Briefs/ An Electorate's Rising Clout/ How Indian Cuisine Stacks Up/ Book Matters.
WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, & WHY
Vir Das became the first Indian to receive an International Emmy Award. He won for his latest Netflix stand-up comedy special, titled Vir Das: Landing. Das, who’d been nominated once before for Best Comedy Series, shared the award with Derry Girls Season 3. Nominees Shefali Shah (Best Actress) and Jim Sarbh (Best Actor) didn’t get the award, but television producer Ekta Kapoor won an International Emmy Directorate Award.
Rijul Maini, a medical student and model from Michigan, is Miss India USA 2023. She won the title in New Jersey at an Indian American pageant, which has been held every year for the last four decades. Sneha Nambiar of Massachusetts was crowned Mrs. India USA 2023, while Saloni Rammohan of Pennsyvannia is Miss Teen USA 2023. There were 57 contestants for the three titles, and they came from 25 states across the U.S.
Shripriya Kalbhavi, a ninth grader from California, won second place in the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge. She received $2000 for coming up with an affordable microneedle patch called EasyBZ that facilitates self-automated delivery of medicine without the use of needles or tablets. Heman Bekele, who moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia at the age of four, won the grand prize for his skin cancer treatment soap.
Ashok Gadgil, distinguished professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley, was awarded a National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Gadgil was among 12 laureates to receive this medal from President Biden. He was recognized for his affordable technologies focusing on, among other essentials, potable water and fuel-efficient cookstoves. This medal was last awarded in 2015.
Suresh Subra, professor at large at Brown University’s School of Engineering and former director of the National Science Foundation, won a National Medal of Science from President Biden. He was among nine recipients of this medal, which was last awarded by the White House in 2016. Subra was honored for his cutting-edge research, and especially for the study of material science and its applications to other disciplines.
Bhargav Bhatt, joint professor at the Institute for Advanced Study and Princeton University, is one of six individuals (two Indian Americans and four Indians) who won the Infosys Prize 2023. He received a gold medal plus $100,000 in the mathematical sciences category for fundamental contributions to arithmetic geometry and communicative algebra. He has also done joint work with Peter Scholze in prismatic cohomology.
Preesha Chakraborty, aged 9, is on the newest “world’s brightest” students list put out by the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. Over 16,000 students from 90 nations took the above-grade-level tests to qualify. Based on a grade three test, Preesha, who lives in California, aced the verbal and quantitative sections (which is on par with the 99th percentile of advanced grade five performances) and won the Grand Honors.
Karuna Mantena, professor of political science at Columbia University, is the other Indian American winner of the Infosys Prize 2023. She won in the social sciences category for her work on the theory of imperial rule, and the claim that late imperial ideology was an important factor in the emergence of modern social theory. Her book, Alibis of Empire, traced the shift in imperial policy after the 1857 rebellion in India
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AN ELECTORATE’S RISING CLOUT
Asian Americans are the fastest growing electorate, according to the Pew Research Center’s latest survey. They increased by two million—about 15%—and now account for 6.1% of all eligible voters. Hispanic American voters grew by 12% during the same period, while the total U.S. electorate increased by 3%. Pew also notes that “Asian Americans are the only major racial or ethnic group where more of its eligible voters are naturalized than U.S.-born (56% vs. 44%).” This is certainly true of Indian Americans. As Karthick Ramakrishnan points out, with nearly a quarter of the Indian American electorate having arrived in the last two decades, they’re mostly foreign-born (72%). He is professor of public policy at UC Riverside and the founding director of AAPI Data.
The Indian American population is a little under five million, though the subset of eligible voters is, according to an analysis done by AAPI Data, under 1% of the U.S. electorate—which means that out of 239 million citizens in this country, 2.2 million are Indian American. The Black electorate in the U.S. is also bigger, having grown by 7% since 2020. What about Whites? Pew doesn’t say, but a look back at the 2020 Pew survey shows that the White electorate experienced a steady decline between 2000 and 2018. White voters may still be the majority in 2024, but this downward trend goes a long way in explaining why Trump remains so popular.
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HOW INDIAN CUISINE STACKS UP
Like most lists, this food list will draw reactions that range from cheers and indifference to surprise and outrage. Can one really rank the world’s 100 best cuisines and dishes? TasteAtlas, an online encyclopedia of flavors that catalogued over 10,000 foods and drinks, thinks it’s possible. And they do it every year. Indian cuisine didn’t make it to the top 10, going by their newest list, but it’s ranked a respectable number 11. So how did TasteAtlas do it? They recorded 395,205 (271,819 valid) dish ratings, and 115,660 (80,863 valid) food product ratings. Fans of Roti canai (origin: Malaysia) will be glad to know that it’s considered the world’s second-best dish. Number one is Brazil’s Picanha meat cut. What about Indian dishes? Butter garlic naan takes the seventh spot. Murgh makhani is number 43, while Tikka and Tandoori are 47 and 48. At number 55 is a dish called Khachapuri, which sounds Indian but is a traditional cheese-filled dish from Georgia (the nation, not the U.S. state).
