Sir Fancis Drake – whose lucre profits helped Queen Elizabeth get out of debt and invest in the Levant and then the East India Company, from which in turn the plunder of Bengal feulled the industrial revolution… – here is the old slave-trading pirate doing a bit of coconut appreciation:

‘Amongst other things we found here a kind of fruit called cocos, which because it is not commonly known with us in England, I thought good to make some description of it.The tree beareth no leaves nor branches, but at the very top the fruit groweth in clusters, hard at the top of the stem of the tree, as big every several fruit as a man’s head: but having taken off the uttermost bark, which you shall find to be very full of strings or sinews, as I may term them, you shall come to a hard shell which may hold of quantity in liquor a pint commonly, or some a quart, and some less : within that shell of the thickness of half an inch good, you shall have a kind of hard substance and very white, no less good and sweet than almonds: within that again a certain clear liquor, which being drunk, you shall not only find it very delicate and sweet, but most comfortable and cordial.’ {From The famous voyage of Sir Francis Drake, 1577, in Hakyult 1972: 172).

Am intrigued how the coconut got to interest them as an innocent distraction amidst, basically, mutniny, piracy and plunder. More so perhaps than the mango with Dampier 100 years later (see here).

A replica of Drake’s Golden Hinde is tucked away in a corner of Southwark near the Borough Market as a fun pirate thing for kids, but its a dirty public secret that the man is a symbol of English connivance. The original Golden Hinde had been quartered at Deptford until it rotted away, significantly, appropriately, for a site that today is owned by the corporate Hutchinson Whampoa, themselves descendent from the Kowloon and Whampoa Dock trading company that provided dock facilities to those lovely opium traders, like Jardine-Matheson Co., among the founders of P&O, unloading their EIC-grown opium as they could not carry it directly up to Canton to flog to the Chinese except in smaller chop boats….

Drake rounds the globe, wia Magllelan’s straights and onto visit Southeast Asia, loaded up on plundered jewels, gold and silver from the Spanish, he then adds cloves and spices from the Moluccas before heading round the African cape and back to Blighty – with 6 tonnes of cloves, worth its weight in gold, much other treasure, bars of silver lifted from sleeping sailors, gold plate removed from Spanish churches in Chile, and jewels ripped – under royal license – from the hands of various poor suckers who happened to be on lesser well-armed boats. Elizabeth cashes her debts and funds the Levant, and then the EIC, and the rest, as old beardo says, is written in history’s annals in letters of blood and fire. Indeed, these are the letters of blood and fire – Drake in Hakyult, you don’t even really have to read between the lines to smell the sulpher.

Cleaver: concluding thoughts

Cleaver leaves with a final bit about education in his conclusion that also seems sensible (if still US-o-centric) :

‘We have many potential allies among our schoolmates or among our colleagues. Yes, administrators – at the behest of business – impose rigidities that cripple our learning. But the possibilities of resistance among students has been amply demonstrated by both local and widespread student movements, among teachers… by recent successful mobilizations and strikes in a growing number of states and at the university level by TAs and adjuncts forming unions. In courses, students can minimize doing what they are told to do and divert their energy into following their own individual and collective intellectual and political noses, while teachers can undermine rigid curricula by introducing more interesting materials and giving students as much time as possible to contemplate and think about them. They can subvert the whole edu-factory system by bringing its character to students’ attention, by suggesting that they find ways to use available resources for their own purposes and by opening discussions about alternatives to incarcerated learning’ (Cleaver 2019: 483).

Overall I have liked this book as much as I expected, with just the occasional quibble that I’ll attribute to his location, and to some sort of residual anarcho-communist anti-Leninism he can’t seem to get over. He curiously minimised the important schmatic conclusion of volume one where Marx talks of the ‘expropriation of the expropriators’. I’ve written on this end, chapter 32 – it is very schmatic and badly translated in English – but Cleaver eschews any discussion of why Marx includes it in favour of offering his opinion on the USSR – reduced to ‘state capitalism’ (Cleaver 2019: 90) and directly moving to a discussion of two Hegel phrases at teh end of the chapter as occasion for Harry to tell us about dialectics and the Science of Logic. Not in itself uniniteresting, but the rush paast that important section – die Hülle wird gesrpringt – seems whlly unusual in an otherwise pretty through book, that is absolutely recommended.

More Cleaver on Students

There is room for more here, but quoting George Caffentzis helps:

‘Once you recognize the piecework character of the work of professors in universities, it is easy to see how those professors, and the administrators for whom they work, impose the same kind of logic on their students. As students progress through elementary, middle and high schools… careful supervision is increasingly complemented by unsupervised homework. While parents are often admonished to make sure they do it, some do, many don’t. At the university level, although there are a few professors who behave like schoolteachers and take attendance, for the most part students can come or not come to classes as they like. They are expected to impose the discipline of coming to class on themselves and most do. For the most part, university students’ work is unsupervised study whose arcomplishment depends totally on the student’s self-discipline… Given the large number of courses most students are expected or required to take and the associated large number of tasks set by each teacher or professor, they rarely have either time or energy left over for any autonomous study or real appropriation of knowledge.’ (Cleaver 2019: 384)

Cleaver’s word choice requires some strategic omissions, such as the word ‘shirking’ which seems pejorative to me, but he correctly laments the

‘imposition of fully specified degree plans, with pre-established sets of tasks, at the expense of self-directed study, motivated by students’ curiosity. In short, students suffer the imposition of externally imposed, alienated labor of the sort Marx analyzed in the 1844 Manuscripts… As a result, а devoted to meeting those requirements. They want to know which pieces of knowledge they will have to know for tests and don’t want to waste their time on other, useless, topics. Similarly, the first question about required papers is “How long does it have to be? How many pages? How many footnotes? How many sources?”… Associated with such structuring of schoolwork by the piece are piece-rate-like payment systems. The most universal of these is grading in which students are “paid” by the piece, a grade for each task accomplished, each quiz, each test, each paper, each research report, etc. Grades, of course, are not money payments; but the promises that school administrators, professors and future employers attach to grades – that the better grades you get, the better jobs and higher wages you will eventually obtain–makes them “IOUs” on future income. Like piece-wages, grades are handed out  according to the number of pieces accomplished and according to the “quality” of those pieces. Teachers and professors, of course, play the role of quality control inspectors… In the enlightening thermodynamic metaphor pointed out by George Caffentzis, they play the role of “Maxwell’s Daemon,” sorting students according entropy, i.e., the degree to which they available for work.  From this, we can see that whereas piece-wages in industry produces a hierarchy of better and worse paid workers, piecework in schools produces a grade hierarchy, promised to eventually translate into an income hierarchy. As with all such hierarchies, this kind of grading system encourages competition and many students strive to get higher grades than others—both for the immediate satisfaction of demonstrating their superiority and in the hope that later they may get better jobs. Hence too, the common phenomenon of students banding together in various ways to overcome this alienation.’ (Cleaver 2019: 385)

Predator journals target ISSH2021 – be warned.

