Briefs/ Nikki Haley, The GOP,& The Democrats/ Growing Inequality in Rising India/ Book Matters.
WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, & WHY
Rana Ayyub, the embattled yet fearless Indian journalist who’s an opinion columnist for The Washington Post, received the American National Press Club’s prestigious International John Aubuchon Award for Press Freedom. Press freedom continues to deteriorate in India. According to the yearly freedom index put out by Reporters Without Borders, India’s rank in 2022—its lowest ever—dropped to 150 out of 180 nations.
Amrapali (“Ami”) Gan is the new CEO of OnlyFans, the adult subscription social platform based in London. She takes over from Tim Stokely, who founded it in 2016. OnlyFans now has 200 employees and over 150 million users, and its 1.5 million+ content creators collectively earn $5+ million every year. The 37-year-old Gan, who was born in India, has worked at Red Bull and Quest Nutrition and was VP of Cannabis Café.
Neal Mohan took over from Susan Wojcicki as the fourth CEO of YouTube, the world’s largest video site. It generated over 29 billion in ad revenue last year for Alphabet, its parent company. Wojcicki, who was Mohan’s boss at YouTube, stepped down as CEO after nine years. The Lucknow-born Mohan, who mostly grew up in the U.S., earned his engineering degree and MBA from Stanford University before joining YouTube in 2015.
Sindya Bhanoo, an Atlanta native and author of Seeking Fortune Elsewhere, is a finalist for the $25,000 PEN Prize for Debut Short Story Collection. Actor and writer Kal Penn is this year’s host of the PEN America Literary Awards. Jhumpa Lahiri, author of Translating Myself and Others (Art of the Essay category), is also a finalist, and so is math professor Manil Suri, author of Big Bang of Numbers (Literary Science Writing category).
Apsara Iyer is the first South Asian woman to be elected as president of the Harvard Law Review. Now in her second year at Harvard Law School, Iyer earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale and an MPhil from Oxford as a Clarendon Scholar. She joined the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU) to investigate art crime and help to repatriate over 1100 stolen works of art to 15 different countries.
Ricky Kej, born in North Carolina but based Bengaluru, was the only Indian to win a Grammy Award this year. It was his third Grammy. For their album Divine Tides, Kej and Stewart Copeland had already won a Grammy last year in a different category. In 2015, Kej and Wouter Kellerman won a Grammy for the album Winds of Samsara. Kej, an activist for environmental causes, trained in dentistry before switching to music.
Ro Khanna, a Democratic representative from California, will co-chair the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans in the 118th Congress. He will be joined by Republican Mike Waltz of Florida. This bipartisan coalition will work to strengthen U.S.-India relations and the ties between lawmakers and the Indian diaspora in the U.S. One goal is to reduce India’s dependence on Russian defense systems.
Krishna Vavilala, a retired electrical engineer and founder of the Foundation for India Studies (FIS), was among the latest recipients of the AmeriCorps-led Presidential Lifetime Achievement (PLA) Awards. The 86-year-old Houstonian was honored as a Change Maker and Global Humanitarian. Vavilala was involved in establishing the India Studies Programs at the University of Houston and at Texas Southern University.
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NIKKI HALEY, THE GOP, & THE DEMOCRATS
Is Haley a tragic figure who lost her way, or is she a flip-flopper who will find her way back to power? However one sees her, there’s no denying her spectacular success. After becoming the first female governor of South Carolina (and the first Asian American female governor of any state), Haley served as the first Indian-American presidential cabinet member. For two years, she was the U.S. envoy to the United Nations. But now, having joined the 2024 presidential race, she’ll find a forbiddingly steep path. To be fair, a South Asian Democratic contender will find it just as difficult. Despite Obama’s success, we may have to wait a while before another nonwhite wins the presidential election. After all, Biden, as an older white male, provided reassurance and continuity. Some think Haley’s real goal is be picked as the Republican VP candidate.
In the U.S. Congress now, according to Pew, 80% of racial and ethnic minority members are Democrats, with Republicans making up the rest. This is an improvement for the GOP, but they’re still far behind the Democrats. Following Shri Thanedar’s election, there are five Indian-Americans in the House—all Democrats. The Senate has two Asian Americans—both Democrats. It’s true that Bobby Jindal, a Republican, served in the House. And like Haley, he was a governor (of Louisiana). No South Asian Democrat has served as a governor yet, although VP Kamala Harris, a Democrat, was the only Indian-American to serve in the Senate. Both Haley and Jindal are practicing Christians, as is Harris. Which brings up an uncomfortable question. In the U.S. today, can a non-Christian become a presidential—or vice presidential—candidate? Unlikely.
