Conversation with Kushal Mehra on Indic Modernity at The Indic Explorer YouTube Channel

I recently hosted Kushal Mehra from The Carvaka Podcast on my regular weekly podcast ‘The Indic Paradigm’ on The Indic Explorer YouTube Channel.

We looked at modernity from a Western lens and contrasted it against how it was shaped in India. We also explored themes of The Golden Age, the individual vs collective dichotomy, the role of the state, handling of diversity, impact of urbanization & industrialization on Indian society.

The general conclusion was that Indic modernity would take the path of incremental change rather than a sudden transformational change that was seen in the West, which became a complete break from the past.

The Indic Explorer YouTube channel focusses on the interplay of Indic culture with modernity explored through different facets in the socio-cultural sphere.

Do subscribe to the channel at https://www.youtube.com/theindicexplorer

and follow me here

Twitter- https://twitter.com/theindicexplor1

Instagram- https://www.instagram.com/theindicexplorer/

Substack-https://digitaldharma.substack.com/

Swell-https://www.swellcast.com/indicexplorer

Clubhouse- http://clubhouse.com/@indicexplorer

The Indic Paradigm Podcast Ep5: Startup Founders Neel & Charu on How to Make Indic Culture Cool

Neelacantan and Charusmitha are founders of Coolture Designs, a Bengaluru based startup focused around products and experiences woven around Indic Culture. Their focus is on how to make different expressions of the Indic culture more contemporary and appealing to people of all ages.

I host them on the Indic Explorer YouTube Channel, on my regular podcast the Indic Paradigm. The channel focusses on the interplay of Indic culture with modernity explored through different facets in the cultural sphere.

Do subscribe to the channel at https://www.youtube.com/theindicexplorer

and follow me here

Twitter- https://twitter.com/theindicexplor1

Instagram- https://www.instagram.com/theindicexplorer/

Substack-https://digitaldharma.substack.com/

Swell-https://www.swellcast.com/indicexplorer

Clubhouse- http://clubhouse.com/@indicexplorer

 

Episode 13: History of South India from 1100-1400 AD

 

13th Episode of the History Podcast.  Shrikanth, Mukunda and Gaurav speak to Maneesh on all things South India from 1100-1400 AD.

The dynasties that ruled, the zeitgeist of the era and the legacy that thrives.

 

 

 

Sources and References:

1. A History of South India – K.A Nilakantha Sastri
2. Essay on Vedanta Deshika – Elisa Freschi : https://iep.utm.edu/venkatan/
3. Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi – Ziauddin Barani (an early history of Delhi Sultanate)
4. Tarikh-i-Farishta – Mohammad Qasim Farishta
6. A Forgotten Empire : Vijayanagar – By Robert Sewell
7. Futuh-us-Salatin by Abdul-Malik Isamy
8. Tiruvendipuram inscription of Rajaraja III – https://archive.org/details/epigraphiaindica014351mbp/page/n199/mode/2up
9. Travels of Marco Polo – Marco Polo
10. Travels of Ibn Batutah – Ibn Batutah (1325 – 1354)
11. Philosophy of Madhvacharya – BNK Sharma – https://archive.org/details/Philosophy.of.Sri.Madhvacarya

 

 

All Things Tamil Cinema

 

Maneesh talks to Sai and Arun on all things Tamil Cinema- its history, its unique relationship with the political milieu of Tamil Nadu, its evolution over the years and the cults of personalities that it has spawned.

@psynarayan    @worklifewinrep    @maneesht

 

 

 

  • M. K. Thyagaraja: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._K._Thyagaraja_Bhagavathar
  • Sivaji Ganesan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sivaji_Ganesan
  • K. Balachander: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K._Balachander
  • Mari Selvaraj: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mari_Selvaraj

 

 

 

 

Why Hindu modernity is incomplete without Hindu Capitalism

With the recent debate emerging on what constitutes Hindu modernity, the general conclusion of the discussion being that the first stage of Hindu modernity was the Bhakti movement which reflected social reform. It helped synthesizing complex philosophical metaphysics through devotionalism, reduced caste barriers and made incremental changes; to create a modified society without breaking its structural edifice.

