Iran_N/CHG Ancestry and the Genetic Origins of the Proto-Indo-Europeans

This is a post I was writing a few months back but had abandoned midway. It is in response to  what Razib had argued in one of his posts. According to Razib while an Aryan Migration model, that suggests an entry of Indo-Aryans into South Asia, might not have textual and archaeological support, when looked at in a wider context, that necessitates explaining the origin and migration of all Indo-Europeans from a PIE homeland to their respective places of present or last known (e.g. Hittites & Tocharian) inhabitation, the steppe theory makes a far more compelling case as PIE homeland than an OIT.

Admittedly, we haven’t had a major attempt being made in the academia, Western or Indian, which tries to take stock of all available evidence, linguistic and archaeological, and uses that evidence to argue for the PIE origins in South Asia and the subsequent dispersals of the daughter languages to their known destinations.

It is beyond the remit of my present subject to ponder why this has been so but we may note that an elegant and solid linguistic case (1,2) for a spread of IE languages from a locus in the region of Bactria has been already made more than two decades back by Johanna Nichols. However, the linguistic community has chosen to sideline her work without a proper rebuttal.

Continue reading “Iran_N/CHG Ancestry and the Genetic Origins of the Proto-Indo-Europeans”


The Crusades, Wootz/Damascus Steel, Pandanus and Dumbara Mats,

A post connecting three kinds of Pandanus, a beautiful blue flower, color of Buddhist priest Robes, Dumbara Mats, Wootz/Damascus Steel and Tenuous thoughts to the Crusades

Sri Lanka has three kinds of Pandanus commonly known and used and a beautiful third plant, with beautiful blue flowers.

Rampe| රම්පෙ| Pandanus amaryllifolius
Kora-Kaha |කොරකහ| Memecylon umbellatum
Wetakeyiya | වැටකෙයියා| Pandanus kaida,
Dunukeiya |දුනුකෙයියා| Pandanus thwaitesii
Kora-Kaha |කොරකහ| Memecylon umbellatum

Rampe| රම්පෙ| Pandanus amaryllifolius

The most common and in home gardens. Used extensively in cooking in Sri Lanka and SE Asia. Most of the Sri Lankan dishes use these leaves for aroma along with curry leaves. In India it is called annapurna leaves; in Bangladesh, it is called pulao pata (পোলাও পাতা )

Wetakeyiya | වැටකෙයියා| Pandanus kaida

Grows by seaside. Long thin leaves compared to Dunukeiya (දුනුකෙයියා|). Used for mats mainly by sea side communities. During the 2004 Tsunami areas that had Wetakeyiya along the shore front were protected from the full impact. Post Tsunami many programes to plant and re plant Wetakeyiya along Sri Lankas sea side. (an Evaluation in 2010)

Dunukeiya |දුනුකෙයියා| Pandanus thwaitesii

Grows by rivers, paddy fields, muddy areas. Leaves broad, used for mats called Dumbara mats. Wgasahantharindu has a nice description of the process to make the mats.
Paduru: Sri Lanka’s Magic Carpet 

Kora-Kaha |කොර-කාහ| Memecylon umbellatum
(Hindi : अंजन (Anjan) Tamil காயா (Kaya))

A tree with beautiful blue flowers. The Sinhalese name for the plant does not reflect the beautiful blue flower. More its practical side, the use of as a yellow dye. i.e. kaha කාහ means yellow

a) The leaves contain a yellow dye, a glucoside, which is used for dyeing the robes of Buddhist monks.
b) Also used for yellow colouring of reed (Dumbara) Mats
c) Historically, this plant was burnt as fuel in the production of Wootz steel also see    Eleventh-Century Pittsburgh in Sri Lanka

Note: Wiki says this tree is called Ironwood. It is NOT the Mesua ferrea, the Ceylon ironwood national tree of Sri Lanka

So to put it all together

A common home garden plant used for cooking (Rampe| රම්පෙ|Pandanus amaryllifolius)
Related to a plant that was/is Tsunami protection (Wetakeyiya | වැටකෙයියා|Pandanus kaida)
Related to both above used for Mats (Dunukeiya |දුනුකෙයියා| Pandanus thwaitesii)

The First Tenuous* to an unrelated plant, that connects to the above. Kora-Kaha |කොරකහ| Memecylon umbellatum

Yellow colouring from leaves used for mats made from Dunukeiya|
Buddhist priests robes are dyed by flower of Kora-Kaha
Mats used by Buddhist priests and lay people are dyed from the flower of Kora-Kaha

The Second Tenuous*, Use of Kora-Kaha for Wootz Steel/Damascus Steel.

