From Elsewhere

On this page we will archive material from elsewhere that would be of interest and use to students in South Asia.

1. Vietnam Whistle-Blower Suffers for War on Graft: There is rapid economic growth in Vietnam but also a lot of corruption. Economic growth is not dependent on eliminating corruption first. Here is another story about corruption in China.

2. Student ties trump Indo-Pak tension: The experience of two Indian students in Lahore when Mumbai was struck. This is where our hope lies and this is what we have to build on. For our proposal, read the post Terrorism -4: Reaching Out.

3. Slokas after a noon Namaz: Muslim students study Sanskrit and Hindu ones read Quran in these UP madrassas. Some things have become impossible for us to believe now. You will have to register (for free) but this article will really make you re-think a lot of things.

4. Oneness-Family School: I am placing here the curriculum of a school in the US that has the motto Peace Begins with the Children. It would be a useful source of ideas for educators and for parents interested in promoting tolerance and mutual respect in society.

5. The cost of fearing strangers: Who should we fear more – the guy in the backyard or the stranger from across the fence?

6. Al-Beruni’s India: What it takes to make a scholar.

7. Marco Polo’s India: Interesting views of a famous tourist.

8. Time Perspective: Are you past, present or future oriented and why it makes a difference? A new and interesting view of human behavior.

9. Neighbors: If South Asians could understand the message in this excellent film, the Kashmir dispute would soon vanish! (Link thanks to Isa Daudpota).

10. Toba Tek Singh: One of the great short stories of all times. You can put all the scholarly analyses of the Partition on one side and Toba Tek Singh by Manto on the other – you will learn more from Manto. In Urdu, English and Devanagari on Fran Pritchett’s gift to South Asia.

11. Born Believers: How the Brain Creates God: On the origins of religious belief and a discussion on whether it is hard-wired.

12. Bill Moyers interviews Karen Armstrong: Hear/Read the leading scholar of religion say that compassion is far more important than belief. That it is the essence of religion. Also hear her talk about Islam, Pakistan, fundamentalism, the literal interpretation of religious texts, and evolution. Here is a shorter text about the charter of compassion and the Socratic method.

13. From mammals to humans: Susan Savage-Rambaugh on TED. Rethink how much of what a species can do is determined by biology and how much by cultural exposure. A lesson in evolution.

14. Innovations in Education: Sugata Mitra on TED. How children can teach themselves and illiteracy is not a barrier to learning.

15. The Evolution of Religions: Professor Jared Diamond talks about the four major functions of religions and how they have changed over history.

16. God Talk and God Talk, Part 2: Professor Stanley Fish explains why thinking about religion requires a certain intellectual sophistication. The debate is muddied by simplistic comparisons of science and religion or reason and faith.

17. Einstein and Faith: What Einstein thought about religion and God and how he got to thinking that way.

18. Lincoln’s Black History: Lincoln fought to end slavery but what were his own views on race? An article that South Asians should read and reflect upon.

19. Pakistan – The State of the Union Report: Selig Harrison’s 12 recommendations to help Pakistan survive (April 2009).

20. How Does Our Language Shape the Way We Think? Professor Lera Broditsky describes the results of a study designed to answer this question. Plus a video presentation by Lera Boroditsky – truly exciting for those interested in experimental cognitive psychology. A refutation of the hypothesis by John McWhorter is here.

21. Public Opinion on Kashmir: A 2008 poll conducted by the University of Maryland. The polling was limited to urban areas in India and Pakistan.

22. The Evolution of God: A review of the book by Robert Wright on the Bill Moyers Journal – video and transcript.

23. The Great Himalayan Watershed: Agrarian Crisis, Mega-Dams, and the Environment. A useful survey by Kenneth Pomeranz showing how South and East Asia are linked, why Tibet is important, what might be the binding constraint in the future, and why lack of cooperation might spell disaster.

24. Capital Gains: An essay on Delhi by Rana Dasgupta in Granta Summer 2009. A piece we can build a discussion around.

25. What is Living and What is Dead in Social Democracy: Historian Tony Judt in a remarkable video that presents a framework in which we need to address the issues of our time. A powerful combination of human intellect and human spirit. Later published as an essay in the New York Review of Books and subsequently expanded into the 2010 book Ill Fares the Land. Also see this important interview with Tony Judt.

