Textually Yours

Bike to work 2009

Posted in bike, san francisco by arpitaincuba on May 14, 2009

Bike to work banner from the websiteEveryday I’m too asleep to even appreciate the community that has build up in the bike car of the Caltrain. I see the same mixed heritage hip-hop dude with his cool addidas shoes, the same Palo Alto bound woman, the same Mountain View bound  Marketing  guy, and the same Silicon Valley nerd twich a day and never acknowledge them. However, today was different.

Today we all choose not to stop to get our free bag, coffee cake and coupons celebrating Bike to Work Day 2009 because we wanted to get on that Southbound Caltrain only to find out on the 22nd st stop that the train will be delayed for 50 minutes at Hillsdale.

This is the 3rd time in the past two weeks that we have been stuck on the train because there was another Caltrain “incident.” So we bitched Caltrain out, we heartlessly hated on this “incident,” and in our commiserating process we all remarked at how comforting it was to see the same faces twice a day on this train–to have a community.

I know its corny but I’m feeling fuzzy and warm for all my Caltrain biker friends!

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Hip Hijab

Posted in gender, India, women by arpitaincuba on March 16, 2009

hijab style

hijab style

In old Lucknow, the burqa clad woman is a common sight. If this figure does not induce poignant nostalgia for Lucknow’s old world charm, it incites the tsk-tsking of the tongue and unfounded pity in those who can only view Islam as fanaticism. However, here in the United States, the hijab donning fashion divas have not only caught my attention but also my  imagination. In the pale sea of hipster apathy, the élan and elegance of these young second generation Muslim women is groundbreaking. The dressing style is creatively distinct, understated and enthuses their religious identity with confidence. Furthermore, the style sends out a clear message- it is important for them to be fashionable and yet maintain the modest dress code of Islam. Unfortunately, in the United States, there is no clothing line that caters to the needs of these young women. To overcome this lack they have come up with the most creative styles. High end scarves have become hijabs, shapely long sleeved dresses provide the modesty yet the classiness, layered cardigans make up the elegance, accessories such as berkin bags, color cordinated flats, and funky jewellery all enhance the panache. The modern Muslim woman has arrived. Booyah!

In my research for hijab fashion, I came across this website called hijab style. What a fabulous treasure trove of the latest in hijab fashion and culture. Additionally, I discovered that fashion designers around the world (just not in the U.S.) are picking up on these Hijab divas’ creativity and coming up with new and opulents ways for celebrating and furthering their trendiness. Me gusta mucho!

The Pink Chaddis going strong

Posted in admiration, gender, India, Uncategorized, women by arpitaincuba on February 14, 2009

Rachel Maddow and The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose, and Forward women

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My city in the gay bay :)

Posted in san francisco by arpitaincuba on February 11, 2009
A map of San Francisco by JesseB

A map of San Francisco by JesseB

Today, I got lost again in the city–and loved it.

In the past couple of months almost everyone I know has visited me, and I rediscovered San Francisco during every expedition of showing them around. When P was around, I marvelled at the pantless party in the Castro, and with C, I photograhped every graffiti-ed wall in the Mission.

The illustration above is by a SF resident. He has brilliantly mapped the city with a remarkable inter-play between text and space.

So, now when I talk about the city, I’m always going to reference this textual map.

Happy Valentines Day Sri Ram Sena

Posted in gender, India, women by arpitaincuba on February 10, 2009


A Gastronomical Exploration of the Bay

Posted in food, san francisco by arpitaincuba on February 10, 2009


Its been more than half a year living in San Francisco and this post was long due.

It has been established that the Bay Area is a gastronomical paradise.  The Big East SF lists a hundred places I need to eat at before I die. I’m happy to report that from the list I have eaten at/tried the following:

11. Pork sugo with pappardelle at Delfina

21. Pizza margherita at Pizzeria Delfina

25. Loaf of bread straight out of the oven at Tartine (bonus: sliced while still warm and slathered with Brillat- Savarin cheese from Bi-Rite, down the block)

28. A Gibraltar at Blue Bottle Café

35. Salted-caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery

45. Galapagos cocktail at Absinthe

64. Paper masala dosa at Dosa

92. Bacon-wrapped hot dog from a cart in the Mission (preferably when you’re drunk)


Below  is Arpita’s stellar list of places to eat in the Bay Area:

