Today’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:
[aflatoon is a philosopher who walks the hills of Pakistani terror territories. He is a long time supporter of CM and we are delighted to share him today. We hope for his return soon. — sepoy]
The chief selector, Moin Khan, has been spotted in a Casino in New Zealand, and some others have spotted Pakistan team offering their prayer collectively in the middle of the ground, in the middle of the World Cup, in the middle of the match against West Indies accusing it of exhibitionism of unpardonable proportion; as if the team has not been depending on cricket but on a prayer’s limb. Moin Khan might equally have been guilty of match fixing in team’s favor outside of cricket. Who knows? In case of cricket, it is always non-cricketing reasons that come to define Pakistan’s victory or defeat. It is never cricket. Continue reading Casino and the Prayer Mat: Cricket on a Limb
My review of Vasudha Dalmia and Munis D. Faruqui, ed. Religious Interactions in Mughal India. (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014) a version of which ran in The Book Review (Feb, 2015).
In 1674, Mahamat Prannath (1618-1694 CE) and his followers sought an audience with the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (1619-1707) in the imperial capital of Delhi. Mahamat Prannath had recently split from other disciples of his sampradaya of Guru Devchandra over the question of succession and the audience with the Mughal badshāh was meant to resolve this differnence –as was customary in such cases, in those times. Leaving Gujarat must have been hard for Prannath. He was born in Jamnagar and had spent his adulthood living and traveling in Junagadh, Ahmadabad, Diu, Thatta, Muscat, and even Mecca. The regions of Sind, Gujarat and Aden had shared networks of traders, merchants, mendicants and scholars — living in port-cities and capitals — for centuries before Prannath. During his time, it was an especially diverse space. Here were the religious orders of Nizari Ismailis, Jesuits, Jains, Vaishnavite and Krishanavite sants, Sufis or Sunnis. Here was just as diverse political powers of the Arghuns, the Mughal, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Surat Rajas.
Continue reading The World of Prannath
A guest post by @historianess.
I have a very vivid memory of when I first heard the Adhan‘s call, on an early July day in 2012. I was in a car in Lahore with two friends; their father was driving. It was twilight, a moment in which the buildings around Liberty Market were cast in shades of rose and violet, and the air shimmered with sunset colors. At that moment, mosques around the area starting broadcasting the evening Adhan. The sounds of the Takbir (Allahu Akbar, or, God is Great) echoed with the fading light. For a moment, traffic stopped, and the attention of all seemed to be focused on the evening prayer. This didn’t feel foreign to me; it felt, on the contrary, rather familiar. I remembered the passage in Johan Huizinga’s The Autumn of the Middle Ages about the sound of bells in the late medieval European city. “But one sound always rose above the clamor of busy life and, no matter how much of a tintinnabulation, was never confused with other noises, and, for a moment, lifted everything into an ordered sphere: that of the bells. The bells acted in daily life like concerned good spirits who, with their familiar voices, proclaimed sadness or joy, calm or unrest, assembly or exhortation.”
The Adhan, I immediately understood, was like the sound of bells in a European city. The effect of hearing the call to prayer was not one of alienation for me. Instead it reminded me of a commonality between Islam and Christianity–the use of sound to govern the liturgical day and to foster community.
In the film American Sniper, the Adhan serves the opposite purpose. The film opens with the Adhan and a panoramic shot of a city with many minarets. It is meant to be Fallujah, and it is meant to evoke a feeling of strangeness and foreignness in the moviegoer. The viewer experiences a frisson of fear–the muezzin calling Allahu Akbar is a threat, a representative of a civilization that our hero Chris Kyle (most confirmed kills of any American sniper! Ever!) will repeatedly call “evil” and “savage.” The Adhan is a symbol of barbarism. This is the film’s first lie.
