Tag Archives: history

Book Excerpt: Delhi in Historical Perspectives by Late Professor K. A. Nizami and Dr Ather Farouqui

An interesting glimpse of this book- Delhi in Historical Perspectives by Late Professor K. A. Nizami and Dr Ather Farouqui based on the fascinating and chequered history of the city of Delhi. (Oxford University Press, 2020)

3

GHALIB’S DELHI


Like the personality and thoughts of Ghalib, the history of Delhi had two distinct periods. The events of 1857 caused a dramatic break from the past for Delhi and its inhabitants. In its 800-year-long history, Delhi had changed its form many times—Siri, Kilokeri, Tughlaqabad, Ferozabad, and Shahjehanabad to name but a few of its incarnations—but each was an added layer which seamlessly connected with the past. The events of 1857 shattered the historical links with the past and Delhi was, as English poet Matthew Arnold has said in a different context, ‘wandering between two worlds, one dead the other powerless to be born’. Ghalib too suffered the tribulations of Delhi. The old Delhi was breathing its last and the new had not yet been conceived. The Ghalib from before 1857 was entirely different from the the one after it. For the inhabitants of Delhi, it was difficult to make sense of a present that bore no relation to the recent past. Ghalib opens up his wounds to friends thus:

Saheb, do you understand what the matter is and what has happened? That was a birth when both of us were friends and there was an exchange of love and affection in our dealings with each other. Together we recited our poetry, compiled our works … suddenly the times changed; no more were those friends, that cordiality, mutual discourse, happiness. Afterwards there was the rebirth, albeit the forms of the two were exactly the same. That is, the city where I am bears the name of Delhi and the locality of Ballimaran is also the same, but I do not find the friends of my earlier birth.

Read more

How the Politics of Invasions Affects Literature: The Case of Korea

IMG_0569

Japanese troops land in Korea, 16th century

“ In 1915, one of the fathers of modern Korean literature, Yi Kwang-su, laid out his modern manifesto. ‘We are a new people, without ancestors, without parents, that came from Heaven in the present.’ (Kim Hunggyu, 194.) This belief was amplified in 1930 by Ch’oe Caeso, who argued, ‘In terms of contemporary culture, our attitudes are dominated by those of Western culture, and not by those from the Choson period and before,'” wrote Charles Montgomery , who taught English, Literature, and Translation Department at Dongguk University, Seoul.

Choson, also known as Choseon or Joseon,  was the dynasty that ruled Korea for the longest period — five hundred years — before the Japanese invasion in 1910. Though Japan had tried to invade Korea earlier in 1592 and 1597-98, their impact at that time was minimal.  

Was that Mountain Really ThereHowever, in the twentieth century, the Japanese invasion lasted longer —  for four decades — till Japan was defeated in 1945 at the end of the Second World War by the dropping of an atom bomb. Subsequently Korea was split along the 38th parallell, one part being allied to the American and the other to Soviet Union. The pain of this partition was projected  beautifully by Park Wan Suh in her classic novel, Was The Mountain Really There? . Read more

Book review: State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang

Reviewed by Mitali Chakravarty

state of emergency

 

Title: State of Emergency
Author: Jeremy Tiang
Publisher: Epigram Books, 2017
Number of pages: 245

Jeremy Tiang’s State of Emergency won 2018’s Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) for fiction. Kate Griffin, one of the judges for the award, wrote in an article, “Erasing Histories” (https://nationalcentreforwriting.org.uk/article/erasing-histories/): ‘State of Emergency, Jeremy Tiang’s beautifully written first novel, highlights a lesser known side of Singaporean history, exploring the leftist movements and political detentions in Malaysia and Singapore from the 1940s onwards, through the stories and memories of an extended family.’

Focused mainly within the local and Malayan Chinese community, the Communist movement found refuge in the jungles of Malaysia. The novel traces the development and then the quelling of this movement through the stories of three generations of Jason Low’s extended family. Jason’s wife, Siew Lee, chooses Communism over her family and leaves for the jungles of Malaya, partly to save herself and partly to live by her beliefs. Jason loses his sister in the 1965 Konfrontasi terrorist bomb blast in MacDonald House where she worked in a bank. The Konfrontasi was an Indonesian reaction to oppose the colonial decision for the formation of a separate Malaysia (of which Singapore remained a part till August 1966). These political movements in the ASEAN rip through the fabric of the Low family, tearing it apart.  Though his daughter continues to work as a Singapore government official, his son leaves him to immigrate to the United Kingdom and Jason Low finds himself in a ‘C’ class geriatric ward.

