A MATTER OF RATS
A Short Biography of Patna
By Amitava Kumar
116 pp. Duke University Press. $19.95.
The play Enig-Mas asks: What is woman? What is man? Where does love lie when you’re on a political quest? What does it take to be a revolutionary? Set in 1930s India and Bengal and modern Britain in 2000s, Professor Raminder Kaur of University of Sussex, has written a new play inspired partly by the 1931 novel, Kuhelika (Enigma) by the renowned Indian writer and poet/ national poet of Bangladesh Kazi Nazrul Islam. This play puts a searing lens on relations between men and women in times of political turbulence. It is one of the plays in the new season from Mukul and Ghetto Tigers directed by Mukul Ahmed.
The story covers a period of 7 decades through generational and geographical connections, characters that are vastly separated by time and space, but intimately connected through blood and passion. It is partly set in 1930s pre-independent India and Bengal, and 2000s Britain. Jahangeer, an impressionable young man, is gradually turned into a protagonist of revolution against British colonial rule. His high-class Muslim background proves to be an asset in circumventing British surveillance when the main ‘trouble-makers’ are identified as Hindus, making a marked contrast to the present era. Through the play we witness with the characters, the joy and horrors of revolutionary struggle, the sacrifices and dangers as well games and dilemma of loyalties and personal pain and loss.
The play relates a series of incidents inextricably interlinked through sorrow, grief, humour and happiness. Love, hatred and extreme emotions are laid out in multiple scenarios and deeply moving music and dramatic style. It makes for a memorable theatre experience through a story that reaches out from the past and embraces the present with echoes and meaningful questions that probe who we were, what we have become and suggest possibilities for all our futures.
One night two summers ago, I was in a car speeding across the border into the eastern Indian state of Bihar. The unlit, pitch-black freeway didn’t deter traffic from barreling forward at breakneck speeds. In the inevitable accident, a young man was shredded by a truck. A politician showed up, but instead of taking charge, he distracted the police with laughter and gossip.
Preventable death or official callousness is not unique to Bihar, but this particular incident seemed, to me, typical. Bihar is a state that until recently took the troubles that bedevil all of India and amplified them to levels that were unbearable even by Indian standards. In Bihar, an accident was carnage and apathy was criminal neglect. Although matters have since improved, to survive, the poor still traffick their children and the rich still get out.
Few writers are better placed to examine this near-dystopian state of affairs than the novelist Amitava Kumar, a native son, although now a professor of English at Vassar College.
“A Matter of Rats” calls itself “a short biography of Patna,” the capital city of Bihar, but like Kumar’s other books, it is many (perhaps too many) things at once. A memoiristic essay that strives to reconcile his feelings for his hometown — despair on the one hand and concern on the other, for it is where his elderly parents still live. “There is no way to avoid it,” he admits. “When I step on Patna’s soil, I only want to see how much older my parents look.” It is an insider’s alternative to the scornful narratives of Patna made popular by Western writers, and which the author, with even greater scorn, calls “hysteria as travel writing.” It is also an adventure in pursuit of witnesses to stories both real and apocryphal — a 1967 visit by Marlon Brando, the rumor that Napoleon’s bed lies in a decrepit old Patna mansion. (There is a bed in Patna that belonged to a Napoleon, just not that Napoleon.)
It is, in all, an intimate and whimsical book, but one that truly shines when the author turns his gaze to the ordinary people who still live in Patna — the rat catchers of the lowly Musahar caste, the tutor who helps poor children crack the entrance tests to India’s exalted institutes of technology.
The chapter on the rat catchers is the book’s finest, skillfully evoking the circumstances of chaos, filth and absurdity in which even the city’s middle-class professionals are forced to live.
Patna’s vast number of rats, the author tells us in a marvelous bit of anthropomorphizing, appear like “stout ladies on tiny heels, on their way to the market.” Nurses at a city hospital play the radio at night in the hope of keeping the rats from nibbling their toes. The rats haven’t escaped the attention of a local bureaucrat. But instead of trying to get rid of them, he sets himself the loftier ambition of ending anti-rat prejudice. If middle-class people would only appreciate rats, he rationalizes, they would also appreciate the Musahars, who are condemned to catch the rats. A Musahar whom the author accompanies on a rat-catching expedition isn’t holding his breath for change. “High-minded abstractions weren’t among his pressing concerns,” Kumar tells us. “His worry was finding food for that day and the next.”
That food was rats.
A MATTER OF RATS
A Short Biography of Patna
By Amitava Kumar
116 pp. Duke University Press. $19.95.
VisionMix international artists’ and filmmakers’ network presents a screening of
“VisionMix Short Cuts” film, followed by a Roundtable.
When: 19.00 to 21.00, Tuesday 13th May 2014
Where: SOAS, University of London, Old Building Khalili Lecture Theatre
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square London, WC1H 0XGhttp://www.soas.ac.uk/visitors/location/maps/
VisionMix is an international network of video and sound installation artists and documentary filmmakers whose members are based in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and London. Launched in October 2013, VisionMix’s aim is to explore the agency of the artist in lens-based media projects that are acts of resistance, investigating the relationship between the social responsiveness of ‘documentary’ practices, video installation art and other audio/visual art forms. Whether dealing with issues of gender, environmental challenges, migration or issues around ‘marginality’, the ways in which these works mobilize audiences invites questions about the methods used in their production. VisionMix is also planning exhibition-screenings and symposia in the UK and in India in 2015-17.
The film, “VisionMix Short Cuts” (55 minutes) showcases 12 artists and filmmakers from the India-based members of VisionMix, whose directors have contributed samples of their work, and are interviewed about their practise. These are: Atul Bhalla, Sheba Chhachhi, Ranbir Kaleka, Priyanka Chhabra, Anupama Srinivasan, Sameera Jain, Gigi Scaria, Asim Waqif, Paramita Das, Moutushi, Avijit Mukul Kishore and Kavita Joshi. VisionMix’s curator (and director of this anthology) Lucia King, is an artist-filmmaker and researcher of South Asian artists’ non-fiction film practices, and will contextualize the film after the screening.
The post-screening roundtable invites the UK-based VisionMix associates to explore how local predicaments and today’s art (and non-fiction film) industries are contributing to the artists assumed forms of public intervention, the themes and tactics used in these projects. VisionMix welcomes students, curators, art historians, industry professionals, researchers, filmmakers, artists and those interested in new media developments on an international stage, to join this discussion.
For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Communicating India’s Soft Power: Buddha to Bollywood
Professor Daya Thussu
Date: Thursday 8 May 2014, 6:30 pm
Venue: Nehru Centre, 8 South Audley Street, London W1K 1HF
As the world’s largest democracy with a vibrant and pluralist media system, India offers an excellent case study of the power of culture and communication in the age of mediated international relations. This pioneering attempt – the first book-length study of India’s Soft Power – from an international communication/media perspective, fills the existing gap in scholarship as well as policy literature in this area. The book, published by Palgrave/Macmillan in New York in their prestigious Global Public Diplomacy series, has been described by Professor Ashis Nandy as an ‘excellent, comprehensive yet brief survey of the scope and limits of India’s Soft Power and the country’s changing status in global public culture and media’.
Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication and Co-Director of the India Media Centre at the University of Westminster in London. Professor Thussu has a PhD in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and he is the author or editor of 16 books and the founder and Managing Editor of the Sage journal Global Media and Communication.
The event will mark the formal launch of the book by Dr Virander Paul, Deputy High Commissioner of India in the UK, to be followed by a brief presentation about the book by the author and a discussion with Professor Lord Bhikhu Parekh about the issues raised in the book.
Television plays a very important role in constructing and presenting images of Indian modernity. Channeling Cultures brings together scholars from various disciplines to locate television within multiple histories of the nation as well as current trajectories in global culture and politics. Building on analytical frameworks of postcoloniality, citizenship, democracy, development, globalization and consumerism, this volume addresses questions in televisual form, genre, identity, politics, affect, gender, body and sexuality, and explores regional, national, and global itineraries of Indian television.
Focusing on the genres of news, reality show, and soap opera, the book interrogates some of the standard assumptions of television studies and more broadly global media studies. It provides fresh perspectives on the transition of Indian television from a state monopoly to a market-driven system and liberalization’s nuanced relationships with Indian media in general. The arguments invite the reader to critically engage with many theoretical perspectives ranging from political economy to cultural studies that energize the field of research on Indian television. The book will interest all those looking to critically engage with television, media theory, and popular culture.
Buy it here OUP India
Quite a start for this book, keen to know more (but need to find a copy I can afford):
> Citation: Sumit Guha. Review of Sunderland, David, _Financing the
> Raj: the City of London and Colonial India, 1858-1940_. H-Empire,
> H-Net Reviews. April, 2014.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=41407
get it here: http://zedbooks.co.uk/node/13018
This passage from Maya Jasanoff’s book on colonial and East India Company collections, p 182 – it should be read alongside an earlier post on ‘Tipu’s slippers’, filched by Lady Clive and now in Powis Castle.
And the best student workplace inquiry of the year award goes to… http://www.daftaripara.org/
Charming, says SF, but I am still waiting for HRH to bring out some equally fetching opium ball presentation boxes, with matching ivory inlaid pipe set, for the Deptford Xmas commemorative exhibit.
You are invited to the screening of ‘The Advocate’ and to participate in the discussions on the role of civil liberties movements in the context of development, resistance and repression in India and elsewhere.
‘The Advocate’ documentary film on civil liberties, social movements and state in Andhra Pradesh, India
Wednesday 23 October 2013, 6.30-9pm
Venue: ‘The Pavilion’ University of Westminster, Cavendish Building
115 New Cavendish Street, London, W1W 6UW
The documentary film ‘The Advocate’ focuses on the life and work of late G. Kannabiran, India’s foremost lawyer and champion of civil liberties. The film highlights state repression including extra-judicial killings, political prisoners and violations of civil liberties of the Maoist movement that forms the context for his work in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. The context includes the socio-economic causes for the insurgency and its repression and the role of civil liberties movement in India in engaging the wider social issues. The documentary comes at a time of widespread state repression of popular movements in India including use of death penalties, rejection of clemency petitions, high numbers of political prisoners including women political prisoners, extra judicial killings, widespread use of torture, custodial rape, deployment of armed forces and lack of fair trials. The film highlights the context to the resistance and repression which, in most cases, lie in socio-economic deprivations and social polarisations. The film opens up the spaces for debate on the state of civil liberties in India, seen as the most populous democracy in the world, and more widely, the assumptions about human rights, civil liberties, economic polarisation and socio-economic deprivations more generally in other Third World countries.
Chaired by Prof Penny Green, International State Crime Initiative, Kings College London
Dr Radha D’Souza, University of Westminster, School of Law
Saleh Mamon, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC)
John Hutnyk, Professor of Cultural Studies, Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths University of London
Organised by CAMPACC, Development & Conflict group, School of Law, University of Westminster; International State Crime Initiative; Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
THIS IS A FREE EVENT. ALL WELCOME!
For information & RSVP contact: CAMPACC: Estella Schmid e-mail: email@example.com
Tel 020 7586 5892 www.campacc.org.uk <http://www.campacc.org.uk>
Development and Conflict Group: R. Seenivasan – firstname.lastname@example.org
i would like to invite to the screening of Sanjay Kak’s new film “Red Ant Dream”
followed by a discussion with the filmmaker.
When: Friday 27th, 2.30pm
Where: NAB, LG01
Please spread this information amongst your students.
Maybe this is just the right event at the end of a very busy induction week.
More information on the film can be found here:
Red Ant Dream – Teaser 2
Red Ant Dream – Forest Walk
Many thanks and all best wishes ! Nicole
On the day that I received a copy of my chapter in the book, Television at Large in South Asia (see here) this news from Kolkata seemed highly apposite.
After Jadavpur, Calcutta University students gherao VC
Kolkata: Close on the heels of gherao of the Jadavpur University vice chancellor by students for 51-hours, B-Tech students of a college of Calcutta University on Monday gheroed the varsity’s VC and pro-VC alleging that the authorities were not taking any steps for their placement. Calcutta University VC Suranjan Das and Pro-VC (academic) Dhrubajyoti Chatterjee continue to remain gheraoed at the Raja Bazar Science College campus of the university by B-Tech students till late in the night, university sources said. The B-Tech students first gheraoed the principal of the Raja Bazar Science College at 2.30 pm, the sources said.