The second stage of Hindu modernity would constitute the reforms of the 19th century starting from the Bengal Renaissance and then finally culminating into the caste egalitarian, temple entry movements all the way until the early to mid-20th century. Between these two milestones, a number of creditworthy causes such as abolition of child marriage, the removal of Sati, allowing widow remarriage and banning of dowry were also achieved. New religious sects such as Brahmo Semaj, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission emerged, whose dynamism created a new way of looking at Dharma. While the first stage of Hindu modernity looked at making the message immensely acceptable to the masses, the second stage helped in enabling Hinduism to keep its feet into the modern world in the socio-cultural sphere. What was left out though from both these stages was economic development and general prosperity of the masses. For Hinduism to truly emerge in the contemporary world, it needs to bridge this final lap, the last mile to get it over the hump.

For any religious philosophy to truly emerge and make an impact on a world stage, it needs to be backed up not just by soft power but by hard power. For too long ashrams, yogis, gurus and mantras have helped keep Hindu soft power going but relying too much only on soft power can only take you so far. Greek and Roman philosophy had huge impact on the world stage as they were backed Alexander’s and Caesar’s feats of military innovation. The Druids who represented the elites of Celtic society also had a well-organized, structured and an established religion, but the core of their framework was lost and failed to make a mark, as they failed in defending their homeland. In the polytheistic world, the Gods were a free market with their rise and fall shadowing those of their patronized cities. Hence, going by this historical evidence, it is quite remarkable that Hinduism managed to make the impact that it did against all odds, despite facing centuries of hostile foreign rule.

It is because of the brutality of the Turkic, Mughal and British rule that almost all the reform movements tended to focus on religion, theology & society rather than economy. For the economic discourse to emerge, Hindus needed to be masters of their own destiny. While they most often resisted these foreign rulers, they were seldom truly able to enjoy uninterrupted and peaceful reigns to focus on their general economic well-being.

With the advent of Independence, a glimmer of hope had risen but with the economy left in tatters, after a long period of colonial rule and the following decades of socialism; Hindu vitality was lost. In fact, not only did fail to make a mark economically but even in matters of religion, there was an inordinate decline, with the Nehruvian consensus hitting at the heart of the Hindu Dharma in ways that even the foreign invaders did not in the past.

The 1991 reforms had created a hope and indeed worked initially. But the lack of follow-up, from successive governments led to the petering away of the advantages that were gained initially. The economy laboured through, from agriculture to services with vast rural to urban migration. The intervening stage of industrialization eluded it fully and India was neither able to create the required ecosystem for industrial growth, nor able to train enough skilled manpower to harness its demographic dividend. The result being that growth started stagnating and a vacuum was created.

Hindu society needs to address this vacuum quickly. For if Hinduism is to make the next level of modernization, it is important to resolve this very component with an immediate sense of urgency. For without this, all the philosophical gravitas and cultural capital it acquired in the previous centuries would be lost and the vitality of Dharma itself will be at a threat.

History Podcast Episode 12: Social Milieu of North India 700-1200AD

 

The History Podcast resumes on Brown Pundits.  In episode 12 Mukunda and Jay talk to Maneesh about the cultural and social milieu in North India from 700-1200 AD.

They talk about the waning influence of Buddhism and the evolution of various schools of Philosophy. Arts, science and role of temples in an era that sees North India’s first brush with Islam.

 

 

 

@raghman36    @jayvtweets     @maneesht

 

Sources and References:

1. Al-Hind, Volume 1 Early Medieval India and the Expansion
of Islam 7th-11th Centuries by Andre Wink
2. Prabandhacintāmani of Merutunga Ācārya, Translated by C. H. Tawney.
3. Hammīra Mahākāvya. Translated by Pandit Nathulal Trivedi Madhukar       Shastri.
4. Medieval Kashmir and the Science of History by Walter Slaje
5. “Ramayana and Political Imagination in India.” by Sheldon Pollock
6. “Epic and Counter-Epic in Medieval India.” by Ahmed Aziz
7. Representing the Other?: Sanskrit Sources and the Muslims (Eighth to    Fourteenth Century) by Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya
8. Prithviraj Vijay Mahakavyam of Mahakavi Shri Jayanak Rachit translated by Madan Mohan Sharma.
9. Agamadambara by jayanta bhatta
https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:1199689d-9bf6-43e2-a1fd-a6abac4d3ae7
10.  Abhinavgupta
https://archive.org/details/abhinavaguptag.t.deshpande/page/10/mode/2up
11. Hemchandra
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hemachandra
12. Kumrila Bhatt
https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.19900/page/n11/mode/2up
13. Prabhakara Bhatt
https://archive.org/details/bhattaprabhakaramimamsaramulua._202003_721_D/page/62/mode/2up

 

 

 

Start-up Ecosystem In India

Maneesh has a freewheeling conversation with Roshan Cariappa, founder and host of the Start-up operator podcast, on the start-up ecosystem in India.

