Maura Moynihan in the News

New York Times, August 31, 2003

Stories By Maura Moynihan.

ReganBooks/HarperCollins, paper, $13.95.

MAURA Moynihan has an unlikely resume: singer-songwriter, fashion designer, actor, comedian and refugee consultant in India and Nepal. (She is also Daniel Patrick Moynihan's daughter). Judging by her first book, however, keen observation is perhaps Moynihan's truest gift. The six stories in ''Yoga Hotel'' cast a witty, unsentimental eye on the complex transactions between East and West. For every mystically minded American eager to penetrate the subcontinent's heart, Moynihan gives us an Indian maneuvering for a ticket out. What makes for ''A Good Job in Delhi,'' for instance, is access. ''Everyone knew that the point of working for a foreigner was to procure a passage to the West,'' thinks Hari, who helps his English boss juggle girlfriends in between tending bar and polishing the silver. Elsewhere, a homely embassy employee falls for a married Indian man, only to realize he's in it for her power to grant visas. The rich Delhians of ''Paying Guest'' use a beautiful American music student as currency in their status wars, and are indignant to find she's more interested in dating Bollywood stars: ''You know these foreign types, you can't be friends with them. They're always using us for something, not just lodging. They come here with their India fantasy; they don't think any of it is real.'' Characters both Indian and Western see one another chiefly in terms of their own secret desires; only in a pair of stories about religious seekers does the veil lift. The novella-length ''Masterji'' paints its wealthy, bored pilgrims in overbroad strokes, but it also describes moments of ecstatic revelation in startlingly immediate language.


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New York Times, July 1, 2001

