Friday, February 05, 2010

Changing Blog Host:

Hi folks,

As you've already seen, I've not been blogging actively much over the last few months. It's a mix of being busy and also not feeling the pull in the same way I once did.

Blogger, the service I've used to publish this blog from the beginning, has recently announced that they're discontinuing FTP support for Blogger in the next few weeks. That means I won't be able to have this blog hosted at my Lehigh webspace while also using their service. The stated reason is that FTP and SFTP create a large number of technical problems -- which rings true, since I've never quite been able to get Blogger to update my blog templates right.

It turns out it's fairly easy to move Blogger-based blogs to a custom domain name hosted by Google. I used to own, but I let it go, and now some parasite company owns the domain.

As a result, for now I'm going to be using WWW.ELECTROSTANI.COM, which is also my Twitter name. The entire blog should already be available there, though most of the links will point back to posts at Lehigh. All new posts will appear there.

Please update your bookmarks.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Nose-Piercing, Utah, and a Big Oops (Not Mine) [Updated]

On Thursday, I spoke to an AP reporter about a story in Utah last week, expressing some views about a girl in middle school in Utah who got suspended from her school for violating dress code, after getting her nose pierced. She and her family said she did it to get in touch with her Indian cultural identity -- she had the piercing done on Diwali just a couple of weeks ago. The school, however, had a strict "ear pierces only" policy, and was only willing to allow her to have a "transparent" stud in her nose, not the more obviously Indian nose ring she wore to school initially.

Here is the AP story that resulted. It's been printed in a fair number of newspapers around the country. The reporter quotes Abhi (from Sepia Mutiny), Sandhya (also from Sepia Mutiny), and myself. But something goes wrong here:

"I wanted to feel more closer to my family in India because I really love my family," said Suzannah, who was born in Bountiful. Her father was born in India as a member of the Sikh religion.

"I just thought it would be OK to let her embrace her heritage and her culture," said Suzannah's mother, Shirley Pabla, a Mormon born in nearby Salt Lake City. "I didn't know it would be such a big deal."

It shouldn't have been, said Suzannah's father, Amardeep Singh, a Sikh who was raised in the United States and works as an English professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. "It's true that the nose ring is mainly a cultural thing for most Indians," Singh said. "Even if it is just culture, culture matters. And her right to express or explore it seems to me at least as important as her right to express her religious identity." (link)

Um, wait a minute. Did I read that right? Take a look at it again: "...said Suzannah's father, Amardeep Singh, a Sikh who was raised in the United States..."

[UPDATED: The error has been corrected in the online version of this article.]

This is a really bizarre and unfortunate error. Just to be clear, I have one kid, and he's three years old. I am annoyed on my own behalf, but I also feel bad for the Pablas. (Suzannah has a dad, who is a practicing Sikh. It just so happens that most of the coverage of this story in the local Utah newspapers doesn't mention his name: see the Salt Lake Tribune, for example)

When I spoke to the reporter who authored this story, he was 100% clear that I was in no way related to the Pablas. Somewhere between that conversation and the story that has now run in 200+ newspapers around the country, that important fact fell out. I don't know who's responsible for the error -- it appears it's an editor who might have come up with this.

In the end, it's not really that big a deal; the only people who will really think anything is amiss are people who know the Pablas and people who know me. Still, maybe the moral here is to JUST SAY NO when reporters call you for a quote for a story that doesn't really involve you directly.

If there is a bright side of this, it's that I got to be photographed by a professional photographer: here.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

New and Forthcoming Publications

I was happy to see that an essay I wrote for the journal Symploke recently became available via Project Muse:

“Anonymity, Authorship, and Blogger Ethics.”

[If anyone who doesn't have access to Project Muse would like me to send you a copy, please let me know by email; I would be happy to send it to you.]

This was something I actually wrote more than two years ago, not long after a series of panels at MLA related to blogging and public intellectual activity. The paper actually began as an MLA presentation, for a panel with Michael Berube and Rita Felski, in December 2006. In the essay, I bring together literary theory relating to authorship (Barthes, Foucault, and critiques of French theory by scholars like Sean Burke), with context from literary history (the 18th century broadsheet as a predecssor to blogging as a genre), in order think about how the possibility of universal, instantaneous publishability is changing ideas of authorship (not destroying it, but changing it).

I was happy to see that it appears that a student at West Virginia University is already using the article in a paper she's writing: here. (It's part of this course)

I have some other publications coming out soon as well:

"Veiled Strangers: Rabindranath Tagore’s America, in Letters and Lectures." Forthcoming from Journeys: The International Journal of Travel & Travel Writing, 10:1, 2009.

"Animating a Postmodern Ramayana: Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues" Forthcoming from South Asian Review, 2010.

"More than 'Priestly Mumbo-Jumbo': Religion and Authorship in All About H. Hatterr." Forthcoming from Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 2009.

Of those, the Desani article was the most difficult to write; it actually had its start as a blog post I wrote all the way back in 2005. I had submitted it for publication in 2007, only to receive a "revise and resubmit" that seemed very challenging at the time. For various reasons, between 2007 and summer 2009 the paper was simply in limbo. I attacked it again this summer, and sent it off, this time successfully. The version that will be published is much shorter than the original version. Some of the materials I referred to, such as Desani's columns for The Illustrated Weekly in the 1960s, are not easily accessible, and I'm toying with the idea of having them scanned and OCRed for the web.

