Archive for the ‘India’ Category

KananKharbandaKanan Kharbanda and his friend were Indian students in Australia. Late one night in March 2008 they were in Sunshine, a western suburb of Melbourne, waiting for his wife to arrive on the last local train. Then 15 to 20 Australians came up to them and asked for a dollar. When they showed their empty pockets they were beat up.

When the police arrived Kharbanda asked for an ambulance or first aid, The police said, “Take a taxi. We know what our job is, you bloody overseas.” After he got to the hospital he waited eight and a half hours, bleeding and in pain, before a doctor saw him.  He is now blind in one eye.

Indians are hardly the only ones who are beat up and robbed, but in the western suburbs of Melbourne they account for 30% of those who are. The police see nothing racist in that. They blame the Indians, saying they come home late at night from work. Or carry laptops. Or speak in a foreign language. Like they deserved it or something.

There were at least 70 such cases reported over the past 12 months, though many probably go unreported, given how it might affect their education and given how the police are.

The number of Indian students in Australia has tripled over the past five years to nearly 100,000. It is cheaper than Britain or America. Half live in or near Melbourne.

Australia makes billions from its foreign students, more than it does from sheep. Only coal and iron ore bring in more money. Yet somehow it could not see fit to protect them.

Not, that is, till India made a big deal out of it after stories like this one kept appearing in its newspapers.

racismdownunderThe Indian press called the violence “racist”. Australians did not like that: Australia is a tolerant and multicultural nation that respects and embraces diversity, as the (white) prime minister put it. Yes, a place where Indians are called racist names not just by the roughnecks who beat and rob them but even by the police and ten-year-olds.

When the Indian students complained, the police were slow to take them seriously and do something about it. They were slower still to admit that racism might have anything to do with it.

On May 30th 2009 Indian students staged a protest, about 4,000 strong, in the middle of Melbourne. It met its share of police violence. A week later smaller protests were held in Sydney, which has its troubles too.

Amitabh Bachchan, a famous Bollywood actor, refused an honorary degree from an Australian university, saying, “I did not feel like accepting the honour when so much dishonour against my countrymen was taking place.”

A Bollywood union refuses to film in Australia till things get better. Two hit films in 2008 were shot there.

Australia has agreed to increase police in places which have had trouble and is thinking of passing a hate crime law.

New Zealand now courts Indian students saying that it is different than Australia – in a good way.


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The Lord’s Prayer in Hindi:

Hindi (933- ) is the largest language in India and the largest in the world after Chinese and English. It is also spoken in Fiji and the Caribbean, where the British Empire sent contract workers in the 1800s.

Hindustani, used by Gandhi, Bollywood films and schools, is the best understood dialect.

Urdu, a form of Hindustani, is spoken mainly by Muslims, especially those who fled to Pakistan when India became independent. Unlike other forms of Hindi, it is written with Persian letters and has more words from Persian and Arabic. It is a language of government in Pakistan.

About half the people in India know Hindi, a fourth as their first language. Most young people with education know it.

The Hindi heartland is New Delhi and the upper Ganges river, the area that stretches between Bengal and Punjab.

Hindi, like most of the other languages of northern India, comes from Sanskrit. Sanskrit is like the Latin of India: an ancient language which gave birth to many of its present-day languages, besides having a huge body of important works written in it. Just as Latin became Italian, French and Spanish, so Sanskrit became Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and the other languages of the north.

This means that Hindi is easy for northerners to learn: if they do not speak Hindi itself as their mother tongue, they speak a language that is close to it.

But in the south the languages do not come from Sanskrit. They are no closer to Hindi than they are to English. Since they feel the north already has too much power, they tend to favour English.

In India you have a choice of whether to receive your education in your mother tongue, in Hindi or in English. Most choose to receive their education in Hindi over their mother tongue because you can use it anywhere in the country.

But those who aim higher choose English: the highest levels of education are in English since the best and latest books in most fields are written in English, not Hindi. English is also understood throughout India, especially in the cities.

Apart from Urdu, Hindi is written in devanagari. The characters sometimes stand for letter sounds, sometimes for syllables. They are joined together into words by a line that runs across the top. Like the the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets, it comes from the Aramaic alphabet of South West Asia.

Is Hindi hard to learn? If all you know is English, it is much easier than Latin but harder than, say, French.

The grammar will seem somewhat familiar since long ago English and Hindi were once the same language, Proto-Indo-European.

Hindi works mainly by word endings. The prepositions come after the word so they are called postpositions: you do not say “the dog on the table” but “the dog the table on”. Nouns have gender, male and female, but not neuter. Even verbs have different male and female forms!

– Abagond, 2007, 2015.

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Hinduism (1500 BC – ) is the main religion of India. It is a religion of temples, gods with many arms, holy cows, Untouchables, karma and reincarnation. It gave us two other religions, Buddhism and Jainism.

Hinduism is not the same all over India. It is more like a huge family of religions which hold certain ideas in common:

  • Reincarnation: After we die we will be born again on this earth: same soul, different body. This happens over and over again. Forever. Our aim is to escape from this endless wheel of reincarnation and become one with Brahman:
  • Brahman is everywhere and in everything, even in us. Brahman is the soul of the world. To escape this world of life and death and become one with Brahman, we must live according to its principles, not according to money or the other things of this world that would lead us in the wrong direction.
  • Karma rules the world, not fate or chance or even the gods themselves. If we do bad things, we will be punished, sooner or later, one way or another; but if we do good things, then we will be rewarded, sooner or later, one way or another. That is karma. The reward or punishment may happen in this life or in the next. Some people seem to live a charmed life while others have the worst luck not because of anything they did in this life, but because of what they did in the last! The Buddhists and Jains also believe in karma.
  • Caste: Society is divided into castes: at the top are the Brahmans, the priestly caste, then the princes and soldiers, then businessmen and farmers, then the masses and then, at the very bottom, the Untouchables. There is no moving up or down in this life. That is done between lives as determined by our karma. If you do good things in this life, then your next life will be better.

Hinduism has hundreds of gods, but three stand out: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Both Vishnu and Siva are pictured as having many arms and both have large followings in India. From Brahman sprang Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Vishnu has appeared on earth nine times and will appear again. Once he appeared as the hero Rama, another time as Krishna, that blue man in the Bhagavadgita. Krishna tells Arjuna the ways of the world, giving him the Hindu answers to the deep questions of life. The Bhagavadgita, which is part of an extremely long story called the Mahabharata, is the single best book an ordinary person can read to learn about Hinduism.

To learn more you can study the ancient Vedas. Not by reading them by yourself but by studying them at the feet of a guru. Work for him and he will teach you part of them. The two most famous parts are the Rig Veda and the Upanishads. The 108 Upanishads are about the nature of Brahman.

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India (1947- ) has over a billion people and lies at the heart of Hindu civilization. Toynbee would call it a universal state: one that covers most of its civilization. Only China has more people and even that will not last: China is turning grey like the countries in the West.

While China looks set to become the number one power in the world by the 2020s, India is the one country that could upset that probable history: India will not only have more people by then, it will also have a much larger work force. In addition, India’s laws and government are based on British models, which have a proven record of success. The year 2100 belongs to India, not China.

India is a parliamentary democracy like Britain. In fact, it is the largest democracy in the world. On the other had, the people in power have far more blood on their hands and dirty secrets to hide than their counterparts in Britain or America.

India was ruled by Britain for most of the 1800s and right up until 1947. Mahatma Gandhi led the peaceful protests that drove the British out. But once the British left, the blood began to flow.

India was divided in two: the Muslim part was called Pakistan and the Hindu part India. India was once ruled for hundreds of years by the Moguls. They were Muslims and so there are Muslims throughout India. Some of these fled to Pakistan, but even more had to stay behind.

