The Tangled Knots of History: A Trip Through Medieval Deccan

by Gautam Pemmaraju

Dargah2The relatively impoverished landscape of Zaheerabad, in rural Telangana in central India, transforms as we approach Humnabad town of northern Karnataka. Lush, verdant pastures straddle each side of the highway, and the pregnant monsoon air animated by a fey, impish wind, forces our brief stop into a leisurely meditation. This pleasing landscape remains a companion till the outskirts of Gulbarga, a prominent regional city. As we navigate the narrow lanes towards our destination, the dust and dirt of the city streets, the shrill horns of motor vehicles, jarringly forestall our approach. It has also begun drizzling faintly.

The “brooding basalt solemnity” of the medieval shrine of the influential Chisti saint Muhammad al-Hussayni Gesu Daraz (d. 1422), which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, stands a mute testament to a mobile, transformative 14th century Deccan. By all accounts, the saint's settlement in the region is a historical event of unmatched significance, linked in no uncertain terms to the broader settlement of Muslims in the region, progression of orthodox Sufism, matters of courts and kings, regional syncretism, not to mention, the curious, inevitable and fascinating birth of the proto-Urdu form, Dakhani. A prolific writer, Gesu Daraz, has an impressive number of literary works to his name (105 by some accounts), several of which are extant, and as KA Nizami informs us, “no other Indo-Muslim Cishti saint” had written that many. Syed Shah Khusro Hussaini, the current sajjada nashin, (‘those who sit on the prayer rug'), the living spiritual heir, ‘blessed descendent' of the famous saint, whom I met later that evening, speaks to me of his hallowed ancestor's love of the local tongue. A medieval mystical work, Miraj al Ashiqin, which he attributes to Gesu Daraz, is believed to have been the first literary work composed in Dakhani, and is dated to 1390 CE. He however, qualifies this by mentioning that the attribution is contentious and has been rigorously challenged by many. Khusro Hussaini has previously written that the saint's works can be generally classified into those that were composed before he came to the Deccan (he resided in Delhi & is believed to have been the chosen replacement to Shaykh Nasir al' Din), and those after his settlement down south. ‘Hindawi' verses (another contemporary proto-Urdu form) Gesu Daraz is believed to have said, writes the sajjada, a reputed scholar of Sufism, “‘ are usually soft, sweet and touching. The tunes are also soft and tender like the couplets, which induce humility and submission…”' However, the saint still asserted the primacy of Persian verse. Hindawi, one can assume, is what Gesu Daraz brought with him from Delhi (Amir Khusro also mentions his occasional propensity to compose in Hindawi) and the region, its flavours and tempers, did their bit. The spoken language (and the many dialects) carried down south by Sufis and soldiers alike mingled in curious ways and eventually, what was but spoken in an unpolished manner began to take sophisticated form. The spoken form began to be written, and eventually appeared in literary texts.

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by Maniza Naqvi

MagicIt's 5.00 am in Frankfurt. Still a couple of hours before the flight is called. The Business lounge is beginning to fill up. The staff is busy replenishing breakfast food on the counters. I keep nodding off.

“What's she called?” The man seated behind her asks someone.

The guy replies: “Soho.”

“Shih Tzu?”


“Hey—puppy— baby you're so pretty…yes you are…yes you are.”.

The two guys talk. About dog poop. Soho's owner has spread out a newspaper for her to poop on but Soho won't oblige. “C'mon darling—come on baby—”

The other guy says:” Maybe I can make her go ” I'm a magician.”

Soho's owner laughs “Oh yeah? What kind of magician?”


“Emotional? Like you cry?”

“Well, no. I read minds.”

“Uh huh. Okay.”

“Really?” I join in.

“Yeah,” Says the magician turning in his seat half way to look at me.

“Okay read mine. Tell me what I'm thinking.” I say.

“Well two minutes ago you were thinking about the rain.”

The guy with Soho looks at me: “Well were you?”

“Yes! I was! I am amazed! I was absolutely thinking about the rain. I was thinking about the Queen's jubilee and about how the duke was sick…and how it rained and rained….and how he may have had a hand in Diana's death, maybe. No really! See, look here– I was reading the IHT, this article about the rain at the jubilee. And I was thinking about how over there they need to have all that pageantry and uniforms, and colors and the pomp and you know the tiara…they have to cheer themselves up because they have rain….All the time. Rain and they have reign…get it the other kind–Reign?”

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Three Buboes

by James McGirk

To hurtle through space we had to live on asteroids; to live on asteroids, flesh and bone were rasped from our bodies. Glass blowers found three cavities in the porous galactic stone and blew bubbles to contain us. Topped us off with nutritious fluids, and pushed us out—

It’s dark. I am the navigator but don’t know the coordinates. Was it a flaw or was it my fault? I don’t remember. We are hatchlings never to hatch. We sip bitter yolk and squirm in the dark. The others turned against me. I felt them plotting, but my terror fizzled out long ago. If I were to die it would poison us all. Instead they transmit memories: a bucket of squirming, limbless, helpless things gnashing their teeth as they die; a bacterium contaminating a sample in a dank spot; a broken shell; a low flame guttering that takes forever to finally sputter out.

