Capsule Review: Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

This is a very well written book and Ayad Akhtar has clearly come a long way from his debut novel (American Dervish) in terms of style and writing skill. The story is OK but did not really work for me. The book is said to be semi-autobiographical and I found that hard to get past. Is this his story or not? We are not supposed to ask that question, but somehow i kept getting stuck on it (perhaps because I have lived in Brookfield and have some vague notion of where he is from). But mostly I was disappointed by the narrator’s somewhat sophisticated but still very “inside the bubble wokeness”. He presents himself as someone willing to “go there” and talk about (and intelligently criticize/analyze) everything but it turns out that he is skeptical of everything but “super-elite wokeness”, which he seems to accept as just the not-so-simple truth about our world. I expect that well-off second generation desi kids will identify with a lot of what the narrator goes through (real or imagined) but that seems to be a rather narrow demographic. For the rest of us, the insights are less than advertised.
Still, he is, as you might expect from Ayad Akhtar, ready to get into hot topics (including Islam, oral sex, parent problems, racism) with all guns blazing, which can be fun. And his summary of partition and Pakistan is pretty good, and some of the other essay-like digressions (such as his explanation for the ills of late capitalism and what Robert Bork had to do with it) are also interesting; whether they are true (or useful) is not equally clear. if you are a second generation desi or are so intensely woke that think-pieces in “The Guardian” generally seem wise to you, then this is your book. But even if you are not, it is worth a quick read.

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Book Review: The Wellington Experience

Book Review – The Wellington Experience: A Study of Attitudes and Values Within the Indian Army by Colonel ® David O. Smith

 Hamid Hussain

David Smith’s book The Wellington Experience is a detailed study of Indian army’s prestigious Command & Staff College that trains armed forces officers for higher ranks. This book is based on interviews of American army officers who attended Command and Staff College at Wellington in India spanning over four decades. Foreign Area Officers (FAO) of US army spent a year at Staff College.

Colonel David Smith is familiar with Indian and Pakistan armies in view of his professional background.  He has been a South Asia hand at Pentagon and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) for over two decades. In his professional career, he interacted with number of Indian officers and familiar with the terrain.

This study looks at functioning of Staff College and evolution of its curriculum to train Indian armed forces officers for higher ranks. It also looks at professional and social attitudes and threat perceptions of Indian officers.

The major conclusions of the study are conventional thinking, adhering to staff college solutions to problems, lackluster attention to joint operations and ambiguity about China. However, the most crucial finding is lack of understanding of nuclear dimension of future conflicts with Pakistan. This factor has been noted by other observers of Indian army.  In the aftermath of devastating terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008 by Pakistan based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the shocked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked his National Security Advisory Board for options. Ministry of Defence (MOD) Simulation and Wargaming Center suggested a surgical strike on training camps of LeT in Pakistan controlled Kashmir. Prime Minister asked what was the probability of a Pakistani response? The army officer said around 75-80%. Prime Minister then asked what is the probability that these attack-counterattack dynamics leading to Pakistan escalating to nuclear counter-strike? The officer replied about 30%.  Political leadership stopped right there as it was too high a risk.

Smith’s work provides an outside perspective of training of Indian army officers at mid-career level and attitudes of officers.  It is perspective of a little over two dozen American officers who spent only a year at one institution.  It is supplemented with input from US government officials and US Defence Attachés in Delhi.  This is main limitation of the study.  US officials and officers view India and its neighborhood through American security interests while India has a different take on security challenges of its neighborhood.  Despite such limitations, it is a very methodical and in depth evaluation of existing instructional norms and pointing to areas of improvement for training of officers for higher ranks.

This study confirms what many observers of Indian army know that conventional thinking is the bedrock of Indian army culture.  Unorthodox thinking and critical evaluation of existing doctrines is discouraged, and curriculum and training encourage conformism.  It provides a window to otherwise opaque world of Indian military officer corps training.  This study can be valuable if Indian high command sees it as a friendly criticism of weaknesses of an eminent teaching institution.  Dynamic institutions improve by introspection and course correction.

David O. Smith.  The Wellington Experience: A Study of Attitudes and Values Within the Indian Army (Washington D.C: Stimson Center), 2020

Acknowledgements: Author thanks input from many informed individuals well informed about the subject matter. 

