Shangri La commonly evokes images of easy utopia that don't quite describe the barren and rocky desert like character of Ladakh and the hardscrabble life of its cheerful inhabitants. Nevertheless, the awesomeness of its rugged terrain is breathtakingly beautiful and amidst the solitude and thin air, peace prevails. The amazing sky, the eerie silence on the high mountains and the shock of stumbling upon a green valley beside a sparkling stream and the changing colors of its pristine lakes glistening beneath giant bald mountain peaks are experiences that stun, charm and soothe. Hugging the sides of intimidating, crumpled mountain ranges are numerous ancient Buddhist monasteries whose architecture blends seamlessly with that of the land itself. Ladakhis belong to a colorful sprinkling of many ethnicities (Tibetan, Indian, Central Asian and Indo-European tribes like the Hunzas) with people of Tibetan ancestry constituting the vast majority. They are divided nearly equally between Buddhists and Muslims (along with a tiny Christian community around Leh) with the former inhabiting the central and eastern regions and the latter mostly concentrated in the northwestern parts.
Ladakh was once upon a time an important way station along the ancient Silk Route, a vibrant trading network involving China, India, Central Asia and Europe. Known as "Little Tibet," Ladakh saw a steady traffic of traders bearing varied exotic goods during the mild summers as well as its brutal winters (when traders used the frozen rivers as roads) crisscrossing the region. Around the middle of the last century for political and security reasons Ladakh, which shares its borders with China and Pakistan near the disputed territory of Kashmir, became inaccessible to both Indian and foreign civilians. (The invasion of Kashmir by Pakistan in 1948 and the China-India war in 1962 resulted in the sealing of the borders) Only the Indian army could travel there, as also domestic business travelers with permits. The place could only be reached via arduous land routes. The already remote land connected to a couple of Indian states by crude roads over rough terrains and very high mountain passes was mostly forgotten by the rest of the world. Ladakh remained isolated until the mid 1970s when the Indian government opened it up to civilians. But travel remained difficult and only the most adventurous or those with business interests ventured out by cars or buses. The bolder thrill seekers often opted for a more dangerous and strenuous motorcycle ride. For some years past, Leh, the biggest city in Ladakh has become connected to Delhi and Srinagar by air, resulting in a sharp rise in tourist and business traffic, both Indian and foreign. Ladakh once more has become a meeting place of people from different parts of the world, passing through.
I won't go into further details of the history, geography and geology of Ladakh which you can check out in the Wiki link I have provided above. Instead, let me treat this post mostly as a photo-blog and share some pictures of this amazing place that we took during our travels recently during July-August. It was very gratifying that I experienced very little physical discomfort (not even a nose-bleed) in a place of rarefied air where our travels sometimes took us as high up into the Himalayas as nearly 18,000 feet and where my husband convinced me to go up the mountainous roads on the back of a motorcycle. I am glad that we decided to make the trip to Ladakh. A few years from now, we may not have had the confidence to test our strength and endurance in its unforgiving climate and stark landscape of spectacular beauty.
Fibonacci's 'Numbers': The Man Behind The Math (Norman Costa)
In 1202 Fibonacci published his "Book of Calculation." Eight centuries later we have Arabic numerals and "Quicken - Deluxe Edition."
Though generations of schoolchildren have cursed arithmetic, the world was a much more inconvenient place without it. Before the advent of modern arithmetic in the 13th century, basic calculations required a physical abacus.
But then came a young Italian mathematician named Leonardo da Pisa — no relation to da Vinci — who, in 1202, published a book titled Liber Abaci. That's Latin for "Book of Calculation."
And though it doesn't necessarily sound like an overnight best-seller, it was a smash hit. Liber Abaci introduced practical uses for the Arabic numerals 0 through 9 to Western Europe. The book revolutionized commerce, banking, science and technology and established the basis of modern arithmetic, algebra and other disciplines.
Much as I would have loved to review this very excellent book at length, I will give that ambitious notion a pass. I just read Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne for my book club. During the animated discussion at our last meeting, the majority opinion was that the book is a great read and also that it disabused us of many of our previously held beliefs about Native Americans and their relationship with the white settlers who displaced them from their territories and hunting grounds. Even my Texan friends were surprised by their faulty knowledge of various Indian tribes, the character and motivations of the early western settlers, the Texas Rangers, the role of the federal government in formulating wrong headed and dishonest Indian policies and the individuals whose cunning, bravado and fighting skills decided once and for ever, who would rule the western plains and deserts of America. Gwynne's account of the tumultous early history of Texas and surrounding western regions would be a useful (and interesting) addition to high school and college history text books. Compared to the popular and brash narrative of the west which is often clouded by self serving myths, biased reporting and outright falsehoods, Empire of the Summer Moon is detailed, well researched and contains a wealth of little known but vital information about the conquest of American Indians, specifically the fearsome Comanches who dominated the prairies of west Texas.
For example, my fellow readers and I had no clue that :
The expression Comanche Moon is associated with great fear and impending disaster and that it is not a romantic meteorological phenomenon.
The Apaches were not the most accomplished horsemen among the Plains Indians and they could not actually fight on horseback as Hollywood westerns would have us believe.
Members of different Indian tribes killed each other in far greater numbers than the casualties they inflicted upon their European conquerors.
West Texas was where the longest, most decisive battles between Indians and white Americans took place. The struggle for supremacy lasted more than four decades.
Plains Indians met the horse in the late 1600s or early 1700s. By 1750, the new horse culture turned the existing hierarchy of Indian tribes on its head. The Comanches, once the lowliest among the western nomadic tribes, mastered the Spanish mustang in a way not seen since Chengiz Khan's Mongol warriors galloped across the steppes, changing the course of north American history and dictating which white European "tribe" would eventually come to occupy southwestern states like Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas.
The Indians and their white adversaries were equally brutal in their tactics of dealing with the enemy. The Indian raiders' habit of torturing and raping women horrified Europeans but little compunction was shown by the other side when it came to burning women and children to a crisp while routinely setting Indian villages on fire. Scalping of victims was originally a peculiar Indian custom. As the conflict in the west lingered, the European raiders too became adept at this gruesome battleground sport.
White settlers were solely responsible for the wholesale slaughter of the American buffalo (to near extinction) although Plains Indians had hunted them extensively for centuries as their main source of food, shelter and clothing.
The Indian tribes often took captives from other tribes, as also from white communities during raids. Some they brutalized and used as virtual slaves. Pre-pubescent children between the ages of 7 - 11 on the other hand, were frequently adopted and treated as part of the tribe. Many kidnap victims, like Cynthia Ann Parker, longed forever to return to their Indian communities after they were rescued and returned to their biological families. Cynthia's seventeen year old pregnant aunt Rachel Plummer too was abducted in the same raid. But being an adult woman, she experienced a far more brutal treatment than did the nine year old Cynthia who was adopted by the Comanches. After a captivity of nearly 22 months, Rachel was able to escape and join her family. She wrote an account of her life as a captive of the Comanches - the first of such narratives ever published in Texas.
Cynthia Ann Parker's bi-racial son Quanah Parker (pictured on the cover), a handsome, fearless and brilliant warrior-chief was the last significant holdout against the inevitable white domination of America. He too would eventually come to accept his fate of diminished circumstances, living his retirement years in Oklahoma, bargaining shrewdly with whites for as much advantage as he could garner for his family and his tribe. Quanah adjusted to the white man's ways with considerable optimism and intelligence without ever compromising his pride and hertiage. He became friends with many white ranchers, farmers, politicians and military men including Ranald Mckenzie who pursued and captured him. He became the natural leader of not just the Comanches but most other reservation Indians trusted by white and native Americans. To his dying day, he made sure that no Comanche who came to his doorstep requiring assistance would go back disappointed.
Some less well known frontier figures like Jack Hays, Sul Ross and Ranald S. Mckenzie played far more critical roles in deciding the outcome of the conflict between Native Americans and European settlers than did rash, bumbling adventurers like George Armstrong Custer and popular folk heroes like Kit Carson. (Carson, unlike Custer, was basically a decent guy who understood and respected his enemy)
Author S.C. Gwynne's superb writing style benefits further from his balanced journalistic approach to history. There is not a whiff of the "noble savage" sentimentality in his description of Indian life. Even though he recognizes the harsh and brutal nature of many tribes, the author is at the same time unequivocal about the tragedy of their eventual plight in the face of European aggression and expansionism. He is honest and even handed in describing the ruthlessness of the hostilities between the native and newer Americans, a conflict which was not only a clash of widely disparate world views but also a fight to death for territory and political control. In the end, Gwynne leaves us with no doubt that the price of realizing America's Manifest Destiny was paid overwhelmingly by the continent's aboriginal inhabitants, both in terms of human lives as well as spirit.
By the late 1860s when the US was recuperating from its own horrific civil war, the Indian Question was targeted for a final solution. The government had concluded that Indians were not to be trusted to live peacefully among white settlers. They were to be segregated in reservations, the biggest one being in the territory of Oklahoma. In 1867 a "peace council" between several Indian tribal leaders, many from rival tribes, and the representatives of the US government was held near Wichita, KS amidst much pomp and show. (Note that white Indian hunters, Texas Rangers and government soldiers routinely used warring Indian tribes against each other. Tribes like the Utes, Tonkawas and Apaches scouted for Europeans and fought side by side with them against their rivals such as the Comanches and the Kiowas, the fiercest horse tribes and the last of the Indians to be tamed.)