26. Pakistan Picaresque: An essay by Samia Altaf in the Wilson Quarterly. Lucymem meets the Director of Nursing and a chat over tea at a government office in Islamabad reveals why billions in aid have done so little for Pakistan’s poor.

27. Beyond Progressive Religion: Ivan Petrella argues why it is necessary to move from being progressive believers to being progressive about belief.

28. Dehumanized: Mark Slouka makes a compelling case for the humanities. You can also listen to a conversation with the author about the article.

29. Developmentally Disabled: Ken Silverstein shows how foreign aid to Afghanistan stays in America. Ditto for Pakistan.

30. Is India a Flailing State? Detours on the Four Lane Highway to Modernization: Lant Pritchett (Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University) on what ails India and how it compares with China.

31. India and Her Traditions: Professor SN Balagangadhara explains why the lingam is not just a penis.

32. On Music and Passion: Benjamin Zander on what we need to be and how to measure success.

33. E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime and American Cultural History: An essay by John Raeburn that enriches the reading of the novel and also suggests how culture feeds into literature. A good insight into an important period in American history.

34. Rediscovering Central Asia: This valuable historical account by S. Frederick Starr fills a huge gap in our knowledge and confirms our belief that we should think in terms of regions, not countries or religions.

35. Entangled Giant: Gary Wills highlights some very serious problems in American democracy.

36. The Invention of Pakistan: How the British Raj Sundered: Karl E. Meyer provides a good account of the forces involved in the partition of the Indian subcontinent with new evidence on some contested issues like the Radcliffe line.

37. Barack Obama and the Fight for Public Education: William Ayers pens a stirring, inspiring essay that makes one believe one can change the world, that the struggle must go on. [Access is presently restricted unless you have institutional log-in privilege to the Harvard Education Review.]

38. Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do? Great news. Michael Sandel’s course, the most popular at Harvard University, is the first course made available by the university online free of charge. This is how we need to teach in South Asia. See also, a very useful interview with Michael Sandel.

39. The Human Experience: Inside the Humanities at Stanford University. What are the humanities and why they matter. Plus a lot of very useful material and ideas.

40. Catching the Wind in Rural Malawi: A very instructive story. What I took away was the critical and transformative role of the library. Our vision should be an Internet equipped center in every village. Read #14 to connect the possibilities.

41. The Importance of Basic Education: An address by Amartya Sen that discusses the consequences of the education gap and also highlights the implications of the content of education.

42. Achievetrons: Lewis Lapham explains how the best and the brightest can lead us to disaster.

43. Basti: Intizar Hussain is the foremost novelist and short strory writer in Urdu. His novel has been translated into English by Frances Pritchett with an introduction by MU Memon that is invaluable for all who are interested in South Asian culture.

44. All (Muslim) Politics is Local: How Context Shapes Islam in Power. Professor Charles Tripp argues why it is important to grasp that politics takes precedence over ideologies.

45. Want a Stronger Democracy? Invest in Education: Edward Glaeser argues that the causality runs from education to democracy. Do you agree with him? Does the kind of education matter? How does one account for the politics that determines the nature of education? Link this hypothesis to those presented by Mark Slouka (#28 on this page) and Lewis Lapham (#42 on this page). For the issue in South Asia, see Why is Pakistan Half Illiterate? How does one explain the Indian exception?

46. Professor Video: Visual, audio, and interactive media are transforming the college classroom. An update from Harvard Magazine.

47. In Praise of Conversation: Ian Johnston describes how a liberal arts education ought to be structured – shifting the emphasis “from lecturing to learning, from a carefully mediated talk to an emancipating conversation.”

48. Two Interviews with Tariq Ali and a Lecture by him: Interviews on Religion and Politics and a video of the Eqbal Ahmad memorial lecture on Afghanistan at Hampshire College. As usual, Tariq Ali leaves readers with much to think about whether they agree with him or not – just what a good public intellectual is supposed to do.

49. How to Defend the Enlightenment. An interesting, wide-ranging conversation that concludes as follows: “And so the final word about our discussion could be that it is by criticising the Enlightenment that we are faithful to its principles.”

50. Daud Rahbar: Most viewers of this video presentation by a truly Renaissance individual would gain new insights into the ghazal and learn something about religion.

51. Koi Sunta Hai: Journeys with Kumar and Kabir. Documentary directed by Shabnam Virmani. An exploration of the thought of the 15th century mystic poet and its expressions in our times. A subsequent documentary in the Kabir Project is available here.