Read more

Book review: Daughters of the Sun by Ira Mukhoty

Reviewed by Dr Madhu Kelkar

Daughterrs of the Sun

Title: Daughters of the Sun
Author: Ira Mukhoty
Publisher: Aleph Book Company (2018)
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)

Babur’s defeat of Ibrahim Lodhi in the first battle of Panipat, 1526, marked the establishment of the Mughal Empire in India. Nurtured by his several illustrious descendents, this infant empire, which grew from strength to strength, united a large part of the subcontinent for two centuries and left an indelible impression on Indian history and culture. To this date the history of this empire has been largely studied from the point of view of its political conquests and the socio-economic and cultural developments of its emperors. With a few notable exceptions, women are conspicuously absent in these accounts, despite the fact that Babur owed his success in no small measure to the efforts of the women in his life.

Academic research on Mughal history has so far showcased prominently the characters of Noorjahan, wife of Jehangir, and Jahanara, the favourite daughter of Shahjahan. Books published in the area dating from 1960 onwards, such as Rekha Misra’s Women in Mughal India 1526-1748 A.D. (1967), Renuka Nath’s Notable Mughal and Hindu Women in the 16th and 17th Centuries A.D (1990), Soma Mukherjee’s Royal Mughal Ladies and their Contribution (2001) cover the domestic arena of the Mughal empire in a limited manner.  Written in a prosaic style, these encyclopaedic accounts do not analyse the ramifications of the contribution of Mughal women, much less the sources on which their books are based. This dominant trend was challenged by Ellison Banks Findly’s book Nur Jahan, Empress of Mughal India (1993), which concentrated on how Muslim and Hindu women negotiated power inside the harem, and later in 2005, by Ruby Lal’s Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World.  Spanning the period from 1487 to1605, the latter highlights the influence of the familial world, especially the role of women, upon the first three Mughal rulers: Babur, Humayun and Akbar. Along with her research papers on the same subject, this book stands out as a remarkable exception to all others written on Mughal women thus far.

Ira Mukhoty’s Daughters of the Sun endorses and carries forward Lal’s school of thought. An enthralling sociological piece, it covers a bigger time frame, giving us an unusual peep into the private lives of Mughals from the times of Babur to those of Aurangzeb as well as the attempts to drive out the banal images of the harem as a sexualised space, created largely by European accounts. Her nuanced narrative gives voice to fifteen influential but otherwise disappeared Mughal women while throwing light on their complex and changing socio-political status, economic and personal ambitions and the boundaries of their domestic arena.

Read more

The emperor of oleander blossoms

(From The Hindu, by Parvati Sharma. Link to the complete article given below)

The Mughals have garnered many adjectives over the centuries. Once, when the world looked in awe at the power and wealth of Hindustan, they were simply ‘Great’. More recently, as Hindustan locks itself in a manic tussle with its past, they are ‘foreign’ or ‘invaders’, often both. Perhaps it’s time for a calming epithet: the Mughals were, without question, literary.

The first of them, Babur, is known for defeating Ibrahim Lodi in Panipat, but almost equally renowned for his autobiography. It’s not that kings hadn’t written before. Julius Caesar was composing accounts of his Gallic campaigns in 1 BC. The earliest autobiography — an account of a person’s life, not a record of events — was St. Augustine’s Confessions, written circa 400 AD. Babur, living a millennium later and a world away, invented the form for himself with Baburnama, the first personal memoir in Islamic literature. And he did it with flair — “both a Caesar and a Cervantes”, as Amitav Ghosh has described him — writing with lucid ease, whether of the pangs of his first love or his battle strategies. (The first autobiography in an Indian language, incidentally, may be Ardhakathanak (‘Half Life’) by Banarasidas, a Jain merchant who wrote in Braj Bhasha, and in verse, in the 17th century.)

The urge to write

In the centuries after Panipat, the Mughal empire grew into a global superpower, then shrunk to a wretched speck. The last Mughal ruled little besides the Red Fort, but he did preside over an efflorescence of Urdu poetry: Ghalib, Momin and Zauq shone bright in his court, and Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ was no mean poet himself. Imprisoned and exiled after the Uprising of 1857, the frail emperor would write Na wo taj hai na wo takht hai, na wo shah hai na dayar hai (‘No crown remains no throne remains, neither ruler nor realm remains’). The urge to write, however, that remained: Bahadur Shah is said to have etched his verses on the walls of his prison, with charcoal, when he was denied paper and pen.

