Do With It What You Will

This, for some strange reason, popped up from the archives of my email.

All of us, even when we think we have noted every tiny detail, resort to set pieces which have already been staged often enough by others. We try to reproduce the reality, but the harder we try, the more we find the pictures that make up the stock-in-trade of the spectacle of history forcing themselves upon us … Our concern with history, …, is a concern with performed images already imprinted on our brains, images at which we keep staring while the truth lies elsewhere, away from it all, somewhere as yet undiscovered.

– -WG Sebald, Austerlitz. (New York: The Modern Library. 2001, 71-2.)


I recently picked up Hyderabad: A Biography by Narendra Luther but gave up a little too soon into it. I need to furnish a lot more context of the 19th c. city into a course I am planning for next term. A classic in the field is Margit Pernau’s The Passing of Patrimonialism: Politics and Political Culture in Hyderabad, 1911-1948 (2000). CM friend Qalandar has recently produced an enviable review essay on the book. I highly recommend reading it.

On Higher Education in Pakistan II

Continuing in the “catching up” mode …

I really should have more to say about this [via biryanilady] but, I am just happy that Muhammad Boota exists. That aside, let us turn, briefly, to this report: Pakistan’s reform experiment. Co-authored by some luminaries, the study takes stock of one of the two singing canaries of the Musharraf regime – Reform of Higher Education (the other being “Media”). They write:

For instance, by tying faculty performance to financial compensation it created deep divisions between winners and losers in a two-tier salary structure. And, by sending young scholars abroad by the thousands — to be reabsorbed on their return — it created a fresh base of support for its policies. However, support is far from universal — older and relatively independent universities have generally been more critical of HEC encroachment on institutional and academic freedom, and some only selectively participated in HEC programmes.

Despite this resistance, the HEC seems to have changed the culture of Pakistani academia considerably over the past 5 years3. The HEC claims to have caused a 400% increase in the number of papers published in international journals by Pakistani universities. It also takes credit for the appearance of three Pakistani universities among a popular top-600 chart of world universities, the ranking of Pakistan as a ‘rising star’ in five fields of science and engineering4 and external endorsements by evaluation teams from the British Council, the World Bank and USAID

And a note of caution:

The strongest criticism of the reforms is that by vesting most powers within one body, the HEC became the initiator, implementer and evaluator, making accountability problematic or impossible. This created opposition from those who might have agreed with the reforms but were opposed to the implementation. Greater transparency and accountability would have diverted some of this criticism.

But perhaps too soft a note? Pervez Hoodhboy certainly seems to think so. His strongly worded rebuke seems to miss most of the measured tone of the Nature piece but does repeat his oft-repeated criticisms of HEC. Deserved criticisms.

Also see: On Higher Education

Berlin Snaps I

I must say that this long hiatus has made me lose my blogging legs. Weird. It’s like I have never done this before. As usual, instead of sitting down and writing a long, thoughtful piece on the art of staying in touch with my ghostly audience, I thought I’d upload some random pics I have taken in my week in Berlin. They might not be as good as that Lahore Snaps series but I will get better, as I get to know the city.

Check out the whole set and some notable below the fold.
Continue reading “Berlin Snaps I”

Unnoted Things

There are probably no more readers left, but CM is exiting its long hiatus. Just to catch up, here are a few things I, um, failed to note properly.

1. On the Jaswant/Jinnah “Controversy”, one can begin with this op-ed by Sugata Bose, Why Jinnah Matters and then continue to Naim Sahib’s front-page corrective, Jaswant Not-So Original. Also, see his full article. I am certainly going to be using this “controversy” as a teaching moment. If only for myself.

2. Ramchandra Guha (whom I have discussed before) wrote another provocative piece, The Rise and Fall of the Bilingual Intellectual [pdf], EPW, Aug 15, 2009, and it got a thoughtful response from Sudhanva Deshpande, Bilingualism, Theatre, and the Fate of the Vernacular [pdf], EPW, Sep 5, 2009. Of course, while my fellow desi intellectuals are debating the multilingual politician, I am unsure if we have even monolingual ones in Pakistan.

3. Speaking of Pakistan, the Kerry-Lugar bill is back on the Senate floor. Along with Anil Kalhan, I wrote and shopped around an op-ed on the issue but it got us no-where. I guess we can always self-publish it here.

4. I am sure the Kerry-Lugar bill will not get any attention (has the Afghanistan election got any attention?) until Obama’s efforts to mind-control our children into becoming socialist zombies who feed on senior brains is finally compeleted. I am in Berlin and haven’t watched tv or read newspapers in a full week, so I don’t know anything about any of that.

5. And yes, Berlin posts will start soon enough. Those following the twitter feed are probably sick of this already.

Aditya Behl 1966-2009

updated below the fold

You may have read about the sudden and tragic passing away of a fine scholar, Aditya Behl. It is a great loss not only to his family and friends but also to the field of South Asian Literature. His translation of Shattari’s Madhumalati (2000) was pitch-perfect and a valuable addition to the Sufi literature in English. I was especially fond of his essay in Richard Eaton’s India’s Islamic Traditions, “The magic doe: desire and narrative in a Hindavi Sufi romance, circa 1503”. Very recently, he reviewed the Clay Sanskrit series, Big Cat, Little Cat: Sanskrit’s Hidden Gold which highlights all the many ways in which his nuanced and knowledgable thinking will be missed by all of us.

I wanted to draw your attention to a personal note written by Professor Shail Mayaram.

Continue reading “Aditya Behl 1966-2009”