The Tagore essay goes back even further. It had its seeds in the very first blog post I wrote for Sepia Mutiny, back in 2005. I had given versions of it (in a more scholarly vein, of course) as a talk a couple of times. When the invitation came to send it to "Journeys," I was happy to finally finish it.

Finally, the essay on Nina Paley and the Ramayana was written quickly this past summer, almost on a lark. It brings together scholarship on the diversity of the Ramayana tradition (especially in the two important Paula Richman anthologies) with Nina Paley's animated, postmodern appropriation of the narrative.

In other news, the project I have been doing on Mira Nair is approaching completion; I'm hoping to send off the manuscript this fall. I'm also presenting a paper on the Hindi writer Nirmal Verma at the upcoming Modernist Studies Association Conference in Montreal (early November). Finally, I'm presenting at the MLA Convention in Philadelphia at the end of December (a paper on the "open letter" as a literary genre in the era of globalization -- from Sa'adat Hasan Manto to Mohsin Hamid and Aravind Adiga).

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Friday, January 16, 2009

"Imagining South Asia" Special Issue Now Available

A long time ago, Prof. Kavita Daiya and I started working on a special issue of the journal South Asian Review, with the topic "Imagining South Asia." After several delays, the issue is finally out. Hopefully the cover should give you some idea of what we were after in the issue:

The source of the image is here.

Here is the table of contents:

Fakrul Alam: "Imagining South Asian Writing in English From Bangladesh"

Savitri Ashok, "Battering Ram, Bruised Nation: Postcolonial Nationalism and the Forsaken Promise of Secularism"

Rajini Srikanth, "South Asia and the Challenge of Intimacy in the Global War on Terror"

Alexandra Schultheis, "Reading tibet: Area Studies, Postcoloniality, and the Politics of Human rights"

Bidhan Roy, "From Brick Lane to Bradford: Contemporary Literature and the Production of Asian Identity in Britain"

Lavina Shankar and Rajini Srikanth, "From Multan to Maine: A Conversation with Ved Mehta"

Henry Schwarz, "Resolution, Revolution, Reaction: Reimagining Conflict Transformation Through Art"

Makarand Paranjape, "Imagining India: Aurobindo, Ambedkar, and After"

Kailash Baral, "Identity and Cultural Aporia: Globalization and the Tribes of Northeast India"

Amardeep Singh, "Names Can Wait: Misnaming the South Asian Diaspora in Theory and Practice"

I am putting my own essay online as a PDF if anyone is interested, here. (Needless to say, I would love to hear feedback on the essay if anyone has the time to read it.)

Also, if any of the contributors would like their essays also available online, please let me know.

You can order just the special issue by sending $15 (payable to South Asian Review) to the office of the editor, Professor Kamal Verma, at the University of Pittsburgh. The address to send it to is at this page. For just a few dollars more, you can get an annual individual subscription.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hello from Delhi (and Dehra Dun, and Chandigarh)

We'll be returning to Goa in a day or two, but meanwhile there was some family visiting to attend to in the north.

First up, Delhi. My dominant impression of Delhi this time around is of seeing construction everywhere for new Delhi Metro stations. In a couple of years (when Delhi hosts the Commonwealth Games), I'm sure it will all be wonderful, but right now it adds to the traffic headache. That said, I was impressed by the new domestic airport terminal (the old one was hopelessly insufficient), and by what I took to be preliminary attempts at revamping the central train station.

We were happy to get to meet Jai Arjun Singh at a Crossword book store (Jai, thanks for waiting for us) in Saket, south
Delhi. The bookstore was in a massive, opulent new mall called "Citywalk Select," which has designer boutiques everywhere (Indian, European, and American), and the general feel of the massive King of Prussia mall near our house in suburban Philadelphia. It was certainly surreal, after seeing continuing signs of poverty elsewhere in the city, and Samian wondered how there could be enough Delhi-ites who can afford to pay $500 for Kate Spade purses to support these stores. Also surreal in such a place was the presence of the writer Ruskin Bond, who I think of as an R.K. Narayan-type writer (simple, elegant, and compelling storytelling), not someone you would ever expect to see in this kind of place. In this case, he was doing a book-signing at the bookstore, which was surprisingly packed.

When you're traveling with a two-year old, you don't get to read quite as much as when you're either alone or with other grown-ups. Still, I've been reading bits and pieces of Carlo Levi's Essays on Delhi here and there, and I thought some passages from his essay "The Invisible Capital" (1957) might be of interest:

The city of New Delhi appears, as you drop suddenly down towards it out of the sky, as something unreal and abstract, an immense placeless space, a utopian place. It doesn't really seem like a city; there is no centre, no cluster of houses, only a vast expanse crisscrossed by immensely broad boulevards that seem to stretch out endlessly into the distance, and dotted here and there by monumental buildings, isolated in the greenery. Much as in the shapeless, amoeboid city of Los Angeles, the distances are so vast that you can only move around by car (this modern conveyance that ensures medieval isolation). It is also reminiscent of Washington, with its plan of an administrative capital, silent and reserved; to an even greater degree, it is reminiscent of London, in the attempt to blend a sense of power with a yearning for the earthly paradise prior to the original sin.

