Lessons Learned: Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph, in memoriam

rudolphs_indira gandhiLife Lessons

[Professors Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph, University of Chicago professors, brilliant political economists of South Asia, outstanding mentors and wonderful friends, both passed away this winter. Susanne, on December 23rd, 2015, Lloyd on January 16, 2016. Below, I reflect on all the life lessons they taught me over the past 27 years. Painting above by yours truly, presented to Susanne on her 8oth birthday in 2010, depicting Susanne and Lloyd with Indira Gandhi at O’Hare Airport in 1966]

1. Fall of 1995: Susanne and Lloyd take us on a hike to see the mouth of the Ganges at Gangotri. As we pass the tree line, I crumple with altitude sickness. Susanne and Lloyd both feel fine. They are in their sixties. We are in our twenties. As I clutch my stomach and lurch along, Susanne and Lloyd are spry and invigorated. Lloyd has just learned that another University of Chicago economist has been awarded the Nobel Prize, this one for his theory of rational expectations. Lloyd proceeds to attempt to apply this theory to our hiking behavior.

At the flat sandy bank below the glacier, Lloyd and Susanne pitch a four-person tent. I vomit quietly behind a boulder. At sunset, immediately preceding a modest dinner of dal and roti, provided by a man with a small eatery beneath a tarpaulin, Lloyd brings out the perfect size of flask, containing Scotch whiskey for cocktails. After dinner, we retire to our quadruple-sized tent and lie in four sleeping bags in a row. Susanne and Lloyd have miner-style headlamps for reading before bed. Susanne is reading an interesting biography of Mary Shelley. Lloyd is reading Wendy Doniger’s latest book, in which, he notes, she thanks a lover in her acknowledgments. Lloyd wonders if he should note down this pilgrimage to Gangotri in the acknowledgments of his next book.

I curl up into fetal position and wait for morning.

Always bring a flask on a hike. Never forget your bedtime reading and lamp. Avoid being born with a feeble constitution. Economic theory can be applied to daily life. Anything can go into your acknowledgments.

 

2. My second year of graduate school, 1992: Susanne hires me to be a student worker in their office. Lloyd and Susanne have an office suite: twin offices with a common area where the student workers sit. The job involves a huge amount of filing. My predecessor has left suddenly due to mental illness, and so the training is spotty. Every morning Lloyd and Susanne wake up very early and read all their newspapers. Lloyd cuts out all the articles that are pertinent to his own interests or those of virtually anyone he knows. He writes in loopy letters with a fountain pen on post-it notes instructions to us: “One to Deb Harold, one to Dick Taub, one to Brian Greenberg.” We must photocopy these and send them off to the appropriate parties. Often the original is to be filed. Sometimes we find our own names on the recipient list. Then we dutifully make a photocopy for ourselves and file it in our backpacks.

Students sign up for office hours in fifteen-minute segments on a sheet outside the door. Our job is to chat with them while they wait. Well, no, we are supposed to be filing and such, but the students want entertaining. Susanne always dispatches her advisees promptly after 13 minutes. Lloyd must be reminded. Lloyd likes to have a cup of Medaglia D’Oro coffee in the afternoon. If one of the women student workers accidentally makes it for him and brings it in, he becomes very anxious and we have to have a long conversation about whether or not it’s exploitative for him to accept it.

For a while, Lloyd and Susanne resist email. We are instructed to print out every single email they receive and place them in their inboxes, just like regular mail. As this practice fades, we begin to receive 5 AM emails from Susanne full of instructions for the day. Susanne’s instructions are always terse. In handwritten notes, her handwriting is thin and cramped. She uses ballpoint pens. Often, elucidation is required.

When Susanne and Lloyd give talks, Lloyd is famous for going off on tangents of which he loses control. Susanne is famous for cutting the tangents short and summarizing what Lloyd just said while he regains his composure. When they write, it’s the other way round. Lloyd’s ink pen loops all over Susanne’s text, cutting, expanding, copy-editing and critiquing. They do know how to write and speak without one another: Lloyd has a lesser-known specialization in the American presidency. Susanne is also a scholar of Max Weber. But they are at their happiest and most productive when they work together.

Summers are spent in their house in Vermont. As when they go to India every fourth year, they ship all the books and papers they will need for their work in large crates. They also ship their cat (but not to India). While they are gone, we continue to work in the office. Whole mornings can be spent pursuing instructions such as these: “LIR needs Sovereignty in China. Pale green cover. By Smith or Jones. Southeast shelf of LIR study at home or in LIR library office.”

