Briefs/ Recovering India's Stolen Treasures/ Mirchi Reaches Out to Radio Fans/ Book Matters.
WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, & WHY
Smriti Mundhra was recently honored by the Directors Guild of America (DGA). Her 2021 award, for directing the “Shelter” episode of the HBO Max series Through Our Eyes, was in the category of Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Program. Mundhra, a filmmaker like her late father Jag Mundhra, has won accolades for A Suitable Girl, which she codirected. She also made the Indian Matchmaking series for Netflix.
Aftab Pureval, the 39-year-old mayor of Cincinnati, is on the inaugural list of ‘40 Power Players’ put out by Politico’s The Recast. The 2021 list, which includes Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and Stop AAPI Hate cofounder Manjusha Kulkarni, is made up of strategists, politicians, activists and influencers who play a role at the intersection of race, politics and policy. Pureval is the son of Indian and Tibetan immigrants.
Jaskaran Singh, a 22-year-old senior majoring in finance and economics at the University of Texas, Austin, won the final round of the Jeopardy! national college championship. After competing against 36 opponents and winning 18 games, Singh received the national title and $250,000, which he said would help pay for his college tuition. His final opponents were from Kennesaw State and Northeastern.
Shree Saini, who won the Miss World America 2021 title, is back in the news. She was declared the first runner-up in the Miss World 2021 pageant. A big proponent of the BWAP (Beauty with a Purpose) project, Saini supports several causes and nonprofits. Karolina Bielawska of Poland was crowned Miss World 2021. There was no pageant in 2020 because of Covid—and in 2019, Toni-Ann Singh of Jamaica won the Miss World title.
Saira Malik is the sole Pakistani-American on Barron’s ‘100 Most Influential Women in U.S. Finance 2022’ list. Also included are these Indian-Americans: Maya Chorengel, Anu Aiyengar, Gunjan Kedia, Savita Subramaniam, Sonal Desai and Rupal J. Bhansali. Many are in “agenda-setting positions in banking and brokerage, money management, financial research, cryptocurrencies, policy-making, and corporate leadership.”
Sudha Setty, in 2018, became the first woman of South Asian heritage to take over as dean of an American Bar Association-accredited law school. Now, having served as dean of the Western New England University School of Law for about four years, Setty has been made dean of the City University of New York (CUNY), making her the first professor of South Asian descent to lead New York City’s only publicly funded law school.
Anand Gopal, a writer for The New Yorker, is a winner of this year’s Overseas Press Club (OPC) Awards. He won it for a long narrative feature on rural Afghan women under Taliban rule. This is Gopal’s fourth OPC Award in the last six years. He also won the George Polk Award and the National Magazine Award for his reporting on Iraq. An author as well, his book was a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist.
Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, is familiar to television viewers from his frequent appearances as a commentator and guide on Covid matters. Now he gets an even more visible role. President Biden has made him the new White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator. Even as Covid restrictions ease around the nation, risks remain, making Dr. Jha’s role crucial in the coming months.
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RECOVERING INDIA’S STOLEN TREASURES
Last year, at the Indian Consulate in New York, American authorities returned about 250 stolen antiquities worth $15 million to India. Over the years, a sophisticated gang of thieves allegedly stole 2500 artefacts worth $143 million from India and Southeast Asia. It included a bronze Shiva Nataraja worth $4 million. While the looting of India’s treasures—by professionals as well as opportunistic amateurs—has been going on for a long time, it’s only in the last decade that the Indian government and private sleuths have intensified their efforts to get them back. Before that, reportedly, India recovered fewer than 25 stolen artefacts over a 35-year period. One group of private detectives that has received a lot of attention is called the India Pride Project (IPP), founded in 2014 by Singapore-based S. Vijay Kumar and Anurag Saxena.
Anurag Saxena (L) and S. Vijay Kumar
IPP, which has volunteers around the world, has had tremendous success—and not just with recent thefts. For instance, they recovered a 12th-century bronze Buddha and twelve other statues that were stolen from the Nalanda archeological museum in 1961. During a London auction, this statue was discovered when the sleuths produced a convincing museum photograph as evidence. Kumar’s book, The Idol Thief, focuses on Subhash Kapoor, an Indian-American art dealer who was apprehended in India after being accused of trafficking in antiquities with the help of a network of smugglers. As The Washington Post notes, in the last 14 years, Kumar has helped India reclaim almost 300 antiquities from museums, collectors and galleries around the world.
