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River of Faith
A documentary film about the Kumbh Mela 2013, an ancient pilgrimage festival that is by far the largest gathering of humanity on the planet.

History and Culture

Caste Iron NEW!
On Ambedkar's place in the Indian imagination, and why he hasn't received his due from upper-caste Indians.

Of Meenas, Migrants, and Medicine NEW!
Two days with AMRIT Health Services, a not-for-profit initiative, in villages inhabited by Meena tribals in south Rajasthan.

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?"

In Light of Nalanda
What was ancient Nalanda University like? Here is a portrait based on the accounts of Chinese scholars of 7th century CE and a recent personal visit.

As Though We Were Immortal
Some travel impressions prompted by the living and the dead of Varanasi, India.

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?

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.

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
The Indian caste system continues to mystify outsiders. Here is a brisk overview of its origins, spread, and some historical attitudes and debates.

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 the possibility of doing so?

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 offer a striking illustration of the vast range and malleability of the human palate, and the power of ideas in shaping it.

What Confucius Said
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 in light of his life and times.

 

Travel

A Place Called Home COMING SEPT 22!
Going "home" can be bittersweet. This essay was inspired by Namit Arora's visit, after a long gap, to his former hometown where he came of age.

Dispatches from India NEW!
Usha Alexander's periodic musings on her life in India. She moved there in mid-2013.

1: First Impressions

2: On Hiring Domestic Help in 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 on the northeastern coast of Trinidad is home to the "so-ugly-they're-cute" leatherback 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 Here
I am in the village of Rum in south Jordan, all signed-up for two days in the desert. The clincher was the Bedouin honcho's sell job:  "I have open jeep, ...

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.


Book Reviews

The Rationalist and the Romantic NEW!
On Arundhati Roy's The Doctor and the Saint, her introduction to a new, annotated edition of Dr. BR Ambedkar's 1936 classic, "Annihilation of Caste".

A Harvest of Savagery and Hope NEW!
A review of "Savage Harvest: Stories of Partition" by Mohinder Singh Sarna (1923-2001), translated from Punjabi by Navtej Sarna.

The Terrain of Indignities NEW!
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 The Indian Ideology by Perry Anderson, focusing on Indian nationalism from the colonial era to the present.

   Part 1: Gandhi, early Indian nationalism

   Part 2: Nehru, Partition, the nation-state

The Revenge of the East?
A review of 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.

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
A review of Pankaj Mishra's "An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World".

 

Science, Religion, Philosophy

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 is on the Gita’s historical and literary context. Part 2 is the textual critique.

   Part 1 (The Appetizer)

   Part 2 (The Main Course)

   Addendum (The Dessert)

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?

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

From the Outside, Looking In
Speaking of Muslims as fanatics and terrorists is not even considered bad manners; it’s seen as a comic expression of the truth.

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.

 

Cinema, Fiction, Art

Four Excerpts from a Novel
Selections from Namit Arora's first novel which he hasn't published yet.

1. The Man in the BMW

2. Putty in Her Hands

3. A Sales Conference

4. Trying is All We Have

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.

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
?

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

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

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

The Burning Ghats of Varanasi
Varanasi, on the left bank of the Ganga, is one of the seven sacred cities of the Hindus.

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

Nagarjunakonda
About 1,700 years ago, Nagarjunakonda flourished as a city and a great religious and educational center of Brahmanism and Buddhism in south India.

Anandpur Sahib
Anandpur Sahib is a holy city in Punjab. Its historical significance to the Sikhs is second only to Amritsar. Hundreds of Sikhs once embraced martyrdom here.

Melting Girls, Serpent Women
A day trip to the Pushkar camel fair that attracts over 250,000 visitors from India and abroad. Villagers turn up for both business and pleasure.

The Rann of Kutch
Once an extension of the Arabian Sea, the Rann ("salt marsh") has been closed off by centuries of silting. During Alexander's time it was a navigable lake.

Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka
Bhimbetka remained a center of human activity from the lower Paleolithic times—the oldest [rock] paintings are believed to be 12,000 years old.
 

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The Pearl of Africa

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

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

A Large-Hearted Gentleman
With barely a thousand tigers left in the wild, a man at a Tiger reserve in India reminisces about the days when "tigers abounded like stray dogs".

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

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

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

Kumbh Mela 2001, India
The greatest of the Hindu pilgrimage festivals is a riverside religious fair held every 12 years.

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

Ghost Town in the Levant
Quneitra was once a bustling town in the Golan Heights ... now it is a ghost town. Scenes from my visit to Quneitra, Syria, 2001. Music by Fairuz Wahdon.

A Sunday in São Paulo
Wander the streets of the most energetic and cosmopolitan metropolis of Brazil.

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

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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