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So long, and thanks for all the hits

Times change. People move on. In a world of changing technology, we believe that it’s time to bid farewell to Asian Window. Yet, who we now are has everything to do with who we once were. Looking back at the years of posting stories and videos and reading your comments, all we can say is that AW has enriched our lives. Thank you for knowing us, and letting us get to know you. We’ll see you around.

Namita Bhandare [Twitter handle: @namitabhandare]

Shekhar Bhatia [Twitter handle: @BhatiaShekhar]


“I took the Dalai Lama to a ski resort and he told me the meaning of life”

Douglas Preston in Slate:

In the mid ’80s, I was living in Santa Fe, N.M., making a shabby living writing magazine articles, when a peculiar assignment came my way. I had become friendly with a group of Tibetan exiles who lived in a compound on Canyon Road, where they ran a business selling Tibetan rugs, jewelry, and religious items. The Tibetans had settled in Santa Fe because its mountains, adobe buildings, and high-altitude environment reminded them of home.

The founder of the Tibetan community was a man named Paljor Thondup. Thondup had escaped the Chinese invasion of Tibet as a kid, crossing the Himalayas with his family in an epic, multiyear journey by yak and horseback. Thondup made it to Nepal and from there to India, where he enrolled in a school in the southeastern city of Pondicherry with other Tibetan refugees. One day, the Dalai Lama visited his class. Many years later, in Dharamsala, India, Thondup talked his way into a private audience with the Dalai Lama, who told Thondup that he had never forgotten the bright teenager in the back of the Pondicherry classroom, waving his hand and answering every question, while the other students sat dumbstruck with awe. They established a connection. And Thondup eventually made his way to Santa Fe.

The Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Thondup, who had heard that he was planning a tour of the United States, invited him to visit Santa Fe. The Dalai Lama accepted and said he would be happy to come for a week. At the time, he wasn’t the international celebrity he is today. He traveled with only a half-dozen monks, most of whom spoke no English. He had no handlers, advance men, interpreters, press people, or travel coordinators. Nor did he have any money. As the date of the visit approached, Thondup went into a panic. He had no money to pay for the visit and no idea how to organize it. He called the only person he knew in government, a young man named James Rutherford, who ran the governor’s art gallery in the state capitol building. Rutherford was not exactly a power broker in the state of New Mexico, but he had a rare gift for organization. He undertook to arrange the Dalai Lama’s visit. More:

Robert Nickelsberg’s “Afghanistan: A Distant War”

In his new book, Afghanistan: A Distant War, veteran photojournalist Robert Nickelsberg offers a vivid close-up of the past quarter-century of Afghan history. [Nickelsberg spoke about his book in New Delhi today]

Below, Hannah Bloch in National Geographic online:

Bob-bookBob and I worked together from 1997 to 2002, when we both covered Afghanistan for Time. In a recent chat, we talked about the years preceding the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. That date is a dividing line: Our short-memory world has made the pre-9/11 years seem distant and irrelevant. The current era of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan makes it easy to forget that anything existed before. But it did, and Bob Nickelsberg’s powerful evocation of those years reminds us of how much they mattered.

Hannah: Let’s talk about what it was like for you as a photojournalist during the Taliban years, from 1996 to 2001. Among their many rules and restrictions was a prohibition of photography, unless it was of inanimate objects—no photos of human beings or other living creatures allowed. Plus you had to have a Taliban minder at your side at all times. How did you get your work done?

 Robert: Each trip was a gamble. You had to register with foreign ministry and were given a guide and were not allowed to work without him at your side. Everything had to come onto a wish list of stories or interviews and they worked on it for you. They’re also reporting back to their seniors about you, what you’re like, if you’re some narrow-minded gringo, did you only want to take pictures of women—or of schools, when schools were closed. They tried to put you in a box and classify you. At the same time, we were doing the same to them.

You could see if they’d take money at the end of the day, ten dollars or five dollars. If they did, you could see what did it get you the next day. You’d have to try everything—luscious meals, heavy meat lunches. If they went for the bait, so to speak, you might have a successful or fairly successful trip, or at least get to every appointment you hoped for. I’d often test them by raising a camera, just thinking of taking a picture—of lines at a bus, for instance, because there were fuel shortages and people had a hard time getting from A to B to C. You’d keep them in view so they would have to react or not. Very often they would not even permit that kind of a picture. But often we’d find people on the streets would yell, “It’s prohibited, how dare you,” and you’d know they were pro-Taliban. You didn’t just worry about what your minder told you to do. More:

The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean

The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World traces a truly unique and fascinating story of struggles and achievements across a variety of societies, cultures, religions, languages and times:

The history of India’s Africans, called Siddis, is the best known in the region—largely because of the documentation on those who rose to high positions as military commanders.