I am also charged with ordering office supplies. I order everything in purple and lavender. No one seems to notice.

Share knowledge. Do not exploit your female workers. If you speak in tangents, find a pithy partner. Reverse is also true. Always edit with nice pens. Bring your work on holiday, as well as your cat.

 

Lloyd and Susanne with Mohan Singh Kanota, 1971
Lloyd and Susanne with Mohan Singh Kanota, 1971

3. The late 1950’s: Susanne and Lloyd first travel to India. Of course the best way to do this is to acquire a Land Rover in England and drive there. Most of the places they drive through are now war-torn, but that doesn’t mean it was easy then either. They tell thrilling tales of fording rivers in the car and all manner of hardships. Somehow or other, they end up in Jaipur, staying with the Maharaja. Perhaps the palace was already a hotel, but they immediately become fast friends with the princely set. There are photographs of hunting expeditions and glamorous parties. These interactions form the basis of their book Essays on Rajputana and they become India scholars. Their last major work, Reversing the Gaze, builds on a lifetime of good-will and intimacy with the history and politics of the princely states.

When the Maharani of Jaipur was imprisoned by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, all she could think of was Susanne’s pineapple upside-down cake.

Always take the most adventurous route. Stay in palaces. Study what you love. Every adventure should become a book. Learn how to make pineapple upside-down cake.

 

4. Fall, 1988: I first meet Susanne in a required social sciences course at the University of Chicago, known informally as ‘Self, Torture and Anxiety’. She is teaching the unit on ‘Self’. Authors to be read: Max Weber, Adam Smith, Karl Marx. What I remember from the course: Susanne introducing herself on the first day, and explaining that she spends every fourth year with her husband and co-author in India, doing research. She is wearing a light blue khadi vest, or so I remember. Cornflower blue was always her favorite color.

I am a Classics major. I think: this woman has a better life path than I do; I go to my adviser and drop Latin and add Hindi. Political economy is something I’m still trying to understand.

Be on the lookout for good life plans. A Classics degree will not get you to India. Political economy is very important.

 

5. 2008, Kensington, California: The Rudolphs have retired to a beautiful house in the Berkeley Hills. I visit for lunch one day. Susanne’s Parkinson’s disease is noticeable now, although she never mentions it. On the other hand, she has just come in from Tai Chi in the park. For lunch, she makes a quiche. I watch as she tenaciously controls her movements, chops mushrooms, beats eggs. Each motion is an act of will for her. Lloyd is in charge of salad. He does not attempt to help her, not because he wouldn’t want to, but because executing these movements is clearly of the greatest importance to her. At lunch, on the deck, in the sun, they explain what projects they are working on. They reveal that they’ve started to watch movies in the evenings instead of working. This is a new world for them, and they seem quite amazed at all the material available. Susanne nods off to sleep. Lloyd gently wakes her and reminds her of the topic at hand. The pain in his face shows his anxiety about her illness, but also his disbelief. How can he be left with the responsibility of keeping the conversation on track?

Try new things. Keep fit. Don’t accept defeat. Respect your partner. Prepare to assume one another’s responsibilities.

 

6. Fall, 1989: I’m in India for the first time on a new study abroad program organized by Susanne. Me and one other student. Susanne isn’t actually there, nor is anyone else there to greet us, save a driver from the American Institute for Indian Studies (AIIS). In a scenario that’s guaranteed to horrify any modern-day study abroad coordinator, we are put in charge of making our own hotel reservations and finding a taxi to take us up to Mussoorie where we will study Hindi. The hotel thing falls through, and we end up sleeping on the sofas at AIIS, after which we are dispatched to an unknown guest house by an irate Pradeep Mehendiratta. When we finally have the courage to leave the guest house, we take a map (to try to determine where we are in New Delhi) and Susanne’s instructions. Go to Kashmiri Gate. Hire a one-way taxi to Landour Bazaar. This should cost you 750-900 rupees.

Be self-reliant. Carry a map. Prepare for surprises. Don’t forget your instructions.