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GROWING INEQUALITY IN RISING INDIA
Gautam Adani, fabulously wealthy and politically connected, has been in the news lately. He’s not the only superrich Indian who’s been scrutinized—and he won’t be the last—because India, turbocharged by neoliberalism, is a different country from what it was a decade ago, let alone a generation ago. One measure is the steep rise in inequality. Over a nine-year period (2012-2021), going by a recent Oxfam report, 40% of the wealth generated in India went to 1% percent of the population, while the bottom 50% of Indians received just 3% of the wealth. Another astonishing finding: 64% of India’s goods and services tax (GST) was paid by the bottom 50% of the population, and the top 10% paid only 4%. India, at 228.9 million, has the highest number of the world’s poor—while on the other hand, the report notes, its total number of billionaires rose from 102 in 2020 to 166 in 2022.
The report offers solutions to make India less unequal and more equitable: Tax the wealth of India’s top 1 percent; ease the tax burden on the less fortunate and the marginalized; make public amenities like education more accessible; strengthen safety nets and the bargaining power of labor. The 2023 supplement adds that the wealthiest 10% of Indians own over 72% of the wealth, the top 5% own 62%, and the top 1% own nearly 40.6% of India’s total wealth. About 70% of Indians are deprived of a basic and healthy diet because of wealth inequality. A 2% tax on the wealth of India’s billionaires would take care of the nutritional needs of India’s malnourished population for the next three years. Oxfam uses quantitative and qualitative information to explore the impact of inequality.
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Our Best Intentions (William Morrow), by Vibhuti Jain. Another lawyer is out with a novel that focuses on a criminal act. But Jain, who grew up in the U.S. and works in international development in South Africa, also writes about immigration and identity in her debut. Angie, a shy teen who finds comfort in swimming, is the daughter of Bobby Singh, an immigrant businessman and single parent. His “Move with Bobby” Uber business gives him enough confidence to live in a wealthy New York suburb. Trouble begins when Angie, while on her way home from the high school swimming pool, comes across Henry, a white classmate from an affluent family. He’s been stabbed and is bleeding on the football field. When another student—a Black girl who ran away from home—can’t be found, the situation becomes explosive. Jain, who earned degrees from Yale and Harvard Law School, has written “a heartbreaking story of class, family, and the tragedy that often occurs when the two intersect,” says novelist Julie Clark.
Seasons of Splendour: Tales, Myths & Legends of India (NYR Children’s Collection), by Madhur Jaffrey. Illustrated by Michael Foreman. This colorful book, ideal for elementary and even middle school students, shows a different side of the celebrated cookbook author and actress. Originally published in 1984, it’s been reissued for a new generation in a handsome edition by New York Review Books. Jaffrey first heard these timeless stories from the women in her household when she was growing up in Delhi. Conveniently, the stories follow the Hindu calendar. Young readers will learn about the birth of Krishna, Dussehra, Diwali, Holi, the Festival of Parvati, Nine Days’ Festival, etc. Some stories, like the one about Doda and Dodi, are probably known only to Jaffrey’s family. “The stories that we were told were designed not only to separate right from wrong but to prepare us, indirectly, for the vagaries of life and the fact of death,” she writes.
The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name (Abrams Books), by Sandhya Parappukkaran. Illustrated by Michelle Pereira. This book, like the duo’s debut picture book in 2022, is for the younger set (up to third grade). Originally from Kerala and previously a food technologist, Parappukkaran lives in Brisbane. South Indians with longish names know how they can pose a challenge when they move to other countries. Some find creative solutions, the most common being an abbreviated version of their name. That’s what Zim does, noting, “I shrink my name in the dryer on a superhot / double cycle before the bus arrives.” His real name is Zimdalamashkermishkada, which is a mouthful even for him. But as we get deeper into the story, propelled by eye-catching drawings, Zim realizes, with the help of a friend, how names can be inseparable from identity. In their Amma’s Sari (Bright Light Books), six-year-old Shreya, who lives in an unknown country with her immigrant parents, learns how her mother’s sari can teach tolerance and acceptance.
While You Were Dreaming (Quill Tree Books), by Alisha Rai. Having already written bestselling romance novels for adults, Rai makes her YA debut with a novel that involves migration, the media, and masks. The girl-meets-boy formula comes with a twist, not only because the girl—Sonia Patil—has an undocumented sister but because their mother has been deported to India. At the local comic-con in cosplay, a masked Sonia hopes to finally make a connection with the boy she likes. When he faints and falls into a canal, she rescues him. But what seems like a happy outcome is, naturally, quite the opposite. A video of the rescue goes viral—meaning, Sonia’s sister will be at risk if Sonia’s identity is revealed. Rai’s novels have been picked as Best Books of the Year by NPR, The Washington Post, and Kirkus. Her Modern Love trilogy could just as well be called a Social Media trilogy. The three novels are titled The Right Swipe, Girl Gone Viral, and First Comes Like.
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