A Land Beyond Imagining
in Society and Culture: It was a typically squalid town in the heart of India’s cowbelt: the usual cats’ cradle of messed-up wiring, open sewers, cracked pavements, blaring horns, loudspeakers on every corner blaring something indecipherable, the air so thick with dust and grime and exhaust that even the sunlight seemed to have surrendered. I was here, against all better judgement, on a work trip and regretting every minute of it. Along the way, an unexpected possible refuge; inside, the bookshop was small and tired, pulp fiction potboilers and outdated magazines with curled covers, the paunchy proprietor, soaked in boredom, alternately picking his teeth with a matchstick and shouting at an assistant. On one shelf, facing out, was a thick book, its kitsch cover a challenge: buy me if you dare. » continue reading
But They Still Stood There, Watching
in Society and Culture: Harlan Ellison is an iconic writer of what has come to be known as speculative fiction—not quite science fiction, yet set in a cold-blooded and heartless future. Deathbird Stories, a collection first published in 1974, is something of a cult classic. Each story, superbly written, is horrifying. Ellison cautions readers not to attempt reading the entire book in one go. » continue reading
Cane And Disable
in Society and Culture: If the tragic death of Rouvanjit Rawla, a 13-year-old student of Kolkata’s La Martiniere for Boys, shows us anything it is this: that for all our gleaming buildings and six-lane expressways, we are still stuck in a time warp. It seems unbelievable that anyone, least of all the head of a school, should still believe that corporal punishment of students has value. » continue reading
Defying The Law Of Gravity
in Society and Culture: How do you control a force of nature? When it is something that threatens the foundations of the world-as-we-knew-it, the sense of disorientation is immense. Next week, representatives of nearly 200 governments, telecom operators and Internet groups will meet in Dubai under the aegis of a United Nations agency, the International Telecommunication Union and, whether it is explicitly so stated or not, one underlying theme of that conference if of wide concern—controlling the Internet. This is an issue that didn’t matter as much 24 years ago at the last conference in 1988, for the Internet then wasn’t what it is now. » continue reading
Goodbye To All That
in Society and Culture: It’s that time of year, two days when things should be different, when we should be different, a time that should be gentler, a time for friends and family and togetherness. It used to be that, once, in a time when we were younger and more innocent, when our cities and we were less vicious. It was a time for reaffirmation of old ties, of reparation of bonds severed, of forgiveness for wrongs done and imagined, a time for the many kindnesses that lent heft and meaning to saal mubarak. » continue reading
Sects And The City
in Society and Culture: I come from a family of migrants. My paternal grandparents were from Gujarat. My father’s younger brother was born in Karachi. On my mother’s side, the family is very distantly from Gujarat but more recently from Solapur. My mother’s sister lives abroad. My sister and I grew up in Bombay (not Mumbai). My sister and all (well, most; see the comment below) my cousins live abroad too. My wife’s father was a Gujarati from Varanasi, her mother is from Ahmedabad via Surat (or vice-versa). And for all of us, Mumbai (once Bombay) is home, though it is not the place from which we come. What are we in Mumbai but migrants? » continue reading
Where India Shines
in Society and Culture: In the summer of 1978, I took a train to Piparia in Madhya Pradesh. As far as I could tell, it was the middle of nowhere. I was straight out of school and was headed for a small village nearby. My parents had insisted I work for a few months with an NGO called Kishor Bharati which, with the Friends Rural Centre, had started a science teaching programme in rural Madhya Pradesh. » continue reading
Each year, Hindu devotees make a pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Cave, one of the most revered Hindu shrines, near Baltal, Kashmir, India. The Amarnath Cave has been a place of worship since times immemorial, with references found in many ancient texts. According a Hindu legend, this is the cave where Shiva explained the secret of life and eternity to his divine consort Parvati. The cave itself is covered with snow most times of the year except for a short period in summer when it is open for pilgrims. The cave is situated at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,756 ft). Hindu devotees brave sub-zero temperatures to hike over glaciers and high altitude mountain passes to reach the sacred Amarnath cave, which houses an ice stalagmite, worshiped by Hindus as a symbol of the god Shiva. More than 700,000 Hindu pilgrims are expected to take part in this year’s two-month pilgrimage, according to local officials, causing strain on the environment and political stability of the region, which has long fought for independence from India. — Paula Nelson
