Essays on History, Culture, Politics
On the Politics of Identity
The highs and lows of identity politics, and why despising it is no smarter than despising politics itself.
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?"
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 Here
A 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.
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.
Reviews of Books, Movies
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
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
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.
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
Essays on Science, Philosophy, Religion
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?
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?
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.
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.