Friday, March 10, 2006

A whole lot of miscellaneous stuff - you'll enjoy it!

I think my apologizing to my blog visitors is turning into a bad habit. I've pretty much decided I wont apologize again :)

Jokes aside, a lot has been going on the past few days. I haven't really posted anything substantial, so hopefully this posting will fulfill my desire to inform and enlighten my friends and strangers alike. Well, strangers more, because apparently, i've been going through the statistics of who visits my blog, and it just so happens that most of my visitors happen to be those folks who do random google searches for anything from George Clooney's Syriana (he deserved the Oscar!), to Danish cartoons.

For those of you who have gotten fed up with my postings about interesting events happening all over New York City, I regret to inform you that this posting will be primarily about them.

So let's start from the present and work our way backwards.

Last night there was a film screening organized by the Middle Eastern Students Organization(MESO) at the CUNY Graduate Center. The movie was a documentary about Umm Kulthoum (Kul-soom), the nightingale of the Middle East. I had heard so much about her, but had never really heard her sing. She had quite a voice!

I missed the first half, but the second half was pretty interesting. This lady was almost single-handedly responsible for resolving some mega crises in the Middle East and monarchs and sovereigns came from far and away to hear her sing. Eventually, they also showered her with awards and recognition the likes of which people could never imagine. Every Thursday she would sing on the radio and all of the Arab world would leave what they were doing to listen to her.

I couldnt help but draw parallels with Pakistan's own "Queen of Melody", Noor Jehan. While Umm Kulthoum passed away in 1975 and brought 4 million Egyptians pouring into the streets for her funeral, Noor Jehan died just a few years ago in 2000. Both were in their mid-70's when they passed away, had a singing career of at least a half century, were popular outside their country's borders, sang nationalistic and patriotic songs, and were icons revered for their sense of fashion and style.

All I could think about during the movie was how similar these women were. And there are many more out there. Lebanon has a national singer as well. India has Lata Mangeshkar. The United States had Ella Fitzgerald and now has Aretha Franklin. These women defined an era and were much more than just celebrities in the conventional sense of the word.

So, upon returning home and still in awe of these legendary figures, I decided i'd check my email and then listen to some old music. I was obviously getting nostalgic. Lo and behold, who do I get an email from? The progeny of one of South Asia's most respected music composers. Now, mind you, i'm not a HUGE South Asian music buff, but when I heard who his grandfather was, I was left speechless.

He was writing to me in regards to an article I published online a few years ago at a progressive South Asian portal called "Chowk", which literally translates to crossing, or roundabout. I posted it to my blog when I initially started blogging so i'll link it here for your convenience, but he basically wrote to compliment me on it. Now, I've been fortunate to have gotten compliments on it from many people, including my Uncle, who happens to be an accomplished singer and having worked with some of Pakistan's best artists himself. But receiving this email and praise was a privilge unlike any other.

Anyway, so you can tell I was obviously on sky nine. It was great!

But - what goes up, must come down.

I tried searching for the exact posting, but couldnt see where a guy named Tim posted a comment - just yesterday. And what was the comment? An article from some shady Christian organization that was basically comparing the suffering between Christ and Muhammad and how that dictates the reaction of each religion's adherents when either messenger is defiled and disgraced. I was horrified!

At first I thought, wow. My blog's gotten places I never dreamed of! Then I thought, oh boy. Here comes a fued with the right-wingers. But I neglected to respond. Obviously because I couldnt even find the damn posting he must've "responded" to, but also because it was going to fall on deaf ears. No one preaches to the choir! (Pun intended)

Instead, for your convenience, i'm going to link the article right here. Happy reading!

Last week's Women and Development event at the Institute for International Education was wonderful. This might be weird for some guys, but I didnt mind the fact that I was one of three men in the audience. The room was full of women! My friday went well.

Honestly speaking though, i should stop attending such events because I already know the argument, and I know what the issue is. What made this event interesting though, was that there was a particular speaker I was interested in: Devaki Jain.

Jain is a development economist from Bangalore, India and is a sweet woman who's getting some pretty radical thoughts for a woman well into her 60's. As she was presenting her concluding remarks to the dozens of people present, Jain very timidly recommended that the United Nations not physically remain in the United States. The audience wasnt exactly taken aback, but may have actually thought the idea was a good one. The US has been holding the UN hostage for too long, and the situation is actually fast deteriorating. The US is cutting funding from countless programs and now with John Bolton as US Ambassador to the UN, the future is only as bright as a twinkling star.

