The Old Revolution

If the Egyptian Revolution happened in 2008 I would have been much more familiar with the political actors. I had been very concerned with democratic freedoms around the world, especially China's, and even staged or joined politically charged performance art in Beijing. But times have changed and my personal opinions regarding the discourse of democracy and human rights have also been complicated since. Ethically, a crucial point occurred when an opportunistic entrepreneur and alumni gave a speech at my college. To put it bluntly, he got rich during the privatization of the former Soviet Union's state sector the 1990s. During the speech, he was very unabashed about the fact that he took advantage of an unraveling country's state sector. He married a Czech wife and lives in Czech now as a millionaire. When I asked something along the lines of whether he sees the same happening to China, he was unconcerned with the moral dimension but rather focused on the "How to Get Rich" factor. He recommended people who have the ambition to go to Burma for the next liberalization windfall and invest there. I still remember this event, but this is my first time recounting it and I still feel indignation that there will always be these type of people who take advantage of political changes in other countries and encourage others to do the same. I see opportunistic actors gaining material benefits in China if liberalization occurs, and I hope that when people discuss "democracy" arriving they would also recognize this moral (if not legal) hazard. In and out of China, I am more concerned with AIDS rights, feminism and specific labor movements.

As a historian in training, I also know that certain cases have specific contexts and democratic experience of one country is not necessarily transferable to another country. However, these issues appear in discussions when I am in studying in Germany, since I met people who are from different parts of the world (and many who are anti-American). I have recently befriended an Egyptian, called A., who is my age. He comes from a Muslim family but he himself is non-practicing (no fasting during Ramadan, drinks and eats pork.). He is not very anti-American but he is sufficiently skeptical of neoliberal discourses. I have shared my favorite book that critiques the idea of "economics" as this objective subject that can necessarily promote development through top-down meansThe Rule of Experts, by Timothy Mitchell with A. last month. 

More on this incredible book later, which was not the core of our discussion today over coffee. (A really tall and clumsy German sat next to us in the Balzac cafe, spilled his tea and then his stuff. When he settled down with his handwritten notes papers, he was probably also listening) I learned that A. was part of the revolutionary wing in Egypt and on and off with the Socialist wing from Jan. 25th 2011 and stopped a few months after his female cousin Mgot arrested around the time after the military took power through a coup the second time, around July 2013. M., according to A., along with a group that consisted of half girls and half boys, were left in a desert for some time. None were fed for some days. The girls were released because it was very controversial. The boys were sentenced to 15 years in jail. M. is still active in pro-democratic organizations but A. thinks that it is too dangerous and that there is no hope. He does not want to return to Egypt, for both political and social reasons (he finds them too materialistic. I recommended him to check out the scene in China. Arabs in this city still regard A. as an Egyptian, regardless of how disaffected he is.).

A. still wants to take part in leftist groups in Germany and he thought about groups that help refugees. We have only arrived for 2 months so we have yet to find our "组织." I have tried talking with some Socialists here, references I got from the U.S.,  but my German is not at their level yet to be of any help. A. also attended Socialist Alternative meeting in New York, near Zuccotti Park, and was invited to talk about the Egyptian Revolution in 2012. He thinks that this invitation would not happen again these days. The enthusiastic side of American politics is that people are genuinely outraged by racist police brutality against African American males, but Egypt under the undemocratic leadership of al-Sisi does not seem to have a lot of hope in A.'s opinion.

Here's a song by Leonard Cohen about personal loss and political defeats, also the title of this post.

I fought in the old revolution
on the side of the ghost and the King.
Of course I was very young
and I thought that we were winning...

Yes, you who are broken by power, 
you who are absent all day, 
you who are kings for the sake of your children's story, 
the hand of your beggar is burdened down with money, 
the hand of your lover is clay. 


Current Trends in Indian Politics

The Center for Modern Indian Studies hosts weekly colloquiums that host engaging speakers who analyze history or current events. Yesterday's topic on democracy and current trends in Indian politics was also very thought provoking and incited many comments. This post is an attempt to summarize the points and questions raised by visiting professor Ajay Gudavarthy's presentation, titled "Maoism, Democracy and Globalisation: Cross-Currents in Indian Politics." The talk is based on chapters from his new book Maoism, Democracy and Globalization. He teaches Political Science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. 

What is the new middle class discourse?

In the 1960s and 1970s, series of social movements such as feminism, Dalit, and Other Backward Class (OBC) and their leadership, agenda and social base are drew from middle class, and they met at places such as the Calcutta Coffee House (aka College Street Coffee House). In the past two decades, a new middle class emerged in the context of social "mobility with insecurity."

