On the Life of the Mind

This was written a little while ago, and with an eye to comment on a report on Pakistani higher education. I think it suffers a bit, thus decontextualized, but hey. The citation for the 2009 report I mention is (I don’t know why the footnote or hyper-link didn’t make it into the column):
Athar Osama, Adil Najam, Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Syed Zulfiqar Gilani & Christopher King. “Pakistan’s reform experiment.” Nature 461, 38-39 (3 September 2009). Accessed on 11/01/2010.

Manan Ahmed, “The Rest is History“, Express Tribune, April 25, 2010:

Concomitant critiques from the likes of Pervez Hoodbhoy articulated greater chasms between the goals of reform and their results; the faculty were startlingly being segregated between haves and have-nots, the research was sub-par and the curriculum lacked rigor. Less readily apparent in both the abundance of for-profit universities and in their collective shortcomings is the lack of a liberal education in any of these curriculums. As a historian, I believe, rather fundamentally, that a liberal education, one that foregrounds critical inquiry, investigations into the human condition and a multiplicity of views is the cornerstone of any open, democratic, civic-minded and liberal society.

I believe that the health of any civil society rests upon a perceived consensus on human rights, human dignity, and dialogue and discourse. These are all qualities that are only nourished through placing a cultural and societal emphasis on a broad liberal education. While we have a number of institutions engaged in Fine Arts, there is no bastion of liberal education in Pakistan. There is no space for the Engineering or Medical student to learn how to think, to ask the Big Question, to participate in the life of the mind. But there is no greater need, at this juncture, than the need for critical humanistic scholarship.

Also, my first column in homistan!

World Exclusive: Lost Verses of Iqbal

C.M Naim sends along a world exclusive to the CM audience about a copy ad written by none other than the Muhammad Iqbal. This is big, folks. If Walt Whitman had endorsed a New England Clam Chowder company, it wouldn’t be as big:

While looking around in a forgotten public library at Shimla I came upon a file of an equally forgotten Urdu magazine called Nairang-i-Khayal for the year 1929. That is nine years before Iqbal passed away. One of the issues had an advertisement for green tea. I reproduce it below:

کيا فرماتے ەيں ملک الشعرا

جناب علامە ڈاکٹر سر محمد اقبال صاحب اسکي تعريف ميں

چاے سبز است کيمياے شباب پير صد سالە را جواں سازد

مشتهر: حاجي محمد دين فيروز دين ، چاينە ەاوس ، ڈبي بازار ، لاهور


See how it is praised by the Poet Laureate

Janab Allama Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal:

“Green tea is the Elixir of Youth + It makes a hundred year old man young again.”

Advertiser: Haji Muhammad Din Feroz Din, China House, Dabi Bazaar, Lahore.

A rejuvenation of Mashriqi Mard into Mard-e Kamil via Sabz Chai. Brilliant. My thanks to Naim Sahib. (Dabi Bazaar is in Old Lahore, Rang Mahal. )

Time for a cup of tea at a store in the old city of Peshawar, Pakistan.


I know all of you are super-busy, so I won’t, like, write 3000 words on the 18th amendment’s passage or even 2000 words on what I think will forever be known as the Last Summer of Water in Pakistan. So, instead, here are the pictures which really, really deserve a lot of words. All were taken from the Urdu Express newspaper over the last 10 days.

Big time Army Officer offering restitution to the injured of the April 13 attack
بهينس کے اگے بين بجانا Playing the flute in front of a water buffalo
Protests against Water
Soft Democracy
Pumping Water

This last one is just cuz.

Songs of Blood and Sword

I think my favorite part of Fatima Bhutto’s Songs of Blood and Sword is the conversation she has with the octogenarian Samuel Huntington at Harvard about her father who took a class with him. It is a brilliant little scene full of awkwardness and confusion. I don’t have the book here, else I would just type it out.

In any case, I have a review of the book up at The Review: Ghost Wars:

Songs of Blood and Sword can rightly be seen as the latest in a line of memoirs like Benazir’s Daughter of the East and Pervez Musharraf’s In the Line of Fire – each of them devoted to uncritical presentations of their authors or their families, made to stand in for the history of an entire nation. The tale of the Bhutto dynasty, from its feudal base to its populist claims and now to the stranger-than-fiction stewardship under Zardari (where else in this world can one bequeath a political party in a will?) still deserves to be told, and told properly.