So, a process warning to those not used to getting chatty friendly emails from parasite journals that will charge you to publish. The ISSH2021 conference gets hit by these predators. Promising to publish, but they won’t peer review or copy edit, are not rated in Scopus or ISI clarivate and will charge you up to US$6000 at the end for being tempted.Someone needs to extend Marx’s discussion of piece rates and expose these 7figure ‘earning’ corporate cowboys preying on adjuncts and new researchers. Even as some profs are starting to be a bit more alert to their predicament, such as Harry Cleaver below:

‘Another white-collar job, which is structured by the dynamics of piecework, is that of university professors. While most formally receive pay in the form of a salary, in truth the size of that salary is largely determined by piecework. Although universities pretend to value the importance of teaching, large research universities–that dominate higher education and set the standards by which other universities are ingly base professors’ pay not on teaching but on research and publishing…. Professors are supposed to understand their fields well enough to choose appropriate projects and skilled enough to craft both research and articles reporting on that research without direct supervision. The more articles reporting on that research without direct supervision. The more articles they publish, the more likely their known as “merit” pay increases. They are, in short, paid according to the number of “pieces” they produce. Moreover, like other pieceworkers they are not entirely on their own. They too are subject to quality control when they submit grant proposals or articles to journals. Quality control takes the form of “peer review,” wherein other professors evaluate their proposals or articles and decide whether they should receive grants in the one case or publication in the other. This situation, again like other piecework situations, is highly conducive to intense competition. With research funds and space in prestigious journals limited, professors compete for both—as well, of course, for tenure and promotion. For almost four decades the last 20 years of the twentieth century and the first 18 of the twenty-first-conservative politicians have used tax reductions on the rich to produce rising by cutting social programs but also on higher education, including reduced funding for research, which intensifies competition and makes universities funding for research, which intensines competition.’ (Cleaver 2019: 383-4)

some of the ISSH2021 recordings wll be coming soon…

Opium and Political Economy in Bengal

On why I think Marx’s writing style is misrepresented by the all-too-dour and serious commentators on Capital – you know, the famous ones published by big presses or with online lecture series… :) and ayway wanted to remember and article where I selected a few choice quips by the old beardo. The following is from an essay I called ‘Marx in Calcutta’ for City, in which I had been explaining a path Engels almost chose that would have meant Bengal, not Manchester, was key:

‘Marx’s commentary on Benjamin Disraeli’s ‘awful solemnity’ in a speech on what Marx calls, in an article for the ‘New York DailyTribune‘, the ‘quid pro quo’, and welcome,‘national rebellion’ of India in 1857 (Marx, NYDT, 14 August 1857).’


‘Marx’s articles in the Tribune on EIC opium are where he most clearly expresses his fascination with and condemnation of Clive, ‘the robber baron’ (NYDT, 8 August 1853).’ All this surrounds opium, a trade Clive helped introduce, ‘In Marx’s journalistic commentary he exposed ‘flagrant self-contradiction of the Christianity canting and civilization-mongering British’ in their efforts to ‘affect to be a thorough stranger to the contraband opium trade, and even to enter into treaties proscribing it’ (Marx, NYDT, 28 September 1858). This is the definition of hypocrisy, since despite also forcing ‘opium cultivation upon Bengal’ (NYDT, 28 September 1858) and arranging ‘for private ships trading to China’, the regulations governing this shipping carried a provision which imposed ‘a penalty to them if freighted with opium of other than the Company’s own make’ (NYDT, 28 September1858).’

All this is sort of what I meant in the ‘funny’ quip department, but the bit mentioning “Capital” I was looking for that direcly speaks to funny slurs is later in my essay – sorry, could not locate it right away, but eventually did. Here goes:

“[Marx’s] ‘Critique of Political Economy’, is more than a subtitle of the book; it can be read as a sustained commentary on apologists for EIC extortion. His targets are EIC employees, James Mill, John Stuart Mill, and that ‘sycophant and fine talker’ Macauley, or immediate bourgeois critics of the EIC, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke. Then the critique takes as prime targets the apologist ‘learned professors’, those abstemious ‘penitents of Vishnu’ (Marx 1867[1996], 593), who train the EIC officer corps at Haileybury College, ‘population’ Malthus and Sir Richard Jones,both professors of political economy at the EIC training school. Alongside some anonymous—to Marx—texts on the benefits of the East Asia trade to Britain and the like, these are the majority representatives of the political economy he critiques.”

All the paras above are from my 2018 essay ‘Marx in Calcutta’, City, 22:4, 490-509 – you can easily find a pdf on the download page – ^. But, lest you think I’d neglect the old dart’s opiod pandemic:

The opium trade of course was not something lost on workers in the UK, and Marx also mentions Godfrey’s Cordial which was fed to children so mothers could work. I had searched for a bottle for a while (reseearch purposes) and found an OHIO version of one on ebay – pictured – and where the following decription graces the page:

“Up for auction is a labeled medicine bottle advertising “Great Seal – Godfrey’s Cordial – The Styron-Beggs Co. – Mfg. Chemists – Newark, Ohio” with the original matching box. The label on this bottle and the box read in part “each fluid ounce contains one and three-fifth grains Opium” and then gives directions for use and “Antidote….. tickle palate with feather”. This bottle is embossed “Great Seal The Styron Beggs Co. Newark Ohio”, measures approx. 5″ tall x 2″ wide x 7/8″ deep and is in excellent condition with no damage. The box is printed with nice blue and red lettering with a skull and crossbones graphic and also is in excellent condition as shown. V iew the pictures carefully as they are part of the description. We will show or mention any notable defects. Please email if you have any questions or need clarification so you can be satisfied with your purchase . We will combine shipping for multiple wins if possible. Guaranteed Old & Original as is everything we sell. PLEASE SEE MORE LABELED MEDICINE BOTTLES (Nice grouping with similar ingredients) THAT WE ARE RUNNING NOW IN OUR OTHER AUCTIONS. Items sold with contents intact are for collecting/display purposes only and are to be handled with care. They are NOT to be ingested or used. By bidding and buying any item with its content you assume full responsibility, agree to these statements, and will deem Nostrums’; Quackery harmless in the event of any problems or accidents should they occur. For those of you who follow our auctions we WELCOME you back. For those of you who are new to eBay or have just found us you will not be disappointed with the service we provide and we hope you are successful in adding to your collections. At the beginning of each year we bring FRESH offerings of UNUSUAL items to eBay and we hope you bookmark us for future auctions for years to come. THANK YOU!”

Meanwhile, Mrs Winslow’s stay stoned in bed soothing syrup – fine for those who can afford velvet curtans and bedding – a little more serious for mums who had to work.

For those about to be assessed, Harry Cleaver helps cut throught he must…

To those doing assignments, be it single or collective projects, here’s a reminder to resist the stress and do it for your own reasons. This is another condensed Cleaver passage (one of many where he crams commonsense into a comprehensive takedown of the systems in which we are caught):

‘In school, students are prodded from a very early age to compete against each other for grades and honors. In the short run, it is a means of control; in the long run, they are being conditioned to compete in the waged workplace. Such competition in the class room is complemented and reinforced by competition in sports, whether between individuals or teams. In the case of teams, the enflaming of “animal spirits” is central to the realization of the powers of “cooperation” – to the point of encouraging animosity, scorn and hatred against other teams. At the level of the school system, interscholastic competition is institutionally encouraged not only in sports, but also in music, in debate and in science fairs. Along the dark path to popularity and social status, competition is also fostered between boys and girls, and among boys vis-à-vis girls and among girls vis-à-vis boys. In many places, it is also fostered between castes, ethnicities and races. From secondary school through the university, “school spirit” is roused with marshal band music and pep rallies pitting students against students, often with violent language and mob antagonism. Beyond the shop floor, the family and the school, capitalists have fostered competition throughout society, from professional sports through music, film, fashion, beauty and cooking contests to soap operas, electoral politics and the judicial system. Even where it organizes collaboration-from collective school projects through corporate ones to sports teams-it carefully structures it within a wider framework of competition’ (Cleaver 2019, 288)

Opening ceremony of the 2nd International Conference on Innovations in The Social Sciences & Humanities 2021

From TDTU –

On the morning of December 17, 2021, the 2nd International Conference on Innovations in The Social Sciences & Humanities 2021 – ISSH 2021 was opened at Ton Duc Thang University (TDTU).

The conference was co-organized by TDTU with international partners including: University of Melbourne (Australia), Purdue University (USA), Moscow State University of Economics (Russia), University of the South Pacific (Fiji), Jadavpur University (India), Pratt Institute (USA) and Tricontinental Institute for Social Research.

In addition to the delegates who are experts from the United States, Europe and Australia, ISSH 2021 Conference also had the participation and presentation of delegates from Asian countries such as: Vietnam, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines,… With the diversity of delegates and research topics, the academic discussions at the Conference shed light on the reasons why there should be new research methods related to the field of social sciences and humanities.

