“Taliban” ban in Legoland

While in India debate is raging about how hardline groups can (preemptively) force pusillanimous publishers to withdraw  books, in Britain things seemed to have taken an even darker turn, whereby a “fun day for muslims” has been preemptively banned due to threat of violence.

I would blame loud and proud members of both British Islamists and British Firsters for this turn of affairs, whereby threat of violence can be used to get your way. The protagonist on the Islamist side is Haitham al-Haddad who gets off while making offensive statements about Jews, gays and also about the permissibility of Female Genital Mutilation (in brief: some versions are sunnah or proper).

In response you have Richrd Littlejohn referring to the muslim group visit as a “Jolly Jihadi Boy’s Outing” One would argue that payback (at a personal level and only as speech) is fair-play but certainly not as wholesale intimidation of groups. With every such incident the vicious circle keeps getting twisted into a tighter knot.

Far-right extremists gloated with images of Lego Taliban figures after a Muslim fun day at Legoland was cancelled. The images formed part of an outpouring of glee, spearheaded by EDL
splinter group Casuals United,
which greeted news a fun day for Muslim
families at the theme park in Windsor been pulled, following a campaign
of threats and intimidation against it. Opponents of the event – dubbed “halal entertainment” by organisers –
posted jihadi fighter versions of the much loved children’s figures on
social media. 
They are grasping heavy weaponry and have grenades
strapped to them. 

The cancelled event was planned by the Muslim Research and
Development Foundation and was controversial because its leader, Haitham
al-Haddad, has a history of anti-Semitic comments. Anti-Muslim tweets
and threats of violence on social media forced the decision,
which was
made in consultation with Thames Valley police.

Legoland said it was “appalled” at pulling the plug on the event.  Police are investigating a number of offensive messages. A spokesperson for the theme park said: “These alone have led us to
conclude that we can no longer guarantee the happy fun family event
which was envisaged, or the safety of our guests and employees on that
– which is always our number one priority. 


A glimpse of Pakistan and her castes.

FAB story #2: Imad Uddin Ahmed from Lahore, Pakistan, writes:

Until I moved to Pakistan for a few years after
graduating from college in California, I wouldn’t say that I
saw my Indian or Indian diaspora friends as anything other than fellow South
Asians – brown brothers and sisters who had similar tastes and values, but who
supported the wrong cricket team and prayed in a different way. 

In Pakistan, I inquired and discovered what caste
my Hindu ancestors belonged to, having been asked by a colleague on my first
day at work (at a women’s rights NGO!) 

In Pakistan, I learned the South Asian prejudices
that South Asian beauty was predicated on a light skin-tone and, for men, sharp
features and height. I learnt too that these features were associated with
higher caste Indians and with Muslims – descendants of invaders were regarded
as more beautiful than the indigenous people who had constructed the Indus’
most ancient civilisations. Why, then, the likes of Shiv Sena only target
Muslims in India as foreigners (many of whose ancestors were Hindu), seems a
bit arbitrary. It was in Pakistan that I learnt how, in spite of inhabiting an
Islamic republic, Pakistanis carried forth their un-Islamic caste prejudices,
and that these prejudices allowed many of us to feel superior. By learning how
somewhat physically different we were from many Indians, I also learnt how
similar our mentalities were to my image of them. 

For all the prejudices I ridiculed, I started
subconsciously imbibing them, and my recent friendships with Indians and Hindus
have been coloured by them. Where I previously had yearned for dark and lovely
South Asian girls, I started favouring the light-skinned ones, and I’ve enjoyed
teasing Brahmin girls I’ve dated that they had lost their caste. (Apparently
for fear of losing hers, one of my ancestors refused to share the crockery her
son had used, let alone hug him, once he had converted to Islam.) I now guess
(to myself) a person’s caste by considering their surname and looks, and try to
figure out whether their life choices (profession, partner, extra-curricular
activities) have been affected by it. 

Hussein (name changed to protect privacy) was the
first Indian friend I had made since I had started living in Pakistan. We
connected through blogging while I was in Lahore and he was in Mumbai. 

We were initially drawn to each other by a
fascination with each other’s otherness. He wanted to know what Pakistan was
like, his thirst having been whet by a book called Husband of a Fanatic about
my (and Amitava Kumar’s) relatives in Pakistan, and about Hindu extremism in
India. I had never known a Muslim Indian, and wanted to know whether he felt
marginalised, what his daily struggles were and which cricket team he
supported. (I myself failed Norman Tebbit’s test of being a true Brit for
failing to support England.)

When we finally became friends in the UK, he shared
with me Tehelka’s coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots, and then details of his
own tragic loss in those riots.

Despite seeing an indecent proportion of his
compatriots support the man responsible for inciting those riots, he tells me
that he is glad that his grandparents didn’t cross the border – I understand
his view: whereas in India, you aren’t safe being a Muslim, in Pakistan you
aren’t safe being the wrong type of Muslim. Pakistan and India aren’t too

About the author: Imaduddin Ahmed is a Pakistani
and British Public Private Partnerships financial transactions advisor in
Rwanda. He has blogged as ‘The Lost Pakistani’ for GQ India and co-authored
with Kapil Komireddi ‘Pakistan, rebranded’ for The Boston Globe, as well as
opinion editorials and comment pieces for the global edition of The New York
Times, Internationale Politik, The Guardian, The East African, The Friday Times
of Pakistan and New Strait Times.

