Unraveling an Unequal Night in Boston

In a charming North End Italian café, DLV and I encountered an odd closing time scenario. The white presenting waitress told us that the cafe was closing in 10 minutes on our arrival, but when a white couple entered roughly 6 or 7 minutes later, she mentioned that the cafe would be closing in 15 minutes within our clear earshot.

Amid Boston’s historic charm, I noted the waitress, seemingly “ethnic white,” spoke Spanish (until that moment I hadn’t assumed Hispanic but rather Italian), which somehow dissuaded me from leaving a review as this lent an additional complexity to the matter.

Upon deeper reflection on the encounter, it became apparent that the white adjacent waitress was navigating her internalized racial preferences, manifested in a slightly delayed service (though I did not skimp on the tip). In the diverse context of Boston, where overall demographics show 44% white, certain historic neighborhoods like the North End and Beacon Hill exceed 90% white, revealing profound and unspoken hierarchies.

This incident sparks an intriguing discussion on privilege and its intersection with race. I chose not to make a fuss or challenge the matter, a decision that might have differed in a high-end restaurant in central London, where such disparities would have been much more conspicuous. I observe that the restaurant and hospitality industry in the United States resembles a glass of beer, with white supervisors overseeing teams predominantly comprised of black and brown individuals, so it’s not as straightforward to challenge.

Racial microaggressions (immediately post the pandemic was terrible as hospitality staff were just annoyed to be back at work) within the British restaurant industry have notably diminished as South Asian students are becoming a large part of the workforce. These individuals demonstrate an immediate understanding of how to navigate Desi clientele, although I cannot speak to their interactions with other demographic groups of customers.

New England’s terrible Desi Food scene

As I prepare to return to the Old World later tonight, I find myself reflecting on one of the most challenging aspects of my time in New England this past month—the notably subpar quality of Indian cuisine in the area (I also tried Desi Pizza).

With the exception of Madras Dosa Company in Harvard Square, the local culinary landscape is disappointingly lackluster. While some restaurants may boast high Google ratings, they fall short of meeting the standards I’m accustomed to in the UK.

London, in contrast, offers an exquisitely diverse Indian food scene that allows enthusiasts to explore various regional cooking styles, with places like Fat Pundit leading the way in innovating Indo-Chinese fare.

In any case, I’ve encountered difficulties with the flavors in the USA. Ingredients seem oversized, yet their flavors often appear muted. I’ve come across information suggesting that chicken in the 1960s was smaller but possessed more distinctive flavor (as evidenced by Julia Child’s recipes, which apparently assumed chicken to be inherently flavorful).

I’ve also observed that white Americans, or those not of Indian descent, don’t seem to embrace Indian cuisine in the same way that the British do. In the United Kingdom, Indian food is almost a culinary religion, even if the takeaway options may not meet the standards of native Desis. This fervor has created an environment for Indian food giants like Dishoom to flourish. On the other hand, Americans appear to have a stronger affinity for Chinese and Mexican cuisines as their primary choices of ethnic fare.

I’ve heard that Manhattan and the West Coast offer a more diverse and satisfying array of Indian food options, likely due to the critical mass of desi communities. I also suspect (Dr. Lalchand smirks at this last residue of ethnic chauvinism) that Pakistani restaurants might offer more tantalizing experiences in the US, which is the opposite of the situation in the UK, where Indian-owned and run establishments tend to excel as a rule.

Two Zacks meet in New Cambridge

Zack & I met in real life for the first time (in Cambridge USA) on the 10th of October even though we have known each for nearly two decades.

Dr. V is an Eric & Wendy Schmidt postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard so she’s relocated to the United States (as of this month) and we’re now going to be doing trans-Atlantic hops between Old & New Cambridge, with of course Chennai in the mix.

Since Brown Pundits seems a bit moribund these days; I thought I’d share this update here. I don’t look my best as it was the end of Phase 1 of moving (I’d just returned the rental car after a fortnight and went off to meet Zack).

Hindutva jumped the shark

I am fucking speechless.

I am shocked on so many levels. This chap believes he can speak to the Muslim condition because his children’s nanny is a Muslim.

