For several years now, my humanities education has been running in parallel with my training as a vocalist in Carnatic Music, a style of music from South India. Each December I travel to Chennai to attend the famous “music season,” a festival for Carnatic Music that sees hundreds of performances and lectures throughout the city for nearly a month. I often return to Chennai in the less chaotic summer months, when I have more time and patience to learn from my guru Sri P.S. Narayanaswamy, whom we affectionately call PSN Mama. The transition from finishing my last paper of the semester to learning the first composition of the summer is always something of a leap.
Music seems to demand of me a different kind of learning than what I’m used to at university. Yet when I try to speak on the specific method of my guru, at first I don’t have anything all that interesting to say. Like most teachers of Carnatic Music, PSN Mama teaches me through compositions: he sings the composition line by line, and I sing each line back to him until he is convinced I’ve understood its structure. For fifteen years we have known each other more through our singing voices than our conversations, most of which are usually about when to meet next, or whether I want coffee before we begin.
Distinguished by their ability to imagine the unimaginable and assign meaning to meaningless, human beings have always been meaning-seekers, and therefore myth-makers. Mythology could be about the incomprehensible part of the physical world or even about what we call the spiritual realm, but the epistemes of myths fuse together the spiritual and the mundane. The content of myths may occur within the bounds of time and space in some distant past, however, their retelling is a perpetual recurrence in collective memory. It is an eternal event that occurs in continuum. Myth is not merely an occurrence in chronological history, but also an ahistorical truth: “A myth was an event which in some sense, had happened once, but which happened all the time.”1
The following message was sent by Mr. M.N. Roy to the Bengal Provincial Conference of the Radical Democratic Party held on October 14/15, 1944 at Jaynagar under the presidentship of A.N. Chattopadyay M.L.A. (Central)
More than half a century has passed since the place of the movement for freedom of India began. Bengal was the birth place of the movement. During this period, the world has undergone many changes … the latest of them being the global war, which is now bearing its end. The conclusion of the mighty clash of arms however will bring the more fundamental issues underlying the gigantic conflict to the forefront. The war will still have to be waged on the political and social fronts, which cut across national frontiers.
The final stages of India’s struggle for freedom will be fought in that context of a transnational period in the history of the world. In that period, old ideas and ideals will no longer hold good. They are already in the melting pot. Should India even then cling to antiquated ideas and cherish discredited ideals, she might still languish in the stagnant backwaters of history, when the more fortunate and enterprising peoples have turned their back on the past to bury its dead to march towards a future of real freedom.
January 10th, 2013 marked one of the worst episode of Shia genocide in Pakistan when two bomb blasts targeting the Hazara Shia community, killed almost 200 people in a busy marketplace in Quetta. The Hazara Shias, who have been systematically and ruthlessly killed for almost a decade, refused to bury their dead and sat alongside with their bodies on the streets for three days and nights, through torrential rain and cold weather. This was a heart-wrenching protest, which drew an overwhelming nationwide response of sympathy from not just from Shia communities, but from Pakistanis of all religious affiliations. Protestors sought to highlight the injustices faced by the Shia community and the lack of state response, which can be judged from the fact that none of the perpetrators have ever been arrested or prosecuted in the last decade. One reason for the apparent inaction against the Sunni extremists seems to be a general confusion and a lack of consensus among the mainstream Sunnis themselves, regarding ways in which to respond to such incendiary vitriol spewed by such militant groups.
In the light of the imploding violence against the Shias and the atrocities taking place in the name of religion, it seems worthwhile to delve deeper into history to analyze the dynamics of Sunni militancy. Prevalent analysis on Pakistan continues to insist that the hatred Sunni militant groups bear towards Shia Muslims is fundamentally theological. In reality it has little to do with theology and everything to do with the politics of the times. Much is consequently being said about the need to accept and overcome religious ‘differences’ among both sects in Pakistan presently, but the exact nature or scale of these differences is hardly ever a point of reference in any meaningful discussion. In this sense, the very premise of such arguments seems intrinsically flawed, as it portrays the Shia as the ‘other’ with many commentators inadvertently aggregating them with non-Muslims as a ‘minority.’
“..People sometimes ask…why the Pope does not introduce this or that reform? The true answer is that a revolutionist is not the kind of man who becomes a Pope and that a man who becomes a Pope has no wish to be a revolutionist.”
