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Rarely spotted Mandarin Duck and Black-necked Crane stop by in Assam==========“I couldn’t believe it,” says Madhab Gogoi excitedly over the phone from Assam, about his surprise date with the spectacular-looking bird in the early weeks of February. He was at Maguri-Motapung beel (wetland) in Tinsukia district, Assam, birdwatching in the wetlands when he noticed a colourful bird floating on the surface of the lake. Curious, he zoomed in with his binoculars and realised that it was the Mandarin duck, a rare bird that was last seen in Assam in the 1900s.

“It was a historic moment, as the bird has shown up after 120 years at the same location. It was last spotted at Dibru river in Tinsukia in 1902. The streak of colours on the plumage, especially the male during the breeding season is a mind-boggling mix of white, green, golden orange and blue. You can call it the ‘queen’ among water birds,” says Gogoi.


The eBird website, a platform that documents birds the world over, calls it a ‘small-exotic looking bird’ native to East Asia, and describes the male as ‘very ornate with big orangey ‘sail fins’ on the back, streaked orangey cheeks, and a small red bill with a whitish tip.’

According to birders like Jaydev Mandal, the duck “seems to have strayed from its regular migratory path”. He says over call from Assam, “They breed in Russia, Korea, Japan and the northeastern parts of China — as the name Mandarin also suggests. The species is also found in western Europe and the US. The bird rarely visits India as the wintering grounds of the birds are Mongolia and China.”

After Assam, a lone Mandarin duck was spotted last week in Arunachal Pradesh at Siikhe lake, Ziro, a first spotting of this small and exotic species in the State.
It is suspected that it is the same duck from Assam’s Maguri Motapung wetland spotted earlier this month that has made a 300-kilometre journey to get there.
Jaydev spearheaded the second edition of Bihu Bird Count that covered 27 districts and recorded 400 species of birds. “ We can call it a vagrant that briefly stopped by at the same location where it was last seen in the 20th Century, making it a record sighting.”

“Maybe it’s a casual sighting” says Nilutpal Mahanta, a PhD scholar at Gauhati University and an avid birder. “If one studies the migratory pathways listed on ebird, we learn that this bird is not a winter visitor to India. The birds that flock wintering grounds in India take the Central Asian Flyway, and Mandarin ducks don’t take that route.

It could even be a species that escaped from an illegal wildlife trader. The ducks is often captured and traded because of its beauty. Illegal trading of exotic species is rampant along China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar border,” he adds.

Rare sightings
Naturalists suspect that climate changes and habitat destruction have triggered a spate of rare sightings in Assam. A pair of black-necked cranes were also sighted in the countryside of the outskirts of the Panbari range of Manas National Park, a first-ever record in Assam.

Black-necked crane sighted at Manas National Park, Assam.
Black-necked crane sighted at Manas National Park, Assam. | Photo Credit: Nilutpal Mahanta

Explains Nilutpal, “It is a medium-sized crane that breeds on the Tibetan Plateau and remote parts of India and Bhutan. They have been mostly recorded in high altitudes of Jimithang and Sangti valley in western parts of Arunachal Pradesh in India. Locals of Panbari have named bird deu korchon (Deu means related to God and mythology, and Korchon means crane) as it has mythological importance in Buddhist culture.”

Though the environment became stable in the last year with less pollution, habitat destruction is a cause of worry, says Nilutpal. “In January, we also spotted the rarely seen Indian golden oriole in Assam. Such rare sightings make us happy but also leave us confused,” he explains.

Gogoi is happy; the appearance of Mandarin duck has kick-started a discussion on conservation. “Of the 1,200 birds that can be seen in India, over 900 species are found in the Northeast part of India, including Assam and Mizoram. Birders throng to Assam to see resident beauties like grey peacock pheasant and white winged wood duck,” he says. Then adds, “But the beauty of Mandarin has left not just the naturalists, but also the general public speechless. It has inspired them to give a serious thought about conservation. It is heartening.”

