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”

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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.

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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”

http://www.island.lk/2002/12/22/featur06.html

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Leadership in Crisis Times; Who is your Wallfacer?

In Cixin Liu’s sci-fi trilogy (The Three Body Problem), humanity is under attack by a more advanced alien civilization. The aliens have sent sophons (modified photons) that can read/see/hear everything that is outside our heads, but they cannot read minds (apparently the Trisolarians have not solved the mind-body problem either), so the UN selects some people to be “wallfacers”; selected humans who are given free rein to develop a strategy to stop the aliens; they keep their strategy hidden inside their own minds, while using whatever resources humanity can put in their hands. In some sense, charismatic leaders are a bit like wallfacers; we trust their leadership without necessarily knowing what goes on in their head. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage, we have the organized (relatively transparent) commissions and committees of the world hard at work, trying to figure out the best possible strategy. But much is unknown about the pandemic and how it will play out, especially in economic and political domains; in such times, leadership matters more because sane people disagree and no algorithm can decide who is right. The leader really has to lead, to make difficult decisions, to take original initiatives, to look for fresh answers. So who, out of the current crop of world leaders, is likely to do something above (or well below) “normal” handling?

  1. Trump. My view is not a secret. He is a corrupt narcissistic conman and a disaster. That does not mean he is wrong about everything and his critics are correct. In some cases his instincts may turn out to be better than those of the bureaucrats and traditional politicians, who maybe fighting the last war with yesterday’s methods (and whose own corruption and blind spots gifted us Trump in the first place). But he is batshit ignorant, he does not want to learn, he is not interested in anything beyond his own welfare. I expect nothing from him. I don’t even think he is seriously thinking about what to do, other than what he can get for his own re-election (see how he has managed to discover that stopping immigration is an anti-viral move at this time). That said, I am aware that there are sane people who like him and I encourage them to tell us more in the comments section 🙂
  2. Xi Jinping. Comrade Xi and his team are a black box to me. Please add your opinion in the comments section. I do think he is a Chinese patriot and I think China has many competent people at high levels of government and they have high standards of professionalism in midlevel people; I expect them to do some things very well, but it is also a dictatorship; dictatorships breed yes men and sycophants. Which brings us back to Xi, who I dont know anything about. So please comment..
  3. Putin. The Czar of all the Russians is clearly an intelligent and capable man. He has been in power for a long time. That breeds overconfidence and limits reality testing. Also, his country has less money than the first two. But the list of outsiders who paid the price for underestimating Russians is a long one; they are an amazing people, regularly screwing up on a massive scale and then regularly performing well beyond expectations.  What do you think it will be this time?
  4. Merkel. She seems highly intelligent and Germany can never be underestimated, but while I expect her to do a competent job, I do not expect unexpected miracles. No big “out of the box” moves. Which may be a good thing.
  5. Modi. His fans love him the way Trumpists love Trump; he is their only hope in an elite that otherwise does not have their pet projects as priority number one. Unlike Trump, he is not a conman, he is probably sincerely trying to make India stronger (whether he is succeeding or not is a separate question). But other than thinking he is sincere, I remain almost completely ignorant about his qualities as an individual. To hear his opponents say it, he is a bigoted non-entity, a “small man”, neither intelligent, nor well informed and certainly not well-intentioned. Supporters have a different view, but I am not sure how much of that is based on any real knowledge of the person, as opposed to his carefully cultivated persona (and their own projections/hopes). As far as i can tell, he is surrounded by yes men, doesn’t take criticism well and keeps his private thoughts to himself (in this at least, he is the polar opposite of Trump). So the bottom line is, I don’t know if he is capable of something above and beyond whatever capabilities the Indian state has collectively. Those abilities may be good enough (or better than nothing), but that does not seem to hold out the hope of any “out of the box” brilliant moves. Conversely, it also means they will not do crazy stuff.
  6. Imran Khan. The less said, the better. I will be happy if his regime turns out to have done about average. I fear they may do worse than average.
  7. Bojo. Baby Churchill may not be Churchill. Lets hear it in the comments.

