Mothers in law have long been a focal point of Indian society. With the modernization of Indian culture, their roles are changing for better and for worse.
It's not all bad news. People are living longer, we're winning the fight against malaria, worldwide poverty is down, and eight more reasons for hope in the coming year.
"My subject is a barren one – the world of nature, or in other words life; and that subject in its least elevated department, and employing either rustic terms or foreign, nay barbarian words that actually have to be introduced with an apology. Moreover, the path is not a beaten highway of authorship, nor one in which the mind is eager to range: there is not one of us who has made the same venture, nor yet one Roman who has tackled single-handed all departments of the subject."Naturalis Historia was written by Pliny the Elder between 77 and 79 CE and was meant to serve as a kind of proto-encyclopedia discussing all of the ancient knowledge available to him, covered in enough depth and breadth to make it by a reasonable margin the largest work to survive to the modern day from the Roman era. The work includes discussions on astronomy, meteorology, geography, mineralogy, zoology and botany organized along Aristotelian divisions of nature but also includes essays on human inventions and institutions. It is dedicated to the Emperor Titus in its epistle to the Emperor Vespasian, a close friend of Pliny who relied on his extensive knowledge, and its unusually careful citations of sources as well as its index makes it a precursor to modern scholarly works. It was Pliny's last work, as well as sadly his sole surviving one, and was published not long before his death attempting to save a friend from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, famously recounted by Pliny's eponymous nephew Pliny the Younger.
Here is a reasonable translation that is freely available to download from archive.org for your edification.[more inside]
Undercover of helping immigrant agricultural workers who have long needed a break in America, the American technology sector - lead by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg - has seen fit to heavily lobby Congress to increase H1-B and other worker visa permits, vastly increasing H1-B visas at a time when very good research shows that there is no shortage of tech workers in America. Zuckerberg has so far succeeded, in the Senate. What is motivating the claim for more H1-B visas and what's at stake? [more inside]
A day apart, the Supreme Court of India and the High Court of Australia respectively overturned the three-year-old 2009 Delhi High Court ruling and the five-day-old Australian Capital Territory same sex marriage law. For India, this means a return to laws dating from the British rule of India which criminalise sexual acts "against the order of nature", and for Australia this means a return to the "man and woman" 2004 Amendment of the Federal Marriage Act.
The Far Post is a journalism series by Roads and Kingdoms and Sports Illustrated on global soccer culture that will run every other week until the start of "the largest theater that has ever existed in human history," the World Cup. So far there are five articles: Brazil 2014 Starts Now by Laurent Dubois gives an overview of the history of the World Cup and what it means now. Messi in Kolkata by Kanishk Tharoor is about a visit by the Argentine national team to Kolkata and the state of the game in India. Afghanistan United By May Jeong is the story of the incredible triumph of the Afghan national team at the 2013 South Asian Championship. Soccer and the Street in Istanbul by Izzy Finkel reports on the links between soccer and politics in Turkey. The Long Revolution of the Ultras Ahlawy by Patrick Kingsley is the account of how hardcore soccerfans in Egypt, at the center of the 2011 revolution, have fared in the aftermath.
Poor Little Rich Boys: The Art of the Mumbai Circulating Library, by Ryan Holmberg, The Comics Journal's resident Indian comics specialist.
"Anyone can eat for free here, and many, many people do. On a weekday, about 80,000 come. On weekends, almost twice as many people visit. Each visitor gets a wholesome vegetarian meal, served by volunteers who embody India’s religious and ethnic mosaic. “This is our tradition,” said Harpinder Singh, the 45-year-old manager of this huge operation. “Anyone who wants can come and eat.”" Behind the scenes at the kitchen (langar) at the Golden Temple that feeds 100,000 daily. More information from the Golden Temple's website.
