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By Sakuntala Narasimhan A visit to our neighbouring country brings memories that are reminiscent of our own land Day 1: I have three hours to kill between the time I check into my hotel room in Islamabad, and the commencement of the conference I have come to attend. I turn on the TV, lean back and glance through the day’s newspapers.  And suddenly, the border between India and Pakistan that I thought I had crossed somewhere along the flight between Delhi and Lahore, seems blurred, almost non-existent, as I take in the media images.

By Anjum Altaf Cricket is emblematic of South Asia. It distinguishes the region qua region from almost anywhere else – East Asia, West Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe. So at this time when three of the four teams in the World Cup semifinals are South Asian,...

By Anjum Altaf The title of Gautam Adhikari’s new book, The Intolerant Indian, is intended to be provocative and it might indeed provoke those who go just by titles. Anyone reading the book though is more likely to be puzzled. The subject is important no doubt – the extent of conflict fueled by the inability to agree is increasing – and so the intent to provoke a debate is laudable. But the manner in which the debate is framed is likely to generate more heat than light thereby threatening to inflame the very intolerance it aims to subdue.
By Anjum Altaf The following is the issue: If a South Asian were introduced to, say, a first-time visitor from Norway with the preamble “He/She is a liberal,” would the Norwegian be able to guess correctly where the South Asian might stand on a number of salient policy issues? I expressed my doubts in an earlier article (The Peculiar Nature of the Pakistani Liberal) that concluded as follows: “On closer examination, the Pakistani liberal turns out to be a breed apart. The easy transfer of ideological labels – “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive,” “reactionary” – across political and social contexts obscures the nuances and complexities necessary for understanding the juncture at which we have arrived in Pakistan today.” To be useful, a label has to convey an accurate representation of reality and many of the labels we use in South Asia today fail this test.

By Anjum Altaf The “West” versus the “East,” the “West” versus “Islam” – there is much talk of the clash of cultures in these ideologically charged times. Yet, there is as much confusion about the understanding of culture itself. If we are to be clear about...

By Anjum Altaf In response to a question asking why Faiz Ahmad Faiz was so much more popular then other, clearly ‘better,’ poets, I had argued (here and here) that we should enjoy poets on their own terms and not bother overmuch with ranking them. Comparisons being difficult, I used a metaphor from music to suggest some of the ways in which poets differ – while Faiz could be considered a poet of the vilambit, Ghalib was one of the drut, and it makes as little sense to compare Faiz and Ghalib as it does to compare a vilambit to a drut. I am aware that the argument can be pushed: Can we not compare poets of the vilambit or of the drut to elucidate what might be involved in such comparisons?
By Dipankar Gupta The fundamental law of politics is that rulers act and the ruled react. This truth has held in all hitherto existing societies: it is carbon dated, weather proofed and tropicalized. The difference democracy makes is that it lets the people judge its leaders, but only after they have already acted. When an elected leader advocates a policy in the name of popular will, it nearly always is a big lie. By using people as a cover, ugly politicians have found happiness in parliaments everywhere. The sentiments of the people count when they are asked to judge a policy on Election Day. While votes do matter, they are always cast after the political act has taken place; never before it.
By Dipankar Gupta Editor’s Note: Professor Dipankar Gupta has forwarded two articles to contribute to the debate on helping the poor that was initiated in the previous post on this blog. This is the first of the two articles. The second would be posted subsequently. The best way to fight poverty is not to plan for the poor. The moment one singles them out for special services, absurdities, and worse, begin to abound. This is especially true when their numbers are large. Targeted policies work best when they are aimed at a small minority. It is not possible to have special programmes that affect anything between 50% to 70% of the population. In which case, one might as well have a revolution!

By Anjum Altaf Between the idea and the reality, Eliot wrote, falls the shadow. The phrase is so well known as to be almost cliché, but as with many clichés, there is truth to it. There is universality, too – the metaphor could extend to many...