Thoughts on “All Things Brown”

Few thoughts on the “All Things Brown” podcast, which is the only podcast I’ve had the pleasure of listening start to finish without interruptions 🙂 Made possible by the fact that I was listening to it while driving yesterday.

1) I find the name cArvAka podcast to be a little grating, at least subjectively for me! I think if the word cArvAka is used, then it should be followed by a Sanskrit word too to form the title. So, I would have named it cArvAka vAkkSepan – which has an alliterative quality to it as the morpheme vAc (voice/speech) is repeated in the words. Literally, sweet-voice voice-cast 🙂

2) I found the conversation to be more frank than most others on India-Pakistan-South Asian politics that I have heard (at least snatches of) on Browncasts. perhaps made possible by the fact that the host of the vAkkSepan was more argumentative than podcast hosts normally are. Maybe that’s the USP.

3) I think that the talk about “efficient countries” was a little misguided, because it conflated survivalism with long-term (meta)stability. A country is a governance system for people living in a geographical area, which exists because the idea of living/investing effort in that region has sufficient purchase in the minds of the local elites (military, economic, political, legal, opinion-makers etc). Political entities that exist over the long-term (time scales of 10s of generations) do so only when they are meta-stable, i.e. not just invested in the art of surviving from one crisis to another but in durable institutions/social-contracts that weather and correct political error. Real instabilities in complex (non-linear) systems like countries or economies do not arise with gradual ebb and flow. They tend to occur as very-low probability, but extreme spikes that come in clusters and can wipe out fortunes in days – the mahotpAta – as our forefathers called the phenomenon in Sanskrit. The only sort of thing that can hedge against such calamity is the strength and breadth of institutions that the state embodies: economic, legal, local government, healthcare, law enforcement etc.

4) In that, all countries of South Asia fare terribly, but Pakistan is probably the worst of all. Because it is the one most concerned with issues of “honour” and “saving-face” than longer-term growth. Ironically, very much like the kSatrIya maryAdA of the mahAbhArata. It is as if gandhAra-naresha shakuni’s progeny is repeating the same mistakes he exploited in the pANDava-s of hastinapura! The state punting at ever higher stakes for ever diminishing returns just to keep the expected payoff positive, and collateralizing ever more of its tangible assets to raise capital to bankroll the audacious punts. In short, Pakistani state is caught up in the Gambler’s Ruin fallacy. I may be totally wrong, but I see a non-trivial portion of the Pakistani elite invested in this sort of thinking.

5) I believe the host was too sanguine about inter-communal relations in India. The “chaos” that the outsider observes is not a result of indecision of Hindus about what India is meant to be, nor a natural “argumentative” condition of being Hindu but a result of a country in severe economic churn (and distress that goes with it) where many millions no longer know their place. Indian middle-class oldies will often remark that India of the 50s was so much more decent and phlegmatic, Muslims lived interspersed with Hindus in harmony, corruption was low and even our movies were decent and embellished with lovely lyrics in chaste Urdu etc. Almost all of this is a fiction constructed in a deeply casteist society, where the lower castes/classes – 70% majority of Indians – were both excised from public life and popular memory and were told their place. The democratic churn means that the popular will of all these people can no longer be kept in check by the mai-baaps. And the lack of economic integration of the rural, largely subsistence-agriculture based economy means that we are witnessing the largest internal mass-migration in human history – from the rural hinterland to India’s creaking megapolises – where most live off colonial-era infrastructure that has seen little major redevelopment since. The adoption of neo-Hindutva (constitution-loving, true Indian patriot avatar) by this new lower/lower-middle class of Hindus, the newest entrants in Indians cities and mofussil satellite towns, will define the Indian Right Wing for decades to come.

6) Regarding India-Pakistan relations, I think they are set to remain very sour for a very long time. One thing that I have noticed in the last 25 years speaking with Indians of all persuasions and from nearly all regions of India is how much negative feeling Pakistan evokes in India of today compared to India of 25y ago. A bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Partly a result of convergence and ossification of views as popular and social media have permeated Indian discourse. Pakistanis should justifiably be worried about this as this will harden Indian policy towards Pakistan; becoming almost institutionalized doctrine. I, personally, think that India allowing Pakistani students in Indian unis or patients in hospitals is a fantastic thing – but the will in the Indian state to “cultivate” Pakistanis seems to be fast-diminishing. As always the poorest will suffer the most.

