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.

25 thoughts on “A quick note on BP housekeeping”

  1. Thanks Razib,

    That conversation degenerated very quickly and it’s probably better that it be scrubbed from the record.

    I think you guys (the three main administrators) need to come up with a tighter moderation policy which should be explained to any future contributors before they agree to sign on. I thought it was nice that there were lots of contributors because there was always something new on the blog. If someone is single-handedly running the show, there is only so much writing you can do in your free time. Right now, I have lots of old content to transfer to my blog but when I actually have to start writing new stuff, it’s going to be hard to be regular. On BP that burden was taken away from one person.

    The down side of that was that the blog had no consistent ideology or theme. It was a bit all over the place. Also, people’s personalities clashed and some people really just pushed each other’s buttons. Sorry for my role in that. Just as you are sensitive to attacks on atheism, I am sensitive to attacks on Islam and on Pakistan. There was a lot of that going around (sometimes needlessly) from our “internet Hindu” friends. There is a difference between scholarly critique and gratuitous nastiness.

    Each contributor also had their own pet obsessions and some of those obsessions just bored other people completely. Perhaps BP could more clearly define its areas of interest (rather than just “South Asia” which is overly general).

    No one should be making imputations about anyone else’s life or attacking each other’s spouses.

    Just some thoughts. You are the hosts and you know best.

    1. i think the issue cropped up when ppl started going at each other in the front pages. i pretty much left other peoples’ comment threads to themselves (i only saw them because i pushed through stuff in moderation now and then).

      as for how we need to go fwd, we’ll figure it out when omar is back 100%.

      1. Most of my stuff is on my computer and on other blogs that I’ve been associated with. At least the stuff worth saving.

        Thanks though 🙂

  2. Also, I think the point was made on the earlier thread (which is going to be deleted) that no one on BP gets paid for what they write. It’s a labor of love. So the least that can legitimately be expected is not to have to take abuse from commenters.

      1. We should all reflect. But as girmit said, there is a “guest/host” relationship.

        I think you had mentioned in one of the posts in the last week that your ideal was “civilized debate on contentious topics”. This is an ideal we should all aspire to. Unfortunately (this is not a criticism of BP), I think people in general have lost the ability to have civilized debates. I think one cause of this is the demise of the Liberal Arts education (but that’s my personal obsession so you are free to ignore it). Gore Vidal and William Buckley had polar opposite political views and yet when they debated (on TV I think), nobody screamed at each other. If you watch Pakistani and Indian talk shows, there are just several people shouting at the same time. I used to try to follow India’s news by watching these shows on YouTube, but then they just gave me a headache so I stopped.

        Comment sections on blogs tend to be even worse than talk shows. That’s why Scroll.in doesn’t even have a comment section. 3qd’s comment section is generally good (I read the blog, I don’t comment there). Abbas Raza (who is of Pak origin btw though he lives in the Italian Alps) generally clamps down hard on personal attacks. Omar used to write for 3qd at one point.

        One difference between 3qd and BP is that (asides from Mondays), the rest of the week they just curate content from the Web. BP is much more a place for people to post original articles (which I personally like better). Though there is a lot to be said for knowing that there is one blog you can go to find links to good content elsewhere. It’s just a different model.

  3. But honestly, I’ve been impressed by how clear-eyed and honest many Indian journalists and thinkers have been about the new research.

    No intention to hijack the discussion from the main points, but it is too hard for me to resist commenting on the above point: it is easy to sound clear-eyed when research supports your position: making a report that pleases the teacher is easier than trying to play the findings against each other. Thus, someone like me routinely bullshits and embarrasses oneself, because we are swimming against the tide, and the quickest path to understanding something without having the time and resources to undertake a systematic study often involves embarrassing oneself (it doesn’t help that scientists are bad at exposition: they write accurate statements, but usually lack the imagination to anticipate and preempt misinterpretation). Wait for a few years, and you will see Hindutva knowledge of genetics improving, and they may come up with valid interpretations of genetic findings you didn’t think were possible.

    Related point: you may consider Tony Joseph a deviation from your earlier sample that you consider Hindutva propaganda, but the article is really basing itself on what Singh and Thangaraj said, and these two should get your blame for the misrepresentation (remember that Reich’s own tensest 48 hours came from trying to persuade these guys).

