I am a Bhains

A Farmer and His Dead Bhains (Water Buffalo) in Pakistan

I am a bhains. I am now dead.

You must have read, recently, a particularly elegiac treatment of the last moments of a prostrate brown-and-white brindled cow in your favorite newspaper. I didn’t read it, but I was told about it. Cow? I said to myself. Cow? We are talking about southern Punjab, yes? Sure there are cows here, but to use a cow as a crassly evocative narrative device seems akin to highlighting the Vespa scooter, when the Honda Hero is really the star of the show!

A Cow in the Pakistani Flood

I mean, come on, I am here. Me. Use Me. Punjab is unexplainable, unknowable, unthinkable without Me. Speak about me, think about me, hear my voice.1

bhains kay aagay been bajana

You may have heard of me. They routinely say: ‘aql bari kay bhains. Am I right? What an insult. Of course, I am bigger than “intelligence”. But these city-folks who can only see me as a street nuisance, while they sip on the delicious milk I provide, are so very keen to make up insulting proverbs about me. Or you may have heard, jis ki lathi uss ki bhains. Another insult. Just because someone has a stick, I do not become his possession. I do have a functioning brain! I do recognize, know and love my owner. The most insulting, however, is, bhains kay aagay been bajana. Insulting for the sad, pathetic human, of course. I am not sure why they think I am immune to the charms of a good tune on the flute. I love music.

Breeds of Water Buffalo in Punjab

Or you may heard of mine genetic cousins in Kenya or Indonesia or wherever the Montgomery Breeding Techniques took my breed (we work well in tropical heat, they concluded)? Or maybe you heard of my cousins, Murrah, Kundhi, Nili, Ravi, here in desh?

Oh, I know. You don’t care about me. It is that farmer standing next to my dead carcass that interests you more, isn’t it? You think that now that his life is ruined by this flood, his cattle is dead, his land is covered in waist high mud and soil, his crops are ruined, his body is racked with dysentery and cholera, he will become a Taliban and attack America. Yes. That is who you really want to hear about. Sadly, even though I have a voice (beyond the carcass, even!), he doesn’t. He needs someone else to speak for him. Someone with a more evocative touch than his illiterate, agrarian yet highly combustible brain can possibly produce.

I hear you. You are a hammer and every thing else is a nail. More precisely, every Pakistani is a infected with HIT-virus – full blown disease is just a matter of time.

What is the point then? I cannot tell you anything that can change your mind. He is poor. He is easily bought by Wahabi or Opium money. He works hard for his meager food. He will swallow whole the dialectic of revolution or of Khilafa. He is traditional in his outlook, in his customs. He is a fundamentalist and a sectarian. He spent some time in the Gulf doing labor. He was indoctrinated with Wahabi ideology. He can recite Bulleh Shah or listen to the Heer for days. He what? He is a human being with a past, a present, a culture, a society, a vision of the good life, a sense of community, a method of belonging, a routine of daily practices, a collection of stories for his children, a corpus of songs for his friends, a set of possessions, a love for radio or tv, a daily grind and an early night. He is waiting to attack us in New York.


You see his suffering through your security, your strategy, your politics. You don’t see him as a human. Just as you don’t see me as more than cattle. You don’t know who he is, so he must be your worst nightmare. If you saw him as human, if you granted him agency, thought, you wouldn’t be so afraid. You would want to help him. Not because he might become Taliban, but because he is your kind, and he needs your help.

  1. I can see you rolling your eyes. I can’t actually see you. Oh, how Pamukian, your sensible selves are noting. You know what, My Name is Red can go ma’an chudao itself. I won’t apologize for my crassness, since I am an unabashed Punjabi bull. []

Law & Order: Mughal Sindh

This was also a seminar paper, long while ago. However, this one became a conference paper (which I gave at Madison) and then I thought of trying to turn it into an article but never managed to do it. If any enterprising editors reading this, want it, I would be happy to send it.

Law and Order in 17th Century Mughal Sindh

The regions of the realm from the palm of ill-intent
By an army keep safe and the army by payment!
-Sa‘di (Bustan)

In recent historiography, studies of resistance movements in Mughal India have been limited to simple causality links in the decline of the Mughal Empire. Viewed from the centrality of the Mughal State, all uprisings and resistances are seen as the weakening of the Mughal power – either economically, militarily, or administratively. However, we cannot conversely make the argument that at the height of a central Mughal polity, there were no such movements or uprisings. Indeed, we have to separate from the Decline Model Theory to look at local regions and the tribal, political and economic factors at play to understand these movements. The argument advanced here is that in seventeenth century Sindh, these movements are more accurately described as peasant protest movements and were not against the Mughal State but against the tribal elements and were clashes between nomadic and sedentary communities in the region. They arose from various factors, including oppression from Mughal-appointed administrators. Prior to the 17th century, the Mughal state was able to reach the locale and respond energetically to these incidents. However, with the reign of Shah Jahan (1592-1666), the Mughal State began to lose its ability to control the region and bring justice to the peasants.

This paper looks at Mazhar-i Shahjahani (A View for the Emperor), a contemporaneous source from the region, and examines sources of disorder in the region as well as the response of the peasant communities. I will begin by giving a brief overview of the studies on resistance movements. I will then introduce and situate my source text. In the next section, I will use examples and incidents to show the forms of disorder in the region under Shah Jahan and the peasant responses to them. In conclusion, I will highlight the importance of such regional histories and how they can help us in formulating a picture of the Mughal State as a whole.
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From the Department of Unfinished Business

Some of you may be old enough to remember a letter to an academic journal that Sepoy posted last February. Below, I furnish the piece of writing in question for those who are curious. The article, on the portrayal of terrorists in Indian cinema, was written in 2002. It was, I like to think, fresh and timely. It can no longer be described in that manner now. Many new movies have come out that would be interesting to discuss in this context. Mani Ratnam has since made a film that touches more directly on the conflict in Sri Lanka (Kannathil Muthamittal). I would no longer be caught dead writing this kind of academic article. The world has changed, etc. But in the interest of freecycling, I give it to you, below. Perhaps it can be repurposed and made into a quilt?

But before we move on, one last item of business. I must also share with you the reviewer’s comments alluded to in my original letter. The following was scrawled in heavily applied ballpoint on the review sheet:

NO– I am normally very open-minded, but I cannot be so here. I have no interest in advocating an article which is designed to elicit empathy for terrorists & terrorism. I don’t want to “appreciate” or “comprehend” the world of terrorists. I am not naive. The problem is with the terrorist– NOT my understanding of these PSYCHOPATHIC KILLERS. (and yes, I understand the intent of the essay. I am not misreading it)

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