Monday, March 3, 2008

March 2, 2008
Quantifying Sominism

The past month Public Radio had interviews with various authors regarding the rise of India and China. Kishore Mahbubani, dean and professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore,  rightly mentioned that both India and China were the economic powers till 1820 and are only rightly regaining their space in the world. Tarun Khanna, professor at Harvard Business School and author of Billions of Entrepreneurs: How China and India Are Reshaping Their Futures--and Yours, is optimistic that the economic rise of these two countries is good for Asia. Even in popular fiction , characters are talking about these countries.

If you are shocked that India is shining, all you need to do is pick up New York Times and get your daily dose of Sominism. In an article on the development happening in Gugaon, she writes:

Almost half of India’s population has no access to the electricity grid, and many more people suffer hours without power. Nearly 700,000 Indians rely on animal waste and firewood as fuel for cooking. [Thirsting for Energy in India’s Boomtowns and Beyond]

Many great bloggers have worked on the expression Sominism, but so far no one has quantified it. Unless we find a way to measure Sominism it will be hard to compare articles by Pankaj Mishra, Arundhathi Roy and Praful Bidwai. While a complex mathematical formula involving string theory would be the ideal, we will settle for something simple due to lack of time and number of people to criticize.

For now we will use a measure which takes the position of the hatchet paragraph relative to the entire article. In the above article, it appears in paragraph five of a 28 paragraph article: the Sominism Coefficient would be: 5/28 = 0.18 S.

A number by itself is meaningless unless you put it in context. To see where Somini stands in the Sominic scale, she has to be compared to her contemporaries and one place to look for some would be in the Ramayana -- yes, the timeless classic written by Valmiki. We don't know whose brilliant idea it was to get Pankaj Mishra to write the introduction to R. K. Narayan's shortened version of Kamban Ramayanam; maybe Prakash Karat was not available.

By the fourth paragraph, Mishra hits the goal post.

Indeed, the popular appeal of the story among ordinary people distinguishes it from much of Indian literary tradition, which, supervised by upper caste Hindus, has been forbiddingly elitist [Ramayana]

Mishra's introduction which covers the mandatory "Hindu nationalist movement to build a temple on the alleged birthplace of Rama", "North Indian Brahmin called Tulsi Das" and a quote from Romila Thapar that the televised Ramayana was an attempt to cater to the right-wing middle class of India, is 31 paragraphs long. The hatchet job appears in the 4th paragraph giving it 0.13 S, thus giving him an upper edge over Somini.

Since this author does not have the stomach to read an Arundhathi Roy or Praful Bidwai article, finding similar values is left as an exercise to the reader. My guess is that Arundhathi Roy will is the one who will achieve the ideal value of 0 S, where the 'job' will be done in the title itself.

Technorati Tags: Somini Sengupta, Pankaj Mishra,

Posted on March 2, 2008 11:21 PM | Permalink|Write to me | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (0)
February 27, 2008
Writing Tips from Orhan Pamuk, Suketu Mehta and Kathy Sierra
(Image by Haagen Jerrys

When Suketu Mehta, Orhan Pamuk and Kathy Sierra offer advice on writing, it is worth listening, for it reveals that great writing comes from hard work. These writers also reveal techniques which can be used by us to better our writing

The Idea: Orhan Pamuk's idea fror creative writing is to combine things which are taboo to be put together. In The Black Book, he found his voice by combining Sufi Islamic mystic allegories and postmodern experimental writing. This combination was not intentional; he started reading about Sufi mysticism with a nationalist agenda to find more about his own culture and that in turn helped him find his voice.

An engineer by training, he applies engineering principles to his writing as well. When he starts a novel, he imagines that he has a big blank wall which needs to be painted. He draws something on one side of the wall and something on the opposite side. The task then is to fill the portion in between and for that he does chaptering and plotting. Once the architecture and engineering is done, he takes time to execute the plan and typical novel takes him about 3-4 years.[Orhan Pamuk on KQED Radio]

Tools: Most of us write on the computer and are held hostage by various text editors and their quirks. As you write a paragraph, you get an urge to format. Once you start formatting, each paragraph starts looking different and in trying to tame that dragon, you lose perspective of what you want to communicate. There is a growing trend towards zenware --- software that does not hold you back.

