Open Thread – 09/19/2020 – Brown Pundits

42 Comments

The comments are open(ish).

Finished India in the Persianate Age. This was a much more fluidly written book from Eaton than other stuff I’ve read from him, probably because the Mughal narrative “writes itself.” Recommended.

Probably will take reader advice and focus more on “primary sources” from now on. Though finding good translations is always an issue then…

Also, check out the podcast with Matt Yglesias. And another one with Anand Kadali on hunger in India.

0

America has been good to immigrants and we should be honest about who we are

84 Comments
Bangladeshi American teens preparing for NYC selective school admissions exam

Since there has been rather persistent confusion about my Unherd piece I will clear up a few things. I am rather tired of talking about it now, as I “said my piece”, but sometimes things need to be done.

First, for many months (years), friends of various backgrounds (brown and non-brown) have been speaking to me of the issue of very self-righteous South Asian American (Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi) “social justice warriors.” There’s nothing wrong as such being a social justice warrior and brown, but, the problem is that these individuals often accrue to themselves the full-weight of colonialism and centuries of oppression to add to their credibility and authority.  The reason I finally punched out the Unherd piece is that an Indian scientist who I am familiar with made a reference to trauma and oppression on Twitter. This resulted in many “likes” and praiseworthy comments. It was a vague and amorphous statement and could mean anything, but the response made it clear that most people took it to be that they were alluding to the weight of colonialism and racism.

The problem I had with this is I know that this individual, a Brahmin raised in India, is from a literally rich family. Rich enough to pay undergraduate American tuition for international students in full. And, rich enough to pay graduate school tuition when otherwise this person would have to take up a teaching assistantship. This is not a person who is well-off in the Indian context. They’re well off in the American context.

This is an extreme case. But it illustrates a more general problem. People who by dint of their brown skin claim to be, or allow people to believe they are, marginalized and oppressed. The vast majority of brown Americans can tell you stories of racial discrimination and prejudice. That is true. But are these experiences determinative in their lives? Does their race define and limit them in a deep and powerful manner?

I would argue not. Today the Americans of brown background are flourishing. Indian Americans in particular are socioeconomically advanced, and now, becoming culturally prominent. Just like their white upper-middle-class peer, Indian Americans are benefiting from the system, and flourishing within it. Their realized outcomes are very different from African and Latino Americans. Some of the same is also applicable to poorer newer ethnic groups, such as Bangladeshis, who begin much lower on the socioeconomic ladder but are placing their children into elite public schools like Stuyvesant.

Second, selective immigration from India has resulted in a very atypical Diaspora. Many who responded to my piece argue that selective immigration is the whole story, so why bring caste into it? Because the criteria used have skewed the India Amerian community in a way where it is not representative of India at all. I am personally not bothered by this. But again, when issues such as caste oppression come up in the USA, non-Indians may not realize when talking to Indian Americans that they will almost never interact with a Dalit, who are 15% of India’s population (one could argue that except for Gujarat the “Cow Belt” is also totally underrepresented due to the way immigration has worked). Many Brahmin Indian Americans I know are vociferously against caste (sincerely, and in their actions!). But to me, this is a laudable idealism, not something that comes out of historical brutality, because their ancestors were willing executors of the system. In this way, they are like upper-class white people who wish for a more egalitarian economic system. Their views are sincere, but it comes from idealism, not trauma.

As a brown person from Bangladesh people who knew where I was from would always make assumptions about my background, as Bangladesh was the byword for incredible poverty for the second half of the 20th century. Those that did not know my family was of professional background would ask naive questions, such as “did you grow up in a hut?” I found it amusing, but I did make it clear that I couldn’t personally speak to the poverty and deprivation which were such serious concerns for everyone about the country of my birth. In Bangladesh, I was a very privileged person. In my day to day life in the USA, this was irrelevant, but I wasn’t going to go around speaking with authority about how horrible grinding Third World poverty was. It was just in many ways just as abstract for me as it was for my white classmates. Honestly, if I did grow up in a hut I’d probably brag about it since it would make my Horatio Alger story so much more inspiring.

Overall, the point of the piece is that when you make identity so important to the content of someone’s arguments and the force of their views, it creates a massive incentive for individuals to cultivate and shade their identity to add credibility. Ergo, a Nigerian American whose family is wealthy from brutal oil extraction which results in human rights violations and crimes in their ancestral homeland will likely not expose this fact when castigating a middle-class white American about their “white skin privilege.”

