Our Top 15 Stories of 2020

The most-read articles this year.

Padma Lakshmi
Padma Lakshmi (Shyama Golden for The Juggernaut)

The Juggernaut


December 24, 2020


1 min

What better way to enter the holiday season than to review our most read stories of 2020? We covered everything from a deep profile on Padma Lakshmi to Black and Brown love to the rise of the Indian-origin CEO — and much, much more.


1. The Sari Crusaders

by Sneha Mehta

How creative interventions are reimagining the sari as a 21st-century garment.

7. Sari x Sneakers 2
The Sari School collaborated with VegNonVeg, India's first multi-brand sneaker store on a saris x sneaker workshop. (The Pond)

“In my first performance, I wore my mother’s sari,” recalls Alex Mathew, a communications officer from Bengaluru, India who is more famously known as their drag persona Mayamma.

Alex performs almost only in saris.

For a garment as ancient and culturally charged as the sari, it is surprisingly modern, especially by today’s standards — its size-agnostic, heirloom pieces are preserved and passed down for generations. So it is no surprise that today, more than ever, the sari has its champions. Designers, writers, and textile experts are turning their attention to this instantly recognizable symbol of South Asia, reimagining its living history and positioning it as a 21st-century garment. By experimenting with narratives depicting its comfort, cultural significance, and draping techniques, these sari crusaders are putting new visions for the sari back in the public eye.

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2. The Jews of India

by Michaela Stone Cross

For 2,000 years, India has been home to a small but prominent Jewish community. So what makes India one of the safest places for Jews in the world?

A Jewish family at home in Aizawl, the capital of northeastern Indian state Mizoram. (Ellen Goldberg)

Rahel Musleah was six years old when she immigrated with her parents to the U.S. It was 1964 Philadelphia, and, like most Indian immigrants, she experienced the usual culture shock: bad food, uninformed locals, a less-familiar tongue.

But Musleah wasn’t just different than most Americans — she was different than most Indians, too. She wasn’t Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, but Jewish, and ostensibly white.

Few people know that India has long been home to a small but prominent indigenous Jewish community, part of which dates back to over 2,000 years.

“‘How can you be Jewish and be from India?’” said Musleah, repeating the question she received over and over again.

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3. The Multiple Dealbreakers of Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking”

by Ishani Nath

Pradhyuman on a date with actor and model Rushali Rai, set up by matchmaker Sima Taparia on Netflix's "Indian Matchmaking." (Netflix)

If the pandemic has somehow made you miss old-school, judgmental aunties, then add Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking to your watch list.

The eight-part reality series premieres today and follows multiple single millennials in India and the U.S. who have decided — or in some cases, been told by their parents — to employ the services of matchmaker Sima Taparia, “Mumbai’s top matchmaker,” to find a partner. On paper, it’s a blend of Meet the Patels (2014) with the slick, voyeuristic aesthetic of Netflix’s Dating Around (2019- ). In reality, it is nowhere near either.

Indian Matchmaking, by its very title, purports to show viewers the realities of the multimillion-dollar arranged marriage industry, both in India and within the diaspora. Instead, it gives viewers a series that glosses over or, in some cases, completely ignores the pressing problems with matchmaking. For me, that was the ultimate dealbreaker.

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4. Black and Brown Love

by Michaela Stone Cross

Black and Brown couples don’t have it easy. Marrying Brown can be difficult, but for Black partners it’s especially hard.

Tahera and Keith Thomas (Thomas family).

“I was 13 and was riding in the back of my parents’ car,” recalled Jitesh Mehta, who requested his name be changed. “My mom was in the front talking to some auntie, and they were laughing, saying, ‘Don’t marry a BMW.’ I’d never heard that before and asked them what it meant. My mom laughed: ‘Black, Muslim, or white.’”

Don’t marry a BMW. It’s a joke that floats around some South Asian immigrant communities, almost in order of importance. But family acceptance of multiracial relationships can sometimes be challenging.