But if, when it comes right down to it, full screen is your holy grail, and the ultimate antidote to the bric-a-brac of Word, then you must enter the WriteRoom, the ultimate spartan writing utopia. Where Scrivener calls itself a “writer’s shed,” which suggests implements like duct tape and hoes, WriteRoom pitches itself as the way to “distraction-free writing” for “people who enjoy the simplicity of a typewriter, but live in the digital world.” With WriteRoom, you don’t compose on anything so confining as paper or its facsimile. Instead, you rocket out into the unknown, into profound solitude, and every word of yours becomes the kind of outer-space skywriting that opens “Star Wars.” What I mean is this: Black screen. Green letters. Or another color combination of your discerning choice. But nothing else.[An Interface of One’s Own]

Editing: Suketu Mehta spent a lot of time in Mumbai getting involved in the lives of gangsters, dancers and various nefarious characters filling his laptop with raw data. Converting that into Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, a fast read, was not easy.

So I rented a studio—a beautiful studio on Clinton Street in Cobble Hill—and I just wrote. I went to the MacDowell Colony for two or three weeks. I’d written everything in these notebooks on my computer, and so it was like having an enormous mass of unwashed laundry and separating the whites and colors and the delicates and the knits, and just seeing what went in which world. The whole process of constructing and editing the book was another four years after the reporting. Then I worked with an international all-star team of editors who tore their hair out and helped me turn this thing into a book. Altogether I took six and a half years.

Also, the impression readers have that Maximum City is a quick read is a false one because it was certainly not a quick write. But it takes a lot—Hemingway taught me this—to make writing seem effortless. It took me a long time before I learned how to write simply. My early sentences back in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop were long. As Indians we tend to like longer sentences. [Interview with Suketu Mehta]

And here is how Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden.

Thoreau spent two years living at Walden Pond, leaving the woods in 1847. He spent seven years writing and re-writing Walden, condensing two years of journals into one year of time for the book. He wrote seven complete drafts before sending it to the printer.[The Fantastic Five]

Finally: It is hard to make Enterprise Java Beans an interesting topic and that is what Kathy Sierra did with her best seller, Head First EJB. According to her, if your writing produces an emotional flat line in the reader, then it does not become memorable. For example, if you whine about communists all the time, readers can predict your pattern and the blog becomes boring. One way to save that writing would be to write boring stuff like history, or by applying techniques from the film world. For her technical books, she applied lessons from the screen writing book Save The Cat! creating three act stories.

While most of these tips are for books, there are lessons for bloggers as well. Pay attention to the structure of the post, spend time editing it and finally make it interesting to read. If the not the emotional graph of the reader will look like the electrocardiogram of Fidel Castro.

Technorati Tags: Orhan Pamuk, Suketu Mehta, Kathy Sierra, Writing Techniques

Posted on February 27, 2008 11:32 PM | Permalink|Write to me | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
February 25, 2008
Up above the world so high

Satellites are great, especially if you have modified SM-3 missile and a $60 million budget. Besides "unclassified purposes", they have some suprising uses as well, such as finding long lost archaeological sites. Using images taken by Landsat and IKONOS of Tikal, a Mayan city in the Guatemalan rainforest, archaeologists were able to find several areas which were ancient building sites.

The same thing is happening in India.

The ISRO scientists are believed to have told the State archaeologists about a “sizeably big structure” buried about 175 to 200 metres north-east of Kirti Narayana Temple. Further study on the disclosure is in progress for authentication.

“The ISRO team strongly believes, from the images derived from the satellites, that a structure could have been buried close to the temple. They have brought satellite images of the place (where the structure might have been buried) for correlation. If the information matches with the field observations, then it could be one of the biggest achievements in the field of archaeology,” Dr. Gopal told The Hindu.[Groundbreaking: Satellite images aid archaeological excavations]

What next? Will people start using Google Maps and Google Earth to find ancient buildings?

Posted on February 25, 2008 7:20 AM | Permalink|Write to me | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)
February 21, 2008
Kalinganagari or Tosali?