 

7. 2015, Summer: We visit Susanne and Lloyd at their house in Vermont. Susanne is using a walker now, and Lloyd has been ill as well. He says he gets tired a good deal. Until a few years ago he still swam in Silver Lake at the foot of their lawn every day at dawn, but now that’s too much for him. You cut out more and more as you get older, he says, regretfully. He misses playing squash and going on long hikes. Susanne is sometimes present and sometimes not. She engages with bits of the conversation and wanders off with them. Lloyd seems anxious. What if he becomes too ill to care for her? The strain on him is already great. He still reminds her of what we’re discussing, in the most respectful tone.

All their lives they’ve lived in many places at once. Summers in Vermont, fourth years in India: winter in Jaipur, fall and spring in Mussoorie. Then there were always conferences, awards ceremonies and important meetings. They were always in motion. Even then, when they were both quite ill, they’d flown from California to Vermont, to be at their lake house. How much longer could they do this, we wondered, and how could Lloyd bear to return to Vermont without her? Lloyd explains to my daughter that Susanne is suffering from Parkinson’s, a disease that affects the memory. This is the first time I’ve ever heard either of them mention her illness, even though it has been evident for many years. In the evening we watch Mansfield Park. Lloyd no longer drinks a French-press full of coffee after dinner, and no one has any cognac.

Do what you love. Respect those you love. Make every journey matter. Don’t dwell on negative thoughts.

destination-india-a-us-couples-compelling-journey

 

8. Thanksgiving, circa 1994: We are amazed to be invited to dinner at the Rudolphs’. There are other graduate students and also assorted faculty members. As always at their house, we start off with sherry, cheeses and stoned wheat thins. By dinner, the graduate students, us included, are all quite drunk. At dinner there is more to drink. Lloyd and Susanne drink more than us and don’t seem in the least affected. The conversation is high-powered and intellectual. We are very quiet. We can’t contribute much to discussions of the inner workings of Indian parliament, the results of the latest census and controversies surrounding the Mandal Commission. After dinner, there is cognac and strong coffee. The graduate students can barely stand. The Norwegian Rational Choice theorist is only getting started. He is explaining something theoretical that we are in no position to understand. “Take jazz, for example…” he begins. “…or chess…” We don’t know what he’s talking about, but Susanne leans forward, bright-eyed and engaged, asking him all the right questions. Eventually we are bundled out onto the pavement, bleary-eyed and barely cogent. One of us has spilled red wine on the white sofa and covered it up with a sofa cushion, but I won’t say who.

Always serve cheeses with stoned wheat thins before dinner. Invite a nice assortment of people. Do not feed poor graduate students too much liquor. Figure out how to make jazz and chess analogies at dinner parties.

 

9. Christmas Eve, 2015: I’m in the kitchen, preparing eggnog with bourbon and nutmeg (without bourbon for the child). I receive a text from a friend who has heard that Susanne has passed away. Though the news comes as no surprise, I feel the tears coming, and a sense of helplessness. What would Susanne do, I asked myself. She’d pour the drinks with a steady hand. She’d carry on. Instead, I go upstairs and sob. The scene repeats itself: each time I think of her, I become tearful, and ask myself how she’d behave in my place. Susanne would be stoic. She’d think of the right thing.

What do you do when a mentor dies, and you have no example to follow? I try over the next few weeks to write something about Susanne, about what she meant to me, what she taught me about being a professional woman and leading a thoughtful life, but I couldn’t tell the story without Lloyd, and when I thought of Lloyd, waiting behind, as she embarked on the final journey before him, I cried again. I thought of Kazuo Ishiguro’s recent novel, The Buried Giant, which explores just this theme: no matter how tenaciously one might cling to a partner in life, the final journey must be made alone.

Or does it? Just twenty-four days later, word came that Lloyd had also passed away. I don’t know what afterlife they envisioned, or if they did at all. They were not openly religious or spiritual; they were fiercely rational scholars who loved to study, as political scientists, the present moment as it unfolded. But I like to think of them now, together on another journey, to an intellectually stimulating place in the sky, or of their souls finding new incarnations that will meet again, and forge another fruitful partnership, or of the two of them soaring off into another dimension full of conversation, stimulating company, hikes, cocktails and articles to be shared with all their friends.

When in doubt, pursue your research, write your books, pour out the drinks and carry on. Even if you don’t know your final destination, do your best to leave the party together.

Rudolphs

Passport Tales II

This weekend was the annual Madison conference bringing together all those who work on South Asia in whatever discipline (and whose papers were accepted, and who had funds from their respective institutions to pay the conference fee, and attend). I presented a paper on Mughal Sind, which is the beginning of a new project. As part of the festivities, I got to meet a number of young scholars who are putting in their PhD applications.

