It was a glorious spot then, before Kipling’s vulgarians and yahoos had arrived, a little jewel of a hill station ringed in by snow-clad peaks and pine forests, with air you could almost drink, and lovely green valleys like the Scotch border country — one of ‘em was absolutely called Annandale, where you could picnic and fête to heart’s content. Emily Eden had made it the resort in the ’30s, and already there were fine houses on the hillsides, and stone bungalows with log fires where you could draw the curtains back and think you were in England; they were building the church’s foundations then, on the ridges above the Bazaar, and laying out the cricket ground; even the fruits and flowers were like home — we had strawberries and cream, I remember that first afternoon at Lady Sale’s house.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.
March 23, 2015
March 7, 2015
The BBC made a film called India’s Daughter. The Indian government decided that the film made them look bad, so they banned the film in India and attempted to force the film out of worldwide circulation. In the internet age. It hasn’t been going well for the would-be censors so far:
The Indian government has remained defiant over its ban on a BBC documentary about the 2012 fatal gang-rape of a student in Delhi despite a groundswell of acclaim for the film from prominent Indians who watched it online.
After India’s Daughter broadcast in the UK on Wednesday night, the hour-long film surfaced on YouTube, where the Guardian was able to view it on Thursday afternoon despite reports in Indian media that the government had ordered it be taken down.
India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, has threatened to take action against the BBC, though did not elaborate on what form this may take, save that “all options are open”.
Police in Delhi continue to pursue the investigation against filmmaker Leslee Udwin, who has left the country, and her Indian crew. Officers visited the homes and offices of Indian crew members on Thursday in a bid to collect the entire footage of the film.
Though online viewing figures for the documentary about Jyoti Singh’s death remained in the low thousands, there was much acclaim from influential literary and Bollywood figures who questioned the necessity of the government’s ban.
“It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen – it’s moving and makes you think,” said the novelist Chetan Bhagat. “It’s bone-chilling, yet it shakes you up – it’s a must-watch film.”
H/T to Perry de Havilland for the link.
March 5, 2015
Between the Sutlej and Lahore lie fifty of the hottest, flattest, scrubbiest miles on earth, and I supposed we’d cover them in a long day’s ride, but Sardul said we should lie overnight at a serai a few miles from the city: there was something he wanted me to see. So we did, and after supper he took me through a copse to the loveliest place I ever saw in India — there, all unexpected after the heat and dust of the plain, was a great garden, with little palaces and pavilions among the trees, all hung with coloured lanterns in the warm dusk: streams meandered among the lawns and flower-beds, the air was fragrant with night-blooms, soft music sounded from some hidden place, and everywhere couples were strolling hand in hand or deep in lovers’ talk under the boughs. The Chinese Summer Palace, where I walked years later, was altogether grander, I suppose, but there was a magic about that Indian garden that I can’t describe — you could call it perfect peace, with its gentle airs rustling the leaves and the lights winking in the twilight; it was the kind of spot where Scheherazade might have told her unending stories; even its name sounds like a caress: Shalamar.
But this wasn’t the sight that Sardul wanted me to see — that was something unimaginably different, and we viewed it next morning. We left the serai at dawn, but instead of riding towards Lahore, which was in full view in the distance, we went a couple of miles out of our way towards the great plain of Maian Mir where, Sardul assured me mysteriously, the true wonder of the Punjab would be shown to me; knowing the Oriental mind. I could guess it was something designed strike awe in the visiting foreigner — well, it did all of that. We heard it long before we saw it, the flat crash of artillery at first, and then a great confused rumble of sound which resolved itself into the squealing of elephants, the high bray of trumpets, the rhythm of drums and martial music and the thunder of a thousand hooves making the ground tremble beneath us. I knew what it was before we rode out of the trees and halted on a bund to view it in breathtaking panorama: the pride of the Punjab and the dread of peaceful India: the famous Khalsa.
