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By Anjum Altaf in Himal Magazine Thomas Babington Macaulay, commonly known as Lord Macaulay, is widely recognised yet inadequately understood in Southasia. While the legacy of his ‘decisions’ is correctly criticised, that criticism is often for the wrong reasons. Macaulay served on the Supreme Council of...

Excerpts from the foreword by Professor Yash Pal to the Report of ‘The Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education.’ December 2009.   (We are gratified that the logic of the report supports the premises of The South Asian Idea.) We were struck by the fact that over the years we have followed policies of fragmenting our educational enterprise into cubicles. We have overlooked that new knowledge and new insights have often originated at the boundaries of disciplines. We have tended to imprison disciplinary studies in opaque walls. This has restricted flights of imagination and limited our creativity. This character of our education has restrained and restricted our young right from the school age and continues that way into college and university stages.
The controversy in India over the proposed separation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh as a new state brought two thoughts to mind: the irony of history and the tyranny of fashion. There is little argument that many states in India are very large in area and population – much larger than many countries – and that there is a good case that smaller units can lead to more effective and participatory governance. Thus the call for decentralization is credible and consistent with the fashion of the day. But think back now to 1947: At Independence India had about a dozen provinces governed directly by the British and over 500 princely states governed by treaty with hereditary local rulers who accepted British sovereignty in return for local autonomy. Could you have more decentralization than 500 states that had a coherence imparted by the legitimacy of tradition?
The controversy in India over the proposed separation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh as a new state brought two thoughts to mind: the irony of history and the tyranny of fashion. There is little argument that many states in India are very large in area and population – much larger than many countries – and that there is a good case that smaller units can lead to more effective and participatory governance. Thus the call for decentralization is credible and consistent with the fashion of the day. But think back now to 1947: At Independence India had about a dozen provinces governed directly by the British and over 500 princely states governed by treaty with hereditary local rulers who accepted British sovereignty in return for local autonomy. Could you have more decentralization than 500 states that had a coherence imparted by the legitimacy of tradition?
By Radhika R. Yeddanapudi I received a birthday card from my father yesterday. In his familiar, right-leaning hand, he had written, "I believe this is your best birthday yet.” I imagined this card landing in the future in a stranger's hand, perhaps in an old curiosity shop. What will the stranger make of my father's allusion? A job, a promotion, an achievement of some sort? I wanted to ask my father to what he referred but decided against it. He may not have wanted to, or even been able to, articulate exactly why the birth of my son represented the best that my life could offer, only that he felt it.  I remained silent out of a mixed sense of inadequacy, propriety and maternal pride: a new living being can inspire and effect change in a way that no achievement can. My son Himadri was not real to me until we brought him home from the hospital. The involuntary nature of pregnancy, labor and childbirth left me feeling like there was nothing I could control, and hence the child of this natural set of events seemed quite unreal.

I will come back to what Michelle Obama has to do with this topic after I present the facts that are pertinent to the story. These facts are fairly well known but it was nice to find them described succinctly in Jared Diamond’s book (Collapse:...

Who is Going to Bail it Out?

By Anjum Altaf We have all read the stories about very big entities failing and being bailed out – these include cities like New York, countries like Mexico and Pakistan, and corporations like General Motors and Bank of America whose businesses were bigger than the economies of many countries. All of them defaulted on their debts – went bankrupt – and were bailed out by an entity that was bigger than them, the US Government alone or in concert with other developed countries. The combination of size and of the existence of a savior, the protector of last resort, gives rise to a dilemma that is known as ‘moral hazard.’ When an entity believes its failure would damage the rest of the system and that there is someone who will not allow that to happen, then it loses the incentive to manage its risks prudently.
Maupassant provided us the opportunity to reflect on the social pecking order in South Asia and Kabir’s comment has pushed the door wide open. There is so much space for speculation that it needs a post by itself to fill. In doing so we can bring together a number of themes that have figured prominently on this blog – in particular those of modernity and democracy in South Asia. A lot has been written about French salons and there remain disagreement on the details – I will choose selectively to motivate the discussion: A salon is a gathering of intellectual, social, political, and cultural elites under the roof of an inspiring hostess or host, partly to amuse one another and partly to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation.
There is a sentence in Julian Barnes’s review of two novels by Maupassant (1850-1893) that struck me with unusual force and I wish to use it to reflect on our societal values in South Asia. Barnes is talking about four pages in one of the novels that describe Parisian salons, “the tactics of the women who run them and the talented men who frequent them.” And here is the sentence that should knock a South Asian for a six: Maupassant discusses the pecking order of guests: musicians at the top, artists next, writers coming a close third, with other riff-raff like generals and parliamentarians occasionally tolerated. I am not making it up – you can look up the original here. Go over the pecking order again and take a few moments to let it sink in.