Babur may not have been entirely displeased. In a letter to his son, Humayun, Babur offers equally urgent advice on how to rule and how to write. The unfortunate Humayun is ticked off on both counts: his desire for solitude is “a fatal flaw in kingship”, and his prose is convoluted. “Who has ever heard of prose designed to be an enigma?” writes Babur, exasperated. Humayun must write, instead, “with uncomplicated, clear, and plain words”.

Read more at The Hindu link here

Erasing Histories

(From National Centre for Writing. Link to the complete post given below)

I’ve just spent the last few days in Singapore (enjoying temperatures very similar to back home in Norwich) attending a prize ceremony, visiting other literature organisations, catching up with writers, translators and publishers, reading Singaporean literature and visiting art exhibitions. Throughout the week, I noticed a theme emerging – how writers and artists combat attempts to erase histories that don’t fit in mainstream narratives.

On Monday 6th August we were proud to give the 2018 Singapore Literature Prize (English fiction) to State of Emergency, by Jeremy Tiang, published by Epigram Books. His collection of short stories, It Never Rains on National Day, was shortlisted for the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize. An eminent Chinese-English literary translator, Jeremy Tiang is the mentor for the NCW Tilted Axis Mentorship for emerging translators.

The Singapore Literature Prize is organised by the Singapore Book Council, which receives funding from the National Arts Council. Most of the newspaper reports noted that it was the second time in a row that the Singapore Literature Prize has gone to a novel that challenges the established narratives of Singapore. In 2016 the prize was awarded to the best-selling graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, a retelling of Singapore’s political history through the eyes of a fictional artist, by Sonny Liew, also published by Epigram. Both books had their grants withdrawn by the National Arts Council, but went on to be published to wide acclaim.

State of Emergency, Jeremy Tiang’s beautifully written first novel, highlights a lesser known side of Singaporean history, exploring the leftist movements and political detentions in Malaysia and Singapore from the 1940s onwards, through the stories and memories of an extended family. As fellow judge Kenny Chan noted, the novel is epic in scope yet intimate in its depiction of the characters.

Read more at the National Centre for Writing link here

In new textbook, the story of Singapore begins 500 years earlier

(From the New York Times. Link to the complete article given below)

 

Singapore has rewritten the history taught in secondary school to expand the story of the island state’s birth.

While earlier generations learned a narrative that essentially started in 1819 with the British colonial administrator, Sir Stamford Raffles, stumbling upon a sleepy Malay fishing village, 13-year-olds now learn of a golden age that started 500 years earlier.

The new story, introduced in January, brings into focus a 300-year period, from 1300 to 1600, when Singapore was a thriving multinational trading hub, with an estimated population of 10,000.

An education ministry official who declined to be named, in line with government policy, called the change a “shift” rather than a rewrite, saying it allowed students to “explore Singapore’s origin as a port of call and her connections to the region and the world.”

Behind the revision is the work of John N. Miksic, an American archaeology professor at the National University of Singapore, or N.U.S., who advised the government on the new school text, “Singapore: The Making of a Nation-State, 1300-1975.”

Professor Miksic has led major archaeological excavations across Southeast Asia, including a dozen in Singapore over the past 30 years that have yielded eight tons of artifacts — evidence of a precolonial history that was largely neglected until now.

Read more at the New York Times link here

Perpetual motion

(From the Times Literary Supplement. Link to the complete article is given below.)

What, then, shall that language be? One-half of the committee maintain that it should be the English. The other half strongly recommend the Arabic and Sanscrit. The whole question seems to me to be – which language is the best worth knowing?” So asked Lord Macaulay of the British Parliament on February 2, 1835. He went on, of course, to answer his own question; there was no way that the natives of the subcontinent over which they now ruled could be “educated by means of their mother-tongue”, in which “there are no books on any subject that deserve to be compared to our own”. And even if there had been, it did not matter, for English “was pre-eminent even among languages of the West”. English, it was decided, would be the language that would be taught to the natives. By 1837, English replaced Persian as the language of courtrooms and official business in Muslim India and took with it the cultural ascendancy of the Persian speakers.

This sordid story of tainted beginnings is aptly recounted in Muneeza Shamsie’s Hybrid Tapestries: The development of Pakistani literature in English, which traces the history of an often vexed but always intriguing literary lineage from the nineteenth century until today. It is a tricky tale to tell, not least because the moment of origin is also the moment of im­position and conquest. The development of Pakistani literature is directly linked to those deposed Muslims and their cherished Persian, which adds further flavours of resentment and betrayal to the mixture. The Indian Muslims who had dominated cultural production until then felt the demotion, and hence the inauthenticity and subjugation of adopting a foreign language, more acutely; Hindus less so, perhaps because they were merely exchanging one set of conquerors for another. The bifurcation, with each group turning to a different vernacular language to anchor their evolving identity, would have more than just linguistic consequences: it would result in two separate nation states.

