Novel / 25.07.2008

Chapter 6         The Terrain of Interpretation  6.1 In September, Harold packed his bags for Grindelwald and India. He’d failed to accomplish much over the summer, though Harold was by now better acquainted with the literature surrounding the Sahityashastra. Asha had agreed to help. After Ajit’s death, it was evident that they weren’t faced with mere muggings and accidents. A chain of three closely linked deaths was no coincidence. Even the police’s occasional doubts about the matter were now quelled, vindicating Harold’s initial claims. Bits and scraps of insights into Meghnad’s project and the enigma of the Sahityashastra spurred Harold and Asha on. Among other things, Harold packed two pairs of white cotton kurta pajamas for India. He looked forward to wearing them. There was also his only Nehru jacket, in black raw silk. For Grindelwald, he folded some sweaters and a parka. He also included a couple of...

Novel / 22.07.2008

Chapter 5            The Idea of the Postmodern 5.1 The room—one of the many informal meeting areas in the offices of ZEC, a Palo Alto software company—was a long and narrow rectangle. Its new carpet gave the place a buoyant look. The wide windows let in washes of light. It was a setting that conveyed a sense of contrasting shades and proportions, of a binary interior that matched the binary computer-related work that was usually carried out in it. Four men were gathered at a large round table at one end. It was lunchtime on Tuesday the 29th of June, and three of the men had brought bread and tins of vegetables with them. Kamal viewed the room smugly. Ashok, Mohan, and Kiran were his products, engineers, like him, but ten years younger. He had spent the last year pouring various ideas into their ears. Ashok had in fact...

Novel / 20.07.2008

Chapter 4            A New Form of Life  4.1 Cambridge looked graceful in the late afternoon as sunlight streaked across the snow, creating bands of light and dark. Swathed in parkas, pedestrians on Massachusetts Avenue walked warily to avoid puddles. It wasn’t windy, but it was cold, a kind of bracing, clean cold that stung your ears, stretched your skin, and made your nose run. The whoosh of cars interrupted the stillness, leaving tracks in the slush. The two great universities of the world, MIT and Harvard, stood resplendent in the light, a mile apart, at either end of the street. It was said that at MIT you learned more and more about less and less until you knew everything about nothing. At Harvard, on the other hand, you learned less and less about more and more until you knew nothing about everything—the tragicomic, un-Faustian constraints on knowledge in...

Education, Fundamentalism, Ghalib, Politics, Religion / 19.07.2008

Today if you tell me some things are fated I would be inclined to believe you. The last three posts just sort of happened – there was no grand design involved, just the order in which we happened to chance upon things. There was a BBC story on syncretic communities under threat and that led to Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Hindu? Then there was a column on the usefulness of Milton by Stanley Fish that led to Milton and Ghalib. And finally, an essay by Mark Lilla that a reader had sent last year popped out of a randomly opened file and led to The Politics of God. In retrospect, you can see the threads that link. The threat to syncretic communities could be attributed to the politics of God (as some readers have already done in their comments) and one could use Milton or Ghalib to think about...

Fundamentalism, Modernity, Politics, Religion, South Asia / 18.07.2008

Our two posts on fundamentalism (1, 2) have only scratched the surface of this phenomenon and revealed many more interesting questions to explore. A useful place to pick up the exploration is a recent article by Mark Lilla, a professor of the humanities at Columbia University, called The Politics of God. Professor Lilla’s point of departure is his sense of amazement that after two centuries when world politics revolved around “eminently political problems,” we seem to be back in the 16th century “entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty.” What happened? Like a good teacher, Professor Lilla has posed an interesting and also a very critical question. Readers can go to Professor Lilla’s article to see how he answers the question with reference to Hobbes and Rousseau. Here we extract some material to rephrase the proposition in our own context and to pose...

