T. Wignesan


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 Asia.


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 in a land of Lilliput. He was not affected in the least by what other people said or did not say."


 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 America then for having recognised and provided the means for this potential genius-in-the-making to shine out on his own and to expand human knowledge of the intra-stellar environment of which we are an integral part. Astrophysicists in particular owe Professor Chandrasekhar a greater debt in that they are weaned on his work from an early age and which serves them well in their own separate flights to further heights.




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 the Centre for Studies on Indian Muslims at Hamdard University, New Delhi. Now, he’s already in the process of converting the CSIS into certainly the foremost research  resource repository in a nebenfach which remained neglected – or dispersed - up to the present.   


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 India as patriots, a domain that should normally be considered taboo given the fleur de peau sensibilities of right-wing majority Hindus in the sub-continent. Then in “Caste in Indian Muslim Society” he takes on the elaboration of the concept of kafa’a (the rules inherent in Muslim marriage across “castes” or “classes”, that is, between the fair-skinned ashraf or privileged ruling or moneyed class and the ajlaf, the so-called dark-skinned lower caste converts from Hinduism or those the Qu’ran is supposed to have ostracised and relegated to a subservient status, such as, weavers and barbers), through the analysis of the fiqh (Muslim jurisprudence) and other authorities. To cite Sikand:


         “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  

         notion of caste.”

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
Delhi and the contemporary Muslim scholar Maulana ‘Abdul Hamid Nu’mani in his assessment of kafa’a.


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:


        Individuals 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 universally-appreciated  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, Chennai, India]


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, especially in Europe, through the demonstration of his special know-how and talents in the field. He even brought out with T.R. Sundaresan’s collaboration in the rhythmic sections an excellent reference work on Carnatic music, entitled: The Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music, published by Oxford University Press. Sundaresan is the professor of percussion instruments at Kalakshetra. [Please see extracts of reviews under “Contributors”.] Today, he performs and lectures both in Europe and America and remains one of the foremost exponents of the art of Carnatic music anywhere. 


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 Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, though then a protected Malay state under the British Crown. His accomplishments in the domain of in vitrio fertilisation and sex-change operations have become household knowledge in many parts of the Asian continent.


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 specialising on Asia. I have never known anyone in the Western world who truly nurtured and expressed a genuine feeling of appreciation, mixed with nostalgia, for the Dravidian world.


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 Colombo University, in 1950-51, when I visited him at his Wellawatte beach house which he shared with other medical students, he confided in me that his one singular goal in life was to set up a clinic which would dispense free treatment to the poor and the destitute. Oddly enough, when I was invited to share his flat for a couple of days in Singapore, in 1994, he could not recall having expressed such a wish. But this was not the only youthful memory then which eluded him. After a full-throttle life devoted to scientific and surgical prowess, he told me how he found himself more and more compelled to fall back upon his own spiritual roots. He said he spent a couple of hours a day in deep personal meditation to this effect.



A tribute


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


Easter Eve, 10th April 2004


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?


       A distinguished linguist from Kuala Lumpur, Siew-Yue grew up in a family nurtured in the Chinese classics. She began writing short stories in English while still at school, according to her husband. “Everythings’s Arranged” and “A Question of Dowry”, published in Twenty-Two Malaysian Stories in 1968, brought her immediate recognition and probably goaded her on to cultivate a literary career alongside her professional teaching and research duties and commitments. Her later writing leans heavily, and nostalgically, in the direction of her fervent spiritual existence: she was baptised at 20.


       She met and married Killingley as a student at the University of Malaya where the latter taught Sanskrit at the Indian Studies Department, then headed by the Rev. Thaninayagam from Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Killingley first went to Malaya in 1954 as a national serviceman during the Emergency Period (1948 – 60). He studied Sanskrit at Oxford. Siew-Yue obtained her Ph.D. from the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies at London University. After six and half years in Kuala Lumpur, Killingley, and Siew-Yue, moved to Newcastle where they have been teaching ever since.   





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 China and the Chinese past, as far as I’m able to make out the general intent from what I have read. I must say, however, that I’ve not read the novel, barring the early chapters which the author most kindly placed in my hands, and I’m publishing Chapter XV as the author’s own choice. His résumé preceding the chapter should therefore give the reader some idea of the whole and the rest to come. I gather it’s a “novel” in progress. If I might be able to make a comment – a comment I made to the author himself – the few chapters I had been spared by the author give me the feeling they resemble in some respects, that is, in their manner, intent, and even concern, Nobel Laureate Gao Xing-jian’s Soul Mountain. Since even the Nobel Literature Committee favours this structural form for the novel, I suppose readers will understand and appreciate the trends contemporary literature is bound to take.


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 Royal Swedish Academy, it would appear, seem exempt from the rigours of the aforementioned tradition that dedicated writers have imposed upon themselves. If the present trends in the novel are maintained, it would seem quite probable, any John Nash, for instance, could string together and jumble up mathematical formulae and run away with any literary prize in time to come. Let’s face it, today the novel is a hold-all: autobiography, travelogue, history, ethnology, politics – anything really goes into it and anything no doubt can pass for it, so long as a few prize-givers take it upon themselves to decide for the rest of the world.                                                                                                                      


A Malaysian poet, Dr. M. Shanmughalingam ( Contributors ), an Oxford and Harvard-trained economist who had occupied some key government posts and played a salutary role in the country’s economic life, now in semi-retirement as a businessman turns his energies to building for himself a literary career. Here he is represented by seven haiku, products of an afternoon in the “Haiku Workshop” conducted by Kyoji Kobayashi, master of the art and professor of literature at Senshu University, during the bi-annual international “Lit-Fest” organised by SilverFishBooks, a local bookseller-cum-publisher in Kuala Lumpur, early in August.


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 ( ), 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.


Malaysia, to my knowledge ( Contributors ), is the only country in the world which continues to favour and uphold through the full weight of the law such a deplorably divisive human situation. True, Indian society sustains such differences in almost all strata of its social and cultural day-to-day life, but, at least, since the valiant Gandhiji took up the cause of eradicating untouchability on the Indian sub-continent, independent India has enacted laws to preserve the rights of the so-called lower castes and tribes. These scheduled castes and tribes do not however wield “exclusive” power in India. The contrary is the case in Malaysia. By promulgating laws to promote and preserve Malay Muslim privileges, successive authorities in the Malay peninsula have de facto segregated and perpetuated their own indigenous (bumiputra or “sons of the soil”) peoples as an intrinsically inferior and “untouchable” community.


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 Malaysia and Singapore.) The instances of such endemic and regressive behaviour are far too many to cite here. One might rightly ask if, in the ultimate analysis, it is a good thing to provide blanket protection  - indefinitely – even to those who appeared in the first place to be defenceless, easy prey to more aggressive and enterprising communities in their midst. In the meantime, since Independence, the Indian-Hindu community in Malaysia, numbering around a million, and whose representatives remain portrayed in the novel, has been reduced to dire straits.


Postscriptum: The UNESCO most kindly sent the AA the following book for review:


Oscar Salemink, Ed.  Viet Nam’s Cultural Diversity: Approaches to Preservation.

                          Paris: UNESCO, 2000.


I’m looking for an academic with the requisite competence to review the book for AA.



T. Wignesan, Paris, August 5 – December 28, 2004





“The AsianistsAsia”, Volume III (Paris), August-December 2004.


Edited, Composed & Published in Paris, France


           By T. Wignesan

                      for Centre de Recherches sur les Etudes Asiatiques,

                             B. P. 90145,

                             94004 Créteil Cedex,



         On August 5, 2004


         © T. Wignesan 2004


         ISSN 1298-0358

         Association n° 0941011951