What else? who is your wallfacer? and why? (I clearly know nothing about the leaders of South Korea, Taiwan or Japan.. feel free to tell us more about them in the comments section)

Just to be clear, I am not talking about “routine” response to the pandemic. That is important and it follows protocols and plans developed by bureaucrats and public health professionals, for better AND for worse. The thought here was that there may be an opportunity here for some nation to go beyond that level (or to significantly sink below it). IF that happens, who is likely to outperform the herd, who is likely to underperform? (e.g. I am guessing that Trump will under-perform, by American standards).  For the purposes of this post, I am thinking more about the economic and political consequences, not so much the caseload and death rate. 

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Interview with a Mujahid: Maj Gen Tajammal Hussain Malik

The late Major General Tajammal Hussain Malik had an illustrious military careere (and a very controversial retirement career). In 1965 his unit played an important role in the defense of Lahore (a battle that the Indian army could have won if led by someone like Sagat Singh, but luckily for Pakistan, their GOC was Niranjan Prasad and Lahore was saved) and in 1971 his brigade was the only major force that the Indian army could not break in its lightning campaign in East Pakistan. Gen Tajammal was also a true believer who dreamed of the standard “Pak army true believer” stuff (abolish provinces, impose shariah law, unite the ummah), but with the interesting twist that he hated the crook Zia ul Haq and actually planned to assasinate him on 23rd March 1980 (his second coup plan, more serious than his first, which had been little more than a vague thought that arose when he was denied a well-deserved promotion). By the way, when Islamophobes think of Pakistan they tend to imagine that the median army officer is as fanatical as Gen Tajammal (though they obviously assign a more negative valence to that fanaticism than Islamophiles do), but as the following interview makes clear, his level of belief is not exactly common in the senior ranks of the army.

Anyway, here is an interview that Major Amin conducted with Gen Tajammal in 2001 (a couple of years before Gen Tajammal passed away). I am posting it here both as an important historical document and as a window into the mind of someone who was NOT the median Pakistani army officer, but is probably representative of what we may call the “PMA ideal”: an officer who combined professional competence with a Nasim Hijazi level view of history, a PMA-level view of Pakistani politics and a naive but intensely sincere faith in what can only be described as the Chakwal version of Islam. Comments welcome. (I put Major Amin’s words in red, the rest is Gen Tajammal speaking)

Postscript: I have added the full text of an article Abdul Majeed Abid wrote about General Tajammal in the Pakistani newspaper “The Nation” at the end of this interview.. it add more detail to the picture of Gen Tajammal.

Major General Tajammul Hussain Malik

Agha H Amins Note:—

This is the man who was praised by Indians and they established a commission to study his masterpiece Battle of Hilli .He was praised by his Indian battle opponent in his book “Indian Sword penetrates East Pakistan” as a singularly brave man .

He was miles above pygmies like Zia , Ayub and Musharraf. When we joined the army, we were inspired by his battalion 3rd Baloch’s attempted coup of 23 March 1980 to wipe out despicable clown Zia and his dirty clique !

We had to wait till glorious 17th August 1988 when that plane finally crashed right into the Hindu Shamshan Ghat on Basti Lal Kamal !

One good thing that General Beg did immediately after that glorious crash in 1988 was to restore Tajammuls complete military honours and privileges. Tajammul was serving a sentence of 14 years RI for planning to liquidate all army generals and Zia on 23 March 1980, a brilliant scheme indeed !

Tajammul has thrown light on Zias shallow personality in this interview !

May God Bless His Soul !

Major Agha H Amin (Retired)

Maj Gen (Retd) Tajammal Hussain Malik

A.H Amin

September 2001

Please tell us something about your early life, parents? Continue reading “Interview with a Mujahid: Maj Gen Tajammal Hussain Malik”

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Are the (TV) Mahabharata and Ramayan “Right Wing”?

