Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mahabharata Quotes - Udyoga Parva

After the Pandavas' thirteen year exile was over, they packed up from Virata and headed off to Kurukshetra to wage war against their cousins, finished off the battle in eighteen nights.
Not quite. The path to war was by no means certain, by no means inevitable. It is a tragedy when one reads the several opportunities for peace that went abegging. The story of the terrible eighteen day war often relegates the tale of the Udyoga Parva to a mere footnote. The other story in the Udyoga Parva notable in its own right is that of Amba. In between the several parleys that went on between the Pandavas and Kauravas, there is the staggering Prajagara Parva, where Vidura expounds an entire treatise on statecraft in the middle of the night to Dhritarashtra. It is the presence of such nuggets that make the Mahabharata another reason to read in its entirety.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Blossom Book Shop, Bangalore

The Blossom Book House, on Church Street in Bangalore, is my kind of a bookstore. Aisle upon narrow aisle, shelf upon shelf stacked with books, not an inch of space devoted to cute displays, but books, old, new, the really old, shiny books, dusty books, books you have never heard of, books you will never read, books you never imagined you would see in any bookstore, least of all in a used-bookstore in Bangalore - The Starr Report for instance. See this Wikipedia article in case you don't know.

Oxford Book Shop, MG Mall

I had read or heard that the Oxford Bookstore at the 1 MG Mall in Bangalore was huge. That was the attraction for me to visit it. I was wrong. The bookstore is not that big, though the ambience is nice, the bookstore is quiet, and there is a coffee store right inside the store for you to enjoy a cuppa whilst the children browse the aisles. There is a small but nicely done up kids area, and on small wall a set of beautiful coffee table books put up.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Missing Queen, by Samhita Arni

The Missing Queen, by Samhita Arni
"A king's flaw and a society's decay. Engrossing book though marred by an excessive in-your-face liberal ideology."
3 stars
(Amazon-USKindle-US, Flipkart)
Rama (राम) is considered an ideal - ideal son, ideal pupil, ideal king, and ideal husband. There are two blemishes however on Rama's character, described by adi-kavi Valmiki, in his Sanskrit epic, Ramayana, that almost every child who has heard the Ramayana's epic from his parents or grandparents knows fully well. Rama killed Bali by trickery, and he abandoned Sita for no fault of hers. Bali's killing is often seen as the lesser of the two blemishes, one that can be explained by an exiled prince's resort to realpolitik, and which would not have been out of place in a later age. However, Rama's suspicions about Sita's chastity after the war in Lanka and then his decision to abandon her after they had returned to Ayodhya - they so jar the reader, they so much conflict with our image of Rama. Questions abound, that have been asked and attempted to be answered for thousands of years. Answers sought in religious ruminations, literary liturgies, ideological idioms, philosophical ponderings, and more.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The White Man's Burden - Winthrop Jordan

Image credit: OUP
The White Man's Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States, by Winthrop D. Jordan

One-line review: Self-evident truths are sometimes the hardest to uphold.
"Every revolution must suppress its successors"

5 stars
(Amazon US, Kindle USAmazon UKKindle UKAmazon CanadaKindle Canada, Flipkart)

Short review: This book is a condensed version of the author's celebrated work on the history and origins of racism in the United States. That book is still considered the "definitive work on the history of race in America in the colonial era" , but its formidable length persuaded Winthrop Jordan to come out with a condensed version that would appeal more to the general public. This book should be on every Indian's reading list for two reasons: first, it is a very accessible introduction to racial attitudes and societal discrimination in the United States, and in my opinion has value in the Indian context also. Second, the rationalizations for such discrimination, and in particular the arguments used there were to find an echo in early British colonialism in India, continued in the early twentieth century, and still find echo in several western and even Indian academic institutions. Lastly, this is also a very well-written book.

Long Review:
"Prejudices are inevitable, innate, and right"
Why should an Indian particularly care to read a book on slavery? It is, after all, a history of enslavement and discrimination half a world away, decades and centuries ago, and India has enough problems of her own to sort out without burdening itself with a history in a geography seven seas away.

To do so would however be to miss an opportunity.
For two simple reasons. To understand the mechanics and rationalizations of discrimination on the one hand, and how those same attitudes would vend their way from Europe to Africa, then to the Americas, and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to India.
Studying discrimination in a context removed from one's own self can sometimes help bring perspective and understanding. It can also help see patterns that may not be visible otherwise.
What worked hundreds of years ago to dehumanize and subjugate an entire race of people half a world away would also be applied by the British to colonize an entire subcontinent.
"I remain convinced that white American attitudes toward blacks have done a great deal to shape and condition American responses to other racial minorities."
In the words of the author, a study of history "impresses upon us those tendencies in human beings which have not changed and which accordingly are unlikely to, at least in the immediate future." To that end, "The White Man’s Burden" does a tremendous service in lucidly documenting the evolution of slavery’s form and rationale. While the initial material on the roots of slavery is decidedly sketchy, the book is simply outstanding when taking the reader through the century and a half when slavery established roots, along with the accompanying prejudices. The book’s length should make this accessible to even casual readers.

While forming firm opinions on the basis of one book is risky, doing so on the basis of a well-researched and widely acclaimed book as this, from a scholar as well-respected as the late Winthrop Jordan is a relatively low-risk endeavour.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Coorg Plantation Photos

Coorg (Kodagu) is a district in the state of Karnataka, and apart from the rich and proud cultural and military heritage of the native Kodavas (they revolted en-masse in 1785 against Tipu Sultan's attempt to convert them to Islam), today it is better known as being coffee country, and this district alone accounts for almost 40% of the coffee produced in India (an estimated 124,000 metric tonnes of the total estimated 325,000 MT produced in India).