Now, I’ve taken note of a few heathen armies in my time. The Heavenly Host of Tai’ping was bigger, the black tide of Cetewayo’s legions sweeping into Little Hand was surely more terrifying, and there’s a special place in my nightmares for that vast forest of tipis, five miles wide, that I looked down on from the bluffs over Little Bighorn but for pure military might I’ve seen nothing outside Europe (and damned little inside) to match that great disciplined array of men and beasts and metal on Maian Mir. As far as you could see among the endless lines of tents and waving standards, the broad maidan was alive with foot battalions at drill, horse regiments at field exercise, and guns at practice — and they were all uniformed and in perfect order, that was the shocking thing. Black, brown, and yellow armies in those days, you see. might be as brave as any, but they didn’t have centuries of drill and tactical movement drummed into em, not even the Zulus, or Ranavalona’s Hova guardsmen. That was the thing about the Khalsa: it was Aldershot in turbans. It was an army.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.
March 2, 2015
David Warren on the oddly named “Digby Chicken” and “Bombay Duck” along with a paean to the joys of food shopping in Parkdale:
Parkdale, which is to say, the inner core of the Greater Parkdale Area, in which the High Doganate is located, is a melting pot of innumerable overlapping ethnications. Among our most exotic immigrants are those from the far east: Nova Scotia, for instance, and Newfoundland. Shopping, at least for food in Parkdale, is a treat. We have every sort of specialist grocery, and in effect, groceries within groceries. One gets one’s Tibetan yak sausage, for instance, from a Serbian butcher whose store is cowboy-themed; ingredients for one’s Somali maraq from the Sinhalese grocery (via their Maldivian connexion); but the exhilarating, cardamom-infused gashaato instead via the Sikh Punjabis, as supplement to their Bengali sweets. Note, this culinary cross-dressing is the opposite of multiculturalism. Rather I would call it, “downmarket fusion.”
This being Lent, I try to avoid fish on Fridays. There’s enough of that for the other days, beans on rice will do, or perhaps sinfully on the last two Fridays, I indulged a craving for sweet potato in a Siamese red sauce. I woke this morning with a craving for salt, as well as protein, and as God is merciful, recalled to mind a little platter of Digby chicks in my fridge — obtained some days before from the Maritime ethnic section of a cheap local supermarket.
Digby Chicken has long been Nova Scotia’s answer to Bombay Duck. The latter, also salty, and so powerful in flavour and scent that it requires careful packaging, is actually a fish, the bummalo. Gentle reader may already be trying to construct an etymology from that, but there is no hope for him. The fish is actually harvested from the waters off Bombay. It was transported from there by rail, in the good old days of British Imperialism, aboard the Bombay Dhak (i.e. the Bombay Mail), which gave rise to such expressions as, e.g. “You smell like the Bombay Dhak.” Surely, that will be enough to go on.
February 18, 2015
“John Company” — the Honourable East India Company, described by Macaulay as “the strangest of all governments … for the strangest of all empires”, was Britain’s presence in India, with its own armed forces, civil service, and judiciary, until after the Indian Mutiny of 1857, when it was replaced by direct rule of the Crown. Flashman’s definition of its boundaries in 1845 is roughly correct, and although at this period it controlled less than half of the sub-continent, his expression ‘lord of the land” is well chosen: the Company was easily the strongest force in Asia, and at its height had a revenue greater than Britain’s and governed almost one-fifth of the world’s population. (See The East India Company by Brian Gardner (1971).)
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.
February 1, 2015
Tim Worstall looks at a recent book on an Indian experiment that investigated how to improve poverty relief programs:
In terms of the Indian experience one of the reasons that these trials worked well was because they were trials. Effort was put into making certain that those who were supposed to be receiving the cash were in fact receiving it. Such care and attention to people getting what they’re supposed to get is not an outstanding feature of the various welfare systems currently in use in India, as the book makes clear. So, just making sure that people were getting those modest amounts that they were supposed to get is going to be an advance. And it wouldn’t be possible to simply roll out such a scheme across the country, however beneficial, without a lot of preparatory work to make sure that the right people really would be getting the money.
It’s also true that the current systems fail badly in other ways. Purchasing grain to ship it around to special shops where it will be sold hugely under the market price is always going to be a leaky system. Some number of the middlemen will be sorely tempted to divert produce to sell onto the market and there’s considerable evidence that some succumb to that temptation. If people simply have money to buy on the standard market in the normal manner then it’s a lot easier to keep a control on that sort of thing.
However, the most important thing for the design of the American welfare system is the points they make about how the poor value being given goods as against being given money. $100 (far in excess of the amounts being discussed here) is worth more than $100 of food for example. Or $100 worth of medical care. There’s two reasons for this. One is simply that everyone values agency. The ability to decide things for oneself. And money does that. It’s possible to decide whether you want to purchase food, or to save a bit and buy a goat next week, or more fertiliser for the fields and so on. What the peasant on the ground would like to do with any increase in resources is most unlikely to accord with what some far away bureaucrat thinks said peasant ought to be doing. So, the choice itself increases value.
So, we could actually make poor people richer by abolishing food stamps. Assuming, of course, that we just gave them the same amount of money instead. The same would be true of Medicaid and housing vouchers of course. Yes, I’m aware that there are arguments against doing this. But it is still true: converting goods and services in kind into cash would make the poor richer at the same cost to the rest of us. So it is at least something we should consider, no?
And the main reason switching to cash from the current system is … paternalism. Governments really do think that they are better equipped than the recipients of aid in how to spend that money. And it’s quite true that some welfare recipients would blow the payments on booze or drugs or what-have-you, but the majority of peoples’ lives would improve if they got cash rather than food stamps or other in-kind assistance.
January 31, 2015
Earlier this month, I linked to an article about the low reputation enjoyed by India’s first domestically designed and manufactured assault rifle. According to Strategy Page, there’s a potential change of heart by the Indian military on the INSAS rifle:
In response to the growing combat losses because of flaws in the locally made INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) 5.56mm assault rifle, the Indian government seems likely to capitulate and allow the military to get a rifle that works. Unfortunately for nationalist politicians, this will probably be a foreign rifle, and the leading candidate is Israeli.
This all began in the 1980s when there was growing clamor for India to design and build its own weapons. This included something as basic as the standard infantry rifle. At that time soldiers and paramilitary-police units were equipped with a mixture of old British Lee-Enfield bolt action (but still quite effective) rifles and newer Belgian FALs (sort of a semi-automatic Lee-Enfield) plus a growing number of Russian AK-47s. The rugged and reliable Russian assault rifle was most popular with its users.
In the late 1980s India began developing a family of 5.56mm infantry weapons (rifle, light machine-gun and carbine). Called the INSAS, the state owned factories were unable to produce the quantities required (and agreed to). Worse, the rifles proved fragile and unreliable. The design was poorly thought out and it is believed corruption played a part because the INSAS had more parts than it needed and cost over twice as much to produce as the AK-47.
The original plan was to equip all troops with INSAS weapons by 1998. Never happened, although troops began to receive the rifle in 1998. By 2000 half the required weapons ordered were still not manufactured. Moreover in 1999 the INSAS weapons got their first real combat workout in the Kargil campaign against Pakistan. While not a complete failure, the nasty weather that characterized that battle zone high in the frigid mountains saw many failures as metal parts sometimes cracked from the extreme cold. Troops complained that they were at a disadvantage because their Pakistani foes could fire on full automatic with their AK-47s while the INSAS rifles had only three bullet burst mode (which, fortunately, sometimes failed and fired more than three bullets for each trigger pull.) What was most irksome about this was that the INSAS rifles were the same weight, size and shape as the AK-47 but cost about $300 each, while AK-47s could be had for less than half that. The INSAS looked like the AK-47 because its design was based on that weapon.
Update: Added the link to Strategy Page.
January 18, 2015
Indian troops suffer a particularly bad experiment in local sourcing of equipment:
In 1999, the Indian Army fought a three-month-long undeclared war with Pakistan. It was also the combat debut of India’s new INSAS battle rifle.
