A darker shade of brown

Sharon Muthu

On the individual level who you find attractive and what you find attractive is your own deal. I’m not one to go exhorting anyone to anything. To be frank I find “campaigns” to make x more attractive a bit cringe. It’s like the joke about having to explain to someone that actually you are very attractive!

That being said, it’s interesting to observe cultural patterns, differences, and trends. I do not, for example, perceive women with natural epicanthic folds to be less attractive in any deep sense. But the surgery to create folded over eyelids is a “coming of age” practice in much of Northeast Asia, especially South Korea because it is seen as more aesthetically pleasing. This is a new trend triggered by Western norms, as prior to the past century the more common Asian look with epicanthic folds was considered more beautiful.

This brings me to South Asians, and beliefs, attitudes, and opinions about skin color. Years ago I read that Indian (Tamil) American actress Sharon Muthu was lost a part where she would be playing an Indian character “because she didn’t look Indian.” The director, in this case, was a white American. He admitted she nailed the audition, but optically he didn’t think she’d be plausible as Indian to the audience.

This goes to show that the Bollywood aesthetic has come to define what “Indian” looks like even in the West! Muthu is on the darker side, but not anymore atypical than may lighter-skinned Bollywood celebs.

Sendhil Ramamurthy

I am very jaundiced about many aspects of South Asian (which means mostly Indian American really) American culture, but one thing that is striking in contrast to the culture of their parents is that there is little attention to skin color. In fact, there are multiple instances where I’ve heard people say that the parents thought someone they were dating was too dark.  This is probably a function of the fact that in an environment where all brown people of various shades are bracketed together, it’s a little ridiculous to make the sort of distinctions that are common in the Indian subcontinent.

Speaking as an outsider to brown culture (my wife is white, most of my close friends are not brown, my children are mixed, etc.) and community, so often when I see an Indian or Pakistani actor or actress they look like older versions of Zayn Malik, the half-Pakistani and half-English teen idol, or an Italian actress with a bigger nose. In general, I laugh, and a lot of American-born/raised brown people I know laugh too.

On the other hand, American South Asians are among the most privileged in the world. The people consuming Bollywood, and Tollywood and all the other woods, are the broad middle and lower classes of India, and their choices do shape what gets put on the screen.

When I was visiting Bangladesh in 2004 many of the posters of actresses I saw were notable for two things:

  • They were fairer than the average young Bangladeshi woman
  • They were plumper than the average young Bangladeshi woman

My prediction is as Indian audiences get more affluent, and self-confident in themselves, the actors and actressse will start looking more and more like better look versions of the average Indian, rather than cut-rate Jaggus and Jagginas.

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India Still Rising (c)

One of the economists I follow is Rathin Roy [member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council.] India has several major long term growth challenges. One is geographic inequality in growth. South and West India are growing much faster and have much lower population growth rates than the rest of India, causing them to pay far higher taxes than they recieve in government spending benefits. Some believe this could cause long term Indian instability. My view is that the poor parts of India are likely to grow rapidly in the future. When measured in terms of human population I think STs, SCs, OBCs and poor conservative Sunni (non Sufi) Indians are likely to experience rapid economic growth, causing this issue to take care of itself over time.

Rathin Roy is optimistic about short term Indian economic growth but worries about India’s long term economic growth.  He worries that India could enter the upper middle income country trap, similar to Brazil. Let us assume that income or Y depends on three inputs, K (Capital = tools or the sum total of all previous investments minus depreciation), L (Labor = total hours worked),  A (technology, product development and process innovation, total factor productivity):

Y = F(AL, K)

dY/dL = marginal product of Labor = long term real wages on average

dY/dK = marginal product of Capital = long term real rate of return on investment

India has a reasonable savings rate which finances investment.

India has a long term challenge with A or technology. What are these challenges?:

Continue reading “India Still Rising (c)”

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The Ideal and the Practical — the Practice

I’d written a response to @AnAn and included a quote from the Chuang Tzu’s chapter on Lord Wen-hui and what he learned from his Cook Ting, and wanted to throw in the following DoubleQuote — but graphics seem to be discouraged in the Comment sections here, so I’ve opened this post for the purpose:

The thing is, Lao Tzu offers us the ideal statement, formulated in terms of an impenetrable absence of space, and an absence of substance to the point of non-existence — while Chuang Tzu, peering over Lord Wen-hui’s shoulder right there in Cook Ting’s kitchen, offers us the same insight, couched in terms of there being “spaces between the joints” and his knife having “really no thickness” — Chuang Tzu’s measureless insight penetrates Lao Tzu’s impenetrable absolutes to show us there’s room for play there — “room — more than enough for the blade to play about in”.

If we bear these two versions of the same idea — formulated ideally and in practical terms by the two principle philosopher-poets of the Taoist school — in mind when our thoughts run up against the impracticality of an ideal, we may find, like Cook Ting, that we too have room enough room to play in.

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Why the Diaspora is not as interesting to me

A friend of the podcast mentioned with a bit of surprise that so much of it was focused on India as opposed to the Indian Diaspora (you can substitute “South Asia(n)” into “India(n)”). When this weblog was started at the end of 2010 it was probably more Diasporic in orientation. That was the era when Sepia Mutiny was winding down, after all.

Today I’m not as interested in Diasporic topics for two reasons. First, the Diasporic identity in the USA is pretty stable and clear. Most Indian Americans are basically Americans with their own particular cultural twist or accent.  This is widely understood. In particular, culturally young Indian Americans have assimilated to the same broad identity as liberal white Americans (with some exceptions). The big questions of who and what brown Americans are going to be seem to have been answered.

