Tag Archives: India

Lebanese food: September 14th and the Feast of the Holy Cross in Ein Zebde, Shouf

15 Sep

Ein-Zebde-Peach-FieldsEin Zebde peach orchards

This is one of those photos that shore up all literary descriptions you’ve ever read of Lebanon as the land of milk and honey.

Because only that sort of blessed (but unfortunately cursed too) land could produce Lebanese food.  More than the landscape, the mountains, my personal emotional response to a still functioning society of Arab Christians, the post-nightmare joy that even a partly-Resurrected Beirut must offer, and more, even, than the boys — it’s the food that makes Lebanon one of the top entries on my list of must-visits.  The boldness of the Lebanese culinary imagination reflects such care for both the sensuality and sanctity of food that I can’t helped being moved by just reading descriptions of it.  China, India and France (mmm…yeah, ok, Iran too) are the only places that can compete, I think, with this tiny little corner of the Mediterranean in sheer kitchen creativity.

Mansoufe (below), for example: made of pumpkin-and-bulgur balls, cooked with caramelized onions and flavored with sour grape juice.  Where else would people even think of this?  (Though I think “dumplings” or something might have been a better word; “balls” makes it sound like pumpkins have testicles.)

Mansoufe

But just like there’s not really any French food without the produce of France itself, and like I’ve come to believe what most South Asian friends think: that there’s no good regional Indian food outside of India, just Punjabi versions of dumb-downed Doabi-Mughlai food cooked by Sylhetis (though I know two good Bengali places in New York, one in Sunnyside, where you have to convince them you want the real stuff, and one in the Bronx, and an even better secret, a great Sindhi vegetarian place in Jackson Heights…Indian vegetarian is the only vegetarian food I’ll eat, actually the only vegetarian food I’ll honor by calling “food”), so, it seems, that if you want something other than stale felafel or inedible tabbouleh made by a dude who had too many lemons he needed to get rid of and who needs to be told that parsley isn’t a vegetable, then you need to go to Lebanon.

In steps the Food Heritage Foundation to help you get your bearings food-wise once you’ve gotten yourself to Lebanon: a great resource for anything you might want to know about Lebanese cuisine.  Yesterday they posted photos of the Ein Zebde (the Shouf village with the peach orchards at top) celebration of the Feast of the Holy Cross, and the annual potato-kibbe-making event the women there have held for the past twenty-four years.  Check out the page for captions on the pics below:

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Yesterday I tweeted my kudos to the Food Heritage Foundation (above).  But actually it would have been impossible to hide the fact this is a Maronite community even had they wanted to.  Even if they felt they didn’t have to explain why the women were doing this, the women’s hair and bare arms would have been a giveaway.

Still, I’m just saying this because if certain people like Mlle I___m de M_____i had their way both the entire staff of the Food Heritage Foundation and I would’ve been thrown in jail for fomenting sectarianism, publicly shamed for being Islamophobic and made to wear a Green “I”, and the Ein Zebde post would have had to be mysteriously cleansed of its Christianess.

The feast of the Holy Cross — I doubt any Catholics remember or even know — commemorates the discovery by the Empress Mother Helen of the Holy Cross on which Christ was crucified, of which Mark Twain famously said there were so many splinters of everywhere that it was apparently a Holy Forest.  She was the mother of Constantine, the emperor who moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to the city on the Bosporus called Byzantion, renamed Constantinople (that’s İstanbul for those that don’t know), and who, like a good mother-ridden Greek boy (though he was really from what’s now Niš in in what’s now southern Serbia), unfortunately made what-a-monotheist-drag Christianity the official religion of the Empire to make her happy; though also like a good Greek boy he passive-aggressively wasn’t himself baptized till he was on his death-bed.  The discovery of the Cross and the feast of Sts. Constantine and Helen, “the Equal-to-the-Apostles”, on May 21st, when Athens is paralyzed by traffic for three days because a quarter of the city is named Kosta or Helene and another half is going to visit them for their name-day, is usually commemorated in the Orthodox Church by the same image:

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But for more fun, more lyrical descriptions of Lebanese food, mixed up with some serious butch conflict-zone reporting and a hilarious Middle Eastern mother-daughter-in-law relationship, see Annia Ciezadlo’s beautiful Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War.

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

Modi criticism mounts: from the Guardian’s Michael Safi

8 Sep

Narendra Modi criticised over Twitter links to abuse of shot journalist

Indian PM follows accounts that appeared to celebrate Gauri Lankesh’s death, but his party says criticism is ‘mischievous’

A protest in Delhi over the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh
A protest in Delhi over the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

India’s ruling party has defended Narendra Modi’s use of Twitter after a number of users followed by the Indian prime minister appeared to celebrate the fatal shooting of a journalist this week.

Leaders from across Indian politics have condemned the murder of Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead outside her home in Bengaluru on Tuesday, but a number of Modi supporters appeared to attempt to justify the killing.

One commented: “You reap what you sow.” Another wrote in Hindi: “A bitch died a dog’s death and all of her litter is crying in the same voice.”

Modi, who operates his own Twitter account and follows 1,779 others, has been criticised for continuing to follow accounts that have levelled abuse at Lankesh. He has yet to comment on the killing.

The head of his BJP party’s information unit, Amit Malviya, said the prime minister followed “normal people” and described the controversy as “mischievous and contorted”.

“PM following someone is not a character certificate of a person and is not in any way a guarantee of how a person would conduct himself,” he said in a statement. “[Modi] follows normal people and frequently interacts with them on various issues. He is a rare leader who truly believes in freedom of speech and has never blocked or unfollowed anyone on Twitter.”

Modi is regularly criticised for following users who post offensive content. In July 2015 he invited 150 social media users to his residence for a meet-and-greet, among them Twitter users who had used sexual slurs and levelled other abuse against women.

Malviya said Modi was frequently attacked for the actions of his supporters while abuse by backers of opposition political leaders was ignored. “This debate is not only farcical and fake, but also an exhibit of selective right to freedom of expression,” he said.

India’s information technology minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, condemned the online abuse of Lankesh, tweeting that he “deplore[d] the messages on social media expressing happiness on the dastardly murder”.

Separately, Delhi police have filed a case against a Facebook user who published a “hit list” of journalists, activists and authors including the Man Booker prize-winner Arundhati Roy.

Police have sought the IP details of the user, who identified himself as Vikramaditya Rana, after he made a series of posts including one saying Lankesh’s killing “serves her and her kind right for the damages these so-called journos have caused our nation”.

Lankesh, whose murder is being examined by a specially appointed investigative team, had previously voiced concern about the “rabid hate” that she was subjected to online.

In her speeches and writing, Lankesh, 55, frequently criticised the Hindu nationalist ideology associated with the BJP and worked to rehabilitate guerrillas involved in the country’s five-decade-long Maoist insurgency.

Though police have not commented on the motive for her killing, friends, lawyers and colleagues of the journalist as well as some members of the BJP have speculated that it was in retribution for her work.

On Thursday the hashtag #BlockNarendraModi was used as part of a campaign to block the leader’s account and highlight the abuse that many prominent Indians, particularly women, say has become endemic online.

One prominent journalist, Barkha Dutt, wrote in the Hindustan Times this year that trolling “has become part of my daily life”. “I don’t even notice it any more; that’s how dangerously inured I have become to the gross innuendo and violent and sexually explicit abuse that is heaped on so many women,” she said.

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The West’s Neoliberal South Asian darling (and for me a personified insult to Hinduism)…

7 Sep

…finally gets something of the riot act read to him by the Times:

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has let a climate of mob rule flourish in India, with his right-wing Hindu supporters vilifying “secularists.” The venom that reactionary social media trolls direct at journalists, or “presstitutes” as they call them, is especially vicious, but not entirely new. At least 27 Indian journalists have been killed since 1992 “in direct retaliation for their work,” according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Only one of the killers has been convicted.”

Gauri protest 07thu2web-superJumboPeople protesting and mourning the killing of the Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh in New Delhi, on Wednesday. Credit Tsering Topgyal/Associated Press

And yet even the Times, even in an editorial against the increasing violence of Hindutva nationalism, kowtows and calls it Bengaluru instead of Bangalore.  I think this is the first time I’ve seen that in print.

See my: Names: “Istanbul (not Constantinople)”…and Bombay!“:

“The most unfortunate and vulgar change of all is “Mumbai,” but almost no one knows or cares about how that change happened.  It was once generally accepted that Bombay comes from the Portuguese “bom bahim,” or good little harbour, just north as it is from Portugal’s long-time colony of Goa.  But even if that etymology is bogus, it was under the name Bombay that it flourished and grew under the British into the most important and cosmopolitan city in South Asia.

Bombay

“But in 1995, the Shiv Sena party (the Army of Shiva…) won control of the state government of Maharashtra, of which Bombay is a part, though it’s so different in social and ethnic make-up from the rest of that state that it deserves a separate federal district type status like Delhi has, or Mexico City, or D.C.  Shiv Sena, being a party whose power base is rural Maharashtra and poor migrant Marathis who feel they deserve more power in the city, is actively hostile to Bombay’s dizzying diversity and especially its large Muslim population.  It’s essentially a Marathi branch of the BJP, only worse (and they haven’t been getting along lately): a virulently Hindutva bunch that have not only been found to be involved in Bombay’s drug, prostitution and extortion circles, but ordered and even carried out much of the more vicious anti-Muslim attacks during the Bombay riots of 1992-93: the kerosene-dousing and burning of individuals and the burning tire around the victims’s neck were a couple of their trademarks.

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“When, despite all that, Shiv Sena were voted into state office in Maharashtra, their response to the poverty, massive infrastructural challenges, crime and destitution of this barely manageable city of more than twenty million was to change its name to Mumbai.  This was based on the supposed fact that there was (or is, or if there hadn’t been, I’m sure there now is) a temple of a Marathi goddess of that name on the site before the colonial city rose up, which may or may not be true, but, given the fact that every square yard of India contains at least one shrine or temple to someone or something, doesn’t mean very much.

“And yet the whole world fell in line.  Thinking that, like Myanmar, if it’s coming from there it must have some sort of indigenous, authentic root, filled with post-colonial guilt and worried about offending what we thought were Indian sensibilities, we all dutifully started calling it Mumbai.  Fearing that using the old name would immediately make others imagine us to be jodhpur-clad gin-swillers, we let a bunch of criminal thugs and violent nationalists change the name Bombay — the name by which this great, open-to-the-sea-and-the-world, mercantile, diverse, cosmopolitan, sexy metropolis, a microcosm of India itself and its modern face to the world, was known for almost three centuries – and nobody asked why or breathed a word of resistance.

Bombay — Marine Drive — Queen’s Necklace

“So as for C-town, you choose which is more “nationalist.”  Calling the city the name by which it was known to most of humanity for more than sixteen centuries?  Calling it an also venerable name that the nationalist, anti-cosmopolitan, Turkification project of a military dictatorship whose attitude to the City, its legacy, history and population was actually hostile for much of the time decided the world should call it?  Or just calling it both?

Or how ‘bout who cares?  As long as we know which city we’re talking about.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

From the BBC: “Triple talaq: The women who fought instant divorce in India”

22 Aug

“India’s Supreme Court has ruled that the controversial practice of instant triple talaq practised among some Muslims in the country is unconstitutional.”

Is this a victory for women’s rights? or a BJP assault on Indian Muslims’ right to their own legal/judicial system?  You guys decide.

Watch the video:

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

From the Times: ‘At the Stroke of Midnight My Entire Family Was Displaced’

14 Aug
(Just going to lift this material in its entirety from The New York Times because it’s so beautiful and moving; it’s hard to find something of your own to say  — NB)

August marks the 70th anniversary of the end of British colonial rule in India and the creation of the two independent countries of India and Pakistan, carved along religious and political lines. More than 10 million people were uprooted. We asked readers how they or their families were affected. These are some of their stories.


The author’s mother, Rashida Begum, and father, Malik Fazal Haq, in photos taken around 10 years before partition. CreditCourtesy of Tariq Malik

‘Was he calling out for me?’

In 1947 I was 10. We lived in comfort in Jammu and Kashmir state.

We lost everything at the time of the creation of Pakistan. Things can be replaced, not lives.

My father, an intellectual and educationalist, was murdered. Eight of us crossed into Pakistan dressed in summer clothes and nothing else. Winter came and we had nothing to wear and no roof over our heads. By the following summer my feet had outgrown my shoes and I had to walk barefoot on scorching earth. My feet sometimes still feel that hot surface.

Even today I get nightmares about my father’s murder. As a physician I wonder how the end came. Was he in pain, was he cold, was he thirsty, was he calling out for me?

— Tariq Malik


Suman and Anand Khorana. Credit Dr. A. B. Khorana

‘My father recalled hiding in a Muslim family’s house’

My father, Anand B. Khorana, was about 10 years old at the time of partition. His father was a civil engineer and the whole family (my grandparents, father and his five siblings) had recently moved into a new home they built as a mark of their “middle-class” status. The oldest child, a daughter, had recently become engaged. The family had lived for generations in the state of Punjab and could not conceive of living any place else. As my late father told it, everyone had heard rumblings about the state being divided into a Pakistani half and an Indian half, but few thought it would happen imminently.

At the stroke of midnight my entire family was displaced. Their land and home were deemed to be on the Pakistani side and in a few days it was pretty clear that a Hindu family, regardless of their prior status, was in danger. I don’t know all the details but, unlike most families who decided to emigrate immediately (many losing their lives on the trains in the process), my father’s family went into hiding for a few months. My father recalled hiding in a Muslim family’s house (a former employee of my grandfather’s).

Eventually, things calmed down and the family made the trek to India and resettled, initially in Delhi in refugee quarters. My grandfather was able to find a job similar to his prior one. All of their property, including the house they had recently built, was lost but the family was grateful to have made it out alive — unlike so many others. The only person believed lost was the eldest daughter’s fiancé but, a year later, she spotted him at a train station in Delhi. They married and had several children.

— Alok A. Khorana


The Ghosh family, c. 1972. The author is in her father’s arms. CreditCourtesy of Madhushree Ghosh

‘We carried the heavy utensils, because we thought copper was more valuable than silver’

My parents were young when they walked from what’s now Bangladesh to India. Baba called East Pakistan “home” until he died in 2004. His family, landowners in Dhaka, fled with their belongings; copper utensils, large bowls, plates. He used to say, “We never needed anything, so we didn’t know the value of money. We carried the heavy utensils, because we thought copper was more valuable than silver. We were children, what were we to do?”

When Baba’s bank job moved him to New Delhi, he spent days recreating his childhood vegetable garden. Cabbage, cauliflower, peas, spinach, okra, we had it all. He used to say, “Our pumpkins were bigger than the sun!” and I would believe him. Everything in Bangladesh, the place he left, was better. The roses were more fragrant, the eggplants more purple, the fish were fresher — Delhi could never compete.

Ma was 12 when her family fled Barisal for Kolkata. They sold everything, including Ma’s favorite school books. She mourned those books until she died, in 2008. But she was proud that she hadn’t marked any of them with a pen or pencil. “They were pristine,” she would say, “so Thakur da could sell them at a premium. That money helped us escape.”

— Madhushree Ghosh


The author’s father and mother, c. 1960. CreditCourtesy of Peter Jones Jr.

‘My siblings and I have been effectively stateless’

My father’s family was part of the British colonial administration. During partition my father was in Pakistan attending school while the rest of his family was in Pune, India. As hostilities erupted between Hindus and Muslims, my father was cut off from his family. He couldn’t get British citizenship because most of his papers were lost during the upheaval. So, in the ’50s, he made his way to the United Arab Emirates by ship and started a family there.

My siblings and I have been effectively stateless. Although we are familiar with Indian and Pakistani culture, we belonged to neither culture. We grew up in the Middle East, in Dubai, among other Asians but could not identify with them.

— S. Jones


The author’s father and mother in the late ’40s/early ’50s.Credit

‘He would never forgive himself if anything happened to her’

When partition was announced, my father, who worked for the British Indian Government, was posted in Bombay. He was advised that as a Muslim he would have better career opportunities in Pakistan. He was asked to report to offices in Rawalpindi as soon as possible. He left and my mother, Rosy, who was 20, and their six-month-old daughter stayed behind until he could arrange for their accommodation. Because of the chaos he could not come back to get them, so he asked my mother to take a train to Lahore. On the train a Sikh gentleman noticed my mother alone with an infant and asked her where she was going. When she told him Lahore, he was shocked and told her about the massacres that were taking place on trains going to Pakistan — my mother and father hadn’t known.

He said he was traveling to Amritsar (30 miles from Lahore) but would accompany her to Wagah, a border town between India and Pakistan, because he would never forgive himself if anything happened to her. He told my mother that if anyone asked, she was his daughter. He thought her name, Rosy, was fine since it was secular. But my sister’s name, Shahina, was distinctly Muslim, so if anyone asked her name was Nina.

He stayed with them until Wagah and walked with them to the Pakistani border, kissed them both on their foreheads and told them he wished he could take them all the way to Lahore, but he would not make it back alive.

My sister, who lives in Karachi, is still called Nina by everyone in the family. My mother insisted on that.

— Sohail Murad


The author’s father, left, grandfather and grandmother, a few years after partition. CreditCourtesy of Kanwal Prakash Singh

‘We prayed as we imagined the worst. Almighty God had other plans.’

On Sept. 7, a bespectacled Sikh man, much like my father, was killed in town and a rumor spread that he had come to set fire to the local mosque.

The next day dislocated families from surrounding villages who had taken shelter in schoolyards, grain markets and other vulnerable locations were attacked. I can still hear the cries of people shot or stabbed outside the Gurdwara and the gunfire that began around 4 p.m., as the last train left the Jaranwala Railway Station, in Pakistan, and continued into the evening.

That night women and children were sheltering in a room on the second floor of the Gurdwara with instructions on what to do if the militia broke through the doors and entered the temple. The thought still gives me chills. The temperature outside was in the 90s Fahrenheit, but inside the heat was oppressive. Some men stayed on the main floor or on the rooftop lookout, armed with sticks, swords, a pistol and one double-barreled gun. We were certain our end was imminent. We prayed as we imagined the worst.

Almighty God had other plans. For the next three days we holed-up in the Gurdwara. Our ranks swelled with the addition of the injured who were able to escape. We heard rumors that we would be attacked on Sept. 12, after Friday prayers. But there was a knock at the giant door of the temple around 10 a.m. and four Sikh military officers ordered us to leave in ten minutes and said they would escort us to the caravan of refugees that was passing. Everyone scrambled and ran with the clothes on their backs, relieved and hopeful to live another day or die with others traveling toward the new border and sanctuary of India.

— Kanwal Prakash “KP” Singh


‘I was probably the first member of my family to visit the home since 1947’

My father was a refugee and a migrant. As his child I have lived a peripatetic life, but have always been able to maintain connections with my family in Pakistan. I lived in Aligarh while I was researching my dissertation and visited the home where my father and my grandmother were born. I met the son of the family who had migrated from Lahore and received the home as refugee property (though he had been born later, in independent India). I was probably the first member of my family to visit the home since 1947 and met people who remembered my family, who were known for their love of rooftop kite flying. The family who lives there now sent homemade sweets for me to take to my Pakistani family.

— Amber Abbas


My parents with me in Calcutta at my Mundan ceremony, c. 1954. 

‘He spent days carrying two Muslims from the East to the West’

My mother’s younger brother lived in Jammu and must have been a lad of 15 at the time of the partition. He was aware of the mass violence around him, but he did not take up arms and perpetuate the violence. He was a strong swimmer, and he spent days carrying two Muslims from the East to the West and then two Hindus from the West to the East on his shoulders — back and forth. My uncle’s story reminds me that people can stop the cycle of violence.

— Ripudaman Malhotra


The author’s father, left, and grandfather. CreditCourtesy of Ritesh Batra

‘It was not a national tragedy for him, but a very personal one’

My paternal grandfather and grandmother moved to Bombay during partition with their two little sons. I shared a room with my grandfather growing up and heard stories of how things were before and silences about what happened during. In his last year my grandfather would often weep about partition. It was not a national tragedy for him, but a very personal one.

My maternal grandfather moved to Lucknow in India at the height of the violence. They lost many cousins and relations, but the immediate family made it safely. He restarted an optical shop called Lahore Opticals, named after the city of his birth, and became successful. When Hindu-Muslim strife breaks out in India, the shop is invariably targeted. But my grandfather never changed the name. His shop is now run by my uncle and is still named after the city they fled, now in Pakistan.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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Ireland — Gimme a break; I can’t believe this is even up for discussion

13 Aug

26 plus 6 equals 1

Check out the Times article from a few days ago: “On Irish Border, Worries That ‘Brexit’ Will Undo a Hard-Won Peace“.

I was once dragged by force into a corner by a Lebanese friend at a party in Cambridge and told to never ask anyone Lebanese their religious affiliation, I guess because I probably just had done.  Of course, I still ask. Like I implied in my Turkish post a few days ago, pretend unity (that you’re a passionate Erdoğan supporter and I’m not, or if you’re Maronite and I’m third-generation Palestinian doesn’t mean that we can’t still be “unified”), can only become real unity if differences are acknowledged. (*1)

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I’ve had not dissimilar experiences with Irish folks if I’ve ever tried to talk about religion or Ulster or “the Troubles.”  I once asked a guy at an Irish bar in Queens who was from Northern Ireland if he was Catholic, and I got a blank and frankly angry stare in response, and with so much alcohol and testosterone in the mix, realized quickly I should shut up and look the other way or change the topic.  A female bartender who heard the one-sided exchange said to me softly: “not a good idea to ask people those things…”  Ok.

pPJAwhu n ireland religionMap of Northern Ireland with distribution of Protestants (red) and Catholics (green) according to age group, showing a clear demographic decline of Protestants.

I also hear Irish anger at what they think is an out of touch diaspora that funded continuing IRA violence when the Irish themselves on both sides were starting to get tired of the violence and the fences were starting to come down — though that’s slightly disingenuous — in the early days these diaspora funders were heroes — and, as a non-metropolitan Greek, immediately assuming that the “diaspora” is “out of touch” or stuck in a time warp is a seriously irritating train of thought; there’s lotsa ways we’re more in touch than you lot.

So I’m really setting myself up as an easy target since I’m not even Irish or Irish-American.  But I feel I can’t be silent as the English decide the future of any part of Ireland again.

I know that the Brexit vote came as a shock to a lot of Americans, as we were forced to confront the fact that the English are not all that smart, and can be as jingoistic, xenophobic, ignorant and proudly “know-nothing” as Americans can be.  And I say the English because Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against leaving the European Union — in Northern Ireland, particularly, in percentages that would indicate a large number of Protestants voted to stay as well — and they should now be free to decide their own fates free of London.

Sometimes I feel that my views on the ethnic nation-state and minorities come across as selective and sort of random to readers, so let me take this moment to clarify a bit.  I am, of course, against the brutal assimilationist policies of the nation-state and a supporter of minority language and cultural rights.  On the other hand, I’m also against a minority holding an entirely polity hostage because it refuses to conform with the conditions of living in a state where they don’t hold numerical superiority.

There’s a great and frustrating passage in Rebecca West‘s beautiful Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, where her Serbian (and half-Jewish) tour-guide is arguing with a Croatian intellectual in Zagreb; “but you are not loyal” says the Serb:

Croat: You treat us badly.  How can we be loyal?

Serb:  You’re treated badly because you’re not loyal.

Croat:  How can we be loyal if we are treated badly?

Serb:  If you were loyal, you wouldn’t be treated badly.

Croat:  When you treat us better, we’ll be loyal.

Serb:  As long as you’re not loyal you can’t expect to be treated better.

And on and on and on…

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(Rebecca West, who along with disconcertingly smart and honest, was clearly a real babe as well — broke a lot of hearts and refused to forgive when hers was…cool.  As Lauren Cooper would say: “Forgiving is for l-o-o-o-o-z-u-u-h-h-z-z!!!”)

Of course, we saw, during WWII, just after West’s second trip, and then again by the end of the last century, that Croatians had no intention of being loyal to Yugoslavia no matter how much bending-over-backwards to ‘treat them better’ Belgrade did.

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Or take Catalans again, in a state where as a minority they are treated exceptionally well.  Still, with full language and cultural rights, they feel Madrid is oppressing them and they want full independence, threatening to rip apart the fabric of a country that has made impressive democratic achievements over the past few decades.  And those of you who bought the public relations crap about how “hip, cool and Mediterranean” Catalonia is, and who spend your tourist money in Barcelona and the Balearics have only contributed to the discriminatory tendencies of Catalan chauvinism and the worsening crisis of Catalan separatism.  Try Galicia or the Basque Country if you want to see parts of Spain that are not part of the Castilian center, but where ethno-linguistic difference has made its peace with the Spanish state and society has agreed to co-existence.  Or if they’re too rainy and un-Mediterranean for you, go to Córdoba and Granada (skip Seville, too Catholic and bull-obsessed), poorer parts of the country that need your money and where you can buy the public relations spin of Edward Said instead, who once outrageously made the claim that 60% of Spanish vocabulary is of Arabic origin, (or maybe the spin of Al Qaeda and ISIS) and wallow in Al-Andalus nostalgia.

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Spain4 autonomous regions

Even more and very closer to home: my father’s Greek minority village of Derviçiani in southern Albania.  My early-days romance with the village is kinna over and I feel free to express things that I’m angry at myself for not saying to the faces of people there earlier.

