Selected Videos

Usha talks to her editor, Richa Burman, about her new novel, The Legend of Virinara.

Namit Arora's TEDx talk on why civic sense matters, why we Indians have so little of it, and what might raise it.

A journey to Zambia, including a national park, Lusaka, Livingstone, Victoria Falls, and more.

A journey to the shores of Lake Malawi, a lovely national park, and the capital city, Lilongwe.

A journey along the beautiful coast of Mozambique, its countryside, and its capital city, Maputo.

For our learning, natural talents, and labor, what rewards and entitlements can we fairly claim?

A documentary film about the Kumbh Mela 2013, an ancient pilgrimage festival that's by far the largest gathering of humans on the planet.

A journey to Uganda's national parks, the Ssese Islands of Lake Victoria, the source of the river Nile, Jinja, and Kampala.

A tiny village on the northeastern coast of Trinidad is home to the "so-ugly-they're-cute" leatherback turtles.

With barely a thousand tigers left in the wild, a man at a Tiger reserve in India remembers the days when "tigers abounded like stray dogs".

The seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile is in McLeod Ganj (upper Dharamsala), a scenic town in the Indian Himalayas.

The world's largest Buddhist monument located near the city of Jogjakarta on the island of Java, Indonesia.

A video slideshow on the orangutan ("person of the forest"), the only great ape outside Africa.

The greatest of the Hindu pilgrimage festivals is a riverside religious fair held every 12 years.

Scenes from the hauntingly beautiful White Desert in the eastern Sahara, with its otherworldly white chalk rocks.

Quneitra was once a bustling town in the Golan Heights ... now it is a ghost town. Scenes from my visit to Quneitra, Syria, 2001.

Wander the streets of the most energetic and cosmopolitan metropolis of Brazil.

Whirling dervishes performing at a restaurant in Damascus, Syria, 2001 (plus a titillating dinner buffet!)

He sings in a language called Pahari in the highlands of Khajjiar, Himachal Pradesh, India.

Selected Photo Essays

A unique annual festival of transgender people (hijras) that happens in Koovagam village, Tamil Nadu.

Photos from a journey to the Kumbh Mela 2013, the largest gathering of humanity on the planet.

Dholavira: A Harappan Metropolis

The road to Dholavira goes through a dazzling white landscape of salty mudflats. It leads to the evocative ruins of a great Harappan city.

The fabled Forbidden City earned its name by being closed to everyone outside the Chinese royals and their eunuchs and maidservants.

The single most sacred site of Buddhism. It was in the forest here that Prince Siddharta sat under a tree and achieved enlightenment.

A holy city in Punjab whose historical gravity to the Sikhs is second only to Amritsar. Hundreds once embraced martyrdom here.

A day trip to the Pushkar camel fair that attracts over 250K visitors from India and abroad.

Once an extension of the Arabian Sea, the Rann has been closed off by centuries of silting. During Alexander's time it was a navigable lake.

Bhimbetka was a center of human activity from the lower Paleolithic times—the oldest paintings may be 12,000 years old.