In 1987 and 1988, India’s official (and at that time, only) TV channel (Doordarshan) broadcast serialized version of the famous Indian epics, the Ramayan and the Mahabharata. The series were hugely popular and with no competing TV choices, there was the kind of nationwide common viewing experience that is less and less common in the internet  and cable TV age. I dont know if Left-liberal Indians (mostly Hindus themselves) were agitated at that time (i dont remember it being an issue, but I was not really reading Indian media at that time) but over time a narrative has developed that the broadcast of these serials led to a rise in Right wing Hindu nationalism, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri masjid by a Right wing mob in 1992.  THe subsequent rise of the BJP to power is then the next step in a sequence that began with the broadcast of these “Hindu” serials.

As India has gone into lockdown due to Covid19, Doordarshan has announced that it is going to rebroadcast these serials. This step has revived the complaints about these serials being the first step in the rise of Hindu nationalism in India, exemplified by tweets like this one from “engaged historian” Audrey Truschke:

To me, as an outsider, this is quite fascinating. It seems that there is a significant segment of the Indian intelligentsia (which hapens to be the dominant faction in terms of foreign coverage of India; Western news organizations almost all pick up their own view of India via these “native informants”) that believes that: Continue reading “Are the (TV) Mahabharata and Ramayan “Right Wing”?”

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India and COVID-19

India Is the World’s Second-Most Populous Country. Can It Handle the Coronavirus Outbreak?:

India has conducted nearly 5,000 COVID-19 tests so far, according to the World Health Organization, which says that the “country is responding with urgency as well as transparency.” But so far, India has only reported 74 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death, on Thursday. Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute tells TIME that count is “just not right.” He believes there must be many more cases, but they have just not been identified. “I’m deeply worried that there’s a lot of community transmission and we are just not aware of it because there is not widespread testing,” he says.

Kushal Mehra assures me the hospitals don’t report anything crazy. It’s been a while, how come there hasn’t been a major outbreak? Some researchers suggest a warm climate (others are skeptical).

What are you guys hearing? While India and Pakistan have very few cases, Iran is now above 10,000 (likely far more). There are mass graves being dug outside of Qom.

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Rock and Roll of Sri Lanka; Papare

I would assume some here who watch Cricket have heard the Sri Lankan music at the Cricket matches. The Rock and Roll of Sri Lanka; Papare a mix of kavadi (old indigenous beats), African beats and the adoption of trumpets with gusto.

Kavadi is age old music/tribal drums for dance that was a catharsis of the psyche of frustration and repression.

Do discos and drugs play a similar role in modern society. Holy water, Holy ash, Talking in tongues, Possessed by the Spirit all the same sides of a coin.

In Europe, Christianity  almost able eradicate and replace the ancient Gods, Woden, Thor.

Unhappily, the agnostic philosophy of the Buddha never eradicated or replaced the ancient gods.

People need God/Gods, be it the rock and roll, or some theoretician like Marx or Adam Smith or variations of those.

This is the Western Christian version of being possessed by the Spirit.

A quote from the Video above
The power of Gods sometimes moves them to dance before the Lord .. (They get drunk in the spirit).

Replace above with Kali
The power of Kali sometimes moves them to dance before the Goddess .. (They get drunk in the spirit (of Kali).

==

Many who do these “dances for gods/s” in style, i.e family, extended family are probably doing the rituals to atone for “sins”. Plus a big donation to the temple/priests.

In a mainstream Christian context, like donating a wing for a Church or University.  Evangelical church context, like singing and dancing and making a big donation for the pastors Jet-stream plane.

Many think the world has become more rational. Maybe the minute, even then I doubt it.

===
This is a secular Papare band

 

The ancient and the modern music meet at one of the oldest cricket matches in the world.  The Royal–Thomian played since 1879.

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Browncast episode 81: An Israeli in the world

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, AppleSpotify,  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! d

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

I would though appreciate more positive reviews! Alton Brown’s “Browncast” has 30 reviews on Stitcher alone! Help make us the biggest browncast! At least at some point.

On this episode Razib talks to his old friend David Boxenhorn. Raised in New England as an American Jew, David made aliyah to Israel in his early 20s. There he married and raised a family, and now he considers himself an Israeli of the. National Religious persuasion.

We discuss the diversity and discrimination in Israeli society, the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and how international geopolitics is impinging on Israel.

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