Ancient Pakistanis were Hindu

Over at my other blog, Pakistani British Are Very Much Like Indians Genetically. The title doesn’t refer to genome-wide worldwide affinities. Rather, the preprint looks at British Pakistanis, and finds a pattern that is not going to surprise Indians: endogamy seems to have kicked in for these groups starting 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. This is exactly what you see in the Indian jati data. The similarity is pretty incredible, and to me is a strong rejection of the model that these groups were strongly anti-caste so on the margins of Indic civilization.

There is a second wave of endogamy though, dated from 150-500 years ago, roughly. I think this is likely Islamicization and adherence to cousin-marriage. These Pakistani groups seem to show the tendency of jati endogamy common among Hindus, and, cousin-marriage patterns of the Islamic world.

Finally, the reason I posted over on the other blog is that I think this might speak to the long-term trajectories of Bangladesh and Pakistan: Bangladesh is not in the same mold as Indo-Pak societies. The 1000 Genomes data indicate few runs of homozygosity and not much internal structure. That is, no jati endogamy, and, low levels of cousin-marriage.

If you believe Joe Henrich, this means good things for Bangladesh in the future… (vs. Pakistan)

(the Henrich podcast is already available for Patrons)

Malvani and other Konkani seafoods – the potential loss of cuisines ?

Malvan is a village located in the Sindhudurg district of Konkan subdivision in Maharashtra. Malvan is famous for Malvani non-veg cuisine (especially seafood) – which is a unique spicy cuisine that has managed to exert its influence well beyond the confines of Malvan or Sindhudurg.

The Malvani Masala is easy enough to make and has the important quality of hiding failures in cooking. As a result, Malvani cuisine’s popularity has grown in leaps and bounds these last few decades. Restaurants across the state & increasingly along the coast have taken up serving Malvani cuisine while serving other cuisines is reducing.

The broader Konkan region from Thane to Goa & Dakshina Kannada has multiple culinary traditions which were very vibrant (heresay :P) until a few decades ago. But increasingly the cuisines from Thane to Ratnagiri are bowing down to the Malvani cuisine. If these continue, one can assume that a lot of delightful and subtle tastes of Konkani seafood may become difficult to find. Even in one of the most famous restaurants in Ratnagiri – Hotel Amantran – the food is more Malvani – probably as that’s what most customers want. Efficiency and markets have that effect on food traditions all over not just in India. All these other cuisines – Saraswat cuisine, CPK cuisine, Cuisines of Diveagar & Ratnagiri, Cuisines of Alibaug are only preserved in families till now but will they be going ahead remains to be seen. After an initial love affair with Malvani food, we (my wife & me) have ventured into trying some of the other dishes to great success.

These include

Green chilly Coriander Surmai Curry
Raw Mango Kolambi Curry, Masala Pomfret, Masala Prawn Fry
Tirfhal Coriander based Prawn curry, Surmai Fry and Amboli (Rice Roti)

While a great number of Foodies – bloggers, authors, and chefs are working hard to keep the old cuisines alive – link ; link ; link , there isn’t much to worry about. Given the sheer size of the Indian population, India seems very resistant to such erasures of culture & food which tend to be happening around the world.

Going through old cookbooks one wonders how much culinary customs have changed beyond recognition since independence. The famous Marathi cookbook Ruchira refers to Marathi people as predominantly Jowar, Bajra, and Rice eaters. Wheat has firmly taken over Maharashtra now and Jowar and Bajra are reducing year by year (though Rice manages to hold on). Globalization and even the local spread of easy and efficient foods (pasta, bread, wheat roti) have reduced the diversity of food globally. How much of these traditions will we preserve going forward? This may appear as a trivial thing to many but it bothers me.

My main aim of writing this blogpost is NOT TO MAKE ANY POINT but to find more such stories and more recipes that readers fear might get hard to find in the future or be overwhelmed by some efficient popular foods. Please add links to Food recipes you want to share – especially Sea Food.

Maybe my fear of the erosion of cuisine is exaggerated, but my generation is not that great at conserving food traditions as earlier generations were IMO.

Moving out of India: The bigger picture

Economic growth in India has made the question of immigrating to the US vexing for a lot of young Indians. The old attraction of more material prosperity no longer holds, you can buy everything in India. The difference between siblings in the two countries is no longer the car, the modern electronics and superior amenities. In many ways, immigrating to the US has become a more ‘experiential’ move, with terms like ‘job satisfaction’, ‘latest technologies’ being used in addition to the touting of cleaner, safer and more hip environs.

So should you, as a young Indian teen or adult seek American shores? I was in the same situation nearly two decades ago, and took the plane to the US very unthinkingly, almost like an instinct. I always wished someone would have told me what the possible implications of such a big decision would be, the doors it would open as well as close. I seek to do so for any young person interested here. This post is not going to be about details of work and life in the US versus India, but rather the big picture.

Today, the cost of moving out of India is more than the loss of family and ‘culture’. India offers opportunities of its own. It is with this context that we move forwards with our analysis.

Career: Technological Leadership in Prescribed Areas vs Flexibility in a Growing Economic Power

US leadership on the technological front is significant and enduring. America attracts smart people not only from India, but from across the world, including other developed markets. Deliberately or unwittingly, America has been marketed to the world as the place a smart person needs to be in to maximize their potential. This is somewhat like the IPL being the cricket league where a cricketer can compete with the best in the world. There is a reason why America is the only country in the world that has a Google and an Apple.