The conversation encapsulates ‘ Dummies guide to Indian start-ups’, covers the industries and the geographies that make up for this space and ends with opportunities and challenges that abound.

 

@maneesht and @roshancarippa on twitter.

Podcasts on the Indian start-up ecosystem:

The Startup Operator Podcast: https://www.startupoperator.in/

Indian Silicon Valley Podcast: https://airtable.com/shrTOFf1z5UT0q9p8

VCPreneur: https://thevcpreneur.com/

The Indian Dream: https://www.theindiandream.in/

 

 

The Indian migration to Southeast Asia

Ancient DNA from Protohistoric Period Cambodia indicates that South Asians admixed with local populations as early as 1st-3rd centuries CE:

Indian cultural influence is remarkable in present-day Mainland Southeast Asia (MSEA), and it may have stimulated early state formation in the region. Various present-day populations in MSEA harbor a low level of South Asian ancestry, but previous studies failed to detect such ancestry in any ancient individual from MSEA. In this study, we discovered a substantial level of South Asian admixture (ca. 40% – 50%) in a Protohistoric individual from the Vat Komnou cemetery at the Angkor Borei site in Cambodia. The location and direct radiocarbon dating result on the human bone (95% confidence interval is 78 – 234 calCE) indicate that this individual lived during the early period of Funan, one of the earliest states in MSEA, which shows that the South Asian gene flow to Cambodia started about a millennium earlier than indicated by previous published results of genetic dating relying on present-day populations. Plausible proxies for the South Asian ancestry source in this individual are present-day populations in Southern India, and the individual shares more genetic drift with present-day Cambodians than with most present-day East and Southeast Asian populations.

No surprise to readers of this weblog. South Asians obsess about possible admixture/contact with West Asia and Europe for obvious reasons, but it’s been pretty clear for a while that the “Indian cultural influence” on Southeast Asia was also demographic. Mainland Southeast Asia and the western part of Maritime Southeast Asia have minor but consistent levels of Indian ancestry. It showed up decades ago in Cambodian males who carried R1a Y haplogroup. And it showed up in a 2012 methods paper that detected gene flow from Pakistanis to Cambodians (no Indian samples in the dataset):

Genetics is basically done now. You can observe, for example, that lowland Thai populations have Indian ancestry, while highland tribes don’t have it.

We now know that the influence of Indian culture of a southern flavor to Southeast Asia was mediated by large numbers of humans. Indian genetic imprint on Burma can be chalked up to being Bengal’s neighbor, but you can’t say the same about Cambodia or Bali. Who were these people? Well, in a way, you could say that they were the “Brown Rajahs” for ancient Sarawak…

Farewell, Houston

Farewell, Houston

I arrived in Houston because of an email. I had just gotten done with my USMLE step one in July 2016 and was furiously emailing people in the U.S. for possible observer-ship opportunities. I did not get a lot of replies. Almost a week after I had started this process, I got an email from a famous pathologist at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (MDA) in Houston. It was brief and to the point. He wrote that he can accommodate me next year in April. I was over the moon. Prior to this episode, I had never been to Houston or known anyone from the city, except a professor of history at Rice University.

I arrived in Houston in April 2017 after spending some time doing observer-ships and studying for USMLE step two, in West Virginia and Miami. It wasn’t as hot as I had expected it to be and in my initial encounters, I found people to be generally friendly and warm. Houston wasn’t culturally impenetrable as Miami or as distant as West Virginia. It was a city teeming with people who looked like me, with huge hospitals and endless roadways. I had booked an Airbnb for my first two weeks of stay and then moved to a private room I had rented from a very interesting character named Gustavo (Gus). I met Gus through a random mutual friend on Facebook, a Pakistan-American girl who had added me as a friend after some of my work on environmental issues in Pakistan. She was renting from Gus at a different location and got me in contact with him. I spent two months at MDA, left for three weeks to visit Pakistan, and returned to the Houston area. While I was at MDA, I met a resident from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston who got me intrigued about the program and I met the Chair of the program who was welcoming. Afterward, I was in Galveston for the next three years, firstly to do research or get observer-ship at the medical school there (didn’t get either) and later, for residency training at the same medical school. Two years into my residency (total of four years), we moved to the clear lake/NASA suburb of Houston, and another two years afterward, out of Houston for good, for my fellowship.