African ivory was the most sought-after commodity among Indian merchants; ivory was carried from the inland to the East African coast, where it was sold, loaded onto dhows, and transported to the ports of southern Arabia. From there they would continue across the Arabian Sea, stopping along the Makran coast, before continuing on to western India. Given India’s large population, its indigenous slaves, and a caste system among Hindus in which most labor-intensive tasks were traditionally performed by specific groups, African males were employed in very specialized jobs, almost always having to do with some aspect of security—as soldiers, palace guards, or personal bodyguards. They were generally deemed more trustworthy than indigenous people to serve in those capacities, but in a number of cases Africans rebelled against their Muslim or Hindu rulers. During the 15th and 16th centuries, African slave-soldiers seized power in the Bengal sultanate, parts of the Deccan, and the sultanate of Gujarat. However, several centuries before these rebellions, an Abyssinian attained high rank in alliance with the female ruler of Delhi.

In 1236 an Abyssinian named Jalal-ud-din Yakut served in the important imperial post of master of the royal stable, an honor conferred by the Delhi sultana Raziya. In India, where Africans were known for their equestrian skills and their ability to tame wild horses, they served in the cavalry, unlike in the Middle East, where they were limited to service in the infantry. More:

Everywhere, a Maoist plot

Chhattisgarh government is unable to accept the right to protest and unwilling to hear the people’s voice. Nandini Sunder in The Indian Express:

By going to town as the Chhattisgarh police and media have recently done on my alleged Maoist links, the real questions have been sidelined. As citizens of this country, do we have the right to protest democratically and constitutionally, and as journalists, researchers or human rights activists, are we free to pursue our vocation?

The police arrested one Badri Gawde on January 23, and paraded him before the media four days later, after his family had filed a missing report. Puffy faced, and barely able to keep his eyes open, Gawde “revealed” to the media that I was working on behalf of the Maoists to oppose the mines and railway line that are to come up in the Raoghat area of the state. The activities that my doppelgänger is up to, such as leading the Raoghat Rail Sangharsh Samiti in faraway Chhattisgarh, even as my mundane self takes classes in Delhi, amazes me. If only I had that much energy and time.

Like many young men in conflict areas, Gawde is a man of many parts. Stylishly dressed, and with political ambition, Gawde is active both with the Congress and in local Gond community politics, which involved supporting Vikram Usendi, the Gond BJP candidate in the assembly elections against the Halba Congress candidate. But being political in these parts also means, perforce, keeping up with the Maoists. In November 2013, soon after the assembly elections, I visited Bastar as part of my research on counterinsurgency and democracy. With me was a friend with ancestral roots in Narayanpur-Antagarh. Badri mentioned that he was going to meet a Maoist leader, and asked if we would like to come. Since this was a rare opportunity for us, we went along. More:

Rahul Gandhi’s first TV interview

Rahul Gandhi, the reticent Congress party leader who has never before given a sit-down television interview, on Monday faced Arnab Goswami of Times Now:

Part 2 here

Part 3 here

In The Times of India: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has drawn a distinction between the 2002 Gujarat riots and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots on the grounds that while the violence in Gujarat was aided and abetted by the Narendra Modi state government, in the 1984 riots the government tried to stop the violence.

Asked in an interview why certain Congress leaders like Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler were facing court cases if the Congress government, indeed, tried to stop the 1984 riots, Rahul didn’t respond directly, but eventually acknowledged that some Congressmen were probably involved in the riots. More:

Full text of interview


Political revolution? Nah, no change in self-righteous Delhi

Anup Kutty in The Times of India:

It was the turn of the century . I was living with my then-girlfriend in a pokey two-room apartment in Khirki Extension. These were new builder flats (or studio apartments as they called them) that had come up after knocking down the shanties that once formed the neighbourhood. The doors came with click locks, the bathrooms had bidets, kitchens merged into living rooms and windows opened into dark shafts where pigeons mated endlessly. We were fresh out of college. She had found a job with a hot new business channel, I was unemployed . She paid the rent and I made dinner plans. The landlord believed we were married — a lie supported by her liberal parents whenever they came to town to meet her. In the evenings, our friends would come over to listen to music or watch TV. They would grab a beer from the fridge and joke about relationships and careers like they did in Friends — an American TV show that featured youngsters sharing apartments and living a bohemian urban lifestyle . Secretly, we pretended there wasn’t much difference between us and them. Except they lived in Manhattan while we had found our little joys in Khirki Village.

