In Memory of Kavita S. Datla

At the end, here is my desperate search for the beginnings of memories. I turn first to emails but I cannot find a beginning in these emails, even the very first one is already in medias res. I have now searched my emails for all correspondences and they stretch from Berkeley to Chicago to Madison to Berlin to New York. There are dinner invitations and regrets, coffees and lunches, comments on working papers and introductions, links to academic controversies, thoughts on tenures and promotions, exchanges of meanings of esoteric Urdu words and phrases, discussions of new books, always. There is a photograph that I have in my memory– but not in my possession– from somewhere in 2002/03/04 at the annual South Asia conference at Berkeley. The photograph is taken at night and in the haze of bad light and smoke, I see Kavita standing alongside friends. I am not sure this memory of a photograph is not an invention but I keep looking for it nonetheless.

Kavita Datla was an Associate Professor at Mt Holoyoke. She was the author of The Language of Secular Islam: Urdu Nationalism and Colonial India (2013). You can read my interview with her at the publication of her book in 2013. Her most recent article, The Origins of Indirect Rule in India: Hyderabad and the British Imperial Order evolved the arguments regarding indirect rule and sovereign rights– of states and peoples– outside of European political history. This was part of her new work that she completed even as the illness claimed her. She passed away yesterday after nearly three year battle with cancer.

I am in sorrow and I offer my condolences to the loved ones, colleagues, and family of Kavita. She was the finest mind, the best read scholar I ever met, and the kindest to both arguments and humans. The loss to the field of South Asian history is tremendous, but I also mourn, alongside her loved ones, at our loss of her beautiful heart.

update 08/01: A tribute to Kavita Datla at H-Asia.

3 Replies to “In Memory of Kavita S. Datla”

  1. Kavita was an exceptional scholar and always generous in her relationships with friends and colleagues. I miss our days back at Berkeley and deeply regret to have been out of touch for such a long time. We are all mourning her loss. Thanks Manan for your heartfelt words. My condolences to all friends and her family.

  2. Thank you for this heartfelt tribute to Kavita, Manan. She really was a luminescent person in her generosity and insights and capaciousness. A loss to greatly mourn.

  3. So very sad & heartbreaking. I can’t believe it that she’s no more. 😭She was my friend & classmate during Masters when we studied modern Indian history in JNU, New Delhi from 1997-1999.

    A beautiful human being, always helpful, kind & supportive. We lost touch over the years- with I being in India & she in the US. I regret now not speaking to her. Wish I could have spoken to her at least once in the past few months. I will miss her esp. her loud, spontaneous & infectious laughter.

    A fine, hardworking young & inspiring scholar who loved her work & gave it her best. So courageous. My heartfelt condolences to her parents, family & friends.

    Radhika Khajuria
    New Delhi, India

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