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Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Himalayan Monks have super human abilities that stun even Harvard scientists

Buddhist Monks are fascinating. It is popularly believed that these monks have brains that function beyond human capabilities. Plus, they are known to easily rewire their brains.

It is an established fact that Buddhist monks are super human but it is their out-of-this-world incredible feats that continue to stun and shock scientists! This is because at the end of the day these monks are born as normal human beings.

In the 1980s, a curious group of scientists and researchers led by Professor Herbert Benson from the Harvard School of Medicine trekked to the remote monasteries nestled in the Himalayan mountains. They wanted to discover, document and decode the ways in which monks manipulated their bodies subtly. These monks were known to raise their body temperatures, especially of their fingers and toes by 17 degrees and they could also lower their body’s metabolic rate by 64%. They did so through the stress reduction technique of yoga called the ‘gTum-mo’.

The researchers from Harvard also recorded the monks drying clothes and cold wet sheets using their body heat.

The monks performed astonishing feats – they would spend nights on a rocky ledge when the temperatures dropped to zero degrees Fahrenheit. These rocky ledges were at the height of 15000 feet and the monks only had cotton or woollen shawls to keep them warm. These feats, the scientists observed, the monks achieved them through rigorous meditation techniques, spiritual conditioning and guided exercises.

Through their gTum-mo techniques, these monks entered a state of deep meditation. When doing so, other monks soaked sheets of 3 by 6 feet into the cold water and placed them on the meditating monks.

For common, untrained people, these would lead to shivering and illness, even death. But the scientists observed that steam rose from these sheets within an hour.

Therefore, after observing and witnessing such experiences, Benson emphasised the importance of advanced meditation. It could lead to treatment for stress-related illnesses.

He observed: This is important because more than 60 percent of the visit to physicians in the USA are for stress related problems and these are wrongly treated by drugs and even surgery. But if we all begin to practice advanced meditation, it can miraculously rewire our brains and cure us.

He further stated that he hopes that self-care such as they monks undertake will be equal to medical drugs, surgery and other therapies that will help alleviate mental and physical suffering. Meditation along with proper nutrition, diet and exercise of the mind and body will lead to self-care practice. It would help save millions of dollars annually in medical costs.

(Source: Speaking Tree)

I decided to divorce my in-laws, and I’ve never looked back since

Piya De Bose, a single mother and a HR professional who lives in Bangalore, shares her pain on The Ladies Finger, which reminds me of my sister-in-law who struggled with in-laws and family and at last got her freedom from their clutches. Today, she's a successful working woman and both dad and mom to her so. Kudos to such brave ladies:

This was the day the final shards of rose-tinted glasses fell off.

I was standing mute in front of a judge while my lawyer articulated why the interim custody of my 5-year-old son should stay with me till the divorce has been finalised. My child was shivering while clutching my hand, not comprehending why he was out on a school day. The previous day, I had walked out of my marital home with my son and just the clothes on our backs. Now, in court, I felt foolish for not having taken his jacket. But then, I may have never escaped. I may have been stopped and I may have lost my child forever.

My in-laws warned me that I could either quit my job or leave, but without my child. After all, my son was their only grandchild. That I was his sole provider and his father was an alcoholic living with another woman in a different city, didn’t matter to them. I was asked to keep up the semblance of a functioning marriage and be the obedient daughter-in-law in exchange for the social recognition and identity of a married woman with good character. It was only a few months after I moved in with my in-laws that I was allowed to work. That was when the school fees and expenses multiplied and I had to pay them for our upkeep. This last part was only fair, since their son never sent them money.

We didn’t always live with my in-laws. But they always knew of his alcoholic rage and chose to look the other way. He broke things during his fits, came home drunk only to hurl abuses and blame me for his situation and often force sex on me. All of this would happen even when my in-laws were visiting us. The next morning, they ignored my swollen eyes and loss of appetite and went on as if nothing has happened. He did not hit you, was what my mother-law would say. There were days I had to borrow money from a neighbour to buy baby food because he drank away the money and we were living from one paycheck to the next. My father had to clear the bill on my credit card (which he used without ever repaying) when I finally decided to cancel it.

Several such incidents later, as a compromise, my in-laws asked me to move to their town and live with them while my husband stayed behind because of his new job. Little did I realise that moving in with them would bring on other forms of abuse. I was not allowed to visit my parents often, though they lived in the same town. When my mother called, my mother-in-law would complain about how bad my house-keeping skills were and that I was neglecting the child because I was studying for a professional diploma when he slept at night. I was criticised if I came an hour late from work, or if my cooking was not up to the mark or if I listened to music. They frowned if I bought a book or a gift for a friend. I had to show them everything I bought because my money was the family money and it was considered indecent to indulge in any way. They sulked when I refused to make my salary account into a joint account. My mother-in-law kept all my jewellery with her and I needed her permission to use them.

Initially, I told myself that that their constant criticism was routine. A new bride, is expected to adjust to new rules, isn’t she? However, all the rules applied to me and none to their son. I should have seen this coming. A day after our wedding, he left for hours to get drunk in a bar, leaving hundreds of guests who were waiting at our reception to wish us good luck. His parents hushed it up blaming their relative who had gone with him. Ours was an arranged marriage and I was naïve enough to miss all the red flags.

A few months into the marriage, when reality struck hard it caught me completely off-guard.  The daily binge drinking and missing work regularly, cost him his job. My in-laws sent some money so that we could tide over till he found a job, but also used the opportunity to tell me how they had almost finalised another match for their son, a girl who was working in a multi-national and earning a handsome salary.

By the time my son was four, I was already living with my in-laws for two years, earning our keep. Then, a well-wisher informed me of my husband’s affairs. On confronting him, he accepted that it was true. He was so casual about it that it shocked me. When I told my in-laws, they advised me to ignore it because I was not skilled enough to keep my man happy. A wife plays several roles, said my father-in-law. When the need arises, she should be as skilful as a prostitute to not let the husband stray. They told not to discuss this matter with anyone and that I should continue living with them as the daughter-in-law and someday when he gets tired of these other women, he will come home and take care of us. Meanwhile, all the slights and insults were so de rigueur that I learnt to ignore them.

Instead, the daily drama motivated me to do better at work — the only place where I was appreciated, and had some self-esteem left. Unfortunately, it began to shame my in-laws that I was doing better than their son. When I was invited to speak to a small gathering, my mother-in-law warned me to never to do it again — apparently, I was making myself available to the men.

Early on, I had the solace that my in-laws took care of my child for the few hours that I was at work. However, that didn’t last. My son spent every afternoon watching tv serials about sacrificing wives, polygamist husbands and family politics. My in-laws taught my four-year-old that boys were superior, and that they would never accept it if he married someone from another religion. They told me that I had no right to intervene in his upbringing because I was a bad influence on him.

One day my in-laws overheard me sobbing over the phone while I was talking to a work friend. Immediately, they began pressuring me to quit my job. They manipulated my son to throw tantrums every day — if you love me you will not go to work. With that, I had enough. I decided to leave.

There was a new beginning in the cold courtroom. The divorce case dragged on for over three years mostly because he did not appear and his lawyer kept asking for extensions. As my luck would have it, the neighbour who had told me of my husband’s affair refused to come down to testify in court, fearing his reputation. His relatives and friends, who knew of his nature and his affairs, expressed sympathy in private but were unwilling to come forward in my support. After 10 years of living in an abusive marriage, which chipped away at my self-confidence and worth, I had no proof to show. The million little things that broke my spirit over the years were too flimsy for the court. At every point, I was asked — why did you accept that. You are educated and well-spoken. So, if you accepted that, it means you consented to it. The elderly court-appointed mediator asked me several times why I was not willing to go back and live with my in-laws and try again. At times, the wife has to compromise more, she told me. When I told her of the instances, the years of compromise, his indiscretions, she said being a mother you need to think of your son’s future first. I realised that unless I am able to prove any of the misdeeds it was pointless to fight. Camera phones had not arrived yet and telephone conversations could not be recorded easily.

For that entire time, I never stopped looking over my shoulders every time I stepped out of home. My ageing parents jumped every time the doorbell rang. I asked for permission from work to escort my son to and fro school for that entire school year till I could change his school to one nearer home. The threat was real. My husband had several nefarious acquaintances and when I had left his parents’ house, he had warned me of dire consequences because they had lost face and people were asking them why I left so suddenly. He threatened to kidnap our son and get me killed. I believed him and lived in fear until the day I met him for the final divorce decree, which we both had to sign. That decree became possible only after I agreed to claim nothing, not even child support. Every now and then, I still see photos of my mother-in-law on someone’s page, wearing my sarees — sarees that my mother had saved over many years for my wedding trousseau. In a divorce, women lose more than just their self-esteem. I lost my grandmother’s gold bangles, her last gift to me before she died. I lost my prized collection of books. I heard they sold the books as soon as I left. After several legal notices, I was able to get some of my jewellery back. My lawyer on her part apologised profusely for her inability to get me a fair mandate and refused to take her fees. By then, wrung out emotionally and financially, I was only looking for freedom from him and his family.

Cold winds had blown through every aspect of my life. His parents spread lies and told everyone how bad a wife and a mother I was since I was of ‘loose character’. I wonder if anyone asked them why they allowed me to stay with them if I was having so many affairs while living in their home. Hard to say which stories upset my parents more — them bad-mouthing me, my parents or my younger brother who had passed away a few years earlier.