Brown American should just accept what they are in the main: a relatively privileged people from whom America works, who have to deal with some incidents of racism in their lives.

9+

About Brahmin Privilege: Education, Brits and Chitpavans

20 Comments

This post is result of some comments in the Open thread in response to Razib’s piece in Unherd. While i agree with core of Razib’s argument & and some comments, i feel there isnt enough nuance about Brahmin privilege that comes out in discussion these days. Some assertions of comparing Brahmins to White slave-owners  are too simplistic and even terribly wrong. (I dont imply Razib or others on BP made those)

The problem with simplistic narrative of Brahmin “privilege” is that it focuses on caste as a privilege while not focusing on concrete privileges which are often correlated with Varna in India. Following are the salient privileges of Indian public life

  • WEALTH including Lands – Moderately correlated with caste but with some mismatch. Most Brahmins who had lands, lost them in the Land reforms of 20th century though. (even though one supports the land reforms in principle the confiscation of land cannot be brushed aside)
  • EDUCATION – highly correlated with caste ; Brahmins score considerably higher on educational parameters for centuries. This post focuses on Education as a historic and inherited privilege.
  • CONNECTIONS – related to politics – here ordinary Brahmins aren’t necessary up in the top percentile.
  • URBAN BACKGROUND – (more Brahmins/UC are urban dweller though some continue living in rural backgrounds).
  • GENDER.

This post focuses on Educational attainments of Brahmins (particularly Chitpavans) in Pune region. The quotes and tables are from a booklet A survey of the Chitpavan Community in the pre colonial state

For the British, Education was an instrument of efficient colonization as seen from the words of Sir Erskine Perry,  the Governor of Bombay Province subsequent to Lord Elphinstone. He maintained

“Only the higher castes should be educated because of the limited facilities, therefore only limited members could be educated. These higher castes through their natural influence would affect an elevation of mental and moral condition of the masses. Four groups were identified under this category of high castes the military and administrative class of Landowners, Jagirdars, Chieftains, petty nobility and feudatories, wealthy traders and other commercial men; government employees; and Brahmins and other
higher writer castes”.’

The Maratha empire employed a number of upper castes (Brahmins, Kayasthas and some Marathas) in positions of administration and accounting. On arrival, the Brits picked these up as administrators, teachers, clerks etc. The literacy of the males of these subcastes in Bombay presidency was extremely high. Chitapavan males in a Pune Taluka are reported to have 90% literacy in late 19th century as compared to 11.9% in average males. This extreme bias cannot be explained without the Peshwai & the privileges the Chitpavans enjoyed because of it. 

A variety of education institutes like Maharashtra education society, Deccan Education society started in Pune in the 19th century. Brahmins were the prime movers as well as the overwhelming beneficiaries of these institutions. Lets see a few examples:

Reports of the Poona Native Institution published from 1881 to 1933.

The data from Deccan Education society started by Tilak and Agarkar isnt much different. The report quotes

The annual report published in 1883 acknowledges the preponderence of brahmins amongst the students as well. “The characteristic feature of the school is that the largest number of boys belong to the higher and intelligent classes of the community.’When deposing before the Hunter Commission Annual Report of 1883,Deccan Education Society,Poona,1884 on Education, the representative of the society acknowledged that only 17 out of 582
students were nonbrahmin.

Lokmanya Tilak, the freedom fighter and founder of DES had this to say

Englishmen are and were averse to imparting any knowledge of a practical nature to subject races, they found that philosophy and theoretical science were  the safest subjects. It is hopeless to expect the artisan or the agriculturist to evince an interest in a form of education so far removed from his way of life, i.e is profession decided on the basis of caste for thousands of years. It is we think beyond the power of a dozen Educational Directors of the type of Mr. Lee Warner with all the encouragement by way of free studentships and scholarships which they can command, to infuse a love of western learning into the hearts of men who find themselves better off without knowing anything that our schools and colleges teach, than with it. If the brahmin under all kinds of difficulties strives to surpass his brethren of lower castes in intellectual attainments and tries to take up all the advantages and honours and emoluments to which these attainments qualify him, it is owing to the fact that the very traditions and obligations of his caste and the predispositions and capacities of his mind lead him in that direction. The very spirit of the caste system, the precarious conditions of life under a foreign rule, the indolent characteristic of the tropical world and the spirit of contentment infused into the heart of the Hindu by his religious faith all contribute towards the position of the Brahmin