This is not that book, and it should neither be sold nor judged as such: it is merely another primary document for that unwritten history, alongside the papers of her father, grandfather and aunt – which remain in the family home in Karachi.

I couldn’t expand on the last point in the review but I would like to stress here.

Fatima Bhutto quotes extensively from her father’s papers, from diaries of Benazir Bhutto, which she found in 71 Clifton, and from other papers. I would plead with Fatima Bhutto to take the papers of her father, grandfather and aunt – which remain in the family home, and deposit them in a public archive. I cannot imagine that Harvard or Oxford or Berkeley (alma maters of all involved) would decline such a gift. If she has written this book to make peace with her father’s memory, the availability of these documents would go a long way toward making peace with the history and memory of her country.

A Pictorial History of Chai in India

Philip Lutgendorf. Chai Why? The Triumph of Tea in India as Documented in the Priya Paul Collection. Tasveer Ghar, Priya.

Yet the triumph of tea on the subcontinent (which continues, in the early twenty-first century, in some parts of South India that once exclusively favored coffee) was a slow and sometimes contested process, intertwined with and dependent on such phenomena as urbanization, improved rail and road transport and increased human mobility, the breakdown of caste and caste-related dining practices, and the rise of advertising and aggressive marketing. British interest in creating an indigenous consumer base for their export crop, reflected in the Indian Tea Cess Bill of 1903, did not immediately spark a great demand for tea, and was countered by the arguments of Mohandas Gandhi and other nationalists that the consumption of this “imperialist” and capitalist beverage (which required centralized large-scale cultivation and processing) was both physically and politically enervating for Indians (on the condition of tea estate workers, see, e.g., Piya Chatterjee’s 2001 study, A Time for Tea).

In Memoriam, Srinivas Ramachandra Siras

Feb 18, 2010. Aligarh Muslim University professor suspended for being gay.

LUCKNOW: An Aligarh Muslim University professor, on the verge of retirement, was suspended after some students set up cameras to catch him having consensual sex with a rickshaw-puller in his campus home, and sent the video film to university authorities. Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, reader and chairman of Modern Indian Languages at AMU, now says he won’t challenge his suspension and would voluntarily leave.

Apr 1, 2010. The great divide.

Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras has won the first round of the legal battle. On April 1, an Allahabad High Court Bench comprising Justices Sunil Ambawani and Kashi Nath Pandey stayed the suspension of the Aligarh Muslim University professor against whom disciplinary action had been taken following reports of his involvement in a homosexual relationship. Advocate Anand Grover who represented Siras said: “The stay order demonstrates that an individual with a different sexual orientation cannot be treated in a fashion devoid of justice.”

Apr 8, 2010. Aligarh gay professor found dead, may have killed self.

LUCKNOW: Less than two months after he was suspended and hounded out of his campus home on charges of having consensual homosexual act with a rickshaw-puller, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) teacher Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras was found dead in mysterious circumstances at his rented single-room accommodation in Quarti police circle of Aligarh.

Apr 9, 2010. Gay prof was known as a literary genius

NAGPUR: “I am shocked and deeply hurt by his death. He was a good associate and was well-known in the literary circles. May his soul rest in peace,” said Poet Grace. Like him there are hundreds of fans of Prof Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras in Nagpur deeply shaken by his sudden death. Grace recalled Siras, a resident of Coffee House Square in Dharampeth, as well-known in the literary circles for his poems. The deceased professor was in the city and had just returned to Aligarh on Monday.

April 12, 2010. Justice for Dr. Siras.

We condemn the events leading to the persecution and eventual death of Dr. Srinivas Ramachandra Siras, Reader and Chair of Modern Indian Languages at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). His death is the result of the harassment he faced, including the unlawful and unethical suspension he faced on account of his being gay. Dr Siras had to undergo trauma, fear, harassment and humiliation in and by his own University and all actors involved must be held culpable in his death.