On a similar evening, we found a drunk neighbour banging on our door. A passing car had bumped into his and he was sure it belonged to one of our friends. He stood outside our house and yelled for us to come out and confront him. By the time we did, he had collected more people from the neighbourhood. As we tried to pacify him, someone screamed “We know what you all do in this house.” “Ye to r*** i hai (She’s a prostitute ),” said another. “We don’t want prostitutes and drug addicts in this neighbourhood.” The voices grew louder. More:

Profiles of Indians short-listed for one-way ticket to Mars

Over 1,000 aspirants, including 62 from India, have been shortlisted for an ambitious private mission to send four men and women on a one-way trip to Mars in 2024 to establish a permanent colony on the red planet.

More than 20,000 Indians had applied for the first round, and 62 have made the first cut. Two random profiles below. For full list of candidates, click here:

Name: Abbas; Age 23

Self introduction: Software Engineer by profession.Original.Wannabe astronaut.Confident.Day dreamer.Adrenaline junkie.Patient .Mentaly agile. Average IQ>140. Fitness freak.Lazy at times.Motivating.Believe in Participation.Positive Attitude.Love Nature.

Interests: Outdoor & indoor sports,adventure trips,cooking,trying exotic foods, water sports,art,reading books,keeping updated with technology ,collecting different currencies,roller-coaster rides.Like DIY projects, exploring hidden places.Dating women.

Name: Charumathi; Age: 24

Self introduction: I am Charumathi from India, 23 years old. Graduate in electronics and communication engineering. Space science is my passion. Star gazing is all I like. Nothing is more exciting and fascinating than stars and skies to me.

Interests: Reading books regarding space science. My favorite book is “Brief history of time” by Sir Stephen Hawkins. Other hobbies are listening to music and songs,meditation, watching movie.

The Alan Turing – Nandan Nilekani connection

Anvar Alikhan in The Times of India:

Alan Turing, the man who has been called the “Father of the Computer”, had a strong India connection. His father was an ICS officer in the erstwhile Madras presidency, and before him, various Turings had served in India, going back to the 1700s. But Alan’s India connection was from both sides of the family. His mother, Sarah Stoney, grew up in India; her father having been chief engineer of the Madras Railway. While researching this Turing connection, I stumbled upon the factoid that his grandfather had lived in Coonoor in a house called “The Gables”. An idly wondered if that old house was stil around — promising myself that, if it was, I must go and make a pilgrimage.

That idle question would lead me into a curious detective story, which ended in the most fantastic of coincidences. I started by asking a friend in Coonoor if The Gables was still there, or if it had been demolished. (After all, it would have been over a hundred years old by now.) She e-mailed back saying yes The Gables was, indeed, still around. It was one of the historic homes in Coonoor, and had recently been bought by “some businessman from Bangalore”, she said.

The next clue fell into place, by chance, when a friend told me that an interior designer friend of hers was looking for British Raj period furniture for an old house she was furnishing for Nandan Nilekani in Coonoor. And the name of the house? The Gables! More:

A techie busts a science seminar racket

The racket was exposed after two fake papers submitted by Dr Navin Kabra to the Institute of Research and Journals were accepted. “One paper has references to the Hindi movie, Sholay, and an entire section contains dialogues from a hit Hollywood film, My Cousin Vinny,” Kabra writes on his blog:

We submitted to two fake papers to this conference – one was complete gibberish auto-generated by using the online fake paper generator at SCIGen, while the other was auto-generated gibberish interspersed with completely ridiculous statements, movie dialogues, and other random things. Both these papers where accepted by this conference. We paid the conference registration fee for one of the papers, and that was published in the conference proceedings, and we did not pay the registration fee for the other paper, so that paper was not published by them. The conference fee is Rs. 6000 for M.Tech. students (but we managed to get a 50% discount just by haggling with them in the same way we haggle with vegetable vendors).

