Reading the times

A lay person notates, reads, parses the times we live in…

June 18, 2017: Guilt and alternatives:

Let’s be fashionable and examine our privilege in choosing vegan and ‘not-leather’ etc. I.e. let’s examine what makes us feel guilty (or should make us feel guilty) and how we absolve ourselves through an act of penance (choice of better alternative). Instead we need to examine hubris and look at how we can ask for research into widespread production, feasibility studies and manufacturing, of alternatives to toxic materials. Trouble is, we tend to think in terms of two lifetimes at most — our own and one before or one after.  Not-vegan and not-plastic absolves us of our guilt on both counts. If we want more than just a cessation of the discomfort (of being made aware we are doing bad things) we should look for alternatives to the act and the choice.

Mar 27, 2016: Nations and nationalism

This write-up says: “However, attacks on the territorial control of the nation state are quite different from even the harshest criticism of the government of the day, or its leader. The constitutional rights of any citizen to speak up against the government or its policies are sacred. The restrictions on that freedom that were brought in through the first amendment to the Constitution need to be done away with. Too many of our current debates miss the distinction between attacks on the nation state on the one hand and criticism of the elected government on the other. Both sides are guilty of this obfuscation.”

I disagree that the current debates miss this point. Rather, they exploit it. They do not miss, or confuse, or act in ignorance. The territorial nation itself is being questioned, by act and in words, and it has been under systematic attack for at least half a decade. The memes/germs were being spread as early as 2009 and 2010. These ‘national’ debates are merely the symptoms of the full-blown condition.


Nov 30: “a debt to repay”

The Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund. This article sums it up: “He has struck a blow for something exceedingly rare: simple, willful righteousness.”


October 30: 2015: The sun, of worship and fear:

I came across both these items in the news today:

  1. This, about observatories of the sun in ancient Peru. And this, about possible solar geoglyphs in Kazakhstan.
  2. Then, this, predicting intolerable heat and humidity in the Persian Gulf by 2100 A.D.

The heat and light of the sun in our solar system is a far cry from this burning heat in Indonesia. But all these are about death. Did humans worship the sun out of fear? What do we fear now? Will we fear widespread fire enough to mitigate the fires that are coming?


October 30, 2015: Nothing simple about hunter-gatherers:

Why is this article significant to those who study culture and cognition? Because we have been taught for generations that humans have evolved from less-intelligent variations who devised less-complex social systems to our current state as highly intelligent, highly complex creatures of networks. This is a progressivist argument, and a hierarchical one, valorizing the present over the past and predicting a better future over a worse past; it allows for science, and unbridled hope. And there is much wrong with such simplistic progression of our dreams and ideas.


October 20, 2015: What radicals do is what youth do everywhere:

Interesting contrast to the die-hard digital media defenders who swear that such technology will bring us unimagined freedom.


October 19, 2015: Digital Media and Disinformation:

I have pointed my readers to the dangers of accepting single stories before: This TED talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which points out the dangers of hearing or accepting a single story, for single teleologies engender a monochromatic or monocultural world.


Now read these two:

This one asks is Palestinian-Israeli violence is being driven by social media.  A relevant question, because I have seen all the digital media being used to fight the Palestine-Israel war in countries where none of the combatants are in reality Palestinian or Israeli citizens but claim to be singularly so.

This one questions the extent of disinformation fed to the world at large about Palestinian reality, and asks if that information matches facts or the desired reality of the Palestinian cause.

What bothers me is the insistence that everyone who is reasonably educated should believe and be on the side of a preferred group if everyone expects to be accepted, rewarded and successful in jobs related to narrative, rhetoric, media and communication. To praise anything about India except something that is already past is considered taboo. That’s extremist and intolerant.


October 19: On writers returning awards: (not quite sure whether they are protesting ‘silence on violence‘ or ‘climate of intolerance‘; India can hardly have become fascist enough, or communist enough, since such widespread news coverage and outspoken dissent is evidently possible)

Oh, the intolerance of India, where writers say they are such liberals that they will defend to the death your right to dissent. Except some of you are not allowed to dissent, for if you do you are contributing to a climate of intolerance. Someone else has put it much better than I.