Log plot of US patent applications by various countries.

However, the last two decades have seen a sea change in India’s economic growth, technological prowess and integration with the world. Consider the number of US patents filed from India. From being four orders of magnitude lower than the US, India is now less than two orders of magnitude lower, with continuing growth. Similar trends are seen in the number of scientific papers published in elite journals, where India has moved from 1/20th of US output in 2000 to 1/3rd of US output in 2018. India today offers more opportunities than ever before.

Add to this the fact that the American work visa is exactly that, a visa. The visa is designed to bring in workers in areas where there is a shortage of Americans, so the bulk of opportunities lie in the computer software/data management sector. The flexibility and freedom to explore different career and life paths is severely constrained. You cannot easily leave your software engineering job in a global mega corporation and join a business development role in a start up. You cannot take two months off and wander away to see the world. Your US work visa needs full time employment, every second of your life.

So the trade off here is the opportunity to get a narrow but a truly world class exposure versus exposing yourself to a spectrum of career and life possibilities in India.

Life: Systems vs Services

If there was a one line summary for the difference between life in the US and India, it would be in America you can rely on systems, in India you can get a lot of services.

In America, systems work. The courts, police, municipal authorities all do their job professionally. You will not see mounds of rubble by the roadside and trash everywhere. The air will be clean, government authorities will be professional and accessible. The contrast with India is stark.

When it comes to services, lets just say this, the middle class homes of my relatives in India are a procession of cooks, drivers, maids, gardeners, electricians etc. We have a huge population whom we can now feed very well and transport cheaply around the country to markets which need them. As an example, in India, the service and variety of food on offer in a 3-star hotel buffet for 5 dollars was impressive. On the other hand, there were no Mexican options and stepping out of the hotel, you could literally smell the chemicals in the air.

Spirit: Continuity vs Renewal

Humans are not merely the work they do and the goods and services they consume, transcending our finite selves is a big part of the human experience. This is where notions of family, ethnicity, religion and nationality come into the picture. The US and India offer you contrasting pathways in this regard as well.

Being in India offers continuity and context. You can remain soaked in the arts, sports and traditions you have been familiar with since you were a child, and there is no need to separately make an effort to ‘access India’. You are the market whom the creative and talented people in the economy seek to serve.

America offers the chance for renewal and rebirth. Indeed, for the majority of its existence as a nation, America has offered the tired and beaten people of this planet a chance at reinventing themselves and starting a ‘new life’. The children of those pushed out by their home countries have achieved miracles in the American meritocracy.

So there it is, you can think about these three trade offs while making your decision. Do you want to achieve the summit of computer technology ? Or do you want to explore the world of work before diving into a committed career path ? Do you get annoyed and distressed by the dysfunction of the Indian governments ? Or do you appreciate all the services available to make your life easier ? Finally, do you feel India imprisons you and you need fresh air ? Or can you not bear to sever yourself from your gods and greats ?

Covid Lockdown. Some Questions

When the novel Coronavirus started its spread outside of China very little was known about it and it is no surprise that countries acted to slow or stop the pandemic by locking down their citizens to various extents. Some countries (most notably UK and Sweden) tried to “push through” to herd immunity but then had a LOT of cases and transitioned to various degrees of lockdown. Others like the US tried a “worst of both worlds” response, with the President being skeptical of lockdowns, but reluctantly going along with them for a while  before shifting back to passive-aggressive sabotage of whatever his science advisors were telling him (whether they were correct or not is a separate issue). Pakistan’s PM had Trump-like instincts in this matter and unlike the US, his lockdown did not last long and was never very effective. This led to an early surge of cases and deaths (after Ramadan, when lockdown first failed) but to the surprise of most observers (including me), this outbreak then seemed to slow down and now there are ongoing cases, but the health system is definitely NOT being overwhelmed and the worse seems behind us. Meanwhile India continues to have varying degrees of lockdown (and because Indian officialdom has relatively more ability to enforce such things, these  also seem to have been more real than any Pakistani lockdown ever was) and is seeing a major increase in cases. When people talk about this they frequently bring up the fact that testing and tracking are not necessarily at “first world” levels in either country, so real numbers may be very different from what is being reported. This is true, but we do see what is happening in hospitals, so the fact that the system has not been overwhelmed is still something we can say.  Beyond that, I have no special knowledge or data. So I thought I would put up a post and get some answers from the hive mind:

  1. Where can non-experts like us find the best data on Covid? There are many sites, which ones do commentators prefer and why?
  2. Why is Pakistan NOT experiencing a dramatic health emergency due to Covid in spite of having given up on lockdowns? Is there pre-existing immunity? something else? Or just fewer old people? is there more to come?
  3. IF Pakistan is not seeing a major increase in deaths, should India continue its current level of lockdown? Do we expect Indian immunity and spread characteristics to be very different from Pakistan?
  4. What is the expert consensus now on various details such as “doing X is cost-effective, but Y should be abandoned”.. I mean what is the best source (sources) for answering such questions? One assumes that the “authorities” spend a lot of time analyzing information to determine what worked and what was just a waste of effort? Are the detailed recommendations evidence-based? Should any of them be changed? (for example, why is my dentist open for cleanings, but my barber is not? things like that, are they evidence based? and what does the evidence say?)

I look forward to being enlightened. Meanwhile, stay safe and happy.