Can Linguistics prove AMT & reject OIT ?

It is often argued by supporters of the Aryan Migration Theory, including academics, that the data obtained from the discipline of linguistics makes it impossible to posit the Indian subcontinent as a potential Indo-European homeland.

Map courtesy – Peterson (Fitting the pieces…)

We often hear and read such blithe dismissals,

Long before the IE proto-language was an issue, Friedrich Schlegel recognized the antiquity of Sanskrit and its parallels to related languages like Greek and Avestan. In his work Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (published in 1808) he praised the Old Indic language for its pureness and clarity and he implied that India alone must have been the origin of the later IE “colonies”. Today India can be ruled out as a homeland candidate with the utmost probability.

I am often bemused and at times annoyed by such absolutist statements. What exactly is that incontrovertible evidence that makes it most impossible for India (and the Indian subcontinent) to be even considered a potential PIE homeland ? Most often, these scholars never bother to explain how they are so sure. I doubt that they would be able to defend their statement if pressed further.

But rather than expect them to change and become more objective, it is better that we look for ourselves to see if their statements have any merit at all. And that is what I intend to do so in this piece.

We shall tackle this subject in two sections:-

1) Analyse the linguistic data from the subcontinent, Indo-European and non-Indo-European, and find out if there is sufficient evidence there to prove that Indo-Aryan languages are not native to the subcontinent.

2) Look at the nature of the linguistic evidence obtained from  the Indo-Aryan and Indo-Iranian languages in the subcontinent vis-a-vis the rest of the Indo-European languages and find out if that evidence argues against or for an Indian origin of the Indo-European languages.

Continue reading Can Linguistics prove AMT & reject OIT ?

India that is Bharat — The Good, the Bad and the Overstated

The early 2010s saw the internet (particularly youtube) filled with “Takedown” videos of famous public intellectuals and debaters of the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro. These figures typically have a contrarian take, rhetoric flourishes, exuberant confidence, and sometimes even persuasive arguments. As Youtube and Takedown videos become popular in India, one individual has made more waves than most others — J Sai Deepak – a lawyer cum debater.

India that is Bharat was published 4 months ago and has created quite a buzz — which isn’t restricted to social media. The book is a bestseller on Amazon with 1584 ratings with an average of 4.8. Even on the conservative Goodreads, the book is rated at 4.55 after 167 ratings. I decided to review this book in detail after a few recommendations, especially as I feel people to the liberal side of me in the Hindutva — Liberal Overton will not give this book the honest assessment it deserves.

India that is Bharat is book 1 of a trilogy that seeks to set the foundation for the arguments J Sai Deepak is going to put forth in volumes 2 and 3. The basic premise of the argument (i am paraphrasing) is that events from the 15th century to 19th century Europe that shook the world led to universal definitions of concepts like “Modernity”, “Secularism”, “Equality” and “Rationality”. The author claims that these definitions were fundamentally shaped by the Protestant reformation and underlying Christian morality and are hence “Christian”. In addition, these values went hand in hand with the 18th and 19th-century colonization of Bharat, the legacy of which is still ubiquitous in India. For someone who is even superficially well-read on these topics and has an open mind — this claim is not unsupported (though one could argue on the fine details). The clarity of thought of the author is at display in every word of the book. The book is not a scholarly exercise but a precise multi-utility instrument at the disposal of the ever-growing Indic consciousness movement.

Having accepted this basic premise, the 4 “schools” thought to address it are — Modern, Post-Modern, Postcolonial, and Decolonial, of which the author clearly favors “Decolonial school” as it addresses the “Protestant” elephant in the post-colonial nation-states — Coloniality. The book is divided into three sections, Coloniality, Civilization, and Constitution; each of which is expanded using primary references juxtaposed with the author’s insights. The references give the narrative authenticity but those need analysis and extrapolation which the author goes on to provide with surgical precision with a clear end-goal. In most cases, the analysis of the primary references is convincing and solid (though there are some glaring misses — will expand on them later). The extrapolation from even the most solid inferences is however hit and miss. Like the author, I would also attempt to break my review into three neat sections — the Good, the Bad, and the Overstated.

the GOOD:

The immense work put into building this narrative doesn’t escape the reader’s attention. Especially the argument put forth in the final chapter — “the standard of civilization” is a compelling one and doesn’t often get recognized in the public international discourse. A lot of the issues from that very framework continue to haunt countries like India under the veil of international consensus. The author also does a good job of convincing the reader that seeing India as a “civilizational state” is wishful thinking at best. The author also convincingly brings the various points of divergence between India/Dharmic and Christian/Protestant thinking. It is undeniable that this divergence brought about both the direct and indirect stereotyping of “Hindoos” and their “traditions”, the legacy of which the Hindus of the 21st century have to countenance. Eg: The academic mainstream thought of viewing the Sramana traditions (and to a lesser extent Sikhism), primarily as revolts against Brahmanical orthodoxy (of Varna)— similar to the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic church. Also, the Essential practices test applied to Hindu Sampradayas with emphasis on the written word.

Another interesting point brought forth by the author is the difference in attitudes towards non Humans (nature in general) between the Abrahamic faiths and Indic faiths. What the author didn’t touch upon, but could have added is the attitudes towards Darwinian evolution are also in great divergence in these two OETs (onto etymologies) of Western and Eastern faiths. If a man is a part of nature, evolution is easier to digest. Sadly this harmony with nature which takes the form of worship of nature is seen as a joke in the Abrahamic OET. (Though I do not concur with the author in fullness that a lot of current problems with environmentalism come out of this universalism).

In general, the primary references in the book are well researched and the inferences drawn from them are robust and provide a solid foundation for an interested reader to extrapolate. Constituent assembly debates, House of common debates are presented tersely enough to get a moderately deep understanding of the discussions at hand.

However, the biggest positive contribution of the book is that it recognizes “Coloniality” as an impediment to the realization of Indian(particularly Bharatiya) potential. The continued and blind aping of the west — be in food habits, dress codes, language policy all prevent the confidence of the native from growing. Good communication is often correlated with good English in most fields where the institutional imprint is high (from the Tech industry to journalism). I can tell this from first-hand experience that the country has lost thousands (maybe lacs) of brilliant and honest minds, who are not “Modern” in their outlook, do not get the necessary support from society in general and institutions in particular.  Nowhere is this more self-evident than in the Supreme court and English media journalism. Mediocre yet articulate English-speaking elites have suppressed the talents from the subaltern sections of the society from rising up.

the BAD:

Having said the above, I have profound problems with a lot of narratives in the book. My primary problems (as well as support) with the narrative are illustrated below


Below are a few of the numerous examples in the book which signify the fallacies of the narrative.

  1. In a robust argument about Colonial ethnic cleansing/genocide of Native Americans, the author lets slip the following UNREFERENCED line — which is not just an exaggeration but an objectively falsifiable statement.

In some cases diseases, such as smallpox and the plague, were introduced with the knowledge that the indigenous community was not immune to them.

Kindle location 1054

2. The author addresses the Christian/Colonial framing of the Jati-Varna system by quoting the works of Nicolas Dirks’ among others. While the Colonial reading of Jati-Varna which became the modern Caste System is refuted; the alternative hypothesis for the reality of the Jati-Varna system is missing. The author also completely avoids the recent genetic studies which point to unique endogamy among Indian Jatis which has poked a lot of holes in Nicolas Dirks’s hypothesis. 

3. In general the references to and inspiration from Greco Roman culture in Enlightenment are largely omitted while its Protestant roots are overemphasized.

It abounds with works of imagination not inferior to the noblest which Greece has bequeathed to us

Location 5209

References like these in Macaulay’s minute are totally ignored

A lot of the modern concepts which gained traction in the Enlightenment were clearly of Greco-Roman (or even Indian, Persian) origins. While these may be denied by a section of Christian thinkers in the past (and even so today) — that is not true for the mainstream Western scholarship.

4. It would be fair to assert that the nuance of piecemeal and incremental progress (which incidentally the author might support as a legit way of native reform) has been put through the post-modern lens. Eg: The takedown of Emmanual Kant and his Christian worldview which encompassed racism.

There are some more examples that illustrate my broader point, but I will not add all of them here. (Maybe I can publish my detailed notes somewhere else if needed). In addition to these specific issues, the major incoherent argument made is the insistence of viewing “Modern” concepts of “Equality”, “Liberty”, “Rationality”, “Reason” as at least quasi Protestant. The natural consequence of this is the call for being “Vary” of these concepts themselves – not just their imposition by Coloniality. 

