I have an aunty, Aunty Monica.
When she goes shopping,
Oh so oo la la.
...or words to that effect, is a ditty that my niece used to sing way back, in her South Asian infant´s lilt. Would she have sung it today, when ´Monica´ has been hijacked by international media and connected with all kinds of associations, including White House nooks and crannies, stains on dresses, not to mention cigars? If only the Lewinsky-Clinton sexual encounter(s) had been just that wee bit less kinky, I think a whole lot of good would have come at the cost of one American president´s prestige.Here we have, in South Asia, millions of young men and women entering marriage without even necessarily knowing what goes where. The level of sexual ignorance is astounding, and can only increase as middle class morality insinuates itself into the newly emerging classes. From the Lewinsky-Clinton case, in one blow, with the help of satellite television, teenagers and young adults the world over would have got to know the way of the birds and the bees. Instead, the White House twosome went and ruined what was a global opportunity for sex education by engaging in all kinds of activity but straight intercourse. No thanks to them, now sex is seen to be even dirtier than it was seen to be.
Don´t believe a word of those media commentators the world over who start with the line, "If you have had enough of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair..." and begin to feed you the latest on the CTBT negotiations, the Euro´s bright future, or the new discovery about the tse-tse fly - why for heavens can they not spell "setsi" the way it is apparently pronounced? Anyway, you can take my word that, from the monasteries of Bhutan to the tuna boats of the Maldives, no one will tire of Clinton-Lewinsky as long as there is salacious info to bite through. We might just as well cancel all openings, launchings, press events and releases all over the world until the Washington DC story runs its course. At no other time in history have events within the Beltway so mesmerised the entire globe. And everyone´s talking sex. The week the Starr report was out, in India, both India Today and Outlook carried swadeshi sex on the cover.
Talking of monasteries of Bhutan, how unfortunate, this Kuensel report of monks-turned-robbers. Apparently, two gentlemen of the cloth, Wangdi and Karma, were arrested in mid-September as they were picking pockets at the Luger cinema hall in Thimphu. The part I do not understand in the news report is this last paragraph which tries to establish the clinching evidence: "Cooking pots found in the hotel room have led police to believe that this was not the first crime committed by the two monks." The link between possession of cooking pots and repeated criminal activity is in my mind as yet tenuous.
While on Kuensel, 1 direct your attention to the accompanying notice printed in the 12 September issue of the paper. It is shocking to note that a whole range of the paper´s clients, from government offices to corporations, international organisations and others have outstanding dues. I hereby call upon all those who have not paid up to pay up. Bhutan needs all the media it has.
While the rest of us are coasting along with our own individual troubles, there is a major row going on that has the Western literati in thrall: the Naipaul-Theroux spat. If you didn´t know it, Paul (The Great Railway Bazaar) Theroux found that Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (House for Mr. Biswas) had thrown away a book that Theroux had once presented to him. An angry Theroux started going back over their friendship and saw a series of slights over 30 years of friendship that he had failed to noticed earlier. Particularly when VS decided to go and get married to a Pakistani socialite and halted their friendship dead on its track, did Theroux see that he had been conned and duped all these years. And so Theroux decided to get even with a quickie memoir about their relationship, which he duly did (Sir Vidia´s Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents), and hence the sensation. Why can´t we have scrunchingly titillating tell-all controversies such as this among our own writers? The best we can manage is R.K. Laxman the cartoonist telling us why he likes to sketch crows.
Interesting, how the angle on the news differs from one´s continental vantage. The discovery in central India of fossil remains from 1.1 billion years ago that are twice as old as any multicellular life ever found has been ascribed by Agence France Presse in its Washington-datelined piece entirely to a German palaeontologist at the University of Tubingen, Germany. Meanwhile, Indian papers trumpet the fact that it was an Indian researcher who was responsible for the fossil datings. What is likely is that these two were collaborators in research and in an article they prepared for the Science magazine. There should be no problems in sharing the accolade, or am I counting without scientific nationalism?
I need more information than this to be further enlightened. The news report in The Hindu says only this much: there is a railway station at Gagaria near Munabao at the India-Pakistan border. The prime ministers of the two countries have decided to restore the rail link with Khokrapar on the Pakistani side, which was suspended after the 1965 war. Presently, a single train runs between Barmer and Munabao. Gagaria, Munabao, Khokrapar, Barmer - names, all names. If I am to be excited about this re-opening of a line that will at last be a rail alternative to Wagah-Attari, then I want details.