This is even better, and historical AND comic into the bargain. Do read.

This strange and propitious outpouring of conscience is somehow not convincing. Whose freedoms are they protecting? What exactly are they giving up (apart from the awards)? In exchange for what future hope? What gives them the right to be the conscience of the nation? Who gave them that right?

Liberal politics does not guarantee liberal and fair morality. And the noble victims of history that excludes them falsify the present even as they act as instruments for its politics.


October 17, 2015: Sonia Gandhi says Hindus and Muslims do not fight each other, they are made to fight.

Curiously infantilizing viewpoint there, as if the people are good children to be roused or soothed. Mrs Gandhi should really shed the European colonial mindset toward the Indian population. Why not let them fight if they so wish?


October 3, 2015: Hindus turn Muslims against India, apparently, according to Anglophone media in India and abroad.

Since when did Muslim Kashmiris turn? Given that nationalism gained power and prominence only around 1985-1990. One might try to argue: If Kashmiris don’t want to be part of India, they are already against the Indian nation. If they are not so, if they wish to be part of India, only then they can be turned against India. If they are so, then nothing that Hindu nationalists do can turn them any extra bit.

I only have the learning of occasional encounters, nothing like the wide-ranging interviews a writer or reporter would have to ground their words. Still, I will speak from my experience. I have spoken to ex-militants from Azad Kashmir, have listened to Kashmiri students in Delhi, have listened to Kashmiri Pandit professors in the US, and all of them are unanimous that Muslims in J&K do not want to be part of India. They are joined by students from the NE States of India who are full of anger and feel the ‘Centre’ has betrayed them. I wondered then, who is the Centre? The Central Government, as opposed to the network of power distributed among the State Governments that made the power at the Centre possible?

My point: If ‘they’ do not wish to be part of ‘India’ then whence the blame? What is gained by pointing the finger at Hindu Nationalists only? A war of attrition against Narendra Modi?


October 2, 2015: On 100% affirmative action:

Give reservation to all, take it to 100%, says OBC leader Alpesh Thakor

“OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, who is heading a movement in Gujarat to counter the agitation of the Patel community for reservation, said the Centre should provide reservation to every community in proportion with its population. Thakor said that such 100 per cent caste-based reservation was the best solution to end agitations by various communities, especially the Patels, on the issue.”

Not as funny as you would like to think. Not so far from the 87% that already exists under the Indian Constitution.

I know that he knows that the structure of ‘Indian’ overlapping identities make it impossible to have absolute reservation tables. But exactly how is he torquing the line between practice and ideal law? For instance, are we to have affirmative action on the basis of caste? Religion? Economic backwardness? Gender? What minority status is to supersede others when an individual has to tick off boxes on a form to get access to power and national resources? Will a person get more if he/she can tick more boxes?


June  23, 2015: On built environments.

Reuters carried a story today titled “A child born today may live to see humanity’s end, unless…,” and it isn’t scaremongering. The ‘end’ will not be an apocalypse triggered by humanity’s folly or the sudden revelation of nature’s wrath (for surely there are no religious prophecies regarding the anger of the gods toward a race of creatures that fouls and rapes its home and habitat).

There used to be science fiction. The old sort, speaking of the earth made uninhabitable and humankind destroying itself and so forth. Now there are new stitchings of old religions into newer eco-dystopias.

To my layman’s eye, any ‘end’ would be a series of folding (enfolded? interleaved? interlinked certainly) historical events of the clash of human and human, and these would be triggered, exacerbated and their outcome would be guided by ‘natural calamities.’ A domino effect, for example: drought, fluctuations in food production and pricing, scarcity, rising prices and famine, regions made uninhabitable due to rise in temperatures and resultant migration and overcrowding of people into viable areas, disease and crime, lawlessness, violent control of local and transregional populations for purposes of controlling money and resources, etc.