This reminds me of that film with Emma Stone, the Help, where she is the wonderful white woman speaking about the black help (one of the black actresses later said they always regretted making that film).

Wow just wow; the level of denial floods the Nile. I’m sorry people take exception to my constant banter about Urdu-Persian (languages are not peoples especially in a South Asian context where caste, creed and community is hyper-operative) but this is just so wrong.

Hindutva either accepts Muslims who either works for them or kowtows to them. This just repulses me.

William Dalrymple, Imran Khan & Xerxes’s Jinnah moment-

One of the Hoi Polloi, or rather a penny-store Machiavelli, writes:

(Oh also nice job critiquing Zach’s H-M chasm and his Urduised worldview ? Was getting pretty boring listening to him and his friends go on about the same thing over and over again)

We haven’t listened to the episode so are unaware of what was exactly said. Neither do we know what H-M means but assuming His Majesty (though ShahenShah is preferable)?

On a personal level I take issue with “Urduised” because it’s known that I am partial to PAU (Persian Arabic Urdu).

Urdu is simply the liminal of civilisational elegance. The Great Moguls would have spoken Arabic to God, Persian among themselves and Urdu to their sub-alterns (such as the stable hands and chaiwallas).

Otherwise on a more personal note I don’t know who “my friends are.”

If, as I suspect, he means the CamCast Quarter then our views are radically different from one another. MJ is lightly coated with Saffron, V is a Nehruvian capitalist and J belongs to a very prominent (& known) right-wing family.

I myself am very partial to aristocracy and Monarchy. Perhaps that’s because I’ve spend the vast majority of my life in a country defined by both such institutions.

I was impressed to wake up this morning to William Dalrymple liking our tweet (Kiara Advani is now one of the foremost Mughalists).

In my more Tharoorian avatar; I would have ranted about Dalrymple being a coloniser and what not.

But the more I think about it, the more I’ve come round to how sound Two Nation Theory is.

Indeed my own life choices reflect that. I am not a Muslim and therefore I’m adopting Indian culture. If I were a practising Muslim there is no way I could choose the Saffron path.

Finally in one of the threads it was asked when Bangladesh would have its own Modi or IK.

I don’t think ethnically homogeneous and “sound” nations like Bangladesh will ever have a need to produce such leaders.

Partition is the Great Angst of the Subcontinent and it’s something that consumes both Pakistan & India. If there had been no Pakistan/Islam, there probably would have been no BJP or RSS or Modi.

However Pakistan, being such an artificial nation, has to produce these leaders to provide it with a coherent narrative.

Pakistan is always a few steps from collapse (in cricket & in life), which leads to chronic instability but also the potential for greatness.

A good example is below where Imran Khan is clearly lying through his teeth but is doing it with such elan that the reporter is flummoxed.

I prefer my leader to have that grace and polish and to have the ability to duel with dexterity. It’s a bit like the Great Moguls; the illusion is more important than the reality.

The final tweet is of interest to me:


Hindutva foams at the mouth constantly trying to tell Pakistanis where our ancestors came from. Their desperation at getting us to buy into the Brahmanical hierarchy is cute but a touch manic to be honest..

On being Indian

The Living Lakshmi writes on being Indian

I left India many years ago to live in Britain but having said that I have always felt deeply connected to her. I was born and raised in Madras (now Chennai) and like many Indians living abroad would attest; one feels tethered to her in ways that transcend culture or habits.

I invariably gravitate to news on India and Indians as a default, despite 12 years of living away, my Facebook and Twitter are overwhelmed with stories about India (this is of course a result of the accounts I follow).

I’ve always kept loose track of the big Bollywood releases, and have never been successful at adapting my palette to anything away from desi food. Then of course it is hard to ignore Indian politics, no matter where you live in the world; the news finds a way to your timeline or twitter feed.

I don’t think this has anything to do with patriotism, it is a default. It is the inability to shake away some aspects that are hard-wired. If you lived in India long enough to soak in her distinctive and unique qualities, you remain tethered for life.

If someone asked me to describe what it means to be Indian?