Photo credit: Asim Rafiqui

A very brave, wise man speaks his mind

Kamal Siddiqui, editor The Express Tribune. A proud son of Pakistan.

Over the past six months, our media group has been attacked thrice.
In the first instance, two employees were injured. In the most recent
attack, which took place on a DSNG van of Express News in
January, three staffers were shot dead. The TTP took responsibility for
the last attack. We still have no clue about the other two.

While it is difficult to work under such circumstances, it is not
impossible. But as an editor, one has to be cautious about what appears
in print or online, more so for the safety of our staff.

While we have a duty to inform our readers, we also have a duty to
our colleagues to not put them in unnecessary danger. Being part of the
Coalition for Ethical Journalism, I have repeated time and again to
colleagues that no news story is worth the death of a journalist.

Stories cannot be killed. But people can.

After the attacks, we looked at our policy on the comment and opinion
pieces. On some occasions, we felt contributors went overboard. We did
not stop reporting on militant outfits. We did not censor incidents. We
are in the business of journalism, we know what our readers want.
some reason, many  have accused us of cowing down. I ask these armchair
analysts to come and spend a day in the field, like my staff do, and
then tell us what to do. 

Working in the media in Pakistan is a fine balancing act these days.
We are one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. The
public’s expectations have to be balanced with those of different
players, some of whom are extremely sensitive on how we portray them.

We have worked hard to report on the real Pakistan. As an editor, I am
of the firm belief that Pakistan’s main issues are not what the prime
minister or president said that day but health, education, population,
poverty and yes, polio.
We have consistently written about the plight of
religious minorities, marginalised communities, crimes against women
and on subjects as varied as human rights and poor governance.

I concede that the space for our media is receding. But Pakistan
still has one of the most vibrant media in the Muslim world.
It is an
irony that under the dictatorship under Gen Zia-ul Haq, journalists were
routinely threatened and in some instances incarcerated by authorities.
Now that we are comparatively freer, we are still under threat and
adhere to self censorship as the state has stepped aside and non-state
players are threatening us.

It is somewhat misleading to assume that only the ‘liberal’ media in
Pakistan is under threat. All media houses are affected. What
disappoints me today is that the state has in some ways abdicated its
role of protecting the media. And if that is not enough, some media
houses are playing petty. Instead of rallying behind us when we were
attacked, the largest media house in Pakistan and its allies instead
chose not to run the story. That for me is the bigger tragedy.


Sensex @ 22k

New record.….the market is (maybe) signalling confidence about a stable govt post elections….also perhaps a return of investor confidence in India

Steady buying by foreign investors has led to a strong rally in Indian
markets. Overseas investors have bought heavily into India as a sharply
narrowing current account deficit and a more stable rupee have increased
confidence in a country that only last year was in the midst of its
biggest market turmoil since the balance of payments crisis of 1991.

Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) bought Indian shares worth Rs. 1,273 crore on Thursday, extending their buying streak to a 15th consecutive day for a net of over $1 billion. (Read: FIIs mark their biggest daily purchase since December 19)

Market analyst Sanjeev Bhasin told NDTV that Friday could see more
gains though the real bull market could be witnessed in broader indices,
where stocks have given almost 50-100 per cent returns from recent
3-month lows.

“Foreign flows have turned positive amid an easing in inflation, better
cash management by the government with current account deficit hitting
an 8-year low and the rupee rising to a 3-month high. All this has meant
that India has outperformed the emerging markets,” he added.

This is an useful site for latest updates in election news…we now have poll tracker for individual states….IMO multi-corner contests will be highly tricky to predict (much more so than the USA)

current forecast for  
UP: BJP (41-49) out of (80), 36% of the vote
Bihar: BJP+LJP (22-30) out of (40), 38% of the vote

This is a good article (conclusions below) on electoral studies. In this respect it is imperative that Indians engage in better data gathering and analysis and building better tools (rather than trying to suppress information anytime the ruling party is in trouble…as it usually is).

In view of the quantity and quality of election studies in India, it may
be said that relative to other developing countries, India is
advancing. But compared to studies in developed countries, there is
still much to be done. A systematic accumulation of data for individual
voting behaviours seems to be necessary. The Lokniti programme of CSDS
made a breakthrough in the study of electoral behaviour by inventing
most effective methodology unlike other studies in the field. The
publications in this direction provide enormous materials to carry out
the different aspects of electoral behaviour. Most studies which
examined the confidence of people in the election system or the efficacy
as citizens showed that people had faith in the election system.
Socio-economic status like gender, caste, religion, education, and
income were important in explaining political awareness, exposure to
political propaganda, sense of personal effectiveness in politics, and
party preference. Caste, religion, and to a lesser degree, economic
status, are especially important variables for explaining party
preference. Opinion polls of large-scale samples conducted after the
1980’s are important indicators of overall popular issues and
sentiments. The most important issues of the electorate are those
related daily lives of people such as rising prices or unemployment.
These are undercurrents affecting the party preference of people.


