Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Revolution will not be televised

I've discovered a new voice - an exciting poet and singer, Gil Scott-Heron. And this is the poem/song via which I discovered him. Its beautiful - I love the power and the anger of the lyrics, the urgency to them.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Taking the post-Western seriously

I have not been able to post here the past week as I've been caught up with preparing for a conference that our Centre (MnM) is hosting. It is the annual conference of the Cultural Studies Association of Australasia (CSAA). The conference is titled "Cultural ReOrientations and Comparative Colonialities". Those interested can check out the conference's homepage here . I am presenting a paper at the conference, on Wednesday. Typically, I still have to begin writing this paper but I'm hoping to get it done in time! Here's my abstract:
Taking the ‘post-Western’ seriously
In this paper I explore the category of the ‘post-Western’. This category occurs in the context of a world inscribed with the hierarchy of the West and the non-West. In such a context, theorising the post-Western is a decolonising enterprise as it attempts to challenge the hierarchy inscribed by colonialism. Articulating the post-Western is, accordingly, the successful horizon of the decolonisation project. Specifically, I address two questions: 1) Is the post-Western here? 2) If it has happened, what would be different? Superficial attempts to understand the post-Western locate it within the context of various crises: 9/11, the financial decline of America and Europe, the relative stability and growth of the Chinese, Indian, Russian and/or Brazilian economies and so on. The focus on these ‘new’ economies is sometimes ‘positive’, which is a recitation of all the things that they are doing ‘right’, such as education or IT, with a corresponding bewailing of Western backwardness in that field. An underlying anxiety about the rise of the non-West can be read in arguments that ‘rising’ economies will not continue to be as prosperous, and so though America may collapse, no other single country will replace it as the pre-eminent superpower, i.e. the future world is multipolar. Needless to say, the nature of such predictions usually depends on one’s current position in the hierarchy. I would argue, however, that to take the post-Western seriously is to examine its radical challenge to the global hegemony and the implications of the dismantling of that hegemony. The very articulation of the concept of the post-Western challenges the hegemon, showing its constructed nature. What it means to be ‘western’ or ‘non-Western’, as signifiers, are open to change in this moment of the political.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

In memory of a jajabor

I was saddened to read of Bhupen Hazarika's death this morning. This blog is to celebrate his music, though my limited knowledge of Assamese means that there may be many gems that I do not know about. His "Moi eti Jajabor" is a masterpiece.


The Hindi version has Gulzar speaking of the difficulty of translating the word 'jajabor'. The Hindi version seems a bit forced, but helps me understand the Assamese and Bangla versions. I love the idea of a world traveller, seeing and searching the world, who "quotes Gorky at Twain's cemetery". Ultimately, there is no other destination apart from being-in-motion. The mention of rivers makes it especially fascinating, since I've recently fallen in love with reading ancient and medieval history. Rivers are where human civilisations begin, and look where living together in clusters near sources of water and developing language has brought us.

There are so many wonderful Hazarika songs that I could post here. There is "Ganga", "Manush manusher Jonene" and of course as composer there are the songs of Rudali, the wonderful Dil Hoom Hoom Kare and Jhoothi Moothi Mitwa Aawan Bole. However, the one other Hazarika song I would like to share here is Dola.


The song is about 'doli-carriers', those who carry people on their shoulders. Again, the Hindi version helps me understand the lyrics of the Bengali one. The line "Zindagi Kahar ki, chadte pahar ki' is so evocative, though the Bengali version's pace gives it an urgency missing in the Hindi version. There are very few songs about poor people anymore. After all, India is a rich country now and there are no more poor people left. At least, not where you can see or hear them.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Of Birthdays

I turn 30 today. A friend once told me that your 30s are the best decade of your life. Another friend was a bit concerned about the idea.
For my part, I am happy to be 30. As I look back on my life, I realize that apart from my Dad's passing away, there is not a single thing I would want changed. Everything has been more or less good, and when there have been difficult times, I've learnt from them. There is nothing that I would not do if I had the chance to live my life all over again.
Today I'm making a presentation of my PhD research proposal. I couldn't think of a more fitting thing to do on my birthday. Here's the abstract for the presentation. Do tell me what you all think:

Becoming India: Contingent National and Regional Identities

The state of Gujarat came into existence in 1960 when the erstwhile Bombay state was split into Gujarat and Maharashtra. It is argued that the Bombay Congress Committee, dominated by Gujaratis, had not asked the States Reorganisation Commission for a separate state of Gujarat in 1956 because they did not want to lose the city of Mumbai. But language riots and other agitations ensured subsequent linguistic redistribution. That is one history.
Here is another history: prior to Independence/Partition, there were approximately 562 large and small princely states in India, which had the option of being a part of India, a part of Pakistan or becoming an independent entity in the Commonwealth. A retrospective look at the process of accession highlights the contingency of the Indian nation. To say today that the nation is constructed is to state the obvious. But what are the implications of this contingency and how do they shape historiography?
In telling the two histories above, chronology and primacy were deliberately disregarded. Gujarat came into being ‘after’ India whereas one of the ways in which national identity is constructed as the primary allegiance is through the designation of regional identity as secondary if not inferior. Tracing the relationship between the national and the regional allows one to explore different ways of imagining and re-imagining India. A decentring of grand narratives need not mean a decentring of big questions and it is one such big question that I shall attempt to tackle: how does one write a history of India without taking ‘India’ as pre-existing one’s analysis?