An Indian Hindu Holy man gestures to well-wishers as he is carried down a trail during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 28, 2012. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath at 3,888 m (12,756 ft) above sea level to worship an icy stalagmite representing Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press)
Kashmiri laborers carry a Indian Hindu pilgrim on a trail during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 28, 2012. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath at 3,888 m (12,756 ft) above sea level to worship an icy stalagmite representing Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press
A Kashmiri porter carries blankets to be used by Hindu pilgrims during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 29, 2012. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press)
A Sadhu, finishes off a meal at a Lungar facility providing free food to pilgrims, as Hindu’s make their pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Cave, one of the most revered Hindu shrines, June 29, 2012 near Baltal, Kashmir, India. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
The Smithsonian magazine’s 9th annual photo contest finalists have been chosen. The contest attracted over 14 thousand photographers from all 50 states and over 100 countries. Fifty finalists from 67,059 images were selected by Smithsonian editors. Those editors will also choose the Grand Prize Winner and the winners in each of the five categories which include The Natural World, Americana, People, Travel and Altered Images. Photos were selected based on technical quality, clarity and composition, a flair for the unexpected and the ability to capture a picture-perfect moment. — Paula Nelson
A HOMELESS BOY SLEEPING INSIDE THE TRAIN Jakarta, Indonesia, August 2009 (Budi Prakasa/Jakarta, Indonesia)
DISGUISED FUN Kolkata, India, April 2009 (Somnath Mukherjee/Kolkata, India)
BROOKLYN BRIDGE New York City, New York, February 2011 (Wayne Bennett/Bronx, New York)
BLUE ICE CAVE Antarctica, December 2011 (Jamie Scarrow/Bruce, Canberra, Australia)
WOMEN MAKING TRADITIONAL ART Rajasthan, India, November 2010 (Chetan Soni/MadhyaPradesh, India)
HOUSE COLLAGE Sikkim, West Bengal, October 2010 (Shyamal Das/Kolkata, India)
PACKED IN THE CABIN OF A TRAIN TO JODPHUR Jaipur, India, January 2011 (Ho Lee/Hong Kong, China)
As the old saying goes, the election isn’t over until Rachel Maddow drops a nuclear truth-bomb on the losers.
Ohio really did go to President Obama last night. And he really did win. And he really was born in Hawaii. And he really is legitimately President of the United States. Again. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not make up a fake unemployment rate last month. And the Congressional Research Service really can find no evidence that cutting taxes on rich people grows the economy. And the polls were not skewed to oversample Democrats. And Nate Silver was not making up fake projections about the election to make conservatives feel bad. Nate Silver was doing math. And climate change is real. And rape really does cause pregnancy sometimes. And evolution is a thing! And Benghazi was an attack ON us, it was not a scandal BY us. And nobody is taking away anyone’s guns. And taxes have not gone up. And the deficit is dropping, actually. And Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. And the moon landing was real. And FEMA is not building concentration camps. And UN election observers are not taking over Texas. And moderate reforms of the regulations on the insurance industry and the financial services industry in this country are not the same thing as Communism.
Listen. Last night was a good night for liberals and for Democrats for very obvious reasons. But it was also, possibly, a good night for this country as a whole. Because in this country we have a two party system, in government. And the idea is supposed to be that the two sides both come up with ways to confront and fix the real problems facing our country. They both propose possible solutions to our real problems. And we debate between those possible solutions. And by the process of debate, we pick the best idea. That competition between good ideas, from both sides, about real problems in the real country should result in our country having better choices, better options, than if only one side is really working on the hard stuff. And if the Republican party, and the conservative movement, and the conservative media is stuck in a vacuum sealed, door locked, spin cycle of telling each other what makes them feel good, and denying the factual, lived truth of the world, then we are all deprived, as a nation, of the constructive debate between competing, feasible ideas about real problems.
Last night the Republicans got shellacked. And they had no idea it was coming. And we saw them, in real time, in real humiliating time, not believe it even as it was happening to them. And unless they’re going to secede, they’re going to have to pop the factual bubble they have been so happy living inside, if they do not want to get shellacked again. And that will be a painful process for them, I’m sure, but it will be good for the whole country - left, right, and center. You guys, we’re counting on you. Wake up.