Calcutta's India Coffee House on College Street, place where many leftist intellectual discussions took place
There is an increase in popular participation with increasing centralization of the state, as well as more technocrats and state surveillance. Recently, despite critics, Gujarat has made voting compulsory, which stems from these pressures. In an interview with the Indian Express, a election commission officer said in disagreement that "forcible voting is against the Constitution. Right to vote is a statutory provision, and compelling (voters) may not work. The basic feature of our electoral system is free and fair elections. Compulsory voting is not free. You can’t herd people into polling booths and make them vote.” Gudarvarthy said that if one reads David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism and look at India, "nothing matches." Contrary to the decline of the state, he sees a resurgence of surveillance and welfare as well as increasing notion of human rights language. (Dr. Ahuja later disagreed and does not see India as a case of exceptionalism from Harvey’s observation of neoliberalism. Welfare is not necessarily the same as the 1970s.)

In Dr. Gudavarthy's opinion, Anna Hazare's years of protest is the political and social face of the old Indian middle class. Hazare-led protest movements focuses on anti corruption, anti-sexual violence issues. But Gudavarthy observes that the protest against of corruption is empty and socially-displaced category. Corruption has a scope so wide that any act, regardless of size or whether it is committed by the poor or middle class, can fit into this category. 

Now, the new middle class have transformed “social justice” discourse, shifting the focus from social justice to representation, from contestation to negotiationsFirst question the backward caste leaders ask Modi was, "How many Dalit ministers have you appointed?" He has appointed three Dalits in contrast to five in the previous leadership tally. Secularism and left/right/center stances do not make sense in Dalit politics. They are concerned with representation. Reservation as the catch-all policy preference and subsequently supplanted land reform, rural urban divide, and questions of poverty. However, Dr. Viswanath points out that it is because there are increasing presence of Dalits in politics and this is left out of the account."When was there even this mass of Dalit politics for us to distinguish between left, center, and right?" She also points that there are formal complaints and political interventions regarding land in Tamil Nadu, showing a resurgence in land issues. Furthermore, NGOs are taking up the poverty and land issues, which is why there is a decline in political mobilization for these concerns.

How does the old left view the Dalit, OBC and Maoist movements? There seems to be a new preoccupation with caste stigma and reservations.

Traditionally, people in Maoist leadership were from (the newly created state of) Telangana. (Dr. Gudavarthy related a joke in which Telangana Maoists were caught due to a complaint in the north, Orissa, and they were all speaking Telegu despite being in the Hindi belt. The police were confused and asked, "Why did this happen in Orissa?") Nowadays, Maoist sub-command and district areas have organic tribal leadership and they speak in their own tribal language. When Dr. Gudavarthy visited, he had to bring a translator. 
This arrangement is in contrast with the Dalit movement that has middle class leadership. This group does not talk with the Maoists and these two groups do not share the same political language. Maoists only see Dalits as the new social elite, and they do not see caste as a significant political factor.

Subalterns like Maoists have vacated the streets and they are caught between powerlessness and militancy. There are no trade union movement and migrants are demobilized while at least 3,146 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra in 2013. Theses streets now are occupied by new middle class such as Gujjars, Jats, Rajputs, but they are clashing with each other when taking protests onto the street. Furthermore, the old revolutionary spirit is dying out in Maoist movement. Similar to the trend of Dalits focusing on reservations, tribals also focus more on concrete issues such as their forest threatened by mining companies, mobilizing under the slogan for "Jal, jungle, jameen (water, forest, land)."

File photo from Muzaffarnagar riots. AP

There are growing inter-subaltern conflicts in Indian politics, such as conflicts between OBCs and Muslims (see Muzaffarnagar riots) and Dalits v. Muslims in Dehli and Western Uttar Pradesh. What used to be a collective, wide-scale  farmer’s movement movement has now become an OBC-led movement that targets other competing rural interests.  Gudavarthy observes, “The RSS is reaching out to Dalit politics. There are larger representation for Dalits in politics of the right. We see the de-Brahminization of the right and a renewed Hinduization.” In relation to these comments, I found this similarly eye-opening analysis in The secret of BJP's success in Uttar Pradesh--

The BJP-RSS combine adopted a special strategy for appropriating Dalit and backward caste votes. Amit Shah, the coordinator of the UP chapter, along with RSS preachers took more than an active interest in such caste associations. Shah projected backward and Dalit faces and engaged in Hindu polarisation in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots. The message disseminated among Dalits and backward castes was that the Congress, BSP and the SP were so busy polarising Muslims, they had no concern for Hindus.