Selected Articles

Essays on History, Culture, Politics
What Freedom Means New! A short essay on the occasion of India's 72nd Independence Day.
Storytelling as Life and Art New! Every one of us is a storyteller, a world-builder, whether or not we’re aware of our own powers or how we wield them.
Making Sense of Cryptocurrencies New! The animating ideology of the cryptocurrency movement, its likely effects on society, and its odds of success.
Coming to America New! On the making of the South Asian diaspora in the United States.
When Fascists Are Not Evil On the Trump phenomenon and USA's dark historical moment.
On the Politics of Identity The highs and lows of identity politics, and why despising it is no smarter than despising politics itself.
The Two-faced Politics of Indian-Americans Despite their proximities, why do we Indian-Americans despise Trump yet love Modi? What’s behind this apparent paradox?
Venerating the Army: A Pathology of Nationalism When love for “the nation” betrays so little love for those who live in it and the egalitarian spirit of the constitution that defines it.
Delhi: the City of Rape?On how caste patriarchy in urban India hijacks and distorts the reality of gender violence.
Ambedkar in the Indian Imagination On Ambedkar's place in the Indian imagination, and why he hasn't received his due from upper-caste Indians.
The Return of the Aam Aadmi Party On AAP's victory in Delhi, the party's strengths and weaknesses, and its potential location in Indian politics.
On Eating Animals
"Is it then unreasonable to say that nearly all meat-eaters in America participate quite directly in a cycle of suffering and cruelty of staggering scale?"
Indians Abroad: A Story from Trinidad A brief history of the Indian diaspora in Trinidad—today over half-a-million strong—from the colonial era to the present.
On Caste Privilege Much has been written about the unearned privilege of race and gender. What does the privilege of caste look like in Indian society? How and why has caste been politicized?
The Dance of Indian Democracy Why did democracy take root in India against all odds? What are its distinguishing features? Six decades later, how close is it to Ambedkar's inspiring vision of democracy?
The Blight of Hindustan A brisk overview of the caste system in India: its origins, spread, persistence, and some historical attitudes and debates.
In Light of Nalanda A portrait of the ancient Nalanda University based on the accounts of Chinese scholars of 7th century CE and impressions from a personal visit.
Herodotus, the Iliad, and 9/11 Some curious parallels between the wars of the post-9/11 decade and the Trojan War as Herodotus saw it.
On Public Corruption in India With findings from corruption research, Anna Hazare and his team, the Jan Lokpal Bill, and the anti-corruption movement.
Decolonizing My Mind On the politics surrounding the arrival and the spread of English in the colonies and the peculiar world of the Indian writer in English.
War and the American Republic With the end of combat operations in Iraq, a fresh look under the hood of American jingoism.
The Minangkabau: Mixing Islam and Matriarchy This matriarchal society of Muslims in Indonesia reminds us that religion and culture are never cut from whole cloth.
America, the Cold War, and the Taliban The roots of transnational Islamic terrorism lie not so much in culture and the Qur'an as in politics and the conduct of the Cold War in Afghanistan.
Marco Polo's India Returning home from China in 1292 CE, Marco Polo spent a few months in India ... his book, The Travels, contains a rich social portrait of India that still resonates with us today.
Asian Food for Thought India and China illustrate the vast range and malleability of the human palate—and the power of ideas in shaping it.
What Confucius Said Perhaps no person has left a deeper mark on Chinese culture than Confucius, who lived 2500 years ago in an age of social turmoil.
Homosexuality in India "We don't have any" is the classic Indian response to homosexuality in India. Curiously, Indians say this even when they know of and tolerate homosexual acts.
On Herodotus' Histories What in his outlook and judgment is still noteworthy nearly 2,500 years later? An evaluation of Herodotus as a historian.
The Other Swastika Can the symbol ever be redeemed in the eyes of the West? What might be lost and what could be gained in doing so?

Essays on Science, Philosophy, Religion
The Road to Fixing Air Pollution in Delhi Key initiatives that will not only reduce air pollution but will also help turn Delhi into the “world class city” that AAP promised.
What Do We Deserve? Of particular relevance to market-based societies is the question, 'What do we deserve?' For our learning, natural talents, and labor, what rewards and entitlements can we fairly claim?

The Bhagavad Gita Revisited Why the Bhagavad Gita is an overrated text with a deplorable morality at its core.

Part 1: Historical and literary context
Part 2
: Textual critique

On the Void of Nagarjuna The works of Nagarjuna, the great Buddhist philosopher who lived in South India 1800 years ago, represent "something of a watershed ... in the history of philosophy."
The Inner Lives of Animals Do non-human animals live entirely in the moment? Given the spate of behavioral studies, what can we justifiably say about the inner lives of animals?
The Dearth of Artificial Intelligence Despite big advances in computing, AI has fallen woefully short of its ambition and hype. Why is AI in such a braindead state?
Being Liberal in a Plural World In the absence of a consensus on the 'truly universal' values of liberalism, and hence rights—whether on empirical or practical grounds—how is a liberal to act in the world?
Advice to a Young Artist The idea for writing this came to me from an interview in which an author was reverentially asked, "Sir, what would be your advice to a young artist?

On Early Islam This five-part series on early Islamic history begins with the rise of Islam, shifts to its golden age, examines two major currents of early Islamic thought—rationalism and Sufi mysticism—and concludes with an epilogue.

Part 1: The Rise of Islam
Part 2: The Golden Age of Islam
Part 3: The Path of Reason
Part 4: The Mystic Tide
Part 5: Epilogue

On Knowledge Without Wisdom Philosophy today is not how the Greeks understood it, as the love of wisdom. It now paves the way for the acquisition of theoretical knowledge as an end in itself.
Atheistic Materialism in Ancient India It comes as a surprise to many that in ancient "spiritual" India, atheistic materialism was a force to reckon with.
From the Outside, Looking In Speaking of Muslims as fanatics or terrorists isn't even considered bad manners; it's seen as a comic expression of the truth.
Books by the Writers of Shunya

A novel by Usha Alexander (2018)


A lone woman travels fearlessly into the jungle to confront the enemy. She holds the fate of an entire world in her hands.