It was a tough decision to leave but after a lot of brainstorming and weighing options, I felt it best to leave the area. There were many things that I like in Houston and a lot more that I disliked. Following is a brief discussion of both.

Things I will miss about Houston/Texas

Food/”Shef”/Diversity

Houston has been ranked as the fourth most diverse city in the United States. According to some data that I’ve seen, there are more Pakistanis living in Houston metro area than anywhere else in the US. A lot of Vietnamese refugees during the 1970s settled there and the Hispanic community has always had a foothold in the city. I remember once interacting with people from nine nationalities in a single day while I was at MD Anderson. As with other diverse places, I didn’t find many regional/national ghettos in the metro area. However, there are places with more people of one ethnicity than another; with an abundance of Desis in Sugarland, same in the Chinatown area but you can find different ethnicities almost everywhere in the city.

Mahatma Gandhi district/Hillcroft Avenue offers some of the best Indian/Pakistani restaurants in the country. I will certainly miss the Halwa puri, chaat options, and Indian vegetarian food available in the area. A year or so ago, I found out about a food service where you can order home-cooked food from local chefs, called “Shef”. I availed myself of that service every week and had some delicious food without having to cook it myself. Shef is available only in a few cities in the U.S. (NYC, San Francisco, L.A, Houston, and D.C. as far as I’ve checked) and I will sorely miss the time it saved me and the variety of Indian food that I could taste at a great cost.

There were also many “fusion” foods that chefs created because of diverse cultures. Halal southern hot chicken sandwiches and Texan-Vietnamese tacos were just two examples. 

Another example of diversity was a halal grocery store in the same shopping plaza as “battle rifle company”. 

Organized medicine 

One of my friends in Miami told me before I arrive in Houston that Texas is a great place for doctors to live and work. I did not know what she meant and didn’t press her to explain why. Many years later, I understand what she meant. It was not just about average salaries or jobs, both of which are plentiful in Texas. It has to do with tort reform in the state that was enacted in the early 2000s after long-term advocacy by Texas physicians. I had the unique opportunity to interact and work with some of the people who worked behind the scenes at the time advocating for tort reform.

I got my first taste of organized medicine through the Texas Society of Pathologists (TSP). I started off as a liaison from TSP to my program and eventually ended up being Chair of a committee and being on other committees. TSP is the oldest pathology society in the US (established 1921) and is also the most active state society in the field. TSP works under the umbrella of the Texas Medical Association (TMA). TMA has more than 55000 members including medical students, trainees, and licensed physicians. TMA was responsible for getting tort reform enacted in the state because residents were leaving the state after training in droves because of high liability insurance rates in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

TMA is a behemoth with millions of dollars in assets, lobbyists in Austin, a liability insurance trust, and a foundation that gives away millions of dollars to deserving medical students across the state. TMA also gives out educational loans to medical students and residents at very low-interest rates. I was part of the Resident-Fellow section and served on the board of the TMA foundation for a year, followed by a year of the TMA board of trustees. During my time on the board of trustees, physicians in Texas faced unprecedented challenges such as Texas laws S.B. 6 and S.B.8 and a national dispute over the “No Surprises Act” for which TMA sued the HHS.

The house of medicine is under assault from many sides. Right-wing assault on reproductive care, private equity eating up hospitals, encroachment from extender services like physician assistants and nurse practitioners (called “scope of practice”), and Medicare cuts are some of the highlights. TMA is involved in fighting all of these, on a state and national level.

Things I will NOT miss about Houston/Texas

The weather 

Before I arrived in Galveston, my professor friend from Rice had warned me about hurricanes. Galveston Island was decimated by “The Great Storm” of 1900 and the whole city had to be rebuilt. Since then, other hurricanes have affected Galveston, the most recent being “Ike” whose storm surge flooded the island, at some points reaching six feet in height. My friend’s prophecy almost came true in August 2017 with Hurricane Harvey, but instead of Galveston, it caused massive flooding in Houston. Since then, I became an amateur meteorologist between June 1st and late October (hurricane season) every year, trying to discern which tropical disturbance could affect us when. We had some near misses in the last few years until there was a snow storm in February 2021, which caused blackouts, reminding me of Pakistan.