The second issue is that India is a bigger deal today than it was in the 2000s. From a purely anthropological perspective, what’s going on with 1.3 billion Indians (+ 400 million other assorted South Asians) is more interesting to me than the concerns of tens of millions of Diasporic browns.

(the exception is something like an interview with an India American going through the modern arranged marriage; in contrast, telling me you only date other South Asians is not too interesting, as it’s basically what everyone else does, but brown)

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Intellectual Dark Web (b)

Eric Weinstein is close to the intersection of science, math and spirituality (or religion). He is skeptical that someone can do multi-dimensional math and science in deep meditation (satori, samadhi, mystical rapture). I think this is possible (not yet figured out how to do it).

Many ancients in narrative stories are described as combining science, math and spirituality. Including the great 7 sages (of the east, Sumeria and Egypt). Including Vishwamitra. Including Hinanyaksha and Hiranyakashipu.

I hope that our current crop of science and math thought leaders fully self actualize.

Eric describes the many theisms that different groups of people have, including in physics, math, AI, liberal arts, silicon valley, local governance, national governance, international institutions, globalization, politics.

One of the goals of religion is to transcend all theisms seeking the truth alone. The goal of religion is atheism. Theisms being:

  • irrationalities
  • unverified assumptions
  • patterns in the subconcious {Chitta}
  • habits
  • pre-religion
    • all methods and paths and preparation for religion included in religious literature, including all sounds, words, music and the various levels of meditation.

Eric is exceptionally good at breaking all theisms. Sadly those who break all icons and assumptions tend to get demonized. The Intellectual Dark Web–including Eric Weinstein–are being attacked as predicted by beautitudes Matthew 5:10-12:

  • Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
  • Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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Intellectual Dark Web (a)

Intellectual Dark Web

 

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The decline of the bee


At the Spelling Bee, a New Word Is M-O-N-E-Y – Elite spellers now can pay to get a spot in the national event. For this generation of zealous competitors, it just means another chance to shine:

An extra factor driving the stakes for this generation of spellers is a concerted effort by non-U.S.-born parents, particularly Indian-Americans, to make a mark on the competition. In 1985, Balu Natarajan was the first child of immigrants to win the Scripps bee. Of the 33 contests since then, fellow Indian-Americans have won 17 more, including the last 11 straight.

Indian-Americans, just 1% of the U.S. population, have established their own minor-league spelling bee circuit that adds opportunities to hone on-stage performance. They have led the way in paying for coaching, buying or developing proprietary study software and traveling to participate in more bees. Many spellers’ parents came to the U.S. via the Immigration Act of 1990 that admitted exceptionally skilled immigrants who specialize in STEM topics. It is no mystery that they would value education—and recognition of it—above all else; it is the very thing that gave them access to this country.

Reminds me of the stuff in Jerry Muller’s The Tyranny of Metrics. Now that the national bee is going in this direction it will be impossible to reverse the trend and make it a test of childhood exuberance and passion, as it was until recently. Rather, it will be just another part of the meritocratic conveyer belt, another notch in one’s resume or c.v.

And, unfortunately, it illustrates one of the effects of the rise of Asian American immigrant parents, who come from extremely competitive societies, and so bring the same ethos to the United States. Childhood in the old sense is disappearing, as people begin to prepare their children for adult roles in the economy before they enter elementary school.

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Triumph of the Gujarati

Election 2019 reflects a victory of the Gujarat model. But not the model you are thinking of. Not even that other, more sinister model. It is something very fundamental, rooted deeply in economic ecologies.

Human beings are shaped fundamentally by the networks they find themselves embedded in. In India, these networks overwhelmingly take the shape of caste groups marked by an occupational role, social status and marital rules.

For the North Indian peasant, with an economy driven by land and service to an imperial power, caste identity emphasizes kinship and honor. Biradari literally means brotherhood, and membership is conditioned on izzat.

For the Gujarati merchant, in a dry region of relatively unproductive land, caste identity emphasizes pooled resources, adherence to fiscal norms and shared interests. Even for the peasant Patels, caste is today fundamentally an economic union, channelized into farming and dairy cooperatives.

2019 might well be the year that the North Indian peasant realizes the futility of imbibing a kinship and honor based caste identity. On the one hand, these networks simply do not provide the resources to grow and thrive in a post-agrarian world. And even if optimally politicized, the sheer number of caste groups makes the gains from achieving political power limited and concentrated.

The North Indian does realize the need for new kinds of networks. And Modi’s opening up of North India to the world, via a liberal visa policy, river transport from the Bay of Bengal all the way upto Noida and big ticket global engagement platforms like the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shinkansen would not have escaped the eye of the sharp Yadav and Jat, who realize that they will have to reach out to the world to grow.

After all, previous engagements with foreigners in the recent past have given Indians globally important automobile and IT industries.

India today is more open to the world than ever before. Everybody from Peru to Russia to Ghana to Indonesia can come in after submitting a simple electronic form. Less than 7 million people visited India in 2013, by 2016 that number more than doubled to 15 million. Modi’s Gujarati mind grasps the decisive role of networks in the growth of individual, and he might have well coaxed the North Indian to look beyond his caste tunnel.

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Aladdin!

Disney’s Aladdin is likely to be a hit. And Naomi Scott is likely to be the break-out star. The half-English and half-Guju British chatterbox is also going to play Elena Houghlin in this fall’s reboot of Charlie’s Angels.

The casting of the mixed Scott, of white and Indian ancestry, as Jasmine created some silly backlash online. But one thing that strikes me about the Jasmine she depicts is that her sartorial style has a definite South Asian rather than Near Eastern tincture.

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