India, Politics, Religion / 14.07.2008

The following story reported by the BBC is an intriguing one and we wonder what readers will make of it. Islam and Hinduism's blurred lines By Jyotsna Singh, BBC News, Ajmer, Rajasthan Story from BBC NEWS, Published: 2008/07/11 16:20:24 GMT http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia/7473019.stm Forty-two-year-old Sohan Singh is delighted to call himself a "full-fledged" Hindu. Recently he cremated his mother, defying a family tradition of burying their dead. Mr Singh is a member of the Kathat community in Rajasthan and follows what his community believes is a pledge undertaken by their forefathers. Legend has it that the Mehrat, Kathat and Cheeta communities - with a combined total of one million people in four districts of central Rajasthan - are the descendants of the Hindu ruler of the warrior caste, Prithviraj Chauhan. The three communities also have strong Islamic connections, because many centuries ago, their forefathers undertook a pledge to follow three Muslim practices. These include the circumcision...

Novel / 08.07.2008

Chapter 3      Inventing the Future 3.1 Although reeling from shock, Columbia’s Southern Asian Department acted fast. In two days the staff organized, with the help of Asha and Aditya, a memorial evening for Meghnad. They sent out many invitations to academics, students, friends, members of the Indian American community, journalists, and others. Harold stayed on in New York to attend the service. At the appointed hour, the auditorium was full. The energy in the room was at a high pitch. People were talking excitedly, some dressed casually in jeans and others more formally attired in suits. Meghnad had been a popular maverick. Two policemen sat sentinel in the last row, not quite comprehending the drama unfolding before them. There was a hush as Aditya walked onto the stage. A sophisticated man of fifty with a great whorl of a moustache and a dignified air, he wore a three-piece...

Fundamentalism, Politics, Religion, South Asia / 05.07.2008

In our last post (On Fundamentalism), a point of view had been advanced that there could be no religious fundamentalism without the existence of a scared text. It was the sacred text, the word of God, which provided the reference for the movement of going back to the ‘fundamentals’. And because there was no one sacred text in Hinduism, Hindutva could not be interpreted in terms of religious fundamentalism. It was speculated that Hindutva was better interpreted as a form of nationalism. We are impressed by the reader who accused us of being fundamentalist (i.e., literalist) about ‘fundamentalism’. He argued that Hindutva was more than nationalism and had a fundamentalist dimension as well because it was attempting to reduce the variability in the interpretation of the Ramayana to create a narrower (purer) consensus. Likewise, he argued, other text-based fundamentalisms have a nationalist dimension as well. Therefore,...

Fundamentalism, India, Pakistan / 01.07.2008

The only F-word to have retained its unambiguous meaning is the original F-word. Two others, Feudalism and Fascism, seem to have lost all meaning. They serve no purpose except to characterize any development the user is negative about. Thus anyone you don’t like can be labeled a feudal or a fascist. This might not matter much because feudalism and fascism are largely phenomena of the past. Fundamentalism is a new F-word, however, that demands a lot more care in its usage. Fundamentalism is both current and hot and there could be a lot riding on how we define and interpret the phenomenon. Narrowly interpreted, the term fundamentalism refers in religious discourse to a total commitment to the literal interpretation of a scared text and a belief in its infallibility. In this sense, there can be no religious fundamentalism without the existence of a scared text. It follows from...

Novel / 25.06.2008

Chapter 2       An Interlocked World 2.1 Chaturvedi sipped his early morning tea. Bombay’s summer had begun early and he felt hot and sticky. His wife, sitting beside him, slapped him on the wrist for swallowing so loudly. A ceiling fan rotated its three blades and although the convection of air currents in the room cooled his tea, it did not assuage his discomfort. A fly was walking across the dining table. It inched towards the biscuits in the saucer, and Chaturvedi brushed it off with a sweep of his hand. A Sony television set stood in one corner of the room against two gray and white sofas and some Indian Art Deco chairs. The chairs were a gift from Chaturvedi’s father-in-law, an army officer. A couple of striped dhurries on the gray mosaic tile floor heightened the spareness of the white walls of the drawing...