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I’d love to ask: what the f*ck do you want exactly?  They have Greek primary and secondary education; they have Greek churches (a Church about which few of them know anything or take seriously in any way, or have bothered to learn about in order to address the consequences of four decades of enforced atheism, but they have them); the Albanian Orthodox Church itself — meaning not just Greek minority churches, but the Church of Orthodox Albanians — in fact, is headed, run and staffed by Greeks, (extremely enlightened ones, I have to admit), the way the Arab Orthodox Churches of the Levant were for so many centuries; they have, I believe, two political parties that have members who sit in the Albanian parliament.  If their villages are experiencing slow to rapid depopulation, it’s not the fault of Albanians or Tiranë; they were simply trapped — Greeks and Albanians together — in a Stalinist cage for fifty years and now are free to leave: the villages of Greek Epiros started hemorrhaging inhabitants soon after WWII, and neighboring Albanian villages, both Christian and Muslim, are also emptying of young people.  Still, they’re hostile to neighboring Albanians; still, they want autonomy for “Northern Epiros,” which for some of them stretches half-way up to the middle of Albania (I don’t care if “the stones speak Greek all the way to Dyrracheio/Durrës” — The. People. Who. Live. There. Now. Don’t. And don’t want to be part of a Greek autonomous region. 2**); still, they make Muslim girls get baptized if they want to marry any of their precious boys, μη χέσω (thank God Albanians still wear their Islam kind of lightly or these poor girls would be in serious trouble) and will ostracize any Christian daughter or sister who falls in love with and marries a Muslim; still, they get offended, even a hip, British-educated nephew does, if you visit the pleasant, well-watered, historical Muslim village of Libohovo — Albanian Libohovë — across the valley and you come back and say it was very nice and that the young people there don’t seem much different than ours.  Of course, this attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the conversation from Black Lamb… above indicates, so that when you put up the flag of Autonomous Northern Epiros 1914 on August 15th and the Albanian police has to come and take it down, then you’ll just end up on the bad side of the Albanian authorities and ordinary Albanians’ retaliatory instinct and the vicious cycle will just keep going.

neolaia derbitsanis flagA flag of the Youth of Derviçiani, which, just by wild and completely invented coincidence, happens to have been “founded” in 1914, the year there was a short-lived experiment in Northern Epirote autonomy, which was squashed by Italian objections, because Italy considered Albania within its sphere of influence.  Obviously not a sign of just the “youth” of the village — there was no Youth of Derviçani in 1914.  And if there are still any doubts, the Palaelogan double-headed eagle lays them to rest.

(Really, is there anything as idiotic as a flag?)

But back to Ireland.  I think Ulster Protestants caused enough “troubles” by acting — with the hypocritical support of England — like they were a besieged minority that couldn’t be part of the Irish Republic.  So if a majority of Northern Irish voters chose to exit the Brexit, that’s a golden opportunity just dropped out of the heavens into our laps to correct an egregious historical wrong.  The invasion and conquest of Ireland, its depopulation and the ripping to shreds of its society, culture and language did not start with the Potato Famine of the nineteenth century.  It started with the Normans and the Plantagenets, and then the Tudors and the Stuarts and, finally, Cromwell and his Taliban, and it was a grueling, vicious, murderous process, as violent, or more, as any of Britain’s other colonial wars and right on Europe’s front door, and the Plantation of Ulster itself and the rest of Ireland was a conscious colonial policy of appropriating land and settling poor Protestant Scots and northern Englishmen in the country in order to “civilize” it and break Irish resistance to English hegemony.

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If the above maps seem to indicate that a large number of Protestants left the Irish Republic in the twentieth century because they didn’t feel comfortable without the English crown’s protection, that’s unfortunate (it was not so unfortunate in cases where the Anglo-Irish elite felt they had to flee when their expropriated land was re-expropriated) but that can’t be a justification for the continued amputation of the country.

It’s a classic strategic move, though.  Ulster Protestants are not a socioeconomic group comparable to the Anglo-Irish landowners; they were always as squire-ridden as their Catholic neighbors and are still pretty much on equal footing in that sense.

But everybody has to be better than somebody, or else you’re nobody.  So, just like Catalans have to think they’re really Mare-Nostrum-Provençal Iberians (3 ***) and not part of reactionary Black Legend Spain; or Neo-Greeks have to think that they’re better than their Balkan neighbors (especially Albanian “Turks”) because they think they’re the descendants of those Greeks; or the largely lower-middle class, Low Church Anglican or Presbyterian or Methodist Brits who fled their socioeconomic status back home and went out to India in the nineteenth century in order to be somebody, had to destroy the socially laissez-faire modus vivendi that had existed there between Company white-folk and Indians, creating an apartheid and religiously intolerant, aggressively evangelizing, social system that laid the groundwork for the unbelievable blood-letting of the Indian Rebellion of 1857; or, perhaps history’s greatest example, poor whites in the American South (many, ironically, of Northern Irish Protestant origin) that had to terrorize Black freedmen back into their “place” because the one thing they had over them in the old South’s socioeconomic order, that they weren’t slaves, had been snatched away (and one swift look at the c-ontemporary American political scene shows clear as day indications that they’re, essentially, STILL angry at that demotion in status); or French Algerians couldn’t stomach the idea of living in an independent Algeria where they would be on equal footing with Arab or Berber Algerians.  So Protestant Ulstermen couldn’t tolerate being part of an independent state with these Catholic savages.

