Short Story: Mehru’s Dream

The dark clouds had been gathering for a while. The nor’wester would strike soon, bringing momentary relief from the heat and humidity. Mehru wiped the sweat off her face with the corner of her sari. The boy on the lap was tugging at her breast. He must be hungry. She lifted her blouse and held his mouth to her breast. The boy kept quiet and started suckling her.

Mehru was thinking of the cow she had tethered on the green patch a little distance from the house. The summer heat had parched most of the grass, forcing her to take the cow far. The calf had followed the mother eagerly. Should she go and fetch her? Worried, she walked out of the house, hoping she would chance on someone.

Boudi, are you looking for something?” Topu asked. He lived in the mohalla across the pond.

“I am worried about the cow. I tied her next to the banyan tree.”

“I am going that way. Should I untie it? Where is Ali?”

“Please do. He has gone to the market to buy manure for the sowing.”

“Don’t worry. You get in. I will unfasten it on my way,” Topu walked away with long strides.

Mehru sauntered in and put the boy to sleep on the cot in the verandah.

She picked the dry clothes off the line tied to two bamboo poles in the courtyard. She dumped them on the cot.

Read the whole story on Cafe Dissensus Everyday.

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What Ferguson means to an international student in the US

You approach the immigration counter at the JFK airport. The black immigration officer looks at your passports and starts talking about smelly Koreans, Indians, and Mexicans. He seems repulsed with the fish that the Koreans supposedly carry when they try to clear immigration formalities. You and your partner look puzzled and try to smile as politely as possible. After all, you don’t want to bungle up this last hurdle before entering “the land of milk and honey,” as the immigration officer alludes to your aspirations.


You start tentatively and look to make friends among your cohorts, who attend one common course in the first year. This is to build ‘collegiality’ among members of the cohort. You get close to a few male and female cohort members. One day before the class starts, you speak to XXX, a white American female student from the Midwest. She tells you that as many as five Indian men proposed marriage to her because they wanted a Green Card. You are stunned and wonder if you should have mentioned you are already married.


You take a consortium class at Columbia. One day you feel like grabbing a coffee before entering the class. The Starbucks right opposite is packed, as always. You wait in line for your turn. A middle-aged white man pulls close and tells you, “Go back to the fu**ing place you came from.” He leaves abruptly before you can regain your composure. The white elderly woman standing behind you asks gently, “Are you alright?” You wonder if she would have asked you the same if you had decided to punch the man on his face…

Read the whole piece on Cafe Dissensus Everyday

Posted in Caste, City, Communalism, Dalit, India, Indian Muslim, Labor, New York City, US, Violence | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everyday Objects: Natasha Raheja’s ‘Cast in India’ (2014)

[First published in Cafe Dissensus Everyday]

Perhaps, it’s not proper to introduce a film – Natasha Raheja’s Cast in India – with an extended quote. Perhaps, it’s not completely out of place if a particular moment in one continent resonates strongly with another moment in another continent.

In Fernando Pessoa’s quasi-autobiographical The Book of Disquiet (1998), the insomniac bookkeeper, Bernardo Soares writes a diary entry about his journey across Lisbon in the early 1930s:

I’m in a trolley, and, as is my habit, I’m slowly taking notice of the people sitting around me. For me details are things, words, sentences. I take apart the dress worn by the girl in front of me: I turn it into the fabric that makes it up, the work that went into making it… And immediately, as in a primer on political economy, the factories and the labor unfold before me – the factory where the cloth was made…I see the components of the factories, the machines, the workers, the seamstresses, my eyes turned inward penetrate into the offices, I see the managers trying to be calm, I follow, in the books, the accounts involved in it all; but it isn’t only that: I see, beyond that, the domestic lives of those who live their social lives in those factories and those offices…All of them pass before my eyes merely because I have before me, below a dark neck, which on its other side has I don’t know what sort of face, a common, irregular green edge on a light green dress.

