Pictures in Handles

To all new commentators; please add pictures (any picture) to your handle.

Anonymity and privacy are of course the prerogative but it’s also for the quality of conversation that any handle have some sort of identity associated with it because otherwise it’s hard to keep track of who’s saying what.

I’ll keep reminding to all the newbies..

I’ll write up a post about guidelines for all new commentators to follow and pin it. Essentially have a picture on your handle and don’t be abusive.

Question of the Day?

Setting aside my personal views entirely.

Why is Partition a bad idea but Indian independence a good one?

Why is Jinnah a villain but Gandhi & Nehru not?

Does Pakistan have an original sin that it can’t account for?

The reason I ask is that we need to come to BP to examine our preconceptions constantly otherwise what is the point of wasting our collective time.

Ghar whapisi

Accident in a booking made the Ivy book my under my wife’s name (her original name is Changani after her 5th great grandfather Changomal, Lalchand is a patronymic styled after her late grandfather like how mine is Latif, mine is Malik). Lalchand has a better ring to it than Latif. I have been thinking of ameliorating my Muslimness especially as we want to eventually move further West to Silicon Valley.

Should Western authors write on desi topics

I read Kabir’s excellent review of the Leela book by Alice Albinia. However since it is easier for me to start new posts than write a new comment I’m going to take a slightly different tack.

How receptive should we be when Western authors want to write on the Subcontinent.

(1) William Dalyrymple is an excellent example of appropriation; he’s invented a few Indian ancestors (I’ve seen another white chap do that to run an Indian organisation) in order to become the preeminent Western historian on the Subcontinent.

(2) white authors benefit from white privilege at home (they glide the corridors of pr & power almost effortlessly) and from the desi/third world /coloured slavishness towards white people in the “Rest.” White privilege in the West is magnified a 100x over.

(2a) Uganda is a great example; when the Brits were administering it they were disliked. After they left they were almost worshipped and even if Uganda is a 99% black nation, the most elite neighbours (Kololo etc) is at least 30-50% white, Asian.

(3) there is no doubt Asian privilege vis a vis Black people but as in the law of large numbers; the number one spot can buy out the rest. Just as the US military is larger than the next 18 militaries combined so to is white privilege so much more effective than any type of racial privilege.

(4) I would hazard, in Britain at least, that a sensible white working class lad has as great a chance at success as a very well educated Asian & an elite Blake person. Success at Work isn’t about 9am – 5pm but actually 5pm – 9am.

(5) I have seen it time and time again when the Beeb wants to consult “local experts” they’ll consult the white English person who speaks the local language. It’s almost absurd but the privilege is so invisible and pervasive that’s it almost hard to deconstruct. Also Asians hate to come off as whiny whereas Black people come off as too pushy.. it’s a good cop bad cop combo but the deconstruction of privilege has barely started (elite restaurants, colleges etc barely represent the demographics outside, except when an effort is made at tokenism).

I do like Joe Scalzi’s definition of white male privilege. It’s like a video game where the default level is easy whereas for other people (minorities, women) it’s normal (white women, Asians) or hard (black people).

I have seen though that excessive privilege leads to decadence and breeds arrogance. Too much privilege is a bad thing but too little of it (where you can get thrown out of a Starbucks) is also harmful.

In principle I don’t want to read about my subcontinent from white authors, who can never the soul of South Asia and what it means to be desi. As E M Foster said one cannot glide effortlessly in both worlds.. I will never truly understand a WASP society because no matter how Waspy I become; I am not white, I don’t have white parents and my wife/children are not white.

Therefore It would be absurd for me to write a novel about a white family channelling Jesus and using the parables of the Holy Bible & Yahweh’s voice to construct a meta-narrative. It would in fact be a bit condescending..

That’s why a God of small things, A Suitable Boy remains the definitive icons of South Asian literature because they’re authors are brown like us. And us I do think Slumdog Millionaires, Hotel Marigold, & Lion are shit degrading films (apologies for the harsh language) which extol and fetishise brown poverty and are aimed at white audiences who want to feel good about their rape of the Subcontinent.

