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Sunday, Sep 23, 2007

When I was younger I believed that dreams came true
Now I wonder
Cause I have seen more of dark skies than blue
Now I wonder


Chris Isaak, I Wonder



I’m not as grey a guy as ol’ Chris, quoted above. But still, traveling around this great globe of our’n gives pause. In so many ways, it sets a man (and probably a woman) to a-wonderin’.


One thing that I wonder as I wander is this: what if life wasn’t about order?


I know, our bodies – to select but one immediately available counterexample – are self-contained packages. Bundles of nerves, integrated compilations of sinew, carefully crafted architecture of bone. There are highly complex chemical processes that all follow logics which are deducible and predictable employing the highly-honed methods of science. Physics explains some of how it all holds together; bio-chemistry perfectly accounts for others. Medical and psychological and sometimes even sociological theories make fine sense and are occasionally sustainable. They all offer evidence (if not proof) of fundamental order.



Or do they? I wonder . . .


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Sunday, Sep 23, 2007

For anyone who cares about and wants to support jazz and avant music in New York (and elsewhere as their work reverberates outward many times), here’s a great way to support their efforts.  The Vision Festival organization just released this announcement:


“The Matching Grant Campaign has been coming along very nicely.  We are almost There!  Please Please Help us to reach our $17,000 goal!  This is a 2-to-1 Matching Grant, which means that we will receive an additional $34,000 for a Grand Total of $51,000.  This is an Arts for Art effort to get our own space to present New York’s Creative Music.  The space, to be centrally located in downtown Manhattan, will house an ongoing music venue, as well as recording and rehearsal studios.  We have identified a possible location - which I will let you know about once we are a bit further along.  So things are Very Exciting. 


For information about all that we are doing, please check out our beautiful website – It also has lots of photos from this year’s festival.”


Having seen their festival over the last several years, I can vouch for what a worthy cause this is.


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Saturday, Sep 22, 2007


Family films may have finally found their saving grace – and her name is Amanda Bynes. After years making Nickelodeon’s kid vid offerings (All That, The Amanda Show) eminently watchable, and delivering the WB one of its few sitcom hits (What I Like About You), she’s finally branched out into features. With her winsome, wholesome persona and slightly kooky undercurrent, she’s like a Bratz Lucille Ball, a seemingly serious actress who can easily slip on the requisite banana peels when needed. Though she’s currently geared toward the tween set, her potential easily surpasses her demographical reach. That’s why the winning Sydney White is such an important step for the star. It’s her first foray into quasi-adult fare, and it will gauge how much staying power she truly has.


By the looks of it, the answer is quite a bit. Based ever so slightly on the famed fairytale (the film’s title should provide the necessary hint) and featuring a cast of fresh faced newcomers, George Lucas in Love director Joe Nussbaum takes something that could be cloying and pat and expands it beyond its tacky TV movie boundaries. In fact, it’s hard to fathom how the Olson Twins passed on this project. Still, the simple storyline – tomboy Sydney heads off to college and pledges her late mother’s snooty sorority – lays the groundwork for moments of ‘meet-cute’ comedy and standard Greek life lunacy. It’s all very Revenge of the Nerds in its make-up and manipulation, but in a current cultural shift that actually embraces the dork dynamic, the last act standoff is more heartfelt than hilarious.


No, the majority of the comedy comes from Bynes’ ability to be both comely and klutzy in a scene. When she meets BMOC fraternity president Tyler Prince, her ridiculous ramblings are cute and corny. Similarly, her interaction with the varied Vortex’s resident rejects reminds us of how fragile the combination of coming of age awkwardness and adolescent awakening can be. But our young actress maneuvers through such tenuous terrain with grace, wit, and a sense of wide-eyed wonder. One of the best traits Bynes brings to her roles is the sense of sudden experience. We never doubt the shock of her reactions, nor are her responses over-rehearsed or rote. Instead, we feel as if life is constantly surprising this sprite, and her good natured, normative takes come naturally, not out of some screenwriter’s notebook. It’s indeed a rare cinematic condition.