I wanted to put here some of the things I think are useful for all international students. First, that while the funding structures at most R1s is now uniform– that is, you get full funding for five years, if accepted– that does not mean all graduate students are treated equally. Non US citizens do not qualify for FLAS (Federal Languages and Area Studies) Fellowships. This means that if you are expected to study a language such as Persian, Arabic, Hindi, Sanskrit etc. at a Summer Institute or in South Asia, you cannot utilize FLAS funding for it, and must seek extra funding from your institution. Now, if you are lucky enough to be at Yale or Princeton, it may be a moot point but please inquire about this before hand.

Related, is your ability to travel to archives and/or to fieldwork. You will require visas and documentation for funding/accommodation that your peers will not need. This often means even short intra-semester trips need to be planned well in advance.

This leads to the exceptional cases: holders of Passports of Pakistan. There are many more young colleagues coming to US due to H.E.C or Fulbright funding. The visa regimes for these passport holders– and the availability of US Federal funding– is even more restrictive and draconian. Over my academic life, I have cancelled trips to EU, UK and Canada when either the visa came too late, or I could not apply for it in the time available.

What this means for a graduate student? In my book I make a (brief) argument for how the passport regime governing the scholar impacts the actual research methodology and practice. I will have much more to say on this, as the book comes out, but I wanted to flag this issue to the graduate students: when we imagine ourselves as scholars, who do we actually imagine? The international student in US/EU or the Pakistani student specifically, cannot imagine themselves as their US/EU/UK citizen peers. They cannot be the mimic men of Bhabha for they cannot mimic the legal ontology governing their peers. They are in an exceptional state (one only their Afghanistani, Yemeni, Iraqi and Irani colleagues can share).

The issue does not disappear as one progresses through the ranks either. Fellowships continue to be available through federal and semi-federal channels which are restricted to US citizens or Permanent Residents. Taking a visiting professorship in EU or UK is not as simple as just getting through a difficult selection process– it means dealing with even more legal regimes. If one is a Permanent Resident, for example, of the US, then staying out of the country for the duration of a 9 months fellowship may put that status in jeopardy. The calculus is confoundingly complex. Further, I have had numerous friends refuse to change jobs because their host institution promised them help with permanent residency. I have had others leave US because their host failed to live up to the promise and they were facing a significant financial burden in moving from working visa to a more permanent status.

In other words, the passport remains a critical aspect of the daily life, and life planning, for those who, on surface, seem to be just like everyone else. The citizenship regimes governing one’s legal life also governs one’s social and intellectual life. This point, perhaps seems absurdly pedantic to a young scholar seeking their first admission to a graduate program, but it may very well be, the most critical one.

XQ IV: A Conversation with Nausheen H Anwar

 

The XQs (Ten Questions) series is a conversation with the author of new and exciting works in South Asian Studies, whose aim is not to “review” but to contextualize, historicize and promote new scholarship. Previously: I, II, III.

 

Anwar_PicNausheen H Anwar received her PhD from Columbia University.  She is currently Assistant Professor of Urban Studies in the Social Sciences & Liberal Arts Department (SSLA)at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi. Her book, Infrastructure Redux: Crisis, Progress in Industrial Pakistan & Beyond was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015.

[Interview conducted by Patwari, via email, July 29th-August 24th, 2015]

1. In Karachi, issues such as electricity outages and water scarcity are never far from one’s mind. One way to make sense of these is the failed/failing state narrative, or that the state is missing. In your terrific book, Infrastructure Redux: Crisis, Progress in Industrial Pakistan & Beyond, you argue that the state is not missing in this infrastructural crisis, or at least that this is not an adequate framework for understanding Pakistan’s infrastructural woes. Would you elaborate?

