Wakandan in Whitetopia

I tagged along with an old friend of mine to support his school friend, Consensus, who is a “Physics Rapper.”

What shocks me is that in this fairly large auditorium (and quite full; we’re sitting midway); my friend and I are the only Wakandans.

He’s a real-life Suri, he’s Afro-Caribbean by ethnic origin and graduated with a first in Astrophysics from one of Britain’s top universities years ago.

I can spot a couple of Asians in audience but the spectacle reminds me of “wokifying” a lily-white research audience by letting them partake in ethnic culture.

I’m not an activist, I’m far too bourgeois for that. But tonight just got my goat; we talk about diversity but events like this just go to show that WASP hegemony isn’t really under threat.

ZachPoints: Continue reading “Wakandan in Whitetopia”

“Liberals, sadly” by Ramachandra Guha

I’m supposed to be on a self-imposed break from BP, but I came across this article by Ramachandra Guha, one of India’s most respected historians, published in today’s Indian Express.  Though I don’t agree with everything in the article (he very casually rejects an independent Kashmir, succumbing to standard Indian nationalism), there is one paragraph which is worth quoting:

I detest Hindutva majoritarianism as much as Mander does. The persecution and stigmatisation of Muslims by groups and leaders allied to the ruling BJP regime is deeply worrying. Because Hindus are in an overwhelming majority in India, their communalism is far more dangerous than Muslim communalism. At the same time, one should recognise that discrimination by caste and especially gender is pervasive among Muslims too. And regardless of their own personal faith, or lack thereof, liberals must consistently and continually uphold the values of freedom and equality. They must promote the interests of the individual against that of the community, and seek to base public policies on reason and rationality rather than on scripture. In this struggle, liberals must have the courage to take on both Hindu and Muslim communalists. To quote Dalwai one last time, the “real conflict in India today is between all types of obscurantism, dogmatism, revivalism, and traditionalism on one side and modern liberalism on the other”.

To me, this seems a sensible position. I would like to think that South Asian liberals (used loosely) can agree that majoritarianism is bad. Majoritarianism in India takes the form of Hindutva and people like Modi and Yogi.  In Pakistan, it takes the form of Islamism, either of the “soft” or “hard” variety.  For minorities in either country, this is no fun. Pakistan’s Hindus are Pakistani and should not be required to prove their loyalty to the State (see the essay I posted on “In search of Diwali in Lahore). Similarly, India’s Muslims are not “Pakistanis” and referring to them as such is obnoxious. There are politicians who do this and who refer to Muslim-dominated neighborhoods as “Little Pakistan”. There was also that remark during one of the earlier elections that “If we lose, they will burst firecrackers in Pakistan”. As a Pakistani, let me just say that no one in the country is super concerned about legislative elections in Bihar.

Feel free to discuss. Let’s try to keep the tone civil. I apologize again for my own contribution to taking offense easily.

P.S. I would personally not describe myself as a “liberal”.  I feel I am a moderate (though I do lean left of center). Conservatives have some good points regarding the importance of the family and of social institutions generally. It is fundamentalists who are the problem.


Guha’s whole Op-Ed can be found here:

Liberals, sadly

And the piece he is responding to is here:

Sonia, sadly


Pakistan, communists and a stained dawn

Abdul Majeed Abid

Yeh fasal umeedon ki hamdam,

Iss baar bhi ghaarat jaye gi,

Sab mehnat subhon shaamon ki,

Ab kay bhi akaarat jaye gi

(This crop of aspirations

will be ruined once again,

the toil of day and night

will be wasted another time.)

(Faiz, Montgomery Jail, 1955)

The view from jail

The year 2007 was eventful in Pakistan’s recent history. Political upheaval coupled with a rise in terrorism and a lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the judiciary gripped the country for most of the year. Musharraf, the military dictator, had forcibly removed the Chief Justice of Pakistan — sparking a movement led by lawyers across the country. Amidst all this kerfuffle arose a new band called ‘Laal’ with their song ‘Umeed e Seher’ (Hope for a new Dawn). The song became a sort of anthem for the lawyers’ movement alongside slogans against military dictatorship. The song was based on a poem written by Pakistan’s foremost progressive poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and the band consisted of young academics who openly declared themselves Marxists. One of the band members was the General Secretary of a Communist Party in Pakistan. A communist party in Pakistan? That seems like an oxymoron, does it not?