Those who find no consolation in the big picture of near-inevitable disaster caused by several hundred years of human activity will find momentary solace in living while they may. Those who might be safer from the vagaries of climate change by virtue of possessing power and privilege would also live while they can. Neither Rome nor Pompeii went like this, did they?

It seems a lesser blasphemy to mention the probable catastrophe than to ask what each person is doing to reduce their footprint while they may. There is no guilty party but us, and we will do much to avoid pointing the finger.

I cannot quite wrap my head around the idea that our species should be considered both evolved and conscious when it did nothing to build itself an environment (a house, a city, a continent, a planet, an atmosphere, a food production and consumption biogeochemical cycle) that remotely approaches the efficiency, for example, of this amoeba house.


December 19, 2014: Comparing logics.

It is useful to compare the logic set out by this interpretative piece to the logic of the recent Taliban bombings of schools in Pakistan.

I do not accept all of Patrick Graham’s presentation or views, but the argument is an illustration of the logic of ideology in self-protection: a certain percentage of people in confrontation with the ‘modern’ world will seek to subordinate political ambiguity to the certainty of a leader that can project ‘our people’s response.’


May 18, 2014: On Human sexuality

We all have to come out of the closet, yes.


March, 2014: “World Literature, Indian Style”:

Yes, the Jaipur LitFest. Whatever its merits (and local Indian writers and publishers will say it is too international and elitist and Anglophone) this particular write-up is too positive a ‘sell’ for my taste. Too touristy (“watering hole”). The crowds compared to those at Cannes, but only for number. One ‘lakh’ is not a new and therefore “convenient” word for 100,000 that has “become part of South Asian English”; it is an old loan word. I decline the triumphant refutation of “Literature? Here?” with a sign pointing back to the heart of the Anglophone empire.


August 22, 2013: Another defense of the humanities:

Humanities are not linked to national defense? Really?

How else do you get area studies people? Specialists in language and rhetoric? How would you know how to navigate the terrain of people-culture?

We don’t want to be just technical experts, we want to be more cyborg, no? Let’s not be entirely and narrowly utilitarian. Let’s not tell our children that we shouldn’t be like the poor arts students.

Besides, as many minorities will tell you, culture-story-arts matter like life blood. That’s where the memorials are, the warning and teachings. Not in the laboratory. The lab is necessary, the human disciplines indispensable.


August 20, 2013: On Indians and Leading and such things:

Whither, Indians? Where is our one vision? Who can we rally behind?


July 23, 2013: “The Arrogance of a Well-Fed Society”

Insofar as both poverty and riches blur good choices and act against the willingness to wait for a good common outcome, I agree with the title of this article: that a well-fed society can be arrogant. We remember, don’t we, that arch ‘Why don’t they eat cake?’ Or Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”? Those were more preposterous than this article, but the common factor I wish to underscore is the same: those who are ‘safe’ rarely think for or from the perspective of an inclusive common good.

February 27, 2013: Shaking up psychology and economics:

An amusingly presented article, not least because of its wide-eyed realization that gosh, the West is not the same as everywhere else and hey, the rest of the world holds values they bring to modes of exchange such as money and intercultural exchange. What the research it describes achieves is a rethinking of the assumptions underlying the academic disciplines of the social sciences and some Anglocentric assumptions, not really a paradigm shift about what people in the great White West think about themselves.

I could forgive the oddly myopic view of what a liberal arts education bestows, because broad knowledge of cultural diversity and judgment (what the education is supposed to bestow) seems to have gotten mixed up with the multicultural policies of liberal state policies (what is practiced and derided as liberal and democratic politics in a time of intense identity politics in every state).

But one can hardly overlook the circling back to American exceptionalism at the end, because if this is new research, it is new only in circles and to minds and collectives to whom America was the world, and which were confident of the standard of Western superiority, worth, and merit before they went out to take the light of ‘sivilization’ to the rest of the world. In short, it only reveals that an empire existed, that Western cultural imperialism is beginning to have its metaphysical assumptions questioned, and that there still exist pockets of the world which have been insufficiently globalized and therefore retain values and mores alien to the empires of the West.