I think the comparison to Washington is probably the most apt (I don't see the comparisons to London or Los Angeles at all). More from Carlo Levi on Delhi below:

Construction began here in 1911, in the last few years of a wold that promised eternal progress and security, and New Delhi remains -- as if it were somehow separate from living reality -- as a perfect document of that time and that empire, of its rationale and the principles upon which it was founded. It is, first and foremost, a magnificent monument to an immense empire, the embodiment of an act of detached, prideful will, a will that celebrated and affirmed itself as eternal by projecting itself into the future. But this power chose not to touch, or roil, or modify nature: rather, it seemed to prefer to identify itself with a nature that existed before time itself, a paradisiacal nature, with an absolute naturalistic utopia . . . In this paradise of the viceroys, the detachment is absolute: remote from the real inhabitants, from life itself, and from all of life's muddled heat, pain, and movement. Everything matches a rigorous hierarchy of reason, a precise, age-old, meticulous ceremony.

The above seems like the point of view of someone who came to Delhi and spent a lot of time in government buildings. From the other point of view, one could say that it's those massive government structures that are detached; the rest of the city, even caked by dust and choked by suspended particulate matter, is very much alive.

One more paragraph from Carlo Levi:

In this gigantic hidey-hole, it is possible to avoid being seen, like gods, and to see nothing. Even today a foreigner who lives in a large hotel or a government building can entirely ignore the country in which he or she lives. Soviet writers, who scrupulously attend, with their interpreters, the sessions of the pan-Asiatic congress (the reason for my journey here), with the paternal grandeur and quasi-British detachment (though instead of whiskey they brought with them Armenian cognac), have waited a full week for the sessions to end before taking their first glances at India. It is possible to stay in New Delhi and see nothing, understand nothing: but it is not easy, because the other reality (to which the sole concessions are stylistic: the Mughal architecture of the viceroy's house and other buildings) filters through everywhere unstoppably, just as the tendrils of plant life work their way into the cracks in an old abandoned wall. The vast English lawns have become, through some unknown alchemy, though still bright green and perfectly trimmed, part of an Indian countryside. All that is needed is a woman washing her sari in front of the India Gate, or a begggar lying careless on the grass: all it takes is the trees, and the orange light of sunset.

Though it's now somewhat dated, and certainly bound up with Levi's particular experience of Delhi as an "official" visitor, much of what he says here seems to me to still apply.

A few more travel notes...

We went to attend a wedding in Dehra Dun, and were staying at a guest
house near the Doon School, the English-medium private school that has educated a shocking number of contemporary Indian writers. On a free afternoon, we walked over to the front gate, and tried negotiating with the rather imposing security team about seeing the campus, but no dice. (Samian made up some story about how we have a friend in America who went there, but it didn't fly.) We were left admiring the lush campus from outside the eight-foot walls, and walked back to our guest house, past local women carrying gigantic loads of felled tree branches on their heads. (Perhaps we saw enough.)

Meanwhile, the town of Dehra Dun is choked with traffic, and the streams that run through are heavily littered with trash and heaps of used plastic bags. (The government knows it's a problem. In several states we've passed through, we've seen state propaganda against the use of plastic bags: "We, the citizens of Uttarakhand, pledge not to use Plastic Bags." I don't know if it's working.)

The drive from Dehra Dun to Chandigarh was particularly scenic, though the views were marred by the fog (smog) that hangs heavily over much of northern India at this time of year. Our driver had some colorful stories, one about a place called Kala Amb (black mango), where, legend has it, there was a special tree that had a branch that only grew black mangoes. For years, the Panchayat of that town conducted its business near the tree, and whenever someone was to be hanged, they were hanged on the black mango branch.

Another intriguing story our driver told us was about the road from Dehra Dun to Rishikesh, where, according to him, wild elephants sometimes like to come out and sleep on the roads at night. You have to go around them, and not trouble them too much, lest they decide to uproot a tree, and smash your car with it. He said there was one particular case of a deranged elephant, who had been exiled from his herd, who went on a rampage and killed quite a number of people in this way (I have no idea if this is even remotely plausible, but it's an intriguing idea: the alienated, sociopathic elephant.)

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

That's "Associate Professor" To You

For the past few weeks there was a glitch in my Blogger FTP settings, which prevented me from putting up new posts here (though I have still been putting things up at Sepia Mutiny on occasion). I finally fixed the problem this afternoon, which means I can start posting a bit again.

One nice announcement -- I was formally granted tenure at Lehigh this year, ending the long uncertainty that every academic has to deal with.

How does it feel? Well, it feels good, though there is suddenly more administrative work and committee work to deal with.

The idea of tenure is, you're supposed to use the academic freedom you've earned to do serious and original research without worrying about your job prospects. You can spend ten years researching a monumental project, if you want. Or, you can go off and write a novel instead of doing criticism. You can become a hard core academic blogger, bypassing traditional publishing venues. You can even, in theory, do nothing at all, though that would be a waste.

In my case, I am in the middle of a short book-length project on Mira Nair that I am supposed to finish in the next few months. I am also nearly done with at least three separate articles, on 1) Tagore's Travel Writing, 2) Sa'adat Hasan Manto, and 3) a revised version of the "Secular Sikh Writers" essay I mentioned back in April. I'm also still sitting on an only partially revised essay on G.V. Desani, which was actually written nearly two years ago.

So -- a lot to get done before I "go off and write my novel."


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Upcoming Talk at U-Penn

I am mining some of my experiences at Sepia Mutiny in a talk for the Asian American Studies program at U-Penn this coming week. If any readers are in the area, it would be nice to see you.

Asian American Studies Program
University of Pennsylvania

Amardeep Singh

Identity Politics and Diasporic Pragmatism: Debating South Asia in Online Communities

Date: Thursday, September 18, 2009
Time: 4:30 - 5:30 pm
Place: Grad Ed Bldg 203

The concept of a pan-South Asian identity has been of only limited success as a regional marker within the Indian subcontinent, but it has emerged as a widely-used, if still controversial term in the South Asian diaspora. Conceptual debates over the term have occurred in academia, as part of ongoing debates about interdisciplinarity and "Area Studies," as we see in arguments by Vijay Prashad, Nicholas Dirks, and others. Versions of these debates have also been circulating outside of academia, in online South Asia-oriented forums such as, and on the weblog This talk explores the ways in which debates in these online environments parallel academic debates, and in some cases challenge social theorists to reconsider their approach to terminology surrounding ethnic identity, geopolitical regionalism, and transnational political affiliation.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Desis Vote (And, Tooting My Own Horn)

SAMAR Magazine has a new issue up on its website on elections -- both within South Asia and here in the U.S. They have essays on the recent election in Gujarat, the Parliamentary elections in Pakistan, the upcoming elections in Nepal, a piece by an SAFO member, and a piece on the Desi vote in New York. There's also a short essay by myself, on "Skinny Candidates With Funny Names," which brings together points made in several of blog posts on Barack Obama and Bobby Jindal. In the piece I make reference to some Sepia Mutiny comment threads, and I actually quote directly from commenter Neal.

My own piece aside, I would recommend people start with the piece by Ali Najmi on the Desi vote in New York. It's informative, for one thing, and Najmi makes reference to a new organization called Desis Vote, which aims to mobilize participation in the South Asian community.

I would also recommend the piece by Luna Ranjit on the upcoming elections in Nepal. Ranjit explains why the planned elections last year were postponed, and explains why the upcoming elections will be historic for Nepal. In addition to addressing the Maoist question, she talks about some of Nepal's ethnic/tribal problems, with groups such as the Terai.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Writing Deadlines

Hi folks, I have been on a bit of a hiatus to meet some writing deadlines. Hopefully I will be back blogging somewhat regularly next week.

I find that whenever I'm finishing difficult projects -- going all the way back to my dissertation days, in 1999-2000 -- I end up listening to one particular song by Everything But The Girl. It's not a conscious thing; I just seem to always find it in my MP3 collection at the right moment:

Somehow the song always does the trick. (I don't know how I feel about the video, which I only watched for the first time just now).

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

1,000,000 Visitors

Sometime last night, my SiteMeter recorded my millionth visitor.

It's been nearly four years now since I started this blog (March 2004), so in fact that isn't all that impressive (blogs with larger numbers of readers might record the same number in much less time). But it is still a bit of a landmark, and maybe an opportunity for a little self-reflection.

Writing this blog has had a rather large impact on my life, mostly in positive ways. It's certainly been an asset professionally -- I meet quite a number of people at conferences who say, "oh, you're the Amardeep Singh whose blog I randomly came across when I googled [X subject]." Especially amongst people who are in my sub-field, the blog has become a kind of calling card (mostly because of Google, I find; the number of regular readers remains somewhat limited). It isn't magic, of course -- nowhere near as good as publishing, say, a really influential essay or a widely read academic book -- but it is sometimes nice to find that people know who you are.

There's also been the occasional media moment, though in the end getting quoted by a newspaper or two doesn't really make that much difference one way or the other (newspaper articles are quickly forgotten).

Perhaps most importantly, some of my longer blog posts have been the starting points for serious scholarly projects (including a couple of things I'm working on right now). Blogging has been a really effective testing ground for ideas, and a place to (publicly) jot down notes on an author or idea that could be developed into something more substantial later. It's also been good way to stave off intellectual stagnation: since I started doing this kind of writing, my sense of what might be worth writing about in a serious way has expanded quite a bit -- I've become much less "specialized," and much more prone to humor my broad, wandering curiosity. (I have always been more the kind of person who likes to know something about a large number of subjects than the other way around, which is probably why I've found blogging such a congenial medium.)

I've made a lot of friends through blogging, sometimes with people I've ended up getting to know in person, and sometimes with people who, because they're far away, I haven't yet met face to face. (One day I'd like to do a grand tour, and go and meet in person all the people I've corresponded with over the years via blogging... it would be quite a trip!)

I do sometimes regret that the blog isn't quite as dynamic or personal as it was during the first two years I was writing. For one thing, I simply have less time to blog than I used to. Having a baby means that your evenings and weekends are mostly computer-free, meaning that you really have to get everything (including "real" work and blog writing) done before 6pm on Friday afternoon. Another big culprit for that shift has admittedly been my participation in Sepia Mutiny, which has very active comment boards that tend to suck up attention.

