It has been the strange fate of Tibet, once one of the most isolated places on earth, to function as a laboratory for the most ambitious and ruthless human experiments of the modern era: the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and now a state-imposed capitalism. After having suffered totalitarian communism, Tibetans now confront a dissolute capitalism, one that seeks arrogantly, and often violently, to turn all of the world's diverse humanity into middle-class consumers. But it seems wrong to think of Tibetans, as many outsiders do, as helpless victims of large, impersonal forces.It is no accident that the Tibetans seem to have survived the large-scale Communist attempt at social engineering rather better than most people in China itself. This is at least partly due to their Buddhist belief in the primacy of empathy and compassion. And faced with an aggressively secular materialism, they may still prove, almost alone in the world, how religion, usually dismissed, and not just by Mao, as "poison," can be a source of cultural identity and moral values; how it can become a means of political protest without blinding the devout with hatred and prejudice; how it can help not only heal the shocks and pain of history- the pain that has led people elsewhere in the world into nihilistic rage- but also create a rational and ethical national culture, what may make a freer Tibet, whenever it comes about, better prepared for its state of freedom than most societies.
I hadn't then really noticed the Kashmiris. They did appear very different with their pale, long-nosed faces, their pherans, their strange language, so unlike any Indian language. They also seemed oddly self-possessed. But in the enchanting new world that had opened before me- the big deep blue skies and the tiny boats becalmed in vast lakes, the cool trout streams and the stately forests of chenar and poplar, the red-cheeked children at roadside hamlets and in apple orchards, the cows and sheep grazing on wide meadows, and, always in the valley, the surrounding mountains- in so private an experience of beauty it was hard to acknowledge the more prosaic facts of their existence; the dependence upon India, the lack of local industry, the growing number of unemployed educated youth.
Twenty thousand troops drawn from several countries, including Japan, marched to Beijing to relieve the siege and loot the city. Among the British contingent was a north Indian soldier, Gadhadar Singh, who felt sympathetic to the anti-Western cause of the Boxers even though he believed that their bad tactics had ‘blanketed their entire country and polity in dust.’ His first sight of China was the landscape near Beijing, of famished Chinese with skeletal bodies in abandoned or destroyed villages, over whose broken buildings flew the flags of China’s joint despoilers- France, Russia and Japan. River waters had become a ‘cocktail of blood, flesh, bones and fat.’ Singh particularly blamed the Russian and French soldiers for the mass killings, arson and rape inflicted on the Chinese. Some of the soldiers tortured their victims purely for fun. ‘All these sportsmen,’ Singh noted, ‘belonged to what where called “civilized nations”.
The oldest among Kashmiris often claim that their is nothing new about their condition, that they they have been slaves of foreign rulers since the sixteenth century, when the Moghul emperor Akbar annexed Kashmir and appointed a local governer to rule the state. In the chaos of post-Moghul India, the old empire rapidly disintegrating, Afghani and Sikh invaders plundered Kashmir at will. The peasantry was taxed and taxed into utter wretchedness; the cultural and intellectual life, which under indigenous rulers had produced some of the greatest poetry, music, and philosophy in the subcontinent, dried up. Barbaric rules were imposed in the early nineteenth century, a Sikh who killed a native of Kashmir was fined nothing more than two rupees. Victor Jacquemont, a botanist and friend of Stendahl's who came to the valley in 1831, thought that "nowhere else in India were the masses as poor and denuded as they were in Kashmir.
As Sharar pointed out, a large part of Europe's power consisted of its capacity to kill, which was enhanced by continuous and vicious wars among the region's small nations in the seventeenth century, a time when Asian countries knew relative peace. 'The only trouble with us,' Fukuzawa Yukichi, author, educator and prolific commentator on Japan's modernization, lamented in the 1870s, 'is that we have had too long a period of peace and no intercourse with outside. In the meantime, other countries, stimulated by occasional wars, have invented many new things such as steam trains, steam ships, big guns and small hand guns etc.' Required to fight at sea as well as on land, and to protect their slave plantations in the Caribbean, the British, for instance, developed the world's most sophisticated naval technologies. Mirza Abu Talib, an Indian Muslim traveller to Europe in 1800, was among the first Asians to articulate the degree to which the Royal Navy was the key to British prosperity. For much of the nineteenth century, British ships and commercial companies would retain their early edge in international trade over their European rivals, as well as over Asian producers and traders.
