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Ghalib / 03.10.2008

Justice delayed is justice denied: ham ne maanaa kih taghaaful nah karoge lekin khaak ho jaaeNge ham tum ko khabar hote tak we accept that you will not show negligence, but we will become dust by the time of the news reaching you In the conventional reading, the lover (ham) is addressing the beloved (tum) and a number of ways of interpreting the text are possible as described by Frances Pritchett in A Desertful of Roses. We will transpose the domain of the verse and let ham represent the citizen and tum the state. What does that yield us? Well, for one, we can explore the entire gamut of the relationship between the citizen and the state in South Asia in modern times. Does the citizen (really) believe that the state acts in his or her interest? Does the citizen believe that the state knows what his or her interests really are? Does the citizen...

Politics / 30.09.2008

It is often asserted that the majority of people in India and Pakistan desire peace. Do you believe that? Even if they don’t, some suggest that if only people knew how much it is costing to keep up the state of conflict they would become advocates for peace. Well, here is the information as calculated in 2004 by the Strategic Foresight Group, Mumbai, in their report Cost of Conflict between India and Pakistan. The summary of the report claims that “the Siachen conflict alone will cost India Rs 7,200 crores and Pakistan Rs 1,800 crores in the next five years;” that “India and Pakistan have the potential to enjoy a trade of about $1 billion if the hostile environment continues and $13.25 billion if peace prevails on a cumulative basis for the next five years (2004-08) resulting in an opportunity loss of $12 billion;” and that “Kashmir...

Politics / 27.09.2008

This is the quintessential ‘What If’ question. It is counterfactual because now we can never know what would have happened if India had not been partitioned. But we can speculate about the possibilities and try and construct plausible scenarios for purposes of understanding and discussion. In this post we argue against the scenario presented by Aakar Patel in his op-ed in The News on September 22, 2008. Aakar Patel’s one-line conclusion is that an unpartitioned India would have been a disaster for both Hindus and Muslims. Let us first list the points we aim to contend: Unpartitioned India would be the word’s largest country (1.4 billion people), the world’s largest Muslim country (500 million) and… the world’s poorest country (over 600 million hungry). In undivided India, religion would have dominated political debate, as it did in the 30s and 40s, and consensus on reform would be hard to build...

Ghalib / 26.09.2008

We keep discovering that Ghalib was ahead of his time. Here he is showing us how to do participant-observer research: banaa kar faqiiroN kaa ham bhes Ghalib tamaashaa-e ahl-e karam dekhte haiN having put on the guise of faqirs, Ghalib we observe the spectacle of the people of generosity The meaning is clear: Ghalib is not in need of alms himself; he is disguising himself as an alms-seeker in order to observe and understand the behavior of alms-givers. (For a more detailed interpretation see Mehr-e-Niimroz.) The question is: Why does Ghalib wish to undertake this exercise? Presumably, because he feels that the motivations of alms-givers are complex and all is not what it seems on the surface. Let us explore this subject in the context of our times and in the context of South Asia. In a number of posts on The South Asian Idea we have remarked on the fact that South...

Education / 26.09.2008

By Anjum Altaf Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) remind me of Iqbal’s poem PahaaR aur Gulehrii (Mountain and Squirrel) in Baang-e-Dara. In terms of the scale of the problem they are insignificant just as the size of the squirrel is insignificant relative to the size of the mountain. In terms of the ability to think, the roles are reversed – the brain of the squirrel is vastly superior to the non-existent brain of the mountain. So, clearly NGOs can be irrelevant or relevant depending on whether one looks at their brawn or their brain. Take education in Pakistan as an example. The public school system in the country is the mountain; the NGOs are the squirrel. It is quite clear to anyone who has looked at the numbers that the public school system has broken down. Leave aside the quality of education being imparted in the schools (it should best...

Development / 23.09.2008

A college student has asked us if corruption is good or bad. The proposition he has been asked to consider is the following: Corruption greases the wheels of development; it benefits the rich and poor alike. This proposition is very easy to disprove by thinking of concrete examples where corruption does not benefit the rich and poor alike. Let us take examples from the recent earthquakes in Kashmir and China. Many school buildings collapsed killing thousands of children. The Chinese government has admitted there was corruption in the construction of the buildings. Second-rate material was used but approved by supervisors in exchange for bribes. In this case rich contractors and bureaucrats benefited but poor public school students and their parents paid the ultimate  price. This example shows that whenever corruption creates hazardous conditions, it does not benefit rich and poor alike. The sale of contaminated infant milk in China...

Religion / 21.09.2008

In an earlier post (Do Devotion and Brutality Go Together?) we wondered how some people could be convinced that it was acceptable to commit acts of appalling brutality in the name of religious devotion. We will pursue this thought further in this post. The example we had used to motivate the argument was the launching of the First Crusade in 1095 by Pope Urban II rousing Christians to avenge oppression by Muslims in far away Jerusalem. Pope Urban’s exhortation was based on false propaganda but it succeeded in its objective. A reader commented that the First Crusade was about grabbing land and wealth and the Crusaders were misled because they were illiterate and had no way to verify the truth. It must have been natural to take the word of the Pope for truth. This is a valid observation. The author of the book we used as a...

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...

Ghalib / 18.09.2008

With reference to the politics of Pakistan we had explored the topic of impeachment in an earlier verse. This week we lean on Ghalib to talk about the new leadership. chaltaa huuN thoRii duur har ik tez-rau ke saath pahchaantaa nahiiN huuN abhii raahbar ko maiN I go along a little way with every single swift walker I do not yet recognize the guide For our purpose, the interpretation of CM Naim is most appropriate: “The world is full of false leaders. I still do not know who the real leader is. I get deceived by every appearance of rapidity and movement. Every time I see someone proceeding with rapidity I think him to be the guide and walk after him a little way. But that little experience tells me that the man is not the guide I seek. Or is it that I am restless and get quickly drawn to...