52. Charter Cities: Speculations by Professor Paul Romer on rules, culture and development that contain many ideas for students.

53. Building a Green Economy: A primer on the economics of climate change by Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman.

54. Does Reason Know What It Is Missing? Stanley Fish continues an important dialogue about the intersection of reason and religion.

55. The True Function of Education. Stanley Fish argues that the true function of education should be to generate enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge and not to further any political agenda. The argument is built around a discussion of Paulo Freire’s widely influential book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

56. From Representative Democracy. Sunil Khilnani highlights the peculiarities of Indian democracy and the difference between political and social representation.

57. Letter from Birmingham Jail. Martin Luther King, Jr. reflects on injustice and how it needs to be combated. A 1963 document that needs to be read in full and re-interpreted for its relevance to the struggles for justice underway in South Asia at this time.

58. Religion Gone Global: An interview about rethinking secularism with Reza Aslan, author of No god but God and Beyond Fundamentalism. There is a great deal to think about in this interview. Highly recommended.

59. A Classical Education: Back to the Future. More from Stanley Fish on the foundations of a good education – grammar, logic, rhetoric.

60. The Disintegration of the Public Sector: Recasting Public Conversation. An essay by Tony Judt  on why and how we should strive for political change.

61. Is God Irrelevant? An interesting essay on ‘apatheism’  – a viable third way between theism and atheism – by Davidson Loehr.

62. Obama and the World: Does America have a Foreign Policy? Does the World Need it? Evert Cilliers puts across a blistering, angry, profane, amusing critique labeling America the ‘psychopath of the planet.’ It would be interesting to poll our readers on this verdict. Do you agree or disagree?

63. They Will Do Whatever the Law Allows; Or, Don’t Hate the Player, Change the Game. An elegant, common-sense primer on the role of the government in the market.

64. Solve Kashmir First: Rethinking South Asia’s Longest War. A video discussion sponsored by the Open Society Institute and moderated by Steve Coll of the New Yorker with Pankaj Mishra, Basharat Peer and Professor Mridu Rai as panelists.

65. On Not Translating Hafez. Dick Davis in the New England Review has an overview of the sensibility of Persian poetry that is of interest in its own right. Given our experiment with the Ghalib Project on this blog, it is also of more specific interest. Our decision to work with individual couplets instead of entire ghazals is supported by the arguments in the paper.

66. Reappraisals: A critical review by Terry Eagleton of books by Tony Judt (Ill Fares the Land) and Martha Nussbaum (Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities). We have discussed all three – Eagleton, Judt and Nussbaum – on this blog and this review brings some of their ideas together in a particularly cogent manner. It also leaves us with many new ideas to explore.

67. Blood Without Guts: A wide-ranging discussion on the reasons for militarism in the US and why it is unlikely to fade away. It should make readers think about the parallels with militarism in Pakistan.

68. Environmentalism as Religion: An essay by Joel Garreau on the parallels between environmentalism and religion. And a complementary article on debates about secular or planetary humanism as an alternative to religious ethics.

69. What’s Wrong With Classical Music? Colin Eatock discusses the dilemma facing Western classical music today. Much the same can be said about Indian classical music. It would be useful to canvass suggestions on whether anything needs to be done, and, if so, what?

70. It’s the Occupation, Stupid: Extensive research into the causes of suicide terrorism proves Islam isn’t to blame – the root of the problem is foreign military occupation. Robert Pape discusses results of new research at the University of Chicago.

71. The Meaning of Secularism: Charles Taylor argues persuasively that in thinking of secularism we have the wrong model, which has a continuing hold on our minds. We think that secularism has to do with the relation of the state and religion, whereas in fact it has to do with the (correct) response of the democratic state to diversity.

72. The Haves and the Have-Nots: Catherine Rampell explains economic inequality within countries in a cross-country perspective. The graphic will require a little bit of working through but it will be well worth the effort.

73. Foreign Aid for Scoundrels: William Easterly describes the politics of foreign aid. “The international aid system has a dirty secret. Despite much rhetoric to the contrary, the nations and organizations that donate and distribute aid do not care much about democracy and they still actively support dictators.” Plus, a brief follow-up exchange.

74. Pakistan’s Road to Disintegration: Stephen Cohen, author of The Idea of Pakistan, has some very frank things to say about Pakistan’s future including its turning into an arena for an India-China conflict.