The INSAS is a very bad rifle.
During the conflict — waged over the disputed and mountainous Kargil district in the province of Kashmir — the Indian troops’ rifles jammed up, and their cheap, 20-round plastic magazines cracked in the cold weather.
Designed to shoot in semi-automatic and three-round burst modes, some soldiers would pull the trigger, and the gun would unexpectedly spray rounds like a fully automatic.
Soldiers also preferred the heavier 7.62-millimeter rounds in the FAL rifle, which the INSAS and its 5.56-millimeter rounds replaced.
Then in 2005, Maoist rebels attacked a Nepalese army base. The Nepalese troops had INSAS rifles bought from India. During the 10-hour-long battle, the rifles overheated and stopped working. The Maoists overran the base and killed 43 soldiers.
“Maybe the weapons we were using were not designed for a long fight,” Nepalese army Brig. Gen. Deepak Gurung said after the battle. “They malfunctioned.”
November 24, 2014
In The Diplomat, Ankit Panda talks about the prevalence of modern slavery in India:
The 2014 Global Slavery Report, conducted by the Walk Free Foundation, estimates that India has the highest number of individuals living in slavery out of any country worldwide. The report finds that out of an estimated 35.8 million men, women and children around the world living under conditions of modern slavery, 14 million are in India (followed by 3 million in China and 2 million in Pakistan). India ranked first in terms of absolute numbers of people in modern slavery, and fifth overall in terms of percentage of its total population (1.14 percent) living in modern slavery (Mauritania, Uzbekistan, Haiti, and Qatar ranked above India, in that order). The total number of slaves in India is 20 percent higher than the 2013 report because of a change in methodology.
Modern slaves are defined as individuals subject to forced labor, debt bondage, human trafficking, forced sexual exploitation, and forced marriage. This is a considerably broader understanding of slavery that addresses issues of human and labor rights beyond the conventional understanding of the term as human property. This is in part why the 2014 report estimates 35.8 million modern slaves worldwide while the International Labor Organization (ILO) counts 21 million worldwide — the ILO estimate focuses on forced labor primarily. According to the Walk Free Foundation, evidence of modern slavery in one form or another was found in all 167 countries surveyed for the 2014 report.
Given the continued de facto importance of caste in Indian society, social factors play a role in poor labor and human security outcomes for certain sections of Indian society. The report in particular highlights the vulnerable position of India’s Dalit caste, noting that they have the “least social protections and are highly vulnerable to severe forms of exploitation and modern slavery.” It also notes the relatively poor state of women’s rights in the country, leading to “significant discrimination and high rates of sexual violence” against women and girls in India.
November 16, 2014
In Kotaku, Luke Plunkett explains why of all the AI leaders in the game, none are more likely to espouse the philosophy “nuke ‘em ’till they glow, then shoot ‘em in the dark” than India’s Gandhi:
In the original Civilization, it was because of a bug. Each leader in the game had an “aggression” rating, and Gandhi – to best reflect his real-world persona – was given the lowest score possible, a 1, so low that he’d rarely if ever go out of his way to declare war on someone.
Only, there was a problem. When a player adopted democracy in Civilization, their aggression would be automatically reduced by 2. Code being code, if Gandhi went democratic his aggression wouldn’t go to -1, it looped back around to the ludicrously high figure of 255, making him as aggressive as a civilization could possibly be.
In later games this bug was obviously not an issue, but as a tribute/easter egg of sorts, parts of his white-hot rage have been kept around. In Civilization V, for example, while Gandhi’s regular diplomatic approach is more peaceful than other leaders, he’s also the most likely to go dropping a-bombs when pushed, with a nuke “rating” of 12 putting him well ahead of the competition (the next three most likely to go nuclear have a rating of 8, with most leaders around the 4-6 region).
Update, 16 November: Fixed the broken link.