Wisely, Nussbaum surrounds Bynes with actors capable of conveying a similar stance. As the prime villain, Sara Paxton’s “witchy” Rachel is the perfect blond baddie. She’s all pampered and privileged poison, without a single saving sentiment. She is primed for a finale fall. As the rightly named Tyler Prince, Matt Long has a too good to be true quality that should have the adolescent gals in the audience wiggling in their wish fulfillment. While his ‘feeding the homeless’ hunkiness may be a bit much, this actor finds a way to make it work. Some of the best moments, however, come from the seven ‘dorks’, performers like Jack Carpenter (winning as the nebbish Lenny), Danny Strong (the perpetually pissed-off blogger, Gurkin) and Freaks and Geeks’ Samm Levine (as horndog dope Spanky) turning stereotypes into individuals with effortless engagement.


In fact, it’s fair to compare Sydney White favorably to the college comedies of the ‘80s, especially the smarter, sassier ones like Real Genius. While Nussbaum and his writer Chad Gomez Creasey realize the need to keep the mentality geared toward the marketplace, they also infuse the film with lots of grown up grins. When the Vortex dweebs head off onto the Student Body President Campaign trail, the classic sing-along “Hi Ho, Hi Ho” gives one of its words a satiric, contemporary nod. Similarly, Rachel’s set of “calming words” come across as a Super Sweet 16 registry list. Granted, a few of the jokes are obvious, and the narrative frequently follows traditional plot contrivances, but since both actors and filmmakers are trying everything to avoid cliché, the truisms don’t seem so tacky.


What we have here then is an obvious throwback to the Disney University cavalcades of the mid ‘60s, movies where Kurt Russell shined as genial undergrad Dexter Reilly. All that’s missing is the supernatural/sci-fi premise, the occasional slapstick setpiece, and Cesar Romero as a too suave underworld figure. Yet the same pleasure principles clearly apply. A movie like Sydney White is only out to entertain, to provide the emotional underpinning that will get us through the various purposeful plot machinations. It will establish sides, provide motivation, clarify the characters, and then deliver everything in a clean, convincing manner. We may not end up with something special, or overly endearing, but there will be no denying its effervescent entertainment qualities. You’ll leave happy, and hardly embarrassed.


As a result, Sydney White is one of those fascinating films that taunt your aesthetic while it simultaneously delights your fun zone. It doesn’t strive for deep meaning, or tempt fate by fully falling into the updated Brothers Grimm mode (the Snow White storyline is barely recognizable most of the time). Instead, it provides proof that Amanda Bynes will be the next big thing, a Meg Ryan in the making who will one day dominate the cinematic stratosphere. As long as she continues to mark time, putting in professional work both as star (She’s the Man) and sidekick (she was great in the Summer musical hit Hairspray) there is nothing but fame in her future. Unlike so many others in her former child star position, she appears resolute on building a career, not a criminal record. Perfect for the kids and inviting for adults, Sydney White is a surprisingly effective film that produces nothing but piles of smiles…and Amanda Bynes is the reason why.


 


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Saturday, Sep 22, 2007


The War in Iraq is destined to leave yet another battle-weary scar on a nation finally recuperating from the one it received three decades before. Both sides can argue their rosy Red pros and basic Blue cons, but when all is said and done, all conflict is about people, not positions. They are the ones who pay the price, not the politicians. So what does it say about Paul Haggis and In the Valley of Elah, his post-Crash comeuppance to everyone who thought his 2005 racial roundelay didn’t deserve the Oscar, that our brave fighting men are actually the bad guys here. Not unsympathetic bureaucrats, career minded Congressmen, or bomb building extremists, but the boys and girls wearing the stars and stripes. Granted, this laconic whodunit is based on actual events, but one still has to wonder if this is the right story to tell, given the current climate in the country.


When he goes AWOL after returning home from Iraq, the parents of Private Mike Deerfield get a fateful phone call. Father Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), an ex-military policeman himself, immediately heads over to his boy’s base to see if he can aid the investigation. However, his worst nightmares are realized when a badly burned, and crudely cut up, body is found along a deserted roadside. It is his son, the obvious victim of foul play. Promising his wife Joan (Susan Sarandon) that he will get to the bottom of the crime, Hank contacts local police detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron). Unappreciated by the male members of the bureau, and battling against stonewalling Army brass, she initially gives up on the case. But when inconsistent statements and some illegally obtained video footage suggest something far more sinister, she decides to help Hank. Together they will try and figure out why Mike became the target of such a senseless slaughter.


Wearing its holier than thou attitude on its blood-soaked sleeves, In the Valley of Elah is the most underhanded, backdoor anti-war film ever attempted. It takes a standard murder mystery, wraps it up in a torn and tattered flag, and flies the entire narrative upside down and a little lower than half mast. As a thriller, it’s a swing on a country porch. As a diatribe, it’s like listening to a well-intentioned teen explain politics. There is literally nothing wrong with Haggis’ approach, or his appreciation of the toll the Iraq War is taking on everyone involved – family, friends, and those in the line of fire. And he does make his characters complex enough to sustain such a subtle, slowpoke storytelling stratagem. But by the end of its overlong running time, when the final loose thread has been neatly knitted back into place, one can’t help but think that there was a better way to make this material work. Sometimes, a scream is preferable to a whisper.


Yet Haggis is content to keep his voice down. There are moments when this movie appears to be barely moving, when our director is purposefully stalling for significance. For example, when Tommy Lee Jones checks into a local motel, we witness his entire bed making routine. Similarly, we catch almost all of his character’s morning hygiene ritual, with an accidental shaving cut accentuated for future plotpoint portents. Indeed, a great deal of In the Valley of Elah wastes time laying cinematic booby traps. The aforementioned facial laceration will end up bleeding on a list of heretofore unknown subjects, while an inappropriate racial epithet will turn into an invitation for background information. Haggis wants to hide his symbolism as much as celebrate it, and with the cinematography’s dour, faded color scheme and vague visual palette, he creates the perfect vista for such an approach. Unfortunately, this film is so restrained that it frequently feels inert.


Granted, one doesn’t come into a tale like this expecting the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air, but Haggis’s halting style can be very aggravating at times. At one point, Sarandon phones Jones to tell him that a package from their dead son has just arrived. Immediately, he warns her not to open it, and after a brief back and forth she acquiesces. But then the subject is never mentioned again, with almost an hour going by before the envelope makes a last minute reappearance. As a dramatic device, it may have some significance, but we are smack dab in the middle of a murder investigation – a crime that may have some connection to the soldiers Mike served with. And you’re NOT going to investigate a mysterious parcel sent from the front lines which, perhaps, holds a key to solving the case? Right, that makes perfect sense.


Haggis’s politics are also problematic here. Thematically, In the Valley of Elah ascribes to the theory that war turns the innocent into bloodthirsty butchers, and in the case of the Iraq conflict, it has the potential to turn the best and brightest into unstable, antisocial psychopaths. There are several senseless sequences of foreboding offered, as when a scared military wife warns the police that her husband has started acting weird (he goes berserk and drowns the family dog). Yet instead of taking it seriously, the other officers in the station make goofy animal noises as Charlize Theron tries to comfort her. The whole chauvinistic take on the lawmen of Tennessee is equally odd, since the justification being forwarded is that, as ex-military men, it’s part of their noble nature. Indeed, time and time again, Haggis argues that everybody’s favorite iconic Uncle is really the Son of Sam. In his world, being all you can be means eventually turning into Ted Bundy.


If one thing saves this overly stoic statement, it’s the overall level of proficiency in the performances. Jones, Theron, and Sarandon all own Oscars, and they legitimately deserve said accolades. While he’s nothing more than a hospital corner’s curmudgeon at the beginning, Hank Deerfield is modified nicely over the course of the narrative, thanks in part to Jones’ desire to dimensionalize this despondent dad. Sarandon gets two excellent scenes (a morgue visit, and a late night phone call) and she makes the most of them. Oddly enough, Theron’s efforts may be the most intriguing. Dressed down, but never out (it’s hard to make this classic beauty look bad, unless you’re stopping off at the special effects tent), she comes across as jaded and unstrung, a woman waking everyday to a series of traumas that have as much to do with her career as crime. Her single-motherhood is hyped to no real end, but the connection with her kid makes for some intriguing and enlightening nuance.


Yet it’s these types of tangents that ultimately derail In the Valley of Elah. It seems like, every time a clue is unearthed, it requires a lengthy rationale and off topic backstory to certify it. Papa Deerfield swipes his son’s cellphone from the barracks, and within its damaged memory is a series of cryptic video clips. Of course, we get to witness almost all of these overlong ‘flashbacks’ in technologically deficient detail. As the picture pixelates, jumping and jerking to mimic handheld, in battle ‘realism’, we wait for the denouement. Sadly, Haggis hampers his own vindications by employing such a strange, scattered approach. Yet each video has an explanation, and we are constantly thrown off the case itself, to explore these occasionally unnecessary facets. It’s like the title analogy (Jones tells Theron’s little boy the story of David and Goliath): we are supposed to see the allusion between small town cop and the big, bad US military, but because the movie avoids such bravado confrontation, the link appears hallow.


Maybe the message will save In the Valley of Elah. Polls indicate that most Americans are sick of Iraq and its jumbled, no-endgame policies. As such, Haggis plays right into their worst, most horrifying fears. He shows an army incapable of achieving its objective while excusing the off-base criminality of its soldiers as simply “blowing off steam”. The grunts themselves are strip club settled and pimply, like hyperactive kids in an oversized candy store. When we learn what happened, both at home and abroad, we’re not shocked as much as saddened. The US has always suspected that its ‘unnecessary’ wars lead to unseen post-traumatic consequences. As a filmmaker, that’s all Haggis has to offer. Relying on it may be politically, or philosophically right, but it doesn’t necessarily serve a murder mystery thriller. Perhaps that’s why In the Valley of Elah seems so subdued. When questioning the heroism (not the heart) of the men who serve our nation, it’s best to speak softly. You don’t want to rile the resolved.


 


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Saturday, Sep 22, 2007

The Leader Who Silently Leads


Monks protest in Burma

Monks protest in Burma


Over the last month images have begun appearing in newspapers around the world of monks walking along streets, sometimes wading through water, in protest in Burma. “Armed only with upturned begging bowls, chanting Buddhist monks in Myanmar have caught the country’s military rulers off guard with their peaceful protests,” reported ABC News. “The monks have emboldened the public to take to the streets by the thousands to support the most dramatic anti-government protests the isolated Southeast Asian nation has seen in a decade.” It’s a story told mostly silently, related symbolically, through actions and gestures. “The monks’ peaceful protests, which have drawn thousands of people onto the streets clapping and smiling in Yangon and other cities, have turned into the most prolonged show of defiance in nearly 20 years against the junta,” wrote Agence France Presse. “Deeply respected in the devoutly Buddhist country, the monks have breathed new life into the anti-junta movement after initial street protests broke out one month ago following a massive hike in fuel prices.” Yesterday the protesters were allowed to march past the house of Aung San Suu Kyi, the rightful leader of Burma, who has been detained for much of the past seventeen years.


“We were overwhelmed and some of us could not control our tears,” one witness told Reuters after 1,000 monks held a 15-minute prayer vigil at the lakeside home in Yangon where Suu Kyi is confined. “Aunty Suu also prayed for the well-being of all. Making a gesture of respect with her two palms, Aunty Suu came out through a small door of the gate. She was flanked by two women. She looked quite okay,” the witness said. “The monks chanted prayers and wished her good health.”


In 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party overwhelmingly won the first multi-party election to be held in Burma since 1960 but the military refused to let her take office. With calm dignity and equanimity she has stayed in her country, accepting the years and years of house arrest and detention imposed upon her. In 1991 her son, Alexander Aris, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf.


Poster image from FreeBurma.org.uk

Poster image from FreeBurma.org.uk


Speaking as her son ... I personally believe that by her own dedication and personal sacrifice she has come to be a worthy symbol through whom the plight of all the people of Burma may be recognised. And no one must underestimate that plight. The plight of those in the countryside and towns, living in poverty and destitution, those in prison, battered and tortured; the plight of the young people, the hope of Burma, dying of malaria in the jungles to which they have fled; that of the Buddhist monks, beaten and dishonoured. Nor should we forget the many senior and highly respected leaders besides my mother who are all incarcerated. It is on their behalf that I thank you, from my heart, for this supreme honour.


The Burmese people can today hold their heads a little higher in the knowledge that in this far distant land their suffering has been heard and heeded. We must also remember that the lonely struggle taking place in a heavily guarded compound in Rangoon is part of the much larger struggle, worldwide, for the emancipation of the human spirit from political tyranny and psychological subjection. The Prize, I feel sure, is also intended to honour all those engaged in this struggle wherever they may be.


Jose Ramos Horta. Photograph from The Sydney Morning Herald

Jose Ramos Horta. Photograph from The Sydney Morning Herald


The Melancholy Difficulties of Freedom


The President sets an earnest pace on his dawn walk to Jesus. He nods a morning hello at the gate of his compound, then pounds his way down the street he renamed Robert F. Kennedy Boulevard. It’s a road of stunted gums and barren soils, like Broken Hill by the sea. Across the water, through mangroves and mud, the morning lights of Dili are bobbing on the bay, while the headland in the distance is dominated by the enormous statue of Christo Rei—Christ the King.



In a story as exquisitely observed as a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, Greg Bearup writes of the sadness and challenges that freedom can bring, in his Sydney Morning Herald profile of President Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor who, like Aung San Suu Kyi, earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful persistence for his country’s freedom. (He shared the 1996 prize with Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo.) It’s a profile that’s reported with a deep attentiveness that makes the reader feel transported to the “impoverished, fragile” East Timor, and breathes life into the complex hero of the story capturing his flaws as well as his strengths. 


Bearup was in East Timor just after the recent elections when it fell to Ramos-Horta to appoint who would lead the country after an indecisive result. Former President and fellow freedom fighter, Xanana Gusmao, who had been East Timor’s first President threaded together a co-alition and was eventually declared Prime Minister over former Prime Minister Mari Alkitiri, who he’d worked with during the struggle to try and gain independence for East Timor. The fighting and rioting that had been going on periodically since May erupted again.


Greg Bearup concludes the story with Jose Ramos-Horta commenting on the rioting in East Timor. “Sometimes we should look at ourselves in the mirror and say what a bunch of f…ing idiots we are. The moment the Portuguese granted us an opportunity to be free, after 500 years, we fought our first civil war. So who do we blame? The Indonesians for stirring trouble? The Australians for not paying attention? Or should we blame ourselves? And now, again we have the chance. I will do everything I can to make it work this time. If we fail again, only God can help us.” Earlier in the story he’d quoted him saying, “I said to Xanana yesterday he had always been a champion for negotiations. I said to him, ‘You talked to the Indonesians. You embraced them. You hugged and kissed them. And now, you don’t even talk to your own comrade.’ At crucial times, like now, we should all unite. I fear I will not be able to bridge the two extremes. And if I cannot, only God can.”


Jose Ramos-Horta, who worked as a journalist after leaving school spent 24 years in exile, campaigning tirelessly for his nation’s freedom, travelling the globe, talking to anyone who might listen, undaunted by the lack of interest in his cause. He tells Bearup that this campaigning has prepared him to be an effective eventual United Nations Secretary General, a position he plans to lobby for. “I know the world like no one,” he tells Bearup. “None of the previous UN secretaries-general has had my field experience and visited as many countries as I have visited. I have visited over 100 countries. I was born barefoot in one of the poorest areas of East Timor, that means one of the poorest areas of the world. No UN secretary-general has had this type of poor background. I am far more sensitive to issues of poverty than anyone—from UN secretaries-general to Jeffrey Sachs or those heads of the World Bank.”


The images of poverty and suffering that Bearup describes in East Timor are powerfully affecting. The barren land, the poor and starving people, the aid money that goes unspent because it’s difficult to set up plans to make use of it. When the rioting broke out earlier this year Ramos-Horta opened the gates to his property and 500 people ended up living in his house and garden. “I told my staff, open the gates—anyone who feels unsafe and wishes to come in may come in—so they came in. There were beds everywhere.” Several dozen still remain.


Ramos - Horta says he has set up an anti-poverty taskforce and written a plan to overhaul the tax system, so that only the rich, like him, would pay tax. He will push the new Parliament to allocate him funds, bypassing the bureaucracy, to allow the allocation of small grants to the poor. “I want to be a friend and an advocate of the poor,” he says with conviction. “I don’t think there is any more noble mission in life for me, or for any leader, than to fight poverty. I really don’t care all that much about the abstract notions of democracy if it doesn’t bring food to the table.”


From “Local Hero” by Greg Bearup. Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Good Weekend’ supplement, September 22, 2007.


Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra


Pankaj Mishra Assesses Sixty Years of Indian Democracy


Pankaj Mishra begins his New Yorker essay on the sixtieth anniversary of the partition of India by commenting that a few hours before making the formal declaration, the ViceRoy of India, Lord Mountbatten and his wife Edwina watched the Bob Hope movie “My Favorite Brunette”.


Large parts of the subcontinent were descending into chaos, as the implications of partitioning the Indian Empire along religious lines became clear to the millions of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs caught on the wrong side of the border. In the next few months, some twelve million people would be uprooted and as many as a million murdered. But on that night in mid-August the bloodbath—and the fuller consequences of hasty imperial retreat—still lay in the future, and the Mountbattens probably felt they had earned their evening’s entertainment.


Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, had arrived in New Delhi in March, 1947, charged with an almost impossible task. Irrevocably enfeebled by the Second World War, the British belatedly realized that they had to leave the subcontinent, which had spiralled out of their control through the nineteen-forties. But plans for brisk disengagement ignored messy realities on the ground. Mountbatten had a clear remit to transfer power to the Indians within fifteen months. Leaving India to God, or anarchy, as Mohandas Gandhi, the foremost Indian leader, exhorted, wasn’t a political option, however tempting. Mountbatten had to work hard to figure out how and to whom power was to be transferred.


On July 26, the national Indian newspaper, The Hindu, reviewed an essay by Ravi Kalia about the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s urban planning concepts conceived with the architect Le Corbusier, which sought solutions to the resettlement of refugees, and the question of what form freedom should take in Indian cities.


Nehru demanded the creation of a city ‘unfettered by tradition’. To him and the internationally influential Swiss architect and city planner Swiss-born Frenchman Le Corbusier (originally, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret), “the machine age held the promise of liberating individuals and improving society, to be achieved by the simple, but powerful dictum: modernise your house and your life will follow,” narrates Kalia.


“For both men, India offered unimaginable freedoms played out in a vast and exotic landscape: skyscrapers and steel/chrome/aluminium factories announcing the aesthetic potential of new materials that were already transforming life outside the home. Modernism offered a shimmering vision of escape from everything conservative, tradition, and limited.”


By D. Murali. The Hindu



Pankaj Mishra grew up in small towns in north and central India in the 1970’s and 1980’s and published a book on his travels through small Indian towns in 1993. In an editorial in The Guardian on August 14 he writes of the dwindling Indian middle-class that had been made possible by Nehru’s reforms and their replacement by “long-muffled peoples (who) are building their own vindictive new hierarchies of power and wealth. Given the long decades of darkness they have known, they are in no mood to accommodate old elites. Democratic ideals and beliefs have aroused in them not so much a sense of reciprocal citizenship as an impatient expectation of what is owed to them.”


“Perhaps this dwindling of middle-class culture was inevitable, part of the price of “progress”. A generation ago, my own parents and their peers had moved out of their restricted settings and taken up jobs in remote cities and towns. Their children are now scattered across India (and increasingly across the world). Besieged by the usual middle-class anxieties of jobs and careers, we lose touch, forgetting names and faces. Few people show up when some of these children get married or have their thread ceremonies. Deaths and funerals have turned into lonely, often desolate affairs. Two years ago, one of my uncles, who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s, watched his wife bleed to death after an accident at his home in a Lucknow suburb - a fate unimaginable in the close-knit world of his childhood.


Of course, the destruction of old bonds of family and community and shared culture has been faster elsewhere, in Europe, America - even China. Poverty and crime are more vicious in many American cities than in Lucknow and Allahabad. And, compared with the Indian poor, who are perennially at the mercy of criminals and corrupt policemen, the old middle class is still relatively protected. Still, it is hard today, 60 years after independence, not to see poignancy in the Nehruvian elite’s tryst with destiny; to realise how little the makers of modern India knew of their suburban future: the high-rise apartment complexes in which they would die pining for a patch of weak wintry sun on a green lawn.”


Pankaj Mishra. “Death of the Small Town.” The Guardian. August 14, 2007



Pankaj Mishra is direct and open about the problems modern India faces while celebrating its strengths and diversity, and writes about the complex issue of religious divisions and violence with clarity and great heart. In an editorial for The Guardian on September 14, he contrasted India and Europe.


The scale of political-religious violence in India dwarfs anything suffered by western Europe in the postwar era. Yet India’s unique liberal tradition, which respects minority identity and community belonging, remains central in the country’s intellectual life. Indian economists, historians, sociologists, philosophers, novelists and journalists are deeply divided on many political and economic issues. But, apart from a minuscule few, they remain wedded to India’s founding vision of pluralism.


Not surprisingly, these postcolonial Indians are bewildered to see liberal politicians and intellectuals in Europe embrace a majoritarian nationalism, recoiling from what, by Indian standards, seems a very limited experience of social diversity and political extremism. Acts of terrorism in the post-9/11 period have shocked many Europeans into a new awareness of an alienated minority group in their midst. It is clear that recklessly globalising capital and technology, and the failed modernisation of much of the formerly colonial world - of which religious extremism and migration are consequences - pose daunting challenges to European societies. But instead of facing them squarely, many Europeans have retreated into old insecurities about Islam and Muslims.


 


 


 


 


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