There is a schadenfreude in seeing poor brown and black people because the immediate connect is that it wasn’t there when we were ruling them. The power of the subconscious mind is orders of magnitude more than our hypocritical conscious selves. Just as we may decry colonialism we also abet it when we show poverty porn.

Are Bollywood and Lollywood really that bad that their output can’t transcend the cultural divide into the mainstream West?

I saw the Persian film, the Salesman, and it’s only because it consciously aped Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman was it able to get the Oscar.

Apologies for the vitriol but just sharing my feelings..

Sunday Thoughts

Kabir:

I have made Kabir author again (at his request). He writes very well on culture & music and it would be a shame to lose him (and his authentically PakAmerican voice). I can also make people authors (I just realised that two days ago lol) so since Omar is super-busy just hit me up if you want to make a meaningful contribution to BP.

BP is not a safe space

I just want to reiterate (more to my mate K than anyone else) that BP is not a safe space. I do eventually want to write on the Pakistani psychosis; I may say some things that seem Islamophobic from time to time but BP is what it is, we are muddling through. As long as we’re not abusive & personally insulting (ad hominem attacks etc) then it’s all good. While I believe in the divine station Prophet Muhammed (PBUH); I encourage blasphemy to its fullest extent against all religions (including my own) as it pushes the extremities of intellectual thought.

Resignations

As an aside I seem to have triggered a trend of resignations among the contributors. But just as I have returned (and iA so has Kabir) I’m hoping Slapstik (I can never remember if there is a c or not) and Vikram will return and share their unique voices. All perspectives are welcome at BP and I also realise I can be a self-righteous (and pretentious) twat at times; if I am mea culpa, I apologise ..

I am elastic, I am in the habit of contradicting myself

Like Walt Whitman I contain many contradictions and I disagree with my views last week. This is why I deeply dislike the IQ fanatics; for my human nature is fluid and there’s always a chance to grow. I’m very attached to the elastic mindset and my growth is experiential rather than educational. I could have avoided the hullabaloo if I had listened to Vidhi and used my computer more, my mobile is my mistress, I would have realised I was actually an admin. Anyway to reiterate; I don’t think there should be sensitivity to any perspective.

Kay Khusrau

As an example I personally found Razib’s comments about Emperor Khosrow* (or was it Kay Khusrau) rejecting the modern Persians & Iranians as his children to be jarring.

I obviously disagree but at the same time it gave me food for thought*.. I don’t want my sensitivities violated constantly but the occasional prickles does wonders to shock the mind and stimulate personal growth. If it ever did get much then the onus is on me to privately disengage for a little while and come back to BP; not vice versa.

The Last Mughal

This is probably equivalent to how Kabir feels about his Prophet since I like to joke I am the last Mughal. Like Akbar I have my own religion, have a Persian mother and a Hindu wife and am very open to new cultures (I’m somewhat Waspified irl but I can’t get over how much they drink so there is always the wine line I can never cross).

the Muslim Question and the state of the Ummah

Islam & Muslims are one of the great issues of our time. No matter what the faults of the West & the rest may be; the Ummah has forgotten an important axiom “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”

Palestinians, Kashmiris, Chechnyans and many other Muslim oppressed minorities don’t do themselves any favours in my opinion.

The Bahá’í example

I’m not fully informed but when I contrast them to the Bahais of Iran where our leadership was imprisoned for the past decade (grandmothers are finally released after being in jail for 10yrs) I just see that we Bahai’s play the ultra-long game to win it. I actually don’t agree with the Bahá’í leadership on this since I see there is a double standards in our resistance to the Iranian government and complicity with the Israeli one (Gaza is an open air prison).

From being seen as British-Russian agents (Babis were overly represented in the 1909 Majlis Revolution) there is now such an overwhelming sympathy for the state of Bahais in Iran; that our patience has turned out to be a coup.. I have seen this first hand in Tehran where it’s pulsating with an extraordinarily active Bahá’í community that has only been strengthened by its suffering.

Where is the Internet Pakistani?

Also Pakistanis simply aren’t very interested in online blogging. There are only 4 Paks on BP (K, myself, Omar & AbdulM) and between us we have to represent the views of 200mm people. There is Riaz Haq, 3qd & South Asian ideas but we don’t really have the Internet Mughal willing to scour the internet to proclaim the greatness of Akbar and his civilisation.