Millions were killed in the break up. The bad feelings and distrust last to this day: between Hindus and Muslims and between India and Pakistan. The two countries have fought four wars since then. And now they both have the bomb. Their big disagreement is how to divide Kashmir in the north.

India is far more religious than the West. It has given birth to at least four religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism. At one point India was almost all Buddhist, but Hinduism made a comeback and now is number one. Even so, one person in six is Muslim (only Indonesia has more Muslims) and there are millions of Christians too.

Languages: India has over a thousand languages, but only two matter nationwide: English and Hindi. Most young people with a good education know both. In the south English is favoured over Hindi.

Most of the languages in the north come from Sanskrit, the ancient language of India that all the holy books and old stories are written in. The languages in the south are Dravidian. They are no closer to Sanskrit than they are to English.

The four largest cities are Bombay (Mumbai) in the west, New Delhi in the north (the capital since Mogul times), Calcutta (Kolkata) in the east and Madras (Chennai) in the south.

The countryside, where most people still live, is shockingly poor.

The castes that used to divide society are dying out. Cows are still holy and gurus still teach.

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rushdie.jpgSir Salman Rushdie (1947- ) is a British writer famous for writing “Midnight’s Children” (1981), for which he won a Booker Prize, and “The Satanic Verses” (1988), for which he won a fatwa in 1989 and became world famous overnight. He was in hiding during the nine years of the fatwa. He said it was like living in a bad Rushdie story.

A fatwa is a ruling in Islamic law. Ayatollah Khomeini ruled that “The Satanic Verses” was blasphemous and that Rushdie should die for his crime.

That is because at one point in the “The Satanic Verses” Rushdie tells an old story about the Koran, that it once had Satanic verses. In these verses Muhammad allowed some to go on worshipping three goddesses as the daughters of God.

Some say Satan put the verses there, others that Muhammad himself did it in a moment of weakness, but most pious Muslims believe that the verses never existed, that the Koran has been pure from the very beginning.

But in “The Satanic Verses” it is the Pure that is the great evil! That is why Rushdie, a fallen-away Muslim, attacks the Koran and its purity. If he were a fallen-away Catholic it would have been the Virgin Mary instead.

Unlike Rushdie, many in the Muslim world fear the songs and dress and ways of the West, the Impure, and seek salvation in the Pure, in Islam. Rushdie, having experienced both sides, says that is a mistake.

Rushdie was brought up Muslim in Bombay, India. But when his parents sent him to England to get an education, he became one of those godless Western intellectuals.

After reading history at Cambridge Rushdie went to London. There he wrote ad copy by day and wrote his books by night.

His first book, “Grimus” (1975), was nothing great, but it gave him enough money to go back to India. He saw as much of the country as he could. Out of this grew “Midnight’s Children”, a history of India in the late 1900s as told through the wild and mixed-up lives of his Indian characters. It made his name as a writer. Most consider it his best book so far.

Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Rushdie writes in the style of magic realism. He tells stories in a way that makes them seem real and yet impossible things keep happening – like two men falling out of the sky towards London and talking as if it were all perfectly natural.

His prose is wild and over the top and full of laughs, with Hindi words thrown in. When he heard stories as a boy he did not know all the words, yet that somehow made the stories better.

Rushdie loves the 1700s, especially Fielding, Swift and Sterne. Among writers of the 1900s he likes Joyce, Marquez and Gunther Grass. From Joyce he learned that you can do anything if you do it right.

That tall and beautiful woman you see him with sometimes is not his daughter but his fourth wife! Being a famous writer has its advantages.

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Shilpa Shetty

Shilpa Shetty (1975- ) was until a few weeks ago a middling Bollywood actress. Now she is famous in both Britain and India for the hateful things three white women said about her Indianness on the British television show “Celebrity Big Brother.” This week she won “Big Brother”.

Britain thinks of itself as an enlightened country open to people from all over the world, that it is beyond feelings of race, that it is a friend of India and understands it better than most.