“A beautifully written story about love and war . . . This is historical fiction done right.” —Anil Menon


More here. Buy from Amazon IN, US, UK

Essays by Namit Arora (2017)


By “one of our finest critics. In a raucous public sphere marked by blame and recrimination, these essays announce a bracing sensibility, as compassionate as it is curious, intelligent and nuanced.” 
—Pankaj Mishra


More here. Buy from Amazon IN, US, UK 

A novelette by Usha Alexander (2017)


When Craig Olsen returns to Idaho to say goodbye to his dying uncle, who raised him, he comes face to face with matters he can no longer evade ... [He] is forced to confront the shadows of his past, including what he must accept and what he must disown about the people he loves.


More here. Buy from Amazon.

A novel by Usha Alexander (2005)


"The clash of cultures and identities between the first and second-generation Indians in America is poignantly portrayed... a saga of hardship, betrayal, survival, spirit and enduranc... a good read."
The Sunday Tribune


More here. Buy from Amazon.

Reviews of Books, Movies
Beyond Man and Woman: The Life of a Hijra On the transgender women of India (hijras) and a powerful memoir by A. Revathi on ‘the lives of hijras, their distinct culture, and their dreams and desires.’
The Watchman's Tale Why Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, is more profound and important than her first, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Spiritual in Varanasi On Kaleidoscope City: A Year in Varanasi by Piers Moore Ede.

The Perils of Majoritarianism On the ethnic history and politics of Sri Lanka and a review of Samanth Subramanian's This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War.
A Chronicle of the Minutiae A review of Amit Chaudhuri's sixth novel, Odysseus Abroad.
The Rationalist and the Romantic On Arundhati Roy's The Doctor and the Saint, her introduction to a new, annotated edition of Dr. Ambedkar's 1936 classic, Annihilation of Caste.
A Harvest of Savagery and Hope A review of Savage Harvest: Stories of Partition by Mohinder Singh Sarna (1923-2001), translated from Punjabi by Navtej Sarna.
The Terrain of Indignities A review of Ajay Navaria's Unclaimed Terrain, a book of short stories translated from Hindi, and a conversation with the author.
Revisiting the Idea of India A review of Perry Anderson's The Indian Ideology, focusing on Indian nationalism from the colonial era to the present.
The Revenge of the East? On Pankaj Mishra's From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia.
Joothan: A Dalit's Life A review of Omprakash Valmiki's Joothan, a memoir of growing up 'untouchable' in rural Uttar Pradesh, India.
James A. FitzPatrick's India Best known for his 200+ short travel documentaries from 1929-55, including many on India, what should we make of FitzPatrick and his films today?
Avatar: A Review Outlandishly expensive, visually stunning, and politically loaded, Cameron took every risk with this film. And what did he give us? A heroic fantasy of white guilt. The story of Pocahontas, re-imagined.
The Reach of Reason A review of Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian Culture, History and Identity.
The Wonder That Was India On Pankaj Mishra's An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World.

Travel Essays
A Place Called Home Going "home" can be bittersweet. In one of his most personal essays, Namit revisits Gwalior, the city where he came of age.
Of Meenas, Migrants, and Medicine Two days with AMRIT Health Services, a not-for-profit initiative, in villages inhabited by Meena tribals in south Rajasthan.
Dispatches from India Usha's periodic musings on her life in India. She moved there in mid-2013. 1: First Impressions 2: On Hiring Domestic Help in India
As Though We Were Immortal Some travel impressions prompted by the living and the dead of Varanasi, India.
An Indian-American in China Impressions from a journey through China, and the hard-to-avoid comparisons with neighboring India.
The Leatherbacks of Trinidad A tiny village in Trinidad is home to the leatherbacks, the largest species of turtles. In Apr 2011, I traveled there to see them.
The Lost City of Ugarit A journey to the Syrian city of Lattakia and the nearby ruins of Ugarit, the 2nd millennium BCE city credited with the invention of the alphabet.
Divinity is HereA journey to the hauntingly beautiful desert of Wadi Rum, "one of the most spectacular sights in the whole of Arabia."
At the Foot of Mount Yasur I am six hundred miles east of the Great Barrier Reef in the archipelago of Vanuatu-or, as they say in Vanuatu, the "ni-Vanuatu" archipelago, home to nine active volcanoes.
Nobody's Land The Amazon hogs the limelight for fauna stats but to see wildlife in wide open spaces, the Pantanal is the place to visit in Brazil.

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