Event 1: After the Kalinga war, Asoka issued two edicts prescribing principles on which both the settled inhabitants and the wild jungle tribes should be treated. These edicts were issued in Kalinga only and the conquered territory formed a separate unit of administration under a Prince of the royal family. The prince was stationed at Tosali, the capital of the Kalinga province.

Event 2: 60 years after the Kalinga war, Kharavela restores power back to Kalinga. After defeating an Indo-Greek king, identified as Demetrius I of Bactria, Kharavela constructed the great victory palace in Kalinganagari at a cost of thirty eight hundred thousand coins.

A 2500 year old city unearthed in Orissa is now suspected to be either Tosali or Kalinganagari or both. The remenants inlcude eighteen stone pillars (see video) and archaeologists believe that this was a city of about 25, 000 people.

There are some possibilities of Sisupalgarh representing the site of Kalinganagar. According to the inscriptions, Kalinganagara, was provided with some sort of fortifications and king Kharavela repaired the gateway and fortification wall which had been damaged by a storm. No fortified town of comparable date except Sisupalgarh is known to exist near about Khandagiri and Udayagiri hills. Secondly the excavation did reveal a collapse and subsequent repair of the southern gateway flank of the fortification. Thus, historical and archaeological sources suggest that Sisupalgarh represents Kalinganagara.

An assemblage of 16 monolithic pillars, locally called Shola Khamba in an area of some 30 m x 30 m near the centre of the fortress were of special interest. Built up of laterite, some pillars are
bearing medallions like those found in Bharhut, Sanchi, Udayagiri and Khanadagiri caves. The columns measure over 4.9 m in height and have a maximal diameter of about 70 cm. This could be the remains of a pillared hall since the pillars have horizontal sockets, seemingly intended to hold
superimposed beams or rafters. However only few pillars are standing intact while others are missing their upper portion. The ground level inside the fort is 4.5 meter higher than outside. The fort while being too large for a mere citadel enclosing perhaps the king’s palace and attached
residence or quarters, did not seem to accommodate common people, most of whom lived outside its confines as it appears from the pottery remains towards the north and the west.[Sisupalgarh: Fortified Urban Center of Early Historic India ]

The reports says that this city had about 25,000 residents and such numbers come from guess work and field work.

Estimations based on residential density are also common practice—the more homes you find, the more people lived there. Soil analysis, pottery shards, old foundation walls, and hearth remains help researchers differentiate buildings from gardens or farmland. Architectural features distinguish residential from civic structures (the latter are larger, and more ornate) and make it possible for archaeologists to establish a density estimate across a sample area—25 homes per hectare, for example. Then they guess how many people lived in each household, on average. If no records are available to illuminate domestic arrangements, researchers study modern village populations in the same area to arrive at a rough estimate—perhaps four people per domicile. Then the archaeologists multiply the number of individuals per household by the households per hectare, and again by the total settlement area.[25,000 Inhabitants, 2,500 Years Ago]

Technorati Tags: Asoka, Kalinga, Tosali, Sisupalgarh, Ancient India

Posted on February 21, 2008 11:07 PM | Permalink|Write to me | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (0)
February 20, 2008
Looking for Galileos

So, was there a Big Bang from which the universe expanded into the present form.? The Friedmann-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker metric, analysis of light spectrum from galaxies and the cosmic microwave background radiation all indicate that there was an initial state of infinite density and temperature.

But computational physicists like Neil Turok believe that the universe is anādi (without begining or end) and Big Bang is just one stage in infinite cycles of expansions and contractions.

Within a school of string theory known as m-theory, Turok said, "the seventh extra dimension of space is the gap between two parallel objects called branes. It's like the gap between two parallel mirrors. We thought, What happens if these two mirrors collide? Maybe that was the Big Bang.[Physicist Neil Turok: Big Bang Wasn't the Beginning]

The Catholic Church, always in search of Galileos, is against this theory. It is not that the priests have groked D-branes and NS-branes and all the extra dimensions to come with a scientific objurgation, instead they just dusted a timeless tactic: it goes against the scriptures

Wired: The Catholic Church hasn't been very receptive to your ideas, either.

