A Qissa for a Globalised World

[Following is a guest post by Kavita Bhanot. She is a london based writer. Her short stories and non-fiction have been published widely in anthologies, magazines and journals, two of her stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and she is the editor of the short story collection Too Asian, Not Asian Enough (Tindal Street Press, 2011.) ]

There has, of late, been a revival of Punjabi cinema directed towards and watched by Punjabi audiences. A recent addition to Punjabi language cinema, albeit less ‘commercial’ and more ‘artistic’ is the Punjabi language film Qissa: Tale of a Lonely Ghost which has been doing the rounds at international film festivals and was screened last week at the London Indian Film Festival.

The film is about the violent consequences of son obsession in a Sikh refugee family in post-partition East Punjab.Visually striking, Qissa stands out for its cinematography; the framing, the use of shadows and light, the unusual angles. It was often absorbing, most of all in the scenes between actresses Tillotama Shome and Rasika Dugal, playing the couple Kanwar Singh and Neeli who find themselves in a predicament after marriage when they both discover that Kawar is actually a woman. Their interactions quiver with layered tension and chemistry.
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Beyond Batra and Doniger: Reflections on the study of Hinduism in the American academy

For anyone aware of the militant Hindu Right’s hounding of academics whose research engages with Hinduism, the recent events related to Wendy Doniger’s Book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, must appear as a predictable sequel that replays the plot of the original with minor, if equally unpleasant, variations; a Grudge or Insidious set at the intersection of the American academy and transnational Hinduism, in which, eventually, the malevolent spirits get their victims or, to put it less dramatically, the bad guys eventually wear the good guys down.

A decade ago, another book on Hinduism, Paul Courtright’s Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings, had similarly incensed some Hindus in the US and India. The litany of charges leveled against Courtright, a professor at Emory University, was similar to that against Doniger—disrespecting Hinduism, an obsession with sexuality, promoting a Christian agenda, and the like. And like the ominous suggestions of violence contained in the lawsuit against Doniger, some of the comments related to Courtright’s book in online petitions (long since taken down) were borderline threatening.

I was a graduate student at Emory University at the time, working on a dissertation on how Hindu communities were using the Internet to articulate conservative understandings of Indian identity. I had developed an interest in the topic while working for rediff.com in Bombay in the late 1990s right before I moved to Emory. rediff had tapped into, and, to an extent, shaped an online right wing Hindu culture, with star columnists like Varsha Bhosle, Rajeev Srinivasan, and Francois Gautier. Essays by Arvind Rajagopal and Vinay Lal had already drawn attention to the Hindu nationalist attempt to mark cyberspace as its own domain. Important work by Paula Chakravartty and Sunil Khilnani had mapped the complex web of relations between liberalization, diaspora, and shifting ideas of nationhood among global Indian communities. (Sorry, Indian media, your recent discovery of “Internet Hindus” is neither original nor nuanced). My argument was that there was a long and complex history of the relationship between technology and nationalism in India, rooted in the nineteenth century, that informed online Hindu nationalism and that the phenomenon, accordingly, needed to be seen in the light of both this history and the logic of online communication.
Continue reading Beyond Batra and Doniger: Reflections on the study of Hinduism in the American academy

Postcards from the Archive: Goodbye 2013

2013 saw the publication of a collection of Lapata’s translations of Ashk’s short stories. You can read excerpts from the collection here and an interview with Lapata here. CNN returned to talk to her about her art and her new book (link), and again to ask the “terror artist” about the offensiveness of Rolling Stone’s depiction of that good-looking white boy. Sanyasi returned the gaze and observed that CNN’s reading of Lapata’s art reflects “something fundamental about the relationship of art (or representation, more broadly) and politics in our times, namely, a conservative turn in the culture about the subjects proper of art, writing, and scholarship.” Taking some time off from painting terrorists, Lapata also reviewed ‘Aisha Jalaal”s hagiography of Manto.

Sepoy began the year by completing his Berlin series (III IV), and ended by translating Faiz. In the middle was his review of Dalrymple’s latest that found D’s critique of empire to be “at the service of bettering Western-driven governance in Afghanistan and the pacification of Afghan tribes.” And then, there was his piece on the Pakistani elections  for the paper of record (yes, that). In this piece he made some bizarre statement about peasants and laborers having agency, which irked some folks who pointed out that those deaf and dumb slaves only act out the narratives that their superiors set. Sepoy responded by arguing for understanding “agency and contingency in an historical event from the perspective of the subaltern, the vanquished, the dispossessed, the marginalized […].” And so it went.

Sanyasi returned to CM with reflections on the violence of American paranoia from the Hindu-German conspiracy to its present day Islamophobic avatar, and with reviews of Ramachandra Guha’s latest (link) and Niraja Gopal Jayal’s Citizenship and its Discontents: An Indian History (link,). He also gave us a glimpse of his forthcoming book, Refuge: A Work of Memory, Cities, and Loss. Speaking of forthcoming publications, Sepoy discussed his approach for the book he is working on (here, here), and Bulleyah contributed an essay (here, here) on Sepoy’s forthcoming chapter (link) in an edited volume.

Sepoy also wrote about growing up in Dubai, and Basanti about surveillance in the KSA and the USA (link). Our friend MNJ reflected on “[t]he power inherent in autobiographies, and our fascination with them” in a three-part essay on Mahvish Khan’s memoir My Guantánamo Diary: The Detainees and the Stories They Told Me (III, III).

We published a greater number of guest posts this year, bringing to our readers glimpses of JLFKurdistan, and Kabul; a review of Vollman’s memoir; a comment on “the politics of ‘Razakar memory’ in Andhra Pradesh”; a reflection on the “everyday political in Paromita Vohra’s documentary films”; and AJK’s Shura City. Of all these many excellent guest posts,  Prof. Veena Oldenburg’s contribution was truly a cut above.

In 2013, CM launched a new series of conversations to discuss and introduce new and exciting scholarship on South Asia. The interviews with Teena Purohit and Kavita Datla are the first of what we hope will be an ongoing feature of CM. Bint Battuta started contributing excerpts from her readings to CM (here, here). Also, with a satire of LUMS’ paindu dayour friend, Mutiyar, started contributing to CM.

 

PS. Where are you from? Or, how I became a Pakistani?

PPS. OMG, OMJ. 

PPPS. I reviewed a couple of books for Dawn (link).

PPPPS: Here are the previous year-end summaries: 20102011, and 2012.

Conversations of the Everyday Political in Paromita Vohra’s Documentary Films

This is a guest post by Ashima Duggal. She is an attorney turned documentary filmmaker. She is working on her first film. ]

By Ashima Duggal

 

For more than fifteen years, documentary filmmaker Paromita Vohra has been having large public conversations about everyday political things with Indian audiences. Through her inquisitive, informal, no-boundaries approach to documentary filmmaking, she has encouraged new ways of thinking about a diverse range of questions like “Who has access to public toilets—and, more important, why?” and “How does copyright and creation of art coexist, and how is feminism defined in India?” Her films allow viewers to experience, both sensually and cerebrally, the ways in which unseen political and historical currents influence their personal lives.

However, Vohra was not always so confident in connecting the everyday political to the personal. When she first started making films, she was caught in a self-described “hectic political anxiety.” She felt political, but didn’t know how to express this amorphous sentiment. So she started a long meditation with herself, exploring “the nature of politics, the nature of film as a medium of political activity and the nature of art.” In a 2012 essay in Pratilipi, an Indian literary journal, Vohra asks, “Do we make films that faithfully illustrate our political position? Or do we use our political position to arrive at an understanding of the nature of life in this moment, the catalyst for a creative art?”

Director Paromita VohraA review of her most recent film, Partners in Crime, and a look at two of her other works—Q2P, a film that garnered significant attention in India and globally, and Connected Hum Tum (“Connected You and I”), a progressive new reality TV show—would suggest that Vohra has taken a slightly divergent path, one that is closer to her second inquiry, and yet is not quite fully accepting of it either.

Partners in Crime, which won Best Documentary at the Ladakh International Film Festival in 2011, offers various viewpoints and understandings of copyright enforcement and infringement and artistic creation in India. Vohra’s physical and directorial presence is felt in the film, but she skillfully avoids using her political position to develop a dominant message. In Q2P, which explores women’s access to public toilets in Mumbai, her political position is more evident through her on-screen interactions with her subjects. In this film too, though, Vohra remains curious and casual, and we see her repositioning and refining her stance as the film unfolds. Connected Hum Tum represents a new concept in Indian TV—six eclectic women in Mumbai self-document their daily lives for six months. Vohra’s challenge and opportunity lies in building meaningful and entertaining storylines of the women’s daily encounters. Though the ability to impose any preset position is limited by the fact that the women control what is recorded, Vohra’s instinctive political sensibilities are reflected in the show’s casting and in the creative selection, arrangement, and narration of the women’s stories.

