Indo-Turks and Anglo-Normans

Posting after a while, as this topic is very BP and I managed to write a rather long Twitter thread on it. So just compiling it all here in a neater format. May revisit and clean it up further later.

A short piece on why the Islamo-Turkic colonialism in India is not the same as the experience of the English who were colonized at roughly the same time by the Francophone Normans. Note Mahmud Ghaznavi died in 1030 / William Duc de Normandie was born in 1028.

Continue reading Indo-Turks and Anglo-Normans

Khalid Baig on Indian Nationalism and Islam

 

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode Gaurav chats with Khalid Baig – an Indian Nationalist on a wide range of topics – Indian nationalism, Hindu-Muslim relations, Hindutva and bright future of India. Khalid Baig and Amana Ansari Begam also run a very popular Youtube show called India This Week By Amana & Khalid – YouTube.

We also chatted to his co-host Amana Ansari Begam a few months back – Amana Begam Ansari on Muslims and Women in India – Brown Pundits

 

Book Review: Saartha – 8th Century India recreated

After reading SL Bhyrappa’s Parva I wanted to read more from the man. I started with Saartha after a friend recommended it. Review of Parva.


the Tale:

Saartha is a tale of a Brahmana sent on a mission by his king under the pretext of finding more about the various trade caravan routes with a Saartha (caravan). The protagonist Naga-Bhatta is the first person narrator for the entire book. The novel is primarily a journey of self realization of Naga-Bhatta – dealing with a varied range of emotions from anger, infidelity, love to melancholy and despondency. Naga-Bhatta travels from his hometown in Central India to North Indian plains – particularly Mathura, from Mathura to Kannauj and Kannauj to Magadha, Magadha to Mahismati before embarking upon a journey to Arab ruled Multan before coming back to Mathura. Though a lot of characters come and go in the novel, the ones who leave a mark as personalities apart from Nagabhatta are Pratihara Senapati JaySingh and actress and Yogini Chandrika. Other than that, the author also brings the real life historic personalities to life in fantastic and powerful manner. – Mandana Misra, Kumarila Bhatta, Bharati Devi (Misra) and epoch changing Adi-Shankaracharya. Apart from that, the author deals with the intellectual fights – especially between Sramanas (especially Bauddhas) and the followers of the Vaidika Dharma (Vedic Hindus). Bhyrappa manages critical about aspects of both the traditions even though the narration is that of a Vaidika Brahmana.

The storytelling is top notch and visually perfect. The dialogues are extremely effective and powerful. But where the author excels like in Parva is bringing to life a real world from a time long gone. What is more – he manages to do it with the Zeitgeist of the story in mind – not our own. The author doesn’t want to be politically correct or use his zeitgeist as a lens to observe the events of the tale. As the narration is that of a moderately patriarchal 8th century Brahmana, he doesn’t try to bring up the hypocrisy of his position – wherein the protagonist has no qualms about his (attempted) infidelity while he cannot digest his wife’s betrayal so much that it derails his life – filing him up with despondency and emptiness. Its in moments like these that the brilliance of the author comes through.

Throughout the narrative we are come across various spiritual paths available to the thinkers and philosophers in Ancient India – namely the Karma Kanda focused Vaidika Mimansa path, the Mahayana Bauddha path, the Yoga path, the Tantrik path, and finally Shankara’s Advaita. How the Naga-Bhatta grabbles with these paths and how he finds his Karma at the end is essentially the story of novel, Alchemist like tale with huge dollops of sophisticated philosophy and realism. What is fascinating about this book is that unlike Parva (Mahabharat) this book deals with and uses supernatural powers not just as sidenotes but for important parts of the story arc. Also the author’s grasp over Sanskrit is just spectacular, and like in Parva he has created couplets here and there as per the plot demand.


the Polemic and the Philosophy: (Spoilers ahead)