White Mughals Dalrymple

Freedman_bureau_harpers_cartoonA Bureau agent stands between armed groups of whites and Freedmen in this 1868 sketch from Harper’s Weekly.

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Recent White supremacist rally at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville — thanks to @JuliusGoat: “Imagine if these people ever faced actual oppression.”

The colonial power — or just the colonized mind — then disingenuously but actively seeks to right these wrongs and protect the embattled minority.  The results?  A Lebanon torn apart by Maronite phobias and Palestinian victim-entitlement; the greatest threat to Spanish democracy since Franco; a Greece completely isolated from its nearest and closest — in every sense — neighbors; an India where British response to the Rebellion effectively disenfranchised Indian Muslims (4 ****) — Dalrymple shrewdly locates one of the beginnings of modern Islamic fundamentalism in that disenfranchisement and the Deobandi Islam it created 5 *****; the Ku Klux Clan and the murder of Emmett Till and Donald Trump; the vicious Algerian War of Independence, which resulted in French Algerians having to flee the country entirely to a France where they’re still a bulwark of reaction and racism, and the still bad blood between Algerian immigrants and natives in that country.

(I thought about adding Cyprus to that list, that’s going on forty-some years of division after the 1974 Turkish invasion, but didn’t, because Turkish Cypriots actually were an embattled minority, and Greek Cypriots have to do some moral self-searching about their terrorizing, or passively supporting the terrorizing, of their Turkish neighbors, before they blame either Turkey or the Greek junta for f*cking things up for them.)

I was against the Scottish independence referendum of a few years ago because I’m against separation and the putting up of borders generally.  But then the apparently stoned British electorate went and separated itself from the rest of Europe, and if Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales even, or Cornwall or the Isle of Manx or Jersey and Guernsey for that matter, want independence from England now, England will have only brought that down on its own head.  If Northern Ireland votes to stay in the European Union then de facto reunion with the Republic will have occurred; I would just like de jure recognition of that facto too, so that there’s no more excuse for meddling in Irish affairs.  Irishmen have done a lot of genuinely hard work confronting the demons of their own past in recent years; today’s Ireland is a democratic, pluralist, morally progressive society where the Catholic Church’s death-grip has been broken.  That Ulster Protestants can’t live there in peace and security and without English protection is a ludicrous idea.

So let it happen, and if Ulstermen don’t like it — sorry to sound like a reactionary nativist — but they’re free to go back to Scotland where they came from.  Or if they want they can come here and join their distant cousins in Kentucky and the Ozarks.  I’m sure President Trump will consider them the “right” kind of immigrants.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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1 * It’s a little reductive, but I think it’s not outrageously so to see the Lebanese Civil War as essentially, or initially,  a conflict between Maronite demographic panic and paranoia (not entirely unjustified) and Palestinian entitlement of the oppressed (even more justified); every other group seems to then have had no choice but to choose sides.  Then add Israel — which arguably started the whole problem — and Syria to the mix, και γάμησέ τα.

2 ** Of course, Northern Epirote Greeks’ δήθεν innocent desire for autonomy is completely disingenuous — though we’re supposed to think that Albanians are too stupid to get that — and is really just a prelude and first step to independence and union with Greece, though they’re a demographically fast-dwindling percentage of the population of the region they lay claim to.  That’s not a deterrent, however; all you have to do is believe that all Orthodox Albanians are reeeeeeeally Greek and you’ve solved your demographic issue, since Muslim Albanians are just turncoat intruders in the region as far as Northern Epirotes are concerned.

The only obstacle that would then be left is to get Albanians to forget what happened to the Muslim Albanian Çams of western Greek Epiros (Albanian: Çamëria, Greek: Τσαμουριά Tsamouriá) during WWII, when they were subjected to massacre and expulsion in a campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Greek right-wing resistance and had to flee to Albania.

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I still haven’t figured out how, as Muslims, they escaped the Greco-Turkish Population Exchange of the 1920s; it would’ve been a more merciful fate.  I also haven’t figured out how the tsamiko, a dance of central and southern Greece, got its name.  Or else, what clues to a forgotten past the fact that my grandmother’s maiden name was Çames provides; almost all our last names are Albanian — with the Greek male nominative -s ending added to them — as in Bako-s — but as far as I know there’s no clan in our villages whose last name is actually the name of an Albanian sub-ethnic group.  See: (Easter eggs: a grandmother and a grandfather“.

Scratch a Greek and find an Albanian, I guess…  Or a Vlach…  Or a Slav of some sort…  (See: Albanians in Greece and the “documentary that shocked Greece” from SKAI)

This kind of issue always reminds me of the Puerto Rican expression from a song of I dunno what period: ¿Y tu abuela donde está?” or ¿Y tu agüela, aonde ejtá?“And where’s your grandmother?” i.e., before you get all high and mighty and Whitey on us, show us the Black grandmother you’ve got hidden in the kitchen.