Vidhi wants to go to Karachi

Finally on a personal note I’m going to have to be far more circumspect in what I have to say since Vidhi has decided yesterday that she wants to visit the land of her ancestors and visit Karachi in the winter. Sindh for Sindhi Hindus is a bit like Kosovo for Serbians; their homeland shrouded in mists and occupied by an alien people. Thankfully it’s only Karachi, in this our tastes accord since I have no interest in any other part of Pakistan (maybe the Northern areas but those are too dangerous for now).

The challenge is going to have to be in getting my Hindu wife, with an Indian citizenship (her contention is that if she ever does win a Nobel, it should be for India) a visa to our Muslim Republic.. fun times ahead!

* Khosrow I is known for saying a philosophic quote that follows:

We examined the customs of our forebears, but, concerned with the discovery of the truth, we [also] studied the customs and conducts of the Romans and Indians and accepted those among them which seemed reasonable and praiseworthy, not merely likeable. We have not rejected anyone because they belonged to a different religion or people. And having examined “the good customs and laws of our ancestors as well as those of the foreigners, we have not declined to adopt anything which was good nor to avoid anything which was bad. Affection for our forebears did not lead us to accept customs which were not good.[39]

Hinduism,Hindus,BJP/RSS media, academia,politics; Whose fault is it anyway?

Interactions regarding this, with power being in hands of west to a larger degree has been the way over last few centuries, this has given a misplaced view among some Hindus that everyone are out to get them. There is some truth considering the influence of monotheism in culture in general and the fact that monotheism is bigotry. There are of course investments of various kinds, whether it be missionaries or left intellectuals, in India or outside whose nature of works is subversive at various times and not merely academic. This however is not to be seen in isolation that some of the best intellectuals, writers, actors ,philosophers have historically found positive interest in Hinduism . Julia roberts, russell brand among recent celebrities, Aldous Huxley infact wrote an introduction to Bhagvad Gita .George Harrison, one quarter of the famous “beatles” also found inspiration in Hinduism. Among scientists, Oppenheimer too was impressed by Bhagvad Gita and his choice of words are now immortalized in cultural memory. Schrodinger was another great physicist who also did find inspiration from ideas with in Hinduism.Among Philosophers, Schopenhauer stands tall, he too did find something of value in the writings of Upanishads.

So, it is not true to say this relationship was entirely negative. What is true is that it takes effort to build on the positive interactions and continue to keep building over that. And this effort must most certainly come from Hindus themselves and must be independent of politics through community effort. It is here that Hindus are found wanting. They have neglected humanities dept entirely and are now complaining of inherent malice.

They have not connected to the wider society through charity, education, tradition,literature & arts as other communities have done. It is also true that respect comes with power and wealth and India being poor compared to Japan or china had to face this. However here too they have no one else to blame but themselves for not distinguishing themselves economically from the left and make a reasoned argument for capitalism, distinguish themselves by standing for free speech and throw out rules engineered by congress govt under Nehru that bar free speech. By staying out of Humanities , they have allowed others to define them and have allowed the trajectory of Indian economy to be run by the left.This exacerbated poverty and all the faultlines in society . Even now, they cannot seem to make a case for why capitalism is better.When it is the greatest system for creation of wealth and helps mend faultlines and strengthen sovereignty .Nor do they seem to have a plan on how to mend the faultlines. To give an example, BJP govt has been in power in many states for well over 15 yrs, has been in power at the center for past 4 yrs, they have chosen not to give themselves autonomy over education in states where Hindus are minority nor have they spent much time over many decades to actually create avenues to rectify this lacunae by building institutions of learning and help them to mend the faultines in society tearing them apart or have regular events or meetings to bridge over faultlines. To even posit a future goal or trajectory requires a respect for intelligence which is not found in BJP/RSS but more importantly, there is no accountability asked by supporters of them either or by Hindus in general of all their leaders. The contempt for intellectuals is incredible and a good example of it is the Prime Minister India Narendra Modi declaring that “Hardwork is more powerful than Harvard”.This during the infamous demonetization which was carried out haphazardly & whose effects are being felt by citizens even now in form of cash crunch in various cities.

