Sunday, July 03, 2022

Review of The Hunt for Mount Everest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Hunt for Mount Everest

The Hunt for Mount Everest documents the 70 year history from the measurement of Mt. Everest in 1850 to the expedition in 1921, when westerners came closest to Mt. Everest, about 40 miles. It would be another 30 years until George Mallory and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest. 

After the 1921 expedition, explorer Francis Youngblood wrote: 
The doom of Everest is sealed, for the simple and obvious reason that man grows in wisdom and stature, but the span of mountains is fixed … This doom can be seen to be relentlessly closing in on Everest.
Out of all the passages in The Hunt for Mount Everett, this one haunted me most. 

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer documents the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. After a surprise snowstorm, six climbers didn’t make it back to their camp. When the storm finally passed, five of them were dead and the sixth climber was so badly frostbitten that his right hand had to be amputated. In the epilogue, Krakauer quoted a Sherpa orphan who lost his parents on climbing expeditions:
 I never have gone back to my homeland because I feel it is cursed. My ancestors arrived in the Solo-Khumbu region fleeing from persecution in the lowlands. There they found sanctuary in the shadow of 'Sagarmathaji'* …In return they were expected to protect that goddesses’ sanctuary from outsiders. … 

But my people went the other way. They helped outsiders find their way into the sanctuary and violate every limb of her body by standing on top of her, crowing in victory, and dirtying and polluting her bosom. … even the Sherpas are to blame for the tragedy of 1996 on 'Sagarmatha.' I have no regrets of not going back, for I know the people of the area are doomed, and so are those rich, arrogant outsiders who feel they can conquer the world." 
Both these passages refer to doom, but while Younghusband views doom positively in terms of man’s growing “wisdom and stature,” the Sherpa orphan views it negatively in terms of desecrating ‘Sagarmatha.’ 

* Literally, the mother of the oceans. I like this name better, as many of the great rivers of Asia originate in the Himalayas

Sources (Harvard style)

Krakauer, J., 1997. Into thin air: a personal account of the Mount Everest disaster. 1st ed. New York: Anchor Books.

Storti, C., 2021. The Hunt for Mount Everest. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Is hing casteist?

Vidya Balachander

(Sigh) Another example of injecting caste into everything. As a friend said:

Mix caste into every Indian narrative as "masala " to be served in food for western audiences... Tired of these folks who spin these theses endlessly :-(

So true. In 2021, Vidya Balachander won a writing award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) in the Food and Drink category for her article Asafoetida’s Lingering Legacy Goes Beyond Aroma. 

Here's what ASJA said about Balachander's article:
This is a beautifully written piece exploring the spice. The writer strikes an intriguing balance between her personal experience and history, anthropology and politics. A fantastic piece combining in-depth research and skillful writing. 

References:

American Society of Journalists and Authors. (2021). ASJA > For Writers > ASJA's Annual Writing Awards. Asja.org. Retrieved 15 July 2021, from https://asja.org/for-writers/annual-writing-awards.

Balachander, V. (2021). Asafoetida’s Lingering Legacy Goes Beyond Aroma — Whetstone Magazine. Whetstone Magazine. Retrieved 15 July 2021, from https://www.whetstonemagazine.com/journal/asafoetidas-lingering-legacy-goes-beyond-aroma.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

What's behind the Assam-Mizoram border dispute?

 The boundary dispute between Assam and Mizoram dates back nearly 150 years. Boundary demarcations in 1875 and 1933, particularly the latter, are at the heart of the dispute. The 1933 boundary was made without consent and approval of government  authorities and the people of Mizoram.  The boundary dispute has simmered since Mizoram became a Union Territory in 1972 and then a state in the 1980s.

Assam and Mizoram border dispute

The dispute between Assam and Mizoram has recently escalated, as firing on the boundary left at least six Assam police dead and over 50 others injured.While Assam claims that its boundary has been transgressed, Mizoram cites unilateral moves by Assam inside its territory.   

Following a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah,  Mizoram wants “the inter-state border issue with Assam be resolved in an atmosphere of peace and understanding". Twenty-four hours after the meeting, however, people are unable to travel through the border areas between Assam and Mizoram by vehicle. Mizoram blames Assam for blocking the road. According to Assam, Assam withdrew its travel advisory and  nobody is being stopped from travelling to Mizoram. 

Sources:

Deb, D. (2021). Explained: Why did a 150-year-old Assam-Mizoram dispute get violent now? The Indian Express. Retrieved 7 August 2021, from https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/the-assam-mizoram-dispute-violence-policemen-dead-7425600/.

Purkayastha, B. (2021). Bonhomie after Assam-Mizoram talks yet to reflect at border points. Hindustan Times. Retrieved 7 August 2021, from https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/bonhomie-after-assam-mizoram-talks-yet-to-reflect-at-border-points-101628280061118.html.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

NPR: Lauren Frayer's feature on blaming Modi for the second COVID wave in India

Dear Mr. John F. Lansing, President and CEO of NPR, 

I run the The Bahu of Bengal blog at https://sanatanadharma2002.blogspot.com/. On my blog, I publish letters that I have sent to media that have displayed anti-Hindu bias. 

This letter is in reference to the article: 

Frayer, L. (2021). 'This Government Has Failed Us': Anger Rises in India Over PM Modi's COVID Response. Npr.org. Retrieved 12 May 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2021/05/11/995446333/this-government-has-failed-us-anger-rises-in-india-over-pm-modis-covid-response.

 
Lauren Frayer, NPR International Correspondent, Mumbai, India

First of all, my family and friend have been impacted by COVID: My brother-ln-law lost his uncle and the uncle’s son in quick succession. The departed were musicians (masters of the sitar) of high repute. 

A friend of mine who lives in the State of Andhra Pradesh tested positive for COVID. As an observant Hindu, he wrote, “Pls pray for me and lit a small oil lamp at your Ista Devi [personal goddess]. I am covid positive and suffering.” He was self-isolating at home, as there were no hospital beds available. This was devastating, as he is a young man with a 3-year old son. Fortunately, he began to feel better after taking Fabiflu, a pill that is an antiviral drug for treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 patients.

I will leave it to the families to determine if Modi is at fault. 

That said, I will address points in Ms. Frayer’s article: 

It is disgusting that media publishes photos of burning funeral pyres when cremation is a personal matter for families of the departed. I have seen this sort of voyeurism up close. We were carrying out rites for my father-in-law, who left the mortal plane in 2011, on the banks of the Ganges River. A tour bus stopped, and western tourists disembarked to snap pictures. 

Ms. Frayer said that “India's health system has collapsed. There are shortages of hospital beds, medical oxygen, antiviral drugs, and vaccines.” My question to Ms. Frayer is: How did this happen India was exporting vaccines to many countries? It is sad to see India dependent on foreign largesse. Ms. Frayer didn’t investigate. 

Ms. Frayer said that “Nevertheless, there were few masks and scant social distancing in Modi's crowd [in West Bengal]. At the time, West Bengal had none of the pandemic restrictions reimposed in some other Indian regions.” This is not Modi’s fault, but rather the fault of the All India Trinamool Congress Party, the ruling party in West Bengal. 

Ms. Frayer said that “For weeks, Modi's Hindu nationalist government had also refused to halt the huge Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, in which millions of people gathered to bathe in the Ganges River throughout April.” In this article Blame game at this juncture is suicidal, https://www.rediff.com/news/column/blame-game-at-this-juncture-is-suicidal/20210512.htm, Vivek Gumaste wrote that “But in terms of cause and effect the Kumbh Mela does not stand out as the putative factor: The second wave was already in progress when the Kumbh Mela began.” 

Ms. Frayer said that “NPR contacted seven spokespeople for Modi's government or party to comment on the criticism. Two were sick with COVID-19. Another said he didn't want to talk. Four others did not respond to interview requests.” This is not surprising, given media’s hostility to Modi and the BJP. They cannot expect that media will treat them fairly. 

Ms. Frayer said that “But it's unclear whether voters penalized the [BJP] party [in West Bengal] for its pandemic response because the voting was held in several stages, with some ballots cast in late March and early April before the extent of the current coronavirus wave was clear.” Here, Ms. Frayer is partly right (gasp!). Other factors might include the failure of the BJP to project a candidate for Chief Minister and its failure to understand the nuances of the Bengali language. Bengals are very possessive of their language. 

Ms. Frayer said that “On May 5, the national BJP president, J.P. Nadda, held a news conference in West Bengal to talk about post-election violence in which some of the BJP's poll workers were allegedly attacked by supporters of a rival party.” Allegedly? Really? /sarc. Photos of BJP party workers who were victims of post-election violence in West Bengal have circulated online. Even the Communist Party, which the All India Trinamool Congress Party decimated, has raised their voices against the ruling party’s violence against their party! 

Ms. Frayer said that “Video filmed at a crematorium in the city of Meerut and posted to Twitter on April 30 shows an argument between a family that had just cremated their loved one, who died of COVID-19, and another man who interrupts the family and scolds them for bemoaning the government.” Once again, this is voyeurism in what should be a private affair. Admittedly, the man who interrupts the family and scolds them for bemoaning the government, shares blame. 

Noting that bordering countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal have not been afflicted by a devastating second wave, some suspect bioterrorism. 

In 2019, Dr. Indu Viswanathan created a petition for Greater Journalistic Integrity in Reporting on Hinduism @ NPR, https://www.change.org/p/national-public-radio-journalistic-integrity-in-reporting-on-hinduism-npr. She garnered over 10,000 signatures. She succeeded in contacting Nancy Barnes, the Senior Vice President of News at NPR. Ms. Barnes said that she and her team will look closely at the petition, the demands, and all of the data that we sent their way, in addition to reviewing [Furkan] Khan's and Lauren Frayer's articles. However, NPR never got back in touch with Dr. Viswanathan. NPR owes the Hindu community a reply and continued dialogue.

Sincerely,

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

A letter to Prinita Thevarajah on casteism and yoga - Part 2

 In my previous article A letter to Prinita Thevarajah on casteism and yoga - Part 1, I wrote:

A scholarly friend noted that the Hindu scriptures are adamant that Yoga is for all varnas, Jatis and genders; also, many yoga preceptors come from "lower" castes.

Prinita Thevarajah

I had sent his rebuttal as an attachment to the email to Ms. Thevarajah. I reproduce his comments in this post:

This is the most ridiculous article that I have ever read on Yoga. The Hindu scriptures are actually adamant that Yoga is for all varnas, Jatis and genders. 

  • Even if one is born in a low Varṇa or happens to be a woman devoted to Dharma, through the practice of Yoga they will attain the Supreme Goal. Mahābhārata 12.240.34
  • All have a right to practice austerity, include one of a low varṇa. But he should have conquered his senses, and his mind. Austerity takes one forward on the road to heaven. Mahābhārata 12.295.14
  • By seeking recourse to this Dharma of Yoga, women, Vaishyas, Shudras and even those born in sinful wombs attain to this Supreme State. Then what to say of the learned Brahmanas and Kshatriyas who are always engrossed in doing their Dharma and practice the means to attain Brahman. - Anugita 4.61-2, Ashvamedhika Parva of The Mahabharata.

Many other verses can be cited. In the early medieval period, the strongest proponents of Yoga were Natha Yogis, and most of their 9 primary teachers (Navnath) were Shudras or from communities that would be called Dalits today: Jalandharnath, Charpatnath, or even their founder Matysendranath (considered a fisherman by some). 

In this article, the author harps on a single issue that Yoga in the west derives from the school of B.K.S. Iyengar and Krishnmachari, who were both from Brahmin descent. What she fails to note is their spiritual lineage - Shri Vaishnava tradition. In that tradition, Nathamuni is said to have written the Yogarahasya, which is said to have been recovered miraculously by Krishnamachari in modern times.

There is no stricture against any Varna-Jati or gender not eligible to practice Yoga. In fact, the Yoga Rahasya attributed to Shri Nāthamuni even devotes considerable attention to how women, and especially pregnant women, can practice Yoga.

The Shrivaishnava cannon is crowned by the Thiruvayamoli of a Nammalvar - called the Dravida Veda. He was a Thevar (Shudra), and his 1000 hymns are called the Samaveda in Tamil. When we visit temples of this sampradaya, the Pandit places on our head a crown representing Nammalvar.

Ms. Thevarajah might well have remembered that the greatest Tamil classic on Yoga, a part of the Nayanmar sacred canon, is the Tirumantiram, authored by Tirumular - a low caste cowherd.