Saudi and Qatar file for separation

In the category of strange news that you never expect to see. The revolutionary kingdom of Qatar (first of its type in the world) is accused of standing with Islamic terrorists by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

For a (closeted) optimist like me, it seems that this is a precursor to 1792 (or if you prefer 1979). The divine right of kings to rule (backed by clerics backed by royalty) may be coming to an end in the Sunni world. Yusuf Qaradawi is the new Khomeni and he will take over as the most righteous Caliph. If all this happens, it will be certainly a case of living in interesting times.

At the least it is good to imagine the fat-cat exporters of global jihad trembling as they see the pitchforks assemble outside the castle walls. Could not happen to a nicer bunch of people.

Saudi Arabia
has formally designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist
in a move that could increase pressure on Qatar whose
backing for the group has sparked a row with fellow Gulf monarchies. The U.S.-allied kingdom has also designated as terrorist the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq
and the Levant, whose fighters are battling Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad, the Interior Ministry said in a statement published by state

fears the Brotherhood, whose Sunni Islamist doctrines challenge the
Saudi principle of dynastic rule, has tried to build support inside the
kingdom since the Arab Spring revolutions.

In an unprecedented move, Saudi Arabia,
the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors
from Qatar on Wednesday,
saying Doha had failed to abide by an accord
not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs.

Arabia and the UAE are fuming over Qatar’s support for the Muslim
Brotherhood, and resent the way Doha has sheltered influential cleric
Yusuf Qaradawi, a critic of the Saudi authorities,
and given him regular
airtime on its pan-Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera.

Interior Ministry said on Friday the royal decree would apply to both
Saudis and foreign residents who joined, endorsed or gave moral or
material aid to groups it classifies as terrorist or extremist, whether
inside or outside the country.


Boko Haram is fighting (and winning)

Nigeria is set to be the king of Africa (over-taking South Africa) but it is also in deep trouble. Boko Haram has gained enough strength whereby security forces are not able to keep up. A full scale war is raging and 1300 people are dead in 2 months. This misery is only exceeded by the hell fires burning in Syria. All in all a good run for Al Qaeda in its myriad forms.  

It bears repeating: if all these battles join up into a world war of sorts, it will be a royal mess with all big powers (including China) on one side of the fence. The islamic communities in the border regions will likely be devastated (people will not care much about what goes on in the hinter lands).


Matazu, 29, survived the double bomb blast earlier this month in Maiduguri, north-east Nigeria, that killed about 45 people and destroyed seven buildings. It was the latest blow by the terrorist group Boko Haram to shake the foundations of Africa’s most populous state.

Haram is believed to be responsible for killing at least 1,300 people
in the past two months and more than 130 people in the past week. The radical sect claims ties to al-Qaida and has ambitions to impose sharia law
on Nigeria’s 170 million people. In Boko Haram’s heartland, even the
national military is outgunned in what is fast becoming a lesson to the
world in how not to tackle an Islamist insurgency.

“What is clear
is that they are as ruthless as any Islamist group or terrorists
anywhere in the world,” said Antony Goldman, a west Africa risk analyst
at London-based PM Consulting. “They’re quite happy to hit soft targets,
including schools. Some in the Nigerian administration expect this to be a problem for another 10 years.”

some ways, the paradox of Nigeria in 2014 captures that of Africa
itself. The continent has enjoyed a decade of economic growth and the
phrase “Africa rising” has become widespread among investors and
Yet at the same time the past six months have seen
conflicts erupt in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, while
economic growth has gone hand in hand with deepening inequality.

it is with Nigeria which, with oil wealth and a decade of annual growth
around 7%, is set to overtake South Africa as Africa’s biggest economy,
with a value close to $400bn.
It has been anointed one of the “Mint” emerging economies – along with Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey – by economist Jim O’Neill. Nigerians drink more champagne than Russians do.

For centuries, the region enjoyed the fruits
of Islamic civilisation. Then in the early 19th century its sultanates
succumbed to a jihad by Shehu Usuman Dan Fodio, who created a unified
caliphate that was the biggest pre-colonial state in Africa, ruling
swaths of what is now northern Nigeria, Niger and southern Cameroon.
had a strict interpretation of Islam and a culture of scholarship and

Nigeria did not escape the expansion of the British empire into Africa
and was conquered in 1903. Since then, there has been resistance to
western education, with many Muslim families refusing to send their
children to government-run “western schools”.
Shehu Sani, a human rights activist and author of Boko Haram: History, Ideas And Revolt,
said: “The north fought the British colonisers because they thought
they were bringing in western ideas and this would erode Islamic values
and erode their culture. 

The north-east
remained a centre of Islamic learning for children from all over Nigeria
and west Africa, Sani said. Its madrasas did not necessarily encourage
extremism but did shape the founders of Boko Haram, who embraced the
Qur’anic phrase: “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed
is among the transgressors.”

Some believe the trigger for the
group’s inception was a gubernatorial election campaign in Borno state,
when an opposition candidate organised a militia known as Ecomog, after
the east African intervention force deployed in Sierra Leone and Liberia
in the 1990s. Following the election, the candidate disbanded Ecomog
but did nothing to look after its members.

