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In recent weeks, the people of Hong Kong have been leading protests against the threat of Chinese oppression. Today in India, the government announced they intend to revoke the statue that allows the state of Kashmir self-determination and will split it into two union territories, ruled directly from New Delhi.

These are two instances of the same phenomena. In both cases, the vicissitudes of history have made these territories extraordinary. Nationalism cannot stand that. They must be reduced, brought into the fold, broken and remolded and melted into the whole.

In both cases, there is a larger picture. If the Chinese government cannot keep Hong Kong placid, what hope do they have of ever enticing Taiwan to rejoin the motherland? If, after more than 70 years, Kashmir still chafes at Indian rule, what hope is there for the unification of Akhand Bharat?
Yet, to the nationalist mindset, it would be intolerable to let them go. Thought form is destiny. If the people of these territories will not see reason, they will see force. They will be made to see the glory of New China/Bharat Mata.

There’s a basic problem in that the Enlightment idea of human rights was developed in the Western sphere (despite the fact that those of the Western sphere have often ignored it). Therefore in the other major spheres–the Islamic sphere, the Sinosphere, and the Indosphere–there will always be some measure of resentment of the idea. It will always, to some degree, be considered an alien intrusion. In these days of rising nationalism, that degree is increasing.

The ironic thing is that the idea of the nation state was also developed in the Western sphere, but hardcore factions of all spheres seem to take to it like a duck to bread.

But whatever intellectual chuckling I get to have at the nationalists of other spheres ignoring the foreign origins of their actions is bullshit compared to what’s at stake. Kashmir has been an oozing sore for decades. The Chinese government, judging from Xinjiang, seems enthusiastic about crackdown.

Power to the people. To the people of Hong Kong. To the people of Kashmir. It’s hard to see how all this will turn out well. But there’s still hope.

Just finished “The Way Things Were,” by Aatish Taseer. It’s the story of an upper-class Indian living in New York who gets word his father, a scholar of Sanskrit and minor raja, has just died. He must bring his father’s ashes back to India, where he finds himself grappling with his, his family’s, and his country’s intertwined histories.

If that strikes you as thin gruel for a narrative, you’re right. The book is grievously afflicted by Litfic Fear of Plot. It’s more an extended collection of interlocking character sketches than anything. The last 200 pages or so dribble out, and the end contains no real resolution, redemption or climax.

Despite this, I enjoyed much of TWTW. The writing is gorgeous. Taseer can craft a great sentence, and is skilled at deploying little moments of insight. The central theme of the novel is “What does mean to be Indian?” and while there’s no answer (that would smack far too much of plot), there’s a lot of interesting discussion along the way. Taseer talks at length of the connections between languages, literature and life, a subject I love to see.

TWTW might be tough for those without a background of Indian history since the early 1970s. If you’ve never heard of the Emergency, the 1982 Blue Star troubles, or the early 90s reforms & the Ayodhya demolition, much of the book will read as gibberish. Taseer’s practice of throwing untranslated Hindi into his dialogue probably won’t help. But if you have an interest in Indian culture, where it’s been and where it’s going, the book has many valuable insights.