Yeh hai Bambai meri jaan!

Western observers with no particular knowledge of Indian politics and society tend to assume the renaming of Indian cities in the 1990s was simply a belated anti-colonialist gesture. Some might even wrongly assume as I once did that ‘Mumbai’ had been an established Indian city before its takeover and mispronunciation by the British. Gyan Prakash’s book is meant as a challenge to more sophisticated misunderstandings than these, but it is equally valuable as an introduction to many of the issues facing modern India, through the story (or rather stories) of its most glamorous city. Continue reading “Yeh hai Bambai meri jaan!”

The politics of secularism

Taming the Gods: religion and democracy on three continents, by Ian Buruma (Princeton University Press, 2010)

Ian Buruma’s short book is a kind of sequel to Death in Amsterdam, his book about the murder of Theo van Gogh and the limits of tolerance. It goes beneath the superficial counterpositions of today’s religion debates – religion versus secularism, multiculturalism versus intolerance – to identify some more interesting dynamics at work. Perhaps most usefully, Buruma shows that ideological disorientation within Western culture is at least as important as tensions between West and East, or even ‘secular liberalism’ and radical Islam. Continue reading “The politics of secularism”

Choosing life

Beat the Booze, by Edmund Tirbutt and Helen Tirbutt

Britain’s apparently pathological relationship with alcohol is an increasingly prominent concern in the media. We are told that far too many people are drinking far too much, leading to antisocial behaviour and lost work days in the short term, and addiction and chronic disease in the long term. Politicians propose everything from better education to steeper prices as a means of weaning us off the bottle.

Continue reading “Choosing life”