On the other hand, some folks also told my father to retaliate and that they knew my in-laws were crooks and my father in-law was a prime accused in a case of financial fraud.

So I got my divorce and that was the end. Not quite.

Being a single mother means it never quite ends. When I was renewing my passport, I was questioned why I wanted to keep my husband’s last name when I was divorced. During my son’s board exam, the registering official insisted that we fill out his father’s address and other current details even after I explained that we were unaware of his whereabouts. My financials are a mess because though my son is a nominee for all my transactions, he needs a legal guardian in my absence and both my parents are too ill to be eligible. I was refused a housing loan a few years ago because I did not have a co-applicant.

Whether it’s a hotel booking or a phone bill, the salutation is always a ‘Mrs’ by default. Whenever I meet someone new here, whether at work or outside, the first or the second question is always about the husband. When I say, I am divorced, it invites either suspicion or curiosity guised as sympathy.

It has been many years since I walked out of a life filled with self-doubt and misery. My friends often ask me why I didn’t leave earlier. I was brought up to believe marriages are for a lifetime. I didn’t know enough to recognise abuse when someone wasn’t harming me physically. After some time, I accepted it without any fight and believed it was my fault and that I was not worthy of anything good. I foolishly believed that leaving my husband would not only harm me but also our son.

It was much later, that I realised the sense of fear and foreboding that I constantly felt was a result of the continuous psychological abuse. To this date, I have trust issues that I am yet to overcome. I would startle easily when someone called my name fearing more criticism. It felt like walking on eggshells all the time. For years, I had to ask my mother-in-law which dress or saree to wear when we went out together. Things would go missing from my room and wardrobe but I did not have the courage to ask her about them. Weeks would pass before I would speak with my mother properly. I would leave the phone after a cursory ‘I am doing ok’ or ‘I have reached home from office’, which puzzled them. I could not sleep at night and whenever I slept, I dreamt of drowning or someone squeezing my neck and I would wake up in sweat. I would get obsessed with cleanliness and would wash hands unnecessarily till my skin started chaffing. I developed anxiety about everything. Several time during those spiteful years, I had contemplated suicide and I made meticulous plans in my head to execute it. Only the thought of my young son stopped me. But the most dangerous were the lies I told people that led them to believe I had a wonderfully supporting family. My make-belief life was a parallel movie in my head that I lived every day. That’s how I coped.

Today I am free. I am a responsible mother, sole caregiver for my parents and an active citizen. I learnt to manage my finances, file my taxes, run a household, hold my own in a conversation, travel alone. For me, the biggest reassurance that I did the right thing by walking away and choosing not to hate, is when I see my son as a sensible, responsible, empathetic young person who reflect the values I hold dear.

Those years has also taught me to be watchful of the signs. Recently, I noticed a young colleague was taking too many sick leaves. A little empathy and she opened up. Her husband and mother-in-law beat her regularly for dowry and controlled her every action. After a lot of counselling from professionals, she was confident enough to walk out and report them.

We have to watch out for each other.

Please save my husband: Jailed Atlas Ramachandran's wife makes desperate plea

In her first-ever media interview, Indira opened up about her fears, hardships and desperate fight to get her husband out of jail.

It is a lone battle for Indira Ramachandran to secure the release of her jailed husband M.M. Ramachandran, founder of Atlas Jewellery.

The 75-year-old gold tycoon from Kerala, India, Ramachandran - who is popularly known as Atlas Ramachandran - was arrested in Dubai on August 23, 2015, in cases related to bounced cheques and has been languishing in jail since then.

"He has been in jail for 21 months now, and his health is fast deteriorating. Last week he was taken to hospital on a wheelchair. I too have health issues. I feel lonely and helpless," Indira, 68, told Khaleej Times.

In her first-ever media interview, Indira opened up about her fears, hardships and desperate fight to get her husband out of jail.

"I am living in constant fear of getting jailed as some banks have initiated civil proceedings against me, too. I don't even have a steady income to pay my rents. But I have to keep fighting to make sure my husband will soon walk out a free man," said Indira, who is staying in an apartment in Dubai.

Comfort to chaos
A homemaker who was never involved in any of her husband's businesses, Indira's comfortable life took a chaotic turn when Ramachandran landed in jail in 2015 for not honouring security cheques worth Dh34 million.

"When security officials took him, I thought he would be back in a few hours. I had no clue my life's biggest tragedy was unfolding," said Indira.

As news of his arrest spread, what ensued was utter chaos. More banks deposited security cheques, and aggressively pressed charges against Ramachandran for defaulting on payments. The business tycoon - who had previously lost everything in the 1990 Kuwait War and rebuilt his business empire in Dubai - was soon embroiled in a legal deadlock.

"Banks were threatening me with arrest. Some people were asking for millions to help. I was physically and mentally broken and did not know what to do or whom to call.

"Our employees were clamouring for money. One day, dozens of them walked into my apartment and refused to leave till their dues were paid. And obviously, without Ramachandran around, many played foul. Diamonds worth Dh5 million in our showrooms were sold for just Dh1.5 million and all the pending dues - including incentives of 200 salesmen and other staff - were settled," said Indira.

Dealing with debts
Indira's real troubles were yet to begin as Ramachandran owed millions to banks, and with her husband in jail, she was responsible for clearing the financial mess. The existing assets could not be liquidated.

But she did not have much to count on. Atlas Group, which reportedly had an annual turnover of Dh3.5 billion, had collapsed like a house of cards. Shutters were down on all his 19 gold showrooms in the UAE. Businesses at their showrooms in other Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Doha and Muscat got adversely affected due to cash crunch.

And to make matters worse, Ramachandran's daughter and son-in-law also got arrested over financial issues not related to Atlas Jewellery. "That was a bigger tragedy. And I had to deal with it all on my own."

Daring to hope
But despite all the setbacks, Indira said she was still hopeful her husband would come out soon. She said they were able to sell two hospitals in Muscat and used the Dh35 million to make temporary settlements with the banks.

According to her, 19 of the 22 lending banks have so far signed a standstill agreement by which all legal proceedings have been put on hold against Ramachandran and a new repayment deal negotiated.

"Only three banks are refusing to budge. I am knocking on all doors to get them agree to sign the standstill agreement, so that Ramachandran can be released with immediate effect.

"He is an honest man and had enjoyed immense goodwill in the market for the last three decades. But being held in prison, he is unable to talk to the prospective buyers to liquidate the assets and pay back debts," said Indira. "It is my earnest wish he be given a humanitarian consideration.

"Meanwhile, if I also get into a legal soup before his release, we are hitting a dead-end, with no solution at hand," said a desperate Indira.

(Source: Khaleej Times)

Arundhati Roy’s fascinating mess

On the night she won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy had a strange and frightening dream. She was a fish being ripped from the water by a bony emerald hand. A voice instructed her to make a wish. Put me back, she responded. She knew she was on the cusp of cataclysmic fame, she later said an interview. She knew her life would explode—“I’d pay a heavy price.”

She has. It is almost impossible to see Roy clearly through the haze of adulation, condescension, outrage, and celebrity that has enveloped her since the publication of The God of Small Things, a gothic about an illicit intercaste romance in South India. She was feted as a symbol of an ascending India, paraded along with bomb makers and beauty queens. Much was made of the author’s looks—she was named one of People magazine’s most beautiful people—and lack of literary background; there was titillated interest in her days living in a slum and working as an aerobics instructor. Praise for her novel was extravagant—she was compared to Faulkner and García Márquez—but it was also frequently patronizing. “There is something childish about Roy. She has a heightened capacity for wonder”—this from one of the judges who awarded her the Booker Prize. (Meanwhile, a writer who had judged the Booker the previous year publicly called the book “execrable,” and the award a disgrace.)

The world Roy conjures is often brutal, but never confusing or even very complex.
Roy appeared to want no part of any of this. She chopped off her hair after the Booker win, telling The New York Times she didn’t want to be known “as some pretty woman who wrote a book,” and donated her prize money to the Narmada Bachao Andolan, a group protesting the construction of a series of dams that threatened to displace millions of villagers. She turned her attention from fiction to people’s movements all over India—Kashmiris resisting the Indian military’s occupation, tribal communities fighting to protect their ancestral lands. She decried India’s nuclear testing (a source of much national pride at the time) and became an outspoken critic of America’s war in Afghanistan. She was praised for her commitment and derided for her naïveté, and faced charges of obscenity and sedition (later dropped). She was invited to model khakis for Gap (she declined) and to march through the forests of central India with Maoist insurgents (she accepted). And now, after 20 years, she has finally returned to fiction with a new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

Is novel the right word, though? I hesitate. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, hulking, sprawling story that it is, has two main strands. One follows Anjum, a hijra, or transwoman, struggling to make a life for herself in Delhi. The other follows Tilo, a thorny and irresistible architect turned activist (who seems to be modeled on Roy herself), and the three men who fall in love with her. But as was true of The God of Small Things, there is more than a touch of fairy tale in the book’s moral simplicity—or clarity, if you’re feeling charitable. Roy will say of a character, “He was a very clean man. And a good one too,” and he is swiftly, unequivocally pinned to the page.

The world she conjures is often brutal, but never confusing or even very complex. Manichaean dualities prevail: innocence (embodied by puppies, kittens, little girls) versus evil (torture, torturers, soldiers, shopping malls). If this tendency felt less troubling in her first book—think of handsome, heroic Velutha, the untouchable, and his foil, the almost comically evil Baby Kochamma—it was perhaps because the narration was trained so closely on children. Given that the central characters were a pair of young twins, Rahel and Estha, it felt natural that the world would be read this way.