Disaster, Environment

5 Bodies Recovered, Over 150 Missing in Flash Flood Triggered by Nandadevi Glacier Break in Chamoli; Uttarakhand -=====5 Bodies Recovered , 100 feared to death as Nanda Devi glacier broke and crashed into the dam in Chamoli district :——————A part of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off at Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on Sunday, leading to a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river and causing large-scale devastation in the upper reaches of the ecologically fragile Himalaya. Over 150 labourers working at a power project in Tapovan-Reni are feared dead, an Indo Tibetan Border Police spokesperson said while quoting the project-in charge. Five bodies were recovered. The power project was swept away completely, added state Director General of Police Ashok Kumar while describing the situation as under control. Homes along the way were also swept away as the waters rushed down the mountainsides in a raging torrent. There were fears of damage in human settlements downstream, including in heavily populated areas. Many villages were evacuated and people taken to safer areas. Connectivity with some border posts was “totally restricted” due to a bridge collapsing near Reni village, an ITBP spokesperson said.

Several districts, including Pauri, Tehri, Rudraprayag, Haridwar and Dehradun, that were likely to be affected were put on high alert and forces of the ITBP and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rushed in to help with the rescue and relief effort. I am constantly monitoring the unfortunate situation in Uttarakhand. India stands with Uttarakhand, prays for everyone’s safety, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said. News that the 150 labourers at the project on Rishi Ganga were affected had come in the early in the day. Representatives of the power project have told me that they are not being able to contact around 150 of their workmen at the project site,” said State Disaster Response Force DIG Ridhim Aggarwal. The waters in the Dhauli Ganga, a tributary of the Ganga, was flowing two to three metres above normal, the official added. Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and assured him of all possible support to deal with the situation arising from the glacier burst and the resulting floods. In a series of tweets in Hindi, Shah also said teams of the NDRF were deployed for rescue and relief operations of the affected people while additional troops of the force were being airlifted from Delhi

Indigenous no-state people

China’s dam-building over Brahmaputra risks water war with India
Hong Kong: China is planning to construct a mega-dam on the Yarlung Zangbao River, which flows through Tibet and eventually becomes the Brahmaputra when it enters India.
india china dispute
Photo Credit: FacebookYarlung Zangbao RiverHong Kong: China’s plan to dam the Yarlung Zangbao, the world’s highest river, threatens to spark conflict with downstream India, reported Asia Times.China is planning to construct a mega-dam on the Yarlung Zangbao River, which flows through Tibet and eventually becomes the Brahmaputra when it enters India.

The Yarlung Zangbao Dam plan is moving ahead without China discussing or entering into water-sharing agreements with downstream India or Bangladesh.Bangladesh, which maintains cordial relations with China, too protested over the Yarlung Zangbao Dam, reported Asia Times.

Bertil Linter in an opinion piece in Asia Times wrote that precise technical details regarding the mega-dam on the Yarlung Zangbo River are lacking, but regional media reports indicate it will likely dwarf the massive Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River and generate three times as much electricity for distribution in China.Both Brahmaputra and the glaciers that feed Ganga originate in China. As an upstream riparian region, China maintains an advantageous position and can build infrastructure to intentionally prevent water from flowing downstream.

Owing to previous tendencies where the Chinese have been reluctant to provide details of its hydropower projects, there is a trust deficit between the two neighbours.China’s dam-building and water division plans along the Brahmaputra (called Yarlung Zangbao in China) is a source of tension between the two neighbours.