I was not quite sure how heatedly contested current Other Backward Caste politics were until I looked up and found this dire analysis in the one of the English reports in 2007 Caste in Conflict--

In Rajasthan, if a caste feels better off and secure within any reserved category, it opposes inclusion of any other caste that might threaten their monopoly. So if Jats faced resistance from existing OBCs while attempting entry in that category, Gurjars are opposed by Meenas. Off the record, political parties admit to Meenas' political clout and even the need of reservation for Gurjars in certain pockets, but none will admit this in public.

In 2008 protests occurred again and clashes with security forces ended with 36 deaths.

Thus, Dr. Gudavarthy proposes that inter-subaltern conflicts signal a new kind of subaltern agency. Using middle man with culture capital, the subalterns undermines traditional Patron-client relationship with hegemonic forces. When he mentioned that Dalit movements have moved from contest and conflicts to pragmatic negotiations to scholar Partha Chatterjee, Chatterjee replied that: I noticed this 20 years ago. 

5 Points that show the breakdown of different groups' social contract with the state.

1. As aforementioned, the old middle class is withdrawing its consent with the state, with Anna Hazare's movement as the front. He has contempt for representative politics, he sees that people are giving their votes for drinking and smoking. Thus, by deriding representative politics, Hazare has gained a moral consensus outside of the political representative domain. 
2. The new middle class also undermines state’s sovereignty that calls international organizations for understanding “caste as race” through human rights discourses.
3. Maoist movements also undermine state sovereignty.
4. The Right to Information Act, while positive, also undermines parliament and state institutions.
5. (BJP supported supposedly democratic idea of) small states, but this has also produced a strong center. We understand the catch in public knowledge. What political language can we use to analyze this? 

Media as a site of understanding middle class democratic values
Gudavarthy joked that,TV anchor host Arnab Goswami, who is famous for his bombastic presentation style, "has made our lives very easy, we know what is wrong in the view of politics just by watching him." But Dr. Srirupa Roy also finds the media downplaying leftist movements that could have national potential to just a local scope. She questions, "Why is there no organized formation of left on a national level? One reason is that, "Its easier for local movements to link up globally rather than locally."

Related to the media and law, there is also a shift from investigation to the construct of popular pressure, what Gudavarthy calls "the demonstrative effects of popular democracy"  and “encounter killings.” Often, suspects are charged and convicted with no legal evidence, such as the suspect in the 2001 Parliament attack case.

Some remaining questions
1. What will the current regime do to welfare? Modi is cutting down on MNEGRA but welfare is still at the center of politics. Dr. Chandra also points out that one should beware of neo-welfarism as connected to the labor-thirsty nature of capitalism: MNEGRA reproduces colonial schemes from the past: you have to work in order to get food. Welfare becomes a new way to manage of labor.
2. How to explain regional differences in movements and party formations? Why do some right-wing parties emerge in some regions and and not parties similar to the Aam Admi Party?

Every talk stimulates a lot of ideas and things to further investigate or revisit. Here are some I have organized:

1. Read Moyn's The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History
2. Understand religious polarization in Telangana
3. Rewatch film about media phenomenon and Indian farmer suicide Peepli Live


Islamic Reform, South Asia, and Self-Reflection

I revisited the thoughts of Islamic reformers such as Abul A'la Mawdudi (or Maududi) after two years, albeit in different contexts, and the material still very riveting. I first read Indian-born Pakistani Islamist scholar Mawdudi in a Theocracy to Democracy course. The course discussed ranging opinions on the state of religion and politics in Europe, the U.S., and Islamic countries. The course did not specify which Islamic country, since the authors we read, including Sayyid Qutb, had enormous international influence on how people viewed Islam and politics. Based on the theme, we focused on sharia law and the question whether our "rights" come from a divine justification (in Chinese there is also the saying "天赋人权," God-given rights), and if so, what will justify our rights after secularization. I saw many shared anxieties between the Islamic reformers and the Chinese reformers of the early 20th century. The readings gave me the impression that Islamic reformists focused creating societies governed by Islamic mores as opposed to the "Western lifestyle." The Islamic reformers are very relevant and champion many supporters, some which became terrorists such as Osama Bin Laden. Since the Theocracy to Democracy course placed terrorists in a transnational context, I did not think of any country specifically. 

