A Deadly Triangle - the proxy war in Afghanistan
Established in 1814 by founding curator, the Danish botanist Nathanial Wallich at the premises of The Asiatic Society, the Indian Museum of Calcutta* is the oldest museum in Asia and the 9th oldest in the world. Referred to as a "museum of museums", considered outdated and obsolete, its Victorian Era majesty dimmed by modernization, the grande dame of Indian history still manages evoke paeans to its otherworldly wonders:
With collections to rival the Smithsonian and the British Museums, it isn't just a storehouse of countless artifacts from the world over. The building seems to be a tiny world, an island in the midst of a busy street. The tall gates with their spikes are the doorways to different recorded ages. All those entering through the high steps are travelers in a time machine. But this is not all that Kolkata's Jadughar or "House of Magic" has to offer. Its jadu lies in the magic with which it houses portions of man's past. The high ceilings seem to stretch to infinity. Amid the silence there is vibrant life. Showcasing essential elements of different cultures, the dark, often dank, interiors show up the objects more sharply. Gradually the eyes grow used to the absence of light; the smell seems natural. It is this ambience that gently draws you in and makes the textbook history we are used to, a tangible living reality.It remains a wonderful time-warp with plenty of mangy-looking stuffed animals, fish and birds, together with fossils so beloved of Victorian collectors, as well as fascinating Indian friezes, bas-reliefs and stone carvings and art.
Although ethnic Mandi women share power with their male counterparts and are able to own property, the custom of mother-daughter joint marriages continue. [more inside]
In 1942 a British forest guard in Roopkund, India made an alarming discovery. Some 16,000 feet above sea level, at the bottom of a small valley, was a frozen lake absolutely full of skeletons.
Mau Mau to Midnapore: Confronting the brutality of empire There are certainly some Britons, including academics, journalists and human rights lawyers, who are aware of the realities of colonialism. However, in the society as a whole and in the media in the UK there are still far too many who seem strangely reluctant, even after so many decades after the end of the British empire, to come to terms with the true nature of colonialism or learn from the perspective of former subjects who had rebelled against it.
Shakuntala Devi, the Indian "human computer," passed away on Sunday. The NY Times first did a profile on her when she visited the US in 1976, during which she computed the cube root of a 9 digit integer in her head, but could not remember that she had been to the US once before -- over 20 years prior. Bob Bemer (inventor of the Escape key previously) remembers meeting her in 1953 on the TV show You Asked For It (which had previously featured a race between an abacus and a calculator). Psychologist Arthur Jensen (who did controversial research on race and IQ) wrote a paper on Shakuntala's exceptional ability in 1990. Shakuntala made her living as an astrologer and authored numerous books mostly on mathematical puzzles and tricks, but also The World of Homosexuals (1977), one of the earliest ethnographic studies of gay people in India. Specifically about gays in her hometown of Bangalore, Shakuntala called for "not only the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India, but also its 'full and complete acceptance' by the heterosexual population so that the Indian homosexual may lead a dignified and secure life."
Sometimes called the "Alan Lomaxes of India," the founders of Amarrass Records are on a mission to record and revitalize interest in traditional music from India, Turkey, and beyond. Over 100 videos on their YouTube channel chronicle their field recordings and festivals featuring artists like Lakha Khan, the Barmer Boys, Bombino, and many others. [more inside]
More than two years later, the Raymond Davis episode has been largely forgotten in the United States. It was immediately overshadowed by the dramatic raid months later that killed Osama bin Laden — consigned to a footnote in the doleful narrative of America’s relationship with Pakistan. But dozens of interviews conducted over several months, with government officials and intelligence officers in Pakistan and in the United States, tell a different story: that the real unraveling of the relationship was set off by the flurry of bullets Davis unleashed on the afternoon of Jan. 27, 2011, and exacerbated by a series of misguided decisions in the days and weeks that followed. In Pakistan, it is the Davis affair, more than the Bin Laden raid, that is still discussed in the country’s crowded bazaars and corridors of power. - The Spy Who Lost Pakistan (SL NYTIMES Magazine)
The Story of the Turban (slyt) is a 38 minute documentary on the history of the Sikh community in 20th century Britain as embodied by the struggle to be allowed to wear the turban in all walks of life.
