HT Picks; New Reads
The reading list this week includes Colleen Taylor Sen’s exploration of the life, achievements and legacy of Emperor Ashoka, Seema Sirohi’s look at how and why India has become the fashionable new ally in Washington, and Tsering Yangzom Lama’s moving portrait of the world of Tibetan exiles
The emperor’s dhamma
At its peak in 250 BCE, the Maurya Empire was the wealthiest and largest empire in the world, extending across much of modern India, except a small area in the far south, Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan up to the Iranian border. The Maurya capital, Pataliputra, was one of the largest cities of antiquity. India (although it was not yet called by that name) was a global power that traded and maintained peaceful diplomatic relations with its neighbours, as far afield as Greece and Egypt.
Of the seven or eight Maurya emperors, two are remembered today as among India’s greatest leaders: Chandragupta Maurya and his grandson Ashoka. Chandragupta, the founder of the Maurya dynasty, created his empire by both war and peaceful means. He was the first Indian leader known to have signed an international treaty (with the Greeks in the northwest).
His grandson Ashoka, after conquering Kalinga in a bloody war in 261 BCE, renounced violence. He then spent the rest of his life advocating and propagating a policy of religious tolerance, kindness to all creatures and peaceful coexistence in a multicultural society — a policy he called Dhamma.
In this book, Colleen Taylor Sen explores the life, achievements and legacy of Emperor Ashoka. This well illustrated book explores the legacy and influence of the Mauryas in politics throughout Southeast Asia, China and India, as well as in contemporary popular culture.*
A relationship of equals?
Thirty years ago, when veteran journalist Seema Sirohi first arrived in Washington DC, bilateral relations between India and the United States of America were at their worst. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the political spotlight shone favourably upon Pakistan and China. For the leader of the free world, India didn’t matter. The years leading up to the twenty-first century saw the US – and the multilateral organizations of which it was a member – force India to jump through endless bureaucratic hoops. India’s nuclear tests in 1998 were the final nail in its coffin, as far as the US was concerned.
Cut to the present, and the curtain has lifted on a dramatically different geopolitical stage. India is no longer the enemy for the US, nor is it sidelined strategically. In an age dominated not just by China’s rise but by its undoubted political and economic muscle power, India has become the fashionable new ally in Washington.
What has taken the two countries so long to get here? What have been the events that have forced India and the US to dance, finally, in sync? Did political leaders take the initiative to push policy mandarins to change the game, or was it vice versa? What role has China played in the change in bilateral relations? And are India and the US finally ready for a relationship of equals, or will they continue to be “friends with benefits”?
To look for answers, this book takes the reader back to the twilight years of the Cold War, and charts an engaging journey of global and bilateral diplomacy through the decades. Using first-hand reportage and drawing on conversations with key diplomats, foreign policy makers and former CIA operatives, Sirohi brings a delightfully frank and anecdotal perspective to a thrilling tale of diplomacy and high-voltage politics.*
A meditation on displacement
In the wake of China’s invasion of Tibet throughout the 1950s, Lhamo and her younger sister, Tenkyi, arrive at a refugee camp in Nepal. They survived the dangerous journey across the Himalayas, but their parents did not. As Lhamo-haunted by the loss of her homeland and her mother, a village oracle – tries to rebuild a life amid a shattered community, hope arrives in the form of a young man named Samphel and his uncle, who brings with him the ancient statue of the Nameless Saint – a relic known to vanish and reappear in times of need.
Decades later, the sisters are separated, and Tenkyi is living with Lhamo’s daughter, Dolma, in Toronto. While Tenkyi works as a cleaner and struggles with traumatic memories, Dolma vies for a place as a scholar of Tibetan Studies. But when Dolma comes across the Nameless Saint in a collector’s vault, she must decide what she is willing to do for her community, even if it means risking her dreams.
Breathtaking in its scope and powerful in its intimacy, We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies is a gorgeously written meditation on colonization, displacement, and the lengths we’ll go to remain connected to our families and ancestral lands. Told through the lives of four people over 50 years, this novel provides a nuanced, moving portrait of the world of Tibetan exiles.*
*All copy from book flap.