Better in Wales than India

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"One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. ⁣⁣ To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle (Photo 1)."⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Not many know that this castle located in Wales houses the largest private collection of Indian artefacts in the UK. It "is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Company in the 18th century. There are more Mughal artefacts stacked in this private house in the Welsh countryside than are on display at any one place in India – even the National Museum in Delhi." The stolen riches include a pair of slippers belonging to Tipu that is made from red velvet and leather embroidered with gold thread, and large curved toes (photo 2) and Tipu’s magnificent state tent (photo 3)⁣⁣ ⁣ Source: The Guardian" The East India Company: The original corporate raiders" by William Dalrymple ⁣

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I’m in High Tory mode these days but I find it absurd to ask for the recovery of Mughal artifacts when both India & Pakistan disrespect that historical period.

When Pakistanis can speak decent Dari and Babri Masjid is rebuilt then we can discuss the colonial encounter and its aftermath. Until then there are much better things to complain about.

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Aladdin!

Disney’s Aladdin is likely to be a hit. And Naomi Scott is likely to be the break-out star. The half-English and half-Guju British chatterbox is also going to play Elena Houghlin in this fall’s reboot of Charlie’s Angels.

The casting of the mixed Scott, of white and Indian ancestry, as Jasmine created some silly backlash online. But one thing that strikes me about the Jasmine she depicts is that her sartorial style has a definite South Asian rather than Near Eastern tincture.

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Browncast Ep 40: Wael Taji on the Topology of Privilege

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at 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…).

(as of this posting there are two postings on the patron page that probably won’t see the light of day until next month; one on Game of Throne and another a discussion with an Indian American on his impending arranged marriage)

On this episode, I talk to Wael Taeji, a social anthropology graduate student at Fudan University, in China. Wael is from a white British background but converted to Islam at one point, before becoming a Coptic Christian (listen to the podcast for details!).

We talk about privilege, race relations, or lack thereof, in modern China. Wael also has been living in China, on and off, since 2013, and offered his own views on changes in China’s view of the world and its place geopolitically.

Wael also offers a pessimistic take on Western academia (his undergraduate background was as a student at Cambridge University). You can read more of his views at Palladium Magazine.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

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Back to Bangladesh after five years- Part 1

I went to visit Bangladesh from early April to mid-May after more than five years. For five years I have written about Bangladesh from secondary sources and secondary experiences. At long last I can write about my fist-hand experience.

I stayed most of the time in the capital city Dhaka. In recent years South Asian megalopolises like Dhaka, Delhi, Karachi, Mumbai have earned reputations as the cities with worst air pollutions in the world. Living in Dhaka’s unbearable pre-Monsoon heat, humidity, dust and particles thick air, I can well understand what do those pollution measures mean for the people. For the bulk of masses who are not fortunate to live in air-conditioned houses, work in air-conditioned offices and commute in air-conditioned cars, buses, Dhaka is truly an urban hell-scape. There is a popular saying among Dhaka’s suffering commuters stuck for hours in oven hot roads; citizens of Dhaka will be forgiven the dreaded ‘Adhab-al qabr’ or punishment of the grave that is supposed to be fate of all persons from death till Qyiamat, the day of judgement. Dhakaites suffer so much that the Adhab pales in comparison.

Although air pollution has become much worse, city roads and walkways have become cleaner and more well maintained. Parts of the massive revenue collection by both city corporation and government are really being used to maintain the infrastructure. Trash collection has become more organized . Piles of rotting garbage and constant stench are no longer ubiquitous.

Mercifully powercuts in electricity, so common in Bangladesh until 8-10 years ago, seem to be very rare now. Diesel generators reverberating throughout the city, a very common sight and sound of yesteryears, are rarely seen and heard now.  In fact, a recent news report said that Bangladesh installed so much power generation capacity in the recent years that capacity has outstripped demand substantially. Experts are recommending that no new power plants be initiated in the next few years. Uninterrupted power supply has made the industries, particularly Garments industries, very happy.

However, the top 10% Dhakaites are living very differently than the rest. Fantastic high-rise apartments and office buildings have sprouted all over the cities. Glass and steel clad apartments and offices remind people more of the spotless splendor of Singapore than traditional dirt of South Asia. New BMWs, Lexus, Toyota cars and SUVs clog the city streets. However, apart from home, office, cars and eateries, there is very little things to do socially in Dhaka for the upper class. That’s why they escape to foreign spots like Bangkok, Bali, Malayasia, Singapore, Dubai, Sri Lanka, India etc several times a year. Bangladesh is the supplier of highest number of tourists in India. Bangladeshi shoppers are significant boosters of Kolkata economy. Several Bangladeshi tourists were among the dead and wounded in the recent Sri Lanka terrorist attack.

The top businesspeople, professionals and government employees are doing great in Bangladesh. Their income has soared in the last decade. Signs of their affluence is everywhere in the cities. People working in banks and finance, telecommunication sectors are doing OK. The middle class is not doing so great. Shockingly, I found that private sector salaries have barely changed in the last ten years but house rent, essential prices have increased at least 100% in the last ten years. Economists say that a living wage in Dhaka, minimum wage for a two person family to keep their body and soul together under a roof, is 17000 Taka or about 200 dollars per month. Starting salaries for college, university graduates not working in choice sectors like banks or telecom are still below the living wage. Garments workers earn 80 to 150 dollars, from starting to experienced. It’s hard to imagine the life of the lower-middle and working class in Dhaka.