While the story of Saartha works on various levels, I doubt if that was the main purpose of the book. The author uses the character arc of Naga-Bhatta around which the tapestry of 8th Century India is painted, and its this tapestry that works more than the story. In the beginning we are introduced to the conflicts and divergences between Vaidika and Bauddha traditions, while noting the important changes which were occurring in the Bauddha tradition during this time. Some scholars have pointed to these changes (adopting of Puranic deities and tales) which made the Bauddha traditions loose its differentiating USP. The portrayal of Drama as a means of spread of devotional traditions of Rama and Krishna is fantastic. The mechanisms of Yoga and especially Tantra are very well explored. The flirtation of Naga-Bhatta with Buddhism, his abandoning of Vaidika traditions and coming back are not only explained convincingly, but readers also given a peak into the potential origins of the Maithuna images (erotic coupling images) which adorn the Khajurao temples.

The first climax of the book – based on the hagiography of Shankara- deals with the encounter of Adi-Shankara with the Guru of Naga-Bhatta – Mandana Misra, and though Mandana Misra is said to lose that encounter personally as I reader I couldn’t follow the logic of it. Similarly the peek into the life of Kumarila Bhatta – the Mimansika who is said to have defeated the Buddhists before Shankara left me unsatisfied. However one has to note that maybe that was the desire of the author, who clearly seems to favor the Vaidika Mimansikas (minus some orthodoxy).

The final climax of the book is about the confrontation with Islam. This part felt slightly caricaturish but still captured some of the salient reasons for Islamic incursions into the subcontinent. The tripartite struggle of Palas, Prathirahas and Rashtrakutas, the Hindu insularity and naivety & superstition and various other reasons come forth during the climax. The book ends on a very sour note, but that wasn’t surprising, as Bhyrappa is no bollywood screenwriter (who make Padvawat and Panipat appear as victories of Hindus (maybe even Prithviraj)).


Incidentally the History podcast Brownpundits have been producing was covering the same time period which Saartha covers. I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in history, philosophy or even self discovery – Saartha works very well on all these fronts.

Personally as an agnostic I have wondered why have I never been attracted to the philosophy of Buddha whereas I have always been attracted by the philosophies’ Vaidika and Puranic Dharma. Bhyarappa was able to give me the answer in one sentence “Can you imagine Buddha saying what Krishna says (on Kurukshetra) ?”

Episode 11: Palas, Prathiharas and early Islamic invasions

Tripartite struggle between the Palas, the Rashtrakutas and the Pratiharas

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

By Print from 1425 CE, AfghanistanPhotographer: Worchester Museum – Worchester Museum

In this episode Maneesh and Gaurav chat with Jay and Omar Ali and they discuss North Indian politics and power struggles for a vast period from 700 CE to 1200 CE. We touch upon the origins of the Imperial Pratiharas and Palas and discuss the tripartrite struggle for domination of Kannauj between the 3 great kingdoms of Indian subcontinent while a storm brewed up in the west. We also talk about the earlier Arab invasions of Sindh and Punjab and the later Turkic invasions by the Ghaznavids and Ghurids which laid the foundation of Islamicate rule in India.

By Hiroki Ogawa, CC BY 3.0,

We will cover the Cultural changes of this period in another episode.

Another Map of the era

www.thomaslessman.com/History/ or www.WorldHistoryMaps.info

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Links to stuff discussed in this episode:

Al Beruni, Kitab ul Hind https://www.academia.edu/45077160/Al_birunis_Kitab_Ul_hind

Al Baladhuri: Early Islamic Conquests. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338318331_Arab_Conquests_and_Early_Islamic_Historiography_The_Futuh_al-Buldan_of_al-Baladhuri

 

Browncast: Subcontinent and Movies

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Omar Ali and Maneesh Taneja have a free-flowing conversation with Gaurav about movies in the Indian subcontinent in the 20th century

Please leave your movie suggestions in comments. A few links about the movies we discussed and recommended below

Super Deluxe – Official Trailer | Yuvan | Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil, Samantha, Ramya Krishnan – YouTube