    1. “making a report that pleases the teacher is easier…”

      As a former student and a current teacher, I concur completely. My students have totally figured out that I love Saraswati Ma and they have now started going on and on about her. (I’m teaching a course called “Evolution of Music in South Asia”). These are very very “Muslim” kids but they know what makes professor happy. Though I was very careful to say “Hindus believe Saraswati Ma is the goddess of Music” and did not express that as my personal belief (this being Pakistan and all. I’m still sometimes terrified someone is going to complain to admin that I’m trying to lead them away from Islam).

      As a student, I knew that if I mentioned Foucault I would get an “A”. And trust me I did a lot of that.

        1. Especially in those subjects which are “subjective”. When I was in college, Foucault and Gramsci were really big with my professors of Social Sciences. I have been out of school nearly a decade now, so I’m sure the popular theorists have changed. But whoever they are, students are quoting them to make teachers happy.

          1. Even in my STEM field, my and other folks’ judgments of someone’s research are heavily influenced by one’s own sense of aesthetics.

            Speaking of which, if I were a music prof (which I don’t have the talent to be, but hypothetically), I would find it hard to not be biased in favor of songs/renditions in ragas I like.

            What would make this trait of mine especially odd is that there are shallow and simple-minded ragas I like very much, while there are complex and profound ones which just don’t click with me.

          2. We all definitely have our favorite ragas. For example, mine is Yaman Kalyan. And of course the major “ghambir” ragas like Darbari and Malkauns. One of the rarer ragas I like is Multani.

            To clarify though, the course I am teaching is a Music History course, so particular ragas are not that important, except to serve as examples of what Hindustani classical music is.

            But it is hard not to let one’s biases creep in. For example, I have been trained in khayal so I spent a lot of time on that. There was supposed to be a lecture on Bollywood (the syllabus was designed by my predecessor) and I just decided to skip that entirely, because frankly I cannot stand Bollywood (barring the older songs that were clearly based on ragas) and at this point in the semester with 3 weeks of teaching to go, some topics had to be sacrificed. Similarly, discussion of Pakistani Pop music and Coke Studio is being kept to a minimum. I front-loaded a lot of the first half of the course with khayal gayaki and stuff like that. Some students were into it but the Bollywood fans probably hate me.

            They do have to do a final project though and they are at liberty to explore any topic relating to “Pakistani” music. The term of art is “Hindustani Music” but again, there are some battles one can’t win. But their final projects are supposed to focus on post-1947, in which case “Pakistani” is an OK term.

          3. I too can’t stand Bollywood, and wholeheartedly support any bias against it 🙂 Moreover, their music is so shallow (and frequently plagiarized), so if musical history is intended to serve music, keeping Bollywood out should be fair game?

            But I should confess that I sometimes like filmy/pop adulterations. For instance consider this song by Shujat “grandson” Ali Khan. The song itself seems to be in durga (and was written by his ridiculously talented grandfather?), but much of the flute background in bhoopali. For instance, around 1:11, Shujat wraps up a line in durga, and the way the flute interlude firsts flirts around the common notes “dha, saa, saa re dha [dha]saa dha” of the two ragas before taking off into bhoopali proper with a “dha sa re gaa” at about 1:17, seemed quite cleverly done, and extraordinarily exhilarating to me.

          4. I’m not against all Bollywood. Some of the songs from decades past were clearly raga-based and they are beautiful. Film composers of those days knew their classical music. You listen to one or two lines of a song and you know right away what raga it is. For example “Man tarpata hari darashan ko aaj” is clearly Malkauns.

            Sanjay Leela Bhansali has admitted that his favorite raga is Yaman Kalyan and there is always one song in that raga in each of his films. I shared the following article with my class just so they would understand what Yaman Kalyan sounds like. I thought young kids ( a decade younger than me) would relate to “Padmavaat”.


            I will confess to liking the songs from “Devdas”.

            Before I stopped posting my content on BP, I had written a short history of Hindustani music, which no one seemed all that interested in. You can find it here:


          5. Thanks Kabir. I enjoyed your article and it certainly had something to teach me. I am not happy that people aren’t much into these things these days.

            I will ask you to be careful about attributing ragas as Turkish though: at least many south Indian texts use “Turushka” or Turkish as a generic phrase to refer to ragas (and other concepts or things) with origins in Muslim countries. For instance, the raga todi of carnatic music, which is actually the bhairavi of Hindustani music (hence very different from what is called todi in Hindustani), is (I think) of Arabic origin, but carnatic texts call it Turushka. In fact I once heard this scale in some Iranian music, and remarked to an Iranian friend that it sounded Arabic. He replied that indeed, the scale had come to Persian music from Arabic music.