The highlight of the ISSH-2021 Conference is that the inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary approach to social sciences has been widely used in research. The appropriateness of the inter-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary approach to the social sciences has been reflected in new research results focusing on four areas: Tourism, Communication Anthropology, Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work. The research topics are considered from many perspectives: Culinary tourism, whose main purpose is to discover food, is of great significance in a world where hunger, deprivation and migration are on the rise; Industry 4.0, digital technology and access to “smart cities” for all social classes; Issues of education, migration, population, poverty, disadvantaged people, middle class, tourism, … affected by COVID-19 are considered from many different approaches and presented at ISSH 2021.

Compared to the 1st ISSH conference organized in 2019, the number of research papers presented at ISSH 2021 had doubled. The conference program took place on December 17 and 18, 2021 with 11 discussion sessions and 75 research papers presented and discussed.

The hosting of ISSH 2021 shows that TDTU has been trusted and chosen as a bridge for international research forums in the field of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Dr. Tran Trong Dao – Acting President of TDTU delivering the opening speech.
Assoc. John Hutnyk – President of the Conference speaking at the opening session.
Prof. Jonathan Beller – Pratt, New York presenting at the conference.
Live discussion at the conference venues.
Organizers of the conference taking photos.

Leonid Kolishnikov honours Nguyen Phu Trong

Vietnam’s Party leader honoured with Lenin Prize of Russian Communist Party
Wednesday, 2021-12-15 21:50:01 Font Size:     |   
 Nhan Dan

Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (R) and KPRF Vice Chairman Leonid Kalashnikov at the Lenin Prize presentation ceremony in Hanoi on December 15 (Photo: VNA) Font Size:     |  
NDO/VNA – General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Central Committee Nguyen Phu Trong was honoured with the Lenin Prize by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) at a ceremony held in Hanoi on December 15.
On behalf of the KPRF Central Committee, Vice Chairman Leonid Kalashnikov presented the Vietnamese leader with the noblest prize of the KPRF and the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union.He affirmed that the prize demonstrates the respect for and recognition of the prominent contributions by General Secretary Trong, a brilliant politician highly valued in Russia and the world, as well as his unceasing efforts to solidify the Vietnam – Russia relations.Vietnam’s success is a vivid illustration of the fact that socialism has been materialised, Kalashnikov said, stressing that the KPRF always attaches importance to the traditional friendship with the CPV and wishes that bilateral ties will be enhanced further, helping to promote the Vietnam – Russia comprehensive strategic partnership, for the sake of the two peoples and for regional and international peace and stability.For his part, General Secretary Trong described the Lenin Prize as not only a recognition for himself but also the KPRF and Russian people’s respect for and sentiment towards the Vietnamese Party, State, and people. It is also a demonstration of the special long-standing ties between the CPV, the Vietnamese people and the Communist Party and people of the Soviet Union in the past and the Russian Federation at present.He also highly valued Russia’s achievements in promoting national development and raising its stature in the international arena, along with the growth of the KPRF.He thanked the enormous, wholehearted, and effective assistance that the former Soviet Union and today’s Russia have given to Vietnam. He pledged to join the KPRF and Russian partners to keep strengthening the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries and the friendship between the two peoples.

When Karl Marx Was Interested In ‘Nothingness’ Of Buddha



This item by Sankar Ray appeared Dec 13th. I’ve removed the ads (as there were many and they were nothing too)

When Karl Marx Was Interested In ‘Nothingness’ Of Buddha

By Sankar Ray

Lay readers in the SAARC region may be pleasantly surprised to learn that Karl Marx read and commented on the ‘concept of nothingness (Sanskrit: Śūnyatā; Pali: Suññatā; Vietnamese: Không)’ of Gautama Buddha   in two letters, written on 18 and 20 March 1866. While staying as a medical tourist in Margate, England, Marx was, suffering from hidradenitis suppurativa which is a painful and chronic dermatological state that causes abscesses and scarring on the skin, hair follicles, specifically, sweat glands, usually around the groin, bottom, breasts and armpits.

This revelation of Marx is in one of the two papers, to be presented online, by Marx scholar Pradip Baksi from  Kolkata + at a two-day  international conference on innovation in the social sciences and humanity, hosted by Ton Duc Thang University, Ho Chi Minh City on 17 and 18 December 2021 – the second conference in Vietnam. Baksi who translated ‘Mathematical Mauscripts of Marx into English and Bengali is the author of ‘Karl Marx and Mathematics (Aakar books and Routledge).

Marx wrote to his second daughter, Laura who married Paul Lafargue, “I have become myself a sort of walking stick, running up and down the whole day, and keeping my mind in that state of nothingness which Buddhaism (Buddhism) considers the climax of human bliss… As to myself, I have turned into a perambulating stick, running about the greatest part of the day, airing myself, going to bed at 10 o’clock, reading nothing, writing less, and altogether working up my mind to that state of nothingness which Buddhaism  considers the climax of human bliss”

Although published in the 1970s in the complete works of Marx and Engels by the two institutes of Marxism-Leninism of Moscow and Berlin, party ideologues either missed these letters or deliberately ignored them. In the post-Soviet Union years when Marx-related study and researched imbibed sort of ‘glasnost’, such findings assume scholastic interests that were not encouraged under Soviet Union.

So Bakst’s paper is likely to trigger debate around Marx anew. Baksi in a communication stressed that Marx was ‘irreligious but not anti-religion’. Marx came to learn Buddha’s thoughts from one of books by an intimate friend Carl (Karl) Friedrich Koeppen (Köppen) –‘Die Religion des Buddha, 2 Bde. Erster Band. Die Religion des Buddha nd ihre Entstehung’. But ‘Marx’s personal copies of these books appear to be lost; they are not yet indicated in the reconstructed catalog of the on-going publication of complete works, letters, notes etc (original) of Marx and Engels (MEGA2), at the International Institute of Social History, University of Amsterdam.

The paper is of relevance to scholars and perceptive readers of   South East Asian region including Vietnam where many currents of Buddhism and Marxism have converged for many years from many directions and made grounds for ‘some unique opportunities for the future emergence of scientific investigations on the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautam Buddha and those of Karl Marx from within the contemporary societies there’, Baksi envisions.

Over 100 papers are scheduled to be presented at the two-day brainstorming conference where Marx and Marx related topics will  come under discussion but the papers cover a wide range focusing on the major social issues ..  Well known scholars such as Peter Hudis (‘Pathways to social development: Rosa Luxemburg’s studies on the anthropology and sociology of imperialism’) and Marcello Musto (‘A Reappraisal of Marx’s ethnological notebooks) will be participating. .

Apart from Vietnamese who comprise the largest participants at the global conclave, over a dozen of Indians and India-born scholars will take part in the deliberations. Their research is on burning issues from  the kinetics of violence on Rohingyas lives (Arnab Roy Chowdhury, Higher School of Economics University, Moscow: ‘Citizen’s alterity: the dynamics of violence, temporality, and sovereignty on Rohingya lives’ and Md Reza Habib: ‘The Rohingyas in Bangladesh: refugees-host community conflicts over natural resources in Cox’s Bazar) to  militarism and ethnic dissent in post-LTTE Sri Lanka(  Debopriya Shome: Tourism, army and ethnic – conflict in post –war Sri Lanka ) and problems  of  intertwined spaces of cultural practice of intertwined spaces of cultural practice: the case of Cing/gong culture of Lach people in Vietnam (Truong Thi Thu Hang: The intertwined spaces of cultural practice: the case of Cing/gong culture of Lach people in Lac Duong district, Lam Dong province, Vietnam).

The spread of academic interests is evident. If Anna Potsar and Artem Uldanov’s paper, ‘New Russian political myths: how the narratives on the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and his return to Russia construct binary oppositions, exploit public trust, and deploy arguments through mythologization’, Jack Boulton’s  ‘Plantations and prisoners: escaping the plantationocene, by hook or by crook, Jonathan Beller’s (Pratt Institute, New York) ‘A preamble to the decolonization of money’ and Michelangelo Paganopoulos’ ‘Transgressing the ‘field’ notes on the dialectics of enlargement in live cinematic events are of theoretical construct in the main,  papers cover topics that are of present continuous reality, varying  from tourism and tourism-related issues to COVID-generated socio-psychic and ambient realities.