My Two Cents:

Its fair to say that being born a Brahmin in India distinguishes you as a recipient of certain privileges. However we cant firmly gauge today how much those privileges

  • are the indirect result of ChaturVarna
  • are the result of amplification by the British (for their own colonial ends)
  • are direct result of active oppression of the subalterns
  • or something else entirely

While granting that these privileges exist and shape Indian life considerably, one mustn’t fall into the trap of seeing Brahmin privilege as the overwhelming or even the most consequential privilege of Indian society. Instances like the 1948 Anti Brahmin riots – typically underplayed in the Brahmin privilege narratives are still fresh in mind of thousands. Anti Brahmin rhetoric by political parties like NCP, DMK though not as viscous as rhetoric against some other communities is nonetheless non trivial.

There are and have been many other forces of nature and economy at work for centuries though it is fair to assume that these forces interacted with caste & varna.

 

0

Browncast: Shrikanth Krishnamachary, “Traditional Hindu”

7 Comments

Another Brownpundits Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify,  and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

In this episode Omar, Akshar and Mukunda talk to Srikanth Krishnamachary.  Krish is an active presence on Twitter at @shrikanth_krish and mostly tweets about Hinduism and Indian history, but has a variety of interests (his intro says he is   “a data scientist in financial services based out of New York City, whose interests include economics, political philosophy, Hinduism, American history, and cricket”). We asked him to define ImageHinduism and give us his opinion of what it was and what it is today. And of course, we asked him about caste. And we hope to have him come back in the future to touch on topics we did not get to today.

Krish also writes on various websites and some of his work can be seen at the following links:

swarajyamag.com/author/545613/ indiafacts.org/author/shrikan indictoday.com/author/shrikan firstpost.com/author/shrikan

1+

Some thoughts from the Pune – the Covid Hotspot

17 Comments

As many of you might know i live in Pune, which is currently the Covid capital of the world. I am not very inclined to writing personal experiences on blogs read by strangers, but here i am making an exception as i have felt the urge to share this experience for over a month.

Like everyone in the world, Covid has had terrible impact on life in Pune (and Maharashtra on whole) especially these last 2-3 months. India went into a harsh lock-down around March end and the lock-down continued in some form into the month of May. Things started getting loosened up by May end when Mumbai and Ahmedabad were the Covid hotspots in the country shortly followed by Delhi and Thane. But since July, its Pune that had held the pole position. We are yet to see 3 digit new cases per day since start of July with the average daily increase of cases being around 3000.

Graph courtesy @DeoSahil on Twitter

As seen since July end the case load in Pune Municipal corporation (Pune city) has plateaued at saturation level with no signs of going down. A mega facility to treat the rising Covid patients was opened in the city, but it has gotten very bad reviews with many citing negligence and lack of medical staff at the facility.  Link

COEP Jumbo Hospital

A Pune based journalist died  a few weeks ago after not medical treatment on time. This incidence sent panics waves across the city as a well connected person (journalist and lot of noise of social media) couldn’t get treatment on time, the condition of normal patients is much worse (viz getting treatment). Out of habit i keep checking the CSS board of available beds daily and on most instances the picture is similar to seen below. A daily small time spike in ventilator means generally means there have been more fatalities than admissions into ICU with ventilators.

Even though the Oxygen-less beds are 3005, there is extremely acute shortage of staff, hence the number is largely immaterial. The vacant oxygen enabled bed is 133, but even they are not well staffed and getting admission is anything but easy.

The test positivity rate has been consistently over 20% since July and at times has also touched 30% inspite of testing being scaled up significantly. Pune district has a population of 7 million and 250000 positive cases. But no one believes these numbers to be accurate as there is massive under-counting as found in the sero surveys. Even if one assumes a moderate 5,6 times more cases, Pune has almost 15-20% population infected (with the number being higher in core city). Why the quieter non Metro city of Pune has overtaken busier Mumbai and Delhi hasn’t been properly explored yet.