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MIRCHI REACHES OUT TO RADIO FANS
Streaming has changed viewing habits, and also the way we listen to audio programs. There are all kinds of podcasts, which we can download and enjoy anytime. And fans of radio programs can, increasingly, tune into their favorite stations from anywhere. Mirchi, for example, is upping the game in the U.S. with the launch of its streaming app. Owned by Entertainment Network India Limited (ENIL) and launched in 2001, Radio Mirchi is India’s largest private FM radio brand with 73 frequencies across 63 cities. A variety of content in multiple Indian languages is available on its FM, LIVE and Digital platforms. “With the launch of this app, we further cement our position as a multi-content, multi-format, and multi-lingual music and entertainment brand for desis everywhere,” points out Vineet Jain, chairman of the company.
In the U.S., the Mirchi app is available on Apple and Android smartphones as well as Android Auto and Apple Car play systems. It brings 12 live FM stations from the following 11 cities: Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Ahmedabad, Pune, Chandigarh and Patna. The app also has on-demand audio stories across multiple genres. Mirchi staples include RJ Naved’s lighthearted Murga prank calls; The Devdutt Patnaik mythology show; The Bhatt Show, hosted by Mahesh and Pooja Bhatt; Kareena Kapoor Khan’s What Women Want interview series with top Bollywood celebrities; and Manto, narrated by Nandita Das, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and RJ Sayema.
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Khabaar: An Immigrant Journey of Food, Memory, and Family (University of Iowa Press), by Madhushree Ghosh. Bengali food, not to mention culture, is the thread that links the essays in this collection—as well as the generations in Ghosh’s family. She talks about how food traditions and memories were passed on through migration, colonization and indenture, and argues that italicizing everyday Indian words adds another dimension to exclusion. “It’s natural to internalize racism, sexism, even hatred, and descend into victimhood,” Ghosh points out. “I wrote Khabaar to understand what we question and what we track and how we follow the journeys of immigrant food stories.” A daughter of refugees (her parents moved to Calcutta from what became Bangladesh), she’s an activist and a scientist who works in oncology diagnostics. Ghosh writes about her childhood in Chitranjan Park, and her immigrant journey to the U.S. as an adult. Whether she’s talking about guavas or goats, she takes, as Alexander Chee puts it, “the food essay into entirely new directions.”
Sister of Mokama (Viking), by Jyoti Thottam. The author of this debut book about “the pioneering women who brought hope and healing to India” is the new editorials editor at The New York Times. In 1947, six Kentucky nuns from Sisters of Charity of Nazareth opened a hospital in Mokama, Bihar. The conditions there were appalling, but the dedication of these hardworking women—despite some colonial attitudes that were still prevalent (India had just become independent)—was awe-inspiring, attracting many young Indian women to Mokama. This topic may seem curious, but Thottam, who did archival research and conducted over 60 interviews, has a personal connection. Her mother had trained at the nursing institute and hospital established by these nuns. Amitav Ghosh says it’s “a moving story about a group of indomitable women, beautifully told by a writer of exceptional talent.”
Being Here (University Press of Kentucky), by Manini Nayar. In her debut story collection—many of the eleven stories first appeared in journals such as London Magazine, Boston Review, Shenandoah and Malahat Review—Nayar delineates the lives of outsiders, wives, mothers and adventurers who are seeking fulfilment and meaning as immigrants. Nayar, whose stories have been broadcast on the BBC World Service, is an associate professor of English and women’s studies at Penn State. There are numerous characters here, but the central figure seems to be Nina. A young wife at first, she follows her husband, Siddharth, to the U.S. after marriage. She then reappears as an older sister and a divorced mother in other stories. “Neither Indian nor American, an eclectic man rather than a man with eclectic tastes,” Nina observes at one point, wondering if Siddharth’s friends call him Sid. The stories are well written and perceptive. Author Elizabeth Nunez praises the collection as “original, bright, refreshing, with terse sentences and many passages of lyrical prose.”
Good Intentions (Henry Holt & Co.), by Kasim Ali. Call it the South Asian version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. But this is a debut novel rather than a film and it’s set in the last decade, not the ’60s. Moreover, these immigrant characters are not American; they live in the U.K., where the author grew up. Nur, the British Pakistani protagonist, falls in love with Yasmina, who is also Muslim and an aspiring journalist. Knowing his family too well, Nur doesn’t tell them about the relationship for four years. It shows how South Asians who face racism can also be racist. When his parents finally find out, they’re stunned, not so much by the secrecy but by the revelation: “Yasmina isn’t Pakistani, she’s Sudanese. She’s Black.” Author Huma Qureshi calls it “a novel for anyone who has ever known what it is to be conflicted in falling in love, feeling the expectations of our families but also ourselves.” Ali works for Penguin Random House in London.
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