Huynh Thi Anh Hong ‘Food image to perceive tourists’ awareness on branding destination and revisit intention when traveling post -COVID pandemic, Scott McQuire’s ( University of Melbourne) ‘The right to the networked city: urban communication, geomedia and urban digital infrastructure’, Nguyen Huu Minh’s (Vietnam Sociological Association) ‘Main challenges of Vietnamese families nowadays and the coming years’ , Nikos Papastergiadis’s (University of Melbourne’ ‘ Cosmopolitanism: from the moral imperative to the impulse for eros and hospitality in the creative constitutive and  Ishita Banerjee’s ( El Colegio de México)  ‘The flavours of tourism and the aroma of home: food as a diasporic concept’  focus on the imperative to fathom into day-to-dayness of human society. (IPA Service)

ISSH2021 conference agenda and abstracts

These are the abstracts and agenda for the 2nd International Conference on Innovations in the Social Sciences and Humanities 2021 (17th-18th Dec 2021). Some 75 papers are included, with half from scholars in Vietnam, the rest from 25 other countries. Of course, as the conference is also online, which means something of a juggle in scheduling, the conference traverses time-zones as if they were almost invisible, porous borders – as really, to some extent, aren’t they all – but nevertheless, we think a global conviviality can prevail. The conference is on zoom and in person at Ton Duc Thang University in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 17-18 December 2021 (next week as I write) and participation is free – on filling a registration form at J

In which I talk to my class about the content of the upcoming conference at TDTU –


Visit the conference website: to register


Disuss the programme on


Maybe you are an anthropologist – a vid in which I talk about what is interesting for anthros


To attand as a guest (no fee), please register here

Assange and how truth does not set you free


On thursday 9th Dec 2021 the first 15 minutes of my lecture on Media outlined the reasons why the extradition of Julian Assange should be opposed and he should not have been locked up in 2017. Today. 10th December, the news comes that the British Court has caved to US pressure and ruled he can be extradited, though he can appeal – it drags on and on.

The rest of the lecture is about Police Killings – the film Injustice by Ken Fero and Tariq Mehmood and then the Working Day and factory inspections. The course is Mass Media and all the lectures can be seen here.



And here is a recent comment, and the crucial linked video, from just one of those who can see (I do not know who this is, but they seem correct to me – he was ShadyChancer in the Corbyn group and was dismissed by Sir Kareer Starwarmer):

Richard Burgon MP 

4ftt611S24pfanlaume1ui78  · X “Julian Assange is being targeted for exposing US war crimes – in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.Extradition to the US is not only an attempt to silence him – but to stop all journalists from speaking truth to power.We must continue to oppose his extradition to the US. This shocking video from Iraq, revealed by WikiLeaks, shows the killing of civilians and Reuters journalists. It’s just one example of the journalism that has led to the USA demanding the extradition of Julian Assange”.

Issh2021 Conference programme walkthrough

A ten-minute walkthrough of the conference programme for the Dec 17-18 ISSH2021, the international conference Innovations in the Social Sciences and Humanites, at Ton Duc Thang Univeristy, Vietnam. with some narrative for some of the papers I am particularly excited about, or focused upon – see for details of how to register as a participant.

Soapbox: on slips and trips.

In the business of selling cultures for quids, and other random translations

Once upon a long ago, there was a time when I was more rebelliously young, and I wrote a piece on the future of anthropology. At proof stage they did not correct, and so I thought they had accepted, my rather racy sentence which read ‘For fuck’s sake, this has gone on too long, now anthropology needs to…’ and whatever it was I was arguing – something about not pretending people in ‘tribes’ did not watch telly or listen to hip-hop. It was the first sentence, so at proof stage was the time to tell me I was being childish. Instead, they just changed it without telling me and it appeared in print, in a major journal, as: ‘For God’s sake…’ anyone who knows me will agree that change is far worse than any other they might have tried out… 

The second story is much grander and concerns Gayatri Spivak and her translation of Chotti Munda and his Arrow by Mahasweta Devi for Blackwell. In the preface, Gayatri takes pains to explain that in Mahasweta’s story there are a number of words that are English or derived from English, such as Gorment for Government or ‘countred for encounter (which is when a revolutionary is found dead with hands tied behind their back after an ‘encounter’ with the police, as I discuss in both Critique of Exotica and Pantomime Terror). These words in not quite English are meant to seem a bit jarringly foreign in Bengali, so to indicate their tone/idiomatic resonance, Gayatri writes that she has forgone the usual practice of italicising foreign words in a text, which anyway in English translation would not be needed, but in order to preserve their disruptive status in the story she has underlined them. 

Blackwell then added a note on the next page, something like [I will be more precise when I’m next at my books]: ‘This text is printed as received from Professor Spivak except for the standard copyediting, such as italiciziing loan words and correcting typographic slips. 


30 Minute Methods in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, TDTU.

The most useful thing I heard anyone say (it was Olivia Harris) about a methods course is that it should never be a discussion of how to, but rather a debate about what and why. Methods in this sense is something we wrangle with – a philosophical, contemplative, political, convivial, agitator-practitioner, collective, considerate set of choices of how to talk with people. If methods were simply to be applied, the study will be too rigid for the varieties and surprises of social life.

In these three “30 Minute Methods” discussions, the sense of debate comes through in short significant sensibilities concerned with process and outcome in a moving, meaningful world. The social sciences, and media anthropology in particular, need to look outside media and anthropology for methodological inspiration, and to be thereby inspired to risk something on method. These talks given to the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Ton Duc Thang University in November 2021 do just that:

16 November 2021. Prof Paolo Favero, University of Antwerp, Belgium:

‘Expanded Ethnography: technologies and the senses’


23 November 2021. Dr Ken Fero, Regents University, London:

‘Documentary as memory when dealing with national trauma through state violence


November 30 2021. Dr Jack Boulton, Leuven University, Belgium:

TV, film and literature sci-fi as part of the new literary turn in anthropology’


Thanks to all involved.

5 min interview

I get the occasional cold call from secondary school students and always try to respond with some things that are expected and some unexpected. They might miss the mark, or be a bit wayward, but you know its a good sign when a year 11 student is interested in research. This one came from South Australia – literally five minuted response, so hardly even as taxing as the effort of posting it here (almost). The questions were about the Sundarbans, as the student Fariha had read a review essay on recent-ish books:

  • Can you explain the situation that transpired in the Sundarban, after Cyclone Amphan hit?

To be fair, compared to you or anyone else with internet access, I cannot say anything much on this because I’m unable to travel at present and really, I would need to go and have a look for myself. Everything else I could tell you about the Sundarbans in the last year would be a summary of what is already online. I think having a look for yourself is the only way an anthropologist can say something different to what an year 11 researcher might find after a few weeks looking online. To some extent the habit of contextualising is something you learn with time, but if you are sensible you will know not to rush to judgement, to consider as many interpretations you can, and come up with your interpretation without thinking its always correct or final. That is the fun of research though, isn’t it.

  • Why is the Sundarban area so important (culturally, ecologically, economically, etc.)?

Trees, people, animals. In Annu Jalais book Forest of Tigers, you can read heaps about the relationships  of humans to animals and jungle. Its fascinating, and there is a lot to learn for all of us.

  • What strategies are being implemented and/or proposed in the Sundarban to protect the site and local communities?

Hmmm, many, good and bad. You should investigate the Marichjhapi massacre for an example of something that went wrong.

  • What determines the livelihood of the local people in Sundarban? How has extreme weather events such as cyclone Amphan affected their livelihood?

Much. Much. Much. Much. But then, ‘extreme weather’ is becoming less extreme in the sense that its hitting everywhere, so that by definition is not extreme but the new normal, however much we’d like to keep thinking its not. I mean, is ‘extreme weather’ or ‘climate change’ not just a way of talking about pollution without putting the blame of the top 100 corporations that easily produce the majority of world pollution, from plastics to carbon monoxide to toxins, to the entire commodity system?