1. Gynormous sized Chola Bhatura from Viks Chaat Cafe, Berkeley

2. Hookah and the hummous affair at Kan Zaman, Upper Haight, SF

3. A Caribbean brunch at our local Primo Patio, Soma, SF

4. Raw Honeycomb, blue cheese, and fresh fruit platter at Samovar Lounge in Castro, and Buena Yerba, SF

5. Super Quesadilla at Cancun Taqueria in the Mission

6. Pad Thai at Koh Samui and The Monkey, Soma, SF

7. Warm biscuits and gravy at Absinthe, Hayes Valley, SF

8. Ham Crepe at Chez Mama, Potrero Hill, SF

9. Brunch at Frjtz Mission, SF

10. Croquetas at Picaro and Ramblas in the Mission, SF

11. Bolani Kachalu (our own aloo ka parantha but Afghani style) Salang Pass, Fremont

12. Kathi roll at Amber Cafe, Mountain View

13. Tomato Bisque at Brickhouse, Soma SF

14. Pupusas at El Zocalo, Mission, SF

15. Meatball Ravioli at Calzones in North Beach, SF

16. Mu Shu Chicken at Nanking, Chinatown SF

17. Non-vegetarian platter at Maharani Restaurant, Van Ness, SF

18. Dungeness Crab Cake at Cliff House, SF

19. Rainbow Salad at Burma Superstar,SF

20. Seafood basquaise in a spicy roasted red pepper & tomato sauce at Fringale, Soma SF

21. Lentil Meatloaf at  Herbivore, Mission, SF

22. Gruyere and Evelyn’s Cake at Phillipe Patisserie , Soma SF

23. Best Lamb Tagine and Moroccan Mint Tea in the Bay is at Aicha on Post St, SF

24. Pistachio donut at Four Barrells in the Mission, SF

25. Veggie Omellete at Fattoush, in Noe Valley

26. The Cod at Tokyo Go Go (Expensive but delish)

27. Mango Mojito at El Jardin in San Jose

28.  Veggie plate at the Mediterranean Grill in Mountain View

29. Arepas at Pomelo in the Noe Valley

30. Pisco at La  Mar at Embarcadero

31. French toast at Zumi Cafe in Castro

To be continued, my fellow culinary connoisseurs.

My Beautiful Palden Lhamo

Posted in appropriation, Hampshire College, Tibet, traveling, women by arpitaincuba on February 4, 2009

an image of Palden Lhamo

an image of Palden Lhamo

There is a Tibetan market next to Charbagh railway station in Lucknow, and every weekend scores of people flock there to find cheap Chinese electronics and counterfeit sports brands. At that age I had no concept of Tibet. I would often pass it thinking that these street peddlers were Chinese businessmen and women importing goods from our fearless neighbor. They spoke Hindi that was grammatically incorrect but there was no foreign accent in their voices. They seemed to be in tune with Indian aesthetics and culture, but they always maintained a distance. A similar market existed in my grandmother’s hometown of Nainital. However, it was grander and there was an entire neighborhood enclosing this market space; the residents here were distinct in their appearance, language, and culinary choices.

I confused this Tibetan neighborhood with the indigenous Pahari population of the Kumaon region.

I was a product of the ignorance that comes from being the Hindi speaking majority of the Gangetic plains. I was shamelessly unaware that the students with East Asian features in my all girls Irish catholic school were not Nepalese, or Chinese, or Korean but Tibetan. I paid little attention to the news about Tibetan protest in Dharamshala, or the world condemnation of the killing of the Tibetan monks in Lhasa.

Then I visited Dharamshala.

As a tourist.

“Bhaiya, yeh India hain?” I asked the North Indian looking shopkeeper in Mcleodganj.

(Sir, Is this India?)

“ Haan haan. Yeh sab log Tibet se hain. Bahout saal se idhar hain.

Inka leader Dalai Lama rehta hain idhar.” He responded

(Of course. All these people are from Tibet. They have been here for several years. Their leader, HH Dalai Lama lives here.)

“Acha par yeh gore log kyon hain idhar?” I inquired

(Okay, what are these white people doing here?)

“Arre, yeh sab hippy log hain. Idhar ganja dhoondte hain aur phir kabhi kabhi Tibetan logon ke saath naare lagate hain aur phir yoga karte hain. Inke wajah se yahan paisa aata hain. To bhai bhala hain.” He said.

(Oh, they are the hippy people. They look for pot, and then sometimes with the Tibetans they will protest, and then do some Yoga. Because of them, I have money so it is all good)

It was all good.

I took several pictures of the scenic mountains surrounding Dharamshala, I bought Tibetan jewellery, and feasted on momos and thupkas.

During my visits to the monasteries, I became enamored with the myth of Palden Lhamo—another incarnation of Kaali. The prayer wheels, and the prayer flags, the gompas and the stupas all fueled my exotic fascination.

I recall a cringe-inducing conversation with a ochre robed Buddhist monk where I told him that I sensed the peace and mysticism of Buddhism in Mcleodganj.

Mcleodganj! What a tourist trap!

Yes, I played out my role as a tourist well. I exotified this world that had always existed as a parallel universe to my North Indian existence. I appropriated its aesthetics to make a fashion statement, and I researched its religious symbolism to enhance my pretentious persona.

And that was not enough.

When I visited Delhi, I othered it.

I solidified the boundaries between “us,” and “them.” I perpetuated the prevalent stereotypes of a degraded youth culture to maintain this boundary.