The entire life of society lies before my eyes.

Beyond all that I sense the loves, the secret life, the souls of all those who worked so that this woman seated in front of me in the trolley can wear around her neck the sinuous banality of a band of dark green silk on less dark green cloth.

I become stupefied. The seats on the trolley, made of a tightly woven strong straw, carry me to distant regions and into multiple industries, workers, workers’ houses, lives, realities, all.

I leave the trolley exhausted and sleepwalking. I just lived an entire life.

In a rare close-up, Natasha Raheja’s short film, Cast in India, opens with the camera zooming in on a zebra-crossing at a busyNatasha1 intersection in New York City. Amidst the crowd of legs, we catch a glimpse of a Macy’s shopping bag for the fraction of a second; the red star, though rarely visible, makes the scene almost an extension of Soares’ reverie on seeing the green dress of the girl sitting in front of him. For a moment, I wonder if, like Soares’ diary entry, Natasha wants us to think what the bag contains, where these commodities come from, who produce these commodities, and how they arrive in this city. Unlike 1930s Lisbon, the labor infrastructure that produces clothes and other commodities for western consumers has expanded. Once we look up the tag on a shirt, a top, or a pair of jeans, we are certain to encounter ‘Made in Bangladesh’, ‘Made in Nigeria’ or ‘Made in Vietnam’ embossed on them. A growing awareness about exploitative labor conditions across garment factories in third-world countries reveals to us the social life hidden behind these objects. Something that Soares’ diary entry tried to imagine.

When the same sets of people at the zebra-crossing step on a grey manhole cover, where ‘Made in India’ is prominently emblazoned, no one seems to notice. They step on it or step across it. And that’s that. So do we, who live in this city. However, Natasha’s deft camera cuts to the grimy and soot-filled interiors of a factory in Howrah in the Indian state of West Bengal, in her quest to track down the labor networks that lie hidden behind these everyday objects.

Cast in India makes a crucial intervention in the discourse of labor and globalization – Soares couldn’t have conceived of this in 1930s Lisbon – as labor-intensive work gets outsourced to the poorer countries. The camera pans around the vast expanse of the foundry and then zooms in on the details of each of the fragments that constitute the production of these sanitary castings. The working conditions are primitive, where molten iron is carried in tin containers and the workers use their bare feet to shove parts of the castings. There is a striking rawness in this portrayal that affects the audience viscerally as the camera focuses on the bare bodies and spindly sinews of workers who are seen milling around to have a cup of tea or change their dress before exiting the factory. Like Bernardo Soares imagining the people who produced the green dress in factories, I am left exhausted at the end of the screening.

Natasha’s film works on two different registers: first, it reveals to us the extensive labor infrastructure and social life behind the everyday objects that we encounter in the built environment of the city, thereby highlighting our own alienation in modern life; second, it exposes the hazardous working conditions that are masked by the shiny surfaces of our great metropolises.

Here is a courageous and talented filmmaker, who makes an unusual move of entering the grubby interiors of a factory; something not many young filmmakers do these days. The film has been nominated for the30th Annual IDA Documentary Awards.

Catch the next screening of Natasha’s film. Details here.

Trailer of Cast in India

Here is a brief conversation with Natasha, who is pursuing a doctorate in sociocultural anthropology at New York University:

Mosarrap H. Khan (MHK): Congratulations on an excellent film! Please tell us something about your background as a filmmaker. Was Cast in India your first film?

Natasha Raheja (NR): I started learning filmmaking at New York University. I am in NYU’s Culture and Media program which offers integrated training in anthropology and video production. Cast in India is my second film. It’s my first on the film festival circuit.

MHK: What prompted you to make a film on ‘manhole covers’ in New York City?

NR: I was walking the city streets one day shortly after moving here from Texas, when my gaze fell to a manhole cover below my feet with the boldly emblazoned byline ‘Made in India’. Iconic and ubiquitous as manhole covers are in New York City, I wanted to learn more about this curious circuit of exchange.

