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.

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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.

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Welcome Home Mr. Modi

Narenda Modi’s global makeover owes much to neoliberal democracy and the ideology of developmentalism argues Sanyasi.

The global rehabilitation of Narendra Modi is well underway. A lunch meeting in January this year at German Ambassador Michael Steiner’s home between Modi and representatives from the states of the European Union “ended a decade-long unofficial EU boycott of the 62-year-old politician” for his alleged role in the 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat. It is not quite as clear whether the US is warming up to Modi, but some Republican lawmakers have indicated that they intend to get Modi a visa to travel to the promised land.

The same Germany and Europe who endlessly exhort the rest of the world never to forget the Jewish Holocaust have after all of a decade conveniently forgotten Gujarat 2002. The amnesia is, to an extent, explained by the West’s centuries-long history of hypocrisy on such matters, which involves innumerable instances of subordinating its professed commitment to rights to its base economic, political, and material interests. (Think of the coddling and arming of Saddam Hussein by the Thatcher regime and Rumsfeld’s role in helping him secure chemical weapons. Or, more recently, the use of Malala Yousafzai’s ordeal and heroic struggle to indict Pakistani culture at large, while laws in US states that violate American women’s reproductive rights and deny them sovereignty over their own selves draw no such generalizations about American culture. [1]) With his image as a pro-business, pro-investment politician, Modi promises Western economies a means for accessing India’s markets. India’s consuming middle classes are his oil, his blood diamonds. But this is only part of the story. Modi’s reentry into the civilized world–now defined as a global world in which a globalizing India anxiously seeks to assert itself–is enabled by two other factors that are more significant than the self-serving inconsistency of the West.

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On the Poetics of Refugee Life and Space

Excerpted from “Refuge: A Work of Memory, Cities, and Loss.”

I. Delhi
Rising tides of wealth tossed them around, these men and their families in the one or two-storied houses painted yellow, colony after colony, a small park every three blocks, a cluster of shops every five, the children studying at the dining tables till late into the nights. But the families managed to hold on to the worlds they had created within the old city, one more layer of life in its thousand-year history, entire neighborhoods of refugees with similar sounding names, or they reached outward into the wilderness to strike new roots once more, as Delhi proliferated into new colonies, gobbling up vast stretches of plains well past the Yamuna on the east and the airport on the west. In their adopted neighborhoods, they made the strange yield to familiarity over time through the act of limiting their lives to a narrow, well-defined set of routines, of realistic, modest ambitions and precise expectations, and through denying themselves, even when they had the opportunity, the luxury of leisure or vacations.

In and around these routines, followed with a fierce discipline, they added touches of an elsewhere. The chairpais converted small front yards into the traditional courtyards of bigger homes and past memory, a smattering of potted plants, a 40-watt bulb with anemic light left burning on through the night. Small dabs of bright or black paint on the sides or front of the houses to ward off the evil eye. Minor indulgences like a particular brand of shaving soap or winter socks manufactured in a city that now belonged to another country. These were purchased from shopkeepers in the old city who, in turn, obtained them through networks that did not recognize borders that to the collective memory of the city still seemed recent. In the kitchens, an egalitarianism of steel, ceramic, and plastic. Two shelves of books, the Bertrand Russells and Bernard Shaws from the Indian arms of international publishing conglomerates, others in Indian languages from local publishers bound by red or white thread and dislodged from their loud covers. The clothes washed with coarse industrial-strength soap billowing in monochromatic colors off clotheslines in balconies and backyards, plastic bottles of oil on windowsills in bedrooms, unnamed and identified by expertise alone. The habit of bringing home each day something from one of the city’s many streets dedicated to food. The men disgorged from buses and autorickshaws, briefcases in one hand, oil-stained paper bags of food delicately clutched in the other. These lightly rendered brushstrokes gave Delhi’s worlds of refugees depth beyond the brute achievement of survival. Not just in language and dress, in faith and tongue, but here, too, culture survived and grew, a compact between the old and new, the nostalgic and the pragmatic forming an alloy, distinct and unique to the neighborhoods away from the centers of official or elite cultural activity.

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A Musafir in Iraqi Kurdistan – Part II

By Jyotsna Singh

[ For Part I of my trip to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2012 on Chapati Mystery, see here.]


Journey to Dohuk

Driving by a tributary of the Tigris River on our way to Dohuk. The serene countryside belies the news of violence in Southern Iraq
Driving by a tributary of the Tigris River on our way to Dohuk. The serene countryside belies the news of violence in Southern Iraq

We fly into Erbil (called Hawler by the locals) on a bright, late afternoon. The gleaming marble airport is hubbub with activity and people, including lots of security guards milling about.   The drive to another Kurdish city of Dohuk leads us through bright vistas, gradually closer into the hazy pink and yellow terrain of the low Dohuk hills.1 Our host, who drives us in his spacious American van, makes pleasant conversation.   Almost everyday in the past few months, news from Iraq inevitably describes bombings, random violence, and sectarian conflict in Southern Iraq, often in Baghdad, but also in other cities closer to Kurdistan, such as Mosul and Kirkuk; thus, as we drive by small road-side communal clusters of shops, with trinkets and steel dishes hanging below canopies, small car repair hubs, trucks passing by, and at frequent intervals, mounds of water melons piled up for sale along the road side, this normalcy seems to make that other news seem surreal. Continue reading A Musafir in Iraqi Kurdistan – Part II

  1. One year ago I visited the Kurdish Autonomous Region, flying into Erbil (Hawler to the locals) and spent a week in Dohuk, one of the three cities of the Kurdish governate. We were a small group of 3 friends/colleagues, working in a project via Michigan State University, for IREX (see
    We returned this May in a larger, more official group of six: two senior administrators, three faculty, and one graduate student. Our visit also coincided with that of the representative of IREX in Dohuk. We had been in contact with several faculty members in the English Language and Literature Department at the University of Dohuk since our last visit. We were returning to conduct workshops for a new curriculum design for the literature program. []

On ideas of Indian citizenship

Niraja Gopal Jayal, Citizenship and its Discontents: An Indian History, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.

A version of this review essay appears in the May issue of the Caravan.

My first formal encounter with the idea of citizenship was through an eighth-standard Civics textbook in India. In the Indian educational system, Civics had the secondary status of a quasi-subject counting for about 20 percent of the combined History-Civics paper. The textbook was an object of derision for its excruciating dullness and a source of mirth because of gems such as “The President of India is a rubber stamp. Discuss.” But the awkward appending of Civics to History was neither meaningless nor accidental. Given the history of India, the objects discussed in the Civics textbook—Parliament, citizenship, etc.—were assumed to be byproducts of the successful fight for national independence from the imperial yoke of the British. Citizenship, then, was something that we automatically possessed as Indians, something that we knew intimately and intuitively or at least were meant to know so. In the many years since having to reluctantly memorize the contents of that textbook as a school student, I have routinely come across the same assumption: overzealous television anchors and holier-than-thou celebrities exhorting Indians to do their duty as citizens; Indian elites grousing about the fact that other Indians lack a culture of citizenship; or assorted groups from privileged majorities to disenfranchised minorities claiming that they have been treated as second-class citizens by the Indian state.
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