“I still struggle to comprehend why marrying a white person, for example, is so much more widely accepted than any other race,” said Amit Patel, 27, from London. A few years ago, Patel married his best friend from high school, a second-generation Ghanaian woman named Michelle.

“‘We don’t marry Black people,’” his mother told him. Patel had it relatively easy — it took only a few months of meetings and conversations to change her mind. But not all Black and Brown couples have it this easy.

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5. Never Have I Ever Seen a Show Like This

by Ishani Nath

Yes, Mindy Kaling’s highly-anticipated Netflix series was worth the wait.

NHIE 103 Unit 01454R - small Never Have I Ever
Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), Kamala (Richa Moorjani), and Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) (Netflix)

Like most brown girls, I first heard about Netflix’s Never Have I Ever before it even had a name, thanks to series creator Mindy Kaling’s tweet announcing the open casting call for the show. “The parts are so juicy and funny, and I’m SO excited to meet you!” wrote Kaling, who specifically addressed the callout to “desi ladies.” After a year of anticipation, audiences will soon see what Kaling was talking about when the 10-episode series hits Netflix on April 27 — and let me tell you, it was worth the wait.

The coming-of-age comedy tells the story of 15-year-old Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) after one of the hardest years of her teenage life, during which her dad suffered a fatal heart attack at her high school band recital. Starting her sophomore year, she’s not popular and she’s adjusting to her new family life, which is now comprised of her strict mom (Poorna Jagannathan) and her straight-from-India cousin (Richa Moorjani, the “hot girl” Ed Helms dated in The Mindy Project). Despite her best efforts, Devi is still grieving the loss of her father. At the same time, she’s also just a teenage girl obsessed with getting into Princeton and losing her virginity to high school swim team hottie Paxton (Darren Barnet).

It’s a lot, but it’s also a freaking delight.

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6. Why Jewish-Hindu Couples Click

by Meredith Starkman

Despite Hindus being among the least likely in the U.S. to marry outside their faith, Hindu-Jewish couples, or Hinjews, share an immigrant bond that ties them together.

HinjewCouple TikTok 1
The TikTok videos of hinjewcouple, an account run by Morgan, 30, and Pratish Patel, 31, have millions of views. (Brooke Aliceon)

I met Ben and Dave at a hostel in Amritsar, India while traveling through the region in the spring of 2017. They were complete strangers, but I immediately recognized them as fellow Jews, the first I’d seen in months. We exchanged numbers, and after a few weeks, when we were all back in Mumbai recovering from our respective travels, they invited me to their going away party. It was there I met their best friend from college, a writer from Delhi, who would become my boyfriend for the remainder of my time in Mumbai.

It struck me during our relationship that not only were most of my partner’s college friends from the U.S. Jewish, but that Hindu-Jewish couples were more common than I had initially thought. Judaism is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition that also encompasses Christianity and Islam, and South Asian-origin religions, such as Hinduism and Sikhism, don’t share the same books or stories.

According to a 2014 Pew study, 91% of U.S. Hindus and 65% of U.S. Jews were married or living with a partner of the same religion. Yet, these unlikely couples have somehow found their way to each other. Though both groups may have other things in common — from historical upheavals to education and income levels — most couples said it was their diasporic bonds that tied them together.

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7. Keeping Up with Cultural Appropriation

by Sneha Mehta

Are celebrities playing dress-up with South Asian fashion appropriating culture or celebrating culture?

Iggy Azalea Bounce Youtube
Iggy Azalea in "Bounce" (YouTube still)

Everything Kim Kardashian West does is news. But the icon, who now boasts 170 million followers on Instagram, is also known for cultural appropriation. Kardashian West has been called out for wearing her hair in cornrows and for attempting to trademark the Japanese word “kimono.” She recently posted Instagram pictures wearing a maang tikka — a traditional South Asian head ornament that rests on the forehead.