  • I would say we come in all colors, shapes and sizes, between the length and breadth of India.
  • There are innumerable dialects spoken, there are groups, sub-groups and sub-sub-groups people like to organize themselves into. These could be religions, languages or other clustering factors.
  • We don’t dress the same, speak the same or even think the same way.
  • It is quite possible to find two Indians who share nothing in common except the country they belong to.
  • This lack of tidiness has never been a cause of dismay but the very essence, the very description of India, her distinguishing trait in the world.

It’s what makes us better than our neighbors.

To try and mask over this amazingly messy, glorious, mixture would be a travesty and something that needs to be safeguarded against. This strong heterogeneity has no influence on how people interact at a micro-level. Within the country people migrate to states they didn’t hail from and find ways of flourishing, magically.

Hence, a really succinct definition of being Indian would be ‘being liberal’.

It were these — liberalism and secularism, the founding principles of the state of India. By and large Indians everywhere in urban and rural areas have lived by and embraced these principles.

In the India I grew up in, it was not important whether you were a temple or a church goer but if you can help someone make headway. There was no time or room to focus on subjects inconsequential to ones prosperity. In a country like India, to prosper is the underscoring dominating aspiration.

Have things changed in today’s India?

Here is my take: While the mainstream news will tell you otherwise, (and frankly enough virtual and physical ink has been spilled on discussing the rise of Hindu nationalism post 2019 national elections) I don’t think the government in the world’s largest and perhaps most untamed democracy can so easily sweep through and change the way people fundamentally behave.

While it is important to fight illiberalism, barbarism and racism; we cannot be so consumed by dissent that we forget to focus on issues of material significance and our growing superpower status in the world. For India, the ruling government or its leanings have always been extraneous. The individuals and the institutions have mattered much more.

As a country we have several pressing matters at hand, we are trying to make our mark alongside China as one of the world’s largest economies. We need to clean up our cities and preserve our monuments, we need to educate more people and give jobs to a lot more.

We need to make things better for millions of farmers. We need to market our culture, food, art, literature in an increasingly globalising world. We need to make better films, write better books, do better science and retain our brilliant minds.

We need to stay relevant. We need to sell more to the world so we can be more prosperous. With over a billion people in tow we cannot afford to lose this race, but we will if we continue to squabble over matters of little material significance.

There is so much we can already offer to the world and so much more to work towards. This is both our burden and our duty. Let’s not get distracted.

Dark Skin & Getting Married | Stand Up Comedy by Saikiran

I’m pretty busy these days with work but I have taken the early morning off to catch up on all of my extra-circulars (I’m trying to steel myself to work out in the mornings but that’s still a step too far).

This is an amazing clip by the comic Saikiran. He speaks truth to power and more tellingly the Casteocracy as a Dark Brahmin(?).

I liked his point about how there are 50 women to 100 men on Telugu Matrimonial.com

The NRIs take the top 20 women and then the other 20 are taken by the Two “Eyes” of India (IIT & IIM).

I usually don’t like Indian stand-up comics because they are riffs on Western comics (one could write whole books on the relationship between contemporary Indian culture and the West).

I like his authenticity very much and I found him hilarious; so did 8-9mm people.

In our last politics podcast there is definitely a trend among Indians to shake off Westernised identity (they tried hacking off the Saracenic one 70years ago to mixed success I still haven’t heard a popular Shuudh Hindi song yet) and go their own way in Modi’s India. This is a good example of cultural authenticity even if the language of choice is not. I don’t know the origins of stand-up comedy but it’s entirely appropriated dominated by the Anglo-Saxon West.

It’s very unlikely that he had more than a 1,000 geniune white Westerners see his video of 8+million views but even to reach maximum audience, effect and positioning he had to rely on English.

Finally he alludes to his grandmother who was not South Indian fair, not even North Indian fair but Afghanistani fair (albino).

He could  have just said Kashmiri fair. While her partner, Advocate Guruswamy, has height on her side; Ms. Katju immediately screams Srinagar and I’m not even familiar with the community. I find it interesting that the cast-iron Indian rules of hypergamy are even hardwired operate in a lesbian relationship; the lipstick is fair & demure, the chapstick is tall and dusky (I’m assuming their roles but it’s a sensible guess).

The idea of course is that more often than not, in a Hindu context (I used Hindu in an ethnographic not religious term), is that caste, colour and class are so tightly wedded together that the most angst is concentrated are in those who happen to have 2 out of 3 as in the case of Mr. Saikan.


