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Stealing Chocolates in Sinclair

April 17, 2009


I didn’t realize this, but there was a point when I think I used to judge people by the size of their apartments. I wasn’t particularly aware of such bigotry, so it went unexamined. It wasn’t until I stepped into that Sinclair apartment that I realized my prejudice, and more importantly, how quickly it could be overpowered.

That said, the apartment was really tiny. The distance between the rather basic but tidy kitchen and the living room was less than three feet. It could’ve even been about a foot and a six inches. The living room itself was sparse. There was a clutter of images on the right wall. They appeared to be European paintings, possibly Victorian. Miniatures mostly, and mounted. Almost all of them had a grayish background and were melancholic.

I caught a glimpse of a portrait of a young caucasian girl in a hat. My friend later told me that when she was little, she used to feel some sort of aesthetic connection with the girl in that painting. I remember smiling back, feeling slightly intrigued and indulgent.

I was intrigued at her ability to connect aesthetically with a blond caucasian girl, and wondering what the basis was for such a self-image. Growing up fair-skinned and light-eyed in South Asia, I suppose, and being brought up by a mother who spoke mostly English and played the piano. Well, sort of played the piano. Read more…


Mahmoud’s Idiocy

April 10, 2009


Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmedinijad might well be, although this is a hard one, the dumbest statesman in the Muslim World.

He and Musharraf form quite the two sides of a coin. While Mushy is trying level best to appease the West, Mahmoud is trying to antagonize. While Mushy is going on tours to America, regaling John Stewart, Wolf Blitzer, and trying to sell copies of his James Bondesque autobiography (it climbed to number THREE on Amazon’s bestseller list) – Mahmoud is idiotically organizing conferences to deny the Holocaust.

Why on freakin’ earth would you organize this conference? Who in his right God-forsaken mind would actually deny the Holocaust?

Moreover, this was a conference well-attended by ACADEMICS.


And embarassingly for those of us that take our craft seriously, HISTORIANS attended this ridiculous conference. (And people wonder why I claim to be a political scientist/anthropologist these days; THIS IS WHY).

See, revisionism is an extremely helpful and at the same time, a perverted desire that perhaps inhabits us all. Read more…

From Dhaka and Tehran

April 9, 2009

So I tend to like most things Persian – Kiarostami, miniature paintings, khoresht, the excessive use of nuts and saffron in “polow” – and almost all of whatever I have been exposed to – of Persian architecture, arts and literature. I also love how Farsi sounds.

I was once shooting the shit with a Professor of Islamic History and he pointed to me, how political Islam has had an uneasy relationship with both Iranian and Bengali society. Perhaps.

I suppose the presence of long secular cultures, very productive in the arts and literature, true for both Bengal and Persia, might create problems for certain kinds of Islamisms. Of course, the history of political Islam in any Muslim country is nothing if its not inconsistent and checkered. So it’s hard to generalize.

Another interesting analogy between Bangladeshi and Persian societies is the central role Dhaka and Tehran University have played in defining their states’ religio-political cultures.

Dhaka University, founded soon after the first Partition of Bengal, to uplift the Muslim masses of East Bengal, went from strength to strength and played a pivotal role in nationalist politics leading up to 1947. After 1947, the university changed character dramatically, as many Hindu Bengalis vacated faculty positions and were replaced by an expanding Bengali Muslim intelligentsia. An intelligentsia that was increasingly secular in the way it imagined a raison d’etre for East Pakistan, and if not that, at least culturally very proudly Bengali. In 1952, the University became a central hub of demonstrations against the Pakistani State. Again, in the ’60s, throwing their weight behind an increasingly outspoken Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the University students and faculty came under the radar of the Pakistani State. Little wonder then that many of the Pak Army’s worst atrocities were carried out on the campus during Operation Search Light. Read more…

Telling Tales, Some Reflections

April 6, 2009

As a historian, you are asked to think about the writing of history.

You are exposed to various intellectual traditions, “schools,” “camps,” and philosophies of history writing that have their own (sometimes overlapping) ways of explaining a present’s past. Marxism, feminism, structuralism, post-structuralism, and a whole variety of other -isms (islamism, nationalism even) to name a few. These “isms” can absorb a historian into its fold as she writes a present’s past. So much so that her writing of history, and her telling of a story, may be circumscribed by the tinsels of her “isms” of choice.

So lately, I find myself reading and thinking about intellectual traditions with which I relate most intellectually (and perhaps, personally; biographically, even). As I try to figure out how to tell the story I will my dissertation to tell, I think of how different traditions understand human realities.

I was, once, quite taken by the long duree approach to writing histories. This is the approach that believes developments in human societies happen very gradually. Very slowly. Almost impercetibly. This approach explains human realities through “evolutions” and not “revolutions.” Braudel, a famous French thinker and historian, showcased this approach in a now-classic work called The Mediterranean. A now famous quote from Braudel:

the history of events was merely the history of surface disturbances, crests of foam that the tides of history carry on their strong backs.

In other words, one or two events don’t matter. They don’t change histories. They are simply the tips of icebergs or “crests of foam” on tides. They are mere bricks in vast edifices of very long histories.

As I think about Read more…

The Art of Outrage

February 16, 2009

A while ago, for a graduate seminar, I had to read this article, apparently a classic on the history of emotions, entitled “Worrying about Emotions in History”.

History of Emotions is sort of a pseudo field in the academic study of history. As are, say, History of Sexuality, History of Childhood (referring to the idea of childhood), and so on.

Although I don’t read much academic writing these days, I was forwarded these rather excellent articles yesterday and after having gone through most of them, thought I’d share. Do check them. Quite of a lot of them are very good and insightful. They are on a special issue of the journal SAMAJ.

Articles picked out below for  your convenience.


Amélie Blom et Nicolas Jaoul

Introduction: The Moral and Affectual Dimension of Collective Action in South Asia [Texte intégral]

Thomas Blom Hansen
The Political Theology of Violence in Contemporary India [Texte intégral]
Nicolas Jaoul
The ‘Righteous Anger’ of the Powerless
Investigating Dalit Outrage over Caste Violence
[Texte intégral]
Amélie Blom
The 2006 Anti-‘Danish Cartoons’ Riot in Lahore: Outrage and the Emotional Landscape of Pakistani Politics [Texte intégral]
Nosheen Ali
Outrageous State, Sectarianized Citizens:
Deconstructing the ‘Textbook Controversy’ in the Northern Areas, Pakistan
[Texte intégral]
Ali Riaz
Constructing Outraged Communities and State Responses:
The Taslima Nasreen Saga in 1994 and 2007
[Texte intégral]
Pierre Centlivres
The Controversy over the Buddhas of Bamiyan [Texte intégral]
Lionel Baixas et Charlène Simon
From Protesters to Martyrs: How to Become a ‘True’ Sikh [Texte intégral]
Christophe Jaffrelot
Hindu Nationalism and the (Not So Easy) Art of Being Outraged: The Ram Setu Controversy [Texte intégral]

The Arab Connection

February 12, 2009

I went to school with the girl on the left.


Her name is Fatima Bhutto, if you didn’t know already. The niece of the slain Benazir.

Aside from being quite obviously pretty, Fatima is smart, witty, educated. She shares my interest in South Asian politics, history, and masala. Like me, she quite likes Bollywood. However, when it comes to Hollywood masala and gossip, Fati B can beat me hollow. In fact, I used to marvel at her vast reserves of knowledge of American pop culture. Nost just me, everyone did.

That said, don’t think anybody saw this coming. Fatima and George Clooney are an item?

So entirely random. My first thought: Must be the arab connection they share. Second: I hope George doesn’t pump her for information. Cynical, I know.

The internationalization of the Bhutto last name was complete after Benazir was slain by jehadis. The daughter of the East became the daughter of the West, overnight. Now the niece follows suit. Fati B is bigger than ever. And if this George Clooney deal is true, given all the coverage she’s getting from the American media for this, Fatima Bhutto has serious potential for replacing Queen Rania and becoming the next glamorous Muslim woman that both the West and the East just love to love.

The Emancipation of Khan

February 10, 2009

Know this man?


He is the father of the “Islamic Bomb,” an epithet used to describe the Pak nuclear program. Also equally famous for his house arrest by Musharraf in 2004–after US and Western intelligence sources claimed Khan was masterminding a nuclear technology black market.

Here’s A. Q. Khan on the cover of Time.


Quite a caricature, no?

In any case, Khan’s clients–that is, the recipients of nuclear secrets–were the governments and nuclear programs of Libya, North Korea, Iran (and possibly Syria).

However, all that is history. Khan is now a free man.

Last week, the Islamabad High Court set him free. And although Khan had confessed in 2004 to his acts of nuclear smuggling, he insists that he did so only under pressure.

In fact, last year, Khan had actually retracted this confession and stated that he was forced by Musharraf to confess for the sake of “national interest”.

If you ask me, doesn’t seem unlikely that some level of scapegoating may have been taken place with Khan.

That is to say that he was made the scapegoat of a larger involvement of the state and army, and maybe, Mushy.

When journalists asked the freed Khan how he felt about the international community’s hostile response to his emancipation, he said:

Let them talk. Are they happy with our God? Are they happy with our Prophet?

What Bush says or what Dick Cheney says…I don’t damn care.

Interesting, Khan doesn’t seem to consider that Obama may object as well. Read more…