When the United States brutally suppressed the anti-imperialist revolt in the Philippines, another Chinese exile in Japan, Tang Tiaoding, mournfully described the events, concluding with a denunciation of ‘white people’s histories’: They provide plenty of indisputable evidence on the extent of the primitive customs and ignorance of the native people, as proof of why these people deserve to be conquered. This type of praise [for themselves] and condemnation [of others] is done with an eye towards the final judgement of history. Egypt, Poland, Cuba, India, South Africa, all these regions: just read the books on the history of their perishing!... I had often felt that the situation demanded that these countries could not but perish… But now I know that these books were all written by white people, where truth and falsehood are confused… I know one thing for sure: if you seek the truth about the Philippines in the history books of the Spaniards, you would not doubt for a moment that the country is ignorant and vile, and you would only wonder why it had not perished sooner… Learned people of my country! Are there any of you who are getting ready to write our history? Do not let white children, laughing behind our backs and clapping their hands with glee, take up their pens and paper [to write our history for us]!
Muhammad Iqbal, who had spent three rewarding years as a student in Europe in the first decade of the twentieth century, now wrote of it in the satirical tradition of the Illahabadi:The West develops wonderful new skillsIn this as in so many other fieldsIts submarines are crocodiles Its bombers rain destruction from the skiesIts gases so obscure the skyThey blind the sun’s world-seeing eyeDispatch this old fool to the WestTo learn the art of killing fast- and bestOn his previous trips to the West, Liang, like Tagore and Iqbal, had been a qualified admirer. During his longest sojourn there, he began to develop grave doubts about the civilization that had so blithely thrown away the fruits of progress and rationalism and sunk into barbarism. The ‘materialist’ West had managed to subdue nature through science and technology and created a Darwinian universe of conflict between individuals, classes and nations. But to what effect? Its materialistic people, constantly desiring ever-new things and constantly being frustrated, were worn out by war, were afflicted with insecurity, and were as far from happiness as ever.
During the twenty-one year rule of Amir Abdul Rahman (1880-1901), one of Afghanistan's more pro-British rulers, only one school was built in Kabul, and that was a madrassa. Condemned to play a passive part in an imperial Great Game, Afghanistan missed out on the indirect benefits of colonial rule, the creation of an educated class such as would supply the basic infrastructure of the postcolonial states of India, Pakistan and Egypt.Afghanistan's resolute backwardness in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was appealing to Western romantics. Kipling, who was repelled by the educated Bengali, commended the Pashtun tribesmen- the traditional rulers of Afghanistan and also a majority among Afghans- for their courage, love of freedom, and sense of honour. These cliches about the Afghans, which would be amplified in our own time by American journalists and politicians, also had some effect on Muslims themselves.
For those who live in Kashmir, the expectations of justice, rarely fulfilled in the Indian subcontinent, are more than optimistic; they belong to fantasy. It makes it all the more difficult for the victims to bear their human losses. At Dalal's house, the once carefully tended plants and hedges were already running wild just a few weeks after his murder, the fish in the pond were mostly dead, and few men sat slumped on the floor in a bare hall under the Islamic calendar of mourning. His mother, persuaded by her male relatives to emerge from the dark room where she had taken to since her son's death, broke down as soon as she noticed the photos of Dalal I had been studying. The pictures showed a young man in dark glasses and trendy clothes, a happy, contented man, someone who had managed to find, amid the relentless violence of the insurgency, a new style and identity for himself, and when Dalal's mother, still crying, while her mother, Dalal's grandmother, sat beside her, quietly wiping her tears with the frayed end of her headscarf, asked what was the point of talking to the press, of speaking about her son to me- he was gone and wouldn't come back; the people who had killed him were too powerful- it was hard not to feel pierced by the truth of what she was saying, hard not to be moved by her grief, and the pain, amid the great human waste of Kashmir, of her helplessness.
Bollywood's economic workings are more mysterious. It still exists in what was known as the informal and high-risk sector of the Indian economy. Banks rarely invest in Bollywood, where moneylenders are rampant, demanding up to 35 percent interest. The big corporate houses seem no less keen to stay away from filmmaking. A senior executive with the Tatas, one of India's prominent business families, told me, "We went into Bollywood, made one film, lost a lot of money, and got out of it fast," adding that "the place works in ways we couldn't begin to explain to our shareholders."Since only six or seven of the two hundred films made each year earn a profit, the industry has generated little capital of its own. The great studios of the early years of the industry are now defunct. It is outsiders- regular moneylenders, small and big businessmen, real estate people, and, sometimes, mafia dons- who continue to finance new films, and their turnover, given the losses, is rapid. Their motives are mixed: sex, glamour, money laundering, and, more optimistically, profit. They rarely have much to do with the desire to make original, or even competent, films.