Note: the paper that actually got published is such that anyone reading past paragraph #2 of the paper will realize it is complete nonsense. More:

And below. the story in Mid-Day:

Navin Kabra, who graduated from Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, and later completed his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Wisconsin in the United States before returning to India, submitted the two fake papers to the International Conference on Recent Innovations in Engineering, Science &Technology (ICRIEST) which was held in Pune on December 29. The conference was organized by the “Institute of Research and Journals” (IRAJ).

Both papers were auto-generated using freely-available online software. In fact, one paper has references to the Hindi movie, Sholay, and an entire section contains dialogues from a hit Hollywood film, My Cousin Vinny. More

The Delhi Durbar and the Indian diplomat

Rafia Zakaria at Chapati Mystery:

A ripe 110 years ago, in the year 1903, the Second Imperial Durbar was held in Delhi, to celebrate the coronation of King Edward the VII and Queen Alexandria as Emperor and Empress of India. Neither could attend, but Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of the Indian colony, decided that it would be a great opportunity to appropriate the spectacle as homage to the British rule of India. To insure that the spectacle would be appropriately, spectacular he ordered all the minion Maharajas of the Empire to arrive in their traditional garb, with large retinues, silks and elephants and punkahs; so they would look like Maharajas. In this neat directive, the Indian love of protocol was thus successfully employed in the service of Empire. That the arriving “rulers’ were not “rulers” but vassals of Empire, that their retinues and turbans and everything else meant nothing at all in relation to their ability to rule themselves, was the farce behind it all.

The British left and Pakistan and India exchanged their misgivings against the British Empire with petty barbs and nuclear weapons directed at each other. It is a consuming concern; and has occupied millions on either side with its continuing pettiness and puffery for a near century. On either side; the love of pomp and protocol has remained; flagellated into democratic norms on one side and military machinations on the other. Indians and Pakistani leaders are united in their love of appropriating the discriminatory racism that was once heaped on them on the lesser others of their respective countries. Importance, value, worth on either side of the border equals never being mistaken for those ordinary hordes; And nowhere is this most visible than in the constellations of power, the subcontinent elected office means command over convoys of cars, flashing lights, security details and never, ever, the ignominy of being treated “just like everyone else” More:

How a Dalit schoolgirl is negotiating life after a gang rape and a murder

Namita Bhandare in Mint Lounge:

After they had finished raping her, the 15-year-old schoolgirl remembers what the two men in the car told her. “Don’t bother telling anyone. Don’t bother complaining to the police. Nobody cares about a low-caste girl.” Then they added: “Come back to us in 10 days. If you’re not here, we will do to your mother what we’ve done to you.”

Then, they slowed down the car, dropped the girl off, and sped away. It was 6 August 2012.

The girl had earlier that year been promoted to class XI, the first person in her family to get that far. At her school in the village, the Sanskrit teacher remembers her as a “bright” student, not very regular with attendance but someone who made up with enthusiasm when she did show up. When she cleared class X, she was done with the village school. Two years of high school were a short bus ride away from home to the nearest town.

When they grabbed her, she had just got off the bus and was walking the remainder of the short distance to school. It was 9.30 in the morning, she remembers. She hadn’t wanted to go to school that day. Her father, a daily-wage labourer, had already gone off in search of work to the fields nearby and her mother was out on some chores. Her younger sisters and brothers had left for the local school. “My uniform wasn’t washed,” she says. But a neighbour dropped in. “Missing again? This can’t go on. You must go.” More:

Our Indian Feudal Service

Of course, they have a right to fleece a maid, break the law — and claim immunity Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express:

It will not be out of place to quote here a comment that New York Times columnist Roger Cohen made to me on a visit to Delhi last week. “Please explain your country to me. You have a Scandinavian rape law and the Russian homosexuality law.” But then all our awful laws, sick thana culture, abusive policemen and creative FIR writers are not for PLUs. Definitely not for those on the top of the PLU pyramid. All these are for Sangeeta Richard and her type. Stupid, thieving, lying, free-booting maid types. India’s original, and sadly most enduring, idea of our below-stairs class. At least that much that clown Bharara should have known! What happened to his Indian DNA? That is what we are so angry about. Just because they got away with arresting Dominique Strauss-Kahn moments before take-off, in spite of his high diplomatic status, they thought they could touch an Indian. We aren’t the bloody French.

