Midnight’s Descendants: A History of South Asia since Partition

I recently read John Keay’s Midnight’s Descendants: A History of South Asia since Partition. Like his earlier books on the history of India and China, this is a work written by a journalist, not an area specialist (though Keay seems to take a particular interest in South Asia judging by his oeuvre).

To be frank I’m not sure if I learned that much…and I don’t know much about South Asian history after 1945. But, it reaffirmed my intuitions that some of the ideologues who bandy extremely high casualty rates are doing a disservice to the real tragedies that have marred the subcontinent over the past century.

In any case, I do recommend this book to the 50% of the readers of this weblog who are not South Asian.

Note: I don’t have the time or interest to read Guha’s India After Gandhi. Also, my friend Reihan Salam has indicated to me it’s a more tendentious work than most are willing to admit.

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The Depiction of the Indian Subcontinent in 19th Century French Grand Opera

From my personal blog:

[Kabir’s note: A change of pace from the usual topics. As Zack says there is no need to be so confrontational all the time]

During the mid-nineteenth century, European composers experienced a vogue for depicting the Orient on stage.  Not only was the Orient an exotic location, but the operas set there spoke to the imperial anxieties of various European nations.  In their essay published in Imperialisms: Historical and Literary Investigations, Linda and Michael Hutcheon write: “Opera may not appear at first to be quite the same as these other Western means explored by [Edward] Said of ‘dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient’. But it is important to recall that Opera was a powerful discursive practice in nineteenth century Europe, one that created, by repetition, national stereotypes that, we argue, are used to appropriate culturally what France could not always conquer militarily” (Hutcheon 204).

In this paper, I will analyze two French Grand Operas from this period—George Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers (1863) and Leo Delibes’s Lakme (1883)—in order to determine the stereotype of the “Oriental” that was being presented to French audiences.  As a point of contrast, I will also discuss Indrasabha (The Heavenly Court of Indra), an operatic drama written by the Urdu poet Agha Hasan Amanat and produced in 1855 in the palace courtyard of Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Oudh.  This contrast will serve to illuminate how the operatic tradition was adapted by Indians themselves as well as the differences in the narratives about the Orient as conceived by the Occident as opposed to the Orient itself.

The Pearl Fishers is set on the island of Ceylon—the modern nation of Sri Lanka.  The opera tells the story of of how two men’s vow of eternal friendship is threatened by their love for the same woman. This woman, in turn, faces a dilemma between secular love and her sacred oath as a priestess. The score is perhaps best known for “Au fond du temple saint”, the “friendship duet” for Tenor and Baritone.

In his essay “The Pearl Fishers and the Exotic”, musicologist Ross Hagen writes that “the orientalist musical language of Le desert, The Pearl Fishers, and similar works became essentially a catch-all signifier for any foreign culture full of danger, violence, superstition, taut tanned bodies and permissive sensuality.” He further argues that “the accompaniments of ‘exotic’ melodies often relied on drone pitches and fairly static rhythms as a way to lend a ‘primitive’ touch” (Utahopera.org).

Presenting such a work in the early twenty-first century has its challenges. As Hagen argues, the fact of globalization “doesn’t do these exoticist works any favors… Indian culture is also much less alien to an opera audience today than it would have been in nineteenth century Paris” (Utahopera.org).  He argues that presenting a period-faithful production in which a cast of white singers attempts to look “Indian” risks being perceived as an exercise in “brown-face”. However, setting the opera in a blank “postmodern” space seems dishonest. He concludes his article by noting that: “Regardless of the path taken by an individual production, it is useful to remember that The Pearl Fishers was designed to appeal to the imaginations, prejudices, and preconceptions of a nineteenth century Parisian audience. Acknowledging the desires of the original audience perhaps creates a measure of critical distance and allows the audience to appreciate the opera without denying its place in the lineup of vaguely colonialist and patronizing works from the time period” (Utahopera.org).  As John Mackenzie notes in his book Orientalism: History, Theory and the Arts: “Again perhaps, it might be possible to see the central plot conceit of a sacred virgin yielding to love as somehow parallel to the seductions of European imperialism, but it was a favorite Romantic theme and in the opera it takes place purely within a Ceylonese context” (Mackenzie 151).  Thus, it is debatable whether simply setting a work in a foreign culture such as Sri Lanka makes the opera inherently colonialist.

Unlike The Pearl Fishers— in which all the characters are Sri Lankan–Delibes’s Lakme revolves around the romance between Gerald, a soldier serving in British India, and the Hindu priestess, Lakme. As Mackenzie states: “Here a British officer loves an Indian woman who sacrifices herself to save him. The imperial interpretation is obvious: the indigenous woman as sacrificial victim for the greater good of the civilizing mission, though the theme of cross-racial love is movingly portrayed in the music” (Mackenzie 151).  In their own discussion of Lakme, Linda and Michael Hutcheon note that: “By the time of Lakme, the French and the British, on the other hand, had been fighting each other militarily over India and other overseas territories for more than a century… it is as if the French were seeking ways to explore other aspects of imperialism by means of the safety afforded by distance and displacement” (205).

The Hutcheons note that Gerald infantilizes Lakme. He calls her a child and believes his fellow officer when he assures him that he can leave the Hindu priestess with impunity because “These children don’t know how to suffer”. They write: “In the discourse of French imperialism, ‘peuples enfants’ was a common positive term for the colonized—seen as simple, capricious but capable of devotion and loyalty” (209).  They cite Raoul Girardet’s argument that  in the 1870s, France developed “a moral, economic and political doctrine and discourse of imperialism… Perhaps by contemplating the difficult situation of the imperial British in India, French audiences could consider, with greater distance, the tensions involved in their own colonial efforts somewhat more easily” (210).