One of the militia’s
leaders, Mohammed Yusuf, was able to exploit the frustration and
disappointment and blend it with an Islamist agenda that rejected the
failings of secular government to form Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati
wal-Jihad, People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s
Teachings and Jihad. In the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, where
the sect had its headquarters, it was dubbed Boko Haram. Loosely
translated from the Hausa language, this means “western education is

so many self-appointed rebels and revolutionaries, Yusuf was not poor.
He was said to be well-educated and to drive a Mercedes. In an interview with the BBC,
he set out the group’s anti-science philosophy: “Prominent Islamic
preachers have seen and understood that the present western-style
education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in
Islam. Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an
evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain. Like
saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of
Allah, we reject it. We reject the theory of Darwinism.”

Yusuf set
up a religious complex, which included a mosque and an Islamic school
that attracted many poor Muslim families. In 2009 Boko Haram attacked
several police stations and other official buildings in Maiduguri. The
Nigerian security forces hit back and more than 1,000 people died, not
all of them Boko Haram supporters. Yusuf was captured and killed, his
body shown on television. Boko Haram was finished.

But its
fighters regrouped under a new leader. In 2010 it attacked a prison in
Bauchi state, freeing hundreds of its supporters, and carried out deadly
bombings in Jos and military barracks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
Its main modus operandi was to deploy gunmen on motorbikes to kill
police, politicians and other opponents. Since then, the waves of
shootings and bombings have continued and, according to the Council on
Foreign Relations, Boko Haram is responsible for nearly 3,800 deaths
since May 2011.
The group has sworn allegiance to al-Qaida and, Sani
says, some of its members have fought in Somalia and Sudan, but a formal
link “cannot be independently confirmed”.

If anything, Boko
Haram has intensified its operations of late, including an attack that
saw 43 students shot and hacked to death and many girls kidnapped. In
response, the government closed five schools considered to be in “high
security risk areas”.

Some Nigerians who feel let down by
the government are taking the fight on themselves. Zakari Matazu,
survivor of the double bombing in Maiduguri, belongs to a youth
vigilante group in Borno state popularly known as the Civilian Joint
Task Force (CJTF). “Now Boko Haram are attacking everywhere because they
are strong – even stronger than the soldiers,” he said. “I am a CJTF
but I now know that Boko Haram can decide to attack and capture the town
of Maiduguri any time. Everybody knows that. The federal government has
abandoned us to be killed by Boko Haram.
All the people in the villages
have fled to Maiduguri, so if Boko Haram does not see people killed in
the villages, they will come to the city.”

Last month Boko Haram
threatened to strike farther afield, with potentially catastrophic
consequences for the economy. Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened
attacks on oil refineries in the mainly Christian south, saying in a
video: “Niger delta, you are in trouble.” but few analysts believe the group poses an existential threat to Nigeria.

on the frontline are living in a parallel universe to the champagne
parties in Nigeria’s big cities. “We are in a state of war,” Kashim
Shettima, the governor of Borno state, said recently in a plea to the president. “Boko Haram are better armed and better motivated than our own troops. It is impossible for us to defeat the Boko Haram.”


Pankaj Mishra and Nadeem Aslam

Congratulations for having won the Yale University prize.

Indian writer Pankaj Mishra is one
of eight writers from seven countries winning a $150,000 Yale University prize
each in recognition of their achievements and to support their ongoing work. Mishra,
an Indian essayist, memoirist, travel writer and novelist, won the Windham
Campbell Literature Prize in non-fiction category, The Beinecke Rare Book &
Manuscript Library at Yale announced.

Other winners in the three
categories are: in fiction, Aminatta Forna (Sierra Leone), Nadeem Aslam (Pakistan), and Jim Crace (United Kingdom); in
non-fiction John Vaillant (United States/Canada); and in drama, Kia Corthron
(United States), Sam Holcroft (United Kingdom) and Noëlle Janaczewska

[Guardian backstory on Nadeem Aslam] He was born in 1966 in Gujranwala, a Punjabi town north of Lahore.
His father was a communist, poet and film producer. Through his family,
“I learned about political commitment and the life of the mind, and that
an artist is never poor.” His mother’s side were “money-makers, factory
owners – and very religious,” some versed in storytelling, music and

The adult in Season of the Rainbirds
who destroys children’s playthings as idols, was based on a maternal
uncle, an adherent of a “strict, unsmiling sect” of Islam, who smashed
his nephew’s toys.
As Aslam later wrote in “God and Me”, a fragment of
memoir in Granta in 2006: “My uncle’s version of Islam was the same kind
practised by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan three decades later.”
That first novel was a child’s-eye view of a violent shift in society,
and the spread of extremist sects, compounded by a crackdown after an
attempt on the life of the ruling general – as happened in Pakistan in

Aslam was 11 when General Zia ul-Haq seized power in a
military coup in 1977, with a drive for “Islamic values”. “He changed
the entire texture of Pakistani life,” Aslam recalls.
“People began to
give children Arabic names. There were public floggings and hangings.”
His mother’s family approved. His father’s were appalled….

“Whatever Zia did before
Christmas Eve 1979 was condemned. On Christmas Day, he became a hero.

This is how things spiralled and the jihadi mindset emerged. My father
and uncles, radical communists, were among those who said don’t do this,
don’t encourage this mindset.” As Zia clamped down, “journalists and
writers were arrested, or had to leave the country in fear”. One uncle
was “taken away and tortured”.

