by Priya Chhaya
I love to write. In my day job I write about history and the past, about cities and the importance of place and space in the everyday and in the identity of individual people. When I’m not writing I love to read–books, newspapers, magazines, and other blogs. So on any given day, my reader is filled with articles from history, membership marketing, tech development, and pop culture–including one of my favorites: Sepia Mutiny.
A few years ago I was hunting for information on the Sepoy Mutiny and stumbled upon this site dedicated to writing about South Asian Americans in politics, history, and culture. The site, which gave me the opportunity to see what a quality collaborative blog could be like, also introduced me to a community of creative South Asians. Probably what I appreciated the most was that they could be, at times, both serious and entertaining while also being critical and laudatory. (The site also introduced me to some excellent music).
When I write, I write from the heart–but most of the time it is about things: exhibits, books, ideas. Markers of the past that tell us a story that we can relate to.
Sepia Mutiny was more journalistic, talking about the people, those from, or descended from the subcontinent, analyzing who we were, what we’ve accomplished, and where we were going. It was a community. On April 1, 2012, Sepia Mutiny closed down for good, and with its end I thought we could learn a little bit about the blog’s journey from the site’s creator, Abhi.
Here are some of his thoughts:
Priya: It’s been about eight years since Sepia Mutiny began, can you tell me a little bit about what inspired you to put it together?
Abhi: Sepia Mutiny began as a civilized (but irreverent) rebellion against the reality that South Asian American media, what little there was on the web in 2004, lacked interesting and incisive analysis of news and issues that people in our community were concerned about, or just wanted to hear more about. In the summer of 2004, both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions had issued press passes to a few widely-read bloggers, almost all of them white. That was annoying to me and provided the initial inspiration for doing something. Blogs were just getting started back then and nobody knew if they were frivolous or could make an impact, [and so] I thought the time was right to try and provide a venue for a South Asian American perspective while concurrently being entertaining. There was (and still is) a mass of young, educated, politically aware, intellectually hungry, and somewhat mutinous “desi” that wanted something both engaging and educational to read.
Frustrated over this lack of voice and the power that comes with it, I approached several other Indian American bloggers that I regularly read and proposed that we collaborate to fill the vacuum. Why not create a site that combined the individual efforts of some talented young voices, and then proceed to write about topics that entertained, educated, and inspired? Manish Vij, Anna John, Vinod Vallapollili, “Ennis,” and myself, came together and worked out some technical details and a rough outline for what would become Sepia Mutiny days later. Over the years, a number of other unique voices would join.
Priya: One of my favorite things about the blog is how tapped in it is to trends in music, theater, and politics, giving a well-rounded look at where South Asian Americans were entering into the larger American public-consciousness. How do you feel that this has changed since the blog began? What are some of the changes you’ve noticed?
Abhi: The main thing that has changed is that we can’t keep up any more. Back then if a South Asian American appeared on television for example, that was a BIG deal. We might have multiple posts dissecting various aspects of the appearance. Ditto if it was a musician or politician. Now we’re everywhere. On some nights you can flip from one channel to another in primetime and see brown characters. Two governors are Indian American. Even my own cousin is running for Congress in Pennsylvania. And all this progress in just eight years!
Priya: In a similar vein, in your post announcing the blog’s closure, you mentioned three primary reasons for shutting down: the first being technology, the second being the time to devote to managing the blog, and perhaps the most important–that you feel like the mission of Sepia Mutiny has been accomplished. Can you elaborate on how you feel Sepia Mutiny was able to contribute in part to the expansion of Desi voices in the blogosphere?
Abhi: Sepia Mutiny acted as a virtual town hall where three distinct groups came together to learn from each other. The first group consisted of second generation South Asian Americans who were seeking a way to hold on to their ethnic roots by debating what it meant to be brown in America. Recently we have received many emails from people that said they felt they would have lost their South Asian identity completely were in not for the fact that they could explore and learn from other visitors on our site as we discussed current events that greatly impacted the South Asian community. The emails that brought a tear to my eye were the ones written by readers that said there were no South Asians where they lived and so they used our website to help hold on to their identity.
The second major groups of readers were the first generation South Asian Americans or those still based in South Asia. There was at first a “American Born Confused Desi (ABCD) vs. Fresh-Off-The-Boat” dynamic but our writers worked very hard to diffuse that. A lot of South Asians new to America used our website as a way to understand differences in life experience and how to ease the path to assimilation. I like to believe that both groups learned from each other and came away better for it.
The third group consisted of readers who were not South Asian but married to or dating someone that was, or just admired the culture. One of our guest bloggers even fell into this category.
Individuals from all of these groups went on the start blogs of their own, which is always what we hoped for.
Eight years ago, the initial writers of Sepia Mutiny came together and started something great . Abhi, the creator, used to work for NASA and is now working for a private company that is hoping to be the next one to send American astronauts into space. Manish Vij and Vinod Valoppillil worked at one point at Microsoft and are, as Abhi states, “always working on some cool new tech project.” Anna John, is a writer in Washington DC, and the final founder “Ennis” work in academia in the United States. Each of their voices, along with many, many other writers that drifted in and out of the blog, contributed to engaging South Asian Americans with each other.
One final question I asked Abhi was about advice to aspiring bloggers who may want to step in after Sepia Mutiny closes–through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or one of the many online magazines that document the lives of South Asians in America. His answer was simple and succinct:
Just write. In the end it doesn’t matter how fancy your blog is. All that matters is that your writing is excellent and your point of view, your “voice,” is unique.
Thank You Sepia Mutiny for eight great years.
Note: While the website will no longer be posting new content after April 1, 2012 you will still be able to follow them on Twitter @sepiamutiny for a little while longer.
Priya Chhaya is a public historian that works with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American (and Indian American) identity.