The Koran; a very short introduction

By Omar Ali Leave a comment

An old review I happened to revisit today. It was written for the Pakistani news-magazine Herald in 2002,  you can see a reference to “colonization of the Middle East” which indicates it was a different era and a different me 😉

The Koran (in the OUP “Very Short Introductions” series,) Oxford 2000.

The Koran: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions Book 13) by [Michael Cook]

Pious Muslims may feel that in the presence of the text and its commentaries, they do not need Professor Michael Cook’s “very short introduction” to the Koran. The pious may also wish to stay away because Professor Cook was once associated with the notorious “Hagarene hypothesis” (put forth in the 1977 book: Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook) though he has since backed away from some of the more extreme claims of that book. But “The Koran, a very short introduction” turns out to be a very witty and interesting book, full of insights that the most pious Muslim will find informative and stimulating. Continue reading “The Koran; a very short introduction”

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Book Review: Friendly Fire by Ami Ayalon

By Omar Ali 2 Comments

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Book Review – Friendly Fire by Ami Ayalon

Hamid Hussain

“As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
(do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
(do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
(those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
(do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
(those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others
(those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
(say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”).”                   
  Mahmoud Darwish

Ami Ayalon’s book is a compilation of an autobiography including his own personal journey from a warrior to a peacemaker and a review of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  He narrates his adult life fighting for Israel’s security as naval and internal security officer.  He builds his case to his country men that he is not advocating two state solution as a favor to Palestinians but sees this as the only solution to preserve Israel as a Jewish democratic state.  He fears that continued occupation of Palestinians will end up Israel as ‘a dystopian society that is tyrannical for those under our boots, and toxic and self-defeating for all’.

Ami has the audacity of hope in a very depressing situation.  My own two trips to Israel and Palestinian territories were focused on visiting Crusader era and First World War era landmarks related to Indian army.  However, I interacted with number of Israelis and Palestinians and found hardening of attitudes on both sides.  Tech savvy Israeli youth are focused on advancing their careers and number of young Palestinians making every effort to get away from what to them is a large prison and seek a better life away from their homeland.  Both these groups don’t care much about everyday politics. Israeli society and politics have taken a sharp right turn.  They are using a single verse of Bible in the Book of Genesis 15:18 ‘To your descendants I give this land’ as a property deed for Jewish people and view Palestinians as mere squatters and holders of a stolen property.  If this is the basis of the claim then they have to quote the whole verse that “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates”.   Will they simply be happy with the half of the covenant and not go for the whole inheritance from Nile to Euphrates?

Palestinians are rapidly losing the hope of a two state solution in view of expanding Jewish settlements and rest of the Arab world moving on with their lives.  This impasse has given rise to many trends, but two prominent ones are two extremes of a single state where they will try to get their rights based on universal democratic principles and the other extreme of a continued war until final victory over Jews.

In 1981, when Ami was attending a course at US Naval War College, a Pakistani Colonel approached him and told him that ‘Don’t permit the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to become a contest between Judaism and Islam.  Don’t lift the lid off that Pandora’s box.  We can live with Israel, and your fight with the Palestinians is of no interest to Pakistan.  Just don’t fool around with the Islamic holy sites or use religion to justify your claims.  That would tear apart the entire world”.  Thirty years later, Ami saw both sides taking refuge in religion from their fears. As head of Shin Bet, for the first time, Ami had to run informants among hardline religious settlers and haul them in for interrogation.  Ami has understood this dilemma that ‘the way we understand our history is the barrier to a real compromise because it controls our actions and fears, and therefore our future”.  The religious right of Jews and Muslims are thumping their scriptures to claim holy land.  Jewish Rabbis and Muslim Imams are arguing about who are the chosen people of the Lord and resigned to the coming Armageddon.  I reflected on these claims when I was visiting Megiddo; the place where this Armageddon is supposed to take place.

Ami is not a leftist or a peacenik.  He is a realist who is willing to sit with opponents whether right wing religious fellow Israelis or Palestinians to understand their point of view.  He comes on the peace table with stellar credentials.  His whole life was spent as a warrior.  He was a naval commando and commanded elite naval commando force Flotilla 13, served as chief of Israeli navy and head of internal security Shabak (Shin Bet).  Later, in pursue of peace, he joined politics and became member of Israeli parliament Knesset.