What will the legacy of B.R. Ambedkar mean to India and the world one hundred years from now? It is not uncommon or insignificant that extraordinary genius remains under-appreciated in its time, waiting in the wings as the lens of human consciousness develops the capacity to penetrate into its beckoning depths. Far ahead of its time, even in this day and age, Ambedkar’s The Annihilation of Caste is one such exceptional tract of extraordinary human insight. Though currently undervalued, its universal frame suggests that it must eventually take its place as a guiding beacon of the Indian nation.Like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, the legacy of M.K. Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar form an essential binary. One person paves the way for immidiate change, taking into consideration current sensibilities, while the other constructs the dreams of tomorrow–shattering every rotten, but dearly held sentiment that stands in the way. Today, we understand Gandhi and Ambedkar as polarities, in time perhaps we will see that they are two essential parts of the same puzzle of India.One hundred years from now, with the distance of time, we might realize that Gandhi was but India’s pope. His complicit charisma threaded together an unlikely nation. Ambedkar is our revolutionist. He set the terms for our freedom and through his drafting of the Indian Constitution, he won a victory that Gandhi never could. Unlike Gandhi, he did not see the nation that would exist in the next year, the next decade or the next five decades. He imagined the contours of a nation that persisted beyond this century and into the next. He constructed the strong foundations necessary for such longevity. His commitment to fundamental human equality and social justice sealed the nation together in an unbreakable bond. Through his words, his deeds, and his greatest legacy to the people of the Indian nation: the Indian Constitution, he has left us the foundations for the construction of an eternal nation. He has set his legacy in the strongest of stone. How our current generation decides to engage with his legacy, will determine the fate of our own legacy, as well as the fate of our nation.
Written in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Mahmood Mamdani’s 2005 book Good Muslim, BadMuslim historicizes the violence of terrorism. It extricates terrorism from the narrow morality that arises from the convergence of ethics and national interest, and instead locates terrorism “first and foremost as unfinished business of the Cold War.”1 “Good” and “bad” Muslims, terms borrowed from former U.S. President George W. Bush,2 are descriptions not of religious adherence, but of utility to U.S. foreign policy. As yesterday’s allies become today’s antagonists, the labels change to morally denigrate American foes.
Reintroducing history to the violence, the book begins by tracing the broad contours of the relationship between nation-state modernity and violence. Mamdani rejects violence as a pre-modern phenomenon, asserting instead that there is an inextricable relationship between violence and modernity.3 This is the book’s central theoretical framework: violence is political, not cultural.
The first chapter builds on this history of violence, and offers an alternative account of political Islam. It exposes the caricatures of Muslims and Islam that are deployed to provide a moral veneer for expansionist imperialism. The subsequent three chapters offer a chronological account of the violence of U.S. imperialist policies, beginning with post-Vietnam American support for anti-nationalist militancies, and through the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Today’s terrorism, the book asserts, is a direct consequence of these policies. The final chapter of the book offers closing thoughts, exhorting a review of American policies that “consistently seem to erode support and generate opposition.”4
These pictures were taken at the Dalit Adivasi Mahasamelanam, in November 2012, where tens of thousands of Dalits and Adivasis, including families of men, women, children, the elderly and in some cases, entire village communities, gathered together at the famous Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi in a campaign to end caste, caste discrimination, and caste atrocities. A letter reprinted below, written by Mr. G.M. Thaware, Secretary, All-India Depressed Classes Association to Mr. M.K. Gandhi regarding the condition of the ‘Depressed Classes,’ written in 1941, is telling. This letter is sourced from the National Archives of India‘s public records–Thaware forwarded a copy to the British Indian Administration for their records.
“Egypt is heading towards civil war”, composer Mohammed Fairouz plainly states in discussion of his opera, Sumeida’s Song, which premiered at the Prototype Festival in SoHo. Civil war is perhaps too strong a word to describe the current state of affairs in Egypt, but few would argue with Fairouz that the country is going, in his words, in “a particularly bad direction.”
After a series of electoral victories, Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood effectively spent the final months of 2012 fast-tracking drastic changes to the constitution that many seculars, liberals, and democratic activists believe provide inadequate protection for women, religious minorities, and other groups, while laying the groundwork for implementation of Sharia law in the country (“Sharia law in Egypt?” Fairouz asks plaintively, before giving in to nervous laughter. “I mean, it’s not Saudi Arabia, it’s Egypt!”).