A Little Bit of the East, on Fifth

HIGH above Fifth Avenue in a duplex apartment brimming with Matisses, Picassos and presidential autographs, the talk turned to saris. Can Western women get away with traditional Indian garb and not look as if they're wearing a bedspread?
__ "The only way is if we're in another country, and then at a party," said Sarah Giles, the design editor at Harper's Bazaar. "Bindis are fine, but not saris. We don't know how to walk in them."
__ A woman with a tiny diamond-shaped bindi dotting the space between her blue eyes nodded.
__ "That's true," said the woman, Maura Moynihan, who in addition to the bindi was swathed in a diaphanous gold sheath. "And Indian women say the most terrible things about you under their breath." She broke into a flawless Hindi accent. "Look at that foreigner, how ridiculous she looks in that! "
__ Maura Moynihan's latest bohemian incarnation is as a dressmaker, in Kathmandu.
__ "A sari is the Indian babe's fashion trump card," said Ms. Moynihan, who, throughout, swathed herself in various garments from her collection. "They're very sexy. But not for Westerners."
__ Ms. Giles turned to her and said, "You can wear them, but the rest of us look idiotic."
__ Ms. Moynihan, who is 43, has been wearing saris since the early 1970's, when her father, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was ambassador to India. They lived in New Delhi. Since 1999, Ms. Moynihan's adopted home has been Katmandu, Nepal, where she founded a company called Choli, the Hindi word for the shirt worn beneath the sari.
__ On Wedn6sday, she held a sample sale at the Upper East Side home of Sharyn Mann, whose husband, Steve, is the former finance chairman of the Moynihan for Senate committee. "She used to lend me clothes for Dad's fund-raisers," Ms. Moynihan said. "Now she's buying mine."
__ Ms. Mann, a co-founder of the Food Allergy Initiative, a nonprofit charity, purchased two jackets and a pair of pants. " I love that her clothes come from a different era," she said. "You get really tired of designer clothes. This has meaning."
__ Over a four-and-a-half-hour stretch, about 20 customers zipped in and out, while a uniformed butler passed around silver platters of pirogis (he called them Nepalese dumplings), fresh asparagus and lemonade in crystal glasses. Many of the customers were friends Ms. Moynihan knew through people who traveled in her father's circles.
__ She was inspired to import ethnic Indian clothing, she said, because she thinks Western women could benefit from the Eastern addition to their wardrobes.
"In Asia, women are allowed to age gracefully," she said. "They attain more status as they get older. Not here. Asian women have uniforms, but American women don't. I'm trying to bring the uniform to American women. Besides, I am so sick of the little black cocktail dress. I could die of boredom."
__ Black dresses aside, Ms. Moynihan's life has been anything but boring. For the past 28 years, she has been ricocheting between Asia, Washington and New York, where she stays with friends. Her latest visit has been extended because of the turmoil after the massacre of most of the members of Nepal's royal family on June 1. Fearful of going back to chaos, Ms. Moynihan rescheduled her departure from about three weeks ago to August.
__ An accomplished bohemian, Ms. Moynihan has a long resume of artistic gigs and social causes. She published a short story collection, did a stint on "Saturday Night Live" in the early 1980's, released two CD's, worked at the Holocaust Museum in Washington and was a celebrated friend of Andy Warhol. "He didn't quite get my love for the slums of India," she said. "If I could be backstage at Xenon with Keith Richards, why would I go to India?"
__ Over the last few years, in Katmandu, she worked in Tibetan refugee camps with Refugees International. Last year, she started Choli, and says that one of the appeals of having a business in Nepal is employing the local people.
__ "After a certain point, you need to provide jobs and not just wrap Band-Aids," said Ms. Moynihan, who has 15 people working for her. She says that typically a Nepalese school-teacher makes the equivalent of $40 a month, and that by paying her workers by the garment, she enables them to make as much as $60 a month.
__ "They need work," Ms. Moynihan said, "especially now with the tragedy. Business is on hold. Tourism has dropped."
__ Ms. Moynihan transforms luminous antique fabrics embroidered with beads, brocade and finely spun gold and silver thread into blouses, dresses, pants and the coats that gained popularity as Nehru jackets but are known as sherwanis in India (Joseph's technicolor dreamcoat meets Sergeant Pepper). Her clothes are now sold at Portantina, on Madison Avenue.
__ "Her fashions are timeless," said Barbara Bergreen, the owner of Portantina. "They override trends while managing to look trendy."
__ As Ms. Moynihan elaborated on each piece of clothing, the women rifling through the racks of brightly colored garments included Vera Blinken, wife of Donald Blinken, the former ambassador to Hungary, and Sheila W. Schwartz, whose husband, Richard J. Schwartz, is the chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts. Lynn Forester, founder and co-chairwoman of FirstMark Communications, sent her assistant, who picked out - with Ms. Moynihan's help - a pale blue blouse and gold evening jacket for her boss.
__ "The clothes are wonderful," said Ms. Schwartz, as she purchased a gauzy, three-quarter-length evening jacket ($400) and rushed off to a benefit at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
__ Pam Putney, an international public health worker, modeled an electric-blue coat and announced, "Blue is the color of communication, the throat chakra." She bought it for $400.
__ Is seems axiomatic that all well-heeled, well-connected people must at some point travel to India and return with inspired fashions. Certainly, India has long been a source of fascination for spiritually and stylistically bereft Westerners, from the Beatles and Mia Farrow to Madonna, not to mention all those caught up in the recent craze for pashmina shawls and Sun Salutation.
__ Ms. Moynihan sat down on a multi-colored tapestry. "I know, everybody has a line," she said, laughing. But she sees herself differently, disregarding people who assume she leads a dilettante's privileged existence. "I've never used my connections to get into the boardrooms of Wall Street or Hollywood but into the slums of Katmandu," she said.
__ Choli is a for-profit business, and at the sample sale Ms. Moynihan pulled in a few thousand dollars, but she says that her company is not just about money.
__ "Doing design in Nepal is not the easiest thing\240 in the world," she said. "It would be much easier sitting in Manhattan. Working in the third world is totally unpredictable. The tragedy now is a case in point. But I have to do it, I wouldn't be my father's daughter if I didn't."