He brings hope to his people as well as Palestinians.  He is not alone in this endeavor. In 2012, he helped Israeli documentary film maker Dror Moreh that was considered as coup when five former Shin Bet heads sat in front of camera and reviewed the policies of internal security.  They concluded that continued occupation of Palestinian territories was bad for Israel.  The film The Gatekeepers was the best documentary film in Academy Awards nominations.  Over two hundred former senior security officials from Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), Mossad, Sin Bet and police have formed an organization named Commanders for Israel Security.  They see two state solution as a guarantee for Israel security. Ami has made the correct diagnosis that ‘We’re so trapped behind our own walls; we can’t see what seems obvious to outsiders’.  Israelis don’t’ need goyim (non-Jew) to tell them what is good for them? They need to listen to fellow Israelis who spent their lives defending the country.

“Tombstones break,

words pass, words are forgotten,

lips that uttered them turn to dust,

languages die like people, and other languages are resurrected,

gods in the heavens change,

gods come and go.

Prayers remain forever.”                               Yehuda Amichai

 

Ami Ayalon with Anthony David.  Friendly Fire: How Israel Became Its own Worst Enemy and the Hope for Its Future (Lebanon, New Hampshire: Steer Forth Press), 2020

Hamid Hussain

[email protected]

25 October 2020

Defence Journal, November 2020

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Troubles and politics of the billionaire author

By GauravL 13 Comments

The current outrage storm over JK Rowling’s latest book – the Troubled Blood is not unexpected given the trans-related controversies that have surrounded JK Rowling since December last year. For more on the issue, these pieces on Quillete are good. Link Link. Unwilling to back down in the face of abuse, threats of canceling, Rowling stood firm and wrote a long essay explaining her position here. (I strongly recommend this essay). As expected after the publication of Troubled blood, there was a social media storm with #RIPJKRowling. trending. Prima Facie I was sure that people who had been trolling and attacking the billionaire author were doing so ad hominem without reading the book. Being a fan of Rowling, I was going to eventually read the book (i have read all the earlier four Strike books) but this whole storm made me buy and read the book before commenting on the issue. When I started reading the 888-page book the Good Reads reviews of the book on the day of its release stood as follows

Troubled blood is a long mystery/romance/drama book that runs considerably longer than the average book. While the book isn’t what I would call flawless, but if you are invested in the primary characters by now – you will love the book. The core of the book is an almost impossible cold case (a 40-year-old case of a missing Feminist General Physician), the detectives – Strike and Robin are trying to solve. The issue the trans activists seem to have taken up is that a serial killer suspect in the book is known to disguise himself as a woman to get close to his targets (who were all women). The character of this serial killer is based on 2 real-life serial killers as posted by Rowling herself on her Robert Galbraith website.

 a sadistic serial killer active in the 60s and 70s, who was loosely based on real-life killers Jerry Brudos and Russell Williams – both master manipulators who took trophies from their victims.

This character is not a Transsexual. Even his cross-dressing is not given as his only tactic for appearing harmless. Aside from this, the serial killer himself is not the primary focus of the book, but a specter who looms behind the narrative due to his psychopathy not his occasional passing off as a woman. There is no trans character in the book – may be in near future even that will be called transphobia. Additionally, the only Trans character in the Strike series was a character named “Pippa” in the second book of the series – The Silkworm. That character has been dealt with very sympathetically on that occasion with her abuse at hands of men not trivialized or brushed aside. How JK Rowling gets to be a Trans-Phobe after this, this points to the deeper problem in the SJW activism – the tendency to self cannibalize. Examples like these (attacks on Steven Pinker, JK Rowling, Green Greenwald) appear eerily similar to what happened in Pakistan these last 70 years (From Hindus to Ahmadis to Shias). If societies are formed on such principles – shifting goalposts appear a natural outcome.