Was there not enough Kora-Kaha trees to make Steel to fight the 12th Century South Invaders.

Or were the Sinhalese Kings busy exporting the Wootz steel/Damascus Steel to the Mid East and not enough steel to fight invaders (I dont think so, just a thought process).  The Mid East Saladin was busy fighting the Crusaders eg Richard the Lion Heart.

For the Sri Lankan readers, the 12th century was the decline of the Sinhalese polity in North and establishment of the Kalinga/Tamil polity in the North

*Tenuous as in without researched back evidence.


Fannie Freddie and the Chinese: The IOU Laws

Wrote this around 2008 to explain the financial crisis and the implications for US China relations.
Hope you see some relevance to current chaos, or at the very least understand the cynical humor.

Fannie Freddie and the Chinese: The IOU Laws
Hu’s your daddy now
or is it Yu is the Patsy

Those statements are going to make sense once you read this email. This is an attempt to explain what happening in world of high finance and world politics right now. This is Long, and you are ADD jump to the end and read the Law and the consequences.

There has been a lot of brouhaha on the Freddie and Fannie and their preferred shares.

As usual thats smoke and mirrors.
The bigger problem are Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) issued by Fannie and Freddie and the Chinese who own a large chunk of them

For the uninitiated:
Somebody got a loan for a house. They promised to pay that back and make monthly interest payments well.The bank took that IOU note (and a lot of others) and sold it to Freddie and Fannie. Fannie and Freddie in turn collected all those IOU’s and bundled them into a Big Ole IOU. Then gave it a fancy name called Mortgage Backed Security (MBS) and that Big Ole IOU was now an Asset. If one wants to know more about MBS, and Ubernerd called Tanta has written more than you ever want to know at a place called Calculated Risk. For our purposes all you need to know is that MBS is name for big IOU which is made up of little IOU’s

See, now when I was growing up, an Asset was something you could wrap your hands around.  Or you get someone else to wrap their hands around it. First a story
Right out of school, I started working in a audit firm as an articled clerk. It was a job a that paid a very much less than indentured servant (125 Rs, USD 12 per month !) and tasks not much better. One of the first on site audits I did was for Mercantile Investments, who financed cars on Hire Purchase. This type of business is called, Leasing these days; same stuff different name. So as I am checking receipts/invoices and I come across this whole pile that just says Payment to xxx. And its a lot of money (remember I was getting only 125 Rs) 3,000 Rs each month. This definitely warranted an investigation, so I asked Philip who headed the audit and was never around what I should do. Phillip (Babapulles) say “Send the guy a post card (this was before cellphone days) and ask him what it is all about”. Couple of days later, the receptionist tells me some one has come over to answer the audit questions. Now I had heard of the de Goon family of Sri Lanka but had never met one. The gentleman seated at the reception didnt need an introduction. This was an honest to God, de Goon. I didnt need no introduction to recognize a member of the de Goon family. The instinct self preservation kicked in, I apologetically said all I needed to verify if Company had actually paid de Goon. See, I had the best interests of Mr. de Goon in mind. End of conversation. Note to self: No more postcards to Mr Gune de Goon in Goontown. (Gune means good in Sinhalese).

So you ask what the hell has my job got to do with MBS and Fannie and Freddie. Please bear with me: there was a moral to that story. Continue reading “Fannie Freddie and the Chinese: The IOU Laws”


The Landmark Chola Invasion of Srivijaya

I found this video on the Chola invasion of Srivijaya and it is so well made and informative, about this little known but nevertheless a major event on Indian and SE Asian history, that i couldn’t help posting it here.

It is a shame that this video does not have more views.

The Chola invasion of Srivijaya dispels a major myth about Indian history that is bandied about often which is that India or Indians never invaded another nation.

The timing of this major world event is also quite interesting. It came about in the early part of the 11th century CE when the Greater India region stretched from Afghanistan and Balkh in the Northwest to the Phillipine Islands in the southeast and had been so for more than a millenium already. Indian religion and ideas also held great sway over the countries of China, Japan & Korea.

This was the phase of the greatest afflorescence of Indian civilization. Yet by the turn of the 2nd millenium, this civilization which the Arabs referred to as Al-Hind was already well past its high point. The kingdoms of the Tarim Basin such as Khotan, Kucha, Shanshan etc were already lost as were the Central Asian kingdoms of Balkh and Sughd (Sogdia).

Yet, most poignantly, in the very timeframe that the Cholas invaded Srivijaya in the southeast, the Turco-Afghan Mahmud Ghazni invaded from the Northwest and devastated North India.