Sairat I A Narrative of Contrast – YouTube

“Aarambh [Full Song]” | Gulaal | K K Menon & Mahi Gill – YouTube

Ashi Hi Banwa Banwi | Comedy Marathi Movie | Dhammal Entertainment Movie – YouTube

Kalyug | Shyam Benegal | 50 Films I Love | Film Companion – YouTube

Panchayat – Official Trailer | New Series 2020 | TVF | Amazon Prime Video – YouTube

Badhaai Do Official Trailer | Rajkummar R, Bhumi P | Harshavardhan Kulkarni | In Cinemas 11th Feb – YouTube

Johnny Gaddaar Official Movie Trailer | Neil Nitin Mukesh,Dharmendra – YouTube

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron – A Kundan Shah Film – YouTube

Episode 10: North India – before and after Harsha

 

 

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

The history podcast returns to North India. Gaurav and Jay are in conversation with Maneesh about the changes in the North Indian landscape before and after the times of Harsha – generally considered as the last Emperor of “Ancient India”. We touch upon political splintering that followed the fall of the imperial Guptas, the political Game of thrones that followed, the Kumbha Mela and the decline of trade. 玄奘  (Xuanzang) and Banabhatta make appearances as prolific storytellers along with the stories of contested Urban decay and decline of Buddhism in the Indian heartland.

References for the episode:

A Comprehensive History of India – Vol III
The History and Culture of the Indian People: Volume 3. The Classical Age
Imagining the Urban – Sanskrit and the City in Early India by Shonaleeka Kaul
Urban Decay in India (c. 300-c. 1000) by Ram Sharan Sharma
Upinder Singh – Ancient India.
Upinder Singh – Political violence in Ancient India
Upinder Singh – Culture of Contradictions.
Romila Thapar – Ancient History
Romila Thapar – Past before us
RS Sharma- India’s Ancient Past

Live History India (Paid + unpaid)

PODCASTS:
The History of India Podcast – Kit Patrick
Echoes of India Podcast – Aniruddha Kanasetti

https://www.youtube.com/JayVardhanSingh

 

Book Review: Shrayana Bhattacharya’s Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh-India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence.

India’s complexity is a perennial source of inspiration for commentary, columns and books.

Shrayana Bhattacharya, a World Bank economist, joins the list of authors who have tried to explain India with their books.

The book is about contemporary Indian women.

Ms. Bhattacharya, who trained in development economics at Delhi and Harvard university, uses her years of experience in primary research, to bring us her own, and stories of women from a cross-section of society.

The cornerstone of these stories is Shah Rukh Khan, one of India’s most famous movie stars.

In a career spanning over three decades, Mr. Khan has built, through his cinema and his off-screen presence, an image of an ‘industry outsider’ who dominates the Hindi film industry with the dint of his hard work and sincerity.

His choice of unconventional roles for a leading man, in the early part of his career, and his off-screen image of a loving husband and family man stand him apart.

This is in contrast with the usual tropes of a male Hindi movies star , the good guy who charms his way to audiences’ heart on screen and whose umpteen romantic dalliances they read in the press.

Khan’s popularity, in the Hindi heartland and amongst the diaspora, is the string Bhattacharya uses to stich tales of gender disparity and loneliness.

We get a ringside view, Bhattacharya takes us through her own and lives of five other women, as they struggle with lack of income opportunities, denial of agency and grapple with every day challenges of living in India, exaggerated by their gender.

What holds these women together is their love for Khan’s cinema and in turn Khan himself.

When they need joy, inspiration in their lives and an escape from every day struggles, the women seek Khan’s onscreen roles and his offscreen persona.

The pictures that Bhattacharya paints, are colored by facts.

The protagonists of her stories come alive, unlike in Khan’s movies, as she vividly explains their lives with a sharp eye for detail.

When giving context to their struggles, she backs her submissions with reams of hard data.

Annexures include a table that captures share of dialogues for women in some of Khan’s movies.

She gives the women who shared their stories and their unbound love for Khan with her, their own voice.

The writing is not rhetorical flourishes with clichés thrown in. That bane of most commentary on India. The book engages.