            That said, I too tend to believe that Yaman is likely actually Turkish in origin. I have heard that scale from Turkish music, but not from Arabic or Persian music (unfortunately I haven’t heard any music from central Asian Turkic groups, so don’t know much about them).

            Thanks for the links to the songs. I wasn’t familiar with them (south Indian here). Are you sure that Hamesha tum ko chaha is Yaman? I seem to hear a lot of komal re in it. May be it has multiple ragas.

          6. I agree that it is not likely that the ragas are “Turkish”. However, the story as told by Hindustani classical musicians themselves is that Hazrat Amir Khusro Dehlevi invented Yaman Kalyan or brought it from Persia or something. We of course have no proof. There are of course the politics of music and the fact that many Hindustani classical musicians of Muslim origin insist on a Muslim origin for our music. Though I believe there is no such thing as “Hindu” Music or “Muslim”Music. In contrast Bhatkhande insisted in finding an origin for the music in Sanskrit Shastras and lamented that music was in “Musalman” hands.

            I think Bhansali himself said that “Hamesha tum ko chaha” is Yaman (at least according to the linked article). It is possible that there is a komal re. It is a film song after all, it doesn’t need to follow the raga rules exactly.

          7. I have no doubt that Yaman Kalyan has origins in some Islamic country; not the least because one of the associated carnatic ragas, Kalyani, is described as Turkish by south Indian (Hindu) texts. All I am saying is that it may be a different Islamic country, not necessarily Turkey, since the authors of the texts did not always pay attention to geographical precision.

            I agree that this still doesn’t make the particular ragas per se Hindu or Muslim: a lot of changes has happened to them (regarding the details of their treatment) since they were incorporated into the subcontinent (hell, even Khayal treatments are so different from their Dhrupad predecessors) and both Muslims and Hindus have contributed to this reinvention.

          8. Agreed. Tansen was Hindu. Khayal as we know it today was developed by Sadarang in Muhammad Shah Rangila’s court.

            I don’t know anything really about Carnatic music but the theory goes that it was left relatively untouched by the “Muslim” influence. North Indian music has incorporated South Indian ragas (Hamsadwani, Kirvani). Not sure there has been much influence the other way around.

          9. “Less touched” might be true, but “relatively untouched” would be a bit extreme. Above I gave two examples of ragas of carnatic music: Todi (= bhairavi of Hindustani) and Kalyani (=yaman of Hindustani) that came from Hindustani. These are among the pillars of carnatic music today, so scales coming from Muslim countries are indeed quite important in the carnatic tradition. There are several other examples of ragas coming from Hindustani music, many of them from Muslim countries.

            However, many of these have been so thoroughly carnaticized that they sound very different from Hindustani versions. For instance, here is a Carnatic todi (Hindustani bhairavi; listen from 0:55 because till then the performers and the song are being introduced, first in Telugu and then in English):


            Here is Kalyani:


            Then there is Yamunakalyani, the lighter variant with a smaller madhyam, which you will find far closer to the Hindustani Yaman Kalyan:


            So yes, there is tonnes of Hindustani influence in Carnatic, I would say much more than Carnatic influence in Hindustani.

        2. I wonder what is the spam detector strategy here, these have been among the mildest of my comments on this blog.

          1. Interesting. I thought the two streams rarely interacted.

            Carnatic is much more focused on getting the composition exactly right as the composer intended while Hindustani is much more about improvisation within the raga. At least that is what I have read.

          2. Carnatic does allow for a lot of improvisation, but it is true that the share that is taken up by rendition of pieces during a concert is more than that in Hindustani, which certainly eats up from the time allotted to improvisation.

            We certainly have good reason to believe that the pieces have been changing in shape drastically, far differently from what the composer intended. I know at least two pieces of Tyagaraja that are sung by two different schools of his disciples in two different ragas, it is that bad!

          3. I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking a piece and composing it in a different raga. In Hindustani music, people take ghazals and compose them in which ever raga they want. It is true that in khayal proper, you wouldn’t do this. Usually in ghazals also, people tend to go with however the composition was sung by Farida Khanum or Medhi Hassan. However, there is no inherent reason that the poetry can’t be set to a different tune.

            We should discuss music further at my personal blog. It’s not really a high priority issue on BP.

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