 

Hamid Hussain

[email protected]

24 January 2021

 

Defence Journal, February 2021

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Browncast: Keerthik Sasidharan, author of The Dharma Forest

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

Would appreciate more positive reviews!

In this episode I talk to Keerthik Sasidharan, an author and columnist whose debut book “The Dharma Forest” just came out in India in December 2020. Release in the US is awaited. We talk about his book, the Mahabharata, Indian tradition and whatever comes to mind.. Image result for keerthik sasidharan

The Dharma Forest

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Capsule Review: The Ultimate Goal by Vikram Sood

Sood, Vikram. The Ultimate Goal: A Former R&AW Chief Deconstructs How Nations and Intelligence Agencies Construct Narratives (p. 22). HarperCollins Publishers India. Kindle Edition.

The author is an intelligence professional who was the chief of RAW, but the book has nothing to do with RAW; it is mostly a description of how great powers generate and propagate their national narratives and why India can and should do the same. Fans of Noam Chomsky will be pleasantly surprised to find many familiar themes when discussing Western narrative building, though I assume most leftists will react less positively to the Indian portion, labeling it as at least mildly “sanghi”. In any case the book is always interesting because it is chock full of interesting anecdotes and nuggets of information (for which the author provides appropriate footnotes). Whether you agree with the somewhat Machiavellian (for lack of a better word) analysis, you will still get to read some fascinating stories. it is also well written and professionally edited. Well worth a read.

For a flavor of the book, see the following excerpts:

That message must be indigenous and not borrowed. India, too, as it becomes a bigger player on the world stage and given its civilizational history, must have its own narrative, its own version of history and values. Respect comes from not only the way a country wields its strength, tackling both the stronger and the weaker, but also from how it tells its story.

when Nixon and Kissinger were making overtures to Mao Zedong, and Rockefeller wanted to get Chase Manhattan an entrée into China. Rockefeller sought Kissinger’s advice, who suggested that the former get in touch with Huang Hua, China’s permanent representative at the UN, to get permission to enter China. Eventually, one fine day, a Rockefeller representative handed over a bag containing US$ 50,000 in cash at the Roosevelt Hotel to Huang Hua. No receipts were necessary and, soon after that, the Chinese mission opened an account with Chase Manhattan. Rockefeller was able to make several trips to China,

There would inevitably be conspiracy theories about these groups, but the fact is that the rich and powerful need a common and exclusive shelter for safety and networking. The CFR and TC, as well as others, fulfil this role. The superclass and these organizations draw strength from each other, and this need not be conspiratorial beyond the obvious of protecting and enhancing their turfs. The rich and the elite give these organizations an aura, where they mingle with the high and mighty from the government and being a member of these organizations enhances the exclusivity of the superclass. This is also where the power of the ‘revolving door’, which enables lateral movement from crucial departments of administration and the legislature to appropriate corporate slots and vice versa, during changes of government, is apparent.

The Trilateral Commission was more an exclusive elite club of powerful men and women who ran the world and were citizens of the United States, Europe and Japan. They were politicians, corporate heads, former and would-be presidents of the US, senior cabinet ministers, heads of intelligence, World Bank governors, strategic thinkers, media heads backed by the might of those like David Rockefeller and his favourite strategic thinker of the day, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Soon after the fall of Baghdad, Rumsfeld rushed there as a conqueror to congratulate and thank the troops. He praised the armed forces as photographs appeared of rapturous Iraqi crowds pulling down Saddam’s statue in Firdos Square in celebration of their ‘liberation’. The truth was that the US army’s psychological warfare unit had hired some Iraqis to remove the statue.

The story of Russia’s political warfare unfolds with Donald Trump’s announcement on 16 June 2015 from Trump Tower, New York, that he would be contesting the next presidential elections. Many Americans received this news with misgivings and others with derision. One newspaper even ran with the headline ‘Clown Runs for Prez’.23 His countrywide rating was abysmal, and he had to pay audiences to show up at his rallies. No one really gave him a chance at making it even to the nomination as a Republican candidate. That day in 2015 was probably also the day that the final phase of Russian active measures moved from a low gear to full throttle.