Decimated in numbers, their buffalo herds depleted, white settlements encroaching inexorably into their territory, the Indian tribes knew by this time that they were about to lose the autonomy to roam and hunt freely in centuries-old familiar grounds. The outcome of the council was a foregone conclusion and both sides knew it. But the Indians still made their voices heard, more out of pride and desperation than any real hope. There last ditch but futile appeals by Indian chiefs to the Great White Father to be allowed to hold on to their traditional way of life amidst the prairie plains, the caprock, canyons, streams, springs and bluffs of the southern plains - a long corridoor between the 98th meridian near San Antonio and the eastern edges of the Rocky Mountains running north up to Kansas and Colorado and south down to the Mexican border. Here is the poignant and extraordinarily candid perspective of one of the Indian spokesmen, Ten Bears, an aging Comanche chief:
About $22 Billion In Gold, Diamonds, Jewels Found In Indian Temple
"In Southern India a story that sounds like the plot line of a Hollywood adventure is unfolding. Over the past week, on orders from the country's Supreme Court, a panel has found a treasure estimated to be worth $22 billion in the underground vaults of a Hindu temple in Trivandrum, India."
"The vaults had not been opened in about 150 years and the treasure spans some 500 years. India's Supreme Court ordered that the vaults of the temple be inventoried after a man filed a suit that worried about how the trust was caring for the riches."
Most countries that exist above the banana-republic level of existence have an identifiable (even if always contested and malleable) national narrative that most (though not all) members of the ruling elite share and to which they contribute. Pakistan is clearly not a banana-republic; it is a populous country with a deep (if not very competent) administration, a very lively political scene, a very large army, the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal and a very significant, even if underdeveloped, economy. But when it comes to the national narrative, Pakistan is sui-generis. The “deep state” has promoted a narrative of Muslim separatism, India-hatred and Islamic revival that has gradually grown into such a dangerous concoction that even BFFs China and Saudi Arabia are quietly suggesting that we take another look at things.
The official “story of Pakistan” may not appear to be more superficial or contradictory than the propaganda narratives of many other nations, but a unique element is the fact that it is not a superficial distillation of a more nuanced and deeper narrative, it is ONLY superficial ; when you look behind the school textbook level, there is no there there. What you see is what you get. The two-nation theory and the creation of Pakistan in 712 AD by the Arab invader Mohammed Bin Qasim and its completion by the intrepid team of Allama Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah in the face of British and Hindu connivance is the story in middle school textbooks and it turns out that it is also the story in universities and think tanks (this is not imply that no serious work is done in universities; of course it is, but the story of Pakistan does not seem to have a logical relationship with this serious work).
In India, A Struggle To Pass Down Passover (Norman Costa)
by Sandip Roy
"Sandip Roy is an editor with New America Media. He recently moved back home to India, and he's discovering some things he wasn't aware of growing up — like the country's tiny Jewish community. There are only 4,000 Jews left in all of India, and just dozens in Calcutta.
"Nahoum and Sons bakery is part of the Calcutta of my childhood. It still has all the goodies I loved as a boy, like brownies, macaroons and plum cake.
"Jagadish Halder, who has worked there for over 30 years, tells me proudly that the decor has not changed since 1911. I believe it. What I never knew as a boy was that Nahoum was a kosher bakery. Halder says once it made a lot of Jewish delicacies. But now, he sees fewer Jewish clients every day."
There's a new biography out on Gandhi. It's true that the longer the time duration elapsed from a historical event, the clearer the eyes are that look back at the event. This book appears to be no exception. From the NY Times review:
"He made a host of enemies along the way — orthodox Hindus who believed him overly sympathetic to Muslims, Muslims who saw his calls for religious unity as part of a Hindu plot, Britons who thought him a charlatan, radical revolutionaries who believed him a reactionary. But no antagonist was more implacable than Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the brilliant, quick-tempered untouchable leader — still largely unknown in the West — who saw the Mahatma’s nonviolent efforts to eradicate untouchability as a sideshow at best. He even objected to the word Gandhi coined for his people — “Harijans” or “children of God” — as patronizing; he preferred “Dalits,” from the Sanskrit for “crushed,” “broken.”