The Strike Series has always had political commentary in the background – but these things hardly got any attention in the first three books. The Second book – The Silkworm is getting panned retrospectively for being Islamophobic after the publication of the 5th book. This seems really funny because Rowling has been fairly active on twitter against what she herself perceives as Islamophobia. Maybe it is her consistent stance when it comes to calling out Corbyn for Labour’s Anti-Semitism that has taken away her brownie points for calling out Anti-Muslim bigotry. Her fourth book of the series was particularly political – as Rowling caricatured both the right and the left equally in the Lethal White. She appeared pretty harsh on Antifa type protestors/activists in the Lethal White. Troubled Blood has certainly got a lot of politics in it. The book references the bloody Partition of India from an Indian POV with references to Suhawarty being complicit in the 1946 carnage. The book also touches Scottish and Welsh nationalism (Rowling a Scot, was a strong Remain in the UK advocate and well as Remain in Europe advocate) and manages to humanize the nationalism of the Scots and the Welsh while critiquing it. However, the strongest political message of this book has to be its argument in favor of the 20th-century Feminism. Both the protagonists are feminist in the older definition of the word, which at times seems to be at odds with the 21st-century feminism. Rowling’s feminism which comes across in the book is much more focused on

  • fighting for female safety from sexual and violent crimes.
  • fighting for female control over reproduction and sex
  • fighting misogyny faced by career-oriented women

Rowling like her protagonist, Robin Ellacott is a survivor for violent and sexual crimes. Her psyche and motivations are mirrored a lot in Robin, which has especially come to the fore in the last three books. Of all the characters Rowling has brought to life, Robin Ellacott is the closest to her- an intelligent and independent feminist who is slightly left of center politically. Rowling like Robin continues to be influenced by the violence faced decades ago. It’s this experience and consequent political priorities that have led Rowling to champion physically safe spaces for women (bathrooms and changing rooms). Western Left must decide which TRENCH they are willing to die in. When most polls show that the overwhelming public is not comfortable with transwomen using women bathrooms, taking a radical stance will be laughable and outright stupid.

From India, at least this debate appears a non-starter in the priorities plaguing India – but that hasn’t prevented Indian Left jumping on the AntiRowling bandwagon on twitter with Varun Grover calling her a Prisoner of Patriarchy. I guess Grover feels he has some stake in the debate after him helping bring Kukoo to life in Sacred Games. Would “Gaitonde being able to transcend Kukoo’s biology for love” be something that’s expected from every heterosexual man or a lesbian woman? According to Rowling and other Gender critical folks, that’s already the case in the west :

However, as Magdalen was a great believer in the importance of biological sex, and didn’t believe lesbians should be called bigots for not dating trans women with penises,

In this woke world view, even a sexual/physical assault survivor is lower down the oppression hierarchy and hence a TERF as they simply can’t put their own priorities above the rapidly changing commandments of the woke mob. All the prior brownie points Rowling had earned on the left due to her politics, philanthropy, and personal story are annulled when Rowling came out as Gender critical. If a person with as liberal credentials as Rowling can be hounded or canceled like this then I shudder to think what conservatives must be thinking in the west.

By virtue of her previous success and fan following, JK Rowling is a type specimen of what one could call Un-cancellable. But by the avalanche of the attacks she has faced (even from people who owe their careers to her), it is fair to say the position of lesser writers would be extremely tenuous if they choose to be non-conformist. Most of the criticism of Rowling is so stupid and spurious it is not even a classic strawman in my view.

All biological interventions like Breast enlargements, Botox, or Transitioning Sex are not interventions anyone should rush into. Isn’t it fair to raise the point that the Ease with which Sex change is offered to impressionable teenagers is risky? Are these activists sure these teenagers won’t regret these changes which in many cases have a long term effect on one’s body? There has been a lot of research that can make a lot of Woke activists uncomfortable. Should we just sweep that under the rug or make it the elephant in the room? There have been dozens of instances of de- transitioning and a lot more where people continue to regret transition. I expect this debate to continue violently as parents will not want to take chances when it comes to their kids – even under the pressure of the woke people.

This discussion comes to something I discussed with Omar and Mukunda when we talked. For long I have loudly wondered whether it’s Islam the Rock that has broken liberalism as our own Dr. Omar as put so eloquently. Now it seems the Trans-debate and other Woke Dogmas have surpassed the challenge to liberalism posed by Islam. It can even be speculated that the liberal order itself without emphasis on its core tenets was never robust internally and was bound to fail especially after the vacuum left by the withdrawal of religion and nationalism.

