Uses of History: Ramanujan Edition

Some Indian Uses of History on a Rainy Day

1935. Professor of Sanskrit
on cultural exchange;
passing through; lost
in Berlin; reduced
to a literal, turbaned child,
spelling German signs on door, bus, and shop,
trying to guess go from stop;
for a way of telling apart
a familiar street from a strange,
or east
from west at night
the brown dog that barks
from the brown dog that doesn’t
memorising a foreign paradigm
of lanterns, landmarks,
a gothic lotus on the iron gate
suddenly comes home
in English, gesture, and Sanskrit,
the swastika
on the neighbour’s arm
in that roaring bus from a grey
nowhere to a green.
– AK Ramanujan

I have a piece on Ramanujan’s essay and the DU controversy in The Caravan, All the Myriad Ways:

It’s no surprise, then, that so consistently we receive a singular history of the State, a composite account that tells an overwhelmingly familiar arc of progress towards the very moment in which you—the school child, the dutiful citizen—happen to be reading and accepting that history. That the United States is a melting pot, or that India contains multitudes is itself a monolithic and singular account.

We, for whom the history of the State is a familiar battleground; we, who grew up in dictatorships, for whom history was the first and most potent weapon for warfare, know this intimately. In Pakistan, there is no multitude of narratives when it comes to our pasts. In Islam, there are no voices that interpret scripture in divergent ways. Notions like these are quickly labelled heretical and such voices are shunted off to the mortuary. Notice the fate of Punjab’s governor, Salmaan Taseer, who dared to imagine a Constitution that might include another voice, admit to another living diversity.

Do tell me what you think.

Oh, Go AAWWn

I loved the space and the wonderful people at the Asian Writers’ Workshop who were kind enough to host my book launch a month ago. Magical! So, I pass on, with enthusiasm, a festival of awesomeness for their 20th anniversary! They feature Teju Cole, Amitava Kumar and some other people (ok some of the other people are also very cool, but really, we only have eyes for TC and AK {though, appearance by Jennifer 8. Lee!!!}).

Please do go.


Here is the deal.

If you provide a dishy/photo-filled festival diary to CM of the event, I will buy your ticket. Email me. (those who promise photos of CM loved ones will clearly have an unseeming advantage here, but um, whatever)



Come rub elbows and knock knees with your favorite writers at one of Brooklyn’s best alternative literary festivals: the third annual PAGE TURNER: The Asian American Literary Festival. Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, the festival features a Korean taco trunk, two stand-up comedians, five National Book Award finalists, seven Guggenheim Fellows, a killer afterparty with the best playlist of all time, and you!

An all-star line-up featuring: Junot Díaz, Amitav Ghosh, Jessica Hagedorn, Kimiko Hahn, Hari Kunzru, Jayne Anne Phillips, Suketu Mehta, Min Jin Lee, Mark Nowak, Amitava Kumar, Granta editor John Freeman, and Guernica editor Joel Whitney.

Your favorite new voices: Teju Cole (author of Open City), Danielle Evans (NBA 5 Under 35 winner), Booker finalist Hisham Matar, Pen Faulkner winner Sabina Murray, Whiting Award winner Alexander Chee, Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang, National Book Award finalist Monica Youn, and NBCC finalist Brenda Shaughnessy.

Multi-dimensional program includes: a staged reading directed by Ralph Peña; artist Wangechi Mutu (MOMA, Guggenheim) talking about immigration; an open mic featuring Jen Kwok (Date an Asian), Negin Farsad (Nerdcore Rising) and others; stories from twenty years of the Workshop; and hard-hitting conversations about Occupy Wall Street, Islam and the West, the rise of China and India, and the national crackdown on immigration.

Keep coming back as we update our full schedule at Co-sponsored by powerHouse Arena, Verso Books, MTV, Guernica, and Granta.


The Saturday before Halloween join us for music, drinks, dancing, and fine company for the raucous afterparty for the Page Turner Literary Festival. We’ll have a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline at night, a killer playlist for your dancing shoes, cake, noisemakers, glitter, a giant piñata, and infinite quantities of beer and wine. Special guests include former New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee and celebrity chef Eddie Huang of Baohaus, who will DJ part of the night’s festivities.

Additional playlist selected by some of New York’s hottest cultural figures: Kris Chen (head of XL Recordings in America, the label of Vampire Weekend, the XX, Sigur Ros), hip hop trio Das Racist, sports blogger Nathaniel Friedman (The Classical, Free Darko), literary enfant terrible Tao Lin, Jefferson “Chairman” Mao (Ego Trip NYC), writer Luc Sante (author of Low Life, Factory of Facts), novelist Lynne Tillman, music journalist Dave Tompkins (author of How to Wreck a Nice Beach), Michael Vazquez (Senior Editor, Bidoun magazine), music critic and DJ Oliver “O-Dub” Wang ( Before the dancing starts, we’ll also honor the winners of the Fourteenth Annual Asian American Literary Awards: AMITAVA KUMAR, winner of our nonfiction award which will be presented by past honoree Suketu Mehta, and KIMIKO HAHN, our poetry award-winner. The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, one of the country’s premiere literary arts spaces, is throwing the party to end all parties. We want you there. Celebrate our twentieth anniversary and reserve your space today. Co-sponsored by MTV World, Verso, Granta, Guernica, Beerlao, NoveRoma wines.

Executive Director, The Asian American Writers’ Workshop
110-112 W. 27th Street, Sixth Floor, NY, NY 10001
212.494.0061 tel.
212.494.0062 fax


I have a review of Granta’s ten years post-9/11 issue up on The Sunday Guardian (New Delhi). When I first wrote my draft, I sent it to Sepoy, because I was worried it was too much of a screed. Sepoy, upon reading it, was disappointed in the lack of screedishness of the review. He had hoped for something more screed-like. Now it is for you to judge, Dear Readers, whether or not this is a piece of screedery. Here’s a preview:

Early in the morning on September 11, 2001, I spoke on the phone with a student of mine. After briefly discussing the attacks on the World Trade Center, which had just occurred, he asked, half joking, “will you come visit me at the concentration camp?” He was referring to his religion (Muslim by birth) and his skin color (brown). A couple of days later, a group of female students came to my office. They all wore hijab and were anxious because, they said, their fathers had told them not to wear any head coverings for the time being to avoid hate crimes. They had previously understood their commitment to wearing hijab as an act of pride in their faith that should not be abandoned in the face of ignorance or hate. But should they ignore their fathers? They did.

Read the rest here.

Madison 2011



It is the Annual Awesomeness that is the Madison conference – this is the 40th one! Big times now. I will be on two panels – giving a paper on something I am quite excited about and discussing a set of papers elsewhere. I wish there was a way to link to my panels but that technology is currently unavailable. You are welcome to go here and kinda browse around, however.

Friends and scholarship. What more can a historian want?