Archive Fever

I spent the last few days in The Reg. For my next parlor trick, I need to find magazines which circulated among the middle class Pakistani households during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. It sometimes confuses people that such materials exist in a place like University of Chicago. This is where post-War politics and the burgeoning Cold War comes into play. Congress had designated that the first 5 million dollars from the 1951 India Wheat Loan Interest Fund be spent on cultural exchange. So, in 1957, money generated from that interest was used to begin a program of acquisition of Indian titles to three research centers: University of Pennsylvania, Midwest Inter-Library Center in Chicago and UC-Berkeley. This initial fund was the basis for the PL-480 amendment in 1958 which streamlined the process.

If you check out a book, published in India or Pakistan, you will likely see a stamp and a scrawl, PL-480 or Public Law 480. Michigan Congressman Joseph D. Dingell passed an amendment to PL-480 which stipulated that monies derived from sale of agricultural surplus abroad be used to procure publications for scholarly interest. This money was always in foreign currencies and, hence, its usage back into the economy would be of greater good. In 1961, $400,000 in soft-money and 12 universities as recipients were established. By 1967, there were 20 university libraries which were receiving the shipments.

On the ground, in India or Pakistan, were field offices staffed by the American Embassy or Library of Congress, who worked closely with local publishers and librarians to identity, catalog and bulk purchase vast quantities of mass market publications. All of this material (some 765,816 “items” in 1965-66 alone) were sent to the University of Chicago Library for dissemination to all other member institutions. The Reg kept a copy.

So, here is a bit of post-war cultural capital that made an archive possible where none could exist. PL-480 cannot be separated from the birth of the Area Studies and the beginnings of the “South Asian Studies” but it is rarely studied, and scholars are rarely cognizant of the centrality of this program to the development of scholarship.1 It is no surprise that University of Chicago, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Berkeley were the power-houses of scholars in the 60s, 70s, 80s – there was an archive attracting folks from around the world.

In a few days, I head to another archive. To Lahore, to Multan, to Uch and maybe to Islamabad. I will keep you posted.

  1. See Maureen L. P. Patterson, “The South Asian P.L. 480 Library Program, 1962-1968” The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 28, No. 4 (Aug., 1969), pp. 743-754 []

It’s a Contest!

Dear Readers,

Chapati Mystery is launching a new flash fiction contest, which might just happen one time or might become an OVERNIGHT SENSATION or even a TRADITION. For the first contest, we solicit entries inspired by the following tweet sent out by @polgrim on the occasion of Hosni Mubarak’s removal from the office of President of Egypt:

I was deep in conversation with an ambassador’s wife of an ‘x’ country over dinner when I get a text from Paris to tell me Egypt is free.

Later, @polgrim added that ‘x’ country was Scandinavian. INTRIGUING. Entries should be between 100 and 200 words long and should be pasted into an email to lapatastic at gmail dot com. Our special CELEBRITY judge will be the acclaimed flash fiction writer KUZHALI MANICKAVEL. Deadline? February 28th, 2011, MIDNIGHT GMT. The top three winners will have their stories published on Chapati Mystery (!!) and receive a FREE copy of Zero Degree by Charu Nivedita to be mailed ANYWHERE in the world.




Deadline has been extended to March 15th, 2011!!

Via Chicago

Heading home is always a highlight and soon enough, I will be in sweet Hyde Park drowning in snow, slush, Powell’s and Istria. Life will be as it ought to be. As it once was.

However, before that, I am participating in – it readily appears – a wonderful conference at the University of Pennsylvania. I am going to try and lay out (what will be a chapter eventually) my understanding of the position prophecy holds in the imaginations of middle-class Pakistanis. I will also talk about Zaid Hamid.

Details on the conference:

Popular Culture and Alternate Histories: Voices from Beyond the Security State in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia


FRIDAY, 18 February, 2011

* Kathleen Hall, South Asia Center Director
* Daud Ali, Chair, Department of South Asia Studies

* Elizabeth Kolsky, “The Archival Remains of a Frontier Rebel”
* James Caron, “Transnational Memory in the Plains of Layla”

2:45-3:00: Break

* Kamran Asdar Ali, “Communists in a Muslim Land: Cultural Debates in Pakistan’s Early Years”
* Lutz Rzehak, “Historiography and Localism in Modern Tajikistan”
* Morgan Liu, “Post-Cold War Reflections on Central Asian Imaginaries of the State”

6:30-9:00: SHADOW ANTHROPOLOGY: a play reading with Rick Mitchell, and dinner
(ARCH Auditorium, 3601 Locust Walk)

SATURDAY, 19 February, 2011

* Saadia Toor, “Feminist Poetry and Protest in Pakistan”
* Iftikhar Dadi, Title TBA
* Margaret Mills, “Afghan Women between Victimhood and Agency”

10:45-11: Break

* Manan Ahmed, “Prophetic Time #FAIL”
* Jo-Ann Gross, “Between Memory and History: The Interplay between Orality and Textuality in the Funerary Narratives of Nasir-i Khusraw from Badakhshan”
* Jamal Elias, “Imaging and Imagining Religious Virtue”


The conference will be held at
Room 245 (2nd floor)
Jon M. Huntsman Hall
3730 Locust Walk/Walnut Street

Do come by and say hi!