Sometimes, Gandhi said Indian freedom would never come until untouchability was expunged; sometimes he argued that untouchability could be eliminated only after independence was won. He was unapologetic aboutthat kind of inconsistency. “I can’t devote myself entirely to untouchability and say, ‘Neglect Hindu-Muslim unity or swaraj,’ ” he told a friend. “All these things run into one another and are interdependent. You will find at one time in my life an emphasis on one thing, at another time on [an]other. But that is just like a pianist, now emphasizing one note and now [an]other.” (bolding mine)
A simple, almost off-hand comment in this article (via 3QD), describing an interview with the estimable William Dalrymple:
"It was during the writing of White Mughals that Dalrymple discovered something about his own family: His maternal great-great-grandmother Sophia Pattle was the daughter of "a Hindu Bengali woman . . . who converted to Catholicism and married a French officer in Pondicherry in the 1780s." Like Virginia Woolf, who is descended from Pattle's sister, Dalrymple is part Indian by blood. "If you look at photographs, Woolf looks almost Punjabi," he laughs. "Indians haven't yet caught on to it."
On the 27th of January, while driving through Mozang (an extremely crowded section of Lahore city) in a rented Honda Civic, American citizen RaymondDavis shot two men who were riding a motorcycle. Soon afterwards, another vehicle that was racing to (presumably) rescue Mr. Davis, ran over a third person and killed him too. These seem to be the only undisputed facts about the event. Shortly afterwards, Pakistani TV channels showed one of the dead men with a revolver and an ammunition belt around his waist. It was also claimed that the two men were carrying several mobile phones and possible some other stolen items. But soon after the event, the story began to change. From a robbery attempt gone bad, it morphed into Mr. Davis assassinating two young men without obvious cause. Raymond’s own status was immediately in dispute and within a few days the network of websites that is thought to represent the views of Pakistan’s deep state were stating that Davis was a CIA agent, he was being tailed by the ISI and he had shot two ISI agents. They also claimed Davis was working with the “bad Taliban” to do bad things in Pakistan, while trying to spy on the “good Taliban” and other virtuous jihadist organizations like the LET.
I am a sucker for words with too many syllables that evoke memories of first encounters with them. There's 'propinquity' which I met in an article bemoaning the location of Canada, which like Mexico (setting a distant God aside) has the US too close for comfort. 'Proparoxytone' - I think I'll save that for another occasion. 'Escafandrista' brings on the image of a diver from a previous century, fitted with an umbilical tube and a spherical brass head. 'Ametralladora' is a word tossed off by Ruben Blades in his song about hired assassins - Sicarios. Machine-gun, the prosaic equivalent, just doesn't work the same magic for me, nor does Tommy-gun. Scatter-gun is what I'm after, from which, scatter-shot, which describes the preferred madness of my reading method. OK, I am an utterly shameless scatter-brained braggart, an idiot but no savant - satisfied? As I said elsewhere, my mind goes where it will.
Reading long works is a thing of my youth. I marvel at how I once got though classic tonnage like War and Peace and Les Miserables. I lay the blame for my affliction equally on age-induced ADD and the logorrhea of modern writers of lesser substance. A published author simplified the process of writing a novel for me. Just think of it as a page a day for a year, he said, and to this day I cannot see why an interesting yarn cannot be told in the space of 365 pages, 366 at most. If it's a page turner, the laguage engaging, and there aren't huge swaths of vapid conversation or jargon-filled academic analyses, I'll give a little - let's say 450, tops! The English Patient is the gold standard for me - just 300 pages to tell an intricate and compelling story. Since I know it all from the excellent film, I can enjoy the book ten pages at a time sampled randomly.
Among shorter works, above all, I am a fan of sudden fiction. Good authors may go for 20 pages, but 25 taxes my patience. When I pick up a book of short stories, I read them in order of increasing length, requiring the shortest piece to vouch for the author's art. Beyond that, there is the novella, for which I set an arbitrary limit of 175.
Brevity, unfortunately, is not an easy goal for the non-fiction writer. Once the subject and its scope has taken hold of the writer's mind, she faces the task of presenting a set amount of unavoidable detail. Thereafter, it is the skill of the author's trade-offs that determines the readability of the book for me. I like popular histories of a distant past, and I judge these against Alan Moorehead's The White Nile and The Blue Nile, non-fiction sisters of the Ondaatje novel. Browsing at the library today I saw a three volume book about Napoleon's Russian debacle, titled 1812. On the other pan of the scales, I have a book called 1688 that tells about happenings all over the world in that year in a scant 300 pages. Which would you rather read?
And so I commend to you Eduardo Hughes Galeano, the prolific Uruguayan writer, master of the short form, whose latest book I am now sampling. Sampling and reading are one and the same with Galeano. I found this summation on the Internet :
Galeano defies easy categorization as an author. His works combine documentary, fiction, journalism, political analysis, and history. The author himself has denied that he is a historian: "I'm a writer obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America above all and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia."
Professor Razi Azmi has an op-ed in Pakistan's Daily Times today. The situation described by Dr. Azmi highlights one of the major failures of Islamicate thought in the last millennium: their inability to evolve a political theory beyond hereditary kingship or rule by strongman.
William Burroughs famously remarked that Islam had hit a one thousand year writer’s block. Is this assessment justified? First things first: obviously we are not talking about all writing or all creative work. Thousands of talented writers have churned out countless works of literature, from the poems of Hafiz and Ghalib to the novels of Naguib Mahfooz and the fairy tales of innumerable anonymous (and amazing) talents . There is also no shortage of talent in other creative fields, e.g. I can just say “Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan” and be done with this discussion. But what about the sciences of religion and political thought, or the views of biology, history and human society to which these are connected? Is there a writer’s block in these dimensions?
A wonderful essay about the time of the Ummayads by the erudite (and always polite) Ali Minai. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal touched on this period in a less detailed but still interesting article..
This is an expanded version of an earlier note from my father about his experiences in 1971. I think it is an important document and others like this need to be written if we (especially Pakistanis) are to recover some truth about that terrible year...
No joke! I misread the text of an article which contained an image of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres' painting, L'Odalisque à l'esclave. The article referred to a gift made to John Kenneth Galbraith by the country of India. The generous gift was bestowed upon Galbraith, father of James K. Galbraith, after his service as U.S. Ambassador to India.
The gift was a collection of 18th century minatures. I assumed, mistakenly, that the gift included L'Odalisque à l'esclave.
I am sorry for the mistake and diverting your mental energies to solving an unsolvable puzzle. In small recompense, I am including a link to a very good quality high resolution image of the painting. The image is in the public domain, so click HERE to call up the Hi-Res file and save it to your computer.
See more information on Ingres' fascination with the Odalisque throughout many years of his career, below.
Odalisque and Slave
This drawing represents the artist's return to his famous Odalisque and Slave canvas of 1839 and to an 1842 work with a landscape background. The choice of subject points up Ingres's interest in Orientalism, already visible in his Grande Odalisque and at its apogee in the famous Turkish Bath of 1862, now in the Louvre.
Exoticism and a taste for detail
Here Ingres portrays a languorous odalisque in a harem, listening to the music of a slave girl. The young woman complacently adopts one of the languid poses familiar in Ingres's work, her body undulating in a near-musical way, as if she were dancing in a reclining position. The details - crown, fan, nargileh - are treated with a quasi-hyperrealist precision. The enclosed space gives rise to an ambiguous relationship between the two women, and the presence of the black eunuch in the background heightens the claustrophobic atmosphere.
Many years later
As he so often did, Ingres returns in this drawing to an earlier painting: an odalisque commissioned by his friend Charles Marcotte (1773-1864) - Marcotte d'Argenteuil, as he was known - and now in the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The painting dates from 1839, when Ingres was director of the Académie de France at the Villa Medici in Rome. In 1842 he painted a second version, with a background of a garden and an Oriental niche (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore). The woman's pose, however, comes from the much earlier Sleeping Woman, painted in 1814 and now lost.
The triumph of Orientalism
Artists' growing fondness for trips to the Orient, the influence of travel books, and the taste for the exotic were the main contributing factors to the rise and enduring popularity of Orientalism in European painting in the 19th century. But unlike Delacroix, for example, Ingres never went East, drawing on engravings and Persian miniatures to make his décors as exotic as possible. Here the oriental atmosphere owes less to the use of color than to the voluptuous arabesques. At one point, Ingres considered titling this work Sultana Resting.
I've been reading the Origin of Species this week, because I've often found pre-20th Century physics unreadable (notationally), and it's enjoyable to engage with great science in the original from time to time. Just finished the first chapter, where Darwin makes his famous case for the analogy between artificial and natural selection. This bit caught my eye:
If it has taken centuries or thousands of years to improve or modify most of our plants up to their present standard of usefulness to man, we can understand how it is that neither Australia, the Cape of Good Hope, nor any other region inhabited by quite uncivilised man, has afforded us a single plant worth culture. It is not that these countries, so rich in species, do not by a strange chance possess the aboriginal stocks of any useful plants, but that the native plants have not been improved by continued selection up to a standard of perfection comparable with that acquired by the plants in countries anciently civilised.
This brought immediately to mind Jared Diamond's opposite view in Guns, Germs and Steel, that the usable plant and animal species had geographical distributions that directly affected the trajectory of (pre)history. It seems like that particular set of arguments from Diamond was the weakest portion of his book, substituting a 'straightforward' explanation with a rather ad-hoc and mysterious one, with somewhat flimsy justificatory argumentation.
Arcane as this might be, I thought an old, old song that I had been listening to was foreshadowing the theory of evolution and the Tree of Life concept. It was a Malayalam poem, composed by Poonthanam Namboodiri of whom little is known, beyond a few barebones biographical details. The singer was a well-known playback singer in South Indian films with a solid background in Carnatic classical music, P.Leela. (The lyrics in question are sung at approximately 2:30 into this clip)
(Translation from 'Jnanapaana' - or 'Pot of Knowledge' by Poonthanam Namboodiri)
/What an effort we put to be born now, Because of the good deeds that we did? Many lives have we spent in shit, (I think this might be better thought of a 'primordial mud', with my translation bias assuming that this is indeed a foreshadowing) Many lives have we spent in water, Many lives have we spend in mud, (I think that this should have been translated as 'on the ground') Many lives have we spent as trees, Many lives have we moved around afraid of death, Many lives have we spent as birds, And many lives have we spent as beasts and cows, Before we were born as men/.
On listening to the lines, it struck me that the poet might have known of Darwin's theory and its implications, or the Tree of Life concept when he composed those lines, (some 'me-tooism' in which Indians like to indulge) , but was surprised to find he was from the 17th century, not the 19th. "Poonthanam Nampoothiri (1547-1640AD) Malayalam devotional poet, lived in Keezhattoor near Perinthalmanna in Malappuram district of Kerala. He was a famous devotee of Lord Krishna (Guruvayurappan) . He is remembered for his masterpiece, Njanappaana which means 'the song of wisdom' in Malayalam. Poonthanam was the family name, his personal name is not known." Maybe he was taking an extended page out of the Sankhya view of the evolution of matter. Either way, it was interesting to hear these modern seeming lines in an old poem.
What did the ancients know, and when did they know it?
by Nadir Ali on Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 7:14pm
I served as a young captain and major in Dhaka and Chittagong and then as second in command and later as commander of 3 Commando Battalion , in the fateful 1971 .I was there from early April to early Oct . We were at the heart of events ; we picked up Mujib Ur Rehman from his residence on25th March ,71.We were directly under command Eastern Command and as SSG battalion commander I received direct orders from Gen Niazi, Gen Rahim and later Gen Qazi Majid of 14 Div Dacca .Of the adversaries Gen Zia Ur Rehman was a fellow instructor at Pakistan Military Academy , Gen Khalid Musharof , who overthrew Zia in a counter coup was my course mate / room mate at PMA and fellow officer in SSG. Brig Abu Tahir , who brought Gen Zia back into power in a counter -counter coup ,was also a friend and fellow officer in SSG . He was a leftist and was jailed and later hanged by Gen Zia .Another leftist friend was Maj Zia Ud Din , who as a freedom fighter and Naxalite remained under ground from 1971 to1989 , when a general amnesty was declared .
A group of terrorists was able to get together and attack a major police facility with automatic weapons and a huge truck bomb. Obviously, these are not isolated disgruntled individuals taking revenge for the latest drone attack. They are well organized, well trained and well supplied with arms, ammunition, technical capability and intelligence. How did that come about? I had a facebook exchange after the news which maybe relevant to the question and led to this article.
First some background: A very intelligent senior journalist in Pakistan had complained that we are suffering in the war on terror and the US is asking us to "do more" without realizing how hard things are. The notion that we are being unfairly asked to “do more” and things would be fine if that was not done, is a common feeling in Pakistan. My reply was as follows.
According to this version of events the US and other powers got a military dictator to arm and train these maniacs (no Pakistani interest in this scheme is implied), then things sort of coasted along happily for 12 years, then came 9-11 (frequently believed to be a Mossad-CIA operation) and the US came and said “we want them dead now”. Since then, we have been dutifully trying to kill these maniacs and the current Pakistani government in particular is trying its best to kill them and it is unfair of the US to ask us to "do more". I think this version of events misses some points.
First of all, the jihadi project was indeed a CIA project, but it was also OUR project from the very beginning. America wanted Russia humbled in Afghanistan. WE wanted that humbling to be done by Islamist jihadis under our control and some of “us” had the foresight and brilliance to see in this an opportunity to settle scores with India and plant the seeds of our caliphate and so on and so forth. Second, after the CIA finished its dirty business in Afghanistan and left, “we” multiplied the jihadi infrastructure by 10. We redirected it to Kashmir and spread it throughout Pakistan. Of course the westoxicated burger-jihadi middle class had very little notion of what was going on. These were serious things, handled by serious people in the security establishment, not shared with the rest of the country except on a “need to know basis”. But it is disingenuous to think the multiplication of jihadi militias throughout the nineties was also America's fault (though the US did ignore it, perhaps because they thought it improves their leverage over India, perhaps because they were busy with other things). Then, after 9-11 (which was not an inside job in my view), “we” (meaning our security services) protected good jihadis and failed to go after the indoctrination or finance pipelines because “we" wanted the infrastructure kept alive for future use against India.
