Music / 14.07.2011

By Anjum Altaf In a discussion of the arts, it was mentioned that middle-class families in India encouraged children to learn classical music because it was a mark of high culture; it made one special in one’s esteem and in that of others. It was then asked why classical music was not healthy in Pakistan given that much the same considerations should be applicable across the border. It is my sense that the question was less an expression of belief and more an opening for a discussion and I am going to exploit that to speculate on some topics of interest. The one-word, and not altogether flippant, answer to the question is God. Hindu deities (Krishna and Saraswati, to mention just two) not only approve of but delight in music. Whether Allah approves or disapproves is still in doubt with no resolution in sight while the camp...

China / 17.05.2009

Why should we write about China on The South Asian Idea? For many reasons: First, comparisons between the economies of China and India are becoming increasingly common. Both are categorized as emerging dragons and new global superpowers. In fact, a new name has been coined to refer to these twin stars of the future – Chindia! Second, both represent amongst the most ancient, continuously-lived civilizations with very rich histories. It is possible to understand more about ourselves through a comparison of some aspects of these histories. Third, both China and India are large, billion-plus countries and there is much discussion of what each can learn from the other.
Modernity / 02.05.2009

In this episode we were scheduled to move into the period of the British encounter with India. But there is nothing inevitable about schedules. We take a step back because we have found another vantage point from which to observe the path and the past that we have already traversed. This step back comes courtesy of Ian Almond who had no white friends till he was sixteen and, growing up amongst South Asians, answered only to the name of badam. Sharmila Sen, who writes about him, picks up on the phenomenon of collective memory and reminds us what an odd thing it can be: “We can remember a collective past that never existed and bring nations, religions, and cultures into existence. We can also suffer from collective amnesia and bring ourselves to the brink of destruction.”
Education / 05.04.2009

Two books have come out within a year pointing to a serious problem common to India and Pakistan.

Before describing the books let us note that we are now talking about what is common between India and Pakistan. This makes a lot more sense than debating whether Indians and Pakistanis are similar. Indians and Pakistanis have so many differences within their own communities that it is futile to try and reduce them to a single dimension that can then be compared. To take a very simple illustration: there are secular Indians and communal Indians just as there are secular Pakistanis and communal Pakistanis. There is no one type of Indian or Pakistani. 

India / 04.12.2008

Continued from Hinduism – 3: Interaction with Muslims This series of posts has a limited objective – to understand the nature and impacts of the historical interactions of Hinduism with Muslims and Britons. In order to make our point we took the incursions of Mahmud of Ghazna around 1000 AD as an adequate starting point. However, this created the impression that the first Muslims in India came as raiders. This is an incorrect impression and in fact there is an extensive prior history of peaceful contact. Although this history is not directly related to the objective of this series, it is important to document it in order to avoid misunderstandings. Arab, Greek and Jew contact with the Malabar Coast of India had long existed on account of trade in spices and other articles and became predominant in the post-Roman period. Thus Arab contact with India pre-dates Islam....

Religion / 24.10.2008

Continued from Hinduism – 2: Getting to Terms with Religion It is time now to take stock of the encounter of India with Muslims. The first aspect that needs to be clear in our minds is whether this was an encounter between Hinduism and Islam or between Hindus and Muslims. This will make a significant difference to our understanding of subsequent events. We will argue that this was not a clash of religions, that it was an encounter of Hindus and Muslims. Of course, this encounter had an influence on both Hinduism and Islam, but the influence was indirect. As always, this is the starting point for a conversation. We are open to alternative interpretations that are cogently argued. Raiders or Crusaders? Frequent and repeated interaction of Hindus in India with Muslims from Afghanistan began around 1000 AD with the raids of Mahmud of Ghazna followed by those of Mohammed...

Religion / 16.10.2008

Continued from Hinduism – 1: What is ‘Hinduism’? It’s time to remove the quotation marks around ‘Hinduism’. It just adds to the confusion when one argues in this day that Hinduism is not a religion in the sense religion is understood in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is better to explain that ‘religion’ has a wider scope. See how religion is defined in the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language: Religion, in its most comprehensive sense, includes a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of his will to man, in man’s obligation to obey his commands, in a state of reward and punishment, and in man’s accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practice of all moral duties. If one starts with that definition it would be very hard to fit Hinduism into the mould. However, one can take a...

Religion / 12.10.2008

Is it a Religion? (The subtitle has been added following an intensive discussion that is recorded in the comments section. The point at issue was that the title of the post was misleading giving the impression that the subject pertained to the content of Hinduism whereas the intended perspective was quite different. The series was intended to explore the interactions of three religions (which is how we perceive history in retrospect, incorrectly as this series intends to argue) for which reason it was important to define at the outset the ways in which the three religions were alike and different. This anticipated the point raised in Part 2 of the series which referred to the first census in British India which institutionalized religious identities for non-religious purposes. In this census, the census-takers made the claim that in the etymological sense of the word, Hinduism is not, and...