Archive for January, 2016

Two pieces on disagreement and acceptance

January 31, 2016

Here is Mary Beard:

At this point, I’d like to observe just one thing. That it is possible to disagree over all kinds of things (tactics, short term aims etc) without being enemies. That’s life.

And, to push this a little further, maybe we dont want a world in which we all agree on absolutely everything.

Ruchir Joshi in The Telegraph:

In a discussion with friends the other day we mulled over the words ‘tolerance’ and ‘intolerance’ and found them both problematic. I don’t want to tolerate a religion or a social or political view different from mine, nor do I want my views to be tolerated – I want my difference accepted, just as I want to try and accept views different from mine. When you say ‘tolerate’ there is often an unspoken ‘up to a point’ attached, but when you say ‘accept’ the time-frame tends to diminish, to go away, and this is what is required for us to move forward to a more equal and non-violent society.

Criticism from within

January 23, 2016

Thought worth pondering over:

Gandhi held the view that only adherents of a particular faith had the right to criticize its precepts or sanctions. By that token, it was both his “right and duty to point out the defects in Hinduism in order to purify it and to keep it pure. But when non-Hindu critics set about criticizing Hinduism and cataloguing its faults they can only blazon their own ignorance of Hinduism and their incapacity to regard it from the Hindu viewpoint. … Thus my own experience of the non-Hindu critics of Hinduism brings home to me my limitations and teaches me to be wary of launching on a criticism of Islam or Christianity and their founders.”

Critics from within had the capacity and empathy to reform and redeem their faith; critics from without the tendency to mock and caricature the other’s faith. Gandhi thus concluded that it was “only through such a reverential approach to faiths other than mine that I can realize the principle of equality of all religions”.

From Guha’s piece here. There is also this peculiarity that Guha notes, which, again, is worth pondering over:

One of the peculiarities of liberal discourse in India is that while there are many Hindu writers and politicians ready to criticize Hindutva fanatics, Muslim writers and politicians are hesitant to take on the bigots in their own community. It is disappointing to see even professedly modern, cosmopolitan politicians like Salman Khurshid and Omar Abdullah so reluctant to openly confront the likes of the Owaisi brothers and Azam Khan.

Back in 1937, Gandhi suggested that Hindus should stay clear of criticizing Muslim precept and practice, and vice versa. Perhaps in the peculiar conditions of colonial rule one had to be careful, since the British wanted Indians to divide, so that they could rule. But now that we are all citizens of an independent and democratic republic, the same constraints do not apply. To be sure, one need not be unnecessarily provocative. But one must still have the right to offer friendly advice, and even criticism, to fellow Indians, regardless of what religion or community they belong to.

Gandhi’s religion: a home spun shawl

January 20, 2016

The line from Ram Guha’s introduction to the book captures my thoughts (before I read the book) rather well:

Could we not follow Gandhi in his empathy for the poor and his insistence on non-violence while rejecting the religious idiom in which his idead were cloaked?

Guha continues:

Ramu Gandhi argued that the attempt to secularise Gandhi was mistaken. If you take the Mahatma’s faith out of him, he told me, then Gandhi would not be the Mahatma.

After reading the wonderful (and thoroughly gripping) book by JTF Jordens Gandhi’s religion: a homespun shawl, I can see Ramu Gandhi’s point. A great read. Strongly recommended. Here is the Hindu review: the last paragraph of the review summarises the experience of reading the book rather nicely:

The image of Gandhi’s religion as a “bulky homespun shawl” is poetic. “At first it looks very plain to the eye, but we can detect the beauty of the strong patterns and the contrasting shades of folk art. With its knots and unevenness, it feels at first rough to touch; but soon we can experience how effective it is in warming cold and hungry limbs.” We feel that warmth by reading Jordens too.


Linda Hess’ Bodies of Song

January 20, 2016

Linda Hess’ book on Kabir oral traditions called Bodies of Song: Kabir Oral Traditions and Performative Worlds in North India is a great read. I also watched some of (though not all) of the documentaries made by Shabnam Virmani as part of the kabir project while reading the book. Both the book and the documentaries are strongly recommended. In Hess’ book, the fifth chapter on theory of oral tradition, at least for me, did not jell well with the rest of the book. But that is only a minor quibble. I also discovered some great artists such as Kaluram Bamaniya, Prahlad Singh Tipanya and Bheru Singh Chouhan and rediscovered some like Kumar Gandharva, Shubha Mudgal and Madhup Mudgal thanks to the book and documentaries!

Doing and learning: Octave way!

January 17, 2016

At the beginning of this month, I conducted a two day workshop on phase field modelling at IIT Kanpur. Here are some photos — one of the photos is there because of what is there on the board 🙂 This is the third time I am conducting such a workshop and it was great fun and learning experience as always.

In these workshops, we typically do hands on sessions (scripts to do computations and plotting) interspersed with lectures. At the end of the sessions, I asked for feedback. I got two comments; one of the participants said that he would have preferred if I jumped into phase field directly; the other felt that starting with sessions on octave and regular solution model was good because that made him comfortable. Both are valid points. For students who are already exposed to GNU Octave, another session on Octave could be quite boring. However, for students who are getting exposed to Octave for the first time, a three hour session is a very good starting point.

Without software such as Octave, the process can be quite painful. Recently, on my coming back from Kanpur, I learnt about Julia. May be the next one I should try with Julia!

On renting music

January 4, 2016

Mukul Kesavan on his experiences with renting music:

It’s the musical equivalent of having a subscription to the Library of Congress and the right to immediately call up every item in its holdings. All right, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s closer to that state of complete, comprehensive access than anything I have ever known.

I like his idea of a similar service for books!

Strange concert venues

January 2, 2016

Sriram in the Hindu:

The strangest experience of all was perhaps Salem Chellam Iyengar’s. Invited to perform at a certain house, he was happy that everyone applauded repeatedly during the concert. All except the much brocaded and garlanded patron who sat still in a chair. When he asked why the man was not reacting to his music, he was told that he could not, as he was dead and it was for his funeral wake that Chellam Iyengar was singing. This apparently was a custom peculiar to that community. It took quite a while for Iyengar to recover.

I like that last line — about taking quite a while to recover!