Every time I would travel through Majnu ka Tila in the northern part of the capital, my heart would race and I would fear my safety. I clung to my belief that Tibetan youth were promiscuous, and degraded, and extended this to the entire north eastern Indian population. People from Sikkim, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland were all clumped under the derogatory umbrella term of “chinks.”

This is not a confession of my racism. This is a commentary of the power I had as a result of my majority status in India.

However, it all changed when I moved to the United States for college. There, the Tibetans, the North Indians, the South Indians, the African Americans, and the Latin Americans were all clumped under the umbrella term of “people of color.”

Positioned at the powerless end of the politics of othering, I quickly began to identify with Tibetan culture in the sea of whiteness at Hampshire College. I was dedicated to break those boundaries of “us” and “them,” to be able build solidarity against appropriation of our cultures, and our identities.

Palden Lhamo is an incarnation of our Kaali. You, Kunsang, know who Kaali is.

You, Kunsang, know what Mcleodganj is really about.

You, Kunsang, have lived like me at the foothills of the Himalayas.

You, Kunsang, know what is re-colonization.

You, Kunsang, know inji, and goras.

You, Kunsang, know. And understand.

You, Kunsang, are my beautiful Palden Lhamo.

Te echo de menos

Posted in barcelona, musique, traveling, women by arpitaincuba on January 26, 2009

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Barcelona es cara de mi corazón

Even in El Barri Gòtic it would not end. It gnawed at me–the anxiety of travelling alone as a single woman. I would easily forget about it till Urdu would be whispered in my ear or a hand would reach my waist. And then, immediately all my senses would be heightened and I would switch to the cautious mode. The fear of being a target often ruined traveling alone for me.

However, I enjoyed the anonymity of traveling.  Being a brown girl in Barcelona did not necessarily connote that I was an Indian girl from India who spoke Hindi and understood Urdu. It did not imply that I was one of the several Pakistani illegal immigrants frequently Riberia. Nor did it signify that I was of Indian descent from United States studying in Spain.

Traveling puts you out of context and I used this to my advantage. Some days I would pretend that I did not understand a word of Spanish. I would smile coyly at the Catalan shop-keepers and walk away while they deperately tried to sell  Spanish bizarreness to me.

But  when curiosity had the better of me I would ask questions about Catalunya, in Spanish verbs that were conjugated completely in the past. Cheer svelte gay men on bicycles. Protest independence for the Basque with the estudiantes.

And when I had enough of pretending I would walk into a Döner Kebab joint and order Chicken tikka masala in Hindi and read Salman Rushdie. All for 5 euros.

Yes!  Barcelona was my schizophrenic dream come alive.

How queer!

Posted in India, phillum by arpitaincuba on January 26, 2009

Dostana premiered on Thursday. It was a marketing tactic that would enable the verdict to travel “word-of-mouth.” And it was successful. The film was a “blockbuster hit,” and people would not stop talking about it.

I enjoyed it. It was a slap stick comedy with sometimes witty come backs, and ridiculous parodies of other Indian films. However, what I was fascinated by was this “word-of-mouth.” Here was a mainstream film, with the top-notch industry heros,  who were PRETENDING to be gay. As a consequence, the film had several annoying homophobic moments. But it did something else. It brought queerness out into the open. Middle class India was now talking about alternate sexualites.

My mother, on the phone from India, could not believe how many conversations she had about queerness, and homophobia since the release of this film. Yes, the conversations are more about how Abhishek Bachchan was hilarious in the film, but there was  also a discussion about alternative sexualites. Conversations about queer sexualities in the public domain is BIG. I say it is big because growing up in middle class India, in a city like Lucknow, I had no conversations about queerness till I was in my mid teens. We don’t talk about such issues. But now we are! What a BIG small step.

Amulya Gopalakrishnan, writing for The Indian Express, words this perfectly:

And the most enormous change is that Dostana names the unsaid, replaces ambiguities and evasions with the power of public utterance — it confronts wide and various audiences with ostensibly gay characters. And who knows, perhaps laughter and cheesy uplift can subtly wedge the door open in ways that a serious, p.c., full frontal take in non-mainstream movies like My Brother Nikhil may not manage. Dostana might not be the great leap forward for gay mainstreaming, but perhaps, picture abhi baaki hai.

it will not end

Posted in India, phillum by arpitaincuba on January 26, 2009

The talk about Slumdog Millionaire.

This weekend I had another heated argument about this film. My friend was outraged that Danny Boyle was making a profit off of the slums of India. He is not the first one. It is a shame really.

Third world poverty is fetished by the media, and Danny Boyle is doing the same.

The film is clearly made for a Western audience to consume this fetished poverty. As a South Asian person, it was a little annoying to watch the film with its major flaws because it became apparent very soon that the film was made for people not from South Asia. Even though it was about them.