(c) New York Times


The Washington Post, May 7, 2002

The Terror In Nepal

SINCE 1996, when Maoist rebels began their assault on the fledgling democracy in Nepal, some 3,000 Nepalis have been murdered. Rebels now control more than half the countryside. An impoverished rural populace is daily terrorized by gang rapes, abductions, mutilations and beheadings.
__ Last June Nepal's King Bhirendra and members of his family were massacred during a palace dinner. The family killings left the nation in a state of shock, which, predictably, emboldened the Maoists to penetrate the Katmandu Valley, and the war has been raging since. Even as Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba prepared to meet here today with President Bush, the government in the past few days has been carrying out a major offensive that it claims has taken the lives of several hundred rebels.
__ Although no foreigners have been harmed in Nepal's turmoil, tourism -- the country's primary source of foreign exchange -- has been crippled, leaving millions of Nepalis without employment.
__ For years Nepal has been ignored by journalists and policymakers, earning only occasional headlines when intrepid mountaineers are stranded on Everest. But the collapse of law and order has perilous consequences for the whole of South Asia. Since Mao Zedong's annexation of the Tibetan plateau in 1951, Nepal has been one of the most critical and effective buffer states in Asia, poised between the world's two most populous nations, Communist China and democratic India.
__ What do the Maoists want? Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, convener of the United Revolutionary People's Council of Nepal, recently issued this statement: "By ideological persuasion, we are for the ultimate withering away of all national boundaries and the creation of a classless and stateless global community, to smash the moribund parasitic classes of the arch-reactionary Shah-Rana family and their close courtiers." One would think this sort of Stalinoid cant had long ago been rendered obsolete, but the grimly familiar 20th century phenomenon of socialist zealots who justify a reformist agenda with a rigid ideology -- and enforce it with psychotic brutality -- is spreading like a virus through this fragile Himalayan nation, raising a threat to the delicate regional balance of power.
__ A nation of radically diverse ethnic groups, Nepal has a remarkable tradition of cultural and religious tolerance. For four decades it has granted sanctuary and citizenship to refugees from Tibet and has preserved fragments of many ancient Himalayan civilizations. In 1990 the late King Bhirendra restrained the army and welcomed a democratic revolution, unlike his neighbor Deng Xiaopeng. Yet Nepal receives little recognition, or support, for these achievements.
__ In the past decade, while struggling to restructure a medieval feudal social order with democratic institutions, Nepal has seen its population soar to 25 million (about 6 million more than Australia) without a parallel growth in education and jobs. A young, disenfranchised populace is vulnerable to crime, sex trafficking, smuggling and international terrorist operations.
__ In December 1999 an Indian Airlines flight originating in Katmandu was hijacked to Kandahar in Afghanistan. The plane was returned to New Delhi after the release of several terrorists in Indian custody, including Omar Sheik, who recently took credit for the abduction and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl. Many Katmandu residents fear that if the Maoist insurgency goes unchecked, Nepal could become a base for larger terrorist networks operating throughout Asia.
__ On Feb. 20, one week after 200 people were slaughtered by Maoists in western Nepal, Prime Minister Deuba stated: "I appeal to the international community to give us your support at this time of crisis. We announced our firm support for the U.S. coalition against terrorism from the moment the U.S. asked for that support. I cannot believe that the U.S. war against terrorism was meant for terrorism only in Afghanistan."
__ Investing in nation-building in Nepal at this critical hour would be a less costly measure than providing military assistance in the aftermath of future carnage.

The writer has worked with refugees in India and Nepal for many years.

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Masala.com, September 7, 2001

Music Mysticism , Funky Rock and Social Activism
Maura Moynihan‘s Yoga Hotel integrates classical Indian and Tibetan music with new age elements and a message of peace.

