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: email@example.com
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel 020 7586 5892 www.campacc.org.uk <http://www.campacc.org.uk>
Development and Conflict Group: R. Seenivasan – email@example.com
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)