  • How does the local community’s perspective on the Sundarban and what solution do they perceive will help mitigate the impact of extreme weather events?

The mitigation you speak of requires a wider revolutionary movement, the return and even greater engagement of people’s organisations to wrest control of the means of production from the greedy plutocrats that currently dominate and ensure no voice of the people can be heard except when they are controlling the microphone (platform, outlet, forum).

  • Some writers and scholars have highlighted that dating back to the colonial era, the government has historically offered little help to victims of natural disasters. Do you see any parallels between the situation then and now?

What is the difference between colonialism and neo-colonialism? Perhaps the difference is that while people know about it now, people do less about it. A kind of mass paralysis of everyone sitting in front of a screen nodding to the ever slowing heartbeat of their own disengagement.

  • How has the nature of the Sundarban itself changed over time as a result of lack of consultation and lack of political will for a solution and how has that impacted the lives of the community?

Lack of consultation – sounds like a thing, but consultation with who? The lack of political will is real at least I guess, even as communities have been forced out of the area for various reasons.

  • What do you think needs to change in order for the situation in the Sundarban to improve?

Overthrow of the ruling class, defeat of corporate culture, opportunism and bigotry, a real critique of the so-called ‘climate crisis’ (pollution/world destruction). Of which a research project like yours can be a start, but cannot be all we do – it can start with research but it must expand to get more people involved, more people need to be reading and learning about revolutionary theory and thinking long and hard about forming organisations that are collectively run, counter-hegemonic (look it up if need be – against the dominant) and in the business of informed critical engagement, questioning everything, accepting nothing (including this)  and of course allowing for occasional five minute rants by grizzled old professors who wish they were a part of the coming global communist insurrection that will be the only thing that will save us all from rampant grasping crazy-ass capital.

Le Duan

VCP Gen Sec

‘wipe out the vestiges of petty-bourgeois ideology and the influences of bourgeois ideology, and in particular, firmly oppose individualism, the ideological source of revisionism. If there are communists who become revisionist it is because they are afraid of the hardship of the revolutionary struggle, of sacrifices, and only want to live an easy-going life, consequently they get addicted to bourgeois habits, ways of living and ideology: for these persons, the noble and fine communist ideal has disappeared [and] they only dream of the Western bourgeois way of living, and consider it as the model, their highest objective of struggle, they tremble with fear, compromise with and then ideologically surrender to the imperialists and reactionaries’ (Le Duan, speech to the Dec 1963 Vietnam Workers Party Central Committee, in “Selected Writings”, Hanoi: the Gioi Publishers p. 155-156)

“The Party’ s leadership constantly rests upon the principle of collective leadership. Personal arbitrariness is totally alien to its nature. No individual even one endowed with exceptional gifts, can ever understand and comprehend all things and events in all their aspects and ceaseless changes in form. Hence the necessity of a collective intellect. Only collective decisions taken on the strength of a collective mind can avoid subjectivism, which leads to errors with often dangerous consequences. Collective leadership is the highest principle in the Party’s leadership. This by no means lessens the personal responsibility of the leaders. At present, some comrades in a number of leading organs are not paying due regard to the principle of collective leadership. On the other hand, certain comrades rely on the “collective” to look after everything, and put the flame on the “collective” for every one of their own errors and failures without admitting their individual responsibility. We must put an end to this state of affairs.” Le Duan ‘The Vietnamese Revolution’ (n.d. but 1969-70 approx) in “Selected Works” 1994, p.316

Two Robinsons, one more to come…

Robinsonades: pertaining to allegories from the East India Company in Ceylon and other islands, from Marxism to Post-structuralism, and in which, dear reader, a 300-year-old adventure book may still have something to say’ in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 2020, 21:2, 279-286, DOI: 10.1080/14649373.2020.1766236 


Robinson on Con Dao: Mango Writing and Faltering Diplomacy in the Precursors to Crusoe in Vietnam’ in Southeast Asia Research 2021

30 Minute Methods at TDTU – Ken Fero

This has a shaky start because the zoom settings were wacko, But after a minute its much better. Ken Fero talks on obstinate memory under the title: ‘Documentary as memory when dealing with national trauma through state violence‘

The next talk in this series is on Tuesday November 30, 2021, at 4pm HCMC.

Dr Jack Boulton, Leuven Uni, Belgium:

‘TV, film and literature sci-fi as part of the new literary turn in anthropology’

Seminars via Zoom (email for the zoom link) all held at 4pm Ho Chi Minh City time – that’s 2.30pm in Kolkata, 9pm in Melbourne, 10am in Western Europe, 9am on Airstrip one, 4am in NYC (sozz).

‘The Inaugural John Berger Memorial Lecture’ – by Professor Nikos Papastergiadis, Uni of Melbourne

18 November 7pm Melbourne (3pm Ho Chi Minh City)

Live streaming link:


Nikos Papastergiadis is the author of a bunch of books, starting with a masterpiece on John Berger Modernity in Exile (here) and several other works and interviews (eg see here)

The event also serves to launch this book:

Yes, me holding the hardback version…
and yes, my copy is signed.

30 Minute Methods – TDTU, Vietnam – Professor Paolo Favero

Prof Paolo Favero, Uni Antwerp, Belgium: 

‘Expanded Ethnography: technologies and the senses’

and coming up next: at TDTU:

2. Tues November 23, 2021, at 4pm HCMC. 

Dr Ken Fero, Regents University, London:

‘Documentary as memory when dealing with national trauma through state violence


3. Tues November 30, 2021, at 4pm HCMC.

Dr Jack Boulton, Leuven Uni, Belgium: 

‘TV, film and literature sci-fi as part of the new literary turn in anthropology’


Seminars via Zoom (email for the link) all held at 4pm Ho Chi Minh City time – that’s 2.30pm in Kolkata, 9pm in Melbourne, 10am in Western Europe, 9am on Airstrip one, 4am in NYC (sozz).

30 Minute Methods – TDTU, Vietnam

30 minute methods’ seminar series [online in November] in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanites, Ton Duc Thang University, Vietnam.

1. Tuesday November 16, 2021, at 4pm HCMC 

Prof Paolo Favero, Uni Antwerp, Belgium: 

‘Expanded Ethnography: technologies and the senses’


2. Tues November 23, 2021, at 4pm HCMC. 

Dr Ken Fero, Regents University, London:

‘Documentary as memory when dealing with national trauma through state violence


3. Tues November 30, 2021, at 4pm HCMC.

Dr Jack Boulton, Leuven Uni, Belgium: 

‘TV, film and literature sci-fi as part of the new literary turn in anthropology’


Seminars via Zoom (email for the link) all held at 4pm Ho Chi Minh City time – that’s 2.30pm in Kolkata, 9pm in Melbourne, 10am in Western Europe, 9am on Airstrip one, 4am in NYC (sozz).


I find it a little sad every time I’m compelled to cut a sentence that I really like because I’m the only one its effectively written for (if I don’t write for a general reader, I do write for a reader). However, kill your darlings, or as Bill Burroughs used to say ‘Get rid of it, its no damned good’. So reluctantly, dragging, screaming, I agree and jettison this:

Perhaps it took a truly internationalist perspective to grasp the connections in this project, though the costs calculation has yet to see parity. Nevertheless, despondency was transformed through a step-by-step beginning as the international comparative work gelled and collective travel was even on the cards before the 2020 pandemic ran that idea onto the rocks.

and then there a bits that the editor just can’t deal with (too messy, doesn’t fit) and they get cut too when really, with a bit more elbow grease on my part they could be polished up to make a decent case: … Robinson’s point is very well taken when she complains that acceptance rates in prominent journals are biased against Asian scholars, and pushes the expectation that they must ‘engage with (sometimes not very relevant) Western analytical concepts in order to find international publication outlets’ (2015: 193). Certainly, publication for anyone becomes difficult when the commentaries committed to the local point of view must necessarily foreground local commitments to class struggle and address the circulation of (common knowledge) rumours naming extrajudicial police murders and the continuities of heritage sites with the police then and the police now. Having grappled with the issue of relevance on more than one occasion, the effort to compensate with citation from Bengal goes only a very small way towards redress, yet …

Though the more I read, the more I realise the editor has saved my bacon…:

While communities subject to regeneration are confronted with historical changes, recuperations of renovated pasts, and biased contemporary scrutiny, they are organizing. A participatory re-organization for ethnography necessarily rethinks their exclusion, and focuses upon new-found energies and new personnel invested contrapuntally in deciding what is comparable, what is transmissible, and what can be usefully studied. In some ways this was always the imperative of ethnography, if not ever quite the “native point of view” of old (Malinowski 1922).

Without entering the already prolific debates about social media’s impact on ethnography (a good survey will be Paganopoulos, forthcoming), it might be that once the digital curtain is pulled back on the magic smoke and mirrors of the grand wizard developer, every resident or passerby could have a chance to have a say. And since the so-called ‘illicit’ and worst versions of precarity throw up their own security challenges for (new) researchers and subjects alike, and all jobs with bosses are precarious of course, then the prospect of there being only a few university places subject to outsourcing and displacement (Neilson 2018: 275) is not something to regret.

Opium in HCMC

A lockdown post.

Looking forward to continuing to explore the city one great meal at a time. Here are some of my notes on La Manufacture d’Opium, at 74 Hai Ba Trung – and a bit about Subhas Chandra Bose at the end..

The stylised opium poppy design in the entrance arch for Number 74 Hai Ba Trung signals, almost like a guilty secret, that this was the site of the French Opium Factory in Sai Gon/Ho Chi Minh City, from 1881.


The Opium Trade was a vicious French colonial policy, of which Ho Chi Minh famously mentions in his Declaration of Independence in 1945:

“for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow-citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice.

In the field of politics, they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty.

They have enforced inhuman laws; they have set up three distinct political regimes in the North, the Center and the South of Vietnam in order to wreck our national unity and prevent our people from being united.

They have built more prisons than schools. They have mercilessly slain our patriots; they have drowned our uprisings in rivers of blood.

They have fettered public opinion; they have practiced obscurantism against our people.

To weaken our race they have forced us to use opium…”

Not that surprisingly, this opium history in HCMC has been erased over time – ever more so, it seems. The latest update even removed the name plate that mentioned “La Manufacture d’Opium” (without any context). The restaurants inside seem to erase more and more indication of what this was. When I first visited there was a sign at least, now, like so many places where this trade went on, there is no sign.

Tim Doling writes: “It was built in 1881 after the Cochinchina authorities took back the opium franchise from Wang Tai and was significantly expanded in size in the early 1900s, when the opening of the new Yunnan railway line gave the French a new cheap and plentiful supply of raw opium from China”

There is much more to dig out on this place. which of course I hope to do – this is a holding post for that work. Anyone got stuff please send. Anyone want to visit and explore – some fine dining options even, get in touch. Some of it looked a little run down 2 years ago:

before the most recent update. Photo: John Hutnyk

To its credit, one of the restaurants in the complex does keep a little history on its website:

As soon as Indochina was conquered, the French understood the financial benefits they could reap out of the opium trade. Usage was already widespread in the local community.

In 1861, two Frenchmen acquired the rights to trade and they quickly became very prosperous. By 1881, the Governor of Indochina decided to exercise direct control over the refining and sale of opium in the colony. The concession had passed from French to Chinese hands and there were security concerns over the situation.

The refinery – La Manufacture d’Opium – was build that year. You can still admire the old logo, an interlaced wrought iron O & M, in the main gate as you enter the courtyard from Hai Ba Trung Street as well as the stylised carved opium poppies above the entrance.

The administration, La Régie de l’Opium – the building still stands at the end of Ham Nghi Street, facing the river – controlled the sales via approved distributors who sold the goods in stamped brass boxes. Prices were set by decree.

This revenue generated a large part of the colony’s budget – up to 37% in 1914.

The opium refined in Saigon came mostly from India. Only a very small amount was grown in the colony.

As early as 1907, a decree was introduced that forbade the opening of new opium dens but it seems that production did not actually stop until 1954.

For the next 20 years, the area became the red light district of Saigon. In 1975 the buildings were split into housing for Customs Department officials. They still lived here when we opened in 2006.

Photo: Shashwati Talukdar
Photo: Shashwati Talukdar

And just nearby, the last refuge of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

Just up the road from the Opium factory, there is another site of interest. I have been collecting material and visiting the house that Bose stayed in here in Saigon at the end of the second global imperialist war. Its a bit dilapidated but still owned by the Indian grandson of the guy that made it available to Bose. I think it probably that Bose could have stayed in the hexagonal guest room at the back. The likelihood of it being torn down in favour of a glass and chrome skyscraper is high unless some dosh is found to rip off the horrible hoardings on the front – though it is not that offensive that the courtyard has become the home for about 6 street food cafes, some of which are very good – others do specialties that I don’t rate but some do – those huge snails do not seem that appetising to me :)/ There is also a shrine to some other soldier, from a later period in the back part of the driveway heading towards the servant’s kitchen. Whoever actually lives in the house seems to be struggling to keep things going, and the condition is very basic and run down, though well secured. From here Bose either was flown to Taiwan and the plane crashed on the tarmac – there is no record of any crash. Or, he was taken to the nearby Bot Catinat (Police station, notorious for its torture dungeons) and killed, which seems the more likely. Other, wilder, stories say he became an advisor to Ho Chi Minh and is even pictured in the delegation to Paris!! I think that is a stretch, despite the mysterious Bengali-looking man who was in the inner circle for the right time. Others of course ‘found’ him in Benares as a sadhu and still others were awaiting his return, at least as late as 1995, in Calcutta – probably still are. We can discount most of these latter fantasies. None so far can really be confirmed. Shashwati Talukdar is making a film on all this and I took her to the house 3 years ago to film. Its interesting that this is not renovated, despite being only a few doors up from the Opium factory and its set staging of colonial grand exotic theme restaurants, with no real remaining evidence that its the opium factory except for the undeniable opium decorations in the main gate. You can see some snaps from visits above:

Now, I know its a dangerous thing to even mention Subhas as it seems to always get me entangled in long ‘conversations’ with those who think he’s due to return any moment – a sprightly 123 year old jogs past and I wonder, doesn’t he look a little… – but I also want to write something about “The Forgotten Army – Azaadi ke Lite”

“The Forgotten Army’ is the dynamic story of Lt. Sodhi and his daredevil band of men and women who fought a heroic battle for the independence of India as part of the Indian National Army which was forged out of British defeat in Singapore during WWII and led by the charismatic, indomitable Indian leader Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose”
Starring Sunny Kaushal, Sharvari Wagh,

I am not sure how to get into it, but I’ve collected Bose trinkets since 1987 – when he will have been 90, so might still have turned up at one of the expectant vigils – cue every Sadhu spotting hyper-mystery mulcher ever. I do at least have the chance to sit and write this, or at least sketch a plan, in the last house he lived in here in Sai Gon before, probably, being carted off to the nearby, still extant, police lock-up (though not a lock-up anymore, its the Ministry of Culture – and the dungeons are totally flooded, thanks Tim Doling). Many thanks also to Joe Buckley for first taking on the mission to find the Bose place back in 2017. Now, how to track the INA through the Malay Peninsula and up to Imphal. Planning random trips in lockdown may be a little perverted though. Challo Delhi!
You like unrequited love stories? This series has it too – Shah Rukh Khan’s influence perhaps

Watch the forgotten Army

This little finale though, about the owner of the building where Bose stayed, from Shrawanti Saha. It is poignant and needs to be followed up – perhaps a visit to Pondicherry at last.:

“As the country today celebrates the birth anniversary of Netaji – the symbol of courage, valour and patriotism, my mind takes me back to my holidays in Vietnam couple of years back. While browsing through the various museums, war remnants, palaces, French colonial landmarks and the food stalls lining the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, (Saigon), I had the good fortune of visiting the mansion, where Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, was last seen in Saigon in 18th August, 1945 before he mysteriously vanished from the face of earth. This sprawling villa in the posh ‘white town’ of Saigon belonged to Leon Prouchandy, one of the most prominent and affluent Indian Tamil, originally from Pondicherry, living in Saigon.Like many Indians living abroad, he too, supported Netaji’s bid for armed liberation of India and donated handsomely to the fund of Indian National Army. This mansion on Hai Bha Tung Road, Ho Chi Minh City, once 76 rue Paul Blanchy, Saigon, used to be Prouchandy’s abode before he gave a portion of it away to serve as the secretariat of Indian Independence League. This was the mansion, where Prouchandy bade adieu to Netaji before flying out in the Japanese plane on the fateful morning of 18th August, 1945. It is said that the two spent the previous night together discussing about his final destination and the whereabouts of the cash, jewellery and gold donated by the Indians to INA. Soon after the 2nd World War ended and Japan surrendered, the British authorities arrested Prouchandy infront of his entire family from this same mansion. It took me little time and effort to spot this once palatial villa on the busy Hai Bha Tung Road as I could never imagine a place of such historical importance could house dirty shacks selling momos and street food, the sprawling lawns used as parking spaces for two wheelers and the porch in front could have a florist shop!! It was painful to see how this historic building is in a dilapidated state and lacks minimum maintenance. However, in case you are still wondering about the whereabouts of Leon Prouchandy, then you sure are in for some shock. He was imprisoned and subjected to inhuman torture to extract information about Netaji and his treasure trove. Those 3 months of barbaric torture left him shattered and broken. He had lost his memory, senses and speech, when he was brought back to Pondicherry, where he lived another 23 years of his life in a vegetative and debilitated state. This was the price Leon Prouchandy, paid for his patriotism and supporting Netaji Bose. Thus one of the prime financiers of INA died a death of anonymity.”

photographs by Elizabeth Riley
Photos: Joe Buckley

More opium architecture:

An additional note to follow – up on Duong Tôn Đức Thắng, a building from 1885-1887 redesigned following the French architect Alfred Foulhoux wbut previously owned by Maison Wang-Tai, and in the new building decorated with further stylised opium poppies as described in Saigoneer.

World Rhino Day

The great Pachyderms (obsolete taxonomic category of old) – I’ve written about Ganda the rhino who circumnavigates Africa, from Gujurat to Marseilles in 1515, a gift from Sultan MuzafarII, ruler of Cambay, sent to the Portuguese King, after the Sultan had declined Alfonso Albuquerque’s request to build a fort in Surat. Ganda, and his keeper Ocem, get to Marseilles in 1516 but sink off the coast of Italy (Ganda was chained to the deck. Sad). The Indian rhino these days is endangered; is the mascot of the security wing of the army (5th Assam I think); and deserves a better fate. See below for a link to a short history of World Rhino Day, and to my article on Ganda, and a great littel vid on Albrecht Durer’s print of Ganda (done without seeing him in the flesh). A pity, since who could not love a mug like these? Gotta have a thick hide, eh?

My chapter on Ganda was in this book, cover below, from Jadavpur Uni Press – a link to an earlier version is below since I don’t have a pdf, but you can also read Niranjan Goswami’s introduction on the google links straight after the cover below:

Here is the draft of the essay – a few changes in editing…

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And then, finaly, there is this really good vid explaining much about Durer’s rendering of Ganda:

also see this link

25 years since Dis-Orienting Rhythms


This is from Mix Mag. Fantastic to see. Except for the annoying subscribe pop ups, the content and layout of this is all that was great about the 1990s UK music scene (no not that Britpop gak) –


Tara Joshi traces the ’90s lineage of the Asian Underground movement, speaking to key figures DJ Ritu, Sweety Kapoor and Nitin Sawhney

  • 7 SEPTEMBER 2021

“I had never seen so many Bangladeshi kids in a dance venue,” says DJ Ritu over the phone. She’s reminiscing fondly of the 1990s, specifically, Hoxton, East London at a venue called Bass Clef. The venue held the infamous Asian Vibes night, run by Farook and Haroon Shamsher, two British Bangladeshi brothers. The smell of incense wafted through the air and their mum’s saris were pinned to the wall. Asian Vibes at Bass Clef played a fusion of breakbeats and South Asian sounds to rapturous crowds with the Shamsher brothers – known as the band and soundsystem Joi – at the helm.

“There was always a lot of energy in the place,” Ritu, a key figure at the time, says. “[The brothers would] be doing some mad stuff on the decks, they were a pair of characters. As far as I know, that was the first regular Asian Underground night.”

Bass Clef was pivotal at a time when British South Asian culture was finally gaining recognition as the ‘Asian Underground’. Rooted in British club culture, South Asian artists in the 90s made music that pulled as much from jungle, dub and trip-hop as it did from the intricacies of Indian Classical. The Asian Underground was a necessary change for South Asians to start taking control of their own spaces in the industry beyond Bhangra.

Read this next: Welcome to Mixmag’s South Asian Series

UK Bhangra had been healthy and thriving since the 1970s, combining the melodic, often euphoric Panjabi folk music with western instrumentation and technology – by the early 90s, the likes of Bally Sagoo and Panjabi MC were at the forefront, marrying Bhangra with dubreggae and hip hop production (Bally was also known for his Bollywood remixes). Although back in the 1960s Ravi Shankar had broken through to the West from India, and fusion act Monsoon had played on Top of the Pops in 1982, overall, in the last decades of the 20th century the assumption had been that if you were brown, you were making Bhangra – or that you were simply not marketable.

“For British Asians making music back then, you could approach mainstream major labels like Sony or Warners or whoever, and you’d probably be rejected, because they didn’t know what to do with you,” explains Ritu. “Or you could go to a Bhangra label. But what if you were a British Asian artist who didn’t want to make Bhangra?”

Ritu is a promoter, DJ and radio host, and in the 90s she also performed as part of the band Sister India as well as A&Ring for Outcaste Records, founded back in 1994 with Paul Franklyn and Shabir “Shabs” Jobanputra (who would go onto create UK behemoth Relentless Records, which has been home to Artful DodgerJay Sean and, more recently, Bad Boy Chiller Crew). Outcaste was one of several labels – and then club nights – formed around that era, providing space for those British South Asian artists who, like Joi, were doing something a bit different. Aki Nawaz and Kath Canoville arguably led the way back in 1988 when they founded the seminal Nation Records, after major labels turned down their fusion album, ‘Fuse‘.

The 1980s and 90s were an especially exciting and interesting time for the Bhangra scene – terminology like ‘Asian Kool’ was used to describe what was happening (the ‘k’, Ritu explains, a reference to the five Ks of Sikhism), and interrogation was starting to happen about the political reasons for which Blackness had been commodified as cool in a way that Asianness hadn’t been (as the 1996 book Dis-orienting Rhythms: The politics of the new Asian Dance Music by Sanjay SharmaJohn Hutnyk and Ashwani Sharma examines). Traditional sounds were melding with Black music, there was the burgeoning secret thrill of daytime raves – South Asian parties that facilitated the specific needs of this community of youths with typically strict parents and strict curfews. By 1993, it was a common sight to see young British South Asians trailing around the corner of London’s Wardour Street every Tuesday evening, trying to get into the now legendary, sweaty Bombay Jungle nights at the Wag Club.

But Bombay Jungle wasn’t just about Bhangra. After experiencing the consistent racism of being rejected for entry from various nights in central London, Mits Sahni (who was also a member of Hustlers HC, a socially conscious rap group signed to Nation) set up Bombay Jungle as a safe haven of sorts. One floor was dedicated to the Panjabi import, while the other was largely home to Black music genres like hip hop, ragga, reggae and swing (effectively present day R&B). The aforementioned Asian Underground frontrunner night Asian Vibes at Bass Clef – which would later become Blue Note – was happening around the same time in Hoxton.

Sweety Kapoor is another instrumental figure from the time. She works today as a curator, creative producer, radio host and runs a night called Brown Girl in the Ring. Back in the 90s she ran a night called Anokha alongside two other key players: the formidable, Mercury Prize-winning tabla player Talvin Singh, and DJ and producer Sam Zaman aka State of Bengal. Zaman was hailed as the Godfather of Asian Breakbeat, starting out with the Shamsher brothers as part of the Joi Bangla Soundsystem before venturing solo, as well as mentoring his younger brother Deeder, who would become a rapper for Asian Dub Foundation.

Anokha was one of the movement’s most important club nights, taking place at the Blue Note on a Monday. Sweety explains that, as a descriptor for what they were all doing, ‘Asian Underground’ is not the most comfortable label: “The irony of it was that we kept saying at the time that we cannot give you a term to define this. I remember saying it time and time again to journalists: yes, these artists and bands all had something in common, but actually musically they were so varied! So how do you term that?” Ritu echoes Kapoor, stating, “This was the voice of the second generation making their mark [and] the music was fascinating. But it was a very loosely cut ‘collective’.”

It was the title of Talvin’s 1997 compilation, ‘Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Undergroundthat would provide the umbrella term of sorts for those South Asian-origin artists in the UK making music across the spectrum. Generally the term found artists and bands innovatively blending elements of Indian Classical with everything from soul, jazz and hip hop (as in the case of Nitin Sawhney) to contemporary club sounds like drum ‘n’ bass (as per Talvin), but even rock (Cornershop), punk (Fun-Da-Mental), breakbeat (Joi), trip-hop (Sister India), dub (Asian Dub Foundation), reggae (Apache Indian) and jungle (UK Apache). By the late 1990s, fusion artists from South Asia were able to break into the European market too – North India’s Ananda Shankar who, back in the 1960s had played with the likes of Jimi Hendrix in LA, went on tour with State of Bengal, culminating in the pair putting out an album called ‘Walking On’ in 1999.

Read this next: How Asian Dub Foundation’s stand against racism connected generations of British Asians

Where Bhangra nights were predominantly attended by young South Asian people, Asian Underground attracted a more mixed crowd across ages and ethnicities. “Nights like Outcaste and Anokha were much tamer than the Bhangra parties,” adds Ritu, “It was slightly spiritual and more chilled.”

Sweety remembers a night where Lee “Scratch” Perry attended Anokha and asked to go on the mic, with State of Bengal on the decks. “[Lee] understood what was happening at Anokha,” she says, “He connected with the cultural and political significance of it, he felt the synergy with what we were doing. It didn’t need to be explained, he just understood.”

The likes of Björk and Goldie were also regularly at Asian Underground nights – Björk not only worked with Talvin Singh on several tracks and live shows, but she discovered State of Bengal at Anokha, leading to him signing to her labelremixing her tracks and opening for her on her world tour. Meanwhile Goldie and co’s drum ‘n’ bass Metalheadz Sunday Sessions nights were at Blue Note, so the crowd was not dissimilar to that of Anokha.

For Nitin Sawhney, the prolific musician, composer and producer, it was a surreal time hearing his music on the radio, and going to clubs where he could see that Asians were seen as cool. “I grew up in a very white area with [far-right group] the National Front on my doorstep, so you were constantly attacked on the basis of having brown skin,” Nitin says, “So suddenly to be in a situation where a lot of white people as well as Asians and Black people were coming to these club nights, it felt like, bloody hell, this is incredible. They’re listening to sitars, to Indian Classical singers, to bansuri [Indian flute] and they’re jumping up and down to it. Those nights felt full of optimism, it felt like we were changing things – something was shifting and people were finally getting it and understanding multiculturalism. It felt like anything was possible. ”

“I was working 24/7 running Anokha,” Kapoor states, “people have expressed when they walked into Anokha they would be hit with a feeling something very special was happening. There was a buzz, an energy shift – people didn’t just come there for music, they came to connect, meet like-minded people, it was a birthplace for creativity, ideas and collaborations. People found a home that hadn’t existed before, and not just for the Brown kids. All these spaces were multicultural Britain in motion.” She adds that this included people from the South Asian Caribbean community, who had rarely felt accepted in more traditional South Asian diasporic spaces.

“Everything felt fresh, everything felt new,” agrees Ritu, “There was funding around these things. Everything felt like it could be something and it could lead to something.”

“Look at people like Black Star Liner,” Nitin says, “He was programming in a way that was so interesting and new. And it was the same with so many people at that time – if you drop a lot of that music in a club anywhere now, it still goes down a storm.”

Culturally specific magazines like 2nd Generation were charting what was going on, but so were the biggest fashion and culture magazines: Nitin was on the cover of Dazed and ConfusedTalvin was on the cover of DJ MagAsian Dub Foundation were on the cover of NME. All three of those acts were nominated for the Mercury Prize, and Talvin won in 1999 for his debut album ‘OK’ (incidentally, Susheela Raman was also nominated in 2001, though she never saw herself as part of Asian Underground).

In 2002, Bobby Friction and Nihal Arthanayake had an award-winning flagship show on BBC Radio 1 called Asian Beats. British South Asian artists were signing huge deals with major labels. Nitin points to moments like playing with Sting, or Madonna naming ‘Beyond Skin as one of her favourite records in The Face“This whole progression was happening. It wasn’t just me, it was Asian artists as a whole being accepted into the mainstream. We weren’t just there, we were influencing what was going on.”

But something was shifting. Partly, this was to do with the nature of the music industry, treating South Asian creativity as a trend rather than a movement of people – wary of this, Nitin had always distanced himself from “Asian Underground” as a label. Plus, people were getting older and growing out of clubbing – of course things were moving on. Still, it’s hard to dismiss the rupture posed by September 11, 2001, when a series of coordinated terrorist attacks by the militant Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda took place in the United States. All three interviewees mention that it was a point after which all Brown people and their spaces were met with a resurgence of fear, suspicion and scepticism from white establishments across industries. Though there was still some scope for artists in the coming years making more mainstream sounds rooted in genres like R&B (such as the Rishi Rich Project and Rouge), over the coming years, many of Asian Underground’s more leftfield artists were dropped from major labels, the media lost interest, and the money was gone.

Read this next: How classic cars and soundsystems connect Southall residents to their Indian roots

It became increasingly rare that artists of South Asian origin were recognised in prestigious industry spaces – and those who did were individuals, rather than being seen as part of some wider scene (though arguably this spoke to the changing nature of British Asian identity and desire for “integration” post-9/11).

“It’s blatant, endemic racism,” says Nitin of how South Asian artists have been treated, “Institutionalised racism is everywhere, and it’s very rife in the music industry. And 9/11 shifted a whole psychology, there was a lot of fear after that and a lot of political opportunism. Racists look for any excuse to justify being racist.”

“After 9/11, there was a sharp change, and we lost some of our coolness because we were viewed with suspicion,” says Ritu, “A lot of the latent racism that had always been there rose to the surface again.””

No Olympics

Because of the money-suck, the corporate sponsorship (riotinto making the medals in London), the fake moralism about drugs, the ‘security’ policing, the clearing of the inner city of undesirables, the hypocrisy, this is an old ‘fax art’ poster from my archives, circa 1990. We made many of these on the politics department photocopier.


Stolen temple bell and replica cannon. Opium and Crimean War relics in Nottingham.

Grey rainy day walk with the kids in the Arboretum of Nottingham, the city’s first park set out mid 19th Century. The park contains a monument to the thefts of the British in China and Russia. A stylised pagoda contains a replica bell (the original is stashed in a regimental hq in Preston) that was taken from a temple near Canton in the second war for drugs (1856-1860).

“designed in 1857 by Marriott Ogle Tarbotton as a war memorial and built in 1862” .

“Two of the cannon were captured at Sebastopol in 1854-55, during the Crimean war, the other 2 are replicas”

As we can see from the historical England archive photo (from which source the quotes were also found) there once used to be cannon balls in the park. These have gone now, as has the original bell, along with memory of the sorry English drug dealing past where the British state happily went to war on the other side of the planet to protect English rights to profit from the addictions it developed as commodity demand in the then ‘China trade’.

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