She’s not the first Western celebrity to wear South Asian dress and accessories. No Doubt lead singer Gwen Stefani almost single-handedly popularized the bindi when she incorporated it into her look in the 1990s — she liked how it looked on her then-boyfriend and fellow No Doubt member Tony Kanal’s mother, who is Indian. At the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, Madonna performed her song “Shanti/Ashtangi” adorned with the Vaishnava tilak — a forehead marking usually reserved for devotees of Lord Vishnu — against the backdrop of Hindu gods. Iggy Azalea shot the video for her 2013 song “Bounce” in India, twerking in front of a sadhu while dressed in a purple sari. Beyoncé, in a video for the 2016 Coldplay song “Hymn for the Weekend,” dressed in a bridal outfit complete with henna and a ghunghat (head covering).

While Western cultural appropriation of the East also exists in music, food, and wellness, fashion tends to be the most visible offender. By playing dress-up with South Asian clothing and accessories, celebrities often end up perpetuating formulaic ideas of exotic, mystical South Asia. The practice has been visible since at least the 1990s but as pop culture becomes more global in the 21st century, can these instances be excused? Who gets to decide what is and isn't cultural appropriation?

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8. The Rise of the Indian-Origin CEO

by Snigdha Sur

A wave of Indian CEOs has the world buzzing. Is there more to it than just a demographic shift? And have they made a difference?

CEOs outperform
Indian-origin CEOs have outperformed the Nasdaq (The Juggernaut)

A couple of weeks ago, IBM announced that Arvind Krishna would be succeeding Ginni Rometty as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Soon after, the We Company — the parent company of WeWork — announced that it had finally ended its search for a CEO and named Sandeep Mathrani to the post. Brown twitter was aflutter: was it the rise of the Indian CEO?

I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. First, is the number of Indian CEOs truly remarkable? Second, who are these Indian CEOs exactly and what drove their rise to the top? And third, did Indian CEOs help create value at the companies they ran?

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9. The American Dosa

by Priya Krishna

In marketing the dosa in the U.S., dosa makers are figuring out how to balance tradition with commercial success.

revival art of dosa masala dosa wrap
The masala dosa (Art of Dosa)

When Ravi Nagubadi was living in Chicago, one of the foods he craved most was dosa — the paper-thin, delightfully tangy, shatteringly-crisp-on-the-outside and plush-on-the-inside staple meal of his childhood. His mother, who is from Andhra Pradesh, made them often for him. One day he decided to ask his mom to teach him the technique, and soon, he had gotten good enough that he decided to start a dosa pop-up.

He first sold his dosas at Veggie Fest, the largest vegetarian festival in Chicago, in 2011. By the 2017 Veggie Fest, “we were serving 3,000 dosas in two days,” he told me. “Most of the people standing in a 100-person line for dosas were not Indians.” He realized there was something here. “We could see then [that] dosa was going to be a big trend,” he said. “They could definitely become mainstream food.”

Now, he runs Art of Dosa as a recently opened food stall at Chicago’s Revival Food Hall, where he serves not just the classics — like the potato-filled masala dosa — but also dosa filled with ramen, kimchi slaw, and ice cream.

“It’s a whole new cuisine,” he explained, proudly.

Many dishes have been subject to adaptation in America. But the dosa is uniquely well suited to becoming popular right now — it’s visually pleasing; it’s malleable and can be naturally gluten-free, vegan, or even low carb; it can be made at streetside carts or in fine-dining restaurants. It’s often (and somewhat annoyingly) referred to as a crepe — but that also goes to show that Americans already have a frame of reference for the dish as a blank canvas for myriad fillings. But as natural as this localization may be within the American context, there’s also an inherent risk.

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10. How a Cult-turned-Corporation Hijacked American Sikhism

by Michaela Stone Cross

A Punjabi conman created the “Kundalini Yoga” brand and turned a 550-year-old religion into a commodity that centered whiteness.

gurujagat bhajan
Guru Jagat, a celebrity yoga teacher who worked under Yogi Bhajan. (3HO)

Harjit Kaur (name changed for their protection), the daughter of Punjabi Sikh immigrants, was pregnant with her first child when she decided to take a Kundalini Yoga prenatal class. She ended up enjoying her class more than expected and ended up paying $3,500 to attend a workshop.