Yet to simply find fault with the lack of psychological shading would be, I think, a genre mistake. Roy’s indifference to precisely that problem suggests that something interesting is afoot. Consider the book’s dedication—“To, The Unconsoled.” Note the cover photograph, a grave, and the setting: The story begins and ends in a graveyard. More than a novel, this book wants to be an offering. It isn’t concerned with the conventional task (or power) of fiction to evoke the texture and drama of consciousness. Instead, it acts like a companion piece to Roy’s political writings—collected in books such as The Algebra of Infinite Justice (2001) and Walking With the Comrades (2011). It tours India’s fault lines, as Roy has, from the brutal suppression of tribal populations to the 2002 pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat.

Just about every resistance movement is embodied in a character, and the lives and struggles of these characters intersect. The queers, addicts, Muslims, orphans, and other casualties of the national project of making India great again find one another and form a raucous community of sorts. And this novel—this fable—is as much for them as about them; it commemorates their struggles and their triumphs, however tiny. You will encounter no victims in this book; the smallest characters are endowed with some spit. A kitten, about to be drowned by a group of soldiers, bares her fangs, unafraid to take on the Indian army. At night, a dung beetle lies on his back in the graveyard, pointing his feet to the sky, to help prop it up should it fall. Even he is given a name: Guih Kyom. Even he does what he can.

“I’ll have to find a language to tell the story I want to tell,” Roy said in an interview in 2011, as she discussed returning to fiction. “By language I don’t mean English, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, of course. I mean something else. A way of binding together worlds that have been ripped apart.” As it happens, she didn’t really settle on a new way of telling the story—this novel shares the same playful, punny argot of The God of Small Things (more on this later)—but she tries to pull all those worlds into an unwieldy embrace.

It may seem like the pamphleteer has subsumed the novelist. But Roy’s enterprise is less dutiful than it sounds. There is no grudging marriage of art and politics in her work; as John Berger, one of her longtime interlocutors and a formative influence, wrote, “Far from my dragging politics into art, art has dragged me into politics.” Roy’s work conveys a similar spirit. She is a great admirer of the world. Her strongest writing is always at the margins of the main story—the pleasure of finding “an egg hot from a hen,” or this passing detail from The God of Small Things: “A thin red cow with a protruding pelvic bone appeared and swam straight out to sea without wetting her horns, without looking back.” From the fine-grained affection that stirs her imagination springs an ethical imperative—after all, how can one appreciate the world without desiring to defend it? And it must be defended not merely from war or political calamity, but from that natural, more insidious phenomenon: forgetting.

This is the literary tradition that Roy belongs to—and that was intimately transmitted to her by Berger and her other great friend, the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano (she has called him her twin), for whom the great tragedy of humanity wasn’t that we die or suffer or make each other suffer. It was that we forget. And because we are so prone to forgetting—because it is so easy to make us forget—we accept the conditions of our suffering as inevitable and cannot fathom alternatives. (“The world, which is the private property of a few, suffers from amnesia,” Galeano once said. “It is not an innocent amnesia. The owners prefer not to remember that the world was born yearning to be a home for everyone.”)

Like Galeano’s Mirrors, an ode to “human diversity” in which a history of the world unfolds in 600 short stories, Roy’s novel is a compendium of alternatives—alternative structures of kinship, resistance, and romance. Anjum lives in a multigenerational joint family of other hijras; together they raise a child. Later, she and a few other characters move into a graveyard. They sleep between the headstones, plant vegetables, create a new kind of human family that can obliterate the divisions between the living and the dead. Roy has imagined an inverse of the Garden of Eden—a paradise whose defining feature, rather than innocence, is experience and endurance.

To so confidently believe oneself to be on the right side of history is risky.
And what better place to set this graveyard, and this book about forgetting, than in Delhi, Roy’s home for much of her adult life. It’s a palimpsest of a city—occupied continuously for at least 3,000 years, surviving and absorbing the Mughals, the British, the refugees after India’s partition from Pakistan. A city whose own founding myths tell of amnesia, and of the power of texts to resist it. As one story goes, Brahma the creator god suddenly forgot the scriptures. He performed various rites and austerities and plunged into one of Delhi’s rivers. During the monsoon, the waters rose and flung up the sacred texts onto a riverbank that is still known today as Nigambodh Ghat, “the Bank of Sacred Knowledge.” Even the gods may be wired to forget, but we are also wired for narrative, to build what bulwarks we can.

In this context, any notion of a fissure between art and activism would seem absurd. To be both artist and activist, to expend oneself in both places, on the page and in the world, is the duty of the writer. It is to be “integrated,” as Vivian Gornick described Grace Paley; it is to be “a writer in the most comprehensive sense,” as the biographer Richard Holmes wrote of Shelley. But to live and write with the consciousness of this integration is trickier than it sounds.

To so confidently believe oneself to be on the right side of history is risky—for a writer especially. In that balmy glow of self-regard, complacency can easily take root. And good prose demands a measure of self-doubt—the worry that nags at a writer, that forces her to double back on her sentences, unravel and knit them up again, asking repeatedly: Is this clear? Is this true? Is this enticing? This book has a slackness to it that suggests Roy has abdicated some of these anxieties.

Roy has said that she never revises her books, that her essays and fiction write themselves, and that she rarely takes edits. I’ve always interpreted—and enjoyed—such statements as a bit of swagger. It’s dispiriting to see that they might be true. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is plagued by almost rudimentary errors: There is near-total confusion about point of view. Messages and morals come ponderously underscored. The two central stories never convincingly come together. In the absence of psychological development or real suspense, chapters end with portentous rhetorical ellipses. Worse still, the creation of characters as stand-ins for causes results in formulaic depictions of the very people she is trying to humanize. Anjum, for example, never becomes more than her “patched-together body and her partially realized dreams.”

The voice that carried The God of Small Things emanated from the characters. The elasticity of language, the silliness and sappiness, felt very much like the expression of the twins. It captured their way of being, of merging with each other and the world. Here that voice feels distracting, imported from a different universe. I thought often of Walking With the Comrades, Roy’s account of traveling through the forests with Maoist insurgents. She was full of admiration for their discipline, for the care they took of their woods and of one another. She was awed by how everything in their world was “clean and necessary.” Something of this aesthetic stole into her style in that book. Roy trusted the reader enough to just point the camera, to let us see what she saw: “Three beautiful, sozzled men with flowers in their turbans walked with us for about half an hour, before our paths diverged. At sunset, their shoulder bags began to crow. They had roosters in them, which they had taken to market but hadn’t managed to sell.” Details gleam (a woman’s anklets shine in the firelight) and horrify; she hears the story of three Maoist girls raped by the army: “ ‘They raped them on the grass … But after it was over there was no grass left.’ ”

The epigraph of The God of Small Things is a line from John Berger: “Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one.” What’s disappointing about The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is that it can feel like a collection of so many single stories and stock figures—heroic martyrs and tragic transgender characters. Roy has a ready response to the criticism that she isn’t an especially subtle writer. She cops to it directly: “I want to wake the neighbors, that’s my whole point. I want everybody to open their eyes.” I remember something Cézanne supposedly said: “I know what I am looking at, but what am I seeing?” Roy is a champion at waking the neighbors, at getting our attention, and as an offering, this book is a beautiful act of witness. But harnessing our attention—getting us to see as well as to look—that is perhaps a different, and more intricate, matter. It’s a matter of tactics, a matter of art.

(Source: The Atlantic)

The news business is unfair to journalists with children

Many journalists think of their work as a calling. They live for breaking news, scoops, deadlines and remarkable stories. Early mornings and late nights are a small price to pay for getting people the information they need — or even shaping the news cycle.

But the profession doesn’t always feel compatible with having any other serious responsibilities or interests, much less kids who have hardcore deadlines of their own, including doctor’s appointments, daycare pickups and 7 p.m. bedtimes.

If you’re struggling with balancing journalism and parenthood, you’re not alone. Hundreds of your colleagues across the country are grappling with the same dilemma. That’s what Poynter learned after asking 390 journalists about whether their employers are family-friendly.

The survey was designed to gauge if and how journalists are accessing family-friendly policies like paid family leave, telecommuting and flex-scheduling. We also wanted to hear how workplace culture is shaping people’s experiences.

The results are both encouraging and disappointing. On the surface, many of the journalists who took the survey work for companies that offer key benefits and policies. Yet they’re also overwhelmingly worried about their career prospects after becoming parents and say they have few role models in management who demonstrate what it means to have a viable balance between work and caregiving responsibilities.

Their responses also indicate that journalists’ individual experiences are heavily reliant on whether their direct supervisor understands the challenges of being both a journalist and a parent.

If these findings confirm your worst fears, there’s still hope. Experts who study workplace policies say that pushing media companies to embrace work-life balance is an important business strategy for retention, loyalty and productivity. That approach is particularly essential for ensuring that newsrooms are as diverse as the audiences they serve: Female journalists won’t ever reach parity with their male colleagues if senior leadership refuses to acknowledge that journalists also have caregiving responsibilities, which still fall disproportionately to women.

Newsrooms need to envision and implement new ways of assigning and valuing work in order to give all employees — not just parents — the chance to have a fulfilling life off the job, said Brigid Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab at New America and formerly a veteran reporter for The Washington Post.