Once the Soviets withdrew, and US
interest waned, the Taliban rose. As Aslam sees it, “10 years later 9/11
happened and half the planet woke up. They had no idea it came out of
the cold war.” Later, teaching at George Washington University in 2009,
Aslam would pass the White House, and think “how words on grey paper in
the 1980s became fists, electric wires and instruments of torture which
broke members of my family and friends”.
When he said as much in a US
interview, “it was seen as anti-American. But these were the results
of the cold war. These decisions, with the collusion of Pakistani
rulers, ended up breaking and killing people.”

[ref. wiki] His debut novel, Season of the Rainbirds (1993), set in rural
Pakistan, won the Betty Trask and the Author’s Club First Novel Award. He
won widespread praise for his next novel
Maps for Lost Lovers (2004) which is set
in the midst of an immigrant
Pakistani community in an English town in the
Aslam’s third novel, The Wasted Vigil, is set in Afghanistan.
On 11 February 2011, it was short-listed for the Warwick Prize For Writing . Aslam’s fourth novel is The Blind Man’s
Garden (2013). It is set in Western Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan and
looks at the War on Terror through the eyes of local, Islamist
characters. It contains also a tender love story loosely based on the
traditional Punjabi romance of Heer Ranjha.


[excerpts from an interview with N.A.] Somebody once said about Picasso that in the Soviet Union they hated
his art but they loved his politics, and in the States, they loved his
art but they hated his politics. When my previous novel, The Wasted Vigil, was
published, I ended up giving readings in New York, Lahore, and New
Delhi, within a period of twenty days. 

In New York, someone stood up,
after I read a sequence and said “You are a pro-jihadi. It’s clear from
what you’re saying that you support jihadi violence. You should be
ashamed of yourself.” I went to Lahore and I gave a reading from the
same passage and someone stood up and said, “You are an American agent.
You work for the CIA. You should be ashamed of yourself.” I went to
New Delhi, and after reading the same passage, someone stood up and
said, “You are a conservative reactionary. You think of capitalism and
conservatism as the pinnacle of human achievement. You see no other
alternative. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I never lose hope — I am not a believer but I do remember that in
Islam it is a sin to lose hope. You are not allowed to despair. This is
why suicide bombings were such a problematic issue for the
fundamentalists — suicide is a sin. So they have circumvented it by
saying they are not “suicide bombings,” they are “martyrdom bombings.”

So I can’t lose hope about anything — East-West, Islam, USA. But
that doesn’t mean you will find conventional “happy endings” in my
stories. I am puzzled when I am told that my books are dark or bleak. I
think to have gained knowledge of why things went wrong for the
characters in the stories, why things go wrong in real life for us, is a happy ending.

So I dropped out. I didn’t finish my biochemistry degree and I began
writing my first novel, which took 11 months to write, and I didn’t
have any idea of how to have a book published. But the writers I loved
were John Updike, Gore Vidal, V.S. Naipaul, Cormac McCarthy, and they
were published by a firm in London called Andre Deutsch.
So I picked up
a copy of Naipaul’s novel, A Bend in the River, looked at the
copyright page and got the address. I sent them the manuscript and 10
days later I got a phone call inviting me to have lunch. And I said “I
can’t,” and they said, “why not?” I said, “I have no money,” and they
said, “we’ll give you money and we’ll have lunch.” So I borrowed £20
and I got on a coach.

After the book was accepted I thought because I couldn’t do my O
Levels, A levels, BA, MA, and PhD in the subjects I was interested in,
I’m going to educate myself.
So over the course of the next 10 or 11
years I read everything. I would go to person A and say, “Tell me,
who’s a great writer?” William Faulkner. So I read everything by
William Faulkner. I would begin with the first novel and end up with
the last novel. I would go to person B and say, ‘Who’s a great writer?’
Thomas Hardy. I read everything by Thomas Hardy, sequentially. Who’s a
great writer? D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov,

And then I wanted to know, how much thought is allowed in one
paragraph? How many images are allowed per page? What is a comma? And
so I copied out the whole of Moby Dick by hand.
I copied out the whole of As I Lay Dying by Faulkner by hand. I copied out Lolita. I copied out Beloved. I copied out The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, Gabriel García Márquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch

And the inevitable: now that Garden has been planted throughout the world, what are you working on now? I am writing a novel about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws — One Thousand Miles by Moonlight.

After this, would you write a novel set in England again? And where is “home” for you now?