MHK: The New York Times mentioned your film is about the “hellish condition” of Indian laborers. Is Cast in India only about making us aware of the “hellish condition” or is it about overcoming our own alienation from the social relations that lie hidden underneath the everyday objects in the built environment of this great city?

NR: Viewers have a range of responses to the film and take different things away with them. For me the film enlivens everyday objects and commodities, while raising questions around the concealment of labor infrastructure.

MHK: To your credit, without recourse to typical documentary techniques of voiceover, interviews, interpretations etc., the film succinctly captures the process of production of ‘manhole covers’ in factories in Howrah. Could you please tell us more about this particular style of filmmaking where the camera itself, as if, does the talking?

NR: I employ a sensory ethnography style that foregrounds feeling over interpretation and presence over explanation. I strive to make patient and committed shots. I strive to maintain a proximity to my subjects that is palpably intimate, and thus, for example, I minimally use the zoom feature on my camera.

MHK: What was the experience like in Howrah? Did you face any obstacles while shooting for the film?

NR: Shooting on location in Howrah was very smooth and I faced no significant obstacles. Except for being cloaked in soot!

MHK: At the end of the film, you insert a clip where some of the workers watch the film on your laptop. What was the idea behind it? Could this help the workers themselves overcome their alienation from the fragmentary nature of work in the factory?

NR: I wanted to share my representation with the foundry workers. Many of the workers’ family members had not seen the foundry before and were curious about the technical process of iron casting.

MHK: What other future projects are you thinking of at the moment?

NR: I want to share the film with a range of audiences so I am diligently applying to film festivals. I also hope for the film to have an educational circulation for which I’m exploring ways to build a lesson plan around the film for high schools and colleges.

MHK: Thank you, Natasha!

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“Was Benjamin the first suicide bomber?”

Here is an excerpt from Columbia anthropologist, Michael Taussig’s “Walter Benjamin’s Grave”, in which Taussig tries to make sense of Benjamin’s suicide on the French-Spanish border, hounded by the Nazi, and his burial as an allegory, understood better in its absence than in its presence:

“Was Benjamin the first suicide bomber? The thought crosses my mind as I read the papers in the train heading north to Port Bou with their front-page news of Israeli soldiers with their armored bulldozers and Apache helicopters invading Palestinian towns and refugee camps in response to suicide bombers. Journalists are driven back by the soldiers using stun grenades and tear gas. At least two have been shot by Israeli soldiers. A United Nations–led inquiry into war crimes in Jenin is stillborn on account of Israeli opposition. The president of the United States and the U.S. media insist the Palestinians are to blame for the violence. There is virtually no attempt to even try to understand what it is that motivates the Palestinians, no portrayal of their everyday life in refugee camps and prisons under “administrative detention” imposed without trial. Instead we get lengthy Sunday magazine articles depicting the psychic pain of Israeli elite commando snipers. Yet has there ever been a Sunday magazine devoted to the psychic pain of the apartheid-like pass system that controls the Palestinians’ ability to cross the spiderweb of borders balkanizing Palestinian lands into which illegal Israeli settlements daily press? They say history is written by the victors, but this seems unprecedented. It is as if the Palestinians had no voice whatsoever. They are not only unrepresented but are unrepresentable. Or as Golda Meir once put it, they do not exist. Like Benjamin they are fated to lose. Truth itself lies on trial, and it is the border that defines and redefines it as I slowly travel north from Barcelona, north to the border at Port Bou in the local train that stops at all stops to let me down where Benjamin was stopped sixty years ago.