Every-time i have gone out to buy something or just for a bike/car ride, i have atleast seen 2 or 3 ambulances (at times even more). As of now I personally know atleast 50-100 people who have contracted Covid – including many close relatives and friends. A reasonably healthy 50 year old woman family friend of ours, was in ICU for 2 weeks including on ventilator for 2-3 days before getting out of hospital. She also suffered a stroke and it might take her months to make a recovery. A close friend of mine aged 30 and in reasonable health had a high fever for 15 days before getting admitted for low oxygen. This friend got Remdesivir and apparently that worked well for him. His fever subsided the next day and oxygen level was back up in a couple of days. His experience in hospital was harrowing, as the hospitals are extremely overworked. Over 20 people from my old society (where ~40 people live) have been infected including one fatality. Currently 2,3 people i know well are in ICU with news of their health coming infrequently. Even in the people who have recovered (including my in-laws), the recovery isn’t 100% even 2 months after the negative test. There are many instances of people getting admitted for some other issue and getting infected in hospitals with Covid and finally succumbing to Covid (not the original ailment). My wife tested positive a day after she delivered in early August with CT value 37.5 (not infectious according to experts), I tested 2 days later and was negative. Thankfully my wife had no symptoms whatsoever, but still the experience was extremely stressful. Adding to the misery, the hospital was seriously understaffed, leading to lot of chaos and bad health care inversely proportional to current health care costs.

I had personally guessed that cases will start falling around end of August given the high % infection in Pune, but they haven’t fallen yet. The Ganesh festival wasn’t celebrated publicly for the first time in 100+ years – yet people did visit each others houses for the festival. The resultant infections , with entire extended families getting infected in a matter of days resulted in a tall spike around start of September. For last two weeks not a day has passed by when i haven’t heard of some new cases in people i know on first name basis. All this while i continue to lead a very safe life with working from home & incomes unaffected.

From my own anecdotes in my experience, I can say see reasonable correlation between quantity of exposure and severity as suggested by Siddhartha Mukherjee. The thirty year old friend of mine spent half an hour talking to a man who was coughing intermittently (without masks & indoors). Typically the person from the family who gets the disease first (who typically catches it outside home) has had milder symptoms versus his/her family members who must be exposed to more viral load in Indian homes. Most other younger folks who have had moderate/severe disease in my experience had more exposure to viral loads. Masks seem to work very well in so far as they atleast seem to reduce the severity of disease. Personally i have tried researching on evidences of fomite transmission (as a significant mode)of any respiratory disease but evidence i saw is extremely tenuous. I cannot overstate the harm the whole Fomite transmission theory as the primary spread of disease has done. People have been fixated on cleaning surfaces and items, yet removing masks while talking to strangers. My current apartment has had EXTREMELY STUPID rules – like cleaning the entire premises every time we get a new patient (we have had over 20) while people continue visiting each others homes without masks.

Take everything i wrote in this paragraph with a grains of salt – as these are conjectures of a non biology/ scientific background layman.

Experts and laymen have been saying the peak (or is it the plateau) is truly in Pune for two months, but there has been neither a drop in number of deaths, cases nor in the Test Positivity rate. There is no attention in the media to suicides and other economy induced tragedies, here is a small statistic – 7 barbers had committed suicide in the Pune district in the month of June (i cant find a newspaper link to corroborate but am pretty sure about its veracity). From where I stand, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, I am just unable to gauge how far it is. Eventually the cases will fall before the vaccine is out and most cities in India should attain some level of herd immunity by Diwali, but the cost – both lives lost, lives affected and incomes crushed will be very high. What lies ahead life wise and livelihood wise, is anyone’s guess, but i fear social life as we knew it will no longer exist (atleast for a few years). Personally I dont know when i can comfortably stand close to another unknown human being without wearing a mask 🙁 .

4+

History beyond the screaming

30 Comments

Last night I realized I’m not going to weigh in on history discussions on Twitter if they pertain to the Indian subcontinent. Even people who I know are not 13-year old incels behave totally emotionally and engage in shitposting posturing constantly. It’s really impossible to get a signal out of the discussion.

Indians and Pakistanis seem so intensively invested in various topics that it is literally and seriously impossible to get value out of any exchange, the swell of stupidity and bad faith (on all sides!) is so intense. There is a reality out there. There is a true history. But this is not what most of you really care about it, is it?

