Tag Archive for 'India'

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:

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:

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:

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:

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

Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil

[via 3quarksdaily]

Wild gold chase

Ashok Malik in The Asian Age:

India is perennially the land of mixed metaphors. It is appropriate then that senior government agencies have begun a wild goose chase for gold. This has happened in Daundia Khera village of Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district. A sadhu had a dream that 1,000 tonnes of gold had been buried near a Shiva temple. He contacted and persuaded minister of state for agriculture Charan Das Mahant, who then visited the temple.

Convinced of the legend (or the dream), the minister spoke to his seniors in the UPA government, and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was asked to start excavating. Apparently, the gold had been buried and hidden there by Raja Ram Baksh Singh, a feudatory of the nawabs of Awadh, who had taken part in the conflict of 1857. The Raja was eventually hanged by the British and stories of his lost treasure have been doing the rounds in the region for the past century and a half.

If the only “evidence” of a hidden treasure in Daundia Khera is the sadhu’s dream, the ASI is making a laughing stock of itself. In pushing the archaeologists to trace the gold, the UPA government can only have sensible people shaking their heads in despair. A previously unknown village in Unnao has become the magnet for the national media as well as turned into a fair ground for people from neighbouring districts. More:

World’s worst cities for air pollution

According to WHO [Click on the image}

 air-pollution-by-city

Dispatches from India-1: First impressions

Usha Alexander in Shunya’s Notes:

So here I am living in Gurgaon for the last four months. We arrived in the hottest days of the year and to summer’s sweet deluge of fruits—mangos, lychees, jamun, watermelon—which we enjoyed daily. Within three days of arrival, we found a furnished rental with adequate water and power backup, and we lucked upon the services of an excellent cook and a cleaning woman, both recent migrants from West Bengal. We soon identified some take-out places, a barber, dairy outlet, and other services in the small bazaar two streets over. And we found a gleaming mall with a modern gym, theater, grocery stores, bookstores, and electronics, just a 15-minute walk from our door, across lots filled with cows, stray dogs, mansions, and shanties.

In our earliest weeks, we spent a lot of time reconnecting with old friends and family in the area. We had to relearn how to get around Gurgaon, which has reconfigured itself in the grand makeover this so-called Millennium City has undergone during the seven years since our previous stay here. Most of these changes have been very useful, from our perspective: the completion of the Delhi Metro line serving Gurgaon; the impending completion of Gurgaon’s own Rapid Metro; improved roads (apart from those still under reconstruction); and the easy availability of familiar international products, like fresh basil and avocados in the grocery store, and hummus and falafel takeaway. So in many respects, our landing has been soft and picking up new rhythms of life has been easy. More:

Dispatches from India-2: On Hiring Domestic Help in India

Where the women rule

In one of the most quickly developing countries in the world, women still fight for equality. But on trains in India, there’s one place women can feel safe. Kanan Gole at The Smart Set:

A man in tattered clothing jumped into the car as the train lurched forward violently, sending him unintentionally crashing into a group of five women near the door. They radiated femininity in their colorful Indian outfits and ornate jewelry, but their soft faces contorted with fury as they unleashed unexpected hell onto this imposter. Suddenly the women were screaming and beating this man. As quickly as he had leapt onto the train, he was thrown off. The concrete platform seemed to do him no harm; he bounded up immediately and pursued the train, cursing the women who cursed right back at him.

From my seat, I watched the spectacle with wide eyes.

“It happens every day, on every train. Sometimes it’s a lot worse,” a lady wearing an elegant salwar-kameez, a traditional Indian outfit, sitting next to me said in a dialect of Gujarati, since my expression revealed that I hadn’t seen this before. More:

Nero’s Guests by P. Sainath

Nero´s Guests is a story about India’s agrarian crisis and the growing inequality seen through the work of the Rural Affairs Editor of Hindu newspaper, P Sainath:

India’s Mars mission

India-Mars

How do you ship a spacecraft in India? By Tata truck, of course. [Click on the image for Emily Lakdawalla's post and more photos]

The 400-million kilometres, 299-day, Rs 450-crore (about USD 74 million) voyage to Mars, set to launch on October 28.

Ahead of the rollout of the spacecraft—the 1,343-kg main bus carrying the 15-kg Mars Orbiter—prayers were conducted for success and blessings were sought for the spacecraft.” Johnson T A on the mission in The Indian Express

More photos here

A lexical sampler — The shape of words to come

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:

Indian speakers of English, though, have no dictionary of Indian usage to fall back on. But we are lucky in that the internet is, metaphorically, one vast searchable dictionary and we can (individually if need be), upload into this ether, words and neologisms and their contemporary meanings. Why? So that posterity doesn’t have to puzzle out usage that will, in time, change or become obsolete.