A young man sits on the other side of the compartment a few seats forward. He speaks no Spanish and he is worried, sick with worry. He has a large black bag made of cheap material that he keeps on the seat next to him, preventing anyone from sitting there. He looks around all the time like an animal in a cage. I first spotted him in the gloomy Estacio Sants in Barcelona where I waited for the train. He approached a middle-aged woman and in his gesticulations seemed to be asking her when the train to the border would come and whether the approaching train was the one he needed. In the train he came over to me with his ticket on which was printed Cerbère, the French town just across the border from Port Bou. “Francia? Francia?” he kept saying and at each, and every stop he looked imploringly at me, eyes wide open, asking if this was where he had to get off. I figured he was from North Africa and probably illegal. He smelled as if hadn’t washed in a long time. A man on the run. Anti-Semitic and anti-Arab Le Pen running on an anti-immigrant platform has just beaten the socialist Jospin at the polls in France, receiving almost 18 percent of the vote. When I got off the train at Port Bou I waved and made a victory sign to the man with the black bag. He smiled wanly. Benjamin had been stopped at the border coming the other way. But of course things were different then” (8-9).

Taussig, Michael. Walter Benjamin’s Grave. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Posted in Academic, Anthropology, Author, Death, History, Israel-Palestine, Life, Travelogue, Violence | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pornography of Violence: The Dead Children of Palestine

“Oh rascal children of Gaza. You who constantly disturbed me with your screams under my window. You who filled every morning with rush and chaos. You who broke my vase and stole the lonely flower on my balcony. Come back, and scream as you want and break all the vases. Steal all the flowers. Come back…Just come back…” – Khaled Juma, Palestinian poet from Gaza 

The Israeli aggression against the Gazans has subsided but the memory of the dead children still lingers: a disproportionate number of images of dead and disfigured children from Gaza, apart from the huge concrete debris, of course, in place, where there stood apartments, schools, hospitals, and mosques. According to the UN, since the Israeli offensive in Gaza broke out on 8 July, 296 Palestinian children and adolescents have been killed, out of which 187 were boys and 109 girls. At least, 203 of them under the age of 12.

What could be the possible reasons behind such burgeoning images of children? Why are there hardly images of the Hamas firing (and sometimes misfiring) rockets? The New York Times Pulitzer prize winning photojournalist, Tyler Hicks, has come under severe criticism for the increasing number of images of dead children. In some opinions, the working conditions were extremely difficult and the Hamas wouldn’t allow any of the images in which they were shown to be firing rockets.

Sometimes the images of dead children were sourced from Syria. In fact, some have cynically claimed that these images were winning the PR war for the Hamas. For example, Bil Leak’s cartoon in The Australian, where a Hamas member tells a boy: “There! Now you go out to play and win the PR war for daddy”.

There are two sets of images coming out of the conflict that we encounter.

The first set comprises of the images of dead children, who are being carried on the streets as a sign of public mourning; dead children being mourned by the mother or father in single-shot frames that provide a sense of private mourning, an impossibility during conflict; a mother touching the body of a dead child for one last time; and then, the grisly images of dead children packed in ice-cream freezers for lack of space in the mortuary.

In the second set, we witness images of children playing near a destroyed mini ferris wheel; children sitting forlorn on a sofa amid the rubbles; children retrieving the remains of books from the debris; a child playing on the beach during the first few hours of humanitarian ceasefire; a child holding a toy in the hospital on the morning of Eid al-Fitr; a child sitting forlorn and grabbing a bite in the rubbles of her destroyed home.

And, the most striking of all is the image of an eight-year-old Yara Abed Al Salam El-Farra, dressed in beautiful finery looking into the camera.

Each of these images invites us to witness the suffering of others and, seemingly, cajoles us to participate in mourning and stirs us into action. But how do we witness these unbearable images of dead children? What do we make of these images, finally?