"India's supreme court has ruled against Swiss drug giant Novartis in a landmark case that activists say will protect access to cheap generic drugs in developing nations." [more inside]
The Forces Of The Next 30 Years - SF author and Mefi's Own Charles Stross talks to students at Olin College about sci-fi, fiction, speculation, the limits of computation, thermodynamics, Moore's Law, the history of travel, employment, automation, free trade, demographics, the developing world, privacy, and climate change in trying to answer the question What Does The World Of 2043 Look Like? (Youtube 56:43)
Sugata Mitra's 2013 TED Prize talk argues that learning should be viewed as self-organizing and that our educational system is a relic of the victorians. His first TED talk has slightly more detail, while his blog has considerably more.
It's nearly impossible to make consumer navigation technology work well in India. Western-style routing based on directions ("Turn left onto Woodrow Street") is impossible when streets often don't have names, not to mention the problems of using the local language. The solution? Landmark based navigation.
Men in Saris: Mumbai's new lavani dancers Lavani is a folk dance, traditionally performed by women for men. The popularity of Bin Baykancha Tamasha (or Performance Without Women) and other female-impersonation groups in Mumbai suggests that the city may slowly be getting comfortable with flamboyant expressions of male sexuality.
Bangalore based blogger ecophilo shares his experiences of attending this year's vast gathering of pilgrims at the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad this year. Previous thread on the Kumbh Mela, what it is and why the Maha Kumbh only takes place every 144 years. Here's a snippet: It all began with Twitter. There were a few on my timeline who were tweeting about the Maha Kumbh Mela, 2013 and a thought took root in my mind. Can I make it to the Kumbh Mela this year? After all, it was tempting to be part of the worlds oldest and largest human gathering - and it seemed within reach too. And The Kumbh Mela was not a place that had ever figured in my list of 'things to experience'.
Ayurveda: Hoax or Science? "'Western science identifies these systems as folklore. They don’t see it as an organised system of knowledge—this is an alien epistemology to them because their medical traditions only go as far back as the medieval times and renaissance.' There is also the very real problem of complexity in natural-product research. It is harder to develop a drug from Ayurveda than it is to build a synthetic molecule, because of the large number of compounds in each Ayurvedic herb. All these factors are responsible for the state of Ayurvedic medicine today."
Hungry? Meet Rocky and Mayur -- two likeable blokes who happen to host an Indian food/road show called "Highway On My Plate." Since 2005 they've been traveling around the country sampling the culinary delights of the subcontinent, and lately they've been visiting school and college cafeterias. Youtubery ahead! [more inside]
'I'm sick of being ashamed." Three days ago, an anti-harassment activist said those words to me in a flat above Cairo's Tahrir square, as she pulled on her makeshift uniform ready to protect women on the protest lines from being raped in the street. Only days before, I'd heard exactly the same words from pro-choice organisers in Dublin, where I travelled to report on the feminist fight to legalise abortion in Ireland. I had thought that I was covering two separate stories – so why were two women from different countries and backgrounds repeating the same mantra against fear, and against shame?[more inside]
Over a thousand monks and laymen are revered in Tibetan Buddhism as the incarnations of past teachers who convey enlightenment to their followers from one lifetime to the next. Some of the most respected are known by the honorific "rinpoche." For eight centuries, rinpoches were traditionally identified by other monks and then locked inside monasteries ringed by mountains, far from worldly distractions. Their reincarnation lineages were easily tracked across successive lives. Then the Chinese Red Army invaded Tibet in 1950 and drove the religion's adherents into exile. Now, the younger rinpoches of the Tibetan diaspora are being exposed to all of the twenty-first century’s dazzling temptations. So, even as Tibetan Buddhism is gaining more followers around the world, an increasing number of rinpoches are abandoning their monastic vows. Reincarnation in Exile. [more inside]
A documentary film about Norman Borlaug, the Iowa farm boy who saved over a billion people from starvation. (1:06:47) Americans have little knowledge of one of their greatest sons. Why do schoolchildren in China, India, Mexico, and Pakistan know the name and work of Nobel Peace Prize winner [His speech] Norman Borlaug while so few of his countrymen have never heard of him? How did a dirt-poor farm boy from rural Iowa grow up to save a billion people worldwide from starvation and malnutrition and become the father of the Green Revolution? What were the inherited traits and environmental factors that shaped his astonishing journey and led to successes that surprised even him? What can we learn from his life and views that might help the human race survive the next critical century? [more inside]
The Desi Cow – Almost Extinct "The idea of the cow, of course, is also emotively charged because of its mythical place in Hindu iconography, religion and culture: it is quite literally worshipped as goddess Kamdhenu: the cow of plenty... Again, this veneration is founded in hard pragmatics. Traditionally, India has been home to some of the most varied stock of cows in the world: the red-skinned Sahiwal that milks through droughts, the mighty Amrit Mahal with swords for horns or the tiny Vechur that stands no taller than a dog."