What a turning point in Indian history were these initial years in the new millenium of the Christian era !



The Shadow Sultanate: Qatar

Influence is an art. It is a dance of subtlety and force. A moving of the mind and a journey of the heart. It is difficult enough to master at an individual level; so how can one possibly master it at a geopolitical level?

Yet, influence is the invisible hand in geopolitics. Hard to quantify and in constant flux, some countries wield it with brute might, while other countries seduce their counterparts into submission.

Qatar may be the per square mile most influential nation in the world. This little, lavish country has mastered the painting of perceptions through the art of influence. And more than that, Qatar has turned its art into action.

Continue reading “The Shadow Sultanate: Qatar”


The Era of the Kushans

I have written a new post on my personal blog about the dating of the Kushan empire. I have shown through a range of facts and arguments that the Kanishka Era should start around 233 CE and not 127 CE as is currently believed.

The Era of the Kushans

Most of you folks are unlikely to go through the entire article. My intention behind it is to get some attention from the scholars and the academia. Hence I have tried to gather as much evidence as I could to strengthen my case.

Let me state here in brief what this article is all about.

It is generally believed now that the era established by Kanishka in his 1st yeat began in 127 CE. A minority of scholars still believe that it begins in 78 CE. At the same time there is a minority view that also believes that the Kanishka Era began in the 3rd century CE – most of them being numismatists.

The main reason why 127 CE and earlier 125 CE is so popular among the scholars as the likely Year 1 of Kanishka is the belief that Chinese historical texts of the Later Han and Wei dynasties, which are chief textual sources on the Kushans, give information about Kushans and India from a report that was given to the Chinese Court in 125 CE. As per the account Kushans had recently conquered North India and were ruling over it but Kanishka is not mentioned leading scholars to infer that he must have come to the throne around or after 125 CE.

Already a few years ago, I had come across an old article by the doyen of Indian historians, R C Majumdar, where he pointed out quite clearly that there was no basis to believe that this information about the Kushan state and India was only from this report of 125 CE since the Chinese texts mention lots of information which is clearly several decades later than 125 CE. And the texts maintain that their record of history closes at the end of Han period i.e. 220 CE and 239 CE respectively. So by default one has to assume that the current state of affairs these texts relate about India and the Kushans, according to which Kushans were in control of North India, dates to around 220 and 239 CE respectively.

Most strikingly I found out, the early Kushan Emperors, before the time of Kanishka were dating their inscriptions using two Eras which were separated from each other by 129-144 years. There are only two historical eras, which incidentally happen to begin around this period, which can fit in as per this criteria and these are the Vikram Era of 57 BC and Saka Era of 78 CE which are separated in time by 135 years. Dating the early Kushan inscriptions using these two Eras pushes the Kushans in the 3rd century CE which we already noted is what the Chinese texts seem to support.

Even more remarkable was the fact that in the homeland of the Kushans in Balkh or Bactria, there was an Era, referred to commonly as the Bactrian Era, which began in the 3rd century CE and was in use atleast until the 9th century CE. It is difficult to argue that this Era is not the same as that of Kanishka the Kushan since the Kushans were native to Bactria and we know of no one else who possibly inaugurated an Era during this period. So the Kanishka Era aka the Bactrian Era began in 233 CE as it fits in well with the dates given in Vikram and Saka Era of the early Kushans.

Modern Kushan scholarship is dominated by numismatic studies. The credit for this goes to Robert Gobl, an Austrian numismatist, who revolutionised the numismatic research on Kushan coins by his indepth study and research on the subject, unlike anything that came earlier. What is worth noting is that Robert Gobl, based on his indepth study of Kushan coinage and that of Sasanian and Roman coinage as well came to the conclusion that the Great Kushans ruled in the 3rd century CE.

So, I realised that there was strong inscriptional, textual and numismatic data that supports the date of Kushans in the 3rd century CE yet no one has tried to bring all of this data together in one place and make a strong case for the Kanishka Era beginning in 3rd century. This lockdown gave me the time and opportunity to do that and I bit the bullet, as it were.

One quite interesting fact about the history of the Kushans is that they appear to have had a long standing rivalry with the Sasanians on their west. As I have argued in my article, the Kushans seem to have lost their homeland Bactria to the Sasanians during the reign of Kanishka I’s son Huvishka who nevertheless appears to have regained it within a handful of years. However, during Kanishka II’s reign in the 330s CE, as per our dating, Bactria was again lost to the Sasanians under Shapur II, and this time for several decades. The Sasanians even managed to conquer Gandhara south of the Hindu Kush.