Only today after reading the 2008 article Islamic Reform and Modernities in South Asia did I realize how the transnational exchange between Islamic reformers could not have happened without the reification of Islam, or how Islam became to be conceptualized as a system. Mawdudi was one of the first to describe Islam as a system and this idea also became popularized through subsequent "how-to-be-a-good-believer" guides. In the sharp analysis Robinson points out 
this reification process stemmed in part, too, from two additional influences: the distancing impact of print that enabled Muslims to stand apart from their faith, analyse and conceptualise it, and their growing consciousness, which was especially strong in India, that they were living alongside other faiths, at times real competitors, which were also reified, or being so. For the first time, in the late nineteenth century, Muslims begin to use the term ‘Islam’ not just to describe their relationship to God but also to describe an ideal religious pattern, or a mundane religious system, or even just Islamic civilisation. (276)
I also saw the close connection between Mawdudi and South Asian realities. This is not a coincidence, since one of my Modern Indian Studies course assigned this article written by British scholar of Islam, Dr. Francis Robinson. Islamic reformers in South Asia sought to root out "indigenous customs that had come to be incorporated into Islamic practice, for instance, following the Hindu custom of not marrying widows." (262) In the 1920s, the Sunni Islamic reform school of Deoband and its political counterpart pressured "the colonial state to remove all elements of custom from the personal law." (275) Only in this light can one realize the oversimplification that sees reformed Islam as the sole competing force with Western secularism and "rationality." In the South Asian context, Islam has been in competition with the modern versions of Hinduism. 

Robinson argues that the spread of Islam as a system depended on the circulation of print--
the introduction of print and the translation of the Qur’an and large numbers of important texts into the regional languages of India. The reforming ‘ulama were amongst the very first to use the printing press; rightly, they saw it as the means to fashion and to consolidate their constituency outside the bounds of colonial rule. Reform, moreover, reached beyond the world of the literate. From the 1920s, it was carried forward by the Tabligh-i Jama‘at, or preaching society, in which the devout set aside a period each year to work in teams that transmitted the reforming message orally to small town and village communities.
Circulation of printed texts was one of the two ways in which Islamic scholars of the Deoband school advocated for itjihad (independent reasoning) over taqlid (tradition of precedent). Before, person-to-person transmission of ‘the golden chain of sincere Muslims’ was a model, which expanded to "embrace sufis, the Shia and the descendants of the Prophet" generally. Spiritual
authority is derived from linkage to the origins of the tradition through an unbroken chain of personal transmission. Central is the belief that truth does not reside in documents... but in ‘authentic human beings and their personal connections with one another’. (266)
The second way was to contact directly with the Qur’an and Hadith without former interpretations and make "them relevant to the modern world." Deobandis "cast aside a thousand years of intellectual effort in fashioning a Muslim society," with Mawdudi taking the lead (267). This turn was possibly considering that the Muslim intellectual world saw a crisis at the end of the Turkish Khilafat between 1919 and 1923. Robinson believes that since the past decade, Islamic reformism has achieved success for coming to terms with modernity and answering modern anxieties, after surveying much evidence that shows how "Islamic reform both opened the way to modernity and then worked with it." (279)

Darul Uloom Deoband is an Islamic school in India where the Deobandi Islamic movement was started. It is located at Deoband, a town in Saharanpur district of Uttar PradeshIndia
Robinson's article also shows the less politically-charged aspects of these Islamic reformers' thoughts, such as the emphasis on an individual's daily self-reflection and ethics. Individual reflection grew increasingly significant in a modern Muslim's religious life. In order to be a good believer, "Muslims had to ask themselves regularly if they had done all in their power to submit to God and to carry out His will in the world. " (272) Deobandi reformer Ashraf ‘Ali Thanwi called for regular self-examination, morning and evening, "to ensure purity of intentions and to avoid wrongdoing." (272)  New trends emerging in the Prophet's biographies oppose to my impression of Islamic reform as "political Islam"--
Muhammad is depicted not as the ‘perfect man’ of the Sufi tradition, but as the perfect person. Less attention, as Cantwell Smith has pointed out, is given to his intelligence, political sagacity and capacity to harness the new social forces in his society and much more to his qualities as a good middle-class family man: his sense of duty and his loving nature, and his qualities as a good citizen, his consideration for others and in particular those who are less fortunate. ... the concern is less with what the individual might have contributed to Islamic civilisation and more on his life in his time and his human qualities. (273)
This aspect of Islam is not directly related to either courses' themes, one which discusses separation of religion and politics and one which explores 20th century religious movements relation to nationhood. But I personally found it very intriguing since I reflect a lot. My Muslim friend Maaz also said that he looks into the mirror often and asks himself if he had done the right things that day or week. I once thought it was just like Confucius who once said that he reflects three times a day (吾日三省吾身). After reading Islamic Reform and Modernities in South Asia I also saw the link between Islam and this practice. 


Visiting the Tibetan Mindrolling Monastery of Dehradun

During my stay in Uttarakhand, the northwestern province of India last month, I visited Mindrolling Monastery in Dehradun with V. I went there not only because the place is top-rated on tourist sites for Dehradun, but also because I have been interested in the Tibetan struggle for independence and I have visited Tibet before this trip. 

