“The place of those who have ceased to rule is to teach,” V. S. Pritchett wrote of Spain in 1954, as the British Empire was collapsing around him. By the end of the 20th century, Britain had long since ceased to rule. But in India, where I grew up and which had been a British colony for nearly 90 years and subject to its growing influence since the 1700s, it continued to feed us in myriad ways. The phantom limb of empire outlasted Britain’s physical presence; we felt ourselves bound, as if by an invisible cord, to our former colonial masters.… Seguir leyendo »
Nota: Este archivo abarca los artículos publicados por el autor desde el 1 de diciembre de 2008. Para fechas anteriores realice una búsqueda entrecomillando su nombre.
I grew up with an aversion to India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
He was the towering figure of the postcolonial world. Harrow and Cambridge-educated, he was one of the architects of the Non-Aligned Movement, which sought a third way through the odious binaries of the Cold War. In India, he dominated the political landscape and is credited with laying the foundation for our country’s democracy.
The cult of Nehru continued through his heirs. His daughter, Indira Gandhi, and grandson, Rajiv Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi), both went on to be prime minister. Nehru died in 1964, and by the time I was growing up, some two decades later, the brand of socialism he had championed was failing.… Seguir leyendo »
The names of India’s major cities have been falling off the map. In 1995, Bombay (an Anglicization of the Portuguese name “Bombaim”) became Mumbai. In 1996, Madras became Chennai. Over the next two decades, virtually every major city in India — from Cochin (now Kochi) to Bangalore (now Bengaluru) to Calcutta (now Kolkata) — was renamed. Some of the changes, as in the case of Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram as of 1991) were meaningful and represented a return to an older name that British rule had mangled. Others, as in the case of Calcutta, were as bizarre as the French decreeing that everyone must now refer to Paris as “Paree.”
Names in India are rarely just names.… Seguir leyendo »
“I can wash your plate,” my host whispered to me. Then, gesturing to the driver, he said: “But I cannot wash his. If people in the village find out, it will become difficult for us.” By the rules of caste, a vessel that has come into contact with the saliva of another person is contaminated. At that point, it cannot be handled by someone whose status is higher than that of the eater. My host wanted me to make this clear to the driver.
I was mortified. I had never had to tell anyone something so awful. I froze. I neither had the courage to upset their laws — and get up and wash the driver’s plate myself — nor the ability to tell him this terrible instruction.… Seguir leyendo »
May is a month of haunting heat in this city. The temperature hovers over 100 degrees. There are dust storms and, despite the white skies, the trees are heavy with flower. The apocalyptic climate serves as a fitting backdrop to political upheaval.
Two summers ago I witnessed one: After a long campaign, Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., won the first outright majority in India’s Parliament since 1984. It had come at the end of 10 years of Congress Party rule, the last five of which were marred by corruption and an economy that left many people frustrated.… Seguir leyendo »
Danish Sheikh’s life has mirrored India’s tortuous relationship with gay rights. In 2011, when he was a young lawyer, he held a placard at the Bangalore Pride March that read: “Elizabeth Taylor had eight husbands. I just want one.” That lightheartedness was part of the spirit of a happier time.
In 2009, the Delhi High Court partly struck down Section 377 of the Indian penal code — a colonial law from 1860 that criminalized homosexuality, alongside bestiality, as being “against the order of nature.” A coalition of religious groups appealed, and the case went to the Supreme Court. Mr. Sheikh, now working full time on the case for the Alternative Law Forum, an advocacy group, came out to his Muslim parents a week before hearings began in 2012.… Seguir leyendo »
On Feb. 29 — a bad day for anniversaries — Pakistan executed my father’s killer.
My father was the governor of Punjab Province from 2008 until his death in 2011. At that time, he was defending a Christian woman who had fallen afoul of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which are used by the Sunni majority to terrorize the country’s few religious minorities. My father spoke out against the laws, and the judgment of television hosts and clerics fell hard on him. He became, in the eyes of many, a blasphemer himself. One January afternoon his bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, shot him dead as he was leaving lunch.… Seguir leyendo »
I met Sandeep Pandey days after he was sacked from his position as a visiting professor at a prestigious technical institute at Banaras Hindu University. We sat in a dreary guesthouse on the university campus. Mr. Pandey had just finished a long train ride. With his wrinkled kurta pajama and rubber slippers, he was every bit the picture of an old-fashioned Indian leftist.
That was why he’d been fired. “Ideologically, I am at the opposite extreme to the people who are at present in power,” he said. “These people not only cannot tolerate any dissent; they don’t even tolerate disagreement. They want everybody who disagrees with them out of this campus.” Mr.… Seguir leyendo »
An Islamic philosopher in Karachi, an ideologue who provides violent ideas to some of Pakistan’s fiercest extremist groups, once told me that there are two kinds of history: dead and living. “Dead history is something on a shelf or in a museum,” he said. “Living history is part of your consciousness, something in your blood that inspires you.”
I was reminded of this last month during a conversation with a different kind of scholar. William McCants is the author of the excellent new book “The ISIS Apocalypse,” and he is nothing if not a student of “living history.” Mr. McCants looks at the Islamic State’s idea of the past and how the group’s adherents view their place in it.… Seguir leyendo »
Last month I read for the first time my father’s killer’s version of what happened on the afternoon of Jan. 4, 2011. My father, Salman Taseer, was the governor of Punjab, in Pakistan, when he was shot dead by his own bodyguard in Islamabad. He was at the time defending a Christian woman accused of blasphemy.
The laws that condemned her had been instituted in the 1980s by a military dictator. Those were the years when the Saudis, the Pakistanis and — it must be said — the Americans, believing no evil to be greater than that of Communism, flirted with jihad in Afghanistan.… Seguir leyendo »
It is hard not to try to see in the politics of another country a version of one’s own. To match Democrat in America with Labour in England, or, say, Congress in India; to find an easy affinity between Republican and Tory, and now, perhaps, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Pleasing as these symmetries are, and flat as the world may seem, they are false equivalencies. In fact, every society has a unique history of power, of which its politics are an expression.
In India, the Congress Party was liberal, left-leaning and secular; but it was also the party of the colonized elite.… Seguir leyendo »
Every society has its articles of faith: “This is a free country”; “Islam is a religion of peace.” The strength of a society depends on the extent to which its articles of faith match the reality on the ground. In the India I grew up in, one such article of faith was: “India is a beautiful country.” It was what we said about ourselves; it was what others said about us, too. It seemed unassailable.
But it was not true: The India of the 1980s became every day an uglier country. It was a place where the very elements of life — earth, water, air — had been poisoned.… Seguir leyendo »
Four years ago this week, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam announced that their struggle for an independent homeland in northern Sri Lanka had “reached its bitter end.” The group had been fighting on behalf of the Tamil people for more than a quarter-century, and its defeat was absolute.
Today, great sections of Tamil country are still a scene of devastation. The houses are either destroyed or brand-new; the land is uncultivated and overgrown; there are forests of decapitated Palmyra palms, damaged by heavy shelling. And then there are the relics of war — graveyards of L.T.T.E. vehicles rotting in the open air; the remains of a ship, its superstructure blown to pieces and in whose rusting starboard a gaping hole gives on to blue sea.… Seguir leyendo »
A well-known Indian fashion designer, who had recently flown home from New York, said to me at a dinner in Delhi: “For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel like coming back. I felt like it used to be in the old days, when we would go abroad and didn’t want to come back.”
The designer was referring to the malaise that has settled over this once hopeful country. People in India will give you many reasons for it. They will cite the growth rate — once nearing 10 percent, now barely 5 — they will talk of the corruption, in every sector from telecom to land to coal, that has totally discredited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government; they will mention the reforms that never happened.… Seguir leyendo »