Turok: I think they like the Big Bang for obvious reasons. It's a creation event, and they find that appealing. Whereas if you talk to most physicists, they'd prefer that there was not a creation event, because there are no laws of physics that indicate how time could begin. I'm not motivated by [theological considerations]. I'd be perfectly happy with a mathematically precise description of how time began. I see science and religion as being two completely different things. I don't see science as relevant to the question of whether or not there's a God.[Physicist Neil Turok: Big Bang Wasn't the Beginning]

Technorati Tags: Big Bang Theory, Neil Turok

Posted on February 20, 2008 5:10 PM | Permalink|Write to me | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (0)
February 19, 2008
Sardar K. M. Panikkar & Saraswati Civilization

Featured in the second Indian History Carnival was a book review of John Keay's India Discovered.

As in a book on India's discovery which I have read in Time Life Books series, this book also concentrates more on the visionary historians rather than on pure history, and the author too mentions this in his Introduction. Thus, William Jones's discovery of Chandragupta Mourya, Prinsep's decoding of Ashoka's edicts, Alexander Cunningham's excavations at Indus Valley and James Alexander's visit to Ajantha caves are all presented in a dramatic way, in beautiful language, which makes this book an exciting and pleasurable one to read. Like professor V Raghunathan's book on the current state of Indian society, I think India Discovered is also a must-read for every Indian to understand how our glorious past was discovered, studied and protected by foreigners, who didn’t always have great support from their Governments. Their passion, dedication and continuous focus on their study and quest for knowledge should hopefully inspire us.[India Discovered]

When it comes to the role of Indian historians our knowledge is not that deep and we now learn that some people who facilitated great discoveries were not even archaeologists. In his book Finding Forgotten Cities: How the Indus Civilization was Discovered, Nayanjot Lahiri writes about the contribution of Sardar K. M. Panikkar in pushing for the discovery of Indus sites along the path of Saraswati.

It was in March 1948, less than a month before he took over as ambassador to China, that Panikkar wrote to Prime Minister Nehru about the necessity of a survey in the desert area of Bikaner and Jaisalmer. Panikkar had just finished serving Bikaner, as its Prime Minister. Incidentally, it is strange that he had no knowledge about the archaeological exploits of the late Lugi Pio Tessitori there. He had, however, met the famous archaeological explorer, Aurel Stein, who himself had undertaken field work in Rajasthan. Stein had mentioned to Panikkar that if his work was carried forward, it would show that the Indus civilisation originated in that tract. This was something that Panikkar himself wanted to undertake but owing to various difficulties had not found it possible to do so. He was, therefore, writing to Nehru to try and take this scheme forward.

Panikkar urged India’s Pm to direct the ASI to explore the possibilities of such research. As he put it, “With the separation of the Pakistan Provinces, the main sites of what was known as the Indus Valley Civilisation has gone to Pakistan. It is clearly of the utmost importance that archaeological work in connection with this early period of Indian history must be continued in India. A preliminary examination has shown that the centre of the early civilisation was not Sind or the Indus Valley but the desert area in Bikaner and Jaisalmer through which the ancient river Saraswati flowed into the gulf of Kutch at one time”.[What lies beneath]

Technorati Tags: K M Panikkar, Indus Civilization, Saraswati. John Keay

Posted on February 19, 2008 7:06 AM | Permalink|Write to me | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
February 18, 2008
Dog bites Man (1)

Shocking headlines from around the world about things we would not have known otherwise.

1. Pakistan A 'Hotbed' For Terror
2. Pakistan polls will be massively rigged: Report
3. Hostility surprises Musharraf
4. Anti-social elements will be ousted, says Pinarayi
5. CPM promoting violence:Gowri

Posted on February 18, 2008 7:41 AM | Permalink|Write to me | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)
February 17, 2008
The Spicy History of Malabar

(Calicut as seen in 1572)[1]

On May 21, 1498, two Tunisian merchants in Calicut, Kerala, were surprised to see a European from Algarve, the southernmost region of mainland Portugal, walk into their house. Their conversation went like this

Tunisian: "What the devil brought you here?"
European: "We came in search of Christians and spices."

The European was a degredado, a felon or an outcast like a converted Jew. As Europeans renewed world exploration once again in the 15th century, degredados, who were considered expendable, were first released onto the shore in strange lands. If this volunteer came back with his body parts intact, the brave sailors would follow.[2]

This particular degredado had landed from a Portuguese ship and people of Calicut who were used to seeing foreigners knew that he was not Chinese or Malay. Suspecting that he was from the Islamic world they threw a few Arabic words at him and seeing no response, they took him to the house of the Tunisian merchants. Since the man was not harmed, the commander of the Portuguese carrack São Gabriel, Vasco da Gama, set foot on the ground in Kerala and became famous for doing what Christopher Columbus set to do five years back --- naming random places, India.

If Vasco da Gama and the Tunisian merchants were to land in present day Calicut, they would be amused to see posters opposing globalization and anti-globalization rhetoric in the words of the rulers. The shocked foreigners would have told Malayalees that Kerala was a globalized land much before the time of Buddha till the 17th century and was wealthy too. Even the degredado, who would have known more history, would have rolled in Kapad beach hearing one of those Achyutanandan sing song speeches.

Continue reading "The Spicy History of Malabar" »

Posted on February 17, 2008 6:40 PM | Permalink|Write to me | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (0)
February 15, 2008
Indian History Carnival - 2


(Image from the Hoysala trail by backpacker)

The Indian History Carnival, published on the 15th of every month, is a collection of posts related to Indian history and archaeology.


Sukumar finds a connection between Gonds and Australian aborgines. He says Gonds are one of the oldest people in India.

Dr. James F. McGrath wrote, "the Aryans were, most probably, well-established in India long before the purported Aryan invasion would allegedly have occurred." Here at varnam we analyzed The Genetic Distance between Karunanidhi and Mallika Sherawat .

Dr. Arvind Sharma quotes Greek and Latin sources to write how Greeks perceived the Indians, and how the Indians perceived themselves, in or around the fourth century B.C.E. "The point which stands out clearly from these accounts is that the Indians are considered a diverse and polyglot people."

Moda Sattva argues that Rastrakutas are of Kannadiga origin.

Manish Khamesra has Part 1 of his travel to Fatepur Sikri. "This magnificent fortified city, built between 1565-1585, was the capital of Mughal Empire for around 15 yrs during Akbar’s reign." (via Desi Pundit)

Backpakker has images of the Holy Rosary Church built by French Missionaries around 1860. (via Desi Pundit). She also has images from the Hoysala trail (1,2,3)

Rohit finds a 29th December 1930 speech by Muhammad Iqbal in which he expresses the philosophical basis for Pakistan. Gaurav thinks, "that (dubious) honour goes to speech given in 1888 by Sir Syyed Ahmend Khan to a gathering of Muslim intellectuals"

Ratheesh has a short review of John Keay's India Discovered. "I think India Discovered is also a must-read for every Indian to understand how our glorious past was discovered, studied and protected by foreigners, who didn’t always have great support from their Governments."

Rohit also has a post which shows that Gandhi made Nehru India's first Prime Minister.

Dr. Bhaskar Dasgupta came across a paper on the partition of India written by a famous professional geographer, Oskar Spate who served on the Punjab Boundary Commission. It explains how various parts of the country were divided between Indian and Pakistan.
11. Dr. Subrato Roy writes about the lessons from the 1962 war.

Delhi Assembly Deputy Speaker Shoaib Iqbal has demanded that Bharat Ratna be conferred on the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. B. Shantanu thinks it is more than a joke.

If you find any posts related to Indian history please send it to jk AT varnam DOT org or use this form. The next carnival will be up on March 15th.

Previous Carnivals: 1

Technorati Tags: Indian History Carnival

Posted on February 15, 2008 7:12 AM | Permalink|Write to me | Comments (7) | TrackBacks (0)
February 14, 2008
Coming Soon: Our favorite archaeologist

Technorati Tags: Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford

Posted on February 14, 2008 1:57 PM | Permalink|Write to me | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)

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