Pic 10

 A woman holds the body of her 1-year-old daughter at her funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014. (Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters/Source:The Wall Street Journal)

Pic 4

A Palestinian girl sits and eats in the rubble of her destroyed home, on August 2, 2014 following an overnight Israeli strike on Gaza City. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Pic 11

Yara Abed Al Salam El-Farra, 8 years old, was killed in an Israeli airstrike on Friday in Khan Younis. (Photo courtesy of the Middle East Children’s Alliance)

In Man and the Sacred, Roger Caillois writes that in primitive societies, festival with its excesses of energy and joy (also called the ‘carnivalesque’ by Bakhtin) cuts through the monotony of daily life. In our modern societies, war approximates, Caillois avers, the role of the festival, as war with its importance, explosiveness, and intensity disrupts ‘the calm routine of peacetime’. One similarity between festivals and war is sacrifice – either human or animal. One sinister way to read the killing of children in the recent Isareli-Palestine War (if one could call it a war at all) is to witness them as sacrifice, nothwithstanding the one-sided sacrifce of the Gazan children. War in modern times, like festivals in primitive societies, demands human sacrifice. The children could be seen as the ones who are easy to sacrifice or kill.

However, as people who are far away from the actual happenings, how do we witness the almost inevitable ‘sacrifice’ of the children? What does our wintessing entail?

In a piece in The Caravan magazine, Mirza Wahid writes about our complicity in silence against the Israeli killing of Gazan children: “And to prevaricate about who the aggressor is, as we continue to witness a brutal assault on an oppressed – imprisoned – people, speaks of a stark absence of moral rectitude.” Mark the words, ‘Absence of moral rectitude’. But are the images of dead children bound to guarantee a moral outrage?

As Susan Sontag reminds us: not necessarily.

When we witness the images of victims from a distance, we inhabit the uncomfortable positions of either ‘spectators’ or ‘cowards’, writes Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others. Further, in On Photography, Sontag claims that when we witness other people’s suffering in the form of constantly simulated images, there is a real possibility that the witnessing might lead to apathy or what we might call a ‘pornography of violence’ – the vicarious witnessing of others’ suffering – which might titillate our senses and, then, numb us: “Living with the photographed images of the suffering…does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate…Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more—and more. Images transfix. Images anesthetize.” The distance might make us more apathetic – anesthetize – to the real sufferings of real human beings elsewhere, because these images of dead children appear to us, John Berger writes in another context, as a “dead object” .

The unbearable pain of others might make us numb and fatigued, inducing moral resignation. As it happened in the case of a woman from Sarajevo during the Serbian War, who switched channels unable to consume an ‘oversaturation’ of images of the destruction of Vukovar. As it turned out, Sarajevo was also destroyed by the Serbian Army. As in this woman’s case, Sontag feels that the images, instead of making us feel apathetic and inactive, must induce in us a feeling of just rage that might propel us to action because human exhaustion cannot last forever.

In our media-saturated society (with television channels and internet), we are increasingly invited to witness others’ suffering. In Sontag’s words, witnessing is like “being a spectator of calamities taking place in another country…[a] cumulative offering by more than a century and half’s worth of those specialized tourists known as journalists.” These images of dead Palestinian children is a form of witnessing through mass mediation, displayed and circulated through news media, particularly television and internet.

In the case of the Holocaust, such witnessing has become a political project because of the institutional support in the form of installations, museum exhibitions, and circulation of pamphlets.

However, the power of the images emanating from Gaza resides in its non-institutionalization. There is no instiutionalized political project, despite the Hamas might wanting to institutionalize such suffering for building a political consensus against the Israeli aggression. Yet, the very scattered nature of such witnessing – which produces varied responses, unlike the ones we see in the case of the Holocaust images – is its strength as it can lead to a real humanitarian intervention across the globe.

We must remember that our second-hand witnessing of these images from a distance is a routinized mundane experience, unlike the extraordinary witnessing by those who are close to the field and documenting it, for example, in Gaza. These images, from being extraordinary documentation degenerates into ordinary images of violence because of the surfeit. Witnessing these images from far – Gaza, in this case – is also a form of political and ethical participation. It is at once distanced and engaging; at once, attractive and repulsive; at once, inducing inaction and action; at once, producing moral resignation and moral outrage.