Read more at the TLS page here

Book excerpt: Indian Cultures as Heritage — Contemporary Pasts by Romila Thapar

Indian Cultures.

SCIENCE AS CULTURE

Many Indian scientists, competent in their fields of specialization, know less about science as a form of knowledge, or the kind of reasoning involved in the scientific method that can also be applied to other forms of knowledge. This might explain their surprising and tacit acceptance of some of the more ridiculous statements made by non-scientists on the fantasy-based claims pertaining to science as supposedly practised by our ancient ancestors. This reduces their ability to recognize the difference between the remarkably impressive knowledge of premodern Indian thinkers in some of the sciences, and the infantile fancies that are often projected in their name by those ignorant of science in both premodern and in current times. The reasons for doing the latter are more often political rather than due to any scientific assessment.

The onus is not only on the scientist but also on the historian. Not enough attention has been given by historians to integrating the ideas related to the sciences from earlier times to other aspects of culture. The historian’s intervention from this perspective would require the re-crafting even of some historical formulations. This is being done for some other aspects in recent historical reinterpretations. One of these is the notion of ‘civilization’ as a somewhat fixed and continuing historical unit.

Used more casually in the earlier centuries to refer to the softening of manners and to artistic and literary achievements, it became a widely accepted unit of history from the nineteenth century, coinciding with colonial perceptions of history. The world was divided into discrete, geographically bounded areas each with a dominant culture, recognizably different in intellectual, aesthetic, technological and religious attainments, all of which were associated with urban centres, the use of scripts, the existence of a state and of an organized social order. In A Study of History, the British historian Arnold Toynbee counted twenty-six such civilizations, each rising in response to challenges and declining when the response was inadequate. More recently the count has been reduced to eight in Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. As a spokesman of the American political right wing, his theory that the future of the world will revolve around the clash of civilizations inspired by religious identities seems to envisage conflicting civilizations as a replacement for the cold war.

Read more

Book Review: Indian Cultures as Heritage – Contemporary Pasts by Romila Thapar

Reviewed by Dr Madhu Kelkar

Indian Cultures.

Title: Indian Cultures as Heritage – Contemporary Pasts
Author: Romila Thapar
Publisher: Aleph Book Company, 2018
Pages: 222 pages 

 

Culture influences our values, world view, loyalties, behaviour and much more. Very often it is equated with civilisation a term that came to be used to describe societies that boasted of extensive territory, sophisticated language, literature, art and architecture, and above all, a single religion. Under the colonial influence, culture came to be redefined simply as a way of life of elite groups, for instance Aryans in the case of India. Unfortunately, our current understanding of Indian culture is overshadowed by this erroneous interpretation. Heritage, both cultural and natural, consists of ideas, objects and practices; contributes to quality of life, gives us a cultural identity and connects us with our past. India’s cultural heritage has always been subject to debates. While traditional historians favour the ‘unity in diversity’ approach in order to project a homogenised Indian identity and presumably invoke the spirit of patriotism, Thapar, in her latest book, Indian Cultures as Heritage Contemporary Pasts, does exactly the opposite.

A fearless, frequent and outspoken critic of our dogmatic and communal interpretations of the past, Thapar’s  book does not to go into the historical aspect of the making of Indian culture but provides glimpses of what is often omitted, marginalized, trivialized or is even considered irrelevant to its understanding. Drawing on her lectures and essays, published in the recent past, this book challenges the idea that Indian culture is the monolithic phenomenon it is often portrayed as in Indian historical writing or what is being currently imposed on the Indian citizens by cultural nationalists. Identification with a single culture, she argues, despite the existence of many in the country, is risky since it tends to dismiss all that does not conform to the mainstream forms, perpetuates inequality and silences all kinds of reasonable resistance. Culture is deeply linked with historical developments and bound to change. But the two differ as well. While history narrates and explains the past, culture can invent the past without any historical evidence. Therefore, one has to guard against spurious history which can be manufactured by culture. Thapar’s argument that we need to subject the Indian culture to rigorous historical scrutiny and juxtapose historical and cultural forms to understand their interface is highly relevant, especially in the present context when cultural forms are being subjected to identity politics due to ignorance and lack of general or intellectual interest in other cultures, within and outside the subcontinent.

Read more

« Older Entries