Hearing the news of the gherao of the principal, Das sent the pro-vc (academic) to talk to the students but they gheraoed him as well. The VC, who reached the campus around 7 pm, was gheraoed too and gates were locked from outside. “Gherao is a democratic right. But this locking of door and gates from outside is not acceptable because if there is fire of any such incident then there may be serious loss,” the VC said over the phone from inside the college. The VC said “that there is a placement cell in the Raja Bazar Science College. However, there is no placement officer at present but a professor of the college is officiating additionally as the placement officer.” “If companies reject the candidates (send for placement) then why should the college authorities be blamed,” he added. The gherao of the VC, pro-VC (academic) and principal of the college was still continuing till 11 pm, the sources said. On September 20, engineering students of Jadavpur University lifted their 51-hour gherao of the vice- chancellor, pro vice-chancellor and registrar, demanding the revocation of the suspensions of two fourth-year students on ragging charges. PTIFirst Published: Monday, September 23, 2013, 23:48
Salahuddin Ahmad lists the economic abundance of Bengal, citing Manouchi, the personal physician of Aurangjeb, and Clive, victor of Plassey against Suraj, and at Chandernagor against the French. Ahmad notes fertility of the land, availability of minerals, diamonds, iron, agriculural development, great river systems, irrigation and cultivation, grains, fruits, flowers, sugar-cane, betel, coconut:
‘Referring to the people of Bengal, Marco Polo says, “They grow cotton, in which they derive a great-trade” (Yule, Marco Polo, n. 115). Fruits like mango (amra), bread-fruit (panasa), pomgranate (dalimya), plantain, bassia latifolia (madhuka), date (kharjura), citron (vija ) and figs (parkati) were also widely cultivated. Barnier (1656-1668) writes on Agricultural system of Bengal in his travel account “One can see numerous canals from Rajmahal to the sea. These have been dug with hard labour for river traffic and irrigation”. Chinese traveler Yuan Chwang gives a vivid description of Agriculture in Bengal. He points to the generation of wealth through Agriculture, Crops, fruits and flower were growth in plenty’ (Ahmad, S 2005:9)
Crafts, textiles, salt, pottery, metals, jewellery, stone and wood works, ship-building, Ivory carving, trade – Roman Gold through to Chinese silks from Yunnan (Ahmad 2005:18).
Food stuff featuring in any discussion of Bengal should not be a surprise, though it is interesting to note the Portuguese influence on Bengali cuisine, at Hooghly after 1578, with special skills in baking and pastries, and in ways less regulated than the term ‘settlement’ implies, some Portuguese ‘became plunderers and pirates’. This suggests a convergence of cooking and plunder that would be echoed years later in the sumptuous on-board meals of the East India line ships, noted by Thomas Twining – ‘an abundance and variety, which surprised me, consisting of many joints of mutton and pork, variously dressed, curries and pillaus, chickens, ducks and on Sundays turkeys and hams’ (quoted in Bowen, McAleer and Blyth 2011:118).
The Portuguese at Hooghly did not just feast at table, but brought with a sweet tooth perhaps perfectly suited to Bengal, as:
‘in alliance with the Arakanese and Moghs, a semi-tribal Buddhist people who lived around Chittagong. Known as Feringhi (from the Arab word “Frank”, once applied to the Crusaders), these [Portuguese] brigands reaped a reign of terror over the rivers and swamps of eastern Bengal. These Moghs were to play an interesting role in culinary history. For centuries they had worked as deckhands and cooks on Arab ships trading with Southeast Asia. The Portuguese continued this tradition by employing the Moghs as cooks and they quickly learned the culinary arts of their masters, becoming skilled confectioners and bakers’ (Sen 2010:3-4)
After Clive, through his agent George Bogle, according to North Bengal University History Professor Arabinda Deb, Warren Hastings accepts trade with China via Tibet and Bhutan, concluding a treaty with the Deba Raja of Bhutan in 1775 for trade in betel, sandal, indigo and tobacco (Deb 1984:18)
 ‘The Portuguese language remained a lingua franca in Bengal at late as the 18th century. Clive, who could never give an order in any native language, was said to speak fluent Portuguese. The first three books printed in the Bengali language were printed in Latin characters in Lisbon in 1743, and it was a Portuguese who composed the first Bengali prose work and the first Bengali grammar and dictionary. In Modern Bengali, articles of common use, items used in Christian services, and plants often go by their Portuguese names; e.g., ag-bent (holy water), alpin (pin), altar (altar), ananas (pineapple), balti (bucket), bispa (bishop), botel (bottle), spanj (sponge), girja (church), tamak (tobacco), piyara (pear), ata (custard apple), veranda, etc. Other Portuguese words have passed into the English language, including caste, peon, padre, papaya, plantain, cobra, mosquito, pomfret, and palmyra. (Sen 2010:4). Sen includes an impressive two-page table of imported foodstuffs.
Ahmad Salahuddin 2005 ‘Rise and Decline of the Economy of Bengal’ Asian Affairs, Vol. 27, No. 3 : 5-26, July – September.
Bowen, Huw, John McAleer and Robert J. Blyth 2011 Monsoon Traders: The maritime world of the East India Company London: Scala Pubnlishers
Deb, Arabinda 1984 ‘Tibet and Bengal; A Study in Trade Policy and Trade Pattern 1775-1785’ Bulletin of Tibetology (New Series) No 3: 17-32.
Sen, Colleen 2010 ‘The Portuguese Influence on Bengali Cuisine’ at Food on the Move: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 1996’ 14 pages – available at http://www.colleensen.com/pdf/portuguese_influence.pdf – accessed April 2 2013.
Destroying the planet is the gothic of today and no bat in a cloak can swoop down from up high, like some inverted interbred vampire out of Capital, to redeem us. The bad debts pile up; floods, strange weather, drought, fire, starvation and death, compounded, if not outright caused, by a mercenary human aggression with less morality than wasps.
Large dams, mining, war, pollution, an obscenity that abides in the love of wealth and power. Suited monstrosities of corporation, Government, banking and science. In politics, Machiavelli would need rescue remedy today – appalled and embarrassed he would be.
I sit outside in the dull acid rain typing.
(yes SF, I know Russ is not the bat’s dad x)
Mrinal Sen is 90 today (May 14 2013) and all the best to him. I would argue that he is the greatest living film director, bare none.This YouTube page has some films by and on Sen: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=%22Mrinal+Sen%22&oq=%22Mrinal+Sen%22&gs_l=youtube.3…2259.6576.0.9023.12.11.0.0.0.0.0.0..0.0…0.0…1ac.1.11.youtube. (Thanks Abhijit). I will screen a number of Sen films – especially the Maoist period Calcutta films – Interview, Calcutta 71 and Padatik – in the monday night film screening slot in Autumn term at Goldsmiths. He gave Amitabh B his first break, he made Shabana A an actress, he showed Louis M the way round the city, and more and more. Come along to the screenings – check the what’s on back here or the Goldsmiths Centre for Cultural Studies events calendar for info in late September (it will also be a course for credit as part of the new MA Critical Asian Studies, but its open to all comers like other CCS courses).
Rustom Bharucha reports that the Progressive Writers Association has its origins, according to ‘its most distinguished founder- member Mulk Ray Anand’ in ‘the expatriate community of India students in London, who had charted their first manifesto as “progressive” writers in 1935 in a Chinese restaurant’ (Bharucha 1998:29)
Bharucha, Rustom 1998 In the Name of the Secular: Contemporary Cultural Activision in Inidia Delhi: Oxford UP
I need to take another look at Derrida on Heidegger on Van Gogh’s work shoes and think about this in relation to the theft of Tipu Sultan’s slippers, appropriated by the wife of Clive and now on display at Powis Castle. Toe-tapping/curling stuff.
On 26 Jan 2013, a talk at Tate Modern on the Sharjah Art Foundation Biennale proposed theme of New Cultural Cartographies. My views, given late in the day, reliant on Gayatri Spivak’s hugely influential work, and following talks by the excellent Sarat Maharaj, Yuko Hasegawa and Wael Shawky (interviewed). Slightly combative and with a slip in putting the Danes in Chandenaggor, it is the talk I wish I could have parsed for Princeton – but that was not recorded, even though some people asked for it (thanks Anisha, Saleh, Ben). Click the picture to get to the Tate link.
My review of Raminder Kaur’s new book Atomic Mumbai
As Multinational Corporations that produced poisons for biological warfare during the cold war positioned their deadly wares as agricultural inputs, the last few decades have seen humans waging war upon themselves.
Vidarbha, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, has become a bloody battleground in this ongoing global war between corporate greed and the people’s ‘Right to life’.
‘Cotton for my shroud’ investigates how Monsanto manipulated Bt Cotton field trials, enticed farmers with lies about yields and reduction in pesticide use. Empty promises, escalating costs, dwindling yields and depressed cotton prices played havoc.
Since 1995, a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide – the largest wave of recorded suicides in human history.
Most of them were cotton farmers from Vidarbha.
While the state and the media label these deaths as suicide, the cotton fields of Vidarbha remain a mute witness to genocide.
Narrated in the first person, the film gives us a window into the drama and despair that forms the warp and weft of life at Vidarbha.
Professor G. N Saibaba
My copy of Kipling’s Jungle Book begins with Lisa Makman’s pithy (even pith-helmeted) passage on jungles. It well deserves citation:
‘The term “jungle”, derived from the Hindi word jangala, entered the English language only in the eighteenth century; today it evokes dangerous terrain: impenetrable equatorial forests, menacing urban landscapes, and overall mayhem [as in, “it’s a jungle out there”]. Even as jungles have gained a new designation – rain forest – and we have learned of their life-sustaining role in the biosphere, the word continues to conjure images of imperial adventure: the white man cutting his way through the bush to hunt big game, or Tarzan swinging from a vine. We owe our deep associations of jungles with mystery, threat, and the struggle for survival in large measure to Rudyard Kipling (Makman, intro to Kipling 2004:xv)’
I want to suggest that the stalking metaphor for the trinket collecting word-play of storytelling dialectics might be Kipling’s character Kaa, who also had some wisdom, let us not forget: ‘The jungle is large and the Cub he is small. Let him think and be still’ (Kipling 2004:33). Kaa is a storyteller too, not just an old snake: ‘I also have known what love is. There are tales that I could tell that…’ (Kipling 2004:42).
There is much to learn from the names that populate the jungle city. I also note, from my copy of Hobson-Jobson – that amazing compendium of Anglo-Indian loan words, without which neither Midnight’s Children nor Merchant Ivory – that the word ‘Jungle’ is derived from Sanskrit, chiefly used in medical discourses, ‘the native word means in strictness only waste, uncultivated ground’. In the great H-J we read a citation from Valentia, in the year 1809: ‘The air of Calcutta is much affected by the closeness of the jungle around it’ (Yule and Burdell 1886/1996:470). We should be much amused to hear yet again the repetition of this undeservedly bad press for the city, and must surely reject such characterizations, with Kipling in mind, remembering the city he called ‘dreadful night’ was also ‘a city of palaces’ (for discussion see Hutnyk 1996:7). From the silted swamp and urban jungle we move on to horror stories, always evocative, we go to battle the elements together: ‘for we be of one blood, ye and I’.
Hutnyk, John 1996 The Rumour of Calcutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation, London: Zed books.
Kipling, Rudyard 2004 The Jungle Books, New York: Barnes and Noble.
Yule, Henry and A.C.Burnell 1886/1996 Hobson-Jobson: The Anglo-English Dictionary. Ware:Wordsworth Editions.
I’m perversely pleased to see this old chestnut can never die. ‘Sham scandal’ Marx called it. Holwell was writing two years afterwards, and in the wake of Clive’s retaliatory massacre of Suraj-ud-daulah at Plassey. I will refrain from some sort of pun on the name Holwell, but notice that embedded journalists are not exactly a new fold in the fabric of imperialism. But for my take on Plassey, and the quotes from Marx, see here.
The Hindu of course does not go so far as to do more than hint at ‘disputed veracity’.