Teju Cole’s Open City

I also have a review out today on Bookslut of long-time CM reader Teju Cole‘s superb new novel Open City. The novel comes out tomorrow. Everyone must read it! An excerpt from my review:

The review materials I received with Open City ask me to compare Cole’s writing to that of W.G. Sebald or J.M. Coetzee. I was instead reminded of Wharton and James, of their pacing, of their detailed descriptions of place, history and person and of their slightly god-like distance from their characters and subjects. I read in Open City a kind of sequel to Wharton’s The Age of Innocence: the writing style, similarly precise and clear; the city, even less innocent than it was then. Cole, who is also a photographer and an art historian, has an enviable ability to take a subject, say, the city of New York, and turn it inside out and upside down, shake it out, and examine the contents, then pack it up again. In this, his writing resembles his photography, which, unlike most urban photography, manages to find grand vistas and great heights in the claustrophobic clutter of a city landscape. In a photograph such as this one, a bird’s eye view of what appears to be the interior of a multi-storied shopping mall becomes a delicate abstraction, the suspended star-shaped lights an orderly arrangement of origami, the tiny shoppers, so many ants dotting the background.

Read the rest here.

The Blaftness of Blaft

Following my interviews with Blafters Rakesh Khanna, Pritham K. Chakravarthy and Kuzhali Manickavel, my review of a number of books from the Chennai-based publishing house Blaft is up on Bookslut today. Here is an excerpt:

He was a dark man, with white hair and white teeth. A thick moustache covered his dark lips. His chin had a deep cleft. He wore a silk shirt, a polyester veshti, and a thick gold chain with a leopard claw pendant around his neck. He smelled strongly of perfume.
–From the story “Hurricane Vaij” in the Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction, Vol. I

A friend whose fiancé was learning how to perform past life regression therapy once observed to me that it was odd how many people discover they were Cleopatra or someone else really famous in their past lives. Even people who do not find out they were Cleopatra, such as my father, a great regression therapy enthusiast, always discover they were human. When I argue with my father that it’s statistically unlikely that all current living humans are reincarnations of previously living humans, and that traditionally animals, and bugs, and worms are thrown into the mix of transmigrating souls, he becomes irritable and says I don’t know what I’m talking about. In Bollywood movies, reincarnation, a fantastic plot device, becomes even more narrow: young couples whose love transcends lifetimes (what’s known as a janam-janam ka rishta in Hindi-Urdu) die under cruel circumstances only to be reborn in a human form exactly identical to their previous incarnations. Thus the same actor and actress can go ahead and play the lovers in their next lifetime as well.

Read the rest here.

Midan Tahrir

Tahrir Square

نداےً غیب
ہر ایک اولی الامر کو صدا دو
کہ اپنی فردِ عمل سنبھالے
اٹھے گا جب جمِ سرفروشاں
پڑیں گے دار و رسن کے لالے
کوئی نہ ہوگا کہ جو بچالے
جزا سزا سب یہی پہ ہوگی
یہیں عذاب و ثواب ہوگا
یہیں سے اٹھے گا شورِ محشر
یہیں پہ روزِ حساب ہوگا\

Nada-i Ghaib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Samarqand, May 1979 (in collection Meray Dil Meray Musafir)

har ik awali-al-amr ko sada do
kay apni fard-e `aml sambahlay
uthay gah jab jam-e sarfarooshan
paRain gay dar or rasn kay lalay
jaza saza sab yahi pay ho gah
yahi say uThay ga shor-e mahshar
yahin pay roz-e hisab ho ga

Tell, the Rulers
You take account, now
of your deeds
when we rise,
with the will to discard our lives
then you will confront the chain, the prison
here, right here, will be reward, retaliation
here, right here, will be punishment, bendiction
from right here, will rise the din of judgment
Here, right here, will be the Day of Reckoning.

(my loose translation)

Violence has erupted in Tahrir as I post this. Violence of Mubarak’s goon squad on the peaceful demonstrators. Yet, Obama and Blair will continue to protect Mubarak. No matter, the will of the people of Egypt will prevail.