“When we judge you by how much time you’re willing to put in, how many hours you work, how late you’re answering your emails,” she says, “what we’re really doing is reinforcing this culture that to be a good journalist you pretty much can’t have a life outside of journalism, and we all know that’s not true.”

Even if we know that’s not technically true, plenty of people who completed our survey feel the pressure to downplay their private life and caregiving responsibilities. When we asked participants why they delayed having children, the second-most popular answer after financial concerns was a lack of clarity about how to balance deadlines, hours and family life. People also worried that parenthood would affect their chances for a promotion.

As one survey respondent put it: “It's all about productivity and stories. [W]hat's happening in life is my own problem...just keep that copy rolling.”

The survey, which opened in November, received 390 responses to multiple-choice questions about workplace policies and workload. We also received hundreds of answers to three open-ended questions.

While the number of participants represents a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. journalists employed in the newspaper, radio, internet publishing and broadcasting industries, the responses help illustrate common concerns and experiences. Those who chose to share the name of their employer reported working at local papers and television stations, big regional dailies, national newspapers, major websites and network and cable television stations.

Here’s an overview of which policies and practices were — and weren’t — common amongst our respondents.

Parental leave: Two-thirds of employers offer some paid parental leave, but less than half of the respondents took the full time allotted. It wasn’t clear whether they went back to work earlier because they received only partial pay or felt they needed to return without taking full advantage of the policy. Either way, only 14 percent of private employers in the U.S. offer paid leave, so journalists may have access to better policies than the average worker.

(Source: Poynter)

Are Hindus vegetarian?

The idea of "vegetarian" diet has spread throughout the world, thanks to many Hindu and Jain immigrants in the USA and the UK and the popularity of yoga. However, not all Hindus are vegetarian. In fact, most aren't. Since vegetarian practices distinguishes Hindus from other communities, and was seen as "quaint" in western societies until recent times, it has become the defining trait of Hinduism, statistics notwithstanding.

Hindus can be vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Hinduism is a plural religion, an umbrella term for many jatis, sampradayas and paramparas, some of whom may be vegetarian some of the time, or not at all. There is no such thing as a Hindu commandment telling Hindus what to eat or not to eat. This obsession with reducing Hinduism to a single behaviour is common amongst two groups of people: loud Hindutva radicals and their sworn enemies, the Hinduphobes.

The story of a Tamil saint reveals Hindu attitudes towards food. Two kinds of devotees visited a Shiva temple: a vegetarian priest who followed all the rituals and a tribal hunter who did not know any ritual. Every dawn, the priest would conduct the rituals as prescribed by the scriptures. At dusk, the hunter would reach the temple and give the deity there all that he had found in the forest that day: flowers, water from mountain springs and the best portion of the game he had hunted that day. The hunter carried the flowers in his hair, and the water in his mouth (which he spat out). The game he would chew to make it tender and offer it to the deity. The next dawn, the priest would find the meat, the bones and the dried flowers inside the temple and would be filled with revulsion. This cycle continued for weeks. On Mount Kailash, Shakti asked Shiva who was the favoured devotee?

Shiva decided to test the priest and the hunter. The Shiva-linga in the temple sprouted eyes. When the priest saw this, he felt it was a sign of divine blessings. But then one of the eyes started to bleed. Thinking this to be bad luck or a sign of divine rage, the priest ran away. The hunter, however, on seeing the bleeding eye, tried to heal it using forest herbs. Unable to stop the bleeding, he decided to cut out one of his eyes and give it to the deity. That stopped the bleeding in one eye, but then the other eye started to bleed. So the hunter decided to cut out his other eye. But that would make him blind and he would not know where to spot the deity with the bleeding eye. So to mark the spot he put his foot on the bleeding eye that needed to be replaced with his eye. Just as he was about to blind himself, Shiva appeared and stopped the saint.

Through this fantastic story, we are being told that what matters to the divine is our underlying emotion, not our ritual behaviour? God does not care about social hierarchies, our ritual notions of purity and contamination. God only cares about the human ability to love: the ability to overcome our own insecurities to take care of others in pain. Aham (ego) makes us think we are purer and superior to others. The journey to aatma makes us think that no one is impure or inferior, that everyone is valid and worthy of respect. What matters is not the ritual worship of the priest, but the love of the hunter. Rituals need to be an expression of love, not a mechanistic practice, or a tool to indulge the ego by dominating others.

Different communities in India have different food habits. And there is no one rule. For example, many people think all Brahmins are vegetarian. That is not true. In Bengal, Brahmins eat fish, and sacrifice goats and buffalo to Kali as part of Shakto tradition. In Kashmir, some Brahmin communities offer meat to Bhairava, a form of Shiva.

In South India, Brahmins are vegetarian. Highly educated, well-versed in mathematics, they migrated early to urban centres across India as accountants, journalists and bureaucrats. Exposure to them created the classical "Madrasi" stereotype in Bollywood films, who eats only veg food. This eclipses the vast non-vegetarian traditions of south India.

Some of the most successful businessmen of India are from the Jain community and the Vaishav communities of Gujarat and Rajasthan. They are strict vegetarians. Since many foreign businessmen deal with them, they assume that all Indians are strict vegetarians. Jains are not Hindus (they do not worship Shiva, Vishnu or Brahma), though they fall in the larger framework of rebirth traditions (sanatan dharma). This Marwari and Bania culture also eclipses the vast non-vegetarian traditions of north India.

In Hindu Puranas, Vishnu is a strict vegetarian god, but Shiva eats whatever he is given and the Goddess loves blood. Again this is not a strict rule. For when Vishnu descends as Ram, he hunts deer for food (an idea that many vegetarian Hindus reject rather violently). In Jain scriptures, Krishna is shown as participating in a wedding banquet of Nemi-nath, where animals are slaughtered. Also as Narasimha, the man-lion avatar, Vishnu drinks blood. Shiva being a hermit accepts whatever he is offered. In his Gora-Bhairav gentle form, he is offered fruits and milk. In his Kala-Bhairav fierce form, he is offered blood and alcohol. The Goddess is associated with nature’s most elemental actions – sex and violence. She is offered blood. In Varahi temples of Odisha, she eats fish. Yet, many Goddess temples where she is closely associated with Vishnu, she is vegetarian: as in Kolhapur Amba-bai temple in Maharasthra, or the Goddess on the Hills of Punjab and Jammu. So again, no fixed rule, even for the gods.

Some people equate vegetarianism with ahimsa or non-violence. Ahimsa is a fundamental principle of Jainism and yoga. However, ahimsa is a very complex idea. It means not hurting any living creature in body (tann) or mind (mann). But this does not extend to the act of eating. For all the quest for food involves violence. Farming is a very violent activity involving the killing of many animals, not least the pests. Also ahimsa is closely linked to anekantavada, or plurality, and aparigraha, not clinging to any thing or thought, and to syada-vada, embracing uncertainty. Many soldiers are vegetarian. Many corrupt politicians and crony capitalists who destroy the ecosystem with their industries or exploit workers in their factories are vegetarian. That is hardly non-violence!

Many hermits give up meat to become spiritually pure. They have linked meat and blood to contamination. This is a dangerous idea: it forms the idea of "untouchability" that renders certain people "unclean" based on their traditional vocation which brings them in contact with flesh and blood. Turning "blood" into contamination is the reason why women are seen as "unclean" during periods and at the time of delivery. This disdain for blood as part of ritual purity fuels prejudice of the worst kind. We must be wary of it. Many vegetarian hermits think they are superior to meat-eating householders. This competition reveals delusion created by the ego. We must be wary of it. We must keep reminding ourselves how the Goddess Kali demands blood sacrifice. Does it make the goddess impure? Nature cannot be made impure and all of nature is the Goddess.

Many Hindu supremacists are trying to reframe Hinduism using Abrahamic templates, and so are trying to deny Hindu pluralism. They want to create a checklist of Hindu behaviours. They assume the practice of some dominant Brahmin and trading (Bania) communities as universal. They see "non-vegetarian" as inferior and "vegetarian" as more evolved, a belief that is less scientific and more designed to massage the ego. They deny the meat-eating practices of various non-dominant communities. We must not forget that as per food census, 70 per cent of India eats meat in some form or the other. We must not forget that Hinduism is not what some Brahmins and Banias decide it is, or should be. Brahminism is but a tiny subset of Hinduism, and not all Brahmins are vegetarian.

(Source: DailyO)

Monday, 26 June 2017

Homosexuality wasn’t ‘unnatural’ in the Ramayana and Mahabharata

Would you believe me if I told you that the labelling of certain lifestyles as ‘taboo’ is a product of the modern society?

India has always been an all-embracing culture. The richness of our culture thrives upon its pluralism. One important aspect of inclusivity is to include a broad spectrum of gender identities. Gender and sexuality were never rigid categories, and tales from the Hindu mythology confirm that. Our gods have time and again transformed into male and female shapes/avatars to carry out different purposes. We are all familiar with the androgynous Shiva-Shakti avatar. So when did homosexuality become ‘problematic‘? Or cross-dressing for that matter?

The video illustrates several ‘gender-bender’ stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, to appreciate how all entities and imaginations had an important role to play in the larger scheme of things, and live in harmony with each other and flourish.

Meta narratives, actively challenging and subverting the dominant worldview have always existed in our culture. Watch this video to debunk all your myths about a unilateral vision of history.