Post Script:

I have been a huge fan of JK Rowling for 2 decades. It was her writings that introduced a video game & television addicted 11 year old to the pleasures of the written world. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Rowling has changed the lives of thousands of other kids like me. 

a few links about detransitioning: Link Link Link

 

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Book Review: The Era of Bajirao

By GauravL 15 Comments

Jadunath Sarkar, the preeminent historian of Maratha history states

The place of Bajirao I in India’s history comes home to us with unmistakable force and vividness when we compare the political situation of this country in the 1740 to that in 1720.

In 1720, Marathas were a small state spread over a few districts in western Maharashtra rife with internal divisions, while by the end of 1740 Marathas were the largest power in the country which covered lands from the Tungabhadra to the Yamuna. This was largely due to the unbeaten generalship of Peshwa Bajirao I. Uday Kulkarni, a Doctor by training, has taken to history writing these last few years and his writing has been a refreshing counter to the narrative-focused history popular in recent times. Dr. Kulkarni goes through the original sources as methodically and systemically as a surgeon would and the result is a crisp, tight book grounded in documents and not a narrative/hagiography held together by the whims of the author.

The tale starts with the Maratha-Mughal war of the late 17th century and ends with the death of Bajirao. The river Narmada or Rewa is the voice of the book as Rewa Uwaach, as Bajirao’s life was witnessed by the river Narmada, from his earliest campaigns to his untimely death. A few relationships and characters from this time period stand out in the book, and I got to know some interesting facets of all these characters and their actions in the book.

The Aurangzeb – Shahu relationship, its genesis, and its implications have been well represented in the book. Whether it was due to remorse, realpolitik, or human nature but Aurangzeb had treated Shahu well in captivity and Shahu’s unwillingness to directly attack the legacy of Emperor Aurangzeb is one of the most under-explored parts of Maratha history. This facet of Shahu can be seen as a constraint on the ambitions of the dynamic Peshwa.

Kulkarni presents the Era of Bajirao as a rivalry between two generals, Nizam-Ul-Mulk – one of the last generals from the time of Aurangzeb &Bajirao. Bajirao’s victories over the Nizam, both military and diplomatic are covered very well in the book.

The author also sheds light on a not very known fact about the life of Bajirao – his troubles with debt. The letters exchanged between Bajirao, Chimaji Appa, Brahmendra Swami, and Shahu Maharaj all point to the constant financial pressure under which the Peshwa operated. The strain between the Emperor and his prime minister over various issues, from financial matters to Bajirao’s conquering zeal are all brought forth.

The Konkan campaigns of the Peshwa, against the Siddis and the Portuguese, take up a considerable amount of the book. Chimaji Appa, the hero of the wars with the Portuguese who has often been ignored by popular imagination gets his due. The episode of Mastani is dealt with without unwarranted speculations or folk gossip. The fascinating character of Brahmendra Swami is always present in the background as Bajirao and co’s spiritual mentor.

Kulkarni also differentiates the ethics & morality of the Marathas – especially under Bajirao and Chimaji from their enemies with examples like Bajirao’s decision of not mauling Delhi and Chimaji’s respectful treatment of the Portuguese (especially women).

Bajirao’s singular quality in Kulkarni’s view is

Flight in the face of a strong enemy was not considered an act of cowardice, it was never the intention of the Maratha troops to give battle in an unfavorable situation. Bajirao’s success lay in his ability to choose when to fight, where to fight (and more importantly) when not to.

The only issue a reader might have with the book is arguably also the book’s strongest quality – the author’s unwillingness to speculate beyond a reasonable point. As a reader, at many places, I felt that I wouldn’t mind going a bit deeper into the motivations and implications of the actions of the book. But all these issues are compensated easily by the treasure trove of letters, accurate maps (with military movements), and illustrations offered in the book. On the whole, I would rate the Era of Bajirao 5/5 and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Indian history. It is especially a must-read of every Marathi Manoos – given the profound implications, the life of Bajirao had on Maharashtra. It is quite feasible, that without Bajirao’s and Chimaji’s rescue of North Konkan from the Portuguese, we might have even had a Portuguese governed Konkan (like Goa).