In general, it is those in power who can and should reach out to others, win over others. Come up with a more inclusive engagement with other communities, build trust and cultivate media relations that reflects this change. It instead seems as though a more cynical ploy is at play of allowing others to malign in hopes this will feed into anxiety of their supporters and unthinkingly get them to double down their loyalty and support them even further and carry forward this dynamic of tribalism that has helped them. To me atleast, it seems clear that for the BJP/RSS, they would rather have an electorate that never holds them accountable to anything and drive the anxiety of Hindus in general as it is politically useful to them. This is substantiated by the fact that they have no plan to ameliorate or redress any actual grievances. Nor transmute this anxiety by doing something constructive , whether it be in form of media ,literature, academia or any thing else. This leaves their supporters trapped.Which seems to be their only goal.

For Hindus in general, they need to ask themselves the hard question as to whether it is fair to ask others to stand up for them when they themselves chose not to do so for each other or hold their leaders accountable and blindly give their loyalty. The story of Bangladeshi Hindus is unknown to most Hindus themselves , how is one to make a case for it for world to hear?. It is not so that others are entirely biased for in others one find very many who know nothing or some have a positive interest, it is so that others do invest themselves at all levels and Hindus chose to not invest their own time or wealth and are calling others who they disagree with as being unfair because they do invest. Does it make sense to criticize missionaries or anyone else for courting dalits into their narrative if Hindus choose not to mend their own fault lines among themselves at a war footing with great urgency?. If they chose to not to share power through pre arranged power pacts among themselves first whose fault should it really be?. It requires investment of time, resources and activism to clear out even misplaced rumors.So lets not blame others even before we put our own house in order.

Leela’s Book: A Review

[So I have returned to BP and will be posting here occasionally (though my personal blog is going to be my focus). Let’s just let the drama of the past week go.

I am cross-posting a book review I did of Alice Albinia’s novel “Leela’s Book”– a modern reworking of The Mahabharata.  This review was originally published on The South Asian Idea in April 2012. ]

According to Hindu mythology, The Mahabharata was dictated by the sage Vyasa to Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god.  However, some scholars believe that the sections of the epic that deal with Ganesh’s scripting are later interpolations. Vyasa himself appears as a character in the epic. Vyasa’s brother Vichitravirya died without issue, so Vyasa’s mother asked him to impregnate his brother’s wives, the sisters Ambika and Ambalika.  Ambika was the first to come to Vyasa’s bed, but out of fear and shyness, she closed her eyes.  Vyasa cursed her and told her that her child would be born blind.  The next night, it was Ambalika’s turn.  She had been warned to remain calm, but her face turned pale due to fear.  Again Vyasa cursed her and told her that her son would be be anemic and not be fit enough to rule the kingdom.  These two brothers would end up being the ancestors of the two warring clans, the Kauravas and the Pandavas.

It is this mythological background that Alice Albinia draws upon in her novel Leela’s Book (originally published in January 2012).  The story revolves around Ved Vyasa Chaturvedi, an eminent professor of Sanskrit and his relationships with two sisters, Meera and Leela.  Twenty-two years before the novel begins, Vyasa had seduced Meera, who died after bearing him a pair of twins, a boy and a girl.  After falling out with her sister regarding her relationship with Vyasa, Leela had gone into exile in New York, making a vow never to return to India.  Now, two decades later, Leela is forced to return because her husband’s niece is marrying Vyasa’s son.  Although the family thinks that they have arranged the wedding for their own selfish purposes, events are really being directed by Lord Ganesha, who is trying to save Leela, his beloved heroine, from Vyasa.

Many sections of Albinia’s novel are actually narrated by Ganesh.  The god wants to correct the belief that Vyasa was the author of the Mahabharata.  As he tells the reader, “I freely admit that my sworn enemy is Vyasa, pedestrian  composer of India’s too-long epic, a poem called the Mahabharata, every word of which I wrote” (Albinia 26). Ganesh also wants to reveal Vyasa’s true character. He says:

Now, in the Mahabharata, Vyasa portrays himself as a holy sage, with matted hair and an otherworldly air, an expert teacher, the counsellor of kings, the wise old grandfather of his characters. He builds up a fabulous portrait: comforting yet aloof, clever yet alluring. I have only one problem with this benign vision: it is totally untrue. In these pages of mine, I will correct the misapprehension under which mortals have languished for so long. I will show how Vyasa disrespected ladies, failed to dissuade his descendants from mutual carnage, gave students of literature headaches with his prose (29).