A recent genetic study suggests that around 2200 BC explorers from India arrived and settled on the continent of Australia. "Unlike their European successors, these earlier settlers were assimilated by the locals. And they brought with them both technological improvements and one of Australia’s most iconic animals." [SLEconomist]
"To the world of today the men of medieval Christendom already seem remote and unfamiliar. Their names and deeds are recorded in our history-books, their monuments still adorn our cities, but our kinship with them is a thing unreal, which costs an effort of imagination. How much more must this apply to the great Islamic civilization, that stood over against medieval Europe, menacing its existence and yet linked to it by a hundred ties that even war and fear could not sever. Its monuments too abide, for those who may have the fortunate to visit them, but its men and manners are to most of us utterly unknown, or dimly conceived in the romantic image of the Arabian Nights. Even for the specialist it is difficult to reconstruct their lives and see them as they were. Histories and biographies there are in quantity, but the historians for all their picturesque details, seldom show the ability to select the essential and to give their figures that touch of the intimate which makes them live again for the reader. It is in this faculty that Ibn Battuta excels." Thus begins the book, "Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354" published by Routledge and Kegan Paul. Step into the world of "the first tourist" who made his mark as the world's greatest traveler before the age of steam. [more inside]
"The brutal* gang rape of a student in Delhi on December 15 has ignited anger across the country. Youth and students from various cities raised their voices demanding a safer society for women and an end to violence in every form*. From the capital* city of Delhi to Hyderabad and Guwahati, protesters turned up in large numbers to register their protest." (text via The Hindu's slideshow) Women protesters were also sexually harassed during these protests. *may contain triggers
"Honey laundering is a complex exercise that involves several players in the honey chain from apiary to wholesaler to retailer. In the case against ALW, evidence was presented to show the use of fake country-of-origin documents for shipments, replacement of labels on Chinese containers with fraudulent ones, switching of honey containers in a third country, and even the blending of Chinese honey with glucose syrup or honey from another country."
The times of The Times of India - world's largest broadsheet English daily
The Mumbai Parsi community is hoping to return vultures to their traditional and religious role of eating the dead by building aviaries near the Towers of Silence where the Zoroastrian dead are laid out to be stripped clean by vultures. For the past fifteen years, there have been barely a dozen vultures in Mumbai, and members of the community have increasingly turned to cremation (especially during the rainy season), which the religion considers unclean. The community hopes to have vultures return to eating the dead by February 2014. [more inside]
Gamechanger: $25 tablets, $2 mobile data plans, and zero margins–how the internet is about to gain 3 billion new users and a look inside that world’s cheapest tablet computer, India’s Aakash 2 - includes video.
"Perhaps the most remembered and quoted (pdf) woman in Indian history is a sixteenth century poet, singer and saint called Mirabai, or Meera. Versions of her songs are sung today all over India, and she appears as a subject in films, books, dances, plays and paintings. Even Gandhi promoted her, seeing Mira as a symbol of a woman who has the right to choose her own path, forsake a life of luxury, and in nonviolent resistance find liberation (pdf)." ~ Women in World History
A polemic against NGOs and the destruction of local innovation However, one issue that has received relatively scant attention is the way in which the notion of civil society has been reduced to being synonymous with non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This is one area that can have malign and far-reaching negative impacts, which I’d like to explore here. And here's another view, this time from India.
