dancing, the movements and moods of everyone out there.

It is a feeling of power and control that is difficult to describe since it seems so small but these people have given over control to you. Control over how they are going to feel at that particular moment. You have to anticipate where you want to take them and how. How long and how far and there is a trust that exists between the DJ and the dancer where there are times that I can play a new or eclectic piece that they may never have heard of and it is always a risk. Either I will break the rhythm and people will leave or, and this is an amazing moment, they will let me take them wherever and however I please. It is for moments like these that I love to DJ.

A DJ friend of the groom takes over as it gets closer to 11:30 (the cinderella moment at desi American weddings since the hotel halls they rent are adamant about when the wedding is over) and I’m done. It doesn’t stop uncles, aunties and bachas from coming up to me and asking for It’s the time to disco.

“Disco disco disco khisko disco” I chirp to the little kids and they run away.

I get onto the dance floor. I’ve been a dancer more than a DJ. I used to be a tough dance floor nut to crack. Once you’ve been on the other side though, it’s a different story.

I hitch up my sari just a wee bit. It’s my turn to let go.

Friday, August 11, 2006


My silence on my blog about this is unpardonable, but it has been difficult to write about it since it is very upsetting. There are also people far more qualified than me to write as well whom I read obsessively. My fave blog in all this is that of Rasha Salti. ( Biased on that blog since I met her right before she left to go to Beirut two days before the bombing started. Other good blogs are:, a great one is, which gives "headlines" from other Lebanon related blogs and opens one up to a bunch. Beirut Spring is another good one with links to news articles, opinions and the comments section is amazing.

It has been approx a month and today attention is being diverted in America from the foiled terror plot of bombing airplanes etc...Brit citizens, originally Pakistani I think and yeah, all America now wants to talk about it how they will hydrate themselves between the security lines and the time they get on the plane. It is very inconvenient and therefore, we must talk about it on every single news channel and devote reporters time and energy, not to mention that of the viewers to listen to unsuspecting passengers who went to US airports and realized they would have to be delayed by some hours to get to their vacations or homes and would have to throw out shampoos, gels, beverages, toothpaste etc. Those poor, poor people. So unsuspecting. God damn terrorists who hate the idea of convenience. Those convenience haters. Mayor Bloomberg of NYC in a statement said, well, if we are to be inconvenienced by the lines, and delays of some hours at our airports, so be it. I laud this brave man to stand up in the face of American inconvenience.

How annoying that I have to throw out bottles of water or a huge trash can at the airport. A big abyss of a trash can with used toilettries and beverages of Americans that could probably fill the gaping holes in the now bombed out city of Bint Jbeil. I mean, how inconvenient, esp when my well stocked convenient corner store is close by regardless of where I live in the US.

People don't have basic sustenance and are dying (and don't need to if the IDF would just give clear cut clearance for aid convoys!!!!) and we obssess about our lack of convenience in this country.

The news channels were surreal all day and the UN is still dragging its feet (or having its feet dragged) on a peace plan for Lebanon.

Life is amazingly, still going on. Tourist buses were out in NYC since today was a gorgeous day. A mother in the Bronx office I work at had a cell phone conversation designed for everyone to hear how she was not going to let her teenage daughter the life she had set up for herself and there will be concerts and parties, movie openings, me looking for an apt in London, my dishes arriving finally from Sri Lanka, bills to pay, subways to get onto, people to meet, clothes to buy and wear, cigarettes to smoke, coffee to drink and yeah, the passage of time to navigate. Amazing how we will sense that passage so differently, isn't it?

I wish I were there for this. Getting a visa is an issue for me. Amazing courage these people have to make a civilian convoy to get to the hard hit south to get them the much needed aid.

Press Release-Lebanon: An Open Country for Civil Resistance
Beirut August 7, 2006

Press Contacts:
Rasha Salti, +961 3 970855
Huwaida Arraf, +961 70 974452
Samah Idriss, +961 3 381349
Wadih Al Asmar, +961 70 950780

On August 12, at 7 am, Lebanese from throughout the country and
international supporters who have come to Lebanon to express
solidarity will gather in Martyr's Square in Beirut to form a civilian
convoy to the south of Lebanon. Hundreds of Lebanese and
international civilians will express their solidarity with the
inhabitants of the heavily destroyed south who have been bravely
withstanding the assault of the Israeli military. This campaign is
endorsed by more than 200 Lebanese and international organizations.
This growing coalition of national and international non-governmental
organizations hereby launches a campaign of civil resistance for the
purpose of challenging the cruel and ruthless use of massive military
force by Israel, the regional superpower, upon the people of Lebanon.