Ganesh also confesses that he added his own original characters into Vyasa’s story.  Two of these were Leela and Meera.  Ganesh tells the reader: “Without mentioning a word of it to anyone, I simply dropped [Leela] into Vyasa’s tale, at one of the few places in the epic where a character didn’t have a name – Vyasa’s own bed, as it happened – as the amorous slave-girl he impregnated by mistake (after his late brother’s widows had had enough of him)” (31).  Leela and Meera have been together through eight avatars, and the present story (their ninth avatar) is Ganesh’s last chance to get things right and save Leela from Vyasa. Continue reading “Leela’s Book: A Review”

Is everyone racist and I’m not aware?

Me, proudly culturally appropriating

The expulsion of two young black men from Starbucks is in the news, and people are sharing their experiences. To be honest I’m not surprised that this happened to young black men. What I am surprised by are South Asians who express their own fear of being seen to not buy anything (in part to highlight the privileges that white people have).

I’m a pretty standard looking brown person. Most people realize that I’m South Asian (or “Indian”) when they meet me. Sometimes when I have a very close buzzcut I’m pretty sure people assume I’m a black American (when I got burritos at a Mexican place someone referred to me as the “black guy” in Spanish once when my head was shaved). And a reasonable amount of time people have wondered if I’m a Mexican American, though less and less over the years.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time in Starbucks. When I’m traveling I always go to a Starbucks because it’s familiar (when I’m not traveling I rarely do anymore). Sometimes I’ll hang out for a while before someone shows up without buying anything. There have even been times where I never bought anything, but just met up with someone. I’ve never felt in any danger of being kicked out.

In fact, in the United States, my main worry about my race is in a very specific context: airports. Since I fly a fair amount I have a routine down. Always shave. Always get there way earlier. Prepare ahead so you don’t seem stressed or uncertain. It’s not super onerous, but I am conscious that I’m probably under more scrutiny.

All that being said I’ve never had a problem in American airports. I have had problems in Europen airports, after a fashion. An example might be a flight in Germany when security was stopping every young non-white male, whether black, brown or Asian before we got on the flight (after we’d made it through the checkpoints). And, when I was in Italy in 2010 on a trip the racism was more palpable. At one point I was denied service by a street vendor, and when I was at a bookstore my wife (then girlfriend) told me I was getting suspicious looks, and there was a misunderstanding with one of the clerks (I don’t speak Italian).  I definitely felt there was more racism in Europe day to day than I’ve experienced in this country, and I speak as someone who grew up in eastern Oregon.

And yet I’m not here to deny the racism that other South Asian Americans face. Their experience is their experience, and so is mine. What’s the difference here? Are people giving me dirty looks that I don’t even notice? Or are other people hyper-aware of what’s going on around them and perceive slights that might not be intended?

I should add that this tendency is common in my family. We don’t seem to perceive racism around us. Perhaps we’re just oblivious?

What do I think though? Honestly, I think there are different levels and types of racism. If you are South or East Asian you are not going to be under the same scrutiny as a black male. Certainly, there is white privilege in relation to being a brown person. Or at least I’m told there is…I’m not white and can’t pass as a white person, so I can only trust people like Linda Sarsour who are nonwhite by choice that life is a lot easier for whites.

I do a real good SJW impersonation because I have good verbal skills and “present” as nonwhite. But it always seems fake to me. I’ve experienced racism in this country, but it’s not pervasive. I felt under more scrutiny in the Middle East to keep to my lane, and that’s despite my “Muslim name.”

I’m curious as to other peoples’ experiences. The above are just mine.

Transnational political campaigns, hacking the elections,organizing riots

In present day world, countries need to deal with technology ,social media, smart phone apps and their capacity to foment trouble in their countries by people outside and inside. This can be used very cheaply to organize protests, campaigns & even organize riots.