A survivor’s account of Calcutta’s Black Hole
Bangalorean has the article from ‘The Scots Magazine’
A rare copy of an 18th century publication that contains a first-person account of the imprisonment of British men, women and children in the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta (now Kolkata) is now in the possession of a Bangalore-based document collector. The Scots Magazine contains an account of the episode by one of its few survivors, J.Z. Holwell.
The February 1758 edition of The Scots Magazine carried a 10-page article titled ‘Holwell’s account of the sufferings in the Black Hole’, which recalled the events at a dungeon in Fort William on the night of June 20, 1756, following the defeat of the East India Company by the forces of Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal. Holwell, in his account, claimed that 123 of the 146 prisoners put in a crammed dungeon died. But, later, historians have disputed the veracity of his account.
“There are only four known copies of the February 1758 edition in the world,” collector Sunil Baboo, told The Hindu. “It cost me a fortune,” he said, unwilling to reveal the amount.
What is in Mr. Baboo’s collection is the 10-page portion of the magazine that is in good condition. “While two are in the U.K., the other is in the U.S. These three are fully bound in leather-and-marble covers,” he said.
This document collector recently got the part of the magazine from a U.S.-based collector.
“It took a little while to get the copy from him as I had to convince the collector to part with this little piece of history,” he said.
The dungeon, according to Holwell, was a cube of about 18 ft (324 sq. ft) with only two windows in which 146 prisoners were crammed. He recounted the travails of the prisoners in the extremely hot conditions and no fresh air, which left them exhausted and extremely thirsty. He wrote of their attempts to bribe the guards to help them and their efforts to break open the door, all of which came to nought. Finally, a few survivors were brought out of the dungeon on the orders of Siraj-ud-Daulah.
However, while publishing the entire account of Holwell — a letter written to his friend William Davis on February 28, 1757 on board a vessel while returning from East Indies (India) — The Scots Magazine also cautioned its readers about the account being a “little passionate in some places” and in others “somewhat diffused”.
just out in South Asian History and Culture – Message me to get a pdf sent (first 50 will get one):
John Hutnyk (2012): ‘Beyond Television Studies‘, South Asian History and Culture, 3:4, 583-590
This Op Ed appeared in The Statesman newspaper in Kolkata, and skewers the madness of Tory immigration/xenophobia/economic jingoism on this boggy Isle. The writer is a staffer on that paper – jolly good to see that the rest of the world notices your crap Cameron. ‘Independent ethics advisor’ my arse – he is called Sir, which means he’s hardly independent, nor ethical. And anyway, as an advisor, his job is to tell Cameron what he can and can’t get away with. Not a brake, more an alibi.
The moral netherland
2 June 2012
UK’s increasing non-EU visa restrictions and requirements are symptomatic of a country that has not yet found the means or the will to articulate its ever-decreasing position in the world pecking order, writes lara choksey
Of all the things that the Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of British Press has exposed, perhaps one of the most remarkable is that British Prime Minister David Cameron has an ethics advisor. Responding to the possibility of being called up in front of the Inquiry, Mr Cameron said that should any evidence against him suggest the breaking of ministerial codes, he will call in Sir Alex Allan ~ his independent ethics advisor ~ for consultation.
On one level it seems sensible to have someone in or around Downing Street who can determine the ethical dimensions of political quandaries. On another, it is disturbing that the leader of a country that has not ceased promoting itself as a moral leader in the world needs someone else to distinguish between right and wrong.
In terms of the international Press, there are two stories dominating discussions of the UK. The first is the Leveson Inquiry, which started off as a simple matter of investigating the hacking of celebrity phones by itinerant news agencies, and which has now begun to expose the sordid nature of Downing Street’s relationship with the Murdochs under the Cameron, Brown and Blair leaderships.
This in itself is nothing new; anyone who has watched an episode of Yes, Minister! would expect nothing more. But when placed parallel to the second story circulating across the globe ~ that of implemented and threatened restrictions on UK visas for those who do not meet specific economic requirements ~ the hypocrisy and shortsightedness at Westminster’s rotten core becomes ever clearer.
There are two issues at stake here. The first concerns Downing Street’s idea of Britain as a moral leader in global politics. The second concerns Downing Street’s idea of what constitutes Britain’s nationhood. The discursive frame through which Mr Cameron and his ministers frame Britain domestically and internationally reveals a central administration willfully ignoring the economic and cultural heterogeneity of the population under its control, as well as the hypocrisy of its justifying its actions to the rest of the world on the grounds of moral superiority.
Above any other nation ~ in terms of pure numbers ~ India is the country likely to be most affected by the UK’s increasing non-EU visa restrictions and requirements. According to the International Passenger Survey, Indian nationals made up the largest percentage (11.9 per cent) of immigrants granted entry to the UK in 2010-11. Of these Indian nationals, a large number entered the UK on student visas. Those entering in 2010 would have been granted a two-year post-study work visa.
Fast forward a year, and there has been more than a 30 per cent drop in the number of Indian nationals applying for student visas, with many choosing the United States, Australia and Canada as alternatives. This is partly because the post-study work visa was scrapped this April, and partly ~ according to some British university professors ~ due to the increasing hostility and suspicion shown by the UK border agency towards non-EU students, particularly those from South Asia. This observation is compounded by the fact that the total number of student visas granted by the UK to non-EU residents dropped by 62 per cent in the first quarter of 2012.
We could easily leap to charges of xenophobia, and speculate about a small island closing its borders as a four-year recession refuses to budge. The residual prejudices of post-9/11 homeland security become an increasingly convenient justification for reinforcing national borders. Yet, this logic ignores the pre-Olympic pro-investment road show that various British foreign diplomats have been charged with promoting in their respective countries over the last 12 months, encouraging non-EU businesses to invest in the UK.
In February, the UK immigration minister Mr Damien Green announced that from 2016, people not from the EU and not earning at least £35,000 will not be able to apply to be a permanent resident in the UK. The message is clear: the UK welcomes big business and high salaries, regardless of ideology or investment ethics. Diversity is embraced, as long as it comes with a thick cheque book. In return, multinational companies benefit from tax evasion and low borrowing costs on international financial markets. It is undeniably ~ at least for the moment ~ a mutually beneficial arrangement. Prosaic questions of ethics are put out of the window ~ Britain is in a recession, and dog will eat dog.
Why does this matter to India? Apart from the fact that Britain is still considered to be a desirable place to visit, study and live (although this view is undoubtedly changing), this matters because Britain is behind the times. Specifically in the context of India’s increasing importance on the world stage ~ both economically and diplomatically ~ Britain’s restrictions on non-EU immigration seem ridiculous. Such restrictions are symptomatic of a country that has not yet found the means or the will to articulate its ever-decreasing position in the world pecking order.
For the sake of argument, let us just speculate that Britain once had a right to claim moral superiority over other nations (we need not go very far back in history to look at the violence of such a claim). But as the Cameron government decimates the welfare structures that might have once allowed Britain to claim a certain moral superiority with regard to providing the infrastructure (if not always the materialisation) of holistic care for its population, the claim becomes increasingly fragile. A national heath service, financial support for people at the bottom of the food chain, and ~ perhaps most pertinently in the context of the visa discussion ~ open borders for economic migrants and political refugees: these are some of the structures that might convincingly constitute the discourse of moral superiority.
Yet, in the last twenty years, these structures have become dirty words in Downing Street, replaced by privatisation, austerity and border security, seemingly in direct spite of the increasing scale of global poverty and warfare: so many people have never been so poor, and genocide has never been simpler. India should take heed: there is a fast-appearing vacancy in the global moral high-ground market that needs prompt filling. In an interview published in The Daily Telegraph on 25 May, 2012, British home secretary Ms Theresa May responded to a question on curbing immigration by saying: “The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration.” We might ask, what constitutes an illegal migrant? The term suggests an international law preventing movement between countries. However, while the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights decrees that a country should grant entry to its own citizens, there is no international law that prevents a person from entering a country in the first place.
Immigration laws are national laws, coded by national interests and national understandings of who should be allowed entry. Thus, we learn much about the way in which a country understands itself by the way in which it categorises those who arrive on its shores. In the UK, the terms of ‘illegal migration’ are clear: it has everything to do with economic status. Those who are not considered fit to make a significant economic contribution to the UK, quite simply, become illegal ~ outside legitimacy ~ and vulnerable to any form of physical or mental subjugation. The right to claim access to Britain is based on purely economic terms: this is the new model of national belonging.
Downing Street has thrown off the mantle of social responsibility, both domestically and internationally. Internationally speaking, its participation in Libya on the grounds of humanitarian intervention is laughable when we consider that there is a British Ambassador ~ Nicholas Ray ~ permanently stationed in Khartoum, Sudan. His purpose is to perform diplomacy with the al Bashir government, an administration currently carrying out ethnic cleansing operations on its borders. Domestically, the British government’s claim to provide for its population (as opposed to its citizens) is being made forfeit by the systematic destruction of structures built on the ideas of a common right to life, and the responsibility of government to provide for its population. The Cameron government’s policies are regressive to a Dickensian degree, and increasing internal unrest ~ characterised by last year’s riots ~ will only be kept at bay by Jubilee morale boosting for so long. With the removal of welfare structures, Downing Street would model Britain as nothing more than a vast, transnational bank, complete with hordes of the hungry standing outside. From an international perspective, this is the only form of diversity Cameron’s government is currently interested in promoting.
The writer is on the staff of The Statesman
[10.6.2012 Lara adds: Clarification: I take it for granted that ‘morals’ are socially-inscribed codes, whereas ethics – broadly speaking – are a means of defending concepts of right and wrong actions. My use of the phrase ‘moral superiority’ is therefore performative – the description or impression of a national discourse, as opposed to ‘ethical behaviour’. A longer piece might make this distinction clearer, but I did not feel it was necessary to point out the ethical importance of, for example, the NHS etc.
To clarify my argument and take it forward: firstly, that Britain’s claim to moral superiority is being made forfeit not because it ever had a right to make this claim in the first place, but because the infrastructure supporting this claim (class/gender/race equality and equal opportunities and so on) is being dismantled: the discourse, or performance, can no longer support itself.
Or so it would seem from one perspective. However, taking this forward, I would suggest that if Britain maintains its performance of ‘moral superiority’ on an international stage, then the discourse (and infrastructure) of ‘moral superiority’ is now based on codes of economic viability. To be ‘moral’, in the context of Downing Street’s national aspirations, one must be financially solvent. Foreign investors are invited to buy a stake in moral superiority.]
from The Statesman, Kolkata
19 April 2012
IT is not unusual for the media to occasionally embark on flights of fancy. But for the past two days, a section of the Kolkata media has occupied itself with identifying a reporter on the staff of this newspaper as a red-headed American “who had worked extensively with the ISI in Bangladesh” and who was seen clad in green trousers and brown top in Nonadanga on 13 April, apparently masterminding anti-India activities in collusion with Maoists.
Lara Choksey marked her 25th birthday on Wednesday, the day a television channel identified with the ruling party first named her as an American ISI agent who had worked extensively in Bangladesh (the previous evening’s telecast had merely described her as a “videshi mahila”). She does own green trousers and a brown top, and she was assigned by this newspaper to cover the problem at Nonadanga (which she has done with concise and balanced reports). She was at the place on 14 April (not the 13th), which she would have been required to be in order to complete her assignment.
But she is not an American; she is British and since September 2011 an Overseas Indian Citizen. Her grandparents were close friends of my predecessor, late CR Irani, and I too have known them for several years. She couldn’t have worked for ISI or for anyone else in Bangladesh, quite simply because she has never been to that country. And if she was recruited by the ISI, it wasn’t in Pakistan because she assures me she hasn’t visited that country either. Finally, she isn’t a redhead.
Lara completed her MA in Cultural Studies with distinction from Goldsmiths College, London last year. Her thesis project was “urban development, architectural rehabilitation and their human costs”, an appropriate area of study considering the assignment she was given at Nonadanga. From 2006 to 2010, she did a BA in English Language and Literature at the University of Leeds. Before that she was in school. She came to India last October and joined The Telegraph’s t2 section. Since early this year, she has been on the staff of The Statesman. A Google search of her name would yield most of this information, and more.
