Gandhi Biography by Joseph Lelyveld Roils India


Why would it matter if Gandhi was bisexual? His deeds wouldn’t change, only the description of his private life would be more precise. Banning books is never the correct answer.

GANDHI is still so revered in India that a book about him that few Indians have read and that hasn’t even been published in this country has been banned in one state and may yet be banned nationwide.

The problem, say those who have fanned the flames of popular outrage this week, is that the book suggests that the father of modern India was bisexual.

The book’s author, Joseph Lelyveld, does write extensively about the close relationship Mohandas K. Gandhi had with a German architect1, but he denies that the book, “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India,” makes any such argument.

In an interview Mr. Lelyveld, a former executive editor of The New York Times and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, said he thought he had “treaded very carefully” with the information, which he knew was delicate.

“I lived in India, and there’s an Indian word called tamasha,” he said, which translates to “spectacle.” “I’m surprised to find myself at the center of one, because I think this is a careful book, and I consider myself a friend of India.”

Still, this week Gujarat, the state where Gandhi was born and grew up, banned the book after reviews and news articles about it appeared in Indian newspapers. Gujarat is particularly conservative — alcohol can’t be sold in there, for instance — and the state is governed by a Hindu nationalist party.

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  1. Hermann Kallenbach, the German-Jewish architect with whom Gandhi lived in Johannesburg []

Charanjit Singh – Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat

Picked up a copy of Charanjit Singh’s 10 Ragas to a Disco Beat recently, and it is quite hypnotically fascinating. I’ve never been a big fan of House music, despite its origin just down the street from me, nor has electronica been a favorite, though I have a few favorites. No matter, this album is good, despite having similarities with both of those genres.

Charanjit Singh found himself in an interesting position back in the early 80s. Working as a session musician in the Bollywood films industry, he was exposed to a wide variety of electronic musical devices. Two of the instruments he used, which would not have been made so readily available otherwise, were the Roland TB-303 and TR-808 synthesizers — the very same synthesizers that later generated all of those drippy sounds you hear on your acid house records. During the time he spent away from his work, Singh sought to re-contextualize the ancient music of his nation — the Indian ragas — using the most technologically up-to-date methods. So no, Ten Ragas To a Disco Beat isn’t some abstractly titled avant-garde record (which is what I initially thought); it’s actually ten ragas played over a disco beat. And no, it’s not one of those corny gift-shop albums marketed to rich tourists — it’s 10 hissing artifacts that represent an aurally flexible ancient culture.

Now, ‘hissing’ isn’t usually the word one uses to describe what happens when folks attempt to re-record old cultural music. Usually you’d call it “world music,” and usually you wouldn’t listen to it. But don’t be averted. Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat was originally released in super-limited quantities in 1982, but it’s recently been re-released by the Bombay Connection label, and it couldn’t be better. The melodies mesmerize, the rhythms pulse relentlessly. And the synthesizer… Oh lord, Singh’s synth makes sound that modern electronic producers should envy. Ten Ragas doesn’t come off gimmicky like one would expect from reading over its history, rather, it’s minimal and potent beyond measure. So get

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Devon Avenue is a mini-Kashmir

National Bank of Pakistan

Weather permitting, I like to take willing tourists on a walking tour of West Devon Avenue. Chicago is an international city, with more variety than simply Millennium Park and Museum Campus, it just takes a little energy to seek out this aspect of Chicago.

Roshni Boutique

Mr. Kagdi’s shop is located at one of Chicago’s more unusual street corners. Neighbors who inhabit the red and yellow brick walk-up apartments that surround the store come largely from an area of the world that fights over the Kashmir Valley, which lies in the middle of the rivalry between India and Pakistan and where people of different religions attack and kill one another.

But here on the corner of Western and Devon Avenues, many of the approximately 200,000 Chicagoans of Indian and Pakistani descent live side by side. They make a living driving cabs, selling electronics and telling fortunes. They drink Taj Mahal beer, read The Urdu Times and eat halal goat, chicken and fish.

Instead of squaring off against each other over the decades-old British division of their native lands, most residents of this blue-collar area on the city’s North Side share the unifying power of adversity: nearly everyone is suffering from the slumping economy.

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Next time you are in town, let me take you there…

Bombay Funk Thrillers


The Funk is So Rubber

“The Bombay Connection, Vol. 1: Funk From Bollywood Action Thrillers” (Various Artists)

The Bombay Connection showcases the sound of the Indian action film of the late 70s and early 80s. Under the influence of films like Shaft and Dirty Harry a new kind of though Indian action film came into being in 1970s India. To match the loud fights and fast chases Indian composers developed a exciting brand of Bollywood funk. Wah-wah guitars, congas and funky moogs were effortlessly blended with tablas, dhols and Indian melody lines. This album compiles 12 (sic) of the best, incredibly original Bollywood Funk grooves, painting scenes of frantic chases through back streets in Bombay, secret plots conceived in subterarian headquarters by fake-moustached vilains and sexy seductive dances by female spies. The 6 panel digipack comes with a colorful 32 page booklet containing well researched info and a wealth of pictures.

the booklet is cool too, full of stills from the Bollywood Thrillers we’ve never even heard of, and a plethora of details about each obscure track.

In this first volume, we dig into the funky, bell-bottomed sounds of Indian action film music form the 1970s and 1980s. We have selected 13 tracks from the golden era of Indian funk, almost all from films that failed at the box office in their time and that are therefore hardly remembered, even in India. … But all of these films – along with the obligatory family drama scenes, comedy sequences and love songs – contained violent and kinky scenes that satiated the public’s thirst for action and sex and set the stage for the exciting funk tunes presented here.

Fun stuff, especially since the music was apparently recorded live in one take, without over-dubs. An amazing feat, since the tunes often shift tempo abruptly, heading into new directions, presumedly to follow the action projected on the screen.

Update: a great album. I’ll have to look for Volume 2.