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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...

Ghalib / 14.09.2008

This week we have just the right she’r to address the issue of the ‘Other.’ I was about to say it hits the nail on the head when my head made me re-think the sentiment from the perspective of the nail. I wonder how the corn feels about the corny joke? In any case – Onwards, Christian soldiers  (for a clue to the allusion, see Ghalib and Jesus on stone throwing on Mehr-e-Niimroz). maiN ne majnuuN pe laRakpan meN ‘asad’ sang uThaayaa thaa ke sar yaad aayaa Against Majnun, in boyhood/childishness, Asad I had picked up a stone – when the head came to mind Majnun is the archetypal mad lover at whom children pelt stones. The poet is about to join this torment, either as a child or in a state of childishness, when he puts himself in the shoes of the ‘Other’ – his head makes him realize...

Modernity, South Asia / 12.09.2008

South Asia is considered a developing region; in earlier times it would have been called an under-developed one. So, the question is: How under-developed is South Asia and what is the nature of its under-development? We have been interested in this question for some time and have not found it easy to answer given that development is such a multi-dimensioned concept and South Asia such a diverse region. A limited but still interesting exercise is to take some standard indicators (like literacy, infant mortality, and life expectancy) and find out how long ago the now developed countries were at the same stage as South Asian countries are today. That would provide a starting point for discussion based on objective measures. It turns out even this is not a simple task as there are no readily available data to look up. Our enquiries led us to a paper in economic...

Nepal / 09.09.2008

We must confess our incomplete knowledge of what is really happening in Nepal but this is certainly a phenomenon that warrants close attention. Let us try and sketch a big picture and hope that readers with more details can fill in the gaps that are inevitable. In a series of posts on modernity in South Asia (see under the theme on the main page) we have repeatedly gone over the sequence of events in Europe that marked the change from the old feudal order to the new era of democratic governance. We highlighted the key markers: the emergence of a realization that all men should be equal; the embedding of these ideas in the thinking of the times; a social revolution nurtured by these ideas that overthrew the hierarchical aristocratic order to force the recognition of equality; and the gradual emergence of democracy as the form...

Aid, Pakistan / 07.09.2008

By Anjum Altaf As Chairman of the US Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden has been a strong advocate of increased developmental assistance for Pakistan. Therefore, if he becomes the Vice President in November, the prospects of a significant jump in the quantum of American aid to Pakistan would grow considerably. Would this be a good idea? The question is good idea for whom? Who would be the beneficiary of this assistance? Any such increase would clearly ignore the evidence that much past aid to Pakistan has been wasted because there are no tangible development outcomes to be seen. This is not to say that there have no beneficiaries of the transfer of funds. An investigative report would provide fascinating stories about where all the money has gone. Between 1950 and 2000, donor assistance to Pakistan has been of the order of $60 billion. Yet, the country’s social indicators...

Education / 06.09.2008

In a previous post we had discussed whether illiteracy was the cause of poverty. A number of readers have enquired whether poverty can be the cause of illiteracy. We explore the argument in this post. At one level the proposition can come across as valid. The poor would not have the income to afford education for their children and would, by necessity, keep the latter out of school. The very poor would need to supplement the household income with the earnings of children giving rise to the prevalence of child labor. The very, very poor would not even have enough to afford the upkeep of their children and be forced to give them up to madrassas providing free care. This line of thinking would lead one to conclude that countries with widespread poverty would have widespread illiteracy. How then would one account for the very wide variation in...

Ghalib / 03.09.2008

It is the month of Ramzan and Ghalib has his share of quotes for the season. Ghalib was known for his wit: when asked how many fasts he had kept he is reported to have replied ek na rakha (I did not keep one). Typical Ghalib. But in his tongue-in-cheek manner Ghalib also pushes his readers to think of many other aspects of a situation than the one that seems obvious on the surface. Our choice this week reflects this quality of Ghalib: iftaar-e-saum kii jise kuch dast.gaah ho us shakhs ko zaroor hai rozaa rakha kare jis paas roza khol ke khaane ko kuch na ho roza agar na khaaye to naachaar kya kare the one who has the wherewithal to break his fast that person should indeed keep the fast the one who has nothing to break his fast with what else can he do but be constrained to ‘eat the fast’ The Ghalib...

Ghalib / 28.08.2008

The selection this week: bandagii meN bhii vuh aazaadah-o khud-biin haiN kih ham ulTe phir aaye dar-e ka’bah agar va na huaa even in servitude we are so free and self-regarding that we turned and came back if the door of the Ka’bah did not open This is an expression of pride in one’s being. The poet is saying that we may be indebted to you but you still have to treat us with respect. The point is made by exaggeration – we are servants of God but even God has to come and meet us halfway. A detailed interpretation is available at Mehr-e-Niimroz. Once again we are treated to Ghalib’s ability to think far ahead of his times. Remember, he lived in the age of patronage; artists especially were almost completely dependent on their patrons for their livelihoods. And the patrons were quite willful, withdrawing their stipends at the slightest...

Governance / 27.08.2008

People are frustrated with continued poor governance in Pakistan. So frustrated that one often hears a strange claim – we are afflicted with poor governance because we are bad people; we deserve our fate. This logic implies that good people get good governments while bad people get bad governments. Does this logic make any sense? First of all, there is no country in the world where people are all good or all bad – however good and bad are defined. And no one has yet adequately demonstrated that some countries have a larger proportion of bad people than others. (Of course, some countries have relatively more educated populations but education has little to do with the mix of goodness and badness. In any case, all countries have passed through the stage when education was much less common than it is today. It is difficult to make the case...