Even besides the hurricane season, Houston’s weather was frustrating at best. On January 1st, 2022, it was 80 degrees in the afternoon, dropping to 35 degrees at midnight. Houston weather resembled Lahore weather quite a lot, with humidity as the cherry on top. It could be 80 degrees with a real feel of 103 because of humidity. Even A.Cs don’t work above a certain temperature. Last year, between July and September, our central A.C. couldn’t cool off during the last few hours of the day and we were stuck between 73 and 78 degrees until late at night. The temperature started soaring in late May and days would be hot and humid till December. And it is only getting worse with climate change. A friend recently posted on Facebook that “Texas is that feeling when you open the oven to check on your cookies and you burn your face. Only there are no cookies and you can’t shut the oven door”. Just as I was writing this, saw this headline: “Extreme heat pushes highs over 110 in Texas as power grid nears brink”.

Urban Sprawl 

Harris County, with Houston as its main city, has a larger population than more than 30 states in the U.S. Houston is second only to Dallas in terms of cars per household in the U.S. as well. Combine these two facts with the never-ending expressways and you have a city in which you have to drive at least 30 minutes to go anywhere. I remember carpooling with a guy once who drove from his house in the Northern part of Houston to Galveston (almost a two-hour journey) starting at 4:30 am. He would leave Galveston in the late afternoon to get home by 6:30 pm. This is not a typical drive in the area but many people I knew (including myself) had long commutes every day. Texas is mostly flat so all you get along your drive are strip malls and gas stations. As a result, greenhouse gases generated on Texas roads account for 0.5 percent of total worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, even as the state accounts for 0.38 percent of the world’s population. The only good thing about roads in Houston are the feeder roads, so if you miss an exit, you can take the next one and turn around.

For anyone more interested in reading about Houston’s infrastructure issues and history, Stephen Klineberg’s book “Prophetic City: Houston on the cusp of change in America” is an excellent read.

An imaginative take on Texas roadways in the Texas Observer: https://www.texasobserver.org/the-road-home/

Politics

Texas is second only to California in terms of residents. As the saying goes, everything is big in Texas. That includes the disregard that politicians have for their constituents. The late great Molly Ivins, one of my favorite Texans of all time, once wrote this about the Texas legislature: “As they say around the Texas Legislature, “If you can’t drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money, and vote against ’em anyway, you don’t belong in office”. A friend of mine from Lahore once called and asked how Texas treated people. He was intrigued because he had read in the news that a lot of businesses were moving their HQs to Texas. I told him that if you are not a straight, white, Christian man with a small business in the state of Texas, the state government doesn’t care if you live or die.

Texas lags behind on all key indicators of education, healthcare (despite it being so good for doctors), nutrition, and income inequality compared to other big states in the union. There are more uninsured people in the state than anywhere else because Texas politicians refuse to expand Medicaid and impose work requirements on the poorest people. Maternal mortality rates are even lower than the national average. Texas’s power grid is not connected to the national grid, which makes a great advertisement for “doing it all alone” but is a terrible idea in a state so prone to natural disasters. The level of corruption in Texas has been phenomenal over the years, regardless of which party was in power (another one of my all-time favorites, LBJ was an emblem of that). Because of constant gerrymandering, one party has been permanently in power for the last two decades and will be, for the foreseeable future. Even Beto (who has his faults) couldn’t defeat one of the most hated men in the country in Texas. While moving away from a place that has different politics than yours is not always possible or beneficial, I found the political climate to be smothering.

I could live with the monster trucks with “Infowars” stickers at our local grocery stores or people I played pickleball with wearing NRA shirts or our one-time neigAbdulhbors who stopped interacting with us as soon as they saw the color of my skin but I couldn’t live with S.B. 8 (the vigilante law) or the Billboards along highways congratulating Texas with a picture of multiple babies as soon as Roe was repealed or when a bigwig in TMA boasted about hosting Greg Abbot at their house for a fundraiser.

For a good review of Texas’s political history and impending future, Lawrence Wright’s “God Save Texas: A journey into the soul of the lone star state” is highly recommended.

Will I ever go back to Texas?

I have been asked this question by friends and acquaintances many times since I decided to leave. As of now, my answer is a firm “No”. I may visit occasionally for a conference or to visit my residency program but I don’t see why I would want to live in Texas if I have the choice. My life was changed completely while I was there and I am thankful for many things that happened when I was there, friends that I made and spent time with, meals that I cherished but also, heartbreak and forgettable memories.

P.S: The astronauts originally said: Houston we have had a problem.

 

Brown Pundits