Not only India but other nations of Southeast Asia are affected due to China’s lack of consultations with downstream neighbours and has sparked controversy with them.China has built eleven mega-dams on the Mekong River, causing water levels there to fluctuate widely without prior notice in Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, reported Asia Times.As per reports, in late December, China reduced water discharge from a dam to test its equipment near the town of Jinghong in southern Yunnan province from 1,904 cubic meters to 1,000 cubic meters per second.It took almost a week for China to inform the downstream countries of the move, which wasn’t enough time for downstream countries to prepare, resulting in disruptions in shipping and commerce. Water levels had already dropped a meter at Thailand’s Chiang Saen, where the Mekong forms the border with Laos, wrote Linter.China’s announcement was made only after the Washington-based Stimson Center’s Southeast Asia Program’s Mekong Dam Monitor, which uses satellite imagery to keep tabs on water levels along the river, notified the Mekong River Commission, a regional cooperation organization of which China is not a member.Some analysts believe China is using its leverage over water flows as a stick to win concessions from downstream Southeast Asian states on other issues, including in regard to its Belt and Road Initiative.China is using the same tactics with India with its Yarlung Zangbao Dam designs. Earlier, China clashed with India in Ladakh in June last year and a 2017 border stand-off near the border with Bhutan has angered both nations over China’s unilaterally decided hydroelectric power scheme.The Himalayan water war will affect India and Bangladesh as both rely on the Brahmaputra’s water for agriculture. Both India and Bangladesh worry that these dams will give Beijing the ability to divert or store water in times of political crisis.Everyday policy concerns like water sharing and usage often receive less attention, are combined with larger security or border concerns, or are dealt with only when natural disasters occur. Yet water politics has far-reaching consequences for the prosperity and security of countries. Courtesy: SCMP


TRP scam: Pulwama martyrs’ kin slam Arnab Goswami, demand strict action against him . . GUWAHATI :
Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami, whose name surfaced in the past few days in the Television Rating Points (TRP) rigging scam, has been slammed by the military veterans and aggrieved family members of the Pulwama attack martyrs. Goswami was attacked for his vulture journalism and demands have been made for strict action against the journalist for compromising national security. The Pulwama martyrs’ kin has claimed that Goswami should be shameful for his acts and should stop playing such incidents for TRP gains. Furthermore, they also say that the government should probe how the Republic TV editor-in-chief got the sensitive information


1,000 doses of Covishield vaccine found frozen, damaged at cold storage in Assam
Guwahati: Around 1,000 doses of the Covishield vaccine were found damaged at the Silchar Medical College & Hospital (SMCH) in Assam’s Cachar district. The vaccine doses were found lying frozen in the vaccine store unit of SMCH.
und 1,000 doses of the Covishield vaccine were found damaged at the Silchar Medical College & Hospital (SMCH) in Assam’s Cachar district. The vaccine doses were found lying frozen in the vaccine store unit of SMCH.

According to reports, about 100 vials of Covishield vaccine, containing 1,000 doses, were stored at sub-zero temperatures. The Covishield vaccine require to be stored at a temperature of 2-8 degrees Celsius, but the temperature of the ILR at Silchar Medical College & Hospital went below zero.

A health official at Cachar district said that the vaccines were found partially frozen.

“There might be some technical fault of the Ice-Lined Refrigerator (ILR). We generally regulate the temperature of ILR between 2-8 degrees Celsius. When the temperature goes down, the ILR machine sends a message. But our vaccinator didn’t get any message and most probably it was a technical fault. The vaccines were stored the whole night and somehow the temperatures had dropped,” the health official said.

Meanwhile, Assam health department has decided to send another batch of 100 vials of the Covishield containing 1,000 doses to the Silchar Medical College & Hospital as replacement.

On the other hand, the state health department has sought a report from the hospital authority following the incident.

Defence, Diplomacy

New Delhi: )73.7 per cent Indians want Tibet’s status as buffer zone to be restored to prevent border conflict with China

73.7 per cent Indians want Tibet’s status as buffer zone to be restored to prevent border conflict with China
A majority of Indians want the historic status of Tibet as a buffer zone between India and China to be restored to prevent border conflicts.
73.7 per cent Indians want Tibet’s status as buffer zone to be restored to prevent border conflict with China
73.7 per cent Indians want Tibet’s status as buffer zone to be restored Key HighlightsThe survey included a sample size of 3,000 people spread across the countryNearly 80 per cent Indians support free Tibet, as per the IANS C-Voter Tibet PollNearly 80 per cent believe India’s actions can bolster Tibetan cause
New Delhi: A majority of Indians want restoring Tibet’s historic status as a buffer zone in order to prevent border conflicts between India and China.