Continue reading The Lies of American Sniper
My Pakistani passport is the most Pakistani thing about me. When I clutch it approaching the border agents, I carefully keep the seal facing downwards. No need to scare off the grandmother next to me. Yet the green does seep out of my palm. My expiring passport was the older variety – not readable by machines. The ticketing agent and the border agent had to laboriously decode the trilingual (Arabic, English, Urdu) categories to hunt for my date of birth or the expiration date. Eagerly, I would try and point them to the right pages. This digital intrusion into their domains was rarely met with a smile.
I needed to get a “Machine-Readable” passport.
My father who got his in 1967, once spoke to me about passports. He had won a scholarship to go study Engineering in Ankara. He recalled it taking a laboriously long time to acquire. He had kept it – as he had kept all of his passports. When I took hold of it, I carefully went through its yellowed pages, filled with strange looking stamps and hand-scribbled notations of entries and exits.
Continue reading Passport Tales
‘Muhammadanism’ was always a heresy, a contamination, a deviation – and hence, always needed satire. Where humor inserts the uncanny into the mundane, satire exposes the decay inside the ordinary. Muhammadanism has always been understood through the satirical gesture, whether couched in scholarly objectivism or bazari insouciance.
The earliest Christian polemics saw Muhammad as a corruption, and as an imposter who was taking on the crown of Christ. The eighth century epic The Song of Roland – written in the eleventh century – depicts Muslims as idol-worshippers of a trinity of gods – Apollin, Tervagant and ‘Mahomet':
“From Tervagant take they his ruby, and into a ditch they throw/ Mahomet, where foul swine rend him, and dogs hale to and fro.”
The histories of Crusades written in the twelfth centuries – such as the Gesta Dei per Francos – cast ‘Mathomus’ as an epileptic who was inspired by the devil to corrupt Christians. The effort to portray a bumbler, foamer-at-the-mouth, a charlatan is a theme in many of these narratives. This is most legible in the tradition of a biography of Muhammad – Vita Mahumeti – that cast him specifically as a Christian heretic who got a garbled message of Christianity from a Monophysite or an Arian or a Nestorian or a Jewish monk.
Continue reading Whence Muhammad?
A version of this is published on Public Books on Jan 9, 2015.
She moved to NYC in 1990 or 1991, according to her son. According to her own melodious Punjabi, she has been in exile for “vi ya panji saal” (twenty or twenty five years). For some hours, she has been speaking of her time in NY, but her first few sentences are stuck in loop inside my brain – an animated GIF of exile. kithay lay aye dane paney de khed? Where have these games for grain and water landed us?
She looks to be in her late 60s or early 70s but I did not inquire. I said very little as she spoke, sitting quietly, my mind half-a-second after her speech, deciphering the cadences of her language and disentangling the similes, metaphors, landscapes.
For a while I have been writing about cities – Lahore, Berlin, Uch Sharif – and I have been reading those who write about. The men especially because it is a very masculine form of writing: one that posits itself either as insular or as vulnerable to the charms and dangers of the city. The City as inhabited by a woman does not have the same place in the marketplace of narratives. Panels on the City in this city, feature men who have written Big Books on The City with apt quotes from Benjamin or Sebald, Simmel or other clever French cities-writers like Augoyard or Perec. They are keen to show me “inequality” which exists, or perhaps the “immigrant” or perhaps the “wanderer”. No matter, friends, I always want to say, those Germans and Frenchs you cite have already said it.
What do they know of the city when they know only themselves?
For a while I have been interested in thinking about exile – working through Said, Agha Shahid Ali, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. I came to this country almost 20 or 25 years ago as a very young man, and I spent a lot of my early time, reading Faiz as if he held the key to unlock the reality that was around me. My relationship to exile was shaped by my reading of Faiz. My relationship to Faiz was shaped by my exile. I gave up thinking about exile, when I moved to Berlin. Rather, I gave up thinking about it in the terms I had become accustomed to. What do I know of exile when I only know myself?
Continue reading A Matriarch in Exile