First I visited the dharma hall, which was hosting a dharma class upstairs. Some monks looked down curiously. I could not step in the dharma hall 法堂 but I admired the wall paintings and drew some sketches of the deities portrayed. 

Then we proceeded to the Great Stupa, the major point of interest. Construction just completed this year in May.

We had to take off our shoes before we entered the temple grounds as well as this pagoda, which is customary for most religious sites in India. I thought was a sign of Indian customs combined with a Tibetan religious setting (Religious sites in Tibet did not require tourists to take off our shoes.). 

Aside from the Dalai Lama's blessing of the stupa, which was commemorated in 2002 on a plaque, I also found a plaque that wrote in Tibetan and English that "the foundation stone for this stupa of Buddha's descent from Devaloka which liberates upon seeing has been laid by the honorable [Indian] defense minister George Fernandes on the 29th of April 2000." So it clearly has some geopolitical significance as well. I looked up the word devaloka: "In Indian religions, a devaloka or deva loka is a plane of existence where gods and devas exist." Another point of synthesis between Tibetan and Hindu culture.

Inside this pagoda structure were two floors. There were two exquisite installations of Tibetan cosmic mandalas, which were surprisingly better than the ones I saw in Lhasa, one Buddha statue, as well as wall drawings of stories, flower vases, and Tibetan medicine diagrams. No photography was allowed. I paid my respects to Shakyamuni and left.

The English text below says, "This representation of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet has been built in the year 2002 in order to commemorate the 360th anniversary of the establishment of the Gaden Phodrang spiritual and temporal government of Tibet."

Some mini-stupas with a giant Tibetan prayer wheel inside. While I was pushing one, an Indian girl asked me in Hindi what that was. I could only shake my head since I only knew the Chinese name at the time...

Monkeys seen on-site

Very inspiring words from the 14th Dalai Lama

Flag with sutras written on them

Amusing sign (along with no loud voices etc.)

I was slightly amused to discover that the monks and people who worked there speak fluent Hindi. V spoke to a postcard shopkeeper in Hindi about Xi Jinping's recent visit to India, while I had to speak him in English. I realize that as I write this, my impression of "the exiled life" is limited to elites, who have the luxury to retain a clear identity distinct from their host culture. Whereas the Tibetans who have lived in Dehradun assimilate very well, at least on the level of language.

Here is some background from the Mindrolling Monastery website regarding the particular sect of Tibetan Buddhism based in Tibet: 
The Nyingmapa or Nyingma School has six main monasteries of learning and practice. Of the six, Mindrolling was one of the largest and most important practice and study centers in Central Tibet. Established in 1676 in the Drachi Valley by the great Dharma king Chögyal Terdag Lingpa, Mindrolling attracted monks from the length and breadth of Tibet.
Mindrolling was, and is today, considered by all the great masters of Tibetan Buddhism, and especially by all the teachers of the Nyingma lineage, as an inspiring example of the practice of the pure and profound Dharma of Vajrayana Buddhism. An unbroken lineage of great masters continues up to this day. With the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, many Tibetan masters were urged to flee in an attempt to protect their lives and thus the precious teachings.
Brief history of the monastery in India:
Mindrolling began to re-establish its monastic seat in exile in Dehra Dun, India in 1965, through the untiring efforts of His Eminence Khochhen Rinpoche and small group of monks. Embarrassed by the wilderness and rough conditions on the land they had selected, they first worked to build monk's quarters and the main shrine room before inviting His Holiness the XIth Mindrolling Trichen to assume leadership. His Holiness then moved from Kalimpong to Dehra Dun in 1976.
Finally, on the subject of exile and nostalgia, it reminded me of a Tibetan song the U. Wisconsin Madison summer language class presented, that left a deep impression on me. Basically it's written from a kid's voice, asking her father, mother and relatives to teach her Tibetan and maybe show her Tibet one day. As I left monastery grounds, I saw a Tibetan girl hop on a motorcycle with her family. Without much time or resources to research, one can only wonder how many Tibetans still can speak Tibetan while in exile in India. 


Carnatic Music and Religion

Karthik, who is from a family of classical Indian musicians, asked me today, "How did you get this interest in knowing about India and carnatic music?" Karthik said that he was so happy that someone not from India actually appreciates carnatic music. "Many people do not know about it. It requires such a dedication and lots of practice to be at least somewhat good at it." 