3 *** This fetishizing of the Mediterranean as a region, a lost paradise of cosmopolitanism and healthy diets, drives me nuts.  Everyone is suddenly “Mediterranean.”  The big laugh, of course, is that Turks are Mediterranean.  Then comes the less funny one about Croatians being Mediterranean, whereas Serbs are clearly not — Croats wanting to have it both ways, and be Mediterranean and Mitteleuropean at the same time — even if they’re from neolithic Herzegovina and about as neanderthal themselves as their Serbian and Muslim neanderthal neighbors; Istrians have sealed their Mediterranean-ness by buying every Italian restaurant in New York City’s boroughs, and of course the largely Italianate Dalmatian coast seals in most Europeans’ minds the idea of Croatia as a country on the f*cking M-E-D-I-T-E-R-R-A-N-E-A-N.  Actually, the closest example to Croatians’ appropriation of a largely Venetian Adriatic is the Turkish appropriation of Greek Aegean imagery, in tourist and p.r. language, on both the Anatolian coast and in Imbros and Tenedos.

Just as nicely condescending is the saying from some-where in the Iberian periphery that “de Madrid no se ve el mar,” “you can’t see the sea from Madrid.”  Supposedly a jab at Castillian casticismo, and inward-looking provincialness.  No, you can’t see the sea.  That’s why Castille is such a beautiful, high plateau, dry and bright and chilly and Romanesque and stunning in its emptiness and vastness.

A White Turk friend once dragged me to Sorrento on our trip to Naples and Campania, which I knew would be a mistake, because it would be and turned out to be a tourist-swamped, hellish Thomas Cook holiday trap because it was “on the sea.”  (but one makes concessions to one’s travelling partner’s fantasies.)  We cut out as soon as we could and headed to Ravello, up in the mountains away from the sea and she was blown away by how beautiful it was.

And what happens to Greeks like me? who are from a part of the Greek world that is clearly more Balkan in every way than it is Mediterranean?  What do we have to do to join the club?

4 **** William Dalrymple is a great historical writer who does what professional academics can’t do because they’re so specialized that they can easily say: “Sorry, I don’t work on that period” when you ask them anything they don’t know.  The breadth and depth of his knowledge on South Asia is truly amazing and he makes it all interesting and stimulating for the layman without dumbing it down.  When I first started this blog I wrote to him asking to reproduce some of the passages on the British destruction of Mughal Delhi contained in his book, The Last Mughal, and he immediately and generously shot back with an email that said: “Go for it.”  Thanks again.

So check out those posts here and here and here .  Better yet, buy the book.

5  ***** Worth reproducing here in whole:

“Following the crushing of the Uprising, and the uprooting and slaughter of the Delhi court, the Indian Muslims themselves also divided into two opposing paths: one, championed by the great Anglophile Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, looked to West, and believed that Indian Muslims could revive their fortunes only by embracing Western learning.  With this in mind, Sir Sayyid founded his Aligarh Mohamedan Anglo-Oriental College (later Aligarh Muslim University) and tied to recreate Oxbridge in the plains of Hndustan.

“The other approach, taken by survivors of the old Madrasa i-Rahimiyya, was to reject the West in toto and to attempt to return to what they regarded as pure Islamic roots.  For this reason, disillusioned pupils of the school of Shah Waliullah, such as Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi – who in 1857 had briefly established an independent Islamic state north of Meerut at Shamli, in the Doab – founded an influential but depressingly narrow-minded Wahhabi-like madrasa at Deoband, one-hundred miles north of the former Mughal capital.  With their backs to the wall, they reacted against what the founders saw as the degenerate and rotten ways of the old Mughal elite.  The Deoband madrasa therefore went back to Koranic basics and rigorously stripped out anything Hindu or European from the curriculum.*

*(It was by no means a total divide: religious education at Aligarh, for example, was in the hands of the Deobandis.)

“One hundred and forty years later, it was out of Deobandi madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan that the Taliban emerged to create the most retrograde Islamic regime in modern history, a regime that in turn provided the crucible from which emerged al-Qaeda, and the most radical and powerful fundamentalist Islamic counter-attack the modern West has yet encountered.”

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See also his magisterial The Return of a King on nineteenth-century Afghanistan, which I have a few issues with, particularly his conclusions, but which was a couldn’t-put-it-down one for me.

Dalrymple return

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

For Hanuman-ji and the Pakistani cab-drivers: Aditya Kapoor’s beautiful photo essay of a wrestling akhara in Benares

17 Oct

“At 5 in the morning when most of us are still curled up in bed, some young wrestlers  begin a daily tradition. A tumbler full of warm milk and 30 almonds down they reach the practice ground and pay their respects to Lord Hanuman, the God of good health and courage. Then begins the strenuous training of theses wrestlers aka Pehlwans.

[Every wrestling akhara is also a Hanuman shrine]

“This is the modern day wrestling in India locally called ‘Kushti’. It is also a dying art that traces its roots to  the 5th century BC. Once, the sport enjoyed royal patronage and immense popularity. Whole villages would turn out to watch the local tournaments. But over the past few decades, like all other sports, it lost its popularity to cricket – an obsession in India.

“But these phelwans are nowhere near giving up. They lead parallel lives working as part time cops, railway officials and make do with what (if at all) the government offers them. And they need all they can get because wrestling is by no means a cheap profession. Their daily diet consists of 3-5 litres of milk, about a 100 almonds and three square meals a day.

“These photographs document the training sessions of many such wrestlers.”

— Aditya Kapoor

Indian Wrestler

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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