Responding to IANS C-Voter Tibet Poll question ‘Do you think it is important to restore the historic status of Tibet as a buffer zone or a zone of peace in order to prevent border conflicts between India and China’, 73.7 per cent of the respondents answered in affirmative while 13.8 per cent said ‘No’.

12.6 per cent Indians said they couldn’t comment on the matter.

80 per cent Indians support free Tibet
The survey was conducted based on a sample size of 3,000 people spread all over the country.

In terms of gender, 13.4 per cent male replied they couldn’t comment, 72.8 per cent agreed with the query, while 13.8 per cent said ‘No’. Among females, 74.7 per cent agreed, 13.7 per cent answered in the negative, while 11.7 per cent said they couldn’t comment, IANS reported.

A majority of the Indian youth between the age group of 18 to 24 years backed the idea with 12.0 per cent saying they couldn’t comment on the matter while 73.5 per cent said ‘Yes’.

’80 per cent believe India’s actions can bolster Tibetan cause’
In the 25-34 age group, 12.2 per cent were undecided, 72.5 per cent agreed while 15.3 per cent answered in the negative.

46 per cent Indians feel that international human rights organisations have done little to help the Tibetan cause.

A whopping 80 per cent Indians support free Tibet and feel that India can make a difference to the Tibetan cause.

With anti-China emotions running high in India more people are willing to back Tibet and its cause; however, it requires a clear understanding of the ground situation and more people need to be educated about India’s historic ties with Tibet

Art & Culture

In Arunachal, a 1000-year-old paper-making technique turns a new page

The paper — sourced from the bark of the shugu sheng shrub — is used as manuscripts, scriptures etc in Buddhist monasteries (Source: KVIC)

When the machines — derelict due to nearly two decades of abandonment — revved to life on Christmas, Maling Gombu heaved a sigh of happiness.

It was only in February that the Tawang-based social worker and lawyer had written to the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), the country’s premier village industries development body, bringing to its notice the potential of a rare and languishing paper-making craft of his state.

“We call it ‘mon shugu’, or the paper of the Monpa people,” says Gombu on the phone from Tawang, “This is no normal paper. It is special, has roots in a tradition that is a thousand years old, and needs to be preserved — before it’s too late,” he says.

The ‘Monpa handmade paper making unit’ was inaugurated on December 25 in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh in a bid to preserve the Monpa community’s heritage craft (Source: KVIC)
It did not take long for the KVIC to act. On December 25, after months of planning, interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, an abandoned government building in Tawang transitioned into the “Monpa handmade paper making unit”, employing nine local artisans to make the special paper.

In the forests of Mukto, a village perched at an altitude of 10,800 feet in Tawang district, grows the shugu sheng shrub (Daphne papyracea), the bark of which has been traditionally processed into ‘mon shugu’ by the Monpa tribe.

For centuries, the paper has made its way to the many Buddhist monasteries not just locally, but in Tibet, Bhutan, China and Japan too, where it serves as a medium for religious scriptures, manuscripts, prayer flags, and sometimes as part of flag poles and prayer wheels

Chorten Norbu, a 40-year-old school teacher from Mukto, remembers how at one point of time almost every household had a paper-making unit.

“But it was not easy to do — it was hard work, took all day, and had very little return,” he says, “Sometimes, raw materials were not easy to source, even if you got it, there was the long process of boiling, beating, drying, cutting (of paper) — all by hand. You would have to be in the hut all day for one sheet of paper.” According to Norbu, many people began to look for alternative sources of income.