What’s the moral source of of our indignation, when we see these images? John Peters writes that the power of witnessing emerges from its proximity to the boundary between life and death. I think, ultimately, the power of the images of dead children in Gaza emerges only by juxtaposing these two sets of photographs of children – those dead and disfigured and those captured in everyday, mundane acts. Participation to view these images entails bearing witness to the aborted lives of these dead children because of the possibilities that are nipped untimely.

If these images must go beyond becoming a ‘pornography of violence’ – merely titillating us – they must incite us into a new political consciousness. Here I end with Sontag’s comments in On Photography, “What determines the possibility of being affected morally by photographs is the existence of a relevant political consciousness. Without a politics, photographs of the slaughter-bench of history will most likely be experienced as, simply, unreal or as a demoralizing emotional blow.”

[First published in Cafe Dissensus Everyday.]

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Books Review: Ayesha Mattu & Nura Maznavi’s Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy

“In order to be enrolled in sex education, students needed parental permission. Every single student received it, except me. The only brown kid. The only Muslim,” writes Haroon Moghul. Moghul was sent to the library to do a project on the solar system, instead of receiving sex education. But did that stop Haroon from going on a date with the gorgeous Italian beauty, Carla, his classmate? Certainly, not.

The excerpt from Moghul’s piece is the crux of Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi’s edited volume, Salaam Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy. It captures the Muslim dilemma about love and sex outside marriage, considered haram or forbidden. The book, a collection of twenty-two personal narratives of American Muslim men’s struggle for love and intimacy, is divided into three parts: “Umma: It Takes a Village,” “Sirat: The Journey,” and “Sabr: In Sickness and in Health.” In this collection, love becomes a site for negotiation between cultures, races, spaces, and histories. Love is one of those ordinary practices that enraptures the mundane with utopic possibilities and enables the emergence of a new self.

This collection segues into their earlier exploration of American Muslim women’s romantic lives, Love, InshaAllah. While Muslim women’s romantic forays–in America and in the Middle-East–have been extensively explored, the love lives of Muslim men didn’t gain much attention, partly because of the accepted notion that the patriarchal nature of Islam confers on Muslim men a greater degree of autonomy in matters of love and sex. The editors of the collection intend to dispel such a myth. While Muslim men might occupy a privileged position in the public space, their emotional space is equally fraught with dilemmas like their female counterparts. As the editors write in the introduction: “But what about the emotional space to be honest and vulnerable about matters of the heart, without jeopardizing notions of masculinity and manhood? The space to talk about sex, coupled with love and intimacy, without it being a joke or the raunchy punch line from a movie?”

In America, Muslim men are caught between desires for intimacy and a tradition informed by religion and the attendant cultural assumptions. In the book, one comes across stories of secret rendezvous, dates, awkward sex filled, as Yusef Ramelize writes in his piece “Who I Needed to Be”, “with guilt and shame” to the extent that one runs “to the sink to make wudu… [dropping] to my knees in prostration, begging God for forgiveness.” The reader encounters professionally successful men failing to find a life partner; men who lack the language to express their emotions; men who turn out socially awkward after breakup with one’s fiancée; Arab, Indian, African American, and Japanese American men who face religious and racial barriers; men who undergo crisis of faith and acceptance after converting to Islam; men who feel alienated because of their sexual preferences, both within the family and the community; men who find love in Muslim partners after their failed relationships with the non-Muslim ones; men who persevere in their faith, faced with the unexpected death of a partner or facing personal setback; men who transgress the sanctity of marriage, despite knowing full well the Islamic injunctions against extramarital relations.

