One of the conundrums of ancient epic poetry, both the Indian and the Greek varieties, is the question of how they came to assume their canonical form in the first millennium BCE. Not only literary criticism is at stake: a great deal of nationalist rhetoric depends on the origin of the great epics and the language used to compose them.

Both the Greek and Indian epic poems were both originally orally transmitted, since at the time of their composition there was no writing system in use1. The oral transmission of the epics creates a problem because we have no record of the development of the text. So instead, scholars turned to linguistic analysis and the archaeological record to try and separate the original core of the epics from later accretions. However neither of these methods proved effective.

Read the rest of this entry »


July 14th, 2010

Having finally finished my book (due out August 2010), I treated myself to a “fat cat” weekend in Bangalore and went to see Avatar 3D. At the airport on my way back to London, I picked up my two favourite Indian news magazines: Tehelka and Frontline. Both current issues focus on illegal mining. Avatar isn’t science fiction: it’s happening right now (see the picture and caption on the left).

UPDATE: India’s environment ministry has rejected Vedanta’s application to mine aluminium ore in the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa (the site shown in the picture on the left). Vedanta can appeal, so this particular battle is far from over, but it shows that resistance is not futile.

IT in India and China

November 9th, 2007

Since The Economist is publishing a special report on technology in India and China this week, I thought it was about time I wrote something on the subject. That way when I read the special report I can either congratulate myself on my deep insight or slag off the hacks for getting it so obviously wrong. Since I spent last year working in Bangalore and the best part of this year in Xi’an and Beijing, I think my credentials are as good as anyone’s. There’s nothing controversial here for people who are familiar with the Indian and Chinese markets, but anybody whose only source of news is the Northern press might find it interesting.

Read the rest of this entry »

While on our trip from Mumbai to London, we spent three weeks passing through the states that used to comprise Yugoslavia: Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia (unfortunately we didn’t make it to Macedonia). Encircled by European Union states1, they feel totally European — great public transport, drinkable tap water, lots of consumer goods on display, relatively little poverty, and a great café culture.

However only twelve years ago these republics were at war.

Read the rest of this entry »

Line management

September 11th, 2007

When I became a manager, there were a bunch of things I knew I would have to get used to. Lots of time in Mingle, Excel and PowerPoint creating finger charts and project status reports, being responsible for the process of the team, spewing forth a welter of emails, learning to use the “follow up” flag on Notes, keeping a holiday calendar, kissing goodbye to Linux. However it turns out that I am also now a line manager – responsible for the well-being of the members of my team (thanks to my wife, Rani, for explaining to me what a line manager is). Since I believe that a happy team is a productive team, I thought I had better do some research on what makes a good line manager. Read the rest of this entry »

Kurt Vonnegut

April 22nd, 2007

Hearing that Kurt Vonnegut has died made me very sad. Since I’m on the move I don’t have any of his books to hand to quote from, which has made me late to his wake. However yesterday I read a passage in an essay by another great American writer which sums up far more eloquently than I am able to the significance of people like Kurt Vonnegut. In “Down at the Cross”, James Baldwin says:

“Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: it is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.” (The Fire Next Time, p123). Read the rest of this entry »

The Caucasus

April 18th, 2007

Our journey from Tehran to Kars has been exhausting. An overnight train from Tehran to Tabriz, a taxi, a bus, another taxi and an execrable border crossing to Turkey followed by three more buses has left us in need of a few days on the beach to unwind. We are now, however, in the Caucasus, which has almost nothing in common with a beach. For a start, it’s snowing. Read the rest of this entry »


April 17th, 2007

Despite media portrayals of Iran as violent, fundamentalist nation, it is really a wonderful place to visit. Firstly there is of course a wealth of stunningly beautiful monuments, art-work, and cool stuff to buy. More importantly though, there are the people. Iranians are all too aware of the shortcomings of their totalitarian political system, and will often complain to you about it mere seconds after meeting you for the first time. However in terms of everyday life, it is certainly not nearly as repressive as most of the Gulf countries, or even in (compared to the Gulf) relatively liberal Islamic republics such as Morocco or Pakistan. Read the rest of this entry »

From India to Iran

April 3rd, 2007

The trip that Rani and I are taking has gone through several incarnations. My first plan, which led to Rani dropping to her knees in tears and begging me to stop, was to drive my silver Bullet (motorbike: a thousand quid; software delivery: priceless) back through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Europe. Having just met a couple who cycled from London to Delhi, and given that we are at present sharing a hotel in Iran with three Germans who are motorbiking from Australia to England, I now feel my original plan was perfectly reasonable. Indeed, our hotelier tells me that Iran has an overland cycling season. However since everybody else thought I was completely insane and my mother and fiancee would have disowned me, I was forced to reconsider. Read the rest of this entry »

On holiday

March 23rd, 2007

Rani and I start our holiday today. Over the next 10 weeks we’ll be working our way back from India to the UK by land and sea. We start off on a freighter ship from Mumbai to Dubai (assuming we make it in time – I’m currently sitting in Beijing, and we have three connections to make in order to get to Mumbai with a few hours spare before we have to board). Then from Dubai we go (inshallah) to Iran, and then via Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia (hi Maja), Croatia, Slovenia, Italy and France back to London. There’s a map at Rani’s blog. Since things like this don’t happen every day, I’ve bought my first ever camera, a Nikon D40, and I’ll be putting pictures up on our flickr account. Don’t worry though – I won’t be spamming ThoughtBlogs with them. This is the last you’ll hear from me until I get back.