This begins new era of politics for democracies. The cry of russian meddling has atleast brought up this news to public conscience. It would be interesting to see how both the developed and the developing countries shall react to this. The targeting ads that companies have used can be turned into targeted campaigns, the algorithms used to keep people engaged can be used as well.

With this new big data, it might be possible to test out political slogans everyday, find the perfect slogans, issues both locally and nationally. If ad campaigns are useful, why is it hard to believe that targeted campaigns are not as effective ?.

The use of politics has come only after social media has successfully used ads as a way to generate revenue for themselves. Is this the beginning of the new era of hacking the human minds, both at the level of individuals and at the level of communities?. Can anything be done to arrest this development or control this partially?.

Will govt try to follow the china model and create own online & phone media agencies to control or will they demand right to monitor social media agencies and phones inside their own countries.

Will this hurt the social media companies like twitter or facebook?

A quick note on BP housekeeping

As per the request of Kabir I’ve closed comments on the post below. I’ll delete it soon. His new blog is here: https://kabiraltaf.wordpress.com/.

A few quick notes to be clear:

  1. Three people have admin privileges here. Omar, Zach and myself. In various ways, we’ve been associated with this blog eight years now.
  2. Myself, honestly I have only occasionally read blog posts by those besides Omar and Zach. Those I found interesting I did read. Until recently I very rarely read comments except on my posts.
  3. To be honest, “some shit went down.” I don’t know the origins (posts have been deleted) or the relationships or the origins of the beefs, though I waded in a bit. The only people I added as contributors to this incarnation of BP are Omar and Zach.  I honestly have no idea who anyone else is.
  4. I’ve been noticing the increased Indian traffic with wonder and concern. Wonder because talking to people of your own nationality/culture all the time is boring, concern because cultural differences are difficult to bridge.  I know this personally because I was a commenter and a little bit a contributor to the Sepia Mutiny blog, and the cultural differences came up and aroused hostility between people of good will. To give a concrete example a front page contributor told their story of rape and some of the India-born commenters said some things that they thought were helpful but no one born in the USA would think were helpful…rather, they were offensive. At least to us.
  5. Zach and I have come and gone (I have another blog and write stuff elsewhere when I feel like it), Omar is the one person who has kept blogging here over the years. If only Omar contributed that would be sufficient. He’s busy right now with moving so Zach and I are having to step into this mess.
  6. Some of you are mad at me because I’m offensive to you in what I post or mean to you in the comments. If I’m offensive to you (or Zach or Omar or anyone) you don’t have to read this blog. We are not monetizing it. As for the comments, I would not engage/read comments unless I was frank about who should or shouldn’t contribute. Comment sections which are  laissez faire turn into shit-shows quickly and the blogger usually never reads them. I’ve traditionally been very active in comments when I control the means of production (I don’t read comments when I contribute to National Review or India Today or when I contributed to mainstream media).
  7. Some fair warning that I am very sensitive about two things: comments which might be indicative of physical intolerance of atheism, and comments which make imputations about my life. The first is just because I know people who were friends with murdered Bangladeshi bloggers. I’m not the most sentimental person about the country in which I was born, but I would never visit in the current climate. The risks are low, but I have a family, a wife and kids, and I can’t take the risk (people in my lab used to make fun of Bangladesh for atheist killing, and it was kind of funny since I was the most atheistic person they knew). And about that, people need to stop commenting about what they think they can glean about me in regards to my personal situation. I’ve been more open recently partly because I wanted to talk about my kids’ genetics, so  I had to admit in 2011 I was married and that I was going to be a father. But really I try to keep that shit offline. As for my personality, Omar has met me in person and can vouch for the reality that I don’t really have a separate “online persona” (as can many scientists who know me more from real life than the internet).

Finally, some of you know I’ve been at the forefront of communication about South Asian genetics. Like many things, this kind of fell into my lap because I know genetics, and I don’t live in South Asia and so am not part of any major social-political groupings (I’m not left-wing and some Hindutva types attack me as a Muslim). But honestly, I’ve been impressed by how clear-eyed and honest many Indian journalists and thinkers have been about the new research. And this has made me more optimistic and engaged in Brown Pundits’ future direction.

Also, BP has a twitter account. Most it pushes content right now from this blog.