Strange things happen in the world of espionage, but based on the evidence Lara might have found it difficult to fit sleuthing and sabotage into her rather busy academic calendar, which included being a research assistant to her professor at Goldsmiths College and being a researcher and writer for the university newspaper
Why am I sharing this with you? I am doing so quite simply because over the 33 years of my life spent in journalism, I have seldom come across such paranoia-fed, breathlessly fatuous, incompetently researched reportage aimed at defaming a young journalist. The reports claim to be based on Central and state intelligence inputs, and if indeed they are questions must be asked about the intelligence of those who fed this nonsense and of those who swallowed it without so much as a cursory check.
I have a larger concern. Both media houses that reported this story are linked to the ruling party in West Bengal; this might grant to them an exalted status within the bureaucracy and police. Someone in authority might get it into his head that it would be safer to act on these stories than to ignore them. I have offered to Kolkata Police any assistance it might want to arrive at the truth, but have been assured that Lara Choksey is not the subject matter of any investigation
But these are strange times and, whether with or without adequate reason, the state government has allowed suspicion to grow that it is capable of acting before it thinks a proposition through. The best cure to such dark fears is the light that only exposure can provide. The Press can’t function if it is required constantly to look over its shoulder.
From Communist Party of India (Maoist) via A World to Win:
12 March 2012. A World to Win News Service. India has been on a fast track to playing a more major role in the global economy. Indian and international corporations are itching to tear up the land inhabited by tribal peoples to get their hands on the riches that lie under them, minerals like bauxite, coal and iron ore. The Indian government cannot tolerate the fact that large swaths of the country are not under their control, and are determined to crush any resistance that stands in their way, especially the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the masses hungry for radical change who make up the army they lead. In late 2009, with an array of military forces and the utmost cruelty, the Indian government unleashed a war on the people called Operation Green Hunt. Following is a press release dated 2 March, 2012 from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), signed by its spokesman, Abhay.
In the last week of February 2012, the police have arrested activists of our Party, including some senior cadres from Kolkata and Mumbai. On the specific intelligence inputs provided by the murderous Andra Pradesh Special Intelligence Bureau (APSIB), joint forces of police and Special Task Force (STF) of Andra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal have raided the shelters of our comrades in Kolkata and Mumbai suburbs and arrested at least nine comrades, including two women comrades. Comrades Sadanala Ramakrishna, Deepak Kumar Pargania, Sukumar Mandal, Bapi Mudi and Sambhu Charan were arrested from Kolkata, while Comrades Dinesh Wankhede, Aasimkumar Bhattacharya, Suman Gawde and Paru Patel were picked up from Thane in Maharashtra.
Comrades Sadanala Ramakrishna alias Santosh (62) and Aasimkumar Bhattacharya (65) were the seniors among the arrested. Senior comrade Sadanala Ramakrishna has been working for the revolution for at least four decades. He has been ailing with serious health problems for so many years. A mechanical engineer graduated from the prestigious Regional Engineering College (REC) of Warangal where other martyred leaders like Surapaneni Janardhan and Azad emerged as great revolutionaries of their times, Comrade Ramakrishna sacrificed his bright life for the cause of the liberation of the downtrodden.
Both the two women comrades arrested – Vijaya and Suman – have been undergoing medical treatment for some time, staying in the shelters outside the struggle zones. Particularly, comrade Vijaya has been suffering from serious heart problems.
The police forces, known for worst kind of cruelty, have been torturing these comrades mentally and physically while in custody. They have foisted several false cases against these comrades so that they could be languished behind bars forever.
On one hand the ruling classes are asserting that these arrests are a big success for them, and on the other hand, they are trying to portray our comrades as dangerous criminals, claiming that they have recovered huge amounts of cash and other material that is used for making arms.
These arrests are nothing but a part of Operation Green Hunt (OGH), i.e. the “War on People” which has been underway since 2009. The comprador ruling classes, in connivance with their imperialist masters, particularly with the US imperialists, have unleashed this brutal war of suppression in the poorest parts of India so that their neo-liberal policies of plunder of resources could go unhindered. They are particularly targeting the revolutionary leadership and eliminating them. As the Pentagon itself claimed recently, the US Special Forces are not only actively involved, but also assisting their Indian counterparts on the ground in the counter-insurgency operations aimed at eliminating the revolutionary leadership. This fact also shows us that the US has been patronizing in the ongoing Operation Green Hunt, making the values such as the freedom, independence, and sovereignty of our country a joke. The exploiting rulers of our country are daydreaming that this movement can be suppressed if its leadership is wiped out.
The revolutionary movement cannot be crushed with arrests and murders. The bars of the dungeons cannot restrict the revolutionary ideas from spreading among the vast masses.
The CC of CPI (Maoist) strongly condemns these arrests and the inhuman torture being inflicted on them. We demand immediate and unconditional release of these comrades, as well as all of the political prisoners languishing in various jails in all corners of our land. We also demand the lifting of all the false cases foisted against these comrades.
Discussions, talks and performances around textile production from guest speakers including trade unionists, artists and academics
Mill label, 1930s, courtesy of Jyotindra Jain and Mr. Abhishek Poddar
How do textiles affect the way we think about art, society and politics? The Social Fabric symposium invites contemporary artists, art historians, curators and cultural theorists to explore this question in a day of presentations and debate.
Taking Iniva’s Social Fabric exhibition as its starting point, it aims to explore textile production and consumption in relation to global trade, labour and radical politics.
In partnership with the Royal College of Art
This symposium addresses two basic themes relating to textiles as medium, commodity and ubiquitous presence in everyday life.
Departing from the exhibition Social Fabric at Rivington Place, speakers will draw out the connection between textiles and social processes – the link with patterns of globalised trade, contact between cultures, and textile production as a site of organised labour.
The second strand of the symposium looks at the way artists, art historians and curators have chosen textiles as an area of research, drawn by its relationship to the topics outlined above – demonstrating their reasons for making textile materials and references central to their artworks and exhibition projects.
The Social Fabric symposium highlights how this subject touches on a wide range of different aspects of culture and society, something reflected in the line-up for the day. Speakers with backgrounds in textiles, art, cultural studies and politics, will have a rare opportunity to converse and provide audiences a unique opportunity to join this discussion.
The Tab Centre
2 Austin Street
NB. For a concessionary rate (students, over 60s, unemployed) please enter the promotional code iniva_concession. For group bookings of more than 4 people please contact Rivington Place reception.
|Location:||The Tab Centre|
|Date:||10 Mar 2012
9:30am – 6pm
|Admission:||£25 (£15 concessions) + booking fee|
A text on NDTV 24×7.
NDTC x 24 Hanging Channel - click for pdf scan.
* A study of 24 hour Delhi based news channel NDTV’s reporting of the case of Mohammed Afzal Guru, framed for the Dec 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament and sentenced to hang. This chapter is 9000 words and was published at the start of 2011. Based on substantial television research, viewing and reading or reports, screen analysis of station idents etc. Was originally a conference keynote at a Asian Media conference at SOAS and given once as a talk at the prestigious National Indian Research Institute Shimla.
Postscript: I asked. The answer: ‘I never did publish the Mahabharata stuff. There’s the tiniest bit on Draupadi in “Not Virgin Enough to Say That [S]he Occupies the Place of the Other,” Cardozo Law Review 13.4 (Dec 1991), p. 1343-1348. and in Foremothers,” in Susan Gubar, ed., True Confessions: Feminist Professors Tell Stories Out of School, (New York: Norton, 2011), p. 111-122. Cheers, G’
Shehla Masood battled corruption in India. Was that why she was killed?
The shooting of a prominent activist was ‘unfortunate’, says a minister. But her friends suspect that she knew too much to live
A family photograph of Shehla Masood, who was campaigning against plans to open a mine when she was killed.
For many of her 38 years, Shehla Masood had campaigned tirelessly against corruption. Glamorous and combative, she had embraced India‘s Right to Information Act with gusto, rattling out applications in all directions, exposing wrongdoing at the highest levels of Madhya Pradesh state where she lived, upsetting many powerful people with a great deal to lose. Judges, police and politicians from the local ruling BJP party had all come into her sights and been exposed for misusing public cash.
In recent months, she had turned her attention to mining conglomerate Rio Tinto‘s plans to extract 37 million tonnes of diamond-bearing ore from land in one of the finest strands of teak forest in the country.
Then, on 16 August, Shehla was found dead in her car outside her home in a prosperous area of Bhopal, with a single gunshot to her neck. More than a month later, the investigation has hit a brick wall. Even the offer of a £7,500 reward – an enormous sum for India – has failed to elicit a single witness to a killing that took place in broad daylight in a busy street.
It is Tuesday morning in that same respectable street in Bhopal. A large khaki tent is pitched opposite Shehla’s house. Four police officers, posted to guard her family, sprawl inside on charpoys, fast asleep. The road leads to a large slum, whose residents pass regularly in front of the house, much as they must have done on the morning she died.
It was Shehla’s father, Sultan Masood, who found her lying with her head back in the front seat of her little silver Hyundai Santro car. “I called: ‘Shehla, Shehla’, but she didn’t speak. I took some water and splashed it on her face and then her dupatta [scarf] slipped down and I noticed the black hole in her neck. I started screaming: ‘Somebody has killed my daughter, someone has shot my daughter.’”
It is almost inconceivable that no one saw the killer or heard the shot, but Shehla’s fate appears to have been a warning to others to keep silent.
For Shehla, though, silence was never an option. In the past few months, she had targeted Rio Tinto’s diamond plans. Environmentalists feared that the mine project in Chhatarpur district – inaugurated by the chief minister in 2009 – threatened the watershed of Panna Tiger Reserve and the Shyamri river.
In a letter to India’s home minister in July, she wrote: “The Rio Tinto company began exploring in this eco-sensitive zone before being granted government permission. The officials who objected have been transferred from their positions.”
The high court of Madhya Pradesh had already ordered the national and state governments to explain why mining had been permitted, according to the petition, “in gross violation of rules and regulations”.
Shehla planned to launch her own legal challenge and had started to file right-to-information applications to gather evidence.
Shehla’s younger sister, Ayesha, has returned from the US, where she is studying microbiology, and has been trying to make sense of what happened, ploughing through her computer hard drive, digging out her correspondence, looking for a clue. Sitting in the living room of the elegantly furnished, two-storey family home, the 34-year-old said: “She told a friend who met her five days before her death that she had information that would shake the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh to its core.”
Ayesha Masood fears the killing is linked to those who stood to gain from the deal with Rio Tinto. Gopal Krishna, founder of the Delhi-based ToxicsWatch Alliance, had been working with Shehla in the weeks before her death. He said she had just started making fresh right-to-information applications and planned to launch her own public-interest challenge to the mine in the high court.
Vinita Deshmukh, a journalist and activist who has followed the case closely, said: “It was more convenient and more economical perhaps to snuff out the life of Shehla. Money and power almost always overpower the laws of this country, especially when it comes to big projects that generally throw up lucrative commissions and kickbacks to officers and elected representatives.”
Madhya Pradesh’s home minister, Uma Shankar Gupta, dismissed such suggestions. It was “unfortunate” that she was killed, he said, but no one in government wanted her dead: there were plenty of more capable right-to-information activists and nothing had happened to them.
As for the Rio Tinto mine, it could not possibly be illegal, he said: “If the chief minister went over and inaugurated it, it has to be legal.”
Rio Tinto, which is investing £292m on what it calls the Bunder project, vehemently denies that the mine has anything to do with Masood’s murder.
A spokesman said: “Rio Tinto started exploring for minerals in India in 1996 after the sector was opened for foreign direct investment. In 2004, Rio Tinto made news across the world with the discovery of significant diamond deposits at the Bunder project in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. We are currently at the evaluation stage and doing detailed studies while our application for a mining lease is pending with the government of India. We have a very strict, transparent ethics policy that is uncompromising no matter where we operate.
“We learned through the media of the shocking death of Ms Masood, for which we extend our sympathy to her family and friends. We join with the community of Bhopal in condemning such acts of violence and the loss of life.
“We cannot understand why our name is bring linked with this tragedy. We never met nor had any contact with Ms Masood and are unaware of any communication she had with the ministry of environment and forest. We have had no communication with the CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] so are unaware of any details about the investigation.”