There was an article I read that really sparked my interest--Many discontents of the Season, which is about how the Margazhi Festival's organization has a lot of downsides and how newcomers have a tough time and face a lot of budgetary pressure. But the festival still serves as a good showcase for new artists and I am impressed by the number of serious patrons for art. This is an interesting excerpt from one of the participants:

“I find that in the North, artistes are a lot more united. They won’t take this kind of crap. If someone makes an unreasonable demand, and a performer takes the high road, all his or her colleagues will, so the organisers have to step back and be nice. Here, things are far more cut-throat. If you stick to your principles, there are a whole lot of people who will swoop in. And that’s given the sabhas all the power. I see it in the way Hindustani musicians are treated, during special concerts for Margazhi. They’re given lakhs as performer fees; they’re put up in five-star hotels. But how are Carnatic musicians from out of town treated? What does that tell you?”

Also, the star of the festival was--

Carnatic singer TM Krishna
The 36-year-old singer draws a mob at practically every kutcheri (a place where people gather to listen to classical music concerts of vidwans.). A vocalist who’s been famous for longer than he hasn’t been, his flair and creativity on stage have earned him a devoted following—and a reputation as an eccentric. He often questions the competence of music critics, the sanctity of the structure of a kutcheri, the politics of the season.
Over the last few years, he’s taken initiatives to set things right. Once he refused evening slots to make way for new talent. Another time, he said he was taking December off to attend other musicians’ kutcheris; and in 2012-13, he said he would only give free concerts. So rasikas dashed to his four-hour concert at an auditorium with 700 seats.
TM Krishna is not only renowned singer, but also a thinker and writer. He has a theory about practicing, his as well as a book on Carnatic music.
I have this theory that we should push our mental capacity to the extreme during practice. A lot of nonsense may be there inside your head. When you practise Natakurinji for six hours for instance, other raga-s could be there inside you. Every musician has to develop a sieve in the thought process that will help to bring out the juice of what your mind is thinking and deliver it. Not necessarily in a concert, but when you sing naturally. You first need to throw everything out. You need to expel all extraneous matter. When you sing for four hours – you will reach a point when you are brain dead. But you just have to get to that point, where you are so saturated that you will go mad! After that, the mind starts clearing up what you sing. Among 50 ideas that come up in your mind, one idea may survive. Many people told me I was overdoing it, singing too much. Being the kind of person I was, I rebelled and continued to do exactly what I wanted to do. This was very good in one way. I learnt it all my way. If someone asked me to sing Todi, I just poured out everything I knew of Todi, all the sangati-s.
If only I could work that hard for learning a language...

I have also been reading Janaki Bakhle's Two Men and Music before Hindi classes started and it's also very inspiring. I look forward to reading TM Krishna's new book on Carnatic music; the excerpt in The Hindu was also very reflective and honest.
Within the modern world, the Hindu religious content raises an important question. Can an atheist or a non-Hindu be a Karnatik musician?
The environment that pervades Karnatik music makes it very difficult for an atheist to function within its world. There may be a few, but they will find it very difficult to come out in the open and articulate an atheistic narrative for Karnatik music. They will silently pamper the religious responses to their music and encourage devotional and philosophical expressions. I am not finding fault, but highlighting the difficulty for them to be who they are within this world. The musical fraternity at large does not feel it necessary to give Karnatik music, especially its compositional forms, a purely aesthetic thought.
What about practitioners of other religions? Among the nagasvara community there were not a few Muslim families that mastered this art form. Most of them flourished in what is now Andhra Pradesh and a few still live alongside the most conservative Hindu communities of Srirangam in Tamil Nadu. My admiration for these people is immense, as they have been able to negotiate two very opposing ideas, but there is a nuance. They have had to, perhaps willingly, accept the Hindu pantheon within their world. You will find their homes adorned with pictures of Hindu deities and their immense respect for Hindu gods and goddesses even when their religious practices are Islamic. This is a credit to their ability to straddle two worlds. But they cannot display apathy for Hinduism and be accepted as musicians by the Karnatik world. 
TM Krishna raises very important questions. I find this issue common in many cultural activities in India. Among my fellow Hindi language students during the summer, two have studied music from Oberlin, and both have interests in Indian music. I also really like Qawwali music (such as Qari Wahid Chisti) and ghazal ballads. In fact, Agha Shahid Ali, who introduced ghazals in an English form, is my favorite poet. I have also watched Bengali Baul performers (Purna Das Baul) in Beijing, at 后山艺术空间. Bauls pride themselves for being Hindu-Muslim syncretic and without caste. They have rituals and beliefs in addition to musical performances. Carnatic musicians, for example, play at religious functions as well.

