Cricket: lighting up our troubled times

I love this photo from Cricket Australia of part of the crowd in Brisbane for the first test between Australia and Pakistan.

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And what a game it turned out to be! Pakistan as near as did the seemingly impossible.

Australia ultimately pocketed their predicted win but it was Pakistan that emerged with a lion’s share of the plaudits after a history-making run chase that ultimately fell bravely short.

The manner in which the first Test ended – tailender Yasir Shah run out by Steve Smith’s laser-like throw from second slip having wandered inattentively out of his crease after staving off a Mitchell Starc yorker – was in keeping with many a previous failure from this most mercurial of Test teams.

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And I really like the day-night pink ball format. It is certainly drawing the crowds, and could be the saviour of REAL cricket – five day tests.

Meanwhile look at India go! Karun Nair triple century against England fuels India to highest ever Test innings.

There’s no doubt cricket is one of old England’s greater legacies! And a bit of sanity in a troubling world.

What do you know about the Indus civilisation?

If you are a typical Aussie, educated in an Australian school, chances are you will know very little, probably nothing. I knew a bit because I studied Asian History (including India, China and Japan) at Sydney University in 1962. (See My Asian Century.) I didn’t know much though:

We galloped through China and Japan in two terms (Dr Nish) and India in one (Marjorie Jacobs) and never quite got to South East Asia though I had bought the textbook – D G E Hall in those days. I read it anyway. I wrote essays on Ram Mohun Roy and on the Sian Incident 西安事变. Turned out to be the one and only time I topped a subject at Sydney U!

So this email from New Scientist this morning intrigued me.

The Indus civilisation thrived for 700 years from about 2600 to 1900 BC without war or conflict.

While other early civilisations such as Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt and ancient China gloried in warfare, it seems absent from the Indus valley. In nearly a century of excavations, archaeologists have uncovered just one depiction of humans fighting.

Was the Indus civilisation a real, functioning utopia? If so, how did it survive, and why did it eventually disappear?

The Daily Mail summarises:

This is according to Andrew Robinson. the author of ‘The Indus: Lost civilisations’, who has written an in-depth piece in the New Scientist.

‘All signs point to a prosperous and advanced society – one of history’s greatest,’ he writes.

The Indus Empire stretched over more than a million square miles across the plains of the Indus River from the Arabian Sea to the Ganges, over what is now Pakistan, northwest India and eastern Afghanistan…

Speaking to Robinson, Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, said: ‘What’s left of these great Indus cities gives us no indication of a society engaged with, or threatened by, war.

‘Is it going too far to see these Indus cities as an early, urban Utopia?’.

While Mr MacGregor sees the utopian theory as credible, others cast doubt on the total absence of war…

Among the doubters is Richard H. Meadow of Peabody Museum, Harvard University. See How peaceful was Harappan Civilization? at Harappa.com.

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The Great Bath of Mohenjodaro

This is intriguing too:

Scientists from IIT-Kharagpur and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have recently uncovered evidence that the Indus Valley civilization is at least 8,000 years old and not 5,500 years old as earlier believed.

This discovery, published in the prestigious Nature journal on May 25, 2016, makes it not just older than the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilisations but also the oldest in the world!

That ties in rather with something I have said several times, for example April 18, 2012 and January 7, 2013.

All of which makes it very difficult to treat the following with the awe and wonder it may have attracted in the past, or indeed in my own past. How do you reconcile the fact that in light of the above the grand cosmic narrative of the Abrahamic religions looks decidedly less impressive?

4004 B.C.
Creation of Adam and Eve – [Very few accept this “date” as having any connection whatever with anything that really happened in the history of this planet. — NW]


2348 B.C.
Noah’s Flood – [never happened — NW]


1996 to 1690 B.C.
The Biblical Patriarchs lived during this time – from Abraham to Jacob – [totally myth and legend, reflecting certain rather mundane developments in the movements of people and cultures, but having no resemblance to actual history. — NW]…

And:

…as noted here.

As a lapsed Presbyterian Buddhist Agnostic I find the Abrahamic tradition problematic because it is just so damned parochial! Does the ancient Near East really matter all that much in the context of the facts of WORLD history? Really? Has the creator of the universe not only dedicated him/herself to playing favourites but made the salvation of all humanity depend on this rather odd divine quirkishness? Isn’t the idea of God’s Chosen People the most arrogant thing you can ever imagine? How ungodly! How unOlympian! How only too human!

So one of my problems comes about simply when I contemplate this:

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If you want an easy introduction to Indus Civilisation, go to BBC Bitesize.

