Oh to be a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin

I picked this link on Ajit Pai from Razib’s blog.

But he also caught my attention because Ajit Pai is a Konkani Gaud Saraswat Brahmin—and I am, too. In late 2016, I retired an oral history project on Konkani-speaking Brahmins because I mostly recorded versions of the same fabulous origin story, more legend than history—that we were “pure” light-skinned Brahmins of the north, who traveled to southwestern India after the Saraswati River “went underground.”

I had a GSB friend but that’s beside the point. What I have noticed is that there is an almost compulsive need in Indians to name drop their caste, especially if it is a high one.

There was no need for this author to mention her K-GSB origins but then that wouldn’t allow her to flaunt it.

Aziz Ansari

Thoughts on the Aziz Ansari issue?

I have many but I’ve kept them to myself..

I’ll throw a rather controversial question out there; “has Aziz reinforced certain stereotypes about Brown & maybe Muslim men in the dating market?”

I’m just asking the questions (don’t shoot the messenger) and exploring the issue from a “Brown” “Pundit” angle.

Welcome Mr Netanyahu

Israeli PM Netanyahu has arrived in India today. A good occassion to discuss successive Indian governments’ knee-jerk policies against the state of Israel, which were meant more to curry favour with two-bit Arab states (repressive monarchies or dictatorships to a fault) than a result of genuine understanding of India’s long-term benefits and indeed values. Anand Ranganathan has a fantastic new thread in twitter that lists the litany of Indian diplomatic misjudgements regarding Israel. Worth a read!

Israel is a beacon of democracy in an atrophying West Asia. It is a Western state, based on Enlightenment values and institutions in place to correct error. The local culture is also very technology-focussed, as is expected of a population that wishes to survive (and thrive) in a region largely devoid of much mineral wealth, agricultural productivity and beset by neighbouring totalitarian states hell-bent on revanchism. In this Indians have a lot to learn from Israelis.

Israel too (as any human society) has its own serious social issues: how to be a culturally Jewish state and yet remain secular, how to control/mainstream an increasing ultra-Orthodox population (or the Arab minority) that are stuck in their rigid social mores, or how to rein in the Zionist extremists who believe in encroachment to fulfil vague Biblical promises etc. In that Israel is no different from any modern multi-ethnic democracy as the same shortcomings plague the US or, even more significantly, India.

My first interaction with Israelis was with some visiting academics at my college in India. I remember them as fantastic teachers – extremely interactive during class and very appreciative of questions during lectures – a quality Indian professors tend to lack. During my studies abroad, I interacted with many more, professors and students alike. I generally found them to be very hospitable, politically aware, forthright and yet non-intrusive. I now work with and even live amongst them in one of London’s oldest Jewish suburbs.

I hope Indo-Israeli interactions grow beyond the hackneyed group trips of military service weary Israelis to Indian Himalayas or Goa etc or joint defence deals and exercises. I think that because Indians can truly learn a lot from their culture. During my time in college in India, technical internships/education in Israel were often unheard of. Yet, the number of Indian students in Technion, Weizmann etc has grown manifold – now around a tenth of their foreign student population. And summer internships in Israel are becoming very popular among Indian STEM students. I expect this trend to strengthen further.

Some Indian commentators on Twitter e.g. Sudheendra Kulkarni have remarked that India’s close ties with Israel, when it cannot mend its relations with geographical neighbours, shows the failure of Indian diplomacy. While he may be right about Indian diplomacy being no great shakes, close ties between societies are not a function of geographical locus but shared values (which in turn inform interests). So, let me greet Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel on his first visit to India with this old chestnut from the Taittriya Upanishad:

sah naH avatu,
sah nauH bhunaktu,
sah vIryam karvAvahaiH,
tejasvi naH adhItam astu,
ma vidviSavahaiH,
om shAntiH shAntiH shAntiH.

May we both be protected together,
may we both be nourished together,
may we both work together with vigour,
may our knowledge be sharp and effective,
may we never dispute with each other,
peace peace peace (be to us).

Shithole countries

How wrong was Trump?

I’m half Pakistanis & half Iranian. While I have a patriotic love for my origins; it’s hard to deny how disorganised Pakistan & Iran are (to varying degrees).

Obviously what Trump said was offensive however the fact that usually when a country has a diaspora, it means there’s something very wrong with it.

This is of course just my thoughts on the matter; it is offensive but how wrong is it? Is it offensive to tell the truth?

Juice: A Short Film about Patriarchy

My wife recommended that I see this short film (15mins) and I found it to be excellent.

India shows an emotional and social maturity light years ahead of its Muslim neighbours.

Also a very moving clip from Turkey:

Who are the protesters in Iran and what do they want?

I listened to this fantastic podcast on the recent (and on-going) Iranian mass protests. I found the economic angle discussed very enlightening. It is part of a recurring BBC Radio 4 programme called The Briefing Room anchored by David Aaronovitch (@DAaronovitch), whom I follow on Twitter. Aaronovitch (incidentally) happens to live in the same Jewish-heavy N London suburb where I dwell. [Sometimes I wonder whether I should have a Bar Mitzvah for my son…but I digress; that’s a topic for another day!]

The people sharing their views in the podcast are:

Roham Alvandi, Associate Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science,

Behrang Tajdin and Jiyar Gol, reporters for the BBC Persian Service,

Hassan Hakimian, Director of the Middle East Centre at SOAS, University of London,


Azedor Moaveni, Iranian writer.