It’s getting brighter. Rays of starlight perforate our golden coat. My friends squirm against me transmitting warmth. We twitch with anticipation. The light gets brighter. We droop down a gravity well. Our broth begins to bubble. We bath in radiation. Our broth is scalding. Translucent membrane turns opaque. Gold light turns white. The bubble pops. Crushed glass circles the sun.

A gloved tentacle taps the glass. “One of the cavities is intact.” The two astronauts carefully chisel the globe from the porous rock. The terrarium looks like a marble, fragile blues and green and white. “Did you ever read Goldilocks?” One asked the other, before he unsheathed his tentacle, snapped the glass and sucked our innards out.

Joseph Stiglitz Sees Bleak Future for America If We Don’t Reverse Inequality

Lynn Stuart Parramore in AlterNet:

StiglitzNobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, one of America's most prescient voices, wrote an article for Vanity Fair several months before Occupy Wall Street was born. “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%” called attention to the widening gap between rich and poor and its deadly impact on our society and its democratic institutions. In his newly released book, The Price of Inequality, Stiglitz returns to this theme of a divided society, delving into the origins and consequences of economic unfairness. I caught up with Professor Stiglitz and talked to him about how the persistent myths and beliefs associated with our capitalist system help to drive this trend, turning America from a land of opportunity to a land of broken dreams.

Lynn Parramore: An argument has been made, particularly since the end of the Cold War, that capitalism is great at producing things that can improve our lives, and so we ought to therefore tolerate some unfairness. What's wrong with that narrative?

Joseph Stiglitz: Well, capitalism does have a lot of strengths, including producing things that are very innovative. But what drives capitalism is the profit motive. You can profit not only by making good things, but also by exploiting people, by exploiting the environment, by doing things that are not so good. The narrative that you describe ignores the extent to which a lot of the inequalities in the United States are not the result of creative activity but of exploitive activity. And if you look at the people at the top, what is so striking is that the people who've made the most important creative contributions are not there.

More here.

In our dark times we need poetry more than ever, argues Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich in The Guardian:

In “The Defence of Poetry” 1821, Shelley claimed that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. This has been taken to suggest that simply by virtue of composing verse, poets exert some exemplary moral power – in a vague unthreatening way. In fact, in his earlier political essay, “A Philosophic View of Reform,” Shelley had written that “Poets and philosophers are the unacknowledged” etc. The philosophers he was talking about were revolutionary-minded: Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Voltaire, Mary Wollstonecraft.

And Shelley was, no mistake, out to change the legislation of his time. For him there was no contradiction between poetry, political philosophy, and active confrontation with illegitimate authority. For him, art bore an integral relationship to the “struggle between Revolution and Oppression”. His “West Wind” was the “trumpet of a prophecy”, driving “dead thoughts … like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth”.

I'm both a poet and one of the “everybodies” of my country. I live with manipulated fear, ignorance, cultural confusion and social antagonism huddling together on the faultline of an empire. I hope never to idealise poetry – it has suffered enough from that. Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy. Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard. There is no universal Poetry, anyway, only poetries and poetics, and the streaming, intertwining histories to which they belong. There is room, indeed necessity, for both Neruda and César Valléjo, for Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alfonsina Storni, for both Ezra Pound and Nelly Sachs. Poetries are no more pure and simple than human histories are pure and simple. And there are colonised poetics and resilient poetics, transmissions across frontiers not easily traced.

More here.

Zuckerberg Explains Facebook’s Plan to Get Entire Planet Online

Steven Levy in Wired:

ScreenHunter_293 Sep. 01 18.16Last week, in an effort to reach this lofty goal, the Facebook CEO announced the establishment, a consortium that allied his company with handset makers (Nokia, Samsung, Ericcson), a browser company (Opera), and network infrastructure manufacturers (Qualcomm, MediaTek). In a 10-page white paper shared on, yes, Facebook, he postulated that a connected world could address economic disparity and outlined a vision of even the poorest people connecting to low-cost, low-data versions of basic Internet services.

Reaction was mixed, both to the white paper and to the accompanying video, which used a John F. Kennedy speech to amplify a visual message that connectivity leads to better human relations. So WIRED welcomed the opportunity to discuss the plan face-to-face with Zuckerberg on the company’s Menlo Park, California campus. Here is the interview, edited for space and clarity.

WIRED: Why form a coalition to spread global connectivity?

Zuckerberg: The Internet is an important foundation in improving the world, but it doesn’t build itself. Over the past few years, we’ve invested more than a billion dollars in connecting people in developing countries. We have a product called Facebook for Every Phone, which provides our service on feature phones; it has 100 million users. But no one company or government can build out a full stack of infrastructure to support this around the world. So you need to work together with folks. Since we’ve announced, we’ve heard from operators around the world and governments who want to work with us. This is going to provide momentum to make this work over the next 3 to 5 years, or however long it’s going to take.