October 31, 2014
BBC News provides some information on a massive project currently underway at the British Museum:
A transgender singer hits stardom in Baghdad. Officials scramble to impose order after a Kuwaiti restaurant is found to be selling cat meat. Gulf royals on an official visit to London are left marooned in a drab south London suburb because of a shortage of hotel rooms in the West End.
These are some of the quirky stories hiding in nine miles of shelving at the British Library (BL) that hold the India Office Records — millions of documents recording Britain’s 350-year presence in the sub-continent.
The India Office did not only administer India, it also exercised colonial rule over an area stretching west as far as Aden. That’s why the files cover Persia and Arabia. And the reason the stories are coming to light is that the Qatar Foundation has paid £8.7m for nearly half a million documents relating to the Gulf to be digitised.
Work started in 2012, and many of those documents have now gone online at the Qatar National Library’s digital library portal.
Never formally part of the British Empire, the Gulf nonetheless came under colonial administration after being targeted for trade in the 17th Century by the East India Company. Two centuries later, the government established direct control through the India Office.
But principles of free academic inquiry, which guide the BL’s work, contrast with Freedom House’s assessment of Qatar as “not free”. Amnesty International called Qatar’s new cybercrimes law, passed last month, “a major setback for freedom of expression”, and Qatari writer Mohammed Al-Ajami remains in jail, serving a 15-year sentence for a poem deemed insulting to the monarch.
The BL and Qatar National Library (QNL) both hold copies of the digitised archive but Gibby’s expectation is that the portal – currently hosted by Amazon – will eventually be transferred for hosting in Qatar. That could theoretically expose material to manipulation by Qatari censors.
“That was discussed very clearly right from the beginning,” says Gibby. “Both sides made very clear to each other that there is no suggestion this will be censored. To date that has been borne out. We, the British Library, are trusting [the Qatar Foundation] and our faith is in them.”
H/T to Mark Collins for the link.
September 28, 2014
At The Diplomat, Mohamed Zeeshan talks about India’s self-imposed disadvantages in manufacturing both for domestic and export consumption:
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden Independence Day speech was laced with inspiring rhetoric. But of the many things he said, the one slogan that inevitably caught public attention was this: “Come, make in India!” With those words, Modi was trying to make the case for turning India into the world’s next great manufacturing hub. Understandably, the Indian populace was thrilled.
India is one of the world’s ten largest economies (and is third largest on a purchasing power parity basis), with a total annual output of nearly $2 trillion. As much as 57 percent of this output is produced by a service sector that employs just 28 percent of the population, largely concentrated in urban parts of the country. That is no surprise, because most Indians lack the skills and education to join the more knowledge-intensive service sector. What they need is what successful developing nations all over the world have had ever since the Industrial Revolution: a robust and productive manufacturing sector.
Yet India’s manufacturing sector contributes just 16 percent to the total GDP pie (China’s, by contrast, accounts for almost half of its total economic output). Victor Mallet, writing in the McKinsey book Reimagining India, recently offered an anecdote that was illuminating. “One of India’s largest carmakers recently boasted that it was selling more vehicles than ever and that it was hiring an extra eight hundred workers for its factory,” he wrote, “But the plant employing those workers belongs to the Jaguar Land Rover subsidiary of Tata Motors and is in the English Midlands, not in job-hungry India.”
Mallet goes on to make a point that has been made frequently by Indian economists: The world doesn’t want to “make in India,” because it is simply too painful. There’s bureaucratic red tape, a difficult land acquisition act, troublesome environmental legislation, a shortage of electricity, and a lack of water resources. The only thing India doesn’t seem to lack is labor, but that merely adds to the problem. As Mallet points out in the same essay, aptly titled “Demographic dividend – or disaster?”, “India’s population grew by 181 million in the decade to 2011 – and (despite falling fertility rates) a rise of nearly 50% in the total number of inhabitants is unavoidable.” But the number of jobs being added to feed that population is inadequate.
However, the labor dividend is still important. India doesn’t need to reduce the number of hands on deck. It needs to weed out the challenges that stop them from being productive.