“It was an awful experience,” said Kaur. “There’s this weekend where they teach everyone about ‘Sikhism.’ The trainer had a trash bag full of dirty rags and had people tie the rags on their heads to crown themselves.” Her classmates repeated appropriated Sikh terms and took selfies in their turbans. One trainer even imitated an Indian accent to teach the class. Kaur was the only Brown woman in the room.

Kundalini Yoga, as promoted by the Kundalini Research Institute, is a modern yoga practice trademarked by the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation (SSS). If that name sounds Indian, it’s not — SSS is a multi-billion dollar American nonprofit, commonly called by its oldest division 3HO. Yogi Tea, SikhNet, and Akal Security are among the several subsidiaries of the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation.

Yogi Bhajan, a conman-turned-guru, started 3HO, which stands for “Healthy, Happy and Holy Organization,” in 1970. A former customs inspector at the New Delhi airport, Bhajan capitalized on hippie culture during the 1960s and 1970s by convincing his white followers that he was a famous Indian yogi. In many ways, Bhajan was the quintessential phony guru: promising his followers ancient Eastern wisdom and a higher level of consciousness, while exploiting them for money, power, and sex.

But one thing made 3HO very different from the average cult: 3HO latched onto Sikhism — also known as Sikhi — and thus attained a level of legitimacy that New Age movements like the Hare Krishnas never got.

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11. What’s in a Name?

by Parth Vohra

For many South Asian Americans, choosing baby names is about balancing both South Asian and American heritage.

baby names
Illustration by Abhilasha Baddha for the Juggernaut

Gaganpreet Kaur-Sharma signs off as “Gia.” Nalini Berry Corcy introduces herself as “Nelanie” — because it rhymes with Melanie. Nafisa Rahman responds to any pronunciation of her name, or unrelated monikers like “Nikki” — she began protesting only recently. And whenever Roshni Patel orders at Starbucks, she begins spelling it right after she says her name: “Roshni, r, o, s,...”

Like all parents, South Asian Americans worry about what to name their kids — names can influence everything in a child's trajectory — from careers, to landing a job, to whom one marries — but South Asian immigrants have the additional stress of figuring out how these names will be pronounced. And unlike Chinese Americans — the largest Asian American group — who are more likely to give their kids both Chinese and English names (partly because pronouncing Chinese names correctly involves knowing as many as four to nine tones), South Asian families often have just one name to express their child’s identity.

The question becomes: stick to your roots (Kamala, Hardik), go full American (Lily, Mindy), or take a hybrid path (Nina, Neil, Anika, Maya, Alisha, Jay)?

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12. The Evolution of Padma Lakshmi

by Snigdha Sur

Her latest show “Taste the Nation” is just the culmination of who she’s always been: food writer, history nerd, and steward of culture.

Padma Lakshmi GIF
Padma Lakshmi (Shyama Golden for The Juggernaut)

When I was young, I would rush home to watch Food Network. First, it would be Gale Gand, who would make delectable desserts in a show called Sweet Dreams. But once a week, after that, it would be Padma Lakshmi, who’d make warm Indian rice pudding or saffron and preserved lemon-scented shrimp rice pilaf for a show called Melting Pot: Padma’s Passport. It was so strange and exciting to see someone like me up there on the national stage. The year was 2001.

By the end of the year, most Americans would know what Afghanistan and Al Qaeda were. They’d be angry at Brown people that didn’t look like them. In some ways, not much has changed in the intervening years. But more and more people know of Lakshmi.

Since 2001, Lakshmi has gone on to star in a Bollywood film, write a memoir, host a special for Planet Food where she traveled the world, serve as a judge for Bravo’s Top Chef, have a child, write a searing op-ed in the New York Times, show us how to eat tacos gracefully, and now, this: a 10-episode Hulu series, Taste the Nation, which aims to dismantle that age-old trope: who gets to decide who or what is American?