That said, I'm fairly satisfied with the general direction I've followed with this blog, and not worried if the readership is no longer expanding by leaps and bounds. I'm now pretty comfortable doing what I'm doing here, and not particularly pressed to rustle up new readers. I've also said a lot of what I have to say on some glaring issues (like, say, communalism in India) and, after having debated back and forth with people on hot-button topics over months and years, I'm not in a big rush to re-open certain old debates out of the blue, unless something controversial occurs. (When it does, be assured that I will be there, if I have something to say about it...)

Thanks to everyone who has read, commented, or sent me feedback over the years.
I hope you stay with me through 2008, too; I'm not going anywhere.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Learning Urdu, Visiting Chicago (MLA/SALA)

For the past three days I was in Chicago, at the South Asian Literature Association conference and then MLA.

At the SALA conference (Narayan, I know, is chuckling every time I use that acronym!), I was presenting on Sa'adat Hasan Manto's "Letters to Uncle Sam" ("Chacha Sam Ke Nam-Ek Khat," Doosra Khat, etc.). Though I was mainly working with Khalid Hasan's translation, I didn't want it to be one of those papers about a writer that fails to look at the original text -- but to do that in Manto's case one needs to be able to read Urdu!

Therefore, I actually spent a couple of days early this week re-learning Urdu script. I had been taught it briefly in a Hindi class in college fifteen years ago, but since then I'd completely forgotten it. It turns out that one can (re)learn a script with a little work and (in Urdu's case) a lot of concentration. Luckily, Manto's particular vocabulary and style of writing seems to be fairly close to Hindustani, so I was actually able to make some use of the original text in the paper. I will have to do much more work with it if I want to publish the paper, though. (Incidentally, the seeds of the paper were planted in this blog post from last year. The academic paper is much more argument-driven and less informal, of course)

This time I'm going to keep practicing reading Urdu every so often (perhaps using the Urdu short stories at the excellent Annual of Urdu Studies journal as fodder), so hopefully I won't forget. If anyone wants to read along with me -- or indeed, help me out! -- please let me know by email or in comments. (I might take a stab at translating this short poem (PDF) next week.)

* * *

The conferences went fine on the whole. I missed Raji Sunder Rajan's keynote and the Hawley/Krishnaswamy plenary at SALA due to a professional appointment I had at the larger MLA conference, but on the whole it's nice to see SALA improve a little every year -- there were some great papers presented this year. Unfortunately, the audiences at some panels are still too small; it seems like very few people come to SALA just to hear papers, and that's too bad.

I also had a decent time at MLA, seeing a few panels, and also catching up with a number of grad school friends. Good luck to everyone on the job market, and congratulations to Candice on her book.

* * *

Wednesday night I got away from the conferences and went to the Indo-Pak shops and restaurants on Devon Avenue, which is Chicago's equivalent of New Jersey's Oak Tree Road (Iselin/Edison) or Jackson Heights, Queens. It happened to be the night Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated, and the restaurant where I ate (Zam Zam) was buzzing with talk about it -- not all of it intelligent, unfortunately. I overheard one Pakistani 'uncle' sarcastically telling his friends that he thought Benazir's death was effectively a kind of suicide (khudkushi), so what's the big deal, why get upset? ... sad.

* * *

On Friday, Sepoy braved heavy snow and drove into central Chicago to meet up for lunch. We went to a "Cabbie" restaurant called Kababish, where they serve *really* authentic, homestyle desi khana. (It's so homestyle, there aren't even menus -- you just tell them what you want!) Naturally, we discussed the situation in Pakistan (for analysis and links, you should really go to Sepoy's Chapati Mystery blog; as I've been traveling, I haven't really been keeping up)


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Quoted Briefly in the Washington Post (more Jindal)

This time, I'm proud to have contributed some thoughts to what I think is a really well done piece on the Indian community's reaction to Bobby Jindal in the Washington Post:

Whatever their views, "absolutely everybody is talking about this," said Amardeep Singh, an English professor at Lehigh University and a contributor to Sepia Mutiny, one of several blogs serving South Asians that hosted discussions on the topic last week.

"It's a soul-searching moment because it raises all these questions about identity and the kind of public profile that Indian Americans have to cut in order to succeed in American life," Singh said.

As for himself, Singh, 33, who was born in New York and raised in Washington's Maryland suburbs, confessed to deep ambivalence. As someone who tried to fit in during college by taking the nickname Deep but who has since tried to resurrect his given first name, Singh is pained that the first Indian American to win a governorship did so using the name Bobby. But Singh is also certain that Louisiana voters were under no illusions about Jindal's ancestry. (link)

She also has some great quotes from our blog-friend Maitri.

One small clarification I should have made to Ms. Aizenman -- a lot of people still call me 'Deep'. But I'm 'Amardeep' in public and in print.

I talked about some of these naming issues in a short essay I wrote awhile ago (before the blog) on naming in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. (Note to self: expand that piece & turn it into something publishable already!)