75. The Future of Political Islam: An useful video presentation by Tariq Ramadan that brings to light the many currents and cross-currents that are likely to shape the new configuration of power in the Middle East.

76. Urdu Ghazal and the Indian Mind: A profound article by Professor Gopi Chand Narang. The central thesis that is argued convincingly, with excellent illustrations from Urdu poetry, is that the Urdu Ghazal has a greater proximity with Indian cultural and spiritual ethos than Islamic ideas as practised in Arabia.

77. Secularism: Its Content and Context. Columbia University Professor Akeel Bilgrami provides a wide-ranging analysis of secularism including a discussion of its application to India. This is a demanding but rewarding paper.

78. Pakistan’s Latent “Potentialities”: An interview of Ashis Nandy by Chris Lydon. Ashis Nandy has a wide-ranging perspective on Pakistan that includes some aspects that are less heard than others.

79. What Makes People Vote Republican: An article on morality and moral psychology by Jonathan Haidt. An intriguing argument with a contrast between the US and India. Perhaps this also explains why many South Asian-Americans vote Republican. See also the companion article on Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion. This TED Talks video by Haidt makes the ideas a lot more accessible.

80. Putting Growth in its Place: Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen explain the critical distinction between growth and development to answer the question ‘Is India doing marvelously well, or is it failing terribly?’ They show how growth is a means of development, not an end in itself. The authors conclude: ‘We hope that the puzzle with which we began is a little clearer now. India’s recent development experience includes both spectacular success as well as massive failure.’  The article includes very useful comparative data for South Asia.

81. What is India? Justice Markandey Katju articulates his perspective which should generate a rich discussion focused on ideas. In brief, he argues that India is a country of immigrants with a Sanskrit-Urdu culture traversing the perilous transition from feudal agriculture to modern industry. The next few decades will be critical. Many would find the thesis provocative but the temptation to attack the person rather than debate the ideas should be resisted.

82. Gandhi Centre Stage and After Nehru: Perry Anderson, Professor of History at UCLA, in the London Review of Books. A penetrating examination of Indian politics, the most insightful I have seen in years. Agree or disagree, it is a must-read.

83. Why Partition? A companion piece to the above by Perry Anderson and equally valuable in opening up the space for discussion. And an interview discussing his new book The Indian Ideology which “advances five main arguments that run counter to conventional wisdom in India today. Firstly, that the idea of a subcontinental unity stretching back six thousand years is a myth. Secondly,  that Gandhi’s injection of religion into the national movement was ultimately a disaster for it. Thirdly, that primary responsibility for Partition lay not with the Raj, but Congress. Fourthly, that Nehru’s legacy to Republic was far more ambiguous than his admirers will admit. Lastly, that Indian democracy is not contradicted by caste inequality, but rather enabled by it.”

84. Ave atque vale: Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University, provides a great overview of the idea of a liberal arts education from Greece to the present. Invaluable for all who wish to explore the purpose of education and how and why it has changed over time.

85. East and West: The Reach of Reason. An invaluable essay by Amartya Sen tracing the history of reason, individual liberty, freedom, and choice in India starting from Ashoka in 3 BC and up to Akbar in the 16th Century AD. A must-read at this time in South Asia.

86. Piketty’s Fair-Weather Friends: Seth Ackerman, a doctoral student in history at Cornell, provides a valuable overview of economic ideas and theories to the present times. In doing so he demonstrates the value added of a good education and illustrates why some of the economic surplus of a society needs to be allocated to otherwise “useless” disciplines. Plus Nit-Piketty by Debraj Ray. These two comprise the reviews of Piketty’s book that I have liked most. Add one by Robert Solow because it helps to understand the conceptual apparatus of Piketty.

87. The Truth About Our Libertarian Age: Why the dogma of democracy doesn’t always make the world better. This is good advice from Mark Lilla on why we need to explore non-democratic alternatives.

88. Debating Pakistan in Late Colonial North India. Venkat Dhulipala explicates three narratives on Pakistan that emerged in the ferment of 1945-46. It is a worthwhile exercise to honestly assess which of these was the most intellectually compelling and which, in hindsight, turned out to be most prescient.

89. Capitalism and Slavery. A brief but comprehensive account of the deep links between slavery and capitalism and its global ramifications.

