The Patiala Problem

We’ve convened a Guft-e-Guh for the Cambridge coloured community.

A very interesting story was relayed. One of the kids is from a very middle class Hindu (cobbler) neighbourhood in Patiala (Sikh city).

They mentioned the fear that the Hindus felt when they saw men in Muslim costumes walk through the neighbourhood (Patiala is of course post-Partition).

One time 4 Kashmiris were surrounded by 50 of the men (the families would call everyone inside) and it transpired they were selling walnuts.

I applauded the narrator for sharing this important and heartfelt story; the Left-Liberal-Lutyens crowd just like to shade everyone as progressive or bigoted.

What is interesting is that the healing of the South Asian psyche is only possible through transparent and honest conversation.

I think I’ve alienated many people tonight since I’m ideologically flexible; as a libertarian I value free speech and the “battle of ideas.”

Nasim Zehra’s Book on Kargil. Review by Maj Amin


Review from Major Amin. 


Agha H Amin

My first issue with this book is that analysis delayed is analysis lost and Nasim Zehra is guilty of publishing this analysis some 20 years late. Before that she was in the good books of many culprits of Kargil who 20 years later are fired cartridges with near zero nuisance value. More seriously, I take analytical as well as conceptual dispute with her in regarding characters like Lieutenant General Javed Hassan as “ courageous and conscientious”

Continue reading Nasim Zehra’s Book on Kargil. Review by Maj Amin

The Jahanara debate & how Desis must dress

In the last podcast I was struggling with pronouncing the name, Jahanara.

The first is a Pakistani friend:

The second is an Iranian friend:

How Jahanara pronounces her name:

My pronunciation is in between the first two. There is some overlap between Persian and Pakistani (Indo-Persian) names of course. So I usually pronounce the name in the way I first heard it or heard it most.

Of course the “Hindi” pronunciation is different where the N in Jahanara is nasalised rather than pronounced.

The personal name “Jahan” seems to have retired from Persian and instead migrated to Hindustan. So I’m inclined to defer to the Urdu version of the name but nasaling the N is very unnatural to me as it reminds of the time at Urdu class. One of the students was counting the Urdu numbers with a Punjabi nasalisation and the teacher  started chuckling.

I dropped the Urdu class after one semester even though I was making the fastest progress; Persian & Urdu are simmering languages for me, it’s easy to get to fluency but English almost always takes over.

As a final note; Urdu, by any other name would be just as sweet, but Persian is sweeter (I’ve mauled Iqbal & Shakespeare in a single sentence).

The irony is that Urdu was called Hindi since Urdu was initially used to refer the Persian of Shahjahanabad. Urdu is the regularisation of a Hindustani standard that came about through Amir Khusrao but was obviously was called Hindi as it was the local language.

As a final aside it is just astounding the extent to which India’s medieval history is in Persian. I *knew* that the official language was Persian but never understood what that meant entirely. The Indo-Muslim rulers were copious writers and along with their monuments left mountains of documents (Shah Alam’s unfinished Perso-Urdu verse ran to 600+ pages).

The reason Pakistanis and Urdu-speakers go on and on about Middle Eastern forebears is because their ancestors were certainly in that milieu for centuries. It’s a vestigial memory that has persisted.

Origin Myth of Urdu & Hindi by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

Of course one can never deny Pakistan’s aristocratic heritage when our dear Captain decides to wear a cheesy Shalwar Kameez in an audience with HM the Queen:

Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people standing and suit

When meeting Royalty one should at least be aware of the sartorial graces. It looks like something he would wear to a shaadi in the Pind. Also Virat Kohli may be brash but his socks, shoes and pants do not go together at all!

If anything learn from the wonderful Noorie Abbas in how to dress:

Image result for noorie abbas

ISI/RAW have trained this vixen well. Interestingly though the choice of a Sari was very unorthodox; Pakistan girls her age will never wear a Sari to a formal event. I know that the older generation in Pakistan wear it (one socialite NGO makes a point of wearing it everywhere) but it’s pretty much died down; I wouldn’t be surprised if Noorie has inadvertently kick started it.

Her pastel shawl and gray-blue top set off extremely well. It was an interesting thing in the Prof. Devji podcast that the main gripe Hindutva had against Muslims pre-1947 was their “aristocratic connotations”. After Independence when most of these people went across to Pakistan; the image of the Muslim changed to gangster and poor.

Pakistan’s structural inequality, which we explored in our educational podcasts, means that even though there is a very high National Asabiyah (in core Pakistan; East of the Indus); the Islamicate class structure is very much dominant.

So you have these extremes in Pakistan, which are not so apparent in other countries. Since Bangladesh shackled the yoke; it’s made tremendous strides since it seems so much more egalitarian (it may also be that Perso-Urdu culture is inherently hierarchical considering its origins despite a strong socialist tradition of Urdu Poetry).

The rest of the Pakistan nation is as lemmings off a cliff:

Indian pluralism and a pluralistic India for a Brighter Future of Humanity

Recently, after my speech at the Leicester Vichar Manthan on how a truly Dharmic society promotes the idea of unity in diversity, a Bangladeshi friend was surprised when I said I have had a lot of close Muslim friends since my childhood. The latter was probably a direct questioning of the former (and of someone who could adhere to such an orientation) that may have had its doubters in the audience at Leicester as well. In an age of hard-Right ultra-nationalism in many parts of the world and the rise of certain radical elements from the fringe Right in India, it is understandable to disregard the fact that India has always been about a coming-together of disparate identities and ideas, not only post 1947 but for millennia. In this context, it was surprising when one middle-eastern friend went so far as to categorize the entire nation of India as `bigoted’ to my great dismay and protest. It is easy for people to homogenize a nation’s thoughts and orientations and, in doing so, being unfair to its people. For him and for various others, I am sure it is tough to understand how a modern `Hindu’ and an Indian could argue on the nuanced point that Indian pluralism is non-negotiable, given what they see as a recent surge of Hindu-identity politics in India. It is exactly because being Hindu and an Indian naturally makes you inclusive and pluralistic…if you are true to the foundational ideas of India and even what can be regarded as `Hinduism’, which I argue is a highly recent and amorphous term.

