'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"You Look Worried!"

A hot late afternoon. I thought of visiting the 'Crossword' Bookshop. Having walked a few kilometers, I stopped at a 'Paan Parlour' and bought a soda. Tiredly gulping down the drink, I asked the shopkeeper: "How does one reach 'Mithakali Junction'?" (the bookshop is a few blocks from that crossing). He was halfway thru his answer when another customer suddenly interrupted and asked me: "How will you go there?"

"Paidal" I said.

"Just hang on till I finish this cigarette. Will drop you there on my bike" he offered.

Although not very keen on a pillion ride, I wait.

Between puffs he asks: "Where are you from?". I give the name of our neighborhood.

"No, where is your village?" he persists.

A: "South India, ... Kerala"

Q: "Oh Kerala! And what do you do?"

A: "I am a student... computers"

Q: "But you look my age, not the age to be studying!"

A: "Earlier, I used to work as an engineer..."

Q: "And NOW,... are you not searching for a new job?"

A: "Sort of... yes."

"Good. let us go!" He has finished the fag and starts up the bike. I get on. He expertly maneauvers the bike thru the crazy Amdavad traffic. A few minutes of silence between us...

Q: "Do you mind if I give you some local contacts. They will help you find a job, a software job"

A: "... Okay".

At this point, I spot Crossword and request him to stop. He neatly avoids an oncoming scooter with the comment "These Gujaratis are mad!" and puts me safely on the sidewalk. And he has some more questions.

Q: Got cellphone?

A: No.

Q: Got pen and paper?

A: No, I am afraid.

(He quickly takes a pen and a few scraps of paper from his pocket, tears off a bit from one of the sheets and gives it to me.)

Q: Okay, write! These are the names of people of your community. Kerala people. Meet them. Number one: Mister Amit Menon, note his number.... Mister Kurian, very good man, you know the type that goes to churches... note his number too. Then Mister Mohanan...

I faithfully write down the info. He takes the paper from me. Adds another number.
And says: "This is me. I am Nayan. I too am an outsider here like you. I am from Rajasthan."

Self: Thanks very much.

Nayan: And just one word of advice: don't drink soda water. It causes gas-trouble... But yes, do contact these gentlemen. They will help you, just say you are Nayanbhai's friend... Well, you may wonder why I am giving you all this information. Ask!

Self: Er... tell me.

Nayan: When I saw you ask the way, I knew you were an immigrant. And I could make out you are worried, ... worried about life in general. So, I thought why not help this guy? You know, I run a textile shop... I know nothing about your computers and stuff but I know Men - I employ 20 people - 10 Hindus, 10 Muslims - and know them all. And in some sense, I thought I know you!

Monday, March 16, 2009

From An Objective Viewpoint

the cultivated person’s first duty is to be always prepared to rewrite the Encyclopedia

- Umberto Eco.


This long post is on how Western analyses and opinions of India-Pak (and at a deeper level, Hindu-Muslim) relations are rigorously, even obsessively 'balanced'. Having grown up hearing only one side of the stories, it was interesting to hear more 'neutral' judgments. In what follows, I mostly quote from various Western Sources. I have resisted a temptation to highlight in bold what I thought are the more illuminating phrases and opinions.

Part 1:

Here are some extracts, all from a lengthy article on Modern Indian History. The source shall be revealed at the end:

In 1920 December, Jinnah, alienated Gandhi's mass-following of Hindi-speaking Hindus, left the Nagpur Congress...

The Muslim quarter of India's population became increasingly wary of the Congress' promises and restive in the wake of the collapse of the Khilafat movement, which occurred after Kemal Atatürk announced his modernist Turkish reforms in 1923 and disavowed the very title of caliph the following year...

Jinnah, alienated by the Mahatma and his illiterate mass of devoutly Hindu disciples, instead devoted himself to his lucrative Bombay law practice, but his energy and ambition lured him back to the leadership of the Muslim League, which he revitalized in the 1930s.