Dr. Kulkarni has also written some more books – including the Solstice of Panipat & and a book on James Wales – the Artist & Antiquarian in the time of Peshwa Sawai Madhavrao. His upcoming book – the Incredible Epoch of Nanasaheb Peshwa starts where he left off in the Era of Bajirao. Sadly none of these books are available in digital format and might be difficult to obtain abroad. For those who can’t get their hands on the book, you might be interested in the following for time being.

BAJIRAO PESHWA – THE EMPIRE BUILDER

 

 

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Book Review : Exotic Aliens, The Lion and The Cheetah in India

By GauravL 10 Comments

The core argument of the book is given away on the cover itself

In the sixteenth century, Dutch traveler Jan Linschoten noted the absence of lions throughout the Indian subcontinent. Two hundred years later, echoing similar comments made by various hunters and observers of Indian wildlife, the British shikari, and writer, Captain Thomas Williamson, emphatically declared: There are no lions in Hindustan. Much the same was said about the cheetah in the region.

Romila Thapar’s argument: Lions have been strongly associated with kingship and lions motifs are spread across the world despite those regions (United kingdom, Sri Lanka) having no indigenous lions. Starting with civilizations of the middle east and how these cultures associated kingship, divinity, and morality with lions, Romila Thapar concludes that no imagery of Indus Valley civilization has lions. The contrast between the Western Bronze cultural emphasis on Lions and the total absence of lions in Indus valley seals (unlike Tigers who are ubiquitous) is profound. (Essentially the same argument is made for the HORSE in Indus valley). Thapar then goes on to speculate that the first interactions, the lands of the Indus had with Lions were after Alexander’s conquest and later Indo Greek rulers. She also points to the Rigveda (which she claims at least was partially composed beyond the Indus in the west) mentions lions and not tigers thought the later Vedas (esp Atharvaveda) mention Tigers more than Lions. Another point she makes, is tigers interactions are much more common in Indian literature (from Mahabharata onwards) while lions are often invoked as symbols.

Continue reading “Book Review : Exotic Aliens, The Lion and The Cheetah in India”

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Book Review: Our moon has blood clots

By GauravL 4 Comments

Our moon has blood clots is a gripping biographical tale by journalist Rahul Pandita – which recounts the horrors faced post-1986 Kashmir by the Kashmiri Pandit community at hands of Pakistan aided Islamists. The subtle changes in some Kashmiri attitudes towards the Pandits since the 1980s are brilliantly conveyed through small incidences from the author’s childhood. The book tells the other side of the Kashmir story which has rarely received attention in the global political and even local social circles. The terror emanating nightly from the local mosques jumps out of the pages very effectively. All the killings are from 1989 onwards are told separately and serially which is very impactful in recreating the reign of terror- the pandits must have felt in their ancestral homeland. The Islamist nature of killings is also highlighted (how some pandits were killed with nails hammered to their foreheads). The book also highlights how the silent observers of the valley, who may have not approved the brutalization of Pandits, rarely put up a fight supporting their neighbors. The continuing tragedy of the Pandits at the hands of Jammu residents and negligent central and state government is also narrated from personal and observed experience. The ethnic cleansing of Kashmir in 1947 at hands of Pakistan supported tribesman is also connected to the book narrative through another POV.
The passage where the author narrated his personal journey back to his house leaves the reader in a sad and dazed state. The author’s Hindu culture and heritage are always present in the backstory and hence the pain at the potential loss of Kashmiri pandit culture in the refugees creates a particularly poignant moment in the book. The author’s sufferings, however, aren’t translated into bigotry against Muslims (Kashmiri or non-Kashmiri). The reference to Gujarat 2002 riots (author’s father’s recollections at the lynching of Ehsan Jafri) in the juxtaposition of Pandit anger at suffering is handled with consideration of human rights as the author explained once on television debate. (I have lost my home, not my humanity).