Yet, the uniqueness of the craft was not lost on those who visited Mukto. Take for example, Dr Sukamal Deb, now the deputy chief executive officer, Northeast Zone, KVIC. “In 1987, I was posted in Arunachal Pradesh in the department of industries. My work led me to learn about many crafts of the region — including ‘mon shugu’,” he says.

When the official found only a handful of people were making the paper, he felt something needed to be done. Deb’s efforts led a KVIC team to study the craft, in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in the mid-1990s.

“Subsequently, a project was launched by the KVIC to modernise it — basically do away with the manual drudgery. A common facility centre at Mukto was made, machines were brought in to speed up the work in 2003, and a group of artisans were sent to Jaipur for a training program by the Kumarappa National Handmade Paper Institute, under the KVIC,” says Deb. “Yet for various reasons, the project just did not take off.”

And the machines — boilers, beaters and driers — lay idle in two lonely sheds in Mukto for years.

“But last year, I was speaking to Maling (Gombu) about this and suddenly we thought — why not try to revive the craft,” says Deb.

At a KVIC programme in Itanagar, Gombu met Vinai Kumar Saxena, the current chairman of KVIC and discussed the idea with him. “He was more than enthusiastic,” says Gombu, who then wrote a letter to Saxena, officially volunteering his NGO, Youth Action for Social Welfare, as a partner for the revival project. “The machines were in pathetic condition, but they were not damaged at least. So, we shifted them from Mukto to Tawang, and got them up and running,” he says.

Almost two decades ago, Deb recalls how samples of the shugu sheng bark were sent to Jaipur and Germany for testing. “The results were outstanding. Not only does the paper have huge tensile strength but is durable, and made without a single chemical additive,” he says.

A 2006 paper, “A Traditional Source of Paper Making in Arunachal Pradesh”, says the mon shugu is “strong with its visible natural fibres and a unique texture”.

“So it is not just that the process is unique, but the product is as special,” says Gombu, adding that it is for this reason that the paper serves as a good material for religious scriptures. “The bark from the shrub has to be extricated, dried, boiled with a solution of ash, made into pulp and then cut into sheets of paper,” he says.

The machines have been brought in to make the process faster. “For example, the final process, which involves drying is dependent on the sun — sometimes it may take a day to do. But with the drier, this will be simpler now,” he says.

Yet, there are hurdles. “Many communities here have local laws such as not allowing their forest produce to be taken outside the villages. So it may be difficult to ge8t an unlimited supply of shugu sheng, which grows only in certain areas,” he says.

So the efforts will focus on doubling up domestic plantations of the shrub, and finding a suitable commercial market. “And of course, there are artisans to convince, many of whom have moved away from the craft altogether,” says Gombu.

Norbu, for one, had attended the workshop way back in the early 2000s. “It didn’t work out then, so I left and became a teacher. But this time, I hope it works for the local youth and our craft is preserved for good,” he says.


The hill district of Assam, Dima Hasao has received the season’s first spell of snowfall.

The snowfall has whitewashed the green hills of the district.

Dima Hasao has seen snowfalls at Kipeilo village, 75 km away from Haflong, bringing cheer to the villagers in the New Year.

The Zemi Naga-dominated village under Mahur police station is situated in the Laisong council constituency.

According to the villagers, they have witnessed snowfall for the last one week.

Snowfall has engulfed the entire area.

The people of Kipeilo village, which is located near the Barail range of hills, are excited to witness snowfalls in their village.

However, snowfall in the village is not new for its residents.

The people of Kipeilo village have been witnessing snowfall for the last several years.

Due to snowfall, the waters in ponds have frozen completely.

But the news of snowfall in Kipeilo is yet to get highlighted.

The NC Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC) and the state tourism department can highlight the snowfall in Kipeilo while promoting the district as an important tourist destination of Assam.

It is expected that tourists would visit the village to have a glimpse of snowfall and Kipeilo may become a tourist hotspot.

According to sources, snowfall has also been reported in Thuruk village in the south-west part of Dima Hasao district.

Thuruk village is 112 km away from Haflong, the district headquarters of Dima Hasao and is dominated by Biate community.


