History posts

Taking an axe to the British Raj

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

I find alternate histories great fun to read. They often try to correct some injustice, an impulse like John Lennon’s iconic song. Artistically, they achieve a most satisfying asymmetricity: close enough to what actually happened to twin reality, seen through a mind askew.
In the case of popular Bengali humorist Rajshekhar Basu, pen name Parashuram, who [...]


Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

I have vowed to gag myself (i.e. not blog) until I’m done writing my wretched book but I figured copying something out doesn’t amount to a real blog post. Plus, this was just too good to not share. From Partha Mitter’s “Much Maligned Monsters“, a wonderful book that is available only as an import in [...]

CIA lost nuke device in Himalayas

Friday, June 12th, 2009

An American doctor with a mountaineering fetish was recruited to place a plutonium-powered device atop India’s second highest peak to spy on the Chinese. They lost the device in an avalanche, putting millions of lives at risk by plutonium contamination at the head of the Ganga, reported the Seattle P-I in ‘07:

In 1965, Schaller was [...]

Booted by the Footprint of Freedom

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

The NYRB is running a fascinating review of Island of Shame, a book about how the U.S. and UK expelled the residents of Diego Garcia in ‘71 to turn the Indian Ocean atoll into a military base. Dubya later turned it into a black site for terrorism suspects:

[Diego Garcia is] the launch pad for the [...]

Tata Airlines

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

It’s comforting to know that back in the days before Air India got its name, Punjabis were still slipping the flight attendants their phone numbers, Brahmins were still demanding special dietary treatment and godmen were rarely as frugal as they appeared.
Air India was founded by J. R. D. Tata in 1932 as Tata Airlines… [Wiki]
On [...]

Side Ponytails? We Invented ‘Em

Friday, January 16th, 2009

If you were a teenager living in the United States during the 1980s, you probably had a side ponytail or knew someone cooler than you who rocked one. Well, it turns out side ponytails (and its variation shown here) were de rigueur for Indians in Kerala as documented by in the book by [...]

Bharat ek Khoj on YouTube

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

In recent weeks things have been happening to revive happy memories of my Doordarshan-cocooned childhood. First I discovered Shemaroo DVDs of the beloved TV serial Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, which used to be a Friday-evening fixture in the mid-1980s. Shortly …


Monday, December 22nd, 2008

I grew up assuming the word ‘knickers‘ was an Anglicization of the Hindi ‘nikkar.’ But it turns out they’re the 200-year-old remnants of a viral marketing campaign by a struggling New York author. (This is as far as I’ve been able to trace it, corrections welcome.)
Washington Irving, who later wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, [...]

‘Life’ ho to aisi

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Google just inked a deal to host defunct Life magazine’s photo morgue, and there are some gems in there from the life of Indira Gandhi. Young Indira in pink downing a soda is obviously a keeper. But I especially like the one of Nehru curling on ice, and the [...]

Forgotten photos

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Nehru without his cap:

An exhibition of rare photographs, History in the Making, is currently on in… Delhi. The pictures were taken by photo-journalist Kulwant Roy. Most of Roy’s photos lay forgotten in boxes for a quarter of a century. [BBC]

The invisible hand

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Guess who once ran an ad with an ominous-looking flask pouring chemicals over the Indian countryside? Full ad after the jump.

First multiracial presidential nominee

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Officially now, not presumptively: Barack Obama’s the first multiracial and the first African-American nominee from a major party. In the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
… we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force…. many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have [...]

Less than half of ‘A Yellow Sun’

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Here’s a passage about a desi character in Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Adichie’s rightly celebrated novel about Biafra’s brief secession from Nigeria. Adichie’s language is utilitarian, but the war, affairs and arguments over postcolonial politics are molto bene:
There was Dr. Patel, the Indian man who drank Golden Guinea beer mixed with Coke… Whenever [...]

‘The Septembers of Shiraz’

Monday, August 25th, 2008

[Quick impression of first 70 pages, not a full review.]
The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer tells the story of Tehran after the fall of the shah. The book’s central family is Jewish Iranian. The father is imprisoned for unspecified crimes against the mullahs, and an Armenian friend is unceremoniously executed.
The tone of the book [...]