August 12 marks the start of this Campaign of Resistance, declaring
Lebanon an Open Country for Civil Resistance. August 12 also marks
both the international day of protest against the Israeli aggression.

"In the face of Israel's systematic killing of our people, the
indiscriminate bombing of our towns, the scorching of our villages,
and the attempted destruction of our civil infrastructure, we say No!
In the face of the forced expulsion of a quarter of our population
from their homes throughout Lebanon, and the complicity of governments
and international bodies, we re-affirm the acts of civil resistance
that began from the first day of the Israeli assault, and we stress
and add the urgent need to act!," said Rasha Salti, one of the
organizers of this national event.

After August 12, the campaign will continue with a series of civil
actions, leading to an August 19 civilian march to reclaim the South.
"Working together, in solidarity, we will overcome the complacency,
inaction, and complicity of the international community and we will
deny Israel its goal of removing Lebanese from their land and
destroying the fabric of our country," explained Samah Idriss, writer
and co-organizer of this campaign.

"An international civilian presence in Lebanon is not only an act of
solidarity with the Lebanese people in the face of unparalleled
Israeli aggression, it is an act of moral courage to defy the will of
those who would seek to alienate the West from the rest and create a
new Middle East out of the rubble and blood of the region," said
Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement and
campaign co-organizer. "After having witnessed the wholesale
destruction of villages by Israel's air force and navy and having
visited the victims (so-called displaced) of Israel's policy of
cleansing Lebanese civilians from their homes," continued Arraf, "it
is imperative to go south and reach those who have stayed behind to
resist by steadfastly remaining on their land."

If you are in Lebanon and want to sign up and join the convoy, contact either:
Rasha Salti. Email: . Tel: +961 3 970 855
Rania Masri. Email: Tel: +961 3 135 279
or +961 6 930 250 xt. 5683 or xt. 3933
If you are outside Lebanon and want to sign up and join the convoy,
you should know:
1) You need to obtain a visa for Lebanon and for Syria if your plan is
to enter Lebanon from Syria.
2) We don't have the funds to cover for the cost of your travel,
however we can help with finding accomodations.
For questions and help for all internationals please contact Adam
Shapiro at:

You can also sign up on our website:

This campaign is thus far endorsed by more than 200 organizations,
including: The Arab NGOs Network for Development (ANND), International
Solidarity Movement (ISM), Cultural Center for Southern Lebanon,
Norwegian People's Aid, Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, Lebanese
Association for Democratic Elections, Frontiers, Kafa, Nahwa
al-Muwatiniya, Spring Hints, Hayya Bina, Lebanese Transparency
Association, Amam05, Lebanese Center for Civic Education, Let's Build
Trust, CRTD-A, Solida, National Association for Vocational Training
and Social Services, Lebanese Development Pioneers, Nadi Li Koul
Alnas, and Lecorvaw.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lovely days in Brooklyn

Brooklyn is of course, as lovely as ever. I cannot belive it has been 10 days since I wrote last. naughty naughty Z. As most everyone knows by now since I sent out a mass email, I did get into graduate school and SOAS here I come. I was desparate to find a place to live, but for some reason, I am not anymore. I think I need to just get there and figure it out and it will be ok. If anyone thinks I am being unreasonably naive, let me know. Reasonably naive is fine. I realize it will not be cheap. I am looking with another person (met her on the internet, seems very sweet, will be in the same program and we are both brown!). I think this will work out in the end. Finding a place. It makes all the difference to see it, you know. And for people to meet and see you. My search so far has led people to my blog believe it or not since they want to know a little about you and I get lazy and bored saying the same things about myself, so now I tell them just to go to my blog. Ha ha. One guy said I seemed more cultured than the average smeggy London student. I like the word smeggy. I am only guessing what it means. It is my new favorite word.

The photos, by the way are from Brooklyn and today, my sis and I got into a car (we could have walked but were lazy about it) and drove to the Brooklyn waterfront since she very badly wanted ice cream and wanted only this ice cream. I now carry my camera with me EVERYWHERE which is very fun so we took photos, which was nice since the sun was setting by the waterfront with the Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn Bridge looking very lovely. Lots of tourists come there, something that I was not aware of and perhaps it is more now since it is summer. My most vivid memory of this waterfront is after 9-11 standing there and looking at all sorts of helicopters and water police people wizzing around on speedboats etc. Very bizarre at the time...well, still bizarre.

So, my sis was very happy with her ice cream, I was having a bad hair day, the evening was nice and cool and there were many tourists there.