Jewel in the Lotus

My last post for the weekend (I promise- there is a ton of work pending). I was reading about a Irishman’s observation of the opening ceremony of the Lotus Temple and stumbled on this Tennyson’s poem:

‘That stone by stone I rear’d a sacred fane,
A temple, neither Pagod, Mosque, nor Church,
But loftier, simpler, always open-door’d
To every breath from heaven, and Truth and Peace
And Love and Justice came and dwelt therein;

(and then despairingly)

I watch’d my son,
And those that follow’d, loosen, stone from stone,
All my fair work; and from the ruin arose
The shriek and curse of trampled millions, even
As in the time before; but while I groan’d,
From out the sunset pour’d an alien race,
Who fitted stone to stone again, and Truth,
Peace, Love and Justice came and dwelt therein…

Akbar’s Dream by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Of course I do take issue with the alien race from the sunset reconstructing lost stones but the poems and the excerpts struck me nonetheless.

Elitist Shi’ites

Razib has a wonderful post, “The Global Elite Is The Only Elite Now“, that touches on rich people and (very) tangentially on my Faith.

Since those are among my favourite topics and the fact that I’m slightly scared of Razib’s ahem “firm” moderating style I thought I would troll Brown Pundits with my own thoughts after the jump. Continue reading “Elitist Shi’ites”

Why Colonialism is always wrong..

I had earlier posted a link to a Guardian Article about Singapore and how it was a model for colonial & post-colonial development.

To my knowledge Singapore & Hong Kong are colonial creations and therefore their success are more anomalous than not.

I would hazard a few drawbacks of colonial rule in South Asia:

(1.) English language as the High Culture: this is a serious problem since the Urdu-Hindi divide only represents the lack of a unified elite standard. If the Brits/Europeans had never established themselves a native literary lingua franca would have eventually emerged as a South Asian unifier. Urdu for instance is the indigenous supplanter, by Hindu courtiers, of the courtly Persian spoken at Mughal courts. Not to mire this thread into another language controversy but my point being is that if South Asia had followed a normal course of development we would be writing Brown Pundits in a desi, not foreign, tongue.

(2) Time Value of Money: South Asia may have been routinely plundered (the Persians invaded a few times in the last few centuries) but most of India’s wealth stayed home. Depraved and decadent the Mughals may have been but their monuments rest on Indian Soil. The wealth of India, through unfair trade & conquest, ultimately flowed back to the Mother Country; powering England’s economic advancement. The British Empire may have been an uneconomic enterprise towards the very end (however it still helped Britain turn the tide in 2 World Wars) but the previous centuries had been enough to solidify Europe/England’s lead.

(3) Racial Inferiority: South Asia is the land of colour, caste & creed but scientific racism wasn’t endemic to it (there is some evidence caste had been dying out prior to the Brits coming but I can’t possible comment). The Brahmins and Muslim elites may not have intermarried with anyone else (though I find that hard to believe) but the racial seclusion that the Brits maintained, especially after Mutiny & in the Victorian Era, embedded a racial inferiority complex into the desi cultural stream that’s never truly been shaken off. Currying favour with the Englishman has always taken precedence over regional solidarity. The reason as to why Native Royals were forbidden from marrying white women was the genuine fear that the royal families of India would become white in a few generations (that’s already happened to a few of South Asia’s political dynasties mind you).

(4) Communal conflict: there may have been a history of uneasy tension between Muslim & Hindu in historic India but divide & rule exacerbated it towards eventual Partition.

(5) Winston Churchill: WC has a demi-god status in Britain but was shameful in his treatment and views of desis. When a man so racist is so revered there isn’t much more to say. Famine in India & Ireland under the British Empire was arguable more of a political rather than agricultural construct.

This isn’t to say that South Asians shouldn’t take agency and own their faults (how else were they conquered but for their own lack of unity) but colonialism (even more so than the Muslim conquests though that is arguably a close second) was an absolute disaster for the Subcontinent. Shashi Tharoor is entirely right; English, railroads and a few universities are no offsets. Just because the British Empire wasn’t as evil as some others (the Belgians in Congo etc) doesn’t mean that it was a just enterprise, not now not ever..

The Merchants of Rawalpindi

I thought this was an interesting piece by TOI; I don’t have strong opinions on it either way.

January 2, 2018 Sunil Sharan

Wow, the new year began with the ruler of the world’s sole superpower castigating only one of 190+ nations in the world. What is it about Pakistan that makes Trump see so much red? And when Trump gets mad at the Pakistanis, why do so many policymakers in India do a high five?

Trump is mad at the merchants of Rawalpindi because they won’t let him extricate himself out of Afghanistan in one piece. But they didn’t put him in Afghanistan in the first place. You could argue 9/11 did, but someone amongst America’s best and brightest should have realized that her country should not get dragged into Afghanistan.

But America then was not being ruled by its best and brightest. And the same ruler, Bush Jr., for reasons of his own, decided to take his eye off the ball in Afghanistan and focus it on Iraq. Empires that have previously entered Afghanistan have remained completely focused on it, but have barely made it out alive. Actually, only the Brits did. The Soviets left it with rigor mortis.

Continue reading “The Merchants of Rawalpindi”