The man in charge of the murder inquiry, Deputy Inspector General Hemant Priyadarshy, thinks it was a professional job. All the possible motives are being considered, he said. “We are speaking to everyone. Nobody is outside the reach of the law.”
His job would be simpler had Shehla chosen to tackle fewer establishment figures. “I fear for my life,” she said in an interview a month before her death. “But I will continue working and carry on … It is the nexus between politicians and babus [officials] which is slowly poisoning our country. The fight is between the powerful and weak and I represent the weakest and the poorest of society.”
The day she died she was due to pick up the responses to a right-to-information request on judges’ expenditure, before addressing a rally in support of national anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare’s hunger strike (she was his campaign organiser in the state) and inviting people to name and shame corrupt politicians and officials. She was winning praise from the national BJP party in Delhi through her close friendship with one of its MPs, Tarun Vijay, but that only seemed to breed jealousy and fear of her influence in the local party. Someone was spreading rumours that Shehla, a Muslim who also worked as an events organiser, was a spy for Pakistan. And then there was her acrimonious dispute with a senior police officer, whom she had accused of corruption.
Ayesha Masood sits in the living room, rattling through the list. She seems uncertain where to turn next, unsure that the police will crack the case, seeing the reward as a sign of desperation. The family demanded the local police be taken off the investigation after they initially concluded that Shehla had shot herself, despite no weapon being found at the scene. They are happier now that the CBI is in charge, but still she doubts that they will get justice. “If highly influential people are involved, India is very good at sacrificing its own citizens,” she said.
There is no doubt that Shehla made many enemies during her years of anti-corruption activism. The identity of her killer may prove elusive for some time to come.
Current research interests include: global knowledge production and the history of ideas, archives and collections; architectural style and urbanization; trade routes, ports and the administration of commercial(ized) lives with multiple ‘locations’ (co-constitution and triangulation of sites); history of work and technology, especially with regard to mode of production debates; illicit trade and ‘piracy’ as catalyst for neo-liberal incursion; the politics of prisons and confinement.
Research in six areas is of particular interest at present:
- in terms of globalizing knowledge production, important scientific investigation and ‘collecting expeditions’ as well as key literary studies and publications which can be sourced to Bengal. For example, the first printed edition of the 1001 Nights was at Fort William College on the Hooghly in 1814 (ed: Shaikh Ahmad ibn-Mahmud Shirawani), as well as a second four volume edition (ed: William Macnaughten 1839) used by Burton for his translations (1885-86). In terms of collecting, this too must be sourced from the ‘other’ end than usually acknowledged. What labour and whose labour goes into collections, such as, for example, the Horniman Museum in South London which holds important records and collections of musical instruments related to Chhau dance traditions of Bihar and West Bengal, even as these collections are conspicuously uninterested in practitioners. In CCS Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay is also working on vernacular globalization and colonial era and East India Co. archive records regarding taxation on shipping, boats, on building boats, and port levy’s etc.
- in terms of architecture, the buildings of the East India company have significant resonance with those in other port cities such as Manchester and Melbourne largely by way of shared commercial enterprise in multiple locations. This is a record of connections amongst the global sites of early colonization that can sometimes be seen in buildings still standing (this is easier for later periods of course, compare the neo-Baroque of Calcutta’s Metropolitan Building on Jawaharlal Nehru Rd with Manchester’s ‘India House’, Melbourne’s State Savings Bank of Victoria, and the London War Office Building on Whitehall etc.).
- co-constitution of the Caribbean trade with the East India trade: the global connection reaches back to the earliest days – Job Charnock having ‘rented’, with military support, three villages on the Hooghly from 1690, The British had purchased land in Hooghly with silver gleaned from the sale of slaves in the West Indies (note: Charnok is not the ‘founder’ of Calcutta and the city was not ‘built by the British’ but by local labour. Reference mention of Saptagram in Bipradas Pipilai’s Manasa Mangala 1495).
- the changes in production narrative of the established scholarship might be reworked from the other end. In The Age of Revolution Hobsbawn notes that until the industrial revolution Europe had always imported more from the East than it had sold there (Hobsbawn 1975:34) and Marx notes the ruin of handicraft through the advent of machine production which ‘forcibly converts [the colonies] into fields for the supply of its raw material. In this way East India was compelled to produce cotton, wool, hemp, jute and indigo for Great Britain (Marx 1867/1967:451). The clue here is that these exports, crafts, conversions and re-organizations had to involve workers in situ – the changes were not produced from afar, but rather sourced on site. A history of labour, labour force, forms of work and workplace change, will look quite different if read from the ‘other’ end of colonialism.
- the Opium trade. This is often written up in terms of British gunboat diplomacy, but it is also curious how important the controversy was in Europe, how much of the sensibility of European public life was governed by events abroad. Marx, among many, also mentions the opium trade, recommending the Chinese ‘celestials’ legalize the drug so as to undermine the English traders. The baneful impact of opium is not only felt in China, but in India the trade ‘forces the opium cultivation upon Bengal, to the great damage of the productive resources of that country’ (Marx 1958 New York Tribune).
- colonial incarcerations – the development and adaptation of coercive punishments, legal protocols, discipline and incarceration. From the ‘Black Hole’ to contemporary terror laws’. Given the central role of the city in later political intrigues – Calcutta’s early ‘bad reputation’ is undeserved and should be countered. Thus if the Black Hole story must be told, it can be in a critical version: Marx calls the incident a ‘sham scandal’ (Marx 1947:81). In an extensive collection of notes made on Indian history, Marx comments that on the evening of June 21, 1756, after the Governor of Calcutta had ignored the order of Subadar Suraj-ud-duala to ‘raze all British fortifications’ in the city:
“Suraj came down on Calcutta in force … fort stormed, garrison taken prisoners, Suraj gave orders that all the captives should be kept in safety till the morning; but the 146 men (accidentally, it seems) were crushed into a room 20 feet square and with but one small window; next morning (as Holwell himself tells the story), only 23 were still alive; they were allowed to sail down the Hooghly. It was ‘the Black Hole of Calcutta’, over which the English hypocrites have been making so much sham scandal to this day. Suraj-ud-duala returned to Murshidabad; Bengal now completely and effectually cleared of the English intruders” (Marx 1947:81 my italics).
Marx also reports on the subsequent retaliation against and defeat of Suraj-ud-duala by Lord Clive (‘that Great Robber’ as he calls him elsewhere Marx 1853/1978:86), and Clive’s 1774 suicide after his ‘cruel persecution’ by the directors of the East India Company (Marx 1947:88). There seem to be very good reasons to conclude that the black hole incident is counterfeit. The single report from a ‘survivor’ some months after Clive’s savage response to Suraj-ud-duala’s occupation of Calcutta – the famous/notorious Battle of Plassey – reads very much like a justification forged to deflect criticisms of brutality on the part of the British forces.
a draft for a round table discussion on television studies for the journal ‘South Asian History and Culture’
needs a bit more work…
Beyond television studies.
The Kitchen Debate.
The whole world is twitching and the study of television is in the final throes of a long generic isolation, becoming a fully integrated weapon of global war. Or rather, the impossibly naïve view of television as entertainment and television news as mere reportage has reached the endgame of a national-cultural isolation which has been careening towards crisis ever since Krishna hitched his chariot to the Doordarshan platform and Murdoch entered the star-filled firmament to parade as colossus astride a rampant deregulation. Media studies can never be the same now that death by TV prevails (I will explain). New, and varied, work by scholars such as Arvind Rajagopal, Ravi Sundaram, Nalin Mehta, Ashish Rajadhyaksha and M. Madhava Prasad make the old media studies obsolete and the urgency of a fresh look at television, and screen cultures in general, imperative. Television today is a fully articulated geo-political medium, reporting instantly upon world events, flitting from news flash to product placement, ticker tape stock report across the bottom of the screen, station ident in the top corner. Cultural contours of course remain, but now wholly in the service of an all-conquering apparatus, an extended machine, accessing all areas. We should not be surprised that television becomes battle media – we watch 1000-yard stare reporters feeding on other media feeds, and we long ago got used to actors as presidents or god-politician, such that the staged press opportunity is now no more unusual than Amitabh Bachchan fronting a game show.
At last the old national organizational architecture of television and consequently television studies is necessarily put under review. Of course television has long been a global industry with a global logistics, and every ‘international incident’ involves battalions of workers laying cables, assembling cameras, grooming presenters, building sound stages, driving celeb vehicles, rushing here and there. In general, the globalization of television has meant a massive new participation in the production of images, from the somewhat romanticized ‘citizen journalism’ of ‘tele-democracy’,[i] to the live-cam combat footage and embedded reportage of the military and security services, all deploying the latest buzzwords as codex for wider techno-social shifts. We can consider the cable guy, VCR copy shop, dodgy wiring and knock-off brand sets of the parallel second-hand economy of reconditioned media gear – so eloquently described by Ravi Sundaram at Delhi’s Nehru Place, Lajput Rai and Palika Bazaar, where the ‘shops, markets, cable, wiring, cassettes [and] distributors’ – as only the constitutive pirate end[ii] of a mass commercial accumulation that begins much earlier and reaches much further. It begins perhaps when Nixon and Khrushchev debate the merits of colour TV in the famous Moscow ‘kitchen’ debate in 1959. It ends, or rather never ends, with television in every room of every house, every office and mall and beamed constantly everywhere – the 24×7 rule.
An academic industry of course follows in the wake of television, like some sort of camp hanger-on modeled by Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage who sells her children into prostitution and slavery, running after the marching army of the 30 Years War.[iii] Academic studies are in danger of becoming a similar sort of campaign support and the logistical supply troop for a comprehensive cultural takeover – media courses, conferences and journals with critique, scholarship even, when this suits the operatives of commercial advance and technological aggression. No longer a diminutive fuzzy furniture item in the corner of the room – if it ever was, always trying to take over like it did, with aspirations to be the centre of attention – television is now ubiquitous, as a mobile in your pocket, an Ipad platform, an airplane seat, taxi cab, station concourse, large public screen, festival feature, cricket stadium scoreboard, plasma proliferation. Reassessment of the volatile political place of television and the complicity of television studies as market support is well overdue. The whole world is flicker and pixels, coming to get you, already invading.
The context of television’s market saturation is the neoliberal compact of the past 40 years: deregulation, commercialization, privatization on the one side, intervention, penetration and diffusion on the other. For example, Ashish Rajadhyaksha contests an ‘isolationist’ view of Indian television, noting the Doordarshan state monopoly was accused of a narrow ‘Delhicentric’ view of India and he argues for refocused attention to Indian cinemas in a global frame.[iv] M. Madhava Prasad seemingly starts at the other end and takes political, economic and historical factors as key to understanding Indian media and its relation to capital.[v] Both reconfigure the focus of media studies away from the media alone, and away from the old national allegory paradigm. The illusion that the political somehow escapes television was always merely televised, and the economy seems now to perform for TV, while socio-cultural change runs interference for a technological escalation that only sells us more television. It does not matter that we are all always on screen and under scrutiny check in the garrison society. Or rather, it matters only insofar as the global economy is performed as TV, designed, like war, with all of us as screens. A co-constitution of camera and capital, such that the fiction of a single point of view – the camera, or the screen you are looking at now, even when it cuts from angle to angle – is the portal of a total commodification, and condenses the multiple social input of a vast productive geo-political apparatus into the disguised and singular presenter speaking directly to you, telling you your news, encouraging you to laugh or cry, living your life right there, before your eyes, everywhere.
The Hanging Channel.
If we do still want to look at a specific regional televisions, as the scholars mentioned above have been doing, the process does not gain in focus. Rather, the suggested direction to look is outwards, towards ‘geo-capital’. Across Asia[vi] we find many commentators able to point out how the local game has taken on reality talk show formats just as fast and furiously, and just as reified, as anywhere else. Not only the curios of Star and NDTV pan-commercialism, but also the idiosyncrasies of flip channel goddery and the ready access of a global identification, for example of Shilpa Shetty and Jane Goody, or of Osama bin Laden and Barack Hussein Obama. Note already the pairings of TV stars are geo-political, and the alienation effect that such staged pairings should have still does not mean we understand that things are staged: this is not a Brechtian entfremdungseffekt.
The nationalist televisual project become global also fosters an orientalist TV which prevails outside Asia, where Asia itself is vicariously and phantasmagorically screened. Indeed, it is this synchronization of national and geopolitical that has most quickly expanded with the proliferation of screen culture large and small – culture televised, and no longer under pundit control. I am particularly interested in the ways a refocusing of Asia as a theatre of war is performed on TV and, as theatre, is a consequence of a massive labour of commentary, the efforts of publicists and copywriters, advertisers and agents, spin doctors, image makers and propagandists. Entire teams working behind the screens/scenes to bring us all versionings of ‘Asia’ in real time. Yet, the work here, the network, the convolutions of the apparatus and its wiring, infrastructure, logistics and co-ordination, its structure of production and transmission, is rendered transparent in a way that is not different to game show staging, in that even when shown, it remains invisible. Arvind Rajagopal says as much when he notes that ‘Viewers may know that they are gathered and sold to advertisers, but they remain capable of acting as if they did not know this, and as if they thought they were free in their viewing behaviour’.[vii] What I mean here is that the television interface presents itself as direct connection, an inter-fascism, and its alienation effect is erased.
A case in point might be the way we approach the controversy around the images that stage the death of Osama bin Laden. The new geo-political reach of television was never more evident than in the photogenic scene of May 1st 2011 showing Hilary Clinton and President Obama watching the televised (remote closed circuit) Seal Team 6 raid on bin Laden’s Pakistan compound. In the (cramped) comfort of the White House situation room, with a large group of advisors and aides, they seem to express both astonishment and concern. However, we do not see the TV. We do not hear the TV. We do not even see this as TV – the picture is a still, and mute: no static, no radio-cam, no shouting, no pop pop pop shots. The still image is more suitable for the printed press than for television news, and yet this moment is global television in its new guise. Watching television as propaganda in this Situation Room is perhaps not your usual viewing platform, but it is connections like these, in this case a secure Ethernet network with remotely connected helmet-mounted camera feed,[viii] that makes television a cross-border, live-beam, everywhere and anywhere, medium of the political.
If we set aside conspiracy theory doubts about the faking of the killing and the ‘found footage’ that was also presented of Osama watching TV, what we see of ‘Asia’ here on the officially sanctioned publicity release is basically the leaders of the ‘free world’, Presidents, advisors, aides and now us all, gathered around a screen to view a snuff film assassination video. We can be sure that in some sense this is watching ‘Asia’, however perverse. With all the contradictions it implies, this view of Asia says it all – we can even read the hand over mouth gesture of Hilary as muted reference to the guilty contradiction of razing Afghanistan to dust, or not (technically, from already war-ravaged rubble to dust) and invading a sovereign, and paranoid, country uninvited, to kill an old man, himself pictured watching telly in Abbottabad… The double-play of this scene, a snapshot slice of a much wider and wilder scenario, is our changed TV world.
The images are indeed revealing – Hilary and Obama are paired in silence, as are the bloodied Osama we do not see (despite the photoshopped image that circulates on some websites[ix]) and the impotent Osama in a blanket watching TV that we do (much questioned, see below). An alternate pairing would show the situation room crowd with Obama and Hilary, and the images they have seen but which we cannot – the raid itself, the assassination, and presumably the burial-at-sea. Why do we not see all the images? Surely there is actual film of Hilary and Obama watching, of the body of Osama, or of the Islamic funeral ceremony, all chronicled as evidentiary record by the pubic relations and historical-archive conscious administration? It is hard to imagine the White House was unable to record every minute of the attack on some form of in-house VCR, possible a Watergate-style recording device, and that they do not have documentary footage of the situation room itself, or from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (Nimitz class), and so on. There is, of course, the inevitable plethora of conspiracy theories: was it really Osama we see sitting wrapped in an old blanket? He was left-handed but has the remote control in his right; he has himself filmed watching himself but does not look at the camera; the sound has been stripped from the video – although this last is a strangely silent coincidence also replicated with regards to the situation room. Perhaps understandably, there was concern about release of the bloodied body shot, but in the absence of all these possible images, theories thrive, and indeed a vast number of spoof YouTube videos can be seen recreating the events, as well as a graphic novel,[x] animated game-show cartoon and slapstick Saturday Night Live-like comedy routines, all beaming stereotypes of ‘Asia’ abroad in a parallel universe with fan-fiction proportions, deeply implicated in dramatic events.
The snuff film mise-en-scène in the situation room and its spin-off press and video images offer us a new genre identification for deregulated global television. This requires a more urgent aesthetic and socio-critical appreciation of the integrated media spectacle. Innovations in the forms of political television can also be seen in the cockpit-cam of the drone bombers zeroing in on insurgents in the Kush, or the shaky phone mp4 that records Saddam Hussein’s New Year 2006 execution and shown on what surely must eventually become the ultimate satellite offer – the Hanging Channel. I have argued something similar in relation to NDTV 24×7’s mobile phone-in poll around the trial and sentencing of Afzal Guru, but there are many candidates for round the clock horror ready to be screened.[xi] There are the beheadings, torture snaps, and attack drone reels, but also strange sub genres such as the spoof Osama kill vids and what I would call grunt videos – a particular grotesque consequence of sending US teens out on patrol in Afghanistan or Iraq and leaving them later confined to barracks with free time and computer kit to produce music videos with their own night vision footage and soundtracks from AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ – or remixed with even more chilling effect – Marilyn Manson’s version of the same.[xii]
Reality, Cinema, Diaspora.
The reality TV franchise that is the War on Terror in Asia has shown so much more for less than Big Brother’s or Crorepati’s star-studded (Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan) staged scenario production ever could. Cheap to embed, easy to download, the military journalist is a controlled, edited, and carefully screened ideological imaging. The camera is already on the weapon, the footage already beamed back to transmission HQ. Only sports and parliamentary debate offers such easy access to the action – the camera knows in advance where the game will be played, how many bowls will be bowled, and who has the hits. War footage is similar – we only see the highlights, and the camera was already set up in the kit. The image of global television is not Neil Armstrong setting out on the surface of the moon, but rather the stain of screen erasure when the missile-mounted camera is destroyed à la some glorified stump-cam moment writ large. The ideal view of war television, like a bowled wicket in the IPL, is the destabilization of the viewers perspective. The wicket is smashed, the camera askew – all the work that contrived to produce this scene, the training, the technology, the calculation of wages, Duckworth, averages and back room deals is obscured in the thrill of that singular close-up. This is the metaphor for television today, unashamed alienation in a distraction regime high profile, big bucks, product placement spectacle. Only on the Hanging Channel we would not have cheer squads, unless it be those outside the White House chanting ‘USA USA’ the evening Osama was snuffed.
We are dealing here with something that is not only a war scene, but is also the war itself, and the multivariant versions of Asia have always been screened in such narrowcast terms – a double-play of the good guys – temples, Bollywood songs and Sanjay Dutt – and the bad guys – terrorists, gangsters, Ravanna, Gabbar Singh (Amjad Kahn), and Sanjay Dutt. Today its moderate Muslims and unknown terror, the double play at work again. ‘Heat and Dust’ (dir, James Ivory 1983) was the cinematic version, or Art Malik coming to grief in ‘The Jewell and the Crown’ (ITV 1984), or more grotesquely, with Schwarzenegger in ‘True Lies’ (dir. James Cameron 1994). There does not seem to be any reduction in this even with the proliferation of vernacular views of the global, of home movies and camera phone newscasts uploaded directly to the satellite international in the Sky™. There is no sense in which the syncopation of local and global escapes the play of mere colour illustration – and subject citizens from remote to metropole are gathered together to work the scene. At what point would a television studies grapple with the stakes of this and be able to relate the isolated and peculiar details – Osama dying, Obama watching – to the whole? It is possibly useful to remember what Adorno says apropos of Hegel: ‘nothing can be understood in isolation, everything is to be understood only in the context of the whole, with the awkward qualification that the whole in turn lives only in the individual moments. In actuality, however, this kind of doubleness of the dialectic eludes literary presentation’.[xiii]
To be specific is to locate the televisual in the local as global force. This was never more clear when popular sentiment about Asians ‘in the diaspora’ was made more political at the start of the twenty-first century. There was always some politics in diaspora of course, though it is perhaps generous to suggest the US tongue-in-cheek abbreviation ‘ABCD’ for American Born Confused Desi inversely notes a greater diasporic awareness of such issues and has parallels in the ironic use of ‘second generation’ in the UK. Having to distinguish between Hindu and Pakistani, Arab and Bengali, Muslim and NRI, Bhangra and Hip-Hop, cricket and corruption… all this relating of the isolated to the whole became a classificatory blur after 2001, at least for non-Asians. Heavy rotation Asian cinema on late night British TV, for example, was insufficient to disabuse the rest of the British public of its stereotypes of the subcontinent and the threat of otherness. Even the by now standardized choices of ‘contemporary’ British Asian film did little to clarify – ‘Bend it like Beckham’ (dir Gurinder Chadha 2002) but not ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ (dir Stephen Frears 1985), ‘East is East’ (dir. Damien O’Donnell 1999) not ‘Wild West’ (dir. David Attwood 1992); ‘Four Lions’ (dir. Christopher Morris 2010) but no critical analysis of the ways an anti-Muslim pogrom had taken hold in the wake of Sept 11, 2001 or July 7, 2005. That the less safe films were on late night rotation, while telly-plays of security service-foiled plots against airlines or sci-fi scenarios with suicide jihadists (see for example US space operas like Battlestar Galactic[xiv] and Carprica) screened in prime time is duly noted.
The televisual rendering of Asians in the diaspora works largely through condensation of the global. The big screen is reduced to the no-go area of the late night small screen of ‘community’. Asian character roles in long-running classic UK soaps (Coronation Street ITV, EastEnders BBC) barely hide their big-ticket clichés; documentary current affairs arranged marriage honour killing exposés appear more often than any other item of interest at home. Abroad, suicide bombings and the Hanging Channel as above. The camera spotlight on Asians is so often documentary, even when it is comedy it is more often a documentary about Asian comedy, so much so that we need to recognize television as ideological apparatus again. This fabricated and staged documentary moment is a point of view illusion, a machine for obscuring the social and collective, and politically charged, character of this cultural production – a cultural effort that necessarily accompanies the war on terror.[xv] A film, or White House photograph, that hides its edits – cut, pan, zoom, montage, time, audio, narrative – develops a symbiotic relationship with the alienated but global commodity circuit, enforced by commercial and military means. Music television suggested another register for a time, but only to confirm the reductions: ‘Paper Planes’ wins an Oscar, Asha Bosle as a ring tone, ‘Tridev’s ‘Oi Oi’ still more inappropriate. Asian identity is conflated in two directions – a specificity that acknowledges a motivation marked by terror in ‘explanations’ of musician Mathangi Arulpragasam’s (M.I.A.) ‘political’ stance ‘reduced’ to the situated trauma of the Sri Lankan Tamil predicament. On the other hand a proclivity for generalizations such as that reporting on UK musician and filmmaker Aki Nawaz’s engagement with Gaza, Bosnia and Tunisia is taken as evidence of a suspect pan-Islamist tendency. Both are ways of undermining legitimate commentary with equally unsubtle questions of motive and context in a wider racist imperialist coding that never reveals its white supremacist undercarriage. Even the July 22 2011 deaths in Norway at the hands of the killer Anders Behring Breivik merge into this commodification via industrial news production. We watch rolling 24 hour cycle coverage which evokes no compassion, only staged ‘compassion’ – behind which you know there are technicians, crew, director and sound operator all just doing their jobs. No contrition from the media for its knee-jerk first reaction assuming the attacks were Al Qaeda or enraged Muslims responding to anti-Mohammed cartoons, and not much more than a contrived apology and business-as-usual as Breivik is identified as a self-declared ‘anti-Muslim crusader’ with a 1500 page manifesto and links to the English Defense League.[xvi]
That the terrorist self-styles as crusader is no surprise, but again media attention focuses upon the lone-wolf, rogue element, and individuation so as to engender control, in the same way that the manufacturing process divides items for management on the assembly line and market.[xvii] This trinketization ignores, even as we see it on screen, the intimate connections and overall tendential movement that should be diagnosed as a new and vicious military-informational complex, modeled and sold with glossy brochure News Corp and ‘dot.gov’ publicity campaign. It starts with so-called humanitarian bombing, moves through years of attritional combat, and extortion, assassination, murder-death-kill, and at best ends up with construction contracts and ongoing client state dependency. At worst, dissolution, despair and destructive neo-fascist entropy. A form of privatization over scorched earth – the policy choice of the crusades, colonialism and now fully global as World War Three. This blowback only begins to show as breaking news if you are not actually watching. If our media studies would only learn not to flinch from the implications, we could see this differently.
If television is a weapon of war by other means, what might be required for an extended critical television studies in this all-seeing but blinkered world? What means are available to take the proliferation of screens and capital seriously? Is it of use to see TV as an extension of the neo-liberal military-commercial agenda and can we turn this into a transformatory research project that would disarm such codings? Can television be redeemed, or must it be always exaggerated to be everywhere and so nothing special at all – merely the fabric of a politics and economy that lies, not so much elsewhere, but upon every surface? The Hanging Channel would offer a 24×7 war, just as it already is, with product placement. Is another television possible? If we tune in another way is there another possible world to see? What would televise differently? Which screen/scene must we see behind and beyond? Let us turn to that vision – for example, variously in RajaGopal, Sundaram, Mehta, Rajadhyaksha, and Prasad – offering a reconfigured mediation of media studies that does not start so much with the screen as with the place where the screen starts – so that we can reinvent television studies in the widest sense. In this way a television that takes seriously the injunction to break with alienation, exploitation and death. If we can, as we must.
John Hutnyk, Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College, University of London.
[i] Nalin Mehta’s study of satellite television remains closely tied to the medium of television itself, however much transformed by new modes of delivery. The ‘citizen journalist’ (p248) and ‘tele-democracy’ (p257) are terms that have insider network currency. Mehta, Nalin, 2008 India on Television, New Delhi: Harper Collins.
[ii] For a closely argued study of how media must now be seen inextricably bound up with the staple themes of urbanism, modernity, technological change, aspirations, dreams and desires, see Sundaram, Ravi 2009 Pirate Modernity: Media Urbanism in Delhi, Delhi: Routledge.
[iii] Brecht, Bertolt 1939  Mother Courage and her Children, London: Methuen.
[iv] See Rajadhyaksha, Ashish 2009 Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid: From Bollywood to the Emergency, New Delhi: Tulika Books.
[v] See Prasad, M. Madhava 1998 Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction, Delhi: Oxford University Press.
[vi] In this paper I refer to Asia and Asian as a wide specificity that could include Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the diasporic South Asians discussed as ‘Br-Asian’ in the volumes Ali, N., Virinder S. Kalra and Salman Sayyid, (Eds) 2006 A Postcolonial People: South Asians in Britain, London: Hurst and Sharma, Sanjay, John Hutnyk and Ash Sharma, (Eds) 1996 Dis-Orienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music, London, Zed books. This is problematic, as it leaves out many other Asias, East, South-East, Austral- and Middle – this is best discussed by Gayatri Spivak in her 2008 book Other Asias, Malden: Blackwell Publishing.
[vii] Arvind Rajagopal 2001 Politics After Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p335
[viii] For an interesting survey of White House information, telecommunications and computing security protocols, see the PhD thesis of John Paul Laprise 2009 ‘White House Computer Adoption and Information Policy’, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
[ix] See for example the comparison of a 2008 image and the 2011 image here: http://todaysnewsnj.blogspot.com/2011/05/osama-bin-laden-corpse-photo-is-fake.html – last accessed 25 July 2011.
[x] Dye, Dale and Julia Dale 2011 Code Word: Geronimo, San Diego, IDW. The authors call this text ‘an American celebration’ – interview with The Associated Press reported in The Guardian 24 June 2011 -http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/9710347 – last accessed 24 July 2011
[xi] See Hutnyk, John 2011 ‘NDTV 24×7: the Hanging Channel: News Media or Horror Show?’ Batabyal, Somnath, Angad Chowdhry, Meenu Gaur and Matti Pohjonen (eds) Indian Mass Media and the Politics of Change, Delhi: Routledge.
[xiii] see Adorno, Theodor, 1963  Hegel: Three Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, p91.
[xiv] See King, Laura and Hutnyk, John (2010) ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Gaius Balthar: Colonialism Reimagined in Battlestar Galactica’. In: Arlo Kempf, ed. Breaching the Colonial Contract. New York: Springer, pp. 237-250.
[xv] See Bhattacharyya, Gargi 2008 Dangerous Brown Men: Exploiting Sex, Violence and Feminism in the War on Terror, London: Zed Books.
[xvii] See Adorno, Theodor 1952 In Search of Wagner, London: Verso, p39.
Please join us for a public meeting and an audience with celebrated authors who will discuss their recent experiences in India with a special focus on the raging war against the poorest of the poor, the tribal people living in the heartland of India.
From India and the author of recently published books
“Walking with the Comrades” and “Broken Republic”
From Sweden and the author of
“Red Star Over India”
Basanta Indra Mohan
From Nepal and the author of
“Imperialism and Proletarian Revolution 21st Century”
Presentations by the speakers,
film and Q&A session
Sunday, June 12, 2011
1:30 pm till 5:00 pm
Friends House, Main Hall,
173 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ
Co-organised by: IWA (GB), UNF Europe, ACDA, AFPRISA, TKM, GIKDER, 100FCC, WPRM-Britain, UfSO, CCRC,… (To be updated)
For further information and contact with the organizers, please mail: june12-London[at]icawpi.org
“The Sepoy has not learned to trust to his musket as a European soldier does. The former, being inferior in physical strength, finds the firelock a cumbrous weapon, and perhaps he feels himself deficient in that dogged courage which must animate those who fight sturdily under a serious disadvantage. Consequently the Sepoy would often, if permitted, throw away his musket, & trust to the sword or dagger, the handling of which is more familiar to him. But Indians are not so adverse to innovations as they are popularly supposed to be.”
See also here for Burton Archival stuff: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/searches/subjectView.asp?ID=P4334.
and here for online books:
including the thousand nights and a night:
Dehra Dun/New Delhi: Taunting the Congress over the delay in hanging Afzal Guru, BJP President Nitin Gadkari asked the party whether the Parliament attack death row convict was its “son-in-law”.
In comments that could stoke a controversy, Gadkari thundered at a BJP rally in Dehra Dun last night asking Congress leaders “Is Afzal Guru the son-in-law of Congress? Have you (Congress) given your daughter to him (Afzal). Why is he being given special treatment?”
Congress reacted with disdain to Gadkari’s remarks saying he has lost his mind and scoffed at the BJP chief.
When asked by reporters today whether he would apologise for his controversial remarks, Gadkari said he stuck to his stand.
“I have said nothing wrong. I stick to my stand and so there is no need (to apologise),” Gadkari told reporters in Dehra Dun.
In this regard, Gadkari said Congress government of Delhi was sitting on the file related to execution of hanging of Afzal Guru for four years and when asked Chief Minister Sheila Dixit said it was done on the instructions from the then Union Home Minister.
Now the decision is pending with the President, he said.
“I have not made a wrong statement. They (Congress) should rather give the reply as to why they are not executing the orders of the Supreme Court,” he said.
Gadkari made a reference to the Afzal Guru issue while slamming the Congress and the UPA for the delay in the hanging of the death row convict, bringing the focus back on the Afzal case file.
Congress said Gadkari has lost his mind and sarcastically said he needed serious help.
“The remark smacks of obscenity, obnoxiousness and obtuseness,” Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari said in New Delhi
Tiwari further said, “it is very obvious that the esteemed president of the BJP has lost it completely. The BJP should take pity on him and deposit him into a psychiatric facility. The man needs serious help.”
Targeting Congress, Gadkari had said, “It (Congress) is a party full of fearful people. They can never fight with terrorists and can never get rid of terrorism. It is a party which will bow down in front of terrorists and can never protect India.”
The Supreme Court upheld Afzal’s death penalty in 2005. Since then, the Opposition has attacked the Congress for delaying his hanging, saying if Afzal is not hanged India will be seen as a soft state. Afzal is on death row for over eight years after he was convicted of masterminding the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament.
Four years after its opinion was sought, the Sheila Dikshit government in Delhi finally gave its opinion to Lieutenant Governor Tejinder Khanna recently saying that it supports the Supreme Court’s decision to give death sentence to Afzal Guru, but added a rider saying that the implications of the execution must be taken into consideration.
Within hours of this, Khanna returned the file asking the Delhi government’s stand on Afzal’s mercy petition. The Delhi government sent back Afzal’s file saying that it stood by the Supreme Court verdict.
Story first published:
July 09, 2010 12:59 IST
From Partha Banerjee:
India govt’s ghastly Commonwealth cleanup of the poor
I’m deeply troubled. Very deeply troubled.
An inconspicuous report in British paper Independent shows how the Delhi administration in India is sweeping up hundreds of thousands of poorest of the poor — men, women and children — from the city’s streets and jailing them randomly. I heard they are doing it because of the upcoming Commonwealth Games in October when sports personalities, politicians, dignitaries and most importantly, corporate businesses will come to our once-colonized land and spend their royal time and money to celebrate another round of the so-called global fraternity. Oh yes, some of them will run, jump and play ball too.
And Indian middle class will cheer.
So, in order to make the city look clean, the streets beggar-free, and the country wear a First World image, Delhi and India governments have taken on an urgent mission, with a religious zeal, to pick up the countless, hapless, half-naked, starving Indians — men, women and children — and are indefinitely putting them in India’s dreaded jails before they’re shipped out to somewhere across the country. What will happen to these God-forsaken millions and their lives, livelihoods, social connections and dignities? I’m sure they’ll let us know when the celebrities and business houses check out after the Games. Normally, in India, middle class don’t query on social connections or education of street children.
We’ve seen such grotesque acts of violence in India many times over the past, particularly since India graduated from its mediocre non-alignment, “socialist” days to a glitzy-globalized “democracy” days. We’ve seen numerous, bloody communal riots, barbaric genocide of the poor in the name of religion and caste, and international terrorism. We’ve also seen a massive change of government with transition of power from a so-called right wing dark force to a so-called centrist liberal enlightened. The new leaders of India are not the zealots and bigots, but internationally known economists and academics, United Nations celebrities, and of course, the Gandhi Dynasty — I’m sure they have certain qualifications too.
In 2002, when a barbaric carnage took place in Gandhi’s state of Gujarat when thousands of poor Muslims were slaughtered by a bigoted chief minister and his bigoted administration, there was international uproar: the New York Times, BBC, CNN, PBS, NPR and all other big-name media organizations gave us the ignorant a thorough coverage and insider information on the ghastly violence. In 2008, when a group of Pakistan-based terrorists snuck in to the five-star Taj International in the Indian Wall Street city of Mumbai and killed hundreds of hotel residents, there was another series of media uproar; CNN provided unprecedented, round-the-clock, “ticker-tape” coverage of the terrorism. We were delighted to see the extent of responsibility corporate media displaying to unearth major events happening on the other side of the world.
I’ll make it short. This time around, however, when another major act of violence is happening in the capital of West-blessed India, I see no outrage — barring a few small news blips here and there — either by the mighty human rights groups and their liberal followers, or by the mighty media that spent so much of their precious time and money to uncover Gujarat or Mumbai. I’m sad and disappointed, but not truly surprised.
The liberal outrage — either of the international rights and justice groups or of corporate media — is selective, and media keeps manufacturing peoples’ consent for or against a social, political or economic event. If the Gujarat (or the 1992 Babri Mosque) carnage is ghastly (and they are), then the Delhi clean-up of the begging destitute is equally grotesque: in the former, poor people die immediately; in the latter, poor people die a slow but sure death because of police torture, forced displacement, starvation, hunger, poverty and depression. In case of the latter, women and children suffer the most. In both cases, the brutality leaves lifelong, negative impacts on the surviving children who’d spare no time to act back against the repressive system with their own acts of violence.
I hope ordinary people both in India and the West (and perhaps some conscientious media people) pick up on this new fascism of the India government, and force them to stop this state-sponsored violence and brutality.
