Ten thousand desert rats, 10,000 fish, 14,000 sheep, 1,000 lambs, 1,000 fat oxen and many more creatures slaughtered, cooked and served: that is how Ashurnishabal of Mesopotamia (883-859 BCE) pampered almost 70,000 guests for 10 days. The Archbishop of York’s enthronement feast in 1466 CE required 104 oxen, 2,000 geese, 1,000 capons, 1,000 sheep, 400 swans, 12 porpoises and seals, and a great number of other birds and mammals. In an appropriately grandiose sidebar to his ornate reign as king of France, Louis XIV became incapacitated by overeating at one of his own weddings.
Many feel anxious about the impact of new technology on their jobs. This is not new. In fact, it dates back at least to the Luddites movement at the outset of the Industrial Revolution. And it resurfaced during the Great Depression and again in the 1960s, following a period of high productivity growth, and in the 1980s at the outset of the IT revolution. How can governments help?
The material and moral progress made possible by the Enlightenment is evident across a wide range of metrics, from human rights to life expectancy. But today’s political leaders seem inadequate to the task of managing the Enlightenment’s more troubling legacies.
In 1840, Edgar Allan Poe described the ‘mad energy’ of an ageing man who roved the streets of London from dusk till dawn. His excruciating despair could be temporarily relieved only by immersing himself in a tumultuous throng of city-dwellers. ‘He refuses to be alone,’ Poe wrote. He ‘is the type and the genius of deep crime … He is the man of the crowd.’
The sense that we are not being listened to is one of the most frustrating feelings imaginable. Toddlers scream about it, teenagers move out, couples split up, companies breakdown. One of the main reasons this breakdown in communication occurs is that listening (like reading, thinking clearly and focusing) is a skill which we rarely consider to be something requiring knowledge and practice.
The tree of knowledge has a plurality of roots, and structures of knowledge are multiply grounded in the earth: the body of knowledge is a single organic whole, no part of which is more or less dispensable than any other. ‘Stands an undying banyan tree,’ says Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gītā, ‘with roots above and boughs beneath. Its leaves are the Vedic hymns: one who knows this tree knows the Vedas.
In a culture where fast replies, constant stimulation and the omnipresence of social media rule the day, you might not expect that boredom is a booming business. Yet it is true: scholars from philosophy, psychology, art history, sociology and history—among others—have all tossed in their two cents on this suddenly fashionable subject, and not just by boring their own students.
Leo Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And it’s true: when you see a family squabbling at Disneyland, there are any number of things that could have brought them to that particular moment. An affair? A recent miscarriage? Secret involvement in a drug cartel? A death in the family? An alcoholic older brother? But see a happy family at Disneyland, and your mind goes nowhere.
Shyness, that single emotion that encompasses so many different things—embarrassment, timidity, a fear of rejection, a reluctance to be inconvenient—is, despite its extreme commonality, also extremely mysterious. Is it a mere feeling? A personality-defining condition? A form of anxiety?
By Rahul Sharma
Djibouti is not a usual tourist destination.
It is a small country on the Horn of Africa with a population of less than a million. Surrounded by Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, it lies next to Africa’s badlands. The biggest advantage it has is its access to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, which makes it a busy refuelling and transshipment centre.
The surroundings were at odds with a man who preached peace and non-violence, but there he was as he is in several countries—bald, round spectacles sitting on his nose, looking at a world where his teachings are still relevant and another that has left him behind.
Indeed, the Mahatma is omnipresent in afterlife. He is the most famous brand India has produced. The boost to the country’s soft power through his statues and busts that dot public spaces across continents is not only huge, but also enduring. He has now lived in the hearts and mind of billions for nearly 80 years since his assassination. And by the looks of it, he isn’t fading away soon.
His martyrdom eventually put him on history’s high pedestal and made him acceptable globally as an apostle of peace, ensuring his brand of politics remained relevant. In India, politicians, convulsing against his political thought, consigned him to school text books—bringing him alive on his death and birth anniversaries for formal ceremonies that involved the twice annual ritual of cleaning bird droppings from his statues and naming public schemes after him.
A different path
Frank Moraes, the editor of The Times of India, recounted a conversation with HSL Polak—one of Gandhi’s close associates in South Africa—in an article he wrote for the Foreign Affairs journal to mark the Mahatma’s 10th death anniversary in 1958. He asked Polak how much of Gandhi’s teaching he thought survived in India. “Ostensibly a great deal… In reality, very little,” said Polak.
That probably was a good reason why Richard Attenborough’s film on the man many Britons hated won the Oscar for best film. That probably was also the reason for the U.S. Congress to pass a special legislation allowing the Mahatma’s statute in Washington to be installed on government land.
Indeed, the metallic Mahatma is much in demand. Under a well-structured programme run jointly by India’s overseas missions, which work out the modalities of the placement of statues and busts, and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) that pays the sculptors who make the statutes, replicas of the bespectacled apostle of peace are regularly shipped to the world.
Here, at home, he still has an occasional use. The stamp of moral authority that he has left on this nation means the Mahatma—though a Congress man—can be greedily adopted by other political parties when required. Modi’s effort to make him the face of his “Clean India” campaign is just another example of Gandhi’s use for political convenience.