April 7, 2012: Music and duets:

The theme of the duet “Bodhu micche raag koro na”

In this particular interpretation, note the trifold ‘shifting’ of meaning occasioned by the style and pairing of these 2 female voices: (1) from Rabindrasangeet to Sangam-like theme of secular love, love of everywoman and everyman; (2) from secular love to Bhakti-mode, divine love of Meera-Krishna, the small human for the infinite divine; (3) from the divine back to the radical: the two female voices standing in for a male-female tradition can be imagined as speaking for both Meera and Radha, women talking to women about the absent masculine, the feelings of women, the consolation of poetry for a woman/soul, and the liberation of woman in love and through art, even as she is only half-perceived in painting, music and poetry, just as the theme of the duet is half-glimpsed in the accompanying visual art. Because of the two female voices, woman is made both the one who yearns and the one who consoles, the lover and the beloved, bringing two traditional roles closer in a half-glimpsed union in music and metaphor. Rabindranath reclaimed as ‘new,’ as ‘radical.’

Few speak well of the heart and soul without being gender-specific in language and imagery and the architectonics of the emotion displayed.


March 17, 2012:

Several thumping good pieces by Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina:

The classic, “How to Write About Africa,”  and “In Gikuyu, for Gikuyu, of Gikuyu.” 

Check out this TED talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which points out the dangers of hearing or accepting a single story, for single teleologies engender a monochromatic or monocultural world.


January 5, 2012: Ars moriendi. And the managing of pain. The desire to make a living will led to the following posts.

All through my weeks of oral surgery, the surgeon never mentioned the word ‘pain.’ I attributed it to sensitivity training until I realized that doctors prefer appearing over-optimistic to appearing pessimistic. One fears how one’s decisions might be led astray if one’s doctor at the end of life do not tell you honestly and fully about the statistics, chances and minimal outcomes of invasive or risky procedures. When and how to decide if death is the ultimate enemy? Human beings make horror out of death and evil, such uncontrollable things that eat away at life. But death, at least, won’t be cheated, only delayed, and the bargain is hard.[“Letting Go,” Atul Gawande in The New Yorker on August 2, 2010. ]

Also, how doctors die.


Dec 15, 2011:


Dec 9, 2011:

The Trolley problem reconsidered.

On trying to make cities more responsive, adaptive, efficient, more like an organism, in short:

Straight out of Space Odyssey :). Calling Dave Bowman:


Sept 27, 2011: Penny Paper Tests for Disease, Outside Labs George Whitesides of Harvard University heads a chemistry team that designs diagnostic tests on postage-stamp sized paper and costs a few cents on average. If this can be marketed and is not steamrolled by lab companies, it will be a blessing to many, many people. As an idealist outside the scientific community, I love this kind of news because it is the kind of change new knowledge should ideally bring.


Sept 26, 2011: Read about the Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project of the Israel Museum. Fascinating: I can’t read them but I can imagine what the discovery of material evidence about one’s own culture, language, and belief system might mean to any people.  The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls , originals by the Museum.


Sept 20, 2011: How stars die, and much else is born. Quoting Carl Sagan, “We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands.” Going Nuclear: How Stars Die


Sept 17, 2011 The Past is Present, in 80 Milliseconds


Sept 15, 2011: [A layperson enjoys scientific imaging] Science as Art; pretty cool. I actually liked that fish, even though I couldn’t stomach it on my wall, being  vegetarian and all that. The second image (of the deity) is very ‘bhuter naach’ from Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, and ironically apt as well (our apprehension of the divine as a negative image, the ghostly presence of the multiple arms/attributes, the hidden contents of the god, what have you).

In archeology, sites in Jordan: lovely because they capture detail as well as topography. Places tell stories, but only from the right perspective. Even though these are from Jordan, I’m reminded of Amitav Ghosh’s Egyptian village in In An Antique Land and of Shelley’s “Ozymandias”. The actual act of floating above the topography translates well into mood and the sense of beauty in slow time. APAAME images of archeological Sites

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