Culture

Decolonizing My Mind
On the politics surrounding the arrival and the spread of English in the colonies and the peculiar world of the Indian writer in English.

On Caste Privilege
Much has been written about the unearned privilege of race and gender. What does the privilege of caste look like in Indian society? How and why has caste been politicized?

The Blight of Hindustan
The Indian caste system continues to mystify outsiders. Here is a brisk overview of its origins, spread, and some historical attitudes and debates.

Joothan: A Dalit's Life
Joothan by Omprakash Valmiki is a deeply affecting memoir of growing up achoot (‘untouchable’) starting in the 1950s outside a typical village in Uttar Pradesh, India.

On Eating Animals
Raised unnaturally and inhumanely, over a million birds and mammals are violently killed in the U.S. every hour, yet the idea persists that Americans love animals.

The Bhagavad Gita Revisited
Why the Bhagavad Gita is an overrated text with a deplorable morality at its core. Part 1 is on the Gita’s historical and literary context. Part 2 is the textual critique.

   Part 1 (The Appetizer)

   Part 2 (The Main Course)

Indians Abroad: A Story from Trinidad
A brief history of the Indian diaspora in Trinidad—today over half-a-million strong—from the colonial era to the present.

War and the American Republic
With the end of combat operations in Iraq, a fresh look under the hood of American jingoism.

Revisiting the Idea of India
A review of The Indian Ideology by Perry Anderson, focusing on Indian nationalism from the colonial era to the present.

   Part 1: Gandhi, early Indian nationalism

   Part 2: Nehru, Partition, the nation state

Marco Polo's India
Returning home from China in 1292 CE, Marco Polo spent a few months in India ... his famous book, The Travels, contains a rich social portrait of India that still resonates with us today.

An Indian-American in China
Impressions from a journey through China, and the hard-to-avoid comparisons with neighboring India.

The Other Swastika
Can the symbol ever be redeemed in the eyes of the West? What might be lost and what could be gained in the possibility of doing so?

On Public Corruption in India
With findings from corruption research, Anna Hazare and his team, the Jan Lokpal Bill, and the anti-corruption movement.

The Dance of Indian Democracy
Why did democracy take root in India against all odds? What are its distinguishing features? Six decades later, how close is it to Ambedkar's inspiring vision of democracy?

James A. FitzPatrick's India
Best known for his 200+ short travel documentaries from 1929-55, including many on India, what should we make of FitzPatrick and his films today?

Asian Food for Thought
India and China offer a striking illustration of the vast range and malleability of the human palate, and the power of ideas in shaping it.

Homosexuality in India
"We don't have any," is the classic Indian response to homosexuality in India. Curiously, Indians say this even when they know of and tolerate homosexual acts in their communities. What's behind this seemingly contradictory stance?

The Social Virus of Terrorism
The term "social virus" is often used to describe modern terrorism; it afflicts the social body indiscriminately and arises out of ill-defined or unaddressable grievances.

Just Not Cricket
In a recent cricket match played between India and Australia in Sydney, the Indian cricketer Harbhajan Singh was accused of hurling a racist insult at Andrew Symonds.

Bindra, the Silent Killer
I can't remember the last time India's Olympic record bothered me. I suspect this is because Olympic medals do not correlate with values I admire in a society. They do not suggest a high civilization, one that has evolved, say, a refined balance between justice, equality, and liberty.

Free Market News
The newspaper business has changed radically in recent decades. Most newspapers are now owned by a handful of large corporations, even by "holding companies", with parallel interests in cement, telecom, real estate, etc.

John Frum
Some time ago, Ruchira brought to my attention an article about a village on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, where the people believe Prince Philip of England is a god. Though it might sound preposterous to many of us, it's actually not a joke.

On Diversity
Diversity is a formidable bulwark against political and religious fundamentalism. It challenges and inspires, and helps create more vibrant art, music, and literature.

From the Outside, Looking In
Speaking of Muslims as fanatics and terrorists is not even considered bad manners; it’s seen as a comic expression of the truth. Suggesting that it might be a bit more complicated—that it’s ridiculous and hateful to so simplify a group.

Rediscovering Golem
What is life anyway, and how did it really happen upon this world? As a physical phenomenon, is life an accidental and rare occurrence?

Buddha's Finger
The monks and proprietors of Famen Temple in China's northwestern Shaanxi Province, about an hour's drive outside of Xi'an, believe the Buddha has given them the finger. Or four.