Again, I’m deeply troubled — to see the inaction and lack of outrage, especially of the elite liberal that screamed their lungs off before. You can’t have a double standard to denounce hate.
Thank you for reading my quickly drafted note.
Brooklyn, New York
March 14, 2009
‘sthaniya sambaad‘ (‘spring in the colony‘),
(105 min. 2009, 35 mm, cinemascope, EST).
Q & A with one of the directors.
5pm friday 19th March – Goldsmiths Cinema RHB
A moving, and funny, story of life in a refugee colony south of the city of Kolkata.
On the initiative of Moinak Biswas, Film Studies Jadavpur Uni, Kolkata, and with great input from Rosalind Morris, but initially inspired by the Preservation in Globalization workshop convened by Gayatri Spivak and Jorge Otero-Pailos, an interesting redevelopment seems possible. A disused factory site adjacent the Jadavpur campus was toured by our group in early December. A documentation of the site has begun by photographers invited by the Jadavpur Media Lab has generated some great pictures, see here. The site was left pretty much intact when the factory closed in 2003 – well worth a look.
Now (see below) there is a plan to gut the site and turn it over to the engineering faculty. The site is huge – there is room for something alongside. Hence, the following draft international petition:
For continued innovation at the National Instruments site, Jadavpur.
The redevelopment of the National Instruments site offers a rare opportunity to look forward and back at the changing dynamic of industrial production. The extant materials, documents, personal effects, and machinery (lathes, punch card clocks, work desks) provide a physical record of workplace experience now passing. Jadavpur University, with its reputation, scholarship and global reach is well placed to facilitate an innovative approach that builds upon the proud history of NI and looks forward creatively to new developments.
A simple shroud should not be passed over this accumulated wealth of objects, and labour, from the past. The factory remains might be best preserved by the University in a working space that is devoted to tracking the transformations of industrial production and workplace experience in India. That a museum and art/technology laboratory has been proposed is supported by international scholars, a large number of whom have visited the site and/or noted the initial documentary work produced by Moinak Biswas and his team. We consider this an excellent, exciting and potentially rewarding possibility for joint work and international co-ordination. Scholars would seek international funds to locate research projects on labour history, urban development, new economy (service sector, technology, privatization) and co-research in joint ventures with Jadavpur scholars and students. A truly international project to unite workers of the world might be reanimated here.
The idea is that various people will sign this and it be put to the Jadavpur heads to consider the proposal, from Media Lab and Film Studies, to do something interesting with the site. Well, I think its interesting. I used to work in a similar factory as a grubby teenager. My dad spent a very large part of his life in one – Stanley, Nunawading, Melbourne, Australia. I have a touch of the heebie-jeebie’s looking at the machines, especially the drills where I had spent long low-paid days… (the picture I have used is from a post by Madhuban Mitra and Manus Bhattacharya – with thanks)
Giving some history of National Instruments, and of the original preservation project and future plans, Moinak writes:
The factory started off in 1830 under the name ‘mathematical instrument maker’, then became ‘mathematical instruments office’, both serving mainly the ‘survey of india’ instituted by the east india company. During ww1 it got seriously involved with the defense dept., became national instruments factory; was relocated to the premises you saw in 1957, renamed ‘national instruments limited’ (NIL) as a public sector unit under the union govt. the factory mainly made optical instruments for survey, measurement, photography, etc. and was popularly known for its national 35 camera. It fell into some crisis first in the 60′s, and then into a more serious one in the 80′s, got referred to the board of industrial and financial reconstruction (BIFR). Manufacture stopped in 2003. most workers accepted the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and left in march, 2003. 64 employees remained on campus and witnessed the ruination. In 2009, jadavpur university took over the property with the aim of building an extension campus for the engineering faculty.
the media lab of the dept of film studies at jadavpur undertook extensive photo documentation of the premises in june, 2009. we commissioned 10 young photographers and filmmakers to shoot for 4 months on the premises, covering everything possible. we have a bank of 20 thousand still images and 60 hours of video footage. a blog from the stills (http://darklythroughalens.wordpress.com/) and a couple of films have been made. more projects will follow. we have shot interviews with many ex-employees. it’s now a substantial labour and industrual landscape archive.
but there should also be preservation of a different kind. the university has started renovating parts of the buildings, and will soon remove most of the equipment and files, etc. we were thinking of proposing the creation of a space, using one big room like the canteen you saw, which will preserve their products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, bills, service documents, policy documents, the punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice, including independent film screenings, installations, etc. the major problem is to persuade the university to spare that space. it would pay more serious attention to an international community of artsits and intellectuals. but we should keep in mind what can be sustained and how far, given the public funded university framework in india, and given the fact that anything doing with art has first to prove its vialbility to the engineering faculty dominated.
This is great stuff – history and potential. But there are also things to debate. University take over of the fading industrial economy has a long track record (see here, here and here). Is it really possible to tamper with such trajectories? Besides drafting the above call at Moinak’s request, I also offered my two pice worth of cynicism earlier in the discussion [note: I was a bit ill at the time]:
Moinak, your sentence on the the creation of a space that will both preserve the NI worker’s “products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, … punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice” is a great start. But I wonder if the museum/archive route is too passive, and might not claim much in terms of physical space in the building (when it all should be kept in those terms - see Mao Mollona’s excellent film on industrial steel machinery in Sheffield, where a fully functioning workshop has been maintained 1890′s era machines in working, and profitable, order). I also wonder if, importantly, the preservation argument does enough in conceptual terms within the overall regeneration/transformation of the economy and the University – a discussion I imagine that must be going on, and needs new thinking.
I am acutely aware that here “anything doing with art has first to prove its viability to the engineering faculty dominated”, and wonder if the focus of what we present might be geared towards this. That said, I am stumped for where to look for initial funds, or clearly marked ‘preservation funds’. It is not my forte. However, ongoing funding could also be geared into the conception.
An Art/Laboratory would probably have pedagogical, research and creative components.
At issue is who inhabits the space, what it provides, and outcomes now and for the future.
Thus, neither a mortuary service for fading industry, nor a hollow art scene doing a ghost dance for dead capital (tried and tested, but too often turned into mere foyer or coffee shop – eg Tate Modern), the project has far greater inter- and intra- disciplinary purchase, and potential as for very wide participation. The former workers, the Jadavpur students, local residents, the city in general, and both national and international research teams across many areas can be drawn into the nexus of this site conceived as instrumental to the transition between older and newer economic modes. Research, teaching and creativity all have a role in transition.
A range of projects, both national and international – but many funded internationally – could locate in dedicated space within the project:
Possible internationally funded Research Projects for Instrument Lab
- changing infrastructure of economies, history and globalization, technology and colonialism, warfare and commerce, education and training history (see journal of the Confernce of Socialist Economists)
- class composition and worker’s inquiry, labour history, transition economies and the transformation of work, co-research with workers of older and newer economic production (this is a project I would like to pursue between Goldsmiths, Queen Mary Business School and Jadavpur – funded by Economic and Social Research Council UK perhaps, the Co-Research would involve workers paid as researchers in both discontinued production such as National Instruments, as well as in new industries in Kolkata such as creative economy, service sector, media and telecoms. They would be researching, documenting and theorizing their own conditions of work – aim initially at a three year project @ £500k for 4 paid researchers on site, plus money for collaborative work).
- precision capitalism, mathematical arts of production, skill, craft and body/machine knowledge: instrument hand and brain, cyborg labs then and now (Fuller/Harwood/MUTE or RAQS?).
- obsolescence and regenerative second life, industrial remains and urban renewal, science and fiction, creative revival as life force in cities (see P.Hall and M.Castells: Technopoles of the World).
- photographic imaging and war/industry convergence (as digital is to analog; globalization is [not] to industry)
- teaching exchange, especially in cultural studies of work, education, training, urban preservation and curating (possible Network Grants at £70k each)
These projects in various ways – there would be many others possible – would be conceived to locate researchers at Jadavpur, employed locally and internationally, and would work with local constituents and stakeholders (workers, researchers, students, local residents, support staff). Each would entail a pedagogical exchange function, as well as a display (installations, museum, art) aspect. The point is to keep this alive to change, the transformation of work, of class composition, or urban environs, and of the university itself (as universities move to project based work, and older models of disciplinary containment are supplemented).
Ahhh, now I have written all this down I think maybe its not strong enough yet to stave off the impending disposal of most of the workplace artefacts, beautiful machines (valuable machines) and other remains, but those remains are the resource and raw material of something potentially great in the future. Our labour can reanimate them – the sweat of our friends to whom we owe a debt (not just of mourning).
Sorry for the Derridisms – the flu drugs again kick in…
Some may think the quality of – ehem – journalism about the Maoist struggles in India is somewhat lacking in style. Others may think that this over-worked topic really pushed a writer to find a unique angle, a way in to the jungle that is the Naxalite narrative tradition (of demonization and ‘counter). But I warn over hasty readers that a subtle use of dialectics (here to be distinguished from literary ping pong) is often hard to discern. OK OK, in this one its really just ping pong, and certainly not of a type sourced in Yenan. How could so many neat reversals (contradictions to be handled?) be crammed into the one piece? And I am only quoting the first few paragraphs, see the whole thing here for the amazing unfolding truths.
This excerpt is from Dawn.com – ( I have no details as to who they are – they say they are my ‘window on news analysis and features on Pakistan, South Asia and the world’ – fab.).
Want to hate Maoists? Start calling them Taliban.
Monday, 12 Oct, 200
IN the mosquito-infested inaccessible forests of Chhattisgarh, Maoist guerrillas often carry an insect repellent cream called Odomos. God help you if the security forces hunting the guerrillas — now for the first time with the help of helicopter-borne commandos — ever catch you with a tube.
Other than that there is little to distinguish a Maoist from an ordinary tribal or a Dalit, the two major communities that form the bulwark of their revolt straddling 20 Indian states.
Very little is made known about the Maoists except that they are a bloody-minded lot. The gap in information about their worldview can be partly ascribed to their cultivated aloofness from, and suspicion of, the mainstream Indian media. Otherwise too it has become a risky proposition for journalists to venture to assess them objectively.
The rest of the piece goes on to survey such wildly varied themes as poverty, water, kidnappings, the views of the PM, and of [confused] chief ministers, the BJP, the Business Standard, the Taliban, beheadings, including that of the Norwegian tourist in Kashmir more than ten years ago, Roman crucifixion and the marital peccadilloes of Henry VIII. It really does deserve to be read as abstracted (dialectic?) poetics. And in the last paragraph, the killer punch that assures this journalist his Pulitzer is the phrase: ‘Shoring up the chorus of unrelated idioms are the security forces…’ As I said, read the rest here.
I’ve not posted all that much of other people’s stuff lately, but I have been catching up on reading it. This short review of Rustom Bharucha’s Another Asia, by Shuddhabrata Sengupta, neatly conveys what is great about Rustom’s book. The review is from Inter-Asian Cultural Studies (here). Rustom was our guest at Theatre Border (here):
Continental contemporaries: Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin
Shuddhabrata Sengupta: Some lives, by virtue of the broad expanses that they span, come to acquire the breadth and proportions of continents. Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet and Asia’s first Nobel Prize winner, and Okakura Tenshin, Japanese aesthete, curator and cultural intermediary between ‘East’ and ‘West’; two personalities who straddled the early twentieth century with the peripatetic itineraries of their quests, and with the restless horizons of their very different but complementary accomplishments, come close to embodying intellectual and imaginative sweeps of continental dimensions. Their biographies are also generous geographies.
Rustom Bharucha’s magisterial mapping of the worlds invoked by the Tagore-Okakura encounter - Another Asia: Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin (2007) – delivers what it promises – a displacement of our common-sense apprehension of political and personal geography, of arbitrary affiliation, even of how we conceive of the intimate maps of long distance intimacy, through a diligent and close reading of the public and hidden transcripts of the interactions between two men, who happened to be friends and contemporaries, and yet whose convictions pointed them eventually in very different directions. Bharucha’s achievement lies in the care with which he unravels the differences (even as he is mindful of the resonances) in terms of the way in which Tagore and Okakura imagined and lived the intersections between space and culture, life and thought, politics and aesthetics.