Tidbits July 2005
Compiled By Murali Kamma
Under the Spell of Words
The winning word in the 2005 Scripps spelling bee could well have been ?A-N-U-R-A-G'. Not only did 13-year-old Anurag Kashyap become the champion after spelling ?appoggiatura' correctly, but in a stunning sweep that captured wide media attention, the next three places also went to Indian-American kids, who accounted for 30 of the 373 contestants this year. Aliya Deri, also 13, and 11-year-old Samir Patel were the joint runners-up, while Rajiv Tarigopula, 12, took the third spot. The grand prize is worth $30,000 in books, scholarship and cash. Having long carved out a niche in this annual rite, Indian-Americans have been the national champs five times in the last seven years alone. Staff writer Sanhita Sen points out in the Chicago Tribune that the contests held by the North South Foundation (NSF), founded by Ratnam Chitturi, play a crucial role in the success of these desi ?spell kids'. As she writes, "Chitturi estimated that half of the Indian competitors in the Scripps bee have passed through NSF, including 2003 champion Sai Gunturi."
MTV with Desi Twist Debuts in July
One can call it hybrid popular culture for hyphenated hipsters. But long before ?Indian' MTV arrived on the scene, the colorful song-and-dance routines of Bollywood films were attracting audiences in many parts of the world. And now these Eastern and Western genres are coming together in mainstream America as MTV launches a desi version this month. Two other versions ? MTV Chi (Chinese) and MTV K (Korean) ? will be introduced next year. "MTV Desi will serve as the prototype," states The New York Times. "Interspersed among Bollywood videos, electronic tabla music and English-Gujarati hip-hop, it will feature brief documentary clips profiling desis, comic skits about South Asian-American generational conflicts, interviews with bicultural artists and desi house parties, live." MTV Desi News, Video Khichdi, Heavy Mental and Top 10 Desi Countdown are some of the programs included in the lineup. Niharika Desai has been picked as MTV Desi's first V.J.���
Desi Diplomats Do Double Duty
Q & A: A Novel
By Vikas Swarup
Hardcover, 336 pages.
As if their day jobs weren't demanding enough, a few high-profile diplomats turn to writing in their limited free time. Not so surprising, perhaps, since creative expression can provide a diverting and fulfilling outlet for these hyper-articulate envoys. The UN's prolific Shashi Tharoor is well known, of course, but among other diplomats who moonlight as authors, Vikas Swarup is being seen as an exciting Ramu-come-lately of Indian fiction. Swarup made a splashy debut with Q & A, which tells the very filmi story of an impoverished orphan, Ram Mohammad Thomas, who hits the jackpot by correctly answering all the questions on India's biggest quiz show. After getting arrested for possible fraud, the protagonist reveals how his own experiences in life provided the clues and helped him become an improbable crorepati.
Bookless in Baghdad: Reflections on Writing and Writers
By Shashi Tharoor
Arcade Publishing, 2005.
Hardcover, 288 pages.
Tharoor's new offering is actually a collection of previously published reviews and essays that will be familiar to readers of his newspaper columns and miscellaneous articles. "He wanders the ?book souk' in a Baghdad under sanctions where the middle-classes are selling their volumes so that they can afford to live; analyzes the Indianness of Salman Rushdie; discusses P.G. Wodehouse's enduring popularity in India; and drives around Huesca looking to pay an idiosyncratic tribute to George Orwell," notes the publisher in India. "There are excursions into the pitfalls of reviewing, explorations of the ?anxiety of audience' of Indian English writers, and a wicked account of how Norman Mailer dealt with a negative review." Both books are being released in the U.S. this month.
A Yogi's Spiritual Journey Across India
Eleven-year-old Neelkanth's epic Indian journey in the late 18th century has been lavishly captured in Mystic India, an IMAX film that's currently playing on weekends at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences. Walking barefoot across the subcontinent for 7 years and covering 8000 miles, Neelkanth "sees mountains, rivers, deserts and deltas that cover India's natural landscape, and experiences the astounding art and architecture, intriguing rituals and colorful customs, fascinating festivals and timeless traditions of the Indian people," according to the museum. Over 100 locations were used and, at one point, the shooting took place at a height of 13,000 feet. Keith Melton directed the film with a cast of 45,000 for BAPS Care International, which produced it. Last month, in London, it had a well-publicized premiere, and earlier in the year, it was also screened in Singapore and France, where it won the audience award at the Large Format Film Festival.
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