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.
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
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving 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 et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (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 s
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
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
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.
Introduction 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
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis