Hinduism by Kshiti Mohan Sen

With a foreword by his better known grandson, Amartya Sen, I picked up this Penguin

Detail of mother and child from 5th century AD now at the LA County Museum of Art

Detail of mother and child from 5th century AD now at the LA County Museum of Art

paperback 2002 reprint of Kshiti Mohan Sen’s 1961 book last year at a Kochi bookshop. With only 138 pages for a very grand title “Hinduism”, the book seems overambitious from its cover itself. Yet, I found it to be a fairly comprehensive account of the history and (then in the 60s) present of this religion with which many people in the subcontinent identify themselves with. Continue reading

Tibet, Tibet: A review

Meanwhile, at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los

Tibet, Tibet by Patrick French

Angeles, the Dalai Lama blessed a new Shi-Tro mandala (a three-dimensional religious sculpture) in front of a large, paying audience. The mandala had been created by a Tibetan monk who ran a local Buddhist centre, assisted by his American wife, who worked in creative marketing for Warner Brothers Records Inc. She had generated volumes of publicity, using the slogan “Shi-Tro Happens.” The Los Angeles Times described this as “marketing the mandala in a hip and humorous way.” So, there was the Dalai Lama, up on stage, Shi-Tro happening, the ceremony compered by the requisite Hollywood star, in this case the actress Sharon Stone, famous for lacking underwear in the movie Basic Instinct, but this time wearing a feather boa and bare feet. After musing aloud for a while about how she might introduce the Dalai Lama, she finally settled for, “The hardest-working man in spirituality … Mr. Please, Please, Please let me back into China!” The fact that the Dalai Lama came from Tibet was momentarily lost….

– p.122,  Tibet Tibet by Patrick  French

Patrick French’s 2003 book on Tibet was my first book on this fascinating region. Having just returned after 6 weeks behind the great firewall, my eagerness to read more about Tibet had only increased. For, in a premier University campus, no less, was I prevented from reading the Wikipedia article on Tibet, leave alone any Dalai rant that sought to destabilise the “national unity of the motherland”. Apart from several experiments with proxy servers and overconfidently trying to set up Tor, I finally came to terms with the stupendity of the Great Firewall of China, despite Winter & Lindskog’s spirited efforts (PDF from arxiv) at “understanding of China’s censorship capabilities and … more effective evasion techniques”. Continue reading

A confused biodiversity congress: First impressions from the 2nd Indian Biodiversity Congress

For every complex problem, there is a simple solution, and it is invariably wrong

Madhav Gadgil, quoting HL Mencken at the 2nd Indian Biodiversity Congress

I had an opportunity to attend the 2nd Indian Biodiversity Congress that started

The Congress was fairly well attended with many young students and academia, but crucually lacking policymakers

today in Bangalore. What was quite amazing was the diversity of speakers in terms of their background/disciplines and the political establishment line-up for the inauguration (Veerappa Moily, Ananth Kumar, R Ashok and few others). Both of these only augur well for the biodiversity movement in the country. But a scan through the very poorly edited “Book of Abstracts” reveals (to my mind) the confusion among the contributors and editors as to what the congress means and should stand for. Continue reading

Refly speaking

If I have seen further, it is by using a good reference manager…

Well, Newton certainly did not have a great reference manager, nor did he

Early Greek illustration of a quote made famous by Newton; of seeing further standing on the shoulder of giants

perhaps need one. Those were days (at least in the Western world) when the best way to “catch up” on emerging research was to attend one of the society meetings, where papers would be read out.
For example, most of the present-day understanding of Mendelian Genetics comes from the work on pea plants by  the Gregor Johann Mendel, a German-speaking Silesian (in present day Poland) Priest. Continue reading

Aloha Oe: A review


The Call of the Wild by Jack London is one of his better known books

Aloha Oe is a short story by Jack London, an American author. The story is set in the wharf of a Hawaiian Island, where a ship is just departing with the coterie of a Senator who is just winding up a junketing trip to the island. The senator is accompanied by his daughter, Dorothy. The entire story is set among the festivities surrounding the departing ship on one hand and Dorothy’s reminiscences of her brief yet memorable time she spent with a hapa-haole, Stephen. Dorothy, Stephen and the senator Jeremy Sambrooke make up the characters in this story.

The author begins with a vivid narrative of the setting at the wharf. He portrays a noisy wharf bustling with music and mayhem surrounding the departure of the Senator and his group. The author brings out the music and noise by the use of such words and phrases that almost reproduce the feel of sounds – diapason, hubbub, “…singer’s voice rising birdlike…”. There is a lot of attention to detail; the movements on the promenade, the music playing, the kind of people around who the story is about and even those that the story is not about. However, the story is neither about the festivities nor about any of the people who are described. These are merely the context for the main theme of the story.

The author also dwells on the wave of emotions that are ebbing through Dorothy’s mind as she is readying herself to wave goodbye to the island. She is only coming to terms with the fact that she is soon not going to see Stephen only as the ship is setting sail. The author seems to portray this as Dorothy’s early days of entering womanhood from being a young girl, who looked on Stephen as her playmate. In spite of going to great lengths in describing their brief romantic interlude, the author does not develop this further, nor does he give the reader an indication who will or will not happen about these two. The entire point of view presented is that of Dorothy, who is unable to understand what she is going through. On one hand, she is faced with a wave of emotions drawing her towards Stephen, and on the other, she is faced with the hopelessness of the situation, given that Stephen is of a different social and racial class.

The story is clearly about the young daughter’s (perhaps) first brief affair and her coming to terms with understanding her own attraction towards Stephen, the underlying theme of the story is the divide between social classes. The author introduces this divide when the daughter recollects an incident at Mrs. Stanton’s tea party, where a an apparently derisive reference is made to someone of mixed blood as a “half-caste” and how the others have to be cautious about this. The story portrays the subtle yet tangible undercurrents of race and class in the society through the recollections of conversations at this party as well as a “test” that the daughter conducts through asking her father if Stephen could stay with them, if and when he comes to the mainland, to which her father answers “”Certainly not…Stephen Knight is a hapa-haole and you know what that means.” The story uses the premise of a brief romantic involvement to portray an underlying theme of social class and race. In a brief description of the farewell ceremony to a junketing senator, the author has been able to communicate the subtle racial and social class theme.

In summary, the story is about social class and racism presented through the eyes of a young Dorothy, daughter of a rich senator who has had a brief romantic encounter with Stephen, a Hawaiian youth of mixed racial ethnicity.