This assertion of erroneous as looking at Englightenment primarily a consequence of Protestant Reformation is tenuous at best. But more importantly, history is rife with Concepts/“Memes” which come out of an OET per se and over time lose connection to the OET itself (to view those concepts from the lens of their germination). The savior/messiah concept seems to have made an impression on Indic faiths from Judeo-Christian OET leading to “Maitreya the messiah” (on may also claim that Hindu Kalki is also a result of that but I am not confident about it). This clearly happened without “Coloniality” as Rome only became a Chrisitan empire later. The same is true for the Crystallization of Islamic orthodoxy which not only drew upon concepts of Totalitarian Assyria but also learning mechanisms of Turanian Buddhism (Buddhist influence of Madrassas).

Ironically the template used by the author to claim that modernity and rationality are Christian (Protestant) is exactly the template used by post-modernists (and now Woke) to classify modernity, science, and rationality instruments of White supremacy. This is also the exact same mechanism used by Leftist scholars and Ambedkarites to dismiss or oppose aspects of Hindu culture under the guise of attacking “Brahminism”.

This is a plain double standard disguised as moral relativism.

Another major umbrage I take to the narrative (at least in the first book) feeds into a post-modern and moral relativist framework for contemporary issues. It is one thing to view the past through moral relativism, but completely different to view and judge different groups in the society using different standards. Concepts of community rights and standards become imperative in such a framework and the author makes it crystal clear in the following passage

Kindle Location 3448-3455

While it would be incorrect to claim that the author’s narrative is attacking individual rights, it is clear “if individual rights are adversely affecting interests of a group then the individual right must be traded off against the greater good”. To bolster this position one might take the example of Sabrimala but let’s take a slightly different and problematic example. Will an individual who stands to inherit immense ancestral wealth lose it because of an unapproved marriage or a lifestyle decision? Will the group interest (endogamy/tradition) trump individual rights? More importantly, how is “group interest” defined? In this framework is Jati endogamy as a tool of preserving ancestral traditions a valid “Group interest” which trumps individual rights (related to property specifically). I am not suggesting that this framework wouldn’t allow individuals to legally marry outside group, but the costs associated with such an activity could be legally recognized. Will the provision in Article 35A for Kashmiri women to lose state domicile be defensible under this framework of Preference for “Group interests” over individual rights?


The author spends the first section of the book linking Coloniality to Protestant reformation and its ramifications. While the link between the two is undeniable, the emphasis laid on Christian roots of Western civilization, Coloniality, and to an extend Enlightenment is strongly contestable. It is not about whitewashing history but acknowledging how other factors play an important and even at times decisive role in the changes that took place after the fifteenth century. This omission would lead an ignorant reader to put the onus of the New world order emphatically on Protestant reformation and its repercussions while ignoring the other factors.

The author almost spends an entire chapter (10) bolstering the idea that British Secularism (or somewhat even-handed treatment of faiths) is a result of pragmatic and mercantile self-interests and not secular enlightenment principles. This is a classic strawman, for even Anglophiles do agree that the British outlook towards religions in India was due to a pragmatic and mercantile attitude; of first the Company and then the Crown. Quotations from conservative members of an Anglican monarchy (not a secular republic unlike France) and Bishops are used to convey the idea that the British Crown and its parliament were Christian and not secular. While the British Anglican church is always seen as somewhat benign compared to other Protestant denominations, the claim that they are seen as secular/idealist in outlook isn’t true for even the 20th century — let alone 19th century (which the book claims to refute).

This line of argument takes the form of overstatements like “Christian character of Government of India” and “legislative bodies acted with the political theology of Christianity”, “Christianisation of morality” and a lot more with immense emphasis on the Christian side of British coloniality. But if this efficient and well-oiled state machinery secondary or even tertiary plans of proselytization, wouldn’t have managed to convert more than 1% of the mainland Hindu population? (most Christians at the time of Independence resided in Goa, Kerala, and Northeast).


Overall it is fair to say that the author doesn’t confront the plurality of viewpoints on the topic he is addressing. The rhetorical tools which the author deploys in the audiovisual medium are somewhat blunted in the written word, and this also is a weakness of the book. He makes a persuasive case for Decoloniality despite these flaws, but the argument is far from water-tight. (though clearly, a majority of readers would disagree). Every now and then amidst robust points, the author also displays his tendency for hyperbole like calling retention of Hindu identity of the geography of the majority a paper identity. Not only that, but the author also uses postmodernist (“woke terms”) like “politico-epistemic violence of modernity” which is a red flag for whoever is following the debates around these issues in the West.