In various ways, the book foregrounds contradictions between the rhetoric of American freedom and democracy and the failure of such freedoms to translate into the personal and sexual lives of the immigrants’ children, prompting Alykhan Boolani to write, “What is this obscure desire for Freedom and Democracy in my love life? Is this–gasp–what assimilation feels like?” and hoping that the new generation will build “new, complex, and nuanced stories, alive and reflective of our changing conditions.” While the first generation immigrants appreciate the idea of political freedom and democracy, it doesn’t often translate into the sexual freedom of their children, who inhabit a hybrid space between the west and the east.

In the title of the book, the word “Muslim” seems to denote a unifying rubric, predominantly defined by a religious identity that exceeds all other barriers. However, many of the narratives in the book demonstrate the fallaciousness of such a belief, as the category “Muslim” is riven along the fault lines of ethnicity, geography, race, and culture. Such barriers and incongruous religious and cultural expectations don’t lead Muslim men to discard their faith. Rather, more often religion provides solace in the face of crisis. Khizer Hussain in “Fertile Ground” writes: “Allah says in the Quran that you will be tested in this life by what you have been given and what you have not been given.” In some cases, these men creatively negotiate their faith along with material demands, such as in Anthony Springer Jr.’s, “Finding Mercy.” Springer Jr. notes, “I could be Muslim and have questions about faith.”

The crisis of faith becomes most apparent in the case of same-sex relationships. Ramy Eletreby “spent years shaming myself and ‘praying the gay away’,” finally managing to reconcile his faith and sexual orientation after watching a play in New York City by two Muslim homosexual women. Likewise, A. Khan’s story narrates his spiritual experience after he finds his partner praying immediately after one of their love-making sessions: “Never before meeting him had I met another Muslim who could pair his sexuality and piety in this way.”

Love, intimacy, and sex do not always end in a happy ending, especially when men negotiate faith and bodily desires. Yet, what makes the collection immensely readable is cheeky humor that seeps through most of the narratives. Mohamed Djellouli finds out that the woman he has been dating is the daughter of his STD doctor, one who has more intimate knowledge of his physiology than his daughter. In “The Other Iran-Iraq War,” Ibrahim, an Iraqi American undergrad student, pursues an Iranian girl only to find out she is married to the man, who he had assumed was her father. Such awkward humorous moments abound in the book.

The question that this excellent collection might have to face: Why such curiosity about the love lives of Muslims? How does the western or non-Muslim gaze work in this case? The book’s premise faces the risk of intimating that Muslims never had a sex life, as if the bearded Muslim men and hijab-wearing Muslim women were sexless objects. The book is, however, a racy, humorous, and riveting read, and it compellingly dispels some of the myths about love, sex, and intimacy surrounding Muslim men. The book, simultaneously, feeds the non-Muslim gaze.

The global Anglophone market consumes such auto-ethnographic writing by normalizing the exotic into sameness: after all, the American Muslim men are just like “us” when they love and have sex.

[This review first appeared in Hyphen Magazine.]

Posted in 9/11, American Life, Book Review, Identity, Islam, Life, Literature, Love, Non-fiction, Religion, Secularism/Liberalism | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Interview with Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati

In this Cafe Dissensus conversation, Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati speaks to me. He is the University Professor of Law and Economics at Columbia University and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. A renowned expert on international trade, he has served in top-level advisory positions for the World Trade Organization and the United Nations, including Economic Policy Adviser to the Director-General, GATT (1991-93), and Special Adviser to the UN on globalization. His most recent book is: Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries (2013), co-authored with Prof. Arvind Panagariya, which was picked as a ‘best book’ of 2013 by the Financial Times.

In this interview, Prof. Bhagwati talks about his differences of opinion with Prof. Amartya Sen, Indian General Elections 2014, economic growth, economic reforms, Gujarat Riots 2002, social spending, and foreign investment in the retail sector.

[First published in Cafe Dissensus.]

Posted in Communalism, Economics, Indian Muslim, Indian Politics, Intellectuals, Personalities, Secularism/Liberalism, Violence | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment