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.


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.


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


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]…


…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:


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

Bastard hunting banned…

Yes, I also wondered.

I have an email update each day from the South Asia Daily, a News Brief from the South Asia Channel/Foreign Policy magazine. The headline Pakistan Bans Houbara Bastard Hunting this morning really made me curious. It led to:

On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld a provincial ban on hunting of the Houbara Bastard bird and ordered the cancellation of all hunting permits for it (ET, Dawn). The case derived from the federal government’s issuance of such permits over provincial objections. The panel ruled: “After the passing of the 18th Constitutional amendment, the rights to issue any such licenses rests with the provincial governments.” Justice Qazi Faiz Essa commented: “The federal government has not only violated the federal and the provincial laws but has also breached the international agreements by issuing such licenses.” The Houbara Bastard is listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to its rapid population decline in recent years. However, the bird remains a popular prey of hunters from Arab countries.

It is actually the houbara bustard or North African houbara (Chlamydotis undulata), but I like the spelling in the report above.


houbara bustard

See also from February 2015:Saudi Royal on Houbara bustard hunting spree in Balochistan.

QUETTA: A Saudi prince is on a hunting spree for rare birds in Balochistan despite a court-imposed ban and the government’s insistence that the foreign delegation is only on a diplomatic mission, senior officials said Monday.

The annual hunt has sparked controversy in recent years because of the Houbara bustard’s dwindling numbers, with the issue also shining a spotlight on traditionally close ties between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature includes the bird on its ‘red list’ of threatened species, estimating there are fewer than 97,000 left globally…

The government for its part has denied that the Saudi party is engaged in hunting, saying that they had come to oversee development activities.

“They have other kind of activities like inspecting Arab-funded development schemes and meeting tribal elders of the area as part of good will”, minister for forest and wildlife Obaidullah Babat, told reporters last week.

The issue has stirred controversy on social media and among youth activists in the restive province, where a separatist insurgency has been simmering since 2004 and many are critical of the government’s policies, including its ties to ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia.

Up to 40 youth activists from Chaghi district protested in front of Quetta Press Club against the hunting of Houbara Bastard on Friday.

They chanted slogans against the provincial government and demanded the expulsion of the Arab hunting parties from the province.

The stories we never hear about, eh!

Mind you, I couldn’t help but think of a bit of bastard hunting that we could do with here in Australia. A wicked thought…

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!


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.


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.

Many beautiful things to see here today

First a glimpse of a street near home:



Took those yesterday during my walk through Mangerton with M.

And now some remarkable video.  First to remind you that First Footprints starts on ABC1 tonight.

Not to be missed!

Second, this HSC exercise from Sydney Grammar School has apparently gone viral. Believe me, it deserves all the attention. Lovely bit of work.

Written and performed by student Kim Ho, 17, and shot at his high school, Sydney Grammar, the piece has resonated with audiences around the world.

Since it was released in April, it has been watched by more than 100,000 people on YouTube, been praised by the US gay magazine The Advocate as perfectly capturing the “wonder, fear and excitement of first love” and English actor Stephen Fry tweeted that it was “amazing”.

“I’m really proud of creating something that can move people – and really humbled by that,” says Kim, who has achieved all this while studying for his HSC…

But wonderful as that is, and important it is too, the following must eclipse it – not that there is a competition. In this case, though, the stakes have been more starkly life and death.

The intelligence and courage of this girl Malala Yousafzai have rightly made her universally admired – or should I say admirable, as clearly the bigots who kill do not admire her. The moral bankruptcy and unintelligence of their blatant offense against any God worth worshipping, whatever the religious tradition, and of course against humanity, are exposed by this light in a dark world. I am glad for Malala that at 16 she is more or less safely in England, and we can only hope that her example is a powerful weapon in the struggle for enlightenment the world is still engaged in, that her sisters at home in Pakistan and similarly afflicted societies may be able to live their lives and fulfil their talents without fear.

Update 15 July

Do note Stereotypes go against Koran on female education by Marryum Kahloon in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Growing up as a young female Pakistani Muslim in a Western society is not without complications. In many ways you internalise Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations as you work to assimilate without compromising cultural heritage. You spend a lot of time trying to acquaint your parents and friends with each other’s traditions. I also seem to spend a lot of time exasperated and muttering under my breath as stereotypes are openly aired.

By virtue of being female and Muslim I am regularly confronted with questions about the headscarf, sharia and, most recently, the status of women in Islam. In particular, since the Taliban’s attack on Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, I have been told often how lucky I am to have parents tolerant enough to allow me to go to school.

It is true I am lucky and blessed with the parents I have, but they are by no means revolutionaries in allowing me to attend school. They are no different to the parents of many of my friends who are also Pakistani, Muslim, and educated. Islam, as a religion, encourages women to become as educated as possible…