For example, reading India in the Persianate Age: 1000–1765 gives a nuanced and fully textured picture in outlines of the subcontinental elite in the premodern period. It aligns in broad sketches with what I know about human psychology and history elsewhere. But attempting to bring nuance seems like a fool’s errand in most of these debates.

Understanding the history of the Indian subcontinent is rewarding to me because there are comments here on the general human condition. I will not turn away from that. But, I do need to reflect on whether that is best done in solitude rather than engaging with the world “out here.”

Note: I don’t mind or care too much if particular truths are leveraged in some ideological manner. Rather, my suggestion is ideological priors are doing all the sifting of which truths are correct or not.

3+

Revoking 13th Amendment in Sri Lanka and Elections in the US.

9 Comments

Abstract: A centralized govt in Sri Lanka is necessary maintain Law and order. Devolution of power to provinces may be stepping stone to de facto Federalism and a client Federal state to India. The cautionary example is the US and its separation of Federal and State powers. The separation of US and State power has lead to inconsistent implementation of law and order, including even minor issues, such as wearing of masks.

In 1987 under duress from India under Rajiv Gandhi, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was signed.  Part of  the accord was the Devolution of land, the police and financial powers to the Provinces.   This pretty much de facto  Federalism was incorporated as the 13th Amendment (13A) into the Sri Lankan  Constitution.

The main issue with de facto Federalism is that it might be either a stepping stone for separate North and East state and or a client state/province of India.  As if to prove that fear in February 2016, the Chief Minister of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, C.V. Wigneswaran sought India’s direct intervention in the complete implementation of the amendment.

There is a call from some of the minority Tamil population (12% of Total) to merge the North and East Provinces creating a province that would encompass 28.78% of Sri Lankas land area and 11.9% of the total population.  The minority Tamil population in this merged province would be 1,597,276 ( 987,692 + 609,584).   That is a 7% Tamil population of all of  Sri Lanka.   The two merged provinces have total population of 2,610,143 (1,058,762+1,551,381), making the Tamil minority 61%.

Land Area and Population North and East Provinces
Northern ProvinceLand Area 8,884 km2 (3,430 sq mi) (13.54% of total area),
Population 1,058,762 ((5.22% of total pop.)
Tamil Population: 987,692 (93.29%)
Eastern Province:Land: 9,996 km2 (3,859 sq mi) (15.24% of total area)
Population:
1,551,381 (7.66% of total pop)
Tamil Population: 609,584 (39.29%)


Cautionary Example: The US

In the US, excess Police Brutality on Black and Hispanics has resulted in protests,  some peaceful and some marred by violence and looting.  There is circumstantial evidence that Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests have been co-opted for political purposed.   CIA manual psychological regime change and Color revolution tactics are permeating into US politics.

Prominent opinion makers like David Brooks in a NY Times opinion piece advocates a color revolution if Trump wins. .

It turns out, amid the existential crisis, there really is a group of sober people who are militant about America, who can see reality unblinkered by the lens of partisanship, and who are finally compelled to organize.

If Trump claims a victory that is not rightly his, a few marches in the streets will not be an adequate response. There may have to be a sustained campaign of civic action, as in Hong Kong and Belarus, to rally the majority that wants to preserve democracy, that isolates those who would undo it.

Even some immigrant Sri Lankans, are inciting violence. A Sri Lankan, who works at the Pentagon and should know better as minority Tamil in SL says

against Trump is so high that many of us feel like physically beating up any Trump supporter we come across.
Imagine the energy on the far left then. The Trump enabling mafia is going to learn a painful lesson; for the unpardonable sin of foisting Trump on the country.

Some other Sri Lankans may not advocate violence, but

If people want to be relevant how about striving to  be the largest tax paying ethnicity? Betcha your lives will matter then.

Me: As usual you make supercilious, new immigrant, they as in Black and Hispanic are “looser” type remarks. When were you and yours ever in the forefront defending the US, other than as an armchair warrior.
Me: I guess you dont think Black and Hispanic are part of the “Brave” (as in Land of the Free and Brave) who have been in forefront of the right or wrong wars the US has been fighting.

Obviously, there is potential for color revolution type protests, violence, riots after elections.  Will the federal govt be able to maintain law and order.  From what is happening now in the US now it is extremely doubtful.  Because of the division of power between the Federal Govt and State governments there is no consistent implementation of Law and order, even a simple issue as such as wearing a mask.