90. Tolerance, Religious Competition and the Rise and Fall of Muslim Science. A provocative, counter-intuitive but well-researched argument that is extremely relevant to contemporary times. It provides a  “fresh answer to the puzzle of the steep and persistent decline of science in the Islamic world.

91. We Aren’t the World. Ethan Watters discusses new insights into the sources of human behavior and why we need to rethink the received wisdom. “Our economies hadn’t been shaped by our sense of fairness; it was the other way around.”

92. Death is Optional. A fascinating conversation about the future between Yuval Noah Harari and Daniel Kahneman, full of new ideas and perspectives.

93. What’s Wrong with the Economy – and with Economics? A high-powered conference at the New York Review of Books Foundation.

94. The Public Intellectual. A video interview with Professor Romila Thapar on the role of the public intellectual.

95. Can Islam be More Jewish? A good review of what promises to be a thoughtful book by Shahab Ahmed – What is Islam?

96. Crafting the Koran. Exquisite calligraphic samples of the various scripts in which the Koran was transcribed over the centuries.

97. Religious Obstacles to Democratization in the Middle East: Past and Present. Timur Kuran offers an institutional explanation of political problems in the Muslim world.

98. Economics and Philosophy. An engaging interview with John Broome on the intersection between Economics and Philosophy. Includes recommended reading by John Broome.

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33 Responses to “From Elsewhere”

  1. kabir Says:

    One can definately see the parallels between the situation in South Asia and “Neighbors”. I especially like the drawing and redrawing of boundries to favor each side and the irony of the ending.

  2. Raza Rumi Says:

    What a brilliant list. Many thanks for the alert. I am loving all the entries here. The UP madrassa is unbelievable. Cheers. RR

  3. Vikram Says:

    The essay by Rana Dasgupta in Granta about Delhi is excellent, although his hanging of the millstone around liberalization does not give enough the picture.

    Among all the cities of modern India, Delhi (and to an extent Chandigarh) stands apart, because it is not part of a larger (rural and ethnically homogenous) state. All the other major cities, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore etc. are ruled by state governments.

    One can now reflect on how this affects the politics and administration of these cities as compared to Delhi. Administratively, cities like Mumbai and Kolkata are very unimpressive, with slums occupying the centres of these cities. Delhi is quite different, its infrastructure is much better and to an observer, apart from the traffic Delhi will seem to be an ‘alright’ city. The slums have been ‘relocated’ further and further away from the fringes of the city.

    Attempted relocations in Mumbai have been fiercely resisted, by both slum-dwellers and civil society. More importantly, gross mistreatment of migrants (correspondingly slum-dwellers) especially those from within the state, usually result in a heavy political penalty. Although I cant recall any instances of such mistreatment in Mumbai, one can look to the recent events in Nandigram in West Bengal (following which Mamata Banerjee’s party’s votes increased by 65 %) and Rajasthan (defeat of Vasundhara Raje), to see what I mean.

    Mumbai and Bangalore are cities of the rich and famous, ruled mostly by peasants (see story), Delhi is ruled by the middle class and the rich. So not punishing a Sanjeev Nanda for running over migrant workers does not lead to lost elections, while not punishing Shiney Ahuja for raping his Maharashtrian maid will most definitely will. And these incidents of the cruelty of the rich are nothing compared to the wholesale destruction of neighbourhoods and livelihoods in the name of modernization, backed almost completely by the cruel rich and the Dasgupta’s ‘anglicized’ middle class.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: Do you have any thoughts on the role of the Shiv Sena in Mumbai? The equivalent in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, would be the MQM. Both use intimidation to enforce their will. What lies behind this kind of phenomenon? How and why did these forces arise? What are they trying to achieve? Why are they being allowed to flourish?

      • Vikram Says:

        There are many facets to the Shiv Sena’s rise. The key historical events would be the ones leading upto the States Reorganization Act, which are described in Guha’s book ‘India After Gandhi’. The reluctance of the Congress government in Delhi to give the go-ahead for Maharashtra and keep Mumbai part of the state, alienated much of the Marathi working class in the cities. The Shiv Sena under Bal Thackeray consolidated this alienation into a latent resentment of migrants from other parts of the country, along with the already existing resentment of the existing Gujarati and Parsi business elites in Mumbai.

        Overtime an equally important (if not more) source of support became the rising number of rural migrants from Maharashtra who found themselves living in ‘illegal’ slums. The Shiv Sena played a key role in legalizing the slums and giving the dwellers control of the land, one of the main reasons why slums can be razed in Delhi but not in Mumbai. Many of the slum dwellers became corporators in the city government of Mumbai on Shiv Sena tickets.