Continue reading “Pakistan, communists and a stained dawn”

Bangladesh’s abiding love for the Taj Mahal should be a lesson for the new Mughal hating India

By Hugo Ribadeau Dumas on Scroll.in

Across the border, in Pakistan, the Taj has been at the centre of recurrent debates related to national identity. A few individuals who believe that the quintessence of Islamic architecture is represented in Nur Jahan’s mausoleum have suggested that India is not worthy of harbouring such splendour and that the people of Pakistan, as the natural inheritors of the Mughal Empire, could legitimately seek moral ownership over the Taj.

Apart from being historically questionable, this Pakistani-centric interpretation of cultural heritage is somewhat insulting to Bangladesh. East Bengal was also an important part of the Mughal Empire. In 1608, Dhaka – then known as Jahangirnagar – became the capital of the province of Bengal while Calcutta was nothing but a second-range town. Which is also why remnants of Mughal architecture are still visible in Bangladesh – two famous examples are Dhaka’s Lalbagh Fort and Sat Gambuj Mosque. Yet, on the whole, Mughal vestiges are scarce and in decrepit condition.

Given this relative vacuum, it could be speculated that honouring the beauty of the Taj Mahal (or at least trying to) may be a way for Bangladeshis to celebrate the role they played in the formidable Mughal saga. Besides, apart from a mere cultural dimension, the genuine Taj Mahal also has an evident religious connotation. Not only was it built by Muslim rulers, but its premises are still used to perform the namaz.

However, in reality, the interest of Bangladeshis in the monument seems largely irreligious and deprived of ideology. For instance, when asked why on earth the People’s Republic of Bangladesh would use the Taj Mahal to customise some of its official mugs, a senior official and proud owner of the item proposed a rather straightforward explanation – “Maybe simply because it looks nice?”

Note: The writer says that the Taj is Nur Jahan’s mausoleum. This is historically incorrect. It is actually Mumtaz Mahal’s mausoleum, built for her by her husband, Shah Jahan.

The whole article can be read here:



In Search of Diwali in Lahore

So since I have been accused of being some kind of “soft Islamist” or “anti-Hindu” (when all I really said was that I find the  Ramayana to not be very good literature), I am cross-posting this essay from The South Asian Idea.  For the record, I didn’t write this essay, but I was involved in the effort to celebrate Diwali at LUMS (something that the real “soft Islamists” at the university were not super happy about).   On a side note, I find myself in a very interesting position where I am too “anti-Hindu” for the Indians and too “pro-Hindu” for Pakistanis.  I’m like the dhobi ka kutta…

In any case, after this post, I will not be engaging in any further discussion on Hindu related matters.  I would also appreciate that the Hindu nationalists on this blog refrain from commenting on my posts. Thanks.

In Search of Diwali in Lahore

Diwali was on our minds. We were tossing around ideas on how to celebrate the first ever festival of lights on the campus of the Lahore University of Management Sciences. For some, it was too radical a proposition, for others something that just had to be done. It was in that context that a participant produced a newspaper clipping claiming there were only about 50 Hindus in Lahore and that some of them had celebrated Diwali at a private location for fear of being attacked.

“That’s just not true,” said a member of the team indignantly adjusting her hijab. Then and there, it was decided to locate a public celebration of Diwali in the city and to go ahead with our own event. The evening light was fading; the timing was right for lamps to be lit if they were going to be lit anywhere. A few phone calls identified three mandirs that might offer what we were looking for – in Model Town, on Ravi Road, and at Neela Gumbad, the latter two in some proximity to each other. We decided to head in their direction to maximize our chances.

Our guide suggested we take a rickshaw to the Ghazi Station on the Metrobus and ride it to Bhati Gate in the old city. There we were to ask for directions to either one of the two mandirs. We did as told and were informed with much confidence that there was a mandir close by and another some distance further off. Delighted, we boarded a rickshaw for the nearer one and were soon dropped off at the entrance to the lane headed towards the Badshahi mosque with a gesture that our destination was in the general direction. Having been there a number of times before, we all concluded simultaneously that the rickshaw driver had mistaken a gurdwara for a mandir.

Disappointed but undeterred, we engaged another rickshaw with instructions to take us to the other location that was now even further away. Much turning and twisting later, we were asked to disembark in front of a mandir that was in fact a church – the signboard said so quite plainly. We realized that the popular culture had erased the distinctions between mandirs, gurdwaras and girjas in Lahore.