Even for those who live in India and see the every day reality, the book is thought provoking. The passage where she describes the transactional nature of relationships is worth a chapter of its own.

Where the book misses out is on exploring the other impact of Khan’s filmography.

Barring notable exceptions, Khan’s work since his seminal hit Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, has comprised of Yash Raj school of saccharin cinema.

Movies where characters are super rich, beautiful with ‘love’ as the only thing missing in their lives.

It’s the kind of cinema that’s as far from the everyday India as cinema can get.

Khan and his cinema have done their bit in building the hegemony of ‘How much money do I make? How do I look?’ lifestyle.

The characters in her book struggle with these questions too.

Khan’s role in shaping a consumerist, trying to ‘fit in’/ ‘cool’ individual persona is left unexplored.

I found Khan’s portrayal as an all-India star an over-played hand. Khan’s as much a pan India phenomenon as Dal Makhani, the ubiquitous North Indian delicacy, is a pan India delight. The cinema crazy south Indian states have temples of their movie stars and Khan is not in one of them.

As she writes on the state of affairs, Bhattacharya skips the raging phenomenon sweeping urban India. The Dating app. Where the society has failed markets have stepped in. Technology is helping even the scales for women. The progress is slow and it does not include the majority but it’s a start.

India is a large complex place with everyday challenges being met head on by a young and an energetic populace.

Bhattacharay’s book captures some of these challenges and the forces taking them on, impeccably.

Anybody trying to get a sense of the churn going through India and its society will be well served by this book.

One hopes her fellow commentators will be inspired by her lucid writing and her love for data.






Episode 8: The Guptas and Classical Age of India

© Asitjain / Wikimedia CommonsAnother Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode of the History series, we return to North India and talk about the Age of the Guptas. We touch upon the military genius of Samudragupta and various Gupta emperors, the emergence of Classical Hinduism and various forms of Art, Music, Science which consolidated during this era. The speakers of the episode are Gaurav Lele and Jay Vardhan and the discussion is moderated by Maneesh.

@jayvtweets  @maneesht @gaurav_lele

Links to the previous podcasts: Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3 

Episode 4:  Episode 5: Episode 6 Episode 7

Supplementary blogpost : Legacy of the Gupta Age – Brown Pundits

Sources and References:
Books and Blogs
 Upinder Singh – Ancient India.
 Upinder Singh – Political violence in Ancient India.
 Upinder Singh – Culture of Contradictions.
 Romila Thapar – Ancient History
 RS Sharma- India’s Ancient Past
 Gupta Vakataka Age RC Majumdar

 Live History India (Paid + unpaid)
 Early Hinduism — the epic stratification | by Gaurav Lele | Medium

PODCASTS:
 The History of India Podcast – Kit Patrick
 Echoes of India Podcast – Aniruddha Kanasetti

https://www.youtube.com/JayVardhanSingh

Kashmir Files : Short Review

Short Review
#KashmirFiles – forgive my typos and terseness – i posted this in a hurry
 
I was pleasantly surprised by how effective the movie was in conveying what it started out doing. I had a very low bar after Tashkent files. Some would take umbrage to the Loud direction at times. Personally I think that was vivek agnihotri’s choice and overall the Loudness has the desired effect. Having seen more gory scenes in Visual medium and read more graphic details about Kashmir Pandit I did think the violence was NOT overdone though Loud at times. Rather some of the more ghastly things documented were not shown. RAPE which was common and effective tool used by Kashmiri Islamists to scare Pandits wasnt depicted in the movie. Anupam kher shines, among his finest performances. I even liked Mithun’s role. Darshan Kumar also pulled through on a tough role (though with glitches).
Overall acting is just above average – especially by actors in crucial moments in the film which somehow let me down – especially during the final monologue. It could’ve packed more punch with a flawless monologue like that of Kay Kay from Gulaal but it didn’t. 
As a result I didnt get emotional watching the movie (except maybe the Biscuit scene by Anupam Kher) while I had shed some tears while reading Pandita’s moving memoir. To the readers, I would still recommend Pandita’s book over this movie but this movie will reach places which a book could never do. Book Review: Our moon has blood clots | by Gaurav Lele | Medium
Sad that a fine mind like Pandita has not *yet talked about the impact of the film (probably due to history with the director).
 