The book comes out as a precise instrument and not as an inquiry — which is both its strength and its biggest weakness. To date, I have not come across one legitimate critique of the book, either on GoodReads or Amazon or any digital or non-digital publications. The reason for this is clear though, one side of the ideological spectrum treats the author and his arguments as a pariah or upstart — either too extreme or too mediocre for attention. On the flip side, the other side has and will continue to treat this work as “Groundbreaking”, “Red-pilling” or “even personification of perfection” which seems a stretch even with concessions – especially coming from people who are vastly well-read and more of an intellectual bend than myself. I would argue the people on all sides of the political spectrum taking these positions are either dishonest, myopic, or incompetent. Or maybe it’s that they’re blown away (or repelled) by the personality and rhetoric prowess of the author.

While the readers of this post wouldn’t necessarily agree with all the criticisms I have made above, at least some of the criticisms ought to stick.

Having said that, the book was very important and consequential, especially due to the ingrained coloniality in our institutions and minds (especially the courts). For all its faults, the core argument of the book — that India still has a considerable colonial hangover and needs to shed it to become Bharat — stands solidly by the end of the book. The author has also inspired and convinced me to become more Bharatiya despite my profound disagreements with the book. For context: On identifying with the label “Liberal” over “Conservative”. My position on the liberal/conservative scale has shifted slightly to the conservative side due to my engagements with the author’s (and many other) viewpoints in general and this book, in particular. This book can also be seen as part of the famous Tilak vs Agarkar/Ranade debates that have shaped the Marathi society for the last 100 years. One could say that the intellectual and state pendulum has swung more in Agarkar’s favor and this book is an attempt to wrestle it back towards Tilak.

Given the popularity of the book and the author, the cliche saying “Love it, Hate it but you can’t ignore it” is perfect, to sum up the book in particular and the Decoloniality movement in general. It is definitely a must-read for all interested in public discourse about India that is Bharat.

Post Script:

There may be some errors in my original criticism – especially Point 1 of section the “Bad” which can be worded better. My criticism was about allegation of “with the knowledge that the indigenous community was not immune to them” which was not supported by the author by references. That narrow point stands it is unreferenced but pointed criticism around it I made is wrong.

I was unaware of the scholarship which points that early Europeans may have some awareness of the way immunity works and how the it played in way of accelerating their colonization.

Capsule Review: The Verge, by Patrick Wyman


The verge is a short and very readable account of an early phase in the rise of modern Europe, from 1490 to 1530 or so. Wyman has selected a cast of characters including Columbus, Ferdinand and Isabella, Martin Luther, the banker Jacob Fugger, various printers, Emperor Charles V and Suleyman the magnificent; and he uses their stories to weave a story of how the foundations of modern Europe (and by extension, of modernity itself) were laid by the fortuitous intersection of many small and big changes. The invention of printing, the rise of modern finance, the rise of professional military men, the reformation, all these played a role in creating the modern states of Western Europe; states that soon outclassed all competitors and eventually dominated the entire globe. If there is one factor that gets star billing in this book, it is the financial innovations that allowed Western European monarchies to tap more capital in more innovative ways, but the whole point is that no one magic factor drove the great divergence; many different factors came together to set the stage for it. The book is very well written and Wyman has a eye for interesting anecdotes and factoids that keep the reader engaged and interested. Well worth a read.

If you are interested in learning more, Razib Khan has a good review in the National Review:… (less)

Capsule Review: The Jewish Brigade

The Jewish Brigade is a graphic novel from Dead Reckoning, a division of the Naval Institute Press. It is the (fictional) story of two soldiers in the Jewish Brigade of the British army, an actual unit that was raised in 1944 and that fought for a few months in Italy before the war ended. After service in occupied Europe for a while, the brigade was disbanded in 1946. Some of its members helped organize assistance for Jewish holocaust survivors in Europe, including arranging travel to Palestine for some of them. Many of these volunteers ended up in the Haganah and the Jewish army that fought the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948. The author has used this historical background to create the 3 stories that make up this graphic novel.

In the first two, our heroes are members of the Jewish Brigade in occupied Europe immediately after the end of the war in May 1945; as they search for their own kin and run into other survivors they witness fresh horrors as Jews who survived the holocaust sometimes face a hostile reception from their old neighbors and remain in danger of being killed by random Nazis, anti-semites and sundry violent thugs who roam war ravaged Europe at this point. Our heroes help some survivors, face new tragedies and even execute (without trial of course) some Nazis in the hellscape that is postwar central Europe. The book does a great job of reminding us that for many people the war did not end in May 1945 and many violent and cruel tragedies took place as the “unfinished business” of mankind’s greatest war slowly wound down.

The book is a work of fiction of course, and it is undoubtedly also a work of propaganda, with strong Zionist undertones. In the third section, set in Palestine, the propaganda becomes even more strident and one-sided (the heroes are Jews, the villains are Arabs and British officials who fail to support the Zionist project) and if that sort of thing turn you off, then this may not be the book for you. On the other hand, if you want to get a good introduction to the chaos that followed the war and the many gruesome and violent tragedies that happened well after the war was officially over, this is not a bad place to start.

The art work and writing are quite good, but the story is not always easy to follow and some characters appear and then disappear without the reader finding out what happened to them. The three pieces are loosely connected, but can be read separately and will still work. Overall, well worth a read, as long as you keep in mind that it IS propaganda, even if it is mostly on the side of the good guys.

(I got this book as a review copy from Dead Reckoning).

Parva: An epic masterpiece


Parva is without doubt the BEST retelling of Mahabharata I have read. I do not claim to have read all the dozen or so great retellings of the Mahabharata, but among the ones I have read and seen this one is by far the most satisfying. 

The narrative of Parva is a slow buildup of first person (and limited third person) arcs leading towards the Great Bharata war. The tale begins with old Shalya Raja (the brother of Madri — the mother of Nakul Sahadeva) in Madradesh. Over the next 900+ pages we meet all the major characters barring Krishna Vasudev and Dharmaraj Yudhisthir (I wonder why). As small incidences over 2 -3 days are narrated we understand the story through Flashbacks. The book directly covers events from around 3–4 months before the war and an epilogue which occurs a few months after the war. Inspite of familiarity with the text, the narrative is unputdownable (I managed to complete the 950 page tomb in just over a week despite a very busy schedule). The marathi translation was excellent imo and the review will not focus on that (though like always i guess the Kannada text might be more powerful). The book is also available in English (along with many Indian languages)


The book offers a refreshingly realist take at the events which manages to remain faithful to the original text while not embracing incredulity. The five Pandavas are born from 4 different fathers who are also called Devas, who reside in the cold Himalayas. Out of the 100 sons of Dhritarashtra around 86 are Suta (Bastards) while 13 are born to the blindfolded Gandhari. Nagas, Rakshasas, Gandharas are not supernatural beings, but merely skilled warrior tribes who are An-Arya. The depictions of food, violence, travel are all bang on the money.


Bhyarappa’s Bhimasen was a revelation to me. Though his true love for Draupadi is alluded to in some other narratives, its Bhima’s lovestory with Draupadi that forms the core of the first few chapters. His clear eyed vision, which is often derided as foolish or uncouth is expressed very sympathetically.

Kunti shows us her envious side and her troubled relation with the impotent Pandu explored. The arrogant and heroic Arjun, the brave and beautiful Draupadi and the anti Hero Karna do not deviate much from their usual arcs (though Arjun is shown a bit more objectively). Dronacharya, the target of Zeitgeist (Ekalavya) is dealt a fairly sympathetic story arc.

In general, characters are given real motivations and are allowed to see the error of their ways with time. Example — Pandu starts off as a wife beating, impotent and inconsiderate prince with no redeeming qualities. Though he dies due to his lust, he has made a giant transformation through the eyes of Kunti. 

Some traditionally less explored characters like Yuyudhan Satyaki gets many narratives to himself. His first narrative which sets up Krishna Vasudeva was my favorite section of the book.

Dharmaraj Yudhishthir though appears to be dealt a bit unfairly. With no POV narrative, Bhyrappa makes “Dharma”Raj the object of disdain — a confused charlatan who stands on shoulders of his brave brothers and advisers and always tries screw things up with bravado or stupidity.