(Source: YKA)

The most forward-thinking, future-proof college in America teaches every student the exact same stuff

College is supposed to help young people prepare for the future. But as headlines warn that automation and technology may change—or end—work as we know it, parents, students, and universities are grappling with a new question: How do you educate a new generation for a world we can’t even imagine?

A recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,408 technology and education professionals suggested that the most valuable skills in the future will be those that machines can’t yet easily replicate, like creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, adaptability and collaboration. In short, people need to learn how to learn, because the only hedge against a fast-changing world is the ability to think, adapt and collaborate well.

But many American college students may not be learning them at all. In the 2011 book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, Richard Arum and Jarip Roksa chronicled how few American students really improved cognitively–and learned to learn–during their undergraduate education. Few bachelor’s programs require sufficient amounts of the reading, writing, and discourse needed to develop critical thinking skills. In fact, forty percent of American undergraduates now major in business and management-related subjects, reading mainly textbooks and short articles, and rarely writing a paper longer than three pages. Further, the social bonds and skills formed in college today often center on extracurriculars that have little connection to cognitive development and collaborative problem-solving.

But perhaps instead of reinventing higher education, we can give students what they need for the future by returning to the roots of liberal arts. Consider St. John’s College, America’s third-oldest institution of higher education, founded in 1696. With fewer than 700 students between two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, St. John’s is a bit under the radar. But it’s emerged as one of the most distinctive colleges in the country by maintaining a strict focus on the classics of the Western canon.
The Program
Many fine schools in the US organize classes and curriculum around Western classics, and St. John’s two campuses look much like hundreds of small colleges across America. So what makes St. John’s unique? First, as David Brooks of the New York Times recently wrote, the college has the “courage to be distinct” amid a marketplace of more than 5,000 colleges and universities in the US. A big part of that distinction is due to a strict adherence to its own curated curriculum and teaching methods, know simply as “the Program” implemented back in 1937.

In contrast to some liberal arts stalwarts like Brown or Wesleyan that allow students to choose from a vast array of classes with few restrictions, St. John’s offers only the Program; it’s prix fixe is a higher education world of a la carte. Four years of literature, language, philosophy, political science and economy, and math. Three years of laboratory science, and two of music. That’s it. No contemporary social studies. No accounting. No computer classes. No distinct majors or minors.

The Great Books, or “texts” as they are referred to at St. John’s, flow largely in chronological order. Starting with the Greeks and working through the 20th century including some “recent” science readings from the 1950s and 1960s, the curriculum is rarely altered. The college adds only what it believes are seminal works, and often it takes decades to reach consensus on what may be worthy of inclusion. Juniors and seniors have “electives” and can suggest texts for a class or two. The sequencing of classes is very important to the St. John’s method, with knowledge building over the semesters and years.

Another unique feature of St. John’s is a resistance to placing texts in a political, social or historic context for discussion. Context is viewed as ideology, something that St. John’s believes distorts true education and the ability to form one’s own opinion. This is crucial to the school’s philosophy; by freeing texts from context, St. John’s claims it frees students’ minds to ponder the multiple possibilities and meanings that are actually in the text. Those possibilities are then discussed and debated, and discarded when weak or specious, leaving better interpretations space to surface. St. John’s is not a cloister, and of course students and faculty are well aware of the history and social settings of their studies. But an attempt is made to focus on the texts themselves, and understand their content, meaning and merit deeply through debate. This is what creates independent thinking.

Sure, compared to the telephone book size course catalogs most colleges and universities offer in the 21st century, St. John’s curriculum may seem limited. But “Johnnies,” as St. John’s students call themselves, and faculty would argue just the opposite. This curriculum is carefully designed not only to build knowledge, but also to understand how knowledge is ultimately created; it is teaching students how to learn. In this respect, St. John’s students de facto major in epistemology. And for those of us who never studied Ancient Greek (a St. John’s requirement for two years), epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge, or the investigation of what distinguishes substantiated and supportable belief from mere opinion. Now that sounds like it could come in handy these days.

We live in an age when 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day, with much being intentionally misleading, “fake” or just plain wrong. What could be more valuable than developing an intellectual filter, cultivating the capacity to know what is important to know, distilling enormous amounts of information to form a rational position, or knowing how to listen and respond to—or perhaps integrate—someone else’s point of view? In this vein, St. John’s uses traditional texts taught in ancient methods to impart skills that have never been more crucial.

The Program’s philosophy and practice
You will not find 100-person lectures, teaching assistants or multiple-choice tests at St. John’s. Instead classes are led by “Tutors” who guide students through Socratic inquiry (and yes, students do read about the Socratic practice during freshman year in Plato’s Theaetetus). Despite its reputation as a sadistic exercise in student humiliation, the Socratic method is actually an interactive form of intellectual sandpapering that smooths out hypotheses and eliminates weak ideas through group discourse. Tutors lead St. John’s discussions but rarely dominate; they are more like conversation facilitators, believing that everyone in class is a teacher, everyone a learner. And you won’t find Johnnies texting or surfing social media while in class; there is no place to hide in classrooms that range from small (seminars, 20 students led by two tutors) to smaller (tutorials, 10 to 15 students, one tutor) to smallest (preceptorials, 3 to 8 students, one tutor).

There is a formality in a St. John’s classroom—an un-ironic seriousness—that feels out of another era. Students and Tutors address each other by “Mr.” or “Ms.” (or the gender-inclusive honorific of choice). Classrooms have a retro feel, with rectangular seminar tables and blackboards on surrounding walls, and science labs filled with analog instruments, wood and glass cabinets, old school beakers and test tubes.

You have to observe a few St. John’s classes to get a sense of what’s happening between and among the students and Tutors. Discussions are often free-flowing, with students thinking out loud and talking to the ceiling; you can almost hear the gears turning in their brains. There are many “a-ha” moments in a St. John’s classroom, sometimes coaxed out by Tutors in Socratic fashion. But often they are triggered by students theorizing and responding among themselves.

In one class I attended, students were covering Ptolemy, the second century mathematician. Ptolemy believed that all the celestial bodies and sun revolved around the earth in a circle, and based all his mathematical calculations on this perspective. Students were buzzing at the blackboard, working with a geometry sphere around the table, talking about diameters, meridians and equators, tilts, and horizons. Keep in mind this is all prep for what will be studied in a few months, when these Johnnies will learn that it would be another 1400 years before Copernicus proved Ptolemy’s calculations correct but his conclusion wrong: the earth and planets actually revolve around the sun. These same students will eventually feel the excitement learning of Kepler’s conclusion 150 years later, that Copernicus was also right and wrong: yes, the earth and planets revolved around the sun—but in an elliptical, not circular, orbit. This curricular layering is central to the St. John’s Program. Later texts respond to and build upon previous texts. In essence, students intellectually follow modern thought as it has been built over the last 2000+ years instead of just memorizing the end results.

The cognitive rigor, immersion, and passion so present at St. John’s are rare on American campuses these days. Johnnies read roughly 100-150 books during their four years and write 25 to 30 papers that are more than 10 pages long. Seniors choose a writer or single text and do a deep dive thesis that typically runs 40-50 pages. Here are a few of the senior capstone topics for the class of 2017: 19th century English scientist Michael Faraday’s heuristic description of electromagnetic phenomena; 17th-century mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s treatment of curvature in what’s called the “chain line” problem; the use of Aristotelian terminology by 20th century physicist Werner Heisenberg in describing quantum mechanics; and the possible revision of “space” from Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason into a plurality of “spaces.” Few college-educated outsiders may have a clue what any of these papers are about, but they are not atypical of what’s being studied, discussed, and written about at St. John’s.

After class
Many mainstream college students downshift when the classroom bell rings and don’t revisit course material until they cram for finals. Not at St. John’s. Hallways and dorms are brimming with chatter about Dante, Schubert, Freud, and Watson and Crick. Since everyone takes the same courses, freshman immediately can strike up a cafeteria conversation with a sophomore or senior who’s already taken the class. The Program is what binds the St. John’s community, and what also binds alumni: everybody has studied the same texts, whether they graduated in 1962 or 2015.

Johnnies like to have fun, too, but in a quaint, quirky Big Bang Theory kind of way. Dancing is favorite pastime at St. John’s, but as the college website warns: “Monthly waltz and swing parties are serious business at St. John’s. The year begins with the Convocation Waltz, where students decorate the quad with lights and dance all night. Fortunately, the Waltz Committee offers emergency dance lessons for the heretofore unexperienced.” Many of the students wear fancy dresses or suits. It’s not exactly Undergrads Gone Wild.

Sports are important at St. John’s too—if you consider croquet a sport. Yes, croquet. It’s one of only four NCAA teams St. John’s fields (including sailing, fencing and rowing). About 35 years ago, St. John’s and the Naval Academy organized the Annapolis Cup, the first NCAA croquet match, which has grown into one of the sport’s great events. The Johnnies have beaten the crosstown rival Midshipmen 28 out of 35 times (this year narrowly 3-2 in the rain). The Cup routinely brings 8000 people to St. John’s classic campus, with Midshipmen wearing traditional croquet whites while the Johnnies don some creative costumes. Johnny spectators often wear Gatsby-era clothes and a good time, as they say, is had by all.

