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?