Sex and lust as strong motivations are ever present in the narrative as with the original text. Yet the sex is always in the background, the passive, never the active. Though at times, the references to sex and role of Dasi(s)(maid servants) gets a bit jarring. However the author makes the distinction between the Kshatriya attitude towards lust with those of others. Kunti who has seen how lust and unhealthy attitude towards sex can destroy marriages and lives, raises her sons to respect women in general and never indulge in sex except with the lawfully wedded wife. Only the libidinous Arjun (who ironically loses his libido before his time) ever marries someone other than Draupadi. The lust (moha) for Draupadi results in envy at Swayamwar, polyandry, disrobing, various kidnapping.


The author dissects the various strands of Arya Dharma with no ounce of respect. Throughout the book the author posed various smaller questions of Dharma like

Was Balram who killed his devious and petty brother in law in a fit of drunken rage right or was it wrong if he because he was in drunken rage? 

Was Yuyudhan Satyaki wrong to not marry the hundreds of women rescued from the dungeons of Narkasur? 

Balaram who like his more famous namesake in a monogamous relationship following Pati dharma and polygamous Krishna was following some sort of Raja-Dharma. What one person sees as lust is something which serves the greater good, but what do we know. 

However the core of the book is about Niyoga. Despite the fact that both Pandu and Dhritarashtra are sons of Niyoga, Duryodhan raises doubt about secretive Niyoga that led to birth of Pandavas. Everyone from Bhisma, Shalya, Drona and even Krishna Dvaipayana are stumped by it. What lies under the argument is the classic nature/nurture argument. According to older Arya dharma Nurture trumps nature. In that framework even nurtured Karna born before Kunti married Pandu has a legitimate claim to power, whereas Sutas of Dhritarashtra don’t. In other words ironically, the womb of the Queen in a Patrilineal and deeply patriarchal worldview is more important than seed of the King. But times are changing and newer more rigid rules based on nature will come to rule the roost as alluded in the book (which seems to be the historic truth).

The chapters of Bhishma and Krishna Dvaipayam also touch the larger philosophical questions of Karma, Rebirth, and Moksha. The rudimentary beginnings of the core of the Sramana, Carvaka and other Nastika darshanas is also alluded to in those chapters. Unsurprisingly its not the DharmaRaja Yudhishthir who understands Dharma, nor is it the famed Bhishma or even the prodigal partitioner of Vedas — Veda Vyasa or Krishna Dvaipayana, but emphathetic Vasudeva Krishna. 

The book works for many reasons, primarily because it rests loyally on the raw power of the original text. The narrative structure assumes the reader is well versed with the details of sequences of tale, and when every mini narrative reaches its climax, the effect is mesmerizing. The Kamsa Vadh, the death of Jarasandha, the gambling scene and many others are goosebumps invoking. The author builds on the lifetime of familiarity with the story and builds up a crescendo every now and then. The author has refreshingly stayed away from judgmental takes which would lead to disappearance of realism or adulteration. The descriptions of geography, food and violence is very graphic. The author has shied away from describing facial features which was a disappointment to me. The gory and unpalatable realities of war (Game of thronesey) — from starvation, mass rapes, tonnes of decomposing flesh and the overall futility come to the fore in at the end.

This book is going to stay with me for a long time and it is probably going to be read atleast half a dozen times. An epic Masterpiece.

David Berlinski Reviews Pankaj Mishra

I have been too busy (or wasting too much time on twitter) to write much, but I think we should promote some essays from other sites when they look interesting. Here is one I saw today: David Berlinski reviews Pankaj Mishra’s latest book of essays.   You can read it in full on this link.  

(my own, less erudite and much more rant-like takedown of Mishra and his brand of “tailor made for Western and Westernized Liberals” shtick can be found here) (my own summary of Pankaj in that rant: With Pankaj, the safest bet is that he is “not even wrong”. Good for virtue signaling. Useless for any other purpose.) You can also read a review of sorts I wrote about Pankaj in 2014 that also tries to clarify where I am coming from in this topic)

Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire - Mishra, Pankaj - Livres -

A few excerpts: 

PANKAJ MISHRA is an Indian journalist, novelist, and travel writer; he is widely appreciated as a scold.1 Written between 2008 and just the other day, the sixteen essays comprising Bland Fanatics were published variously in The GuardianThe London Review of Books, the New YorkerThe New York Times, and The New York Review of Books.2 Readers seeking ideological exuberance must look elsewhere. The essays are themselves unified by a common rhetorical strategy, if not a common rhetorical subject, in which Mishra reveals that he knows something that others do not. “It had long been clear to me,” he writes, “that Western ideologues during the Cold War absurdly prettified the rise of the ‘democratic’ West.”3