        So the Shiv Sena combined right wing Marathi and Hindu chauvinism with leftist slum politics.

        I dont know what the Sena’s future is now. My guess is that after Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena will dissipate with a lot of its rural supporters moving to Raj Thackeray’s MNS. It is already losing ground in urban Maharashtra. So basically, we are back to square one.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: This is an issue of great importance. When the second tier of government (State in India) is the most important, it has very negative implications for cities (even large ones) in those states because the rural vote dominates the urban vote and rural priorities are quite different from urban ones. I think this has been very intelligently handled in Vietnam where as soon as a city crosses a population threshold (used to be half a million) it is designated as a separate state. The remnant old state gets a new provincial capital. At present four cities have the status of states.

      China also faced the problem of cities being stifled by provinces. This became acute after the country decided to make cities the engines of their new growth model. In China the problem was solved differently – the status of cities was raised above that of provinces and their administrative areas greatly expanded. For example, you can now enter a city jurisdiction and its downtown can be more than 100 kilometers away. Also, it is mayors of the major cities and not the governors of provinces who rise to top leadership positions.

      So yes, the problem is a serious one but there are ways of resolving them.

  4. Jaswant Singh: The Road to Partition | Sinlung Says:

    […] the need to show the benighted heathens the true light. This is when the lingam became the penis as described by Professor […]

    Post reproduced without attribution – not a good practice.

  5. drkhataumal Says:


  6. Balasubramaniam Keluvardhanam Says:

    I skimmed the essay by Slouka and was disappointed: the author seems to have confused one distinction with another. The first distinction is between a math/science education and a humanities/arts education. The second distinction is between a more theoretically oriented education stressing foundations and principles and a more practically oriented education stressing applications and practice. Vocational education is an extreme form of the latter. It should be obvious that a balanced education should straddle all four parts of the cross-cutting distinctions: math/science and humanities/arts and theoretical and practical.

    Slouka rants against math and science but is really against a more practically oriented education. Math and science if taught properly can be as character-forming as the arts and humanities and can teach one as much about life and the world as the latter. In my view, a deep gap even in the best liberal arts education offered today is precisely its lack of emphasis on math and science, which is precisely why the humanities today are in the mess they are in. Public intellectual life in the US could be much better than it is given its resources and I view this as resulting from the lack of clarity and reasoning skills that math and science teach – apart from their content.

    Slouka complains about the lack of attention given to the arts and humanities by society. Yet, a cursory glance at the media reveals that it is writers, artists, and especially people in film and fashion who are glamorized so that young people find such pursuits sexy whereas most young people find math and science unattractive because they are more difficult and harder to understand. In India, people are crazy about Bollywood – actors are treated like gods. How many people know the winners of the Nobel prizes and how many people know the names of actors?

    The problem of the right education is much more complex than Slouka has indicated or is even aware of because his frame of reference is the simplistic humanities vs. science distinction. I personally tend to view the world’s mathematicians and scientists as our greatest heroes as they are the ones generally doing the deepest work, they toil in relative obscurity, they earn relatively little, and are generally accorded little respect in society. Yet modern society and modern life would be impossible without their contributions, both theoretical and practical. Indeed, their influence on the arts and humanities has been enormous. I mention math and science in this light only to counter Slouka’s criticism.

    I repeat that a balanced education is one which is well-rounded and one that allows human beings to develop their full potential.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Here is another philosopher’s take on the relationship between science and arts:

      And science and art are not quite as far removed as the so-called “two cultures” often presume. We’re not plunging our fists straight into reality in pursuing the sciences, but rather modeling reality. This modeling is an imaginative work. I’ve always taken pleasure in Einstein’s remark that if he were exceptional in anything it was as a fabulist. As fabulists, both artists and scientists not only call on their imaginations but also rely on aesthetic criteria of beauty and elegance to guide them in their work.

      Thanks to Isa Daudpota for the link.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Bala: Your general point is well taken but I am puzzled about your example of people in film and fashion and their glamorization by others. Entertainment and sports have a huge following in almost every society but neither the celebrities not their admirers need have anything to do with the humanities. More often than not they are poorly educated, relatively speaking. Slouka’s point was that neglecting the teaching of the humanities or of treating the humanities as an addendum to business has negative consequences for society. I think that is a fair point. His attributing the cause to math and science was problematic as you have pointed out.