Why Romila Thapar went to China in 1957: To study the history of Buddhism, not Communism


Romila Thapar at the entrance to a cave at the site of Maijishan, China. | Dominique Darbois / From the archives of the author.
The second interest [in this particular visit to China] came from the many discussions that I heard initially, and later participated in, during my late teens and early twenties. These discussions in the early and mid-fifties focused on contemporary China, an Asian society and civilisation that had undergone a revolution with the promise of establishing a socialist society. Many were interested to see what would be the shape of this new society and how this would differ from the earlier attempts in the USSR.

This became a crucial discussion in the light of the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR, held in 1956, having revealed aspects of bureaucratic and political functioning in the USSR that had not been spoken of so far, and that were troubling those that had endorsed the revolution. Questions were raised as to whether the Soviet model, being so proximate to the Chinese, would become the earlier pattern to be repeated in the latter case.

There was at the same time much romanticism about Maoist China building an entirely new model of society that would bring about the many changes that had captured the imagination, especially of the young. So I was eager to see the reality.
Much had been written by journalists visiting China, some returning with a positive view of the change, and others presenting negative observations. In many ways it was, as the Chinese would say, a period of “interesting times”, in other words problematic times that had no easy solutions. Being China, the dimension of change was impressive, as for instance, in the collectivisation of agriculture. The question being asked was what would this lead to and would it solve China’s agrarian problems.

Then came other changes – liberalisation towards intellectuals followed by a reversal and a rectification campaign. Mao Zedong’s words resounded in his much-quoted sentence of 1957, “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.” We arrived in China eager to witness the efflorescence, if there was one.

It is perhaps worth keeping in mind with hindsight that a few flowers might have bloomed but many would wilt or would be ploughed in by the end of that year. The Great Leap Forward, initiated by Mao Zedong and the Communist Party, was intended to accelerate the economy and give a new impetus to social change and the transformation of China into a Communist state. But the agrarian crisis resulted in the disastrous event of the long famine and put paid to many earlier explorations, with the final closure to the blooming of flowers being the taking over by the Cultural Revolution.

This was called the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a movement that dominated Chinese politics and society during the 1960s and early ’70s. It was a movement intended to purge China of “bourgeois” elements plotting to bring back capitalism, but in fact it was a way of also bolstering the power of Mao. In the process both people and cultural items were silenced or physically removed.

The Little Red Book with fragments of Mao’s writing was made essential reading – young people were organised into Red Guards who frequently used violence to intimidate people at large. In later times, the Cultural Revolution was viewed as a major disaster by the Chinese Communist Party. Nevertheless, what is worth taking into account is the impact of these events on political and social thinking in other parts of the world.
It led to some rethinking about flexibility and openness in concepts and institutions emanating from socialist thinking, drawing legitimacy from more than one event. It also prodded the social sciences in academic programmes into investigating more expansively the many theories of knowledge and explanation that were being written about. These not only required the asking of questions but asking more pointed questions from what had been asked before. It was indeed in an inverse kind of way a creative period in many branches of thinking in the wider world, especially in the arts and humanities, some nudged by Maoism and some by other theories.

But these are not the central themes of this book since the period when we were in China was prior to the radical changes. I am mentioning them as ideas that were being discussed elsewhere, and that may have been germinating whilst we were in China but of which we were seldom made aware. We did try on occasion to politely ferret them out, but were not overly successful.

This narrative of a journey therefore has limited relevance. It is only an attempt to try and capture a moment in modern history. However, by extension, it was a moment that was to have ramifications and continues to have them, reaching into the wider world – perhaps more so later in terms of recognising the pre-modern contacts between various regions of Asia.

This becomes all the more important given that the areas under discussion are now independent nations focusing on their own histories. The project that took us to China touched on these histories, and being at the required locations we experienced the emergence of China. It no longer saw itself as “the Middle Kingdom”, the civilisation surrounded by barbarians, as it called itself in history, and isolated from the rest of the world. It now saw itself as entering the collective of Asian nations which in time was to expand in various ways to a wider collective.