What follows is a lexical sampler, a handful of words that are looking for traction, for purchase, in desi usage and sometimes finding it.

modi~fy: to shift the blame for violence on to its victims. Thus, ‘Amit began to modify the history of the Gujarat pogrom in 2002.’ This transference can be helped along by the use of the dangling modi~fier and its uncanny knack of recasting victims as passive-aggressors: ‘Eyes bloodshot, hoarse with vengeful shouting, the ghetto was burnt to the ground by the mob.’ Bloodshot, vengeful ghettoes aren’t likely to attract much sympathy even if they are burnt to the ground.

modi~fication: the parent process, the projected transformation of India into Pakistan. modi~fication can also be used as a generic term for majoritarian transition, the conversion of a country into a state owned by its religious majority. Thus, Sri Lanka under the Rajapakse government becomes a nation where modification is complete.

modi~cum: an infinitesimally small, therefore negligible, quantity of anything good. Thus ‘a modicum of tolerance’; ‘a modicum of kindness’; ‘a modicum of humanity’ etc. More:

Raghuram Rajan takes charge at the RBI

Mark Bergen in The Caravan:

India-RBI-GovernorBy the time I met Rajan at the RBI’s offices in Mumbai on 13 September, he was an unlikely celebrity. His modest disavowal of the “magic wand” had been forgotten by the media, and Rajan had become “The Guv”. The overheated market for speculation about Rajan’s superhuman powers peaked earlier that morning, when the Economic Times published a column by Shobhaa De crowning the handsome RBI governor India’s newest sex symbol. (“The guy’s put ‘sex’ back into the limp Sensex,” De wrote. “His chiseled features are as sharp as his brain.”)

We met in the RBI visitor lounge, an angular room on the 18th floor of the bank’s headquarters, whose windows offered a sweeping view of south Mumbai; Rajan’s own office, across the hall, peers over the rest of the city and the sea. Rajan—Raghu to anyone who shakes his hand—sat in front of a wall of small portraits of the governors before him. The painting of his predecessor, Subbarao, had yet to be completed.

When Rajan took over nine days earlier, he immediately introduced measures that many credited with undoing the damage wrought during Subbarao’s last months on the job. The “Rajan rally” made good copy, but he was characteristically cautious in describing his shift in direction: when I asked if the policies introduced in July and August had been reversed, he replied they had merely been “fine-tuned”.  More:

And in The Economist:

You can tell Raghuram Rajan has become important in India because government bigshots ring him up to ask where the rupee is trading. You can tell Mr Rajan is worried that India is in a tight spot because he answers to a decimal place without checking his BlackBerry or computer.

On September 4th he became the 23rd governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), perhaps the country’s best institution. The outgoing governor has challenged him to redefine how emerging-market central banks work. On his first day Mr Rajan duly struck a modernising note, promising to liberalise India’s financial system—and adding he did not expect to win many Facebook “likes”. But his immediate task is dealing with India’s worst economic mess since the crisis of 1991. Growth fell to 4.4% in the quarter to June and the current-account deficit is too high. The rout in emerging markets has hit the rupee hard. It has shed 18% against the dollar this year. India’s banking system is reeling. More:

How India’s parliamentary elections work

Explained in a clear infographic by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Click on the image to see the full infographic.

poll-graphic-1

 

 

The Quantum Indians

At the turn of the 20th century, the world was witnessing a renaissance in the area of quantum physics through the work of great scientists such as Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Ernest Rutherford or Neils Bohr. Unknown to the world, three Indian scientists were also making significant contributions to the quantum world with revolutionary deductions, interpretations and theories.

Ritu Dalmia: How Delhi’s favourite chef built a culinary empire

Naintara Maya Oberoi in The Caravan:

Ritu-Dalmia

Image: Ritu Dalmia website

In 1993, 22-year-old Ritu Dalmia made up her mind to open a restaurant in Delhi. She had, she considered, a knack for good cooking, and she was itching to get out of her family’s marble business. Their trips to Tuscany and Liguria to source stone and purchase equipment had infused her not with an interest in limestone, but with a love of Italian cooking and wine. Her Italian machinery supplier, Serra Turgutcan, a cook herself, suggested that Dalmia open a restaurant in India.