There are rankings within food categories as well. Butter garlic naan ranks second (and Naan ranks sixth) among the world’s finest breads—but when it comes to rice, Basmati is king (number one). The top 10 dairy beverages include not one but three versions of Lassi: Mango (one), Plain (four), and Sweet (five). Another winner is Garam masala, which heads the list of top spice blends and seasonings. Also impressively, Butter chicken and Chicken tikka are ranked number one and two among the world’s top chicken dishes. Finally, Chai masala (aka Masala chai) ranks third among the world’s best non-alcoholic beverages. There’s no shortage of choices for celebrants.
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Smoke and Ashes: Opium’s Hidden Histories (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), by Amitav Ghosh. A single household product—salt, say—could sometimes become the lens for a broad historical survey. More darkly, that lens could be a cash crop like cotton. Ghosh, in his latest book, turns to the cultivation and trade of opium, which had a devastating impact on colonized societies. That devastation continues in the form of opioid addiction, which Ghosh also explores in a nonfiction work that is, in the manner of his celebrated In an Antique Land, a deft combination of travelogue, archival research, memoir, economics, politics, and secondary sources. And it is history as well. The reader travels to India, Britain, China, and America, among other places. Ghosh is probably better known as a novelist, and it’s the extensive decade-long research he did for his Ibis Trilogy that informs his new book. “Only by recognizing the power and intelligence of the opium poppy can we even begin to make peace with it,” he writes.
The Things That We Lost (Merky Books), by Jyoti Patel. A winner of the Merky Books New Writers’ Prize, this novel is by a British Indian who was named one of The Observer’s top 10 debut novelists for 2023. Through the eyes of Nik, a young Londoner, Patel explores the lives of U.K-based Gujarati immigrants who trace their roots to India as well as East Africa. Nik’s father, Elliot, is no longer alive—but to Nik, who was born only after his father died, even Elliot’s life remains an enigma. Making matters worse, Nik’s mother, Avani, refuses to say anything about his father. Why? To get to the bottom of this mystery, Patel explores the family dynamics and introduces other characters like Nik’s grandfather. Avani and Elliott had been an unusual couple for their time, adding another layer of complication. “Secrets spill and relationships sour, sacrifices are made and promises are broken, as plot twists propel the narrative forward to a dramatic finale,” according to The Guardian.
Almost Surely Dead (Mindy’s Book Studio), by Amina Akhtar. This crime thriller is the newest release from the Amazon Publishing imprint founded by Mindy Kaling. Akhtar, a former U.S.-based fashion writer and editor, took a satiric look at the fashion industry and social media influencers in her last two novels. She turns to true crime podcasts in her new book, although the story involving Dunia Ahmed, a well-established Pakistani American pharmacist, is fictional. Following a broken engagement and the death of her immigrant mother, she’s been missing for more than a year. Just before her disappearance, it turns out, somebody tried to kill her. On hearing the news, listeners of the podcast are horrified and hooked. Readers may react the same way. Describing it as “a witty, wildly entertaining novel that dips its toes in the supernatural while delivering social commentary, highlighting the realities of the Pakistani diaspora, and dancing with the ghosts and superstitions we all carry in our blood,” author Gabino Iglesias adds, “Don’t miss it.”
Happy (Astra House), by Celina Baljeet Basra. This debut novel dwells on inequality, migration, exploitation, and much more—but with a humorous touch. And the structure is innovative, with the narrative often unspooling in the form of notebook jottings, poetry, interviews (even imaginary interviews), songs, and unfinished scripts. Happy Singh Soni, besotted with films, dreams of a bigger life than is possible on his family farm in Punjab. But instead of gaining entry to the wonderland of cinema, he joins Wonderland, a Disneyworld-like amusement park that’s a disaster for the surrounding farmland. While the job is terrible, he needs the money for his passage to Europe, leading to another adventurous and heartbreaking chapter. Ironically, after leaving a cabbage farm in India, he ends up on a radish farm in Italy. “Playful, funny, and wildly free, Happy inhabits the seam between beauty and tragedy,” writer and editor Megha Majumdar notes.
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