There are few things in the book which could have been handled slightly differently for a better effect IMO. The narrative structure of the book is not perfectly linear – which could’ve been handled differently – but that’s a personal preference and many might view it differently than me. The 1947 story could also be helped a bit by putting it into the larger Partition story of 1947, even though this occurred 2 months after the worst slaughter of 1947. However, these criticisms don’t blunt the impact this book will make on any reader. The book not only makes you feel the pain of the Pandits but also makes you want to work towards preserving the Kashmiri Pandit culture and heritage (especially in the valley). There really is no solution to the Kashmir valley question problem till the Pandits return to their ancestral homeland from where they were brutally driven out.

Post Script: 

The only personal connection I have had to the Pandits is because of the Kashmiri Pandit Quota present in Maharashtra Education enacted by the Shivsena BJP government of 1995 on Balasaheb Thackeray’s insistence. Slapstik or anyone else with Kashmiri connections – Could you please add your comments on Pandita’s telling of the story – both in Book and other media. For me, he serves as a Northstar to navigate polarized debates on twitter and social media in general – for example, his coverage of Delhi Riots & 2019 election. 

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Book Review: The Universal History of Numbers

By Omar Ali 46 Comments

A review I wrote 20 years ago.

Georges Ifrah is a Frenchman of Moroccan origin who was an ordinary schoolteacher of mathematics before his students sparked one of the great intellectual quests of our time (or, indeed, of any time). His students asked him where numbers came from? Who invented them and why? How did they take their modern form? When he tried to answer these simple questions, he found that the information found in standard textbooks was highly unsatisfactory and frequently contradictory. Not content with passing on half-truths and conjectures, Mr. Ifrah abandoned his job and embarked on a ten-year quest to uncover the history of numbers. He traveled to the four corners of the world, read thousands of books, visited hundreds of libraries and museums and asked questions of countless scholars. All this research was supported by odd jobs as delivery boy, chauffer, waiter, night watchman and so on. The result was a book called FROM ONE TO ZERO A Universal History of Numbers, (published in English translation in 1985  ). The book was a hit and brought fame and fortune and the chance to do more research. This led to a much larger book, The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer, which was translated into English in 1998 (after initial publication in French in 1994) and is now available in either one or two volumes.

These books have earned Mr. Ifrah the title of “Indiana Jones of numbers” and worldwide celebrity. After reading the book, I can only add that he deserves every superlative that has been used, and more. To quote a reviewer from “The Guardian”: “Georges Ifrah is the man, and this book, quite simply, rules.” This is not just a history of numbers, it is universal history disguised as the history of numbers. Mr. Ifrah starts with the most basic questions; what kind of “counting sense” do animals possess? What do we know about the number sense of our pre-human ancestors? When we evolved into Homo sapiens sapiens, what kind of numerical ability was “hard-wired” into our brains? He presents fascinating information about the most primitive counting systems, using tally marks, fingers, body parts etc. from these simple beginnings, we move to the abstract concepts of number and its notations. The detail provided is astounding. We learn about the earliest systems of numbers used in the Middle East, India, china, and the ancient Maya etc.etc. And not only do we learn about the numbers, Mr. Ifrah slips in his humanistic, sensitive and very very detailed knowledge of history so smoothly that we hardly notice that we are learning, not just the history of numbers, but the history of mankind; told by a very fair, very balanced and deeply sympathetic observer. Continue reading “Book Review: The Universal History of Numbers”

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Yugant / युगान्त : Book Review/Recommendation

By GauravL 30 Comments

Yugant / युगान्त is a critical and rational analysis of Mahabharata by the Irawati Karve – the anthropologist, sociologist, educationist and writer from Maharashtra, India. She was the daughter in law of Dhondo Keshav Karve – a reformer from Maharashtra.