The Santa Fe campus is purportedly more laid back than Annapolis and offers outdoorsy-types 250-acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Students there hike, bike, and tend to get off campus more than their Maryland counterparts. Walking on either campus, you hardly see any Johnnies glued to their phones; this is so unusual compared with most campuses, you may wonder if cell and WiFi signals have been blocked (they haven’t). Solitary reflection is encouraged and indulged at St. John’s. You’ll often see students sitting alone under a tree, on a bench, lying on the grass. They may be thinking big thoughts or just relaxing; either way it evidences a culture of contemplation rarely witnessed among today’s college students.

Warning label
Clearly St. John’s is not for everyone. First, you need to be a voracious reader to cover the Program texts at a brisk pace. You also need the capacity for and love of writing because St. John’s requires a lot of it. It helps to feel comfortable speaking in public, since so much of St. John’s learning occurs out loud around a table with your classmates and tutors.

Geek. Nerd. Dork. These words come to mind when thinking about what kind of high schooler would choose St. John’s from among the myriad colleges available. But not only straight-A achievers choose the Program (though there are plenty of them at St. John’s). Many Johnnies were outsiders who didn’t necessarily fit into traditional high school cultures, nor did particularly well academically by typical high school metrics. There are a decent number of legacy students with parents or grandparents who’ve attended. Regardless of how they got there, successful Johnnies all share a sincere love of learning and a willingness to think really hard.

Most graduating students told me they had found their lost tribe at St. John’s, but a not-insignificant number of students (about 15%) wind up leaving after the freshman year. Some find the curriculum too rigid and want to explore different things. Some complain of cabin fever after a year or two; there’s only 80 to 125 students per graduating class in Santa Fe and Annapolis, and you get to know everyone–students, faculty, staff–pretty quickly. Because of the staged coursework, students from each campus can escape for a semester or two on the other campus without interrupting the Program. But that same curriculum makes things like study abroad very difficult without taking off a full year from St. John’s—adding time and expense to an already costly bachelor’s degree. There are no fraternities (though plenty of parties); no rah-rah football games (unless you walk to the nearby Naval Academy in Annapolis or drive to Albuquerque from Santa Fe); no food courts or swanky dorms. But the Johnnies who stay express heartfelt pleasure and pride in the idiosyncrasies of St. John’s.

The Program vs. programming?
While it’s fair to say most liberal arts students live in a “bubble” cut off from reality, St. John’s is unapologetic about, and in fact encourages, a four-year respite from the pressures and distractions of the outside world. The college focuses on the intellectual growth of students while they attend, not necessarily on what comes after graduation. Although there is little vocational discussion and modest career guidance at the school, Johnnies seem to do just fine after graduation. About two-thirds eventually go on for further degrees—including law school (a favorite), master’s and doctoral programs (the school produces more students who go on to earn PhDs per capita than almost any other US college), and some to medical and business schools.

Perhaps because of the independent thinking cultivated by the Program, many Johnnies wind-up with interesting life paths. In my research of St. John’s alumni I discovered an editorial board member at a major New York newspaper; a research psychiatrist investigating the neurochemistry of drug addiction; several celebrated winemakers; and an assistant district attorney in Alaska.

Josh Rogers, Annapolis class of 1998, told me St. John’s boosted his “why not me?” personality trait, and explained how it freed him to believe he could think up novel ideas like those that he read about. And he did. Within a few years of graduating St. John’s, Rogers – with no formal coding or computer training—filed 16 patentable applications embedded in many popular websites. He then founded his own financial services company with more than 150 employees.

A fourth-generation portrait painter, 1992 alumna Anastasia Egeli has built a successful career connecting with clients through talking. “A St. John’s education focuses on the importance of dialogue and ideas…I’ve found myself painting a historian and discussing the Federalist papers. During my sittings with private equity managers, we examined whether serving in a political office was the responsibility of a man who had benefited so much from that society.”

Ted Merz, an alumnus from the late 1980’s, was one of the first fifteen employees at Bloomberg News. Starting there in 1990, Merz went on to oversee news operations in the Americas before moving into the Product division where he works on strategic projects ranging from building news analytics to piping Twitter into Wall Street trading platforms. “Not a day goes by, “Merz told me, “that I don’t rely on the thought processes I developed at St. John’s.”

The creative and critical thinking that develops in the St. John’s bubble may be just what the future will require. While most college students have been rushing to study computer science and other technical skills for better employment outcomes, these fields may be less lucrative over time with machine learning and artificial intelligence.

As the vociferous Shark Tank host and entrepreneur Marc Cuban has recently observed about business careers: “I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering, because when the data is all being spit out for you, options are being spit out for you, you need a different perspective in order to have a different view of the data. [You need] someone who is more of a freer thinker.”
Even further afield, recently, former Google and Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee, an expert in AI, told Quartz that, “Given AI is more objective, analytical, data driven, maybe it’s time for some of us to switch to the humanities, liberal arts, and beauty.”

The crossroads
Like other US liberal arts colleges since the Great Recession, St. John’s has been dealing with two common headwinds: rising costs and declining traditional student enrollment. The college has a relatively low endowment per capita, making it tuition dependent like many small schools. While the sticker price of St. John’s seems expensive (about $50,000 per annum just for tuition), the school has been extremely generous with financial aid, bringing the effective cost down more than 50% (Note: An earlier version of this article said the reduction was 30-40%.) Still, some may question whether a St. John’s degree is worth it. To paraphrase Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, why waste $200,000 on an education you could get for $1.50 in late fees at the public library? True. Every text studied at St. John’s can be found at a public library. But that’s missing the point. As one alumni, Columbia Law School professor Shawn Watts, said, “St. John’s is less about the books than the process and the community. It trains your mind and frees it at the same time. This allows you to truly follow your own passions and interest in life without the subconscious impositions and prodding of our wired world.” In the face of a very uncertain future, a St. John’s education may be money very well spent.

And St. John’s is on the move, preparing for the next 300 years. In the last 18 months the college hired new presidents at each campus. With fresh leadership in place, the school is gearing-up for a major $250 million capital campaign. St. John’s is strengthening its enrollment pipeline, too. New admission director Ben Baum and his team have boosted applications to more than 1100 this year (up 35% from post-recession lows), with some 250 freshman expected to enroll in Annapolis and Sante Fe this fall. A seasoned admissions professional, Baum was drawn to the school in 2015 because of its unique educational offering. “Most colleges and universities struggle for a special identity in the crowded higher education marketplace,” he says, “That’s not an issue with St. John’s.”

The college offers a summer program for high school juniors that has been a good source of recruits, as has the international marketplace. The growing demand around the world for liberal arts education, as I’ve recently chronicled, has boosted overseas applications to St. John’s unique program. In recent years, between 20-25% of classes have been filled by international students (often paying full tuition), adding a nice mix of cultural and racial diversity to the student body.

A plaque on St John's Campus which reads "Have you yet recognized that you are and always have been your own teacher? Amidst all the noise and furor about education in this country at present, I have yet to hear this question raised. But it is basic. Liberal education has as its end the free mind, and the free mind must be its own teacher. Intellectual freedom begins when one says with Socrates that he knows that he knows nothing and then goes on to add: I know what I don't know. My question thus is: Do you know what you don't know and therefore what you should know? If your answer is affirmative and humble, then you are your own teacher, you are making your own assignment and you will be your own best critic." Scott Buchanan, 1958

Then there is the issue of rankings. For years, St. John’s resisted even filling out survey data requested by US News and World Reports. Culturally, some faculty and staff were (and still are) incensed by the rankings fetish that has gripped most of higher education. But determined to continue its mission into the future without sacrificing the curriculum and culture that makes it unique, St. John’s realized it needed to boost its profile and applications. Ranking surveys were filled. The number of admission application essays was reduced. US News now ranks St. John’s as the 53rd best national liberal arts college. In recent years, Forbes ranked the Santa Fe campus as the “Most Rigorous” in the US (with Annapolis ranked eighth, odd given the same Program), way ahead of the big Ivies like Harvard (17th), Princeton (20th), Yale (23rd), and Stanford (25th). The school’s tutors are often cited as among the best teachers in the country. Application numbers are rising and acceptance rates falling, all of which contribute to positive ratings momentum.

The future
Life in the 21st century is remarkably different than the late 20th century; it has been “disrupted,” to borrow an overused word from Silicon Valley, on many levels in the blink of an eye. A college degree is an indisputable asset in today’s world, but the uncertain and rapidly changing job market raises questions about whether college is really worth the investment of four years and a lot of money. But perhaps that question is too broad. Maybe we should be asking not whether college will adequately educate tomorrow’s citizens, but what kind of college will prepare them for an unimagined and even unimaginable future. St. John’s is facing the unknown by holding steady with the same approach to intellectual development, discourse, collaboration and rigor it has pursued for over 80 years. Maybe the “old school” way will produce the kind of innovative thinkers we will need in the brave new world.

(Source: Quartz)

Is it cute to romanticise the marriage of a 9-year-old boy to an 18-year-old woman?

I don’t remember the last time I was quite so gobsmacked after watching a trailer.

The trailer for Sindoor/Pehredaar Piya Ki begins with Diya, an 18-year-old woman, dressing up in a palace. She packs a gun into her purse and then calls out to her husband, Ratan Singh, whom Sony describes as “charming”.

Except Ratan Singh is nine years old.

She bends down and applies a teekha on his forehead, he runs away and returns with a stool and applies a teekha on her forehead, and then tells her she looks perfect, causing her to get romantically teary-eyed. A voice-over announces, “Sony lekar aa raha hain ek anokhi kahaani”. But why? Why is Sony romanticising the marriage of a nine-year-old boy to an 18-year-old woman, and bringing this romantic tale to anyone? Why would anyone in their right mind want to follow the video’s caption and “Come step into a world of unparalleled romance in an aristocratic setup when a charming 9 year old boy, Afaan aka Ratan Singh, of a royal household gets married to a beautiful and lively 18 year old girl, Tejaswi aka Diya”?