In the second part, I will discuss my very startling experience of change and prosperity in the rural areas. In the third part, I will talk about my impression of the state of economy and politics.

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By request — the ouroboros game

Callum Flack saw my recent post here and wanted to see examples of the Ouroboros board in use — so this post is for him, and Ali Minai too if self-reference interests him — I’m guessing it does, unless computer science has moved so far ahead since Hofstadter wrote Godel Escher Bach that it no longer applies..

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How to explain the ouroboros? It’s the ancient and ubiquitous symbol, found earliest, perhaps, in Pharaonic Egypt, of a serpent biting its own tail:

More recently, it’s a popular image in alchemy

Self bites itself. And that’s a pattern worth watching.

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Wikipedia tells us, quoting a Harvard study by Michael Witzel:

in the Aitareya Brahmana, a Vedic text of the early 1st millennium BCE, the nature of the Vedic rituals is compared to “a snake biting its own tail.”

Then there’s this example from a medieval Indian scripture, the Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad:

The divine power, Kundalini, shines like the stem of a young lotus; like a snake, coiled round upon herself she holds her tail in her mouth and lies resting half asleep as the base of the body

That’s ouroboros.

There’s a marvelous moment in the film Silence of the Lambs when the young FBI trainee, Clarice Starling, asks the psychiatrist and serial killed Hannibal Lecter:

You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don’t you – why don’t you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you’re afraid to.

That’s ouroboros.

The paradox of Epimenideas, the Cretan philosopher who declared “all Cretans are always liars” which St Paul mentions in his Epistle to Titus, is ouroboric.

Artists, too, can take an interest in such things as hands that are drawing hands drawing hands — a double ouroboros (MC Escher)..

or pipes that are not pipes (Magritte):

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Anyway, here for any who are interested, are some instances of the one-move self-referential Ouroboros board in use:

I think you’ll see why this New Yorker title jumped out of the page at me:

Writers like ’em!

I really liked these two examples, carried by political activists — the first on a back-pack:

and the second on a placard — totally surreal, bearing no relation to the political event which was being protested:

That, too, is an ouroboros.

Nancy Pelosi used a weird ouroboros the other day, saying:

The logo of 8chan, home of the image-board where the extremists of the alt-right meet and plot away from prying eyes is another double ouroboros:

Here’s one from Hofstadter’s book, Godel Escher Bach:

And finally, here are five instances collected by the writer William Safire:

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I hope you like these, and find your own — here, again, is the empty Ouroboros game board in case you wish to drop your own examples into it!

Enjoy!

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Browncast Ep 39: Carl Zha, Pakistan, and China’s demographic crisis

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at 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 episode we talk to Carl Zha (a return guest) about the Pakistani bride controversy and China. A lot of the discussion involves general demographic concerns about Chinese society.

Also, I know that some listeners consider Carl to be a Chinese government operative or plant (at least on Twitter). In which case, we present here a representative here of the Chinese government!

Ultimately the key point for me is to get someone on who can watch the Chinese media, which is totally opaque to me.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

Addendum: This podcast, along with one other, has been on the patron page for several days. There are cases where the latency is very short due to the timeliness, but in other cases, it can be as long as a week or more.

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Modi has failed us but at least he put the Muslims in their place

Indian elections are a marvel to behold. The rules stipulate that no citizen should have to travel more than 2km to vote. So the state goes to the voters. Carrying oxygen tanks, election officials scaled the Himalayas to erect a voting booth in a village in Ladakh, 4,500 metres above sea level. In western India, a polling station was set up for the lone human inhabitant of a wildlife sanctuary. In eastern India, officials trekked for an entire day to reach the sole registered voter, an elderly woman, in a remote village. By the time voting closed on Sunday, some 600 million people had cast their ballots, 10 million of them for the first time.

In 2019, the world’s biggest election was much more than a ritual of democracy. It was the most consequential vote in the lifetime of a majority of Indians alive today. India under Narendra Modi has undergone the most total transformation since 1991. This election has, in effect, been a referendum on whether the republic retains its founding ideals or, if Modi wins another term – and exit polls released on Sunday show him winning with a comfortable majority – it leaps to a place of sectarianism from which return may be close to impossible.

Five more years of Narendra Modi will take India to a dark place

Is this election where the angry Bharat finally dispatches his ailing Mother India?

Continue reading “Modi has failed us but at least he put the Muslims in their place”

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Analysing The Election Podcast –

I woke up this morning to commentary on Episode 38:

We had a bit of a twitter exchange though I find it odd that Aashish zeroed in on V by claiming that she was misinformed.

I do not understand a community where the daughter is called Asifa Bano and the father Muhammad Yusuf are *not* Muslim. People who pray to Sai Baba retain Hindu nomenclature and would be understood to be Hindus.

To somehow *disregard* Asifa’s Muslim identity in an increasingly religiously identified India is irresponsible to say the least and to somehow only raise an ethnic angle is only part of the story.

Continue reading “Analysing The Election Podcast –”

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