The Fortune Teller: Weighing machines and chance encounters

Nostalgia transforms ordinary objects into talismans. The constituents of the material life of one’s childhood can, just by the feel of their names rolling in the mouth, evoke pathos: a longing for the past, its innocent excitements and vast promise. I grew up in the pre-liberalisation Delhi of the 1980s. Childhood in those days meant…
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Indonesia’s Rain makers

Babey’s face is gnarled, yet implacable, like an aged banyan tree. He smokes compulsively through a wracking cough, putting down his cigarette only occasionally to wipe the sweat off his brow. When we met, the heat was stifling. The rains were late this year, a fact that weighed on paunchy, 65-year-old Babey’s mind even more…
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Contradictions of Islamic Schooling

The mosque’s brick-like silhouette was blurred in the downpour. The rain in East Java is heavy, which gives the land its sparkling, paddy-green hue and fills the villages with the scent of moist-earth. It was the hour of the maghrib prayer and all 4,000 of the students at Pondok Modern Darussalam Gontor were gathered inside…
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Madrassas of Moderation:

GONTOR, Indonesia — The silhouette of the large mosque, brick-like but for a bulbous dome, looked blurry in the downpour. The rain of East Java is heavy, lending a sparkle to the green paddies and the scent of moist earth to the air. As the evening prayer ended, hundreds of boys rushed out of the…
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Indonesia Falls for an Indian TV remake of the Mahabharta: Love of God

ON A SATURDAY AFTERNOON in late September, gaggles of hijab-clad women, many with young children in tow, swarmed outside the closed gates of an auditorium in Taman Mini, a popular recreational park in east Jakarta. A brawny, black-maned figure wielding a bow and arrow pouted suggestively from a phalanx of promotional banners that lined the…
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Indonesia: Chasing Komodo dragons

Encrusted in dry savannah, Rinca rose out of the water abruptly, like a gnarled and ancient creature, watching us approaching intruders with unblinking reptilian eyes. That the landscape felt anachronistic was apposite, for so were its inhabitants: dragons.
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Forget China, India Should Look to Indonesia

Indians rarely agree on much, but they do tend towards an uncommon consensus about the belief in Indian exceptionalism. Rightists, Leftists and Opportunists find themselves on the same page in espousing the idea that as a country and civilization, India is uniquely diverse, contradictory, large, tolerant, and complex. Having been educated into a strong emotional…
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Indonesia Etc by Elizabeth Pisani

IN THIS “ASIAN CENTURY,” much global intellectual space is devoted to showering China and India, the region’s haute emerging nations, with breathless superlatives that reference their epic demographics and vast geographic spread. There is, however, another nation on the same continent that, despite its size, economic heft, social complexity, and strategic importance, remains what is,…
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