We’ve grown up with Lakshmi, who has seemingly grown up, too, around us. The America we know, too, has changed (“now, [there are] so many Indian stores and vegetables,” her mother Vijaya says in an episode). But what if Taste the Nation has been the essence of Lakshmi all along, finally bursting forth in a show that is all hers, one where we — finally — can see her in all her authenticity?

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13. How Skin Whitening Became a $23 Billion Industry

by Anna Purna Kambhampaty

With persistent colorism and the rise of consumerism, the idea of fair skin manifested as a product you could buy.

Fair and Lovely
Fair & Lovely ad excerpt (Fair & Lovely)

“Wherever you live, whatever your circumstances, NO ONE deserves to die, especially at the hands of another because of their skin color,” Priyanka Chopra Jonas wrote in an Instagram caption on May 29 about the murder of George Floyd. Despite its intent, the post triggered a storm of more than 18,000 comments, many of them angry.

“You talk about skin color? Seriously? What about the skin-lightening products you promote? If no one should die because of their skin color, why are you promoting the lightening of it?” one user commented. Another wrote, “Thanks for speaking out for Black lives. But, maybe also stop supporting a skin-bleaching cream, which promotes anti-Blackness.”

Chopra Jonas hasn’t been the only film star blasted in the wake of recent Black Lives Matter protests; a Twitter thread with over 41,000 likes paired the anti-racism posts of several other actors — including Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone — alongside their advertisements for skin-lightening products from brands such as Garnier and Pond’s.

With persistent colorism and the rise of consumerism, it’s no surprise that the idea of fair skin started to manifest in the form of a product you could buy — even beyond South Asia.

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14. "Not Indian Enough"

by Sabrina Malhi

Despite maintaining their Indian traditions for over a hundred years, Indo-Caribbeans still grapple with defending their identity.

1280px-East Indian Coolies in Trinidad - Project Gutenberg eText 16035
"East Indian Coolies in Trinidad"

"Guyana? Is that in Africa?" I was asked the same question time and time again. When I would tell people where my parents were born, no one knew where Guyana — a South American country with a Caribbean identity — was, much less understood the term Indo-Caribbean.

For me, it was an isolating experience, especially growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood. In middle school, when I finally saw a few brown kids, I thought it would be easier. Instead, when my best friend from high school, who was born in Kerala, told me, "oh, but you're not even Indian," it felt like a ding. Even among brown people, I would find myself having to explain why I looked Indian but why my parents weren’t born there or didn’t speak Hindi.

If I wasn’t Indian, then what was I? I celebrate Indian traditions. I wear saris, lehengas, and salwar kameez to religious events. Every Saturday, my family and I would watch Bollywood movies. I am a practicing Hindu. My grandparents speak Bhojpuri. My dad had taken Sunday school Hindi lessons. And my parents told us we were Indian. So why did my subcontinental peers tell me otherwise?

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15. Anti-Blackness Goes Back To Ancient Times

by Sabrina Malhi

Thinly veiled racism is still prevalent in the South Asian community today, but its history dates back centuries.

Painting of Krishna
Painting of Krishna (The Yorck Project)

The ancient Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, describes Draupadi, one of the most well-known female figures, as a “dark beauty.” Growing up, she hated her dark skin color, but Krishna tells her that the darkness of her skin — which is described as syama (or blue-black) — was auspicious and a color used to represent the divine.

In Islam, Prophet Mohammed’s most loyal companion, Bilal ibn Rabah, is said to have been despised by the Prophet’s tribe due to his dark complexion, because he was the “son of a slave.” These ideations surrounding race and identity have been a key point of discussion amid today’s climate.

Since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, anger flowed across the nation, as communities came together to protest in solidarity. South Asians have also stridently voiced their disdain of the systemic oppression against black people in America.

Yet, the South Asian community has also been part of a long history of casteism, colorism, and racism — traced back to ancient times. But others argue this shouldn’t be an excuse to confront racism today.

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