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Briefly Quoted in "Outlook" (regarding Jindal)

There's a brief quote from me in the Indian news magazine Outlook, regarding Governor-elect Bobby Jindal:

"But Bobby is a conservative Republican, and most Indian Americans aren't, so there are a lot of mixed feelings about him," says Toby Chaudhuri, IALI spokesman. "It is hard to accept him when you scratch the surface. He has proved Indian Americans can achieve great things, but he doesn't represent our community." The ambivalence over Jindal was evident from comments posted on blogs including, which is devoted to the South Asian diaspora. Prof Amardeep Singh of Lehigh University, near Philadelphia, monitored responses to his post on Jindal's victory. Most people recognise its significance, but worry about the role of religion in Jindal's campaign, his name change, and his poor connect with the Black community in Louisiana. Only conservative Indians are enthusiastic about Jindal; the liberals are either apathetic or hostile. "If I was in Louisiana, I wouldn't vote for him," says Singh. "I disagree with him too strongly."(link)

Oh well. What's funny about being misquoted in this particular instance is that it wasn't even a spoken quote to begin with -- the reporter was simply quoting my blog post on Jindal from last week! (I actually wrote "If I lived in Louisiana," and obviously I didn't make that particular grammatical error.)

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

My Essay in Minnesota Review: "Republics of the Imagination"

I have an essay in the latest Minnesota Review. The journal has posted the entire issue online, not behind a subscription firewall (Why don't more journals do this?). There's also an interview with Noam Chomsky, and an essay by Lennard Davis on Edward Said.

My essay is here; it was originally called "Republics of the Imagination: Afghan and Iranian Expatriate Writers," before being shortened (de-colonified?) to the less bulky "Republics of the Imagination." It incorporates some of the material I've used in talks on The Kite Runner at various colleges and universities over the past couple of years. It also contains a defense of Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I think is a compelling and important book, that weaves together of memoir and literary criticism in some very original ways (it is also not at all some kind of pro-American sell-out, as some detractors have tried to suggest). Finally, I speculate on the fact that so many of the narratives coming out of both Iran and Afghanistan have been prose memoirs, not novels or poetry.

You might also check out the interview with the Iranian novelist Farnoosh Moshiri, one of the writers I talk about in the essay.

Any feedback?

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Four Talks in Three Days: North Carolina, New Hampshire

This was a busy week for me, as I did four talks in three days, over the course of visits to two different campuses, Catawba College and St. Anselm College.

The first visit was to Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina. Salisbury is a little town north of Charlotte, and Catawba is a small college with about 1200 students. It’s always nice to visit North Carolina in March, as the trees are already blossoming into life.

The main event was a talk on The Kite Runner, theoretically for the entire first-year class at the college. They put me up at an imposing guest house, which turned out to really be a small mansion decorated in fine southern style.

1. The talk on The Kite Runner is called “The Authenticity of The Kite Runner and the Problem of Cultural Translation.” It is a souped-up version of a general interest talk I’ve been doing at other places over the past year or so. The version I gave in Portland last year was perhaps still a little sketchy; this version was much closer to a fully-baked talk.

The students, generally, seemed to like it. But there's one thing I’ve noticed -- when you give talks about authenticity, even if you’re attacking the popular dependence on the concept of authenticity, people will wonder about your own ‘authenticity’ to speak. And every time I’ve talked about this, I’ve been asked something along the lines of “Are you an Afghan? Why are you doing this talk?”

On the one hand, as a literary critic I don’t feel any qualms whatsoever in saying, “well, I’ve studied it and thought about it, and that’s all the authority I need. Moreover, my point here is that authenticity is a value that readers cling to for the wrong reasons -– and insofar as they do cling to it, they’re probably going to be disappointed.” But even as I say that, I recognize that there is something to the idea that contemporary novelists are at their best when they’re writing about what they know, what they’ve personally lived through. (Interestingly, this wasn’t really true for writers like Dickens or Thackeray; perhaps “realism” has come to be defined in more exacting terms than it used to be.) Even if “authenticity” is a questionable concept for fiction, it is a concept that never entirely goes away. (Though it should still be said that the idea of an author's authenticity and a critic's connection to the subject she or he studies are two separate things.)

Critical authenticity or no, I am planning on rewriting this talk for one final time -- to turn it into a publishable (hopefully) essay –- on Afghan Expatriate Narratives (which will include a discussion of Nelofer Pazira’s book and films, Said Hyder Akbar, Saira Shah, Farah Ahmedi, and perhaps a couple of others).

2. At the same college I guest-lectured in a class on travel narratives, which was also fun. I could talk about my approach to teaching travel narratives at Lehigh, and build toward an argument that at the present moment of globalization it’s possible for writers to scramble the old codes and conventions of colonialist travel writing. As with much postcolonial literature in general, though, even as they aspire towards new forms, the legacy of the old forms is still in view. We’ve perhaps moved past the era of postcolonial revisions of colonialist classics (the Wide Sargasso Sea moment, if you will), but not entirely left it behind. One can’t entirely forget the Joseph Conrads and the Katherine Mayos even as one reads new work by people like Rattawut Lapcharoensap, whose Sightseeing is a form of ‘talking back’ to the conventions of western travel narratives, here with a focus on Thailand’s current status as a kind of sexual tourism destination.