There was an intricate network of contacts in pre-modern times of which we today need to be aware. The past does not always fade away, it occasionally persists but in new guises. The extent to which we recognise this can go into the making of the present. My interest was more in the Asia-wide networks of early times and how these were expressed through the spread of Buddhism as evident in the texts, shrines and monasteries that it inspired.
From the Indian perspective, at the time of our visit, the Asian world was just starting to open up to some of the connections that it had had in precolonial times. Overland there had been in the past, both confrontations between peoples, as well as peaceful exchanges of material goods and ideas, across the expanse of the continent and beyond.

Maritime connections and exchanges, occasionally conflicting, were generally peaceful. Both kinds of connections led to migrations, settlements in new locations, and intermingling of ideas. Weaving their way through these connections were the institutions that evolved from a variety of religions. Confucianism and Hinduism tended to be rather stay-at-home religions, although the latter did venture out into some new areas. The two religions that travelled through and settled in many parts of Asia were Buddhism and, later, Islam.

There was a bewildering multiplicity of objects and ideas available to us from pre-modern Asia. Colonialism divided Asia into disparate compartments as each European power established its control over a different region and these were artificially cut off from each other. From the 1950s, some of the past experience was being rediscovered and subjected to explanations different from those of colonial scholarship, and some who remained loyal to colonial readings of their past created new divisions among themselves in accordance with the colonial readings of their past.

One example of this was the early connection between India and China. In terms of our visit in 1957 to the two Buddhist cave sites, I saw both of these as historical links of earlier times evolving in the milieu of Chinese cultures but they also reflected, although more faintly, possible explorations of contemporary times. Looking back on our visit from the current perspective, one realises that the explanations of the past, made half a century ago, had their own anxieties and aspirations.

Having reread the diary I now feel that it does perhaps carry a faint aroma of what China was like, but seen through my eyes, and seen in a very different moment sixty-two years ago. Being there in the early years of a revolutionary change and observing some of the elements of what were to evolve into powerful dictatorial ideologies and practices, such as those that took form as the Cultural Revolution, one can’t help but feel that the experience of that historical juncture may attune one to recognising other dictatorial changes that overwhelm societies of our times – even if the changes emanate not from a socialist revolution but from its reverse, namely, ideologies drawn from exclusive majoritarian nationalisms deriving from a single identity and set in the economy of neoliberalism.

Of course, at the same time, one also has to think of these elements in their relation to the other more simple and direct changes, particularly of improvements in standards of living for the many. These may not have been a universal achievement but held out hope for the many, and it was a hope that was not altogether belied, as in some other cases.

My own perceptions of China naturally changed over the years. As a child I grew up, as I have often said, in the cantonment culture of the British Raj that inevitably influenced to some degree our ways of looking at people and cultures that were dissimilar to our own. Hence the view both limited and stilted of things Chinese. We had little access to things Chinese.
Through my teenage years China took on the contours of yet another Asian country struggling to disentangle itself from European bindings of various kinds. The awareness of the struggle found its echoes in events in India and brought about in us a less unfamiliar attitude towards China, and a lessening of the strangeness that had existed previously. There developed a sense of seeing them as a part of Asian nationalism even if we barely knew them.

The revolution revealed yet another aspect that led to a variety of attempts to understand the reasons for it. For me the revelation of the more traditional Chinese cultures and the earlier pre-modern past came initially with the course that I studied at London University. The visit to China answered some of my questions that had surfaced in these early readings, and at the same time raised many more.

Historical patterns are sometimes repeated but the form differs. One has to be wary of the undesirable ones and learn of their causation from past experience. This is when history can provide some insights, provided it remains history and is not converted into mythology.

Gazing Eastwards
Excerpted with permission from Gazing Eastwards: Of Buddhist Monks and Revolutionaries in China, Romila Thapar, Aleph Book Company