MAURA Moynihan’s remarkable journey has taken her from the privilege of being born the daughter of former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to higher education at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D. C. and Harvard where she also performed in numerous alternative rock groups (most notably the Velvetones) as lead vocalist, drummer, and go-go dancer. But perhaps the most significant event in her life was a pivotal trip to India with her father in 1973 when she was 15 and he was the US ambassador to India.
__ She later studied Sanskrit and Urdu in India, along with ghazals and Bharatanatyam dance, yoga and Buddhism. She also pursued painting with masters in India and Nepal, and particularly Hindu and Buddhist iconography in Dharamsala and in the Kathmandu Valley. After a successful career as an actress and comedian (she appeared in several movies and on TV and had her own stand-up comedy show), the striking performer gave it all up, without regrets, to help Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal.
__ Having immersed herself in all aspects of South Asia, then, Moynihan is no culture vulture in the manner of a Madonna, say. And while she may not be as pioneering as Madonna when it comes to being ahead of everyone else in terms of musical trends, her own brand of dance music, as demonstrated on her eclectic album Yoga Hotel, is just as listenable, more substantial (World peace through dance is its motto), and a whole lot warmer though not at all lacking in sex appeal.
__ The songs involve Moynihan’s life in South Asia including the spiritual aspects and were mostly written while walking the streets, visiting Buddhist temples, or even attending discos in India, Nepal, and Tibet. The divine lead track Vision of the Light seeks guidance from the Boudha Stupa in Nepal, and showcases Moynihan’s lovely, unaffected singing voice in an entrancing new age-y context. But next cut Khampa Boy, about the warriors of Eastern Tibet who saved the Dalai Lama by smuggling him into India years ago, takes on a lively, rhythm guitar-driven funkiness, with Moynihan sounding more like a seductive Debby Harry.
__ Next comes the title track, which is about a friend’s house in Nepal and features a fusion groove with its electric rock guitar parts flying above an Indian drum-Indian percussion and bordering on cute, but Moynihan brings such a sense of innocence and playfulness that she pulls it off.
__ Sexy Tsering also risk dismissal over its cuteness quotient, but Moynihan’s hip-hop whisperings again work because of her winsome vocal presence and the jazzy guitar track‘s subtle techno enhancements. Tell Me (How to Say It) offers a sort of Indian Go-Go in building upon the native Washington, D.C. funk/dance go-go style, so known to Moynihan’s chief collaborator on the album, the D.C.-based guitarist/vocalist/arranger/producer Wynne Paris.
__ Chakra Chant was inspired by Monihan’s visits to Pashupatinath, and is her most successful assimilation of Eastern and Western musical elements. Green Cards and Blue Jeans is again Blondie-esque, this time with more of a Caribbean calypso flavor. Take Me Home is more traditional ballad pop in its approach, while Five Days and How It Feels (Ode to Kathmandu) bear remnants of the alternative guitar rock of her formative music years.
__ But the album’s most emblematic track is Purify Me. A plaintive Chinese-sounding lament combining the Tibetan tanyen lute and flute with sisterly backup vocals resembling the Roches, the song is “a prayer for the pure land,” according to the lyric sheet, and pleads for Tibetan liberation. As such, it most fully integrates “Indian and Tibetan music and mysticism with funky rock and a sense of social activism,” which as cited in the CD booklet, is what Yoga Hotel is really all about.

(c) Masala.com

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The Daily News, August 2, 1996

India Has Maura To Give Thanks For

SEN. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s daughter has changed like a chameleon again.
__ Maura Moynihan is now a pop star -- in India. She has released "Chakra Chant" and "Injie Party" in the 650-million strong nation. And they have zoomed to the top of the charts.
__ Maura has been a comedian, a singer (Maura and the Mystics), a cable TV producer and, of all things, a gossip columnist.
__ During her divorce from Richard Avedon’s son, John, a follower of the Dalai Lama, rumors surfaced that she was dating George Stephanopoulos (she denied any liaison).
__ Word is she didn’t get much of a settlement. She did get custody of the couple’s son, who is staying with his father while mom is back in India, where she spent her youth when dad was ambassador there.
Sen. Moynihan’s office claimed to be unaware of Maura’s newfound success.

(c) The Daily News