Yes, I’ll write a novel set in England again — I hope to return to
the English town of Dasht-e-Tanhaii which I created for my novel, Maps for Lost Lovers.
England is “home,” in inverted commas. Emotionally, I think of a map
in which Pakistan and England are fused. The Grand Trunk road passes
through Lahore and Peshawar, drops down into the Khyber Pass, and
emerges into Newcastle in the north of England. That is the “country” I
live in.
Having said this, I wish to set a novel in the United States one
day, and in India also. Ultimately a writer’s only homeland is his
desk, his stories, and his language.


writer Pankaj Mishra is one of eight writers from seven countries
winning a $150,000 Yale University prize each in recognition of their
achievements and to support their ongoing work.
Mishra, an Indian
essayist, memoirist, travel writer and novelist, won the Windham
Campbell Literature Prize in non-fiction category, The Beinecke Rare
Book & Manuscript Library at Yale announced.
“Pursuing high
standards of literary style, Pankaj Mishra gives us new narratives about
the evolution of modern Asia,” the New Haven, Connecticut based
institution said.
“He charts the journey from the Indian small town to the metropolis and rebuffs imperialist clichés with equal verve.”
delightful news!” said Mishra. “As a freelancer obliged to make a
living from writing, you are always scrounging for bits of time in which
to write the next book, and this wonderfully generous prize will help
me secure a long undistracted period”.
Mishra’s work “expands our understanding of the encounter between Western and Non-western culture,” the announcement said.
prose is distinguished by a melli?uous yet precise phrasing whose
generous intelligence speaks to the general reader and specialist
In addition to a novel, “The Romantics”, Mishra has
published four works of non?ction: “Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels
in Small Town India”; “An End to Su?ering: the Buddha in the World”;
“Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet,
and Beyond”; and “From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade
“From the Ruins of Empire”, his most recent book, attempts
a re-visioning of the geo-politics of the late nineteenth and twentieth
centuries from multiple Asian perspectives.
His literary and
political essays and long-form journalism regularly appear in The New
York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, The Guardian, The
Hindu and elsewhere.
Other winners in the three categories are: in
fiction, Aminatta Forna (Sierra Leone), Nadeem Aslam (Pakistan), and
Jim Crace (United Kingdom); in non-fiction John Vaillant (United
States/Canada); and in drama, Kia Corthron (United States), Sam Holcroft
(United Kingdom) and Noëlle Janaczewska (Australia).
All eight
writers will accept the prize in person at a ceremony at Yale on Sep 15.
The ceremony will be followed by a three-day literary festival
celebrating the work of the prize recipients.
– See more at:

Kashmir Games

In India (under a hypothetical BJP majority coalition rule) an open question that will be frequently raised is whether  Muslims are “Indians first” or not. This is basically a proxy for whether Muslims prefer Pakistan over India or not. This was probably the case even before, and the consequences have been deadly in the past, but now the situation has become highly delicate. This is especially so as political parties have been indulging in match-fixing– engineering riots for the express purpose of segregating majority and minority votes.

For most parts of India, Muslims are in a minority and too much tied to Hindus (in economic terms if not social terms) to raise their voices. And if they do so the backlash is swift (in Asom, UP,…etc.). In Kashmir however people grow up in a Muslim-only society (having cleansed the valley of all minorities themselves) and a popular slogan is “bhooka nanga hindustan, dil se pyara pakistan.” The Abdullah family is allowed a free hand (to steal) and the suppression of liberty directly leads to discontent (and to provide fertile grounds for the extremists to recruit).

But things will not remain frozen in time/space and the potential for friction will rise fast. Indian Hindus as a group are shifting right-ward and this matches with the trend elsewhere in the non-western world. There will be little or no ground to be given to minorities, including Shias in Sunni land. Even in the west, the forces on the right are gaining ground, especially in Europe.

In the mean-time Kashmiris need education and jobs. The Kashmir valley population is 6.9 million (as per 2011 census, 97% muslim). Jammu meanwhile is 5.35 million (31% muslim) and Ladakh is 0.29 million (54% muslim). There will not be enough opportunities in the Gulf for the youngsters (or enough asylum claims to be sustained in the West). As far as political freedom goes, anything except soft boundaries may not be negotiable under any sort of political regime.

Let us be clear, if war breaks out (supported by jihadi squadrons from the western front) and history repeats once more, it will be much harder on the Kashmiri population. Jaganmohan may have been bad but Modi will be even worse. World-wide the patience with Jihadism will be much lower now, and the worst case (Syria like) scenario cant be ruled out.

Thus the (practical) choice for both Kashmiris and Indians is to find a way to show mutual tolerance otherwise the situation may reach boiling point. Will a soft borders resolution with Pakistan be a helpful compromise? It may not be clear to the politicians but it is urgent that the ball moves forward after the elections. Otherwise be prepared for incidents like this to snowball into something major.

A private university in Greater Noida
on Saturday expelled six students — four of them Kashmiris — from one
of its boys’ hostels after a stand-off between two groups over last
Sunday’s India-Pakistan cricket match. It’s the second such controversy this week after a university in Meerut suspended a group of Kashmiri students for celebrating Pakistan’s victory in the Asia Cup match.

The expulsion came after a tense week at the Sharda University hostel
where the Kashmiri students allegedly cheered for Pakistan. Another
group protested that night, but the standoff escalated midweek after a
student’s provocative comments on a social media network.

The student cited the example of Swami Vivekanand Subharti University
in Meerut, demanding similar action against the four Kashmiri students.
The post elicited strong reactions and students started mobilizing on
campus. When the situation threatened to go out of control, Sharda
university authorities called police. Ranvir Singh, students’ welfare
dean, said the university expelled them from the hostel to maintain
discipline. All of them are first-year students.

Pit Bulls of the world unite (with middle class backing)

To the liberals world-wide, Vladimir Putin is a real pain in the backside (p-i-t-b or pit-bull).  