At a basic level, my work calls for a reorientation of the ‘state failure’ argument. This line of argumentation has been invoked with particular regularity in Pakistan and that too with damaging consequences in terms of seeing the political-economy as something that has descended into a permanent state of ‘chaos’. Not only is this an over-simplification, but it also elides the complex and contradictory terrain on which the state-led project of infrastructure development has unfolded in historical and contemporary contexts. While there is no doubt that Pakistan’s electricity problems have worsened in the last decade and the state is no longer able to provide uninterrupted electricity, yet it would be a truism to read this problematic as a straightforward illustration of state failure in the overall planning and provision of infrastructure. I have endeavored to situate the infrastructure crisis within a bigger story of the ways in which infrastructure itself has been historically transformed; as a developmental concept, a policy tool and as a technology of rule, and above all to capture the state-infrastructure nexus in relational terms. While incessant electricity breakdowns point to state disconnect, the development of other types of infrastructures such as roads, motorways, highways, ports, signal the state’s ongoing involvement. In the specific context of my research in industrializing urban Punjab, I encountered contradictory narratives about the state’s role in infrastructure planning and provision. These narratives do not mesh with easy explanations of a failed Pakistani state. I contend that rather than seeing the state as absent or missing in the planning and provision of infrastructure, it is far more constructive to examine the ways in which its presence has been reconfigured, for instance through firm-led infrastructural initiatives, privatization and deregulation and processes of globalization. These contradictory narratives enable us to interrogate the relational context in which state-firm relations are assembled on ground, and how such processes hinge on dynamics of state patronage. For instance, in Chapter 2 on Sialkot, I discuss how road building discourses have played a key role in bringing together the state, firms and infrastructures, and I contrast this with the electricity case study in Chapter 3 on Faisalabad. So in a sense the messy terrain of building state-firm relations and the accompanying symbolic aspects of infrastructures also force us to pose important questions about the marginalizing and liberating powers of such technologies.

Continue reading “XQ IV: A Conversation with Nausheen H Anwar”

Sir Christopher Bayly, 1945-2015

20_british_empireToday’s passing of Chris Bayly is truly a shock to the community of historians of South Asia. He was such a generous and warm soul. Before the first time I met him– schooled as I was, in the “Subaltern” neck of the historiographic woods– I imagined him to be some caricature of a stern tasking empiricist. Instead, I found him to be really funny, and eager to engage with a random graduate student as if I was an equal interlocutor. I was completely taken aback by his kindness. Many years later, we met again and he not only remembered me but remembered the joke he had quipped on my rather stringent reading of his scholarship.

From friends and others at Chicago, I have heard all day about his kindness to students there. From colleagues whose manuscripts he read, and published, same stories are readily available. We tend to measure scholars by their outputs in books or articles– and clearly Bayly was at the top of said pyramids of excellence. Yet the shock comes from the loss of a generous and kind soul in a world that rarely produces or nourishes such souls. We will all miss you, Sir Bayly. My condolensces to his family and friends.

Further Remembrances and Notices:

A Faiz Translation

Dard Aye Ga Dabay Pa’oN” Faiz Ahmed Faiz in Montgomery Jail, 1956 “Prison Letters”
translator – Manan Ahmed Asif


Pain Will come, On Soft Feet.

In a little while when
once again,
my heart will confront the thought
of loneliness, what will I do?
pain will come, on soft feet
carrying a red lamp

that pain which beats a beat
away
from my heart

its flame will flare in my side
blazing onto my heart’s wall
each shadow’s contour:
curl of hair
curve of cheek
desert of separation
garden of sights

we’ll talk, then,
my heart and I:

O heart, my heart
this beloved you hold in your loneliness,
is your guest but for a moment;
will leave.
It’s not the balm you seek
for the savage flames it ignites …

will depart,
leaving only shadows behind that will, all night long
shed your blood

.

This is war, O heart,
no game this;
each against your life, murderers all:
this hard night,
these shadows,
this loneliness.
there can be no union between
my heart, this pain.

Come.
instead.
Bring forth an amber raging with anger

Where is the Army of wrath? Call it.
That Rose which burns through fire—
where is it?
The one that has fervor, and movement, and strength too.

Our comrades, our battalions
await us,
beyond these dark miles
our flames will surely tell them
of our existence.
It’s fine even if they don’t reach us, at least
they will yell:
how far lies the dawn.

