One of the conundrums of ancient epic poetry, both the Indian and the Greek varieties, is the question of how they came to assume their canonical form in the first millennium BCE. Not only literary criticism is at stake: a great deal of nationalist rhetoric depends on the origin of the great epics and the language used to compose them.

Both the Greek and Indian epic poems were both originally orally transmitted, since at the time of their composition there was no writing system in use1. The oral transmission of the epics creates a problem because we have no record of the development of the text. So instead, scholars turned to linguistic analysis and the archaeological record to try and separate the original core of the epics from later accretions. However neither of these methods proved effective.

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July 14th, 2010

Having finally finished my book (due out August 2010), I treated myself to a “fat cat” weekend in Bangalore and went to see Avatar 3D. At the airport on my way back to London, I picked up my two favourite Indian news magazines: Tehelka and Frontline. Both current issues focus on illegal mining. Avatar isn’t science fiction: it’s happening right now (see the picture and caption on the left).

UPDATE: India’s environment ministry has rejected Vedanta’s application to mine aluminium ore in the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa (the site shown in the picture on the left). Vedanta can appeal, so this particular battle is far from over, but it shows that resistance is not futile.

IT in India and China

November 9th, 2007

Since The Economist is publishing a special report on technology in India and China this week, I thought it was about time I wrote something on the subject. That way when I read the special report I can either congratulate myself on my deep insight or slag off the hacks for getting it so obviously wrong. Since I spent last year working in Bangalore and the best part of this year in Xi’an and Beijing, I think my credentials are as good as anyone’s. There’s nothing controversial here for people who are familiar with the Indian and Chinese markets, but anybody whose only source of news is the Northern press might find it interesting.

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Tamil Nadu has always been a bit of a mystery to me. It has its own unique identity and cultural history quite separate from that of the rest of India. The Tamil language has a recorded history spanning over two millenia, and belongs to the Dravidian language group whose characteristics are quite distinct from those of the Indo-European Sanskrit-descended languages spoken by North Indians. The Dravidian people also have their own classical music (karnatak sangeet) and classical dance tradition (bharatnatyam). In the same way, politics in Tamil Nadu has its own unique and (to an outsider like me) bewildering history, resulting in regional Tamil parties having held power in the state since 1967. Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars promises to describe and explain the world of Tamil politics, including the stories of its larger-than-life leaders.
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Anita goes home

December 11th, 2006

Goodbye beautiful Anita

Updated  – scroll down
So last Tuesday we went to see Anita for the last time before she got on the train home. We’ve been visiting her most weekends at APSA, the local charity for street kids where she was moved to. She’s been brilliant to hang out with – although like any nine year old she has her sulky moments, most of the time she’s a wildly hilarious drama queen who is always cracking us up and entertaining the other kids. She’s picked up some of the local language, Kannada, and impressed the staff with how fast she learns. Read the rest of this entry »

Our gardenLiving in a decently-sized middle class apartment block in Murugeshpalya, Bangalore, we get to hear a lot of gossip (mostly conducted in Hindi, which is good practice for me). However a couple of weeks ago we got to create some of our own. On the floor below us lives a woman, Mrs Paul, and her two children. We noticed about a month ago that there was a young girl, shabbily dressed and dirty, living in the apartment with them. We assumed, correctly as it turned out, that this girl was employed as their servant. This is not an uncommon situation in India, where many children are orphans or from very poor families who cannot provide for them. Service in a good home is far superior to begging in the streets or manual labour and is generally considered acceptable so long as the children are taken care of and sent to school, although it is more usual for adults or whole families to be employed as servants.

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One of the biggest political debates in India over the last two decades or so has concerned the construction of the Narmada dam project. This huge and controversial series of dams, conceived by Nehru in the 1940s, is supposed to supply electricity to India’s national grid, and water to the drought-prone areas of Saurashtra and Kutchch in Gujarat. However its construction entails the relocation of tens of millions of people. Read the rest of this entry »

Fly, an online magazine devoted to world music, has asked me to write a series of articles on Indian classical music (I studied it for my master’s degree in ethnomusicology). The first one, dealing with its history and context, has just been published.

Our gardenRani and I have moved into our new place in India. It’s on the roof of an apartment block, with nothing between us and the airport. At the weekend we sit on the roof on charpais (low-budget beds) planespotting, getting rained on, and stargazing at night. There are pictures here. The place costs us Rs 10,000 per month, with a Rs 60,000 deposit – quite reasonable considering 11 months in advance is the usual deposit here. We paid the agent who found us the place one month’s rent as her fee. The place came unfurnished, with only wardrobes provided. We’re renting a fridge and a TV, and have bought everything else. Read the rest of this entry »

One of the main issues occupying the news here in India in the last couple of months is a new law under consideration that would require India’s private educational establishments, including the elite management and technology institutes (IIMs and IITs respectively) to reserve places for members of lower castes. Such rules already apply to public institutions such as colleges and many other areas such as the Indian Administrative Service (civil service), the Lok Sabha (lower house) and public sector jobs. Read the rest of this entry »