Sood, Vikram. The Ultimate Goal: A Former R&AW Chief Deconstructs How Nations andIntelligence Agencies Construct Narratives (p. 131). HarperCollins Publishers India. Kindle Edition.

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Review: Advent of the Algorithm

An old review I wrote (back in 2002) for the magazine Herald.

” The algorithm is …the second great scientific idea of the West. There is no third.”

This sentence at the very beginning of the book should warn us that this is not going to be science writing in the Asimov vein. Dr. Berlinski once boasted that he can be accused of many things, but shrinking from controversy is not one of them. A professor of mathematics, a novelist, something of a poet and the successful author of “a tour of the calculus”, Dr. Berlinski is also famous for his very public insistence that Darwinian evolution does not add up; that something is missing from the story and the high priests are engaged in a cover-up. In “the advent of the algorithm” he sets out to tell us about the algorithm: “a procedure, written in a symbolic vocabulary, that gets something done step-by-step without the need for any intelligent assistance”. But he ends by questioning the ability of science to explain the mind: the intelligence that fashions and uses these algorithms and infuses them with meaning.

The book begins and ends with Gottfried Leibniz. Between inventing the calculus, imagining the monads and carrying out his diplomatic duties, Gottfried Leibniz also laid the foundations of mathematical logic and the science of computing. He is followed by Guiseppe Peano, Gottlieb Frege, George Cantor and others, till we get to the great David Hilbert and his challenge to mathematicians to show that mathematics is consistent, complete and decidable (in principle, if not in practice). Within a few years, Kurt Godel was able to show that this is not possible. After an explanation of Godel’s revolutionary result, Alonzo Church, Alan Turing, Emil Post, Claude Shannon and others are introduced and the reader learns about the developments in logic and mathematics that form the foundations of our modern digital world.

Berlinski’s explanations of these developments are lucid, even brilliant, and someone with little mathematical knowledge beyond high school should still be able to understand what he is saying. But he does not want to stop at the bare bones of the theories. He is determined to give his readers a hint of the larger import of these matters, and he presses into service a number of stories, asides and literary flourishes. Sometimes the prose is so purple, it throbs and begs to be deflated, but the overall effect is not unpleasant. Here is a typical fragment about Liebniz:

“And then, by some inscrutable incandescent insight, Leibniz came to see that what is crucial in what he had written is the alternation between God and Nothingness. And for this, the numbers 0 and 1 suffice.

Twinkies and Diet Coke in hand, computer programmers can now be observed pausing thoughtfully at their consoles.”

And here are the last days of Hilbert in Nazi Germany:

“Hilbert closed his remarks with words that were later inscribed on his tombstone: we must know. We will know.”

“We realize now that that was the last time those words could have been uttered without irony…the mathematicians who had heard his voice and fallen under his command had scattered, some going to the US or South America or even China, others, for all their sophisticated and intellectual cunning, finding themselves packed in freight cars, grinding their way to some place in the east.”

This powerful and humane sense of history and tragedy is accompanied by an almost wicked sense of humor and an absolute unwillingness to submit to fashionable opinion. The stories and asides are generally delightful, though the author could easily have spared us his own amorous adventures and multiple marriages without any loss to the book. The math is challenging, but not overwhelming and worth the effort to understand it. In the last chapters, he takes on the issue of whether the mind is simply an algorithm, albeit a very sophisticated one? The question is not if the mind uses algorithms or if many of its functions can be reduced to algorithms (it does, and they can). The 300-pound gorilla in the room is consciousness: an algorithm is merely symbols, manipulated according to rules (themselves strings of symbols) but an intelligence creates those symbols and assigns them meaning. When the mind sees, something is seen by someone. Who is this someone who sees? Berlinski knows that even the scientists do not know the answer to that. The attack on scientific monotheism in the last chapters may upset those who suspect that such “attacks from within” will provide ammunition to those who wish to bludgeon us into more extreme monotheisms of their own. But Berlinski believes that doubt has brought us this far, it is too late in the day to stop. All the emperors are naked, why should the emperor of science get special treatment? And so he ends with Heraclitus:

”you could not discover the limits of the soul, not even if you traveled down every road. Such is the depth of its form”

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The Koran; a very short introduction

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

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

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

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

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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