May 20, 2014
The Economist looks back at the history of India Pale Ale, the first truly global beer:
INDIA pale ale (IPA) had a good claim to be the first global beer, before lager took a grip on the world’s tipplers. Now IPA, an amber, hop-laden brew, high in alcohol, is regaining its global footprint. Arguments rage about the origins and history of IPA. Britain’s territories on the Indian subcontinent were generally too hot for brewing. So a couple of hundred years ago, to keep army officers and officials of the East India Company away from the fearsome local firewater, beer was exported from Britain to take its place. Whether a beer already existed that had the characteristics of IPA or whether it was developed for the purpose is a matter of heated debate among beer historians. What is clear is that hops, which act as a preservative as well as a flavouring, combined with a hefty dose of alcohol for added robustness, ensured that the beer survived the long sea journey to India. Indeed, the months jiggling in a barrel onboard seemed only to improve the flavour. The style caught on at home, as the brew seeped onto the domestic market.
IPA’s popularity waned as the brewing industry changed. After the second world war, big brewers in Britain and America bought smaller competitors and flooded the market with bland, mass-market beers as old styles were abandoned in favour of a pint that would not offend anyone. In the 1980s brewing began to change again.
A minor quibble: in the snobby world of the British Raj, it wasn’t company concern for army officers and officials — it was those men being concerned that the troops in company army service or the lower-ranking clerks and functionaries not get too fuddled on local firewater. The officers and officials had their regimental officers’ messes and clubs which catered nearly as well as fancy gentlemens’ clubs in London. No beer for those chaps! Wine, whisky, and gin certainly (and in great supply) but beer was for the sweaty lads in the lower orders.
The beer that craft brewers like making the most is IPA. Artisan beermakers in America adopted old recipes from Britain for their IPAs but gradually began to adapt the brews to their own tastes. The heavy use of hops allows them to show off their skills in blending different flavours. Some parts of America, like Britain, have an excellent climate for growing top-quality hops. The bold flavours and high alcohol content create a beer that has a distinct style and bold taste, yet can come in many shades. The passion for hops in American craft beers has taken on the characteristics of an arms race, as brewers try to outdo each other in hoppiness.
The hop-addiction among craft brewers is well known. In fact, the demand for high quality aromatic hops is threatening to create shortages of the “good stuff” in the immediate future, as more craft brewers enter the market and try to out-hop the Joneses.
May 16, 2014
The Economist reports on the first election in India to produce a single-party majority since 1984:
“INDIA has won” tweeted Narendra Modi, on May 16th, his first public comment after official counting from India’s general election made it clear that he, and his Bharatiya Janata Party, had delivered a landslide victory beyond the expectations of almost everyone. The scale of the BJP win was remarkable. It swept entire states, including Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand. More importantly it made enormous strides in two crucial, and massive, northern states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There not only did Congress do disastrously, regional parties were also badly walloped. As of lunch time, it appeared that the BJP and its closest allies (known as the NDA) would have 324 seats of the 543 parliament, with the BJP alone getting 275. BJP spokesmen called that, rightly, a “tectonic shift in the polity of India”. It is the first time since 1984 that a single party has enough seats to rule alone.
Much is made is the importance of Mr Modi as a leader, who inspired great enthusiasm among the voters, especially youngsters. Clearly, too, there is demand for a stronger economy and more development. So strong is his victory, it might be no other party has enough seats to serve automatically as the opposition, since to lead it in parliament you need at least 10% of the seats, and Congress’s total haul might include even fewer than that. The array of ministers and prominent figures in Congress who have lost their seats is impressive. Mr Modi will give speeches and enjoy victory parades, first in Gujarat (where he has already visited his mother to get her blessings), then on May 17th in Varanasi. He may be sworn in as prime minister on May 21st, though obviously he hardly need wait to start forming a government and picking his ministers.