But most importantly the movie does what only a movie can (not books or newspapers or even podcasts). So it’s a very necessary counter weight movie especially in company of Haider and Mission Kashmir. The criticism I had watching was the absence of positive Kashmiri Muslim characters who helped Pandits risking their lives (though the final monologue makes that point along with many other nuances). Personally I think that’s not fair depiction but award winner “Haider” didn’t have a single positive Pro India character – all Kashmiris who were pro India were corrupt – so maybe judging Kashmir files with that level of harshness itself isn’t fair.
In that space #KashmirFiles corrects a lot of narrative around the Kashmir in general in Pop culture and also tells the stories of the Kashmiri Hindus with focus solely on their plight.
 
There are some errors and unbelievable plot points. The characters (5 dinner table characters) appear half baked and under acted at times. In many places multiple character arcs are fused into a single character which leaves things undercooked.
I also felt the #Article370 part is overplayed and made simplistic and dumbed down. That part almost feels like propaganda for current BJP government. Ofcourse it’s part of story so that’s fine in a story. #KashmirFiles
Personally I felt the multiple Amarnath killings should have also been part of the film – whose aim was to further prevent any attempts to lay claim to Hindu legacy of Kashmir. But @vivekagnihotri can’t get it all inside the movie.
JNU is naturally shown caricaturish – but frankly I care far more about Kashmiri Muslim caricature than JNU caricature. Also don’t think the bright minds of Azadi in JNU would be seed any space in one monologue :). But maybe that was wishful thinking by director. The use of CAA protest fame song – Hum Dekhenge is at times not loud but effective nonetheless.
 
In summary the movie shifts the Pop Culture pendulum on Kashmir to its end powerfully (probably overcompensates a bit), but is no means is it a complete film – its a message meant primarily to highlight the plight of the Kashmiri Hindu community. But it does so (with exception of the final monologue) making a caricature of Kashmiri Muslims as either fanatics or cowards when there have been documented instances of Kashmiri Muslims risking their lives for India in general and Pandits in particular. But that is what you get when the only person willing to voice this issue honestly is Vivek Agnihotri – when Bollywood in 30 years came up with ZERO films on this tragedy and what they managed at last was the PC and poorly made Shikara. In that context you have to not only live with Kashmir Files but somewhat embrace its core message.
 
Kashmir files uses a lot of Hindu imagery and symbolism – sometimes subtly sometimes overtly. I felt the use of Shiv makeup Anupam Kher was deliberate – especially in the light of retrospective offense taken by newly aware(woke?) Hindus about the Shiv scene from PK. 
#KashmirFiles has started a conversation and hopefully later entries in the debate will add more nuance which is missing in the movie.

Posing as a South Asia expert: Brahminical patriarchy edition

 

This research article will be submitted in the new journal Intersectional Gender and South Asian studies. Dedicated to VisionIAS - especially Smriti Shah

Roots of divergence between Bangladesh and the rest of South Asia

 

South Asia in general has been a diverse place demographically as well as geographically. Unlike the myth of ancient civilization conjured up by well-meaning anti-colonialists in the 19th and 20th centuries, South Asia neither had a coherent identity nor a dominant mass religion. It only became a political unit after the forceful amalgamation of different polities under the Colonial British Raj. Since getting independence, Bangladesh has diverged a great deal not only from former West Pakistan but also from India. Not only in economical terms but also in terms of women empowerment. Unlike most democracies, Bangladesh has been governed by women for a significant duration of time since its independence.

What explains this divergence? Especially between North Western South Asia and North Central South Asia on one side and Eastern Central South Asia, Western Central South Asia and South Eastern South Asia on other ? Continue reading Posing as a South Asia expert: Brahminical patriarchy edition

Brown Pundits