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Modernity / 25.05.2014

Here is a headline from today’s newspaper: Pakistan frees 151 Indian fishermen ahead of Sharif’s Delhi visit What can we infer from this headline about the world we live in? Recall the stories of bygone times that marked auspicious occasions: It was the king’s birthday – he ordered 100 prisoners to be released. The queen gave birth to an heir – the dungeons were emptied. The heir apparent got married – all death sentences were commuted. Are we living in bygone times or have the bygone times never left us? King Sharif? I am going to India – let us free 151 fishermen. Not only that, let us drive them from Karachi to Wagah in an air-conditioned bus. Let us give the ‘poor’ fishermen royal treatment because we are particularly pleased by the invitation – phooley nahiiN samaa rahey. Remember Diwali last year? We celebrated by releasing 15 fishermen as a gesture of our goodwill. We still...

Modernity / 11.10.2010

And Why It Matters

Suresh Kalmadi has something to answer for to the Indian people for the chaotic run up to the Commonwealth Games. But given his belligerent stance it seems he feels he doesn’t have to. This would not be a surprise because in India many have gotten away with much more. What I do find surprising, however, is that he has not even been called up for something that, in my view, no one should be allowed to get away with in this day and age. With reference to the lack of spectators at the Games, Kalmadi is reported to have said: "We are working on the children from schools, already steps have been taken in that direction…. And also from the low level of society, we have been distributing a lot of tickets."
Modernity / 12.07.2010

By Arun Pillai Before we can talk about separating ideas from geography, it is necessary to say what ideas are, what I mean by geography, and what traditions are. I will start with ideas. Ideas Ideas are abstract things, like words and numbers. They don’t occupy space or time. A physical object occupies space and time, and if it is in one place, it cannot be in another (I will ignore the puzzles of quantum mechanics here.) This is not true of ideas. We can all simultaneously entertain the same ideas, or utter the same words, or calculate with the same numbers. (This is partly why the area of intellectual property rights is so tricky.) In any case, there is a fund of ideas that belongs to everyone, like the ideas in the sciences and other areas of culture.
Ghalib, Modernity / 28.06.2009

Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. We have been struggling with the notion of modernity in South Asia and wondering how “modern” modern South Asians are. And here is Ghalib providing an excellent illustration of what being modern might, at least in part, entail: kyaa farz hai kih sab ko mile ek-saa javaab aa’o nah ham bhii sair kareN koh-e tuur kii Is it necessary that everyone would get the same answer? Come! Why don’t we too go for an excursion to Mount Sinai The first thing to note is that being modern does not been mean being ignorant of tradition or history. Ghalib motivates his argument by leveraging the story of Moses going to Mount Sinai and asking to see God; and God responding to Moses that you would not have the strength to withstand the vision.
Modernity / 02.05.2009

In this episode we were scheduled to move into the period of the British encounter with India. But there is nothing inevitable about schedules. We take a step back because we have found another vantage point from which to observe the path and the past that we have already traversed. This step back comes courtesy of Ian Almond who had no white friends till he was sixteen and, growing up amongst South Asians, answered only to the name of badam. Sharmila Sen, who writes about him, picks up on the phenomenon of collective memory and reminds us what an odd thing it can be: “We can remember a collective past that never existed and bring nations, religions, and cultures into existence. We can also suffer from collective amnesia and bring ourselves to the brink of destruction.”
Modernity, Religion / 11.11.2008

By Bettina Robotka  The question of whether there is any positive role for Islam or for religion as such in a modern world is gaining urgency in the light of an ongoing "War against (Islamic) terror" and the spread of militant and conservative interpretations of Islam. The picture which this Islam tends to paint of an ideal Muslim society is that of a patriarchic, male-dominated community inhabited by intellectually unquestioning Muslims who live in closely knit kinship relationships including tribal, biradri and caste units, who accept existing society as given, and who are supposed to follow what the state defines as right or wrong through its laws. There is limited place for individuality, no place for questioning of the basics of social, political and economic life and the task of moral, political, economic and spiritual guidance seems to be left to a small group of Islamic...

Modernity / 05.10.2008

By Anjum Altaf In an earlier post (What is the Future of the City in South Asia?) we had mentioned that the dynamic in small towns was quite different from that in the major metropolitan centers. In this post we speculate about some of the possible differences. An unusual approach is to work backward from the observation that while all attention is focused on the tribal areas in Pakistan, the breeding grounds of religious extremism are actually the small towns in the Punjab. Why might this be the case? One hypothesis is that small towns in Pakistan that have declined economically have become socially more conservative with a possible link to the increase in religious extremism. There is little doubt that the economic function of small towns has changed significantly over time. Earlier, most of them were busy market (mandi) towns serving as points of interaction between rural hinterlands...

Modernity / 05.10.2008

By Anjum Altaf This is a very broad and brief overview of the past, present, and possible future of the South Asian city. It raises a number of points each of which can be discussed in much greater depth in future posts depending on the interest of readers. Any discussion of cities in South Asia has an inspiring point of departure. Almost 5000 years ago, Mohenjodaro was probably the most advanced urban settlement in the world. It had a planned layout with a grid of streets laid out in perfect patterns. Wastewater was disposed through covered drains that lined the streets and were sloped such that the water never stagnated and it was treated before being discharged into the river. South Asia has rarely been able to provide that level of urban planning and efficiency since. It is worthwhile subject to explore (later) why that might be the...

Modernity / 19.09.2008

One could argue that fundamentally we are very similar – we are all conceived in the same way, we all come out into the world the same way, and we all die ultimately. So, in the major events that our not under our control we are very similar. Where matters fall under human control, differences emerge. For instance, while we all die, our final rites can be starkly different – burial, cremation, being fed to crocodiles or to vultures. What is a more important determinant of our being similar or different – events that are not under our control or those that are under our control? Surely we can find rational explanations for many of the differences. For example, people living in a desert would find it very difficult to cremate their dead or feed them to crocodiles. Of course, there are some differences even in matters that...

Modernity, Religion / 17.09.2008

First, let me quote a passage. Then you try and guess what it refers to. And then we will talk about it together. A race absolutely alien to God has invaded the land of the Christians, has reduced the people with sword, rapine and flame. These men have destroyed the altars polluted by their foul practices. They have circumcised the Christians, either spreading the blood from the circumcisions on the altars or pouring it into the baptismal fonts. And they cut open the navels of those whom they choose to torment with loathsome death, tear out their most vital organs and tie them to a stake, drag them around and flog them, before killing them as they lie prone on the ground with all their entrails out. What shall I say of the appalling violation of women, of which it is more evil to speak then...