History / 14.01.2016

By Anjum Altaf Some readers of this blog are aware of my admiration for the late Dr. G.M. Mehkri (1908-1995) reflected in the 2009 tribute to him on this blog. In brief, I was impressed by Dr. Mehkri’s objectivity and the intriguing social hypotheses he explored with evidence, logic, and neutrality. I had mentioned in the tribute that Dr. Mehkri had submitted a PhD thesis (The Social Background of Hindu Muslim Relationship) to the Department of Sociology at the University of Bombay in 1947. The subject, timing, and Dr. Mehkri’s credentials suggested this might be a manuscript worth reading and a search was launched to obtain a copy. The most likely source was the National Social Science Documentation Centre (NASSDOC) in Delhi, the archive for all doctoral dissertations completed in India. Unfortunately, the copy of Dr. Mehkri’s thesis was reported missing. With the help of friends in India...

Behavior / 07.04.2011

There are two aspects of an argument: its content and its construction. On this blog our focus is almost entirely on the latter; the only reason we have content is that we cannot do without it to construct an argument – an argument has to be about something. However, we have no material or emotional stake in the content; it is just a means to an end. In this post we explore in more detail the specifics of the end we have in mind. There are at least three attributes of the construction of an argument that are critical: Credibility (whether the argument is supported by evidence); Coherence (whether the argument meets the tests of logic); and Consistency (whether the argument is free of contradictions). In order to illustrate these attributes we will resort to content provided by a participant in an earlier discussion. The argument offered...

Religion / 15.09.2010

From A’daabKhuda HafizAllah Hafiz – How cultural expressions are transformed?

By Ahmed Kamran   In the previous three parts (here, here and here) we examined the long journey of Indian Muslims from the inception of a great common Indo-Persian culture in the 13th century to its political isolation especially by the end of 1930’s. By the time British rulers were fully engaged in World War 2, Muslims, with an acute sense of their separate identity that developed particularly in the backdrop of political events during 1920’s and 1930’s, were about to embark on a collision course with rest of the Indian people. Let’s discuss the key drivers of this great sea change in Indian politics as the British prepared to leave an independent India in the hands of indigenous people.
History / 31.10.2009

By Anjum Altaf  Bruised and battered as Indian women might be (psychologically, not physically as the poll on this blog suggests), there is another side to Indian femininity reflected in the myths of powerful goddesses. I came across an interesting perspective on this in David Shulman’s review (A Passion for Hindu Myths, NYRB, Nov. 19, 2009) of the new book by Wendy Doniger, The Hindus: An Alternative History: Sometimes the history of India looks like a story about endless waves of virile invaders from the north-northwest – Scythians, White Huns, Afghans, Turks, and, most recently, the British – who slowly grow soft and decadent under the insidious influence of the dreamy, langorous, mystically inclined Hindus…. [But according to Doniger] India’s astonishing talent for absorbing and transforming the peoples pouring in from outside, seen through a Hindu lens, has nothing to do with any softening or melting down of a hard, preexisting monolithic culture; it is, rather an active process of selection and pragmatic recycling, with the female principle – mare, queen, dancing girl, or goddess – driving the rather helpless (often foreign) male.
History / 18.09.2009

I am grateful to reader Ganpat Ram for suggesting a new line of thought with the following comment on Emperor Akbar: Every Muslim ruler with rare exceptions showed great concern to contain and push back Hinduism. Even the relatively broad-minded Akbar destroyed Hindu temples. My response to Ganpat Ram was that this was one opinion in the spectrum of opinions and I recalled an article (East and West: The Reach of Reason) by Professor Amartya Sen published in the year 2000 in which a contrary opinion had been expressed.
Reflections / 05.09.2009

I am posting this tribute to Aditya Behl here for a reason. His work epitomizes the kind of passion and painstaking effort that are needed to understand the nature of past relations amongst the various communities inhabiting South Asia today. I heard him read a paper only once (in 2008) and had a brief exchange after, noting in my mind that this was someone I wanted to meet again. He was a person who left a mark very quickly – with his scholarship, his sense of joy in his work, and the excitement he communicated to the audience. I am reproducing here a tribute by someone who knew Aditya Behl well with the hope that the introduction to his work will help us in our own understanding of the past and thus fulfill a goal that was dear to him. ****** … Then one morning Naim saab became the...

History / 25.08.2009

It is sad that the history we are taught in our countries is so one-dimensional that even the thought that the 'Other' might be semi-intelligent (let alone great) makes people catatonic. The predictable reaction is either to impugn the motives of the writer or to find selective evidence to prove that the real blame rests entirely on the ‘Other.’ The alternative of sifting through the arguments on their merits remains alien, unacceptable, impossible, or just too tiresome. The reason Jaswant Singh’s book has made such a splash is because he is a front ranking politician with a very high reputation for integrity (for which, read Strobe Talbott's Engaging India) and belongs to the BJP, all of which make the story impossible to ignore. Otherwise, this is an argument that has been made before and forgotten.
Identity / 17.04.2009

What have we learnt from this extended discourse on similarities and differences? It is time for a recap and a summary. We started with Vir Sanghvi’s angry pronouncement that Pakistanis and Indians were no longer similar; they may have been 60 years ago but by now ‘they’ were fundamentalist and ‘we’ were secular. There were immediate rejoinders to this burst of annoyance with hurt pronouncements of sharing the same music and the same sports. It became immediately obvious that there were two flaws with the framing of this discussion. First, human beings were not one thing or another; rather, they were better characterized as bundles of attributes. And it was quite possible for individuals to share some attributes and differ along others. To take a very simple example, Punjabis could share a language but differ in religion. Second, and because of that perspective, it became clear that one could...

Ghalib / 10.01.2009

One would expect Ghalib to have a unique way of welcoming the New Year: dekhiiye paate haiN ushshaaq buton se kya faiz ik barahman ne kahaa hai kih yih saal achchhaa hai let’s see what favors lovers find from idols a Brahman has said that this year is good  This is indeed a very clever and witty she’r, as the interpretation at Mehr-e-Niimroz will make clear. The play is on the word but which in Urdu, in the context of the lover, signifies an extremely beautiful woman. But but also means ‘idol’, and that pairing with Brahmin is perfect in the second line. Who would be a better authority on the behavior of ‘idols’ than a Brahmin (who is an ‘idol-worshipper’ in the eye of a Muslim)? [A digression. Here is Marco Polo on his stop in India on the way back from China in 1292 AD describing the people:...

South Asia / 27.12.2008

Continued from Hinduism -5: Impacts of Interactions With Muslims The aim of this series of posts is to comprehend how Hinduism was impacted by its interactions with outsiders – first Muslims and then the British – in order to better understand where we are today and how we got here. In the last post, we concluded that interaction with Muslims had very little impact on how Hindus viewed their own religion – its philosophy, practices or traditions. However, the social stratification of Hindu society contributed a significant number of converts to Islam or to syncretic practices that could loosely be termed as Hindu-Muslim. We will argue later that the impact of the interaction with the British was very different. But before we address that topic in detail, it is both useful and interesting to presage the argument with a specific illustrative example. The illustration pertains to the attitude...