Finding an Archive for a Cultural History II

I came to Georges Perec (1936- 1982) through his Espèces d’espaces and I have never really left him. Perec was part of the post-War, 1968 generation (with Paul Virilio, Jean-François Lyotard, Raymond Queneau and others) who were obsessed with space, and with narrativity.They all (to various degrees and varying forms) look at the place where events took place and tried to find ways of writing and seeing that place. In a slight little volume published in 1975, Tentative d’epuisement d’un lieu parisien (An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris), Perec sat in a public square in Paris. There, Perec records the banal, the ordinary, that which is not noticed, that which cannot be noticed, time as it passes, space as it modulates with peoples, buses and shadows. Perec sits in varied locations for three straight days, and simply records. He narrates his own boredom. He notices what he noticed before, and finds un-noticeable now. He notices that which has no importance and, hence, is never noticed. For Perec (as for Virilio), looking was not a given act. It required training and it required a discipline. In sympathy with the dérive of Guy Debord and the situationist, Perec’s urban nomad is rooted within a deep ecology of the city. When reading Perec’s text, I noticed his fixation on the bus routes, their fullness/emptiness, and how in marking the final destinations of these buses, Perec had linked his stationary observer to the moving city. His little bit of fixed space, was connected to all other parts of Paris.

What I took from Perec is not entirely obvious and I want to explain why I invoke him. I began to observe objects as closely as I was trying to observe place and space. Over the course of three years (and those many trips to Pakistan), I have been photographing my surroundings as I conducted archival work or went on research walks. One particular object that I assiduously photographed were book-shelves (inside homes), book stalls (on the street) and book stores. My impulse was archival at first. I wanted to look at what was being sold and I rarely had time to linger at each of the places. But behind that impulse was my own cultural map of Lahore.

Around 9th grade, I was headlong in love with pulp spy novels (Ibn-e Safi or Mazhar Kaleem) and pulp crime. The only way to access these books was by joining the neighborhood book-club. After a one-time membership fee (five rupees), you were allowed to rent any of the books in the library for 1 rupee/day charge (maybe my memory is off here). At the same time, a friend of mine, was setting up his own business selling pamphlets and steamy novels on the street. The various “sutra” books would often share the same “models” from the spy novels – caucasian skin tone, almond eyes, veils half draped over thighs and long hair. These sex manuals, he would tell me, were doing amazing business. He needed to emphasis to the buyers that these were translations of kama sutra or kokh shastar and they sold like hot cakes. It was not until I began to work on the book, that I started to think about these mini-archives of circulation and consumption. I attended a talk by Veronika Fuechtner who told us about the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld and the rise of therapeutic and pharmalogical sex clinics in the early part of the twentieth century in India. Suddenly, those innumerable signs advertising “German Clinics” for sexual potency drugs began to make sense. These Urdu sex manuals were always written by a “Pandit” (and translated into English by “Alex Comfort“). The other bestsellers were books on magic, on prophecy, on spells, on djinns, on hypnosis, on mesmerism, on palmistry, on controlling jinns, on controlling your sexual strength. Etc.


Continue reading “Finding an Archive for a Cultural History II”

Finding an Archive for a Cultural History I

In the last three years, I have been researching and thinking about a volume of interlinked essays on Lahore – perhaps on the historical “al-Sind”. Over the course of the coming year, you will see one or two of those essays in print, and I hope to finish the book next year. It was contracted as a single-volume history of Pakistan but I had both political and philosophical problems with the very notion of “single-volume”. I spent a solid few months trying to find which “single-volume” histories of United States I could adopt as a model for my own work. Of course, I was cognizant that the production of histories aimed at other geographies and ethonologies dovetailed with imperial and colonial projects. Of course, I was making a cheap point to myself.

What ended up happening, over the course of the last three years, is Walter Benjamin, Susan Buck-Morss, and Annemarie Schwarzenbach changed the way I was thinking about space, about landscape and about narrative. If you remember some of the small essays I wrote here, it was a bit of a struggle for me to think through the very form of writing and its intimate connection to the content of writing. Such modes of expression remain in tension with my graduate training, and the larger field of History – though I make no broad claims, nor do I claim any grievances. Related to the question of “form” was the question of history itself. Rather, the politics of how history and historiography play out in ontological or epistemological claims. In my dissertation, which was focused on ‘political memory’, I had a rather binary relationship between power and narrative – the power to narrate itself had political force, had violence, had truth-claims, and shaped knowledge. I had looked at Sindhi sub-nationalists as well as national textbooks and I had argued for a dialectical tension between community and state. Again, over the course of the last few years, largely through a deeper reading of Foucault and Reinhart Koselleck, I have come to amend my own understanding in crucial ways. I am much more conscious of the non-divide (along with the divide) between “state” and community. I am more aware of the everydayness of history-making – corporeally, materially and visually. The sights, smells and tactile aspects of historiography are venues that I have been collating and mulling over my last three trips to Pakistan.