  7. Balasubramaniam Keluvardhanam Says:

    I only skimmed Slouka without reading him carefully but I think his point was to contrast not just the humanities but also the *arts* (with math and science as seen through his eyes).

    My reference to film and fashion was meant to include both high and low film (e.g. Ray as well as Bollywood or Bergman as well as Hollywood) and high and low fashion (Yves Saint Laurent as well as Hugo Boss).

    At the high end of these practices, they are both treated as high art and, in that respect, as intellectual endeavors. These days, even the low end of these practices is treated with great intellectual respect – witness the number of courses in American universities offering “intellectual” readings of Bollywood cinema. The younger Bollywood insiders are much slicker and better educated even though they churn out vacuous cinema while at the same time appearing on panel discussions of their films. Or think of the fame of someone like Mira Nair (whom I consider a mediocre filmmaker – she charges $30K for a talk!) compared to the recent Nobel in chemistry: Venkatraman Ramakrishnan – who knew of him before his prize? It is not just poorly educated persons who indulge in the arts and “entertainment.”

    Basically, there is hardly any media coverage of the sciences as compared with the arts. In my view, this is because the arts deal with the emotions more directly and are generally easier to understand. If society’s values were different, there would be a greater effort to make science more accessible. To be fair to science writers, there has been something of a revolution in popular science writing in the last three decades compared to what was available before that. But it still has a long way to go. I recently attended a lecture by Richard Dawkins and it was very gratifying to hear the audience cheer and whistle and treat him like a rock star. But it was a very select audience. This kind of thing never happens in the wider world.

  8. Shreekant Gupta Says:

    This is a wonderful compilation of things to read and watch and reflect on. I shall enjoy browsing this immensely. Thanks!

  9. Hasan Abdullah Says:

    To quote Ghalib

    Kyaa zohd ko maanoon keh nah ho garcheh reyaaei
    paadaash-e amal kee tama-e khaaam bohat hai
    (Shall I accept piety even if sans hypocrisy
    The vain expectation of reward is enough)

    The expectation of a reward (in return of a good deed) is demeaning for the human, who occupies the highest pedestal. The very act of doing societal good should bring satisfaction; and appreciation by fellow humans and/ or posterity can be considered a bonus.

    However, it takes long to reach the level of maturity where the above becomes one’s guiding philosophy. And, notwithstanding one’s (subjective) wishes, until then, the religion(s) is(are) here to stay – as these do play an objective role.

    After all, Nature abhors vacuum; and, religion is – in the ultimate – a product, even if it influences the human beings. If it were not so,

  10. Vikram Says:

    I thought this article amply illustrates what Lant Pritchett means when he says that the head of the Indian state is detached from its limbs,

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: Thanks for the link. This is more evidence supporting Lant Pritchett’s claim. I feel we have enough evidence to validate the hypothesis. What we need now is to provide one or several explanations for why this situation continues to prevail in India after so many decades. Pritchett himself offers an explanation but I feel we need to go beyond it based on our understanding of Indian society.

  11. Foqia Khan Says:

    Alarming words coming from no less than Stephen Cohen.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Foqia: Yes, Indeed. What should be the three top policy responses to address the concerns articulated by Stephen Cohen?

  12. SouthAsian Says:

    The wonderful Daud Rahbar video has finally been restored. It is item #5o on this page.

  13. Mohammad Ali Says:

    Never heard of Daud Rahbar before. Seems to me he is a lost person.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Ali: Alternatively, we are the lost people who have never heard of Daud Rahbar. Obviously, Daud Rahbar didn’t care whether we knew him or not – it was not his loss.

  14. Indian Says:

    “Despite the ecstatic reviews this book has received, I find the essays very shallow. They are quite obviously written by an intelligent mind but to say that is to say little about the quality of the essays. They are intelligently mediocre; though in saying this, I am being charitable.”

    S.N. Balagangadhara’s review of “The Argumentative Indian”

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      There is something on this blog on the argumentative Indian. It asks:

      “Is the argumentative Indian a myth dreamt up by Amartya Sen?”