Here is how the present, past and future presidents of the USA describe Putin: President Obama has called Vladimir Putin “the bored kid in the back of the classroom,” putting on an unsmiling, tough-guy “shtick.” Hillary Clinton just compared the Russian president to Hitler. The State Department says Putin’s reasoning on Ukraine amounts to “two plus two equals five.” Republican House Speaker Boehner branded him a “thug.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly said he is “in another world.” And George W. Bush complained that debating policy with him was “like arguing with an eighth grader with his facts wrong” and called him “cold-blooded” to his face  

(the last accusation is remarkable as this would be a word for word description of GWB by the same liberals).

It is unlikely but another pit-bull may get hold of the atomic button and there is the same sound of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing form the liberals (Neha Desai Biswal just about managed to confirm that he will get a visa).Great power is (a bit) about managing great expectations and it is clear that the UPA regime has not managed to do it well (in a way this is the inverse India Shining syndrome- UPA has done a lot for rural India – employment guarantee schemes etc., but the corruption, inflation and other vices has caused the urban voter to defect).

It is certainly the case that the Indian middle class finds a champion in an autocrat like Modi, just like Russians back Putin. But while Putin has vast gas resources at his disposal by which he can blackmail Europe, Modi will be running on empty for now (if he is smart he will push for an under-sea gas pipeline from Iran to India bypassing Pakistan). He can certainly be more assertive towards Muslims (just like Putin towards Crimean Tatars and Chechnyans). He can clamp down on Christian missionary led conversions though I doubt it. If he manages to annoy US/Europe they will stop the visas (not just for him). It is not clear at this point how Modi can resuscitate the India Shining campaign. But then again, Putin also faced a long and lonely journey to the top.

The scariest scenario (for the west and the liberals) will be for Modi, Putin and Xi Jinping (also Iran) to join hands together (even symbolically) and for India to align with an axis of autocrats. This will require a super-diplomatic effort but certainly big money can/will enable this and the middle-class will be vociferous in its support. China (unlike USA/West) is not hung up about minority rights and may even persuade the Maoists to switch to jaw-jaw mode (in exchange for locking up rights to all the mines). China and India may also find common ground in working against Islamists from Taliban-held Af-Pak. If Modi can manage some movement in this direction he may be (like Putin) unstoppable.

Here is the million-dollar question- which model will appeal to the voters- the white-commonwealth model or the dark-autocracy model? The opinion makers (middle-class) will tell us to relax and enjoy the ride, greater prosperity will cancel out all the negatives (just as muslims from Bengal are coming over to Gujarat to earn their daily bread). A billion votes (814 million to be exact) will decide the future this May. Yes folks, this is the most momentous general elections ever (after 1977).

At the risk of over-statement, there seems to
be a bizarre similarity between the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing in
the western strategic community over the events in Ukraine and the
agonized lamentations of India’s minuscule liberal community over the
possible outcome of the forthcoming general election. In both cases, the
target of derision is a leader that many see as forthright, decisive
and nationalist and others view as illiberal, authoritarian and even

There are obvious similarities that can possibly be
drawn between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the man who may end
up as India’s Prime Minister in May. Apart from the fact that both evoke
polarized responses — adored by supporters and loathed by opponents,
the rise of both Putin and Narendra Modi can be explained by broadly
similar circumstances.

Putin took over a Russia that was
unreconciled to its steep economic decline and loss of self-esteem. In
just 14 years, whether ruling directly or through a proxy, Putin
affected a dramatic U-turn in the country’s fortunes. The post-Soviet
Union stereotypical images of starving pensioners queuing in the snow
for food hand-outs and gangster-infested cities were replaced by those
of cocky oligarchs buying up Chelsea FC and prime real estate in London,
and crime lords running global operations stretching from Moscow to

All stereotypes have a basis in reality but only partially.
Yes, Russian society has traditionally been prone to excesses and
high-handedness. However, the reason why Putin commands the respect of
most of Russia (and Russian speakers in the other regions that once
constituted the Soviet Union) seems obvious when seen from an Indian,
rather than European or American perspective. He restored the glory of
Russia and put it back in global reckoning.

….But Putin’s bid
to reclaim Russia’s status as a Great Power was only possible because
the economic and political foundations for an enhanced role have been
firmed up over the past decade. In India, on the other hand, the fierce
desire of the past 25 years to transcend mediocrity, shoddiness and look
the world powers in the eye has floundered.
It is not that the UPA
government has no achievements to its credit. India has progressed but
it has seriously under-performed in terms of its potential. More to the
point, there is a growing mismatch between the philosophy of governance
of Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council and the impatience of a
young India that wants a more fulfilling life with lesser impediments in
the path of personal success.


White Commonwealth will save the world

One needs to tread carefully because the upper management (and much of the brown elite world) happens to be sympathetic to this argument (the rest are gung-ho for a Mao like great man- out of the boiling pots of human flesh the next Spartas will emerge). But to be fair, having whites as stewards of browns is not a bad way for brown leaders (and brown populations) to avoid responsibility. Also, it must be said, the (proposed) new rest of UK flag (minus Scotland) looks really nice.

No 3 … a bit ravey?