But to many in India the Shetty affair only proved what seemed to be true all along: that the British still look down on Indians, who they once ruled, and do not like them much.

The story has struck a nerve in India. The BBC says that no news story has affected its Indian listeners so much – not Kashmir, not the rise of the BJP, not even Pakistan getting the bomb.

Yet whites in Britain read the Shetty affair the other way round: it shows what good open-minded people they are. After all, who won Big Brother? And who voted for her? The good white people of Britain.

Shetty herself defended the three women, even though they had driven her to tears. She said they were ill-mannered and driven by envy, not by feelings of race. Race was just an easy way to hurt her. She was very gandhigiri about the whole thing.

Jade Goody, one of the three, was already well-known for not biting her tongue. The Daily Mirror called her “a vile fishwife”. She was put on the show to make it more interesting. It soon became too interesting.

More than winning Shetty wanted to maintain her dignity (an easy thing to lose on “Big Brother”) and make her country proud of her. That she did. And more.

In Bollywood Shetty does not have the star power of, say, Aishwarya Rai. She is good-looking and it is a treat to watch her dance, but most of her 50 or so films are nothing great. The last one to do well was more than six years ago.

Having got as far as she could in Bollywood, she has come to Britain to make her name there and then move on to Hollywood. That is why she appeared on “Big Brother” in the first place.

Since her win, offers have been pouring in from both India and Britain. Even the BJP wants her to stand for parliament in India.

“Baazigar” (1993) made her name at 18. “Dhadkan” (2000) was her best film. In “Phir Melenge” her character has no make-up and suffers from Aids.

Her father has been accused of having underworld connections. He says it is a lie to ruin his daughter’s name, but telephone records show that he has talked to underworld figures.

She has not yet met the perfect man, but hopes to marry in 2010. (Time is running out if she wants children.)

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Zero is the number that comes before one, the number that stands for “nothing”. For example, if I had three books and gave you two, then I would have one book left. But if I gave you all three books, then I would have none left – that is, I would have zero books left.

It might seem strange to have a number for nothing. That might be why it took so long to be invented. But zero makes arithmetic far easier. For example, before zero came to the West, multiplying numbers was something only experts in the field could do. But with zero even an eight year old can do it.

Today in the West we write the numbers from one to nine this way: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Zero is written this way: 0. Those are all the numbers we need.

But how, then, do you write ten or twelve or fifty-two or six hundred? Like this: 10 (ten), 12 (twelve), 52 (fify-two), 600 (six hundred).

Six hundred and fifty-two looks like this: 652. What does that mean? It means:

six (6) hundreds and

five (5) tens and

two (2).

The position of a number matters:

six: 6
sixty: 60
six hundred: 600
six thousand: 6000
six thousand and fifty-two: 6052

And that is the power of zero: it holds a place where there is nothing. 600 means six hundred and zero (0) tens and zero (0). Which might seem to be a strange way to think of it, but it makes the number much easier to handle.

We think of inventions as building on what came before and becoming more and more difficult to understand and make. Most are like that. But every now and then a true genius comes along and invents something that takes a hard thing – like arithmetic or reading – and makes it easier. The codex, the fork and letters are all examples of this.

Before zero people thought that multiplying numbers had to be hard – there was no way around it. Not so!

Zero was invented at least two times: first by the Olmecs in Mexico by 36 BC and again 400 to 500 years later in India. The Babylonians had something close to zero but it did not take hold – unless, of course, that is where India got it from.

The Greeks had a sign for zero but it was just something added to their number system. For all their genius they never got farther than that. No one knows why, but it is probably because they thought in geometry not in numbers. Geometry and number were not united into one solid system till the 1600s by Descartes.

The West got the zero and the new number system from the Arabs. We know because the word “zero” comes from Arabic. It came in the 1100s but it took centuries to really take hold. Even today you still see the old Roman numbers here and there.

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