So lopsided is the outcome that enormous expectations will now rest on the BJP and Mr Modi to start delivering changes quickly. The vote share claimed by the BJP, some 35% nationally, is enormous by Indian standards. Combined with an historically high turnout, at 64%, it gives Mr Modi a huge mandate for his rule. Nor does it seem that any other party can offer any serious opposition to him. Congress is in tatters and its leaders must think seriously about its future role in politics. Rahul Gandhi, despite early signs that he was behind in his own constituency, at least appeared able to hold on there. But his margin of victory appeared to be hugely reduced. The Aam Aadmi Party, born of an anti-corruption movement, has at least claimed one MP (and perhaps several) in Punjab.
Update: Dave Weigel reminds us about Rahul Gandhi’s “total implosion in the worst interview ever”.
The debut of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, an exciting moment for the Slate demo, spent a good while shaming American media for ignoring India’s election. This was just, and right, and true — lots of things are more interesting than Hillary Clinton’s set speeches at charity events, not least the fate of the world’s largest democracy. And Oliver got the gist of the election, which was that the charismatic Narendra Modi would lead a right-wing coalition into power over the ruling Congress Party. That happened.
My only quibble with Oliver was how he described Rahul Gandhi, the man who led Congress to defeat. To be fair, the party was doomed by corruption and slowing economic growth, and Gandhi was given… I was about to write “a poisoned chalice,” but that seems like a gauche analogy for a man whose father and grandmother were assassinated in office. But Oliver quickly described Rahul as an “Indian Han Solo” and a man with the “total political package.”
This was not the whole story. Gandhi was sort of a disaster, a groomed yet unprepared candidate who never recovered from a nightmare interview with TV host Arnab Goswami. The whole gruesome thing is online, and the transcript is here. Both offer their own flavors of cringe comedy, from the start, when Gandhi struggles to explain why he’s doing his first-ever TV interview after 10 years in office.
April 10, 2014
ESR linked to an interesting discussion of the spread of chile peppers and other exotic spices from the Roman empire onwards:
Can you imagine a world without salsa? Or Tabasco sauce, harissa, sriracha, paprika or chili powder?
I asked myself that question after I found a 700-year-old recipe for one of my favorite foods, merguez — North Africa’s beloved lamb sausage that is positively crimson with chiles. The medieval version was softly seasoned with such warm spices as black pepper, coriander and cinnamon instead of the brash heat of capsicum chile peppers — the signature flavor of the dish today.
The cuisines of China, Indonesia, India, Bhutan, Korea, Hungary and much of Africa and the Middle East would be radically different from what they are today if chiles hadn’t returned across the ocean with Columbus. Barely 50 years after the discovery of the New World, chiles were warming much of the Old World. How did they spread so far, so fast? The answers may surprise you — they did me!
I learned that Mamluk and Ottoman Muslims were nearly as responsible for the discovery of New World peppers as Columbus — but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The global pepper saga begins in the first millennium bce with the combustible career of another pepper — black pepper (Piper nigrum) and its cousins, Indian long pepper and Javanese cubeb. Although Piper nigrum was first grown on the Malabar Coast in India, the taste for it enflamed the ancient world: No matter what the cost — and it was very high — people were mad for pepper. The Romans, for example, first tasted it in Egypt, and the demand for it drove them to sail to India to buy it. In the first century, Pliny complained about the cost: “There is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of fifty million sesterces.”
In one sense, the whole global system of trade — the sea and land routes throughout the known world that spread culture and cuisine through commerce — was engaged with the appetite for pepper, in its growth, distribution and consumption.
ESR said in his brief G+ posting:
More about the early and very rapid spread of capsicum peppers in the Old World than I’ve ever seen in one place before.
I also didn’t know they were such a nutritional boon. It appears one reason they became so entrenched is they’re a good source of Vitamin C in peasant cuisines centered around a starch like rice. My thought is that moderns may tend to miss this point because we have so much better access to citrus fruits and other very high-quality C sources.
The bit about paprika having been introduced to Hungary by the Ottomans was also particularly interesting to me. This was less than 30 years after they had reached the Old World.