Despite her inexperience, everything seemed possible to the ebullient Dalmia. The restaurant she opened that October in Hauz Khas Village was called MezzaLuna. The menu was Italian, the floors limestone and slate. She filled the space with her own books, and bric-a-brac from Chor Bazaar. Her parents were bemused, but encouraging. Turgutcan flew to Delhi for the opening party. After taking a bite of Dalmia’s ravioli, she pronounced, “Ritu, this tastes like something that came out of an American can.”

“Suddenly, I realised that I thought I knew it all but I didn’t,” Dalmia told me. She began making trips back to Italy, travelling across regions, tasting and learning. She signed up for a two-week course at Case Vecchie, Anna Tasca Lanza’s world-renowned cooking school at Regaleali, the Tasca family estate in the hills southeast of Palermo. “I would dry tomatoes, pick herbs, make sheep’s-milk cheese,” Dalmia said. Lanza, the late marchesa of Mazzarino, was famous for her Sicilian cooking, which is unmistakeably Italian, but tempered by Arab and North African influences. This, the only formal training Dalmia has ever received—she possesses, she said, the useful skill of being able to recreate dishes from taste alone—laid the foundation for a cooking style characterised by simple combinations and bold flavours. More:

India’s plan to become a leading olive oil producer

Atish Patel at BBC:

In a field in India’s western desert state of Rajasthan, row after row of trees covered in lush, green leaves stretch into the distance as the sun beams down from a pale blue sky.

A farm worker kneels down and fights off the wind to grab hold of a thin branch with a few olives on it.

“You see that they are green. Slowly, they will turn red and will be ready to be made into oil in a few months during harvest,” he says.

In September, commercial production of olive oil will begin in Rajasthan as part of India’s ambitious plan to become a leading international producer to rival countries like Spain, Italy and Greece.

Yogesh Verma from Rajasthan Olive Cultivation Limited, a state government-funded agency spearheading the project, says that since 2008, more than 144,000 olive trees have been planted on almost 260 hectares (642 acres) of government and private land in the state, which, with its long, dry summers and short, cool winters, offers the perfect conditions for growing olives. More:

In search of the Indian hipster

Aastha Atray Banan and Gunjeet Sra in Open:

When he was a student, Shardul Sharma, now 33 years old, would go to Delhi’s Chor Bazaar to buy T-shirts for Rs 20 from a pile of clothes. They had been sent over as charity all the way from the United States and had somehow found their way to the markets of Old Delhi. When the internet was still young, he would often log on to Pitchfork, a website that some consider the last word on independent music. It introduced him to bands such as The Stooges, The Kinks and The Fall. The last of which led him to read The Fall by Albert Camus–a novel about a man’s fall from grace. Sharma hadn’t realised all this made him a hipster until he visited the Wikipedia page for ‘Hipster’. He figures his stock market job would’ve disqualified him for the label. But he seems to fit the bill. He has a room full of LPs and wears band T-shirts with skinny pants, vintage Adidas sneakers and big geeky glasses. He likes what he calls ‘alternative’ music and movies.

Amit Malhotra, a 26-year-old visualiser, is so averse to technology that he hand-writes all his documents. He also has the geek glasses and satchel that are the staple of hipsters. He is obsessed with vintage art and fashion; most of his clothes are from thrift shops. He wore a dhoti to the London Fashion Week. He doesn’t label himself a hipster because he doesn’t want to align himself with the majority. “The hipsters here follow trends like their life depends on it and that is completely wrong. You can’t be a hipster if you have to make a conscious effort,” he says.

None of those who use the term ‘hipster’ seem entirely clear about what it means. According to the aggregate wisdom of Wikipedia, to which Sharma turned for clarity, ‘hipster’ refers to ‘a subculture of young, urban middle class adults and older teenagers that appeared in the 1990s… associated with independent music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility, progressive or independent political views, alternative spirituality or atheism/agnosticism, and alternative lifestyles’. This is such a wide definition, it sounds like a complicated way to say ‘non-conformist’. More:

The Malayali Nurse on the Moon

A superb piece in The Ladies Finger:

22fkIn February 2011, bodies of anti-Gaddafi protesters piled up in Tripoli hospital mortuaries, then spilt out in heaps into the corridors, onto empty table tops. A few days later came the stories of Libyan soldiers invading hospitals and ripping off patients’ oxygen masks, the wires connected to their monitors,their drips, their tubes, and taking them away.

Of the 18,000 Indians in Libya at the time, news reports say the majority were young Malayali nurses bandaging and swabbing the civil war. When the Indian government began evacuation of its citizens from Libya, many of these nurses were surprisingly reluctant to leave. Repatriated and living temporarily in Delhi, they roamed around Kerala House like ghosts wondering whether they’d had made a mistake. They talked about the loans they had taken for their courses, the fact that even big city hospitals in India think nothing of making a nurse work 65 hour weeks for Rs 3000 per month, their parents in rural Kerala. Who’d argue with them? By now, many of them are back in Libya.