This man makes me proud of being a Baha’i

For the first time one of my Social Media Tweets has gone *slightly* viral.


The animated story and the retelling of it by his brother is here:
I did mention to V that I was shocked that I had only learnt about this story (and that too from a Pakistani not Persian Baha’i).
She immediately replied that’s because he was “a black man Zach.” While I’m proud of this story, which frankly is more impressive than any temple built by our institutions, I’m also ashamed of the endemic and silent racism within the community.
It is always interesting to me that in our avowedly “non-racist” (and non-sexist faith) it’s always Persian & White Men (and their Spouses) who become the Superstars of the Faith.
So it is interesting that while I’m busy with my one-man crusade online to Persianise Pakistan (restoring our High Culture is a difficult but worthwhile task) I’m fighting a very different battle to find moral equity within our Persianate Faith.

why Afghanistan & Pakistan must unite under a Constitutional monarchy

I do not understand why INDThings and Kabir waste their time and energy on arguing with Hindutva.

However there are some Pakistanis that are now verging on the ridiculous:

Why are some Pakistanis demanding a statue of Raja Dahir, the last Hindu king of Sindh?

I didn’t understand the desire to install the statue of the divisive Ranjit Singh. I recently saw the movie Kesari and frankly found it rather offensive that Bollywood chose to celebrate the Slave-soldiers of the Raj rather than the Pashtun freedom fighters.

I do feel a good solution to Pakistan’s identity dilemma would be a constitutional monarchy with Afghanistan (Union of the Crowns, which is what England & Scotland had from 1606-1707).

It would have to be solely Persian-speaking (I haven’t researched enough on what standard of Persian but Dari possibly approximate Sabki-Hind fairly well) but Sunni (in the manner of the Mughals being Sunni, which was eclectic but still distinct enough from the Safavids) and probably the last Afghan dynasty will do with enough Mughal Muslim nobility thrown in for good measure. This would offset the Punjabi-Sindhi dominance since frankly most of the notables would be the traditional ruling tribes of Muhajirs and Afghans (the only royal tribe in Pakistan that comes to mind are the B’s; Brahuis, Baltis and Bahawalpur).

As the last cricket World Cup showed it’s not the Radcliffe line that must be erased; after all it is a civilisational border of sort but rather the Durand line. The fact that Afghanis and Pakistanis were at each other’s throats while the Indians & Pakistanis were super-cordial demonstrates that the former is a familial relationship the latter is a formal one.

There is also a serious possibility that such a constitutional monarchy might have to accommodate the rising tide of Muslim migrants from Modistan.

Then statues of Ranjit Singh and Raja Dahir would make sense as the indigenous expression of Pakistan’s Indian provinces (Punjab & Sindh).

But like all things Pakistani, the national project is still half complete and we must look West to Turan. The Arabs only came once and only manage to transform Sindh; it was the Turanians who reshaped the map of India.

Of course this is constitutional optics and nothing would really change on the ground but the restoration of an Sunni Persian-speaking Afghan-Mughal Monarchy would solidify AfPak and tie it solidly into its Persian & Central Asian neighbours.

It would be a fitting tribute and victory to those noble Afghans who sacrificed their lives at Saraghari under the orders of the British and their Ghulams. Then we can be politically correct and build as many statues of Ranjit Singh & Raja Dahir as we like.

Episode 57: Indian Politics Podcast

Another BP Podcast is up.

It was our crew of usual suspect; Vidhi, Kushal, MJ, Jahanara and myself. We spoke about Ms. Mahua Moitra; who is, to my mind, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reimagined as Lady Durga.

I frankly find the anti-elitist elements expressed in the podcast to be rather disconcerting. Even though V and I don’t necessarily agree; we are probably united in our interest in aesthetes.

I find Ms. Moitra to be enchanting and alluring in a way I don’t find Smirti, Sonia or Sushma. It helps that Mahua speaks with a Convent school-liberal arts-Investment Banker mannerism; makes her even more compelling.

You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. Razib is toying with the idea of doing a patron Youtube Livestream chat, if people are interested, in the next few weeks.

Would appreciate more positive reviews!

Brown Pundits