7) Zach’s point that Indians are by and large guilty of projecting their own preconceived notions on Pakistani motivations and POV is quite on-the-money. I don’t know if the converse is also true, but I’m happy to take Omar Bhai’s word for it. I also think there is a general dearth of understanding of local evolution of Pakistani politics in India. Maybe a podcast that simplifies and disambiguates the broad details of internal Pakistani dynamics, e.g. on the recent popular Pashtun movement, on the dynamics in Balochistan (is there genuine appetite for political independence there?), on inter-communal relations in Sindh, state of Pakistan’s Hindu, Christian minorities, language politics in Pakistan (or lack thereof) etc would be helpful to Indian listeners.

8) Of all the people, I found myself in agreement with Omar Bhai the most – and that comes as no surprise to me. I ultimately believe that the quintessential Indic way is the majjhima nikAya, the “middle path” of Buddhist doctrine, which is one of give & take and compromise and of shunning extremes. And S Asia will, I hope like Omar Bhai, revert to this civilizational mean if we (and our children) are patient enough.

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27 Replies to “Thoughts on “All Things Brown””

  1. Almost all of this is a fiction constructed in a deeply casteist society, where the lower castes/classes – 70% majority of Indians – were both excised from public life and popular memory and were told their place. The democratic churn means that the popular will of all these people can no longer be kept in check by the mai-baaps.

    This is true, but what exactly is the popular will? Is it just the crafting of, and participation in, a community/clan-based spoils system (which is arguably what exists today), or the quest for broad-based institutional egalitarianism (I confess I see no craving or appetite for this in today’s India, based on what I see and hear, but it’s possible I’m not tapped into the right networks.)

    After the dust settles down, a generation or two from now, what will we see? A society that looks something like a multi-religious Western country, or a caste/jati-based society (just with a different hierarchy than used to exist in the past)?

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    1. The popular will (or wills?) is hard to ascertain. I would just say that one of its unmistakable components is economic upliftment. India has become extremely, explicitly consumerist and economic aspiration – stable jobs, good incomes to buy and own things we see others consuming, amassing wealth and inheritance for one’s kids – is widespread. The effect of consumerism on millions moving into cities from the hinterland is just so hard to predict, because it has never really happened before at this scale. To my mind all bets are off.

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      1. Interesting piece – to be honest what annoyed me the most about the podcast is having to wake up at 4.30am only to realise Carvaka was doing another one in 12hrs.

        I’m pretty tired of being forced to talk about Pakistan – I would have been more interested in talking about Hasan Minha (Carvaka’s follow up podcast).

        He’s a very nice chap Kushal – we had a very amiable chat afterward but there’s a limit to how “interested” I am in discussing tired issues.

        I felt Omar & I were dredging up things that we weren’t necessarily interested to talk about.

        I’m going to be much more circumspect next time..

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        1. If you’re tired of talking about Pakistan, than don’t. We would also appreciate you guys laying off the country, since you mostly have nothing good to say about it.

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          1. To be fair i dont think Omar, Zack on the podcast said anything “controversial” about Pakistan.

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          2. I mean, Pakistan as a country is pretty much a basket case right now.

            Don’t get me wrong: I’m a pragmatist and a peacenik, and as I’ve said with Dr. Ali, my hope for India and Pakistan is that we can have a general detente, and a Good Friday Agreement of sorts in Kashmir, as a prelude to developing further trade ties.

            That’s not possible with the current regime of Pakistani hardliners. Things are going to get a lot worse before they start to get better (if they ever do).

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      2. Like most Indians (who have never been to a Pakistan and know Pakistan on a social not intimate level) SS you dramatically underestimate the Pakistani will (the only politician/leader to *get* Pakistan was Indira and she was profoundly authoritarian).

        As I said at the end it’s sad to see Pakistan become rent boy to China & Saudi but it has become one and to a very great extent has been successful at it.