Yugant confronts various versions of Mahabharat analytically and tries to make sense of character arcs and motivations. Intelligently analyzed without religious respect but with literary respect. The motivations of Pandavas for marrying Draupadi as the Royal Queen are very well explained. The literary accounts of chats between Dhritarashtra and Gandhari & those of Draupadi’s death are very well written and move your heart. Krishna (Vasudeva) stands out not only because of the brilliance of his character but the wonderful analysis and the crisp unraveling of his motivations. The Arya (Kshatriya) Dharma is explained in Krishna and Yugant chapters. The author enthralls with deep and intelligent writing in the final chapter that resonates wonderfully even in the 21st-century internet age. The sincere and irreligious comparisons of Mahabharat Era – Arya Dharma to contemporary Hindu religion and other Prophetic Faiths are interesting. Throughout the book, the author refrains from applying current Zeitgeist as a yardstick – something which is refreshing in 21st century polarized analysis and debates which always have political undertones. Even without a direct running story arc – the arrangement of essays offers a wonderful climax – especially Krishna and Yugant chapters.  With recent elevation of Heroic Karna in Indian literature and thought, a look back of the character of Karna as seen in 1950s-60s is a pleasant change.
Surprisingly the argument for conservatism offered at times by the author towards the end – is also a stimulating one.  Further readings of Mahabharata (Bhandarkar critical edition) may lead to various disagreements with author’s positions at various points – but that has to be expected, especially for a text as dense and significant as Mahabharata.

Post Script:

I have not read the English edition. I cant vouch for the  English version. The analysis is very well explained in the original Marathi editions. Some of her work – especially on Anthropology is hotly contested today, but IMHO her MO is very relevant even today.

A recent twitter thread on the Author:

This book is easily available on Amazon in India in both languages. The price on Amazon.com appears unreasonably high.

 

 

A note for Traditionally inclined Hindus  – None of the analysis is reverential but it avoids the viewing of Mahabharata from western lens. 

 

 

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Book Review: The Quetta Experience: A Study of Attitudes and Values Within the Pakistan Army by David O Smith

By Omar Ali 53 Comments

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Book Review – The Quetta Experience: A Study of Attitudes and Values Within the Pakistan Army by David O Smith

 Hamid Hussain

David Smith’s book The Quetta Experience is a groundbreaking and unique study of Pakistan army’s prestigious Command & Staff College that trains army officers for higher ranks. This book is based on interviews of American army officers who attended Command and Staff College at Quetta in Pakistan. Foreign Area Officers (FAO) of US army spent a year at Staff College.

Colonel David Smith is well qualified to embark on this kind of project.  He attended Staff College Quetta in 1982 and has remained in contact with large number of senior officers of Pakistan army.  In view of his extensive contacts in Pakistan army, he has been a Pakistan hand at Pentagon and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) for over two decades. Continue reading “Book Review: The Quetta Experience: A Study of Attitudes and Values Within the Pakistan Army by David O Smith”

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Book Review: Dominion, by Tom Holland

By Omar Ali 53 Comments

Tom Holland started off writing vampire novels but moved on to non-fiction and has since written an excellent history of the Persian invasion of Greece, several books about the Romans, one about Islam and one about the slow rise of Christian Europe that started around 1000 AD ; in retrospect at least, all his non-fiction books have had a hint of Christian Western European apologetics (some of it is probably well deserved reaction to the excesses of contemporary wokeness) but this book makes it explicit. Dominion is well written and well researched and he does make a lot of effort to include the nasty bits of Christian history, but in the end it IS a work of Christian apologetics, albeit from a modern liberal angle. Tom Holland’s basic thesis is that almost the entire set of “humanist” values modern liberals take for granted (universal human equality and dignity, separation of church and state, care for the weaker sections of society, suspicion of power, privilege and wealth, condemnation of slavery, cruelty and oppression, valorization of the weak and downtrodden, etc) is purely Christian in origin. No other civilization or culture had these values (or at least, foregrounded them in quite the same way as Christianity). For example, while some thinkers have always been unhappy with slavery,  the abolition of slavery was a Christian effort through and through. True, the slave owners had their own Biblical justification for slavery, but those who opposed them did so on the basis of their Christian beliefs, and they won the argument.

Holland also insists that the most viciously anti-Christian progressive thinkers of the post-enlightenment era also turn out be using Christian values to attack Christianity. When Marx cries out against the oppression of the proletariat or Lennon sings “all you need is love”, they are really being more Christian than most Christians. Since Nietszche thought something similar (that liberalism is “Christianity without Christ”), he gets a lot of positive play in this book, which is a bit ironic, since he also regarded Christianity as something of a disease.

Continue reading “Book Review: Dominion, by Tom Holland”

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