Accusations of Democrat vs Republican  Governors and their ability to keep Law and order are flying around.  Post elections in the US, is it the Federal Government or the State Governments that are going to be responsible for  “Law and order”.

I think many are avoiding an issue as to why the current Fed govt is reluctant to get the military out. Because they are not sure which side they (as in the foot soldiers) will decide to support. 40% of the military is minority and very likely much higher at the rank and file level.

Relevance to Sri Lanka: Federal vs State law

My opinion:
Advantages of  Central Govt vs Devolution/Province is going to be very obvious after US elections.

 

*Side Comment:  My great Grandparents converted to Christianity because of of Americans.

References
https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/kamala-harris-the-dems-and-sri-lanka/comment-page-1/?unapproved=2357187&moderation-hash=a64098635d4feaf243a934669388d65f#comment-2357187

https://www.rt.com/op-ed/499857-trump-biden-campaigns-mirror-cia/

2+

The religion of Hindus before Hinduism

37 Comments

India in the Persianate Age: 1000–1765 is a good read and I recommend it. But the author, Richard Eaton, is not a guru or a sheikh, and should not be taken as such.

A comment Eaton makes offhand several times is that the conflict between Turks and Indians should not be understood in confessional terms. This is a commonly asserted, and on some level, it reflects elements of the truth. Hindu Rajputs served under Muslims, and Turkic soldiers served under Hindus. You can’t reduce everything to confession.

But, it is clear that confession and civilizational identity did exist, and it was robust. Going from the specific to the general.

  1. A great deal of text given over to Man Singh’s glorification of his conquests as an Indian warrior, and his patronage of Indian religion, in particular Vaishnavism.
  2. Eaton highlights the rapid Indianization of practices and hegemonic motifs present among the Turks and Afghans who were born and raised in India. And yet despite the syncretistic tendencies which occurred, ultimately these ashraf elites remained identified as Muslims and often were pulled back to world-normative Islam over the generations.
  3. Vijayanagara persisted as a Hindu polity for three centuries. The cross-cultural analysis shows that recalcitrant pagan powers always convert to the religion of their enemies eventually. The leader of the pagan resistance in Saxony became a Christian. Pagan resistance to Christianity in Sweden, Lithuania, and ancient Rome were only temporary, as resistant lineages eventually were assimilated into the new order. Resistance to Buddhism in Japan and Tibet was initially violent, but futile. In iterative games, paganism is the eternal ‘beatable’ strategy.

The only point to posting this is that there is a common assertion that Hinduism as a religion or identity only emerged in the 19th century. I am now convinced that this confuses the name of the phenomenon for the phenomenon. The Indian religion of the Hindus was clearly bundled together in a way that allowed for their elite deployment as a meta-ethnic identity that separated them from the Turks and Afghans who ruled them. Similarly, the Islam of the Turks and Afghans (and variegated Ethiopians, Arabs, and Persians), separated them from the Indians whom they conquered to prevent full assimilation as an Indian elite with popular roots in early modernity.

There is a major issue where our conception of religion qua religion is conditioned on an intellectual revolution rooted in the Second Reformation of the Calvinists. But, I think it is important not to get carried away with this construct, and assert that Calvinist religion is qualitatively different from pre-Calvinist religion. I don’t think it is. Rather, it simply shifts some of the parameter values within the model. Similarly, the identity of a coherent Hindu Rashtra with a post-caste socio-religious identity is an invention of modernity, but its roots are ancient and indigenous, and not postcolonial fictions.

1+

Eclipse of the Hindu Shahis

15 Comments

This is an updated version of an old article of mine on the decline of Hindu Shahis from the Kashmiri POV. The primary source of this account is the rājataraṅgiṇī (lit. river of kings) by kalhaṇa the Sanskrit chronicle of Kashmir’s history written in the mid 12c CE, which also set the standard for all later Sanskrit and Muslim histories of the region.

The events described in this account occurred over a period of 50 years in the first half of the 11th century CE, as Turkic Ghazi hordes started their expansion into the Indian Subcontinent. The backdrop of Kashmiri politics paints a very vivid picture of the pre-Islamic society during this tumultuous time.

