Friday, April 30, 2010

Why is GDP of US 7 times that of India ?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Hindus: An Alternative History

<<< Excerpt from email #1>>

I went in with a totally open mind into the book and am on page 480 and 200 odd pages to go in this voluminous book. Not sure if I can go on further. plan to though...

Mixed emotions. A good read as it starts with the Indus period and offers the usual interpretations around Aryan invasions. Haven't been able to keep it down in the last week and wasn't even running (thanks to Pollen too). 

But I can certainly feel that the author had her mind set on raising a controversy or at least preparing for one. It also feels like she had a magnifying glass for all the negative things to say about the Hindus based on her loose interpretations based on 20th century Freudian terms (which themselves are an outdated viewpoint) and chose to barely touch the so called positives. 

The tone started sounding more bashing as the chapters go past the Vedic and Upanishad times. She was even able to put the reader down from time to time by having a total disregard to the point that she occasionally intersperses good things to say in a chapter full of otherwise seemingly slamming off-hand remarks. 

If she were to author a book on American History - it was as if she  had just focused on slavery, Trail of Tears,  civil war, KKK, and Greed  with an occasional mention of the virtues of  the land of the free, capitalism and stock markets. Not getting into details on the topics if some of you hate the spoilers like I do before picking up any art form.

Is it too much to expect a careful handling of history from a non-native author? I was prepared for the occasional or even reasonably cynical viewpoint. But it seems like her disparaging tone has a purpose behind it.

<<< Excerpt from email #2 >>

First to answer D's comments - the definition of Hindu takes four pages or so in the beginning of the book. And a few paragraphs for Muslims too.

History is usually written by winners who survived. We had been told all along the history in India (as any other country does) in a pro-native way obviously. The attempt these days, which I first felt first with The Argumentative Indian (Amartya Sen) is to retell the history in an inclusive way giving a fair share to not only a Hindu India but to a multi-cultural India. (This is the liberal view in India).

What is good about the book:
1) The author is definitely thorough in her prep work. She has strong basics of the region across the ages - vedic, vedantic, epic, and during the Mughal/British periods.

2) She attempted to relay History not just from the typical Kshatriyan and Brahminical points of view as is told in India and was inclusive in incorporating the view of the Adivasis, the tribals, OBCs, the SBCs etc in addition to covering the foreign ruler's and women's point of view.

3) Her pulse on the Hindus is so precise to the extent that she knows that most temples in America are run by women - a keen observation contrasting the male dominated religious circuit in India. There is even mention of the BAPS in Atlanta.

Why it could have been better:
Especially when an author writes for 690 pages, the reader expects to see a holistic view of the history.
1) For the ancient period - The sacred texts alone are the basis for her interpretation of how the people may have lived - to the point of coming to conclusions and making side remarks. There is a sloka in some text about what the husband can do when he hates the guy who slept with his wife. She focuses on the word - "hates" and has a side remark that it is not applicable for those who may have indulged in a menage a trois. Such side comments are through out the book and brought her down as a serious author in my opinion. For instance - at another place , her comment on reading Vedas by day and Kamasutras by night is insulting especially when the two subjects are from two different times about a few hundred years apart. Again, I have no problems discussing the two together. They were catered to two different audiences. There are people who read PlayBoy and there are people who swear by Bible. Though there may be some who do both - using that together in a sentence seems to  justify that as a common trend as opposed to an exception (possibly).

2) She is talented in making any one look bad. I understand History is not about making any one look good or bad. But - a disproportionate coverage of the negative takes away what any person or event actually stood out for.
When she has a sentence about Muslims robbing Indian temples, she is quick to add in a bracket that Hindus also had robbed other temples. This constant "support" of the opposition party (If I may) leaves a distaste when you are in the middle of one version. I have NO problems in talking about Hindus who DID rob temples. But, every time you talk about the mischief done by the oppressors, it seems that she justifies their wrong doing just because it was also done by the victims themselves.. Again, this attitude prevails through out the book for every one.
On the few pages about Gandhi -sleeping with girls was discussed quite a bit,
On the one page about Vivekananda - his statement about his preference for beef was a paragraph.
On the couple of pages about Sankaracharya - his sleeping with the philosopher's wife (as an interpretation of the incident around Grihastha experience where Sankara gets into soul) was discussed enough.

3) 80% of the book is focused on bashing males, the so-called upper castes(and predominantly Brahmins), common religious and social views of the day and de-emphasizing the main aspects of Hinduism, extrapolating the myths of the day to treat them as actual version of what happened. I DO believe that some of the so-called upper castes treated others unjustly. There is no argument about that. However, focusing only on the negatives without mention of the other events that happened in that time is not an accurate portrayal of History either. For instance - Aryabhatta was mentioned for a couple of words within the same sentence. That's it.
4) Though there is mention of the parallels between Sanskrit and Tamil from the ancient days, there is not much coverage of the south. I would have expected more. Roughly 70% was for North Indian based coverage.

5) Tantra took a decent coverage. I am sure she would have talked about Nityananda had she waited a little longer to publish this book :) However, it is sad that tantra took more coverage than the philosophical concepts of Vedantic Hinduism. Actually, there was less coverage for the "Brahman"  or the soul (NOT the Brahmin) than what Tantra had.

6) Hardly any coverage on the other aspects of life - For instance arts, dance, yoga, mimamsa, culture took the back seat. Dogs, horses and Linga took the lead.

7) Too many modern/recent theories (Freudian for instance) and views (feminist for instance) imposed on analyzing a slice of the spectrum of events from the past.

Bottom line:
Worth a read for the alternate view. Couldn't muster the fact that my money would go to her (in a selfish pro-Indian way - and hence the above review could be somewhat biased as much as I try not to) and hence opted the library route. Inspired me to look into my next studies on other cultures that shared the monistic concepts and to focus on Avesta, Confucius, and ancient Greek religions.
2.5 star on Amazon is a true reflection of what I feel about the book!
PS: Intended to write this as a brain dump as opposed to an article.
So, the usual emphasis for proper writing is not there. I didn't even spell check.

<<< Excerpt from email #3>>

On the Hindus in America.. it was mainly about
- Vivekananda's speech here 
-  the temples built here
- Hollywood influence and other articles (toilet seats, slippers etc with Hindu Gods as example)
- American Tantra and 
- talking about sites like eprarthana as if every one does just that !

Again, it is based on boundary conditions as if it is the mainstream!