Friday, June 28, 2013

CFP: South Asian Religions Grad Conference, University of Toronto

For the call for papers you may also click here.

The keynote speaker, Vasudha Dalmia, is currently editing two volumes, one of which is on religious interaction in Mughal India, with Munis D. Faruqui.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Margaret Atwood on Reviews and Footnotes

I stumbled across a collection of Margaret Atwood's essays at a used bookstore today and while perusing it two paragraphs leapt out to me:

Book reviews I think are the most difficult form for me. It's easy in them to be flip and dismissive, to make jokes at the book's expense, to sneer at the author; some papers think of this as being "controversial" or "readable." But if you're an author yourself you know how much time and effort has gone into a book, even a bad book, and you can't take it so lightly. A reviewer has a responsibility to the public, but she also has a responsibility to the book; you have to try and see and say what is actually there.

Longer critical essays are less painful. For one thing, you know they aren't going to damage sales and affect someone's livelihood, because they are usually post facto and printed in little magazines or academic journals. They also allow more room, for judicious reconsideration, for more complex evaluation than is usually possible in (for instance) The Globe and Mail, and for that luxuriant weed of academe, the footnote. If the book review leans a little towards Consumer Reports, the critical essay is perhaps more like talking to yourself. It's a way, too, of finding out what you really think.

Margaret Atwood, Second Words: Selected Critical Prose (Toronto: Anansi, 1982), 13.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Letters from India: "We horrid English"

As a birthday present last year I received Marian Fowler's Below the Peacock Fan: First Ladies of the Raj through which I was then introduced to an Englishwoman named Emily Eden (3 March 1797 – 5 August 1869) who gave the following account of her visit to Delhi. The perfect 10 minute procrastination for anyone still writing term papers.

Emily Eden by Simon Jacques Rochard, 1835
 Camp, Delhi, Feb. 20.

This identical Delhi is one of the few sights, indeed the only one except Lucknow, that has quite equalled my expectations. Four miles round it there is nothing to be seen but gigantic ruins of mosques and palaces, and the actual living city has the finest mosque we have seen yet. It is in such perfect preservation, built entirely of red stone and white marble, with immense flights of marble steps leading up to three sides of it; these, the day we went to it, were entirely covered with people dressed in very bright colours—Sikhs, and Mahrattas, and some of the fair Mogul race, all assembled to see the Governor-General's suwarree, and I do not think I ever saw so striking a scene. They followed us into the court of the temple, which is surmounted by an open arched gallery, and through every arch there was a view of some fine ruins, or of some part of the King of Delhi's palace, which is an immense structure two miles round, all built of deep red stone, with buttresses and battlements, and looks like an exaggerated scene of Timour the Tartar, and as if little Agib was to be thrown instantly from the highest tower, and Fatima to be constantly wringing her hands from the top of the battlements. There are hundreds of the Royal family of Delhi who have never been allowed to pass these walls, and never will be. Such a melancholy red stone notion of life as they must have! G. went up to the top of one of the largest minarets of the mosque and has been stiff ever since. From there we went to the black mosque, one of the oldest buildings in India, and came home under the walls of the palace. We passed the building in which Nadir Shah sat for a whole day looking on while he allowed his troops to massacre and plunder the city. These eastern cities are so much more thickly inhabited than ours, and the people look so defenceless, that a massacre of that sort must be a horrible slaughter; but I own I think a little simple plunder would be pleasant. You never saw such an army of jewellers as we have constantly in our tents. On Saturday morning I got up early and went with Major J. to make a sketch of part of the palace, and the rest of the day was cut up by jewellers, shawl merchants, dealers in curiosities, &c. &c., and they begin by asking us such immense prices, which they mean to lower eventually, that we have all the trouble of seeing the things twice.

Yesterday we went to the church built by Colonel Skinner. He is a native of this country, a half-caste, but very black, and talks broken English. He has had a regiment of irregular horse for the last forty years, and has done all sorts of gallant things, had seven horses killed under him, and been wounded in proportion; has made several fortunes and lost them; has built himself several fine houses, and has his zenana and heaps of black sons like any other native. He built this church, which is a very curious building, and very magnificent—in some respects; and within sight of it there is a mosque which he has also built, because he said that one way or the other he should be sure to go to heaven. In short, he is one of the people whose lives ought to be written for the particular amusement of succeeding generations. His Protestant church has a dome in the mosque fashion, and I was quite afraid that with the best dispositions to attend to Mr. Y., little visions of Mahomet would be creeping in. Skinner's brother, Major Robert Skinner, was the same sort of melodramatic character, and made a tragic end. He suspected one of his wives of a slight ecart from the path of propriety—very unjustly, it is said—but he called her and all his servants together, cut off the heads of every individual in his household, and then shot himself. His soldiers bought every article of his property at ten times its value, that they might possess relics of a man who had shown, they said, such a quick sense of honour.

G. and I took a drive in the evening all round the cantonments, and there is really some pretty scenery about Delhi, and great masses of stone lying about, which looks well after those eternal sands.

In the afternoon we all (except G., who could not go, from some point of etiquette) went to see the palace. It is a melancholy sight — so magnificent originally, and so poverty-stricken now. The marble hall where the king sits is still very beautiful, all inlaid with garlands and birds of precious stones, and the inscription on the cornice is what Moore would like to see in the original: 'If there be an Elysium on earth, it is this, it is this!' The lattices look out on a garden which leads down to the Jumna, and the old king was sitting in the garden with a chowrybadar waving the flies from him; but the garden is all gone to decay too, and ' the Light of the World' had a forlorn and darkened look. All our servants were in a state of profound veneration; the natives all look upon the King of Delhi as their rightful lord, and so he is, I suppose. In some of the pavilions belonging to the princes there were such beautiful inlaid floors, any square of which would have made an enviable table for a palace in London, but the stones are constantly stolen; and in some of the finest baths there were dirty charpoys spread, with dirtier guards sleeping on them. In short, Delhi is a very suggestive and moralising place—such stupendous remains of power and wealth passed and passing away— and somehow I feel that we horrid English have just 'gone and done it,' merchandised it, revenued it, and spoiled it all. I am not very fond of Englishmen out of their own country. And Englishwomen did not look pretty at the ball in the evening, and it did not tell well for the beauty of Delhi that the painted ladies of one regiment, who are generally called 'the little corpses' (and very hard it is too upon most corpses) were much the prettiest people there, and were besieged with partners.

Source: Emily Eden, Up The Country: Letters Written to Her Sister from the Upper Provinces of India (1867), 94-98. Available here.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lecture (14): Sufism in South Asia

It's that time of the semester again folks! Term paper deadlines! Applications for summer research and teaching assistant positions! Waking up in a cold sweat wondering if next year's grant applications will pan out! Applying for conferences and workshops! Filling out an unnecessary amount of paperwork that could have been sent earlier but wasn't just 'cos! I think it is the only time where I secretly hope for miserable weather outside so that if I can't bask in springtime glory, no one else can.

Anyway, we return to sunny California with our lecture series today and return to two old favourites, the Center for South Asia at Stanford University which earlier gave us Munis Faruqui's talk and Nile Green, whose previous lecture has been one of the most popular posts ever on the Mughalist! Nile Green delivers the Annual Lecture at the Center for South Asia, Stanford University, titled "From Religious Establishment to Reformation: Sufi Islam in South Asia and the World".

Nile Green is a prolific author on the subject of Sufism in South Asia and beyond. His publications include his first monograph Indian Sufism since the Seventeenth Century: Saints, Books and Empires in the Muslim Deccan (London: Routledge, 2006); the textbook Sufism: A Global History (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012); and a collection of his essays entitled Making Space Sufis and Settlers in Early Modern India (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

But before proceeding to Nile Green's lecture, I would like to post a brief excerpt here from his interview with Jadaliyya on the institutional challenges facing the study of Muslims in South Asia: 
Ziad Abu-Rish: What are some of the major issues facing research in your field? Are there any areas of research that you think are missing?

Nile Green: One of the perennial problems that are inherent to the field of South Asian history is the dominance of the Indian nation-state in framing the questions asked and sources used. South Asia becomes a problematic field when so many linguistic domains and social groups are excluded because they do not fit the dominant narrative of the formation of the Indian nation-state. I often find myself in conversation with people whose research field is the Middle East. Most scholars on India have done very little work on Islam and almost no research in Arabic and Persian. One manifestation of this is that categories for dealing with what some term “Indian religions” leave little room for Muslims and Islam. Many academic departments focusing on South Asia are premised on the idea of “Indian religion,” meaning Hinduism and Buddhism, as the originator of South Asian culture. This is quite problematic when one considers the impact of Islam, the presence of Muslims, and the historical legacy of the Mogul Empire. These exclusions have become inherent to the twentieth-century historiography of India. [...] We need to expand our inquiries and break through the limits imposed by nation-state-centric fields.

The entire interview can be accessed here.

And now onwards to Prof. Green's lecture:

CSA Annual Lecture and Reception: "From Religious Establishment to Reformation: Sufi Islam in South Asia and the World" from Center for South Asia on Vimeo.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lecture (13): Quranic Exegesis in Early Urdu

This lecture meant to go up much earlier and is something of a favourite of mine. Mehr Afshan Farooqi, Assistant Professor at the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, University of Virginia, discusses the important role of Quranic exegesis written in Urdu in the development of the language. Helpfully, she also traces briefly the early history of Urdu, a subject that remains surprisingly muddled in the popular imagination of South Asia. We are grateful to the Hindu-Urdu Flagship program at University of Texas, Austin, which hosted the lecture, for posting it online here.

Mehr Farooqi: Quranic Exegesis and the Development of Urdu in the 18th Century from Hindi Urdu Flagship on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lecture (12): Bombay Islam

Today's lecture is by Nile Green, Professor at the Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles, known for his work on the history of early modern South Asian with a particular focus on Sufi institutions and figures. It is hard to list his representative publications, not only due to the variety of his interests but also the embarrassment of riches one faces when looking at the list of his contributions. It is fortunate then that his talk today is based on his recent publication Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the Western Indian Ocean, 1840–1915, published by Cambridge University Press in 2011.

Nile Green's talk was hosted by the Ali Vural Ak Center at George Mason University and we are quite grateful that it was posted online.

Nile Green - "Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean" from Ali Vural Ak Center for Global I on Vimeo.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Forthcoming Events: Persian Literature

Two forthcoming events that would be of interest to blog readers, especially those interested in Persian Literature. 

The first is by Sunil Sharma, Associate Professor of Persianate and Comparative Literature at Boston University, on "Utopian Landscapes: Safavid and Mughal Topographical Literature in a Comparative Perspective" at the Center for South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies, Tufts University. The talk will be held on April 16, 2013 at the Center for Humanities at Tufts (CHAT), 48 Professors Row, from 5:30 to 7:30pm. 

The second is by Wheeler M. Thackston, Professor of the Practice of Persian and Other Near Eastern Languages, Harvard University, on "Abu'l-Fazl and the Apotheosis of Akbar", organized by the  South Asia Institute and the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University. The talk will be held April 17, 2013 at Knox Hall, room 208, from 4:00pm to 6:00pm.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lecture (11): The Many Lifes of Mahabat Khan and the Importance of Military Kingship

The Center for South Asia at Stanford University recently hosted a lecture by Munis D. Faruqui, Associate Professor at the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley entitled "Effrontery, Erasure, and Exaltation: An Episode in the Life of the Mughal Empire". Luckily for us, they graciously put it online. Dr. Faruqui is one of those rare historians whose every publication has become an instant classic in the field of Mughal studies. They include “The Forgotten Prince: Mirza Hakim and the Formation of the Mughal Empire,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 48 no. 4 (2005): 487-523; “At Empire’s End: The Nizam, Hyderabad, and 18th Century India,” Modern Asian Studies 43, no. 1 (2009): 5-43; and The Princes of the Mughal Empire, 1504-1719. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

SAGSC: South Asia Graduate Student Conference

Chicagoans! Swing by University of Chicago this coming Thursday and Friday for their Tenth Annual South Asia Graduate Student Conference! The line up of lectures by Whitney Cox, Charles Hallisey, A. Azfar Moin, and a favourite of this blog, Frances W. Pritchett, should be reason enough!
The complete program may be accessed here and for more information click here.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Daily Dose of E. M. Forster

It has been quite some time since I have picked up and read some fiction, or rather, it's been ages since I've read a novel cover to cover. Since reading Zadie Smith's On Beauty there have been a few that I've started but abandoned halfway through, choosing instead a work of non-fiction (not all high brow history; Bossypants was devoured with relish). I'm not sure whether it's just me or maybe it's something historians experience, but the lives of imaginary characters doesn't captivate me the same way as the real life dead. There have been some interesting conversations that are coming to the forefront about the place of biography, narrative, and storytelling in history. I'm sure those who attended this year's American Historical Association are well aware of it and perhaps I shall be posting more on this in the coming weeks. But for now back E. M. Forster.

Given Smith's book was an ode to Howard's End, I figured I might as well read one of Forster's own books and I sure as hell wasn't going to read A Passage to India, and Maurice won over A Room with a View. As I began chapter two I came across a choice quote, which I feel speaks perfectly well for some quarters of academia, and one perhaps that Babur would have agreed with:

It was the land of facilities, where nothing had to be striven for, and success was indistinguishable from failure.

Monday, February 4, 2013

On Not Talking About Pakistan

On Facebook today I happened to click on a link from a friend who rarely posts anything about anything and it turned to be an essay by Taymiya R. Zaman with the provocative title "Not Talking About Pakistan". Well that would be a first, I thought, given how often everyone liked to talk about Pakistan. Just this Friday I attended a talk on ʻāshūrā' in the Deccan, after which two audience members from a certain country that experienced an Islamic revolution made a series of condescending remarks between themselves about the state of religiosity in Pakistan, the lack of liberalism and secularism there and the essentializing reasons for it, to which I wonder if they had invented a stone-resistant glass for residential purposes.

So off I went to Prof. Zaman's essay and as I read it I felt that weird feeling you get when you realize somebody is expressing the exact same thoughts you have, except formulated, framed, and put into words in ways you couldn't. Her article pretty much sums up the discomfort one feels as a Pakistani in academia who is called upon in even the most social of setting to affirm people's sanctimonious judgement of your country, least you try to defend it and make yourself sound like an apologetic with blinders on, and actually dealing with the serious and seemingly intractable difficulties of everyday life when there. To say nothing of well-intentioned coverage that leaves you with an impression that Pakistan is one giant slum for refugees or similar (until very recently, India only tended to experience this in more mixed ways, like in the form of an acclaimed movie).

When you are a Pakistani it is hard to not get nostalgic, for Pakistan rarely lives up to how you, or others, remember it (before the media boom it seemed no one really received a barrage of updates on 'recent-developments' so things tended to be understandably rose-tinted) but nostalgia is its own form of exile.
Anyway, for the essay by Taymiya R. Zaman, a historian of Mughal India at University of San Francisco, click here.

Lahore, August 20, 2012

Monday, January 7, 2013

Lecture (10): O Majnun, Why So Blue?

As a bit of early January serendipity, I came across a lecture by a true doyenne of Persian (and Arabic!) literature, Julie Scott Meisami, entitled "'I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues': Depictions of Majnun in Persian Illustrated Manuscripts," given at the 2009 Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art, just as I was studying for my Classical Persian Literature midterm, for which we must study, amongst other things, selections from Nizami Ganjavi's celebrated Layli va Majnun. Prof. Meisami needs little introduction for she is a scholar of such stature that it would be hard to come across a dissertation or monograph on pre-modern Persian or Arabic literature without her name in the bibliography.

Prof. Meisami's talk discusses how depictions of Majnun in illustrated manuscripts of three of the most famous Persian tellings of this romance (that of Nizami's, Amir Khusraw Dihlavi's and Jami's) remained consistent despite the differences in authors, narratives, and the workshops in which they were produced. Her talk may be seen here, along with a detailed abstract of it and a brief biography of the presenter. 

Layla visits Majnun, from Akbar's Quintet of Amir Khusraw Dihlavi
Late 16th century, Mughal India. Courtesy: Walters Art Museum photostream.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Procrastination Progress Report

Alas, dear readers, this humble, meanest, vilest wretch and slave (did I get the commas correct?) has been negligent, utterly and stupendously negligent when it comes to this blog. I had an entire blog entry ready for Christmas, which involved a ghazal of Mirza Ghalib, sung by the great Begum Akhtar, set to a series of paintings from the Mughal era Mirʾāt al-quds (apologies for the slap dash use of diacritics in this entry), but then I discovered the BBC production of Sherlock and well, here we are ready for a new semester! Are we thrilled? Are we ready? 

2013, save a belated Mayan apocalypse, looks to be a busy year. This coming semester is my last term of coursework. After nearly four years of graduate coursework I am looking forward to it ending. However, at the same time I look to it with some trepidation since it means that I shall no longer be operating within the comfy confines of classwork, which may be likened to bowling with bumpers that prevent gutter balls. In the fall I shall begin my comprehensive exams and eventually next year dissertation research and writing, which, to reach for an analogy in order to maintain parallelism, is like playing fruit ninja and sucking at it (incidentally how do people get such high scores in that thing?).

I shall continue translating Abd al-Haqq Dihlavi's Risalah-i Nuriyah-i Sultaniyah, more as an exercise to improve my Persian than anything else. Ever since last semester, when we had to translate one section from the Qabus-namah (mentioned here) for a seminar, I have come to appreciate the hard work that goes into translation and the how much of a compromise the whole process is. Traduttore, traditore indeed. Then again, to some degree all academic writing is an act of compromise, since,  in the words of Hayden White "every narrative, however seemingly ‘full,’ is constructed on the basis of a set of events which might have been included but were left out." [“The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” Critical Inquiry 7 no. 1 (1980): 144]. However, there is a certain joy to translation, even if no one else will ever see it; a joy, I suspect, that comes from setting down ideas in your own words, mimetic as they may be, that reflect the thinking of a mind that is far more perceptive and erudite than one's own.

So farewell for now dear readers and, to steal a line from John Green, "Don't forget to be awesome!"