Monday, March 20, 2017

The Unravelling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad

Pakistan was conceived as a safe haven for South Asian Muslims (where they could practice unhindered their uniquely liberal and celebratory Sufi brand of Islam) by a British-educated stiff upper lip Shia lawyer whose vision was decidedly secular and modern. But it has long since abandoned its founder Jinnah’s blueprint. A blind guttural dislike of its neighbour, and once sibling, India (mainly because of the unfinished business of Kashmir) and a Saudi fed drift into Sunni Wahabbi extremism has transformed Pakistan into almost a lost cause, with the world fearfully watching its nuclear stockpile. The turning point was the anti-Soviet Afghan war of the 80s, where American (+ Saudi) money and weapons, and Pakistani shelter and training, spitefully created the monster jihadi machine. The book “The Unravelling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad” by former American diplomat John R. Schmidt once stationed in Islamabad, lightly glides over America and Saudi Arabia’s direct responsibility in messing with Pakistan, but otherwise details in very fine print the cumulative muddle Pakistani state and society has progressively and inexorably drawn itself into. A scary read, the book ends with conjecturing about the aftermaths of a nuclear war in South Asia, almost relishing the cataclysmic details.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Gandhi Before India

This voluminous tome (nearly 700 pages), on the lives and times that Gandhi (MK) led between 1893-1914 in South Africa, brings forth fresh perspectives about his progressive development into the bare-footed, sometimes wily, ‘Mahatma’ he eventually became. Though principally an admirer’s account, Ramachandra Guha does not shy away from revealing the occasional dirt. However sometimes the efforts at appreciative approval are tediously detailed & repetitive and at times the dirt is glossed over in a hurry or in broad strokes. Gandhi was no friend of the black man in Africa, while he was in Africa. Patriarchy and baniya values, combined with extreme idiosyncrasies in the matters of food, sex and health, were the other demons he struggled with, along with an increasing understanding of the surprising power of moral persuasion. Was he right or wrong? Or perhaps his importance lies in the fact that he tried.


Kesar Mangoes anybody ? At the Gir Birding Lodge ( Mobile phone photo: Arun Gupta.

Which Tree is this ? At a Gir Forest check post. Mobile phone photo: Arun Gupta.

Somnath Temple

The Somnath Shiv Temple near Veraval, Gujarat is such an ordinary, overhyped space. Disappointing to visit it after hearing so much about it, especially from the Hindu right.

Assembly Elections March 2017

The astute Indian voter has spoken - wide awake in deep slumber.

Time for the Gandhi clan to let Congress be.

Time to rethink universal adult franchise ? Should there be some minimum qualifications needed to exercise your vote other than mere biological maturity ?