Another important point made by the Hutcheons is that in these operas it is the men who act violently to protect their religion “but it is the women who articulate the immensity of the religious and cultural differences”. This connects with the general Romantic fascination with the femme fatale.  Lakme commits suicide for the love of a European man.  The Hutcheons cite Binita Metha’s argument in Widows, Pariahs and Bayaderes: India as Spectacle that “the sacrifice of the (subject) woman is the formulation upon which the colonial (male) ideology of temptation and duty are resolved” (211).

You can read more here

 

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Why I don’t eat Pork

WHY I DON'T EAT PORK!

It's the age old question….Why don't people eat pork even when they are not religious?!!!!I never quite understood why, but here is my best attempt at a guess. Many will disagree on the basis of religion and animal cruelty. I welcome these comments too. But it does fall out of scope for this video 🙂 My best guess is that ever since I was 5 years old, I kept hearing: no pork, no pork, no pork. And now, even when I'm not religious, I still don't touch pork.Join me on Nas Daily Global – a new group I'm starting where people discuss these topics and it's awesome. I'm also on Instagram @nasdaily!

Posted by Nas Daily on Thursday, June 21, 2018

This is a really interesting video because Nas asks the question that why don’t secular Muslims eat pork.

It taps into the old Jesuit saying “give me a child till 7 and I will show you the man.” In fact it’s supposedly Aristotle who said it but the idea that initial childhood impressions form our adult views.

Back to the questions of Muslims & pork; it’s the ultimate shibboleth. Allegedly Quaid-e-Azam ate pork; I don’t really know if there is a good quality pork in the Subcontinent but perhaps it was different in the Raj.

In all religions there is that red line of apostasy. In Islam it is pork, in the Baha’i Faith it’s alcohol, for Hindus it’s beef and for Sikhs I guess it would be not wearing the turban?

To requote the late & great Anthony Bourdain in his first seminal article all the way back in 1999:

Like most other chefs I know, I’m amused when I hear people object to pork on nonreligious grounds. “Swine are filthy animals,” they say. These people have obviously never visited a poultry farm. Chicken—America’s favorite food—goes bad quickly; handled carelessly, it infects other foods with salmonella; and it bores the hell out of chefs. It occupies its ubiquitous place on menus as an option for customers who can’t decide what they want to eat. Most chefs believe that supermarket chickens in this country are slimy and tasteless compared with European varieties. Pork, on the other hand, is cool. Farmers stopped feeding garbage to pigs decades ago, and even if you eat pork rare you’re more likely to win the Lotto than to contract trichinosis. Pork tastes different, depending on what you do with it, but chicken always tastes like chicken.

Continue reading “Why I don’t eat Pork”

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Sheryl Sandberg desi lookalike speaks out against Trump

I was stirred by Rep. Jayapal’s evocative speech on the ongoing child separation crisis on the US border:

However what struck me as well is that her unique facial structure essentially makes her the coloured doppelgänger of a rather well-known liberal billionairess and advocate.

Image result for sheryl sandberg

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Rising global caste and tribalism

Related articles:

Should Amy Chua and Michael Shermer be added to the list of leaders for the Intellectual Dark Web? They discuss the rise in global tribalism (caste) and victimhood and how it is threatening the entire world. Amy Chua implies that the opposite to caste tribalism in global classical liberalism, which has not really caught on around the world. Most people who self identify with European enlightenment values unconsciously retain nationalism and many other forms of tribal (or caste or cultural) identity.

Amy Chua has written 5 books. Her first four were very well written. No doubt her fifth, which I haven’t read, is too.

What does everyone at Brown Pundits think is driving the dangerous surge in global identitarian caste tribalism? I think post modernism is the largest. Are there are other drivers too?

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India Still Rising

The Honorable former U.S. ambassador to India David C. Mulford’s summary of why India is rapidly becoming a great global superpower and why PM Modi might become the best PM in Indian history. My estimate is that India will have more billionaires than America in less than a generation. When this happens what is to stop post modernists from decrying “Asian supremacy”, Asian hegemony, Asian exploitation, Asian empire, Asian imperialism, Asian oppression, Asian racism/bigotry/ sectariansim? How to reduce jealousy of Asia? Or is this dark future inevitable?

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Kashmir

The government in Kashmir has fallen. What’s next for this troubled province?

As an aside my own preference is the LOC is a soft border between India and Pakistan. I don’t want any redrawing of the map whatsoever. I would rather Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan be able to act in Bollywood and Pakistani players play in the IPL. I can understand that for some Kashmir is a hot topic but I’m far too invested in Rising India as it is.

However if I see this post degenerate into low quality jingoism on either side; I’ll arbitrarily delete comments.

Comments are free but facts are sacred. If I see unnecessary emotionalism I’ll just remove it- the BP threads have turned into an Indo-PAK flame war and I have stayed my hand but in my own threads I’m going to be much more pro-active.

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Indian Religious Landscape Survey

This is a very simple poll. I posted a couple of these questions on Twitter (@omarali50) and want to do the same here. The idea is to test a hypothesis (not about what will happen to the Indian religious landscape, but what do readers of this blog THINK will happen to it, and why) which will be part of a later blog post I plan. For now, please take this very simple 3 question survey by scrolling down within the survey below.. and comment on the post as you see fit.. We may learn something, or at least have some interesting discussions..

Create your own user feedback survey

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