I should also note that I enjoyed chatting with the faculty members I met at Catawba about diverse subjects, from the music Nitin Sawhney composed for the soundtrack of Mira Nair’s Namesake, to Lehigh’s famous advocate of Intelligent Design, Michael Behe. Despite the presence of superstar figures in the International Relations department and a top-ranked engineering college, the name most strongly associated with Lehigh –- especially down in Billy Graham country –- is still Dr. Behe’s.

3. On Friday morning I got on another plane and headed to St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire -– a state where the trees are still deep in winter mode, but the political season is fully in bloom. Here the college had arranged with a car service to take me to and from the college and a local hotel. And without exception, every driver I talked to had strong opinions on national politics, as well as specific political candidates. The college itself is also a bit of a political wonk’s paradise, which fairly regularly hosts debates amongst presidential candidates during the primaries. John Edwards, apparently, had come through last year, and in the same building where I gave my talk on Saturday morning (the New Hampshire Institute of Politics -– which has its own, in-house television studio), the New Hampshire Democratic Party was holding an internal election to determine its new leadership. Nearly every faculty member I talked to knew the names of the candidates for the internal leadership of the state Democratic Party. It’s a far cry from a state like Pennsylvania, where only hardcore wonks would really know the ins and outs of a political party’s internal structure.

Again, the main event was a talk on The Kite Runner, this time for a group of about 25 faculty members. Strangely, the talk I gave to first-year students, with only a few adjustments, seemed to work just as well for faculty. (Though it helped considerably that the faculty members were from a number of different disciplines –- everything from chemistry to theology to criminal justice. A talk just for the English Department would have needed to be entirely re-written.)

4. I also guest-lectured in a first-year composition class at St. Anselm. Here I was asked to talk about Sikhism, beginning with the early period, and including a perspective on the Sikh experience in the U.S., up to and after 9/11. And, since this talk was sponsored by the English department, I was also asked to give a brief discussion of modern, secular Sikh literature -– people like Khushwant Singh, Shauna Singh Baldwin, Ajeet Cour, and Kartar Singh Duggal.

Partly because my training is in literature rather than religion per se, I tend to find it awkward to discuss Sikhism in academic settings. Even simple questions like “what is the significance of the turban?” end up requiring rather complicated, nuanced answers. (The Sikh turban, or dastaar, is a central symbol of Sikhism that isn’t actually named in the Guru Granth Sahib, or the ‘Five Ks’ laid down by Guru Gobind Singh.)


Over the course of these various travels, several of my flights into and out of Philadelphia were delayed -– usually for purely administrative reasons –- and I was struck to find how many passengers around me were ready to recite their various travel horror stories. It seems the plague of delayed flights, long lines, non-working self check-in kiosks, and worst of all, missed connections, has made travel misery a central fact of life for anyone flying into and out of Philadelphia in recent months. The mood of air travel has gotten pretty grim; it makes me extremely glad that I’m not in a field like Consulting, which requires almost constant travel. How long before the hordes of disgruntled passengers start rebelling?


And that’s it -- back to daily life, grading papers and changing diapers.

(Not that I equate the two activities, not in the least…)

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Problems with Google Docs

You may be wondering where I've been. I've been working on some essays, most recently on E.M. Forster. That's about done, but now I have two more essays to write by April 1 -- one on the State of Postcolonial Theory, and the second being a revised/extended version of my MLA talk last December.

Shockingly, I've noticed that not blogging is sometimes correlated to getting more writing done. Amongst friends and colleagues, I've often argued that this actually isn't the case, that blogging and writing/publishing can in fact be fully complementary. At least for right now, for me, less blogging seems to mean more scholarly productivity. (I might yet change my mind, especially with the onset of Spring Break next week).

* * *

On my non-teaching days I've been doing research at the Van Pelt library at the University of Pennsylvania. I generally don't carry my laptop (it's both heavy and fragile), and for the most part that's not an issue, since most of one's time at the library is spent finding books and articles, photocopying them, and reading them. However, if you actually want to write at a computer, you have to use their public terminals. Some university library terminals have MS Word, but many times you just get a bare-bones Web browser.

But if you have Google, who needs MS Word anyways, right? Haven't we entered the golden age of "all you need is a browser"? (Wrong. And, No.)

For my session this past Monday, I uploaded my Word Docs to Google Docs to get around the public terminal problem. I then spent a couple of hours working on a paper in Google Docs on a browswer at a public terminal. And here's problem #1: there's no footnotes function in Google Docs! My MS Word footnotes do still appear in the document, but at the end. Instead of footnotes, Google Docs has a "comment" function, where you can insert the equivalent of a footnote. I tried using that to insert a few footnotes that needed inserting.

Upon returning home, I re-converted the files to MS Word, and noticed the second problem: the Google Docs Comments don't translate back to MS Word comments. Moreover, all the footnotes formatting in the original document is now gone. The footnotes are still in the text, but they aren't actually "coded" as footnotes anymore -- they're just text with a number attached.

Needless to say, if you have upwards of 30 footnotes in your article, this can be a huge pain. Until Google improves both its internal functionality and its compatibility with MS Word, I won't be using Google Docs for any serious writing.

Have other readers worked with Google Docs? Likes, dislikes?