Jinnah, which premiered the other day in Hollywood, must be the only film ever made to avenge a slight that was carried in another film. Prof Akbar Ahmed, the well-known Islamicist at Oxford, reportedly went on what turned out to be a painstaking odyssey of producing and directing Jinnah because Richard Attenborough was most unfair with the Quaid-e-Azam in his Gandhi, presenting him as a dour schemer who destroyed India through Partition. I believe that Attenborough was indeed parsimonious in his treatment of the Quaid, and hope that the Akbar production is successful in seeking redress. Meanwhile, let me ask this of patriotic Pakistanis, why and how is the memory of the Quaid-e-Azam denigrated because Christopher Lee plays Jinnah? And do not give me that one about Count Dracula.
Oh, no!! Yet another major drive to restore the glory of Srinagar´s Dal Lake! By now, the said lake must be the one water body in the world which has seen the most ´major drives´ to restore its glory. As Dal Lake herself will doubtless agree, the more people shout the less they do.
The one thing that defined India before it became a chest-thumping nuclear adolescent was its petulance about all things geostrategic. This huffiness became evident once again when the well-meaning Portuguese, long deprived of their South Asian colonial outposts, wanted to organise the 500th anniversary celebration of Vasco da Gama´s ´discovery´ of the sea route to India. The Indian government refused to participate in the celebration and the Portuguese have been scratching their heads ever since trying to understand why. Reports the India Abroad News Service: The Portuguese feel an "inoffensive nostalgia" for India and they were saddened by India´s apathy. Said one member of Parliament in Lisbon, "India is much more than just Goa and Vasco da Gama."
When some raving Hindu fanatics who happen to be leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in India chose to condone the rape of Christian nuns, obviously their Islamic counterparts in Bangladesh had to do something to keep up their end of the balance. What they did was to order the attack dogs on a woman who had come back to her country to be with her dying mother -Taslima Nasreen. That was not enough. Twenty-two clerics raised a stink against the Dhaka government for issuing a postage stamp to mark the anniversary of Princess Diana´s death. They were displeased, said the clerics, because "[Di] was an adulteress and immoral woman. The release of the stamps in her honour has displeased Allah and hurt the sentiments of Muslims."
As self-appointed monitor of photo captions, I have a problem with the picture which purports to show a Delhi Pradesh Youth Congress activist "lying unconscious" after a lathi charge by police during a demonstration against the BJP government. This man on the ground is obviously hurt, but not unconscious. The muscles of a man who has lost his senses relax and no longer will the hand clutch the head as this gentleman´s is doing. It is a small matter, but entirely of the kind which South Asia´s editors all too often tend to overlook.
Siachen in Bengal. Pandals are dioramas of the Bengali Hindus (and a few others), the best of which show over-sized statues of Goddess Durga slaying the demon Mahisasur. The worst are modern-day pandals-gone-degenerate, tackling modern-day themes with a strong dose of chauvinism. And so I was horrified to read that one of the most "unique" pandals in Calcutta this puja season was a re-creation of the Indo-Pakistan frontier, a make-believe hillock peopled with gun-toting make-believe jawans, and make-believe sound of gunfire playing from a tape in the background. This is what happens when syrupy nationalism as propagated by the mass media gets imbibed by ´the masses´, who then think of war even during the puja celebrations. --Chhetria patrakar
Romila Thapar addresses invitees at the
Southasian relaunch of Himal Southasian,
IIC, New Delhi, January 2013.
China, Southasia and India
On May 19 2013, newly appointed Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in New Delhi for a series of meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The visit is Keqiang's first outside of China since assuming power in March.
From our archive:
Purna Basnet discusses Chinese engagement in Nepal vis-a-vis security issues in Tibet and broader geo-strategic plans in Southasia (April 2011).
Fatima Chowdury relates the story of Calcutta's Indian Chinese community through the lens of political and economic upheavals in Southasia and China (May 2009).
Simon Long notes the importance of the Sino-Indian relationship for the rest of Southasia (September 2006).
J.N Dixit ruminates on the strategic concerns of the 'Middle Kingdom' in the wake of India's 1998 nuclear tests (June 1998).