Archive for September 5th, 2007

What is the point he is trying to make? Edition 2

September 5, 2007

Following Ram Guha, it is now Mukul Kesavan’s turn:

But it is the English-writing Indian’s interest in communalism, particularly his near-obsessive interest in the way in which majoritarian politics picks on religious minorities, that would draw the attention of our historian. Perhaps he would take his cue from that acute critic, Lal Krishna Advani, who coined a useful term for this tendency: pseudo-secularism. In this view, since the majority of secularist critics are nominally Hindu, this peculiar interest in Muslim or Christian welfare is to be charitably understood as a form of misguided chivalry, misguided because it’s the Hindus who are harassed and discriminated against in the name of secularism. When a critic of the Advani school isn’t feeling charitable, this chivalric tendency is put down to the self-hatred that afflicts deracinated Hindus. Other hostile observers see the ‘secularist’ tendency as an extension of the knowingness and superiority affected by the Anglophone Indian in other matters, such as fiction or travel-writing, a posture intended to place the posturer above the common herd.

So, what is the idea? Only Anglophone Indians are worried about communalism? Or, if Lal Krishna Advani school critics happen to write about pseudo-secularism, is that understood that they are not Anglophones? Misguided chivalry, self-hatred and posture are the only reasons (not to mention Anglophonia) why people would be worried about in the way in which majoritarian politics picks on religious minorities?

Or, look at these sentences:

Every English-speaking Indian man between 25 and 60 has written about the Hindi movies he has seen, the English books he has read, the foreign places he has travelled to and the curse of communalism. You mightn’t have read them all (there are a lot of them and some don’t make it to print) but their manuscripts exist and in this age of the internet, these masters of blah have migrated to the Republic of Blog.

Or, this one, for that matter:

And, most weirdly, why pogroms and chauvinism? Why not programmes on television?

As the typical “masters of blah” say in the “Republic of Blog”, WTF? That people are worried about pograms and chauvinism instead of programmes on television is weird?

There is more along similar lines:

A cultural historian from the remote future (investigating, perhaps, the death of English in India) …

Not to mention the contradictions in the piece; the near certainty at the beginning of the piece of the cause of the obsessions of the Anglophone Indians,

This seems mysterious but isn’t. Our historian will have to be content with the ordinary cause instead of the off-centre insight.

after the “Lal Krishna Advani as the anthropologist” paragraph becomes this:

Whatever their explanation, these regularities in the behaviour of Anglophone Indians await their historian and their anthropologist; the purpose of this piece is limited to persuading you that their habits are odd enough to be interesting.

For all this, I understand that he teaches social history!

Update:- From Swarup’s comment below: Uma is also wondering as to what Kesavan is writing about; and, Amardeep, as befitting his academic credentials, offers a very detailed and proper critique of Kesavan’s column (which includes the following important point that I missed):

… why only men? Aren’t there lots of Indian women bloggers?

A heretical thought from Paul Graham

September 5, 2007

It may not matter all that much where you go to college.

Paul Graham goes on to justify this thought with some analysis of real world scenarios. One of the things he has to say is this:

… how much you learn in college depends a lot more on you than the college.

And, now that reminded me of what I I Rabi had to say about college education and learning (I quote from memory):

You can learn a lot in college, if you do not care for straight As.

However, there is one caveat to all of what Paul Graham has to say; he says,

The odds of finding smart professors are even better. The curve for faculty is a lot flatter than for students, especially in math and the hard sciences; you have to go pretty far down the list of colleges before you stop finding smart professors in the math department.

While this is generally true (even my village school had a very wonderful mathematics teacher), sometimes the quality of teachers that one can get could be highly uneven. During my high school days for example, we never had a good physics teacher. The good ones stayed just for a few months before getting transferred to other places where life was more lucrative. Further, while the curve gets flatter at probably the same rate everywhere, the exact level at which the plateau lies itself might depend on what the peak value is. Like they say in my village, in the country of no (sugar) mills, iluppai flower is the sugar!

On the whole, a very thought provoking piece. Take a look!

PS: Also reminded me of a poll that Abi ran long back along similar lines; and, I did choose IIT. Abi also favoured elite institutions!