2. The Muslim League and its president, Jinnah, did not join in the Pakistan demand until after the league's famous Lahore meeting in March 1940, as Jinnah, a secular constitutionalist by predilection and training, continued to hope for a reconciliation with the Congress. Such hopes virtually disappeared, however, when Nehru refused to permit the league to form coalition ministries with the Congress majority in the United Provinces and elsewhere after the 1937 elections. Nehru... insisted there were but “two parties” in India, the Congress and the British raj. Jinnah soon proved to Nehru that the Muslims were, indeed, a formidable “third” party. The years from 1937 to 1939, the Congress actually ran most of British India's provincial governments... The Congress' partiality toward its own members, prejudice toward its majority community, and jobbery for its leadership's friends and relations all conspired to convince many Muslims that they had become second-class citizens ...

3. On Sept. 3, 1939, Viceroy Lord Linlithgow (governed 1936–43) informed India's political leaders and populace that they were at war with Germany. For Nehru and the Congress' high command, such unilateral declarations were viewed as more than insensitive British behaviour, a “betrayal,” therefore, this autocratic declaration of war was judged, and how angry it made Nehru and Gandhi feel. Instead of offering loyal support to the British raj, they demanded a prior forthright statement of Britain's postwar “goals and ideals.” Neither Linlithgow nor Lord Zetland, his Tory secretary of state, was prepared, however, to pander to the Congress' wishes at Great Britain's darkest hour of national danger. Nehru's outrage helped convince the Congress' high command to call upon all its provincial ministries to resign. Jinnah was overjoyed at this decision and proclaimed Friday, Dec. 22, 1939, a Muslim “Day of Deliverance” from the tyranny of the Congress “raj.” Jinnah met regularly with Linlithgow, moreover, and assured the viceroy that he need not fear a lack of support from India's Muslims, so many of whom were active members of Britain's armed services. Throughout World War II, as the Congress moved farther from the British, first with passive and later with active noncooperation, the Muslim League in every possible way quietly supported the war effort.

(that was the Encyclopedia Britannica, CD edition, c. 2000. To those who feel I am guilty of selective quotation and want to read the full story: a poorly formatted but largely complete electronic version of this article is at

And the same material may be read from the latest (as of 2009) 'hard' version of the same resource.


Britannica, elsewhere, almost tries to argue that Pakistan is not a modern political entity but something that has been around for millennia by implicitly defining it as the entire non-Hindu portion of Indian culture. In this Two-Nation theory (Hindu vs Non-Hindu), much wider and deeper than what Jinnah himself would have thought about, Buddha himself is located firmly in on the Pakistani side with the following gem: "it may not perhaps be a coincidence that all areas which eventually had Muslim Majority, modern Pakistan, Kashmir and Bangladesh, had a Buddhist majority in ancient times". What is conveniently(?) forgotten here is several other regions in India were just as Buddhist in ancient times as those parts which eventually became Pakistan/Bangladesh.

The article on Jinnah has the following: "The Pakistan movement was first ridiculed and then actively opposed by the Congress. Ranged against Jinnah were men of the stature of Gandhi and Nehru; and the British seemed determined to preserve the integrity of India. But Jinnah led the movement with such skill and tenacity that final victory was his."

The article on Pakistan says: "Soon after independence, Pakistan faced seemingly insurmountable odds - India remained overtly unfriendly; its greater size and economic leverage manifested in a virtual blockade..."

And this is how the article on Zakir Hussain begins: "The first Muslim to occupy the largely ceremonial post of the President of India".

Note: I have not checked but I won't be surprised if Britannica would repeat the sentence for Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and Abdul Kalam with the word 'first' replaced by 'second' and 'third' respectively.

In a different context, Britannica says this about Nehru: "When the Chinese invaded, Nehru sought help from the West, making virtual nonsense of his non-Aligned policy"


The crowning example of how balanced Britannica is in the way it describes how the Sikhs were affected by the Partition. Here it is:

"The Sikhs, caught in the middle of the dividing line between the two states suffered the highest percentage of casualties... (Sikh leader) Master Tara Singh said: "The Hindus got their Hindustan and the Muslims got Pakistan; what did the Sikhs get?"

Part 2:

The Readers Digest Library of Modern Knowledge, a mini-encyclopedia published in the late 1970s had an interesting feature about it. While talking of the (then) two Germanies, the history of the (breakaway) Eastern portion (commie GDR) was treated as something that began in 1945 (the earlier history of eastern Germany was treated in the article on the larger West Germany). Similarly, the history of North Korea began only from when the Koreas separated. However, the section on Pakistan history began not in 1947 but BC 2700 at Mohenjo Daro and encompassed Qasim and Ghauri and the Mughals on to Jinnah and then post 1947.


Almost every single BBC report on Kashimir contains the mandatory(?) sentence: "India has persistently accused Pakistan of supporting the Kashmir insurgency, an accusation Pakistan has consistently denied". The sentence 'The Kashmir insurgency met with a robust response from the Indian security forces' used to be part of BBC's Kashmir profile. Recently, the word 'robust' was replaced with the more balanced (?) 'brutal'. And here is a typical sentence from a BBC Kashmir report: "The Police shot dead ... civilians ..." - in direct active voice, not "... civilians were killed in clashes with Police".

Recently there was some outrage in Indian media (most powerfully articulated by M.J.Akbar) over BBC's persistent characterization of the Bombay attackers as '(unidentified?)gunmen' and not 'Pakistan-based terrorists' as India referred to them.

Update (November 21st 2012) BBC has strictly continued to refer to the attackers has 'gunmen'. Today it reports the 'last gunman' has been hanged.

BBC's brief description of India has phrases such as "officially Secular but pre-Dominantly Hindu" and on Indo-Pak relations, BBC says: "Kashmir is only one aspect of the unfinished business of Partition. Both national identities are defined in large part by contrast with the other."

Comment: The above, to me, implies the following definition of India: That part of South Asia which is not Pakistan. If my Reader does not agree, here is another BBC gem: "The partition of 1947 created two new countries - predominantly Muslim West and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and Hindu-majority India wedged in between."

Popular BBC anchor Michael Palin's travelogue 'Himalaya' has the following remarks, written in late 2004: "Now that India has its first non-Hindu Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh - he had just assumed office), relations with Pakistan are expected to progress further on the path of normalization". (So, a major (if not the primary) reason for the strained relations between India and Pak is Hindus being in influential positions in India).

Update (September 2013): From a BBC article on how 'India's Hidden Massacre' happened in 1948 (note: I have highlighted just a couple of words):
Hyderabad's Muslim Nizam, or prince, insisted on remaining independent. This refusal to surrender sovereignty to the new democratic India outraged the country's leaders in New Delhi. After an acrimonious stand-off between Delhi and Hyderabad, the government finally lost patience.
Historians say their desire to prevent an independent Muslim-led state taking root in the heart of predominantly Hindu India was another worry.
Members of the powerful Razakar militia, the armed wing of Hyderabad's most powerful Muslim political party, were terrorising many Hindu villagers.
This gave the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, the pretext he needed. In September 1948 the Indian Army invaded Hyderabad... (An investigating team) reported that while Muslim villagers were disarmed by the Indian Army, Hindus were often left with their weapons. The (resulting anti-Muslim) mob violence that ensued was often led by Hindu paramilitary groups...

Part 3:

A very interesting website is maintained by American Prof and Hindi movie buff Philip Lutgendorf. The reviews of mainstream Bollywood movies by Lutgendorf and collaborators consistently make for rewarding reading...

Here are some samples:

1. "Hrithik Roshan’s rise to megastardom has been dramatic even by Bollywood standards; he became a household name in India (and for some households, a sort of Great Hindu Hope after a decade dominated by Khans: Salman, Shah Rukh, and Aamir)"

(note: google with "great hindu hope" and "hrithik" and the ONLY webpage that comes up is Lutgendorff's. *This* page will be the second)

2. On "Mission Kashmir": "... secessionist militants are sympathetically shown as good-natured, tea-drinking boys who have simply fallen into Bad (Islamic fundamentalist) Company—though this furthers the depiction of Muslims as errant children who need to be straightened out. To balance this, we momentarily hear the vengeful rhetoric of a Kashmiri pandit policeman talking about brahmans having to flee their ancestral homes; he is then chastened by a Sikh comrade who lost his family in the New Delhi pogroms of 1984—suggesting that everyone has suffered and everyone must forgive (though this begs the question of why minorities suffer and have to forgive more)."

3. Again on "Mission Kashmir": Altaaf takes time out to dance exuberantly in her televised spectacles of National Integration. These might be auto-parody, or just incredibly bad taste: they conjure up a Never-Never-Kashmir, literally Made For (and of) TV, with “lakes” formed of glass blocks that resemble sets, upon which colorfully-costumed “natives” sing souped-up Kashmiri folksongs about bumble bees and communal harmony, with all the enthusiasm of, say, Chinese extras in a Beijing musical about life in Lhasa….

4. On 'Fiza': This glossy, uneven film promises a welcome break from recent feel-good saffron majoritarian narratives -- in which Muslim actors like Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan play a succession of upper-class Hindu boys named Rahul or Vijay -- by portraying the life, or rather demise, of a middle-class Muslim family in the aftermath of the Mumbai riots of 1993 (which were in fact largely anti-Muslim pogroms).

Note 1: No explanation as to how 'DDLJ', 'K3G', 'Dil To Pagal Hai', 'Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai' etc. were "Saffron Majoritarian" although they were all obviously 'feel good'.

Note 2: About the Mumbai riots, even Desi Scholar Ramachandra Guha appears to concur with Lutgendorff ('India After Gandhi'): "Nearly two-thirds of the casualties were Muslim, although they formed only just over 15 percent of the city's population", (this estimate does not count the bomb blasts that closely followed the main riots).

5. On 'Dil Se': The film's explosive and haunting conclusion leaves a number of questions unanswered—one being whether its open-endedness is intentional or due to a failure of directorial vision. Assuming the former, one reading of the film is as a gendered anti-nationalist allegory in which "All-India" Amar represents the Hindu-majoritarian centre and Meghna the alienated ethnic and religious minorities and peripheral states. In this interpretation, (director) Ratnam ingeniously turns Khan's trademark bouncy, self-centered screen persona against itself, to craft a political commentary on the hypocrisy and ultimate failure of centrist programs of "national integration." The hero labors manfully to lure the heroine into a lasting union based on (his) ideals, asking her to forget past injustices and (literal) violations; his implicit message—"Just love me and everything will be all right!"—appears increasingly idiotic as we learn more about her life. His love is as selfish as it is passionate, and both blind to and seemingly uninterested in the reality of Meghna's traumatic past. The result of his unrelenting pursuit of his romantic dream is not a happy ending, nor an optimistic portent for the nation.

6. About "Hey! Ram": ... an ultimately pro-Gandhi epic that nonetheless ventures deeply and sympathetically into the minds of his staunchest political enemies (and eventual assassins): the votaries of Hindutva.

Note: It would be interesting to see Lutgendorf review 'Slumdog'; although no proper Desi product, the movie seems to try - very consciously - to correct several of what Lutgendorf repeatedly highlights as Bollywood's 'majoritarian' tendencies.


Let me conclude with one of the most interesting India-Pak hyphenations I have seen. I won't name the author of this quote (he is Indian) - it is from a travelog on Malaysia.

Malaysia can give India a lesson or two on how a democracy ought to treat religious minorities; and it can can teach Pakistan how tolerant an Islamic country ought to be.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Of Names And Naming Wars

When people choose modern 'all-India' names such as Pravin, Mohan and Sunil,... for their children, they don't realize they are contributing to the marginalization and demise of rich local cultural traditions. For all their national - and indeed pan-Hindu - appeal and reach, names such as Sunil or Mohan are hardly 'pure Desi'. Indeed, the correct Sanskrit original of Sunil is 'Sunilah' and 'Sunil' is a by-product of the forceful violation of Sanskrit by the Turko-Iranian syllabaries brought by Muslim invaders. ... it is but a sad fact that for each baby christened Sunil or Mohan, there is a Koran, a Chappan or an Othenan (some old Malayali Male names)consigned to oblivion.

That was eminent Malayali writer O.V.Vijayan, sometime around 1990.


The other day, I read this bit said by Ghelubhai Nayak, an elderly Gandhian social worker and activist who works among the poor (and largely tribal) population of the Dangs region, Gujarat (Times of India, March 10, 2009):

"During my work (among Tribals), I realized that changing the names of Tribals will make a lot of difference to them. With names like Ravio, Thagio, Budhiyo, Somo, Mangu, Ravji,... they stick out like sore thumbs. And if we want them to join the mainstream society, they should not feel awkward... I gave them names like Sukhdev, Mangalbhai, Ramesh... and they, in turn have learnt to give more commonplace names to their children."

As is well-known, Dangs has for long been witnessing a full-blown turf war for the souls of its population, between Christian Evangelists and Hindu 'Reconverters'. And 'Ghelukaka', while probably not a Sangh Parivar-member, is among those actively involved from the Hindu side - his interest appears to be more in preventing conversion rather than retrieving converted souls. At any rate, it is obvious that his renaming activity has a strong religious (communal, if you wish) angle to it, something the Times report has not mentioned at all.

In this same conversion-context, let me quote an old acquaintance, a Telugu by name (say) Vinay. "My grandparents were very poor. They were approached by some local Missionaries who said they will educate their son - my dad that is - for free. In return they requested that they be allowed to give him a Christian name. So, my dad, who is still basically a Hindu, has the name 'Asirvadam' (a standard Desi Christian name meaning 'blessing')."


Note 1: Interestingly, Ghelubhai did not apply the 'joining the mainstream' argument to his own name. 'Ghelu' appears a very local, most probably pure Gujju name - though it sounds somewhat similar to the (now old-fashioned) coastal Marathi name 'Zilu' (pronounced 'Jheelu'), which may well be the only purely Desi (Hindu, if you wish) name beginning with a 'z'.

Note 2: And O.V.Vijayan himself named his son 'Madhu' - which is in no way a specifically Keralan name, although there are thousands of Mallus belonging to my generation with that name. And up North, Madhu is usually a female name; and 'typically dense-mooched' Mallu migrants who answer to that name do cause a lot of confusion.


A recent (post 1950) phenomenon is the sharply increasing prevalence of 'mainstream' Indian (even obviously Hindu) first names among the Christian communities in the South - and to a lesser extent, practising Hindus adopting Christian-sounding names. It is not clear if it is any urge to 'join the mainstream' that drives these trends. And such naming is often observed to lead to rather 'interesting' social difficulties. Indeed, for all our 'secularist' efforts and pretensions, one-on-one behavior and conversations between individuals is still strongly moulded (at least regulated) by the information the parties have of each others social (caste + religious) identity - and the deliberate(?) obfuscation of this identity by adopting 'neutral' or even the 'wrong' kind of names often leads to 'troublesome' things (critical remarks on other religions, politically dubious jokes, etc..) being articulated to an inappropriate audience.

I will leave it to a better-equipped future chronicler to comment on these naming fashions among people - whether the trend persists, what effects it has in the long run etc...

But for now, let me briefly look at the *institutional* name 'Dharmaram', given to a famous Bangalore college. When I first heard the name, it *felt* like it has something to do with 'Ram', the Hindu God. Then when I visited the place as a schooler, I was quite surprised to see an out-and-out Christian Theological institution - not for long though, as a resident priest explained the name to us: "In Sanskrit, 'Dharma' means 'Virtue' and 'Aram' (with both 'a's stretched in pronunciation,like in ... 'Ram') means 'Garden'. So, the full word means 'The garden of virtue'"

The derivation had sounded quite smart (and appropriate even at a physical level - the institution maintains some really beautiful gardens); but later I understood it has a little but non-trivial problem: There is a Sanskrit word 'aramam' which means Garden all right - but there is no 'aram'.

One could readily argue that the college name is actually Hindi rather than Sanskrit and neuter nouns in Sanskrit often lose an ending 'am' when adopted by Hindi (eg: 'anandam' went to anand') and so 'aramam' could go to 'aram'. But that is not going to work either! The word is already 'taken'; there is already an 'aram' in Hindi, which came perhaps from Persian, and means 'pleasure' or 'relaxation'. And 'dharma' too, when going from Sanskrit to Hindi has a subtle meaning shift and begins to mean 'religion'. So, if the language is taken to be Hindi, 'Dharmaram' will be a not-entirely-sensible compound of two words meaning 'religion' and 'pleasure'.

Of course, the 'problem' has a simple resolution: to change the name of the institution to 'Dharmaramam' which sounds Sanskrit and properly means 'The garden of virtue' as intended. But then, it won't quite have the effect - and impact - that comes from sounding interestingly close to 'Ram'.

Friday, March 06, 2009

A Snake God - And A Name

I wrote here sometime ago about some unusual divinities (especially bestial ones) that enrich the folk pantheon of Gujarat. This post is a short addition; and a bit more.

At almost every third or fourth roadside joint in Ahmedabad, one sees among the icons, pictures of a formidable hooded cobra. A bit of research took me to wikipedia:

Gogaji ... is a folk deity of Rajasthan state in India. He was an eminent warrior-hero of the region. Hindus and Muslims alike honor him. He is also venerated as a saint and even as 'snake-god'. He is known as Goga among the Hindus and Jahar Peer among the Muslims. .... Gogaji is popular as a snake-god ... In Gujarat, an annual procession is taken out in honour of the great warrior.

A grand fair is held at Gogamedi, which is 359 km from Jaipur,... The inscription in Persian at the main entrance describes Mahmud of Ghazni's regard for Gogaji(it does not get any more Hindu-Muslim-Bhai-Bhai than that!)

Gugga Pir (Zehar Pir) The great Indian Hindu was a Rajput warrior-king. He was reputed to have the power to miraculously cure those suffering from snake bites. He was also referred to as king of snakes and initiated by a Muslim Pir, and is worshipped in North India and Pakistan... Probably there was some relationship between Jhule Lal the great Pir of Sindh and Gugga Pir.

(Elsewhere Goga is said to have been Gorakhnath's disciple. Among people (nick)named after the hero are Pakistani wrestler Goga Pehelwan and rugged Bollywood actor Goga Kapoor)

Here is a different serpentine piece, a very old bit of conversation featuring a certain 'Jack' and Self:

Jack: A relative of mine has just had a third son. And he is seriously searching for a name that rhymes with those of his elder sons. And finding it real difficult...

Self: What are the existing names?

Jack: Dileep and Pradeep. So...

Self: Guess he wants a name with an 'eep' ending... How about 'Sandeep'?

Jack: I suggested just that. But, Sandeep means the same as 'Pradeep'. And 'Dileep' means something else... Basically, he wants an 'eep' but with a different meaning to the two already in place.

Self: Hmm, heard a name 'Nirleep', or something of that sort.

Jack: Tough luck! I examined that as well. 'Nirleep' is a bit of misspelling. The correct word is 'Nirlep' but that has a slightly different ending sound. So...


Self: You seem to have done some serious research...

Jack: Yeah ... and know what, the only word I could find satisfying the specs is 'Sarisreep'... but then, that means 'Serpent', a terrible serpent at that!


Note: 'Maheep' (rhyming with English word 'deep') would have been a neat fit to the specs; but perhaps 'Mahip' (rhyming with 'slip')is the spelling that correctly reflects the pronunciation of the original Sanskrit word meaning 'king'. And it might well be the case that both 'ip' and 'eep' are allowed - one of the rare such cases. To give another example, 'Dilip' is a bit of inaccurate spelling; 'Dileep' is truer to the original.

I really dunno what name the then newborn received. But, I do know, however, about someone else who, having named his first-born 'Gireesh' ('lord of the mountain', could be Siva or Vishnu or even fellow-Mallu Ayyappa, depending on which mountain one chooses as reference), thought of naming his junior son 'Pureesh' ('lord of Puri', Krishna) and then was told by someone in the know that 'pureesham' in Sanskrit (which naturally goes to 'pureesh' in Hindi) meant ... 'shit'! The crux of the matter is that the final letters of 'Pureesh' and 'pureesh' are in fact different (though similar-sounding) consonants in Sanskrit/Hindi which are usually mapped onto the same 'sh' group in English.


Update (15th August 2009): For the corresponding Sanskrit word, 'Maheep' is a correcter English spelling than 'Mahip', as I have found out by asking a Sanskrit expert. That solves the naming problem.