Close Call

I was gonna stay away today – recuperating from last night’s Kerrymania. Yet, the world rudely intervened. Yesterday, a suicide bomber attempted to assassinate PM-designate Shaukat Aziz. He was campaigning in Fath Jang in the Attock district for the August 18th election. 6 people were killed in the attack. Shaukat Aziz escaped unhurt.
I hate for either Musharraf or Aziz to be the Franz Ferdinand of the 21st century. No, it is not alarmist talk. Musharraf IS a military dictator. I hate military dictators. Shaukat Aziz is an “appointed” PM with close ties to the Bush Administration. But we do not need either of them getting assassinated. That is a geo-political crisis Pakistan cannot deal with on any level. And an unstable Pakistan next to a turbulent Afghanistan next to the axis-of-convenience Iran cannot spell but D-O-O-M.
There have been repeated attempts on Musharraf’s life. Some publicized some not so much. Some came very, very close. Various jihadists are determined to take him out. I really hope that they never succeed.
I am retreating into medieval textual world for a few days. Have a safe weekend, everyone. (Is the Manchurian Candidate medieval entertainment?)

Parasika Or How to Waste Time

For various reasons I have been reading Chattopadhyaya’s Representing the Other? Sanskrit Sources and the Muslims. One of the strains that I am trying to trace are the terms occuring in epigraphical evidence for Muslim invaders. The earliest references to Muslims occur far too late in the 8th century to make me happy (c. 730s). The terms used are Tajika and Parasika. After the ninth century those terms are replaced by Mleccha and Yavana. These last well into the 16th century. The hindi/urdu word Maleech meaning dirty or subhuman is an obvious descendant of Mleccha. It is Parasika that caught my attention and led me on what is called “wild goose chase” to lighten up a dull thursday:

Parasika during c. 300-700 refers to “an inhabitant of Pars, the ancient Persis”. As Chattopadhyaya writes

In the Raghuvamsam of Kalidasa, king Raghu encountered the Parasikas, who were westerners in his digvijaya undertaken on the land route. Kalidasa tells us that Raghu ‘could not bear the flush caused by wine in the lotus faces of the Yavana women; that a fierce battle took place between him and the westerners who had cavalry for their army; that he covered the earth with their bearded heads, severed by his arrows, that the survivors put off their helmets and sought his permission, and that his soldiers beguiled the faigue of conquest with wine in vineyards covered with choicest skins’p. 31

Hmmm…”flush caused by wine”, I say to myself. So, I look around to see if the Parasikas had a reputation for good wine and partying. Then, I discover (ah, google) of a herb called Parasikas-Yamani aka Henbane. In 1880, wrote W. Dymock in the American Journal of Pharmacy:

Henbane, though a native of the Himalayas, was probably unknown as a medicine to the ancient Hindu physicians.”Parasika-yamani” and “khorasam-yamani,” the names which it bears in some recent Hindu books, indicate its foreign source. Mahometan writers call it “banj,” an Arabic corruption of the Persian “bang.” They say it is the “afeekoon” of the Greeks, the “azmalus” of the Syrians, and the “katfeet” or “iskeeras” of the Moors. They also add that in the Deilami dialect it is called “keer-chak,” because the capsules resemble a little basket with a cover, such as the Arabs make out of date leaves and call “kafeer.” Meer Muhammed Husain’s description of “banj” in the “Makhzan-ul-adwiya” agrees well with the genus Hyoscyamus. He says there are three kinds, white, black and red, and that the white is to be preferred. He mentions the preparation of a sun-dried extract from the juice of the fresh leaves, and says that the leaves are also pounded and made into a paste with flour, out of which small cakes are formed, which when dry retain their medicinal properties for some time.
Henbane is described by eastern writers on materia medica as intoxicating, narcotic and anodyne. Amongst the many uses to which it is put the following may be mentioned as peculiar to the East: A poultice of the juice with barley flour is used to relieve the pain of inflammatory swellings; the seeds in wine are applied to gouty enlargements, inflamed breasts and swelled testicles. About 1/2 drachm of the seeds with 1 drachm of poppy seeds are made into a mixture with honey and water and given as an anodyne in cough, gout, etc. Equal parts of the seed and opium are used as a powerful narcotic.

A wine that acts as a narcotic! BHANG? Can’t be. Because Bhang was made with cannabis. Parasika-Yamani must have been an earlier usage, I thought. And the Yamani reference makes the connection to Khat used extensively in Yemen to this day. Except that Qat/Khat is made from leaves of Celastrus Edulis.
So, I am stumped. I turn to the English word Henbane, which I learn comes from Central Asia instead of the Himalayas and is mentioned in Hamlet:

Sleeping within mine Orchard, My custome alwayes in the afternoone; Vpon my secure hower thy Vncle stole With iuyce of cursed Hebenon in a Violl, And in the Porches of mine eares did poure The leaperous Distilment; whose effect Holds such an enmity with bloud of Man, That swift as Quick-siluer, it courses through The naturall Gates and Allies of the body; And with a sodaine vigour it doth posset And curd, like Aygre droppings into Milke, The thin and wholsome blood: so did it mine; And a most instant Tetter bak’d about, Most Lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust, All my smooth Body.

That does NOT sound fun at all. I conclude that W. Dymock was full of shit – neither Bhang nor Khat used the herb he is describing and the effects of Henbane are not conducive to partying (having “bane” in the name is not an endorsement). Except that he wrote a 3 vol.Pharmacographia Indica (1890-91) which is more than I have ever done. I further conclude that Google is evil.
In all this, I had wasted away most of the morning instead of working on my syllabus and I guess I learned something – of very dubious academic value but good for conversations on Saturday night, no?

Ed has left the building

My dear friends and neighbors have officially moved out and started the trek towards Woodsville, South Carolina where Lisa is gonna kick it old school as new faculty. On N.P.R. you hear, “This part of the program brought to you by the generous support of YadaYada”. If the last 5 years of my life were a radio-play, you would hear, “This part brought to you by the generous support of Ed & Lisa”.
Ed has been my sanity foil in many classes, workshops and presentations. Mostly because of him, I developed a genial social life. Nothing will top having them in our building and hanging out in the backyard or on the porch, cooking up some rice pilafs and grilling up some lamb & lighting up the sheesha. I have no idea what the hell I am going to do now.
Everyone I know is leaving Hyde Park. They are either on research trips in Luckhnow and London or starting jobs. Sigh-ness.
So fare thee well, Eduardo. I will see you soon, insh’allah.

Barack 2012 2008

When expectations are met, the roar can be deafening. And the roar around Barack Obama’s speech is indeed deafening. All are believers now. You can watch the speech here (about 18 min).

The speech itself spoke powerfully to all the things I consider to be unique and great about this country and it’s people. His oratory was amazing but even more was his humbleness. This man has an easy gait. Some call it the greatest speech since MLK’s I have a Dream. I don’t know about that and comparisons are always tricky.

He created, through his words, the picture of a united, tolerant, compassionate and hopeful America. Since 9/11, the country has needed that voice – a voice coming not from steely-eyed determination but misty-eyed compassion. His personal story, perhaps, was the most effective to me on a personal level.

It is easy enough to say the word “hope”. It is not possible to show what it means in 18 minutes. The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores. There is power in those words that everyone in America can grasp, especially, people like me who did set out with hope.

We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, weíve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. Not just hope, his speech illustrated what havoc the Red/Blue idea is playing with the fabric of social life in America. The assumption that being a Republican or Democrat is genetically pre-ordained and that what either party does is uniformly good or bad. Ok, right now, everything the Republican party does IS bad. Even Obama cannot convince me otherwise.

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