Books; People; Ideas : These are few of my favourite things. As I live between day-to-day compromises and change-the-world aspirations, this is the chronicle of my journey, full of moments of occasional despair and opportune discoveries, of connections and creations, and, most of all, my quest of knowledge as conversations.
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Timely meditations: Indians and their cows
The cow cartoons explaining politics has now been greatly expanded (see the impressive range here) and an Indian version has become available. The joke, however, is timely, though slightly misdirected: The title should have been Indian ideology, rather than Indian corporation. [Indian corporation version, if one must try, would be - you have two cows. You outsource them. You buy back their half-diluted milk 25% cheaper. But then you build a dozen flats where the barn used to be.]
A lot of people ask me whether Indians really worship the cows. While the fact that Hindus don't eat beef was well-known, the recent news about cow vigilantism and cow-urine retail packs have brought the question to the fore. And, also, the other aspect of this debate is Hindu/ Indian distinction. Some parents in a local primary school petitioned 'Indians don't eat beef' and almost convinced everyone, until more enthusiastic ones tried to take this one step further - Indians don't eat meat, they said - for the whole idea to unravel.
Since Prime Minister Modi's government has come to power in India, cows have been in headline news. The consumption of beef, already a taboo in many states, has been banned in many other states, including in Jammu and Kashmir, the only state in India where Muslims are a majority. Buffalo meat was, ironically, one of the key export commodities from India, where the country had a technological advantage, but it stalled in the face of political uncertainty (See this story from The Economist). Various Indian state governments passed legislation restricting cattle sales and slaughter, and cow-vigilantism became headline news as it spread across the country and Ministers provided it tacit support by remaining silent in the face of lynching and burning of people accused of eating ot storing beef (or buying or selling cattle).
So, what about Hindus and the cows? Is it a sacred animal and why? When we know that the ancient Hindus did eat beef and sacrificed Oxen at festivals, why is it a big issue for today's Hinduvta warriors? It is worth exploring the back story, both genetic and religious, to understand the connection. However, at the outset, this is not an attempt at justification of the modern politics of the cows, which, as I hope the following paragraphs would show, is based on a profound but deliberate misinterpretation of the Hindu tradition.
Genetic evidence points to all existing cows originating from a single herd of wild Oxen in ancient Persia (see the story) and while many still debate about exact time of its domestication, we know of domesticated cows in the Indus valley about 8,000 years ago. That makes cows an early breed to be domesticated, and humped cow, in particular, a South Asian domestic animal of choice.
The lactose tolerance, a mutation that came with domesticated cows and something proved to be an evolutionary advantage as this was an easy source of nutrition, followed the same path out of Persia. It seems that this mutation moved from Persia to Europe (and is considered as one of the possible sources of European advantage) but also to India (see this report). It seems that the 'Aryans' brought cows and lactose tolerance to India, because most Indians in South and East India show less lactose tolerance than the North Indians. As the Aryans, who seemed to have been cow-herders, interacted with the settled farming communities in India, they brought the cow into the culture. In that sense, the ancient Indians and cows co-evolved together, and built bonds as deep as Central Asian or Middle Eastern tribes and their horses.
This brings us to the figure of cow (and Ox) in Hindu culture. For the Hindu texts, such as the epic Mahabharata, the cow is the symbol of the Earth while the Ox is the symbol of 'dharma', or duty. The earth, like the cow, is milked for sustenance - and as the giver of sustenance, one is to look after the mother earth (and the cow, as its symbol). This symbolism may have a material origin and arisen from the deep connections between the Aryans and their cows, but cows stood for an attitude of 'care', a commitment to nature, as Hinduism spread to other parts of India where cows were relatively new imports. Indeed, cows provided poor agricultural families a whole energy system, nutrition through milk and fuel through cow-dung, while Oxen were used in tilling the land. It is not difficult to guess why a community would want to discourage the slaughter of its cows for their meat when it was so integral to its existence.