Before moving any further, I would just like to highlight some subtle differences in my usage of terms from what is regarded as conventional. When I just speak of Dharma, it is not in the religious context but rather as more – as the natural order and balance in society, sustained by values that uphold the multiplicity of voices and perspectives within it. When I speak of what we usually call Hinduism, I would rather call those sets of values and ideas broadly Vaidika Dharma or Sanatana Dharma, a way of life and not quite a modern religion even, since there was no one homogeneous religion called Hinduism before the eighteenth and nineteenth century and all there was were sects and schools of philosophy. If the Persians are to be believed, Hindus are those living to the east of the Indus river, and therefore as some would say, it almost signifies a cultural or even civilization connotation for the Indian subcontinent. But that debate is for later. In this article, I would rather not delve on that.

Having got that out of the way, let us look at the foundations of India.

Let us look at the idea of India. Continue reading Indian pluralism and a pluralistic India for a Brighter Future of Humanity

Unbelievable podcast with Prof. Devji

We are doing a podcast with Prof. Devji right now.

He’s a Professor of Indian Studies at Oxford and head of the Asian Studies.

Really lovely and dense; will be released in June. Professor Devji’s knowledge is really impressive..

Kushal and I had a *friendly* shouting match (we get on quite well actually) because I used the title “Maharajah Modi,” thereby undermining Indian democratic traditions (he alluded to India’s modern Maharani but I found her the most effective post-independence leader).

Interestingly enough Professor Devji just alluded that Hindutva, colloquially, to use royal titles for its leaders.

We are discussing Prof. Devji’s latest article; Search for a Majority.

Interesting as an aside that the Left-Liberal elite (the “Lutyens crowd” in Indian parlance) is completely entrenched in Cambridge; even soft-BJP types have to tone it down otherwise they get shouted at. Lots of self-censorship..

I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.

There was a comment below which I am now reflecting on…that this “This blog pertains to South Asians.” The comment was sincerely made, and I take no deep issue with it.

Rather, I wonder what the purview of pertaining to South Asians is for each of us. Do we all see the same sky above us? Or does where we stand alter the constellations above? Both?

There are so many faces to this question. Some might echo Naipul and suggest that those of us from Muslim backgrounds are shorn from our Indian roots, that we are a people without a spirit. Others might assert a racial component, which in the Western context becomes cloying and exceedingly restrictive. Liminal populations are matters of dispute.

And yet I reflect on my own life, my own orientation, my own upbringing. I spent long enough in Bangladesh as a small child to remember the taste of jackfruit in my mouth…but below are the climatic conditions I grew up with as an elementary and secondary school child and teenager.

I wasn’t born in the cold and ice. But I was raised in it. I was moulded by it. I do not miss the seasons. I do not miss the ice. But the ice is part of who I am.

The cold of winter is deep in my experience, and that is almost one reason that I shudder to think of the cold, and I positively avoid it now that I have a choice as an adult.

And yet this is not typical of the South Asian, Indian, subcontinental, background. It is not part of our deep cultural memory, it is particular to many of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, young children of hopeful immigrants fleeing countries of grinding poverty and deep sclerosis, embedding themselves in frozen landscapes where they traded warmth for hope.

Readers of my other weblog (which as of this current writing is undergoing some maintenance by yours truly) sometimes ask me when I choose to post here, and when I choose to the post there. To be honest that distinction is harder to make for the non-science content.

If there is an election in India. If there are tensions on the border between Pakistan and India. If someone wants to engage in a troll-fest on the Kashmir question. This blog will be a space where those issues are mooted.

But there are more things in heaven and earth, Harjeet, than are dreamt of in your Darśana. 

I think a reasonable position may be “this is a South Asian weblog, this is why we are talking about this.” But, I am very wary of the proposition, “this is a South Asian weblog, this is why we should not be talking about this.”

Seek illumination even if you have to go as far as China, for seeking knowledge is a duty on every human.

Browncast into June….

Thanks to everyone who is a patron on the Browncast. I’ll be posting a few more in there today (or very early tomorrow). We won’t be posting anything in public until June 1st. Our podcasts tend to go longer, rather than shorter. Perhaps it’s a brown thing? In any case, regular podcasts of 1+ hours mean that our month quota gets used up regularly.

I won’t be recording too many podcasts for the next month (I may jump on one here and there depending on my availability), but that’s fine because there are already several in the pipeline. Here is a preview:

  • Discussion about the Indian elections. Kushal and Zach almost get into a (friendly) shouting match on this one
  • I talk about Game of Thrones, fantasy, and neuroscience, with Adam Calhoun
  • A discussion with an Israeli American about living in Israel, and perceptions of Israel abroad.
  • A discussion about open science with “data thug” Jordan Anaya
  • A discussion between me and two young millennial tech-bro browns about navigating American society
  • A discussion of Game of Thrones with a historian and a geneticist (this is not recorded yet)

One of the reasons I’ll be taking a break is that I’ve been podcasting pretty intensively recently. I’ve been putting out a podcast every week for my main science one since the end of January, and have gotten about 2 months ahead there (that’s what recording on weekends and two or three times a week sometimes will do).

I will be focusing on other projects for a bit, and not podcasting will make my schedule more flexible.

Brown Pundits