You can put the Malayali nurse in the old teashop-on-the-moon comic scenario and the joke would still work. She is everywhere. She is rattling in a second-hand Japanese car, driving 150 km from Jebel Akdhar to Muscat to do her weekly shopping. She is all five of the thin, young women hovering behind and managing the mercurial, bejewelled Sardar doctor who looks outraged that he’s stuck in this dreary Bombay clinic. She is speaking German fluently in Cologne and struggling with English as she begins the process of emigration to the US. She is standing in INA market in Delhi with her friend, under a big sign proclaiming in Malayalam ‘Saudi nurse uniform thaiyar’. She is throwing on a hijab as she leaves her Jeddah home. She is the nurse in Delhi who was fired for speaking Malayalam in the lift when she asked her off-duty pal, “Pallil ponno?” She is also the nursing superintendent who fired her. She is the one who made everyone laugh at the idea of a nurse not speaking Malayalam. More:

Why Chetan Bhagat shouldn’t speak for Indian Muslims

Prayaag Akbar in Mint:

Chetan Bhagat, ever the well-meaning bull in a china shop, wrote this weekend about the Indian Muslim. In his regular Times of India column (in a piece headlined “Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth”), Bhagat appropriates the voice of—he doesn’t specify this, but it is easily surmised from the tone and content of the letter—a young Indian Muslim angry at his exclusion from the mainstream capitalist, neoliberal project. The piece is predictably disappointing in its understanding of the Muslim experience in India, but let us put that aside for the moment and discuss first this assumption of voice.

In India, we are perhaps overly protective of identity groupings. If a debate arises over the actions of a religious or caste group, or over the legacy of a historical figure, fear of giving offence sometimes leads to submission to loud voices instead of the safeguarding of freedom of information and thought. It is precisely this kind of criticism that Bhagat seeks to preempt when he writes, with splendid crudity, “I don’t have a name like Ahmed or Saeed or Mirza, anything that will clearly establish me as a Muslim.” Bhagat is saying, I am not a Muslim, so what? But what he is doing is actually pretty sneaky: His disclaimer is in fact a way of positioning himself, to the great majority of his audience, as someone qualified to write on this subject. The understanding he hopes to transmit to his reader through his mea culpa is that he should still be allowed to speak for the entirety of the Muslim population in India.

There are two problems with this. First, while anyone should be encouraged to produce scholarship and analysis about communities or historical figures, Bhagat’s casual ownership of the voice of 150 million people is patently not that. Second: It is precisely because I am an Indian and a Muslim that I would never dare to speak for all of us. More:

Life and lucre on the open border between Nepal and India

Kristen Zipperer in Himal Southasian:

The night bus had arrived early at Birgunj, on the Nepal side of the Indo-Nepal border, a rare occurrence that I was not able to appreciate fully because it was 4:30 in the morning, and the city was still slumbering. Trying to figure out what to do with myself, I turned to Bikas, a friend I had just made on the bus journey. “Which way is the border?” I asked. “About 15 minutes down that way,” he replied, pointing down a deserted road that dissolved into darkness. “Would you like to see it?”

We found a rickshaw heading toward the border and set out south. As we rode, the early morning began to crack through the night. Along the road, open fields dotted with unremarkable cement buildings slowly came into view in the pinkish light. A tonga carrying a few passengers passed our rickshaw, and Bikas flagged it down. “How about some tea?” he asked as we climbed aboard. A few minutes down the road, Bikas pointed to a wooden archway: “That’s the gateway of Nepal.” Confused, I asked where we were going. “To India,” he responded, “to drink tea.”

Our tonga was no longer in Nepal, but it was also not yet in India. We were passing through a no-man’s land, a hazy patch of earth that does not officially belong to either country. The sprawling Gangetic plain extended outward on either side of us, and it was not clear where one country ended and the other began. On the far side, an Indian border official stopped our cart. The other passengers in the cart were either Indian or Nepali and, unlike me, did not require a passport for the crossing. Bikas explained that he and I were heading to India just briefly, to drink some tea, and the official waved the tonga on. And just like that, we had arrived in Raxaul, Bihar. We drank our tea, and then crossed back into Nepal. More:

A deadly triangle: India vs Pakistan in Afghanistan

The Brookings Essay by William Dalrymple:

 AT SIX O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING of February 26, 2010, Major Mitali Madhumita was awakened by the ringing of her mobile phone. Mitali, a 35-year-old Indian army officer from Orissa, had been in Kabul less than a year. Fluent in Dari, the most widely spoken language in Afghanistan, she was there to teach English to the first women officer cadets to be recruited to the Afghan National Army.