Continue reading “Eclipse of the Hindu Shahis”

1+

Book Review: The Era of Bajirao

15 Comments

Jadunath Sarkar, the preeminent historian of Maratha history states

The place of Bajirao I in India’s history comes home to us with unmistakable force and vividness when we compare the political situation of this country in the 1740 to that in 1720.

In 1720, Marathas were a small state spread over a few districts in western Maharashtra rife with internal divisions, while by the end of 1740 Marathas were the largest power in the country which covered lands from the Tungabhadra to the Yamuna. This was largely due to the unbeaten generalship of Peshwa Bajirao I. Uday Kulkarni, a Doctor by training, has taken to history writing these last few years and his writing has been a refreshing counter to the narrative-focused history popular in recent times. Dr. Kulkarni goes through the original sources as methodically and systemically as a surgeon would and the result is a crisp, tight book grounded in documents and not a narrative/hagiography held together by the whims of the author.

The tale starts with the Maratha-Mughal war of the late 17th century and ends with the death of Bajirao. The river Narmada or Rewa is the voice of the book as Rewa Uwaach, as Bajirao’s life was witnessed by the river Narmada, from his earliest campaigns to his untimely death. A few relationships and characters from this time period stand out in the book, and I got to know some interesting facets of all these characters and their actions in the book.

The Aurangzeb – Shahu relationship, its genesis, and its implications have been well represented in the book. Whether it was due to remorse, realpolitik, or human nature but Aurangzeb had treated Shahu well in captivity and Shahu’s unwillingness to directly attack the legacy of Emperor Aurangzeb is one of the most under-explored parts of Maratha history. This facet of Shahu can be seen as a constraint on the ambitions of the dynamic Peshwa.

Kulkarni presents the Era of Bajirao as a rivalry between two generals, Nizam-Ul-Mulk – one of the last generals from the time of Aurangzeb &Bajirao. Bajirao’s victories over the Nizam, both military and diplomatic are covered very well in the book.

The author also sheds light on a not very known fact about the life of Bajirao – his troubles with debt. The letters exchanged between Bajirao, Chimaji Appa, Brahmendra Swami, and Shahu Maharaj all point to the constant financial pressure under which the Peshwa operated. The strain between the Emperor and his prime minister over various issues, from financial matters to Bajirao’s conquering zeal are all brought forth.

The Konkan campaigns of the Peshwa, against the Siddis and the Portuguese, take up a considerable amount of the book. Chimaji Appa, the hero of the wars with the Portuguese who has often been ignored by popular imagination gets his due. The episode of Mastani is dealt with without unwarranted speculations or folk gossip. The fascinating character of Brahmendra Swami is always present in the background as Bajirao and co’s spiritual mentor.

Kulkarni also differentiates the ethics & morality of the Marathas – especially under Bajirao and Chimaji from their enemies with examples like Bajirao’s decision of not mauling Delhi and Chimaji’s respectful treatment of the Portuguese (especially women).

Bajirao’s singular quality in Kulkarni’s view is

Flight in the face of a strong enemy was not considered an act of cowardice, it was never the intention of the Maratha troops to give battle in an unfavorable situation. Bajirao’s success lay in his ability to choose when to fight, where to fight (and more importantly) when not to.

The only issue a reader might have with the book is arguably also the book’s strongest quality – the author’s unwillingness to speculate beyond a reasonable point. As a reader, at many places, I felt that I wouldn’t mind going a bit deeper into the motivations and implications of the actions of the book. But all these issues are compensated easily by the treasure trove of letters, accurate maps (with military movements), and illustrations offered in the book. On the whole, I would rate the Era of Bajirao 5/5 and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Indian history. It is especially a must-read of every Marathi Manoos – given the profound implications, the life of Bajirao had on Maharashtra. It is quite feasible, that without Bajirao’s and Chimaji’s rescue of North Konkan from the Portuguese, we might have even had a Portuguese governed Konkan (like Goa).

Dr. Kulkarni has also written some more books – including the Solstice of Panipat & and a book on James Wales – the Artist & Antiquarian in the time of Peshwa Sawai Madhavrao. His upcoming book – the Incredible Epoch of Nanasaheb Peshwa starts where he left off in the Era of Bajirao. Sadly none of these books are available in digital format and might be difficult to obtain abroad. For those who can’t get their hands on the book, you might be interested in the following for time being.

BAJIRAO PESHWA – THE EMPIRE BUILDER

 

 

1+