This is a provocative book in two different ways. It provokes us to interrogate the supposedly foundational propositions that constitute the very first article of the Indian Constitution: ‘India that is Bharat’. The book destabilizes the very language—the concepts, categories, frames—by which we are trained to envisage India as a historic entity and/or as a civilization.
The author does not merely engage in producing a deconstructionist version of India’s past. He, unlike others, incites us to imagine the unimaginable: the idea of Hindustan. The book introduces us to a rich archive of Persian scholarship and explores the ways in which Hindustan as a concept as well as a geo-political reality is erased to pave the way for a new intellectual imagination, India.
The Loss of Hindustan is also provocative in an overtly political sense. The book cannot be described as an intellectual-historical project. It raises a few powerful political questions especially in relation to the placing of modern history in postcolonial projects of nation building. Continue reading Loss of Hindustan – A Symposium III: Hilal Ahmed→
“Nostalgia is not what it used to be.” – Simone Signoret
To look back these days evokes less anger or longing and more a sense of gazing on ruins. Like the Angel of History, so evocatively described by Benjamin, we are being blown with our backs to an unknown future, gazing at the relentless pile of wreckage that accumulates behind us. The idea of a nation that we once imagined together is buried somewhere in the debris, our residual idealism detects its gleam sometimes. This sense of melancholy propels different shades of politics, one of which does a fine combing through the rough texture of history to recover lost visions. The other seeks to resist the lure of the past and think exigently within the horizon of the present. A hard headed engagement with contemporary times comes rooted in the belief that there is no space of authenticity or of an archive of resistance awaiting us in the past: there is no ‘there’ there. However, the mode of thinking that informs the historical discipline requires us to look back, and see the filiations with the present as much as the future. The fact that we occupy a future past (that is to say, we live in a moment that was once imagined as a future, utopian or otherwise) can be an occasion for cynicism as much as a fillip for renewed action. Continue reading Loss of Hindustan – A Symposium II: Dilip M. Menon→
Manan Ahmed Asif’s recent book Loss of Hindustan: The Invention of India* has aroused considerable interest that goes beyond academic readers. Since the book deals with a matter that concerns not just our past but also how we imagine our future, we at Kafila decided to try out a symposium on it – on an experimental basis, since we do not generally carry book reviews as such. We will be serially publishing three reviews/ comments on the book, by DWAIPAYAN SEN, DILIP M. MENON and HILAL AHMED, over the next few days, in the hope of provoking some discussion.We also hope to get the author’s response to these contributions. This first piece is by DWAIPAYAN SEN. The second contribution by Dilip M. Menon can be read here. You can read the final piece by Hilal Ahmed here.
This book is the most recent addition to a growing tradition of precolonial history-writing that depicts India as a land of milk and honey before the coming of the colonial flood. Evidently, a European understanding of India as Hindu replaced an earlier, native understanding of India as Hindustan, rendered a home for all faiths. Such arguments are based on the close reading of Muhammad Qasim Firishta’s Tarikh-i Firishta, and its appropriation by scholar-administrators in the employ of the East India Company.