Of course, as an Indian, I would also wish that Khobragade is brought back to India, but made to face charges here of allegedly cheating her maid and bringing disrepute to her country by lying on the maid’s visa form, if she did that. Chances are, in today’s primetime-fuelled hyper-patriotism, she will be hailed as some kind of Jhansi ki Rani. We all know the oft-repeated truism that diplomats are sent abroad to lie for their countries. But are they also paid to lie to their maids, the visa authorities, and then claim immunity? Please tell me another. And please think twice before you can accuse an honest taxpayer like me, armed with no immunity other than what Article 19 of the Constitution gives 120 crore Indians, of carrying a chip on the shoulder about the IFS (‘It’s a chip’, Rajiv Sikri, IE, December 19) for raising these simple points. Sangeeta Richard is Indian too, and poor or rich, must have the same rights as Khobragade. More:


Sandaraa – “Haatera Taiyga”

Sandaraa is a new band from Lahore, Pakistan and Brooklyn, New York. The group is fronted by vocalist Zeb Bangash (Zeb and Haniya) and features Brooklyn musicians Michael Winograd on clarinet, Eylem Basaldi on violin, Patrick Farrell on accordion, Yoshie Fruchter on guitar, Benjy Fox-Rosen on bass and drummer Richie Barshay. Sandaraa explores a vast repertoire of South Asian material (from Balochistan, Afghanistan and beyond.) via 3quarksdaily

Duma Dum Mast Qalandar

By the Mast Qalandars @ The Peninsula Studios

Himalayan myth buster

Kunda Dixit in Nepali Times:

Jack Ives doesn’t suffer fools and he has encountered many during his colourful career pushing the mountain agenda at the Rio Summit in 1992, through the International Year of Mountains in 2002, right down to the present.

A British-born Canadian, Ives was part of the group of experts that oversaw in 1975 meetings that led to the establishment of the International Centre for Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu. In his 45 years of research in the Himalaya, Pamir, and Yunnan, Ives has relentlessly struggled against sloppy science, alarmist academics and a sensationalist media crying wolf.

Now, Ives has decided to put together a personalised account of the people and mountains he has been acquainted with and the sometimes epic struggle to get the sustainable development of fragile mountain areas of the world recognised by governments and international organisations. The book is an autobiographical travelogue and takes frequent detours to tell stories from places like Darjeeling, Lhasa, the Caucasus, Kathmandu or Khumbu. More:

One million deaths: An unprecedented survey of mortality in India

Erica Westly in Nature [via 3quarksdaily]:

In 1975, when Prabhat Jha was growing up in Canada, his family received a report from India that his grandfather had died; the cause was unclear. Like many people living in rural India, Jha’s grandfather had died at home, without having visited a hospital. Jha’s mother was desperate for more information, so she returned to her home village to talk to locals. Years later, when Jha was at medical school, he reviewed his mother’s notes and realized that his grandfather had probably died of a stroke. Now Jha, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, is nearing the end of an ambitious public-health programme to document death in India using similar ‘verbal autopsy’ strategies.

The Million Death Study (MDS) involves biannual in-person surveys of more than 1 million households across India. The study covers the period from 1997 to the end of 2013, and will document roughly 1 million deaths. Jha and his colleagues have coded about 450,000 so far, and have deciphered several compelling trends that are starting to lead to policy changes, such as stronger warning labels on tobacco.

Public-health experts need mortality figures to monitor disease and assess interventions, but quality mortality data are scarce in most developing countries. Seventy-five per cent of the 60 million people who die each year around the globe are in low- and middle-income countries such as India, where cause of death is often misclassified or unreported. Groups such as the World Health Organization (WHO) typically base mortality estimates on hospital data, but in many developing countries most people die outside hospitals. More:

Old Delhi Motorcycles: The film

Watch this if you have a Bullet, or have ever dreamed of possessing one…

India will be the United States’ most important ally: Pew survey


At International Business Times:

India is likely to emerge as America’s most important ally in the future, according to a survey of expert members of the Council on Foreign Relations by the Pew Research Center.

The Pew Research Center asked more than 1,800 CFR members which countries they thought would “be more important as America’s allies and partners,” allowing respondents to list up to seven economies.