The current government may be "doing more", but how will "doing less" help in this situation? And if the army is now on board with stopping this menace (and I think it may be that their leaders indeed are on board by now, though the rank and file is being fed a diet of anti-Indian and anti-Israeli propaganda to justify this action) then why are army-sponsored PR operators and ex-generals and admirals still writing op-eds as if the jihadis are our heroes and America is the enemy?
Salma Mahmud has written a fabulous article about Lahore as it used to be before partition drove a stake through its heart in 1947; focusing on the life of Rai Bahadur Kanhayia Lal, an engineer and polymath who left his mark on Lahore and wrote one of the earliest histories of Punjab, as well as a history of Lahore:
When a Detroit minister named Mayowa Lisa Reynolds went to her City Council last summer to complain about malt liquor advertising, she came prepared.The minister had conducted a survey in which she found a Colt .45 billboard in every square mile of the city. She looked in the nearby, majority white suburbs of Plymouth and Royal Oak.There were none.
Still, the Colt .45 billboards were relatively inoffensive by the traditional standards of malt liquor advertising.In one notorious 1986 print spot for Midnight Dragon, a voluptuous woman grasped a squat 40 ounce bottle above the tagline “I could suck on this all night.”In the 90s, charismatic gangster rappers incorporated 40s into their tales of murder and drug-dealing, driving malt liquor sales to all-time highs. In contrast, the 2009 Colt .45 ads merely featured a cartoon drawing of longtime spokesman Billy Dee Williams dressed in mauve and beige evening wear, accompanied by the slogan, “Works Every Time.”
Reynolds needn’t have worried. Several council members went ballistic at her findings. Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, who created a “Denounce the 40 Ounce Campaign” in the 90s to reduce alcohol consumption in Detroit, fumed that “every 20 years we have to start this fight again.” Reynolds pondered the meaning of “works every time.” “If women drink it, ladies will lose their virginity?” she asked. Councilwoman JoAnn Watson brought out the heaviest rhetorical guns: “This is killing our community. It’s an issue of racism and perversity.” (David Josar, "Detroit council takes aim at Billy Dee Williams malt liquor ads," The Detroit News, July 7, 2009).
For someone who knew nothing about the history of malt liquor, such strong denunciations might seem excessive. Racism and perversity? The Colt .45 billboards in Detroit are hardly more outlandish than other kinds of beer advertising.
But the anger from Tinsley-Talabi and Watson are not atypical.In the summer of 2008, at a Philadelphia bike shop called Jay’s Pedal Power, community protests forced the painting-over of a different graffitti-style billboard of young partiers drinking Colt .45.In June 2009, Colt .45 bus-shelter ads in St. Louis brought protests that the company was seducing young African-Americans into a life of alcoholism."If you look at the black community, the only thing that's advertised is cigarettes and alcohol. Period," alderman Charles Quincy Troupe told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There's nothing that's advertised that puts forth any wellness."
Malt liquor clearly bears a stigma with African-Americans.But with the current “reboot” of an aging and stigmatized brand, Colt .45 is also trying to sell to a different demographic group, a group of people that sometimes appears to lack historical memory of anything that happened before last Tuesday: hipsters.
Like an earnest Mom trying to connect with her teenagers by using the latest slang, Colt .45 is communicating with the kids in a language that they will understand.And some of the efforts are impressive.The company has dialed-in promoters putting on parties and concerts in New York and L.A. with hot bands of the moment, like Das Racist, War Tapes, and the Rapture – with Colt .45 served on the house.Whatever your principles, it’s hard to turn down free booze and music, especially in the middle of a brutal recession.
Some of the other tactics are less auspicious.There’s the bizarre schwag, like special edition brown bags or a Colt .45 unisex robe (available now for just 30 dollars).And some painfully unclever cartoons, as when a young man seduces a total stranger, who has just had a terrible fight with her boyfriend, merely by knocking on her door and giving her a can of malt liquor. (Unless your taste runs to poverty-stricken alcoholics, courtship tends to be a bit more complicated than that, even in these informal times).In a different cartoon scenario with vague echoes of Buckwheat from The Little Rascals, a group of partygoers discover that they have run out of Colt .45 – until noticing that one resourceful drunk has squirreled away a dozen cans in his Afro.They’re forced to attack him to get their fair share.
The humorous portrayals of problem drinking are the work of a young white graphic artist named Jim Mahfood, who hails from the macrobrewery company town of St. Louis.On a promotional video produced by Colt .45’s ad agency Cole & Weber United, Mahfood explains the concept behind the campaign:
"The general vibe, of like, Colt .45, or even drinking 40s?…It just reminds me of being at art school, and people having like, a spontaneous party on the campus lawn, and just people drinking 40s and listening to a ghetto-blaster…When I was able to tell all my friends, especially my friends I went to art school with, that I was doing this campaign? And my comic book label was called "40 Ounce Comics?" I feel like I've been rewarded for all those years of drinking malt liquor." (Cole & Weber United website, accessed October 1, 2009)
The artist's life turns out to be not so tough -- so long as you jettison any pretensions to originality or having something to say.
Companies are not always so ham-handed when it comes to marketing products to hipsters. The journalist Christian Lorentzen may have concluded that “hipsters” don’t actually exist, but Madison Avenue certainly thinks that they do. That's not praise, so much as an observation – advertisers are clearly targeting hipsters, a group loosely defined as young people with relative pop cultural sophistication, a surface detachment from middle-class values, and a love of kitsch and retro styles.
The resuscitation of Pabst Blue Ribbon offers the best example of how subtle the Don Drapers of today can be. P.B.R. went from a beer known for being cheap and bland and in seeming terminal decline in 2001, to a brand known for being cheap and bland that has increased sales by over 25% since 2008, in spite of raising prices in the middle of a recession.That’s on top of a roughly 60% increase in sales between 2001 and 2006, due to a stealth marketing campaign astutely analyzed by Rob Walker in his book Buying In.
As Walker shows, P.B.R. grew precisely because of the lack of overt marketing. A group of bike messengers, skaters, punks, and others who identified with P.B.R.’s low price and vaguely blue-collar image were also attracted by the fact that the beer’s corporate parent didn’t seem to care enough about it to run endless T.V. ads or miles of billboards.(Never mind that the actual owners were uniformly white-collar, having summarily fired 250 Milwaukee brewery workers and outsourced production to Miller in 2001 – PBR is a “virtual” brand that exists only as a marketing and distribution entity).When Kid Rock’s lawyer noticed the young, hard edged drinkers drawn to P.B.R., and thought that that his client might make an excellent spokesman, the company rebuffed his overtures. Instead, P.B.R. continued its unobtrusive promotions, like skateboard movie screenings, art gallery openings, indie publishing events, and the "West Side Invite,” where Portland messengers drank beer and played “bike polo” together – but without pushing the brand using ostentatious posters or signs.
Alex Wipperfürth, who consulted for P.B.R. during those years and has written a book that draws on his findings, describes P.B.R. customers as engaging in “lifestyle as dissent” and “consumption as protest” – embracing this seemingly forlorn beer as a kind of expression of “no future” solidarity. P.B.R. succeeded by willfully keeping its marketing efforts as neutral as possible, to perpetuate the beer’s underdog image.
Buying P. B. R. is not much of a form of dissent, in comparison with, say, marching across the bridge at Selma or smuggling in food to Anne Frank, but it is dissent nevertheless. As Walker observes, buying the P.B.R. beer brand, owned by a large holding company, is hardly a way to strike back against corporations – but it is a way to protest against the phony hilarity and brand saturation of conventional marketing. Incredibly, Pabst marketing whiz Neal Stewart shaped his unconventional campaign by reading Naomi Klein’s 2000 book No Logo. After finishing Klein’s impassioned protest against the pervasiveness of corporate brands, Stewart concluded, "Hey, there are all these people out there who hate marketing – and we should sell to them."
Though Pabst is in the same family of brands as Colt .45, the patronizing cartoons and that silly bathrobe suggest that Cole & Weber United hasn’t learned the lessons of subtlety in selling to young people who loathe pandering advertising campaigns.The central conceit of the hipster is that his bullshit-detector and cultural awareness render him too much of a special snowflake to be targeted by some agency’s dorky creative team.But even were Cole and Weber to replicate some of P.B.R.’s clever moves, it would be hard for it to replicate their results.Colt. 45 is not just another beer, as Watson’s accusation of “racism and perversity” suggests.
Instead of the vaguely blue-collar but essentially blank canvas on which hipsters can project a “no future” image, Colt .45 and malt liquor offer a very particular history.Originally invented during the Depression as a way to make a potent brew cheaply, by replacing some of the expensive malt used in conventional beer with less expensive dextrose, and using heartier yeast strains that result in more alcohol and less flavor, malt liquor has been eclipsed by its marketing.In the 1980s and 90s, malt liquor became a way for brewers to bottle black stereotypes and sell them, in a pomo echo of the minstrel tradition.