By the end of Shapur II’s life in the 370s, a new force rises and they are conventionally referred to as the Kidarites by the scholarship. These Kidarites however claimed that they were descendents of the Kushans and the Chinese texts also endorse this. But ofcourse, there is very little evidence to confirm or deny this claim. Nevertheless, these Kidarites get hold of all existing Kushan territory and also reclaim Gandhara and Bactria from the Sasanians. Later on, the Kidarites also manage to conquer the kingdom of Sogdia (Sughd) north of Bactria. What is also quite revealing is the evidence that the Sasanians were apparently forced by these Kidarites to pay tribute to them.

In the latter half of the 5th century CE, the Sasanians refuse to pay tribute and this leads to a conflict which perhaps brought the downfall of the Kidarites around 460-470 CE. Bactria again went to the Sasanians. But by 484 CE, another obscure group, who are known as Hephthalites in modern convention defeated the Sasanians and even killed their emperor Peroz I. The Sasanians were again forced to pay tribute, this time by this new group and Bactria was lost by the Sasanians once again.

Another interesting thing during this period is that Hinduism’s influence in Central Asia kept on spreading during the Kidarite and Hephthalite rule. During the Kidarite era, it even spread to Sogdia. The Indian cultural influence across Bactria, Sogdia and all across the kingdoms of Tarim Basin lasted for several centuries until they were Islamised.


Partition story, part 1

My father, Nadir Ali, writes short stories and poetry in Punjabi. He is in his mid-eighties now and has been writing his autobiography in Punjabi and my sister translated a segment that deals with his memories of partition. He was a little over 11 years old at that time. My grandfather was a lawyer in Gujrat city. There are more stories from that time that I hope we can translate at some point. For example, my grandfather rescued some Hindu/Sikh women who had been kidnapped by the rioters and my father was the go-between who was young enough to go into the women’s quarters during those negotiations; I hope to get that story written down someday.
Anyway, my grandfather never really reconciled with partition. He wrote to his Hindu friend Hari Singh regularly until 1965 and I  remember hearing that he once lamented in a letter to his friend (they both wrote in Urdu) “what a tragedy and a travesty that you, who are more Muslim than me, are in India, and I, who am more Hindu than you, am in Pakistan”. He would also use Indian time (30 minutes ahead of Pakistan standard time) as his own “standard time” for decades after partition.

Memories of Partition. Nadir Ali Continue reading “Partition story, part 1”


Sikh Society: forged in the frontier

Before Samuel Huntington banalised the study of international relations with his Clash of Civilisations thesis, there was Halford Mackinder who attempted (unwittingly of course) to do the same with history – with his Geographical Pivot of History thesis. (I am perhaps being unfair to Mackinder with the comparison – more on this later.)

However, just like Huntington’s thesis despite being a flattening of history (similar to another forgotten intellectual’s attempts at flattening globalisation in its simplification of diversity of experiences – cultural for one, economic for the other) – in Mackinder’s Geographic Pivot there were glimmers of theoretical reasoning. The thesis was imperialist and reductionist but it has value if only in a literary sense. (This would appal Mackinder, since her built his ‘theory’ as a counter to literary historians of ideas.)

Mackinder’s foundational logic was – that geography provides a stage to men, or Man (as he would prefer) which determines the scope of their movements, entries and exits, in the various Acts (eras) in the long drama of History – was the core thesis that civilisations were either broken (and destroyed) by invasion or they were rejuvenated through resistance.

The European civilisational core, Mackinder said, a backwater in the western edge of the Eurasian peninsula after the fall of Rome, was rejuvenated by successive waves of resistance to Saracens (Arabs) and Turks, as raiders from the land, and Vikings, as raiders of the sea. The raiders of the land were especially important for this reading of history, as they came from the Heartland – the grand central steppe lands of Eurasia, riding grounds of the horselords of the World Island – who in successive waves of the turning of the wheel of time fell upon the marginal, or peninsular lands, of the Eurasian megacontinent.

The civilisations of Greece and Rome were shattered by them. China was forever changed, and only the turning of Kublai Khan to a symbiosis of Tengri-ism, Dharma and Sinicisation might have preserved a semblance of the past into posterity. India, too, was shattered by wave after wave of invasions out from the Heartland. India, too, survived. But to what extent? I will not even attempt to answer this!