Jain, who told me I reminded her of her son, then informed me after the panel that moving the UN elsewhere was not pragmatic according to higher-ups in the UN, as many governments had invested heavily in property in New York City. If that's the argument, then I must say it's pretty North-centric. As it is, countries from the global south are probably having a hard time trying to pay for the outrageous rents and perks that come with being a govt. representative based in NYC, so moving the UN would actually be favorable for dozens of countries. But who cares about them, right? They don't hold sway over the UN anyway.

Then there was the UNA/Pakistani Mission event where the Pakistani Ambassador spoke about strengthening the UN's role in development. Over 100 people attended and it was a great evening. All attendees loved the Pakistan House and the hospitality accorded them. I was happy at least Pakistan had a good image somehwere.

Anyway, much else has happened but i'm tired of thinking and typing simultaneously. Let me go listen to some good 'ol South Asian sufi music by the sufi diva herself, Abida Parveen...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

NY Event: CUNY South Asian Conference - Friday, March 17th

Dear friends,
Below is information about a Conference on South Asia that I have had the privilege of working on, along with several distinguished scholars from the South Asian community, both within the City University of New York (CUNY), and outside.
Attendance is free, though pre-registration is required. Please do try to attend and spread the word on my behalf.
For your convenience, here's the link to the website where you can register:
Thanks in advance!


You are cordially invited to join us at the 2006 CUNY South Asian Conference: Points of Connections: South Asians and the Diaspora which will be held on Friday March 17th, 2006 from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm at Baruch College, Newman Conference Center - 151 East 25th Street, Room 750, between Lexington & 3rd Avenues, Manhattan.

The objective of the conference is to bring together scholars and experts who are engaged in the study of South Asian communities in Asia and the United States, and to present findings on South Asian communities, especially India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The overview will comprise of demographic, social and economic analyses of women's issues, human rights, business, leadership and the recent natural disasters.

Conference Program (Overview)

General Session 1: "South Asian Human Rights in Global Context"

General Session 2: "Issues on Leadership within the South Asian Community"

General Session 3: "South Asian Youth: Socio-cultural and Educational Challenges and Opportunities"

Keynote Speech: "Health Care Disparities in the South Asian Community"
Hon. Upendra
, Assemblyman New Jersey State

General Session 4: "Challenges and Opportunities for South Asians in Business"

General Session 5: "CUNY Response to Natural Disasters: Tsunami Taskforce and others"

Other distinguished speakers include Dr. James Muyskens, President of Queens College, Hon. Wellington Chen, CUNY Trustee and others.

The South Asian Conference is Co-sponsored by Asian American/Asian Research Institute, Asian American Higher Education Council, ASR International Corporation, and Weissman Center for International Business - Baruch College, CUNY. It is chaired by Parmatma Saran. Committee members include Manu Bhagavan, Nehru Cherukupalli, Rafia Hamid, Niloufer Haque, Samhhavi Lakshminarayan, Vinit Parmar, Vrunda Prabhu, Manawendra Roy, Harendra Sirisena, Zeeshan Suhail, Darrel Sukhadeo, Thomas Tam, and others. Conference coordinator is Shashi Khanna, with Maggie Fung as the conference manager.

Admission to the conference is free. Light refreshments as well as lunch will be available to participants, but seating is limited. Early on line registration is required. For more information and registration, please visit

With best wishes,


Thomas Tam Ph.D., M.P.H.
Executive Director

P.S. Please be reminded that two workshops on Chinese conversation are available in April. Mandarin Chinese (10 sessions for $100 on Tuesdays, 6 pm to 8 pm); Cantonese Chinese (10 sessions free on Fridays, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm). Pre-registration is necessary. For more details, please visit

P.P.S. Please pass along this announcement to your students, colleagues and other interested people. Remember, seating is available only to the early registrants. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

World Bank statistics on South Asia

Sorry for the delay in putting something - or anything - up on my blog. Just been busy - and lazy! - for the past few days.

The statistics i'm quoting below are from an e-mail alert from the World Bank's South Asia website. It's really astounding. And this part of the world claims to be the "next big player" in global affairs.

I wonder how.

Twenty percent of South Asia's population is between 15 and 24.
Young adults account for half of the unemployed.
Thirty percent are illiterate.