What I didn’t realise until I started to inhabit the knowledge ecosystems of London and New York is how evasions and suppressions had resulted, over time, in a massive store of defective knowledge about the West and the non-West alike. Simple-minded and misleading ideas and assumptions, drawn from this blinkered history, had come to shape the speeches of Western statesmen, think tank reports and newspaper editorials, while supplying fuel to countless log-rolling columnists, television pundits and terrorism experts.4

Living on hot air, logrolling columnists, like certain abstemious yogis, do not generally require fuel, although they may require logs; and a knowledge ecosystem suggests nothing so much as a child’s terrarium: wood, water, weeds, worms. Never mind. Readers will get the point. They could hardly miss it. In hanging around London and New York, Mishra encountered a good many dopes.

No doubt…

… THE ESSAYS IN Bland Fanatics, if intelligent and brisk, are also imperfectly argued and badly written. Realities are brutal, falsehoods blatant, notions reek, prejudices are entrenchedbinaries pop up here and there (eager, I am sure, to escape gender confinement), crime rates skyrocket, adventurers are bumptious, history is blinkered, delusions climax, despotisms are ruthless, and, if breasts are not being bared, chests, at least, are being thumped.6 Mishra is also a writer unwilling to savor the niceties of attribution. The wonderful phrase “closing time in the garden of the West” appears three times in two essays, welcome relief from the clump of Mishra’s habitual clichés. It is due to Cyril Connolly.7 That “every document of civilization is also a document of barbarism” is due, in turn, to Walter Benjamin.8 Mishra has appropriated the phrase and its mistranslation into English.

Continue reading David Berlinski Reviews Pankaj Mishra

Book Review: Rivals by Dr Saad Shafqat

Rivals: Saad Shafqat: Bloomsbury India

A review I wrote for India Today a few months ago.

Rivals is the third book and second novel from the pen of Dr Saad Shafqat, professor of neurology at the Agha Khan Hospital and Medical School in Karachi. He started writing with pieces about cricket and is the proud author of Javed Miandad’s autobiography (“cutting edge”) as well as a previous medical thriller (“breath of death”). This book is set in the same “Avicenna University Hospital” (a thinly disguised version of the author’s actual place of work) as his first novel, but the main protagonist in this one is not terrorists or terrorist hunters but doctors competing for a prestigious department chairmanship.
The book opens with Dr Tanya Shah at her morning constitutional and the author is clearly familiar with the world of Karachi’s rich and famous. As she puts on her Maria B lawn suit and grabs her Luis Vuitton bucket bag and heads out to work, every detail is lovingly described; Unfortunately, another character is also at his morning constitutional at exactly the same time, shaving his pubes and underarms so that he can be in a state of ritual purity when he meets his 72 virgins. Yes, there is a suicide bombing in chapter 2, but while it will play a bit of a role in the drama that unfolds later, this is not really a book about Islamist terrorists or their victims. It is a book about Dr Tanya Shah and her colleague Dr Hammad Khan, professor of ophthalmology and her rival in the race to become Avicenna’s next chief of surgery. Dr Hammad plots sexual escapades with medical reps and underhand maneuvers to undermine Dr Shah’s candidacy with his hangers on while sipping cocktails at an elite club, while a “white tiger” type ambulance driver and a bomb victim’s poor mother add some working-class spice to the mix. There is also a lot of medical excitement (operating room, trauma surgery, that sort of thing) that is well written and interesting.

The book is generally well written and is a fun and easy read, but the characters are not fully developed and promising detours frequently fade out without getting anywhere genuinely exciting. Still, it is set in Karachi and anyone with any connection to the medical world will find many familiar sights and sounds and depictions to keep him interested. And while there is a suicide bombing and some run ins with poor people, the book cannot be accused of relying on either poverty porn or Jihad-mongering for cheap thrills. Instead, Dr Shafqat stays mostly with the world he knows well and avoids any temptation to crudely take notice of how westernized and “un-Islamic” it is. These doctors are worrying about publications, presentations, trainees, committee meetings, departmental politics and sexual scandals and their stories hold no grand political lessons and attempt to correct no terrible historical crimes. That at least is refreshing. Overall, a fun read, but one is left with the feeling that it could have been better.