The India-Pakistan partition in 1947 separated many friends and families overnight. A granddaughter in India decides to surprise her grandfather on his birthday by reuniting him with his childhood friend (who is now in Pakistan) after over 6 decades of separation, with a little help from Google Search. SLYT
The entire nation of India grinds to a halt for the next 5 days, as Sachin Tendulkar competes in his final Test match before retiring. ESPN's CricInfo has a hub of reflections and recollections for the Little Master. [more inside]
Around the time Ravi Shankar passed in December of last year (previously) his daughters Anoushka Shankar and Norah Jones were working on collaborative tracks for a new album with producer Nitin Sawhney. While the project, which was half way finished at the time, was conceived and planned some time before Ravi Shankar's passing it comes as no surprise that many of the tracks became infused, shaped and sometimes entirely transformed by the immediacy of their experience of the loss of their father. Emotions of sadness, loss and reconciliation run deep within some of the recordings. The album's title track "Traces Of You" is a filigrane dew sprinkled spiderweb gently spun from interlacing threads of melody and texture. An incredibly tender expression of what happens when the raw pain of grief is transformed into the bittersweet melancholy of memories, forgiveness and reconciliation. [more inside]
Chinese Provinces and Indian States : "local leaders are increasingly running much of India and China, which are home to a third of all humanity, from the bottom up. That is affecting how both countries act in the world, which means that these countries need to be understood from the inside out"
Maya Angelou and Madhur Jaffrey share a lunch and conversation in 2005. "Maya Angelou and Madhur Jaffrey were born worlds apart, but for both, cooking and sharing food were key to their identities. We invited them for lunch to talk about recipes, love and memory."
The Walk Free Foundation has released its latest report on the contemporary slave trade, the Global Slavery Index (interactive map). As summarized by Al Jazeera, over 29 million people are in some form of involuntary servitude, ranging from kidnapped fishermen to women forced into prostitution to child brides. The countries with the largest populations of enslaved people include Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, India, and Nepal. Back in 2012, J. J. Gould wrote on the difficulties in confronting slavery in today's society: In the West, and particularly in the United States, slavery has long settled in the public imagination as being categorically a thing of the past.... It can mean having a harder time recognizing slavery when it's right in front of us.
How the internet is killing the traditional nastaliq script form of Urdu, and how Windows 8 might save it.
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 The Hindu, P Sainath. The entire film is uncopyrighted and available to watch online. As Sainath says, "There are two kinds of journalists. One kind are journalists, the other are stenographers." As to the silence of the mainstream Indian media on the farmer suicides, he noted:
"Tacitus despised Nero. His writings on the Emperor show us that. However, he wrote very little about his guests. Those who could pop that fig while human torches burned around them. But then, come to think of it, the media of our time – the first-drafters-of history – are remarkably silent about this side of our own elite. Too many of whom are today just that. Nero’s Guests.
Music video for 'Wor' by Django Django filmed at the Indian Well Of Death in Allahabad (SLYT)
It's Your Fault "Every sexual assault case in India inspires a string of stupid and hateful remarks against women. This is our response to those remarks." (SLYT) From AIB365, an Indian sketch comedy troupe.
On Tuesday, a court in India convicted four men of "rape, unnatural sex, murder, conspiracy and destruction of evidence" after they brutally gang-raped a woman on a bus in Delhi last December. The woman died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital. When news broke, it sparked protests (previously) and raised awareness worldwide about the plight of many women in India. Now that the verdict is in, the Guardian analyzes the incident to see how "the nation's surge to superpower status has left millions behind struggling on the margins." (Links in this post contain descriptions of rape and assault which some may find disturbing.) [more inside]
Across three decades, his goal was to drive a scientist’s skepticism into the heart of India, a country still teeming with gurus, babas, astrologers, godmen and other mystical entrepreneurs. Dr Narendra Dabholkar, a former physician, was assassinated at age 67 earlier this week in the city of Pune. From Times of India: "Since 1983, he was confronted time and again by many religious and spiritual gurus, and faced several threats and even physical attacks. But he rejected police protection for himself. 'If I have to take police protection in my own country from my own people, then there is something wrong with me,' he used to say. 'I'm fighting within the framework of the Indian constitution and it is not against anyone, but for everyone.'"
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a string of 572 islands that run roughly north-south in the Bay of Bengal between Myanmar and Indonesia, but are formally a part of the Republic of India. Of the hundreds of islands, less than 40 are inhabited. While you can travel and visit some of the islands, but as of 2005, there are also a few that India has declared closed to outsiders to preserve these distinct cultures, living much as they have for hundreds to thousands of years, remaining distant from all outsiders. The most extreme example are the Sentinelese people who live on North Sentinel Island (Google maps). [more inside]
In 2008 the actor Rupert Everett hosted (seemingly from his apartment) a rather strange documentary: The Victorian Sex Explorer ( 2 3 4 5 ), an attempt to follow in the footsteps of famed Explorer, translator, and author Sir Richard Burton and convince us of Sir Burton's passion for sexual experimentation while laying in lots of bathhouses and visiting brothels. [more inside]
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]