Sunday Reading for Post-Partitioners

Ah, the second week in August, when every wizened old editor’s attention turns to the “Partition of 1947”. Thoughtful pieces are commissioned on the violence of Partition, the communalism that brought about the horrible violence of Partition and the horrendous culpability of the British in bringing about the terrible violence of Partition (to add some topicality, Fred Kaplan unhinges about Iraq and India, this year). It does appear, to the casual reader of news in these here United States, that the only thing worth telling about South Asian history is that decade in the 40s and the communal killings.

  • Pankaj Mishra leads the pack with a rather starchy and frustrating article in the NYer, Exit Wounds. I can overlook that preciously Marie-Antoinettesque opening. I can even ignore that he faithfully reproduces the post-imperial narrative which robs Indians – any of them – of all their agency (Independence happened because Britain was weakened and US put pressure. Killings happened because British fueled separatism). But I just cannot let go of his conclusion which as usual ignores history and reduces analysis to simply spotting every recursion of the word “Islam” and then connecting the dots.1 More Mishra & Mishra & Mishra.
  • A random story about change and growth in Pakistan since 1947: The House of Kazmi
  • Khushwant Singh has a list of the dozen most significant novels about India by authors of Indian origins in the past 60 years. Jhumpa Lahiri?
  • I couldn’t agree more with Ahmed Rashid’s Musharraf’s State of Emergency. You can see my agreements down below or in my unpublished op-ed, Getting Pakistan Right.
  • Abir informed me about Jashn-e Azadi – a documentary by Sanjay Kak about Kashmir. I am curious to see the documentary and judging from the comments on the blog, there is a pretty harsh reaction to it from our beloved nationalists.
  • And finally, I link to this map, Terrorism on the Rise, not to make any political point but to highlight what Edward Tufte would herald as “beautiful evidence”. I am a design geek. Yes. In fact, I am such a geek that this NYT article on Highway sign typography is the best thing I have read in weeks.
  • update: William Dalrymple’s got Pakistan’s back.

Things will be slow and low on the CM front. Enjoy the dog days of summer.

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  1. “Meeting Mountbatten a few months after partition, Churchill assailed him for helping Britain’s “enemies,” “Hindustan,” against “Britain’s friends,” the Muslims. Little did Churchill know that his expedient boosting of political Islam would eventually unleash a global jihad engulfing even distant New York and London. The rival nationalisms and politicized religions the British Empire brought into being now clash in an enlarged geopolitical arena; and the human costs of imperial overreaching seem unlikely to attain a final tally for many more decades.” []

Author: sepoy

what is the vertiginous chapati saying to me?

9 thoughts on “Sunday Reading for Post-Partitioners”

  1. I kind of thought that, in part, the familiarity of the quotes and the rehearsal of a tired narrative, in the book review in TNY, were sort of a function of that fact that it was a book review. We’ve heard this stuff before because we’ve heard this stuff before, so to speak.

    I don’t really want to suggest that it’s an intentional deployment of some sort of boredom effect, but I digress . . . this is getting too “big” for me. Maybe all of TNY . . .

    Yeah. About that typography thing. I loved the fact that the photo was of a sign from middle-of-nowhere-PA. The type made my heart ache. Or, maybe they are right, was it my eyes?

  2. Qalandar:

    “I wish he’d write another novel, and one as good as The Romantics.”

    Hell yes, I LOVED that book. Very poetically written.

    I also liked Butter Chicken.

    His essays don’t suck per se. I actually like how he goes out, meets people, tries to make sense of what’s going on, and writes his interpretations. It’s just that when he writes more than one piece on a topic (ie Partition, Indian history), he tends to recycle his info.

    Zak:

    “Jhumpa-Loompa is incredibly overrated”

    Maybe because those writers are being marketed as “ethnic writers” and that business is lucrative. If I come across another story on immigrants, disasterous arranged marriages, or a tale which weaves in curry, pickles, or any other recipe, I’m simply not going to buy it.

    Another book that I felt was completely overrated was Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things.” Everyone kept saying how BEAUTIFUL it was, and I had to read it like 5 times just to make sure that I didn’t miss anything. She should stick to non-fiction essays (but even those essays now are totally redundant. In fact, they are the same. Her non fiction books come out every 2 years, but they are not strictly now; most of the essays will be the exact SAME ones from the previous books!)

  3. zak: yes, my biggest problem with Mishra remains boredom, his tendency to, as Desi Italiana puts it, recycle essays. I wish he’d write another novel, and one as good as The Romantics.

  4. On a slightly related note, can you or any of your readers enlighten me about Hassan Abbas, author of Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism? He’s coming to speak at our campus in a few months. Thanks!

  5. What has happened to young Pankaj? He showed such promise, and now I have to stifle a yawn when I see his byline. I loved the highway sign piece in the NYT; word geeks and design geeks alike should check it out. And I was glad to see the clarification about Singh’s selection; Jhumpa-Loompa is incredibly overrated (and I saw the film of The Namesake on a plane recently, which seemed to make Mira Nair’s shark-jumping official), but certainly her fame is a symptom or a sign or something.

  6. Khushwant Singh has a list of the dozen most significant novels about India in the past 60 years. Jhumpa Lahiri?

    Where did you find “dozen most significant novels about India”? Quote from the associated article (http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20070820&fname=OKhushwant+Singh+%28F%29&sid=1): “The link at the bottom is a list of novels by authors of Indian origin (many of them have settled abroad) which I regard as significant and rate as the best in the last 60 years. Though more than half of them are now foreign nationals, their themes are Indian and the applause they get abroad resonates in India. They return to India periodically to be garlanded and to get fresh material, and now also earn handsome royalties in rupees.” Your link points to selected books.

    Nowhere do you see (read) what you imply.

  7. Sepoy:

    “I can even ignore that he faithfully reproduces the post-imperial narrative which robs Indians – any of them – of all their agency”

    I don’t disagree with your critique, but I am wondering what are the examples of Indian agency with regards to Partition (I realize you are enjoying the dog days of summer, so I don’t expect a response soon, if one at all :) .

    “But I just cannot let go of his conclusion which as usual ignores history and reduces analysis to simply spotting every recursion of the word “Islam” and then connecting the dots”

    But he also refers to Hindus in this article. Again, I’m not taking issue with your assertion, I’m just saying that he doesn’t solely discuss “Muslims” and “Islam” and though he doesn’t explicitly give a name to his references to Hindu nationalists and extremists as he does to “political Islam,” he does discuss political Hinduism.

    Something about Mishra’s article makes it seem like a recycled version of other essays I’ve read over the years, as in using even the same exact quotes from political figures. Maybe those essays were written by him…?

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