They’ve also released a similarly alarming Karwachauth promo that features more bending to see eye-to-eye.

The promo’s disclaimer says “This show doesn’t endorse child marriage in any way”, but displaying the marriage of a nine-year-old to an 18-year-old accompanied by warm, romantic music and happy smiles all around does feel like a bit of an endorsement, no?

(Source: The Ladies Finger)

Stop bouncing rice balls and wasting all that good food

Bouncing rice balls have really got food safety officials in different parts of the country into a tizzy. Because every time a consumer bounces a rice ball and cries ‘plastic rice’, the officials are forced to take samples to check them for that elusive plastic!

Last week, for example, consumers at a bus depot in Chennai started throwing large rice balls at passing buses, alleging that the government canteen there was serving plastic rice, compelling food safety officials to collect nine samples of rice from the canteen for testing. In Delhi too, food safety officials have had to take a close look at bouncing balls in restaurants. In fact while at an eating joint, if you suddenly see someone getting up and bouncing a big ball of rice against a wall, don’t get shocked. Most likely, the person is trying to check whether the rice being served is real or plastic.

Rumours of ‘plastic rice’ making the rounds on social media have created such a panic among rice eaters that in the last few weeks the state food safety officials are being flooded with complaints of plastic rice being sold by retailers or being served at restaurants. In Chennai, the officials said they inspected 74 outlets across the city and tested 14 samples and they all turned out to be ‘real rice’. The food safety department in Coimbatore inspected 200 shops across the district and tested 19 samples and the only non-rice particles that they found were stones.

In Delhi too, the food safety department said following consumer complaints, they lifted 20 samples of raw rice from different markets and seven samples of cooked rice from hotels and restaurants. Tests found no plastic content in any sample. In Bengaluru, elaborate tests by the University of Agricultural Sciences too found no trace of plastic in any of the samples complained about. In Andhra Pradesh, Civil Supplies minister Prathipati Pulla Rao held a press conference to rubbish the fears of ‘plastic rice’ as totally ‘unfounded’ and even announced a prize of Rs 50,000 to anyone who gave a lead to finding such a rice.

At the root of this fear of ‘plastic rice’ lie online videos (which have gone viral) of rice balls bouncing like rubber balls. Now experts say that it is not a peculiar phenomenon, given the composition of rice. Dr Nagappa G Malleshi, former head of Grains, Science and Technology, Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, explains that rice is 80% starch, which contains amylose and amylo pectin. When you cook rice, these swell and leach out and make the rice sticky. And when you mash and make them into a ball, they stick together, but they also entrap air and therefore bounce. How bouncy the ball is depends on the amylose content of the rice. Higher the amylose content, greater the bounce, he says, explaining why some bounce more than others. He also points out that the whole idea of plastic rice grains is ridiculous because if you try to cook it, obviously the plastic cannot absorb water nor can it ‘cook’. It will only melt and burn.

Dr VP Singh, former head, Division of genetics, Indian Agricultural Research Institute-IARI, also de-mystifies the ball bouncing phenomenon on YouTube. Rice, he says, has got adhesive and cohesive properties because of the high percentage (80%) of starch in it. So the ball formation is on account of this adhesiveness. And when you throw this ball, it is bound to bounce on account of its volume expansion and air entrapment, he says, dismissing fears of the ‘plastic content’ in the rice causing the bouncing effect.

So hopefully, we will stop bouncing rice balls and wasting all that good rice.

(Source: HT)

I almost let my journalism job destroy my marriage. Don’t make the same mistake.

As a journo, we hardly have time or space for our personal lives. We are 24/7 journos. We try to dig news in each and everything. In the attempt to getting and making news, we forget our personal space and if the spouse is not understanding, it can ruin the very foundation of marriage. Here's a beautiful article on Poynter, which sheds light on what we all go through as journalists:

Let me ask you: When did you decide that your commitment to work was the most important commitment in your life?

Chew on that for a minute.

The headline interrupted my morning coffee in mid-swallow:

“Walmart is asking employees
to deliver packages
on their way home from work.”

The story in The Washington Post on Walmart’s latest strategy for competing with Amazon said many of the plan’s details were not yet available. It did say employees who made deliveries would be paid, and that the delivery gigs would be voluntary.

Reading that Walmart was asking its employees to work on the way home from work hardly surprised me. It’s Walmart, after all. This is the company that, according to a new report, punishes employees for medical absences. Make deliveries on the way home from work? Who’s surprised?

Just the latest blow to work-life balance.

Then I recalled a conversation I had with a mid-level editor at Poynter a few months back.

We were about to begin a session on how we prioritize our activities each day. To prepare for the session, I had asked the participants to keep a log of their entire work day — everything they did — on one day before coming to Poynter.

“You asked us to write down everything we did from the time we reached the parking lot until we left for home,” the editor said. “But by the time I got to the parking lot, I’d already been working for two hours.

“My day starts when I wake up and check my email.”

He’s right, of course. Employees in news organizations (and, to be sure, many other businesses) frequently start working hours before they leave home. They also work while traveling to and from the office and they work some more after they return home, sometimes for hours.

I realize this is not a new phenomenon. I once had a boss who, as I was leaving work after another 11-hour day, asked me:

“Half-day today?” He was smiling. To this day, I’m not sure whether he was joking.

But today’s situation is worse. Technology makes it too easy for you to work anytime, and all the time. Understaffing complicates matters further, as companies keep cutting and managers are left to stretch a single bed-sized sheet over a king-sized mattress.

Too much work, too few people, too little time.

And here’s the capper. Management has a collaborator in this scheme:

You. (And me. Heck, I’m writing this on a Saturday morning.)

Are we unwilling collaborators? I’d love to say yes, of course we are. But like most complex situations, this one defies easy answers. Think about it.

Do you check email on your day off? Or on vacation? Many employees assume they’re supposed to; others rationalize they want to avoid falling way behind. Just know that every time you do email on your day off, you perpetuate a system that assumes you’re always on the clock. Do you return messages or emails just before climbing into bed? Or in the middle of the night? Did you accept responsibility for a seven-day work product (Sports section, social media report, etc.) without an assistant?

All of those choices contribute to the illusion that your newsroom has a system that, despite the reduced staff, is working.

It’s not working. And don’t kid yourself. The joint failure of bosses and staffers to find an acceptable balance between work and the other commitments in their lives will have an impact. Maybe it already has.

It almost cost me my marriage.

I was a young mid-level editor working in Baltimore, and it was a time of intoxicating change at the paper. New management, new ideas, new opportunities. I routinely worked 10, 11, 12 hours—and convinced myself that I needed to be there for every one of them.

Donna, home with our new son, wasn’t so convinced. She, as usual, was right. I was choosing to be at work.

The weeks passed and we talked less and less. During those few hours when I was home, I was exhausted; I was not much of a father and even less of a husband.

Thank God, Donna finally confronted me. She said she had no interest in being a single parent, and I had to make some choices.

For the first time in my life, I had to answer that question:

What exactly was the most important commitment in my life? Work? Or family?

Looking back on that time, I know that women had routinely answered this question far more consciously and honestly than men. Not that they had much choice; our culture answered the question for them. Women were expected to leave their jobs at some point and “have kids.” And not just bear children; they were expected to raise them. That, of course, effectively brought the careers of many women to an abrupt end.

It’s hard to overstate the hypocrisy of it all. Those women who chose not to have children were labeled careerists (while the men who put job ahead of family were “dedicated providers”). Moreover, women allowed men like me to dodge the question; they honored their own commitment to family and shouldered mine, too. Until, like Donna, they said: Enough.

Maybe you can see that day coming for you. Maybe your partner (man or woman) is asking if you ever put down that iPhone. Maybe you see how unhappy the family is that you need to stop by the office for a few minutes, like you always do, turning their day at the beach into a half-day. Maybe your partner no longer waits to eat until you arrive home.

Maybe your home is quieter than it used to be.

When did your commitment to work become the most important commitment in your life?

No matter what level you occupy in your organization, you have a stake in dealing with this — for yourself and, if you’re a manager, for the people you direct. And you might have an opportunity right now.

Throughout the industry, many newsrooms are rethinking workflows. The goal is to abandon processes and schedules that were designed to produce a newspaper and adopt workflows that support both digital and print production.

Why not seize this moment and address the balance question? What if managers and employees re-imagined the work to accomplish two objectives: To better serve the audience and to allow journalists to honor their commitments to work and family.

When Donna confronted me with my need to choose, she didn’t ask me to pick work or family; she asked me to return the “and” to the equation. Work and family.

In practical terms, it meant that if I was to regain credibility in my house, I had to stop working late unless I really needed to be there. And when I wasn’t needed, I had to come home. (Which ironically, I very much wanted to do.)

Did I ever achieve perfect balance? No. But for the next three decades, when I called home and said I had to work late, Donna believed me — and she knew I was also making my time at home the best it could be for all of us.

We’ll be married 42 years in September.

Let me offer you several thoughts about addressing this issue. Let’s start with you, bosses.

With so much to get done every day, can a boss afford to take this on?

