The third volume of AA is a bit late in coming. It has remained submerged for reasons beyond the editor’s control. You might legitimately have been wondering if it was after all going to surface for some much-needed gasping for oxygen. That’s precisely the case. I’ll have to, from now on, put up whatever is ready and keep tagging to the corpus au fur et à mesure as other bits and pieces become available. An editor and, in this case, publisher as well – to find yet another banal analogy – is not the cook; he is only a garçon or server. He might sometimes provide the idea for a recipe or might help to draw up the menu, but he is clearly not the chef (even if on occasions this editor or a chef is called upon to perform some very profound plastic surgery).
From time to time, articles - or what seem to pass for them - come in accompanied by urgent appeals for immediate action or what might even sound like caveats. Any attempt to shear the pieces of their defamatory content is looked upon with horror. An editor or any publisher can only hope for articles and essays which contain impartial pronouncements, all motivated by a spirit of laissez-faire or informed by some altruistic “live and let-live” philosophy.
This journal as it avows in its masthead simply doesn’t take sides; it does not seek to censor or impose the editor’s views on valid arguments and well-grounded theses. All genuinely backed-up opinions are welcome. It must therefore be reiterated that the editor or publisher is not responsible for the comments and opinions of authors whose work appear in this journal.
The raison d’être of this journal is
to provide platform space for articles, essays, creative efforts, comments, and
opinions which may not or cannot easily find an airing through other
established channels devoted to the continent. Of course, it does not mean that the same pieces appearing in these
pages are not worthy of publication in other journals on
As the editor and publisher, I only retain the right to point out mistakes or lapses in the language and make suggestions for improvement in the composition of each piece submitted, all in the name of clarity. On the other hand, I shall not interfere with the language of fiction. That, for obvious reasons, is the exclusive province of the author, her/himself. It goes without saying I’m also responsible for the layout and maintenance of the site in which the journal is bedded down.
The articles, essays, and fictional excerpts from larger works appearing in these pages await further company. Some promised contributions have yet to come in. If these creations take long to materialize, or if they turn out to be bulky, I will have to banish them to the next volume, I’m afraid.
The present issue bon gré, mal gré has turned out to be a collection focused on South Asia. Not that this matters though. We are a wide-ranging continental concern, and any spotlighting now and then will not necessarily detract from the wider perspective of discussing or concentrating on diverse topics ranging over and across the continent at large. No excuses therefore are necessary, nor are they proffered.
Articles and an interview
With this final article on the late and illustrious Nobel-Laureate Subrahmanyan CHANDRAsekhar, the foremost Asian astrophysicist of the 20th Century, volume three of AA beds down. It may interest readers to know that it took me nearly three years to find an astrophysicist capable and willing to undertake the formidable task of revealing to the layman and the specialist alike the life and work of a genial Tamil scientist. His uncle, Chandrasekhara Venkata RAMAN, the first Indian scientist to have single-handedly - working in isolation in India without proper equipment or funds - merited the Nobel-Prize in Physics in 1930 for his discovery of the Raman effect or spectrum which has practical value, for instance, in the determination of the structure of molecules.
As difficult as the task of explaining Professor Chandra’s numerous sky-clearing achievements may have been, it is only fitting that a young and upcoming astrophysicist, attached to the world-renowned Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in India (which spearheaded India into the exclusive nuclear club through the efforts of Homi Bhabha [1909-1966], another great Indian physicist – and painter - who was its founder-director), should have accepted, and accomplished, the chore.
In his in-depth article on CHANDRA, Dr. Dipanjan MITRA weaves his way through the Nobel Prize winner’s life and accomplishments, without in any considerable way making it difficult for the layman to appreciate the great man’s thoughts and findings. We also learn of Chandra’s difficulties in making himself understood on British soil under the Raj. The controversy over the question of equilibrium in massive stars with Sir Arthur Eddington, then the leading authoritative voice in the field, remains to this day as a classic example of blind British notions of superiority over the colonized populations, epitomized in Sir Winston Churchill’s haughtiness in dismissing the Mahatma, Mohandas Karamchand GANDHI, as a “half-naked fakir”. Dr. Mitra explains that, while
“… he (Chandra) made great strides in his scientific career, he was however constantly unhappy and lonely. This was especially so because he felt his work was not being appreciated by some of his distinguished colleagues. In particular, Sir Arthur Eddington was unhappy about Chandra's work. Eddington was considered to be a "king" when it came to understanding stars as he had laid the foundation for the classical theory of stars. He eventually concluded that every star, no matter what its mass, could reach an equilibrium state and become a white dwarf.
Thus Chandra's conclusion that massive stars cannot reach such an equilibrium state distressed Eddington. The controversy between Eddington and young Chandra became serious.
Eddington tried to dismiss Chandra's findings on almost every occasion he got. Even other scientists who otherwise agreed with Chandra, did not criticize Eddington in public.
Chandra was shocked and puzzled. Chandra felt that the differences were not based on honest scientific arguments. Chandra hence decided to finally change his area of research.
He was convinced that his work was correct and did not want to waste energy in trying to prove it by fighting the “greatest scientist” in the world. While much can be said about
the controversy, what Chandra said was:
"I do not think Eddington's tirade
against me was derived from any personal motives. You may attribute it to an
elitist, aristocratic view of science and the whole world. Eddington
was so confident of his views that as far as he was concerned he was a Gulliver
Chandra, even against all that was being done to him, deeply respected the great person that Eddington was. That was typical of Chandra.”
Indians, as well as scientists at
large, may give thanks to
To South Asianists,
the name Yoginder Singh Sikand has
become almost as familiar as Sirius in recent years. And yet he has turned 36
only recently. Here he is feted by two articles and an interview. He shines
without respite on all fronts where the subject of Islam in India is at stake. Tirelessly prolific (see Contributors), his variously labouring talents have been
judiciously deployed to carve out a prominent niche for the subject from now
on. Hardly a month ago, he was appointed head (Dr. Sikand is Reader in the Department of Islamic Studies) of
for Studies on Indian Muslims at
Here are merely three “minor”
examples of his scintillating facility and grasp of his specialty. In “The
Glories of India”, he discusses the status of Muslims in
“These debates on kafa'a have a direct bearing on how the Indian Muslim
'ulama have looked at the question of caste, caste endogamy and inter-caste relations.
Since the vast majority of the Indian Muslims follow the Hanafi school, the opinions of
the classical Hanafi 'ulama on kafa'a continue to determine the attitudes of the Indian
'ulama on the question of caste and social hierarchy. Most Indian Hanafis seem to have
regarded caste (biraderi), understood here as hereditary occupational group, as an
essential factor in deciding kafa'a, and in this way have provided fiqh legitimacy to the
Few outsiders, it may be argued, are really aware of the extent to which “caste” prejudices also permeate and play a significant role in Indian Muslim society’s choice of a spouse. An Indian Hindu embracing Islam in India may not feel segregated; he may frequent at ease places of Muslim worship or public eating places, such as, tea-shops, restaurants, and markets, but when he as an ajlaf aspires to seek a bride belonging to an ashraf family, he would have to brave the similar taboos and constrictions inherent in his erstwhile Hindu community. Criteria for the selection of spouses has nominally been left to Qu’ranic – says Yoginder Sikand – authority: no barriers normally exist between those exhibiting equally fervent degrees of piety (taqwa) and faith (iman), the invariable levellers of social or castial obstacles, but, apparently, in Indian Muslim society these criteria do not necessarily apply. Sikand cites various authorities and in particular the fourteenth-century Turkish scholar Ziauddin Barani at
Yoginder Sikand goes on to interview Rajasekhar, the editor of Dalit Voice, a fortnightly published from Bangalore, and once again, we are regaled to an extremely informative exposé of divergent attitudes typical of Indian Hindu social and political outlooks. We see to what extent Dalits (literally “the oppressed”, the under-privileged castes of India whom Gandhiji served and consequently liberated, offering them an incomparable “voice” in his own person and whom he humbly referred to as Harijans – the “Children of God”) have need for intellectually-devised strategies in order to survive and/or to preserve their constitutionally guaranteed inalienable rights in India today.
Associate Professor D. K. Verma, Head of the Division of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes & OBC Development at the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar National Institute of Social Sciences in Dr. Ambedkar Nagar (Mhow), provides here an explanation of two terms he has coined to describe the situation of affirmed status of Dalits and social devolution in presentday Indian society. Unlike innate tendencies prevalent among diverse social groups and castes in pre-Independent India when the norm was to cling to one’s own ascribed caste status, especially among the so-called higher castes, in particular, among the Brahmins, Kshastriyas, and Vaishyas, ever since the 1950-Constitution (which was largely authored and supervised by Dr. Ambedkar, himself arising from a so-called out-caste group) which advocated “positive discrimination” towards the so-called lower castes and other tribal or depressed classes, the traditionally privileged so-called upper castes now aspire to be classed as individuals or groups deserving of “positive discrimination” in order to be able to enjoy those privileges reserved for the Dalits. Says Dr. Verma:
or group(s) who/which is/are positively discriminated
against by the state acquire an affirmed
status which give them access to special opportunities.
Thus, in Indian society, the state is taking over the role of the caste to provide affiliation to a certain status and that given status by the state is Affirmed Status.
The explanation for the (reverse) process for social mobility of higher caste groups downwards and their struggle for achieving a status of being a positively discriminated group, though not becoming thereby a part of a group which is socio-economically and/or educationally backward or a part of the untouchable group may be circumscribed by conceptualising the process as an attempt at social devolution.”
Carnatic (South Indian) Music (Karnâtaka sangitam)
Roughly put, Indian musical systems began to bifurcate at the beginning of the Moghul invasions into Northern Indian and Southern Indian schools or systems. South Indian music, better known as Carnatic music – that is, the system of music developed along the Carnatic Coast, along the southeast end of the Indian peninsula which includes mainly the state of Tamil Nadu ( literally “Tamil Country”) and Andhra Pradesh ( the land of the Telegus to the north of Tamil Nadu) [including of course the states of Karnataka and Kerala to the west] – has always been the province of certain families or clans, especially to be found among the so-called upper castes.
The best in the tradition has been preserved by certain Brahmin families, and it isn’t unusual for every Brahmin family to count upon its daughters to be exponents of the art, an art imparted by masters from early childhood, just as Bharatha Natyam, the local classical dance, forms part of the education of most so-called upper caste Tamil families. The tradition requires that both vocal and instrumental training be part of the educational background of these elite members of Tamil society.
On January 6, 1936, Rukmini Devi, a 32-year
old Brahmin - who earlier at 16 married an Englishman, George Sydney Arundale who was then in
his mid-thirties and who was the founder of the Central Hindu College at Varanasi - founded the “Arts Academy”, later to become the
Kalakshetra College of Fine Arts in Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai, arbored
in literally idyllic but Spartan surroundings. The best masters congregated
there under Miss Devi’s leadership to develop,
promote, and impart their specialties, and students arrived from far and wide
to benefit from the available expertise. Long before she passed away at the age
of 82 in1986, she had already succeeded in converting the college into the
finest and most renowned centre of tuition and propagation for the arts of
dance, music, painting, and crafts, such as, tapestry designing and handloom
weaving. It was therefore hardly surprising that when Morarji
Desai, as Prime Minister in 1977, proposed her consecration as the President of
India, she couldn’t find it in herself to accept the highest office in the
Republic at the cost of relegating her “muse” to the rough-and-tumble world of
politics. [Source: The Hindu,
Graduates from Kalakshetra performed to packed houses everywhere they went, but the snag was they had to be “natives” or mainly of Brahmin or so-called upper-caste Dravidian origin. Ludwig Pesch, a German aficionado of Carnatic music, went to Kalakshetra on an exchange scholarship and stayed there for seven years. He obtained a First Class diploma in Carnatic music after five years and then spent two more years at Kalakshetra specialising as a flautist.
“ For 15 years, he was a pupil of the late Ramachandra Shastry, musical heir to the great traditions of Tyagaraja and Sarabha Sastrigal.” [ See Contributors ]
With time Ludwig Pesch overcame such prejudice,
Ludwig Pesch’s deep, and almost reverential, appreciation and understanding of Carnatic music compels him to accord the system certain qualities which smack dithyrambic:
“Their music has conveyed a sense of subtle communication with another dimension
of human existence if not divinity. I need not reiterate the philosophical and spiritual
concepts underlying the best of Carnatic music.”
Despite his obvious preference for and acknowledgement of the system’s distinctive musical features, Ludwig Pesch does not look at the virtues of Carnatic music through rose-coloured glasses. He goes beyond to the deep-seated origins in the human psyche to locate similarities – and a common fount - in all seriously developed and constituted systems of music anywhere in the world. And it would appear, he tries to achieve this enhanced and sublime sense of human-hood with each effort at performing on his pullaangkulal, the South Indian flute, fashioned from a piece of bamboo the length of a forearm bone.