Recently on TV: India, Europe, China

My cousin Ray recently posted on Facebook:

These days I tend to only watch free to air television when I am in a motel. Last night I watched a strange reality show on the ABC in which ageing English minor celebrities were investigating the possibility of a cheap retirement in India. (I must admit, having seen the Indian health system, it’s not a place I would choose to spend my twilight years.) I was a little bewildered by the fact that the participants were horrified at the social system and low wages that made their inexpensive retirement plan possible. When are people in the western world going to realise that everything has a cost? If you get something cheap, somewhere along the way someone else has paid the cost.

He is referring to The Real Marigold Hotel, now on ABC1 on Tuesday nights. Pre-publicity:

BBC Two is bringing golden-oldie flick The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to life for a new documentary series – and some of the names involved may surprise you.

Miriam Margolyes, dancer Wayne Sleep, Doctor Who star Sylvester McCoy and ex-Catchphrase host Roy Walker will travel to India together in The Real Marigold Hotel – a factual series inspired by the 2012 movie.

Chef Rosemary Shrager, darts champion Bobby George, singer Patti Boulaye and retired news reader Jan Leeming will also take the trip of a lifetime.

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I can see what Ray is getting at, but  the premise of the series comes from the original movie; what we now see is a “what if?” which celebrates as well as interrogates what the participants experience. It is interesting that our blogging friend Ramana in Pune rather enjoyed The Second Best Marigold Hotel and its predecessor. I wonder if he has been able to see The Real Marigold Hotel.

They’re not entirely “minor” either. Wayne Sleep, for example, has been a Principal Dancer with the Royal Ballet. I have gleaned much about India through these “fish out of water”. But to me (almost as old as Miriam Margolyes) the crux of the program is a meditation an ageing and how we experience it. I have found the program informative, amusing, and quite often moving. What more can you want? Mind you, this reviewer was not quite as enthusiastic, but his review is just of Episode 1. What we saw on ABC last night (Episode 2) was much more than he found there.

…the show was much more about the personalities than the place. When she wasn’t adorning her hair with elaborate scrunchies, former newsreader Jan Leeming declared she wouldn’t eat lamb, fish or beef – leaving her haveli housemates with nothing more than chicken to chew over. Hearty chef Rosemary Shrager couldn’t help bossing the boys around in the kitchen, while ballet dancer Wayne Sleep didn’t want any sympathy about his recent prostate cancer operation.

Miriam Margolyes hoped she would come “face to face with herself” in India, as EM Forster once wrote about visiting the country. But the actress already seemed well-attuned to her inner needs. When she wasn’t farting and “wee wee-ing” her way across Jaipur (trouser-less where possible), she looked and behaved like a character from a Dolmio advert, keen to play the parody version of herself at any opportunity. The camera loved her, and – I have to admit – so did I.

If you’ve been to India or watched other documentaries about the country, it’s unlikely you will learn anything new from The Real Marigold Hotel. But, like the film, it is a charming, heart-warming and at times laugh-out-loud watch.

On SBS at 7.30 on Tuesdays is Michael Portillo’s Great Continental Railway Journeys. We are now seeing repeats, bur this show really has grown on me. I don’t mind at all seeing it again.

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Tonight on SBS is The Story of China. This is what we can look forward to:

“Revolution” Michael Wood observes “has been almost a natural fact of life in Chinese history”. Between 1850 and 1950 three cataclysmic revolutions shook China to the core, but out of them, today’s China emerged. The film begins in Canton, today’s Guangzhou, with the meeting of a US missionary and a Chinese student called Hong. Inspired by the Christian story and driven by visions and prophecies, Hong came to believe he was God’s Chinese son and he unleashed the bloodiest war of the 19th century, the Taiping Rebellion, in which 20 million died…

The Boxers were crushed by the western powers, which extorted a huge indemnity, $60 billion in today’s money. China was on the brink. Michael takes us to Shaoxing to tell the story of the feminist poet and revolutionary Qiu Jin, executed before the failed uprising of 1907. Finally in 1911 the Empire ended and China became a Republic, but in its brief life it knew no peace. China sent 140,000 labourers to the Western Front, only to be humiliated at the Treaty of Versailles when the German colonies in China were handed to Japan.

In China popular rage triggered the May 4th ‘New Culture’ movement whose leaders included China’s greatest modern writer Lu Xun from Shaoxing. But between the two World Wars the disparity between rich and poor, city and countryside only increased.

We visit Hong Kong’s Peninsular Hotel in the Jazz Age, then follow the revolutionary Mao Zedong on the Long March to Yan’an. World War II came to China two years earlier than it did in the West with the Japanese invasion and in Nanjing, Michael meets a survivor of the Japanese massacre of 1937. The tale of the communist era includes a visit to a surviving Maoist commune, before Mao’s death, and the boom time of the last three decades. Finally, after an epic sweep of 4000 years, the series ends back with the Qin family of Wuxi, with the warmth and jollity of the Chinese New Year, and then at the Altar of Heaven in Beijing, a last haunting glimpse of the old China.

Last episode! This is a MUST see!

My earlier post: China-related: Jiawei Shen, Michael Wood, Du Fu.

How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position

Well, that worked for me. When I saw Tabish Khair’s novel on the shelf at Wollongong Library I just had to borrow it!

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Part shaggy dog story, part love stories, part wonderful rendition of cross-cultural relations, part sharp insights into Pakistan/Indian relations, Muslim/Muslim relations… And often very funny. Loved it, and learned from it – not least about Denmark, where it is set and where Khair is a professor in the Department of English, University of Aarhus.

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Tabish Khair

Arifa Akbar writes:

Who wouldn’t be struck by a title like this, with its mix of fundamentalism and sniggering sexual reference? Surely, it can only lead to all-title-and-no-trousers disappointment. No, not at all. In fact, the title is nowhere near as irreverent, intelligent, and explosive as the slowly detonated bomb of a story inside.

The three central characters are familiar-enough though too individualised to be clichéd. Two are Asian lads behaving badly: progressive; promiscuous (one middle-class Muslim, one super-privileged, wannabe Muslim); both players. They move in with an unreconstituted Muslim who drives a taxi and takes the Koran at its divine word. The three are  united, despite these differences, as outsiders living in Denmark (where the award-winning author, Tabish Khair, teaches), all equally subject to the roiling political debate on immigration. Breivik’s attack has  happened in Norway, and the knee-jerk assumption that it was the Islamists is still sending ripples of suspicion across Scandinavia…

What it dramatises is how Muslims are  judged, and more interestingly, how one kind of Muslim judges another, and how this judgement can be deeply complex, and condemnatory. It may only be mid-February but I suspect this will be among my most memorable reads of 2014.

See also The New Republic:

Tabish Khair’s new novel, How To Fight Islamist Terror From the Missionary Position, is the best short attempt to capture some of these realities and tensions that I have yet read. At less than 200 pages, Khair pulls off a brisk, bitingly funny narrative that manages to make some astute points about both Islamic extremism and the Western penchant for stereotyping without drawing anything like a false equivalence. And for a book so concise and witty, it is also surprisingly textured.

And The Guardian:

Fighting Islamist terror is not the book’s focus and, although both main characters have lively libidos, sex is not a particular concern either. In a Danish setting that seems to reflect Khair’s own role as a lecturer at Aarhus University, friends from the Indian subcontinent, one Indian, one Pakistani, move into the flat of an older Muslim, Karim. In contrast to the two young men, Karim is devout and, it seems, narrow-minded, the very definition of a bigot. This is a story of multicultural Denmark, of liberal sensibilities rubbing up against fundamentalism, of brilliant post-colonial minds trying to shine in the cool, grey light of Scandinavia. There’s an echo of The Great Gatsby in the first-person narrative through which one of the young men, never named, admires, scrutinises and ultimately weighs up his congenial and fascinating friend Ravi. Quirkily humorous, this novel challenges assumptions about Muslims.

From Wollongong Library

First a book I really did find interesting: The Last Nizam: An Indian Prince In The Australian Outback by John Zubrzycki. You will find that Goodreads link of interest as there is quite furious disagreement, partly on national/ethnic lines, about the quality of the book. I knew next to nothing about His Imperial Highness Prince Asaf Jah VIII, Imperial Prince of the Ottoman Empire, also known as His Exalted Highness Prince Rustam-i-Dauran, Arustu-i-Zaman, Wal Mamaluk, Asaf Jah VIII, Muzaffar ul-Mamalik, Nizam ul-Mulk, Nizam ud-Daula, Nawab Mir Barakat ‘Ali Khan Bahadur, Sipah Salar, Fath Jang, Nizam of Hyderabad and Berar. Nor did I know that Alan Bond, Howard Sattler and Derryn Hinch figure in his story – but they do.

800px-AsafJah8-Nanny_Bombay-1933 1933 – he is the baby

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In Turkey, 2006

There is a review, rather unexpectedly, by Australian journalist Michelle Grattan.

WHEN MUKARRAM Jah, heir to a great and fabulously wealthy Indian dynasty, first visited Australia in 1972, he couldn’t believe the quietness of Perth’s streets. “It looked like there was a curfew,” Jah recounted later. “I saw two policemen approaching and waved them into the safety of the hotel lobby to find out what had happened. They asked, ‘Where are you from, mate?’ told me it was a typical Sunday morning in Perth and went on their way.”

Jah might as well have told them he was from another world. The Eighth (and last) Nizam of Hyderabad was born to a princely state, said at its height to “rival Mecca . . . as a centre for Islamic learning, and eclipse Constantinople as a repository of the Islamic world’s cultural and spiritual legacy”….

An astute businessman, however, he was not. He loved heavy machinery, purchased a 260-tonne former mine sweeper, drove like a maniac and was nicknamed locally “The Shah”. An intensely private man, he owned a mansion, Havelock House, in Perth, which Helen, the second of his five wives, stuffed with antiques brought from his palaces, so it “began to resemble Hyderabad in its gaudy and ostentatious heyday”.

Financially things went from bad to worse.The number of people suing him in Hyderabad passed 800. For a long time he could sell off jewels and other assets from his extraordinary treasure trove, but this led to problems with the Indian government and further claims from those wanting their cut. The sheep station was lost; the Perth mansion sold. The marriage to Helen had broken up years before; she later died of AIDS. Jah’s private misfortunes had become newspaper gossip in Perth. In 1996 he left the country, the Australian adventure over.

Zubrzycki, an Australian journalist, has an extensive first-hand knowledge of India. His account of the early history is dense reading at times but the reader is gripped, as the book goes on, by the strangeness of a world of fairytale and corruption, and by the tale of a man out of place and time, who lost an almost incalculable fortune but had a pride in his identity. “I know I am the Nizam of Hyderabad”, he once told The West Australian, “and that’s all that matters.”

I also borrowed some rather wonderful DVDs.

Wodehouse Playhouse starring John Alderton first aired forty year ago! P G Wodehouse himself introduced some of the early episodes. The set I borrowed had seven 30-minute episodes, including the one there on YouTube. John Alderton is quite brilliant. The stories are damned silly, but still as fresh as a daisy and hilarious.

Second I borrowed two episodes of probably the most faithful adaptation of Sherlock Holmes stories ever made: Jeremy Brett in  A Scandal in Bohemia (24 Apr. 1984) and The Dancing Men (1 May 1984). Beautifully done. I subsequently reread both stories and can avouch for the authenticity of these versions.

Finally, a speculative borrowing that proved a winner: Joel Edgerton in Wish You Were Here 2012. Rotten Tomatoes, on that link, lists 59 reviews divided thus: Fresh (42) | Rotten (17).

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Margaret and David were both very enthusiastic. I agree with them!

Review by Margaret Pomeranz

The Sydney-based collective known as Blue-Tongue Films comprises filmmakers Joel and Nash Edgerton, Kieran Darcy-Smith, Luke Doolan, David Michod and Spencer Susser. Their most outstanding success to date has been Michod’s ANIMAL KINGDOM. And now, after several short films, Kieran Darcy-Smith, working with his wife Felicity Price as co-screenwriter has made WISH YOU WERE HERE. It stars Price and Joel Edgerton as married couple Alice and Dave Flannery who go on a trip to Cambodia with Alice’s sister Steph, TERESA PALMER and Steph’s boyfriend Jeremy, ANTONY STARR. After a drug fuelled night partying, Jeremy goes missing. A troubled Alice and Dave return to their family in Australia leaving Steph behind to search for him. It’s obvious that Dave knows more than he’s letting on about Jeremy’s fate and there’s something else troubling him as well.

This is a fine-looking film, beautifully shot and edited with terrific performances from Felicity Price and Joel Edgerton and the children playing their kids, Isabelle Austin-Boyd and Otto Page, are sensational. The scenes in the family have an enviable naturalism to them. This domestic thriller has perhaps a touch too much structural manipulation, you’re very aware of information being withheld, so that when the final denouement comes, despite it being thrillingly handled, you wonder how the film would have played if that information had been shared with the audience from the start so that you are in a collusive relationship with Dave throughout the film. But this is an impressive debut from Darcy-Smith and for producer Angie Fielder.

Further comments

MARGARET: David?
DAVID: It’s funny, you see, what bothered you about the film didn’t bother me at all. It’s quite a well known tradition to keep that sort of information from the audience and I thought it added to the suspense of the film.
MARGARET: I was just curious about if you had handled it another way because you’re kept outside of this and you are with him but I wonder how much more you would have been with him if you had been in on it.
DAVID: Yes, but it’s a moot point because they didn’t do it that way. They chose to do it the other way.
MARGARET: No. I know. I know.
DAVID: So for me it worked perfectly well the way they’ve chosen to do it. Look, I think this is a terrific film. I think it really succeeds in capturing this feeling of sort of the first world clashing with the third world in this kind of holiday situation where Australians can behave not very well. I think it’s got – as you say all the performances are splendid. It’s really well done in every way and I love little scenes back in Sydney, where the suspense is carrying you through that that there’s something – you’re not sure what but something horrible is going on that’s followed them really from Cambodia back to Sydney. So I think this is a top rate Australia film and I’m giving it four and a half.
MARGARET: Wow, David, that’s great. I’m giving it four stars. I think it’s terrific too.

See also CinePhilia.

The DVD package is excellent, with some very informative interviews.