Major Amin’s Review: 1965, A Western Sunrise. by Shiv Kunal Varma

1965 – A Western Sunrise -Indias War with Pakistan by Shiv Kunal Verma Reviewed by Major Agha H Amin (Retired)

September 2021

  • DOI:
  • 13140/RG.2.2.21404.00645
  • This is a very interesting new addition to books on 1965 war. The writer gives very interesting background details to each relevant person or subject , though these did not interest this scribe as a military reviewer. Overall, a good effort but it does contain several errors:

The authors assertion on page-43 that 6 Infantry brigade was an independent brigade is not correct as this brigade was a part of 8 Division.

On page.99 the writers assertion that 19 Baluch (Special Services Group or SSG) was formed with 7/10 Baluch as nucleus is TOTALLY INCORRECT . 7/10 was renumbered 15 Baluch while 17/10 Baluch was later renumbered 19 Baluch or the SSG.

On page.106 and 107 the authors undue praise of then Brigadier Harbaksh Singh’s advance towards Muzaffarabad in the 1948 Kashmir war is highly disputable as per both Pakistani and Indian accounts. eg Pakistani official history published in 1970 stated that on reaching Tithwal, which was defended by a weak infantry company, Brigadier Harbaksh Singh ordered a two day halt and thus lost a golden chance to change history and possibly threaten Muzaffarabad. In these two days Pakistan Army reinforced Tithwal with a brigade. Colonel Achutan Singh of Indian Army in a recent article published in Indian Defence Review analysed in detail Harbaksh Singhs incompetent siting of Indian defences of the Chunj position as a result of which Indian Army lost they key Chunj ridge and was pushed on defensive at Tithwal and driven out of Pir Sahaba Ridge. Incidentally the Pakistani success in the attack on Chunj was thanks to the role played by Major Sloan, a British officer who managed to transport a medium gun over the river using a pulley, and who later died in action and was buried with full military honors in Pakistan. Continue reading Major Amin’s Review: 1965, A Western Sunrise. by Shiv Kunal Varma

Review: Hell! No Saints in Paradise

AK Asif’s debut novel (available on Amazon,) (also available on Amazon India) mixes dystopian science fiction, sufism, politics, humor and Salafist Islam to create a stunning and unexpected joy-ride through post-apocalyptic Pakistan in 2050. Of course it is no longer called Pakistan (there being no P in Arabic), it is now called Al-Bakistan, and it is ruled by a Khalifa who established law and order after the proletariat rose in revolt and decapitated the ruling elite in a paroxysm of rioting and holy war a few years earlier.

Continue reading Review: Hell! No Saints in Paradise

Pocket Review: The Dharma Forest

The Dharma Forest by Keethik Sasidharan

Keerthik Sasidharan is an incredibly erudite Indian economist who works in the US and who has somehow managed to work full time, read so much AND write the first volume of a planned trilogy about the Mahabharata. The idea is that he will retell the Mahabharata through the eyes of 9 of its main characters and each segment will also bring out one aspect of the 9 rasas of ancient Indian philosophy. A general familiarity with the Mahabharata is helpful before you can read this, because the author does not provide you with a roadmap before you begin. But as long as you have that basic familiarity, you should be able to read and enjoy this book.

The first book introduces us to Bhishma, Draupadi and Arjun. The book is over 500 pages, so each character gets a lot of room to express themselves. And express themselves they do, in a very philosophical and subtle book that raises (and sometimes answers) profound philosophical questions while telling what is ostensibly a war story (one can say the same thing about the original Mahabharata). But be aware, just like the original, this  IS a war story, and no detail is spared. At first glance some readers may look at that and decide this is just too much detail, but again, as with the original, patience is rewarded; The philosophical, psychological and sociological insights are scattered within, and worth the time spend reading the details of the war, the weapons and the stratagems.

The author’s greatest achievement is his ability to render the actions and motivations of these ancient characters in terms a modern reader can grasp. The actions and choices made by the various actors in this drama can appear mystifying in the original, but Keerthik is able to stick to the original story (and even the original phrases) while making them fully comprehensible to us. For example, the story of Amba and her kidnapping and subsequent rejection can seem very foreign and strange in other tellings, but in this book you can almost understand why every character acts the way they do. That is a tremendous achievement. Well worth a read.

You can read an extended excerpt here.

PB Mehta has a good review here.

We Interviewed Keerthik for a podcast last year: