A Student of Pakistan

Some years ago, when I was at university, I enrolled in a small class on South Asian history. The class was in fact tiny for such a large subject — only five students — and was the first stand-alone course on the history of the subcontinent ever taught at my school. That awkward and surprising fact aside (the year was 1989, the Berlin Wall would fall and declarations of the end of history would soon abound) the other odd nugget was that the course was taught jointly.  Two professors, B— and J—, one focusing on the history of India and the other on the creation of the nation called Pakistan. Even stranger, I learned that the pair of professors were connected. They shared a home and lascivious rumor had it that they were lovers. Continue reading →


34,000 won’t do it, or, recycling can be bad

Getting old for me has less to do with my creaky bones and rigid beliefs than it does with recycling.  Tomorrow the President unveils (poor word choice) the latest strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it already feels like recycling of a bad sort.  AfPak has been done before.  And before that.  And again before.  Juat check the speeches, and you’ll know.  You can’t help but think that while Obama has taken a good, long look at the options, there hasn’t been a real understanding of the region or of history.  Of the mindsets that accompany Pashtunwali, a country without the real idea of a country, and  faith — in this case, Islam.  Of course, there’s the challenge of politics complicating these matters, and by that I mean U.S. politics, but honestly, the Vice-President is closer to right this time around.  Jim Hoagland summed it up beautifully yesterday in WaPo.

So I find myself doing my own recycling, as if by fate. I came across this essay by the one writer who I continually seem to return to — V.S. Naipaul.  It’s worth reading and considering once again — perhaps as a way of stopping the simple recycling of bad ideas, or maybe going beyond statistics and numbers that military men provide.

Louisiana’s BJ

Bobby Jindal, an Indian-American, has just been elected governor of Louisiana.  Let the discussions and the rallying cries from the S. Asian diaspora begin.  The percentage of people who will support him just because he’s the son of Indian immigrants is higher than it should be (the percentage should be zero).   It’s sad, too, the sense of pride people feel in a man who advocates teaching “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution in public schools, a total ban on abortion, and repealing hate-crimes laws.   Anyway, that answers how he won over the conservative eastern districts in Louisiana, where former KKK man David Duke found his supporters.

So much for role models.

This land is your land, this land is my land…la-la-la

On opposite sides of the globe, a curious thing is happening.  Two administrations, one a national government and one a state government, are embroiled in projects to change ownership of that ever- contentious commodity — land.  In one case, the government says its land reforms are aimed at ending inequality that has put 80% of the country’s private land in the hands of just 5% of the population.  In the other, the government says its land reforms are necessary to bring in investment and industry to the state. The violence is just starting in the former; it has been going on for the past 8 months in the latter. Funny thing, though, is that in the first case of Venezuela, it’s a government that follows the principles of socialism, and to a large extent probably, communism.  In the second in the Indian State of West Bengal, it’s a Communist government that is now advocating in many respects the principles of capitalism. Continue reading →

The Farm Bill Isn’t Worth Cashews

Michael Pollan had a lot to say recently about U.S. agricultural policy — conveniently packaged and available later this year as the Farm Bill 2007. His article reminded me of Mexico. When I lived in el D.F., the Agriculture Attache and I struck up a cordial relationship. We both had our reasons. For his part it was because his wife was Indian and he saw in me a chance to toss out some Hindi in the hallways. “Aray, FSOwalla, kya hal? Teekh hai?” For me, I had discovered that he kept a large jar of cashew nuts in his office, and could score some just by stopping by on a variety of pretexts. Soon enough, however, his interest in speaking Hindi to me waned (I didn’t know any Hindi, that may have been the problem.) But by then, my capacity and desire for a daily cashew nut pick-me-up at about 4:12pm had become a near addiction. Continue reading →