Karthik's reply:
As you correctly pointed out, a person who knows and practices carnatic music will find it very difficult to be an atheist. It is virtually impossible. I can assure that not a single carnatic musician will be a complete atheist. They may be agnostic but atheism isn't there. I will tell you something, I didn't know atheism was a thing until I was 19 yes old. That's the effect on the society. The word is not uttered and a person is not taught anything about it. Also, most of the carnatic compositions are based on god. Exaltation of the deities is an important tool in keeping up the tradition and teaching carnatic music.
The holy trinity in carnatic music, Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Thyagarajar, and Shyama Sastrigal all composed music based on deities. Mr. Koteeswara Iyer was the first person to compose tunes in all 72 mela karta raagas. Even he composed music by praising the gods.
See, there are very complex societies in India. Also, most of the carnatic musicians are Brahmins (including me). It is a subculture within the tamil culture itself. We are, from a very young age, drilled about the concept of god. So most of us don't know what atheism is. To us, god and music aren't different. Yes.
I said that this is also the one aspect I find troubling in Buddhism, which proposes no god. I like music so much, and the existence of such wonderful music makes it hard to believe that there is no god. I think Christians feel similar in regards to some classical music.
He pointed that "there are quite a bit of christians who actually sing carnatic music, praising both the hindu gods as well as jesus christ. Weird but true. This happens in Kerala a lot. It is just that carnatic music is taught not only with notes but also with devotional lyrics. Because many devotional songs are taken as examples for classic raagas.
He goes on, "The carnatic music is actually seen by many muslims as a hindu thing. So Muslims don't do it often. However, there are many successful musicians who are Muslims and have a carnatic background. Most of them however, prefer western classical music."

Here is I made a mixtape of the five tracks I like best under the theme of "Joy"

1. Ganesh & Kumaresh - Yaare Ranganaa

2. Venkataswamy Naidu - Ragam Thanam Pallavi

3. Ganesh & Kumaresh - Yaro Iver Yaro

4. Anil Srinivasan, Supratik Das & Sikkil Gurucharan "Raag Megh" Live @ The Peninsula Studios

5. Ganesh & Kumaresh - Seethapathe

6. https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10204715600635230
Composed by the amazing musician from Kerala called Sharreth.

I asked Karthik about track 1, in which Ganesh and Kumaresh said that Yaare Ranganaa was written by someone 500 years ago. What was used in place of violin in Carnatic before violin?

Yaare Ranganaa composed by Purandaradasar is a vocal composition. It wasn't made for instrumental. In fact, instrumental carnatic music didn't exist until 1980s. The man who created a revolution in instrumental carnatic music was Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan. Muthuswamy Dikshitar introduced violin to carnatic music. Before that, the accompaniment depended upon Veena or Sitar. I added, TM Krishna also said in his column that Carnatic music can be understood as very young as well.In a usual carnatic music setup, you have the singer, now you have the violinist who accompanies the singer, then you have mridangam as percussion. This is the basic setup. The extra instruments are Ghatam (which looks like a clay pot), Kanjira, Morsing etc. So violins performing independently was non existent a couple of decades ago. Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan changed the entire scene. He brought out something called the "Solo Violin" revolution. Many violinists then started playing independently. Only then the respect for that instrument vastly increased. This music director called Illayaraaja again introduced violin solo pieces in movies. V.S. Narasimhan took centre stage then. Most of the carnatic musicians try to complicate and twist the music as much as possible in order to provide complexity. So, over a period, complexity started to get associated with beauty and skill. 

"Many people, in the name of complexity, started to make it sound boring. That's why many people don't find it appealing. M.S. Viswanathan and Illayaraaja made this observation and created music in such a manner that the essence and beauty of carnatic music reached far beyond the educated audiences."

Karthik also has an interesting opinion regarding Bollywood music: Many people think A.R. Rahman is the best musician in India. He is a brilliant technician. However, he is no match to Illayaraaja and MSV. The factor which made Rahman famous is media and technology. He rose to prominence when India opened up to the world. That was the time when the state controlled media became privatized. With that came more money, a different genre of music, and a young composer with it. This had a brilliant effect and now Rahman is pretty damn famous. Actually speaking, Illayaraaja never broke into Bollywood. He did most of his films in Kollywood, Telugu, Malayalam, and Bengali film industries.


Alternatives for the Village and Rural Revival: India and China

Rural and urban divide in China and India are increasing not only in terms of material wealth but also cultural standing. In grotesque simplifications, villages signify what is "backward" or under-developed. But one should understand that this is the result of current modes of development, which disrupt village social fabric and family structures at the expense of developing cities. Many villages in both China and India experiences drops in income from farmland and a loss of village youth to city migration. Recent efforts to help the village become self-sustainable include Barefoot College, started by husband and wife Bunker Roy and Aruna Roy. This college trains villagers to become experts in their own right and resist the fetishization of credentials. As The Hindu reports,
Rajasthan’s Ajmer and Rajsamand districts have been the sites of their work for enabling the self-respecting to become self-reliant as well, the self-abnegating to become self-assured too, and the self-denying to become inspirationally self-affirming.