        AfPak is now dominating and overshadowing the “IndoPak” and frankly India has much to blame for that.

        I don’t care either way; I only offer my opinion when asked for it. I see that evidenced in my personal life, in a deeply divided Cambridge gown/town community (where Paks and Indians are oil & water) V&I exist as a bridge between both worlds..

        The profound cultural commonalities exist but even Puwalama sets back relations..

        I see it and feel it every day that one people are dramatically becoming two..

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        1. @Zach

          I am guilty as charged re not knowing Pakistan intimately, and I may also be guilty as charged of underestimating Pakistani will to exist. I slightly disagree with the latter, as I take after Ambedkar in that sense and see Pakistan as a viable and completely legit Islamic Republic. However, either way, I don’t think I was making that point.

          What I was speaking about is all the iron will in the world means nothing when extreme political instability hits. And the only thing that saves a society from breaking apart in such situations is the depth and breadth of institutional backbone the country has created. I think Pakistan fares the worst in that regard in S Asia. *Not* because the people do not will it to exist, but because their view of what’s required for a durable state – the nuts and bolts as it were – seems too cavalier to me. More broad strokes and ideology than unsexy details. Things like fixing the railway system for a start. It’s not like China or India are light years ahead, but their view of state is more risk-averse. That’s my view anyway and I could be totally wrong.

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          1. 1971 was Sui generis.

            I genuinely can’t foresee Baluchistan breaking off; in 1971 when it seemed likely that West Pakistan might collapse, the Shah mobilised his army to invade Baluchistan as a panic reaction.

            With Respect I see Indians wishing the *death of Pakistan* for the past 70years.

            To completely overwhelm PAK; India must not only have an army 2-3 times larger but also be 2-3 richer (per capita). I find both scenarios difficult to find when Pakistan has such powerful patrons.

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          2. @Zack:

            With Respect I see Indians wishing the *death of Pakistan* for the past 70years.

            I think this was true of the Partition generation, and probably the generation immediately after, but isn’t so any more. I agree with Slapstick that attitudes have hardened, but that’s pretty much all because Pakistan is seen as a state sponsor of insurgency and terrorism in India. It’s not that Indians wish for the death (or breakup) of Pakistan but that Indians don’t want much to do with Pakistan and wish it’d clean up shop and stop meddling in our country.

            You mention ’71. Perhaps Pakistanis are so obsessed about separating Kashmir from India because there are a lot of people around who viscerally remember that defeat (and the fact the Bangladesh once used to be a part of their country.) Maybe another generation needs to pass by before it won’t be such a sore issue to Pakistanis.

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          3. Your argument would be fine except for the fact that the Kashmir dispute dates back to 1947, long before 1971. Pakistanis have been advocating the cause of Kashmiri freedom from the very beginning. The 1965 war was faught over Kashmir. So no, our interest in Kashmir is not revenge for the loss of East Pakistan.

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    2. Interesting in the face of hyper-Westernisation; I see Urdu booming in India.

      I remember an episode of the voice with AR Rahman and the Pakistani singer (who is now Indian) happily accepting a Bong, Sikh & Muslim who all sang Urdu songs simultaneously.

      India’s love affair with her Mughal past isn’t going anywhere hence my mixed feelings about Pakistan. I can’t forget Pakistan is THE Urdu language state but at the same time I suspect it’s motives for being founded on Urdu rather than Islam.

      As an Urdu language state it is peerless as a Muslim state it is the lowest of the low. Pakistanis must recognise their duality and SOON..

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      1. India’s love affair with her Mughal past isn’t going anywhere

        These things are probably cyclical. During British rule and after Independence, it was cool to appreciate the Mughals as our erstwhile “indigenous” rulers (compared to the British, they were, especially the latter bunch.) That love affair ended with our fealty to the Congress Party and its affiliates, and with the rise of the Hindu right, a reevaluation began. Now, it’s cool to obsess about the foreign origins of that dynasty and pick out their negative actions vis-a-vis the Hindu communities of the subcontinent. A generation from now, our current attitudes may be reevaluated and the Mughals may return to their earlier place as “glorious Indian dynasts”.