The solidity of the building, its quite interiors, the monumental presence of its white facade in the middle of the city- in all its deliberate order and calm, the hotel underlined its separateness from its setting. Its effect was felt most keenly by the menial staff, who traveled each day from their homes in the flood-threatened outskirts of Allahabad and approached their place of work with something like awe. They looked very ill at ease in their green uniforms and were obsequiously polite with guests, calling to mind the Indians who had come to serve in the new city of Allahabad built by the British after the rude shock of the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the city whose simple colonial geography was plain from my sixth-floor hostel room, the railway tracks partitioning the congested "black town," with its minarets and temple domes, from the tree-lined grid of "white town," where for a long period no Indians, apart from servants, could appear in native dress.
Wajid Ali Shah, denounced as effeminate and inept and deposed a year later by British imperialists, was the last great exponent of the Indo-Persian culture that emerged in Awadh toward the end of the Moghul empire, when India was one of the greatest centers of the Islamic world, along with the Ottoman and the Safavid empires. Islam in India lost some of its Arabian and Persian distinctiveness, blended with older cultures, but its legacy is still preserved amid the squalor of a hundred small Indian towns, in the grace and elegance of Najam's Urdu, in the numerous songs and dances that accompany festivals and marriages, in the subtle cuisines of Northern India, and the fineness of the silk saris of Benares, but one could think of it, as I did, as something just there, without a history or tradition. The Indo-Islamic inheritance has formed very little part of, and is increasingly an embarrassment to, the idea of India that has been maintained by the modernizing Hindu elite over the last fifty years.
According to the historian Arrian who reported the encounter, the ascetics beat their feet on the ground as Alexander passed them. When asked about the gesture, they said that Alexander occupied, despite his conquests, no more ground than that covered by the soles of his two feet. Like everyone else, he, too, was mortal, ‘except that you are ambitious and reckless, traversing such a vast span of land, so remote from your home, enduring troubles and inflicting them upon others’.4
Known as Naxalites...they attacked "class enemies"- big landlords, policemen, bureaucrats, and "liberated" territories which they hoped would form bases for an eventual assault on the cities, as had happened in China. The Indian government responded brutally, killing and torturing thousands. Driven underground, the Naxalite movement splintered and remained dormant for many years. In the 1990s, when India began to move towards a free market, the Naxalite movement revived in some of the poorest and most populous Indian states. Part of the reason for this is that successive Indian governments have steadily reduced subsidies for agriculture, public health, education, and poverty eradication, exposing large sections of the population to disease, debt, hunger and starvation. Almost three thousand farmers committed suicide in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh after the government, advised by McKinsey, cut agricultural subsidies in an attempt to initiate farmers into the world of unregulated markets. In recent years, Naxalite movements, which have long organized landless, low-caste peasants in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, have grown quickly in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh- where an enfeebled Indian state is increasingly absent- to the extent that police and intelligence officials in India now speak anxiously of an unbroken belt of Communist-dominated territory from Nepal to South India.
For, to be woken up at five in the morning by the devotional treacle of Anup Jalota, Hari Om Sharan and other confectioners, all of them simultaneously droning out from several different cassette players; to be relentlessly assaulted for the rest of the day and most of the night by the alternately over-earnest and insolent voices of Kumar Sanu, Alisha Chinoy, Baba Sehgal singing 'Sexy, Sexy, Sexy', and 'Ladki hai kya re baba', 'Sarkaye leyo khatiya' and other hideous songs; to have them insidiously leak into your memory and become moronic refrains running over and over again in your mind; to have your environment polluted and your day destroyed in this way was to know a deepening rage, an impulse to murder, and, finally, a creeping fear at one's own dangerous level of derangement. It was to understand the perfectly sane people you read about in the papers, who suddenly explode into violence one fine day; it was to conceive a lasting hatred for the perpetrators, rich or poor, of these auditory atrocities. (on why he left Varanasi after a few days)