Aruna and Bunker Roy

I first learned about Aruna Roy and her dedication to villages and the MKSS (Mazdoor Kisan Shakhti Sangathan —the Organisation for the Empowerment of Workers and Peasants) that aims to secure the rights villagers through British journalist Edward Luce's 2006 book In Spite of the Gods--
Ms. Roy is a Gandhian to the tips of her fingers: her saris are always made of cotton; she is a vegetarian; she lives ascetically among the villagers; she uses the occasional hunger strike, and more frequently the dharna, or sit-down protest, to pressurise the authorities — both tactics Gandhi pioneered against the British. And, although she concedes that escaping your caste identity is much more difficult in the village than in the town, she sees the former as the key to India's future. 
Each meal was a nutritious vegetarian mix of rice,  roti (Indian bread),  dhal (lentils), and a variation of potatoes, aubergine and okra, with a glass of buttermilk.

Nikhil Dey, when interviewed by Luce, resists being labeled as Gandhian or Marxist, claiming to inherit the heritage of both schools of thought. "We can make the village work through better farming and cottage industries. If people leave the villages then they also lose the rootedness that comes with living where you are from and the strength you draw from your natural surroundings."

While Luce's account focuses on Aruna's collaboration with Nikhil Dey, I read about other inspiring efforts of the Roys again from a detailed 2013 Chinese report on the Barefoot College by Hong Kong journalist Susanna Chui-Yung Cheung. She also commented on the simple food and was amazed by the college's success in training of age-old grannies how to create solar panels. She interpreted the Barefoot College as Gandhian.

Solar panels and its engineers

Still, the lack of of respectable employment opportunities in the typical Rajasthani villages pose a serious problem for similar villages in developing countries. As Luce holds skepticism for Roy and Dey's efforts, he reported on the desire for migration out of the village--
(Peasants) stood up and announced their profession. It was a roll-call of agricultural failure. The first was a well-digger who travels from village to village. Another worked as a security guard for Reliance Industries, one of India's largest companies, in Delhi. The next was a cloth worker who had lost his job in the city. The fourth had been trying for years without success to join the army. The next two were both menial workers at a hotel in the city of Ahmedabad in the neighbouring state of Gujarat. And so on.  Barely any of the men remain in the village because farming is not enough to make ends meet. 
In China, many hail back to 20th century thinkers such as philosopher Liang Shuming (梁漱溟) for ideas on village reconstruction. More recently intellectuals such as Ou Ning have also tried experimenting with cultural revivals in the countryside as well. Xiong Peiyun's Seeing China Through a Village (《一个村庄里的中国) also documents social issues in an elegiac tone as a writer who left his village for the city. PhD student Yige Dong's gender analysis (《女权视角下的碧山计划》) also sheds light on how we understand the contribution of women to the village economy. India also produced many intellectual discussions surrounding the question of village economies, which I learned from reading Age of Entanglement: German and Indian Intellectuals across Empire.

During roughly the same era as Liang Shuming, economist and social thinker Radhakamal Mukerjee studied the issue of village development in the 1925. He suggested that the German model of small scale industries could be emulated by India. Radhakamal argued for the power of the Indian village economy, and "the strenuous diffusion of production factors" as an alternative to "Western, city-centered, and finance-driven capitalism." Mukherjee "praised the village and handicraft economies... as well as the benefits it would bring to Indian society." This is distinctly different than a state capital-intensive model proposed by some socialists at the time.
"Radhakamal spoke of 'rurbanization' and the 'cityward drift' that would instigate 'the improvement of the technical conditions of the village, which will satisfy the more intellectual and ambitious of the village youth,'" quotes Kris Manjapura, author of Age of Entanglement. The "co-operative credit" movements in Germany also inspired Radhakamal. He regarded the Germany's model of agricultural reconstruction through decentralized network of expertise and finances was appropriate for India.
In my opinion, Radhakamal would certainly hope to see more initiatives similar to those of Bunker Roy, Aruna Roy, and Nikhil Dey's rural revival projects. In face of globalization, some people find trouble "catching up" with rising costs and standards levels of living. Migrant laborers around the world accept their dismal and disenfranchised conditions of living despite the lack of legal protection. However, one should also reflect on alternative methods, especially when current models of development exploit migrant labor and resources in atrocious ways.