India was the economy mentioned the most, followed by China and Brazil. Even though China has a larger GDP than India and is growing at a faster rate, it is a socialist republic. More:

Tariq Ali: World literature and world languages

Riazuddin: The man who designed Pakistan’s bomb

Theoretical physicist Riazuddin died in September.Pervez Hoodbhoy in Newsweek:

When Riazuddin—that was his full name—died in September at age 82 in Islamabad, international science organizations extolled his contributions to high-energy physics. But in Pakistan, except for a few newspaper lines and a small reference held a month later at Quaid-e-Azam University, where he had taught for decades, his passing was little noticed. In fact, very few Pakistanis have heard of the self-effacing and modest scientist who drove the early design and development of Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Riazuddin never laid any claim to fathering the bomb—a job that requires the efforts of many—and after setting the nuclear ball rolling, he stepped aside. But without his theoretical work, Pakistan’s much celebrated bomb makers, who knew little of the sophisticated physics critically needed to understand a fission explosion, would have been shooting in the dark.

A bomb maker and peacenik, conformist and rebel, quiet but firm, religious yet liberal, Riazuddin was one of a kind. Mentored by Dr. Abdus Salam, his seminal role in designing the bomb is known to none except a select few. More:

New clues may change Buddha’s date of birth

John Noble Wilford in the New York Times:

In traditional narratives, Queen Maya Devi, the mother of Buddha, gave birth to him while holding on to a branch of a tree in a garden at Lumbini, in what is now Nepal. Accounts vary as to when this occurred, leaving uncertain the founding century of one of the world’s major religions.

Until now, archaeological evidence favored a date no earlier than the third century B.C., when the Emperor Asoka promoted the spread of Buddhism through South Asia, leaving a scattering of shrines and inscriptions to the man who became “the enlightened one.” A white temple on a gently sloping plateau at Lumbini, 20 miles from the border with India, draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year to read a sandstone pillar documenting Asoka’s homage at the Buddha’s birthplace.

But new excavations by archaeologists at Lumbini have uncovered evidence of a much earlier timber shrine and brick structures above it — all of which lay beneath the temple that is a Unesco World Heritage site long identified as the birthplace. Dating fragments of charcoal and grains of sand, researchers determined that the lower structures were erected as early as the sixth century B.C. More:

And here

Debashish Bhattacharya: NPR Tiny Desk concert

NPR: The creator of the Hindustani slide guitar draws on a good deal of North Indian classical music, but you can also hear the blues pouring out of his stunning work. Here, Bhattacharya performs with his brother and daughter.

Does doing yoga make you a Hindu?

William Kremer / BBC World Service

Farida Hamza, a Muslim woman living in the US (pictured above), had been doing yoga for two or three years when she decided she wanted to teach it.

“When I told my family and a few friends, they did not react positively,” she recalls. “They were very confused as to why I wanted to do it – that it might be going against Islam.”

Their suspicions about yoga are shared by many Muslims, Christians and Jews around the world and relate to yoga’s history as an ancient spiritual practice with connections to Hinduism and Buddhism.

Last year, a yoga class was banned from a church hall in the UK. “Yoga is a Hindu spiritual exercise,” said the priest, Father John Chandler. “Being a Catholic church we have to promote the gospel, and that’s what we use our premises for.” Anglican churches in the UK have taken similar decisions at one time or another. In the US, prominent pastors have called yoga “demonic”.

One answer to the question of whether yoga really is a religious activity will soon be given by the Supreme Court in the country of its birth, India.


The art of the Mumbai circulating library

In The Comics Journal:

Upon publishing the interview with Leaping Windows Comics Café, I was informed by an elder Indian that rental bookstores – locally called “circulating libraries” – are not uncommon in Mumbai. There used to be more, I was told, but there are still some out in the suburbs, though they deal mainly in books in Hindi and Marathi (the local language) rather than in English.

Online searching turned up more than a dozen scattered across Greater Mumbai, some of which are actually in the heart of the city, near railway stations and major intersections. These latter seem to be mainly older businesses, hanging on since the 1950s and 60s. I am also told that, out in the suburbs, a number of “paper marts” – paper recycling shops – have begun doubling as lending libraries, redirecting not only junk books and magazines that come their way, but also cartons of cheap remainder books. I have heard – though I haven’t seen them – that there are book vans that show up in certain neighborhoods once every three days or so, with blinking LED lights and megaphones tootling jingles.

All of which is to say: borrowing books for a fee, beyond the familiar institutions of private and municipal libraries, is neither a new nor rare thing in Mumbai.