As accreditation to many photographic news agencies is declined by the BCCI (Board of Cricket Control for India), The Telegraph publishes its own images of action from the India vs England first test match, while the Guardian goes retro. [more inside]
A great week for Australian Diplomacy
It has been an excellent week for Australian diplomacy. Prime Minister Julia Gillard established a strong new beginning for Australia's sometimes-troubled ties with a rising India. And the crowning moment was of course the country's victory in its bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council ...[more inside]
"Every year thousands of westerners flock to India to meditate, practice yoga, and seek spiritual transcendence. Some find what they're looking for. Others give up and go home. A few become so consumed by their quest for godliness that it kills them."
High and Dry: How Sabrina De Sousa, a former US diplomat of Indian origin, was swept up in the undertow of the war on terror "Sabrina De Sousa was among those convicted in absentia in Italy in November 2009—wrongly, she says, and based only on circumstantial evidence. She was an accredited diplomat at the US consulate in Milan at the time, but claims she was not in Milan on the day of the kidnapping ... Sabrina has argued that she should have been protected from prosecution because of diplomatic immunity. The US government thought otherwise."
Blast from the past: scans of posters from schools in India. That's all.
Dashrath Manjhi is a modern legend in Gaya, India. He resolved to carve a road through a mountain when his wife died on the long journey to the nearest doctor. With only hand tools, he worked full time for 22 years to cut through 360 feet of mountain. He shortened the distance to the nearest doctor from 75 km to 8 km. In recognition of his achievment, the government gave him five acres of land near his village, which he donated toward the construction of a small hospital. He he died in 2007.
After years of severe setbacks, plans gone awry, limited backdoor entry, millions of dollars spent lobbying and a truculent audience, Wal-Mart finally gets a green signal for the Indian market. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced lifting of restrictions on foreign investment in India's retail and aviation sectors as an economic boost. Many are sceptical. The truculence remains. What happens next?
Indian cartoonist jailed on sedition charges An Indian cartoonist detained on sedition charges for his satirical drawings highlighting widespread corruption among India’s political elite has been jailed for two weeks, rekindling a fierce debate on freedom of speech in the world’s largest democracy. In India the Enemies of Free Speech Find a "Symbolic" Means to Attack Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi. [more inside]
"Hundreds of Kashmiri militants who left home as young men two decades ago have begun to return, middle-aged and disillusioned. What happens to them now?"
India mourns Dr Verghese Kurien who passed away today at age 90. If you have eaten butter in India, or been able to add a spot of milk to your tea, then you've experienced the impact of Operation Flood — the largest dairy development program in the world. Operation Flood helped India become the world's largest milk producer by 2010–11, with close to 17 percent of the global production. Gujarat-based co-operative, the "Anand Milk Union Limited", often called Amul, was the engine behind the success of the programme. While much more can be said about Dr Kurien's work with dairy farmers, cooperatives, milk production as well as his awards and honours, his best known legacy is perhaps the creation of the Amul brand. The little girl who knew just how to poke India's funny bone has her very own Previously.
Master Builder Uncovers Striking Similarities In Indian and Incan / Mayan Sacred Structures:- It is Sthapati's theory that Mayan, the creator of Indian architecture, originated from the Mayan people of Central America. In Indian history, Mayan appears several times, most significantly as the author of Mayamatam, "Concept of Mayan" which is a Vastu Shastra, a text on art, architecture and town planning. The traditional date for this work is 8,000bce. Mayan appears in the Ramayana (2000bce) and again in the Mahabharata (1400bce) - in the latter he designs a magnificent palace for the Pandava brothers. Mayan is also mentioned in Silappathikaram, an ancient Tamil scripture, and is author of Surya Siddhanta, one of the most ancient Hindu treatises on astronomy. (Original ca. 1995) [more inside]
"I chose the meditation style known as Vipassana for several reasons. It's wholly nondenominational. No gods are prayed to, no mantras chanted, all religious iconography is prohibited. If you typically wear, say, a crucifix, you must remove it for the duration of the course. Also, there is no need for prior meditation experience – in fact, I was told, a neophyte is the ideal student because you won't have any bad habits to avoid – which suited me perfectly, as I'd never meditated before." [The Quiet Hell of Extreme Meditation]