It is significant that both the
obituaries pertain to doctors who have contributed fundamentally to the
development of their art. It is equally significant that whereas one, a
distinguished Frenchman was an aficionado
of things Tamil or Dravidian, the other a Tamil of Jaffnese
or Sri Lankan origin who had served out his entire professional life in a
virtually Chinese Republic looked to the West for his inspiration. Professor S. Shanmugharatnam
( Contributors )
grew up in
Professor Jean Lapresle, as his protégée Professor Marie-Germaine Bousser prefers
to designate, was the last of the great neurologists
and/or neuro-pathologists. Today, apparently, the
specialties have gone their separate ways. As the write-up and poem in his
honour indicate, his passing deserves to be recorded in any journal
By contrast, Professor S. Shan Ratnam, nurtured and
drenched in the Western medical tradition, had his sights always trained Westward. He single-mindedly pursued his goals of being a
consummate surgeon and research scientist. “Shan”
or “SS” as he was endearingly known was imbued from a very early age with
something of the “missionary zeal”. As a third-year medical student at
Professor Dermot H. Killingley in a very moving recall of his dearly-departed poet and linguist wife, exactly two months ago, has very carefully put together the “last (unpublished) poems” by Siew-Yue. I can do no better than to give here again her poem: “Ash Wednesday Revisited”, composed last Easter Eve, and let readers savour the moment. The poem also introduces the reader to the kind of religious concerns she was involved in, besides providing a convenient reference to her own generally-constant poetic voice, while pointing to the forms, style, and sentiments which went into fashioning her art; one might recognise, despite her Malaysian upbringing, the influences she was subject to: they were largely Western.
Ash Wednesday Revisited
So words move, as music moves
In unexpected rhythms of rainbow sound
While blinding the heart to all murmurs
Of faithlessness as well as love,
And as the cold pulse of my calling
Confines my soul to strict regulation,
It has freed my hopeless heart
From knocking on the door of death
Of love to catch a glance of kingfisher's wings.
So out of this ever-darkening moment
When my soul is diminished with Christ
Entombed, let Noah's rainbow arise and sing,
Illuminating 0 death, where is thy sting?
And fall on Grave, where is thy victory?
distinguished linguist from
She met and married Killingley as a student at
In this issue, two chapters from novels make their appearance. The Asianists’ Asia wishes to make it known with these extracts from novels how much it hopes to expand its pages in this direction. Both fiction and faction are most welcome.
One extract, “Tie-Dyed in Blood” by Professor Hall Gardner (Contributors)
occupies itself with
The risks are nevertheless
momentous. The hallowed art of the “novel” in the hands of illustrious greats,
such as, Murasaki Shikibo, Boccacio,
Rabelais, Wu Cheng-en, Cervantes, and Voltaire – to mention just a few en passim - should normally and by
rights weather the critical tsunami(s) of prize-giving committees. The tastes of the
A Malaysian poet, Dr. M. Shanmughalingam
Says Shan: ‘He asked us to write haiku using the word “green” and starting with the eyes of a child.’ The first five were produced at the workshop, and the last two off-shop.
The other chapter, the concluding chapter of the novel “The Night Soil Man”, published on-line ( http://stateless.freehosting.net/menupage.htm ), though set in London, happens to be the culmination of an action begun in Malaysia, and the “players” (the central action of the novel devolves around a national Hindu conference in Kuala Lumpur) and the theme relate quite intimately to India or for that matter to any South Asian nation in the process of severing ties with the domineering colonial authority. If I might be allowed a comment, the satirical tone of the novel serves to exhort against all forms of social – racial, ethnic or castial – and political and/or religious discriminations.
Curiously, whereas in India the
former socially “under-privileged” castes have turned out to be or have shown
signs of wanting to be high achievers, the constitutionally protected bumiputra(s) display all the characteristics of
having been raised as “spoilt children” or as “les fils ou filles du papa”, who, as
great officially-subsidised spenders, in a tight fix throw tantrums, refuse
competition, seek the easy way out, and resort to blind authority to quell
opposition. (Witness the British-instituted
no-trial detention laws still in effective use in
Postscriptum: The UNESCO most kindly sent the AA the following book for review:
Oscar Salemink, Ed.
I’m looking for an academic with the requisite competence to review the book for AA.
T. Wignesan, Paris, August 5 – December 28, 2004
Edited, Composed & Published in
By T. Wignesan
for Centre de Recherches sur les Etudes Asiatiques,
B. P. 90145,
94004 Créteil Cedex,
On August 5, 2004
© T. Wignesan 2004
Association n° 0941011951