Here are three good reasons for tackling this issue: First, the work will improve. People — whether they are married or single, have children or don’t — work better when they have a life outside of work. (They certainly bring a better, more focused self to work when they aren’t dealing with disappointment at home. )

Second, newsrooms have been talking for years about the need to stop doing work that isn’t resonating with the audience. Enough talking. While we’re (finally) refocusing the staff on the most relevant work, why not mindfully determine a reasonable time frame for doing it?

Third, addressing the balance issue will help build a culture in which staff believe their organization values them. Doughnuts only get a boss so far. Managers who help their staffs live a fulfilling life have a real impact on their newsroom culture.

What should a boss do first?

Be clear with your employees what you expect of them. Do you want your emails answered at 11 p.m.? (If not, stop sending them.) Do you expect your local editor — the one who no longer has an assistant — to call in (or come in) on weekends? (If not, work with the local editor to figure out how to get the work done when she’s not there.) Do you want your digital editor to call into the 8 a.m. meeting and be in the office until 8 p.m.? (Or, more likely, do you have a clear idea of the work you want the digital editor to get done? If so, help him devise a workflow that completes that work in a reasonable number of hours.)

How can an employee talk with the boss about this issue?

What a sad question, eh? If you have a boss who has made it clear that he or she isn’t concerned about your life, that’s one thing. (Work on your resume. You deserve better.)

But as much as bosses treasure staffers who routinely go the extra mile, most do not want people to ruin their lives. Talk to your boss. Get clear about her expectations; ask for guidance about prioritizing your responsibilities, and propose how you would like to approach your day. And don’t make this conversation a one-shot deal; keep the conversation going. Balance is a moving target.

How do I avoid sounding like I’m whining?

You’ve probably already crossed that bridge. If you are a whiner, you’ve already made that clear by regularly complaining about your colleagues, your bosses, the quality of the pizza on election night. If, on the other hand, you have a reputation for hard work, your boss is likely to pay close attention when a valued staffer is comes by to say she’s having trouble. Go for it.

Practically speaking, how can I decide when it’s time to stop working and call it a day?

For starters, don’t wait until everything is finished — because it’s never finished. Right? So, deciding when you’re done for the day actually needs to begin much earlier in your shift. Use whatever systems and processes you have to help you. For example, come out of a morning story meeting and make a list of what you need to get done that day.

If it helps you, run the list by your boss. Make sure you leave enough air in the list to deal with the unanticipated — you know things will happen. But if it’s obvious to you that completing your list will require too many hours, you need a Plan B. Who can help me? What doesn’t need to get done? What can wait until tomorrow?

If you get to the end of the day and there’s still work on your desk, it’s not too late to ask the same questions: Ask if it needs to be done today. If not, leave it until tomorrow (or just kill it.) Second, if it needs to be done, ask someone else to do it. Only stay and do it yourself if it absolutely needs to be done and you are the only person who can do it. (And come to work the next day determined to adjust the process so that you turn less frequently to Option 3.)

One thing is clear: Balancing work and life outside work is not just a management issue. It’s a question we all need to own.

If you need inspiration, just think about that question:

Have you, perhaps unconsciously, made your job the most important commitment in your life?

How do you feel about that?

Fact check: India wasn't the first place Sanskrit was recorded – it was Syria

As the Narendra Modi government celebrates Sanskrit, a look at the oldest known speakers of the language: the Mitanni people of Syria.

After yoga, Narendra Modi has turned his soft power focus to Sanskrit.  The Indian government is enthusiastically participating in the 16th World Sanskrit Conference in Bangkok. Not only is it sending 250 Sanskrit scholars and partly funding the event, the conference will see the participation of two senior cabinet ministers: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who inaugurated the conference on Sunday, and Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani, who will attend its closing ceremony on July 2. Inexplicably, Swaraj also announced the creation of the post of Joint Secretary for Sanskrit in the Ministry of External Affairs. How an ancient language, which no one speaks, writes or reads, will help promote India’s affairs abroad remains to be seen.

On the domestic front, though, the uses of Sanskrit are clear: it is a signal of the cultural nationalism of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Sanskrit is the liturgical language of Hinduism, so sacred that lower castes (more than 75% of modern Hindus) weren’t even allowed to listen to it being recited. Celebrating Sanskrit does little to add to India’s linguistic skills – far from teaching an ancient language, India is still to get all its people educated in their modern mother tongues. But it does help the BJP push its own brand of hyper-nationalism.

Unfortunately, reality is often a lot more complex than simplistic nationalist myths. While Sanskrit is a marker of Hindu nationalism for the BJP, it might be surprised, even shocked, to know that the first people to leave behind evidence of having spoken Sanskrit aren't Hindus or Indians – they were Syrians.

The Syrian speakers of Sanskrit
The earliest form of Sanskrit is that used in the Rig Veda (called Old Indic or Rigvedic Sanskrit). Amazingly, Rigvedic Sanskrit was first recorded in inscriptions found not on the plains of India but in in what is now northern Syria.

Between 1500 and 1350 BC, a dynasty called the Mitanni ruled over the upper Euphrates-Tigris basin, land that corresponds to what are now the countries of Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. The Mitannis spoke a language called Hurrian, unrelated to Sanskrit. However, each and every Mitanni king had a Sanskrit name and so did many of the local elites. Names include Purusa (meaning “man”), Tusratta (“having an attacking chariot”), Suvardata (“given by the heavens”), Indrota (“helped by Indra”) and Subandhu, a name that exists till today in India.

Imagine that: the irritating, snot-nosed Subandhu from school shares his name with an ancient Middle Eastern prince. Goosebumps. (Sorry, Subandhu).

The Mitanni had a culture, which, like the Vedic people, highly revered chariot warfare. A Mitanni horse-training manual, the oldest such document in the world, uses a number of Sanskrit words: aika (one), tera (three), satta (seven) and asua (ashva, meaning “horse”). Moreover, the Mitanni military aristocracy was composed of chariot warriors called “maryanna”, from the Sanskrit word "marya", meaning “young man”.

The Mitanni worshipped the same gods as those in the Rig Veda (but also had their own local ones). They signed a treaty with a rival king in 1380 BC which names Indra, Varuna, Mitra and the Nasatyas (Ashvins) as divine witnesses for the Mitannis. While modern-day Hindus have mostly stopped the worship of these deities, these Mitanni gods were also the most important gods in the Rig Veda.

This is a striking fact. As David Anthony points out in his book, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, this means that not only did Rigvedic Sanskrit predate the compilation of the Rig Veda in northwestern India but even the “central religious pantheon and moral beliefs enshrined in the Rig Veda existed equally early”.

How did Sanskrit reach Syria before India?
What explains this amazing fact? Were PN Oak and his kooky Hindutva histories right? Was the whole world Hindu once upon a time? Was the Kaaba in Mecca once a Shivling?

Unfortunately, the history behind this is far more prosaic.

The founding language of the family from which Sanskrit is from is called Proto-Indo-European. Its daughter is a language called Proto-Indo-Iranian, so called because it is the origin of the languages of North India and Iran (linguists aren’t that good with catchy language names).

The, well, encyclopedic, Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, edited by JP Mallory and DQ Adams, writes of the earliest speakers of Proto-Indo-Iranian emerging in the southern Urals and Kazakhstan. These steppe people, representing what is called the Andronovo culture, first appear just before 2000 BC.

From this Central Asian homeland diverged a group of people who had now stopped speaking Proto-Indo-Iranian and were now conversing in the earliest forms of Sanskrit. Some of these people moved west towards what is now Syria and some east towards the region of the Punjab in India.

David Anthony writes that the people who moved west were possibly employed as mercenary charioteers by the Hurrian kings of Syria. These charioteers spoke the same language and recited the same hymns that would later on be complied into the Rig Veda by their comrades who had ventured east.

These Rigvedic Sanskrit speakers usurped the throne of their employers and founded the Mitanni kingdom. While they gained a kingdom, the Mitanni soon lost their culture, adopting the local Hurrian language and religion. However, royal names, some technical words related to chariotry and of course the gods Indra, Varuna, Mitra and the Nasatyas stayed on.

The group that went east and later on composed the Rig Veda, we know, had better luck in preserving their culture. The language and religion they bought to the subcontinent took root. So much so that 3,500 years later, modern Indians would celebrate the language of these ancient pastoral nomads all the way out in Bangkok city.

Hindutvaising Sanskrit’s rich history
Unfortunately, while their language, religion and culture is celebrated, the history of the Indo-European people who brought Sanskrit into the subcontinent is sought to be erased at the altar of cultural nationalism. Popular national myths in India urgently paint Sanskrit as completely indigenous to India. This is critical given how the dominant Hindutva ideology treats geographical indigenousness as a prerequisite for nationality. If Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism, has a history that predates its arrival in India, that really does pull the rug from out under the feet of Hindutva.

Ironically, twin country Pakistan’s national myths go in the exact opposite direction: their of-kilter Islamists attempt to make foreign Arabs into founding fathers and completely deny their subcontinental roots.

Both national myths, whether Arab or Sanskrit, attempt to imagine a pure, pristine origin culture uncontaminated by unsavoury influences. Unfortunately the real world is very often messier than myth. Pakistanis are not Arabs and, as the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture rather bluntly puts it: “This theory [that Sanskrit and its ancestor Proto-Indo-European was indigenous to India], which resurrects some of the earliest speculations on the origins of the Indo-Europeans, has not a shred of supporting evidence, either linguistic or archeological”.

(Source: Scroll)