Nonetheless, we were at Neela Gumbud and if there were a mandir there, we were determined to find it. Our best bet appeared to be a sleepy policeman with gun across his lap guarding the entrance to a narrow street. Sure enough he knew the location to a mandir and pointed us deeper into the lane while eyeing us with some suspicion.

The policeman, whose specific duty must have been to guard places of worship, turned out to be right. We found ourselves in front of a nondescript red gate which announced the entrance to the mandir. Another policeman frisked us and without much more hassle, we were past the gate.

Inside, Diwali was in full swing. Our protracted search had made us miss the puja but we were in time for the fireworks, the prasad and the music. There were certainly many more than 50 people in the compound and none of them looked afraid. Ominous, gun-toting policemen were stationed on adjacent roofs but that did not appear to cast any kind of shadow on the festivities.

To read the rest of the essay go here:

In Search of Diwali in Lahore


Indian Diplomats in Pakistan harassed

New Delhi: Some Indian High Commission officials out for shopping in Islamabad’s main business district were aggressively followed and abuses hurled at them, the Foreign Ministry complained to the Pakistan government today. 

This is the second incident of Indian diplomats being intimidated and harassed over the last three days, Foreign Ministry sources said in New Delhi.

An Indian diplomat and his family on their way to a restaurant in Pakistan were chased by two men on a motorbike on Thursday this week, hours after India had called “harassment the new normal for Indian High Commission personnel in Islamabad”.

Pakistan: Land of the Impure Continue reading “Indian Diplomats in Pakistan harassed”

Shocking Sexism towards Kareena Kapoor

My wife alerted me to this shocking 20 second clip:

Such an extraordinarily offensive question by Rajdeep Sardesai. He basically asks Kareena if she’s educated and whether she was intimidated in joining the Pataudi family, who apparently are Rhode Scholars & Oxford. A few obvious observations:

(1) I was at the memorial conference for Pataudi Snr in London a few years ago. The handlers had to ask the press not to focus on Kareena, who was there with Saif & Sharmilla. She’s like the Ash of the Bacchan family, her star eclipses the family she’s married into entirely (that’s why Amitabh omits her quite obviously and Shweta/Ash have a hate-hate relationship).

Where is Ash in this tribute? Continue reading “Shocking Sexism towards Kareena Kapoor”

Happy Navreh

Navreh poshteh saarniy.

New year greetings everyone.

Navreh (K. contraction of “nav varih” < Skt. nava varSa, i.e. new year) celebrates the onset of Spring (Vernal Equinox) and coincides with similar themed festivals (in the Lunar calendar) throughout India – Cheti Chand in Sindh, Ugadi in Karnataka and S India, Gudi padva in Maharashtra and Konkan, Cheiraoba in Manipur etc.

Our tradition is to fill a plate with 7-8 different items (on a bed of rice) symbolizing good fortune, good food and good education and cook lamb meat balls (matshh) for lunch/dinner. Though I cut corners there and made them with venison instead – healthier 🙂

Some Pandits fast during this period too. Though I really find that a little pointless in a festival celebrating nature’s bounties 😉

“Ranjha Ranjha Kardi Main” by Javed Bashir and Akbar Ali

I recently used this in my course as an example of Baba Bulleh Shah’s poetry. Here is a clip of Javed Bashir and Akbar Ali, two young Pakistani singers of Hindustani music, performing the Kafi “Ranjha Ranjha Kardi Main” on an Indian Punjabi TV show.  Note the extensive improvisations they do in what is essentially a simple melody. This shows the extent of their classical riaz.  

Javed and Akbar are the nephews of Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan, one of Pakistan’s most renowned Hindustani classical singers, and a follower of the Sham Chaurasi gharana.

The English translation of the Punjabi is as follows:

Repeating the name of Ranjha
I have become Ranjha myself.
O call me ye all “Dhido-Ranjha,”
let no one call me Heer .
Ranjha is in me, I am in Ranjha,
no other thought exists in my mind.
I am not, He alone is.
He alone is amusing himself.

Here is a write-up on Akbar Ali:



And here is another Kafi using the “Heer Ranjha” story “Main Naee Jana Kherain Day Naal”, when Heer tells her mother she is not going to go to her new in-laws, the Kheras.