      Balu’s comments are pertinent. They are reiterated on this blog in a review of a book on the same subject:

      “The book talks at the people but never really includes them in the dialogue and never really addresses their concerns. It never really asks how they managed to live together for centuries while continuing to adhere to narrow religious, regional or ethnic identities and why they might find it more difficult to do so now. As I read, I kept trying to imagine how the author would convey the argument of the book were he to find himself in a village in, say, Kerala. How would the notions of liberalism and secularism be cast in a vocabulary that the audience could participate in? How could we make this a two-sided conversation?”

      • Indian Says:

        Balu’s point is that we shouldn’t even be paying attention to Sen because he is a) mediocre b) so idiotic that he actually thinks that the Western traditions of “pluralism” and “toleration” imbibed as part of his colonial education are Indian traditions!

        No wonder this book sold like hot cakes in the West because the Westerners were reading themselves. Sen (probably without knowing it, that’s how ignorant he is) presented a mirror image of the Westerners to themselves. They lapped it up.

        What a sad state of affairs we are in.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Indian: Sen has a very well-deserved place in the domain of welfare economics with significant contributions to theory. It is when he steps outside that domain and assumes the role of a public intellectual that he is constrained by the borrowed framework he adopts which, as you mention, presents “a mirror image of the Westerners to themselves.”

          This is not a limitation confined to Sen. I don’t know why the New York Times, for example, feels that South Asian authors who have written good novels, would also make for good political analysts. Most of the time their writings reflect exactly the same weaknesses that Balu attributes to Sen. I suppose the driver must be that such writings are most palatable and understandable for the NYT audience.

          • Indian Says:

            You are much more charitable than I Anjum. I am not an economist and neither do I like or understand economics. It is a mark of our depraved age that it has made economics the master science of life. So, I can only judge Sen by his idiotic pronouncements on politics and society. Plus, I do not like to divide a man into various categories and thought-processes. If he is not free of nonsense in political theory then he must also be talking nonsense in his home field. You can’t be excellent in one field and crap in another. And I do not mean good in physics and crap in politics. The fields through which Sen moves are related and part of the broader “arts”.

            I have not found a creature more banal. Ditto your point about “South Asian” novelists. There is no political thinking in India. So, it is not a surprise that they turn to the fellows who can cobble some sentences together. Then they get Pankaj Mishra and send him to long voyages through the mysterious Orient so that he can unlock its secrets for us.

            We have tussled about democracy. I shall let Balu speak in my favour:

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Indian: In my view, that is going too far to the other side. True, Economics is a discipline that models itself on physics and has become excessively mathematical and is also in a crisis at this time. But within the discipline, Sen’s contributions have been given a very high place by his peers. That achievement cannot be taken away from him and is not compromised by a critique of his standing outside that domain. And do note that the critique is not of Sen but of an entire paradigm within which he is considered a leading contributor. I would rather focus on the paradigm than the person.

  15. Indian Says:

    What I find radical about Balu is that for him the question of democracy or dictatorship doesn’t even arise in India. Such political thinking is irrelevant to India and Indians. The two obsessions of Western political thinking are:

    1) The State must interfere in Society
    2) Political order must be founded on some principles

    In other words, the principle creates the society. It is the opposite in India. The society is its own foundation. It perpetuates itself. The society itself may give rise to some principles but never vice versa. The society is a self-managing order.

    Balu is not only the most profound thinker alive today but I would say he is the most profound modern Indian thinker ever to have existed. Here he is criticising those two famous Indians, and ever-favourites of meaningless drawing-room chatter, Gandhi and Ambedkar:

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Indian: Could you elaborate on what it means to say that “society is a self-managing order.” I watched the video and it accepts that an order can be unjust but it speaks against attempts to reduce the injustices. I agree that many attempts have perverse outcomes but it is not clear to me what is proposed as an alternative. Should those who are at the receiving end of injustices continue to bear them because society is self-managing?

  16. Indian Says:

    Haha! I love how reasonable you are.

  17. Indian Says:

    “An ignorance of the issue coupled to the conviction of knowledge of the same issue is the trajectory of discussions with Indians on ethics. It is extremely difficult to make them understand what ‘norms’ are; it is equally difficult to make them understand what ‘norms’ are not.”

    Religion as the meta-ideology of an ideology-based social formation:

    “…all moral systems which recognize that human rights are inalienable moral rights possessed by all human beings become unavailable to Eastern civilizations.”

  18. Vikram Says:

    Stories like these will help people understand the fundamentals of political consciousness in India, Indian identity and why the Republic of India has been a different country from its neighbors in the modern national era.

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