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  2. I predict that in the year 2119, India and Pakistan will be thick allies and India will be using Pak to extend its influence in MENA.

    If anyone wants to bet ₹500, I’m up for it. Maybe we can put it in fixed deposit and our descendants can cash the cheque based on the results.

    (We can make the conditions of the bet more objective. Like ease of visa etc etc)

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    1. Lol. I won’t take the punt because I don’t like to. But I will say this: if, and it is a BIG EFFIN’ IF, India survives until 2119 it will be running MENA let alone need Pak to help extend its influence to that region.

      (Indians generally grossly underestimate what Indians can be capable of if they create a well-oiled nation that survives two-odd centuries)

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      1. “Lol. I won’t take the punt because I don’t like to. But I will say this: if, and it is a BIG EFFIN’ IF, India survives until 2119…”

        I’m reminded of something an old professor of mine once said — that India is a microcosm of the entire world’s problems. Every dimension of human conflict there ever was is being played out in India today — ethnic, linguistic, religious, gender based, class based, political, generational, environmental, etc. So much so that it is not a question of whether India will survive, but whether the world will survive if India does not.

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        1. I somehow imagine this sort of a situation to have been present at all times in India not just this period. The extreme diversity of thought and practice would have made non-violence (or low violence) such an important practical law of the land, as Dr. Jeffery Long also mentioned in the podcast about Hinduism. The same thing might also have required a very strengthened belief in the tortuous route of rebirth, reincarnation, etc. to guarantee a singular liberation to all the beings at various places and times depending on their births, actions, chosen paths, entertained beliefs, committed sins, etc. etc. (oh the diversity!) which is necessitated by a core concept of limitless metaphysical compassion (that God has on all beings perhaps) that seems to have been held as a fundamental principle to base all thought on, by the Indian philosophers (though I don’t know if this has been made explicit anywhere in tradition).

          (The above shows how really non-Hindu-like and non-Indian-like I am in my thinking patterns and also practice (for example, attempting rational and not traditional understanding of things, like that of philologists, historians, etc. and not like devout Hindus, priestly and practicing Hindus, etc.). I am also bound by strong attachments to the world and senses and all in a very non-Indian kind of way. I have tended to believe that I was some kind of a Westerner in California or something who heard the name of Lord Krishna at some point before his death and thought well about Him and ended up being born to my parents in this life but also did not lose all the mores and patterns of thinking from his past life lol. But then I heard people tend to get reborn again and again into the same families so I don’t really know haha. But my very unconsciously and naturally non-Indian-like thinking has to be explained in some manner lol. Again viewing through the non-traditional-Indian-like lens as per my natural state, it may be the modern, “Macaulayite” education.)

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    2. “I predict that in the year 2119, India and Pakistan will be thick allies and India will be using Pak to extend its influence in MENA.”

      I perdict that in 2119, both India and Pak will be protectorate states of Bangladesh, and we will all be eating machher jhol and singing amar shonar bangla happily. 🙂

      Seriously, the world changes so fast in a few decades that it is impossible to conjure what the world will look like in next 100 years.

      In 1900 AD who would have imagined that western europe, which was ruling half the humanity, will be laid waste in two massive world-wars, and will become a collection of feeble states living under the protection of mighty america, all within the span of half a century.

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  3. I prefer underestimation rather than overestimation & India needs drastic governance changes soon if it even wants to survive for that long.

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  4. “I have everything good to say about Pakistan and everything bad to say about Islam.”

    Even I, as a non-Pakistani and non-muslim, is confused now. What remains of Pakistan if you take out Islam from it?

    Can you be more specific and tell us exactly what non-Islamic parts of Pakistan do you love so much.

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    1. Scorpion Eater urf sarpamaugdheya, took me a while to recognize you bruv! Maybe I will now write my own little abhijnanasarpamaugdheyam 🙂

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      1. “Scorpion Eater urf sarpamaugdheya, took me a while to recognize you bruv! Maybe I will now write my own little abhijnanasarpamaugdheyam”

        Trying different Yonis till I reach perfection and realize the ultimate truth. 🙂

        There are more incarnations of me lurking in these pages.

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