I will restrict myself to a reading of history I proposed in a previous essay (Sangat and Society: the Sikh Remaking of the North Indian Public Sphere). I discussed how Guru Nanak’s founding of Kartarpur as a model Sikh-Sangatarian society was a response from below to the anarchy from above unleashed by Babur’s invasion of India. Guru Nanak had been eyewitness to the destruction caused by the internecine warfare of Turco-Mongolic Princes in Khurasan, or the wider edges of the Heartland where it transitioned into the Marginal lands (because on the peninsular margins of Eurasia.

Sangatarianism was a civilisational response of North Indian society to waves of invasions from the Heartland. This is, of course, the plainest reading of the Sikh idea of the Sangat. The Sikh Sangat was both a support structure for the unprotected and gradually a bulwark against invasion from ‘outside’ and rejuvenation from within.

These days Sikhs are gaining (well deserved) respect for the community’s response (especially through langar seva) as a civil society support structure in this time of crisis. This should not be surprising for those who know Sikh society was forged in crisis, and one could argue, as a response to it.

Sikhs know how to organise and respond in times such as these. Much of this is due to a spirit of ascendant existentialism (chad-di kala) rather than giving way to nihilism. Sikhs have been through many eras of persecution, but the spirit of ascendant existentialism has prevented the community from falling into chagrin. There is a proverb I will translate loosely, speaking of the persecutions of a Mughal provincial governor who had sanctioned Sikhs and proclaimed a reward of coins on Sikh heads. The persecuted Sikhs of the era, far from being cowed down made a song of this –

Manu is our scythe, we are his crop of wild weed,

The more he chops our heads, the more we grow indeed.

Ascendant Existentialism implies the acceptance of death, cultivating an attitude of readiness for death, but not allowing this to suppress the vital joy of life. This is crucial to the ethos of a frontier society.

Today, in a sense, the entire global community has become a frontier society – living precariously. For some people such as doctors and healthcare workers, even day to day. Maybe cultivating a spirit of ascendant existentialism can do us all some good.

Finally, to end this with my promise to ‘be fair’ to Mackinder. His view that external threat can sometimes revitalise civilisations is a solid proposition. To survive times of crisis, we need to draw on the best of ourselves. And if we do come out on the other side, it is, then, the best of us that survives. Now of course I’m not making some foolish survival of the fittest argument. The fittest is not necessarily the best, and vice versa. What, then, is our, as humanity, ‘best’ – at this stage in our civilisational history? We will find out on the other side, perhaps. Perhaps we already have.


Sri Lanka: post 1948, Economy and China

Some snippets on Economy, Population.   The seeds for the darkest years of our history were being laid.   China was lending a helping hand, and India was backstabbing Sri Lanka by training the LTTE.

Sri Lankas population was approx 7 million in 1948
By 1971 had increased 12 million (70% increase)

Until 1967 or so high rubber prices, were able to sustain a welfare system. Free rice etc. Development of better synthetic rubber, dropped natural rubber price.
Sri Lanka economy crashed and unlike now, no one was willing to lend.

A large part of food, including rice was imported. Gal-Oya type scheme (Large dam/Irrigation system, see here for more descriptive) etc was not sufficient for a population that was increasing by the day. There wasnt enough land to go around for the large population increase.

The first big sign of the crisis caused by the population and an economy unable to keep pace was the 71 insurrection by Sinhalese mainly southern rural youth. Once the insurrection was suppressed, Land Reform was put into place and  imposed a ceiling of twenty hectares (50 acres) on privately owned land and sought to distribute lands in excess of the ceiling for the benefit of landless peasants.

No foreign exchange, we had to engage in barter, eg the Rubber Rice pact with China.  Then as usual the Americans twisted our balls. Their surplus wheat that had gone mouldy was given under PL480. It was not free, SL had to pay for it.

So, we had to learn from scratch, without much capital to be self sufficient.

The economy of Jaffna and the Vanni boomed. Much of the veggies, chillies came from there.

Then in 1977 JR Jayawardene opened up the economy. The farming economy and local industry, collapsed specially in the North.    !977 riots, burning of the Jaffna library helped us well on the way to self destruction.

Well worth reading

Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake, however, fully backed his Minister of Commerce and was prepared to pay this price; he realized that the benefits to Sri Lanka from the agreement far outweighed losses consequent to the cutting-off of American aid. He argued:
“Ceylon’s oil trade pattern has been knocked out by changes in the world market and we have to seek new markets for our needs of essential foodstuffs and for our exports”

R. G. Senanayake: “We noted on the Chinese side the absence of the spirit of bargaining and haggling on comparatively small points. On the other hand, they gave us the impression of being large minded and forthright in their dealings”