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Friday, February 23, 2007

I'll take the bronze

Congratulations to Falstaff on winning "Best Humanities Blog" at the IndiBloggies, with 141 votes. Falstaff actually lives in the Philadelphia area, so it's slightly odd that we've never met. (Well, not that odd, considering that I spend most of my free time these days at Babies R Us, tussling with other "soccer dads" over who gets the last can of powdered Enfamil...) The incredibly prolific Chandrahas also got more votes than me (110). See his brilliant and scholarly comparison of William Blake to an Oriya devotional poet named Salebaga here.

To the 91 people who voted for me, thanks for your support! I appreciate you taking the time to navigate the Indibloggies' rather convoluted voting system.

I also wanted to congratulate Greatbong, for winning blog of the year. He is actually quite funny, and has a way with words -- both Hindi and English (though, perhaps, surprisingly, not Bangla). I'm not quite sure I'd be as quick to joke about the Samjhauta bombing as he is, but you can't go wrong finding silly stuff to laugh about and/or cringe over in big Bollywood multi-starrers.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Vote For Me, If You LIke: IndiBloggies

I've been nominated for "Best Humanities Blog," in the 2006 IndiBloggies. You can vote for me here [UPDATE: Voting has now closed]. Voting continues through February 20th.

Though recently most of my blogging has been short-form, I think I did some decent posts in 2006, and many of the more substantial entries are listed on the sidebar. But since I haven't actually updated the sidebar in several months, here are some of the highlights from between October and December:

Masud Khan

2006 in South Asia-oriented books

Anthems of Resistance: Progressive Urdu Poetry

The Myth of Martial Races

Nabokov, Butterflies, Mimesis

The Silencing of Tenzin Tsundue

Macacas, Youtube, and the Question of Respect

The Illusionist vs. The Prestige

Notes on MLA and SALA

Gandhi-Giri in Full Bloom

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

More Vikram Chandra Media Fun

On, if you search for "Mild-mannered Author Delves Deeply Into India's Underworld," you'll get about 25 newspapers that printed an AP article by Marcus Wohlsen on Vikram Chandra.

I have a bite-size quote in this article too -- all 25 printings of it.

[UPDATE: Another 25 newspapers have titled the story "Author Delves Into India's Underworld." So the real number of newspapers that have carried the story is about 52.]

"This is a great novel, perhaps the greatest book on Bombay ever written. Certainly a contender for the Great Indian Novel," wrote one reviewer in the Hindustan Times.

Whatever the book's standing as literature, the popularity of "Sacred Games" is undeniable. It has remained on India's top-10 best seller list since its release.

Younger Indian readers have embraced the novel's rowdy social panorama of criminals, cops and slum-dwellers in a country still saddled with the class tensions of the caste system, says Amardeep Singh, a professor of world literature at Lehigh University who keeps a blog about new South Asian fiction. They also find its encyclopedic use of Indian obscenities "thrilling."

"It's a breaking of a certain unwritten set of taboos of what you can and can't talk about and the language you can use," Singh says.

"Sacred Games" has also sold well in England, where it was named a top book of 2006 by several British critics, and has been translated into 14 languages, from Hindi to French to Croatian.

HarperCollins beat out five other publishers to buy the U.S. rights to "Sacred Games" for $1 million, and has reportedly pushed the novel with a $300,000 marketing budget - a rare sum for a single book. There are 75,000 hardcover copies in print in the United States so far, with the book already in its fifth U.S. printing.

Ah well, not the greatest quote. But I do think there's an almost refreshing rudeness in books like Sacred Games and Maximum City.

UPDATE: Also check out this piece by Josh Getlin in the L.A. Times.

(Next week, I promise -- no more Vikram Chandra propaganda!)

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In the Washington Post: Vikram Chandra, and a little from me

I'm quoted in an article in this past Monday's Washington Post, on Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games:

The seminal event of Chandra's 45 years, by contrast, has been the transformation, beginning in the early 1990s, of India's sleepy socialist economy into a dynamic engine of internationalization and growth.

"We're living through this precarious time when great changes are happening," Chandra says. The India he grew up in felt like "a little bubble at a far distance from the rest of the world." But in the India his 7-year-old nephew has inherited, "the West as a presence is completely available every day -- and his expectations of his place in the world are very changed."

This new India is a place where the middle class is growing in size and confidence. It's also a place, as Chandra points out, where there's still "this huge mass of people who have nothing" but who can now see what they lack.

And it's a place, according to Lehigh University professor Amardeep Singh, where "the stories people want to tell" aren't so much about colonialism anymore.

Singh teaches courses with titles such as "Post-Colonial Literature in English," using texts from regions as diverse as Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean. He notes that Chandra's first novel was replete with colonial themes, but he sees "Sacred Games" as something quite different.

"I would use the phrase 'novel of globalization,' " Singh says. In "Sacred Games," he points out, the English language Chandra's upwardly mobile gangster struggles to learn is associated less with India's former colonizers than with the broader international economy that dictates its use.

Not surprisingly, the notion of a globalized Indian literature has sparked a backlash. Indian authors writing in English, especially those living overseas, have been charged by some critics with distorting Indian reality to cater to Western audiences. Chandra took some hits on this front himself, even before "Sacred Games," and was irritated enough to lash back in a Boston Review essay titled "The Cult of Authenticity."

His advice to any writer similarly attacked: "Do what it takes to get the job done. Use whatever you need. Swagger confidently through all the world, because it all belongs to you."

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