Death in the Afternoon
A hot Sunday afternoon in Mexico City. The largest bullring in the world is packed with feisty locals. Restless, they whistle and hoot before the main event when emotions run high.

On Telling Stories
We often ask what it is that makes us human, and much has been written about the unique (or not) gifts of humankind: our fully opposable thumbs, in-line toes, upright stance, tool use, large brains, reason, language, self-awareness.

Eugenics Record Office
James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, is in trouble again, this time for a racist remark that has led to wide criticism and his firing from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL).

Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka
In Aug 2005, I visited a remarkable site in Madhya Pradesh, India: the prehistoric rock shelters and paintings at Bhimbetka, discovered in 1957-58 by Dr. Vishnu S. Wakankar.

Atheistic Materialism in Ancient India
It comes as a surprise to many that in ancient "spiritual" India, atheistic materialism was a major force to reckon with. Predating even the Buddhists, the Carvaka is one of the earliest materialistic schools of Indian philosophy.

On Early Islam
This five-part series on early Islamic history begins with the rise of Islam, shifts to its golden age, examines two major currents of early Islamic thought—rationalism and Sufi mysticism—and concludes with an epilogue.

Part 1: The Rise of Islam

Part 2: The Golden Age

Part 3: The Path of Reason

Part 4: The Mystic Tide

Part 5: Epilogue

The True Cost of Our Gadgets
The next time we whip out our Blackberries, cell phones, gaming consoles, iPods, and laptops, we would do well to remember their true cost, beyond what we paid for them at the store. Each of these gadgets use an ore called coltan.

A Day Trip to My Alma Mater
I got a B.Tech from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT, KGP). Sixteen years after graduation, I visited it again in 2005.

Global Democracy Index
The Economist magazine's intelligence unit has come up with a Democracy Index that rates 165 states and 2 territories on their democratic character. It examines 60 indicators across 5 broad categories: electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government...

The Idea of India
An Indian-American friend of mine recently asked me: How did Indians themselves refer to India during the Raj? Did they call it "India"?

Jerry Falwell, BIH
Jerry Falwell is dead. The news reports reminded me that besides the Moral Majority, he also founded a Christian madrassa called Liberty University. There are in fact scores of Christian madrassas in America.

Land of the Free?
Which country has the highest incarceration rate in the world? The United States of course. The prison population in the US has more than quadrupled in the last quarter century. Some 2.2 million are behind bars.

Le Corbusier's Chandigarh
Chandigarh may well be India's greatest achievement in urban town planning. But despite Nehru's enthusiasm, and the evident success of the experiment, the Indian political establishment seems to have learned nothing from it.

Melting Girls and Serpent Women
Notes from my visit to the annual, weeklong Pushkar camel fair that attracts over 250,000 visitors from India and abroad.

A Mousetrap for Metaphysics
Is it possible to reduce the vast range of humankind's metaphysical responses down to a few distilled outlooks that have shaped (and continue to shape) human culture?

On Patriotism
Recent years have seen a surge in "patriotic feeling" across the US. One expression of this is the flag, which is now routinely seen on cars, shop fronts, windows, roofs, even jacket lapels.

The Station of Light
The life and times of Muid ad-Din ibn al-Arabi, a Sufi master of the medieval age.

Potala-in-Exile
The seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile is in McLeod Ganj, a picturesque town below the snowy peaks of the Dhaula Dhar range.

Reporting from Home
I'm a non-resident Indian (NRI). I recently thought of recording my view of the pros and cons of living in India after 15 years in the West.

Amartya Sen on Globalization
Where does "our own" Nobel laureate in economics stand on globalization? Earlier this year, I reviewed The Argumentative Indian by A Sen, a wide ranging book with sixteen essays on Indian culture, history, and identity.

On Photography: Which Thousand Words?
If a picture says a thousand words, which thousand words does it say to whom? If we all wrote down what we hear, no two accounts would be the same.

Servitors of the Divine Consciousness
Auroville aspires to be "a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and harmony, above all creeds, all politics, and nationalities."

The Birthplace of Ganesh
Dodi Tal, considered the birthplace of Lord Ganesh, is a lake in Garhwal, western Uttaranchal. We hiked 44 km in 3 days, going up and down from about 5,000 ft to 11,000 ft, where we camped near the lake.

 


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