More here.

Noam Chomsky: The Arab world has harbored fantasies about the supernatural power of the United States

Mohammed Attar Interviews Noam Chomsky at the website of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung:

Your discourse unambiguously states that America and Israel have no desire to see the regime fall and that their actions are determined by the “better the devil you know” principle. How do you explain a counter-discourse, promulgated by analysts and intellectuals, especially among Leftist circles in Europe the US and the Arab world, which is based on the supposition of an American/Israeli/imperialist plot? For some people, the revolution in Syria has been a conspiracy from the outset. For others it was hijacked by the conspiracy.

Chomsky1For a long time, the Arab world and other places beside have played host to stories and illusions about the supernatural power of the United States, which controls everything through complex conspiracies and plots. In this worldview, everything that takes place can be explained in terms of imperialist conspiracies. This is an error. Without a doubt, the UnitedStates are still a great power and capable of influencing events, but they are not always able to manipulate them by means of complex conspiracies: this really is beyond their capacities. Of course the Americans do sometimes try to do this, but they fail, too. What happened in Syria is not outside our understanding: it began as a popular and democratic protest movement demanding democratic reforms, but instead of responding to it in a constructive, positive manner, Assad reacted with violent repression. The usual outcome of such a course of action is either a successful crushing of the protests or otherwise, to see them evolve and militarize, and this is what took place in Syria. When a protest movement enters this phase we see new dynamics at play: usually, the rise of the most extremist and brutal elements to the front ranks.

More here. [Thanks to Omar Ali.]

How can we still the noise within?

Tim Parks in Aeon:

SilenceSilence, then, is always relative. Our experience of it is more interesting than the acoustic effect itself. And the most interesting kind of silence is that of a mind free of words, free of thoughts, free of language, a mental silence —

…The process is neither that of a single switch being turned, nor of a steady continuum, but of a series of small gains and losses; perhaps a larger step forward, then a small relapse. If one is persistent, undaunted, in one’s attempts to concentrate, if one is successful in showing neither aversion to pain nor indulgence in pleasure, then, very slowly, the stillness and silence deepen in an atmosphere of beatitude that is simultaneously and indivisibly both physical and mental. It is as if, as the body is slowly put together and all its component parts unite in an intense present, so the historical self is taken apart and falls away. At no point is it experienced as a loss, but rather as a fullness of existence; something brimful, very ordinary and very beautiful. The words we constantly use and the narratives we write reinforce a drama of selfhood that we in the West complacently celebrate. There is also much consolation taken in the way in which writing and narrative can transform emotional pain into a form of entertainment, wise and poignant in its vision of our passage through the world, intense and thrilled by its own intensity. Narrative is so often the narrative of misery and of the passage through misery. What silence and meditation leaves us wondering, after we stand up, unexpectedly refreshed and well-disposed after an hour of stillness and silence, is whether there isn’t something deeply perverse in this culture of ours, even in its greatest achievements in narrative and art. So much of what we read, even when it is great entertainment, is deeply unhelpful.

More here.

Haters gonna hate?


“Nah,” “eh,” “no” and “ugh”: These are the familiar sounds of people who don't seem to like much and conjure negative quips for just about anything. While people with more positive dispositions may try to shake enthusiasm unto these downers, new research helps to explain why this often doesn't work. That certain people like more things than others may seem obvious, but, until now, nobody has ever tested whether such dispositions operate as distinct personality traits, separate from other traits such as optimism/pessimism or extroversion/introversion. A team of researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Pennsylvania have now conducted the first quantitative analysis of dispositional attitude, finding that it is, in fact, distinct from these other traits. “Optimists tend to have generalized beliefs usually about the future, such as 'Things are going to turn out well,'” said Justin Hepler, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an author on the study. “We were interested in whether people liked or disliked things, in general, and had people report their attitude about different things.”

…The researchers found that people's dispositional attitudes often correlated with other similar traits, but were still statistically distinct, meaning that some optimists have a tendency to dislike many things, and some pessimists, likewise, might like lots of things. As with all personality traits, dispositional attitudes develop through a combination of one's biology and environment. The team has not yet assessed how therapy could help mediate these traits, but suggests that adjusting one's external stimuli, such as surrounding oneself with positive people, could ultimately sway a person from one side of the spectrum to the other.

More here.

Sunday Poem


The three-tongued glacier has begun to melt.
What will we do, they ask, when boulder-milt
Comes wallowing across the delta flats

And the miles-deep shag ice makes its move?
I saw it, ridged and rock-set, from above,
Undead grey-gristed earth-pelt, aeon-scruff,

And feared its coldness that still seemed enough
To iceblock the plane window dimmed with breath,
Deepfreeze the seep of adamantine tilth

And every warm, mouthwatering word of mouth.

by Seamus Heaney