  Continue reading Conversations of the Everyday Political in Paromita Vohra’s Documentary Films

Scripting Changes, Changing Scripts

The occasional series on South Asian political life and public culture continues with Roshan Shahani’s review of Scripting the Change: Selected Writings of Anuradha Ghandy (eds. Anand Teltumde and Shoma Sen, Daanish Books 2012). Dr. Roshan Shahani retired as reader and head of the Department of English at Jai Hind College, University of Bombay, where she taught for thirty-nine years. She serves as a trustee for SPARROW, the Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women. A slightly different version of the review was first published in the SPARROW July 2013 bulletin.

One has almost begun to dread the coming of March 8 for International Women’s Day has become a celebration by, of, and for celebrities. However, “far from the unseeing eyes of the media, far from the flash and glitter of TV cameras,” March 8 has been celebrated differently. Anuradha Ghandhy–a senior Maoist activist, whose untimely death in 2008 has been mourned by family, friends, fellow activists, and, of course, the tribals she worked with—-takes us “deep into the forests and plains of central India, to the backward regions of Andhra Pradesh and up in the hills among tribals,” where celebrating March 8 meant women and children marching through villages in Bastar and other remote regions to demand schooling, blocking roads to protest against innumerable rape cases, and speaking out against rampant economic exploitation. If there have been changes wrought in these regions, it has been in large measure thanks to the ideology and activism of men and women like Anuradha, often hunted down as Maoist-terrorists.

Continue reading Scripting Changes, Changing Scripts

Hungama I

[Gentle readers, it is too infrequently that I get to thank the remarkable love and time my friends and colleagues pour into this blog – Lapata, Farangi, Patwari, Sanyasi, Basanti & others who write, guest-write, curate, edit, recruit. CM would be long dead and dormant if it was only up to me, and I am just delighted that it continues to live and it lives on the strength of others. To this family, I want to welcome CM Intern Sultana. She will begin with this curated list from the blog and the FB page “Hungama” (هنگامة meaning a moshpit mashup). She will be doing other writings over the next weeks (until she gets a real job and makes it big in Bollywood). Please welcome her, and please keep reading – sepoy]

In the glorious month of August, while Sepoy was busy looking at Mughals, Sanyasi looked at CNN looking at Lapata and Green at Vollmann looking at himself. We also wrote about a translation of Upendranath Ashk’s memoir  “Manto: Mera Dushman,” and the work of memory in the construction of the binary between secular Telugus and communal Muslims in Andhra Pradesh.

While memory remains a battleground, traveling to ancestral homelands evokes a range of emotions and reflections on loss. We hear that the 1947 Partition Archive is making sure to record oral histories from survivors. The month of August also brings enlightenment on the aftermath of independence: Kashmir, wounds of Waziristan, Slumbai, unheard gravedigger stories.

On CM’s Facebook page, we reminisced about the works of Mahmoud Darwish, Seamus Heaney, AK Ramanujan, and Begum Para. Look through the month’s interesting posts and join the conversation:

Art, Terror, and Politics: Reading CNN Reading Daisy Rockwell

Over the course of the last year and a bit, CM’s own Daisy Rockwell, a.k.a Lapata, has been featured on CNN on three occasions. The first of these, on Erin’s Burnett’s CNN blog, “OutFront,” featured Daisy’s The Little Book of Terror as the subject of a sensationally titled discussion, “Norman Rockwell’s granddaughter paints terrorists,” and invited CNN readers to weigh in with their thoughts on the matter. Earlier this year in May, OutFront also conducted a detailed interview with Daisy on her translation of Upendranath Ashk’s book, Hats with Doctors. And most recently, CNN interviewed Daisy for her thoughts on the flap concerning the Rolling Stone cover that featured Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokar Tsarnaev.

CNN has been fair in giving Daisy the opportunity to discuss her work and to speak her piece without sacrificing complexity or nuance, more than one can say of most media organizations whose bread and butter, the soundbite, is the natural enemy of both. There are, however, some peculiar and telling aspects of the way in which these conversations and discussions have been framed by CNN. Peculiar because CNN’s framing directly contradicts what I think is one of the crucially important aspects of Daisy’s art and writing. Telling because CNN’s framing of these discussions also reflects something fundamental about the relationship of art (or representation, more broadly) and politics in our times, namely, a conservative turn in the culture about the subjects proper of art, writing, and scholarship.

Continue reading Art, Terror, and Politics: Reading CNN Reading Daisy Rockwell