It was a sensitive posting, not so much because of gender issues as political ones: India’s regional rival, Pakistan, was extremely touchy about India providing military assistance to the government in Afghanistan and had made it very clear that it regarded the presence of any Indian troops or military trainers there as an unacceptable provocation. For this reason everyone on the small Indian army English Language Training Team, including Mitali, and all the Indian army doctors and nurses staffing the new Indira Gandhi Kabul Children’s Hospital, had been sent to Afghanistan unarmed, and in civilian dress. They were being put up not in an army barracks, or at the Indian Embassy, but in a series of small, discreet guest houses dotted around the city’s diplomatic quarter.

The phone call was from a girlfriend of Mitali’s who worked for Air India at Kabul airport. Breathless, she said she had just heard that two of the Indian guest houses, the Park and the Hamid, were under attack by militants. As the only woman on her team, Mitali had been staying in separate lodgings about two miles away from the rest of her colleagues, who were all in the Hamid. Within seconds, Mitali was pulling on her clothes, along with the hijab she was required to wear, and running, alone and unarmed, through the empty morning streets of Kabul toward the Hamid. More:

B Raman, India’s seasoned spymaster and trenchant US critic, dies at 77

Chidanand Rajghatta in The Times of India:

His last tweet on May 30, as he battled the final stages of terminal cancer, read, ”Hanumanji willing, shd be back home coming Saturday.” But as his life ebbed away over the last fortnight, Bahukutumbi Raman might have noted, in his usual dry and dispassionate manner, that (1) Hanumanji was not around (2) Hanumanji must have had other pressing matters and (3) One should prepare for scenarios without Hanumanji.

That’s the standard government memo template he used for many years to convey matters of great strategic pith and moment to his fans, friends, and followers. He was not given to hyperbole or emotion or drama. Through the months of his cancer treatment, he tweeted about it in a matter-of-factly tone, once chastising someone who was persuading him to eat — ”Affection for terminal cancer patients shd be simple and normal, not instructive.” Through pain, medication, and therapy, some of which he disdained, he kept up a steady feed of advice, counsel, guidance, and inquiry to his constituents in the strategic sphere. It included telling the Government of India on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Tokyo that ”Ind-Japan shd make China’s seeming strengths into strategic vulnerabilities.”

On Sunday evening, the 77-year old Raman – Raman mama to some of his acolytes – one of the founders of India’s spy outfit Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the public face of its underrated and understated analysts community, passed away in Chennai. In the arcane world of espionage, where practitioners generally keep a low profile (particularly in India), Raman became a prolific contributor to public discourse on intelligence matters, often challenging conventional wisdom, and going upstream of establishment flow, especially on Pakistan and the United States. More:

The gut-wrenching science behind the world’s hottest peppers

Nothing compares to the legendary superhot that spices life in remote India. In the Smithsonian:

The 17 tribes of Nagaland are united, historically, by an enthusiasm for heads. The Nagas: Hill Peoples of Northeast India—my reading matter on the two-hour drive from Dimapur to Kohima, in the state of Nagaland —contains dozens of references to head-taking but only one mention of the item that has brought me here: the Naga King Chili (a.k.a. Bhut Jolokia), often ranked the world’s hottest. “In the Chang village of Hakchang,” the anthropologist J. H. Hutton is quoted as saying in 1922, “…women whose blood relations on the male side have taken a head may cook the head, with chilies, to get the flesh off.” Hutton’s use of “cook” would seem to be a reference to Chang culinary practice. Only on rereading did I realize the Chang weren’t eating the chilies—or the flesh, for that matter—but using them to clean the skull.

Such is the perplexing contradiction of the genus Capsicum: condiment and industrial solvent, pleasure and pain. I’ve come to Nagaland to confront the conundrum on its home turf at the annual all-tribe get-together, the Hornbill Festival, which includes a Naga King Chili-Eating Competition.

The last known head-taking raid occurred sometime in the last century. (The verb “taking” is preferred over hunting. You do not hunt heads. You hunt people and then take their heads.) Most Nagas are Baptists now. Nonetheless, they appear to have pride in their gruesome heritage. A crossbeam on the front of the Chang exhibit building on the festival grounds is decorated with a row of cephalic bas-reliefs; lest anyone mistake them for family portraiture, the neck stalks drip red.More:

Mallika Sherawat talks “Dirty Politics”