One of the older establishments is Victoria Music House & Library in Mahim, named (like Victoria Dry Cleaners next door) after Our Lady of Victoria Church down the street. Founded in 1950, the library is today run by one Arif Merchant, whose name makes sounds like a character from one of those dry-wit, Indian magical realist novels. More:

Dalai Lama on food

Rajapaksa’s Rule

Sadakat Kadri in LRB:

Sri Lanka’s authorities are in buoyant mood. As Prince Charles prepares to open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, the Defence Ministry is helping to organise celebrations. But it isn’t the queen they are honouring. The CHOGM is gathering to acknowledge the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as chairman of the Commonwealth, a position he will occupy for the next two years. His allies at home are delighted.

Rajapaksa himself has high hopes. Four years after he led the national army to victory over the Tamil Tiger guerrilla movement, he wants to show the world that Sri Lanka has left its troubles behind. He was already on the case at the last CHOGM, held in Perth in 2011, when he strained to conjure up the sense of a paradise regained. Sri Lanka, he observed, had ‘famous beaches’ and ‘lofty mountains’, with ‘an amazing variety of flora and fauna and safari parks teeming with wildlife’. Having seen off ‘thirty years of violent terrorism unleashed by the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation’, it was now a place ‘full of promise, with an economy poised to take off’.

Most of that is true, as far as it goes. Sri Lanka is indeed bountiful; it suffered enormously from the murderous depredations of the Tamil Tigers; and the end of the war has been followed by economic recovery. But none of this says much about Rajapaksa’s fitness to act as chair of the Commonwealth. The only attribute he brings to that position is his zeal to occupy it, while the institutional damage his elevation could cause is immense. More:

Fashion Icon Waris Ahluwalia

Waris Ahluwalia is an Indian-American designer and actor. Born in Amritsar, Punjab, India he later moved to New York at the age of five. His company, House of Waris, is based out of New York. (Photo of Waris in Gap’s Holiday 2013 ad campaign):

In The Aerogram: 5 More Reasons to Love Fashion Icon Waris Ahluwalia

In WSJ: 20 odd questions for Waris Ahluwalia

The untold story of how Tibetan Buddhism first came to America

In Tricycle:

The combined efforts of Geshe Wangyal and Takster Rinpoche at the birth of the organized Tibetan resistance made it possible for ST Circus, the CIA’s codename for its anti-Chinese effort, to achieve its most notable success: the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet. Fortuitous contact by members of the first class of US-trained Tibetan resistance fighters with the Dalai Lama’s escape party in March 1959 allowed the CIA to be informed daily of the Dalai Lama’s whereabouts throughout the grueling ordeal. At the time, 50,000 People’s Liberation Army soldiers and dozens of spotter planes scoured the Tibetan side of the Himalayas trying to thwart his escape—or, as they suggested, to rescue him from kidnappers.

 Besides keeping their CIA patrons updated on the escape party’s coordinates, the guerrillas used Geshe-la’s telecode to request from Prime Minister Nehru’s government political asylum in India for the Dalai Lama, his cabinet, and his family. Three years earlier, Nehru had turned away a similar request and essentially forced His Holiness to return to Tibet after a brief religious pilgrimage to India. It was thus a great relief when Nehru’s consent to the asylum request, after traveling through several bureaucratic levels of the US and Indian governments over a 24-hour period, was relayed to the Dalai Lama’s Lord Chamberlain by the CIA-trained guerrillas. That message permitted a then ailing Dalai Lama to cross into Indian refuge ahead of his pursuers.

 His Holiness’s decision to leave Tibet at that time, almost nine years into China’s occupation, and the details of how and whether he was eluding the Chinese army became fodder for international journalistic speculation as hundreds of newsmen flocked to India’s remote Himalayan outposts hoping to witness his arrival. Few can remember today that this was the most internationally covered cliffhanger of that era, one that resonated well in the existential drama of the ongoing Cold War.

 Once His Holiness the Dalai Lama was safely in India, Geshe Wangyal would soon discover that the follow-up task of bringing His Holiness to the United States might be more daunting than the just-concluded escape. For that project, he would need other allies—and plenty of patience. More:

The ad everyone is talking about

Indian jewellery retailer Tanishq has come up with a commercial for Diwali that moves away from the stereotype of blushing, fair-skinned brides and introduces the concept of remarriage — possibly for the first time in Indian advertising.

Read more here and here