A few quibbles before we jump into the white-waters. First off, much as we despise Mugabe and Museveni, Marxism and Christianity, which are singled out for their ill effects, took specially strong root in brown land via the earnest efforts of white men who were eager to lift brown people out of darkness. We can hardly fault brown-folks now if they have learned their lessons too well and decide to stay faithful to their borrowed tenets.

Also it seems (to a neutral observer) that you have to take the good with the bad (just like the colonial project itself). While one set of white bible-peddlers helped cover breasts in Kerala, another set of WBPs are helping to expose necks in Uganda (in a non-erotic manner). And marxism is good (if for nothing else) for scaring the shit out of crony capitalism, all the trees in central India would have probably disappeared in the absence of the Red Army.

The author engages in a bit of white-washing as well. Australia (also NZ) was not really empty space settled by British emigrants, there did exist a native population which was wiped out with or without deliberate malice. That such a fate escaped India was not for a lack of trying (large fractions of population under white rule perished with regular frequency, for some reason this phenomena stopped post-1947).

To end on a positive note, the author does admit that (baby) George cant do it all by himself, he will need an (adult) Mandela by his side. Just like Gandhi was considered a recruiting agent for the British-Indian army to fight WWI on behalf of their colonial masters. Amidst all the confusion that is state-craft these days, it is always a good practice to underline the obvious.

I must admit to being something of a Commonwealth sceptic. The way
Britain largely abandoned the organisation of its former colonies and
dominions when it joined Europe in 1973 was, to many of us, utterly
shameful. Blood is thicker than water, however, and when one experiences
the importance of democratic values — as one does when talking to a
Commonwealth people who live under threat of invasion and within earshot
of sabre-rattling — it is rather humbling.

The British government these days certainly does take the
Commonwealth seriously. This may be partly an effect of the mounting
disillusion with Europe,
but it is also because of a new recognition
that the ties of shared history binding the Commonwealth count for
something significant in an increasingly unstable world.  

This is also
true in Australia, a country infinitely larger and more populous than
the Falklands, but built on the same values and a common pioneer spirit.
A recent poll showed that support for the idea of a republic in
Australia has fallen by 15 per cent since the referendum of 1999,
suggesting that the Anglo-Saxon notion of a constitutional monarch and a
non-political head of state continues to hold great attraction even in
the 21st century.

But before one gets carried away on a tide of nostalgic affection for
the idea of the Commonwealth, one should pause to consider the
fragility of the institution itself. Word is that behind the scenes at
the last Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka in the autumn of 2013
there were some fraught discussions based not on cultural
misunderstandings but on sheer cultural differences between some of the

One is loath to talk about a ‘white Commonwealth’, but there
does seem, with certain important exceptions, to be a measure of
polarisation between those countries that were settled by British
emigrants and those that were conquered and colonised by them.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the club for serial human rights
violations under the Mugabe regime in 2002; and it chose to leave the
organisation altogether in 2003, determined not to accept the view that
other nations had of it. Since then certain other black African
countries have lobbied relentlessly to allow its readmission, despite
the evidence that nothing much has changed in Zimbabwe, and will not do
so until Mugabe (who has just celebrated his 90th birthday) has gone to
the final reckoning. 

One of those interceding on Mugabe’s behalf is Jacob Zuma, whose own
conduct of office in South Africa increasingly leaves much to be
desired: Nelson Mandela he is not. South Africa is seen as increasingly
corrupt, cronyist, dangerous and authoritarian, and it sits increasingly
uncomfortably within a Commonwealth template of advancing democracy,
civilisation and political integrity.

It would be fatal for the Commonwealth to become polarised between
‘white’ and ‘black’ countries, not least because some nations whose
rulers are not of Anglo-Saxon descent behave perfectly reasonably and
honourably. Yet there is a growing challenge as some nations within the
family behave in a fashion unacceptable in polities such as Australia,
Britain, Canada or New Zealand.

At the end of February Yoweri Museveni,
the president of Uganda, signed into law a Bill making homosexuality
(which was already illegal) and same-sex marriages crimes punishable by
life sentences, and the promotion of homosexuality a crime carrying a
still heavy sentence of seven years. Hitherto such sanctions as existed
applied only to men: now lesbians will feel the force of the law too.

After the furore surrounding President Putin’s homophobic policies in
the context of the Sochi Winter Olympics, it will be hard for the
Commonwealth to turn a blind eye to Uganda locking up people for life
because they are homosexual; we must wait and see.

In an ideal world, an institution such as the Commonwealth would lead
all its members along the path to enlightenment.
The most significant
country in this respect is India, which has become progressively more
westernised as it has put its considerable economic and human capital to
work on becoming one of the great business success stories of the 21st
centuries. Without considerable leadership from the non-white
Commonwealth, extending the values of Australians, Britons and
Falklanders into parts where they hitherto have not reached may be
problematic at best, and impossible at worst. 

Had South Africa produced
another Mandela, he — or she — would have had this leadership role,
because (other than Pakistan, which has nightmares all of its own) the
part of the Commonwealth where those values are most under threat is the
collection of Britain’s former colonies and possessions in Africa. It
used to be called the white man’s burden; but in the interests of good
government, liberty, prosperity and decent human rights it can no longer
be his alone.


Brown Pundits