Victorian poets such as Matthew Arnold and Alfred Tennyson are celebrated for having survived the test of time, as literary historians would put it. But it is someone else, an “Oriental” poet from England and a popularizer of Buddhism in the West, in Asia, and even on the Indian subcontinent who has been translated into 13 European and 22 Asian languages.
Borders are “important”: they define, in legal terms, who we are, our identity, and our rights. Except borders are rarely imposed with any thought to the people actually living there. And once a border is imposed, it can radically change the lives of those who live alongside it, dividing communities forever more.
The tendency to view post-Mughal India’s relationship with the wider world primarily through the lens of empire has spawned a voluminous literature on the global entanglements of the Raj and the networks, activities and writings of a few key Indian figures spearheading the assault on empire. Yet as the French historian Claude Markovits points out in his new book India and the World, considerably less work has focused on the global travels and overseas sojourns of Indian traders, indentured laborers and sepoys (soldiers) that did not play a crucial or eloquent part in this “from empire to nation state” story.
Vijay Gokhale retired as India’s Foreign Secretary in 2020 after nearly four decades in the diplomatic corps, specializing in China, including a posting as Indian Ambassador in Beijing, experience much in evidence in his recent thoughtful and surprisingly frank book on Sino-Indian diplomacy.
Here are two indispensable and beautifully-written guidebooks designed to lead readers through essential Buddhist thought. One is an ancient guide in verse by the western Indian sage Shantideva (c 685-763) to becoming a bodhisattva, someone who seeks enlightenment in order to pass it on to everyone else. The other is a modern bilingual guide by Alex Kerr using the Japanese version of the Heart Sutra, a Mahayana Buddhist text whose mere 56 lines of poetry are regarded by many as the key to all Buddhist wisdom.
We can sometimes forget that “India”—or the idea of a single unified entity—is not a very old concept. Indian history is complicated and convoluted: different societies, polities and cultures rise and fall, ebb and flow, as the political makeup of South Asia changes.
Love makes for a great story, yet love stories are so much hogwash, especially those emerging from India via Bollywood. In Indian reality, love is all too often a scandal with grave consequences for lovers, consequences that arise out of a perception of love as “affairs” that bring dishonor to families’ prestige. Sunjeev Sahota goes deeper into this experience of love as a scandal in his new novel China Room, a story set in a remote village in Punjab of 1929 about a child bride who merely wants to know whom she is married for to, her mother-in-law, Mai, sends her sons to the wives only in the dark. But Mehar is audacious and she pays for it: her love is crushed by those who see the unfolding events—a case of mistaken identity, love and adultery—as an act of transgression.