In that vein, I wanted to share (in a few posts), some of what constitutes an archive. This poster was the beginning of one journey (subsequent posts will show other snaps). I had visited Jahangir’s tomb with friends. The tomb lies at the outskirts of Lahore by the river Ravi. Rather, it used to. Lahore swallowed up Ravi. It swallowed up the tomb. Jahangir is now in Lahore’s belly.

Heroes of Islam from Alexander the Great to Tipu Sultan.
Heroes of Islam from Alexander the Great to Tipu Sultan.

At the ticket counter, affixed to the window was a poster of South Asian Islam’s great heroes. Or that is what I thought, as I did not even look closely at first. As the discussion among my companions turned towards whatever correct change they needed from the Archeological Society, my eyes turned back to the poster. It was not what I had assumed. The Mughals were there. But so was Sher Shah Suri (who threw Humayun out of India). Chinghiz Khan, Hulagu Khan, Timur and Nadir Shah – destroyers of Iran, Iraq and Delhi – were also present. Salahuddin Ayubi and Tariq bin Zayad were there, but so was Alexander the Great. Razia Sultana and Noor Jahan. This was not heroes of “Islam”. It was not “South Asia”. What a weird poster.

Since March 2012, I have researched the canonization of Islam’s heroes and the development of the theme of the popular historical fictions. Abdul Halim Sharar (1865-1926), Jurjī Zaydān (1861-1914) and Shibli Naumani (1857-1914) are at one node of this tree while Ratan Nath Sarshar (1846-1902) and Nasim Hijazi (1914-1996) are another node. Pamphlets, posters, radio programs, tele-novellas are all modes of productions whereby these figures come to represent Pakistan’s teleological certainties. The series (usually titled “Heroes of Islam”) are present in almost every bazaar in every town or village. Their colors are vivid. The figures depicted almost always in bust- silhouetted- with thin delicate features and extravagant head-dresses.

What accounts for their near-ubiquity? What accounts for the diversity in their rankings? Who decided whom to include? How do we reconcile these textual productions with abysmal literacy rates and a near-dearth of a culture of book-acquisition? First, let me tell you a bit about the authors, and then let me suggest a way in which we can read this archive. The authors are rarely “academically trained” historians but each takes great pains to emphasize genuine historical inquiry and research into the sources by highlighting Orientalist historians and major works of Urdu or Arabic historiography. They are often retired military or civil-bureaucratic personnel who frankly stress one of these two, or both, goals in the writing of their histories: first “to acquaint boys and girls with the spiritual possessions of which they are to be guardians,” and second, to battle “corruptions in history.” There is no guild behind them, no formal organization. Hence, there is “Sindh jo Soomro” (Sindh’s Heroes” or “Punjab di Shakseitan” (Punjab’s Luminaries”. The canon, by and large, remains within South Asia – though Alexander and Saladin are perennial favorites. Women are absent with the exception of Noor Jahan (Taj Mahal would be the deciding factor). There are spiritual analogues of these worldly conquerors and rulers. Visual representations and genealogical trees of Sufi silsila of char-yaars.

The poster, affixed to the wall, with very small print titles works associatively in public culture. The visual language of the depicted figure is almost always carried over to the cover of the pamphlet or the novel or the history. A curved sword, a green flag, a galloping horse, a sketched army, a woman in distress. Take a look at this depiction of Mahmud Ghaznavi on the poster for Luqman’s 1960 historical movie Ayaz with the depictions of Ghaznavi and Iltutmish on the poster, and another novel from the 1980s:

Arrayed open-faced on bookstalls and pasted to walls and windows, these iconized faces reveal a visual history of Islam in the cultural imagination of Pakistan. The story may be urban-centric – though tier two and three towns have borne the brunt of rural migration in the past two decades and these visuals are just as prominent there. It is not so much about literacy rates, as it is about cultural literacy. Pakistan Television over the last four decades, and other cable and media operators have produced a tremendous archive of visualized and imagined heroes of Pakistan. More recently demagogues like Zaid Hamid have produced their own versions. The presence of these figures in the visual landscape is a link to congealed history of self-representation for a wide swath of Pakistanis. Every figure need not have a legible story and every story need not keep the central biography clear. Instead it is the connective tissue between a triumphal history and a triumphal nationalism that is most clear, most valuable. This is what is being read.

In subsequent posts, I will show you some pictures of bookstalls and bookstores. More places for an eye to rest, and a nation to form.