So, yes, the Indian ideology is to build a life around two cows and be satisfied with it. Now, that's not what the current leader's political line is. For a start, the above-mentioned genetic lineage would be an anathema to him. The alien origin of the cows wouldn't sit well in the environment when everything has to be made in India to be acceptable. Besides, his complete disregard for the environment shows a superficial understanding of the Hindu tradition - taking the 'cow' literally rather than appreciating what it meant.
However, on the other hand, the 'liberal' disregard for the ideology of cows is also based on similar ignorance, and an arrogance to live outside history and tradition. It is important for the Indian liberals to understand the significance of cows in Indian culture (while Indian and Hindu are not equal, Hindus are a majority of the Indian people) and be more circumspect about dismissing sentiments about cattle as uneducated naivety. And, indeed, eating beef may not be progress in India; it may just stand for environmental vandalism.
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."
The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which appeared …
Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper etal, 1991). Arunthanesetal (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something).
The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive season, is …
Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’ However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female guest…
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch.
But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do.
Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
In an earlier post, I pointed out that the application of 'platform thinking' in education misses the mark, as it fails to understand how value is created in education. Since this apparently contradicts my earlier enthusiasm for the university as a 'user network', this statement needs further explanation.
To start with, Clayton Christiansen's idea that the universities of the Twentieth Century needs to evolve from its current 'value chain' model - wherein its value lies in its processes - to a form of User Network, where its value emanates from its community, still resonates with me. The Value Chain model, with departments, examinations, textbooks and degrees, that we know the university for, is very much a late Nineteenth/ early Twentieth century formulation. And, indeed, one can claim that the universities were always communities, and its value came from being a member of that community rather than its end product - the degrees - for much of history. It …
Smart presentations don't mean valuable insights. So it is with the current fad of presenting the vision of an all-new 21st-century education - through presentations, conferences and infographics - style trumps substance all the way through.
For, despite the claims of revolutionary changes in society and the workplace, the neat charts that lay down 21st-century skills next to the 20th-century one's show do not how different they would be, but rather how similar these are projected to be.
We are told that we have arrived at a fundamentally disruptive moment in history and we need new skills. So, we need, for example, communication and critical thinking, learning to learn and a host of other cool things. Indeed, many of those terms are very familiar to the educator: Many of those were around for more than two centuries, ever since the dreams of liberal education were spelt out.
When these slides were presented, I often wondered whether the point about critical thinking meant …
India's unemployment rate has reached a historical high and the government is panicking. It has rejected and suppressed the report and committed itself to inventing a new set of numbers. Members of the national statistical body have resigned, and the bad job numbers have become one of the worst kept secrets in its modern history.
As the government went down the road of obfuscation, it had also fooled itself believing that everything was fine. Once the statistical reports were questioned, the best explanation that the Head of the apex economic policy-making body could come up with was that Uber and other taxi-hailing companies have created millions of jobs in India. But then, the crisis is anything but hidden - walk on any street in any neighbourhood in any Indian city, and it is likely that you will see a few working-age people loitering, waiting or playing cards or carom in the middle of the day. IMF has recently warned that youth inactivity in India is highest among all develo…
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind, which echo the pessimism somewhat.
I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope.
However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right inside …
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago.
Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so.
Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself.
Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as I …
India is an impossible nation.
In fact, that's exactly what the British colonialists used to say: India is no more a country than the Equator, Churchill quipped. A geographical expression, but no nation! The region east of Indus, as the Greeks knew it, was fragmented, by language, religion and customs, when ideas of nation and nationhood arrived from Europe. Churchill was only half wrong: India was never a nation like the European ones.
But he is half-wrong because India existed. India may not be a nation, but the implicit assumption that a country has to be one 'pure' nation is apparently wrong. That Scots voted to stay in Union did not mean that they had given up their national identity; nor did a thousand years cured the Welsh of their Welshness. Nation and its territoriality are neat concepts on paper but hardly exist in its imagined form anywhere. Believe it too much and you get Brexit.
Besides, such territorial ideas are European. Asia long existed as congruent landm…